Peloponnesians - History and Cultural Relations



Archaeological excavations have established the presence of Paleolithic occupation in the Peloponnesos, and at least one site, Franchthi Cave in the southeast Argolis, has yielded remains of more or less continuous occupation from the Paleolithic through the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. During the ensuing Bronze Age the Peloponnesos was the center of the spectacular Mycenaean civilization, which derives its name from the site of Mycenae (near Nauplia), home of Agamemnon, chief of the Greek forces in Homer's account of the Trojan War. The site was excavated about 100 years ago by Heinrich Schliemann, the pioneering German archaeologist who earlier had located and excavated the site of ancient Troy in western Turkey. Sparta, in the southern central Peloponnesos, was the kingdom of Menelaus, brother of Agamemnon and husband of Helen, whose abduction by Paris, son of Troy's King Priam, touched off the Trojan War. Ruins from these and other Mycenaean settlements in the Peloponnesos have been extensively excavated. The Peloponnesians entered a dark age following the collapse of Mycenaean civilization around 1100 B.C. and only became significant again in classical times when Sparta rose as a great power, Controlling much of the peninsula and eventually challenging Athens. The resulting Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C. ) ended in victory for the Spartans, but little came of it. Later Corinth gained ascendancy over the region, but soon, like the rest of Greece, the Peloponnesos fell under the sway of the Romans. In A.D. 51-52 Saint Paul lived and preached in Corinth and gradually, in the following decades and centuries, the Peloponnesians were converted to Christianity. During the first millennium of the Christian era the region was out of the limelight. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, it was subjected to barbarian invasions from the north and a general decline of economy and culture. Later it came under the Control of the Byzantines and regained its productivity. In the thirteenth century the Franks took over much of the peninsula and for the next six centuries it was controlled alternately by the Franks, Byzantines, Venetians, and Turks. In March 1821 Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the banner of freedom at the Aghia Lavra monastery near Kalavryta, thus beginning the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Turks. Many of the important battles of the revolution, including the decisive Battle of Navarino in 1827, were fought in the Peloponnesos and the region contributed more than its share of revolutionary leaders, among them Theodore Kolokotronis and Petrobey Mavromichalis. When independence was achieved in 1830 the Peloponnesians comprised the bulk of the new Greek state, since only a fraction of modern-day Greece was included in the earliest liberated area. The capital was established at Nauplia in 1831 but moved to Athens three years later. It took several decades to integrate all the inhabitants of the Peloponnesos into the new state, and there were pockets of resistance, comprised of citizens who viewed the new state as no better than the Ottomans. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century the Region was solidly part of the modern Greek state. The Peloponnesos was once again the scene of fierce fighting in the Greek Civil War of the 1940s, particularly in the period that followed the departure of the German and Italian occupying forces after World War II.

Today cultural relations in the Peloponnesos are stable. There is little animosity between the various segments of the population, nor between the Peloponnesians and other Greeks. Special mention should be made, however, of Mani, a region in the central southernmost part of the peninsula. Its boundaries are a bit vague, but it comprises most of the central peninsula lying south of a line drawn from Kalamata to Gytheion. It is a repository of some traditional culture and is often viewed as a stronghold of individuality and Independence. During the last years of Ottoman rule it was never effectively subdued and often defied the Turkish overlords.


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