Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek
history from the
Greek Dark Ages
Greek Dark Ages of the 13th–9th centuries BC to the
end of antiquity (c. 600 AD). Immediately following this period was
the beginning of the Early
Middle Ages and the
Roughly three centuries after the
Late Bronze Age collapse
Late Bronze Age collapse of
Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century
BC, ushering in the period of
Archaic Greece and colonization of the
Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical
Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from
the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the
Great of Macedonia,
Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central
Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic
period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the
eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established
Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the
province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.
Classical Greek culture, especially philosophy, had a powerful
influence on ancient Rome, which carried a version of it to many parts
Mediterranean Basin and Europe. For this reason, Classical
Greece is generally considered to be the seminal culture which
provided the foundation of modern
Western culture and is considered
the cradle of Western civilization.
3.1 Archaic period
3.2 Classical Greece
3.3 Hellenistic Greece
3.4 Roman Greece
5 Politics and society
5.1 Political structure
5.2 Government and law
5.3 Social structure
6.2 Literature and theatre
6.3 Music and dance
6.4 Science and technology
6.5 Art and architecture
6.6 Religion and mythology
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
Further information: Timeline of ancient Greece
Classical Antiquity in the Mediterranean region is commonly considered
to have begun in the 8th century BC (around the time of the
earliest recorded poetry of Homer) and ended in the 6th century AD.
Classical Antiquity in
Greece was preceded by the
Greek Dark Ages
Greek Dark Ages (c.
1200 – c. 800 BC), archaeologically characterised by the
protogeometric and geometric styles of designs on pottery. Following
the Dark Ages was the Archaic Period, beginning around the 8th century
BC. The Archaic Period saw early developments in Greek culture and
society which formed the basis for the Classical Period. After the
Archaic Period, the Classical Period in
Greece is conventionally
considered to have lasted from the Persian invasion of
Greece in 480
until the death of
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great in 323. The period is
characterized by a style which was considered by later observers to be
exemplary, i.e., "classical", as shown in the Parthenon, for instance.
Politically, the Classical Period was dominated by
Athens and the
Delian League during the 5th century, but displaced by Spartan
hegemony during the early 4th century BC, before power shifted to
Thebes and the
Boeotian League and finally to the League of Corinth
led by Macedon. This period saw the
Greco-Persian Wars and the Rise of
Following the Classical period was the
Hellenistic period (323–146
BC), during which Greek culture and power expanded into the Near and
Middle East. This period begins with the death of Alexander and ends
with the Roman conquest.
Roman Greece is usually considered to be the
period between Roman victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of
Corinth in 146 BC and the establishment of
Byzantium by Constantine as
the capital of the
Roman Empire in AD 330. Finally, Late Antiquity
refers to the period of Christianization during the later 4th to early
6th centuries AD, sometimes taken to be complete with the closure of
the Academy of
Justinian I in 529.
Main article: Greek historiographers
Victorious Youth (c. 310 BC), is a rare, water-preserved bronze
sculpture from ancient Greece.
The historical period of ancient
Greece is unique in world history as
the first period attested directly in proper historiography, while
earlier ancient history or proto-history is known by much more
circumstantial evidence, such as annals or king lists, and pragmatic
Herodotus is widely known as the "father of history": his Histories
are eponymous of the entire field. Written between the 450s and 420s
BC, Herodotus' work reaches about a century into the past, discussing
6th century historical figures such as Darius I of Persia, Cambyses II
and Psamtik III, and alluding to some 8th century ones such as
Herodotus was succeeded by authors such as Thucydides, Xenophon,
Plato and Aristotle. Most of these authors were either
Athenian or pro-Athenian, which is why far more is known about the
history and politics of
Athens than those of many other cities. Their
scope is further limited by a focus on political, military and
diplomatic history, ignoring economic and social history.
History of Greece
Main article: Archaic period in Greece
Dipylon Vase of the late Geometric period, or the beginning of the
Archaic period, c. 750 BC.
In the 8th century BC,
Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages which
followed the fall of the Mycenaean civilization. Literacy had been
lost and Mycenaean script forgotten, but the Greeks adopted the
Phoenician alphabet, modifying it to create the Greek alphabet.
Objects with Phoenician writing on them may have been available in
Greece from the 9th century BC, but the earliest evidence of Greek
writing comes from graffiti on Greek pottery from the mid-8th
Greece was divided into many small self-governing
communities, a pattern largely dictated by Greek geography: every
island, valley and plain is cut off from its neighbors by the sea or
Lelantine War (c. 710 – c. 650 BC) is the earliest documented
war of the ancient Greek period. It was fought between the important
poleis (city-states) of
Eretria over the fertile Lelantine
plain of Euboea. Both cities seem to have suffered a decline as result
of the long war, though
Chalcis was the nominal victor.
A mercantile class arose in the first half of the 7th century BC,
shown by the introduction of coinage in about 680 BC. This seems
to have introduced tension to many city-states. The aristocratic
regimes which generally governed the poleis were threatened by the
new-found wealth of merchants, who in turn desired political power.
