The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus (; see also list of Greek place names), is a large peninsula, located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth. During the late Middle Ages and the Ottoman era, the peninsula was known as the Morea (colloq. Μωριάς), a name still in colloquial use.
It was here that the Greek War of Independence began; the Peloponnesians have almost totally dominated politics and government in Greece since then.
The peninsula has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Its modern name derives from ancient Greek mythology, specifically the legend of the hero Pelops, who was said to have conquered the entire region. The name Peloponnesos means "Island of Pelops".
The Aegean (or Mycenaean) civilization, mainland Greece's (and Europe's) first major civilization, dominated the Peloponnese in the Bronze Age from its stronghold at Mycenae in the north-east of the peninsula. The Mycenean civilization collapsed suddenly at the end of the 2nd millennium BC. Archeological research has found that many of its cities and palaces show signs of destruction. The subsequent period, known as the Greek Dark Ages, is marked by an absence of written records.
In 776 BC, the first Olympic Games were held at Olympia, and this date is sometimes used to denote the beginning of the classical period of Greek antiquity. During classical antiquity, the Peloponnese was at the heart of the affairs of ancient Greece, possessed some of its most powerful city-states, and was the location of some of its bloodiest battles. The major cities of Sparta, Corinth, Argos and Megalopolis were here, and was the homeland of the Peloponnesian League. Soldiers from the peninsula fought in the Persian Wars and was the scene of the Peloponnesian War of 431 BC-404 BC. It fell to the expanding Roman Republic in 146 BC and became the province of Achaea. During the Roman period, the peninsula remained prosperous but became a provincial backwater, relatively cut off from the affairs of the wider Roman world.
After the partition of the Empire in 395, the Peloponnese became a part of the East Roman or Byzantine Empire. The devastation of Alaric's raid in 396–397 led to the construction of the Hexamilion wall across the Isthmus of Corinth. Through most of Late Antiquity, the peninsula retained its urbanized character: in the 6th century, Hierocles counted 26 cities in his Synecdemus. By the latter part of that century, however, building activity seems to have stopped, either because of the devastation caused by Slavic incursions or because of a more general urban decline. The scale of the Slavic incursions and settlement in the later 6th and especially in the 7th century remain a matter of dispute. The Slavs did occupy most of the peninsula, as evidenced by Slavic toponyms, with the exception of the eastern coast, which remained in Byzantine hands. The latter was included in the thema of Hellas, established by Justinian II ca. 690.
Under Nikephoros I, following a Slavic revolt and attack on Patras, a determined Hellenization process was carried out. According to the Chronicle of Monemvasia, in 805 the Byzantine governor of Corinth went to war with the Slavs, exterminated them, and allowed the original inhabitants to claim their own lands. They regained control of the city of Patras and the region was re-settled with Greeks. Many Slavs were transported to Anatolia, and many Anatolian, Sicilian and Calabrian Greeks were resettled in the Peloponnese. The entire peninsula was included in the new thema of Peloponnesos, with its capital at Corinth. There was also continuity of the Peloponnesian Greek population. With re-Hellenization, the Slavs likely became a minority among the Greeks. The historian J.V.A. Fine says that is it is unlikely a large number of people could have easily been transplanted into Greece in the 9th century; this suggests that many Greeks had remained in the territory and continued to speak Greek throughout the period of Slavic occupation.
By the end of the 9th century, the Peloponnese was culturally and administratively Greek again, with the exception of a few small Slavic tribes in the mountains such as the Melingoi and Ezeritai. Although they were to remain relatively autonomous until Ottoman times, such tribes were the exception rather than the rule. Following the Arab capture of Crete in the 820s, the Peloponnese suffered greatly from repeated Arab raids. After the island was recovered by Byzantium in 961 however, the region entered a period of renewed prosperity, where agriculture, commerce and urban industry flourished.
