In the earliest times there was no single name universally and exclusively in use either of the people or of the land of Greece. In Homer, three appellations, (Achaioi), (Danaoi), (Argeioi), were with no apparent discrimination applied to all the Greeks. By the Orientals they were called Ionians. See JAVAN. The name (Hellenes), which in historical times came into general use as a collective appellation, was applied in Homer to a small tribe in Thessaly. But the corresponding name (Hellas) was not primarily a geographical term, but designated the abode of the Hellenes wherever they had their own states or cities. In the 4th century BC many felt, as did Isocrates, that even "Hellene" stood not so much for a distinction in race, as for preeminence of culture, in contrast to the despised "Barbarian." Hence, there was much dispute as touching certain peoples, as, e.g. the Epirotes, Macedonians, and even the Thessalians, whether they should be accounted Hellenes and as included in Hellas. The word (Graikoi), Latin Graeci) occurs in Aristotle, who says that it was an older name for those who were later called Hellenes. The meaning and truth of this statement are alike in doubt; but he probably refers only to the tribe inhabiting the vicinity of Dodona, in Epirus. At any rate, Graeci and Graecia owed their introduction practically to the Romans after their contact with the Greeks in the war with Pyrrhus, and in consequence they included (what "Hellenes" and "Hellas" did not) Epirus and Macedonia.
2. Location and Area:
"Hellas," as the land of the Hellenes, is used in a broad sense to include not only Greece proper, but also the islands of the Ionian and Aegean seas, the seaboard of the Hellespont, of the Pontus, and of Asia Minor, the flourishing colonial regions of Magna Grecia and Sicily, Crete, and occasionally Cyprus, Cyrene, and the scattered colonies dotting the shore of the Mediterranean, almost to the Pillars of Hercules. "Grecia," however, was used in a more restricted sense as applying to "Continuous" (or continental) Greece, which forms the southern extremity of the Balkan peninsula. While the Romans included Macedonia and Epirus, it will be well for us to limit Greece to the territory lying roughly below 40 degrees, and extending almost to 36 degrees North latitude, and ranging between 17 degrees and 23 degrees East longitude. If, as is proper, we include the immediately adjacent islands, its greatest length, from Mt. Olympus in the North to Cythera in the South, is about 280 miles; its greatest breadth, from Cephallenia in the West to Euboea in the East, is about 240 miles. The area, however, owing to the great irregularity of its contour, is far less than one might expect, amounting to about 30,000 square miles. With an area, therefore, considerably less than that of Portugal, Greece has a coastline exceeding in length that of Spain and Portugal combined. In Greece the ratio of coastline to area is 1:3 1/4, whereas that of the Iberian peninsula is 1:25.
3. Mountain Structure:
The northern boundary of Greece is formed by an irregular series of mountain chains, beginning on the West with the Acroceraunian range and ending in Mt. Olympus (now, Elymbos, 9,790 ft.) on the East. Intersecting this line, the lofty Pindus range, forming the backbone of Northern Greece, extends southward to Mt. Tymphrestus (now, Velouchi, 7,610 ft.) in Aetolia, at which point spurs radiate through Central Greece. The highest peaks are Mt. Corax (now, Vardusia, 8,180 ft.) in Aetolia, Mt. Oeta (7,060 ft.), Parnassus (now, Lyakoura, 8,070 ft.), Helicon (now, Paleo Vouno, 5,740 ft.), Cithaeron (now, Elatias, 4,630 ft.), lying on the boundary between Boeotia and Attica, Mt. Geranea (now, Makri Plaghi, 4,500 ft.), North of the Isthmus, and, in Attica, Parnes (now, Ozea, 4,640 ft.), Pentelicon (now, Mendeli, 3,640 ft.) and Hymettus (now Trelovouni, 3,370 ft.). Along the eastern coast extends a broken range of mountains, the highest peaks of which are Ossa (now, Kissavos, 6,400 ft.), Pelion (now, Plessidi, 5,310 ft.); and, in Euboea, which virtually belongs to this range, Dirphys (now, Delphi, 5,730 ft.) and Ocha (now, Elias, 4,610 ft.). Southern Greece, or the Peloponnesus, is united to Central Greece only by a narrow isthmus (now cut by a canal 4 miles long), with a minimum altitude of about 250 ft. In the northern portion, a confused mass of mountains rises to great heights in Cyllene (now, Ziria, 7,790 ft.), Erymanthus (now, Olonos, 7,300 ft), Maenalus (now, Apano Chrepa, 6,500 ft.), all in Arcadia, Panachaicus (now, Voidia, 6,320 ft.), in Achaia; and, running southward through Laconia, the two important ranges called Taygetus (now, Pentedaktylo, 7,900 ft.) and Parnon (now, Malevo, 6,430 ft.). Minor ranges jut seaward in Argolis, Laconia and Messenia.
