Greek History


Figure 1.--

Greece is a small country at the tip of the Balkn Peninsula. These remarkable people may have had a greater impact on human history than any other prople. Greek history begins with the appearance of primitive Greeks tribes known as the Pelasgian (10,000-3,000 BC). They populated Thrace, Argos, Crete, and Halkidiki. e know little about them, but they are mentioned in the accounts of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides. The Golden age of Greece centered in Athens brought us great treasures of art, architecture, and literature (500-300 BC). Greece's most stunning achievement was philosophy. For the first time in recorded history, men began to discuss the basic question of who man is and the nature of esistence rather than just accepting religious kant. While the glorues f Athens are best remembered, ironically Sparta provided a template for modern totalitarianism. Alexander the Great was a Macedonian, but spread Greek ideas or Helenism beyond the narrow confines of Greece itself. Christianity developed in the Helenistic-influenced Roman world. The Greeks inspired the Romans which like Greece was a civilization that came to be based on slavery. The Byzantines carried the classical tradition through the Medieval erra where it played a critical role in the Renaissance. The Byzantines also laid the foundations for Orthodox Christianity. The Ottoman Turks finally captured Constantinople (1453). Greece for four centuries was ruled by the Ottomans. One of the results of the French Revolution was the stiring of nationalist sentiment in the Balkans. The Greek ReVOlt was the beginning of the creation of an independent Greece, although it required the intervention of the Great Powers.

Ancient Greece

Greece is a small country at the tip of the Balkn Peninsula. These remarkable people may have had a greater impact on human history than any other prople. Greek history begins with the appearance of primitive Greeks tribes known as the Pelasgian (10,000-3,000 BC). They populated Thrace, Argos, Crete, and Halkidiki. e know little about them, but they are mentioned in the accounts of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides. The Golden age of Greece centered in Athens brought us great treasures of art, architecture, and literature (500-300 BC). Greece's most stunning achievement was philosophy. For the first time in recorded history, men began to discuss the basic question of who man is and the nature of esistence rather than just accepting religious kant. While the glorues f Athens are best remembered, ironically Sparta provided a template for modern totalitarianism. Alexander the Great was a Macedonian, but spread Greek ideas or Helenism beyond the narrow confines of Greece itself. Christianity developed in the Helenistic-influenced Roman world. The Greeks inspired the Romans which like Greece was a civilization that came to be based on slavery.

Byzantium

The Byzantines carried the classical tradition through the Medieval erra where it played a critical role in the Renaissance. The Byzantines also laid the foundations for Orthodox Christianity. Byzantium is relatively little known in the popular mind. This is somewhat surprosing given its longevity (more than a millenium) and had such a powerful influence on other civilizations from the Scandonavian Rus to the Ottomon Turks. Byzantium is somewhat difficult to place. It is of course the Eastern Roman Empire which broke off from the Western Empire in a gradual procress beginning in the 4th century AD. But as it survived the Barbarian invasions, its history continues into the Medieval era until ovewealmed by the Turks in the 15th century. Thus it is both an Ancient and Medieval civilization with stronger Asian influences that the Western Empire. The Emperor Theodosum I divided the Roman empire when he entrusted his son Arcadius with the Eastern provinces and his other son Honorius with the Western priovinces (395 AD), although a temporary split occurred even earlier. The Western Empire headed by Honorius was soon to be overwealmed by Germanic Barbarians and Huns. The Eastern Empire while sorely pressed first by the Germans and Huns and later by Islam was to endure and often prosper over an amazing span of 1,000 years until it was finally overwealmed by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1453.

Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Turks finally captured Constantinople (1453). Greece for four centuries was ruled by the Ottomans.

