by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

Imagine a battle field of 100'000 troops ferociously fighting for the crown of Persia. And throw in a few Greek men for good measure and you have the Battle of Cunaxa. Around 400 BC Prince Cyrus the Younger fought King Artaxerxes II for the Persian Empire. The usurper to the throne Cyrus hired 10'000 Greek mercenaries to compliment his forces. Greek troops were noted for being the best trained and resilient. Amongst them was a student of Socrates, the philosopher and general, Xenophon.

As the battle unfolded, Cyrus was killed. His Persian troops retreated faster than Usain Bolt in the 100metres. The Greek troops however stayed on and fought valiantly, defeating their opponents. They were allowed to slip away by the Persian King who realised that they were in territory outside of Asia Minor and would be swallowed by his Persian subjects. The Greek military of 10'400 elected Xenephon as their leader (along with a few others including a Spartan) with the sole intention to fight their way to the Black Sea, across enemy territory.

With no supplies, no allies, in enemy territory and being chased by the Persian military, the odds were stacked against Xenephon.

Over the next few months, the 10'000 would march through desert and then enemy towns. Every few days they would meet different enemies who did not want them to cross their land.

Finally, they sighted the Asia Minor city of Trebizond on the Black Sea. The Greek troops, exhausted and on the verge of collapse, cried, shouting 'Thalatta, Thalatta' ('to the sea, to the sea,' in ancient Greek). Their incredible story was over, and Xenephon would write his classic account, 'Anabasis'. In 1979, the New York gang flick and a favourite of mine, 'The Warriors', was based on this incredible march through enemy territory.

My pappou was born in a village called Karagatsi and my gia gia is from the incredible city of Smyrna (Izmir), both on the coast of Asia Minor. They were, off course, on the other side of Asia Minor from that of Xenephon and the incredible journey he undertook. However, in the early 1920's my gia gia and pappou, like millions across Asia Minor (Greek, Turk, Assyrian, Armenian, Kurd, Arab) were also forced on their own 'march' across the region as the Ottoman Empire broke down and nationalism took over.

Like Xenephon, Asia Minor can tell you a million stories, this was just one of them.

Billy's Blog: An Asia Minor Adventure

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

India, better known for cricket and tea, was once the home of a Greek Kingdom or two. I realise that may sound far fetched, but bear with me here.

Alexander the Great conquered the upper area of the sub-continent and went close to losing his first battle here. After his death in 323 BC his empire fragmented in to a number of Hellenistic states. The Indo-Greek kingdom in the far east is arguably the most fascinating and interesting of all the Hellenistic states. The Kingdom emerged from the Greek Bactrian kingdom in Afghanistan, which bordered China and the north of India. There is a town of approximately 4000 Greek 'speakers' that believe themselves to be descendants. This town has been the subject of documentaries and received significant support from Athens before the economic crisis.

The Greek people of Bactria fought each other (in typical Greek style) until the Kingdom finally ceased to exist. However in India by about 100BC a new Greek Kingdom emerged. The most important Indo-Greek king was Menander, known as Milinda by the locals. He converted to Buddhism and encouraged a fusion of Greek and Indian arts and sciences, resulting in a very unique style that is still evident in that region today. The Indo-Greek kingdom incredibly survived until around 20AD. The Indo-Greek Kingdom was the last Hellenistic Kingdom and a testament to the vision of Alexander to bring the Greek culture to the world.

If one were to have a read of the ancient sources, you would find a long list of Greek rulers with names such as Demetrius, Euthydemus, Antiochus, Philoxenus, Lysias, Philoxenus, Artemidorus and the last ruler of the Indo – Greek empire, Strato II. Another fascinating aspect is that the Bactrian and Indo – Greek states traded with China. Therein lies a fantastic tale. Many of the oldest civilisations in history (India, Greek, China, Pakistan) all interacting with each other for commercial benefit.

Amazingly, there were a number of Greek towns in existence in Bactria alongside the border of India due to the resettlement of thousands of Hellenes by Darius of Persia in the 400's BC. He forced them to move from a number of key territories he conquered near the Greek mainland.

Based on my research, the Greek language was spoken by a sizeable minority in the region until perhaps the 400s AD. An incredible fact especially when you consider how far from modern Greece India actually is.

Billy's Blog: From Greece to India – Alexander The Great

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

Syria, has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent times. I remember my visit there in 2010 to the Greek village on the border near Lebanon. I would never have thought war would break out shortly after my visit.

Syria has had a continuous Hellenic presence since Alexander the Great conquered. His general Seleucus established the Hellenistic kingdom of the Seleucids, one of the most fascinating in history. It was a Greek speaking empire that covered Syria, part of Asia Minor, Lebanon, Jerusalem, Persia and other areas. It lasted until Pompey defeated them in 63 BC. Syria returned to Greek rule when the Byzantine Empire came along in the 4th century AD. Over the next few hundred years it became a battlefield against a declining Persia, followed by the rise of Arab rulers. The last Byzantine controlled city to fall was Antioch in 1180. Antioch is now just inside Turkey, which was a city established by Byzantium and is famous for being the place where the name of Christianity was first coined.

