Greece: The Topographical, Political, and Cultural Geography

Geography of Greece
Greece is a fragmented country, meaning that its territory is not all connected, but spread out along the Aegean, Ionian, and Crete seas. Greece is a peninsula with numerous large and smaller islands that make up the country. Greece has two major

island groups that encompass the peninsula and nearly touch Turkey: Dodecanese Islands ( Mediterranean Sea) and the Ionian Islands ( Mediterranean Sea) ( figure 1). It is a rugged mountainous country that is separated by a large mountain formation known as Pindhos Mountains. The mountain range has a height of over 5000 ft , which it made it difficult for earlier civilizations to communicate. The heist point in the country is Mt. Olympus, which at its peak is about 9,750 ft and is located in the northeastern side of the country ( figure 1). Greece’s climate is a Mediterranean climate which it has a hot, dry summer and mild winters. With its temperature Greece has became world renown for its olive and fruit orchards. Greece with its abundant amount of water passageways and shoreline, uses that to their advantage when trading and transportation of goods and people. Railroads a not a major factor for the country because of the mountainous terrain. They have a line that does connect the northeast to the southeast part of the country, but do not have a line that that connects to western Greece ( figure 2). The population density in Greece has not been an issue for them, the average is only about 25-50 people per square mile. The Greeks have learned well to adapt to their surroundings and are able to prosper with the land that they have inhabited.

Greece established itself from many early river valley civilizations from the Middle East and Africa. Although the people did not settle on the Greek peninsula, the island of Crete ( see figure 1) showed early signs of Egyptian influence by 2000 B.C.( Stearns, 2002, p.83). The Greeks were an Indo-European people, like the Aryan conquers who took over Greece in 1700 B. C.( Stearns, 2002, p.83). The rise of Greece took place between 800 B.C. and 600 B.C., which was the time that many city-states started to develop. The early city-states served as a place of shelter, defense, and a market for local trade. The city-states served the Greeks well, because of the country being so dived by mountains (see figure 1) a unified government would had been a difficult task. An oligarchy was generally the political practice that made up the early city-states. Many of the city- states would then form leagues to promote a common objective, but keep their on values and ideas (Glassner, 2004, p 50).

With these leagues, rivals would form against one another such as Athens, Sparta, and Thebes three of the most powerful leagues. The constant struggle over Greece had then come to its boiling point and around 431 B.C. Peloponnesian Wars broke out. Macedonia, a northern city of Greece, rose to the forefront a conquered most of Greece. Kings from Macedonia like Philip and his son Alexander the Great began a worldwide conquest over the Middle East, Persia, and India. This reign would be short lived because of the death of Alexander, but most of the conquered land would be ruled by the Greeks for centuries (Stearns, 2002. p. 84).

The geography of Greece had a powerful effect on the Greek society and culture (Fields, 1998, p.156). Few cities are more a twelve miles from the shoreline, because of the mountainous interior of the country. This was the reason why many of the earlier communities were formed on the shore, making it easier to trade and keep relationships with other settlements. The social structure consisted of aristocrats, commoners, and slaves. Aristocrats and commoners lived in the same type of housing and engaged in the same type of employment, farming (Fields, 1998, p.158). Even the earlier wealthy aristocrats worked the farms as well as owning them. Gender roles also started to develop in Greece like all other civilizations.

Women were the keeper of the home and the children. In richer families, the women were in charge of many servants and the household budget. The men did hold many prestige positions like political and legal professions, but most were farmers and labors. The men also engaged in sports a very important part of the Greek culture. The Greeks admired the human body and held their athletes in the highest regard. These athletes were honed with tax exemptions. Allowed to wear purple ( a sign of prestige) , and often made a statue of the individual (Fields, 1998, p. 159).

