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Ancient Greece
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, located on the Acropolis in Athens, is

one of the most representative symbols of the culture and sophistication of the
ancient Greeks.
Part of a series on the
History of Greece
Part of a map of the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent regions by William Faden, March
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Ancient history
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See also
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literature Ancient warfare Cradle of civilization
Followed by the Postclassical Era
v t e
Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the
Greek Dark Ages of the 12th�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 Byzantine era.[1] Roughly three centuries after the 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 the 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 of the 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.[2][3][4]

Contents [hide]
1 Chronology
2 Historiography
3 History
3.1 Archaic period
3.2 Classical Greece
3.3 Hellenistic Greece
3.4 Roman Greece
4 Geography
4.1 Regions
4.2 Colonies
5 Politics and society
5.1 Political structure
5.2 Government and law
5.3 Social structure
5.3.1 Slavery
5.4 Education
5.5 Economy
5.6 Warfare
6 Culture
6.1 Philosophy
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
7 Legacy
8 See also
9 References
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[5] (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 (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.[6] 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 in 323.[7] 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 Macedon.

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
Athens by Justinian I in 529.[8]

Main article: Greek historiographers

The 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 epigraphy.

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 Candaules.

Herodotus was succeeded by authors such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Demosthenes, 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.[9]

Further information: History of Greece
Archaic period
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 century.[10] 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 mountain ranges.[11]
The 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
Chalcis and 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

A mercantile class arose in the first half of the 7th century BC, shown by the
introduction of coinage in about 680 BC.[12] 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 ???????? tyrannos, meaning 'illegitimate ruler', and was applicable to both
good and bad leaders alike.[13][14]

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.[15] 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 periods

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

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 Athens and Corinth had become
major maritime and mercantile powers as well.

Rapidly increasing population in the 8th and 7th centuries BC had resulted in
emigration of many Greeks to form colonies in Magna Graecia (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 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[citation needed] 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, Sparta and 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 puppet,
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 overthrown Isagoras and implemented Cleisthenes's reforms, they
were easily able to repel a Spartan-led three-pronged invasion aimed at restoring
Isagoras.[16] The advent of the democracy cured many of the ills of Athens and led
to a 'golden age' for the Athenians.

Classical Greece
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.[17] Supported by troops sent from Athens and
Eretria, they advanced as far as Sardis and burnt the city down, before being
driven back by a Persian counterattack.[18] The revolt continued until 494, when
the rebelling Ionians were defeated.[19] Darius did not forget that the Athenians
had assisted the Ionian revolt, however, and in 490 he assembled an armada to
conquer Athens.[20] Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Athenians � supported by
their Plataean allies � defeated the Persian forces at the Battle of Marathon, and
the Persian fleet withdrew.[21]

Map showing events of the first phases of the Greco-Persian Wars.

Delian League ("Athenian Empire"), immediately before the Peloponnesian War in 431
Ten years later, a second invasion was launched by Darius' son Xerxes.[22] The
city-states of northern and central Greece submitted to the Persian forces without
resistance, but a coalition of 31 Greek city states, including Athens and Sparta,
determined to resist the Persian invaders.[23] At the same time, Greek Sicily was
invaded by a Carthaginian force.[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] The alliance
against Persia continued, initially led by the Spartan Pausanias but from 477 by
Athens,[27] and by 460 Persia had been driven out of the Aegean.[28] During this
period of campaigning, the 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 its policies.[29] 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.[30]
While Athenian activity against the Persian empire was ending, however, conflict
between Sparta and Athens was increasing. Sparta was 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 Sparta in
overcoming a helot revolt, but their aid was rejected by the Spartans.[31] In the
450s, Athens took control of Boeotia, and won victories over Aegina and Corinth.
[32] However, Athens failed to win a decisive victory, and in 447 lost Boeotia
again.[33] Athens and Sparta signed the Thirty Years' Peace in the winter of 446/5,
ending the conflict.[34]

Despite the peace of 446/5, Athenian relations with Sparta declined again in the
430s, and in 431 war broke out once again.[35] The first phase of the war is
traditionally seen as a series of annual invasions of Attica by Sparta, which made
little progress, while Athens were successful against the Corinthian empire in the
north-west of Greece, and in defending their own empire, despite suffering from
plague and Spartan invasion.[36] The turning point of this phase of the war usually
seen as the Athenian victories at Pylos and Sphakteria.[37] Sparta sued for peace,
but the Athenians rejected the proposal.[38] 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.[39] 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.[40]

The peace did not last, however. In 418 an alliance between Athens and Argos was
defeated by Sparta at Mantinea.[41] In 415 Athens launched a naval expedition
against Sicily;[42] the expedition ended in disaster with almost the entire army
killed.[43] 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.[44] Initially the
Athenian position continued to be relatively strong, winning important battles such
as those at Cyzicus in 410 and Arginusae in 406.[45] However, in 405 the Spartans
defeated Athens in the Battle of Aegospotami, and began to blockade Athens'
harbour;[46] 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 meant Sparta was
overstretched, and by 395 BC Athens, Argos, Thebes, and 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.

The 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 power. The 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 early on
in the conflict.

