Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece

The Parthenon (top) in Athens, built in 432 BCThe Parthenon (top) in Athens, built in 432 BC About 2500 years ago, Greece enjoyed a time of wealth, discovery and invention. It was known as the “Golden Age” of Greece. The country was divided into small states, each normally consisting of a city or town and its surrounding villages. The city-state of Athens was the most powerful of all. It was full of beautiful temples and theatres, and the Athenian people lived well. Health and fitness fanatics, the Greeks held a festival of sport every four years at Olympia. (Today, we have our own version, called the Olympic Games.) The Greeks also prized freedom of speech. Political speeches were often made in the city marketplace.

A map of Greece in about 500 BCA map of Greece in about 500 BC

Greek city-states

Greece civilization grew up around the shores and islands of the Aegean Sea. It was divided into many small states. By the 6th century BC several cities had emerged as dominant powers, including Athens, Sparta and Corinth. Each controlled the surrounding towns and countryside to become city-states. In the 8th and 7th centuries many Greeks emigrated to establish Greek-speaking colonies in southern Italy, Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and further afield. 

The philosophers Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)The philosophers Plato (left) and Aristotle (right)

Science and ideas

The ancient Greeks had many ideas that have passed down to us today. They were the first to use a system of government called democracy, in which ordinary people choose their leaders by voting for them. Greek doctors understood that some illnesses could be cured by medicines made from herbs and plants. The Greek alphabet (which was adapted from the Phoenician alphabet) spread from Greece to become the basis of the one we use today. Brilliant writers, mathematicians and scientists lived in ancient Greece. Clever thinkers, called philosophers, including Socrates (469–399 BC), Plato (c.428 BC–347 BC) and Aristotle (384–322 BC), asked questions about the world that still puzzle us today.


Myths and drama

Actors perform in an amphitheatre.Actors perform in an amphitheatre.The Greeks loved to listen to music, poetry and songs. Many told stories, or myths, about heroes and the gods, such as Zeus, Hera and Artemis, whom people believed lived on Mount Olympus. Plays were very popular. The Greeks built huge open-air amphitheatres, which were cut into hillsides so that as many people as possible could see the play. The actors were always men.

 Consultant: Philip Parker


  • c.2000 BC
    The Minoans build great palaces on the island of Crete.
  • c.1600 BC
    The Mycenaean civilization begins in Greece.
  • c.800 BC
    Greek city-states are founded.
  • 776 BC
    The first Olympic Games are held.
  • c.500 BC
    The start of democracy in Greece.
  • 492–449 BC
    The Persians attempt to invade Greece but are fought back.
  • 449 BC
    The Greeks make peace with Persia. Athens flourishes.
  • 431–404 BC
    The Peloponnesian Wars are fought between Athens and the Peloponnesian League, led by Sparta.
  • 338 BC
    King Philip of Macedonia unites Greece under his rule.
  • 336 BC
    Alexander the Great seizes power in Greece and invades Persia.
  • 146 BC
    Greece becomes a province of the Roman Empire.

The first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta, have given us the word "alphabet".

If an abnormality was discovered in a newborn baby in ancient Greece, the baby was often tossed off a cliff or left outdoors to die. The best it could hope for was being abandoned in the marketplace, where it could be claimed as a slave.

The earliest known clothes iron comes from 4th-century BC Greece. It was a rolling-pin-like metal cylinder rolled over linen fabric to get rid of wrinkles and make pleats.

Greeks believed sneezes could predict the future—sometimes they were a good omen but at other times they were a sign that something terrible was going to happen.

Greek marriages were usually arranged between families. Many brides and grooms never met each other before their wedding day.

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