🤩 Discover new information from across the web

Ancient Greece

Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Top 10 Ancient Greece related articles

The Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, located on the Acropolis in Athens, is one of the most representative symbols of the culture and sophistication of the ancient Greeks.

Ancient Greece (Greek: Ἑλλάς, romanizedHellás) 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). This era was immediately followed by the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine period.[1] Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the age of Classical Greece, from the Greco-Persian Wars to the 5th to 4th centuries BC. The conquests of Alexander the Great of Macedon spread Hellenistic civilization from the western Mediterranean to Central Asia. The Hellenistic period ended with the conquest of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, and the annexation of 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 throughout the Mediterranean and much of Europe. For this reason, Classical Greece is generally considered the cradle of Western civilization, the seminal culture from which the modern West derives many of its founding archetypes and ideas in politics, philosophy, science, and art.[2][3][4]

Ancient Greece Intro articles: 35


Classical antiquity in the Mediterranean region is commonly considered to have begun in the 8th century BC[5] (around the time of the earliest recorded poetry of Homer) and ended in the 6th century AD.

Classical antiquity in Greece was preceded by the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1200 – c. 800 BC), archaeologically characterised by the protogeometric and geometric styles of designs on pottery. Following the Dark Ages was the Archaic Period, beginning around the 8th century BC, which saw early developments in Greek culture and society leading to the Classical Period[6] from the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 until the death of Alexander the Great in 323.[7] The Classical Period is characterized by a "classical" style, i.e. one which was considered exemplary by later observers, most famously in the Parthenon of Athens. Politically, the Classical Period was dominated by Athens and the Delian League during the 5th century, but displaced by Spartan hegemony during the early 4th century BC, before power shifted to Thebes and the Boeotian League and finally to the League of Corinth led by Macedon. This period was shaped by the Greco-Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, and the Rise of Macedon.

Following the Classical period was the Hellenistic period (323–146 BC), during which Greek culture and power expanded into the Near and Middle East from the death of Alexander until the Roman conquest. Roman Greece is usually counted from the Roman victory over the Corinthians at the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC to the establishment of Byzantium by Constantine as the capital of the Roman Empire in AD 330. Finally, Late Antiquity refers to the period of Christianization during the later 4th to early 6th centuries AD, consummated by the closure of the Academy of Athens by Justinian I in 529.[8]

Ancient Greece Chronology articles: 25


The Victorious Youth (c. 310 BC), is a rare, water-preserved bronze sculpture from ancient Greece.

The historical period of ancient Greece is unique in world history as the first period attested directly in comprehensive, narrative historiography, while earlier ancient history or protohistory is known from much more fragmentary documents such as annals, king lists, and pragmatic epigraphy.

Herodotus is widely known as the "father of history": his Histories are eponymous of the entire field. Written between the 450s and 420s BC, Herodotus' work reaches about a century into the past, discussing 6th century historical figures such as Darius I of Persia, Cambyses II and Psamtik III, and alluding to some 8th century persons such as Candaules. The accuracy of Herodotus' works is debated.[9][10][11][12][13]

Herodotus was succeeded by authors such as Thucydides, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Plato and Aristotle. Most were either Athenian or pro-Athenian, which is why far more is known about the history and politics of Athens than of many other cities. Their scope is further limited by a focus on political, military and diplomatic history, ignoring economic and social history.[14]

Ancient Greece Historiography articles: 13


Archaic period

Dipylon Vase of the late Geometric period, or the beginning of the Archaic period, c. 750 BC.

In the 8th century BC, Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages which followed the collapse of Mycenaean civilization. Literacy had been lost and Mycenaean script forgotten, but the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, modifying it to create the Greek alphabet. Objects inscribed with Phoenician writing may have been available in Greece from the 9th century BC, but the earliest evidence of Greek writing comes from graffiti on Greek pottery from the mid-8th century.[15] Greece was divided into many small self-governing communities, a pattern largely dictated by its geography: every island, valley and plain is cut off from its neighbors by the sea or mountain ranges.[16]

The Lelantine War (c. 710 – c. 650 BC) is the earliest documented war of the ancient Greek period. It was fought between the important poleis (city-states) of Chalcis and Eretria over the fertile Lelantine plain of Euboea. Both cities seem to have suffered a decline as a result of the long war, though Chalcis was the nominal victor.