4. Rivers and Lakes:
The rainfall in Greece is not abundant and is confined largely to late autumn and winter. Whether the present rainfall differs much in amount from that of antiquity is a matter in dispute, although it seems reasonable to assume that the progressive denudation of the mountains since the 5th century AD has entailed a corresponding loss in humidity. Even in antiquity, however, the rivers of Greece were much like the arroyos of the Southwest portion of the U.S.A., which are in winter raging mountain torrents, and in summer dry channels. Owing to the proximity of the sea to all points in Greece, the rivers are short, and the scarcity of springs makes them dependent upon the direct and immediate rainfall. Among the more considerable rivers may be enumerated, in Northern Greece, the Peneius, with its tributaries, in Thessaly; Central Greece, the Achelous and the Evenus, in Aetolia; the Spercheius, flowing between Oeta and Othrys into the Maliac Gulf; the storied, but actually insignificant, Ilyssus and Cephissus, of the Attic plain; in Southern Greece, the Alpheius, rising in Arcadia and flowing westward through Elis, and the Eurotas, which drains Laconia. Eastern Greece consists of a series of somewhat considerable basins, which become lakes in winter and are pestilent marshes in summer, except where Nature or man has afforded an outlet. The former is the case with the Peneius, which has cut a channel through the celebrated Vale of Tempe. Lake Copais, in Boeotia, affords an example of man's activity. The Minyae, in prehistoric times, are credited with enlarging the natural outlets, and so draining the basin for a time; in recent times the same undertaking has again been brought to a successful issue. Similar basins occur at Lake Boebeis, in Thessaly, and at Lake Stymphalus, in Arcadia, besides others of less importance. Western Greece has relatively few such basins, as at Lake Pambotis, in Epirus, and at Lake Trichonis, in Aetolia. In many cases, where there is no surface outlet to these basins, subterranean channels (called by the Greeks Katavothrae) are formed in the calcareous rock, through which the waters are drained and occasionally again brought to the surface at a lower level.
The climate of Greece was probably much the same in ancient times as it is today, except that it may have been more salubrious when the land was more thickly populated and better cultivated. Herodotus says that of all countries, Greece possessed the most happily tempered seasons; and Hippocrates and Aristotle commend it for the absence of extremes of heat and cold, as favorable for intelligence and energy. But owing to the inequalities of its surface, to the height of its mountains and the depth of its valleys, the climate varies greatly in different districts. In the highlands of the interior the winter is often cold and severe, the snow lying on the ground until late in the spring, while in the lowlands near the sea there is rarely any severe weather, and snow is almost unknown. The following data for Athens may be taken as a basis for comparison: humidity 41 per cent, rainfall 13,1 inches, distributed over 100 days; mean temperature, Jan. 48,2 degrees F., July 80,6 degrees F. Greece lies open to the northern winds which, during certain seasons, prevail and give a bracing quality to the air not always present in places of the same latitude.
The western half of Greece, in which the mountain ranges run generally from North to South, consists of a formation of grayish and yellowish-white compact limestone, while the eastern half--Macedonia, Thessaly, Euboea, Cyllene, and the mountains from Artemision to Cape Malea and Taygetus--together with the greater part of Attica and of the Cyclades, consists of mica-schist and crystalline-granular limestone (marble) Tertiary formations occur in narrow strips on the North and Northwest slopes of the ranges in the Peloponnesus and in the valley of the Eurotas, in Boeotia and Euboea. Volcanic action is evidenced both in the parallel elevations of similar or contemporary formation, and in the earthquakes frequent in all ages, especially in Southern and Central Greece, and in the islands of the Aegean. Perennially active volcanoes are nowhere found in Greece, but new formations due to volcanic action are most clearly seen on the island of Them among the Cyclades, where they have occurred within the last half-century. The solfatara between Megara and Corinth, and the abundant hot springs at widely scattered points in Greece also bear witness to the volcanic character of the region. Many an ancient site, venerated for its sanctity in antiquity, like those of Delphi and Olympia, in their ruined temples offer mute testimony to the violence of the earthquakes; and history records repeated instances of cities engulfed by tidal waves of appalling height.
