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Hellas

   A name originally given to a district and city of Thessaly in the division Phthiotis, then further extended to the whole of Thessaly, and finally adopted as a general appellation for all Greece. Hellas is a peninsula, the easternmost of the three that project from the south of Europe into the Mediterranean Sea. Its western coast is rough and mountainous, while its eastern shores abound in gulfs, bays, and harbours. From this geographical cause Greece for a long time knew little or nothing of Italy and the West, but sustained very close relations, political and commercial, with the countries of Asia Minor --a fact of immense importance in her historical development. Because of her long line of coast, she first received, in great measure, the quickening which comes from immigration and the contact with new ideas that inevitably follows; so that Greece, largely by reason of her physical conformation and position, most readily responded to the influences of oriental culture, and thus became the cradle of European civilization.
    Hellas is divided into two parts by the Gulf of Corinth, which would have completely severed them were it not for the narrow Isthmus of Corinth. This, until it was cut by the modern canal (August, 1893), united the southern division (Peloponnesus) with the northern (Hellas Proper). Hellas as a whole is marked off from the rest of Europe by a mountain chain, an extension of the Balkans, known in ancient times as the Haemus. From this range ran the chains from north-northwest to south-southeast, which form the skeleton of Greece. What may be called the backbone of the country is the range that first separates Illyria from Macedonia and Epirus from Thessaly, and then continues down through the whole peninsula. The most important single chain is Pindus (7111 feet), with its branch Othrys. Various single peaks are Olympus in Thessaly (9750 feet), Ossa, Pelion, Tymphrestus (7606 feet), Parnassus (8036 feet), and Helicon, all in Hellas Proper; with Cyllene, Aroania, and Erymanthus in the Peloponnesus, whose two important spurs are the Taygetus and Parnon. The Ionian Isles, Corcyra, Cephallenia, Leucas, and Zacynthus, off the western coast, follow the same direction as the mountain chains of the Peloponnesus and the mainland.
    The rivers of Greece are small streams, little more than brooks, flowing usually south or west. In Hellas Proper there are four principal rivers, all having their source on Mount Lacmon of the Pindus range. The Aous flows into the Adriatic, the Peneus and Haliacmon into the Thermaic Gulf, and the Achelous into the Gulf of Patrae. In the Peloponnesus, the important streams rise near the north of Taygetus, the Eurotas flowing south and the Alpheus west.
     The Hellenes were a branch of the family to which most of the European peoples belong, and which is variously described as Aryan, Indo-Germanic, and Indo-European, whose original home is uncertain, being by some placed in Asia and by others in Europe. It is generally held, however, that the original inhabitants of Greece entered it from the north at a very remote period, probably during the Stone Age; that they were in the nomadic stage of development; and that they came on in successive waves of immigration, each of which pushed farther south the people who had already preceded it. Even after the whole of Hellas had been covered by these early tribes, succeeding waves followed, overspreading the territory occupied by others. Such a wave of later immigration was that which is known to the legendary historians as "the return of the Heraclidae." This pressure from behind had the effect of driving out many who had settled in the mainland into the adjacent islands, and ultimately to far distant lands, such as the coasts of Asia Minor, Sicily, the shore of the Euxine, and the north of Africa. Hellas in its wider sense is, therefore, to be understood of the united settlements of Hellenes in all parts of the then known world, and it was in this sense that the Hellenes themselves understood it, since to them the word always had an ethnic rather than a territorial significance. The name Hellenes in Homer refers only to the Thessalian people mentioned above; and in fact the Homeric poems have no general designation for the Greeks as a whole. They are called Danai (Danaoi), Argivi (Argeioi), and Achaei (Achaioi), and it was not much before the time of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Scylax that the terms Hellas and Hellenes received their full extension of meaning. The Orientals spoke of the Greeks as “Ionians”; the Italians called them Graeci, from one of the ancient tribes of Epirus, the Graikoi--a word older than Hellenes, but disused and then revived by Sophocles, according to Eustathius.
   The time which elapsed from the appearance of the Hellenes in Thessaly to the siege of Troy is usually known by the name of the Heroic Age. Thucydides informs us that the commencement of Grecian civilization is to be dated from the reign of Minos of Crete, who acquired a naval power and cleared the Aegean Sea of pirates. Among the most celebrated heroes of this period were Bellerophon and Perseus, whose adventures were laid in the East; Theseus, the king of Athens; and Heracles. Tradition also preserved the account of expeditions undertaken by several chiefs united together, such as that of the Argonauts, of the Seven against Thebes, and of the siege of Troy.
