Greece is a maritime, mountainous country in south/east Europe, bounded by Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria to the north and Turkey to the east. It mostly consists of islands, which include many from fables, such as Corfu, Crete, the Cyclades and the Sporades. The peninsula is bounded by the Ionian, Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.
Agriculture and industry are important in the Greek economy, which has been noticeably shaky for some years. Exports include fruit, vegetables and wine, clothing, petroleum products, textiles etc. Tourism is also of great importance.
Culturally speaking, the Greek Empire was as significant as any of the others, and greatly influenced them, especially Rome. The Greeks’ history really begins in 1700 BC with the arrival in the mainland of Greek-speaking peoples from the north. The Mycenaean Civilisation followed, flourishing until it was overthrown by the Dorians at the end of the 12th century BC. After ‘the dark ages’ (a period which occurred in almost all European states around this time), the ‘City-State’ emerged triumphant, but still shaking with nerves.
In the early 5th century BC the Greeks had to repel Persian attempts to take their land in the form of ‘annexation’ a pseudonym for invasion and occupation. Athens and Sparta became the main sea and land powers respectively, but they were not good at personal relations; Sparta had (by 404 BC) ‘crushed’ Athens and wiped out the Athenian ‘empire’ during the Peloponnesian War. In the 4th century it was Thebes’ turn to topple Sparta, but all Greece soon had to bow the knee to a foreign conquerer, Philip II of Macedonia, and later his son, Alexander the Great.
When Alexander died young (after conquering most of the known world including Persia) the world of the Greeks was dominated by Hellenistic kingdoms, each Greek city playing a minor role in the overall power struggle.
Rome now enters the story: there was the defeat of the Achaean League, the destruction of Corinth, and at last the incorporation of Greece within the Roman Empire. Rome as we know had its empires in the east (Byzantine) and the west (Occident). Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire but then the Ottoman Turks took control in 1460 AD. And so it remained (except for brief periods in the 17th and 18th century when Venice controlled parts of the country). Then came independence in the 19th. If the student thought all this was complicated enough, read on!
The Greek War of Independence (1821-33) ended with independence, yes, – but with Otto of Bavaria as King. He was deposed in 1862 and Danish William took over the throne, calling himself George I of the Hellenes. He remained in the seat of power from 1863 – 1913, but then a military coup established a republic (1924 – 35). George II of the Hellenes was enthroned in 1935 but fled into exile in 1941 during the Second World War.
Greece was occupied by the Germans and there was terrible fighting between rival groups of royalists and communists. The monarchy was restored (by the British) in 1946, but then civil war started again which lasted until 1949, with the defeat of the communists. Now the USA enters the lists, with generous loans for recovery and recuperation.
Greek field-marshal A. Papagos became a civilian prime minister, but in 1967 there was a successful military coup and the young King Constantine II escaped to Rome, later to London, where his relative Queen Elizabeth II and her quarter-Greek husband Philip provided refuge for the King and his family.
The ‘Colonels’ established a military junta and ruled for seven years, during which they abolished the monarchy and confiscated its property and cash. A civilian republic was established in 1974 and in 1981 Andreas Papandreu became the country’s first socialist prime minister. By now Greece had been accepted as a member of the European Community. Papandreu stayed in office until 1989. Eternal balance-of-payments issues now arose and have plagued Greece since.
In 1992 there was strong Greek opposition to recognition of the proposed ‘Republic of Macedonia’ (a former Yugoslav republic) because Greece saw its own northern province as having the sole right to this name. This and the ever-failing economy saw the downfall of the right-wing government of Mitsotakis in June 1993. Andreas Papandreu returned as prime minister and his government officially opposed recognition of Macedonia by other European states.
Then came a threat of actual war with Turkey in a dispute over territorial waters in 1994, and relations between Greece and Turkey (which had never been amiable) grew worse. In 1996 Costa Simitis became PM, replacing Papandreu who resigned due to bad health. Simitis managed to stay there for two terms of office, before bowing to the election of Karamanlis (PM 2004-2009), followed by George Papandreu (2009-2012), Loukas Papadimos had a very brief premiership in 2012 also; now Antonis Samanas has been prime minister since 30 June, 2012. Greece is still a member of the European Community.
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