Mention has already been made of the sinuous coastline of Greece, and the land has been spoken of as consisting of three divisions. Northern Greece, to which Epirus and Thessaly belong, is marked off from Central Greece by the deep indentations of the Ambracian Gulf on the West and the Maliac Gulf on the East. The Pegasean Gulf, virtually continued by Lake Boebeis, reaches far into Thessaly, and divides it from Magnesia, which lies to the eastward. The land of the Dolopians really belongs to Northern Greece. Central Greece consists of Acarnania and Aetolia on the West, and of Phocis, Boeotia and Attica (with the adjacent island of Euboea) on the East, separated by a group of lesser states, Aenis, Oetaea, Doris, Locris and Phocis. Southern Greece is separated from Central Greece by the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs, which almost meet at the Isthmus of Corinth, and are now, after repeated efforts, dating from the time of Julius Caesar, united by a sea-level canal. Megaris, which, by its position, belongs to Central Greece, is here, in accordance with its political affinities and predilections, classed with Corinth, the keeper of the isthmus, as belonging to Southern Greece. Facing the Corinthian Gulf, Achaia forms the northern division of the Peloponnesus, touching Elis, Arcadia and Argolis, which belt the peninsula in this order from West to East Arcadia is the only political division which does not have access to the sea, occupying as it does the great central plateau intersected by lesser ranges of varying height. The southernmost divisions, Messenia and Laconia, are deeply indented by the Messeniac and Laconic Gulfs, and Laconia is separated from the peninsula of Argolis by the Argolic Gulf, all of which head somewhat West of North of the subjacent islands, which a reasonable view must include in the boundaries of Greece, Euboea has already been mentioned; but we should add the group of great islands lying in the Ionian Sea, namely, Corcyra (now, Corfu), Leukas, Ithaca, Cephallenia (now, Cephalonia), Zacynthus (now, Zante), and Cythera (now, Cerigo), at the mouth of the Laconic Gulf, as well as Salamis and Aegina in the Saronic Gulf.
Greece was never, in ancient times, a united state, but consisted of a large number of separate states. These were essentially of two types, (a) city-states, in which a city dominated the adjacent territory whose free population constituted its citizenship, or (b) confederacies, in which neighboring cities or districts combined into political organizations which we may call federal states. These matters cannot, however, be discussed except in connection with the history of Greece, for which the reader must consult the standard works. It may be advisable here, however, to name the principal cities of Greece. Northern Greece had no great cities which developed as commercial centers. Aegina was the first to attain to special importance, then Corinth and Athens; Chalcis and Eretria, in Euboea, were for a time rich and prosperous, and Megara, in Megarid, and Argos, in Argolis, became formidable rivals of Athens. Sparta, though never a commercial center, early won and long maintained the hegemony of Greece, for a while disputed by Athens, in virtue of her power as the home of the militant Dorian aristocracy, which was disastrously defeated by the Beotians under Epaminondas, when Thebes, for a time, assumed great importance. Megalopolis, in Arcadia, enjoyed a brief prominence at the time of the Achean League, and Corcyra flourished in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. We should also not fail to mention three great centers of Greek religion: Olympia, in Elis, as the chief sanctuary of Zeus; Delphi, in Phocis, as the oracular seat of Apollo; and Eleusis, in Attica, as the pilgrim-shrine to which all Greeks resorted who would be initiated in the mysteries of Demeter and Cora. Argos also possessed a far-famed shrine of Hera, and Thermopile and Calauria were the centers at which met the councils of influential amphictyonies. Epidaurus was famous for her sanctuary of Asclepius. Delos, a little island in mid-Aegean, celebrated as a sanctuary of Apollo and as the meeting-place of a most influential amphictyony, falls without the limits of Greece proper; but Dodona, in Southern Epirus, should be mentioned as the most ancient and venerable abode of the oracle of Zeus. The Greeks, incorrigibly particularistic in politics, because of the almost insuperable barriers erected by Nature between neighboring peoples in the lofty mountain ranges, were in a measure united by their religion which, like the sea, another element making for intercourse and union, touched them at nearly every point.
For Greece in the Old Testament, see JAVAN. In the New Testament "Greece" occurs but once--Acts 20:2--where it is distinguished from Macedonia.
William Arthur Heidel
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