From 650 BC onwards, the aristocracies had to fight not to be
overthrown and replaced by populist tyrants. This word derives from
the non-pejorative Greek τύραννος tyrannos, meaning
'illegitimate ruler', and was applicable to both good and bad leaders
A growing population and a shortage of land also seem to have created
internal strife between the poor and the rich in many city-states. In
Sparta, the Messenian Wars resulted in the conquest of Messenia and
enserfment of the Messenians, beginning in the latter half of the 8th
century BC, an act without precedent in ancient Greece. This practice
allowed a social revolution to occur. The subjugated population,
thenceforth known as helots, farmed and labored for Sparta, whilst
every Spartan male citizen became a soldier of the
Spartan Army in a
permanently militarized state. Even the elite were obliged to live and
train as soldiers; this commonality between rich and poor citizens
served to defuse the social conflict. These reforms, attributed to
Lycurgus of Sparta, were probably complete by 650 BC.
Political geography of ancient
Greece in the Archaic and Classical
Athens suffered a land and agrarian crisis in the late 7th century BC,
again resulting in civil strife. The Archon (chief magistrate) Draco
made severe reforms to the law code in 621 BC (hence "draconian"), but
these failed to quell the conflict. Eventually the moderate reforms of
Solon (594 BC), improving the lot of the poor but firmly entrenching
the aristocracy in power, gave
Athens some stability.
By the 6th century BC several cities had emerged as dominant in Greek
affairs: Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. Each of them had brought
the surrounding rural areas and smaller towns under their control, and
Corinth had become major maritime and mercantile powers as
Rapidly increasing population in the 8th and 7th centuries BC had
resulted in emigration of many Greeks to form colonies in Magna
Southern Italy and Sicily), Asia Minor and further afield.
The emigration effectively ceased in the 6th century BC by which time
the Greek world had, culturally and linguistically, become much larger
than the area of present-day Greece.
Greek colonies were not
politically controlled by their founding cities, although they often
retained religious and commercial links with them.
The emigration process also determined a long series of conflicts
between the Greek cities of Sicily, especially Syracuse, and the
Carthaginians. These conflicts lasted from 600 BC to 265 BC when the
Roman Republic entered into an alliance with the
Mamertines to fend
off the hostilities by the new tyrant of Syracuse, Hiero II and then
the Carthaginians. This way
Rome became the new dominant power against
the fading strength of the Sicilian Greek cities and the Carthaginian
supremacy in the region. One year later the
First Punic War
First Punic War erupted.
In this period, there was huge economic development in Greece, and
also in its overseas colonies which experienced a growth in commerce
and manufacturing. There was a great improvement in the living
standards of the population. Some studies estimate that the average
size of the Greek household, in the period from 800 BC to 300 BC,
increased five times, which indicates a large
increase in the average income of the population.
In the second half of the 6th century BC,
Athens fell under the
tyranny of Peisistratos and then of his sons Hippias and Hipparchos.
However, in 510 BC, at the instigation of the Athenian aristocrat
Cleisthenes, the Spartan king
Cleomenes I helped the Athenians
overthrow the tyranny. Afterwards,
Athens promptly turned
on each other, at which point
Cleomenes I installed
Isagoras as a
pro-Spartan archon. Eager to prevent
Athens from becoming a Spartan
Cleisthenes responded by proposing to his fellow citizens that
Athens undergo a revolution: that all citizens share in political
power, regardless of status: that
Athens become a "democracy". So
enthusiastically did the Athenians take to this idea that, having
Isagoras and implemented Cleisthenes's reforms, they were
easily able to repel a Spartan-led three-pronged invasion aimed at
restoring Isagoras. The advent of the democracy cured many of the
Athens and led to a 'golden age' for the Athenians.
Main article: Classical Greece
Early Athenian coin, depicting the head of
Athena on the obverse and
her owl on the reverse—5th century BC
In 499 BC, the Ionian city states under Persian rule rebelled against
the Persian-supported tyrants that ruled them. Supported by troops
Athens and Eretria, they advanced as far as
Sardis and burnt
the city down, before being driven back by a Persian
counterattack. The revolt continued until 494, when the rebelling
Ionians were defeated. Darius did not forget that the Athenians
had assisted the Ionian revolt, however, and in 490 he assembled an
armada to conquer Athens. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the
Athenians – supported by their Plataean allies – defeated the
Persian forces at the Battle of Marathon, and the Persian fleet
Map showing events of the first phases of the Greco-Persian Wars.
Delian League ("Athenian Empire"), immediately before the
Peloponnesian War in 431 BC
Ten years later, a second invasion was launched by Darius' son
Xerxes. The city-states of northern and central
to the Persian forces without resistance, but a coalition of 31 Greek
city states, including
Athens and Sparta, determined to resist the
Persian invaders. At the same time, Greek
Sicily was invaded by a
Carthaginian force. In 480 BC, the first major battle of the
invasion was fought at Thermopylae, where a small force of Greeks, led
by three hundred Spartans, held a crucial pass into the heart of
Greece for several days; at the same time Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse,
defeated the Carthaginian invasion at the Battle of Himera.
The Persians were defeated by a primarily Athenian naval force at the
Battle of Salamis, and in 479 defeated on land at the Battle of
Plataea. The alliance against
Persia continued, initially led by
the Spartan Pausanias but from 477 by Athens, and by 460 Persia
had been driven out of the Aegean. During this period of
Delian league gradually transformed from a defensive
alliance of Greek states into an Athenian empire, as Athens' growing
naval power enabled it to compel other league states to comply with
Athens ended its campaigns against
Persia in 450 BC,
after a disastrous defeat in
Egypt in 454 BC, and the death of Cimon
in action against the Persians on
Cyprus in 450.