    It is learned from Thucydides that the population of Greece was in a very unsettled state for some time after the Trojan War. Of the various migrations which appear to have taken place, the most important in their consequences were those of the Boeotians from Thessaly into the country afterwards called Boeotia, and of the Dorians into Peloponnesus. At about the same period the western coast of Asia Minor was colonized by the Greeks. The ancient inhabitants of Boeotia, who had been driven out of their homes by the invasion of the Boeotians, together with some Aeolians (whence it has acquired the name of the Aeolian migration) left Boeotia and settled in Lesbos and the northwestern corner of Asia Minor. They were not long afterwards followed by the Ionians, who, having been driven from their abode on the Corinthian Gulf, had taken refuge in Attica, whence they emigrated to Asia Minor and settled on the Lydian coast. The southwestern part of the coast of Asia Minor was also colonized at about the same period by Dorians. The number of Greek colonies, considering the extent of the mother country, was very great; and the readiness with which the Greeks left their homes to settle in foreign lands forms a remarkable feature of their national character. In the seventh century before Christ the Greek colonies took another direction: Cyrene, in Africa, was founded by the inhabitants of Thera, and the coasts of Sicily and the southern part of Italy became studded with so many Greek cities that it acquired the name of the Great, or Greater, Greece (Magna Graecia).
    The two States of Greece which attained the greatest historical celebrity were Sparta and Athens. The power of Athens was of later growth; but Sparta had, from the time of the Dorian conquest, taken the lead among the Peloponnesian States, a position which she maintained by the conquest of the fertile country of Messenia, B.C. 688. Her superiority was probably owing to the nature of her political institutions, which are said to have been fixed on a firm basis by her celebrated lawgiver Lycurgus, B.C. 884. At the head of the nation were two hereditary kings, but their power was greatly limited by a jealous aristocracy. Her territories were also increased by the conquest of Tegea in Arcadia. Athens rose to importance only in the century preceding the Persian Wars; but even in this period her power was not more than a match for the little States of Megaris and Aegina. The city was long harassed by internal commotions till the time of Solon, B.C. 594, who was chosen by his fellow-citizens to frame a new constitution and a new code of laws, to which much of the future greatness of Athens must be ascribed. We have already seen that the kingly form of government was prevalent in the Heroic Age. But, during the period that elapsed between the Trojan War and the Persian invasion, hereditary political power was abolished in almost all the Greek States, with the exception of Sparta, and a republican form of government established in its stead. In studying the history of the Greeks, one must bear in mind that almost every city formed an independent State, and that, with the exception of Athens and Sparta, which exacted obedience from the other towns of Attica and Laconia respectively, there was hardly any State which possessed more than a few miles of territory. Frequent wars between themselves were the almost unavoidable consequence of the existence of so many small States nearly equal in power. The evils which arose from this condition of things were partly remedied by the influence of the Amphictyonic Council and by the religious games and festivals which were held at fixed periods in different parts of Greece, and during the celebration of which no wars were carried on. In the sixth century before the Christian era, Greece rapidly advanced in knowledge and civilization. Literature and the fine arts were already cultivated in Athens under the anspices of Pisistratus and his sons; and the products of remote countries were introduced into Greece by the merchants of Corinth and Aegina. See Commerce.
    This was the most splendid period of Grecian history. The Greeks, in their resistance to the Persians, and the part they took in the burning of Sardis, B.C. 499, drew upon them the vengeance of Darius. After the reduction of the Asiatic Greeks, a Persian army was sent into Attica, but was entirely defeated at Marathon, B.C. 490, by the Athenians under Miltiades. Ten years afterwards the whole power of the Persian Empire was directed against Greece; an immense army, led in person by Xerxes, advanced as far as Attica, and received the submission of almost all the Grecian States, with the exception of Athens and Sparta. But this expedition also failed; the Persian fleet was destroyed in the battles of Artemisium and Salamis; and the land forces were entirely defeated in the following year, B.C. 479, at Plataea in Boeotia. Sparta had, previous to the Persian invasion, been regarded by the other Greeks as the first power in Greece, and accordingly she obtained the supreme command of the army and fleet in the Persian War. But, during the course of this war, the Athenians had made greater sacrifices and had shown a greater degree of courage and patriotism, so that after the battle of Plataea a confederacy was formed by the Grecian States for carrying on the war against the Persians. Sparta was at first placed at the head of it; but the allies, disgusted with the tyranny of Pausanias, the Spartan commander, gave the supremacy to Athens. The allies, who consisted of the inhabitants of the islands and coasts of the Aegean Sea, were to furnish contributions in money and ships, and the delicate task of assessing the amount which each State was to pay was assigned to Aristides. The yearly con tribution was settled at 460 talents (about $542,800), and Delos was chosen as the common treasury. The Athenians, under the command of Cimon, carried on the war vigorously, defeated the Persian fleets, and plundered the maritime provinces of the Persian Empire.
