Greece is a small country where Western civilization started about 2,500 years ago. In those days, Greece controlled much of the land bordering the Mediterranean and Black seas. Athens is the capital and the largest city of Greece. In Athens and other parts of Greece, magnificent ruins stand as monuments to the nation’s glorious past.
About one-fourth of the workers in Greece earn their living by farming, and agriculture is an important economic activity. But mountains cover most of Greece, and the land is rocky with little fertile soil. A Greek legend tells that God sifted the earth through a strainer while making the world.
He made one country after another with the good soil that sifted through, and threw away the stones left in the strainer. According to the legend, these stones became Greece. No part of Greece is more than 85 miles (137 ilometers) from the sea. The Greeks have always been seafaring people. About a fifth of Greece consists of islands. The mainland makes up the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, extending into the Mediterranean Sea. Many ancient Greek legends, including those about Ulysses and Jason, center on sea voyages. Today, Greece has one of the largest merchant fleets in the world. The Greeks came under the control of invaders for more than 2,000 years. They lost their independence to the Macedonians in 338 B.C. The Greeks did not regain their independence until A.D. 1829, from the Ottoman Empire. Since then, Greece has had many serious political problems, largely because of weak or undemocratic governments. In ancient times, the Greeks established the traditions of justice and individual freedom that are basic to democracy. Their arts, philosophy, and science became foundations of Western thought and culture.
World War I began in 1914. Venizelos urged that Greece fight with the Allies against Germany and its partners. But King Constantine, whose wife was a sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, kept Greece neutral. Venizelos started a revolutionary movement. It was supported by the Allies, who had established a military base at Thessaloniki. In 1917, Constantine was forced to give the throne to his son, Alexander I. Greece entered the war on the side of the Allies on July 2, 1917. Thousands of Greek troops joined the British, French, and Serbians at their Thessaloniki base, from which they attacked the Bulgarians and Turks. In September 1918, the Greeks and other Allied forces moved north. They defeated the Bulgarians, who signed an armistice at Thessaloniki. The entire war ended on November 11. The peace treaties that followed World War I gave Greece most of the territories it had long sought. From the Ottoman Empire, Greece got eastern Thrace; some islands in the Aegean Sea, including two at the entrance to the Dardanelles; and temporary control of the Smyrna (now Izmir) region in Asia Minor. The Greeks gained western Thrace from Bulgaria.
King Alexander died in 1920, and Constantine I returned to the throne. In 1921, Constantine renewed the war against the Ottoman Empire by sending Greek forces into Asia Minor. The Ottomans dealt the Greeks a crushing defeat in 1922, and a military revolt forced Constantine from the throne. His son, George II, replaced him. A revolution ended the Ottoman Empire in 1922. It became the Republic of Turkey the next year.
In 1923, under the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece returned the Turkish territories it had gained after World War I. The treaty also provided for ending the tensions produced by Turkish rule over Greeks. It required over 1,250,000 Greeks in Turkey to move to Greece and 400,000 Turks in Greece to move to Turkey. After the Greek migration, the only Greeks under foreign rule were in northern Epirus in Albania, British-held Cyprus, and the Italian-held Dodecanese Islands.