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Ancient Greece facts for kids

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Parthenon from west
The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to Athena, located on the Acropolis in Athens. It is a symbol of the culture and sophistication of the ancient Greeks

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. AD 600). Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era.

Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, bringing in the Archaic period 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 Macedon, 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 influencing culture which provided the foundation of modern Western culture and is considered the cradle of Western civilization.

Classical Greek culture gave great importance to knowledge. Science and religion were not separate and getting closer to the truth meant getting closer to the gods. In this context, they understood the importance of mathematics as an instrument for obtaining more reliable ("divine") knowledge. Greek culture, in a few centuries and with a limited population, managed to explore and make progress in many fields of science, mathematics, philosophy and knowledge in general.

Bust Pericles Chiaramonti
Bust of Pericles

Early history

Literacy

Linear B (Mycenaean Greek) NAMA Tablette 7671
Mycenaean tablet -National Archaeological Museum of Athens

In the 8th century B.C., the Greeks learned how to read and write a second time. They had lost literacy at the end of the Mycenaean culture, as the Mediterranean world fell into the Dark Ages. The Greek Dark Ages (~1100 BC–750 BC), or Bronze Age collapse, is a period in the history of Ancient Greece and Anatolia from which there are no records, and few archaeological remains.

The Greeks learned about the alphabet from other ancient people, the Phoenicians. They made some adjustments to it. In particular, the Greeks introduced regular letters for vowels, which was necessary for their language. Their alphabet was, in turn, copied by the Romans, and much of the world now uses the Roman alphabet.

Political structure

Discurso funebre pericles
Pericles giving a speech, he was a key political figure

Ancient Greece had one language and culture, but was not unified until 337 BC, when Macedonia defeated Athens and Thebes. That marked the end of the Classic period, and the start of the Hellenistic period. Even then, the conquered cities were merely joined to Philip II of Macedon's Corinthian League; they were not occupied, and ruled themselves.

City states

Sparta ruins
The ruins of Sparta

Ancient Greece consisted of several hundred more-or-less independent city states. This was different from other societies, which were 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 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. Yet each city state or "polis" was independent, unification was something rarely discussed by the ancient Greeks.

Later, in the Classical period, the leagues were fewer and larger, and dominated by one city, particularly Athens, Sparta and Thebes. Often cities would be compelled to join under threat of war or as part of a peace treaty.

Remains of a cistern in the ancient Greek city of Neapolis in the archaeological site of Empúries
Remains of a cistern in the ancient Greek city of Neapolis

Some cities were democratic, some were aristocratic, and some were monarchies. Some had many revolutions in which one kind of government replaced another.

One famous Greek kingdom is Macedon, which became briefly the largest empire the world had seen at the time by conquering the Persian empire including ancient Egypt and reaching into modern-day India. Other famous kingdoms are Epirus and Thessaly.

The number of Greeks grew and soon they could not grow enough food for all the people. When this happened, a city would send people off to start a new city, known as a colony. Because the terrain was rough, most travel was by sea. For this reason, many new cities were established along the coastline.

Erechtheum Acropolis Athens
Erechtheum Acropolis - Athens

By the 6th century BC some cities became much more important than the others. They were Corinth, Thebes, Sparta, and Athens.

Athens became a democracy in 510 BC. The men came to a place in the center of the city and decided what to do. It was the first place in the world where the people decided what their country should do.

They would talk and then vote on what to do at the Boule (the parliament). But the women did not vote. Every year, Athenian citizens elected eight generals who led them in war.

Daily life

1281 - Archaeological Museum, Athens - Theatre mask - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 11 2009
Ancient Greek theater mask

Men, if not working, fighting or discussing politics, could, at festival times, go to Ancient Greek theater to watch dramas, comedies or tragedies. These often involved politics and the gods of Greek mythology. Women were not allowed to perform in the theater: male actors played female roles.

Women did domestic work, such as spinning, weaving, cleaning and cooking. They were not involved in public life or politics. Women from rich families however, had slaves to carry out domestic work for them.

