Geography of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was part of the Balkan Peninsula in Europe. The Balkans are in the southern middl portion of the continent.

A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides.

While the Balkans were a peninsula, ancient Greece formed another one.

Three seas bordered the main landmass of Greece: the Ionian, Adriatic and Aegean.

The Aegean Sea and its Islands

The Aegean Sea was the most important one for ancient Greece.

The sea is roughly 214,000 square kilometers in size and connected the Greeks to important trading opportunities.

The Aegean connects to the Mediterranean, from which the Greeks managed to trade with Africa and potentially parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

In the Aegean Sea were many mediumer islands that the Greeks travelled to and set up cities.

They could be divided into seven different groups.

  • The Northeastern Aegean Islands
  • The East Aegean Islands
  • The Northern Sporades
  • The Cyclades
  • The Saronic Islands
  • The Dodecanese
  • Crete

Crete was the largest island and appeared in many ancient Greek stories and legends.

Lots of people lived on it and would trade with the mainland.

Regions of Ancient Greece

Because Greece consisted of so many islands, there were peninsulas connected to the main section. The biggest one was called Attica.

At the end of Attica was Athens, one of the most famous city-states.

The Isthmus of Corinth connected Attica to mainland Greece, which was called the Peloponnese.

An isthmus is a medium strip of land that connects two pieces of land together.

It’s basically a narrow land bridge. On the Peloponnese were many of the other powerful city-states like Sparta.

The ancient Greeks divided their territory even more.

There were over 33 separate regions where Greeks could live on the mainland and even more when the islands were counted.

Some of the most influential regions were Thessaly, Macedon, Arcadia, Epirus, Boeotia, Attica, and Acarnania.

The Terrain and Its Effects

Ancient and modern Greece are covered in rough terrain and mountains that divided the ancient city-states and formed natural barriers.

Geologists estimate that 80% of the Greek mainland is mountainous.

This meant the ancient Greeks would have had trouble traveling by land. Scholars believe that the harsh land encouraged the Greeks to settle along the coastline and move to islands like Crete.

Eastern ancient Greece consisted of beautiful hills that could be used for agriculture. The north and west was much harsher.

Here, there were tons of mountains that separated Greece from the rest of the Balkans.

The mountains to the west are called the Pindus. Two other significant mountain ranges were the Rhodope and the Olympus.

To the far north of the peninsula is the biggest mountain in ancient Greece – Mount Olympus.

Mount Olympus was both a real and mythical place because the Greeks believed their gods lived at the very top.

No ancient Greeks are recorded as having managed to climb the mountain but modern humans have.

Greece did not trade by land often because the mountains made it difficult for people or wagons to travel.

Instead, the Greeks used the natural coast and the Aegean Sea to sell their extra food and products to faraway countries like Egypt.

Facts about Ancient Greek Geography

  • There are over 1,000 islands in the Aegean Sea.
  • The Greeks called their homeland Hellas.
  • The term “Greece” is actually based on the Roman term Graecia.
  • Greek summers were hot and dry and temperatures never went below 4.4 degrees Celsius.
  • The Pindus Mountains were called the “Spine of Greece” because of their length and spiky terrain.
  • Most of the islands of Greece appear in Greek mythology as the homes of legendary heroes and monsters.
  • The Greeks didn’t know what was beyond Mount Olympus because they couldn’t cross it.

Questions and Answers

How many seas surrounded ancient Greece?


What was the land in Greece like?

Rough, mountainous, and hard to travel across

How many different islands were part of ancient Greece?


What did the Greek people grow to eat?

Cereal grains, olives, and grapes

What was mainland Greece called?

The Peloponnese

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