History of Greek Europe

Introduction

Timeline

Timeline of Ancient Europe
3000-2000 BC 2000-1000 BC 1000 BC-0 0-500
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11
1 Pre-Palace age ca. 3000-2000 BC Aegean age
2 Palace age ca. 2000-1400 BC
3 Mycenaean age ca. 1400-1200 BC
4 Greek Dark Age ca. 1200-800 BC
5 Archaic age ca. 800-500 BC Greek age
6 Classical age ca. 500-330 BC
7 Hellenistic age ca. 330 BC-0
8 Early Republic ca. 500-250 BC
9 Late Republic ca. 250 BC-0
10 Early Empire (Pax Romana) ca. 0-200
11 Late Empire ca. 200-500
Summary of Greek Europe
Pre-Palace age
ca. 3000-2000 BC
formative age of Minoan culture Aegean age
Palace age
ca. 2000-1400 BC
flourishing of Minoan civilization
Mycenaean age
ca. 1400-1200 BC
flourishing of Mycenaean civilization
Greek Dark Age
ca. 1200-800 BC
Aegean region devoid of urban life
Archaic age
ca. 800-500 BC
formative age of the Greek city-states Greek age
Classical age
ca. 500-330 BC
flourishing of the Greek city-states
Hellenistic age
ca. 330 BC-0
age of the Diadochi kingdoms

Geography

During the ancient period, European civilization flourished mainly in the Mediterranean Basin, which may be defined as "the islands and shores of the Mediterranean Sea". Various mountain ranges, along with the Sahara Desert, isolate the Mediterranean Basin from the continental interiors of Europe and Africa. Consequently, while European civilization (which originated in the northeast Mediterranean) spread rapidly across southernmost Europe, northward diffusion was much delayed.

Mediterranean Basin

The first European city was Knossos, capital of the Minoan civilization. Under Europe's first four civilizations (the Minoans, Mycenaeans, Greeks, and Etruscans), cities sprang up throughout the Mediterranean Basin. With the rise and expansion of the Romans, urban life finally spread across the European continent.

Thus, up until the Roman period, most of Europe was ruled by non-urban cultures. These are mostly "archaeological cultures"; that is, they are not described in written records, and are therefore known only through artifacts (e.g. tools, pottery, burial practices). In discussion of history, the non-urban peoples of Europe are often referred to as barbarians.

Main Article

Aegean Age

ca. 3000-1200 BC
Aegean Cultures
Pre-Palace age
ca. 3000-2000 BC
Palace age
ca. 2000-1400 BC
Mycenaean age
ca. 1400-1200 BC
Crete Minoan culture Minoan civilization Mycenaean civilization
Cyclades Cycladic culture
mainland Greece Early Helladic culture rise of Mycenaean civilization

The Aegean Sea is the arm of the Mediterranean that lies between Greece and Asia Minor. The Aegean region (the land within and around the Aegean Sea) was the cradle of European civilization. Aegean culture drew much from Mesopotamian and Egyptian culture; thus, the very deepest roots of the West lie among the ziggurats and the pyramids.

Location of the Aegean Sea
Main Aegean Regions
Cultures of the Pre-Palace Age
Cultures of the Palace Age
Cultures of the Mycenaean Age

The Aegean age opened with three major non-urban cultures: the Early Helladic culture of mainland Greece, the Minoan culture of Crete, and the Cycladic culture of the Cyclades Islands (a cluster of small islands north of Crete). These three peoples were culturally similar (such that one may speak of an overarching "Aegean culture"), and may have all spoken the same language.5 By adopting the ingredients of civilized life (e.g. farming, smelting, literacy) from Mesopotamia and Egypt, the Aegean cultures became the most technically advanced societies in Europe.