While Athenian activity against the Persian empire was ending,
however, conflict between
Athens was increasing.
suspicious of the increasing Athenian power funded by the Delian
League, and tensions rose when
Sparta offered aid to reluctant members
of the League to rebel against Athenian domination. These tensions
were exacerbated in 462, when
Athens sent a force to aid
overcoming a helot revolt, but their aid was rejected by the
Spartans. In the 450s,
Athens took control of Boeotia, and won
Aegina and Corinth. However,
Athens failed to win a
decisive victory, and in 447 lost
Athens and Sparta
Thirty Years' Peace
Thirty Years' Peace in the winter of 446/5, ending the
Despite the peace of 446/5, Athenian relations with
again in the 430s, and in 431 war broke out once again. The first
phase of the war is traditionally seen as a series of annual invasions
Attica by Sparta, which made little progress, while
successful against the Corinthian empire in the north-west of Greece,
and in defending their own empire, despite suffering from plague and
Spartan invasion. The turning point of this phase of the war
usually seen as the Athenian victories at Pylos and Sphakteria.
Sparta sued for peace, but the Athenians rejected the proposal.
The Athenian failure to regain control at
Boeotia at Delium and
Brasidas' successes in the north of
Greece in 424, improved Sparta's
position after Sphakteria. After the deaths of Cleon and Brasidas,
the strongest objectors to peace on the Athenian and Spartan sides
respectively, a peace treaty was agreed in 421.
The peace did not last, however. In 418 an alliance between
Argos was defeated by
Sparta at Mantinea. In 415
Athens launched a
naval expedition against Sicily; the expedition ended in disaster
with almost the entire army killed. Soon after the Athenian defeat
in Syracuse, Athens' Ionian allies began to rebel against the Delian
league, while at the same time
Persia began to once again involve
itself in Greek affairs on the Spartan side. Initially the
Athenian position continued to be relatively strong, winning important
battles such as those at Cyzicus in 410 and Arginusae in 406.
However, in 405 the Spartans defeated
Athens in the Battle of
Aegospotami, and began to blockade Athens' harbour; with no grain
supply and in danger of starvation,
Athens sued for peace, agreeing to
surrender their fleet and join the Spartan-led Peloponnesian
Greece thus entered the 4th century BC under a Spartan hegemony, but
it was clear from the start that this was weak. A demographic crisis
Sparta was overstretched, and by 395 BC Athens, Argos, Thebes,
Corinth felt able to challenge Spartan dominance, resulting in the
Corinthian War (395–387 BC). Another war of stalemates, it ended
with the status quo restored, after the threat of Persian intervention
on behalf of the Spartans.
Spartan hegemony lasted another 16 years, until, when attempting
to impose their will on the Thebans, the Spartans were defeated at
Leuctra in 371 BC. The Theban general
Epaminondas then led Theban
troops into the Peloponnese, whereupon other city-states defected from
the Spartan cause. The Thebans were thus able to march into Messenia
and free the population.
Deprived of land and its serfs,
Sparta declined to a second-rank
Theban hegemony thus established was short-lived; at the
Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC, Thebes lost its key leader, Epaminondas,
and much of its manpower, even though they were victorious in battle.
In fact such were the losses to all the great city-states at Mantinea
that none could establish dominance in the aftermath.
The weakened state of the heartland of
Greece coincided with the Rise
of Macedon, led by Philip II. In twenty years, Philip had unified his
kingdom, expanded it north and west at the expense of Illyrian tribes,
and then conquered
Thessaly and Thrace. His success stemmed from his
innovative reforms to the Macedonian army. Phillip intervened
repeatedly in the affairs of the southern city-states, culminating in
his invasion of 338 BC.
Decisively defeating an allied army of Thebes and
Athens at the Battle
of Chaeronea (338 BC), he became de facto hegemon of all of Greece,
except Sparta. He compelled the majority of the city-states to join
the League of Corinth, allying them to him, and preventing them from
warring with each other. Philip then entered into war against the
Achaemenid Empire but was assassinated by
Pausanias of Orestis
Pausanias of Orestis early
on in the conflict.
Alexander the Great, son and successor of Philip, continued the war.
Darius III of Persia
Darius III of Persia and completely destroyed the
Achaemenid Empire, annexing it to
Macedon and earning himself the
epithet 'the Great'. When Alexander died in 323 BC, Greek power and
influence was at its zenith. However, there had been a fundamental
shift away from the fierce independence and classical culture of the
poleis—and instead towards the developing Hellenistic culture.
Main articles: Wars of
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great and Hellenistic period
Alexander Mosaic, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
Hellenistic period lasted from 323 BC, which marked the end of the
wars of Alexander the Great, to the annexation of
Greece by the Roman
Republic in 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not
break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which
remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it
did mark the end of Greek political independence.
During the Hellenistic period, the importance of "
Greece proper" (that
is, the territory of modern Greece) within the Greek-speaking world
declined sharply. The great centers of Hellenistic culture were
Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of
Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria
The major Hellenistic realms included the
Ptolemy I Soter
Kingdom of Cassander
Kingdom of Lysimachus
Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator
Also shown on the map:
The orange areas were often in dispute after 281 BC. The kingdom of
Pergamon occupied some of this area. Not shown: Indo-Greeks.
