Ancient Greece is called 'the birthplace of Western civilisation'. About 2500 years ago, the Greeks created a way of life that other people admired and copied. The Romans copied Greek art and Greek gods, for example. The Ancient Greeks tried out democracy, started the Olympic Games and left new ideas in science, art and philosophy (thinking about life).
The Ancient Greeks lived in mainland Greece and the Greek islands, but also in what is now Turkey, and in colonies scattered around the Mediterranean sea coast. There were Greeks in Italy, Sicily, North Africa and as far west as France. Sailing the sea to trade and find new land, Greeks took their way of life to many places.
Ancient Greece had a warm, dry climate, as Greece does today. People lived by farming, fishing, and trade. Some were soldiers. Others were scholars, scientists or artists. Most Greeks lived in villages or in small cities. There were beautiful temples with stone columns and statues, and open-air theatres where people sat to watch plays.
Many Greeks were poor. Life was hard because farmland, water and timber for building were all scarce. That's why many Greeks sailed off to find new lands to settle.
There was not one country called "Ancient Greece." Instead, there were small 'city-states'. Each city-state had its own government. Sometimes the city-states fought one another, sometimes they joined together against a bigger enemy, the Persian Empire. Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Olympia were four of these city-states, and you can find out more about them on this site. Only a very powerful ruler could control all Greece. One man did in the 300s BC. He was Alexander the Great, from Macedonia. Alexander led his army to conquer not just Greece but an empire that reached as far as Afghanistan and India
When did Greek civilisation begin?
About 3000 BC, there lived on the island of Crete a people now called Minoans. The name comes from their King Minos. Minos and other Minoan kings grew rich from trade, and built fine palaces. The Minoan civilization ended about 1450 BC.
After the Minoans came the Myceneans. They were soldiers from mainland Greece, and were the Greeks who fought Troy in the 1200s BC. After the Mycenean age ended, about 1100 BC, Greece entered a "Dark Age". This lasted until the 800s BC when the Greeks set off by sea to explore and set up colonies.
The Olympic Games begun in 776 BC. This was the start of "Archaic" Greek civilization.
Around 480 BC the "golden age" of Greece began. This is what historians call "Classical" Greece.
Most Greek cities had a theatre. It was in the open air, and was usually a bowl-shaped arena on a hillside. Some theatres were very big, with room for more than 15,000 people in the audience.
All the actors were men or boys. Dancers and singers, called the chorus, performed on a flat area called the orchestra. Over time, solo actors also took part, and a raised stage became part of the theatre. The actors changed costumes in a hut called the "skene". Painting the walls of the hut made the first scenery.
The plays were comedies (funny, often poking fun at rulers) or tragedies (sad and serious, with a lesson about right and wrong).
costumes to make them look fatter or stronger. The masks showed the audience what kind of character an actor was playing (sad, angry or funny). Some masks had two sides, so the actor could turn them round to suit the mood for each scene.
The best actors and play writers were awarded prizes - a bit like the Hollywood Oscars and BAFTAs today. The most famous writers of plays were Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides for tragedy and Aristophanes for comedy.
Greek sculptors made figures of people and gods. Statues were set up outdoors in towns and inside temples. A statue lasts much longer than a painting, especially when made of a hard stone, such as marble. There were also statues made of wood and bronze (a kind of metal).
Over time Greeks made their statues more lifelike - gods look like human beings. There are figures of people without clothes, and statues of athletes in action (a discus thrower, for example). The Romans collected Greek statues and made copies of them. Many later artists imitated the Greek styles too.
BBC - Primary History - Ancient Greeks - Growing up in Greece