“”Conquered Greece took captive her savage conqueror and brought her arts into rustic Latium.
|—Quintus Horatius Flaccus, a Roman poet during the reign of Caesar Augustus, describing the influx of Greek culture into the ruling Roman Empire.|
“”From now on I will call our esteemed EU partner "the former Ottoman possession of Greece (FOPOG)."
|—David Cameron in a jab at Greece over the North Macedonia name dispute.|
Greece (Greek: Ελλάδα, Ellada), officially the Hellenic Republic (Ελληνική Δημοκρατία, Ellinikí Dimokratía), is a country in south-eastern Europe consisting of a mountainous peninsular landscape jutting out of the southern Balkans along with a multitude of islands scattered across the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. It's notable for its extremely long ancient history, being regarded as the cradle of Western civilization due to Ancient Greece's heavy influence on philosophy, culture, and the Roman Empire. Sadly, Greece's glory days seem to be over for the time being, as the country in the modern era is known more for its 30-year squabble over North Macedonia's name diplomatic slap-fights with Turkey over maritime borders, and a catastrophic decade-long economic meltdown far more than anything worthy of a grand paragon of Western civilization. About 90% of the current Greek population are Eastern Orthodox Christians, while 2% are Muslim and 4% are unaffiliated. Greece is a democratic parliamentary republic with its capital in Athens.
Greece is home to the first advanced civilizations in Europe, although the Greeks themselves were organized into a large number of infighting city-states. During this time, Greeks established colonies across Mediterranean Europe, began Western literature and philosophy, and made great leaps in science and mathematics. On the negative side, Ancient Greece also tended to be warlike and reliant on slavery. This constant warfare helped the Greeks fight off the much larger Empire of Persia in 492 and 480 BCE, but it also led to a catastrophic war between the cities of Athens and Sparta in 431 BCE. With many of the cities having smashed each other into oblivion, the northern Greek state of Macedon ascended to unite most of the Greek lands with relatively little resistance and then went on to conquer a massive empire under its famed leader Alexander the Great. Like many great conquerors, Alexander cast his new empire into chaos by dying without a succession plan, and the Roman Republic began to intrude into Greek affairs by 200 BCE. By 27 BCE, all of Greece was annexed into the Roman Empire. However, the Romans quickly became enamored with Greek culture and philosophy, with Greek ways becoming a cornerstone of the empire.
During the rise of Christianity, Greeks and Greek-speakers like Saint Paul became vital figures in the religion's early history. When the western Roman Empire fell in 476 CE, the Greeks continued as the Eastern Roman Empire, known then as the "Kingdom of the Romans", and known now as the "Byzantine Empire". Its religious leaders shaped Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Unfortunately for them, the empire started to come under constant assault from Muslims to the east and Crusaders from the west. Turks moved in from farther east, conquering Greek lands and destroying the empire in 1453, founding the Ottoman Empire in its stead.
Under Turkish domination, the Greek people faced heavy oppression, leading to repeated and bloody uprisings. This culminated in a brutal war of independence in 1821, which the Greeks won with significant European assistance. The price of independence, though, was the imposition of a German monarch over Greece who ruled as a despot until a revolution swept him from power in 1862. Greek history was further defined by its hostility towards the Turks, as significant tracts of Greek land remained under Ottoman rule. This led Greece into several great wars against the Ottomans, most notably Greece's involvement in World War I. The latter war was a disaster for the Greek people, as the Ottomans conducted a horrific genocide against its Greek population and fought a total war that left Greece in ruins.
Political instability plagued Greece, leading to politician Ioannis Metaxas seizing power as an authoritarian strongman dictator in 1936 with assistance from the Greek king. He led Greece during World War II, in which the country was brutally invaded by fascist Italy. Greece tenaciously resisted the invasion, but after the war it descended almost immediately into civil war between the dictatorship government and communist rebels. The war caused even more economic destruction and population displacement. More political instability followed, and the era of dictatorship finally ended in 1974.