The Greek Orthodox religion was strong in Syria. Damascus which still maintains a Greek federation was a leading city of Christianity for many centuries. At the moment, 7% of the population adhere to the religion.

When I was in Syria I went to find the village of Al Hamidiyah. This village is Muslim however most identify themselves as being of Cretan heritage. Around 1850 the ottoman sultan moved a large group of Muslim people from Crete and settled them in Syria. Their descendants speak Greek, sing Cretan folk songs, make a mean frappe and occasionally make the trip back to Greece or Cyprus. There are up to 3,000 of them in the village and I felt very welcome to sit amongst them. I enjoyed conversing with a young man who was using his argyle and komboloi (worry beads) at the same time. I hope this village is spared from the problems confronting Syria (I hope that Syria will find peace soon) it is a living testament to the success and depth of Hellenic culture.

I'm always amazed by where I will find greek speakers, and Syria is no exception.

Billy's Blog: Syria

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

Cleopatra was a Greek, and the last Hellenic queen of Egypt. How can this be true I hear you ask….
When Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 334 BC, he established an amazing new city called Alexandria. When Alexander died in 323 BC, one of his favourite generals Ptolemy took control of Egypt and the surrounding lands, establishing the Ptolemaic kingdom. The Hellenic city of Alexandria was the capital.

This Kingdom was unique. Royalty only spoke Greek and intermarried (we now call that incest) to protect the blood line . However, they called themselves successors to the Pharoes. Ptolemy adopted many local customs to keep the local population on side but like all his successors, he never learnt the local language. Cleopatra was the first to speak a language other than Greek! Actually, if you were Greek, you were subject only to Hellenic law.

The Ptolemaic Kingdom ended in 30 BC when Cleopatra, having chosen to side with Marc Antony, was defeated by Rome. She was only 39 years old and had been a benign ruler for most of her life.

At its peak, the Kingdom included Libya, Cyprus, Egypt and a significant area of the Middle East. They also brought in tens of thousands of Greek migrants who formed the elite ruling class. Its one factor which explains why there has always been a strong Greek presence in Egypt.

Cleopatra is one of the most famous women of all time, perhaps the most famous. Pity though that the Ptolemaic Kingdom is not as well known.

Greek language remained in civic and bureaucratic circles under the Romans. When the Byzantine Greek forces reconquered Egypt in 534 AD, they inherited a country with a strong Greek upper class and institutions, remaining that way until the late 7th Century.

Billy's Blog: Hellenic travels to the past

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

1453, the siege of Constantinople was a turning point in history. It was more than just Greek vs Turkish, it was 2 great empires fighting for the east. It was a fight that began in the 1000's with many Ottoman and Byzantine Greek skirmishes.

On Tuesday, May 29, 1453, the Greek control of Constantinople came to end. Imagine the 'fear' of the 8,000 brave defenders of the city (which included Italian, Ukrainian, one Scotsman, and yes Turks) took on the terrifying 200,000 troops of the Sultan. That is a sea of warriors that was almost defeated by the gallant Byzantine defenders. I should point out that these troops included Serbian and other Balkan ethnicities.

6 weeks they held out and won every battle to that point. Had it not been for the new Hungarian invention called the canon, plus a small door that was accidentally opened, Constantinople would have been saved. The Sultan was on the verge of quitting….. Just one more day!

The Italian states had decided to send aid, but it arrived too late. What if, Constantinople had held out, would the Balkans be different today? I wonder too if Constantinople would have remained capital of the Greek world instead of Athens.

This was also the end of the Middle Ages and the start the modern epoch.

Billy's Blog: Constantinople – The Greatest City of all time

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

Odessa will forever be a special place in Greek history, regardless of where Hellenic history may take us over the next 2000 years. Few people would know it, but the Ukrainian city of Odessa was established by Greek people in 1794 on what was once a Greek Miletian colony in antiquity. This thriving city on the Black Sea was created under the auspice of Catherine the Great, from Russia. It became a haven for Greek speakers who were leaving the Ottoman Empire as persecution of Christian people began to grow.

In 1814 several brave men met in Odessa to pursue ways to overthrow Ottoman rule in Greek lands. These men were heroes and became the story of the Philiki Eteria struggle laying the foundations of Greek freedom. I had the honour of visiting the Philiki Eteria museum which was opened specifically for my impromtu visit. The museum was the house and meeting place for the revolutionaries in the early 1800s.

