Greece was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic period and by 3000 BC had become home, in the Cycladic Islands, to a culture whose art remains among the most evocative in world history. Early in the 2nd millennium BC, the island of Crete nurtured the sophisticated maritime empire of the Minoans, whose trade reached from Egypt to Sicily. The Minoans were challenged and eventually supplanted by the Mycenaeans of the Greek mainland, who spoke a dialect of ancient Greek. Initially, Greece's mosaic of small city-states were ethnically similar. During the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires (1st-19th centuries), Greece's ethnic composition became more diverse. Since independence in 1830 and an exchange of populations with Turkey in 1923, Greece has forged a national state which claims roots reaching back 3,000 years.
The Greek language dates back at least 3,500 years, and modern Greek preserves many elements of its classical predecessor. In the 19th century, after Greece's War of Independence, an effort was made to rid the language of Turkish and Arabic words and expressions. The resulting version was considered to be closer to the classical Greek language of Homer and was called Katharevousa. However, Katharevousa was never adopted by most Greeks in daily speech. The commonly spoken language, called Demotiki, became the official language in 1976.
Greek education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 15. English language study is compulsory from 5th grade through high school. University education, including books, is also free, contingent upon the student's ability to meet stiff entrance requirements. Recent statistics indicate progressively poorer results in the annual entrance examinations. Low salaries and status of teachers; lack of books, supplies, labs, and computers; frequent strikes; and continuing reliance on rote memorization methods are all matters of concern for Greek educators.
A high percentage of the student population seeks higher education. About 100,000 students are registered at Greek universities, and 15% of the population currently holds a university degree. Entrance to a university is determined by state-administered exams, the candidate's grade-point average from high school, and his/her priority choices of major. About one in four candidates gains admission to Greek universities.
Since Greek law does not permit the operation of private universities in Greece, a large and growing number of students are pursuing higher education abroad. The Greek Government decides through an evaluation procedure whether to recognize degrees from specific foreign universities as qualification for public sector hiring. Other students attend private, post-secondary educational institutions in Greece that are not recognized by the Greek Government.
The number of Greek students studying at European institutions is increasing along with EU support for educational exchange. In addition, nearly 5,000 Greeks are studying in the United States, about half of whom are in graduate school. Greek per capita student representation in the U.S. is the highest of any European country.
Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in Greece. During the centuries of Ottoman domination, the Greek Orthodox Church preserved Greek language, values, and national identity and was an important rallying point in the struggle for independence. There is a Muslim minority concentrated in Thrace. Other religious communities in Greece include Catholics, Jews, Old Calendar Orthodox, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Protestants.
Population: 10,601,527 (July 2000 est.)
0-14 years: 15% (male 828,585; female 779,902)
15-64 years: 67% (male 3,580,079; female 3,574,788)
65 years and over: 18% (male 815,247; female 1,022,926) (2000 est.)
Population growth rate: 0.21% (2000 est.)
Birth rate: 9.82 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Death rate: 9.64 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)
Net migration rate: 1.97 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)
at birth: 1.07 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.8 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2000 est.)
Infant mortality rate: 6.51 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 78.44 years
male: 75.89 years
female: 81.16 years (2000 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.33 children born/woman (2000 est.)
Greek 98%, other 2%
note: the Greek Government states there are no ethnic divisions in Greece
Religions: Greek Orthodox 98%, Muslim 1.3%, other 0.7%
Languages: Greek 99% (official), English, French
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 95%
female: 93% (1991 est.)