After the end of the dictatorship, quality of life in Greece improved greatly. Tragically, this trend ended abruptly in the 2009 financial crisis and the subsequent austerity policies, which wrecked the Greek economy again. The country has yet to fully recover from this. Financial woes are also joined by a refugee crisis from the Middle East, which is fueling a right-wing resurgence and causing social strife and straining the Greek economy even more.
The Greek language uses an alphabet that gave the world π (They seem to be the only ones who see a need to use a capital Π, which sadly gets ignored by users of other writing systems. It does, however, find use in mathematics, where capital pi notation, similar to the sigma notation used for series of summation, is used to simplify the presentation of the product of a sequence of values).
Greeks find it amusing to see their 'whiteness' change based on the conversation. When it's discussing their supposed "Western Culture" past, they're glorious Aryans. (Or maybe they think Greek people all look like marble busts.) When discussing the debt crisis, they're swarthy sea people on welfare with no culture.
- 1 History
- 2 2010-15 sovereign debt crisis
- 3 υποσημειώσεις
Greece was the cradle of the first advanced civilizations in Europe, and it is thus considered the birthplace of Western civilization. Greek culture was heavily influenced by its natural environment. With impassable mountains covering much of the landscape and few natural resources easily accessible, the Greek people were forced to become a maritime civilization in order to survive and grow. Instead of focusing on agriculture like many other early civilizations, the Greeks instead colonized islands across the Aegean and traded with other civilizations in the ancient world. As the Greek people spread out across the seas, the waters and rugged mountains of their homeland kept them separate, ensuring that no unified ancient Greek state could exist.
The Minoan people, established on the island of Crete, became the first Greek peoples to use their trade wealth to establish a true civilization in around 3000 BCE. Their later decline, around 1450 BCE, is mysterious due to its unknown cause and high level of destruction, becoming the subject of wild speculation.
After it came the Mycenaean civilization from mainland Greece, which focused less on the arts and culture and more on being austere and warlike. Mycenae became the model for most Ancient Greek city-states, with its pantheon becoming the Greek pantheon, and its warlike ways becoming the norm for Greek polities. Unfortunately, historians also don't know too much about Mycenae, since the civilization was destroyed by similarly mysterious circumstances sometime around 1100 BCE. The downfall of Mycenae ushered in the Greek Dark Age.
Greek Dark Age
The collapse of Greece's primary ancient civilization resulted in a near-complete loss of literacy, and Greek settlements established during this time were small and scattered. While Mycenaean culture persisted, it only did so through tradition, ritual, and word of mouth. This political fragmentation also caused even more wars between Greeks squabbling over what was left behind.
That being said, scholars today find the term "Dark Age" to be something of an overly loaded term. While Greek civilization went into the toilet for a while, there were some major developments that took place during the era. Ironworking began, likely in response to the increased number and ferocity of Greek wars. Iron kill good, better than bronze! By 800 BCE, Greeks started to build more advanced settlements again, and the Greeks also recovered their literacy by adopting a new alphabet. Specifically, the Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet (from modern-day Lebanon), and used it to create a phonetic representation of their own language.
As any non-idiot historian can tell you, literacy is essential to forming any complex civilization. After, and only after, the reestablishment of a Greek written language could Greek civilization resume.
The Archaic period was shaped by the rising population of Greece and its increasing contacts with the rest of the world, trends which led the Greeks to begin colonizing farther and farther away. It was also the beginning of the great age of Greek philosophy and politics.
Probably the most important city-state during this era was Athens, which made the first great leaps forward in Greek philosophy and politics. Athens' government was dominated by wealthy aristocrats (of course) who gradually seized more and more wealth and power from everyone else to the point where most of the common people became debt slaves. This, naturally, wasn't too great for social stability and cohesion, so the Athenian ruling class decided to attempt fixing the situation through laws. The first lawgiver was Draco in 621 BCE (who gives us the term "draconian"), and his laws were immediately hated since they imposed the death penalty for just about every infraction. Damn.