The conquests of Alexander had numerous consequences for the Greek
city-states. It greatly widened the horizons of the Greeks and led to
a steady emigration, particularly of the young and ambitious, to the
new Greek empires in the east. Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria,
Antioch and the many other new Hellenistic cities founded in
Alexander's wake, as far away as what are now
Pakistan, where the
Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and the Indo-Greek Kingdom
survived until the end of the 1st century BC.
After the death of Alexander his empire was, after quite some
conflict, divided among his generals, resulting in the Ptolemaic
Kingdom (based upon Egypt), the
Seleucid Empire (based on the Levant,
Mesopotamia and Persia) and the
Antigonid dynasty based in Macedon. In
the intervening period, the poleis of
Greece were able to wrest back
some of their freedom, although still nominally subject to the
The city-states within
Greece formed themselves into two leagues; the
Achaean League (including Thebes,
Corinth and Argos) and the Aetolian
Sparta and Athens). For much of the period until the
Roman conquest, these leagues were usually at war with each other,
and/or allied to different sides in the conflicts between the Diadochi
(the successor states to Alexander's empire).
The Antigonid Kingdom became involved in a war with the Roman Republic
in the late 3rd century. Although the
First Macedonian War
First Macedonian War was
inconclusive, the Romans, in typical fashion, continued to make war on
Macedon until it was completely absorbed into the
Roman Republic (by
149 BC). In the east the unwieldy
Seleucid Empire gradually
disintegrated, although a rump survived until 64 BC, whilst the
Ptolemaic Kingdom continued in
Egypt until 30 BC, when it too was
conquered by the Romans. The Aetolian league grew wary of Roman
involvement in Greece, and sided with the Seleucids in the
Roman-Syrian War; when the Romans were victorious, the league was
effectively absorbed into the Republic. Although the Achaean league
outlasted both the Aetolian league and Macedon, it was also soon
defeated and absorbed by the Romans in 146 BC, bringing an end to the
independence of all of Greece.
Main article: Roman Greece
The Greek peninsula came under Roman rule during the 146 BC conquest
Greece after the Battle of Corinth. Macedonia became a Roman
province while southern
Greece came under the surveillance of
Macedonia's prefect; however, some Greek poleis managed to maintain a
partial independence and avoid taxation. The
Aegean islands were added
to this territory in 133 BC.
Athens and other Greek cities revolted in
88 BC, and the peninsula was crushed by the Roman general Sulla. The
Roman civil wars devastated the land even further, until Augustus
organized the peninsula as the province of Achaea in 27 BC.
Greece was a key eastern province of the Roman Empire, as the Roman
culture had long been in fact Greco-Roman. The Greek language served
as a lingua franca in the
East and in Italy, and many Greek
intellectuals such as
Galen would perform most of their work in Rome.
Main article: Regions of ancient Greece
Map showing the major regions of mainland ancient
Greece and adjacent
The territory of
Greece is mountainous, and as a result, ancient
Greece consisted of many smaller regions each with its own dialect,
cultural peculiarities, and identity. Regionalism and regional
conflicts were a prominent feature of ancient Greece. Cities tended to
be located in valleys between mountains, or on coastal plains, and
dominated a certain area around them.
In the south lay the Peloponnese, itself consisting of the regions of
Laconia (southeast), Messenia (southwest), Elis (west), Achaia
(north), Korinthia (northeast), Argolis (east), and Arcadia (center).
These names survive to the present day as regional units of modern
Greece, though with somewhat different boundaries. Mainland
the north, nowadays known as Central Greece, consisted of
Acarnania in the west, Locris, Doris, and Phocis in the center, while
in the east lay Boeotia, Attica, and Megaris. Northeast lay Thessaly,
Epirus lay to the northwest.
Epirus stretched from the Ambracian
Gulf in the south to the
Ceraunian mountains and the
Aoos river in the
north, and consisted of
Molossia (center), and
Thesprotia (south). In the northeast corner was Macedonia,
Lower Macedonia and its regions, such as
Elimeia, Pieria, and Orestis. Around the time of Alexander I of
Macedon, the Argead kings of
Macedon started to expand into Upper
Macedonia, lands inhabited by independent Macedonian tribes like the
Lyncestae and the Elmiotae and to the West, beyond the Axius river,
into Eordaia, Bottiaea, Mygdonia, and Almopia, regions settled by
Thracian tribes. To the north of Macedonia lay various non-Greek
peoples such as the
Paeonians due north, the
Thracians to the
northeast, and the Illyrians, with whom the Macedonians were
frequently in conflict, to the northwest.
Chalcidice was settled early
on by southern Greek colonists and was considered part of the Greek
world, while from the late 2nd millennium BC substantial Greek
settlement also occurred on the eastern shores of the Aegean, in
See also: Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul, Magna Graecia, and List of ancient
Dacia § Greek
Greek cities & colonies c. 550 BC.
During the Archaic period, the population of
Greece grew beyond the
capacity of its limited arable land (according to one estimate, the
population of ancient
Greece increased by a factor larger than ten
during the period from 800 BC to 400 BC, increasing from a population
of 800,000 to a total estimated population of 10 to 13 million).
From about 750 BC the Greeks began 250 years of expansion, settling
colonies in all directions. To the east, the Aegean coast of Asia
Minor was colonized first, followed by
Cyprus and the coasts of
Sea of Marmara
Sea of Marmara and south coast of the Black Sea.