A mercantile class arose in the first half of the 7th century BC, shown by the introduction of coinage in about 680 BC.[17] This seems to have introduced tension to many city-states, as their aristocratic regimes were threatened by the new wealth of merchants ambitious for political power. From 650 BC onwards, the aristocracies had to fight to maintain themselves against populist tyrants.[a] A growing population and a shortage of land also seem to have created internal strife between rich and poor in many city-states.

In Sparta, the Messenian Wars resulted in the conquest of Messenia and enserfment of the Messenians, beginning in the latter half of the 8th century BC. This was an unprecedented act in ancient Greece, which led to a social revolution[20] in which the subjugated population of helots farmed and labored for Sparta, whilst every Spartan male citizen became a soldier of the Spartan army permanently in arms. Rich and poor citizens alike were obliged to live and train as soldiers, an equality which defused social conflict. These reforms, attributed to Lycurgus of Sparta, were probably complete by 650 BC.

Political geography of ancient Greece in the Archaic and Classical periods

Athens suffered a land and agrarian crisis in the late 7th century BC, again resulting in civil strife. The Archon (chief magistrate) Draco made severe reforms to the law code in 621 BC (hence "draconian"), but these failed to quell the conflict. Eventually the moderate reforms of Solon (594 BC), improving the lot of the poor but firmly entrenching the aristocracy in power, gave Athens some stability.

By the 6th century BC, several cities had emerged as dominant in Greek affairs: Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. Each of them had brought the surrounding rural areas and smaller towns under their control, and Athens and Corinth had become major maritime and mercantile powers as well.

Rapidly increasing population in the 8th and 7th centuries BC had resulted in emigration of many Greeks to form colonies in Magna Graecia (Southern Italy and Sicily), Asia Minor and further afield. The emigration effectively ceased in the 6th century BC by which time the Greek world had, culturally and linguistically, become much larger than the area of present-day Greece. Greek colonies were not politically controlled by their founding cities, although they often retained religious and commercial links with them.

The Greek colonies of Sicily, especially Syracuse, were soon drawn into prolonged conflicts with the Carthaginians. These conflicts lasted from 600 BC to 265 BC, when the Roman Republic allied with the Mamertines to fend off the new tyrant of Syracuse, Hiero II, and then the Carthaginians. As a result, Rome became the new dominant power against the fading strength of the Sicilian Greek cities and the fading Carthaginian hegemony. One year later the First Punic War erupted.

In this period, Greece and its overseas colonies enjoyed huge economic development in commerce and manufacturing, with rising general prosperity. Some studies estimate that the average Greek household grew fivefold between 800 and 300 BC, indicating a large increase in average income.

In the second half of the 6th century BC, Athens fell under the tyranny of Peisistratos followed by his sons Hippias and Hipparchos. However, in 510 BC, at the instigation of the Athenian aristocrat Cleisthenes, the Spartan king Cleomenes I helped the Athenians overthrow the tyranny. Sparta and Athens promptly turned on each other, at which point Cleomenes I installed Isagoras as a pro-Spartan archon. Eager to secure Athens' independence from Spartan control, Cleisthenes proposed a political revolution: that all citizens share power, regardless of status, making Athens a "democracy". The democratic enthusiasm of the Athenians swept out Isagoras and threw back the Spartan-led invasion to restore him.[21] The advent of democracy cured many of the social ills of Athens and ushered in the Golden Age.

Classical Greece

Early Athenian coin, depicting the head of Athena on the obverse and her owl on the reverse – 5th century BC

In 499 BC, the Ionian city states under Persian rule rebelled against their Persian-supported tyrant rulers.[22] Supported by troops sent from Athens and Eretria, they advanced as far as Sardis and burnt the city before being driven back by a Persian counterattack.[23] The revolt continued until 494, when the rebelling Ionians were defeated.[24] Darius did not forget that Athens had assisted the Ionian revolt, and in 490 he assembled an armada to retaliate.[25] Though heavily outnumbered, the Athenians—supported by their Plataean allies—defeated the Persian hordes at the Battle of Marathon, and the Persian fleet turned tail.[26]

Map showing events of the first phases of the Greco-Persian Wars.
Delian League ("Athenian Empire"), immediately before the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC

Ten years later, a second invasion was launched by Darius' son Xerxes.[27] The city-states of northern and central Greece submitted to the Persian forces without resistance, but a coalition of 31 Greek city states, including Athens and Sparta, determined to resist the Persian invaders.[28] At the same time, Greek Sicily was invaded by a Carthaginian force.[29] In 480 BC, the first major battle of the invasion was fought at Thermopylae, where a small rearguard of Greeks, led by three hundred Spartans, held a crucial pass guarding the heart of Greece for several days; at the same time Gelon, tyrant of Syracuse, defeated the Carthaginian invasion at the Battle of Himera.[30]