Since that didn't work out, the Athenians then turned to Solon in 594 BCE, and he dramatically restructured Athenian society into a stratified, yet mostly fairer class structure. He also introduced the concept of equality before the law. The Athenian system then gradually evolved into the first real democracy, where male citizens (so not women, slaves, foreign residents, or "useless" people) had the right to freely participate in government. Athenian democracy was not without its flaws, of course. Only about 10-20% of the population were citizens, and only a fraction of that number, maybe a 100 of the wealthiest people, had the greatest power to shape political agendas. Athenian citizens could also make some pretty bad decisions, like executing generals despite them winning battles, or ordering the execution of Socrates.
It was, however, better than the Spartan system.
Sparta (also known as "THIS IS SPARTAAA!!!"), located farther south, was an absolute nightmare. It became the second great city-state of Greece through its military prowess, achieved through brutally training male citizens from the age of seven in a series of tests meant to develop pain tolerance, endurance, and warfare skills. Boys would be deprived of shoes and good clothing, only given minimal food and instead encouraged to fight each other for extra portions, and ruthlessly beaten for any infractions (not for doing it but for getting caught). On the up side, Spartan male citizens had the right to participate in government once trained, and Spartan female citizens enjoyed much, much greater freedoms than women elsewhere in Ancient Greece.
Much worse was the plight of slaves (known as "helots"), who made up almost the entire population of Sparta and were subjected to ritual mass murder by the trained citizens in order to keep the helots terrorized and teach the citizens how to kill. There were, as you would expect, slave revolts, but Sparta proved extremely adept at putting them down time after time. The life of a helot was one of constant forced labor and bloody terror.
One last thing to note were the Olympic games, which begun in 776 BCE and featured contestants from across the Hellenic world. The Spartans tended to do really well in them.
Persian and Peloponnesian wars
“”Go tell the Spartans, you who read:
We took their orders, and lie here dead.
|—Simonides, epitaph for the dead of Thermopylae.|
The Archaic period ended with the Persian wars, when the Greek city-states (notably the great rivals of Athens and Sparta) united to fend off a great invasion from the massive Persian Empire in 490 and 490 BCE. With Spartan land warfare prowess, Athenian sea power, and the rugged landscape of Greece itself, the Greeks were able to preserve their independence against a much more numerous foe. This war featured the famous Battle of Thermopylae, in which about 7,000 Spartans and allied Greeks led by Spartan king Leonidas I managed to delay an army of around 70,000 Persians for three days. The battle was made famous by its depictions in pop culture, most recently in the 2007 film 300.
The Persian Wars left Sparta and Athens the unquestionable great powers of Greece. Unfortunately, two naturally opposed great powers can't live in peace for too long, and what began as a cold war turned into a hot one. The Peloponnesian War began in 432 BCE, and it quickly became one of the most sickeningly brutal wars in Greek history, with entire city-states being exterminated and previously unthinkable atrocities being committed upon noncombatants. The war's scope was also much larger than Greece had seen before, with Athens deploying a military and political alliance called the Delian League, and Sparta in turn fighting at the head of the Peloponnesian League.
The war was ultimately won by Sparta, making it the effective ruler of Greece. This wasn't to last very long, and the period became a textbook example of what happens when you focus more on conquering than ruling. The Spartan citizens were unsuited to be a ruling class since they were trained in warfare and almost nothing else. Sparta also overextended itself by waging even more wars to expand its territory, giving its old enemies of Athens and some of its disgruntled allies an opportunity to overthrow them.
“”Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
|—John Milton, Paradise Regained.|
After Sparta's downfall came Ancient Greece's golden era, the time that really encapsulated the popular concept of "Ancient Greece." First Athens and then Thebes became the new hegemons of the Greek world, and meanwhile Greek thinkers began making great steps forward in philosophy and science. Rationalism became the new approach for many philosophers in approaching the world's workings, with Athenian philosopher Plato and his student Aristotle coming to define Western thought. Among the most famous Greeks mathematicians from this time are Euclid, known as the founder of modern geometry, and Archimedes, who became one of the greatest scientists and mathematicians of all time. Also notable was Eratosthenes, who, in 240 BCE, who used mathematics to not only prove that the planet is a sphere but also (astonishingly accurately) calculate its circumference. Basically, fuck you, Flat Earthers, even people from 2,000 years ago knew you were full of shit.
