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Ancient Greece was an important cultural area, where many of the modern philosophical and scientific questions were first discussed.

The Greeks were part of the Indo-European invasion which came out of north central Eurasia into Europe in the west and India to the south - and Persia between. They arrived in the Peninsula now called Greece and the Aegean islands in the second millennium BC. They displaced an earlier people, the Pelasgians (whose language is unknown). In the earlier period of Homer they were a wild warlike people and we have the epics of Homer about the Trojan wars and the stories of the early feudal Greek kingdoms. Some of their culture came from Egypt (Solon had studied there).

Later there was the period of the city states when some of the ideas of the modern world were formulated by such philsophers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle: these included the political theories of the different kinds of state: monarchy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny. Also the beginnings of modern science and mathematics (some acquired from Babylon and Egypt). Many of the thinkers lived in Athens which by trade and conquest became the most important and powerful ancient state until conquered by Macedonia in 337 BC. The Macedonian empire was then expanded by Alexander the Great to cover the whole area of western Asia when he absorbed the Persian Empire which included modern Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt and part of Pakistan as well.

Hellenistic World
Alexander died in 323 BC leaving his empire without a leader. His generals divided it up. Greek remained the main cultural and commercial language of most of the western area of this empire: Syria, Turkey, Greece, Palestine, Egypt. There were also Greek colonies to the west in Sicily and southern France and Spain. A Greco-Buddhist culture was founded in parts of Afghanistan (now Afghan Turkistan). The modern English-dominated world has similarities.

Roman Empire to Byzantium
All the western Greek speaking areas were absorbed by the Roman Empire following the Battle of Actium (Mark Antony and Cleopatra). When the western, Latin speaking, part was lost to the German tribes, the eastern part based on Constantinople (now Istanbul and previously Byzantium) continued as a Greek speaking empire. However, Slav speaking peoples moved into much of the area, and Albanians spread from Illyria (modern Yugoslavia). Many of the Greek-speaking descendants were expelled from Turkey during the 20th century.

The Byzantine Empire ended when the Ottoman Turks occupied the city of Constantinople in 1453.

Ottoman period
From 1460 the rest of Greece was occupied by the Ottomans. Within this empire there were movements of peoples and into Greece came Turks and Vlachs (Romanians) as well as Slavs. That is, there can be no question of unbroken continuity of modern Greeks with their classical forebears: they are the descendants, like everyone else in Europe, of a mixture of peoples (even in Crete there are Slavic place names).

Parts of the Greek territory were also ruled by Latin states, including Genoa and Venice.

The Greek language has evolved, like all other languages, so that modern Greek is related to ancient Greek in the same way that French is to Latin. But modern Greeks are undecided about what language to teach in schools, veering from modern Demotic language (during democratic regimes) to an educated version based on the ancient language (during dictatorships). This is a situation also found in Norway and other countries where independence was achieved only in the last century or so.

Modern Greece
An Independence movement became effective in 1821 as the Ottomans were weakening. Independence of a part of the present state came in 1830. There were disputes about the borders with Bulgaria and Turkey until the present frontiers were settled in 1918. A Bavarian prince was installed as king Otto in 1833 by the other European powers to keep the Greeks in order. He was deposed in 1862 and replaced by a Danish prince George. On the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and also the failure of the Greek expedition to reconquer parts of Turkey in 1921-22, there was an exchange of population by which some of the Turks living in Greek territory were expelled and Greeks living in Turkish territory (especially Smyrna (Izmir) and its surroundings) were transferred to Greece (atrocities in Smyrna and destitution on arrival in Athens). There has been enmity between the two ever since. A Republic was declared in 1924 but the monarchy was restored again in 1935.

Greece was occupied first by Italians then by Germans in 1940. Parts of the north were then transferred to Bulgaria and Albania.

During the war there was a resistance but as in Yugoslavia it was divided between Communists and Royalists.