In 1205, following the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire by the forces of the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders under William of Champlitte and Geoffrey of Villehardouin marched south through mainland Greece and conquered the Peloponnese against sporadic local Greek resistance. The Franks then founded the Principality of Achaea, nominally a vassal of the Latin Empire, while the Venetians occupied a number of strategically important ports around the coast such as Monemvasia, Pylos and Koroni, which they retained into the 15th century. The Franks popularized the name Morea for the peninsula, which first appears as the name of the Frankish Castle of Mouria in Gortynia during the 13th century. The Castle of Mouria was part of the Baronies of Akova - Mategrifon,Passava,Dafni Kalavriton, property of The Sovereign Princess Heiress of Morea Margarita of Akova-Mouria, the Lady of the Bridge of Ladona river who is lake today. Frankish supremacy in the peninsula however received a critical blow after the Battle of Pelagonia, when William II of Villehardouin was forced to cede the newly-constructed fortress and palace at Mystras near ancient Sparta to a resurgent Byzantium. This Greek province (and later a semi-autonomous Despotate) staged a gradual reconquest, eventually conquering the Frankish principality by 1430. The same period was also marked by a very small influx of Albanian settlers to Central Greece and the Peloponnese, who became the ancestors of the Arvanites. Despite repeated and destructive raids by Turakhan Beg and Murad II and internal strife between the despots the peninsula enjoys a period of relative prosperity during the middle decades of the century.
The Ottoman Turks overran the Peloponnese between 1458–1460, with the exception of Salmeniko and Salmeniko Castle and the Venetian strongholds. In 1461 the town of Salmeniko surrendered and Salmeniko Castle held out until July 1461. The Venetian strongholds were taken gradually over decades of intermittent Ottoman–Venetian Wars. The peninsula was made a sanjak of the Rumelia Eyalet, with Corinth (Turk. Gördes) as its capital. The Venetians occupied the entire peninsula during the successful Morean War (1684–1699), establishing the "Kingdom of the Morea" (It. Regno di Morea) to rule the country. Venetian rule lasted until the re-establishment of Ottoman control in 1715.
The Ottomans re-established a Morea Eyalet, which also included parts of mainland Greece around Nafpaktos and Preveza. Corinth, then Nafplion (Tr. Anaboli) and later Tripolitza (Tr. Trabliçe) were the province's capitals. Throughout the 18th century, Ottoman authority remained relatively solid and opposed only by rebellions in the semi-autonomous Mani Peninsula, the southernmost part of the Peloponnese, and the activities of the bands of the klephts. The Russian-instigated Orlov Revolt of 1770 temporarily threatened Ottoman rule, but was quickly and brutally subdued.
The Peloponnesians played a major role in the Greek War of Independence – the war actually began in the Peloponnese, when rebels took control of Kalamata on March 23, 1821. Greek control over the peninsula, with the exception of a few coastal forts, was established with the capture of Tripolitsa in September 1821. The peninsula was the scene of fierce fighting and extensive devastation following the arrival of Egyptian troops under Ibrahim pasha in 1825. The decisive naval Battle of Navarino was fought off Pylos on the west coast of the Peloponnese, and a French expeditionary corps cleared the last Turko-Egyptian forces from the peninsula in 1828. The city of Nafplion, on the east coast of the peninsula, became the first capital of the independent Greek state.
During the 19th and early 20th century, the region became relatively poor and economically isolated. A significant part of its population emigrated to the larger cities of Greece, especially Athens, and other countries such as the United States and Australia. It was badly affected by the Second World War and Greek Civil War, experiencing some of the worst atrocities committed in Greece during those conflicts. Living standards improved dramatically throughout Greece after the country's accession to the European Union in 1981. The rural Peloponnese is renowned for being amongst the most traditionalist and conservative regions of Greece and is a stronghold of the right-wing New Democracy party, while the larger urban centres like Kalamata and especially Patras are dominated by the left-wing Panhellenic Socialist Movement. Villages still continue to see a population decline due the lack of economic opportunities, industrial farming, and the aging population. Despite the relative poverty of the region itself however, the Peloponnesians have always had an almost total dominance of politics and government in Greece; since Greek independence in the 1820s, the vast majority of Prime Ministers have been of Peloponnesian origin, and the most powerful political families (Zaimis, Mavromichalis, Varvitsiotis, Stephanopoulos and Papandreou) hail from the region. Currently, both the Prime Minister (George Papandreou) and the Leader of the Opposition (Antonis Samaras) are Peloponnesians; the business elite of Greece is also mostly Peloponnesian, with the Angelopoulos and Latsis families being a typical example, while the Maniots of Southern Peloponnese traditionally dominate the Armed Forces. All this has gained the Peloponnesians a reputation for cunning and political connections in Greek popular culture.
In late August 2007, large parts of Peloponnese suffered from wildfires, which caused severe damage in villages and forests and the death of 77 people. The impact of the fires to the environment and economy of the region are still unknown. It is thought to be the largest environmental disaster in modern Greek history.