    During this period the power of Athens rapidly increased; she possessed a succession of distinguished statesmen--Themistocles, Aristides, Cimon, and Pericles--who all contributed to the advancement of her power, though differing in their political views. Her maritime greatness was founded by Themistocles, her revenues were increased by Pericles, and her general prosperity, in connection with other causes, tended to produce a greater degree of culture than existed in any other part of Greece. Literature was cultivated, and the arts of architecture and sculpture, which were employed to ornament the city, were carried to a degree of excellence that has never since been surpassed.
    While Athens was advancing in power, Sparta had to maintain a war against the Messenians, who again revolted, and were joined by a great number of the Spartan slaves (B.C. 461-455). But, though Sparta made no efforts during this period to restrain the Athenian power, it was not because she wanted the will, but the means. These, however, were soon furnished by the Athenians themselves, who began to treat the allied States with great tyranny, and to regard them as subjects, and not as independent States in alliance. The tribute was raised from 460 to 600 talents, the treasury was removed from Delos to Athens, and the decision of all important suits was referred to the Athenian courts. When any State withdrew from the alliance, its citizens were considered by the Athenians as rebels, and immediately reduced to subjection. The dependent States, anxious to throw off the Athenian dominion, entreated the assistance of Sparta, and thus, in conjunction with other causes, arose the war between Sparta and Athens, which lasted for twenty-seven years (B.C. 431-404), and is usually known as the Peloponnesian War. It terminated by again placing Sparta at the head of all Greece. Soon after the conclusion of this war, Sparta engaged in a contest with the Persian Empire, which lasted from B.C. 400 to 394. The splendid successes which Agesilaus, the Spartan king, obtained over the Persian troops in Asia Minor, and the manifest weakness of the Persian Empire, which had been already shown by the successful retreat of only ten thousand Greeks from the very heart of the Persian Empire, appear to have induced Agesilaus to entertain the design of overthrowing the Persian monarchy; but he was obliged to return to his native country to defend it against a powerful confederacy, which had been formed by the Corinthians, Thebans, Argives, Athenians, and Thessalians, for the purpose of throwing off the Spartan dominion. The confederates were not, however, successful in their attempt; and the Spartan supremacy was again secured for a brief period by a general peace, made B.C. 387, usually known by the name of the peace of Antalcidas. Ten years afterwards, the rupture between Thebes and Sparta began, which led to a general war in Greece, and for a short time gave Thebes the hegemony of Hellas. The greatness of Thebes was principally owing to the wisdom and valour of two of her sons--Pelopidas and Epaminondas. After the death of Epaminondas at the battle of Mantinea, B.C. 362, Thebes again sank to its former obscurity. The Spartan supremacy was, however, wholly destroyed, and her power still further humbled by the restoration of Messenia to independence, B.C. 369. From the conclusion of this war to the reign of Philip of Macedon, Greece remained without any ruling power. It is only necessary here to mention the part which Philip took in the Sacred War, which lasted ten years (B.C. 356-346), in which he appeared as the defender of the Amphictyonic Council, and which terminated by the conquest of the Phocians. The Athenians, urged on by Demosthenes, made an alliance with the Thebans for the purpose of resisting Philip; but their defeat at Chaeronea, B.C. 388, secured for the Macedonian king the supremacy of Greece. In the same year a congress of Grecian States was held at Corinth, in which Philip was chosen general-in-chief of the Greeks in a projected war against the Persian Empire; but his assassination in B.C. 336 caused this enterprise to devolve on his son Alexander.
    The conquests of Alexander extended the Grecian influence over the greater part of Asia west of the Indus. After his death the dominion of the East was contested by his generals, and two powerful empires were permanently established--that of the Ptolemies in Egypt and the Seleucidae in Syria. The dominions of the early Syrian kings embraced the greater part of Western Asia; but their Empire was soon divided into various independent kingdoms, such as that of Bactria and Pergamus, in all of which the Greek language was spoken, not merely at court, but to a considerable extent in the cities. From the death of Alexander to the Roman conquest, Macedon remained the ruling power in Greece. The Aetolian and Achaean leagues were formed, the former B.C. 284, the latter B.C. 281, for the purpose of resisting the Macedonian kings. Macedonia was conquered by the Romans B.C. 197, and the Greek States declared independent. This, however, was merely nominal; for they only exchanged the rule of the Macedonian kings for that of the Roman people; and in B.C. 146, Greece was reduced to the form of a Roman province, called Achaea, though certain cities, such as Athens, Delphi, and others, were allowed to have the rank of free towns. The history of Greece, from this period, forms part of that of the Roman Empire.
    Greece was overrun by the Goths in A.D. 267, and again in A.D. 398, under Alaric; and, after being occupied by the Crusaders and Venetians, at last fell into the hands of the Turks, on the conquest of Constantinople; from whom it was again liberated in 1828. See the articles Athenae; Byzantinum Imperium; Sparta; Macedonia; and the following works of reference.

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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

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