Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was called the “Birthplace of Western Civilization.” The people of Greece explored and created new things, many of which are enduring impacts that are still around today.


Greece is a peninsula in Europe and is located in the Mediterranean Sea. Greece has two major geographic features: easy access to water and mountainous terrains. The easy access to water meant that the people of Ancient Greece might become explorers and (or) traders, and so they were good sailors. Another one of the geographic features is the mountainous terrain. Many city-states developed in the mountains, for protection from invaders, but because of this, it made it very hard for other civilizations to communicate, so each city-state developed independently and was quite different from one another. A nice thing though is that Greece's natural boundaries would impede invaders since they would have to cross rugged mountains and sail across the ocean to get to Greece.

Map of Greece (ADD LINK TO IMAGE--CC)
The two major city-states in Greece were Athens and Sparta. In Athens the warm climate affected the lives of Athenians. The average temperature was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which allowed Athenians to spend plenty of time outside. Athenians became active within their city. Athens was a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. Due to this, many Athenians became fishers, traders, sailors and other positions that took place by the sea. The Mediterranean Sea provided many useful things such as transportation, food, trade, and protection. Athens also had steep mountains that surrounded the city. This provided protection from invaders.

In Sparta, the climate was more moderate. Therefore, Spartans enjoyed going outside and were very active. This also meant that Sparta was able to farm year round and could supply food to its citizens. The majority of Sparta was flat farmland. The city-state of Sparta was land-locked all around, providing a natural barriers from invaders. The city-state relied on farming to support the citizens. However, as Sparta expanded, they conquered city-states, and used the people they conquered as slaves to farm for them. Since Sparta was land-locked, the need for expansion was great, but that wasn't a problem since Sparta had a very aggressive military.

Politics and Society

In ancient times, Greece was not one country but a collection of city-states. Each city-state had their own army, laws, and government. The only thing that they shared in common was that the language and their religion (or rather, their main religion, it also had alternatives, such as the Orphic religion which was, a set of religious belief and practices.). There were four major types of government in Ancient Greece--Direct Democracy, Oligarchy, Tyranny, and Monarchy.

Direct Democracy
In a direct democracy such as the one of Athens, all male citizens over age 18 (although this age limit varied) who had to have finished an extreme form of military training were given the right to vote, sometimes even forced to vote. In actuality, citizens only consisted of perhaps 10%-20% of the city-state's population. The good thing about a direct democracy was that it gave direct power to citizens. However, many dominant politicians could easily bribe or sway citizens to vote for their cause. One notable bad decision made by a direct democracy was the death sentence of the philosopher Socrates.

Oligarchies developed from aristocracies and plutocracies (governments dominated by the wealthy). Oligarchies the most common form of government back then, often rising when direct democracies took bad turns. For example, Sparta's oligarchy consisted of two kings, kept in check by a council of elders, gerousia. In Sparta the oligarchy's decisions were passed on to free adult males to be approved. However, citizens were expected to approve of their decisions, and when they didn't, the gerousia and the kings simply resubmitted the decision when it had enough support. Therefore, adult free males could not amend any decision, only perhaps delay at the best. The ephors were an elected board of five overseers to check the power of the oligarchy. These ephors had the power to bring charges against even a king, but they had no power to directly make decisions (although bribery and threats always seem to work in history).
A monarchy is a government run by a single ruler, who would pass on his throne to his heir, usually his oldest son. Monarchies were rare in Ancient Greece, and were distinguishable from a tyranny only because they were hereditary.

Tyrannies back then did not have the same negative or derogatory connotation of today's term. A tyranny simply referred to a monarchy in which the royal line was disrupted by an usurper. Not all tyrannies were cruel, for example the reign of Pesisistratos in Athens, circa 560 BCE, who actually paved the way for Athens' direct democracy.

Society: The Olympics
The Olympics were Greek athletic contests that were held in honor of the gods. These contests seem to have started somewhere around 700 B.C. No women were allowed to watch the games and only Greek nationals could participate. The Olympics usually lasted about five days, which consisted of many events. The first day was dedicated to sacrifices for the gods. On the second day, the foot-races (running) took place in the stadium. On the remaining days, wrestling, boxing, and chariot races took place. After these events came sprinting, long-jumping, javelin-hurling, discus-throwing, and more wrestling.


