Greece has a history stretching back more than 4.000 years. The people of the mainland, called Hellenes, organised great naval and military expeditions, and explored the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, going as far as the Atlantic Ocean and the Caucasus Mountains. One of those expeditions, the siege of Troy, is narrated in the first great European literary work, Homer's Iliad. Numerous Greek settlements were founded throughout the Mediterranean, Asia Minor and the coast of North Africa as a result of travels in search of new markets.
During the Classical period (5th century B.C.), Greece was composed of city-states, the largest being Athens, followed by Sparta and Thebes. A fierce spirit of independence and love of freedom enabled the Greeks to defeat the Persians in famous battles - Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea.
In the second half of the 4th century BC, the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, conquered most of the then known world and sought to hellenize it.
In 146 BC Greece fell to the Romans. In 330 AD Emperor Constantine moved the Capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, founding the Eastern Roman Empire which was renamed Byzantine Empire or Byzantium for short, by western historians in the 19th century. Byzantium transformed the linguistic heritage of Ancient Greece into a vehicle for the new Christian civilisation. The Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks in 1453 and the Greeks remained under the Ottoman yoke for nearly 400 years. During this time their language, their religion and their sense of identity remained strong.
On March 25, 1821, the Greeks revolted against the Turks, and by 1828 they had won their independence. As the new state comprised only a tiny fraction of the country, the struggle for the liberation of all the lands inhabited by Greeks continued. In 1864, the Ionian islands were returned to Greece; in 1881, parts of Epiros and Thessalia. Kriti, the islands of the Eastern Aegean and Makedonia were added in 1913 and Western Thraki in 1919. After World War II the Dodecanissos islands were also returned to Greece.