The Persians were decisively defeated at sea by a primarily Athenian naval force at the Battle of Salamis, and on land in 479 at the Battle of Plataea.[31] The alliance against Persia continued, initially led by the Spartan Pausanias but from 477 by Athens,[32] and by 460 Persia had been driven out of the Aegean.[33] During this long campaign, the Delian League gradually transformed from a defensive alliance of Greek states into an Athenian empire, as Athens' growing naval power intimidated the other league states.[34] Athens ended its campaigns against Persia in 450 BC, after a disastrous defeat in Egypt in 454 BC, and the death of Cimon in action against the Persians on Cyprus in 450.[35]

As the Athenian fight against the Persian empire waned, conflict grew between Athens and Sparta. Suspicious of the increasing Athenian power funded by the Delian League, Sparta offered aid to reluctant members of the League to rebel against Athenian domination. These tensions were exacerbated in 462 when Athens sent a force to aid Sparta in overcoming a helot revolt, but this aid was rejected by the Spartans.[36] In the 450s, Athens took control of Boeotia, and won victories over Aegina and Corinth.[37] However, Athens failed to win a decisive victory, and in 447 lost Boeotia again.[38] Athens and Sparta signed the Thirty Years' Peace in the winter of 446/5, ending the conflict.[39]

Despite the treaty, Athenian relations with Sparta declined again in the 430s, and in 431 the Peloponnesian War began.[40] The first phase of the war saw a series of fruitless annual invasions of Attica by Sparta, while Athens successfully fought the Corinthian empire in northwest Greece and defended its own empire, despite a plague which killed the leading Athenian statesman Pericles.[41] The war turned after Athenian victories led by Cleon at Pylos and Sphakteria,[42] and Sparta sued for peace, but the Athenians rejected the proposal.[43] The Athenian failure to regain control of Boeotia at Delium and Brasidas' successes in northern Greece in 424 improved Sparta's position after Sphakteria.[44] After the deaths of Cleon and Brasidas, the strongest proponents of war on each side, a peace treaty was negoitiated in 421 by the Athenian general Nicias.[45]

The peace did not last, however. In 418 allied forces of Athens and Argos were defeated by Sparta at Mantinea.[46] In 415 Athens launched an ambitious naval expedition to dominate Sicily;[47] the expedition ended in disaster at the harbor of Syracuse, with almost the entire army killed and the ships destroyed.[48] Soon after the Athenian defeat in Syracuse, Athens' Ionian allies began to rebel against the Delian league, while Persia began to once again involve itself in Greek affairs on the Spartan side.[49] Initially the Athenian position continued relatively strong, with important victories at Cyzicus in 410 and Arginusae in 406.[50] However, in 405 the Spartan Lysander defeated Athens in the Battle of Aegospotami, and began to blockade Athens' harbour;[51] driven by hunger, Athens sued for peace, agreeing to surrender their fleet and join the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League.[52]

Greece thus entered the 4th century BC under a Spartan hegemony, but it was clear from the start that this was weak. A drastically dwindling population meant Sparta was overstretched, and by 395 BC Athens, Argos, Thebes, and Corinth felt able to challenge Spartan dominance, resulting in the Corinthian War (395–387 BC). Another war of stalemates, it ended with the status quo restored, after the threat of Persian intervention on behalf of the Spartans.

The Spartan hegemony lasted another 16 years, until, when attempting to impose their will on the Thebans, the Spartans were defeated at Leuctra in 371 BC. The Theban general Epaminondas then led Theban troops into the Peloponnese, whereupon other city-states defected from the Spartan cause. The Thebans were thus able to march into Messenia and free the helot population.

4th century BC Greek gold and bronze rhyton with head of Dionysus, Tamoikin Art Fund

Deprived of land and its serfs, Sparta declined to a second-rank power. The Theban hegemony thus established was short-lived; at the Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC, Thebes lost its key leader, Epaminondas, and much of its manpower, even though they were victorious in battle. In fact such were the losses to all the great city-states at Mantinea that none could dominate the aftermath.

