Ancient Greece

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See also: European history

Ancient Greece or Classical Greece was a civilization which emerged around the 8th century BCE, and was annexed by the Roman Empire in the second century BCE.

Ancient Greece is remembered for its architecture, philosophy and other ideas, which became the foundation of modern Europe. The Olympic Games are originally an ancient Greek tradition.


Greek language and culture stretched far beyond the territory of modern Greece; especially across Asia Minor (today's Turkey). Starting with the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, the Greek culture spread as far east as modern day Afghanistan, and Egypt (see Ancient Egypt) was ruled for three centuries by the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, which was founded by one of Alexander's generals. This late bloom of Greek culture, which was later partially supplanted by the Roman Empire, is known as the Hellenic era. Some elements of Greek culture endured for centuries after the last Greek polity had disappeared. For instance Coptic, the language that Ancient Egyptian evolved into, was written in Greek-derived letters until it died out in the 17th century. Other examples include Greek authors and philosophers, such as Homer and Socrates, that were and are still widely read among a certain subset of Europeans. Greek terms have even entered the general lexicon of the English language, mostly relating to things the Greeks were known for (Theater, Politics, Democracy) or scientific terms. Sometimes Greek and Latin terms have been mixed, most notably in the case of "automobile" which derives from Greek "autos" (~self) and Latin "mobilis" (~movable, moving). For these reasons and the fact that the Christian New Testament was written in Ancient Greek, Ancient Greek is still taught in many secondary schools and universities throughout Europe.



  •   Athens. One of the most important poleis in Ancient Greece, Athens was a naval power and a center of learning and philosophy. While it was temporarily surpassed militarily by Sparta and Thebes, its immense wealth meant that some of its classical architecture is still standing. Due in part to its history Athens later became the capital of modern Greece
  •   Argos. Major stronghold during the Mycenaean era, this city may be older than Mycenae itself. In classical times was a powerful rival of Sparta for dominance over the Peloponnese. Nowadays, there are still several interesting remains, among them a temple to goddess Hera.
  •   Corinth. One of the largest and most important cities of Classical Greece, with a population of 90,000 in 400 BC. In classical times and earlier, Corinth had a temple of Aphrodite and rivaled Athens and Thebes in wealth.
  •   Delos. This island, the alleged birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, was already a holy sanctuary for a millennium before the establishment of this piece of Olympian Greek mythology; a very significant archaeological site.
  •   Delphi. Delphi was believed to be determined by Zeus when he sought to find the omphalos (navel) of his "Grandmother Earth" (Ge, Gaea, or Gaia). Site of the Apollo cult, oracle, and eternal flame.
  •   Olympia. Site of the original Olympic Games and the Temple of Zeus.
  •   Sparta. Even contemporaries agreed, that Athens would be perceived to have been much more important than Sparta. This is mostly because the Spartan society was very militaristic and invested in war rather than monuments or temples. A famous quote sums up the Spartan attitude towards building even if for war says "Sparta has no walls. The Spartans are the wall of Sparta"
  •   Heraklion. Known in ancient times as Knossos; the ceremonial and political centre of the Minoan civilization and culture.
  •   Mycenae. Arguably the very oldest Greek city; the period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to this city. Its acropolis, continuously inhabited from the Early Neolithic onwards, had already become a tourist attraction by the Roman period.
  •   Samos. Birthplace of Pythagoras, the famous mathematician. Features the remains of a once-famous sanctuary to goddess Hera.
  •   Samothrace. Site of Sanctuary of the Great Gods, the centre of a mystery cult that rivaled Delos and Delphi.
  •   Volos. Identified with Iolkos, the alleged birthplace of mythical hero Jason, leader of the Argonauts. Features several archeological sites nearby.


  •   Agrigento (Sicily). Site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas (Ἀκράγας), famous for its Valle dei Templi ("Valley of the Temples", a misnomer, as it is a ridge, rather than a valley), a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city, where seven monumental Greek temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself.
  •   Gela (Sicily). founded around 688 BC by colonists from Rhodes and Crete; playwright Aeschylos, the "father of tragedy", died in this city in 456 BC.
  •   Paestum (Campania). Widely considered to have the best and most extensive ancient Greek relics in the former Magna Graecia.
  •   Syracuse (Sicily). Birthplace of Archimedes, the famous philosopher and mathematician.
  •   Brindisi (Apulia). Its name comes from the Greek Brentesion (Βρεντήσιον) meaning "deer's head", which refers to the shape of its natural harbor.
  •   Reggio di Calabria (Calabria). A Greek colony at first, under the name Rhégion (Ῥήγιον, "Cape of the King"), Reggio is home to the National Archaeological Museum of Magna Græcia, one of the most important archaeological museums of Italy.


