POPULATION: 10 million
RELIGION: Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ
There were two early societies in the area of present-day Greece. The Minoan civilization (c.2600–1200 BC ) on the island of Crete was named after the legendary King Minos. The Mycenean civilization on the mainland (c.1600–1150 BC ) was founded by people called the Hellenes. By the eighth century BC , the Greek city-state, or polis , had taken shape. By the sixth century BC , the city-states of Athens and Sparta were rivals for political control of Greece. The Classical "golden age" of Athens in the fifth century was marked by great achievements in government, philosophy, drama, sculpture, and architecture. The influence of Greek civilization expanded throughout much of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia through the conquests of Alexander the Great. Greece was conquered by the Romans in 146 BC .
Greece fell under Turkish rule in AD 1453. After a long struggle for Greek independence, the Turks accepted Greek self-rule in 1831. This marked the beginning of modern Greece. Greece has been a parliamentary democracy since 1975. It is a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Community (EC).
Located at the southern end of the Balkan Peninsula, Greece includes over 1,500 islands in the Ionian and Aegean Seas. About 170 of these islands have people living on them. About 80 percent of the country is covered by mountains, which form part of the Alps. Mount Olympus, in east-central Greece, the legendary home of the gods, is the highest peak, rising to 9,573 feet. The nation's coastline—over 8,750 miles (14,000 kilometers) in length—is one of the longest in the world.
About 98 percent of Greece's ten million people are of ethnic Greek descent. Minority groups include Turks, Macedonian Slavs, Albanians, Armenians, and Vlachs–a group of semi-nomads (people who move from place to place, usually while herding livestock) who live in the mountains of the north.
The rapid population growth of the past century has been balanced by the large numbers of Greeks who have moved away to North America, northern Europe, Australia, and other places. In addition, many Greek men live abroad temporarily as guest workers in other countries.
About 98 percent of Greece's people speak Greek as their first language. There are two forms of modern Greek. The demotic form ( dimotiki ) is used in everyday conversation, and varies by region. It includes words from Slavic languages, Turkish, and Italian. The more formal version, Katharevousa , is used by the government and the press. It originated in the early nineteenth century in an attempt to revive ancient Greek, which is still really a dead language.
The ancient Greeks believed that gods and goddesses ruled their fate and could tell the future. Different gods and goddesses were considered responsible for the different aspects of life. They were believed to communicate with priests and priestesses at shrines called oracles. The most important oracle was at Delphi. People honored the gods publicly at great festivals (including the Olympics) and privately at altars in their homes, with offerings of food and wine.
The Eastern Orthodox Church plays a central role in Greek life. During the 400 years of Ottoman Turkish rule, the Orthodox Church was the main force uniting the Greek people. Greek history, art, literature, and music were preserved and passed down through the church. Over 97 percent of Greeks today belong to the Orthodox Church. Although freedom of religion is guaranteed to all Greeks, the Orthodox Church enjoys a special relationship with the government. It was recognized in the 1975 constitution as the "established religion" of Greece. The president of Greece must be a member and is sworn into office with church rites. Major religious holidays are also civil holidays. It is an unwritten rule that high-ranking military officers and judges are chosen from the Orthodox Church members.
Religion plays a more important role in the lives of village residents than those of city dwellers. In the city, only about 20 percent of the people regularly attend church services. Country life revolves around the local church and religious observances. It is common for rural Greeks to have religious statues and images in their homes, together with holy oil, holy water, and a special kind of lamp. Many Greeks pray to a particular saint or saints in times of trouble, and they make pilgrimages to shrines that are considered especially holy. Religious customs in some rural areas still contain elements from beliefs and superstitions of earlier times.
Many of the major Greek holidays are those of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The most important are Easter and the Holy Week before it, which occur on dates different from those of the Western calendar.
The New Year, which in Greece is a more joyous occasion than Christmas, is dedicated to St. Basil. It is celebrated with gift giving and parties. Children carry red and blue paper ships to symbolize the ship that brought St. Basil to Greece. One New Year's tradition is to hide a silver coin in the dough of a special bread spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. Wealth is believed to come to whoever finds the coin.
Greeks celebrate their birthday on the day dedicated to the saint for whom they are named, rather than on the day of their birth.
Greece is a modern, industrialized Christian country. Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals, such as baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, many families mark a student's progress through the education system with graduation parties.
The Greeks are known for their lively, outgoing nature. Much of their leisure time is spent in pareas , or groups of friends. Gathering in coffee shops, waterfront taverns, and village squares, they drink, sing, dance, and discuss the events of the day. They generally gesture energetically while talking. It is acceptable for women or men to walk in public holding hands or arm in arm as a sign of companionship.
Rural Greeks—about half the population—live in flat-roofed houses of stone or brick, often without running water or with only wood stoves for heat. City dwellers live in government-subsidized housing or in small houses in suburban areas.
The sea has traditionally linked Greek cities and towns. Greece's transportation system has been greatly expanded since World War II (which ended in 1945). Most roads linking Athens to the main provincial centers are paved, and Athens itself has a subway system.
Health care is provided by the state-run National Health Service, which includes some private facilities. In spite of efforts to provide doctors to the most distant areas, medical care is still uneven. Care is much better and easier to obtain in the large cities. However, most towns do have hospitals or clinics.
