The earliest traces of human habitation in Greece date from the Palaeolithic period (120,000 – 10,000 B.C. approximately).
During the subsequent Neolithic period (7,000 – 3,000 B.C. approximately), civilisation flourishes in Greece. A plethora of Neolithic settlements and cemeteries have been discovered in Thessaly (Sesklo, Dimini), Macedonia, the Peloponnese et al.
The beginning of the Bronze Age (3000 – 1100 B.C. approx.) is marked by the appearance of the first urban centres in the Aegean (Poliochni on the island of Limnos). Flourishing settlements are found on Crete, the Greek mainland, the Cyclades and in the Northeastern Aegean, regions where characteristic cultural patterns develop.
At the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. organised palatial societies appear on Minoan Crete, resulting in the development of the first scripts. Using the palace of Knossos as their centre, the Minoans create a communication network with peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean, adopt elements of their cultures, and in turn have a decisive influence on the cultures of the Greek mainland and the Aegean islands.
On the Greek mainland, the Mycenaeans, taking advantage of the destructions caused on Crete by the eruption of the volcano on Santorini (around 1500 B.C.), step forward and become the leading force in the Aegean during the last centuries of the 2nd millennium B.C.
The Mycenaean citadels in Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Thebes, Gla, Athens and Iolkós constitute the centres of bureaucratically organised kingdoms. The extensive destruction of the Mycenaean centres around 1200 B.C. led to the decline of the Mycenaean civilisation and the migration of large parts of the population to the coasts of Asia Minor and Cyprus (1st Greek colonisation).
After approximately two centuries of economic and cultural inactivity, known as the Dark Ages (1150 – 900 B.C.), the Geometric period follows (9th – 8th centuries B.C.), the beginning of the Greek renaissance. It is marked by the formation of the Greek city-states, the creation of the Greek alphabet and the composition of the Homeric epics (end of the 8th century B.C.).
The subsequent Archaic Period (7th- 6th centuries B.C.) is an era of major social and political changes. The Greek city-states establish colonies as far as Spain to the West, the Black Sea to the North, and North Africa to the South (2nd Greek colonisation) and lay the foundation for the peak of the classical period.
The hallmark of the classical period (5th – 4th centuries B.C.) is the cultural and political predominance of Athens; so much so that the second half of the 5th century B.C. is called the “Golden Age” of Pericles. With the end of the Peloponnesian War, in 404 B.C., Athens loses its dominance.
New forces emerge during the 4th century B.C. With Philip II and his son, Alexander, Macedonians start playing a leading role in Greece. Alexander’s expedition to the East and the conquest of regions as far as the Indus River radically change the situation in the then-known world. With the death of Alexander, the vast empire that he created is divided among his generals, leading to the creation of the kingdoms that will prevail during the Hellenistic times (3rd -1st centuries B.C.).
During this period, the Greek cities remain more or less autonomous, but they have lost much of their old power and prestige. The complete and final conquest of Greece by the Romans in 146 B.C. incorporates the country into the vast Roman Empire. During Roman occupation (1st century B.C. – 3rd century A.D.), most of the Roman emperors, who are admirers of the Greek culture, are friendly towards the Greek cities, and especially Athens.
Through the travels of Apostle Paul during the 1st century B.C., Christianity, the new religion that will gradually dethrone the worship of the Dodecatheon (the Twelve Gods), is spread all over Greece.
Nowadays visitors of the country can see the “fingerprints” of Greek history from the Palaeolithic period to the Roman era at the hundreds of archaeological sites, as well as in the archaeological museums and collections scattered all over the country (the Greek mainland and the islands).
The decision of Constantine the Great to move the empire’s capital from Rome to Constantinople (324 A.D.) shifted the focus to the eastern part of the empire. This move marks the beginning of the Byzantine era during which Greece is part of the Byzantine Empire. After 1204, when Constantinople is seized by Western crusaders, parts of Greece are given away to Western leaders, while the Venetians occupy strategic positions in the Aegean (islands or coastal cities), in order to control trade routes.
The reoccupation of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1262 marks the last phase in the empire’s existence. The Ottomans gradually start seizing parts of the empire from the 14th century A.D. and complete its destruction with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Crete was the last part of Greece to be occupied by the Ottomans in 1669. Approximately four centuries of Ottoman occupation follow until the beginning of the Greek War of Independence in 1821.
Numerous monuments from the Byzantine period and the Ottoman occupation still subsist, such as Byzantine and Post-Byzantine churches and monasteries, Ottoman buildings, enchanting Byzantine and Frankish castles, various other monuments as well as traditional settlements , many of which retain their Ottoman and, partly, Byzantine structure.
The result of the Greek War of Independence was the formation of an independent Greek kingdom in 1830, which, however, covered only a restricted territory. During the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, new areas with Greek populations are gradually integrated into the Greek state. Greece’s territory reaches a maximum after the end of World War I, in 1920, with the substantial contribution of prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos. The Greek state takes its contemporary form after the end of World War II with the incorporation of the Dodecanese Islands.
In 1974, after a seven-year dictatorship, a referendum was held and the system of government changed from a constitutional monarchy to a Presidential Parliamentary Democracy; Greece has been a member of the European Community/Union since 1981.