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Amphora, made in Athens about 540-530 BC. British Museum, London.

The Civilization of Ancient Greece

When historians talk about the civilization of the ancient Greeks, they generally refer to the time period between 1200 BC and 323 BC.

The year 323 BC marked the death of  Alexander the Great.

Image Above

Wine jar, made in Athens about 540-530 BC.

British Museum, London.

The scene shows Achilles at that crucial moment when he killed Amazon queen Penthesilea, their eyes met, and they fell deeply in love.

Welcome to ancient Greece.


Timeline of the Ancient Greeks

Historians divide the years of ancient Greece into the following chapters:

The Dark Age

Very roughly 1200-900 BC

The Archaic Period
Roughly 900-480 BC

The Classical Period
(The Golden Age)

Roughly 480-400 BC

The Late Classical Period
Roughly 400-323 BC

The Hellenistic Age
323-30 BC

Who Lived in the Area Before the Ancient Greeks Came Along?

Prior to the ancient Greek civilization, it was the Mycenaean civilization that dominated the area, starting around 1900 BC or 1600 BC, depending on your source.

The Mycenaean civilization, in turn, came down into Greece from the north and was in the early days overshadowed by the Minoan civilization that flourished on the island of Crete.

This is the map:

Greece 1450 BC
Map of Mycenaean Greece - 1450 BC


What Came After the Ancient Greek Civilization?

While the domination of the ancient Greeks faded, the ancient Romans gained momentum.

The switch from Greek glory to Roman power took place during the last chapter of the history of ancient Greece, the Hellenistic Age. It began after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.

Alexander had carried Greek culture to the far corners of his map. Thus, during the Hellenistic period Greek and foreign elements merged. Battles, wars, and uprisings were fought for power over all parts and bits of the former gigantic empire.

In 86 BC, Roman general Sulla captured Athens.

In 30 BC, Cleopatra left Egypt to Rome via committing suicide.

In 29 BC, Octavian made Egypt a Roman province.

In 27 BC, the Roman Empire was established.


Greek or Hellenic, Greece or Hellas — Terminology

If you like Greek mythology, you like Hellen.

Hellen (male) had three sons — Aeolus, Dorus, and Xuthus. Xuthus, in turn, had two sons — Ion and Achaeus.

This made Hellen the ancestor of all Greeks — the Aeolians,  Dorians,  Ionians, and Achaeans.

Thus the Greeks are the Hellenes. And when you use the term Hellas, you refer to mainland Greece.

And here is a Greece / Hellas stamp from 1978:

Greek Stamp 1978 — Greece / Hellas
Greek Stamp 1978 — Greece / Hellas
Dan's Stamps

Mythology aside, the Illyrians called the Dorians of Epirus Graikhos, because the native name for the people of Epirus was Graii.

We know this from Aristotle, who lived 384-322 BC and told us all about it. Graikhos became the Latin word Graeci, and eventually today's English word Greek.

Here is Illyria (Illyris) and Epirus on a map:

Illyria and Epirus, Ancient Greece
Illyria and Epirus, Ancient Greece
Click map to enlarge.

Hence the words Greek, Hellenic, and Grecian are used interchangeably.


Ancient Greek Towns

Just as anywhere in the world, towns and states in ancient Greece joined forces in various alliances to be better protected against their enemies.

There were the amphictyonies, which were religiously motivated coalitions. Such were the Delian Amphictyony and the Delphic Amphictyony.

And then there were the politically motivated coalitions, such as the Achaean League, and the Aetolian League.

See also Forms of Goverments.


Ancient Greek Rulers

See Governments of Greece.

Bronze Helmet from Ancient Greece, around 460 BC
Bronze Helmet from Ancient Greece, around 460 BC
The British Museum, London


Wars and Battles in Ancient Greece

The Trojan War
The Greeks fought against Troy in the Trojan War 1185-1175 BC. This war is fiction but there might be some actual events mixed up in its tale.