Food

Ancient Greek games

Model of ancient Olympia, British Museum6
Model shows the site of Olympia, home of the ancient Olympic Games, as it looked around 100 BC

The famous Olympic games were held at Olympia every four years. They were for men only, and women were not allowed to attend, even as spectators. The sports included running, javelin throwing, discus throwing and wrestling, athletes could come from any Greek city.

Another competition, the Heraean Games, was held for women. It was also held at Olympus at a different time from the men's event. The rules for girls in Sparta were different from other cities. They were trained in the same events as boys, because Spartans believed that strong women would produce babies that would become strong future warriors.

Later, in the Classical period, girls could compete in the same festivals as males.

Empires, kingdoms and regions

Kingdom of Mycenae

(c. 1600–c. 1100 BC)

Mycenaean World en
Map of Mycenaean Greece 1400-1200 BC: Palaces, main cities and other settlements

Mycenaean Greece (or the Mycenaean civilization) was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, spanning the period from approximately 1600–1100 BC. It represents the first advanced and distinctively Greek civilization in mainland Greece with its palatial states, urban organization, works of art, and writing system. The most prominent site was Mycenae, in the Argolid, after which the culture of this era is named. Other centers of power that emerged included Pylos, Tiryns, Midea in the Peloponnese, Orchomenos, Thebes, Athens in Central Greece and Iolcos in Thessaly. Mycenaean and Mycenaean-influenced settlements also appeared in Epirus, Macedonia, on islands in the Aegean Sea, on the coast of Asia Minor, the Levant, Cyprus, and Italy.

Kingdom of Macedon/Macedonian Empire

(808–146 BC)

Map Macedonia 336 BC-en
The Kingdom of Macedonia in 336 BC (orange)

Macedonia (/ˌmæsɪˈdoʊniə/ (About this soundlisten); Ancient Greek: Μακεδονία), also called Macedon (/ˈmæsɪdɒn/), was an ancient kingdom on the periphery of Archaic and Classical Greece, and later the dominant state of Hellenistic Greece. The kingdom was founded and initially ruled by the royal Argead dynasty, which was followed by the Antipatrid and Antigonid dynasties. Home to the ancient Macedonians, the earliest kingdom was centered on the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, and bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south. At the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, the Macedonian Empire was the largest polity in the world, spanning over all of Greece, Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia.

Kingdom of Cyrene

(632–30 BC)

Cyrenaica was colonized by the Greeks beginning in the 7th century BC when it was known as Kyrenaika. The first and most important colony was that of Cyrene, established in about 631 BC by colonists from the Greek island of Thera, which they had abandoned because of a severe famine. Their commander, Aristoteles, took the Libyan name Battos. His dynasty, the Battaid, persisted in spite of severe conflict with Greeks in neighboring cities.

Delian League

Map athenian empire 431 BC-en
The Delian League in 431 BC, just prior to the Peloponnesian War

(or Athenian Empire) (478–404 BC)

The Delian League, founded in 478 BC, was an association of Greek city-states, with the number of members numbering between 150 and 330 under the leadership of Athens, whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persian Empire after the Greek victory in the Battle of Plataea at the end of the Second Persian invasion of Greece.

Bosporan Kingdom

Bosporan Kingdom growth map-en
Map showing the early growth of the Bosporan Kingdom, before its annexation by Mithridates VI of Pontus

(438 BC–370 AD)

The Bosporan Kingdom, also known as the Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus (Greek: Βασίλειον τοῦ Κιμμερικοῦ Βοσπόρου, Basileion tou Kimmerikou Bosporou), was an ancient Greco-Scythian state located in eastern Crimea and the Taman Peninsula on the shores of the Cimmerian Bosporus, the present-day Strait of Kerch. It was the first truly 'Hellenistic' state in the sense that a mixed population adopted the Greek language and civilization.

