What was Ancient Greece?

Ancient civilization that settled in the south of the Balkan Peninsula and from there expanded to other areas of the Mediterranean Sea.








Date From the 10th and 9th centuries BC. C.
Location South of the Balkan Peninsula and colonies in Asia Minor and southern Italy.
Religion Polytheistic.
Economy Agriculture, artisan production and trade.

What was Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece was a civilization of antiquity that settled in the south of the Balkan Peninsula and from there it expanded to other areas of the Mediterranean Sea, starting in the 10th and 9th centuries BC. C.

Greek culture exerted an extraordinary influence on other civilizations that came into contact with it, especially the Roman civilization . Its structure of logical reasoning together with its philosophical development constitute the basis of Western culture to the present day.

The well-known name “Greeks” was given by the Romans; they called themselves Hellenes, and their territory Hellas.

Location of Ancient Greece

The Greek cities were located in the south of the Balkan Peninsula and in the archipelagos and islands that surround it. In addition, through successive waves of migration they established colonies on the coast of Asia Minor and in southern Italy, known as Great Greece .

Location on the map of Ancient Greece.

Historical periods of Ancient Greece

The migratory wave of groups that made up the Greek populations, properly speaking, probably arrived from the north and settled in the Balkan territory, around 1800 BC. In this territory, both peninsular and insular, different civilizations developed that left their mark on Greek culture, including the Minoan , on the island of Crete, and the Mycenaean , on the continent. During the rise of the Mycenaean civilization, the Trojan War occurred .

Greek history is usually divided into the following periods:

  • Dark Ages (1200 BC to 776 BC): for reasons that are not known with certainty until today (they could be invasions of the Dorian peoples with iron weapons, natural disasters, rising sea levels, among others), there was the disarticulation of the Greek peoples that inhabited the region and the writing was lost.
  • Archaic Period (776 BC to 499 BC): New groups of Greeks, such as Ionians, Dorics, Aeolians, Achaeans and Arcadians, spread across the mainland and the islands. Over time they also settled on the coasts of Asia Minor and then in Sicily and the south of the Italian peninsula.
  • Classical period (499 BC to 323 BC): during this period the medical wars against the Persian Empire took place , in which the Greeks triumphed, and the Peloponnesian war , between the city of Sparta and its allies against the city of Athens and his people. Despite these great conflicts, this was the time of greatest Greek cultural expansion through the development of philosophy, theater and the arts of various kinds.
  • Hellenistic period (323 BC to 30 BC): although this period does not correspond exclusively to the history of Greece, it was the moment when Greek culture spread to the East and all of Europe.

Taking advantage of the weakening of the Greek cities due to the Peloponnesian War, King Philip II of Macedonia conquered them. Thus, they became part of the Macedonian kingdom . Alexander the Great, son of Philip, expanded the territory by conquering the Persian Empire and Egypt. From the year 200 a. C., Rome began the conquest of the Macedonian Empire. The last of these kingdoms, Egypt, fell in 31 BC. C.

Characteristics of Ancient Greece

The main characteristics of Ancient Greece are the following:

  • Greek civilization did not constitute a unified state, but was a series of independent city-states, called polis, which shared a language, religious beliefs, culture, certain celebrations and an awareness of belonging to the same nation.
  • The poliswere made up of the city and the space that surrounded them, where agriculture and livestock were practiced. Each city had an agora, a public space that was the center of economic, political and social activity; and the acropolis, a walled enclosure where the temples were and where the population took refuge during the attacks.
  • During archaic times, population growth, the need to find new lands, and social and political conflicts caused groups of Greeks to break away from the cities and establish colonies in other regions. Between the Greek cities and these colonies an intense commercial network was generated.
  • The sanctuaries were panhellenic precincts, that is, places of worship of all the Greeks. In some there were oracles where the gods manifested themselves through a priestess called the pythoness. In the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia the Olympic gameswere held every 4 years , in which the Free Greeks competed in different disciplines.
  • The Greeks were great navigators, both commercial and military. Their warships were the triremes, fast and maneuverable ships with 3 rows of oars.
  • They invented democracy as a form of government; however, this was very limited, since only citizens (that is, free males with Greek fathers) participated in decision-making.
  • Its currency, the drachma, was minted in silver and favored trade throughout the Mediterranean.

Economy of Ancient Greece

In the rural areas around the cities, wheat, olive trees and grapevines were grown especially, and sheep were raised. Fishing was also important for the consumption of the population.

However, the Greek economy was organized around artisan production and trade . Greek ships traveled the Mediterranean Sea conducting all kinds of commercial exchanges . From the coasts of Spain to Asia Minor and South Africa, they exchanged ceramics, textiles, cereals, wines, olive oil, metals, etc.

Political and social organization of Ancient Greece

Political organization

Different models of government coexisted in the Greek cities. The 2 most influential were:

  • Sparta: it had a government made up of two kings, the Diarchy. In addition, the Ephors, who were 5 magistrates, were part of the government; a council of elders; the Gerusía, which drew up the laws and a popular Assembly that accepted or rejected them.
  • Athens: it had kings in its origins, but from the 5th century democracy was established. The government was in the hands of officials elected by the citizens. These were the strategists, who dealt with the army; the archons, administration and religion; the Council of 500, which made the laws, and the Court of the Heliasts, which dealt with justice. Furthermore, the Eclesia or People’s Assembly was a meeting where all citizens discussed and voted on the laws proposed by the Heliastas.

Social organization

Greek society, which was hierarchical, was made up of:

  • Citizens: a minority of free Greek men. Women, although they were wives and daughters of citizens, were not and were subject to the authority of men.
  • Free men: called Metecos in Athens and Periecos in Sparta, they were people who were engaged in different activities, such as rural exploitation, crafts and commerce. They had no political rights.
  • Not free people: they were the lowest group in society. They had different categories; the helots, for example, were serfs of the Spartan state. There were also slaves, who were the property of their owners and were considered a commodity.

Ancient Greek religion

  • Main article: Greek gods .

The Greeks were polytheists . The Greek gods were anthropomorphic , they had the form, the virtues and the defects of humans, but they were immortal, powerful and exerted control over natural forces. They inhabited Mount Olympus and bonded with each other and with humans in relationships of friendship and enmity.

The gods could have children with humans, these children were demigods or heroes and, in general, they were not immortal. Their stories were passed down through myths .

Each city had its protector god to whom temples were built and offerings were made. For example, the protector goddess of Athens was Athena.

One of the ways in which gods communicated with humans was through oracles . The most important of all was the oracle at Delphi, where the god Apollo expressed himself through a crack in the rocks.

Art of Ancient Greece

  • Main article: Greek art .


Characteristic of Greek architecture is the arquitrabado or lintel construction system. Its most important manifestation consists in the temples , the place where the statue of the protector god was sheltered.

Parthenon, Athenian temple dedicated to the goddess Athena.

The architecture had to respond to certain established rules that ensured the proper proportions and harmony of the work. Each part of the temple was in relation to the other parts, according to a certain order.

The Greeks, in addition, invented the theater. Many of these spaces to perform performances persist to the present day and are the antecedent of current theaters. They had a semicircular shape and were built taking advantage of the slopes of the mountains.


Greek sculpture evolved from archaic to Hellenistic times. During the classical period, sculpture was characterized by its harmony and grandeur . Artists such as Polykleitos and Phidias managed to translate philosophical ideas into concrete forms. To do so, they established a system of proportions between the parties, called the canon .


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