This shift towards rationalism reflected itself in Greek art, with depictions of humans becoming far more detailed and realistic. It also resulted in the founding of the modern school of history, as Greek writer Herodotus was the first person recorded as having approached past events with an analytical perspective. He actually coined the term "history". That being said, his Histories, which attempted to chronicle the Persian Wars, were very subjectively written to the point of being propaganda and rather stupidly traces the conflict's origins back to the semi-mythical Trojan War while taking the acts of the Greek gods for granted. That's why other historians point to a different Greek writer, Thucydides, as the first true historian, since he was the first historian who actually applied standards of impartiality when evaluating historical evidence and also didn't chalk shit up to "the gods diddit".
This was also the golden era of Athens, after the statesman and politician Pericles had made democracy a permanent fixture of the city-state's politics and also initiated the building of the Athenian Parthenon. Athens' ascent actually made Classical Greece possible, since it sponsored and funded the arts and philosophy.
Macedonia and Alexander the Great
Athens' time in the sun was cut short by the lasting damage caused by the Peloponnesian War as well as its clashes with the city-state of Thebes. With Athens and Sparta both on the outs, a power vacuum opened up just waiting for an ambitious Greek city-state to fill it. In came Philip II of Macedon, who took control of a backwards monarchy in northern Greece in 359 BCE and began to whip it into shape by training its armies and modernizing its administration. He then challenged Athens and Thebes and defeated their alliance in the pivotal Battle of Chaeronea, which left Macedon as the unquestioned ruler of the Greek states. Without Philip II, his son would not have had the chance to become world famous.
His son, by the way, was Alexander III, better known as "Alexander the Great." He took the throne in 336 BCE and very quickly set out to attack Persia in order to "liberate" the Greek population of Anatolia who remained under the empire's rule.
Eventually, the Macedonians conquered most of Greece (with the exception of Sparta, as the once-mighty Spartans were now not worth the effort of conquering) under Philip II, but his son Alexander would truly lead the Macedonian Empire to glory. Setting out for the east, Alexander conquered the entire Persian Achaemenid Empire, even conquering parts of India. Though the Argead Empire would collapse shortly after, its influence was far-reaching and profound. Bactria, one of the farthest east of Alexander's successor kingdoms, would lead to cultural exchanges with both the nearby Indian kingdoms and even the Han Empire in China. Indeed, some of the first depictions of the Buddha's human form are believed to have been made by Greco-Indian artisans. Alexander's conquests did not result in a massive Greek Empire stretching from the Balkans to the Indus, but it did establish a period known as the Hellenistic Age, a time when Greek culture was everywhere and the main powers in the Middle East (particularly the Seleucids, Ptolemies, and Antigonids) were the descendants of his generals. Of course, this was not to last. The Seleucids were gradually taken over by the Parthian Empire, originally a group of steppe nomads who eventually became a Persian successor empire, though they at first embraced Greek cultural trappings. As for Greece itself, Rome had arrived on the scene.
Roman Rule: From Antiquity to the Late Medieval Period
The Macedonian kingdom that had controlled most of Greece since the collapse of the Argead Empire was finally destroyed in 168 BCE by Roman forces under the command of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, who would earn the agnomen "Macedonicus" for his victory. Roman rule of Greece would continue mostly uninterrupted for the next 1500 years. This conquest of Greece allowed Rome a better position to expand into Anatolia and the Near East, as well as allowing Romans better access to the educational infrastructure of the Greek cities, particularly Plato's Academy in Athens. Roman culture would become increasingly Greek-influenced as more and more elite Romans embraced aspects of Greek philosophy that would usually be considered un-Roman; Lucretius, for instance, embraced the philosophy of Epicureanism, which maintained a quasi-deistic view that the gods were mostly uninvolved in mortal affairs, that the ultimate goal of life was to achieve a state of freedom from anxiety and fear (ataraxia) and that public service was unnecessary except in dire emergencies. This didn't sit well with the Roman establishment, and Cicero, among others, wrote against them frequently, particularly in his book On Obligations. Furthermore, as the Roman Empire gradually declined, the wealthier east proved easier to manage and defend than the relatively impoverished West. The center of Roman power began shifting away from its traditional heartland of Italy and towards Greece and Anatolia.
