A Brief Overview of the Ancient History of Greece: Where Democracy was Born!


Greece is the land of rich mythology, splendid history, beautiful people, picturesque ocean landscapes, volcanic cliffs, innumerable mountains, distinct architecture, and delectable food.

Located in Southeast Europe, this Hellenic Republic has always been a source of intrigue and amazement for people. At least for those east of the meridian and south of the equator. Trust me, it’s got nothing to do with geography though. The idea of the Greek Gods being the epitome of everything stunning, unique and remarkable has created quite a flutter in our hearts. It’s quite natural one would want to know everything about the land where such a gorgeous divinity descended. Also, the idea of seeing the natives of these lands in the hope of finding the lookalikes of the above-mentioned Greek Gods is quite tempting. Plus, there’s the world-famous mythology that emanates from the Grecian Lands.

What may surprise you the most is that, apart from the obvious, there is so much more to Greece, one cannot possibly fathom without experiencing it firsthand. One of the oldest countries in the world, Greece has always been an important centre of worldly affairs ever since ancient times. Considered the cradle of Western civilization, Greece is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, Western drama and the Olympic Games. It is a great example and case of political anthropology in human history. You may be surprised to know that the first known democracy began in Athens, Greece’s capital, around 500 B.C. This democracy allowed citizens to vote directly on the laws. Athens’ origins date back as far as 3,400 years ago, thus making it one of the oldest cities in the entire world.

As always, in this blog post, I will try to cover information about history and modern day Greece. In my opinion, visiting a country is like entering a new relationship. Unless you understand the past, you will never truly understand her personality, her beauty and her worth. I would also try to cover some of the traditions followed by the people so that you can have a brief idea about their beliefs and way of life. After all, what would a place be but for its people? So here you go.

Greek History

Bronze age – Archeological evidence suggests that the first settlement in Ancient Greece dates back to the Paleolithic era (11,000-3,000 BC). During the second millennium BC, Greece saw the birth of the great stone and bronze civilization: the Minoans (2600-1500 BC), the Mycenaeans (1500-1150 BC) and the Cycladic civilization. This period is characterized by the rapid growth of the population and the development of trading. The islands of the Cyclades, located in the center of the Aegean Sea, were a vital trade center linking Europe and Asia. Samples of Cycladic architecture can be seen in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens and the regional museums on the Cyclades islands.

Classical Period – The Classical period reached its peak in the 5th century BC when the foundations of western civilization were laid in Athens. This city-state became the greatest naval power of ancient Greece at that time and developed across all domains of culture, including philosophy, music, drama, rhetoric and even a new regime called democracy. Athens and Sparta were the most powerful city-states in ancient Greece and the other city-states were allied to one or the other of these two towns. In the 5th century, the allied Greek city-states managed to repel the invasion of the Persians. However, the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta led to the decline of the glorious classical era. At this time, the kingdom of Macedon, a tribe residing in northern Greece, came to power, defeating and conquering the other Greek city-states. After the death of King Phillip II, his son Alexander started a large expedition in Asia. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire and the extent of his army touched Indian boundaries. However, in 323 BC, he died in Babylon at the age of 33 due to a fever and thus began the decline of the great Macedonian Empire.

Roman period – From the second century onwards, the Romans conquered Greece and a new era in Greek history began. This period saw a transition from Ancient Greece to Roman Greece. The country became a leading battleground for many important battles and new cities were constructed. This period saw the decline of Athens and Greek culture in general. However, Greek became the second official language of the Roman Empire. The Romans read the classical philosophers and based their religion on the Olympian gods. In the 3rd century AD, the powerful Roman Empire started to decline and was divided into two pieces, the Eastern and the Western Roman Empire.

Byzantine Period – While the Western Roman Empire was gradually conquered by barbaric North-European tribes, the Eastern Roman Empire with Constantinople (Byzantium) as capital developed and evolved into the great Byzantine Empire that lasted for about 1,000 years. At this point in history, Christianity became the official religion of the new empire, new territories were occupied and new state laws were formed. These laws later went on to constitute the first laws of the modern Greek state, as they were formed in the 19th century.

Ottomans period and Independence war – In 1453 BC, with the fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Turks gradually conquered the rest of Greece. This period saw a great number of rebellions and revolutions which were all aggressively suppressed by the Ottoman army, until March 1821 when the Greek War of Independence broke out. This period marked a cornerstone in the history of Greece. After many fights, massacres and seizes, Greece finally won its freedom in 1829, when the first independent Greek state was formed.