European civilization was born in the Palace age, when the Minoans blossomed into an urban society. Each Minoan city was organized around a great central palace (hence the term "Palace age") which, in addition to housing nobility, served as a temple, administrative centre, and storage facility. The greatest Minoan city was Knossos.3,10,60

Principal Aegean Cities

Throughout the Palace age (ca. 2000-1400 BC), the Minoans flourished as the dominant traders of the eastern Mediterranean. Their influence radiated throughout the Aegean region, drawing the Cycladic islands into the Minoan culture sphere. Like the Egyptians, the Minoans excelled in art and engineering, yet showed relatively little interest in mathematics or science.A85,3,7

Meanwhile, the Mycenaeans arrived in Greece from uncivilized lands to the north, replacing the Early Helladic culture as the dominant people of the Greek mainland; once settled, they grew into a mighty civilization. Mycenaean cities included Mycenae (for which the civilization is named), Tiryns, and Pylos. Their culture was strongly Minoan-based, such that the Mycenaeans are remembered primarily as cultural adopters rather than innovators. Surpassing Minoan power ca. 1400 BC, the Mycenaeans ruled the Aegean region (including Crete) for two centuries.A87,5,10

The Mycenaean language is the oldest known form of Greek.96 The Mycenaeans were thus the first Greeks, and their arrival in the peninsula marks the beginning of Greek history (see Indo-European Languages). Their reign was relatively brief, ending ca. 1200 BC, possibly from civil war.11 An impoverished, non-urban period known as the Greek Dark Age (ca. 1200-800 BC) ensued throughout the Aegean region.10

Greek Dark Age

ca. 1200-800 BC
Summary of Ancient Greek History
Greek Dark Age
ca. 1200-800 BC
Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians migrate into Greece and establish settlements,
which grow into the Greek city-states by ca. 800 BC
Archaic age
ca. 800-500 BC
formative age of the Greek city-states
Classical age
ca. 500-330 BC
great age of the Greek city-states
Hellenistic age
ca. 330 BC-0
age of the Diadochi kingdoms

The Greek age (ca. 800 BC-0) featured three European civilizations: Greek, Etruscan, and Roman. Both the Etruscans and Romans were strongly influenced by Greek culture; indeed, Greek civilization can be described as the foundation of Roman civilization. The sum of Greek and Roman culture, known as Greco-Roman culture, became the foundation of European civilization.

During the Greek Dark Age (ca. 1200-800 BC), three major Greek tribes immigrated to mainland Greece from barbarian lands to the north (like the Mycenaeans before them): the Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians. Control of the Aegean region passed to these tribes, named for their dialects of Greek (e.g. the Dorians spoke "Dorian Greek").10

Each tribe carved out a share of mainland Greece, the Aegean islands, and the coast of Asia Minor (the Asian part of Turkey); the civilization of "ancient Greece" thus extended somewhat beyond the territory of modern Greece. The settlements of the Greek Dark Age would blossom into the Greek city-states ca. 800 BC. Regions colonized by the Dorians include the Peloponnese (aka the Peloponnesus): the large peninsula (nearly an island) that forms the southernmost part of mainland Greece.

Settlement of the Greek Tribes
Peloponnese

The remnants of Mycenaean culture, including a body of Mycenaean legend, were adopted by the freshly-settled Greek tribes. The Mycenaeans (like pre-modern cultures generally) possessed a rich tradition of storytelling, in which myth, history, and religion were often combined; stories might be casually recited by the fire, or reenacted in grandiose ceremonies involving music, costumes, and dance. Unlike written works, oral legends constantly evolve, as each teller makes changes (deliberate and unconscious) to the story.A88,K102-03

Two great Mycenaean legends, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were eventually set down in writing by Homer. These works became the most treasured literature of ancient Greece, and served as the foundation of Greek education. Indeed, Homer's poems arguably served as the scripture of ancient Greece, given that they include detailed exploration of ethics and the supernatural world.A106-07

Archaic Age

ca. 800-500 BC
Summary of Ancient Greek History
Greek Dark Age
ca. 1200-800 BC
Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians migrate into Greece and establish settlements,
which grow into the Greek city-states by ca. 800 BC
Archaic age
ca. 800-500 BC
formative age of the Greek city-states
Classical age
ca. 500-330 BC
great age of the Greek city-states
Hellenistic age
ca. 330 BC-0
age of the Diadochi kingdoms

The rise of Greek cities ca. 800 BC marks the end of the Dark Age and the beginning of the Archaic period (ca. 800-500 BC).10 Greek civilization, which (like its Aegean predecessor) drew much from Mesopotamian and Egyptian culture, thus emerged ca. 800 BC, restoring urban life to Europe.A120 Two Greek cities would grow to be especially powerful: the Doric city of Sparta (known for its severe militarism) and the Ionic city of Athens (the heart of Greek cultural achievement).

