Greece was home to a rich civilization that reached its peak between 500 BC and 300 BC. Its people lived by farming, fishing, crafts, and trading. They built 300 CITY-STATES and settled in colonies. In 146 BC, Greece was conquered by Rome, but many aspects of Greek culture still shape our world.
Mycenaean kings were powerful from 1600 BC to 1200 BC. They were warrior chieftains who lived in fortresslike cities and ruled small kingdoms. Their name comes from the richest of these—Mycenae, in southern Greece. They employed skilled artists and craftworkers to make fine pottery and magnificent gold jewelry. They owned fleets of trading ships that sailed to many ports.
The Ancient Greeks worshiped many different gods and goddesses. They believed that these gods had magic powers and that they were human in form, but bigger and more beautiful. Each god or goddess controlled a different aspect of life. The supreme god Zeus led all other gods. His brother Poseidon ruled the sea, and another brother, Hades, ruled the underworld.
Greek tragedies and comedies told stories about gods and goddesses, or made fun of people such as politicians. Only men watched the plays. They thought women would find them too rude or upsetting. The plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides are still performed today.
Sports were good training for war, but city-states also organized sports competitions to form part of their religious festivals. The most famous was the Olympic Games, held every four years to honor the god Zeus. Competitors came from all over Greece. Victorious athletes won praise for themselves, and prestige for their families and towns.
Alexander was ruler of Macedon, north of Greece. As a young man he conquered many lands, including some of the Greek city-states. When he died, his vast empire stretched from Egypt to Pakistan.
A city-state was made up of a town and all the land near it. Each one had its own government, laws, and way of life. City-states often fought each other, using troops of HOPLITES and huge warships.
In Athens, all adult male citizens could listen to debates in the Assembly, which met on most days. Here, they could elect and expel city leaders, and vote to decide on government policies. Women, slaves, and foreigners were not able to vote. Three of the world’s most famous philosophers—Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—lived and taught in Athens.
Hoplites were trained foot soldiers who fought for their city-states using swords and spears. Their name came from the round hoplon (shield) that they carried for protection in battle. They also wore helmets, body armor, and plated greaves (shin guards).
The Greeks used a battle formation called the phalanx. Soldiers stood side by side in rows, overlapping their shields to make a solid wall of defense as they advanced toward the enemy. Their commanders rode in horse-drawn chariots to overlook the battlefield. City-states also hired foreign experts, such as archers from Scythia, and used warships called triremes.