Ancient Greece

The term ancient Greece refers to the period of Greek history lasting from the Greek Dark Ages ca. 1100 BC and the Dorian invasion, to 146 BC and the Roman conquest of Greece after the battle of Corinth. It is generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western civilization. Greek culture had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe. The civilization of the ancient Greeks has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and arts, giving rise to the Renaissance in Western Europe and again resurgent during various neo-Classical revivals in 18th and 19th century Europe and the Americas.


There are no fixed or universally agreed upon dates for the beginning or the end of the ancient Greek period. In common usage it can refer to all Greek history before the Roman conquest, but historians use the term more precisely. The Greek-speaking Mycenaean civilization that collapsed about 1150 BC and which preceded the classical Greek culture is generally excluded from the ancient Greek era. Some historians took the date of the first recorded Olympic Games in 776 BC as the beginning of the ancient Greek period. Between the end of the Mycenaean period and the first Olympics, there is a period known as the Greek Dark Ages, because there are no written records, and few archaeological remnants. This period is now often included in the term Ancient Greece.
The end of the ancient Greek period was traditionally seen as the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, which was seen to begin the Hellenistic period. However, ancient Greece is often taken to include the following period, until to the Roman conquest of 146 BC. Some writers treat the ancient Greek civilization as a continuum running until the advent of Christianity in the 3rd century; this, however, is unconventional.
The ancient Greek period is subdivided into four periods on a pragmatic basis of pottery styles and political events. The Greek Dark Ages (c.1100-c.750 BC) features the use of geometric designs on pottery; it is followed by the Archaic period (c.750-c.480 BC), in which artists made larger free-standing sculptures in stiff, hieratic poses with the dreamlike 'archaic smile'. The Archaic period is often taken to end with the overthrow of the last tyrant of Athens in 510 BC. The Classical period (c.500-323 BC) is characterised by a style which was considered by later observers to be exemplary (i.e. 'classical') - for instance the Parthenon. The death of Alexander in 323 BC is used to mark the beginning of the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture and power expanded into the near and middle east; a period which finishes with the Roman conquest of 146 BC.

Prehistoric and Bronze Age civilization

Helladic period
The tribes who would become the Greeks are believed to have migrated southward into the Balkan peninsula in several waves beginning in the Middle Bronze Age (roughly 2000 BC).[1] The Proto-Greek language would date to the period just preceding these migrations, either to the late 3rd millennium BC, or to the 17th century BC at the latest. The Bronze Age civilization of the proto-Greeks is generally referred to as Helladic and preceded what is known as "Ancient Greece".
The so-called Mycenaean civilization culminated in this period, which features in the famous epics of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. For reasons which are unknown, this culture collapsed spectacularly around 1150 BC, with cities being sacked and a massive depopulation. This Bronze Age collapse approximately coincides with the apparent arrival of the last group of proto-Greeks into Greece proper, the Dorians. The two events have traditionally been causally linked, but this is by no means certain. With the Bronze Age collapse, Greece entered into a period of obscurity or 'dark age'

Politics and society

Political structure
Ancient Greece consisted of several hundred more-or-less 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. The most comparable situation is probably to be found in the great maritime cities-states of Phoenicia. Undoubtedly the geography of Greece, divided and sub-divided by hills, mountains and rivers contributed to the fragmentary nature of Ancient Greece. However, there is also a degree to which the situation was something inherently Greek. The ancient Greeks had no doubt that they were 'one people'; they had the same religion, same basic culture, and same language. Yet the independence of the poleis was fiercely defended; unification was something rarely contemplated by the Ancient Greeks. 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 centres 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 neighbours, 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 Macedon 'conquered' 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
Main article: Ancient Greek law
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.[7] 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, life-long 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 concommitant 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 racked 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, as a radical solution to prevent the aristocracy regaining power, the Athenians founded the world's first democracy. 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 now had equal privileges in the assembly. However, non-citizens, such as metics (foreigners living in Athens), or slaves, had no political rights at all.
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 Kings of Sparta belonged to the Agiads and the Eurypontids, descendants respectively of Eurysthenes and Procles. Both dynasty founders were believed to be twin sons of Aristodemus, a Heraclid ruler. However, the powers of these kings was trammeled by both a council of elders (the Gerousia) and magistrates specifically appointed to watch over the kings (the Ephors).

Main articles: Ancient Greek warfare and Army of ancient Macedon

Social structure
Only free, land owning, native-born men could be citizens entitled to the full protection of the law in a city-state (later Pericles introduced exceptions to the native-born restriction). In most city-states, unlike Rome, social prominence did not allow special rights. For example, being born in a certain family generally brought no special privileges. 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 given the title of equal if they finished their education. However, Spartan kings, who served as the city-state's dual military and religious leaders, came from two families. Slaves had no power or status. They had the right to have a family and own property, however 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. Slaves outside of Sparta almost never revolted because they were made up of too many nationalities and were too scattered to organize.
Most families owned slaves as household servants and labourers, 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 (slaves who were freed) 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.
Sparta had a special type of slaves called helots. Helots were Greek war captives owned by the state and assigned to families where they were forced to stay. Helots raised 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 and helots often resorted to slave rebellions.

Main article: Education in Ancient Greece
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 after childhood.
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 sports.
Boys from wealthy families attending the private school lessons were taken care 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 of the lyre and flute. When the boy became 12 years old the schooling started to include sports 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 the age of 18, followed by military training in the army usually for one or two years.[8]
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 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 included the Lyceum (the so-called Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle of Stageira) and the Platonic Academy (founded by Plato of Athens). The education system of the wealthy ancient Greeks is also called Paideia.

Main article: Economy of 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.[9]


Main article: Ancient Greek philosophy
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 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.

Main articles: Ancient Greek literature, Homer, Greek tragedy, Greek comedy, and Theatre of ancient Greece
Alfred North Whitehead once claimed that all of philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. The Greek world of thought was so far-ranging that many ideas discussed today were already debated by the ancient writers.

Science & Technology
Main articles: Ancient Greek geography, Greek astronomy, Greek mathematics, Medicine in ancient Greece, and Ancient Greek technology


Apollo and Nike in marble, a Roman copy from the 1 st century CE of the original hellenistic work
Main article: Art in ancient Greece

Religion and mythology
Main articles: Ancient Greek religion, Hellenistic religion, and Greek mythology
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 Hestia. Other important deities included Hebe, Helios, Hades, Dionysus, Persephone and Heracles (a demi-god). Zeus' parents were Kronos and Rhea who also were the parents of Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter.