Ancient Greece is undoubtedly one of the most influential civilizations in European history. The Hellenes, the term used by the Greeks to describe themselves, laid the foundations for democracy, philosophy, theater, and the sciences. In architecture the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian orders were perfected and their aesthetic function utilized during all periods up to the modern state. In the plastic arts Greek sculptors shook off the influence of Egyptian statuary with its stylized perspective seeking instead to explore proportion in relation to an aesthetic idealism of perfect form. Above the entrance to the Delphi oracle were inscribed the words "Know Thyself" as an ominous portent to those seeking answers at the sanctuary of Apollo. Critical introspection, of which the Delphic epigram is only one example amongst many, freed the Greeks from the restraints of censure. The arts and sciences flourished and the great poets and philosophers of Ancient Greece laid bare the human condition in a psychological drama that still resonates today.
The history of Ancient Greece begins long before our earliest written records. Archeology has provided us with what little information we have about such civilizations as the Minoans, Mycenaeans, and the world of the Greek Dark Ages. These civilizations were not even believed to have existed until very recently, when archeologists began to think the epic poetry of Homer's Iliad might contain more truth than previously thought. During the Classical Period, Greek culture was reborn and flourished, and was spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea by the Athenian Empire, as well as other Greek traders, colonists, and conquerors.
The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) between Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies, greatly weakened Greece's collective power, and by 336 BCE, nearly every Greek city-state was under the control of Macedon, and for the first time united into a single political unit. Alexander III, the next king of Macedon, took this united Greece and with it conquered the entire known world, spreading Greek culture (called Hellenism, or ελληνισμος) from Egypt, through Persia, all the way to India. Upon the death of Alexander the Great (as he would come to be known), the Empire split into fourths. A united Greece was one of the four new kingdoms, which lasted until 168 BCE, when Macedonia was absorbed into the growing Roman Republic. The entirety of Greece came under Roman rule by 146 BCE. In 529 CE Justinian I ordered the closure of all pagan institutions including Plato's Academy. Pagan philosophy would collapse under the weight of Christian dogma.
The Greek peninsula resisted Roman rule, until it was organized into the Roman province of Achaea in 27 BCE by Augustus. Throughout history, conquerors have imposed their culture upon the vanquished, but the Roman annexation of Greece was perhaps one of history's most-influential exceptions to this rule. In the words of the Roman poet Horace, "Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit" ("Greece took captive her conqueror."). The Romans adopted nearly every aspect of Greek culture, allowing it to continue to thrive much as it had done for centuries. During this time period, Christianity began to rise, and Greece was one of the first areas of the Roman Empire to be heavily influenced by the new religion.
When Emperor Constantine I moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in 330, Greece experienced a revival of its economic power, becoming one of the richest areas of the Byzantine Empire that was created by the Roman Empire's split in 305. After more than a thousand years of Byzantine rule, the Ottoman Empire in nearby Asia Minor began to rise in power, eventually capturing Constantinople in 1453. By 1460, Greece was under Ottoman control. As the Ottoman Empire gradually weakened, the Greeks were influenced by the growing nationalist movements throughout Europe during the early nineteenth century. In 1821, they rose up, and gained independence, leading to the creation of the modern Greek state.