The Origins of Greece
The first groups of people to settle on the Greek peninsula were called the Minoans and Mycenaeans. Historians and archeologists cannot find much information about these two groups of people. Their writing and artifacts were either lost or destroyed over time.
Historians use the term Achaeans to refer to the people speaking Greek near Thessaly around the 14th and 13th centuries BC. The Achaeans may have been in Greece prior to this period. There is not a clear line to distinguish between the Achaeans and the Myceneans, because both groups of people intermingled and shared cultures.
Around 1650 BC, the majority of Crete, which is an island south of the country, was controlled by the Minoans. Meanwhile, the Mycenaeans, who are believed to originated from the regions of India and the Middle East, integrated with natives in Greece.
Historians think that the Myceneans killed the Minoans in a war to control Greece. In this Bronze Age, the Myceneans built their economy by trading with regions of Syria, Egypt, and Palestine.
However, the Mycenaeans were then killed by the Dorians, a group of war-minded people who came from southern Albania, northern Greece, and Macedonia. Some of the Achaeans left Greece, and the Mycenaean civilization fell.
The Dorians invaded and brought with them the Dark Age, from around 1150 BC to 800 BC. During this time, villages and people were scattered and farmed. Slowly, these scattered villages grew.
The villages during the Dark Ages formed marketplaces to trade, and, they organized their governments/laws. They built armies and implemented taxes. As a result of their growth, villages across Greece became city-states (referred to as polesis).
Early Greece and the Persians
By the 7th century BC, the city-states of Greece brought in a new era—the Archaic period. The city-states had grown enough to maintain a farming-based economy. They were ruled by nobles, and there was a clear social hierarchy. The city-states also shared religious ideologies. These city-states ran themselves through their governmental bodies.
One these city-states were Athens. Athens had a democratic government and ruling body. The Athenians strived for art, beauty, intellect, and enlightenment. They built beautiful temples and studied science and philosophy.
Another city-state was Sparta, which was very different compared to Athens. Sparta, which was in the southern region of Greece, had a military-dominated society. They had kings and a small group of nobles who retained power and control of the government. Their society was aimed at a strong military and loyal dedication to the city-state.
In 499 BC, Greeks living in Asia Minor, called Ionians, revolted against their city-state within the Persian Empire. Greek city-states assisted the Ionians, but the King of Persia crushed the militia that burned a Persian city. The Persians then began making their way to Athens and other city-states that assisted the Ionians.
Greek city-states either surrendered to the Persians, or they were enslaved. The Spartans and Athenians refused to surrender. The Persian invasion was stopped when the Persian fleet crashed off the cape of Mount Athos.
The Persians attempted a second invasion. The Athenians beat the Persians. While the King died, his son, Xerxes, started the Second Persian War in 480 BC. Xerxes invaded Greece and faced the Spartans and their king, Leonidas. The Spartans were killed, and the Persians marched towards Athens. Despite fierce battle, the Persians lost.
The Rise of Greece in the Classical Period
After their great triumph against the Persians, the Greeks had great confidence in their military and leadership skills. This age of growth and confidence is referred to as the Classical Period (approximately 500-335 BC).
Athens rebuilt parts of the city that were destroyed during the Persian wars, and they built a strong army that the Persians could not match. Additionally, Athens established a strong democracy. They also began to focus on fostering art, culture, and their economy.
Famously, in 336 BC, Alexander the Great became ruler and King of Macedon. Alexander the Great reaffirmed the power and loyalty of Greek city-states and simultaneously attacked Persians in Asia Minor. Therefore, Greek culture spread into parts of Asia and Africa.
The Hellenistic Age
Following the flourishing Classical Period and Alexander the Great’s campaigns craftsmanship the Hellenistic age, which spanned from 336-330 BC. During this period, Greek culture continued to spread through the African and Asian regions that Alexander conquered.
The era was relatively calm, and travel increased. Ideas in the arts and sciences evolved, and knowledge was shared.
This era ended with the spread and domination of the Roman Empire.
What Was It Like to Live in Ancient Greece?
The government in Athens was very democratic, and some city-states offered the right to vote. They did have an assembly, where men in power would discuss issues regarding the life and management of the city.
Greek homes were situated around or near a garden or open space. The rich decorated their homes, while the poor did not. They took baths in public bathing areas.
Greeks at fruit, bread, cheese, and wines. Depending on their wealth or occupation, they ate vegetables, eggs, nuts, figs, or cakes — the wealthy and noble at meat like boar and rabbit. They were the only citizens that could afford to eat meat.
Children went to school and learned art, letters, science, and politics. Many boys went to a military school after they completed their primary schooling. To complete education took around 20 years for boys.
Girls were less likely to go to school. Instead, they were taught by their mothers based on their social standing and education. Girls were taught to run the household, and they only learned writing and reading if the mother knew it.
The Greeks were polytheistic, meaning they had many gods. They believed that the gods directly intervened or interfered in their lives. Religion was an integral part of Greek life, and Greek citizens found it was their moral and civic duty to worship their gods and goddesses.
