Greeks - History and Cultural Relations

The ancient origins of the Greek people remain obscure and controversial, particularly as regards the relative importance of conquering invasions, external influence, and indigenous development. Most now agree that by 2000 B.C. Greek speakers inhabited the southern mainland, at the same time that non-Greek Cretans developed Minoan civilization. Mycenean society, arising in the Peloponnesos around 1600 B.C. , spread Greek language and culture to the Aegean Islands, Crete, Cyprus, and the Anatolian coast through both Conquest and colonization. By the rise of the classical city-states in the seventh to eighth centuries B.C. , Greek identity was firmly in place throughout these regions as well as Greek colonies near the Black Sea, southern Italy, Sicily, and North Africa. The Macedonian kings, Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great, spoke Greek and embraced Greek culture. They conquered and united Greek lands and built an empire stretching to India and Egypt during the fourth century B.C. These Hellenistic kingdoms quickly crumbled, and Greek dominions gradually fell to the Roman Empire during the first and second centuries B.C. Greeks lived as a conquered but valued cultural group under the Romans. After this empire split in AD. 330, the eastern half, centered in Constantinople and unified by the new religion of Christianity, quickly evolved into the Byzantine Empire, in which Greeks controlled much of the eastern Mediterranean world for over one thousand years. The Venetian-led Fourth Crusade seized Constantinople in 1204, reducing the Byzantine Empire to a much smaller territory, established Frankish feudal principalities in much of what is now Greece. Both Byzantine and Frankish holdings eventually fell to the advancing Ottoman Empire, which conquered Constantinople in 1453. The Ottoman Turks treated Greeks as a distinct ethnic group, forcing them to pay taxes and often work on Turkish estates but allowing them to keep both identity and religion. Inspired by nationalistic ideals, and supported by England, France, and Russia, the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829) against the Turks produced the modern nation of Greece in 1831. The original nation contained only the southern mainland and some Aegean islands, but it gradually expanded through successive wars and treaties with the Turks and other neighbors. Nevertheless, attempts to gain the predominantly Greek areas of Constantinople, the western coast of Anatolia, and Cyprus were not successful. Compulsory Population exchanges after World War I removed most Greeks from the first two areas, as well as most Turks and other non-Greeks from Greece.

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