After his triumph in the collapse of the Tetrarchy, emperor Constantine I decided to construct a new capital, Constantinople, on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Byzantion. Positioned on the Bosporus, it was an ideal selection for a capital, as it was both closer to the empire's wealth and was very difficult to besiege. Constantinople would remain the official capital of the Roman Empire, though when the empire was split up Western Emperors would set up shop in Mediolanum (modern-day Milan) or, later, Ravenna. Greece would remain one of the twin heartlands of the Roman/Byzantine Empire (the other being Anatolia) due to its wealth and its proximity to Constantinople, and the last vestiges of the Roman Empire would cling on to Greek-speaking parts of the Empire until the Ottomans conquered the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the Empire of Trebizond in 1461, and Epirus in 1479. The Greeks, as we know them today, would still call themselves Romans ("Ῥωμαῖοι," latinized as "Rhōmaîoi") until the 19th Century, and many Greeks outside of Greece itself continued to refer to themselves as "Romans" as late as the 20th Century.
“”Fuck your parliament and your constitution. America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If these two fellows continue itching the elephant they may just get whacked by the elephant's trunk, whacked good.
|—Lyndon B. Johnson to the Greek Ambassador in 1965., Harold pinter, House of Commons speech, October 2002|
Two years later, the Greek Colonels' fascist junta took over the country. Democracy prevailed from 1974 onwards, with a referendum resulting in the abolition of the pre-junta monarchy. Socialists and conservative parties swapping government and opposition in the usual manner, apart from one unusual period in 1989, when a coalition of Conservative and Communist parties ran the place for a while to keep out the Socialists. The junta fell as a result of a failed attempt at establishing a puppet regime in Cyprus.
Greece and Turkey are both NATO, which poses an interesting legal question of what happens when one NATO country strikes at another. Which one is NATO to support? In theory, Turkey would be obligated to defend Greece against an attack from Turkey. It opens a whole other can of worms with the EU, as well. (For decades Turkey has been engaging in this kind of macho diplomacy with Greece. It's strange to see them using it on the international field; they probably don't realize how ridiculous it sounds.)
2010-15 sovereign debt crisis
“”I'm the Finance Minister of a bankrupt country.
Greece today is part of the European Union - not that it's helping much; the country's going bust while France and Germany bicker about what to do. The weird thing about the IMF is their split-personality disorder. This comes about because their "research" arm is stacked with people who do some decent econometrics. This was especially noticeable during in the Greek crisis: They have a lot of data people there who were pointng out the obvious, namely that austerity had failed and it would be impossible to ever get the money back from Greece. The IMF Chief wants to wash her hands of Greece and coerce Europe into more generous debt restructuring measures (though she would never say it explicitly). She's being ignored, of course.
Technically, the Greeks went bankrupt in 2010; now they are simply delaying the inevitable. Even Wolfgang Schäuble admitted to Varoufakis that he doesn't believe they can avoid (official) default.
Although Greece is being helped out by the IMF it is not clear how much they can do. IMF help is usually accompanied by recommendations that the country cut spending and stimulate its economy. While the "cut spending" instruction is being carried out with some vigour (apparently) the second leg is more problematic. The possible means of economic stimulation are:
- Reduce interest rates. This is doubly impossible for Greece. Firstly because interest rates are already at rock bottom, and secondly because as a member of the Eurozone, its interest rates are set by the ECB anyway.
- Devalue its currency. Also impossible as it is a member of the Eurozone.
Although not usually an IMF recommendation, another way to stimulate an economy is through simply printing money (AKA quantitative easing) - but again Greece's membership of the Eurozone prevents this, too.
