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Prehistory and Mycenaean period (1600-1100 BC)

Remains of human settlements in the Peloponnese date back to around 30,000 BC, but are so fragmentary that it is impossible to know who they belonged to or where they came from.

The first major civilisation to play a role in the history of the Peloponnese was the Mycenaean civilisation, in fact no more than a loose collection of individual states, concentrated around a number of palace complexes and a culture closely interwoven with the Minoan culture of Crete. Important centres on the Peloponnese included Mycenae itself, Sparta, Pylos, Tiryns and Argos, which is considered the longest continuously inhabited city in Greece.

Each Mycenaean palace complex was in fact a mini-kingdom that protected its inhabitants and gave shelter to visitors. It is thought that around 1200 BC some of these kingdoms conspired and attacked a city in north-west Asia Minor, probably Troy and for economic reasons, but this is still not completely clear and proven.

It is also unclear why the Mycenaean civilisation decayed after the action in Asia Minor around 1250 BC. Climate change resulting in a severe drought could be a reason. Greece, and with it the Peloponnese, entered a dark period.

Homer and the rise of Sparta (1100-490 BC)

In this "dark" period, the Peloponnese was invaded by a number of migrations, of which the most important was that of the Dorians (ca. 1200-1000 BC), a sober and soldierly people.

Important in this period was the creation of the Iliad & the Odyssey, two epic poems, probably, but not definitively proven, written by the 'blind' poet/singer Homer. The Iliad & Odyssey not only had a great influence on Greek and Roman culture, but is still a subject of discussion and scientific research today.

In the transition period from the 'dark' to the classical Greek period, one city emerged on the Peloponnese, Sparta. First they subdued the Messenians, their western neighbours, then successively a large part of the Peloponnese, alone or under a Spartan-dominated alliance with other cities.

At the same time as the soldier city of Sparta founded an empire on mainland Greece, there was the rise of Athens, which conquered many Greek islands, ruled the sea and introduced the first form of democracy. That these two totally different state forms and cultures eventually clashed was inevitable, but at the end of the 5th century BC they united to fight a common enemy, the Persians.

Persian invasions (490-479 B.C.)

The Persian invasions barely touched the Peloponnese, but they were crucial to its history. In 490 BC, the Persian King Darius invaded Greece from the north and advanced as far as the Plain of Marathon, not far from Athens. Darius' army was defeated, but in 480 BC Xerxes, Darius' son, tried again with a huge army. The defence was now led by the Spartans and by, among others, historic and decisive victories at Thermopylae and Plataea, the Persians were defeated again. Corinth, because of its strategic location, was at that time the headquarters of the united Greek city-states. The city also sent 5000 infantrymen to the decisive Battle of Plataea (479 BC).

At sea, Athens was victorious, especially the Sea Battle of Salamis (480 BC), with the help of 40 Corinthian ships, and contributed to the final victory of the city-states of Sparta and Athens over Persia. Not long after, however, the allies again faced each other as ruffians.

Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC)

The defeat of the Persians actually marked the beginning of the classical period in Greek history, with its magnificent buildings and brilliant cultural and intellectual expressions. Athens, in particular, excelled in this and this was also the beginning of the end of the Peloponnesian period of economic and military prosperity.

The Persian attacks had brought a brief respite in the fighting between Sparta and Athens and, during this period, the Spartans still gained the upper hand in the Peloponnesian War due to bad military decisions by Athens and the outbreak of a disease in the city. Sparta remained the most important city in Greece, but that would not last for long.

Autumn tide and downfall of Sparta (371-146 BC)

After the victory over Athens, nothing seemed to stand in the way of expanding Sparta's territory on the Peloponnese, but Sparta's army was defeated in the Corinthian War (395-387 BC) by the Thebes of statesman and general Epaminondas. Epaminondas thus briefly secured the hegemony of Thebes over Greece, but two new aggressors, Macedonia and Rome, would ensure that Greece would no longer represent much on the then world stage.

First it was Philip II of Macedonia and his son and successor Alexander the Great who attacked Sparta and Athens from the north, and even later it was the Romans, who moved irresistibly westwards from Rome in Italy. The early death of Alexander and his successors targeted the Persian Empire in revenge and gave the Romans more or less free rein to occupy Greece and the Peloponnese and after Alexander's death it was not so difficult for the Romans to conquer Macedonia and the rest of Greece. In 146 BC, the supremacy of the Romans was confirmed by the total destruction of the city of Corinth.

Rome in power (146 B.C.-330 A.D.)

