|Geography and the Early Greeks
You live on the rocky coast of a bright blue sea. Across the water you can see dozens of islands and points of land jutting out into the sea. Rugged mountains rise steeply behind your village. It is hard to travel across the mountains in order to visit other villages or towns. Near your home on the coast is a sheltered cove where it’s easy to anchor a boat.
What could you do to make a living here?
BUILDING BACKGROUND The paragraph you just read could be describing many parts of Greece, a peninsula in southern Europe. Greece’s mountain ranges run right up to the coast in many places, making travel and farming difficult. Although it does not seem like the easiest place in the world to live, Greece was home to some of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations.
Geography Shapes Greek Civilization
The Greeks lived on rocky, mountainous lands surrounded by water. The mainland of Greece is a peninsula, an area of land that is surrounded on three sides by water. But the Greek peninsula is very irregular. It’s one big peninsula made up of a series of smaller peninsulas. The land and sea intertwine like your hand and fingers in a bowl of water. In addition, there are many islands. Look at the map of Greece and notice the rugged coastline.
In your mind, picture those peninsulas and islands dominated by mountains that run almost to the sea. Just a few small valleys and coastal plains provide flat land for farming and villages. Now you have an image of Greece, a land where one of the world’s greatest civilizations developed.
Mountains and Settlements
Because mountains cover much of Greece, there are few flat areas for farmland. People settled in those flat areas along the coast and in river valleys. They lived in villages and towns separated by mountains and seas.
Travel across the mountains and seas was difficult, so communities were isolated from one another. As a result, the people created their own governments and ways of life. Even though they spoke the same language, Greek communities saw themselves as separate countries.
Seas and Ships
Since travel inland across the rugged mountains was so difficult, the early Greeks turned to the seas. On the south was the huge Mediterranean Sea, to the west was the Ionian (eye-OH-nee-uhn) Sea, and to the east was the Aegean (ee-JEE-uhn) Sea.
Greece is a land of rugged mountains, rocky coastlines, and beautiful islands. The trees you see are olive trees. Olives were grown by the early Greeks for food and oil.
What bodies of water surround Greece? Mediterranean, Ionian, Aegean Seas
Early Trading Cultures
The Minoans and Mycenaens were expert shipbuilders and seafarers. They sailed throughout the eastern Mediterranean to trade.
After Minoan civilization declined, the Mycenaeans became the major traders in the eastern Mediterranean. This beautiful gold mask was found in a tomb in Mycenae.
The Minoans traded goods like this vase decorated with an octopus. Trade made the Minoans rich enough to build magnificent buildings.
For what did the Minoans and Mycenaens use their ships? To trade and transport themselves.
It’s not surprising that the early Greeks used the sea as a source for food and as a way of trading with other communities.
The Greeks became skilled shipbuilders and sailors. Their ships sailed to Asia Minor, to Egypt, and to the islands of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. As they traveled around these seas, they found sources of food and other products they needed. They also exchanged ideas with other cultures. (DIFFUSION)
How did mountains affect the location of Greek settlements? Isolated them and developed their own city-states.
Trading Cultures Develop
Many cultures settled and developed in Greece. Two of the earliest were the Minoans (muh-NOH-uhnz) and the Mycenaens (my-suh-NEE-uhns). By 2000 BC the Minoans had built an advanced society on the island of Crete. Crete lay south of the Aegean in the eastern Mediterranean. Later, the Mycenaeans built towns on the Greek mainland. These two civilizationsinfluencedthe entire Aegean region and helped shape later cultures in Greece.
Because they lived on an island, the Minoans spent much of their time at sea. They were among the best shipbuilders of their time. Minoan ships carried goods such as wood, olive oil, and pottery all around the eastern Mediterranean. They traded these goods for copper, gold, silver, and jewels.
Although Crete’s location was excellent for Minoan traders, its geography had its dangers. Sometime in the 1600s BC a huge volcano erupted just north of Crete. This eruption created a giant wave that flooded much of Crete.
In addition, the eruption threw up huge clouds of ash, ruining crops and burying cities. This eruption may have led to the end of Minoan civilization.
Although they lived in what is now Greece and influenced Greek society, historians don’t consider the Minoans to be Greek. This is because the Minoans didn’t speak the Greek language. The first people to speak Greek, and therefore the first to be considered Greek, were the Mycenaeans.
While the Minoans were sailing the Mediterranean, the Mycenaeans were building fortresses all over the Greek mainland. The largest and most powerful fortress was Mycenae (my-SEE-nee), after which the Mycenaeans were named.