The entire conflict was provoked by Paris, who was the son of Priam, the king of Troy. When Paris met Helen (female) who was married to Menelaus, the king of Sparta, he decided to keep her. All hell broke loose and Troy was eventually sacked by the Greeks.

See also About Troy

The Messenian Wars
The Messenian Wars were fought between Sparta (conqueror) and Messenia (the conquered.)

First Messenian War
fought around 735-715 BC

Second Messenian War
fought around 660 BC

Third Messenian War
fought around 464 BC
(also called the Messenian Revolt)


Messenia and Sparta, Ancient Greece
Messenia and Sparta, Ancient Greece
Click map to enlarge.

More under

The Lelantine War
Chalcis and Eretria, two powerful ancient Greek cities on Euboea, fought each other in the Lelantine War. The war was fought from around 720 to 680 BC. The objective was control over the Lelantine Plain, which was the fertile plain that separated the two contestants. Chalcis won but lost its king.

Chalcis and Eretria on Euboea, Ancient Greece
Chalcis and Eretria on Euboea, Ancient Greece
Click map to enlarge.


The Sacred Wars
The ancient town of Delphi was located right next to Mount Parnassus. The town's most famous citizen was a lady in her 50s, who worked full-time as an oracle in the local temple of Apollo. Apollo himself gave her messages.

Map Location of Delphi, Ancient Greece
Map Location of Delphi, Ancient Greece
Click map to enlarge.

The Oracle of Delphi furnished the regional department of tourism with a healthy buck, but it also enticed the Greeks to fight each other over possession of the sanctuary. These were the Sacred Wars.

First Sacred War
fought around 596-590 BC

Second Sacred War
fought around 449-448 BC

Third Sacred War
fought around 355-346 BC
(Some call this war the Second Sacred War)

Fourth Sacred War
fought around 339-338 BC

Read what the Delphic Oracle had to say about Alexander the Great.

The Persian Wars
Of major concern were the Persians, who challenged the ancient Greeks frequently, repeatedly invaded the country, and tried to make it part of their realm. The Greeks were against this general idea and fought back, first in the  Ionian Revolt from 499-494 BC, and then from 492-449 BC, in the  Greco-Persian Wars, also called the Persian Wars.

The Peloponnesian Wars
The ancient Greeks fought each other again in the First Peloponnesian War from 460 until 445 BC, and then in the Second Peloponnesian War from 431-404 BC.

Athens fought against its former ally Sparta. These were the principal belligerents, but everybody was dragged into it.

The Corinthian War
Athens, Corinth, and others fought once more against Sparta from 395-386 BC. This was the Corinthian War.

Go here for a chronological index of all wars.


Constitutional and Judicial Law in Ancient Greece

Constitutional and Judicial Law in Ancient Greece

Lycurgus, also spelled Lykourgus, might or might not have existed. If he did, he lived around the 7th century BC. Herodotus, Xenophon, and  Plutarch tell us that he did, and that's good enough for us.

Tradition has it that Lycurgus dramatically improved the law of ancient Sparta.

, also a figure from the 7th century BC, was responsible for the 621 BC Draconian Laws in Athens. Draco liked to keep things simple and prescribed the death penalty for pretty much any criminal offense.

Solon, who lived 630-560 BC, was the man who revised Draco's law code and made it a bit more humane. His was the set of reforms known as Solon's Laws.

, also spelled Clisthenes or Kleisthenes, who lived 570-508 BC, brought democratic reforms into effect in Athens.

Pericles, who lived 495-429 BC, was a powerful democrat in Athens. He initiated laws that granted Athenian citizenship only to individuals whose parents were both Athenians. It was also Pericles who was behind the great construction project on the Acropolis. Plus, the man could deliver a solid speech.

Pericles was good for the patriotic soul at Athens, especially after the Persians had destroyed nearly everything on the Acropolis and downtown in 480 BC.

Ancient Athens - Points of Interest - 5th Century
Ancient Athens - Points of Interest

Demosthenes, 384-322 BC, was an outstanding politician and orator. Not many could match his wit.


