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Dorians and Ionians
Classical Greece
Philip and Alexander
New empires
Ottoman empire
Kingdom of Greece
     Enlarging the frontiers
     World War I

To be completed

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Enlarging the frontiers: 1833-1913

Othon, or Otho as he is usually spelt in English, becomes a popular monarch in Greece during the middle years of his reign but it begins and ends badly. At first his Bavarian entourage causes offence, until German troops are finally withdrawn in 1843. Otho's acceptance in that year of a constitution, providing for a lower house and a senate, is followed by some years of calm. But his tendency to relapse into autocracy prompts a coup in 1862, as a result of which Otho is deposed.

The Greeks search for another king among the courts of Europe and select in 1863 a Danish prince. Crowned in 1864 as George I, he is accorded a new title - 'king of the Hellenes'.


George's title, making him the monarch of Greeks everywhere, reflects the main issue of his predecessor's reign and of his own (which lasts until 1913). The borders established in 1833 incorporate only a small part either of historic Greece or of the region now occupied by people speaking Greek. Greek political effort is therefore aimed primarily during the 19th century at bringing other Greek areas within the kingdom, in what is effectively a continuation of the original war of independence.

The first success, involving Corfu and the other Ionian islands, is achieved in tandem with the change of monarch.


These islands have been made a British protectorate under the treaty of Paris in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars. In subsequent decades Britain consistently maintains that their possession is an essential part of a British peace-keeping role in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless they are placed under Greek rule in 1864 as a concession to mark the beginning of the new reign.

The focus falls next on Crete and Macedonia. Crete, an island under Turkish rule since 1669, has a Greek Christian population with a significant minority of Muslims. Throughout the 19th century there are periods of unrest, with much violence and brutality, as the Christians try to eject the Muslims from their island.


The political aim of many Cretans is union with the kingdom of Greece, but the western powers (always chary of dismantling the Ottoman empire), resist this solution, promoting instead compromise measures of reform and limited autonomy. In the event the Cretan problem is resolved on the back of the much more complex Macedonian question.

Macedonia, unlike Crete, is a geographically inderterminate region and is occupied by Greek, Serbian and Bulgarian Christians in addition to a minority of Muslims. There are constant attempts during the 19th century to extend in this direction the northern border of Greece.


The first gain is made in 1881, in the aftermath of Turkey's defeat by Russia in 1878, when the region of Thessaly is transferred from the Ottoman empire to the kingdom of Greece. But the real enlargement of the Greek borders, effectively bringing within the kingdom all ethnic Greeks, results from the Balkan wars of 1912-13.

By the terms of the treaty of Bucharest, in 1913, Greece wins much of Macedonia, the western part of Thrace including the important port of Salonika, the remaining islands of the Aegean (apart from Rhodes and the Dodecanese) and the great prize of Crete. This satisfactory conclusion is marred by a final act of violence. George I, visiting Salonika, is assassinated there in March 1913 - the fiftieth year of his reign.


World War I: 1914-1918

World War I plunges Greece into prolonged political difficulties. The reason is the incompatible allegiances of the new king, Constantine I, and his prime minister, Eleutherios Venizelos. The problem is evident from the first weeks of the war, when the German-educated king, married to the Kaiser's sister, assures his brother-in-law that Greece, although remaining neutral, inclines to the German side. A few days later his prime minister sends a similar message to the Allies.

During 1915 Venizelos is dismissed from office, briefly recalled and then dismissed again. Meanwhile, almost certainly with his permission, British and French forces land on Greek soil (at Salonika) after Bulgaria's entry into the war on the German side.


During 1916 the king's sympathies also begin to have practical results. In May, for example, a powerful Greek fort on the Bulgarian frontier is transferred to German and Bulgarian control. Unable to influence policy in Athens, Venizelos moves with his supporters to Salonika, where he sets up a rival Greek government. Soon recognized by France and Britain, the Venizelos government declares war on Germany and Bulgaria in November 1916.

Increasing pressure (including even a naval blockade) is now put on Constantine by the Allies until, in June 1917, they force his abdication. Venizelos returns to Athens to head a national government, which immediately declares war on the Central Powers.


Greece's year or more of warfare on the Allied side (mainly on the Macedonian front) seems at first to bring great gains in the post-war settlements and great personal glory for Venizelos. Particularly pleasing to Greek nationalist sensibilities is the Allied award to Greece, in the treaty of Sèvres, of Turkish territory in eastern Thrace and western Anatolia, including Smyrna (Izmir to the Turks).

These are regions of historic resonance from the days of classical Greece. But recovering them leads the nation into a new and disastrous war, from which Turkey emerges the stronger.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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