Greek History

The folks we call the Greeks got that name from the Romans. The Greeks called themselves Hellenes (Έλληνες). From this we get the notion of Hellenistic, a word that we sue to describe the folks around the world who adopted something like the Greek culture. Greek, or more correctly Hellenistic, culture is important to Bible study because that culture dominated New Testament times and the early days of the church. As Horace, a Roman lyric poet, says "Greece the captive, made her savage victor captive and brought the arts into rustic Latium." So we see the Greeks had a major effect on the Romans. We also know that they had cultural impact on the Jews, although the extent of this is debated. I observe, from personal experance, that it is hard to live with or even within another culture without it having some impact. There are also some who would claim that the Jews had an inpact on the Greeks, even before Alexander the Great turned up in Jerusalem. Philio, who lived prior to and during New Testament times, thought that Moses had been the instructor of Pythagoras (b. ca 570 B.C.) and the rest of the founding Greek philosophers and lawgivers including Hesiod, Heraclitus, Lycurgus.

Quite apart from the society of New Testament times, our society is impacted by the Greeks because of their advances in science, literature, writing, philosophy and political science. The Greek classics formed the basis of the education of Europe from the time of the middle ages until recently. Many of these advances are reflected here and on what started out to be a philosophers page, but as with much of this site, has morphed into something else.

The Hebrew Bible does not mention the Greek empire directly, apart from Daniel's prophecies in Daniel chapters 2, 8, and 11. The Hebrew Bible does not actually use the word for Greece. The word generally translated Greek is yawan which is derived from Javan who we find in the table of nations of Genesis 10.2. Javan is one of the sons of Japheth and therefore a grandson of Noah. Josephus identifies Javan as the father of those who became known as the Greek race. These folks inhabited not only Greece but the islands related to it and hence some say it should properly be translated by Grecian. The notion of nations and ethnic groups run together in the Bible so yawan is often translated Greece. (cp. Isaiah 66.19Ezekiel 27.13Daniel 8.2110.2011.2Joel 3.6Zechariah 9.13).

Jerusalem acquiesces to Alexander the Great in 332 BC. But the cultural impact of the Greeks on the world was more major than their political control, which was fleeting. As we have seen many of the Romans were enamored with Greek culture. What we now call Hellenism survived long after the Greek and Roman Empire faded demonstrating that ideas are often more important than political power. As Alexader the Great was sauntering across the world he instituted schools to teach Greek philosophy and the Koine Greek language, which became the lingua franca of his empire and continued through early Roman times. Hellenism precipitated a major cultural change and had enormous impact on world history. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek. The widespread use of the Greek language aided the sharing of the gospel from India to Spain. Greek philosophy gave us the concept of the logos, which John used as a way to communicate the nature of Christ (John 1:1). It is important to note that logos could be translated as reason. Equating reason with God as John did is a departure from the Greek Mythological stories.


The history of the place that is now known as Greece can be traced back to Stone Age hunters. Later came early farmers and the civilizations of the Minoan (c. 27-15 century BC) and Mycenaean (c. 1400 BC – 1100 BC) kings. Both of these civilizations figure in Greek Mythology and their physical remains have been found. The Mycenaeans established trade routes through out the Mediterranean, to Egypt and the ancient near east. Their routes went as far as Britain in the west and Georgia on the eastern Black Sea coast. They had kings, city-states, and literature.

In about 1100 BC, a people the Greeks called the Dorians and the Egyptians called the Sea People invaded from the north and spread down the west coast. They destroyed many civilizations on their way until they were finally stopped by the Pharaoh Ramesses III. This was followed by a period of wars and invasions, known as the Dark Ages below.

In the Classical Period - from 500-336 BC, Greece was divided into small city states, each of which consisted of a city and its surrounding countryside. Greece became the third world kingdom to succeed that of the Medes and the Persians. It was created by Alexander the Great, who first united the Greek city states and whose armies went on to be victorious over the Persians in 331 BC. Only occasional reference to this empire is found by name in the Bible. It does not seem to have attracted the attention of the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, and it does not coincide with Biblical history in that it fits into the period between Malachi and Matthew. 

After the death of Alexander the Great hesi empire was divided among his generals. Out of the civil war came the Hellenistic kingdoms that are mentioned at the bottom of this time line. The Seleucid Empire ended up with control over Israel and Jerusalem. The Seleucid Empire is where this page ends. One of the Seleucid kings was Antiochus IV, who called himself "Antiochus Epiphanes" ("Epiphanes" means "god manifest"). In 167 B.C., Antiochus committed an "abomination of desolation"; specifically, he set up an altar to the Greek god Zeus inside the Jewish temple and sacrificed a pig on it. The Jews were not impressed and that led to the revolt of the Maccabees and the Hasmonean Dynasty.

