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The evolving Greek world

Athenian Democracy

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Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece played a major role in the development of Western civilization and laid down the foundations of democracy.
This series evokes Crete and Mycenae, colonization and Greek cities, wars between Persia and the Athenian empire, Sparta and the Peloponnesian war, Alexander's conquests and the Hellenistic kingdoms.
In an evolving geographic area, its two thousand years of history have inspired our imagination.

Antiquity – The Greek world - Mycenaeans - colonization – the Hellenistic kingdoms – a city-state: Athens – Athenian democracy - the Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries – Alexandria, a Hellenistic city – the Greco-Persian wars - Marathon - Salamina – The Peloponnesian war – the Athenian Empire – the conquests of Alexander the Great – Issus – Gaugamela

History of Ancient Greece map and timeline

The evolving Greek world

The Greek world was an ever-changing geographical reality throughout three million years before Christ. The first settlements in the Cyclades and Crete and later on both sides of the Aegean Sea, colonization along the Mediterranean coast and around the Black Sea, the immense empire created by Alexander the Great.

Divided by internal dissension, the Hellenistic world was gradually absorbed into the Roman Empire, though Greek culture continued to develop throughout the Mediterranean Basin.

Map main geographical features of Greece

Geography of Greece

Greece is dominated by two main geographical features: sea and mountains.

The mountain ranges sweep down from the centre to the shore, isolating the coastal plains: Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, Boeotia, Attica, Laconia, Messenia.

Map ancient Greece migration and languages, Ionians, Achaeans, Aeolians

Migration and languages

The end of the 3rd millennium BC was marked by a several waves of migration over a long period: Ionians, Aeolians, Achaeans, Dorians.

These migrations led to the emergence of various Greek dialects in different geographical regions around the Aegean Sea.

Map Greek colonies founded by city-states (7th-6th centuries BC)


In the 8th century, and over the next two centuries, the Greeks were well established on both sides of the Aegean Sea and continued to expand their world through colonization.

For the Greeks, this meant living their own city to found another in Magna Graecia, on the Mediterranean coast or the Black Sea (Euxeinos Pontos, Hellespont).

Map of the Hellenistic kingdoms , the Ptolimies in Egypt

The Hellenistic kingdoms

When he died at the age of 33, Alexander had no direct heirs. This situation led to his empire being divided between his generals, known as the ‘diadochi’.

There followed forty years of partitions and wars, during which the diadochi squabbled over Alexander’s empire and created a number of independent kingdoms. 

Map War between the city-states,  Ancient Greek warfare

The Greeks and War

Wars were a common phenomenon in Ancient Greece. These were sometimes wars against external enemies, but mostly they involved conflicts between neighbouring cities.

The army was made up of infantrymen, the hoplites, who marched in phalanxes, that is, in a tight formation of 8 rows.

Map history of the Greco-Persian Wars  -492 and 480 Marathon

The Greco-Persian Wars

The wars between the Greeks and the Persians took place in the early 5th century BC.
They began when Greek cities in Asia Minor rebelled against their Persian overlords.

Victories in the Battles of Marathon and of Salamina gave Athens additional prestige and allowed them to dominate the areas about the Aegean Sea.

Map history of the Peloponnesian War 432-404 BC

The Peloponnesian War

The Peloponnesian War involved the two largest power centres in Greece: Athens backed by its empire and Sparta with its allies in the Peloponnesian League.

This conflict was important for many reasons: its unprecedented length, the number of cities involved in the fighting and the vast number of battle sites.

Map of the conquests and the empire of Alexander the Great

The conquests of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great is one of the most famous men of the Ancient world.
He defeated Darius at Issus and Gaugamela, and took over the entire Persian Empire which stretched from the Mediterranean to India.

The wedding at Susa demonstrated Alexander’s desire to bind together the Macedonians, Greeks and Asians into a single people.

Map of the conflict between Greece and Rome, Macedonian wars

Conflicts with Rome

During the 3rd century BC, Southern Italy and Sicily became part of the Roman State, and some Greek cities decided to form alliances with their powerful new neighbour.

But it was the “Macedonian Wars” that gave Rome a foothold in the region. The Romans made alliances with the small kingdoms that had been created and were now fighting against the descendants of the diadoci.  

Map history of Mycenae and Pylos, decline of the Mycenaean world


Around 1600 BC, the Achaeans settled in the Peloponnese where they founded a number of cities including Pylos and Mycenae. Archaeological excavations carried out at Mycenae, and the many Greek legends that refer to the city, have led to this civilization being known as the “Mycenaean world”.

Map history of Athens a City-State in Classical Greece

A Greek city-state: Athens

The Greek city, or polis, was an independent city-state that shared the same language and values with other Greek cities. It was made up of a group of free men who could participate in government: the citizens.

The city of Athens is a typical example of a classic city-state.   

Map history of Athenian Democracy in the 5th century

Athenian Democracy

In 508-507, the Cleisthene reforms established the framework for democracy, thanks to the creation of an egalitarian civic space.
These reforms were intended to create new bonds between citizens living in the various regions in Attica and break down traditional clanic and family relationships.

During the following decades, victories in the battles of Marathon and Salamina over the Persians reinforced the prestige of Athenian democracy.

Map of te Greek temples naos, pronaos, opisthodomos

The temples

Once the Greeks began to make sculptures of their gods in human form, the temple which housed the statue became an essential part of any sanctuary. 

Architecture in Ancient Greece can be characterized as three different types: the Doric, Ionian and Corinthian orders.
Map of the Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries Olympia and Delos

The Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries

Religion was an integral part of life for the Greeks.
Some sanctuaries, known as Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries, attracted large regional and international gatherings and played an important role in the emergence of Greek consciousness: Hellenism.

These sanctuaries (Delphi, Dodona, Olympia, Delos) were located close to major routes and crossroads. 

Map of Alexandria a Hellenistic City founde by Alexander the Great

Alexandria: A Hellenistic City

In order to revive trading opportunities in the Eastern Mediterranean, Alexander the Great ordered, after his conquest of Egypt, that the city of Alexandria be built.  It was at the time the only Egyptian port on the Mediterranean coast.

An important centre for trading and power, Alexandria remained for many centuries the intellectual capital of the Mediterranean.

Antiquity – The Greek world - Mycenaeans - colonization – the Hellenistic kingdoms – a city-state: Athens – Athenian democracy - the Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries – Alexandria, a Hellenistic city – the Greco-Persian wars - Marathon - Salamina – The Peloponnesian war – the Athenian Empire – the conquests of Alexander the Great – Issus – Gaugamela

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