The exhaustion of the Greek heartland coincided with the rise of Macedon, led by Philip II. In twenty years, Philip had unified his kingdom, expanded it north and west at the expense of Illyrian tribes, and then conquered Thessaly and Thrace. His success stemmed from his innovative reforms to the Macedonian army. Phillip intervened repeatedly in the affairs of the southern city-states, culminating in his invasion of 338 BC.

Decisively defeating an allied army of Thebes and Athens at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC), he became de facto hegemon of all of Greece, except Sparta. He compelled the majority of the city-states to join the Hellenic League, allying them to him and imposing peace among them. Philip then entered into war against the Achaemenid Empire but was assassinated by Pausanias of Orestis early in the conflict.

Alexander, son and successor of Philip, continued the war. In an unequalled series of campaigns, Alexander defeated Darius III of Persia and completely destroyed the Achaemenid Empire, annexing it to Macedon and earning himself the epithet 'the Great'. When Alexander died in 323 BC, Greek power and influence was at its zenith. However, there had been a fundamental shift away from the fierce independence and classical culture of the poleis—and instead towards the developing Hellenistic culture.

Hellenistic Greece

Alexander Mosaic, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

The Hellenistic period lasted from 323 BC, the end of the wars of Alexander the Great, to the annexation of Greece by the Roman Republic in 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence.

The major Hellenistic realms included the Diadochi kingdoms:
  Kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter
  Kingdom of Cassander
  Kingdom of Lysimachus
  Kingdom of Seleucus I Nicator
Also shown on the map:
  Carthage (non-Greek)
  Rome (non-Greek)
The orange areas were often in dispute after 281 BC. The Attalid dynasty occupied some of this area. Not shown: Indo-Greek Kingdom.

After the death of Alexander, his empire was, after quite some conflict, divided among his generals, resulting in the Ptolemaic Kingdom (Egypt and adjoining North Africa), the Seleucid Empire (the Levant, Mesopotamia and Persia) and the Antigonid dynasty (Macedonia). In the intervening period, the poleis of Greece were able to wrest back some of their freedom, although still nominally subject to Macedon.

During the Hellenistic period, the importance of "Greece proper" (the territory of modern Greece) within the Greek-speaking world declined sharply. The great capitals of Hellenistic culture were Alexandria in the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Antioch in the Seleucid Empire.

The conquests of Alexander had numerous consequences for the Greek city-states. It greatly widened the horizons of the Greeks and led to a steady emigration of the young and ambitious to the new Greek empires in the east.[53] Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria, Antioch and the many other new Hellenistic cities founded in Alexander's wake, as far away as present-day Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and the Indo-Greek Kingdom survived until the end of the first century BC.

The city-states within Greece formed themselves into two leagues; the Achaean League (including Thebes, Corinth and Argos) and the Aetolian League (including Sparta and Athens). For much of the period until the Roman conquest, these leagues were at war, often participating in the conflicts between the Diadochi (the successor states to Alexander's empire).

The Antigonid Kingdom became involved in a war with the Roman Republic in the late 3rd century. Although the First Macedonian War was inconclusive, the Romans, in typical fashion, continued to fight Macedon until it was completely absorbed into the Roman Republic (by 149 BC). In the east, the unwieldy Seleucid Empire gradually disintegrated, although a rump survived until 64 BC, whilst the Ptolemaic Kingdom continued in Egypt until 30 BC when it too was conquered by the Romans. The Aetolian league grew wary of Roman involvement in Greece, and sided with the Seleucids in the Roman–Seleucid War; when the Romans were victorious, the league was effectively absorbed into the Republic. Although the Achaean league outlasted both the Aetolian league and Macedon, it was also soon defeated and absorbed by the Romans in 146 BC, bringing Greek independence to an end.

Roman Greece

The Greek peninsula came under Roman rule during the 146 BC conquest of Greece after the Battle of Corinth. Macedonia became a Roman province while southern Greece came under the surveillance of Macedonia's prefect; however, some Greek poleis managed to maintain a partial independence and avoid taxation. The Aegean islands were added to this territory in 133 BC. Athens and other Greek cities revolted in 88 BC, and the peninsula was crushed by the Roman general Sulla. The Roman civil wars devastated the land even further, until Augustus organized the peninsula as the province of Achaea in 27 BC.

Greece was a key eastern province of the Roman Empire, as the Roman culture had long been in fact Greco-Roman. The Greek language served as a lingua franca in the East and in Italy, and many Greek intellectuals such as Galen would perform most of their work in Rome.

Ancient Greece History articles: 136