Archaeology of Democracy

Here is a wee piece from History International:

"Below are the remains of the Athenian House of Representatives, where 500 Athenian senators once voted on legislation.

"And it was here where the first jury system was conceived."

Remains of the Athenian House of Representatives
Remains of the Athenian House of Representatives
History International

"Instead of 9 men and women it was a jury of 201, or 501, of 1501 Athenian citizens who happened to be sitting on the jury on that day, who would make essentially the constitutional decision.

"They would have jurors tickets, and they would be assigned by lot. You couldn't tell until the court actually began sitting who was going to be a juror that day. So it was very hard to bribe an Athenian jury.


"Archaeologists have uncovered the stone ballot box and dozens of bronze ballots that were used to vote for either sentence or set free a defendant."

Stone Ballot Box - Ancient Greece - Archaeology of Democracy
Stone Ballot Box
History International


Bronze Ballots
History International


See also Forms of Governments.


Ancient Greek Culture, Art & Entertainment

Ruins of an Ancient Greek Theater at Tauromenium, Sicily
Ruins of an Ancient Greco-Roman Theater at Tauromenium, Sicily
This theater seats up to 11,000 people.
Find this photograph and much more in the incredible Ancient Theater Archive.

Homer, probably the man who brought you the Iliad and the Odyssey, lived sometime before 700 BC.

Hesiod was a Greek poet, who lived around 700 BC.

Alcman, also spelled Alcmaeon, was a poet from Sparta, which was the rare animal because Sparta prided herself in looking down on the arts. The average Spartan loved order and discipline, and had nothing but a rug beater hanging on the wall.

Sappho hailed from Lesbos and was a famous poet. She lived around 610-570 BC, back in the days when lesbians were usually married to men in spite of it, but no closets existed.

Aeschylus, who lived 525-455 BC, was the man who changed the theater experience for the ancient Greeks. You want ancient Hollywood, you want Aeschylus.

Pindar, also spelled Pindaros, came from Boeotia. He lived 518-446 BC and was an outstanding poet and probably equally brilliant as a composer. The Pindaric Ode is named after him.

Polyclitus sculpted away during the mid-400s BC. He knew all about the perfect proportions of the human body.

Sophocles, 496-406 BC, was a prolific playwright. As was Euripides, 484-406 BC.

A playwright, Aristophanes' (450-388 BC) forte was the ancient Greek comedy.

Praxiteles was a celebrated sculptor and lived somewhere around 370-330 BC.

Menander, 342-292 BC, was the top playwright during the last phase of the comedy in ancient Greece.

Chares of Lindos, not Charles A. Lindbergh, was the artist and sculptor responsible for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Chares and his team worked on the good piece from 294-282 BC. The statue presented the god Helios and stood 105 feet or 32 meters high. It took an earthquake to bring it to its knees and many Arabian camels to steal all the bronze.


Famous Architecture in Ancient Greece

The hill at the center of Athens is called the Acropolis. The word acropolis stems from the Greek word akros, meaning high or upper, and the Greek word polis, meaning city. Thus, acropolis means high city or city at the top, and can refer to any important citadel in ancient Greece.

The Acropolis at Athens, of course, became the most famous. Here is the map:

Athens 200 AD
Athens AD 200


The four surviving structures on the Acropolis are

  • the Propylaea, which is the entrance to the Acropolis

  • the Parthenon (temple)

  • the Erechtheum (temple,) and

  • the Temple of Athena Nike.

Acropolis 200 AD
AD 200 Acropolis

Athens - Downtown
Ancient Athens - Downtown

Construction commenced in 447 BC:
The Parthenon was the temple to visit. It is located on the Acropolis of Athens. All the worship in the Parthenon went to the goddess Athena. What's with the name? Parthéna means virgin.


Athena Parthenos = Athena the Virgin.

The Parthenon is good for you because it keeps you on your toes. How so? It was built in the Doric style but includes Ionic style features.