The Greeks as in the Romans did not create a significant religion that was adopted by other countries. The polytheistic religion that the Greeks created was not anyway related to the monotheistic religion of Judaism, Islamic, and Christianity. In Greece’s early rise, it did geographically spread due to its series of wars and conquests. The Greeks had many different objects that they worshiped and gave names to like Zeus (creator), Apollo (sun), Neptune (oceans), and Mars (war) (Stearns, 2002, p.92). Unlike today, the political were allowed to honor the religion and used the teachings to provide meaning to the decisions that made. The religion was doomed to fail because of its lack of spirituality. Many of the commoners looked for comfort and the idea of afterlife, which the religion could not educate them. Mystery regions started to came about which the people held secret rituals to worship the deities. The upper class came to looking for answers on human society that the religion could deliver. The rise of Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Cicero had become the leaders of the country with providing answers that the polytheistic religion did not (Stearns, 2002, p.94).

Politics and Policy
The Greeks had many different political ideas through its history. Like other countries, it went trough a variety of changes like aristocracy, democracy, and oligarchy. In most of its history, it has had one common foe the Ottomans or present day Turkey. The two countries have only the Aegean Sea dividing them. They have had an ongoing conflict about the land or sea since 490 B.C until the present. The U.S, has had to intervene on many occasions to help resolve matters between their two to help with the tension and make a resolve. There are many disputes that have been for centuries and little hope for ceasing.

Ottoman Period
The Ottomans are Seljuk Turks, a tribe from Central Asia who appeared in Greece in the 11th century. After a period of Mongolian rule, they conquered more and more land until the 15th Century when they were attacking the Byzantine Empire from all sides. With the Venetians in the west and the Turks in the east, the Greeks are sandwiched between two major powers, both taking what they want and fighting over the rest. Unfortunately, these battles take place on Greek soil. As long as you pay your ridiculously high taxes they let, their subjects live their lives, which are mostly working to make enough to pay your taxes and maybe eat. However, the Greeks treat their subjects as slaves with no rights.

From 1520 to 1566, the Ottoman Empire expands under Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. In Greece, the monasteries become the centers of learning and many intellectuals escape there with their books and libraries to keep Hellenism alive during these dark ages, or at least this is the popular mythology. During the reign of Suleyman in the 16th century and into the 17th – the Rumci, as they were called in Turkish: Byzantine descended Greeks, had enormous privileges under the Turks. If they paid extra taxes, it was because they did not serve in the military. More important from the time of Mahomet II the Greek clergy had enormous benefits and were paid by the Ottoman state( The Patriarch was literally the head of all of the Orthodox Christians and had a position like that of the Vizier. His authority was quite emphatic and bishops (for the first time) were funded from Imperial sources as they acted as leaders of the Christian citizens of the empire and were responsible for their behavior.

Greeks were put into all of the prison – Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria. Young boys taken from Greek villages and sent off to these places to eventually become the clergy. It was a real kind of Greek colonialism. When the Ottoman Empire fell the civil authority over these Greeks shifted – eventually it was distributed out between Syria (over Antioch), The Jordanese (over Jerusalem), and Egypt (over Alexandria). The very fact that the present-day Greek government is assuming some sort of right over these Patriarchates is of interest and actually based on no historical precedence…after all, there was no such phenomenon as ‘Greece’ in a political sense prior to the Revolution of 1821 EVER! For this reason, it is also incorrect to say that Greece was occupied by the Turks for 400 years.

There was no Greece to occupy. We use the name Greece to refer to the geographic area in which ancient City States (that were independent countries after all) evolved and fought. In Roman times, it was a province as it was during Ottoman times. However, when we speak of ‘Greece’ prior to 1829 we are actually speaking of a geographic territory and not a state since it had ever been one ( .

