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Ancient Greece

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The period following the catastrophic collapse of the Mycenaean civilization in Greece (about 1200 BC) was marked by a series of migrations by barbarian peoples from the north, leading to a number of city-states - prominent among these, Sparta and Athens - and a phase of Greek colonization along the shores of the Mediterranean. For two centuries, Greek history was a provincial tale of neighbors squabbling over scarce resources. But it was also the dawn of philosophy and science. There seems to be no good reason why the Hellenes, clustered in isolated city-states in a relatively poor and backward land, should have struck out into intellectual regions that were only dimly perceived, if at all, by the splendid civilizations of the Yangtze, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Nile valleys but they did.

The Persian Wars (492-449 BC) were sparked by a revolt of Greek colonies in Asia Minor and brought the Greeks onto the stage of world history. Athens and Eretria sent a small fleet in support of the revolt, which the Persian emperors took as a pretext for launching two invasions of the Greek mainland. In 490 BC a Persian army under Darius I (522-486 BC) landed unopposed on the plain of Marathon; following an appeal to the Spartans, the Athenian-led Greeks won a decisive victory. A second invasion ten years later, blunted by the valiant stand by the Spartans and Thespians at Thermopylae (481 BC), ended with the crushing defeat of the Persian fleet at Salamis. Sporadic fighting between Greek alliances and Persia continued for another 30 years, before the Peace of Callas (449 BC) finally ended the hostilities. The surprising Greek triumph ensured the survival of Greek culture and political structures. ^ Growing tensions among the victors led to the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BC), fought between Athens and Sparta. The Athenian league was, in fact, an empire that included most of the island and coastal states around the shores of the Aegean Sea, while Sparta was leader of an alliance of independent cities that included most of the major land powers of the peninsula. The end finally came in 404 BC when, starved by an impenetrable blockade, Athens capitulated. Athens' devastation and decline was perhaps the worst casualty in a war that crippled Greek unity.

By this time, a new power was growing in the north of Greece. In 353 BC, Philip I was in undisputed control of a much-enlarged Macedonia. Phalanx tactics were known from ancient Sumer and Egypt, but Philip perfected the tactical use of spear-wielding {Hoplites} in dense, massive blocks of eight, or even 16-20 ranks, sacrificing flexibility and mobility in order to achieve maximum protection and power. Unless Alexander (336-323 BC) was himself responsible for his father's assassination in 336 BC, he cannot have foreseen the moment of his succession. But he was certainly prepared. Educated by Aristotle and left in charge of Macedonia during Philip's attack on Byzantium, Alexander defeated the Maedi; two years later he commanded the left wing at the battle of Chaeronea, in which Philip defeated the allied Greek states. By the time of his death at the age of 33, Alexander had moved the great centers of civilization westward and initiated a new age, spread Hellenism in a vast colonizing wave throughout the Middle East and created, if not politically at least economically and culturally, a single civilization stretching from Gibraltar to the Punjab, open to trade and intellectual intercourse.

But the Greek empire barely survived Alexander's death. During a 40-year (323-280 BC) interregnum, the provinces became independent kingdoms, with various of Alexander's generals rising to rule through bloodshed and assassination, yet unable to ally against the coming of a new military power. By 350 BC, Rome was encroaching on the westernmost Greek settlements, beginning a 200-year conquest of the Hellenic world that Alexander had created. With the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, Octavian's forces occupied Egypt and the last kingdom of Alexander's successors fell to Rome. For two millennia, Greece was part of the Roman, then Byzantine and finally the Ottoman empires. Following an uprising in 1821 supported by Britain, Russia and France, Greece's existence as an independent nation gained formal recognition in 1832. After this Greece went though an exspansionist phase and achieved its curent territorial borders in 1947.

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