When Greece gained its independence and began to grow into a stable nation, most of the Greek speakers of Odessa made their way to Greece. Today, Odessa has a population of over 1 million but only a few thousand claim Greek ancestry. Greek is the fourth language of Odessa. One of the main city streets is known as Greek Street (Grecheskaya) and a few blocks down from Grecheskaya you will find the Greek ‘area.’ The Greek Emporiko Kentro complete with Greek flags, columns, statues, Greek frescoes and Greek designed shops. I felt like I was in Greece except I could not hear the sound of motor bikes, young men shouting expletives for no apparent reason and of course no frappe.

The Greek church of Odessa is Saint Troiskaya located at Ekaterininskaya 67. In 1821 after the unfortunate murder of Patriach Gregory V in Constantinople, his body was brought here for burial by the Greek patriots.

Billy's Blog: The Greeks of Odessa and Ukrainian cuisine


by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

The Empire of Trebizond was the last Greek empire, falling in 1461 to the energetic Sultan Mehmet. At its peak the empire took in most of the Black Sea but only had a 247 year history.

Trebizond is a great city from antiquity that was part of the Silk Road and was Hellenic through and through. In the early 1900s it was set to become the Hellenic Republic of Pontus until the great powers changed their mind.

Today around 400,000 muslims in and around this area speak Greek but reside in what is now Turkey.

Billy's Blog: Trebizond – The last Greek Empire


by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

A Magna Graecia or translated from Italian means greater Greece.

From the 7th Century BC Greek cities were creating colonies to expand their trade options and ease overcrowding. Settlements appeared across the south of Italy including Sicily, Neapolis, Reggio, Locri, Crotin, Messina, Syracuse, just some of the dozens of that would be created. Rome knew this area as the Greek south and until about the 14th century AD, it was the main language of the region. Today there remains about 35,000 people who claim descent from the Ancient Greek colonies and speak a medieval dialect. They are found in Calabria in Aspromonte and in Apulia near Brindisi.

Billy's Blog: Magna Graecia

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

Macedonia a name that means a lot to people in the Balkans.This ancient Greek kingdom was established by Perdicas in the 850s BC and claims a link to Achilles.

The name itself was a Greek word for tall people and its original size correlates roughly to the size in modern Greece. The Greek speaking and Hellenic culture of Macedonia was in evidence everywhere, as it was in other Hellenic states in the ancient Greek world.

A number of famous Greek people were born here, Philip II, Megas Alexandros, Philip V, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Cyril and Methodius the saints who created the Slavic alphabet, Basil II, Justinian and many more.

Slavic people came into the area around the 500s AD and today they have their own state in what was the north of Macedonia, in the area that use to be called Paeonia.

Makedonia is as Greek as Athina

Billy's Blog: Hellenic travels to the past

by Billy Cotsis, published with permision.

What do we really know about Sparta? Or this is Sparta…. Unlike the Rest of the classical Greek world, they did not contribute to arts, culture, science or mathematics. They preferred being the masters of their own little region to interacting with Greece. But for a glorious 400 years, they were a military machine that could rarely be beaten.

What do we really know about Sparta? Or this is Sparta…. Unlike the Rest of the classical Greek world, they did not contribute to arts, culture, science or mathematics. They preferred being the masters of their own little region to interacting with Greece. But for a glorious 400 years, they were a military machine that could rarely be beaten.

When Alexander the Great led the Greek states, he sent a note to Sparta telling them they had better acknowledge him as the king of Greece, if not he would invade. The Spartans replied with one word, 'ifffff.'

Sparta was the only city not to have walls as they reasoned that no one would be silly enough to invade. In fact, women were trained to be warriors in case they had to defend the city. Women were almost considered as equals in Sparta. A big leap forward in that epoch.

Sparta was a land power, unbeatable in combat. Whilst a child in Athens or Macedonia would be learning about philosophy, a spartan would be learning how to fight.

In the 5th Century BC Sparta led the Greek world in the defence of Greece. The Persian war against forces estimated to be around the million mark were incredible. Just imagine if Persia had won! Civilisation would have slowed down, and we may never have progressed as quickly as we have.

In 404 BC Sparta defeated Athens in a 3 decade war. But she was over stretched and just 40 years later would lose to Thebes, surrendering control of the Greek world.

When Rome gained control of Greece in 146BC, Sparta with a dwindling population was no longer in a position to defend the Hellenes. That had been the job of Philip V of Macedonia, the northern Greek kingdom. Rome however did not send any forces to Sparta, fearing they may actually beat them.

In the Middle Ages, Sparta declined to an irrelevant town, although they established the neighbouring city called Mistra. Ironically, Mistra became a place of learning, culture, arts, education and religion, and was one of the most important places in Byzantine history, especially after 1200AD.

Today there are about 20,000 people in modern Sparta, which still has no walls. But not surprisingly, hundreds of thousands of people around the world claim descent from here, this is of course, Sparta.

Billy's Blog: Hellenic travels to the past