Post 1945
Following the second world war, when Greece was liberated by the British and the Americans, there was a civil war between the monarchists and communists from 1945-49. (But at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences the victorious allies had secretly allocated Greece to the British and American sphere of influence and Stalin had agreed not to help the communists in Greece in return for a free hand in eastern Europe. He didn't tell the Greek Communists, perhaps hoping they might win anyway.) Tito's Yugoslavia sent assistance to the Greek Communists. However, when Yugoslavia was dropped from the Stalinist world the Greek Communists lost all outside support. They also lost morale when the remaining Communist states said that the object of the fighting was to create a greater Macedonia from the Macedonian area in Greece. The monarchists won with British and American help. There followed a period of authoritarian rule with some of the trappings of democracy. The divisions of the civil war continued until the 1980s. Greece became a member of NATO in 1949.

After a moderate left government came to power, which the right wing people thought threatened to bring to power the losers in the civil war, there was a military coup in 1967, alleged to have been assisted by American agencies. There followed a military government similar to those found in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay) until 1974. Following the failure of their coup in Cyprus in 1973 the Colonels left office to a democratic regime. Restoration of democracy occurred in 1974. Greece was then considered suited to joining the European Community in 1981. This membership was granted more to prevent a recurrence of dictatorship than to mark Greece's similarity to western Europe. The country retains many of the characteristics of the Levant (spectacular government corruption, hatred of the Turks, rural village culture - despite the huge size of Athens), very strong and somewhat irrational nationalism.

Macedonian Problem
Greeks claim that the Macedonians of Macedonia (Makedonija), formerly part of Yugoslavia, have no right to their name, on the irrational grounds that there is a Greek province of this name and was once, in the time of Alexander the Great's father Philip, the name of a Greek kingdom. There are some Slavs in Greek Macedonia and round Thessalonika whose rights are discriminated against. Greece was allowed to join the European Community to defuse some of these problems. There was a risk that Europe might become involved, especially if the Yugoslav wars had spilled across into Greece which was believed to be sympathetic to Romania and Serbia to prevent the emergence of Macedonia. Does this call in question Greece's adherence to the ideals of the European Union. Is Greece in danger of being suspended? Probably not, but a second class category seemed possible during the period of the Balkan crisis.

However, the Greeks needed the money paid for regional development and probably preferred this to Balkan adventures, especially as Serbia seemed likely to be a pariah for some time as a result of the war in Bosnia and Croatia.

Despite these problems, Greece adopted the euro as a full member.

The Greeks are Orthodox in religion. The overall head of their church is the Patriarch of Constantinople (Istanbul), where there are now very few Greeks (2000). In the past Orthodox Russia was interested in "protecting" the Greeks and trying to annex Constantinople. A nationalist Russia under someone like Zhirinovsky might be interested again in forming an Orthodox bloc, to include the non Slav Greeks and Romanians. At present (2005) these fears are subsiding. Serbia and Macedonia will probably eventually join the EU. Putin's Russia shows no interest in these particular Tsarist fantasies - though does follow something like them, in Georgia.

Will Greece remain within the EU?


two types:

  • Educated, based on Ancient Greek;
  • Demotic, the evolved language of the people


(denied by officials)


Vlach (Romanian)











Multi-party democracy with change of party, following period of military dictatorship. Greece is now a member of the European Union and subject to EU rules so that re-occurrence of military rule is unlikely.

Until October 1993 the government was formed of the New Democracy party - a conservative party. It took over in 1990 from the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) led and dominated by Andreas Papandreou which had proved very corrupt. Although Greece is a member of the EU its politics and culture are more similar to the Balkans and the Near East than to western Europe. This shows itself in the irrational nationalism which asserts that there are no minorities and suppresses the rights of Turks, Slavs (Macedonians and Bulgarians) and Vlachs (Romanians) who live within the territory of the state. These are denied the rights to publish material in their own languages or to elect representatives to parliament. Moreover, there have been examples of corruption on a spectacular scale.

Papandreou's PASOK party returned to power in October 1993 fueled apparently by people's protest against unemployment caused by reform of the economy and also noisy nationalism with respect to Macedonia, an ominous development. In 2004 the conservatives returned to power - to confront the expense of the Olympic Games.

Politics is in reality dynastic, as the party leadership of both parties seems to be hereditary.