  •   Aphrodisias (Southern Aegean). Site of the Temple of Aphrodite. Now it's one of the best preserved ancient cities in Turkey, and without the usual crowds of Ephesus.
  •   Assos (Northern Aegean). The Doric order columns of the hilltop Temple of Athena here are the only one of this type on the Asian mainland. Assos was also the site of the academy established by philosopher Aristotle.
  •   Bergama (Northern Aegean). The UNESCO-listed Pergamon was once the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon, ruled by a Hellenistic dynasty and held sway over most of western Anatolia. The ruins of Pergamon are among the most popular archaeological sites in Turkey, and there is much to see in two seperate areas — although the impressive altar was taken to Germany in the late 19th century, and is now in display in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
  •   Çavdarhisar (Central Anatolia). Features the impressive ruins of Aizanoi, site of the awesome Temple of Zeus.
  •   Didyma (just north of the modern town of Didim, Southern Aegean). The sanctuary of the then great city of Miletus was once the site of an oracle that was as renowned as that of Delphi. Go there to see the ruins of the colossal Temple of Apollon, adorned with much ancient Greek art.
  •   Ephesus (Central Aegean). A famous and prosperous poleis in Classical times, birthplace of philosopher Heraclitus, now a large world heritage-listed archeological site and one of Turkey's major tourist attractions.
  •   Gülpınar (north of Babakale, Northern Aegean). The site of the lonely ruins of the Temple of Apollon Smintheion, the major sacred site of the Troad Peninsula extending south of Troy.
  •   Izmir (Central Aegean). Ancient Smyrna has always been famous as the birthplace of Homer, thought to have lived here around the 8th century BC. Its agora (central market place) is now an open-air museum.
  •   Knidos (Southern Aegean). This was the site of the Aphrodite of Knidos, a statue depicting a nude goddess of love created in the 4th century BC, which became so famous that it sparked one of the earliest forms of tourism in the classical world. Nowadays Knidos doesn't have as many visitors, as it lies at the end of a remote peninsula and had its statue long since lost to oblivion.
  •   Miletus (between Söke and Didim, Southern Aegean). Considered to be the largest and the wealthiest of the Greek cities prior to the Persian invasion of the 6th century BC, Miletus is also the birthplace of mathematician and philosopher Thales.
  •   Priene (near Güllübahçe, south of Söke, Southern Aegean). The earliest city built on a grid plan, Priene was once a major harbor on the Ionian coast. Its hillside ruins now overlook a fertile plain, formed by the silting up of its harbor by the Meander River in the meantime.
  •   Sinop (Black Sea Turkey). Σινώπη (Sinōpē), the birthplace of seminal philosopher Diogenes the Cynic.
  •   Trabzon (Black Sea Turkey). Τραπεζοῦς (Trapezous) was the first Greek city reached by Xenophon and the Ten Thousand mercenaries, when fighting their way out of Persia, as described in the Anabasis.
  •   Troy. According to Homer's Iliad, this is where the legendary Trojan War took place.


  •   Batumi. This was the Greek colony of Bathys in the land of Colchis. Colchis was the final destination of Jason and his Argonauts in their pursuit of the "Golden Fleece" around Pontos Axeinos, "the inhospitable sea". While not much remains of Bathys, in 2007 the city has erected a large statue in honour of Medea, a mithycal Colchian princess and the wife of Jason, depicting her while holding what appears to be the Golden Fleece.


  •   Paphos. Renowned in antiquity as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. A few miles outside the city, the rock of Aphrodite (Petra tou Romiou, "Stone of the Greek") emerges from the sea. According to legend, Aphrodite rose from the waves in this strikingly beautiful spot.


  •   Alexandria. the best known of several towns funded by and named for Alexander the great. A center of learning in antiquity as well as the seat of the Ptolemaic dynasty.


  •   Cyrene. Ancient Cyrene was the oldest, largest and the most important of the five Greek cities ("pentapolis") of the greater Cyrenaica region. Prospered with the trade of its rich agricultural products, the city became one of the most influential centres of ancient Greek culture and art, and was nicknamed the "Athens of Africa". Ruins of several temples dedicated to the Greek gods dot the site.

See also[edit]

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