As part of worship, they sacrificed animals and offered other gifts of food and wine to the gods. Women would dance for the gods in different festivals.
Each god had a distinct character, appearance, name, and realm. Their gods could change into animals and plants, or they could make themselves look like other humans. Some of the gods were adopted and changed during the expansion of the Roman Empire.
Zeus was the king of the gods. He was the god of the sky and thunder. He was married to Hera, who was the god of women and family. Other gods included Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Hermes, Persephone, and Dionysus.
Here are some of the Greek gods:
- Poseidon: God of the sea
- Hades: God of the underworld
- Ares: God of war and battle
- Athena: Goddess of Wisdom, War, and Justice
- Hephaestus: God of craft, skill, and craftsmanship
- Apollo: God of light, music, and flocks
- Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty
- Hermes: God of travel and messenger to the gods
Greek Art and Literature
Greeks are known for their developments in art, science, and literature. They were excellent sculptors and builders. Aside from elegant sculptures, they constructed massive buildings that demonstrated feats in architecture.
The Parthenon is one example of great architecture set in the Athenian Acropolis. It was made of white marble and 50 columns. Nearly 102 feet wide and 229 feet long, and having 34-foot-high columns, the Parthenon is a giant.
Ancient Greece is particularly famous for its theater. Greek theater began around the 6th century BC in Athens. The first Greek plays were mostly tragedies, and they were performed during religious holidays.
Plays were given in a giant theater open to the outside. The actors often wore brightly painted masks made out of terracotta.
The Greeks had two main genres of play: Greek comedy and Greek tragedy. Comedies were aimed to make fun of Greek society, and they often made jokes about politicians, institutions, or social customs. Tragedies often dealt with moral issues.
Famous playwrights included Aristophanes, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. Sophocles wrote the famous play, Oedipus Rex. Aeschylus wrote Prometheus Bound.
Greek pottery was used to show artistic skill and to illustrate religion or mythology. Greeks liked to show the beauty of the body, so pottery and sculpture focused on the lines and movement of the body. Pottery also showed figures fighting monsters and mythological characters.
Literature and Mythology
The Greeks had a rich history of mythology and legend. Along with the stories of their gods, they had stories of heroes and great battles.
Achilles is one of the most famous Greek heroes. In his mythology, his mother took him to the river Styx to make him immortal. As she dipped him the river, she held him by the heel, making his heel his mortal weakness. Achilles is a famous hero in the Trojan War.
Jason is also another well-known mythological hero. Jason gathered a group of Argonauts to travel the world and search for the Golden Fleece. The fleece originally belonged to Hermes and originated from a winged ram.
Odysseus is famed by the epic The Odyssey written by Homer. Odysseus is the supposed great-grandchild of Hermes. After the Trojan War, Odysseus spent years on a long journey trying to return home to Ithaca.
Greeks opened doors to the world of philosophy and created many new philosophies that still influence thought today. Greek philosophers sometimes questioned the line of reason and practicality that was at the core of Greek life and thought.
Greeks questioned the origin and foundation of the world and how it works or comes to be. Some famous philosophers include Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Socrates tried to find an answer that explained all the events and phenomena that occurred in nature and society. He focused on turning philosophy to ideas of ethics and morality, rather than focusing on explanations of the world through the heavens.
Plato, who founded a school for thought in Athens, was a student of Socrates. Then, Aristotle became a student Plato. Both of these philosophers studied in psychology, ethics, physics, and mathematics.
Other Amazing Facts and Information About Ancient Greece:
- The Greeks created and held the first Olympic Games
- The sports and events at the games included discus, chariot racing, boxing, and other sports.
- Both men and women wore long tunics that were mostly made from cotton or wool
- Athens and Sparta engaged in a war called the Peloponnesian War.
- Neither city-state won
- The Greeks wrote down roles on how to write and stage plays for the future. Their writing included how to develop plot and structure stories.
- Art evolved slowly during the Hellenistic period, and new styles were unlikely to emerge at this time.
- Greeks would pray on their knees while lifting hands to the heavens.
- This prayer changed when worshipping Hades. Instead, Athenians would kneel and place their hands on the ground, sometimes hitting it so that Hades would hear them.
- Greek children were considered children until they were 30 years of age.
- When a child was born, the friends and family would send gifts to the newborn child.
- The parents would decorate their front door with olives, wreathes, and wool depending on the gender of the child born.
- Greeks categorized animals in domestic or wild animals, and cows were essential to Greek life for both economic and religious purposes.
- During the formation of city-states, many of the nobles who wielded power became tyrants.
- City-states would experience revolts or uprisings against their unfair rulers.
- Greeks believed in the freedom of speech. There were many politicians that would give speeches or hold debates, especially regarding topics in politics or philosophy.
- Greeks were expected to hold a balance between their speeches and public order and safety.
- Greeks believed that the success of an individual would lead to the success of the great community, which would increase the economy and the knowledge of the Greek people.