Aegean Sea Conflict
The Aegean Sea has given rise to many of the problems between Greece and Turkey. The Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923 by both nations, attempted to settle all outstanding ethnic and territorial questions created by the Greek-Turkish war, but new issues have since rose, which have had a serious effect on the Greek-Turkish relationship. In 1973, Turkey and Greece became embroiled in a conflict over the proper division of the continental shelf in the Aegean. In addition to this dispute, after Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus quarrels arose over the size of the airspace claimed by Greece and the delimitation of the Athens Flight Information Region ( The extension of Greek territorial waters also became an issue when Turkey proclaimed that this extension would constitute a “casus belli”( Garrison, 1997, p.11). Greece maintains that it has a right to extend its territorial sea to twelve miles under international law, although it does not currently plan to exercise this right. Greece also claims that Turkey has no legitimate right to impede this exercise of national sovereignty(

The current dispute surrounding the continental shelf in the Aegean has deep-seated historical roots that are tied to issues of territorial sovereignty.(Arvantides,1997, pp2-3). Past conflicts between Greece and Turkey, exemplified by the savage war fought from 1920 to 1922, have created high levels of distrust between the two nations. At the end of World War II, provisions of the Paris Treaty provided Greece with substantial control of the Aegean Sea and most of its islands (Sitilides, 1997, p74). With the discovery of oil by Greece in 1973 off the coast of Thassos, a northern Aegean island, the continental shelf issue was thrust to the center stage of the historical dispute in the Aegean. This occurred as oil prices sharply rose in response to the Arab oil embargo. Shortly thereafter on November 1, 1973, the Turkish government delegated mineral exploration licenses in the eastern Aegean to the Turkish State Petroleum Company and made public a map showing delimitation of respective continental shelves in the Aegean that did not take into account the presence of the Greek islands. The standards set by the map provided Greece with exploration and exploitation rights only in their insular territorial seas. Turkey stated that their continental shelf claims were justified by “special circumstances” related to the proximity of the Greek islands to the Turkish coast. Turkey also stated that the Greek claims meant that nearly 97 percent of the Aegean seabed beyond the Turkish territorial waters would be Greek.

Greece responded to the Turkish actions with protests while Turkey countered by offering to hold talks on the situation. While Greece sought to resolve the issue legally through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN Security Council, Turkey insisted on bilateral negotiations that would take place at the political level. Tensions remained high between the two countries, and were further escalated when Turkish oil freighters conducted exploration of the continental shelf region in both 1974 and 1976, and when Turkey invaded Cyprus. Negotiations between the two countries yielded little in the way of a solution while rulings of the UN Security Council were ineffective in ending the dispute (Sitilides, 1997, p75).

Cyprus Dispute
Cyprus is another major source of conflict between Greece and Turkey. In response to a potential Greek invasion, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and set up a new government in the northeast part of the island. Since then, Cyprus has become one of the most heavily armed islands in the world with 30,000 Turkish troops facing Greek-Cypriot forces across a UN patrolled border( United Nations and the United States both support the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island.
Periodically, tensions have flared. Greek Prime Minister Kostis Simitis warned in August of 1996, that any military move by Turkish forces on the divided island of Cyprus would lead to war (Barber, 1996, pA13). The decision in January of 1998 by the Cypriot government to buy an advanced Russian air-defense system set-off the Turkish government, which threatened to use force if the government of Cyprus took delivery of the anti-aircraft missiles (Barber, 1996, pA13).

Beginning in July 2000, encouraging reports have been emerging periodically from Cyprus. Informal talks between Greek and Turkish residents periodically help to reinvigorate peace initiatives.(Camp, 2002, pp44-45). However, in late 2001, amidst all efforts to end Turkish occupation in northern Cyprus, the Cypriot government reported an increased frequency in the violations of the republic’s airspace by Turkish military aircraft. The U.S. has asked Cyprus to surrender weapons obtained by the Cypriot National Guard in order to diffuse tensions and yet it remains an arms supplier to both Greece and Turkey who install these weapons on the island.

The geography of Greece has had an impact that has lead to many great successes and turmoil for the country. The Greeks lively hood has deepened on its geographical location and the terrain of the land. Because of its fragmented country, it has to defend and rely on many small island chains. The mountainous and rugged territory has made it difficult to govern and commute with each side of the country. The constant struggle with its main rival, Turkey has been a result of many geological matters. Between the Aegean Sea and the island of Cyprus, their disputes have played on more of a geopolitical stage. Results from these disputes have been rare, but with the help from the U.N and other organizations they keeping coming to the table.