At the beginning of time the Immortals, the gods and goddesses of Greece, fought against the Cyclops, the mighty one-eyed giants. With the aid of the Titans, the Immortals won and the Cyclops were banished. Zeus became ruler of all of the mortal world and chief among the gods. One of his brothers, Poseidon, ruled the oceans while another brother, Hades, ruled the under-world.
Great civilisations came and went. While Minos was busy ruling Crete his wife, Persephae, was seducing a beautiful black bull, the mutant offspring was the mighty Minotaur. Every seven years the Athenians were forced to send the cream of their youth to Crete, never to be seen again. Theseus, lost son of the king of Athens, killed the beast and ran off with Minos’ daughter, Ariadne, only to leave her to Dionysios – he who invented wine and travelled around the Greek world indulging in drunken orgies with his groupies.
When the volcano on Santorini erupted the tidal wave wiped out the Minoan civilisation and mighty Mycenae picked up the crown. Mycenae was the kingdom of Agamemnon, his captive wife Klytaemnestra, her beautiful sister, Helen, and the man she was forced to marry, Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon. When Helen eloped with her true love, Paris, she left behind her daughter, Ermione, but took with her much of Menelaus’ treasure. The deep desire to re-unite Menelaus with Helen (or, maybe, with his wealth) led to the epic Trojan War. Eventually Mycenae defeated Troy but the long campaign depleted Mycenae’s resolve and finances.
Two other great city-states emerged, each vying for supremacy: Sparta and Athens. Life for the people of Sparta was, well, spartan… the leaders relied not upon great city walls for protection but upon the fighting prowess of the Spartan people, children included.
Athens had dabbled with various types of leader, from dictator to democrat. One of the very greatest was Pericles, a very interesting character. The son of a leading aristocrat, he was a champion of democracy. A great orator, he led Athens to victory against the Persian invaders and after this he secured the finances, commissioned the great public works and built the classical city of Athens as we now know it.
Then a new superpower emerged. Philip of Makedon defeated all the Greek city states and his son, the great Alexander, conquered virtually all the (then) known world, from the Mediterranean into India. Upon his untimely death his massive empire split into three and the Ptolemies ruled Egypt until the death of Kleopatra.
After Alexander the mighty Roman army came, saw and conquered the Greek world. Kleopatra tried to save Egypt from subjugation by seducing Julius Caesar. He was murdered by Brutus so she took Markos Antonis as her lover but his fleet was defeated at nearby Levkada and Kleopatra committed suicide rather than yield to Rome.
Eventually the Roman Empire expanded so much that it became unmanageable and split in two, the Holy Roman Empire and the Eastern Empire, based in the small Greek town of Byzantion. Finally the Roman Empire disintegrated but the Greek Byzantine Empire flourished for another seven hundred years until the fall of ‘the city’ of Constantinople (as Byzantion was re-named, in honour of St. Constantine) to the Ottomans Turks, who renamed it Istanbul [probably a corruption of the Greek ee stin poli (‘to the city’)] - the cry when ‘the city’ was being attacked.
The Ottomans occupied virtually all of mainland Greece and the islands between Greece and Turkey. However, apart from short occupations, they couldn’t hold the Ionian Islands against the Venetians. The Ionian islanders probably fared far better under the Venetians than their fellow countrymen did under the Turks and the 1821-1829 War of Independence was fought to rid Greece of the rotting Ottoman Empire.
In 1830 the Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia), who had aided Greece, confirmed the sovereignty of Greece in the London Protocol, effectively giving their protection to the new Greek state. Although a new nation was born it was born out of various factions fighting for (broadly) the same cause. Once that cause was (largely) won, the fight became over who would rule Greece. The assignation of Ioannis Kapodistrias, Prime Minister of Greece, by rebels from the Mani in 1831 led to the second London Protocol, in 1832. This determined how (the Great Powers would let) Greece exist. Among other things, it imposed the Bavarian Prince Otto as King of Greece and (badly) drew the borders of Greece. Quiet differently to how we know them today, e.g. the Ionian Islands remained under British control and Crete under Ottoman control.
This was not satisfactory to the Greek people (not that their opinions mattered, of course) and various revolts ensued, including the Kefalonia Rebellion of 1849. Between 1833 - 1897 there were several Greek Christian uprisings against minority Ottoman Muslim rule on Crete, including the Cretan Revolt of 1866-1869. Following the 1897 Greek-Turkish war Crete was garrisoned by the four super-powers (Russia, France, Italy and Britain), each ruling part of Crete. In 1912 the First Balkan War resulted in the Balkan League (Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Montenegro) forcing the Ottoman Empire to withdraw from most of its remaining European possessions and, in 1913, Crete was finally united with Greece, as were southern Epirus and southern Macedonia.
Having remained neutral at the start of World War I, Greece aligned with the Allies in 1917 and enlarged its borders. At this time most Greeks still lived outside of Greece, many in ancient Greek territories now ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Success in WWI re-ignited the Megali Idea, first proposed back in 1844. Broadly, it was the dream to restore to Greece the lands of the Byzantine Empire, this time proposed by Eleftherios Venizelos, the Cretan-born Prime Minister. However, the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922 was disastrous and Greece lost much of what it had gained from WWI. To minimise the chances of further territorial disputes, Greece and Turkey engaged in “population exchanges”, these were largely enforced exoduses, e.g. by a bit of ‘unofficial’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ on the part of Turkey.
The Megali Idea briefly resurfaced following the 1936 coup d'état by Ithaka-born dictator General Ioannis Metaxas but events overtook things as Mussolini’s demand to trample over Greece - and Metaxas’ famous response – forced Greece to declare itself on the side of the Allies when invaded by Italy in 1943.
The small Greek army inflicted the first defeat of the war upon the Axis troops and Greece suffered brutal repression by Nazi Germany as a result. After the war a debilitating civil war erupted between nationalists and communists. The American-funded Marshall Plan effectively ended the civil war but the price paid was that, for many years, the Greek government had to get its decisions approved by America. For some, the resentment still lingers.
|In 1967 a right-wing military junta seized control from the democratically elected government and remained in power until 1974, when popular opinion forced the restoration of democracy. Shortly after, Greeks voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and establish the office of President of the Hellenic Republic. Since 1974 the Greek government has regularly been involved in various allegations of sleaze and corruption: just the kind of everyday scandal that happens in every free parliamentary democracy.|