Under the "Pax Romana", the "peace" brought by the Romans, the Peloponnese became a Roman province with the name Achaea and was governed from Corinth, which had been rebuilt by the Emperor Julius Caesar in 44 BC and which Caesar had also proclaimed the capital of Roman Greece. The direct involvement of the Romans in Achaea, however, consisted of little more than the construction and reconstruction of all kinds of buildings.

In short, a quiet, peaceful period dawned in which a man like the apostle Paul (also Saul), one of the first leaders of the Christian church, played a major role in the development and spread of Christianity in Greece, and especially in Corinth.

Byzantine Empire (330-1204)

The Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great founded the new capital Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 330 AD and began to make Christianity a state religion. At the end of the 4th century, Theodosius I formalised this development, although the new faith did not catch on very well in the Peloponnese and settled mainly in the more remote areas.

At this time, Greece also suffered greatly from invasions and migrations from the north. Especially to be mentioned are Alaric and his Visigoths who plundered Sparta and Corinth (395). Much more important, however, were the invasions of Slavic tribes, who settled permanently on Greek territory. In 476, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire was murdered by the 'barbarians'; Byzantine Rome managed to hold out for another few centuries. In 1147 Corinth was sacked by the Normans of Roger II of Sicily.

Middle Ages (1204-1460)

Actually, in 1204, the knights of the Fourth Crusade, aiming at the liberation of the 'Holy Land', also plundered Constantinople, in fact a Christian city. One of the Frankish armies, led by William Geoffrey de Villehardouin, was also planning to sail to Constantinople, but they realised that the Peloponnese would also be rich booty. De Villehardouin, and later his son William, a true castle builder, put their money where their mouth was and eventually conquered a large part of the Peloponnese from the castle at Mystras built in 1249. The reason for this was that Venice also had its eye on the Peloponnese, especially the coastal fortresses of Methoni and Koroni.

And the Byzantines had not yet disappeared, they finally made the city of Mystras, near Sparta, the second city of their empire in 1259, defeating the army of De Villehardouin. Until 1460, the whole Peloponnese was torn between the three rival powers, but a fourth power was on the way, the Ottomans. They conquered Constantinople on 29 May 1453 and the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI Palaiologos Dragases, died on the walls of Mystras, where he had been crowned emperor only a few years earlier.

Ottoman Occupation and War of Independence (1460-1829)

Mystras finally fell in 1460 and the Peloponnese came under complete Ottoman control, except for some ports that remained in the hands of the Venetians. Nauplion was conquered by the Turks in 1540 and proclaimed the capital of the Peloponnese. Still, the Greeks did not have it so bad under the rule of the Ottomans. The Greeks retained a kind of religious freedom and were still able to climb high on the social ladder. From 1687 to 1715, Sparta was governed for a while by Venice and at that time counted about 40.000 inhabitants, more than ever before.

However, the Greeks naturally preferred to be independent and on 25 March 1821 the independence flag was blessed in the monastery of Agia Lavra and the revolution proclaimed by Bishop Germanos of Patras.

The first success was achieved on the Mani, where a small liberation army led by Petrobey Mavromihalis from Tsimova (now Areopoli) captured the city of Kalamata. The Peloponnese became the main battleground with General Theodoros Kolokotronis at the head of the Greek fighters. On 23 September 1823, an army led by Kolokotronis captured the Turkish capital of the Peloponnese, Tripoli, killing some 8,000 Turks, including (pregnant) women and children. A few months later, the Turks took revenge by killing 25,000 Greeks on the island of Chios. Initial success for the Greeks, with massacres on both sides, was cancelled out by a struggle among the Greek leaders that even culminated in a brief civil war in 1824.

The Ottomans took advantage of this and a large Egyptian army under Ibrahim Pasha landed on the coast of Southern Messinia and destroyed and plundered the interior. Gradually, however, sympathy for the Greek struggle for independence spread abroad and the so-called philhellenes (sympathisers) fought the Ottomans, including the English poet Lord Byron, who unfortunately died at Missolonghi, just north of the Peloponnese. In October 1827 the battle effectively ended when a combined British (commanded by Sir Edward Codrington), French (commanded by Count de Rigny) and Russian fleet (commanded by Van Heiden, a Dutch admiral who had fled from the French to Russia) defeated the Ottoman fleet of Ibrahim Pasha in the Bay of Navarino (now: Pylos) in the southwest of the Peloponnese. The Turks lost about 6000 men and 51 warships in barely four hours, the coalition only 175 men and no ship.

Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Prime Minister of independent Greece, proclaimed Nauplion in 1828 as the first capital of Greece and seat of parliament, from 1834 Athens would take over this function. After some minor skirmishes, independence was declared in 1829. In 1831 Kapodistrias was killed by two men from the Mani.

Megali Idea (1830-1923)

In 1830, the new Greek state consisted only of the Peloponnese, a small part of the northern mainland including Athens, and the Cyclades, an archipelago of islands. In total, only half of today's Greece. The next hundred years would be entirely devoted to the claiming and conquering of all the territories that were traditionally considered to belong to Greece, including, for example, the Ottoman city of Constantinople.

This endeavour was called the 'Megali Idea', the Big Idea, and the great animator of this endeavour was Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, who indeed realised most of the Big Idea after the Balkan wars of the early 20th century. The Ionian Islands, Crete, Macedonia and Western Thrace were successively added to Greece. But that was all, and in 1922 an attempt to capture the capital of Turkey, Ankara, failed in a war with the Turks. Greece was ruled from 1833-1862 by the first king of Greece, Otto I of Bavaria.

The leader of the Turks, Ataturk, expelled the Greeks from Turkish territory and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) established roughly the current borders of Greece. This resulted in a major migration of the population: 400,000 Turkish Muslims left Greece, 1.3 million Greek Orthodox Christians left Turkey and returned to Greece.

Second World War and Civil War (1935-1949)

The influx of so many Greeks, who settled mainly in Athens and the surrounding areas, was too much for Greece's stagnant economy in a period of global economic crisis. Many Greeks sought refuge and emigrated to countries such as the United States and Australia.

Politically, too, things were in chaos during those years, leading to a fascist dictatorship under General Ioannis Metaxas, who also had sympathies for the ideas of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. The expectation was that Greece would at least remain neutral in World War II, but it turned out differently. On 28 October 1940, Mussolini asked if Italian troops could move through Greece, but Metaxas refused and chased the Italians back over the Albanian mountains. This was not to Hitler's liking and in 1941 Greece was occupied by the Germans. British troops that had helped the Greeks in their futile struggle were evacuated from the Peloponnese or taken prisoner.

In 1943, the village of Kalavryta was harshly confronted with the horrors of the Second World War. In the middle of the war, the resistance in Greece against the German occupying forces increased. On 13 December 1943, this led to an armed fight in the Kalavryta area between the Germans and Greek resistance fighters, in which at least eighty German soldiers were killed. In revenge, the entire male population of Kalavryta and the surrounding area, aged 15 and over, was shot, a total of about 1,430 people.

The Greek resistance, the ELAS, organised itself rapidly and became the most effective resistance active in the occupied territories of Europe. The Greek resistance was led by the communists Athanasios (Thanasias) Klaras (later known as Aris Velouchiotis), Stefanos Sarafis and Andreas Tzimas. This communist leadership was of course very popular with the Russians, but especially the English Prime Minister Winston Churchill abhorred it. He supported King George, who had emigrated to Egypt, and demanded him not to get involved with the communists after the war.

This eventually led to a violent and cruel civil war between left and right that would last from 1946 to 1949 and in which more Greeks died than in the Second World War and the royalists were helped by the British and later by the Americans. At the end of 1948 and the beginning of 1949, the communists were rapidly losing ground to the 'Greek people's movement' of General Alexandros Papagos. Eventually, the communists were defeated, partly through the use of napalm, and most fled to Russia and other countries in Eastern Europe.

From dictatorship to democracy (1967-present)

In 1963, Georgios Papandreou became Prime Minister, but his constant conflicts with King Constantine II led to political instability. In 1967, a military coup established a harsh and oppressive junta that would come to be known as the Colonel's regime.

In 1974, the junta was ousted and a civilian government returned to power and a referendum decided that the king, who had fled in 1967, should not return and Greece became a republic. The first leader would be Constantine Karamanlis. The 1980s were dominated by the socialist PASOK party led by Andreas Papandreou. Since then, power has alternated between PASOK and the right-wing ND party. In 2012 the two parties formed an uneasy coalition.

On 13 September 1986, the capital of Messinia, Kalamata, was hit by a major earthquake. In addition to twenty deaths and 330 injured, many old buildings collapsed.

In 2008, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter Scale struck the northwestern Peloponnese. Two people died, 220 were injured and 2,000 were made homeless. The epicentre of the earthquake was 32 km southwest of the port city of Patras.

See also the history page of Greece.



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Last updated May 2024
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