Ancient Greece

This civilization in the Mediterranean was created over 4,000 years ago and was of such importance that the Roman Empire based much of their culture on Ancient Greece.

It was most powerful when Alexander the Great was the ruler, as they had conquered a lot a Western Asia and Europe. The Ancient Greeks perfected so many things that they are the base of much of our Western culture.

Almost everything in science, mathematics, government, art, philosophy, literature and sports were originally created in Ancient Greece.

The Three Periods of Ancient Greece:

Historians and archeologists have separated the history of Greece into the three periods:

Archaic Period: The beginning of the Greek civilization (around 800 B.C.) to 508 B.C. which was the start of Democracy. During this time we see the writings of the famous author, Homer, as he created the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as the Olympic Games.

The Classical Period: This is the most familiar time in Ancient Greece for most of us. The Classical Period brought about the great Greek philosophers such as Plato and Socrates, and the country had established a democracy. The famed wars between Athens and Sparta occurred during this time which ended around 323 B.C, when Alexander the Great died.

Hellenistic Period: Once Alexander the Great died, Greece began to weaken and it was conquered and invaded by Rome. The term “Hellenistic” refers to what the Greeks called themselves using the Greek word “hellens.”

Two Main Cities of Ancient Greece

Sparta and Athens were the two greatest cities in Ancient Greece, and they couldn’t have been more different. The city of Athens was known for their focus on learning and the arts, whereas Sparta was based on fighting, learning to fight and war.

The two cities often fought together to keep invaders out but at other times, they fought each other.

Temple of Aphaia
Temple of Aphaia

Mythology, Olympic Games and Oddities

The Ancient Greeks believed that there were many gods looking over them and that they lived on Mount Olympus. Great halls and temples were built and they placed statues of their gods and goddesses inside them.

They created a lot of stories about their gods and life around them which included strange monsters such as the three-headed dog known as Cerberus, the Cyclops that had only one eye in the center of his head, and Medusa, who had live snakes instead of hair and one look from her would turn a living creature to stone. The Ancient Greeks created the Olympics as a way to honor their gods.

At the time, only men could play in the games which included boxing, throwing of both javelins and discus’, wrestling, and chariot racing. Some of the Ancient Greeks were very superstitious. There were those that thought beans contained the souls of the dead and so they refused to eat them.

Facts about Ancient Greece:

  • The second oldest toy in the world was invented by the Ancient Greeks: the yo-yo. (The first place toy is the doll.)
  • People in Ancient Greece ate their dinner while lying down on their sides.
  • Much of the Roman civilization copied the culture of Ancient Greece. This included their language, how they constructed buildings, how they ate, and even their gods. They renamed all of the gods and goddesses so that they were Roman names.
  • Almost one third of the population in some of the over 100 Ancient Greek city-states were slaves.
  • The City of Athens was known for their law trials. When someone was accused of a crime, they had over 500 citizens as a jury. In the U.S. court system, we only use 12.
  • The word “marathon” is from an old story from Ancient Greece. A Greek hero known as Pheidippides ran to get help in fighting the Persians. The distance was 150 miles, from Marathon to Sparta. Once the Greek War was over, he ran to announce the victory by running from Marathon to Athens. This is why we call it a “marathon” today.
  • The original Olympic Games contained only men, and they were required to compete completely naked.