Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Greece 2023: A Brief History (Prologue The Second)

One of the fascinating things to me about Greece is that it is awash with history.
(Citadel of Mystras - Mystras/Sparti, Frankish/Byzantine era)

Many Americans have likely heard of Sparta and Athens, and most would likely know that someone that Alexander the Great existed, but before and after that remains a large blank until probably the 1990's and the vacation spots of Mikinos and Santorini became a thing.  All the items in the middle are largely just "filler".  

Humans having been living in Greece for a shockingly long time, perhaps as long as people have actually been around.  And some of the earliest and greatest civilizations of Europe that we have ruins and records of started in Greece: The Cycladic civilization (3200 B.C.), the Minoan civilization (2700 B.C. - 1500 B.C.), and the Mycenean Civilization (1600 B.C. to 1200 B.C.).

(The Parthenon - Athens, Classical Era)

At which point everything collapsed in what has been called the Late Bronze Age collapse, when most of the civilizations along the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean collapsed for reasons speculated but not determined.    We know little of why the collapse happened or what happened in the intervening years until approximately the 8th century B.C., when The Illiad and The Odyssey emerge and the first Olympic Games occur (776. B.C.).  

Into this Archaic period and then the Classical period (776 B.C. to 338 B.C.) small kingdoms and city states - the polis - emerge.  Argos, Athens, Thebes, Sparta - names that we learn of in The Illiad - reappear with different parties involved.  The polis fight among themselves and embark on a colonization effort that sees them planting colonies as far away as eastern Spain and the Crimean peninsula.  The Greeks - upstarts that they were - pushed back the Persian Empire's expansion westward in the 5th century B.C.,  then involves itself in the civil war known as the Peloponnesian War (431 B.C. to 404 B.C.).  After the Spartan victory, the next 60 years or so are consumed with more infighting until Philip the Second, father of Alexander the Great, effectively conquers all of Greece in 338 B.C.

(The Temple of Hephaestion - Athens, Classical Era)

From here, Greece becomes less of a central player and part of other kingdoms:  First the Alexander the Great's Empire, then the Macedonian Kingdom, and then the Achaean league - until their conquest by Rome in 146 B.C. and their incorporation into the Roman Republican Empire - where, as a constituent part of the Roman Republican Empire, then the Roman Imperial Empire, then the Eastern Roman Empire that became Byzantium, they remain for over a thousand years.

Until the Fourth Crusade (1204 A.D.), when Constantinople is invaded, the Latin Empire of Constantinople is established, and Greece proper is divided up into Frankish principalities and Italian city-state possessions such as Venice.  Suddenly an influx of Western impinged itself on Greece - until the Franks were in turn reconquered by the Byzantines (the Venetians held out far longer).

(The Library of Hadrian - Athens, Roman Era)

The Byzantine Renaissance lasted only for a brief time, relatively speaking. The Ottoman Turks began conquering parts of the Byzantine Empire and Greece both before and after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Despotate of The Morea in the Peloponnese fell in 1460.  After this, Greece was largely an Ottoman possession with Venice controlling the Western (Ionian) Islands and some land bases on the continent, which largely fell to the Ottoman's in the 15th and 16th Century.  

Venetian rule ended in 1797 with the dissolution of the Venetian Republic by Napoleon and the Ionian islands were (briefly) ruled by France through 1815, when they passed to Britain.  The Ottomans continued their rule in the rest of Greece until 1830, where after a series of revolts by the Greeks (1821-1830) and the final intervention of Great Britain and France, Greece was declared an independent country for the first time (arguably) since 146 B.C. (338 B.C. if you want to perhaps be more precisely correct).

(The White Tower - Thessaloniki, Byzantine/Turkish Era)

I will end the history lesson here although that is not the end, of course:  add in an imported monarchy that brought in 19th Century European Architectural ideals, a series of wars in the Balkans, invasion of Turkey (and ultimately, defeat in Anatolia), military dictatorship, invasion first by Italy and then by Germany in WW II, a Civil War (1946-1949), and a military coup (1967-1974) and it is clear that even after "Greece" became a thing again, there was still a great deal more history.

(Palace of St. Michael and St. George - Corfu City, British Protectorate)

Why does it matter?  Because (I suspect) when we think of "Greece" we often think only of Athens and Sparta (The Classical Period) - but in point of fact every civilization that has been in Greece has left its mark -  thus the comment by our tour guide repeatedly that Greece is a Monument state in that there is history and ruins almost wherever one goes.  It is makes it challenging on two levels:  on the first, the practical fact that in order to preserve some history one has to either destroy or work around other history; the second that there is always a careful balance between preserving the old and allowing the new. 

(Gate to the Old City - Corfu City, Venetian period)

And so our journey was not just through "Greece The Classical Age", it was more "Greece Through The Ages".  Which I had not really anticipated, but made undoubtedly for a far better tour.


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  2. Anonymous6:04 AM

    Nicely stated TB. American 'Old' and Greece 'Old' has a vast difference as far as time goes. 10s of centuries - now that is definition of antiquity.

    I always wondered how long it took to recover from Vesuvius eruptions - lava flows and earthquakes. Did they just move away until it was forgotten about and people said "Hey look ! People lived here before. Maybe we can do the same". Or did they just wait for the shaking to end, then clean up and go right back to living in Pompeii.

    1. It is shocking to think how old some of the ruins were that we saw, and that historical figures I am familiar with via writings walked those same ruins.

      The recovery of people living above Pompeii (if I recall correctly) happened years or even centuries after the original eruptions, when all those that had known of it or survived had died off. After the initial event, not only was the city buried, it was effectively cursed by the gods.

  3. Nylon128:21 AM

    I'll wager that a lot of what Americans know about Greece is only because of what Hollywood has pumped out and not the educational system in this country. I'm interested in reading what you ran across TB, waiting with baited breath........ :)

    1. Nylon12, add Social Media to that list and I think you are right - more than once, our tour guide commented that Americans seem to think Greece is Mykonos and Santorini, two islands which fill the InterWeb with pictures. They are likely the equivalent of any other tourist destination: beautiful but very high priced. Greece has so much more to offer - it is as if we said that Washington DC, San Diego, and New York City were representative of the United States.

  4. TB, I agree our modern concept of ancient Greece is a pretty small notion. I'm vaguely familiar with the Minoan and Mycenean civilizations (thanks to a homeschooling unit on the ancient world), also the city states and Greek philosophers, but there are so many fascinating things that make up a comprehensive understanding of Greek history and culture. Or any history and culture for that matter.

    You used the word "collapsed" for those earliest people groups. I'm assuming this means they just sort of - disappeared(?) I wonder if it was suddenly, as opposed to slowly being absorbed into into new philosophies and technologies. This would be a fascinating study because worldwide, there are many traces of ancient sophisticated societies simply vanishing, for example, in Mexico, South America, India, Africa.

    Of course, I'm thinking of our own modern civilization. I recall as a young adult asking about it and being told "that could never happen here." And yet . . .

    Definitely looking forward to more on your trip.


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