Eventually Greek colonization reached as far northeast as present day
Ukraine and Russia (Taganrog). To the west the coasts of Illyria,
Southern Italy were settled, followed by Southern France,
Corsica, and even northeastern Spain.
Greek colonies were also founded
Egypt and Libya.
Modern Syracuse, Naples,
Istanbul had their beginnings
Greek colonies Syracusae (Συρακούσαι), Neapolis
(Νεάπολις), Massalia (Μασσαλία) and Byzantion
(Βυζάντιον). These colonies played an important role in the
spread of Greek influence throughout
Europe and also aided in the
establishment of long-distance trading networks between the Greek
city-states, boosting the economy of ancient Greece.
Politics and society
History of citizenship § Ancient Greece
Greece consisted of several hundred relatively independent
city-states (poleis). This was a situation unlike that in most other
contemporary societies, which were either tribal or kingdoms ruling
over relatively large territories. Undoubtedly the geography of
Greece—divided and sub-divided by hills, mountains, and
rivers—contributed to the fragmentary nature of ancient Greece. On
the one hand, the ancient Greeks had no doubt that they were "one
people"; they had the same religion, same basic culture, and same
language. Furthermore, the Greeks were very aware of their tribal
Herodotus was able to extensively categorise the city-states
by tribe. Yet, although these higher-level relationships existed, they
seem to have rarely had a major role in Greek politics. The
independence of the poleis was fiercely defended; unification was
something rarely contemplated by the ancient Greeks. Even when, during
the second Persian invasion of Greece, a group of city-states allied
themselves to defend Greece, the vast majority of poleis remained
neutral, and after the Persian defeat, the allies quickly returned to
Thus, the major peculiarities of the ancient Greek political system
were firstly, its fragmentary nature, and that this does not
particularly seem to have tribal origin, and secondly, the particular
focus on urban centers within otherwise tiny states. The peculiarities
of the Greek system are further evidenced by the colonies that they
set up throughout the Mediterranean Sea, which, though they might
count a certain Greek polis as their 'mother' (and remain sympathetic
to her), were completely independent of the founding city.
Inevitably smaller poleis might be dominated by larger neighbors, but
conquest or direct rule by another city-state appears to have been
quite rare. Instead the poleis grouped themselves into leagues,
membership of which was in a constant state of flux. Later in the
Classical period, the leagues would become fewer and larger, be
dominated by one city (particularly Athens,
Sparta and Thebes); and
often poleis would be compelled to join under threat of war (or as
part of a peace treaty). Even after Philip II of
the heartlands of ancient Greece, he did not attempt to annex the
territory, or unify it into a new province, but simply compelled most
of the poleis to join his own Corinthian League.
Government and law
Ancient Greek law
Inheritance law, part of the Law Code of Gortyn, Crete, fragment of
the 11th column. Limestone, 5th century BC
Initially many Greek city-states seem to have been petty kingdoms;
there was often a city official carrying some residual, ceremonial
functions of the king (basileus), e.g., the archon basileus in
Athens. However, by the Archaic period and the first historical
consciousness, most had already become aristocratic oligarchies. It is
unclear exactly how this change occurred. For instance, in Athens, the
kingship had been reduced to a hereditary, lifelong chief magistracy
(archon) by c. 1050 BC; by 753 BC this had become a decennial, elected
archonship; and finally by 683 BC an annually elected archonship.
Through each stage more power would have been transferred to the
aristocracy as a whole, and away from a single individual.
Inevitably, the domination of politics and concomitant aggregation of
wealth by small groups of families was apt to cause social unrest in
many poleis. In many cities a tyrant (not in the modern sense of
repressive autocracies), would at some point seize control and govern
according to their own will; often a populist agenda would help
sustain them in power. In a system wracked with class conflict,
government by a 'strongman' was often the best solution.
Athens fell under a tyranny in the second half of the 6th century.
When this tyranny was ended, the Athenians founded the world's first
democracy as a radical solution to prevent the aristocracy regaining
power. A citizens' assembly (the Ecclesia), for the discussion of city
policy, had existed since the reforms of Draco in 621 BC; all citizens
were permitted to attend after the reforms of
Solon (early 6th
century), but the poorest citizens could not address the assembly or
run for office. With the establishment of the democracy, the assembly
became the de jure mechanism of government; all citizens had equal
privileges in the assembly. However, non-citizens, such as metics
(foreigners living in Athens) or slaves, had no political rights at
After the rise of the democracy in Athens, other city-states founded
democracies. However, many retained more traditional forms of
government. As so often in other matters,
Sparta was a notable
exception to the rest of Greece, ruled through the whole period by not
one, but two hereditary monarchs. This was a form of diarchy. The
Sparta belonged to the Agiads and the Eurypontids,
descendants respectively of
Eurysthenes and Procles. Both dynasties'
founders were believed to be twin sons of Aristodemus, a Heraclid
ruler. However, the powers of these kings were held in check by both a
council of elders (the Gerousia) and magistrates specifically
appointed to watch over the kings (the Ephors).
Fresco of dancing Peucetian women in the
Tomb of the Dancers
Tomb of the Dancers in Ruvo
di Puglia, 4th–5th century BC
Only free, land owning, native-born men could be citizens entitled to
the full protection of the law in a city-state. In most city-states,
unlike the situation in Rome, social prominence did not allow special
rights. Sometimes families controlled public religious functions, but
this ordinarily did not give any extra power in the government. In
Athens, the population was divided into four social classes based on
wealth. People could change classes if they made more money. In
Sparta, all male citizens were called homoioi, meaning "peers".
