Where Western civilisation began
Ancient Greece is called 'the birthplace of Western civilisation'. About 2500 years ago, the Greeks created a way of life that other people admired and copied. The Romans copied Greek art and Greek gods, for example. The Ancient Greeks tried out democracy, started the Olympic Games and left new ideas in science, art and philosophy (thinking about life).
The Ancient Greeks lived in mainland Greece and the Greek islands, but also in what is now Turkey, and in colonies scattered around the Mediterranean sea coast. There were Greeks in Italy, Sicily, North Africa and as far west as France. Sailing the sea to trade and find new land, Greeks took their way of life to many places.
The timeline will show you some of the important events in the history of Ancient Greece.
What was ancient Greece like?
Ancient Greece had a warm, dry climate, as Greece does today. People lived by farming, fishing, and trade. Some were soldiers. Others were scholars, scientists or artists. Most Greeks lived in villages or in small cities. There were beautiful temples with stone columns and statues, and open-air theatres where people sat to watch plays.
Many Greeks were poor. Life was hard because farmland, water and timber for building were all scarce. That's why many Greeks sailed off to find new lands to settle.
How Greece was ruled
There was not one country called "Ancient Greece." Instead, there were small 'city-states'. Each city-state had its own government. Sometimes the city-states fought one another, sometimes they joined together against a bigger enemy, the Persian Empire. Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Olympia were four of these city-states, and you can find out more about them on this site. Only a very powerful ruler could control all Greece. One man did in the 300s BC. He was Alexander the Great, from Macedonia. Alexander led his army to conquer not just Greece but an empire that reached as far as Afghanistan and India.
When did Greek civilisation begin?
About 3000 BC, there lived on the island of Crete a people now called Minoans. The name comes from their King Minos. Minos and other Minoan kings grew rich from trade, and built fine palaces. The Minoan civilization ended about 1450 BC.
After the Minoans came the Myceneans. They were soldiers from mainland Greece, and were the Greeks who fought Troy in the 1200s BC. After the Mycenean age ended, about 1100 BC, Greece entered a "Dark Age". This lasted until the 800s BC when the Greeks set off by sea to explore and set up colonies.
The Olympic Games begun in 776 BC. This was the start of "Archaic" Greek civilization.
Around 480 BC the "golden age" of Greece began. This is what historians call "Classical" Greece.
What was the Trojan War?
The Trojans lived in the city of Troy, in what is now Turkey. The story of their war with the Greeks is told in the Iliad, a long poem dating from the 700s BC, and said to be by a storyteller named Homer. The Odyssey, also by Homer, is the tale of the adventures of a Greek soldier named Odysseus, after the war.
The Trojan War began when Paris, Prince of Troy, ran away with Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. The Greeks sent a fleet of ships, with an army, to get her back. The war lasted for 10 years. In single combat, the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles, killed the Trojan leader Hector. In the end the Greeks won, by a clever trick using a wooden horse.
The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse was the trick the Greeks used to capture Troy. First they pretended to sail away, but left behind a giant wooden horse. Inside the horse, Greek soldiers were hiding. Rejoicing that the Greeks had gone, the Trojans dragged the horse into their city. They thought it was a gift.
That night the Greek ships returned. While the Trojans were asleep, the hidden Greeks climbed out of the wooden horse. They opened the city gates, and let in the Greek army. Troy was destroyed. The Trojan War was over.