By the mid-1400s, Minoan society had declined. That decline allowed the Mycenaeans to take over Crete and become the major traders in the eastern Mediterranean. They set up colonies in northern Greece and Italy from which they shipped goods to markets around the Mediterranean and Black seas.
The Mycenaeans didn’t think trade had to be conducted peacefully. They often attacked other kingdoms. Some historians think the Mycenaeans attacked the city of Troy, possibly starting the legendary Trojan War, which is featured in many works of literature.
Mycenaean society began to fall apart in the 1200s BC when invaders from Europe swept into Greece. At the same time, earthquakes destroyed many cities. As Mycenaean civilization crumbled, Greece slid into a period of warfare and disorder, a period called the Dark Age.
To what regions did Minoan and Mycenaean traders travel?
Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations
Greek City States and Colonies c. 600 BC
Greek city-states and colonies were spread around the Mediterranean Sea and which other large sea?
Greeks Create City-States
The Greeks of the Dark Age left no written records. All that we know about the period comes from archaeological findings.
About 300 years after the Mycenaean civilization crumbled, the Greeks started to join together in small groups for protection and stability. Over time, these groups set up independent city-states. The Greek word for a city-state is polis (PAH-luhs). The creation of city-states marks the beginning of what is known as Greece’s classical age. A classical age is one that is marked by great achievements.
Life in a City-State
A Greek city was usually built around a strong fortress. This fortress often stood on top of a high hill called the acropolis (uh-KRAH-puh-luhs). The town around the acropolis was surrounded by walls for added protection.
Not everyone who lived in the city-state actually lived inside the city walls. Farmers, for example, usually lived near their fields outside the walls. In times of war, however, women, children, and elderly people all gathered inside the city walls for protection. As a result, they remained safe while the men of the polis formed an army to fight off its enemies.
Life in the city often focused on the marketplace, or agora (A-guh-ruh) in Greek. Farmers brought their crops to the market to trade for goods made by craftsmen in the town. Because it was a large open space, the market also served as a meeting place. People held both political and religious assemblies in the market. It often contained shops as well.
The city-state became the foundation of Greek civilization. Besides providing security for its people, the city gave them an identity.
People thought of themselves as residents of a city, not as Greeks. Because the city-state was so central to their lives, the Greeks expected people to participate in its affairs, especially in its economy and its government.
City-States and Colonization
Life in Greece eventually became more settled. People no longer had to fear raiders swooping down on their cities. As a result, they were free to think about things other than defense. Some Greeks began to dream of becoming rich through trade. Others became curious about neighboring lands around the Mediterranean Sea. Some also worried about how to deal with Greece’s growing population. Despite their different reasons, all these people eventually reached the same idea: the Greeks should establish colonies. (EXPANSION)
Before long, groups from city-states around Greece began to set up colonies in distant lands. After they were set up, Greek colonies became independent. In other words, each colony became a new polis. In fact, some cities that began as colonies began to create colonies of their own. Eventually Greek colonies spread all around the Mediterranean and Black seas. Many big cities around the Mediterranean today began as Greek colonies. Among them are Istanbul (is-tahn-BOOL) in Turkey, Marseille (mahr-SAY) in France, and Naples in Italy.
Patterns of Trade
Although the colonies were independent, they often traded with city-states on the mainland. The colonies sent metals such as copper and iron back to mainland Greece. In return, the Greek city-states sent wine, olive oil, and other products.
Trade made the city-states much richer. Because of their locations, some city-states became great trading centers. By 550 BC the Greeks had become the greatest traders in the whole Aegean region. Greek ships sailed to Egypt and cities around the Black Sea.
They were isolated from each other so it would help to protect them. It also gave them an identity: WE R Sparta!
Why did the Greeks develop city-states?
SUMMARY AND PREVIEW In this section you learned about the creation of city-states and how they affected Greek society. In the next section you will read about how the government of one citystate changed as people became more interested in how they were ruled.
Peninsula, mountains, islands, archipelago, seas
What kind of landforms are found in Greece?
Forced them to become expert sailors/shipbuilders and TRADE
How did the sea help shape early Greek society?
How might the difficulty of mountain travel have been a benefit to the Greeks?
Minoans on island of Crete
What was the first major civilization to develop in Greece?
Traded , sailors, destroyed by natural disaster
How were the Minoans and Mycenaeans similar?
What is a polis? Greek word City state
It provided protection and defense against other city states.
Why do you think the Greeks built their cities around a high acropolis?