However, Spartan kings, who served as the city-state's dual military
and religious leaders, came from two families.
Main article: Slavery in ancient Greece
Gravestone of a woman with her slave child-attendant, c. 100 BC
Slaves had no power or status. They had the right to have a family and
own property, subject to their master's goodwill and permission, but
they had no political rights. By 600 BC chattel slavery had spread in
Greece. By the 5th century BC slaves made up one-third of the total
population in some city-states. Between forty and eighty per cent of
the population of Classical
Athens were slaves. Slaves outside of
Sparta almost never revolted because they were made up of too many
nationalities and were too scattered to organize. However, unlike
Western culture, the Ancient Greeks did not think in terms of
Most families owned slaves as household servants and laborers, and
even poor families might have owned a few slaves. Owners were not
allowed to beat or kill their slaves. Owners often promised to free
slaves in the future to encourage slaves to work hard. Unlike in Rome,
freedmen did not become citizens. Instead, they were mixed into the
population of metics, which included people from foreign countries or
other city-states who were officially allowed to live in the state.
City-states legally owned slaves. These public slaves had a larger
measure of independence than slaves owned by families, living on their
own and performing specialized tasks. In Athens, public slaves were
trained to look out for counterfeit coinage, while temple slaves acted
as servants of the temple's deity and Scythian slaves were employed in
Athens as a police force corralling citizens to political functions.
Sparta had a special type of slaves called helots.
Messenians enslaved during the Messenian Wars by the state and
assigned to families where they were forced to stay.
food and did household chores so that women could concentrate on
raising strong children while men could devote their time to training
as hoplites. Their masters treated them harshly (every
had to kill a helot as a rite of passage), and helots often resorted
to slave rebellions.
Main article: Education in ancient Greece
Pompeii depicting Plato's academy
For most of Greek history, education was private, except in Sparta.
During the Hellenistic period, some city-states established public
schools. Only wealthy families could afford a teacher. Boys learned
how to read, write and quote literature. They also learned to sing and
play one musical instrument and were trained as athletes for military
service. They studied not for a job but to become an effective
citizen. Girls also learned to read, write and do simple arithmetic so
they could manage the household. They almost never received education
Boys went to school at the age of seven, or went to the barracks, if
they lived in Sparta. The three types of teachings were: grammatistes
for arithmetic, kitharistes for music and dancing, and Paedotribae for
Boys from wealthy families attending the private school lessons were
taken care of by a paidagogos, a household slave selected for this
task who accompanied the boy during the day. Classes were held in
teachers' private houses and included reading, writing, mathematics,
singing, and playing the lyre and flute. When the boy became 12 years
old the schooling started to include sports such as wrestling,
running, and throwing discus and javelin. In
Athens some older youths
attended academy for the finer disciplines such as culture, sciences,
music, and the arts. The schooling ended at age 18, followed by
military training in the army usually for one or two years.
A small number of boys continued their education after childhood, as
in the Spartan agoge. A crucial part of a wealthy teenager's education
was a mentorship with an elder, which in a few places and times may
have included pederastic love. The teenager learned by watching his
mentor talking about politics in the agora, helping him perform his
public duties, exercising with him in the gymnasium and attending
symposia with him. The richest students continued their education by
studying with famous teachers. Some of Athens' greatest such schools
Lyceum (the so-called
Peripatetic school founded by
Aristotle of Stageira) and the
Platonic Academy (founded by
Athens). The education system of the wealthy ancient Greeks is also
Main articles: Economy of ancient Greece, Agriculture of ancient
Greece, and Slavery in ancient Greece
At its economic height, in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, ancient
Greece was the most advanced economy in the world. According to some
economic historians, it was one of the most advanced preindustrial
economies. This is demonstrated by the average daily wage of the Greek
worker which was, in terms of wheat, about 12 kg. This was more
than 3 times the average daily wage of an Egyptian worker during the
Roman period, about 3.75 kg.
Ancient Greek warfare
Ancient Greek warfare and Army of Macedon
Greek hoplite and Persian warrior depicted fighting, on an ancient
kylix, 5th century BC
At least in the Archaic Period, the fragmentary nature of ancient
Greece, with many competing city-states, increased the frequency of
conflict but conversely limited the scale of warfare. Unable to
maintain professional armies, the city-states relied on their own
citizens to fight. This inevitably reduced the potential duration of
campaigns, as citizens would need to return to their own professions
(especially in the case of, for example, farmers). Campaigns would
therefore often be restricted to summer. When battles occurred, they
were usually set piece and intended to be decisive. Casualties were
slight compared to later battles, rarely amounting to more than 5% of
the losing side, but the slain often included the most prominent
citizens and generals who led from the front.