Athens and Sparta

Greek cities tended to remain city-states (politically autonomous cities) rather than uniting into empires. The tribal diversity of the Greeks and the fractured geography of the Aegean region may have contributed to this tendency. Each city-state was typically constructed on a hill for protection, with the highest land (known as the acropolis, literally "peak of the city") reserved for the principal temples.10

Despite the absence of empire, the city-states shared a common culture (including language, religion, and art), and together they comprised Greek civilization. The Olympic Games, the only event that brought peoples of all Greek cities together on a regular basis (every four years), helped maintain a sense of cultural unity. Moreover, partial multi-city political unity was achieved through alliances. Sparta, the most powerful Greek city of the Archaic age, led the mightiest Archaic-age alliance: the Peloponnesian League.A105,10,35

Though Sparta and Athens came to exceed 100,000 residents, most city-states were much smaller, in the range of tens of thousands. Cities were governed variously by monarchy (rule by a single person), oligarchy (rule by a small group), and eventually democracy (rule by all citizens, though the definition of "citizen" was narrow). The first and most highly-developed ancient Greek democracy was Athens, which featured democratic government for roughly the Classical age (see History of Democracy).9

Urban growth eventually led to shortages of natural resources and arable land, spurring the founding of new cities outside the Greek heartland (which, as noted earlier, consisted of the Greek mainland, the Aegean islands, and the western coast of Asia Minor). Greek colonization focused on several regions of the Mediterranean Basin (especially southern Italy), as well as the shores of the Black Sea. Syracuse, on the island of Sicily, emerged as the largest overseas Greek city-state.A109,10

Ancient Greek Settlements (red dots)

The first major external threat to ancient Greece was the First Persian Empire (ca. 550-330 BC), which expanded rapidly westward (see History of the Ancient Middle East). The Archaic period concluded with the Persian conquest of Asia Minor, initiating the Persian Wars (ca. 500-450 BC).36

Classical Age

ca. 500-330 BC
Summary of Ancient Greek History
Greek Dark Age
ca. 1200-800 BC
Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians migrate into Greece and establish settlements,
which grow into the Greek city-states by ca. 800 BC
Archaic age
ca. 800-500 BC
formative age of the Greek city-states
Classical age
ca. 500-330 BC
great age of the Greek city-states
Hellenistic age
ca. 330 BC-0
age of the Diadochi kingdoms
Summary of the Classical Age
ca. 500-330 BC
Persian Wars
ca. 500-450 BC
interwar period
ca. 450-430 BC
Peloponnesian War
ca. 430-400 BC
decline of Greece to Macedonia
ca. 400-330 BC

In spite of almost constant warfare, the Classical period was the culminating age of Greek civilization. This period also witnessed the unification (ca. 500 BC) and rise of Macedonia, a kingdom that encompassed modern-day Macedonia and northeastern Greece. This kingdom essentially became an extension of Greek civilization (rather than a distinct civilization of its own), as the Macedonians rigorously adopted Greek culture, including language, art, and religion.10

In the course of the Persian Wars, the Greeks pooled their military resources, giving Sparta control of land forces and Athens command of the navy. Throughout the conflict, mainland Greece was only in true peril from two invasions: the first under Persian emperor Darius the Great (ca. 490 BC), the second under his son Xerxes the Great (ca. 480 BC). Both invasions were repelled, despite mainland Greece being severely outmatched.36

Following these invasions, Athens emerged as the naval superpower of the Greek world, while Sparta remained supreme on land. Athens formed an alliance with other Ionian city-states (the Delian League) and spent the remainder of the war defending Asia Minor.10,38,39,77

As the Persian Wars drew to a close, the foremost statesman in Greek history, Pericles, came to dominate politics in Athens. Pericles brought the Delian League to the height of its power and lavishly patronized the arts, including the rebuilding of the Acropolis, which had been sacked by the Persians.40 The buildings produced by this reconstruction effort (which took place during the interwar period) comprise the pinnacle of Greek architecture.

Indeed, Greek culture as a whole waxed during the Classical age. An extraordinary body of innovation, sometimes referred to collectively as the Greek awakening (see Greek Awakening), encompassed such fields as government, science, history, and art. The engine of Greek innovation was humanism (see Humanism).