Abortion is a major method of birth control. The number of abortions performed by both doctors and nondoctors may equal the number of live births. The Greek government legalized abortion on demand at state expense in 1986, and within three years the number of legal abortions per year had risen from 180 to 7,338.
Some members of the population, especially in rural areas, still use the services of folk healers, whose methods include spells and herbal remedies.
On the average, both men and women in Greece marry in their mid-to late twenties. Greece has a higher marriage rate and lower divorce rate than the countries of northern Europe. The basic family unit is the nuclear family—a husband, a wife, and their unmarried children. Among rural villagers, couples live with the husband's parents for a brief time. It is not unusual, in fact, for city couples to live with one spouse's family until they are ready to buy their own house. Aging parents often join a grown child's household when it becomes difficult for them to care for themselves.
In January 1983, the Greek parliament legislated changes in the family laws that made divorce easier, abolished the dowry as a legal requirement for marriage, and guaranteed legal equality between spouses.
In everyday life, Western clothing is the norm. The traditional costume–tunic, vest, and tight pants bound at the knee for men–is seen only during festivals and in rural areas.
Although Greece is part of Europe, the Greek diet has been influenced more by the countries of the Middle East. Lamb is the basic meat, and olive oil is used in many recipes. Other staples include rice, yogurt, figs, shish kebab, feta cheese (made from goat's or sheep's milk), and whole-grain bread.
A typical Greek dish consists of ground meat with spices, rice, and herbs, often wrapped in leaves or stuffed into vegetables. Greek pastries are eaten not as desserts but as afternoon or late-night snacks. Many of them are extremely sweet and made from paper-thin dough called filo.
Adapted from The International Cook, Camden, N.J.: Campbell Soup Company, 1980.
A popular Greek drink is ouzo , a strong alcoholic drink flavored with anise. Another popular beverage, retsina , is a white wine. The toast "Yiassas" (To your health) can often be heard, together with the clinking of glasses, wherever Greeks gather to enjoy food and drink. To the left is a simple recipe for Greek lemon soup, avgolemono .
Greeks place great value on learning, and over 90 percent of the population can read and write. The literacy rate fell to less that 30 percent during and after World War II (1939–45).
Education is free and compulsory (required) for nine years until the age of fifteen. Three more years of free education, in college-preparatory or technical programs, are optional. At age eighteen, students may enter the government-run university system or other technical and vocational schools.
Even before the great flowering of culture in Athens in the fifth century BC , Greece had already produced the Iliad and Odyssey , two epic poems by Homer. With the golden age of Athens came the philosophical teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; the great tragedies of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles; and the comedies of Aristophanes. Greek sculptors perfected the art of natural representation of the human body. Greek architecture, which had already introduced the town plan based on a grid and organized around the temple, produced the Parthenon, the beautiful temple on the Acropolis, a hill in Athens.
In the twentieth century, there has been a renaissance of Greek literature that includes the writings of novelist Nikos Kazantzakis (author of The Last Temptation of Christ and Zorba the Greek ) and the poetry of C. P. Cavafy, Nikos Gatsos, and the Nobel Prize winners George Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Well-known composers include Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hadjidakis, who wrote the film score for Never on Sunday. Modern composers often use the instruments and melodies of Greek folk music, especially the bouzouki , a mandolin-like string instrument, as well as the santouri (dulcimer), clarinet, lute, and drums.
The raising of cash crops, including grain, olives, cotton, tobacco, and fresh fruits, has replaced much of the farming of earlier times. Rural farms are mostly run without machines. Many of them are less than ten acres in size. Horse-drawn or donkey-drawn plows are used for tilling, and harvesting is done by hand and wagon.
Aside from farming, the other major occupations of Greek villagers are fishing and shepherding or goat-herding. Greece is one of the least industrialized nations of Europe. Most industries are concentrated in Athens and Thessaloniki. Many Greeks work in family-owned businesses. In 1990, 85 percent of Greek manufacturing companies had fewer than ten employees. Food, beverage, and tobacco processing are the main industries. Next in importance are textiles and clothing, metals, chemical manufacturing, and shipbuilding.
The first Olympic Games were held in Greece in ancient times. Today, football (the game called soccer in the United States) is the most popular sport. Other favorites include basketball, volleyball, tennis, swimming and waterskiing at the nation's many beaches, sailing, fishing, golf, and mountain climbing. Cricket is popular on the island of Corfu.
In the country, coffee shops—usually in the village square—are popular gathering places. Men gather there after work to talk, drink dark coffee, and smoke cigarettes or hookahs (water pipes).
In cities and towns, Greeks enjoy television, movies, theater, and concerts. Forms of traditional entertainment include folk dances performed by dance troupes wearing colorful costumes, with accompaniment led by the bouzouki. Also popular is the karagiozi , a shadow-puppet show that is performed live. Karagiozi can be seen every week on television. Operas, concerts, ballets, and ancient Greek dramas are presented at the Athens Festival each summer. Greek drama is also performed in the open-air theater at Epidaurus.
Craftspeople throughout Greece practice weaving, knitting, embroidery, carving, metalworking, and pottery making. Village women are known for their colorful fabrics and carpets and elaborate wall hangings.
The proportion of drug users doubled in the 1980s, with the largest increase among women and poor people. Marijuana is the most frequently used drug. In the early 1990s, drug-related deaths numbered between sixty-six and seventy-nine per year. Aside from drug control, the other major problem in Greek society is illegal immigration of people from the Balkans and the Middle East.
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