Twentieth Century – In 1831, Prince Otto from Bavaria became the first king of Greece, followed by George I from Denmark in 1863. That time, the Ionian islands were donated to Greece by Britain as a gift to the new king and then Thessaly was attached to the Greek state by the Turks. In the early 20th century, Macedonia, Crete, and the Eastern Aegean islands were also attached to the Greek state after the First World War. This period witnessed the rise of one of the most important Greek statesmen and politicians, Eleftherios Venizelos, who led the Greek liberation movement and went on to become one of the most famous Prime Ministers of Greece. He is noted for his contribution in the expansion of Greece and promotion of liberal-democratic policies. The year 1922 was troublesome for Greece as many Greek refugees from Asia Minor came to the mainland, part of the population exchange with Turkey. Although at first, it was very difficult for refugees to adapt to their new lives, they gradually contributed a lot to the development of the country. During World War II, Greece resisted a lot of the Axis forces, but eventually, most of the Greek territory was conquered by the Germans and some parts by the Italians. Post the Second World War, the Dodecanese islands, which have been under Italian occupation since the early 20th century, also became part of the Greek state. Three decades of political mayhem followed, including a military junta from 1967 till 1974. Since 1975, the regime of Greece has been the Parliamentary Republic.

Greek Mythology

Greek mythology is a set of stories concerning the Gods, heroes and rituals of ancient Greece.  Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the arts and literature of Western civilization. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporaneous significance and relevance in Classical mythological themes.

Sources of Greek Mythology

  • Literary – According to Herodotus, Homer and Hesiod gave the Olympian Gods their familiar characteristics. The Homeric poems: the Iliadand the Odyssey and The works of Hesiod: Theogony and Works and Days, are extensive sources of Greek Mythology. The works of the three tragedians—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, all from the 5th century BCE—are remarkable for the variety of traditions they preserve.
  • Archeological – The discovery of the Mycenaean civilization and Minoan civilization in Crete are essential to the 21st-century understanding of the development of myth and ritual in the Greek world. Such discoveries illuminated aspects of Minoan culture from about 2200 to 1450 BCE and Mycenaean culture from about 1600 to 1200 BCE; those eras were followed by a Dark Age that lasted until about 800 BCE. Geometric designs on pottery of the 8th century BCE depict scenes from the Trojan cycle, as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the subsequent Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear to supplement the existing literary evidence.

Forms of Myths and Legends

  • Religious – They mostly included tales of Gods and Heroes. Religious myths talk about cosmogonical tales of the genesis of the gods and the world out of Chaos, the successions of divine rulers, and the internecine struggles that culminated in the supremacy of Zeus, the ruling god of Olympus. The goddess Athena’s unique birth story – that she sprang full-grown from Zeus’s forehead, is also a famous tale; and the myths of Apollo elucidate his sacral associations, describe his remarkable victories over monsters and giants, and stress his jealousy and the dangers inherent in immortal alliances. Some myths are closely associated with rituals, such as the account of the drowning of the infant Zeus’s cries by the Curetes, attendants of Zeus, clashing their weapons, or Hera’s annual reinstatement of her virginity by bathing in the spring Canthus.
  • Folklores – There are several folktales which have made their way into Grecian Myths. For example, the tales of lost persons—whether husband, wife, or child (e.g., Odysseus, Helen of Troy, or Paris of Troy)—found or recovered after long and exciting adventures. Journeys to the land of the dead were made by Orpheus (a hero who went to Hades to restore his dead wife, Eurydice, to the realm of the living), Heracles, Odysseus, and Theseus (the slayer of the Minotaur). The victory of the little man by means of cunning against impossible odds, the exploits of the superman (e.g., Heracles), or the long-delayed victory over enemies are still as popular with modern writers as they were with the Greeks. 
    Trojan Horse, Troy
    The wooden horse used at the movie of Troy. It was given to the city of Canakkale as a present in 2004. Now, it is located and displayed at a public park near the coast of Canakkale city in Turkey.


  • Legends – They were quasi historical and were believed to have happened in reality. There are the tales of more than one sack of Troy, which are supported by archaeological evidence, and the labors of Heracles, which might suggest Mycenaean feudalism. The legend of the Minotaur (a being part human, part bull) could have ascended from hyperbolic accounts of bull leaping in ancient Crete. In another class of legends, heinous offenses—such as trying to rape a goddess, deceiving the gods, or assuming their prerogatives—were punished by interminable torture in the underworld. The ramifications of social crimes, such as murder or incest, were also described in these legends (e.g., the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother). Legends were also sometimes used to justify existing political systems or to bolster territorial claims.

Anthropology: People, Ethnicity and Religion

The population of Greece, in particular that of northern Greece, has always been characterized by a great deal of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity. Migrations, invasions, imperial conquests, and 20th-century wars all contributed to this cultural diversity, which continues to characterize modern Greece. According to the dominant ideology of the Greek state, all the people of Greece are, or should be, Greek. However, the population of Greece includes people who identify themselves as Turks, Macedonians, Albanians, Aromanians (Vlachs), and Roma (Gypsies). The only minority officially recognized by the Greek government is the Muslim minority of Thráki (Thrace), whose existence was recognized in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

As for religion, most of the Greek population belongs to the Church of Greece. It is an autocephalous church which appoints its own ecclesiastical hierarchy and is headed by a synod of 12 metropolitans under the presidency of the archbishop of Athens. The Muslim (primarily Sunni) minority, which constitutes most of the non-Orthodox sector of the population, is mainly Turkish and concentrated in western Thráki and the Dodecanese.