The age of peace following the Persian Wars was not to last. In the absence of a common enemy, tensions grew swiftly between Athens and Sparta (the two primary Greek powers), ultimately sparking the Peloponnesian War (ca. 430-400 BC) between the Delian League and Peloponnesian League.41,42

Peloponnesian War

Following a prolonged, bloody stalemate, Athens fell to Spartan forces ca. 400 BC. Yet the war had exhausted both cities, leaving Greece with a yawning power vacuum. Meanwhile, as Greek power foundered, the state destined to fill this vacuum stirred in the north: the kingdom of Macedonia.10,42

Hellenistic Age

ca. 330 BC-0
Summary of Ancient Greek History
Greek Dark Age
ca. 1200-800 BC
Dorians, Ionians, and Aeolians migrate into Greece and establish settlements,
which grow into the Greek city-states by ca. 800 BC
Archaic age
ca. 800-500 BC
formative age of the Greek city-states
Classical age
ca. 500-330 BC
great age of the Greek city-states
Hellenistic age
ca. 330 BC-0
age of the Diadochi kingdoms

The kingdom of Macedonia, united ca. 500 BC, experienced a rapid ascent during the Classical age. The age concluded with the nation's two foremost kings, Philip II (who conquered mainland Greece) and Alexander (who expanded the Macedonian Empire all the way to India).10

The most devastating fighting force the world had yet seen, the Macedonian army featured deep infantry formations (whose ranks, armed with long spears, could attack simultaneously), large cavalry divisions, and enormous siege weapons. This army enabled Philip II's conquest of mainland Greece, which united the Greek city-states under a single power for the first time. Philip was assassinated by a Macedonian noble, however, thwarting his ultimate ambition to defeat the Persian Empire.10,15,44

Alexander the Great thus inherited all the might of Macedonia and mainland Greece combined. He swiftly conquered southward across Asia Minor and Egypt, then eastward across Southwest Asia. Serving in his own elite cavalry division, Alexander often personally led charges in the battlefield, and routinely defeated much larger forces.A126,K96-97

Alexander's conquest of the First Persian Empire (ca. 330 BC) marks the beginning of the Hellenistic age (ca. 330 BC-0). The term "Hellenistic" indicates that during this period, the culture of the Hellenes (Greeks) flourished throughout the region spanned by Alexander's empire: Macedonia/Greece, Egypt, and much of Southwest/Central Asia. This included Greek religion, festivals, art, architecture, and language (which became standard for international communication).A126,K132-33

Alexander's Empire

Greek culture did not replace the native cultures of Alexander's empire, however. While a layer of Greek culture (especially among the ruling class) was superimposed over these cultures, they nonetheless continued to thrive, often resulting in hybrid cultural features (e.g. the adoption of Greek deities into native religions). Greek culture was especially strong in the new cities founded by Alexander, which attracted many immigrants from the Greek heartland.A127

Having conquered the entire Persian Empire, Alexander continued to press eastward. He only stopped when, a short distance into India, his army finally refused to continue. After leading his troops back to Mesopotamia, Alexander died of a sudden fever.15

Following Alexander's death, his empire fractured into a patchwork of smaller states. The leaders of these states consisted of Alexander's top generals and members of the Macedonian royal family. Collectively, these leaders are known as the Diadochi ("successors"), and the nations that succeeded Alexander's empire are known as the Diadochi kingdoms.10 Mightiest of these kingdoms were the Seleucid Empire (which ruled much of Southwest Asia) and the Ptolemaic Empire (which ruled Egypt).91

Diadochi Kingdoms (and neighbouring states)

While Athens was the heart of the Classical age, the economic, cultural, and scholarly pinnacle of the Hellenistic world was Alexandria, Egypt (capital of the Ptolemaic Empire). The greatest collection of Greek writings ever assembled was found in the Library of Alexandria, and the golden age of Greek science (which spanned the Hellenistic age and Pax Romana) was centred in this city (see History of Science).A128

The eastward extension of Greek civilization effected by Alexander was matched by an equally vigorous westward diffusion. During the Hellenistic age, the Roman Republic (which, like Macedonia, held a deep appreciation for Greek culture) expanded rapidly across the Mediterranean world. Greek religion, art, and architecture were readily absorbed by this young empire, especially once Greece itself had been conquered.

In fact, were it not for this westward diffusion to the Romans, Greek civilization might have disappeared. Across Southwest and Central Asia, Greek influence faded with the crumbling of Diadochi power, allowing the reassertion of Persian culture. In the Mediterranean Basin, on the other hand, the newly-forged Roman Empire would preserve and build upon Greek civilization, thereby completing the foundation of the West.

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