Greece is considered the cradle of Western civilization, being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, Western literature, historiography, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, theatre and the Olympic Games. From the eighth century BC, the Greeks were organised into various independent city-states, known as poleis (singular polis), which spanned the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Philip II of Macedon united most of present-day Greece in the fourth century BC, with his son Alexander the Great rapidly conquering much of the ancient world, from the eastern Mediterranean to India. The subsequent Hellenistic period saw the height of Greek culture and influence in antiquity. Greece was annexed by Rome in the second century BC, becoming an integral part of the Roman Empire and its continuation, the Byzantine Empire, which was culturally and linguistically predominantly Greek. The Greek Orthodox Church, which emerged in the first century AD, helped shape modern Greek identity and transmitted Greek traditions to the wider Orthodox world. After falling under Ottoman dominion in the mid-15th century, Greece emerged as a modern nation state in 1830 following a war of independence. The country's rich historical legacy is reflected in part by its 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Greece is a unitary parliamentary republic, and a developed country, with an advanced high-income economy, and a high quality of life, ranking simultaneously very high in the Human Development Index. Its economy is the largest in the Balkans, where it is an important regional investor. A founding member of the United Nations, Greece was the tenth member to join the European Communities (precursor to the European Union) and has been part of the Eurozone since 2001. It is also a member of numerous other international institutions, including the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF). Greece's unique cultural heritage, large tourism industry, prominent shipping sector and geostrategic importance classify it as a middle power.
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