The civilization of Ancient Greece was one of the most brilliant in world history
Ancient Greece is the civilization belonging to the period of Greek History lasting from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity and beginning of the Early Middle Ages with the rise of the Byzantine era. At the center of this period is Classical Greece, which flourished during the 5th to 4th centuries BC, at first under Athenian leadership successfully repelling the military threat of Persian invasion. The Athenian Golden Age ends with the defeat of Athens at the hands of Sparta in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC. Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Hellenistic Civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea.
Classical Greek culture had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of the Mediterranean Sea and Europe, for which reason Classical Greece is generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western Civilization.
The territory of Greece is mountainous, and as a result, ancient Greece consisted of many smaller regions each with its own dialect, cultural peculiarities, and identity. Regionalism and regional conflicts were a prominent feature of ancient Greece. Cities tended to be located in valleys between mountains, or on coastal plains, and dominated a certain area around them.
During the Archaic period, the population of Greece grew beyond the capacity of its limited arable land. From about 750 BC the Greeks began 250 years of expansion, settling colonies in all directions. To the East, the Aegean coast of Asia Minor was colonized first, followed by Cyprus and the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara and south coast of the Black Sea.
Eventually Greek colonization reached as far northeast as present day Ukraine and Russia. To the West the coasts of Illyria, Sicily and Southern Italy were settled, followed by Southern France, Corsica, and even northeastern Spain. Greek colonies were also founded in Egypt and Libya.
The art of ancient Greece has exercised an enormous influence on the culture of many countries from ancient times until the present, particularly in the areas of sculpture and architecture. In the West, the art of the Roman Empire was largely derived from Greek models. In the East, Alexander the Great's conquests initiated several centuries of exchange between Greek, Central Asian and Indian cultures, resulting in Greco-Buddhist art. Following the Renaissance in Europe the high technical standards of Greek art inspired generations of European artists, well into the 19th century, the classical tradition derived from Greece dominated the art of the western world.
Ancient Greek mathematics contributed many important developments to this field, including the basic rules of geometry, the idea of formal mathematic proof, and discoveries in number theory and applied mathematics. The discoveries of several Greek mathematicians, including Pythagoras, Euclid, and Archimedes, are still used in mathematical teaching today.
The Greeks developed astronomy, which they treated as a branch of mathematics, to a highly sophisticated level. The first geometrical, three-dimensional models to explain the apparent motion of the planets were developed in the 4th century BC. Their younger contemporary Heraclides Ponticus proposed that the Earth rotates around its axis. In the 3rd century BC it was suggested that a heliocentric system existed, although only fragmentary descriptions of his idea survive. The ancient Greeks also made important discoveries in the medical field. Hippocrates was a physician of the Classical period, and is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine.
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. Modern scholars refer to the myths and study them in an attempt to throw light on the religious and political institutions of Ancient Greece, its civilization, and to gain understanding of the nature of myth-making itself.
Greek mythology is embodied explicitly in a large collection of narratives and implicitly in Greek representational arts, such as vase paintings. Greek myth attempts to explain the origins of the world and details the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes and heroins and mythological creatures. These accounts initially were disseminated in an oral-poetic tradition; today the Greek myths are known primarily from Greek literature.
The Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held for representatives of various city-states of Ancient Greece held in honour of Zeus. The exact origins of the Games are shrouded in myth and legend but records indicate that they began in 776 BC in Olympia in Greece. The ancient Olympics were rather different from the modern Games. There were fewer events, and only free men who spoke Greek could compete. The winner of an Olympic event was awarded an olive wreath and often was received with much honour throughout Greece, especially in his home town, where he was often granted large sums of money. Sculptors would create statues of Olympic victors, and poets would sing odes in their praise for money.
For most of Greek history, education was private, except in Sparta. During the Hellenistic period, some city-states established public schools. Only wealthy families could afford a teacher. Boys learned how to read, write and quote literature. They also learned to sing and play one musical instrument and were trained as athletes for military service. They studied not for a job but to become an effective citizen. Girls also learned to read, write and do simple arithmetic so they could manage the household.
Only free, land owning, native-born men could be citizens entitled to the full protection of the law in a city-state. In most city-states, unlike the situation in Roma, social prominence did not allow special rights. Sometimes families controlled public religious functions, but this ordinarily did not give any extra power in the government. In Athens, the population was divided into four social classes based on wealth. People could change classes if they made more money. In Sparta, all male citizens were given the title of equal if they finished their education. However, Spartan Kings, who served as the city-state's dual military and religious leaders, came from only two families.
Ancient Greece consisted of several hundred independent city states (poleis). This was a situation unlike that in most other contemporary societies, which were either tribal, or kingdoms ruling over relatively large territories. Undoubtedly the geography of Greece, which was divided and sub-divided by hills, mountains and rivers, contributed to the fragmentary nature of ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks had no doubt that they were 'one people'; they had the same religion, same basic culture, and same language. Yet, although these higher-level relationships existed, they seem to have rarely had a major role in Greek politics. The independence of the poleis was fiercely defended; unification was something rarely contemplated by the ancient Greeks.
The domination of politics by small groups of families was apt to cause social unrest in many poleis. In many cities a tyrant would at some point seize control and govern according to their own will; often a populist agenda would help sustain them in power. In a system racked with class conflict, government by a 'dictator' was often the best solution.
The rise of Ancient Greek democracy came about after Athens fell under a tyranny in the second half of the 6th century. When this tyranny was ended, the Athenians founded the world's first democracy as a radical solution to prevent the aristocracy regaining power. After the rise of the democracy in Athens, other city-states founded democracies. However, many retained more traditional forms of government. As so often in other matters, Sparta was a notable exception to the rest of Greece, ruled through the whole period by not one, but two hereditary monarchs.
At least in the Archaic Period, the fragmentary nature of ancient Greece, with many competing city-states, increased the frequency of conflict, but conversely limited the scale of warfare. Unable to maintain professional armies, the city-states relied on their own citizens to fight. This inevitably reduced the potential duration of campaigns, as citizens would need to return to their own professions (especially in the case of, for example, farmers). Campaigns would therefore often be restricted to summer. When battles occurred, they were usually set piece and intended to be decisive. Casualties were slight compared to later battles, rarely amounting to more than 5% of the losing side, but the slain often included the most prominent citizens and generals who led from the front.
The scale and scope of warfare in ancient Greece changed dramatically as a result of the greco-Persian War. The eventual triumph of the Greeks was achieved by alliances of city-states, allowing the pooling of resources and division of labour. The rise of Athens and Sparta as pre-eminent powers during this conflict led directly to the Peloponnesian War, which saw further development of the nature of warfare, strategy and tactics. Fought between leagues of cities dominated by Athens and Sparta, the increased man-power and financial resources increased the scale, and allowed the diversification of warfare. Set-piece battles during the Peloponnesian war proved indecisive and instead there was increased reliance on naval battles, blockades and sieges. These changes greatly increased the number of casualties and the disruption of Greek society.
The civilization of ancient Greece has been immensely influential on language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and the arts. Through the Roman Empire, Greek culture became the foundation of Western culture. The Byzantine Empire inherited Classical Greek culture directly, without Latin intermediation, and the preservation of classical Greek learning in medieval Byzantine tradition further exerted strong influence on the Slavs and later on the Islamic Golden Age and the Western European Renaissance. A modern revival of Classical Greek learning took place in the Neoclassical movement in 18th and 19th century Europe and the Americas.