Aetolian League

(370–189 BC)

Macedonia and the Aegean World c.200
The Aegean world in 200 BC; Aetolia is shown in the center

The Aetolian League (also transliterated as Aitolian League) (Ancient Greek: Κοινὸν τῶν Αἰτωλῶν) was a confederation of tribal communities and cities in ancient Greece centered in Aetolia in central Greece. It was probably established during the early Hellenistic era, in opposition to Macedon and the Achaean League. Two annual meetings were held at Thermika and Panaetolika. The league occupied Delphi from 290 BC and steadily gained territory until, by the end of the 3rd century BC, it controlled the whole of central Greece with the exception of Attica and Boeotia. At its peak, the league's territory included Locris, Malis, Dolopes, parts of Thessaly, Phocis, and Acarnania. In the latter part of its power, certain Greek city-states joined the Aetolian League such as the Arcadian cities of Mantineia, Tegea, Phigalia and Kydonia on Crete.

Kingdom of Epirus

(330–167 BC)

Pyrrhic War Italy en
Campaigns of Pyrrhus of Epirus in Italy

Epirus (/ɪˈpaɪrəs/; Epirote Greek: Ἄπειρος, Ápeiros; Attic Greek: Ἤπειρος, Ḗpeiros) was an ancient Greek state and kingdom, located in the geographical region of Epirus in the western Balkans. The homeland of the ancient Epirotes was bordered by the Aetolian League to the south, ancient Thessaly and Macedonia to the east, and Illyrian tribes to the north. For a brief period (280–275 BC), the Epirote Greek king Pyrrhus managed to make Epirus a powerful state in the Greek world, comparable to the likes of Macedon and Rome. His armies marched against Rome during an unsuccessful campaign in Italy.

Dayuan Kingdom

(329–160 BC)

Ta-YuanMap
Location of Dayuan (Ta-Yuan) around 130 BC

The region of Ferghana was conquered by Alexander the Great in 329 BC and became his most advanced base in Central Asia. He founded (probably by occupying and renaming Cyropolis) the fortified city of Alexandria Eschate (Lit. "Alexandria the Furthest") in the southwestern part of the Ferghana valley, on the southern bank of the river Syr Darya (ancient Jaxartes), at the location of the modern city of Khujand (also called Khozdent, formerly Leninabad), in the state of Tajikistan. Alexander built a six-kilometer-long brick wall around the city and, as similarly in the cases of the other cities he founded, had a garrison of his retired veterans and wounded settle there. The whole of Bactria, Transoxiana and the area of Ferghana remained under the control of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire until 250 BC. The region then wrested independence under the leadership of its Greek governors Diodotus of Bactria, to become the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom.

Seleucid Empire

(312–63 BC)

The Hellenistic World in late 281 BC
The Seleucid Empire (light blue) in 281 BC on the eve of the murder of Seleucus I Nicator

The Seleucid Empire (/sɪˈljuːsɪd/; Ancient Greek: Βασιλεία τῶν Σελευκιδῶν, Basileía tōn Seleukidōn) was a Hellenistic state in Western Asia that existed from 312 BC to 63 BC. It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator following the division of the Macedonian Empire established by Alexander the Great. After receiving Babylonia in 321 BC, Seleucus expanded his dominions to include much of Alexander's Near Eastern territories, establishing a dynasty that would rule for over two centuries. At its height, the empire spanned Anatolia, Persia, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and what are now Kuwait, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan.

Antigonid dynasty

(306–168 BC)

The Antigonid dynasty (/ænˈtɪɡoʊnɪd/; Greek: Ἀντιγονίδαι) was a dynasty of Hellenistic kings descended from Alexander the Great's general Antigonus I Monophthalmus ("the One-eyed").