The scale and scope of warfare in ancient
Greece changed dramatically
as a result of the Greco-Persian Wars. To fight the enormous armies of
Achaemenid Empire was effectively beyond the capabilities of a
single city-state. The eventual triumph of the Greeks was achieved by
alliances of city-states (the exact composition changing over time),
allowing the pooling of resources and division of labor. Although
alliances between city-states occurred before this time, nothing on
this scale had been seen before. The rise of
pre-eminent powers during this conflict led directly to the
Peloponnesian War, which saw further development of the nature of
warfare, strategy and tactics. Fought between leagues of cities
Athens and Sparta, the increased manpower and financial
resources increased the scale, and allowed the diversification of
warfare. Set-piece battles during the Peloponnesian war proved
indecisive and instead there was increased reliance on attritionary
strategies, naval battle and blockades and sieges. These changes
greatly increased the number of casualties and the disruption of Greek
Athens owned one of the largest war fleets in ancient Greece.
It had over 200 triremes each powered by 170 oarsmen who were seated
in 3 rows on each side of the ship. The city could afford such a large
fleet—it had over 34,000 oars men—because it owned a lot of silver
mines that were worked by slaves.
The stadium of ancient Olympia, home of the Ancient Olympic Games
Ancient Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy
Ancient Greek philosophy focused on the role of reason and inquiry. In
many ways, it had an important influence on modern philosophy, as well
as modern science. Clear unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient
Greek and Hellenistic philosophers, to medieval Muslim philosophers
and Islamic scientists, to the European
Renaissance and Enlightenment,
to the secular sciences of the modern day.
Neither reason nor inquiry began with the Greeks. Defining the
difference between the Greek quest for knowledge and the quests of the
elder civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians,
has long been a topic of study by theorists of civilization.
Some of the well-known philosophers of ancient
Socrates, among others. They have aided in information about ancient
Greek society through writings such as The Republic, by Plato.
Literature and theatre
Ancient Greek literature,
Ancient Greek comedy, and
Theatre of ancient Greece
The theatre of Epidauros, 4th century BC
The earliest Greek literature was poetry, and was composed for
performance rather than private consumption. The earliest Greek
poet known is Homer, although he was certainly part of an existing
tradition of oral poetry. Homer's poetry, though it was developed
around the same time that the Greeks developed writing, would have
been composed orally; the first poet to certainly compose their work
in writing was Archilochus, a lyric poet from the mid-seventh century
BC. tragedy developed, around the end of the archaic period,
taking elements from across the pre-existing genres of late archaic
poetry. Towards the beginning of the classical period, comedy
began to develop – the earliest date associated with the genre is
486 BC, when a competition for comedy became an official event at the
City Dionysia in Athens, though the first preserved ancient comedy is
Aristophanes' Acharnians, produced in 425.
A scene from the Iliad:
Thanatos carrying the body of
Sarpedon from the battlefield of Troy; detail from an Attic
white-ground lekythos, ca. 440 BC.
Like poetry, Greek prose had its origins in the archaic period, and
the earliest writers of Greek philosophy, history, and medical
literature all date to the sixth century BC. Prose first emerged
as the writing style adopted by the presocratic philosophers
Anaximander and Anaximenes – though
Thales of Miletus, considered
the first Greek philosopher, apparently wrote nothing. Prose as a
genre reached maturity in the classical era, and the major Greek
prose genres – philosophy, history, rhetoric, and dialogue –
developed in this period.
Hellenistic period saw the literary epicentre of the Greek world
move from Athens, where it had been in the classical period, to
Alexandria. At the same time, other Hellenistic kings such as the
Antigonids and the
Attalids were patrons of scholarship and
Pergamon respectively into cultural
centres. It was thanks to this cultural patronage by Hellenistic
kings, and especially the Museum at Alexandria, which ensured that so
much ancient Greek literature has survived. The Library of
Alexandria, part of the Museum, had the previously-unenvisaged aim of
collecting together copies of all known authors in Greek. Almost all
of the surviving non-technical Hellenistic literature is poetry,
and Hellenistic poetry tended to be highly intellectual, blending
different genres and traditions, and avoiding linear narratives.
Hellenistic period also saw a shift in the ways literature was
consumed – while in the archaic and classical periods literature had
typically been experienced in public performance, in the Hellenistic
period it was more commonly read privately. At the same time,
Hellenistic poets began to write for private, rather than public,
With Octavian's victory at Actium in 31 BC,
Rome began to become a
major centre of Greek literature, as important Greek authors such as
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus came to Rome. The period of
greatest innovation in Greek literature under
Rome was the "long
second century" from approximately 80 AD to around 230 AD. This
innovation was especially marked in prose, with the development of the
novel and a revival of prominence for display oratory both dating to
Music and dance
Main article: Music of ancient Greece
Music was present almost universally in Greek society, from marriages
and funerals to religious ceremonies, theatre, folk music and the
ballad-like reciting of epic poetry. There are significant fragments
of actual Greek musical notation as well as many literary references
to ancient Greek music.
Greek art depicts musical instruments and
dance. The word music derives from the name of the Muses, the
Zeus who were patron goddesses of the arts.
Science and technology
Main articles: List of Graeco-Roman geographers, Greek astronomy,
Ancient Greek medicine, and Ancient Greek
Antikythera mechanism was an analog computer from 150–100 BC
designed to calculate the positions of astronomical objects.
Greek mathematics contributed many important developments to
the field of mathematics, including the basic rules of geometry, the
idea of formal mathematical proof, and discoveries in number theory,
mathematical analysis, applied mathematics, and approached close to
establishing integral calculus. The discoveries of several Greek
mathematicians, including Pythagoras, Euclid, and Archimedes, are
still used in mathematical teaching today.