See more under  Panathenaic Festival.

Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Encyclopædia Britannica

Another photograph of the Parthenon:

Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Parthenon, Acropolis, Athens, Greece
The Archaeology of Athens, Yale University Press

The decline of the Parthenon was highlighted by the following events:

In the 5th century AD, Christians began using it as a church. In 1458, the Turks took over, and from 1460, they used it as a mosque and a powder magazine. In 1687, the Venetians, who had a beef with the Turks, bombed the Parthenon, and the entire building was catapulted to the moon.


Construction commenced in 421 BC:
The Erechtheum was another temple built on the Acropolis, and we are talking Ionic style. According to Homer's Iliad, Erechtheus was a major player, raised by Athena herself. And this is his temple.

The Acropolis at Athens: Parthenon to the Right, Erechtheum to the Left
AISA, Archivo Iconográfico, Barcelona, España


The Erechtheum was considered a jewel of architecture. Outside this temple an oil lamp burnt day and night. Inside, devotees found shrines to many gods as well as the most important image of Athena on the Acropolis. This was a very ancient wooden image that the ancient Greeks believed had fallen from the sky. In front of the temple's entrance was an altar to the god Zeus.

Here is a fantastic shot of the Erechtheum:

The Erechtheum in Athens, Greece
LevineDS, Wiki

And we're zooming in on the figures on the south side:

Porch of the Maidens, South Side of the Erechtheum, Acropolis, Athens
Stuart Lees


And further zooming in on the gals:

Porch of the Maidens, South Side of the Erechtheum, Acropolis, Athens
Porch of the Maidens
Diane Earl

Who were these women?

Some believe they symbolize maidens that had been captured in battle. Others believe that these women were the daughters of the legendary king Cecrops, whose grave was rumored to be located right underneath this temple.

By the way...

When you see a lady carrying part of a building, chances are that you are looking at a caryatid. Therefore, the above picture shows the Porch of the Caryatids. If they were male, they would be the atlantes. One atlas, two atlantes.

Back to the building projects in ancient Greece.



Another huge construction site was Piraeus, the harbor of Athens, located 4 miles or 6 kilometers southwest of Athens.

Around 510 BC, Hippias built a fortress on the Munychia hill, overlooking and protecting the port.

Around 492 BC, Themistocles advised on the importance of a fortified port for Athens. Around 460 BC, the so-called Long Walls were built, which connected Athens and Piraeus and would come in handy when under siege.

Designer of the city of Piraeus was Hippodamus of Miletus, who had his architectural plans on the desk and ready by 450 BC.

Harbors of Athens 480 BC
480 BC Harbors of Athens

Athens and Piraeus from 460 BC
Athens and Piraeus from 460 BC

Athens and Piraeus Map
Athens and Piraeus 431 BC


Religion Ancient Greece Style

Zeus (Niall MacGinnis, center) and Hera (Honor Blackman, right)
Zeus (Niall MacGinnis, center) and Hera (Honor Blackman, right)
... entertain themselves and their colleagues at Mount Olympus, in the 1963 version of
Jason and the Argonauts
. And yes, Hera was the Bond girl in Goldfinger, 1964

In the beginning....

There was Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth) and these two had 12 children, aka the Titans.

These lovely kids were (boys first) Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus and (now the girls) Thea, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys.

Cronus led his siblings in a revolt against their father and succeeded.


Cronus had several children. One of them, Zeus, turned out to be a fast learner. Zeus also led his siblings in a revolt against their father, Cronus, as well as against all other Titans. Zeus won after a hard fight and was able to defend his position against all rivals.

Thus, Zeus became chief god of the ancient Greeks. His favorite weapon was the thunderbolt. Zeus' wife was Hera, the daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Home of the gods was Mount Olympus.

Zeus had many love affairs, but his daughter, Athena, he fathered all by himself. Athena, also spelled Athene, simply popped from his forehead. Athena was the goddess of war and the secret fantasy of all women in labor.

