History of Greece: Introduction

The ancient Classical and Hellenistic eras of Greece are undoubtedly the most splendid, having left behind a host of ideas, concepts, and art to provide the foundation of what we call “western civilization”. However, the two previous millennia that lead to these ancient eras, as well as the other two millennia that succeeded them are all part of the history of Greece and have left just as rich a cultural footprint on the land.

Much of the ancient Greek civilization has survived either directly or through permutations to our day. The ancient Greek dialects are influential even to this day with much Greek vocabulary embedded in the Modern Greek and English languages. Likewise, the art and architecture of ancient Greece has remained relevant and influential up to our time in the breadth of western society. The much-celebrated Renaissance was guided in large part by the re-discovery of the ancient Greek ideas through text and art, which were hitherto suppressed by the belief in the absolute authority of the supernatural power and the church.

KaryatidsIt should be noted that History is a discipline that was conceived first in Ancient Greece. Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE) is considered the Father of History, as he was the first who attempted to record events and human actions for the sole purpose of preserving them for future generations. The very first lines of his Histories read: “Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvelous deeds – some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians – may not be without their glory;” (Herodotus, 3). Being the first to attempt such a feat, Herodotus was not spared from harsh criticism for including in his Histories (written between 431 and 435 BCE), myths, legends, and outrageous tales. 

“I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.” (Thucydides, 16)

Not much later than Herodotus, Thucydides (460 – 395 BCE) with his History of the Peloponnesian War, put his own stamp on the discipline of History by attempting to present history in an “objective” way, and to make correlations between human actions and events. Their approach and methods of recording historical events became the guiding light for historians of the next two thousand years.

This brief history of Greece is compiled here as an introduction to web readers and to provide the historical background that’s needed to appreciate all the subjects of Ancient Greek culture. It was no easy task to compress the history of Ancient Greece into a concise format that would be appropriate both for online reading and as a precise overview of the subject. Suffice to say that each sentence of this essay has been the subject of countless volumes of discourse throughout history. Further reading can be found in the bibliography. -- 6/2007

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