Most historians agree that the study of ancient Greece begins with the Dorians. Although the Minoans were certainly interesting and the Mycenaeans did create some beautiful art, without the Dorians, the ancient Greece we greatly admire might never have developed.
Here's what happened: Over 3,000 years ago, the Dorians, a tribe of war-like people, swooped down from the north onto the Greek peninsula. The Dorians did not have a written language. They were not into art or music or literature. The Dorians were into war. The Dorians did not build cities. They destroyed them.
Greek Dark Ages: It was easy for the Dorians to conquer the many diverse tribes who made their home on the Greek peninsula. The Dorians had iron weapons. It wasn't even a contest. For the next 400 years, the Dorians ruled. The various tribes on the Greek peninsula hated the Dorians, with good reason. The Dorians were cruel and brutal. But after 400 years of Dorian rule, it probably never occurred to the Dorians that the villagers might organize and revolt.
After the Dorians conquered the Mycenaeans, Greece fell into a dark age. The impressive towns of the Mycenaeans were replaced with small, poor villages. Fine silver and gold decorated vases were replaced with simple pots. During the dark ages, nothing was written down. If anyone had been watching, they would have noticed that the Greeks stopped trading. But the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Sumerians and other people who lived 2,500 years ago were busy developing their own cultures. For 400 years, Greece was in a dark age. But it was not wasted time. During the Greek dark ages, a great deal happened.
The Storytellers: Things started to change when a new profession arose on the Greek peninsula - that of storyteller. The storytellers were not Dorians. They were villagers, young men who traveled from village to village, telling stories of heroes, monsters, gods, goddesses, and magical beings, like Hades, lord of the underworld, and his three-headed dog. They told tales of deals and trickery, and of wars and victory. Thanks to the storytellers, the early people on the Greek peninsula learned to speak Greek, the language of the storytellers. They were shown through the stories and myths they loved the many advantages of working together to defeat a common foe. The Dorians loved the stories, too. They encouraged the storytellers to visit villages all over the Greek peninsula.
After the Greek Dark Ages - Development of City-States: After 400 years of control, the Dorians never expected the Greeks to rise up against them. But they did. Dorian rule came to an end when the Greeks banded together and kicked the Dorians out of Greece. After the Greek Dark Ages, villages started to band together to create city-states, in part for protection and in part for more organized trade.
Ancient Greece was not a country. It was a collection of city-states, each with its own government and its own way of doing things. But thanks to the storytellers, the people spoke the same language, believed in the same gods. and shared a common culture. They thought of themselves as Greeks. But they were very loyal to their city-state.