GREECE The people with whose homes we are concerned are those who in later times called themselves Hellenes, but whom we call Greeks. The home of these Hellenes was Hellas, or, as we would say, Greece. Wherever Greeks were, there was Hellas, and it is Hellas with which we have to deal. A popular misconception must be avoided. If we look at a modern political map, and then think of Greece as only the south-western extremity of the Balkan peninsula, where the mountain ridges are beginning to break down to the sea, we are correct in the sense that this is the modern kingdom of Greece. We are wrong if we think of this land as the only home even of modern Greeks, and we are still further wrong if we think of this as the Greece whose history is now to be considered.
If we look at a map showing the distribution of races in the Nearer East, it will be seen that the real Greece, the real land of the Greeks, to this day comprises all the coasts, peninsulas and islands of the Aegean Sea; and the Aegean Sea is, of all parts of the Mediterranean, that which has more islands dotting its surface and more peninsulas and promontories breaking the regularity of its coastline than has any other. So thickly is it sown with islands that the name given by the Greeks to their chief sea has come with us to signify an assemblage of islands. This but emphasizes the character which makes the sea important, for the most primitive culture of which we have any knowledge in Europe arose on these islands and peninsulas.
Here we have lands where, protected by the geo graphical conditions, there was a chance for men to perfect a civilization free from outside interference. In this region two contrasted forms of civilization arose. Which was the earlier, we have no means of knowing.
(i) On the one hand, in the large island of Crete, in the Peloponnese, which is almost an island, and in one or two other favoured spots, there gradually arose a higher standard of living, because in these lands, while they were almost entirely protected from invasion, there was room for considerable expansion. The condition of the people gradually improved, so that by 2000 B.C. great stone buildings were erected and many arts and crafts of a simple kind were practised. The cities thus built were placed as far inland as possible, so that there might be the less danger from seamen who might attack dwellers by the shore, but who would be chary of trusting themselves far from their element, the sea.
(ii) On the other hand, seamen did exist even in these early times. Possibly they came from the smaller islands from which the sea was always in sight, so that it was bound to be familiar to all. Thus it is probable that, even earlier than the Phoenicians, the inhabitants of these lands had built boats and sailed from place to place.
As the culture which had its seat in protected parts gradually evolved, it was to be expected that the horror of the sea natural to land men should give place to know ledge of it. Thus when this culture reached its zenith about the time of the 18th Dynasty, 1600 B.C., it had spread over all the islands of the Aegean and the coasts of Asia Minor, and had left traces in what were later to be called Italy and Sicily, while the ships of Crete, at any rate, were known to the Egyptians, and embassies were received at the court of the Pharaohs. It was, however, a culture that spread, not an empire that ruled.
In early times the sea was a barrier, so that Greece, like Egypt and Babylon, has geographical conditions which favour the development of an early civilization ; but the differences must be as carefully noted as the resemblances. As Babylon within its marshes was different from Egypt surrounded by desert, so Greece protected by the sea was different from either. Egypt, owing to its length, was divided naturally into Upper and Lower—the kingdoms of the North and South as they were called—the Delta and the Valley, and these again into smaller districts or nomes ; but these latter were not separated from each other by any natural barriers of much account, so that Egypt in history is generally under one ruler, occasionally under two rulers, and only in exceptional circumstances under such divided authority that the nomes were independent. Babylonia, again, notwithstanding that it was much more compact, was yet subject to .a far greater tendency to division into smaller states than was Egypt, as the barriers between those minor states were more important and the unifying effect of the river was not so greatly felt. Eventually, however, since the barriers were not complete, the states of Babylonia were compelled to enter some sort of union. But the islands and peninsulas of Greece, when the sea was a barrier, were separated very completely not only from all else but also from each other, and even when it became a bond, distance still intervened; the frontier was not a line but an area.