Has politics come to an end with the appointment of a former deputy European Central Bank governor as non-party Prime Minister with the instruction to bring down the deficit? (Whose instruction? The EU Council of Ministers?) Will people accept this? We shall see?

Elections in May 2012 produced an inconclusive result. The old parties, Pasok and Neademokrateia, lost support and were replaced by more extreme parties with a policy of rejecting the EU policies of austerity. None had a majority or the ability to form a coalition. Ominously a neo-fascist party, Golden Dawn, gained seats in parliament with quasi-Nazi policies. A new election was held in June. The pro-austerity parties had a small majority and formed a government, though the leftwing parties might have had a majority if they could have cooperated.







One of the poorest countries in the European Union. Its economy on joining the Community was largely traditional, with many people working subsistence farms with some profitable agriculture. Reform of the economy is driving people out of the villages and into the cities (mainly Athens) a familiar Third World phenomenon. To a country of villagers this is a serious disruption.

The modern economy included a shipping industry, both building ships and operating worldwide shiipping companies. Tourism was important, bringing northern Europeans to the islands and beaches. On joining the euro Greece became much more expensive and many people went to Turkey instead.

Greece has needed the subsidies from the European Union and thus its government ratified the Maastricht treaty swiftly. However, will the richer countries continue to support Greece, especially as Greek politics are so different from those of the other countries? If Greece had become involved in the Balkan wars in Macedonia its membership of NATO and the EU might have brought a desire to expel it rather than involve NATO and the EU in these dangerous disputes. Despite the weakness of the economy Greece was admitted to membership of the euro-zone, at the last possible moment.

The financial catastrophe of 2008-10 affected Greece badly. Its huge fiscal deficit caused strain to the whole eurozone. There is now discussion of whether Greece (along with Italy, Portugal, Spain and Ireland should have been allowed to adopt the euro.

A major problem is that, as in Italy, large numbers of people avoid paying taxes so that the government fiscal deficit is very large in comparison with the GNP. (It has been calculated that if the Middle Classes and the very rich actually paid the lawful taxes the fiscal deficit would be filled). If Greece were not in the euro zone their own currency would depreciate against others - probably into a hyperinflation. How will the other eurozone countries treat Greece? Making people pay tax would be necessary. Can any government (until recently the PASOK) persuade them to do so?

April 2010 saw the government apply to the IMF for a loan. This is bound to require drastic cuts of public expenditure.

June 2011 saw the crisis get worse with more loans from the IMF and European Central Bank. The author does not understand the intricacies of Finance but can see this a serious situation. The lenders are demanding that the government sell off all state industries, raise taxes and severely cut government jobs. Many of the people are demonstrating in the streets against this.

In November 2011 the crisis grew more acute with plans proposed by the Heads of Government of the EU, and then by the G20 meeting in Cannes. Many commentators seem to assume that Greece will change to its own currency outside the eurozone. Perhaps if it does it will become cheap for visitors and then its tourist industry will boom.

In May 2012 there are rumours that Greece mayLeave the euro

By February 2012 the crisis has continued to worsen with mass unemployment and destitution as Greek governments try to implement the demands of the EU finance ministers to cut government expenditure. The observer is reminded of the ancient Greek story of the Minotaur when Athens was required to supply the monster with an annual virgin. Demonstrations in the streets suggest the imminence of a popular uprising.







Athens has a serious air pollution problem from the oil-fired road traffic.

In ancient times there were forests. They were cut to build the Athenian fighting ships, the Triremes. Ever since, the land has been rocky and hotter than it would be if the forests were still there. Many ancient sites have been covered with the soil which has washed off the now stony desert of the mountains. In ancient times it was the cause of malarial swamps.






Human Rights

Improving since joining the European Community but the rights of minorities are criticized, especially of the Turks in Thrace who are discouraged from expressing their religion and using their language. A recent change in the electoral law has been alleged to have the purpose of preventing the election of a Turkish representative to parliament. The Macedonian (Slav) minority is also discriminated against. Albanians too. And Protestants.

Climate effects

Climate change is likely to put the whole country within the arid zone as the Sahara moves north.

Last revised 20/06/12


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