Name: Date: Chapter 8 – Lesson 1 The Geography of Ancient Greece The Big Picture

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Chapter 8 – Lesson 1 - The Geography of Ancient Greece

The Big Picture

In 1500 BC the Shang dynasty ruled much of the land along the Huang River. In Egypt the pharaohs of the New Kingdom were building an empire along the southeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Along the Mediterranean’s northeastern shores, meanwhile, another civilization was growing. It was that of ancient Greece, a civilization that had been developing for more than 1,000 years. No great river carrying thick layers of silt flowed through this land. Rather than being located in a fertile river valley, ancient Greek civilization was rooted in a rocky landscape surrounded by the sea.

Mountains and Sea

The land of ancient Greece was made up of a part of the southern European mainland along with over 400 islands. This is the same area that makes up Greece today. As you can see on the map, the biggest of the islands is Crete. Crete lies about one day’s sail south of the Greek mainland. East of Crete lies Rhodes, an island near what is today Turkey. Rhodes provides an ideal rest stop for ships sailing between Greece and western Asia. Mountains and hills cover about nine out of ten acres in Greece. The most mountainous region, however, is located in western Greece. There, travel by land is difficult, and little farmable land exists. Herds of sheep and goats live on wild plants that grow on the rugged hillsides.

Land Along the Coast

Larger plains suitable for farming lie in eastern Greece near the coast. A few of these plains are on Attica, a wedge-shaped peninsula that juts into the Mediterranean Sea. A peninsula is an area of land nearly surrounded by water. Attica also contains excellent natural harbors for ships. A harbor is a sheltered place along a coast. A large peninsula called the Peloponnesus lies to the southwest of Attica. Shaped like a giant hand reaching toward Crete, the Peloponnesus is a mountainous region ringed by a thin band of fertile land. Like the rest of Greece, the Peloponnesus contains several rivers. Many of the region’s rivers, however, dry up in the summertime, unlike rivers in Egypt or Mesopotamia.

Question Time: Answer the following questions based on what you just read above.

1. Along what major sea did Greece develop?

2. How long ago did its civilization begin to develop?

3. What are the land shapes like Attica and the Peloponnesus called?

4. What do the many indentations along Greece’s long coastline help to create?

Early Economy in Greece

Greece is not as fertile as the valleys of the Indus or Huang rivers. However, ancient Greeks figured out how to make a living from the few fertile valleys as well as from the sea.

Agriculture in Ancient Greece

Besides having little fertile land, Greece has a climate that presents special challenges for farmers. Summers are hot and dry. Winters can be wet and fiercely windy. Fields can become parched in the summer but soaked with rain in the winter. Ancient Greek farmers raised crops and animals that were well suited to this environment. They grew some wheat and barley to make bread, which was important to the Greek diet. Olives and grapes became Greece’s other major crops. Both grew well in rocky and hilly areas. Shrubs on Greece’s many hills and mountains provided food for herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. Timing was important to successful farming in Greece. The Greek poet Hesiod, who wrote during the 700s BC, urged farmers:

Take careful note of the time when you hear the voice of the crane uttering high in the clouds her yearly trumpeting cry (in the fall). She announces the signal for plowing and points to the time of winter and rain.

If farmers waited until winter to plow their land, Hesiod warned, they would “gather only a small little handful” of grain in the spring.

Like their ancestors in ancient times, many farmers in Greece today herd sheep. also raise olives and produce olive oil.

The ancient Greeks sailed in ships with oars, as shown on this ancient pottery bowl.

Crossing the Seas

Because farmers could not produce huge grain surpluses, and because travel on the hilly land was difficult, sailing became an important part of life in Greece. Sailors traveled as far as ancient Egypt to trade. Greek merchants competed with traders from Phoenicia, in what is today Lebanon. Phoenician sailors were as skilled as the Greeks and traveled to ports all across the Mediterranean Sea. For many years olive oil was one of the most prized of Greek exports. People loved the flavor it gave food as well as its usefulness as lamp fuel and body lotion. The sale of olive oil made it possible for Greeks to buy much-needed grain for their markets at home.

Why it Matters

In the lessons to come, you will read the story of Greek civilization. Beginning around 800 BC, great changes would take place on these rocky islands and peninsulas. Some things, however, would never change. Farming and sailing would always be lifelines for the people of ancient Greece.

Main Ideas:

  • Unlike the Nile or Huang River valleys, Greece has land that is hilly and rocky, making farming difficult in most areas.

  • Ancient Greeks used the Mediterranean Sea as a “highway” to trade for goods they could not produce themselves.

  • Olive oil – a product of a crop that grows well in Greece’s rocky soil – became valuable to trade for grain.

Question Time: Answer the following questions based on what you just read above.

5. In addition to having little land to farm, how were Greek farmers challenged by climate?

6. What are some ways that Greek farmers adapted to the environment?

7. How did Greece’s agricultural limitations help cause it to become a sea trader?

8. How did ancient Greeks use the sea to spread their products and culture to other regions?

9. Why did olive oil become important to the ancient Greeks?

10. Contrast the geography of Greece with that of an ancient river civilization such as Mesopotamia or the Indus Valley.

Final Lesson 1 Activities: (pick 1)

  • Draw a diagram of a harbor in an indentation in a coastline. Your diagram should show how the land around the harbor shelters it and protects anchored ships from heavy wind and waves.

  • Picture yourself as a Greek farmer’s child who would like to be a sailor. Write a paragraph in which you explain to your parents why you are interested in the sea.

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