Greece was the birthplace of European civilization. The period from
700BC saw the rise of the great city states of Athens, Corinth and
Sparta, frequently engaged in long struggles for supremacy, and
uniting only when faced with the common threat of invasion by the
The zenith was reached in the 5th century BC when Athens became
the cultural and artistic centre of the Mediterranean, producing
magnificent works of architecture, sculpture, drama and literature.
Athens lost her empire through a mutually suicidal struggle with
her arch rival Sparta.
The nation was then forcibly united under Alexander the Great. After
defeating the sagging military might of Persia in a number of 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 323BC, and the fall of Greek hegemony
was completed when the country came under the sway of Rome.
Under Constantine the empire gained a new capital in Constantinople,
and Greece continued under the sway of the Eastern Empire when the
empire divided. The Byzantines were, however, unable to effectively
defend all of their empire from invaders and only occasionally did
Greece enjoy the security of effective imperial rule.
The major beneficiaries of this were the Venetians, who increased
their influence in Greece and other parts of the empire. Byzantium
finally fell to the Turks in 1453, although the process of conquest
was already well underway by the end of the 14th century. For the
next 350 years, Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire.
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 a bitter War of Independence from 1821, a free state was declared
The arts have been integral to Greek life since ancient times. In
summer, Greek dramas are staged in the ancient theatres where they
were originally performed. Greek literature's ancient heritage spans
poetry, drama, philosophical and historical treatises, and travelogues.
Western civilisation's mania for logic and 'ideas' can be traced
directly back to the musings of ancient Greek philosophers such
as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and the west's sciences, arts
and politics are also deeply indebted to classical Greece.
A thriving visual-arts scene exists, and traditional folk crafts
such as embroidery, weaving and tapestry continue. Rembetika music,
with its themes of poverty and suffering, was banned under the junta,
but is becoming increasingly popular among young people.