History of Greece: From Stone Age to Classical Greece

The Stone Age (circa 400,000 – 3000 BCE)

In the Stone Age, humans inhabited Greece relatively later than the rest of Europe, according to most scientists. A skull that was found in the Petralona cave in Halkidiki is tentatively dated between 300,000 and 400,000 with  some estimates putting it as far back as 700,000 BP. Frangthi cave in Argolis provide us with the earliest evidence of commerce and burials in Greece (7250 BCE) while other Stone Age sites found in Epirus, Thessaly, Macedonia, and the Peloponnesse tell of the existence of successful Paleolithic and Mesolithic settlements. Neolithic settlements of Sesklo (c. 7000 - 3200 BCE) and Dimini (c. 4800 – 4500 BCE) in Thessaly reveal that Stone Age peoples of Greece had reached a high level of development by 3000 BCE with advanced economies and complex social structure.


The Bronze Age (circa 3300 – 1150 BCE)

Top Bronze Age Places

Mycenae Lion Gate

The Bronze Age lasted roughly three thousand years, during which major progress was achieved by the peoples of Greece who dominated the world around the Aegean Sea.
On the mainland the Helladic civilization dominated the strongholds in southern Greece, and was later transformed to the mighty Mycenaean civilization that was based in the Argolid. About the same time, on the islands of the Aegean, the distinct Cycladic civilization frourished, while the Minoans attain their highly refined culture on the island of Crete.

This tumultuous time was named the Age of Heroes becaue it gave birth to many stories and legends like the Illiad and the Odyssey.

These three civilizations were similar in many respects, while at the same time were distinct in their culture and disposition but they managed to coexist for almost three thousand years. Eventually the Mycenaeans came to dominate the entire Aegean region while the other two civilizations ceased for reasons not entirely understood.

 Around 1100 BCE even the mighty Mycenaeans civilization suddently extinguished either through internal strife, or outside invasions. A possible invasion of a new race, the Dorians, was thought to be the reason, but recent studies suggest that the reasons for the Mycenaean demise are more complex. What is certain is that just like in the case of the Minoan Palaces, Mycenaean centers met a sudden, and violent end.

With the demise of Mycenaean civilization Greece entered a long period when cultural achievement ceased, and the people of Greece fell into a period of basic sustenance. We call this period The Dark Ages because there is no significant evidence of cultural development, and partly because the archaeological record is rather thin.


The Dark Ages (circa 1100 – 700 BCE)

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During the Dark Ages of Greece the old major settlements were abandoned, the population dropped dramatically in numbers, and no written record was created. During this period of three hundred years, the people of Greece assumed a pastoral lifestyle and  moved often. Later in the Dark Ages Greeks adopted the alphabet used by the Phoenicians. This alphabet with major improvements became the norm and it’s still in use today in Greece. Furthermore, the Greek alphabet became the base for Latin, and by extension the base of modern English. Despite what seems to have been a harsh lifestyle, this period gave us the first Olympics in 776 BCE, Homeric epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, in written form.


The Archaic Era (700 – 480 BCE)

Around 700 BCE Greece entered the Archaic period. Greeks began living in organized city-states (Polis). Poles housed of citizens, foreign residents, and slaves and required complex political and legal structures. Eventually, the refinement of the political system was transformed to the Democratic governance in Classical Athens and other city-states around Greece.

As the major city-states grew they underwent vigorous colonization. Citizens from a mother-city founded numerous cities in the Aegean, the Ionian, Anatolia (today’s Turkey), Phoenicia (the Middle East), Libya, Southern Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, and as far as southern France, Spain, and all around the coast of the Black Sea. These settlements, and trading posts retained close ties with the mother-cities, and helped Greece dominate the substantial commercial network that involved all the advanced civilizations of the time. Thus, Greece as a major maritime power became the conduit for commerce and ideas, to and from Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Powerful cities like Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Syracuse, Miletus, and Halicarnassus among others, grew more powerful, and came to dominate the affairs of the next four centuries.

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