Ancient Greece was the first civilization in Europe. It developed around the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea . Many powerful cities , great thinkers and scientists emerged in ancient Greece. It was also the birthplace of democracy.
Civilization in the eastern Mediterranean began at about 3000 BC on the island of Crete. The Minoans were great sailors who became rich through trading .
At about 1500 BC Mycenae, a powerful town on the southern Greek mainland conquered and took control of Crete. Three centuries later the Dorians invaded Greece from the north and drove the Mycenaeans off to Asia.
After 1000 BC Dorians and Ionians, who settled in the eastern part of Greece started to build large cities. These cities had their own governments , their own armies and were independent .
The two most powerful city states were Sparta and Athens. Sparta was the strongest and most powerful city state with many soldiers and a huge army. It was only interested in fighting wars. Sparta united surrounding villages and sent armies to conquer its neighbours and bring back slaves .
Athens, on the other side, concentrated on trade , science and other fields. It was the first city to form a democratic government.
At about 500 BC the Persian empire under Darius I invaded many Greek cities on the Asian coast. By 490 BC the Persians attacked the Greek mainland . Greek armies under Spartan leadership fought back and defeated the Persians.
Under the rule of Pericles Athens had become the most powerful city-state and controlled most of the eastern part of Greece. Pericles wanted to make Athens a beautiful city with many temples. Art , philosophy and general knowledge became important. Sparta thought that Athens would become too powerful. In 431 BC it began a war against Athens.
In 430 BC a plague broke out in Athens and killed a third of its population. After becoming weaker and weaker it finally surrendered to the Spartan army.
Sparta, however , dominated Greece for only thirty years. Then it was defeated by another powerful city, Thebes.
As Greek city-states became weaker Macedonia, a kingdom to the north of Greece, grew stronger and stronger. After King Philipp II had conquered all of Greece his son, Alexander, came to power in 336 BC. He set out to conquer Persia and got as far east as India . Alexander the Great spread Greek ideas and the Greek way of life throughout western Asia and the Middle East.
Alexander did not name a successor to his empire . After his death many generals fought for power and his empire broke up into many kingdoms .
Alexander the Great in battle
In 140 BC Rome took over Greece and the city states. They stayed under Roman rule until 395 AD and then became part of the Byzantine empire .
Daily Life in Ancient Greece
Men were the heads of most Greek families. Richer families had slaves who were commanded by the wives. They had to look after the children and to the household work.
Most Greek families arranged weddings for their children. Women usually married at an early age, men much later.
In ancient Greece society was made up of citizens and non-citizens. Citizens were free men and noblemen. They owned land and took part in government . Non-citizens were women, slaves and serfs .
Only citizens received education. Teachers in Athens taught general subjects like music, writing, mathematics and reading. They also concentrated on physical exercise like running, jumping and wrestling . Education in Sparta was different. Boys were sent to military schools so that they could become good soldiers .
Greek people ate food made of grains , mostly wheat or barley . Bread was the main type of food. They ate fish and eggs for protein and consumed vegetables and fruit .
Greek men and women wore garments made of linen or wool that hung down to their knees. They also wore a belt around their waist . A woman’s garment usually covered her whole legs down to her ankles .
Houses were small in ancient Greece. Because of the mild climate many things were kept outside the house. Poor families lived in houses made of dried bricks and floors made of dried and hard mud . Wealthy families had stone floors and separate rooms for cooking, eating and sleeping.
Philosophy, Science and Arts
Ancient Greece became famous for its great thinkers and philosophers. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were great thinkers who looked for logical explanations of everyday things. Many people in Greece, however, did not believe in what philosophers had to say. In 399 B.C. Socrates was sentenced to death because of his teachings and because he did not believe in Greek gods.
Famous playwrights and poets wrote works that are still performed in theatres today. Architects designed beautiful buildings.
Scientists explored medicine, physics , biology and mathematics. They observed nature and also carried out experiments.
People in ancient Greece believed in many gods. On one hand gods and goddesses were like normal people who showed feelings but on the other hand they possessed abilities that humans didn’t. They could foretell the future and live forever.
Normal people thought that gods and goddesses watched them and observed what they did in everyday life. They spoke to the people through oracles, holy places where priests had contact with gods. The most important oracle was at Delphi.
Zeus was the most important god. He and his wife Hera lived on Mount Olympus. Other gods and goddesses included
- Aphrodite, the goddess of love
- Eros, god of love
- Apollo, the god of light
- Ares, the god of war
- Athena, the goddess of wisdom
Democracy and politics
The idea of democracy, which means government by the people, came from ancient Greece. Athens was the first city to set up a democratic government.
All free men were members who passed laws and were also allowed to serve on a jury .
Of the 30,000 citizens in Athens 500 were chosen each year to help run the city. They received a small amount of money because they could not continue their normal work.
Downloadable PDF Text- and Worksheets
- ability = skill, talent that you have
- amount = sum
- ankle = the flexible part between your foot and leg
- arrange = plan, organize
- art = the use of painting and drawing to show your ideas
- barley = a plant that produces grain that you use for making food an alcohol
- belt = band of leather or cloth around your stomach
- birthplace = where something is born or starts
- brick = a hard block of baked clay
- carry out = to do something that is already planned
- century = a hundred years
- citizen = a person who lives in a country and has rights there
- command = to give orders
- concentrate = focus on
- conquer = to get control of a country by fighting
- consume = eat
- defeat = to win against someone in a war
- develop = grow, to get bigger
- dominate = to be in control of
- drive off = send away
- empire = a group of countries ruled by a king or queen
- explanation = the reasons you give for why something happened
- explore = to find out new things
- foretell = to say what will happen in the future
- garment = piece of clothing
- general = common
- general knowledge = to know a lot about many different fields
- goddess = a female god
- government = the people who rule a country
- grain = seeds of crops that are used as food
- head = leader
- however = but
- huge = very big
- humans = people
- include = also are
- independent = free , not controlled by another country
- invade = to enter a country with soldiers
- jury = a group of people in a court who decide if a person is guilty or not
- kingdom = country ruled by a king or queen
- leadership = control
- linen = cloth that is made from the flax plant
- mainland = the main area of land that form a country, not the islands
- Mediterranean Sea = the sea between Europe and Africa
- mud = soft wet earth
- observe = watch
- pass law = make a law or rule that others must keep
- perform = act out
- plague =an illness that leads to the death of many people
- playwright = someone who writes plays
- poet = a person who writes lines that rhyme
- possess = have, own
- priest = a person who performs special church events
- protein = natural substance that is in food and that you need to grow strong and healthy
- receive = get
- sailor = someone who works on a ship
- scientist = a person who is trained in science
- sentence = to give someone punishment
- serf = someone who lived in the past and worked on land that did not belong to him
- set up = create, organize
- settle = to start living in a place
- slave = a person who is owned by someone else and works for them
- society = people in general
- soldier = a person who fights for a country
- spread = to share with many people
- successor = the person to follow someone
- surrender = give up in a war
- surrounding = nearby, neighboring
- teachings = what a person teaches
- throughout = in all of
- trade = top buy and sell things
- unite = to join together
- waist = the narrow part in the middle of your body
- weak = not strong
- wealthy = rich
- wheat = the grain from which you make white bread
- wisdom = what you have learned over many years
- wrestling = a sport in which two people fight by holding each other and trying to throw each other to the ground