Enduring Impacts


Architecture in Greece is very original and elaborate. The Greeks built temples and amphitheaters with intricate designs.The Greeks developed three architectural column styles: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, also known as orders. The Greeks also used columns, an enduring impact, to support their temples and theaters.

Doric Order
The Doric order was used mainly in mainland Greece and the colonies in southern Italy and Sicily. This order was sturdy but plain at the top (capital). It is the most simple column design.

Ionic Order
The Ionic order was created in eastern Greece and the islands. It is more intricate than the Doric style and is completed with a scroll-like pattern.

Corinthian Order
The Corinthian order was not often used in Greek architecture. The capital is detailed and ornate, and is often times decorated with leaves or scroll-like patterns, similar to the Ionic style.

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Doric Order

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Ionic Order

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Corinthian Order

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Art was a big contributing factor in Greece. Things like pottery and statues were very popular. Unlike Ancient Romans, when the Greeks made statues of people, they were perfect. No humane features like big noses or pimples were included in the statues. The Minoans utilized terracotta clay to produce both ceramic pottery and sculpture. Minoan potters produced everything from jars and pots to small figurines depicting female deities.

Greek Mythology
The Ancient Greeks worshiped an entire pantheon (pan: all, theo: god) of gods, the major deities being the Twelve Olympians (Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, Hermes, Athena, Ares, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, and Dionysus) along with Hades and Hestia. However, there were many other deities they worshiped. Click here to find out more.
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The Trireme: The Ultimate Greek Military Superpower

Basic Overview: The trireme was a fast, oar and sail powered Grecian warship. It was a valuable asset to the Greeks in battle, because the bronze tipped prow could be used to
This is one of the rare depictions of the Greek Trireme. (CC)
split other ships in half. The trireme would always be given a girls’ name, sparking the modern day custom of referring to ships in the female gender. The trireme was the most ‘State of the Art’ ship during its time period.

Materials: The discovery on an new vein of silver in Laurion gave Athens the money to purchase timber from Italy. This allowed the Athenian fleet to increase from forty ships to four hundred and eighty nine. The tip of the trireme would be made of a hard metal such as bronze. The most common material used for the body of the ship would have been a hardwood like oak, with softer woods such as pine or fir for the inside. Because the trireme was made of such lightweight materials, the ship was highly maneuverable.
Power: The trireme could be powered with over 170 oars, with one man at each oar. On most triremes, there would be three banks of oars, on different sections of the ship.
The trireme could also travel under the power of one large, square sail. Oared ships were uncommon at the time because the space that the oars took up could be used to hold cargo. Much training was necessary for oarsmen, to make sure that they were synchronized in their rowing. Because of all the effort needed to outfit a ship with oars, the ships used sails unless they were headed into battle.
Uses: The trireme was a very valuable asset to the Greeks in naval battles. In earlier times, the power of warships was limited to setting the enemy ship on fire, or piercing the hull of the ship below the waterline. The trireme, with its bronze tipped prow, could literally ram the enemy ship, and split it in half. This was possible because the trireme could go much faster than any other ship during that era, with a speed of fourteen knots, or about sixteen miles per hour.
Architecture: The trireme was one hundred and twenty feet long, and weighed up to seventy tons. The speed with oars was nine knots, but with oars and sails, the trireme could get up to the aforementioned speed of fourteen knots. No trireme structures have ever been found, but scholars have used ancient texts, drawings, and plays to reconstruct the image of the trireme that we see today.

Ancient Greece page created by Lakala S. and Meghan O.
Edited by Sanchari, March 2014
Edited by Jing, March 2014
Edited by Heather: March 2014
Edited by Yang: October 2015
Edited By Emily Isaacson: October 2015
Works Cited
Greece Map: __
Politics and Society: __

Ancient Greece: __
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Olympics: __
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Youtube Oligarchy: __
Architecture: __
Temple of Parthenon: __
Architecture Orders: __
Greek Architecture video: __