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Last updated : Nov 2009
Greece History
Greece History - TravelPuppy.com
Greece was the place of birth of European civilisation. The period from 700BC saw the rise of the great city states of Athens, Sparta and Corinth, frequently engaged in long struggles for supremacy, and uniting only when faced with the common threat of invasion by the Persian Empire.

The summit was reached in the 5th century BC when Athens became the artistic and cultural centre of the Mediterranean, producing glorious works of architecture, sculpture, drama and literature. Athens lost her empire through a mutually destructive struggle with her arch opponent Sparta. The nation was then forced to be united under Alexander the Great. After defeating the sagging military might of Persia in numerous major battles, the expansion of the empire spread Greek influence through the East as far as India and through Egypt. The empire fragmented after Alexander’s death in 323 BC, and the fall of Greek domination was completed when the country came under the influence of Rome. Under the Roman emperor Constantine, the empire acquired a new capital in Constantinople, and Greece came under the control of the Eastern Empire when the empire divided. The Byzantines were, however, unable to effectively defend the whole of their empire from invaders, and only occasionally did Greece enjoy the security of effective imperial rule. The main beneficiaries of this were the Venetians, who augmented their influence in Greece and other parts of the empire.

Byzantium finally fell to the Turks in 1453, though the process of conquest was already well underway by the end of the 14th century. Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire for the next 350 years. Many attempts were made to shake off the yoke of the Ottomans, such as the rising of 1770, which was supported by Catherine the Great. After War of Independence from 1821, a free state was declared in 1829. The effective consolidation was a gradual process, the last territory to be handed back being the Dodecanese Islands in 1945. Until 1967, Greece was a monarchy but the country then suffered the rule of the Colonels. After their fall in 1974, elections gave the New Democracy Party (ND) a majority. A subsequent referendum rejected the idea of a return to monarchical rule. However, since 1981, with the exception of a single spell from 1990 to 1993 when ND regained power, Greece has been governed by the centre-left Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). From 1981 until his death in 1996, the dominant figure both in PASOK and in Greek politics was Andreas Papandreou, a highly effective and charismatic politician who maintained, for the most part, a firm grip over his party. In his later years, both he and the party were tainted by continual allegations of corruption. Nevertheless, since his death, the new PASOK leader, Costas Simitis, has managed to keep PASOK in office through two general elections: firstly, soon after Papandreou’s death and, most recently, by virtue of a wafer-thin majority at the April 2000 poll. The main intention of the second Simitis administration was to guide Greece into the euro-zone. This was done fruitfully but at the cost of domestic unpopularity due to the necessary economic measures.

The EU has also been at the heart of Greek foreign policy and though Greece has rarely found itself at odds with its partners on a number of important issues, it has derived important dividends from this approach. One of these has been a slow but stable improvement in relations with Turkey, which itself aspires to EU membership: in spite of common membership of NATO, bilateral relations between Turkey and Greece have historically been among the worst between any two European countries. The main reasons are the continuing division of Cyprus (see Cyprus section) and control of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. But the accession of Greek-controlled Cyprus to the EU in 2004 may act as a medium to a final resolution of that problem: indeed, Greece has now explicitly backed Turkey’s own EU application.

Greece also keeps a watchful eye on the Balkan states to its north. Independence for the Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM) was at first blocked by Greece before a complete settlement between the two countries was agreed in 1995 (see Macedonia section). During the conflict in the former Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro), Greece was actively involved in finding a peaceful political settlement though it objected sturdily to the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo against the Serbs. Instability in Albania is an additional irritant and Greece has come close to closing its border on several occasions to prevent mass illegal immigration.

Another constant irritant in relations with the UK and the US has been the 25-year assassination campaign by the far-left November-17 guerrilla organisation, which targeted prominent Greeks and foreign nationals. By the end of 2002, cooperation between Greek and foreign agencies - which had formerly been missing - finally brought about the demise of November-17. For the Greek authorities, the elimination of the domestic terrorist threat was an essential precursor to the success of the 2004 Olympic Games.