Decline and Fall of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was one of the most powerful civilizations along the Mediterranean Sea for hundreds of years but started to decline between 400 and 300 BCE.

The strongest city-states, such as Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes, fought amongst one another and created a massive power vacuum.

The lower classes of Greek civilization also rebelled against the wealthy nobles.

They were tired of living in a society where they didn’t have rights and couldn’t vote or earn enough money for their families.

The city-states couldn’t handle the internal and external pressures and started to fall.

A new leader from Macedon – the northern section of Greece – managed to defeat all of them and force the city-states to work together. This was Philip II.

The Macedonians

Philip II united Greece in 338 BCE and managed to keep Greek society functioning. He developed and perfected new techniques that made the military powerful.

When he died, his son replaced him. This was the famous Alexander the Great, who immediately set off to the east to conquer new territories.

Alexander managed to claim huge sections of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. He even conquered Egypt.

However, he died quickly and left another gap in power that several important generals fought to fill.

These generals divided the territory into four different empires:

  • The Ptolemaic Kingdom
  • The Seleucid Empire
  • The Kingdom of Pergamum
  • The Kingdom of Macedon

After Alexander the Great died, the Greeks entered a period known as the Hellenistic Age.

The city-states of Greece started to fight with each other once more and the four empires created by his generals warred over power.

Although Greek culture and language had been spread all the way from Greece to India, the population of the Hellenistic Age had little in common.

Slowly, the centers of power shifted away from Greece itself and went to the cities of:

  • Antioch (Turkey)
  • Ephesus (Turkey)
  • Alexandria (Egypt)

The Romans

While Greece was falling apart, Rome became more powerful.

Rome existed in the same place as modern Italy and slowly started to expand its empire across the Mediterranean.

Its military was more advanced than that of the Greeks, and its generals used more effective fighting tactics.

The Romans were also disciplined and had a large population that included thousands of slaves.

The Greeks started to lose territory, ports, and trade routes to their new rivals. However, the city-states and the empires still did not get along.

Around 215 BCE, some sections of ancient Greece allied with another power called Carthage.

Carthage was in North Africa around modern Tunisia. Like the Greeks, the Carthaginians viewed the Romans as a threat and realized they had to do something.

Carthage had gone to war with Rome long ago, but now the Greeks were involved too.

Once Rome found out that the Greek city-states allied with Carthage, Rome declared war on Macedonia.

The Greek forces in Macedonia were outnumbered and could not rely on their mountainous land to defend them.

The Romans defeated the Greeks in two separate encounters:

the Battle of Cynoscephalae in 197 BCE and the Battle of Pydna in 168 BCE.

When the Romans were finished in Macedon, they marched south to attack the rest of Greece.

The war ended in 146 BCE when the Romans reached Corinth and completely destroyed it as an example to the other city-states.

Ancient Greece was no longer in control of its own territory. Instead, the Romans were not in charge.

The Romans would continue to conquer the other empires created by Alexander the Great’s generals and slowly bring them under Roman control.

Despite being in charge, the Romans actually did not spread their own culture.

Instead, the empire adopted the ideas, architecture, and even religion of the Greeks.

In this way, ancient Greece didn’t disappear but instead managed to stay alive.

Facts about the Fall of Greece

  • The Greeks were defeated in battle because they used the traditional phalanx while the Romans used the maniple
  • Greek continued to be the common language throughout the Mediterranean area
  • The Romans copied the Greek religion and gave the gods new names
  • The Greek territory of Egypt was the last to fall in 31 BCE
  • Greek life didn’t change much under the Romans except taxes were paid to the Romans instead of the city-states
  • Many Greeks thought Alexander the Great had been poisoned by his troops because they wanted to go home
  • Although Greece fell, its culture continued to be popular throughout Europe.

Questions and Answers

Who united Ancient Greece?

Philip II of Macedon

How many pieces did Alexander the Great’s generals divide his empire into?


How did the Romans grow more powerful than the Greeks?

The Romans had a stronger military and the Greeks were fighting between each other

Who did the Greeks ally with against Rome?


Who won the war between Greece and Rome?


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