Greek War of Independence

One of the results of the French Revolution was the stiring of nationalist sentiment in the Balkans. The Greek ReVOlt was the beginning of the creation of an independent Greece, although it required the intervention of the Great Powers. The Ottoman Empire conquered Byzantium including Greece and the Christian kindoms of the Balkans in the 15th centurty. As a result, Greece lived under Ottoman rule for four centuries. The Ottomans allowed the Greek to retain their Orthodox Christianity after the conquest. It was not until the French Revolution that the first real stirings for Greek independence began. The Ottomans were not involved in the Napoleonic Wars. The ideas generated by the Revolution did affect their Christian subjects in the Balkans. A Serbs revolt which was temporatily sucessful inspired the Greeks. The Greek revolt less than a decade after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It began in of all places Moldavia, but soon spread to the Peloponnese. From the beginning it was a bloody affair. The revolt was not clearly thought out or centrally led. Greek Christians targeted Muslims, including women and children. The Ottomans responded with massacres of their own. Ottoman excesses were widely reported in the Western press, creating great sympathy for the Greeks. The Greek attrocities were not well reported. The intervention of the Egyptian ruler Ali Pasha almost doomed the Greek rebellion, but the European powers intervened to guarantee Greek independence, eventually insisting that a monarchy be created to govern the country.

Independent Greek Kingdom (1832)

The Greeks finally achieved their independence. The new Greek state was recognized by the European powers (1832). There was an independent Greek state, but the European powers that helped created it claimed the right to participate in Greek affairs. In particular they wanted Greece to be a kingdom. They even chose the new king. Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg was offered the Greek crown, but he declined. Next they chose the son of Ludwig I of Bavaria, Otto of Wittlesbach. He was still a teenagers when he became King Otto of Greece. He did not prove to be a popular choice, but the threat of Great Power intervention kept him on the throne. Otto was only 17 years of age so a Bavarian regency was established to rule the war-devestated county. The Bavarians ruled imperiously, imposing high taxes and attempted to set up a centarlized bureacracy. Some of the German influence in Greece, such as in Greek art and academia, probably originate with the Bavarian monarchy. Greeks complained that they paid higher taxes than they paid under Ottoman rule. Also King Otto who was a Roman Catholic refused to convert to Orthodoxy. And for his wife he declined to marry a Greek which would have neen well received. He instead married a German princess from Oldenburg (1837). The wedding was even held in Germany. The new queen proved unpopular. A bloodleess revolt occurred in 1843. Otto was compeled to dismiss his Bavarian advisers and accept a democratic constitution. His unpopularity inceased when in 1854 supported France and England when war broke out in the Crimea. An army revolt and subsequent national assembly deposed Otto in 1862. The Great Powers acquised.

Balkan Wars (1879-1913)

The series of wars among the various countries and principalities in thE Balkan Peninsula which occurred between their gaining og independence from the Ottomon Empire and the onset of World War I are collectively known as the Balkan Wars. The efforts of Bismarck to settle the political future of the Balkans, in part to avoid great power conflict did not suceed. A series of wars in the Balkans began almost immediately after the Congress of Berlin (1878) which to varing degrees dragged in the Great Powers. The primary conflict was between Austria-Hungary and Russia for dominance in the Balkans with the weigning power of the Ottomon Empire. There were, however, a range of issues dividing the peopke of the Balkans and the borders of the new states and principalities of the region.

World War I (1914-18)

