2.1 Ancient Greece: the start of European Civilisation

AGE 2. The Time of Greeks and Romans
2.1 Ancient Greece: the start of European Civilisation

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This lesson contains 18 slides, with interactive quiz, text slides and 1 video.

Items in this lesson

AGE 2. The Time of Greeks and Romans
2.1 Ancient Greece: the start of European Civilisation

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What is this lesson about?
Because of the high mountains and rocky grounds in Greece, people used ships to trade and to find new fertile land. These colonies would be independent city-states, or poleis. 
The Greeks viewed inhabitants of the poleis differently, as some were citizens, slaves, foreigners or women. Most important were the citizens made their money from owning land. The Greeks did a lot of trade, in oil and wine.

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What you can explain /  do after this lesson
  • What a polis is
  • Why trade was important for the Greeks
  • Why the Greeks created colonies

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Word Duty

Social layers: groups of people who differ from each other in wealth, power and prestige.
Colony: a new city that was started overseas
Polis (plural: poleis): Greek city-state
Agora: the main marketplace in a polis
Acropolis: the inner keep of the city where most of the temples were
Dark ages: time historians cannot “see”, because there is no information about it
Oral Tradition: stories are not written down, but passed on from person to person by telling
Metoiks: people that were born in a different polis
Social pyramid: graph to show the differences in power, wealth and/or influence in a country
Slave: person owned by someone else, slaves were at the bottom of the social pyramid
Middle class: social layer of merchants and such individuals
Lower class: (poor) working people with little power
Upper class: ruling class of people


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TIMELINE of this CHAPTER (don't need to learn for the test)

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None of the societies that you read about in the previous chapter were in Europe. Most historians say that European civilisation starts with the Greeks. The people lived divided over independent city-states. Athens and Sparta were the most powerful. The city-states were filled with many people, all of them in different social layers. Slavery was normal to them and fighting in the army was only for the rich.

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Geography of Greece

Greece is a country that borders the Mediterranean Sea. It has many high mountains, rocky ground and islands.
Because of this, there is not a lot of fertile land close together. So to make a living, the Greeks herded sheep and goats on the rocky hillsides. And on the small fertile patches they grew grain and even some olives and figs on trees. In times when there was not enough food, they had to buy it from other places.

Sometimes more drastic measures were needed. They then started a new city in places where there was better soil. This new city, or colony, would have strong links to the old city. Later the colony could trade food with the city from where these colonists originally came from.
You can imagine that because of the high mountains and difficult terrain, trade by land was difficult. So the Greeks used the sea as their highways. They sailed to different lands (like Southern France, Turkey and Italy) to start colonies, to trade or even to fight. This made harbours very important in Greece. Almost every city had one.
source 2.1.1
Map of Ancient Greece, around 500 BC, modern illustration
source 2.1.2
Today, Greece still has high mountains and rocky grounds.

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source 2.1.3
Greece and its colonies. Modern map.

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The Greek city states

Most Greek cities were so powerful that they also controlled surrounding lands. Many such areas were closed off by natural barriers, like mountains, rivers or the sea. Because of this, these cities became independent states, with their own government, coins and army. Such a city is called a city-state. The Greek word for this is polis (plural: poleis). These poleis would act as small countries.
Not all poleis were exactly the same. There were many differences, but also some similarities that we will find out about. In almost every polis there was a market where a farmer would sell his goods when he had finished the harvest. 
In China the priests wrote on turtle shells.
source 2.1.4
The Acropolis of Athens, painted by Leo von Klenze (1846)
source 2.1.5
Athens, 2018

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Trading across the Mediterranean

Merchants were people that sailed from harbour to harbour to buy goods cheap and sell these goods elsewhere for a lot of money. Most money could be made by growing and trading good olives. This is difficult, as an olive tree needs time (c. two years) to start producing olives. All this time you would not make any money. Fresh olives were not that valuable, but olive oil was. It was sold all over the Mediterranean Sea, as was Greek wine: especially if this was put in pottery that had beautiful painting on it, it almost sold itself.
source 2.1.6
A trireme: a warship with three rows of rowers (present-day replica).
Classes in ancient Greece
In history we call groups of merchants the middle class. People who only work and do not have a lot of wealth are called the lower class. People with the most property, the rich and powerful, are called the upper class. This class owned land and made money by selling woods and crops from the land, or renting out land. Of course they did work with traders, but they said the land was their source of income.
source 2.1.7
Greek trading routes across the Mediterranean Sea
source 2.1.8
Terracotta neck-amphora (jar) 
ca. 540 B.C.