Consequently world markets think the IMF-imposed cuts will drive the economy into recession and increase unemployment (and associated costs) without giving the Greek government any opportunity to improve its income and pay off its debts. Pretty much it boils down to the Greeks' inability to realize that in order to have good social benefits, you'll need taxes to pay for them. (Also, don't call your creditors Nazis and Terrorists, it might dampen the mood.) There are also many people who fail to understand how high the taxes actually are in Greece (they could reach 60% in certain cases), at least for those who pay them, due to the relatively high tax evasion in Greece. After only three years from the beginning of the programs established by the Eurozone countries and the IMF, the situation started to reverse: the economy stopped shrinking and the unemployment stopped rising, as well as the public debt-to-GDP ratio. Despite the enormous investement made by Eurozone taxpayers into the Greek public budget (which by 2017 reached a total of approximately 220 billion euros, 110% of the Greek GDP), the situation of the country remains difficult, with both a debt-to-GDP ratio of about 180% and a real GDP per capita at the same level of 2000. On a positive note, the creation by the Eurozone countries of a permanent international mechanism to sustain financially troubled governments (the European Stability Mechanism) and the extreme resilience shown by the Greek people during the years of hardship, indicate that the situation will continue to improve, even if slowly, and as far as the Greek finances and economy are concerned.
- The Face of Captive Greece in Rome. New York Times.
- The Macedonian job. The Guardian.
- Macedonia and Greece: How they solved a 27-year name row. BBC News.
- Greek and Turkish foreign ministers trade barbs at meeting. Deutsche Welle.
- See the Wikipedia article on Greek government-debt crisis.
- See the Wikipedia article on Religion in Greece.
- See the Wikipedia article on Greek genocide.
- Bulliet, Richard W; Kyle Crossley, Pamela; Headrick, Daniel R; Johnson, Lyman L; Hirsch, Steven W (21 February 2007). The Earth and Its Peoples: A Global History to 1550. Cengage. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-618-77150-9.
- Ancient Greece. World History Encyclopedia.
- Minoan Civilization. World History Encyclopedia.
- Mycenaean Civilization. World History Encyclopedia.
- Greek Dark Age. World History Encyclopedia.
- Greek Alphabet. World History Encyclopedia.
- Greek Archaic Period. World History Encyclopedia.
- Athens. World History Encyclopedia.
- Solon. World History Encyclopedia.
- Athenian Democracy. World History Encyclopedia.
- Spartan Training: Crafting Warriors Of Legend. Classical Wisdom.
- Sparta. World History Encyclopedia.
- Interesting Histories: Helots — The Slaves Of Sparta. Medium.
- See the Wikipedia article on Battle of Thermopylae § Epitaph of Simonides.
- Persian Wars. World History Encyclopedia.
- See the Wikipedia article on 300 (film).
- Peloponnesian War. World History Encyclopedia.
- Paradise Regained. Wikiquote.
- History of Greece: Classical Greece. Ancient-Greece.org
- This Month in Physics History: June, ca. 240 B.C. Eratosthenes Measures the Earth. American Physics Society.
- See the Wikipedia article on Histories (Herodotus).
- See the Wikipedia article on Thucydides.
- Pericles. World History Encyclopedia.
- Philip II of Macedon. World History Encyclopedia.
- Battle of Chaeronea. World History Encyclopedia.
- Alexander the Great. World History Encyclopedia.
- Greek Communist in a Key Cabinet Post
- Meheen, Khan, "Varoufakis: 'I'm the Finance Minister of a Bankrupt Country'", Telegraph (4 February 2015, 3:00PM GMT).
- Euro continues to fall as EU fails to agree Greece rescue plan
- Spiegel, Peter, "IMF criticises Greece bailout deal with EU", FT 15 July 2015.
- "Update of IMF Staff Preliminary Public Debt Sustainability Analysis", IMF Country Report No.15/186 14 July 2015.
- "IMF's Lagarde offers euro zone Greek debt compromise, Handelsblatt says", Reuters (5 June 2017, 10:05 AM).
- Foster, Peter, "German finance minister 'admitted he would not sign Greek austerity deal' if traded places, claims Yanis Varoufakis", Telegraph (28 April 2017, 9:00pm).
- What's behind the Greek debt crisis?