in the 5th-3rd, millennium BCE, the Balkan Peninsula was
inhabited by sailors who came from Asia. central Greece and
Crete. In the 2nd millennium BCE, Indo-European warriors
began to extend their influence over the peninsula. They
founded Mycenae, Tarant and Argos, conquered Athens, the
eastern part of the Peloponnese, invaded Crete and plundered
Troy. The economy was based on agriculture and cattle
farming. The ruling class of society consisted of the kings,
nobles, warriors, and owners of the best lands. They ruled
over the peasants, craftsmen, and shepherds.
Around the year 1000 BCE, the Mycenaean civilization was
under pressure from the Dorian invasion forces. They had
weapons of iron - which the Aegean did not know - mixed with
the population and thus providing a unified language for the
whole region. The peninsula’s mountainous topography favored
the development of city states, called police ruled
by a king advised by a council of elders - both belonging to
the military aristocracy. The peasants were forced to pay a
natural tax. If they were not able to do so, they were made
slaves, or sold with their families as slaves. (See
Despite the existence of the various social classes, the
Greeks possessed an original conception of the human being.
The previous civilizations had regarded man alone as an
instrument of the will of the gods and rulers, but in Greek
philosophy man assumed the character of individual. The
perception of man as a citizen who was part of a police
- regardless of property and class affiliation - was one of
the most important contributions of Greek culture to
history. The Greek city states alternately allied themselves
and fought each other. Nevertheless, the Hellenic peoples
were considered to have the same nationality because their
common religion, language and sportsmanship in the Olympic
In the 8th century BCE, most of the city states came into
crisis. This was partly due to the dilution of the rulers'
power which was gradually replaced by magistrates appointed
among the nobility, and partly to the lack of fertile land
and the increase in population which caused great social
tensions. The crisis pushed the Greeks outward, became the
start of Greek colonization of the Mediterranean, led to a
flourishing trade and the use of Greek as a trade language.
Around 760 BCE, the Greeks established colonies in
southern Italy, the Gulf of Naples and in Sicily. They were
slowed down in their expansion by the Phoenicians and
Etruscans and therefore never fully dominated Sicily or
southern Italy, but their cultural influence was of crucial
importance for the subsequent cultural evolution of the
people of the Italian peninsula.
From the beginning of the colonization, the social and
political structure of the Greek police changed.
The merchants had benefited from the expansion of the
Mediterranean, and were therefore not very prepared to
continue to allow the nobility to exercise government power.
Together with the peasants, they pushed to be involved in
the political decisions. Athens was at that time one of the
peninsula's most thriving cities, and it now embarked on a
process that in it 7-6. century BCE led to a gradual
democratization of its government structures. In 594, a
reformer named Solon took a significant step in that
direction by introducing a written law, a court of justice
and an assembly of 400 members who were elected based on
their wealth and tasked with legislating in the city's
Sparta was the second major city state in the region, and
at the same time, it achieved a completely different
development. It consolidated an oligarchic state with a
solid social and political structure. The Spartan community
was militarized due to the military's decisive importance
for the expansion and annexation of the neighboring areas.
In 540, the Persians began their advance in Asia Minor
and conquered some Greek cities. These cities carried out a
series of rebellions, supported first by Athens and then by
Sparta, which culminated in a series of wars - known as the
medical wars - that only ended in 449 with the defeat of the
Persians. The wars helped consolidate Athens' power in the
region. Through the Delos League, they exercised their
economic and political power in the other city states.
The Greek ships played a fundamental role in the wars
against the Persians, making the helmsmen, otherwise
belonging to the lowest strata of Athenian society,
indispensable for the defense of Athens. They used it to
demand improvements in their living conditions and greater
political rights. After a period when the Athenian oligarchy
had regained its political power, in 508 the reformer
Kleistenes expanded the number of members of the town
assembly to 500 and made it the city's most important
government body. Attendance at the assembly was made
possible for all free citizens - men only - in the city.
Democracy in Athens, however, could only be exploited by a
small minority who had the opportunity to drastically
increase their wealth through the use of the huge number of
slaves. This is why historians often characterize it as a
slave democracy.folk ; krati, gr. for board.