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An Introduction to Ancient Greek History

Greece has been in much of the headlines, in the past year or so, unfortunately. With all the negative publicity Greece has been getting, I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate this post (and another post about their post-Ottoman period tomorrow) to Greece and the Greek people, hoping that people will remember what the country, as a whole, has been through in its entire history, since the time of the city states to the post-WWII Greece.

A map of Greece
Early History:

The earliest known civilization in Greece was the Cycladic civilization, that was based in the Aegean sea at around 3000 BC, the Minoan civilization in Crete (2700–1500 BC) and then the Mycenaean civilization on the mainland (1900–1100 BC). Two of the most celebrated works of Greek literature, the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer, were written during that period.

In 776 BC, the first Olympic games were held. By this time, Greece was divided into many quarreling city states and kingdoms. These city states were not restricted to present-day Greece, but also were present in southern Italy, the coasts of the Black Sea as well as in Asia Minor.

Despite the rivalry between the city states, this period was generally seen as a prosperous one for Greece, resulting in advances in philosophy, science, mathematics and the arts.

By around 508 BC, the system of democracy was installed for the first time in the world's history, in Athens.  In 500 BC, the Persian empire had conquered much of Asia Minor and northern Greece. Faced by the imminent threat of the Persians, the Greek city-states tried but failed to expel the Persians from the north. This sparked the first invasion of Greece by the Persians in 492 BC, which would later be halted by a Greek victory in the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
A map of the war

Fast forward 10 years to 480 BC and the Persians launch a second invasion, most famously remembered for the Battle of Thermopylae which featured a numerically-disadvantaged Spartan force holding a last stand against a Persian invasion force. The Persians would later sack Athens. Later Greek victories at Salamis would later force the Persians to withdraw.

The main forces in the Greek city state alliance were Athens and Sparta. Both city states generally disliked each other, Athens being an intellectual haven while Sparta was primarily a warrior city. Relations between the two parties degraded and this led to a war, in 431 BC, between the two sides and their respective allies (called the Peloponnesian War, Peloponnesus being the name of the peninsula in southern Greece). The Spartans and their allies formed the Peloponnesian league while the Athenians and their allies in northern Greece calling themselves the Delian league.

The Peloponnesian league (with Persian aid) was victorious and decimated the Delian league, effectively destroying the Athenian empire. But it severely weakened most of the Greek city states, allowing the opportunistic kingdom of Macedon to take advantage and united the Greek states (minus Sparta) into a single entity in 339 BC, known as the League of Corinth, under the leadership of Phillip II of Macedon.

After Phillip II was assassinated in 336 BC, his son Alexander (popularly known as 'Alexander the Great' now) succeeded him. He would later launch a full scale invasion of the Persian Empire in 334 BC, using troops from almost all the Greek city-states. Greek victories at the Battle of Granicus, Guagemala effectively sealed the Persian Empire's fate. In 330 BC, the Greeks sacked Susa and Persepolis, the capital and ceremonial capital respectively. The empire Alexander had conquered spanned from Greece to India and Egypt. Alexander died a sudden death*, in Babylon in 323 BC, at age 32, before commencing a series of military campaigns which included an invasion of Arabia!**


*No one knows to what disease did Alexander succumb to, he was said to have been drinking heavily in the days prior to his death, and that he had developed a fever that rendered him incapable of speaking.

** See link

Further reading:


  1. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.


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