“We’re all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece.” – Shelley

The Ancient Greece historical period starts with prehistoric Greece (roughly late 3rd millennium BC) and lasts until the Roman rule (4th century AD). One of the first Neolithic settlements in Europe was discovered at the end of the 19th century in Sesklo, outside Volos, in central Greece. This Neolithic settlement was covering an area of about 200,000 m2 in its peak period around 5000 BC and comprised about 500-800 houses with a population of perhaps up to 5,000 people. The first settlements, which pre-date the 6th millennium BC show advanced agriculture and very early use of pottery that rivals in age those of the Near East.

The peoples of Sesklo built their villages on hillsides near fertile valleys, where they grew wheat and barley, also keeping herds of mainly sheep and goats, though they also had cows, pigs, and dogs. Their houses were small, with one or two rooms, built of wood or mudbrick in the early period. Later the construction technique becomes more homogeneous and all homes are built of adobe with stone foundations. In the 6th millennium BC, the first houses with two levels are found and there is also clear intentional urbanism.

Minoan fresco, bull leaping
Minoan fresco – Bull leaping

The Greek Neolithic era ended with the arrival of the Bronze Age by the end of the 28th century BC. In about 2100 BC the Mycenaeans introduced the Greek language to present-day Greece. Around the same time (2000BC – 1450BC) the Minoan civilization was flourishing in Crete. The Mycenean invasion of around 1400 BC spelled the end of the Minoan civilization.

Mycenaean Greece is the Late Helladic Bronze Age civilization of Ancient Greece. It lasted from the arrival of the Greeks in the Aegean around 1600 BC to the collapse of their Bronze Age civilization around 1100 BC. It is the historical setting of the epics of Homer and of most Greek mythology. The Mycenaean period takes its name from the archaeological site Mycenae in the northeaster Argolid, in the Peloponnesos of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites. Mycenaean civilization was dominated by a warrior aristocracy.

The Greek Dark Ages (ca. 1100 BC-800 BC) follows the Mycenean civilization and refers to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean civilization in the 11th century BC to the rise of the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC and the epics of Homer and earliest writings in alphabetic Greek in the 8th century BC.

The collapse of the Mycenaean coincided with the fall of several other large empires in the near east, most notably the Hittite and the Egyptian.

Classical Greece
Classical Greece – The Parthenon

Following the Dark Ages, the Greek civilization was engulfed in a renaissance that spread the Greek world as far as the Black Sea and Spain. This era is known to us as Classical Greece. Even though this period of Greek history is very short (it only lasted roughly 200 years from the 5th through 4th centuries BC) it’s considered by most historians to be the one which shaped the Western world as we know it today.

Athens and Sparta dominated the Greek mainland during that period and led the Greeks to two glorious victories against the Persians. One in Marathon in 490 BC and a second one in Thermopylae (immortalized by the movie 300), Salamis and Plataea a decade later. This is the time when the Parthenon was built on the Acropolis of Athens (construction completed in 438 BC) and Athens experienced a “golden age”. This is when a long list of well-known philosophers, playwrights, and artists lived and worked in Athens (such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Pheidias, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc.

Alexander the great
Alexander the Great

Classical Greece was followed by Hellenistic Greece, the world left behind by Alexander the Great and his successful wars against the Persians. During this time the Greek culture and language were spread throughout Asia Minor, Middle East and parts of Africa.

Hellenistic Greece’s definitive end was with the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when the future emperor Augustus defeated Greek Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra VII and Mark Antony, the next year taking over Alexandria, the last great center of Hellenistic Greece.

The conquest of Greece by the Romans did not diminish the Greek cultural influence in the Mediterranean and Middle East. If anything it reinforced it and spread the Greek culture even further.

External Links

Ancient Greece, additional reading

The Minoan civilizationGo!
The Cycladic civilizationGo!
The Mycenaean civilizationGo!
The Greek Dark AgesGo!
The Archaic periodGo!
Classical GreeceGo!
Alexander the GreatGo!
The Hellenistic periodGo!
The Hellenistic periodGo!

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