The Greeks developed astronomy, which they treated as a branch of
mathematics, to a highly sophisticated level. The first geometrical,
three-dimensional models to explain the apparent motion of the planets
were developed in the 4th century BC by
Eudoxus of Cnidus and
Callippus of Cyzicus. Their younger contemporary Heraclides Ponticus
proposed that the
Earth rotates around its axis. In the 3rd century BC
Aristarchus of Samos
Aristarchus of Samos was the first to suggest a heliocentric system.
Archimedes in his treatise The Sand Reckoner revives Aristarchus'
hypothesis that "the fixed stars and the Sun remain unmoved, while the
Earth revolves about the Sun on the circumference of a circle".
Otherwise, only fragmentary descriptions of Aristarchus' idea
survive. Eratosthenes, using the angles of shadows created at
widely separated regions, estimated the circumference of the Earth
with great accuracy. In the 2nd century BC
Hipparchus of Nicea
made a number of contributions, including the first measurement of
precession and the compilation of the first star catalog in which he
proposed the modern system of apparent magnitudes.
Antikythera mechanism, a device for calculating the movements of
planets, dates from about 80 BC, and was the first ancestor of the
astronomical computer. It was discovered in an ancient shipwreck off
the Greek island of Antikythera, between
Kythera and Crete. The device
became famous for its use of a differential gear, previously believed
to have been invented in the 16th century, and the miniaturization and
complexity of its parts, comparable to a clock made in the 18th
century. The original mechanism is displayed in the Bronze collection
of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, accompanied by a
The ancient Greeks also made important discoveries in the medical
Hippocrates was a physician of the Classical period, and is
considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of
medicine. He is referred to as the "father of medicine" in
recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder
of the Hippocratic school of medicine. This intellectual school
revolutionized medicine in ancient Greece, establishing it as a
discipline distinct from other fields that it had traditionally been
associated with (notably theurgy and philosophy), thus making medicine
Art and architecture
Main articles: Ancient
Greek art and
Ancient Greek architecture
The Temple of
Hera at Selinunte, Sicily
The art of ancient
Greece has exercised an enormous influence on the
culture of many countries from ancient times to the present day,
particularly in the areas of sculpture and architecture. In the West,
the art of the
Roman Empire was largely derived from Greek models. In
the East, Alexander the Great's conquests initiated several centuries
of exchange between Greek, Central Asian and Indian cultures,
resulting in Greco-Buddhist art, with ramifications as far as Japan.
Renaissance in Europe, the humanist aesthetic and the
high technical standards of
Greek art inspired generations of European
artists. Well into the 19th century, the classical tradition derived
Greece dominated the art of the western world.
Religion and mythology
Main articles: Religion in ancient Greece, Hellenistic religion, and
Mount Olympus, home of the Twelve Olympians
Greek mythology consists of stories belonging to the ancient Greeks
concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world and the
origins and significance of their religious practices. The main Greek
gods were the twelve Olympians, Zeus, his wife Hera, Poseidon, Ares,
Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, and
Dionysus. Other important deities included Hebe, Hades, Helios,
Persephone and Heracles. Zeus's parents were
Cronus and Rhea
who also were the parents of Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and
Further information: Classics
The civilization of ancient
Greece has been immensely influential on
language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and the
arts. It became the
Leitkultur of the
Roman Empire to the point of
marginalizing native Italic traditions. As
Horace put it,
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artis / intulit agresti Latio
Greece took captive her uncivilised conqueror and instilled
her arts in rustic Latium."
Via the Roman Empire, Greek culture came to be foundational to Western
culture in general. The
Byzantine Empire inherited Classical Greek
culture directly, without Latin intermediation, and the preservation
of classical Greek learning in medieval
Byzantine tradition further
exerted strong influence on the
Slavs and later on the Islamic Golden
Age and the Western European Renaissance. A modern revival of
Classical Greek learning took place in the
Neoclassicism movement in
18th- and 19th-century
Europe and the Americas.
Outline of ancient Greece
Regions of ancient Greece
Outline of ancient Rome
Outline of ancient Egypt
Outline of classical studies
Regions in Greco-Roman antiquity
History of science in classical antiquity
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Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Brock, Roger, and Stephen Hodkinson, eds. 2000. Alternatives to
Athens: Varieties of political organization and community in ancient
Greece. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Cartledge, Paul, Edward E. Cohen, and Lin Foxhall. 2002. Money, labour
and land: Approaches to the economies of ancient Greece. London and
New York: Routledge.
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perspective. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
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B.C. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.
Kinzl, Konrad, ed. 2006. A companion to the Classical Greek world.
Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Morris, Ian, ed. 1994. Classical Greece: Ancient histories and modern
archaeologies. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Pomeroy, Sarah, Stanley M. Burstein, Walter Donlan, and Jennifer
Tolbert Roberts. 2008. Ancient Greece: A political, social, and
cultural history. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
Rhodes, Peter J. 2006. A history of the Classical Greek world:
478–323 BC. Blackwell
History of the Ancient World. Malden, MA:
Whitley, James. 2001. The archaeology of ancient Greece. Cambridge,
UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ancient Greece.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Ancient Greece.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization—
Greece Secrets of the Past
Greece website from the British Museum
Economic history of ancient Greece
The Greek currency history
Limenoscope, an ancient Greek ports database
The Ancient Theatre Archive, Greek and Roman theatre architecture
Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics,
Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia
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