The time line below is divided into sections

  1. The Dark Ages
  2. Archaic period
  3. Classical Period
  4. Hellenistic Period

The Greeks over run the Persians in 300 according to this time line and so this is where the story of the Greeks Empire begins to intersect with the Bible story. When the Romans conquer the Greeks much of Greek culture remains so much so that the history of the Greeks is important to our understanding of the Bible. Additionally the Greeks provide a foundation for much of what we call Western Civilization. Although it is not so popular to say these days, the other major building block is Christianity.


Date Event
1200 ? Trojan war begins. (Traditional Greek dating. Until 1870 when Troy was excavated many scholars thought that the story was a myth.)
 1100 - 750 BC - The Dark Ages
850 Development of Greek Alphabet.
776 First recorded Olympic games held; they are open only to pure Greeks with no police record.
 750 - 500 BC - Archaic Period (The Golden age of Greece)
700 Homer writes Iliad and Odyssey. Hesiod's Theogony. The earliest of the Greek epic poets and the oldest of Greek mythilogical literature.
750 Rise of Greek Tyrants
621 Draco, Athenian lawgiver, issues a code making nearly every offense a capital crime ("draconian").
600 End of Assyrian Empire. The kingdom of Lydia was the major power in western Asia Minor. Alcman one of the lyric poets.
585 Battle between Medes and Lydians interrupted by solar eclipse, allegedly foretold by Thales
583 Overthrow of Corinthian tyranny
582 First regular celebration of Pythian games at Delphi
581 First Isthmian games. (Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece that were named after the isthmus of Corinth, where they were held.)
573 First Nemean games. One of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, and were held at Nemea every two years.
565 General Peisistratus organizes political party of farmers, shepherds, artisans, and the poor; later he will confiscate his enemies' wealth and give it to the poor.
561 Peisistratus' first attempt at tyranny at Athens
560 ? Spartan defeat in Arcadia
550 ? Sparta dominant in Peloponnese. Treaty with Tegea
550 Rise of Persian Empire.
505 Cleisthenes introduces democracy in Athens.
 500-336 BC - Classical Period
468 Sophocles writes his first tragedy
458 Oresteian trilogy by Aeschylus - The principal themes of the trilogy include the contrast between revenge and justice, as well as the transition from personal vendetta to organized litigation.
449 Herodotus's first History
449 Construction of the Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens (449 -432)
441 Euripides writes his first tragedy
430 Outbreak of Bubonic Plague in Athens
427 Aristophanes' first play
411 Democracy overthrown by oligarchic extremists Antiphon, Peisander and Phrynichus; Alcibiades recalled and reelected general
399 Socrates condemned and executed for flouting conventional ideas and corrupting youth
384 Birth of Aristotle
350 Plato.
347 Plato's Academy founded and will continue for 876 years; Plato formulates The Republic.  Death of Plato. Aristotle leaves Athens
342 Aristotle, pupil of Plato, arrives in Macedon where his father is physician to King Philip
 336-146 BC - Hellenistic Period
  • Aristotle returns to Athens, opens a Lycaeum; develops a deductive system and scientific method.
  • Alexander destroys Thebes
334 Alexander invades Asia
333 Alexander is victorious over Persia
332 Alexander is victorious over Egypt
331 Alexander is master of the Persian empire
  • Alexander takes Persepolis;
  • atomic theory of Democritus is developed
329 Alexander enters Samarkand
327 Alexander takes southern India
325 The Persae by Tinotheus of Miletus is the earliest papyrus written in Greek that will survive
323 Alexander dies of typhoid fever; wars of Diadochi (successors) begin for control of his empire. Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, he was 32.
300 End of the Persian Empire.
301 Kingdoms of the Diadochi
Diadochi EN
312 - 30 BC - Hellenistic kingdoms - From the death of Alexander the Great until the rise of the Roman Empire
312 - 63 BC Seleucid dynasty
302 - 294 BC Antipatrid dynasty
306 - 186 BC Antigonid dynasty
305 - 30 BC Ptolemaic dynasty 9/19/11 9/19/11 11/12/11 11/12/11 4/9/17 11/19/17 11/21/17