Together with Leto, who was the daughter of Coeus and Phoebe, Zeus had twins — Apollo and Artemis.

According to the ancient Greeks, the goddess Athena and her uncle Poseidon, god of the sea and brother of Zeus, competed to rule over Athens. Athena gave the city the olive tree. Poseidon struck his trident on the lime stone of the Acropolis and produced a spring of salt water. The people of Athens voted the olive tree more useful than the salt water spring and declared Athena winner of the contest. Hence, Athena became divine guardian of the city.

Go here to check the
Divine Almanac.


The Language in Ancient Greece

Greek is the oldest of the Indo-European languages. Several dialects existed. The Ionic dialect, for example, was spoken on the island of Euboea. As Greek influence grew, the dialect spoken at Athens, the Attic dialect, prevailed. In its later phase, from the 4th century BC, it was called Koine.

In the 3rd century BC, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Koine. This bible translation is called the Septuagint.

Koine eventually grew into Modern Greek.

Map of the Ancient Greek Dialects
Map of the Ancient Greek Dialects

See also
The History of Languages - Language Roots

And here are the Greek Numerals.


Ancient Greece, Homosexuality, and Nudity

Homosexuality, especially between males, was common and tolerated in ancient Greek society. This continued during the times of the ancient Romans until the spread of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which declared it insupportable.

The ancient Greeks found nothing scandalous about nudity. Athletes at the Olympic Games, for example, competed in the nudes.


Science and Philosophy in Ancient Greece

Thales, a chap from Miletus, lived somewhere during the 6th century BC.

Not only did the man predict a solar eclipse in either 610 or 585 BC, he also had a rectangle. Here it is:

Thales' Rectangle
Thales' Rectangle
Encyclopædia Britannica

Geometricians will tell you what exactly to do with it and how somehow the halves of the diagonals in a rectangle all have the same length.

Today, Thales' home-town Miletus is a suburb of Söke in Turkey. Here is the map:

Map Location of Miletus
Map Location of Miletus
Click map to enlarge.

Also from Miletus, from around the same time, and well acquainted with Thales, was Anaximander. Although not very accurate with his philosophy and astronomy, Anaximander at least tried to explain life, universe, and everything. Points for effort.

Pythagoras of Samos, favorite of many a math student, had an exceptional brain. He was also the founder of something close to a religion. It was called  Pythagoreanism. Pythagoras lived 580-500 BC and started his own university in 532 or 530 BC at Croton, today's Crotone, Italy. His theorem had hypotenuses.

, 490-430 BC, was a mixture of politician, poet, and philosopher. He pointed out that the main elements of everything are fire, air, water, and earth.

Top philosopher
Socrates lived 470-399 BC and made headlines when he was put on trial at age 70. He received the death penalty.

Socrates had a bright pupil, the future philosopher Plato, 428-347 BC.

Plato, in turn, also had a bright pupil, the future philosopher Aristotle, 384-322 BC.

But Aristotle's pupil was the one who blew everyone else out of the water. From age 13 to 16, the young boy  Alexander of Macedonia was under Aristotle's wings.

Xenophon, 430-350 BC, was a philosopher as well as a historian.

And much to the delight of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Aristarchus of Samos, who lived 310-230 BC, was of the opinion that the Earth rotated on its axis and revolved around the sun.

, who lived 290-211 BC, was impressed by Aristarchus' ideas. But being the brilliant inventor and mathematician that he was, Archimedes had much to contribute himself, for example Archimedes' principle. Buoyancy is the power of floating, and Archimedes had it figured out.


Sports in Ancient Greece

Discobolus, aka the Discus Thrower, by Myron
Discobolus, aka the Discus Thrower, by Myron
This is a Roman marble copy of Myron's original from the 5th century BC in bronze. Some goof-ball multi-tasked when he restored this statue. The head should be facing the discus.
The British Museum, London


Ancient Greece had several athletic events, for example the Pythian Games, the Isthmian Games, and the Nemean Games. The most ancient and most famous of them, the Olympic Games, commenced in 776 BC, maybe even earlier.

