Ancient Greece was a civilization that dominated much of the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. At its peak under Alexander the Great, Ancient Greece ruled much of Europe and Western Asia. The Greeks came before the Romans and much of the Roman culture was influenced by the Greeks.
Ancient Greece formed the foundation of much of Western culture today. Everything from government, philosophy, science, mathematics, art, literature, and even sports was impacted by the Ancient Greeks.
Acropolis in Athens
Historians often divide up the history of Ancient Greece into three periods:
Athens and Sparta
- Archaic Period - This period ran from the start of Greek civilization in 800 BC to the introduction of Democracy in 508 BC. This period included the start of the Olympic Games and Homer's writing of the Odyssey and the Illiad.
- Classical Period - This is the time that most of us think of when we think of Ancient Greece. Athens was governed by a democracy and great philosophers like Socrates and Plato arose. Also, the wars between Sparta and Athens were during this time. This period ended with the rise and then death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.
- Hellenistic Period - The Hellenistic period lasted from the death of Alexander the Great until 146 BC when Rome conquered Greece. The name Hellenistic comes from the Greek word "hellens", which is what the Greeks called themselves.
Athens and Sparta were the two main city states that ruled much of ancient Greece. They were often rivals and fought each other in the Peloponnesian Wars. At other times they united together in order to protect the Greek lands from invaders. The cultures of the two cities were very different. Sparta was almost entirely focused on war and how to fight, while Athens focused on the arts and learning.
Fun Facts about Ancient Greece
Recommended books and references:
- They ate dinner while lying on their sides.
- They invented the yo-yo which is considered the 2nd oldest toy in the world after the doll.
- About one third of the population of some city-states were slaves.
- There were more city-states than just Sparta and Athens, Ancient Greece had around 100 city-states.
- The Romans copied much of the Greek culture including their gods, architecture, language, and even how they ate!
- Pheidippides was a Greek hero who ran 150 miles from Marathon to Sparta to get help against the Persians. After the Greeks won the war, he ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the victory. This is where the marathon running race gets its name.
- When law trials were held in the city of Athens, they used large juries of 500 citizens. That's a lot more than the 12 we use today.
A guide to the golden age of Greece by Julie Ferris. 1999.
A Cultural Atlas for Young People: Ancient Greece by Anton Powell. 1989.
Eyewitness Books: Ancient Greece written by Anne Pearson. 2004.
Life in ancient Athens by Don Nardo. 2000.
Take a ten question quiz at the Ancient Greece questions page.
Go here to test your knowledge with a Ancient Greece crossword puzzle.
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