Ptolemaic Kingdom

(305–30 BC)

Ptolemaic Kingdom III-II century BC - en
Ptolemaic Egypt circa 235 BC (the green areas were lost to the Seleucid Empire thirty five years later)

The Ptolemaic Kingdom (/ˌtɒlɪˈmeɪ.ɪk/; Koinē Greek: Πτολεμαϊκὴ βασιλεία, romanized: Ptolemaïkḕ basileía) was an ancient Hellenistic state based in Egypt. It was founded in 305 BC by Ptolemy I Soter, a companion of Alexander the Great, and lasted until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC. Ruling for nearly three centuries, the Ptolemies were the longest and final Egyptian dynasty of ancient origin.

Kingdom of Pontus

(281 BC–62 AD)

PonticKingdom
Kingdom of Pontus before the reign of Mithridates VI (darkest purple), after his conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink)

The Kingdom of Pontus (Ancient Greek: Βασιλεία τοῦ Πόντου, Basileía toû Póntou) was a Hellenistic-era kingdom, centered in the historical region of Pontus and ruled by the Mithridatic dynasty of Persian origin, which may have been directly related to Darius the Great and the Achaemenid dynasty. The kingdom was proclaimed by Mithridates I in 281 BC and lasted until its conquest by the Roman Republic in 63 BC. The Kingdom of Pontus reached its largest extent under Mithridates VI the Great, who conquered Colchis, Cappadocia, Bithynia, the Greek colonies of the Tauric Chersonesos, and for a brief time the Roman province of Asia. After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic Wars, Pontus was defeated. The western part of it was incorporated into the Roman Republic as the province Bithynia et Pontus; the eastern half survived as a client kingdom until 62 AD.

Kingdom of Pergamon

(282–133 BC)

Pergamon188BCE
Pergamon in 188 BC

The Attalid dynasty (/ˈætəlɪd/; Koinē Greek: Δυναστεία των Ατταλιδών, romanized: Dynasteía ton Attalidón) was a Hellenistic dynasty that ruled the city of Pergamon in Asia Minor after the death of Lysimachus, a general of Alexander the Great. The kingdom was a rump state that had been left after the collapse of the Lysimachian Empire. One of Lysimachus' lieutenants, Philetaerus, took control of the city in 282 BC. The later Attalids were descended from his father and expanded the city into a kingdom.

Achaean League

(256–146 BC)

La Liga aquea en 150 aC
Achaean League in 150 BC

The Achaean League (Greek: Κοινὸν τῶν Ἀχαιῶν, Koinon ton Akhaion "League of Achaeans") was a Hellenistic-era confederation of Greek city-states on the northern and central Peloponnese. The league was named after the region of Achaea in the northwestern Peloponnese, which formed its original core. The first league was formed in the fifth century BC. The second Achaean League was established in 280 BC. As a rival of Antigonid Macedon and an ally of Rome, the league played a major role in the expansion of the Roman Republic into Greece. This process eventually led to the League's conquest and dissolution by the Romans in 146 BC. The League represents the most successful attempt by the Greek city-states to develop a form of federalism, which balanced the need for collective action with the desire for local autonomy. Through the writings of the Achaean statesman Polybius, this structure has had an influence on the constitution of the United States and other modern federal states.

Greco-Bactrian Kingdom

(250–125 BC)

Greco-BactrianKingdomMap
Greco-Bactrian Kingdom circa 170 BC

The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was, along with the Indo-Greek Kingdom, the easternmost part of the Hellenistic world, covering Bactria and Sogdiana in Central Asia from 256 to 125 BC. It was centered on the north of present-day Afghanistan. The expansion of the Greco-Bactrians into present-day eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan from 180 BC established the Indo-Greek Kingdom, which was to last until around AD 10.

Indo-Greek Kingdom

(180 BC–10 AD)

Indo-GreekMapColor
Indo-Greek Kingdom and events during the reign of Menander I c. 165 BC

The Indo-Greek Kingdom or Graeco-Indian Kingdom, and historically known as Yavanarajya (Kingdom of Yavanas), was a Hellenistic kingdom spanning modern-day Afghanistan and the classical circumscriptions of the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent (northern Pakistan and northwestern India), which existed during the last two centuries BC and was ruled by more than thirty kings, often conflicting with one another.

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