The Allies and Central Powers offered enducements for the Balkan countries to enter the War on their side. The Balkan countries had fought wars just before World War I. The principal targets were Turkey and Bulgaria. Thus when those two countries joined the Central Powers it helped build support for the Allies in Serbia and Romania. Serbia of course had already been attacked by Austria. This World War I in the Balkans was a continuation of the wars begun earlier, but on a wider scale. Greece which had participated in the Balkan Wars, was more reluctant to enter World War I. This was primarily because of King Constantine. Border disputes with Bulgaria meant that there was support for the Allies in Greece. There were also historic ties with Britain because the Royal Navy had played a role in Greek independence during the 19th century. Primeminister Eleftherios Venizelos wanted to join the Allies. King Constantine was against this. The royal family had ties to the Germans. His wife was German, but the King also thought entering the War was not in Greece's interests, especially as it was not at all clear who would win the War and fighting the Turks, Bulgarians, and Austrians seemed a dangerous undertaking. The King even began negotiations with Germany. Primeminister Venizelos resigned (March 5, 1915). About a month later Venizelos won a substantial mandate in national elections (June 1915). Venizelos then persued efforts to join the Allies. He also wanted to support Serbia. King Constantine continued to oppose this. Venizelos resigned again (October 5, 1915). The Bulgarian army moved into northern Macedonia, at the time occupied by Serbia (October 1915). Venizelos saw this an act of war. He formed a government in Crete and challenged the King. The opposition government consisted of Eleftherios Venizelos, Panagiotis Daglis and Pavlos Kountouriotis. The Venizelos Government began recruiting volunteers. An estimated 20,000 men enlisted to fight the Bulgars. The fighting proved difficult in tough mountenaous terraine. As the King anticipated, the Allies provided only limited support. The Allies continued to try to convince King Constantine to formally enter the War. When he refused, French Admiral Dartigue du Fournet blockaded Athens. The King abdicated and left Greece (June 11, 1917). Prince Alexander became king and agreed to work with Venizelos who formed a new government. Greece declared war on the Central Powers Germany (June 29). This opened a new front in the war. The Greeks deployed 250,000 men in Macedonia.

Greek-Turkish War (1920-21)

Greek forces with the authorization of the Supreme Allied War Council occupied Adrianople (Edirne), Bursa, and Smyrna (Izmir). The Greeks landed with the support of an Allied flotilla (summer and fall of 1919). The Turks did not resist and the Greek forces advanced to Usak, 175 kilometers inland from Izmir. The Turks did resist the Greek advance into Anatolia. The initial fighting was inconclusive (1920). This changed in 1921. Turkish forced commanded by Ismet Pasha stopped Greek offensives twice at Inönü (January and April 1921). This prevented any further Greek advances. A third Greek offensive drive the Turks back to Sakarya Nehri, only 80 km from Ankara (July 1921). Here Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greek Army in a bruising 20-day battle. Greek political developments alienated the British. The French and Italians withdrew from Anatolia (October 1921). The Turks launched an offensive against the Greeks (August 1922). The Turks call it the Battle of the Commander in Chief. The Turks soon reached Izmir, trapping retreating Greek soldiers. Many were evacuated by Allied ships. The Turks then turned to eastern Thrace. Here to get to the Greeks, the Turks faced Allied troops defending the Ottoman Government in Constantinople/Istambul and the Bosphorus/Dardanelles The French Government decided to withdraw its forces. The British prepared to defend their positions. The British did not, however, want a war with Turkey and suggested a compromise. Atatürk accepted the British-proposed truce. The Armistice of Mudanya (near Bursa) ended the fighting between Greece and Turkey (October 1922). The Greek troops withdrew beyond the Maritsa River. The Turks occupied eatern Thracee. The Turks as part of the Armistice accepted a continued Allied presence on the straits and in Istanbul until a comprehensive peace settlement could be megotiated.

Inter-war Years

The Turkish victory in the Greek-Turkish War (1920-21) shocked the Greeks and dominated Greek Politics in the inter-War era. It made the National Schism / Ethnikos Dikhasmos (the differences between King Constantine I and Prime Minister Venizelos) divided Greek politics and society throughour the Inter-War Era. The Greco-Turkish War had serious consequences beyond the the immediate military situation. The loss deligitimized the Government in the eyes of many Greeks. And the country was faced with the massive undertaking to dead with the flood of displaced refugees from the territory lost in Anatolia. The major international problem was the war with Turkey. There was a smaller problem on the northern border with Bulgaria. This dispute would prove deadly in World War II. The political situation was generlly unstable during the inter-War era. Venizelos sucessfully returned brining a degree of stability (1928-32). The Depression which began in America (1929) introduced additional internal conflicts (1931).