Alexander the Great, son and successor of Philip, continued the war. Alexander
defeated 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.

Hellenistic Greece
Main articles: Wars of Alexander the Great and Hellenistic period

Alexander Mosaic, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

The 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 respectively.

The major Hellenistic realms included the Diadochi kingdoms:

Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter
Kingdom of Cassander
Kingdom of Lysimachus
Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator
Also shown on the map:
Greek colonies
Carthage (non-Greek)
Rome (non-Greek)
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.[48]
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 Afghanistan and
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
Macedonian Kingdom.

The city-states within Greece formed themselves into two leagues; the Achaean
League (including Thebes, Corinth and Argos) and the Aetolian League (including
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 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.

Roman Greece
Main article: Roman Greece
Further information: Byzantine Greece
The Greek peninsula came under Roman rule during the 146 BC conquest of 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 "barbarian"
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 Greece to the north, nowadays known as Central Greece,
consisted of Aetolia and Acarnania in the west, Locris, Doris, and Phocis in the
center, while in the east lay Boeotia, Attica, and Megaris. Northeast lay Thessaly,
while 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
Chaonia (north), Molossia (center), and Thesprotia (south). In the northeast corner
was Macedonia,[49] originally consisting 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.[50] 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 Anatolia.

See also: Greeks in pre-Roman Gaul, Magna Graecia, and List of ancient cities in
Thrace and 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

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 Thrace, the 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, Sicily and Southern Italy
were settled, followed by Southern France, Corsica, and even northeastern Spain.
Greek colonies were also founded in Egypt and Libya.

Modern Syracuse, Naples, Marseille and Istanbul had their beginnings as the Greek
colonies Syracusae (??????????), Neapolis (????????), Massalia (????????) and
Byzantion (?????????). 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

Political structure
Further information: History of citizenship � Ancient Greece
Ancient 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 origins; 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 infighting.[52]
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 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

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.[53] 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

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 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 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).

Social structure

Fresco of dancing Peucetian women in the 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.[54] 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 race.[55]

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. Helots were Messenians enslaved
during the Messenian Wars 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 (every Spartiate male had
to kill a helot as a rite of passage), and helots often resorted to slave

Main article: Education in ancient Greece

Mosaic from 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 after

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 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

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 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 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.[57]

Main articles: 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 the 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 Athens and Sparta as 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 dominated by 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 society. 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

Main article: 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 Greece were Plato and Socrates,
among others. They have aided in information about ancient Greek society through
writings such as The Republic, by Plato.

Literature and theatre

Main articles: 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.[58] The earliest Greek poet known is Homer, although he
was certainly part of an existing tradition of oral poetry.[59] 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.[60] tragedy
developed, around the end of the archaic period, taking elements from across the
pre-existing genres of late archaic poetry.[61] 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.[62]

A scene from the Iliad: Hypnos and 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.[63] 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.[64] Prose as a genre reached
maturity in the classical era,[65] and the major Greek prose genres � philosophy,
history, rhetoric, and dialogue � developed in this period.[66]

The 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 literature, turning Pella and Pergamon respectively into cultural
centres.[67] 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.[68] 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,
[69] and Hellenistic poetry tended to be highly intellectual,[70] blending
different genres and traditions, and avoiding linear narratives.[71] The
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.
[72] At the same time, Hellenistic poets began to write for private, rather than
public, consumption.[73]

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 Strabo and Dionysius of
Halicarnassus came to Rome.[74] The period of greatest innovation in Greek
literature under Rome was the "long second century" from approximately 80 AD to
around 230 AD.[75] This innovation was especially marked in prose, with the
development of the novel and a revival of prominence for display oratory both
dating to this period.[76]

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
daughters of Zeus who were patron goddesses of the arts.

Science and technology

Main articles: List of Graeco-Roman geographers, Greek astronomy, Greek
mathematics, Ancient Greek medicine, and Ancient Greek technology

The Antikythera mechanism was an analog computer from 150�100 BC designed to

calculate the positions of astronomical objects.
Ancient 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 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.[77] Eratosthenes, using the angles of shadows created at
widely separated regions, estimated the circumference of the Earth with great
accuracy.[78] 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

The 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 replica.

The ancient Greeks also made important discoveries in the medical field.
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"[79][80] 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 a profession.[81][82]

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. Following the
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 from Greece dominated the art of the western world.

Religion and mythology

Main articles: Religion in ancient Greece, Hellenistic religion, and Greek

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,
Hestia, Persephone and Heracles. Zeus's parents were Cronus and Rhea who also were
the parents of Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter.

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 (Epistulae
"Captive 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.

See also
Ancient Greece portal
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
Classical demography
History of science in classical antiquity
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Library resources about
Ancient Greece
Online books
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Further reading
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.
Cohen, Edward. 1992. Athenian economy and society: A banking perspective.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.
Hurwit, Jeffrey. 1987. The art and culture of early Greece, 1100�480 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: Blackwell.
Whitley, James. 2001. The archaeology of ancient Greece. Cambridge, UK, and New
York: Cambridge Univ. Press.
External links
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
Ancient 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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