Mainland Greece is a mountainous land almost completely surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Greece has more than 1400 islands. The country has mild winters and long, hot and dry summers.
The ancient Greeks were a seafaring people. They traded with other countries around the Mediterranean. Many cities created settlements overseas known as colonies. found across the sea.
Greek cities were founded around the Black Sea, North Africa, Italy, Sicily, France and Spain. Many tales and legends grew up about the strange lands and creatures that could be
Athens was one of the most important and powerful cities in Greece during the Classical period. It was also the first of the Greek city states fully to develop democracy. It was very important for Athenians to take an active part in the running of Athenian government. Perikles, the great statesman of Classical Athens, said that Athenians thought of 'a man who takes no interest in public affairs not as apathetic, but as completely useless.'
Male citizens in Athens could vote on all the decisions that affected the city and serve on juries. However, democracy was not open to everyone. Citizen women and children were not allowed to vote. Slaves and foreigners living in Athens (known as metics) were banned from participating in government.
The city was also a great centre for art and literature. Writers, artists and philosophers flocked to Athens, where they could work and think in freedom. For many centuries afterwards, anyone interested in learning would go to Athens to study.
Together with Athens, Sparta is one of the best known city-states of ancient Greece, but during the classical period, it was a very different place to Athens.
Sparta was ruled by two kings and a Council of Elders. There was an assembly of citizens, but this did not have the power of the citizen assembly in democratic Athens.
During the 5th century BC Sparta was very powerful. This was due to her army, which was feared by other Greeks. Sparta focused on producing good soldiers and all Spartan male citizens were part of the army. The Spartan army played an important role in the Greek victory over the Persians, in 480-479 BC.
However, archaeological evidence shows us that Sparta was not always such a military-minded city. In earlier times, Spartan bronze and ivory workers produced beautiful objects and poetry flourished. Objects from this period provide evidence of this highpoint in Spartan culture.
Gods and Goddesses
The ancient Greeks believed there were a great number of gods and goddesses. These gods had control over many different aspects of life on earth. In many ways they were very human. They could be kind or mean, angry or pleasant, cruel or loving. They fell in love with each other, argued with each other and even stole from each other.
King of all the gods and goddesses was Zeus. He could control the weather and was often called 'the thunderer' or 'the cloud-gatherer'. He lived with the other gods on Mount Olympus, a high mountain in northern Greece.
The Hephaisteion, a temple in Athens built for the god Hephaistos and the goddess Athena
The ancient Greeks built great temples and sanctuaries to their gods. They held festivals in their honour, with processions, sports, sacrifices and competitions. Stories of the gods' exploits were told to children by their mothers and to large audiences by professional bards and storytellers. People today still enjoy hearing stories about the Greek gods.
Acropolis means 'high city' in Greek. Most city-states in ancient Greece had at their centre a rocky mound or hill where they built their important temples and where the people could retreat to if under attack. The most famous acropolis is the one in Athens.
The Athenian Acropolis is home to one of the most famous buildings in the world: the Parthenon. This temple was built for the goddess Athena. It was decorated with beautiful sculptures which represent the greatest achievement of Greek artists.
The Acropolis was also home to a number of other temples and sanctuaries and was the focus for the Athenian festival for Athena, the Panathenaia.
The buildings of the Acropolis provide examples of both the Ionic and Doric styles of architecture.
Festivals and Games
Festivals were a very important part of life in ancient Greece, and were a central part of worshipping the gods. They usually included a procession and a sacrifice.
Festivals also included various competitions, which were seen as another way to honour a god. There were competitions in music, poetry, drama and also athletics. Some of the most important festivals of ancient Greece involved athletic competition, such as the Olympic Games, which were held in honour of Zeus, and the Pythian Games, held at Delphi in honour of Apollo.
One festival in Athens, held to honour Dionysos, involved a competition between playwrights. This led to the creation of some of the best known plays from ancient Greece, written by people such as Sophokles, Euripides and Aristophanes.
Life in ancient Greece was quite different for men and women. Whilst men were expected to take an active part in the public life of their city, women were expected to lead a private life as wives and mothers. Their lives were centred on the home.
Slavery was a central feature of life in Greece. Families of reasonable wealth would have slaves to carry out the household chores, to go shopping at the market and even to help bring up children.
However, daily life in Sparta was rather different from most other city-states. Here women led more active lives, as this would improve their physical strength and their ability to have healthy babies. Sparta also had slaves but these belonged to the city as a whole, rather than to individual families.
A lot of our information on daily life comes from pottery, and in particular from the scenes painted on pots to decorate them.
Knowledge and Learning
The ideas and achievements of the ancient Greeks changed their world and still affect us today.
Philosophers such as Sokrates, Plato and Aristotle formulated ideas about how the world worked. The study of history was created by Herodotus and Thucydides. Artists tried to find more natural and realistic ways of representing the world. Doctors, like Hippokrates, started to look for rational reasons for the causes of illness and disease