Places to Travel in Greece

(469–399 BC), ancient Athenian philosopher. This is his statue, located before the Academy of Athens, Greece.

Known for its plethora of historical remnants, whitewashed villages, sunlit seashores, scrumptious cuisine and pleasant atmosphere, it is no miracle that Greece ranks among Europe’s top travel destinations. You will often find that spectacular beauty on the many scattered islands, spread like precious ornaments and gems in the seas surrounding the Grecian peninsula.

There’s a wealth of cultural and scenic delights to explore. From the Ionian islands in the west –– to the Aegean Sea, Santorini, Mykonos, Kos, and Rhodes amongst others. There’s the pre-Hellenic Minoan culture of Crete down south. The monastery of Meteora, the ruins at Delphi, and ofcourse the most spectacular capital of Athens and its iconic Parthenon. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Greece:

Greek Islands – From gorgeous beaches, ancient ruins, colorful harbors and active volcanoes, the Greek islands have it all. Santorini is a part of the Cyclades group and is among the most picturesque islands in Greece.  Mykonos features a contemporary, cosmopolitan society blended with conventional houses and maze-like streets. Located in the Aegean Sea near the coast of Turkey, Rhodes is the capital of the largest island of the Dodecanese archipelago, popular for its great beaches and historical significance. The northernmost of Greece’s Ionian Islands, Corfu, was controlled by many foreign powers, notably the Venetians and the British, which is reflected in its culture and the architecture on the island.

Santorini Islands

Athens – It’s a bustling centre for business, nightlife and culture. Inhabited for more than 3,000 years, Athens is widely known as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of democracy. The city hosts a blend of historical and modern features. Athens is famous for its archaeological ruins and monuments, such as the famous Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora and the Theatre of Dionysos just to name a few.

Athens, Greece
Ancient Amphitheater of Acropolis of Athens, landmark of Greece

Meteora – The Greek word Meteora means “suspended in the air,” and this phrase aptly describes the spectacular cliffs that rise more than 1,200 feet into the air. What makes these cliffs even more breathtaking are the ancient monasteries nestled along the summits.

Meteora, Greece
Panoramic view of Meteora mountain and religios monastery of Greece illuminated in sunset light

Crete – The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is an expansive land of beautiful distinctions. Steeped in history, Crete still bears archaeological traces of the many civilizations that inhabited it down through the centuries.

Crete, Greece
Small motorboat at clear water bay of Loutro town on Crete island, Greece

Delphi – Second to the Acropolis, Delphi is Greece’s most popular archaeological site.  Delphi was once revered by the ancient Greeks as the center of the earth. Dedicated to the god, Apollo, Delphi was an important oracle. In ancient times, people would come to this sacred spot to ask the priestess for advice on a wide range of topics, from battles to relationships and politics. Significant ruins and structures at Delphi include the Temple of Apollo, the Athenian Treasury, the theater and hippodrome that once hosted events of the ancient Pythian Games.

Delphi, Greece
View of the Tholos at the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, Delphi, Phocis, Greece

I found this great blog, which classifies all the Grecian cities and places according to the moods and vibes they have to offer. I will be reciprocating the gist of it here for your convenience.

  • Athens – Modern Vibes
  • Chania Town – Cobbled And Narrow Streets
  • Santorini – Hues Of Blue And White
  • Hersonissos – Old Port Town
  • Rethymnon – Old Venetian Town
  • Mykonos Town – Iconic Windmills
  • Tsilivi – Greek Beach Town
  • Apokoronas – Bread Baking & Cheese Tasting
  • Meteora – Misty Valleys
  • Crete – Land Of Contrasting Landscapes
  • Nafplio – Land Of Elites
  • Corfu – Storybook Land
  • Sifnos – Home Of Trekking Trails
  • Therasia – Charming Settlements
  • Patmos – A Quaint Island
  • Nisyros – Active Volcano Town
  • Parga – Picturesque Streets
  • Zagori – Mountainous Region
  • Kefalonia – Ionian’s Largest
  • Cape Sounion – Home To Poseidon
  • Naxos – The Greenest Island
  • Peloponnese – Mulberry Leaf Like
  • Thessaloniki – With A Rich History
  • Zakynthos – With Pristine Beaches
  • Delphi – The Ancient Ruins
  • Delos – A Legendary Place
  • Rhodes – A Little Gem

I have only given a bird’s eye view of some of the most amazing places in Greece that you can visit. I will surely follow it up with a detailed blog on indulgences in Greece.

7 thoughts on “A Brief Overview of the Ancient History of Greece: Where Democracy was Born!

  1. It is such an interesting blog. I felt like I live life over there as I travel with your words! Love it!

  2. Having just read your blog on archeological travel and the beginning of languages I thought I’d come back into the semi-modern world of Greece. Equally fascinating. Like most people I love Greece and I was lucky enough to spend many holidays in Athens and its surroundings before mass tourism when the sites had to be closed off.

    1. That must have been a great experience, totally different from now. It did Rome right before COVID, and the Colosseum was filled with tourists…still a good experience but the ticketing and so forth was a bit frustrating.

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