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Greek history

Greek history spans a very long time. From beginning to end it's roughly 14 centuries.
That's the same as from the early Middle Ages to our time today.

When historians place events in a certain period, they notice similarities that can be seen, like a style in art, a language used, or even the lack of knowledge. 

That is how we can now divide the history of Greece into several periods, each with its own characteristics.

Dark Ages

This term is often used for a period in history when civilisation has gone (after a disaster or a war) and doesn't return for several centuries

Characteristics of Dark Ages:
  • no good government
  • no good roads
  • no international trade
  • no money, but barter trade
  • no schools
  • no writing system. 
As a result we have very little information about such a period.

source 2.1.8
A timeline of ancient Greek history.
In history class we focus mainly on the period of Classical Antiquity. This is the period of Greece that we know from the pictures and movies. It was also the period of the highest Greek civilisation, the period that is truly the birth of our European civilisation. This period gave us our alphabet, Greek style architecture and of course: democracy.
From the oldest Greek periods we still have the beautiful stories of mythology.

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Free men and foreigners

Not everybody in ancient Greece was equal. Some people had more power and wealth than others. For example: the Athenians were divided into different social layers, which means that there were different types of people in one city-state.
There were citizens, foreigners, free men and slaves, and of course the women and children of these groups. Citizens were the group with the most rights and influence. They were the ones that had a say in politics. Foreigners, or Metoiks, were the people that were born in a different polis. They could have some rights at home, but were not allowed to own land or have a say in political matters in different city-states they visited. Free men were allowed to own land or run a business, but if they did not have enough wealth they also didn’t get a say in politics. The rights that women had depended on the polis where they lived: in Sparta they were allowed to own land and run a business, but in most city-states they were not.
source 2.1.9
Men discuss politics in the Athenian Agora (colour lithograph), Herget, Herbert M. (1885-1950), National Geographic Creative
source 2.1.10
Drinking cup (490-480 BC)
Women in the ancient Greek world had few rights in comparison to male citizens. Unable to vote, own land, or inherit, a woman's place was in the home and her purpose in life was the rearing of children. 

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Slaves were at the bottom of the social pyramid, but the rights they had depended on the polis in which they lived. Some slaves were important and had better lives than free men. These slaves were teachers or advisors and were well educated and expensive. Their owners made sure nothing happened to them. Other slaves were not so lucky. They had to work hard in fields or mines. In any case the slaves had no freedom!

You could become a slave if you had too many debts. Then you had nothing left to sell but yourself. Others were born as slaves, because their parents were slaves. Another way to become a slave was to be taken prisoner during a war.
Slaves could always be sold again. Sometimes slaves could even buy their own freedom: in this case they became free men.
A painting of slaves working in a silver mine (5th century BC).

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Why do we study Ancient Greece? Because of its legacy!  More info: go to this website.

: anything that is handed down from the past and that leaves a mark on the world today.

What was the legacy of ancient Greece?
The ancient Greeks left a long standing mark on the modern world by developing new government systems called democracy, architecture, sports, art, theater, philosophy, science, mathematics, and by inventing new technologies.

What is ancient Greece remembered for?
Ancient Greece is remembered for developing democracy, inventing Western philosophy, realistic art, developing theater like comedy and tragedy, the Olympic Games, inventing pi, and the Pythagoras theorem.

Why is ancient Greece important to Western civilization?
Ancient Greece helped explain the world through the laws of nature by inventing Western philosophy, democracy, the arts, and through several scientific inventions.

What did the ancient Greeks invent?
The ancient Greeks invented many things still used today. For instance, they invented Western philosophy, pi, the Pythagoras theorem, geometry, and the most important item they invented was a form of government called democracy.

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Write down one question about something from this lesson that you find difficult.

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Slide 18 - Video