World War II

talinan dictator Benito Mussolini launched an invasion of Greece on October 28, 1940 from Albania. Mussolini had earlier invaded an occupied Albania in 1939. In contarast to the close coordination that developed among the Allied countries, Mussolini not only did not coordinate his attack with the Germans, but did not even inform them of his plans until the attack was underway. Mussolini assumed that the Greeks woukd easily fall to his conquering army. Greek's small army of 150,000 men not only stopped the Italian thrust toward Salonika using rugged mountaneous terraine to their advantage, but with British assistance including RAF units, drove the Italians back into Albania. The Italain attack had been unwanted by Hitler who was preoccupied with the Battle of Braitan and forming a grand coalition of NAZI satellites, occupied countries, Fascist Spain, and Vichy France for an upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union. Mussolini's invasion had turned the sympathetic Metaxis Fascist Government in Greece into a British ally. This was of emense strategic significance because from bases in Greece, the British could threaten the Romanian oil fields--NAZI Germany's primary source of oil. The Greeks by November 1940 had seized Korçë, the principal Italian base in Albania. The lack of martial ardour of Italian soldies during the War is surprising given the pretentions of military greatness by Mussolini and the Fascists which had governed Italy since the 1920s. This was in sharp contrast to Hitler's success in ideoligically preparing the German soldier. The threat to the Balkans and Germny's souther flank forced Hitler to fivert his attention south away from Britain. Hitler forced the Balkan states to join the Axis: Hungary (November 20, 1940), Romania (November 23, 1940), Bulagaria (March 1, 1941), and Yugoslavia (March 25). Had Mussolini not invaded Greece, Hitler may have forced Metaxis into the Axis as well or at least he would have remained neutral and there would have been no British forces threatening the Balkans. The Wehrmacht in April 1941 invaded Greece, quickly defeating the Greek and British armies. While the Germans rapidly achieved their goals, the effort was a dissater fpr the German war effoty. The invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece forced the Wehrmacht to delay operation Barbarossa--the invasion of the Soviet Union. This lead to 4 years of hideous barbarism. The Greeks did not sibmit meekly to Axis (German, Italian, and Bulgarian) occupation and Ressistance groups soon fornmed. The German reactiin was brutal beyond description. The war and the experience of the occupation threw traditional family roles into question as women became breadwinners and children took up arms. NAZI reprisals were severe. The Greek children were especially affected by the German occupation. In addition, the NAZI program of plundering the occupied countries resulting in large quantities of food being shipped from Greece to Germany. This caused a mass famine in Greece. Thousands of children starved.

Cold War

The Greek Civil War (1944-49) was one of the opening phases of the Cold War which decended on Europe after the defeat of the NAZIs. The German Wehrmacht was in 1944 being relentlessly pushed west by the Soviet Red Army. Rather than being cut off in the Balkans and Greece, the Wehrmacht begam to withdraw in 1944. British troops in 1944 entered Greece as the Wehrmact withdrew north. The Resistance groups attacked the fleeing Germans. Elections return to Greece after the the Germans withdrew in 1944, but were hotly contested. The Communists boycotted the elections and a bloody guerilla campaign that amounted to a Civil War which tore the country apart. The Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS) organized by the Greek Communist Party was the strongest force in the Resistance and tried to seize control of Greece. Only 2 months after the departure of the Germans from Athens, the ELAS and British fought strret battles. An armistice was signed with the British in 1945, but a civil war developed among the Greek political parties. The British were weakened by nearly 6 years of War and were unable to fully support the non-communists. Britain which had shouldered enormous costs during the War was essentially a bankrupt nation. Very substantial costs followed the War such as the occupation of Germany and contining respnsibilities in Cyprus, Greece, Palestine, and other countries. This is one reason why rationing had to be continued in Britain after the War. This proved extremely unpopular with serious domestic political consequences. The British also turned to rightest elements in Greece, including some who had collaborated with the Germans. Soon some members of the anti-NAZI Resistance movement were being arrested. The British asked for American assistance. The United States beginning in 1947 began supplying arms to the Greek Government. The Americans helped construct damaged infrastructure like air fields, bridges, docks, railways and communication networks. Fighting in the Civil War continued for 4 years. The Communists finally in 1949 declared a cease fire.










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Created: 12:54 AM 9/14/2009
Last updated: 2:48 PM 5/24/2013