All of course thanks to Zeus, the Greek's main god, which is the reason why one of the  Seven Wonders of the World, a 40 feet or 12 meter statue of Zeus, was erected in Olympia around 430 BC.

The statue showed Zeus on a throne and was decorated with ebony, ivory, gold, and all kinds of precious stones. The ancient artist behind this masterpiece was the Greek sculptor Phidias, who had it made.

Already in 438 BC, Phidias had created another statue of this height showing Athena standing and with a spear in her hand. It was on display at the Parthenon.

Ancient Olympia
Ancient Olympia

Back to the 776 BC Olympics.

The champion's name was Coroebus of Elis. He won the stadion race, (stadion = track for footraces) which was the only discipline for the first 13 recorded Olympic Games, starting in 776 BC and held every four years in August/September.

And there was no lady folk at the Olympics, not competing, not in the audience. The women were banned from Olympia during the games. So tells us ancient travel writer Pausanias in the 2nd century AD.

Myron's Discus Thrower With Correct Head
Myron's Discus Thrower With Correct Head
PalaMazzola, Taranto

The modern Olympic Games started in 1896 in Athens (Summer Games.) No female athletes.

The Winter Games came in 1924. Chamonix in France was the first host. Only 11 women competed at Chamonix, by the way. All in figure skating, the only discipline open for female athletes.

For the marathon race, see more at
The Legend of Marathon

And speaking about events...

The Panathenaic Festival, also called the Panathenaea, Panathenaia, or the Great Panathenaea, was the party for the people of Athens. This event was founded by Theseus and commenced in 566 BC.

It was originally held annually on the 28th of Hekatombaion (July/August), which was Athena's birthday, but then every four years because the Olympic Games had the same routine and much success with this schedule.

At the Panathenaics, the people celebrated Athens, the goddess Athena, and themselves. To this end they sacrificed a large amount of animals, held a grand procession, listened to fantastic live music contests, poem contests, and watched athletes compete.

The chariot races were one of the highlights, the kicker being that the race drivers had to jump out of their chariot and run through the finish line on foot. Much excitement there. All in honor of the gods, and the winner went home with a jar of olive oil.

The entire momentum of the festival was captured, chiseled, and sculptured onto the fringe of the
 Parthenon, now known as the Parthenon Frieze, all in all 160 meters or 525 feet long. The length of this artifact was good news for all major museums because they almost each could get a piece.

Here is the bit that you can examine when you visit the Acropolis Museum in Athens:

View of the West and South Frieze of the Parthenon
View of the West and South Frieze of the Parthenon
The Parthenon Gallery

This is the link of your choice should you opt to
check out the frieze in detail.

See also What are the Elgin Marbles? (Article by the British Museum)


Did the Ancient Greeks Sacrifice Humans?

It is disputed whether one scene on the frieze of the Parthenon depicts three virgin women who were offered as a sacrifice to the gods to save Athens.

"Human sacrifice in ancient Greece was definitely carried out in the historical period. It seems to have been used only in times of dire necessity, when there was for example a plague, a famine, or a military problem and you needed to propitiate the gods to end this terrible misfortune."

Prof. John M. Camp II, director of the Agora excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and professor of classics at Randolph-Macon College, VA

However, human sacrifice had been discontinued by the Golden Age, which began around 480 BC.


More Maps of Ancient Greece

Map of Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece

Ancient Crete
Ancient Crete

Ancient Greece (north)
Ancient Greece (north)


Ancient Greece. Southern Part.
Ancient Greece (south)


Greece 700 BC
700 - 600 BC Greece


Mediterranean Sea 550 BC
550 BC Mediterranean Sea


Greece at the Time of the War with Persia, 500-479 B.C.
500 - 479 BC Greece


Greece 450 BC
450 BC Greece


Greece 431 BC
431 BC Greece


Greece 362 BC
362 BC Greece





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