|Geography of Ancient Greece
Islands and Mountains - Ancient Greece was located in Southeast Europe along the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Europe from Africa. Greek civilization was surrounded by other great civilizations of the age, including the Egyptians to the south, the Etruscans and the Romans to the west, the Persians to the east, and the Phoenicians to the southeast.
Unlike many of these other civilizations, the Greek civilization did not develop in a river valley. Ancient Greece was bordered by water, however. Greece had the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Aegean Sea to the east. Greece is actually a series of islands, which are pieces of land surrounded completely by water, and peninsulas, which are pieces of land surrounded on three sides by water. These islands and peninsulas were covered with high mountains, making travel across the land very difficult. So, the Greek people mostly traveled by water.
Because Greece’s mountains, islands, and peninsulas separated the Greek people from each other and made communication difficult, Greek civilization developed into independent city-states, cities that governed themselves and the land that surrounded them.
Using Natural Resources in Ancient Greece - The steep mountains of the Greek countryside also affected the crops and animals that farmers raised in the region. They raised goats and sheep because they were able to graze on the sides of the mountains. They planted olive trees and grape vines that could thrive despite being on a hill. They made oil from the olives and wine from the grapes, and used goats and sheep for milk, cheese, and wool.
The mountainous islands of Greece limited the amount of fertile farmland that was available to the Greeks. The shortage of farmland meant the Greeks needed to look elsewhere for resources they lacked, such as a sufficient grain and metals. This caused the Greeks to conquer other areas. They also established colonies along the Mediterranean in areas where farmland was more plentiful such as Southern Italy, Northern Africa, Turkey, and the southern coast of France. In addition to military conquests and the establishment of colonies, trade became an important aspect of Greek life.
The geography of ancient Greece influenced affected the development of its civilization. The isolation of the different cities and their unique geographies caused them to develop in unique ways. How does where you live affect the choices you make?
The Economy of Ancient Greece - One of the earliest settlements in ancient Greece was Mycenae. The Mycenaeans ruled much of southern Greece from 1500 BCE to 1100 BCE.
Like most of the Greek city-states, Mycenae suffered from a shortage of rich farmland. Instead of relying only on agriculture, the Mycenaeans used the sea to improve their civilization. The Mycenaeans’ strong naval fleet controlled nearby waters and attacked other cities. After conquering these cities they established colonies that traded with the central Mycenaean city-state. Mycenaean settlements have been found in parts of Turkey, Southern Italy, and the island of Sicily.
In addition to colonization, the Mycenaeans also used trade with other kingdoms to secure the resources they needed. Ancient Greece’s location on the sea made trade an important part of its early economy. Evidence has been found to suggest that the Mycenaeans traded with civilizations in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. Mycenae’s trade with other civilizations, as well as its military strength, made it a commercial and cultural center in the Mediterranean until about 1200 BCE.
Around 1200 BCE, the Mycenaeans fought a war with the city of Troy. This war is believed to be the basis for the story of the Trojan War in Greek mythology, although it is unlikely that the actual events of the war match the legends. While the Mycenaeans were fighting Troy, invaders from the sea conquered much of their homeland. These two events marked the end of the Mycenaean period. After the fall of Mycenae there was period of chaos and conflict on the Greek peninsula. Toward the end of this time of disorder, other Greek city-states rose in stature.
Unique City States - After the time of unrest that followed the decline of Mycenae, several other Greek city-states began to increase in power and influence. Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes were among the most powerful of these city-sates. Eventually, Athens and Sparta developed as rival powers. Because of their geographic isolation, each developed its own style of government and culture that would eventually influence other Greek city-states and civilizations throughout history.
Because the geography of Greece made travel and communication between cities difficult, it was difficult to have one central government. For this reason, the city-states developed independently and their governments, cultures, and economies were often quite different from each other based on their locations. For example, the city-states of Corinth and Thebes both grew into powers in part because of their location and the resources available to them.
Corinth, which lay approximately 50 miles to the west of Athens, was strategically located near the Isthmus of Corinth, a small waterway connecting the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea. This location provided Corinth with access to sea routes that made travel between the Greek mainland and its peninsulas and islands quick and easy. Corinth used this location to establish several colonies in the area, including Corcyra and Syracuse. In turn, these colonies helped Corinth to establish shipping routes throughout the Mediterranean and dominate trade in early Greece. Corinth used the wealth it received from trade to become increasingly powerful and influential in the region.
Thebes, unlike Corinth, was northwest of Athens and farther inland. It did not have easy access to the sea but was located near several major springs. These springs provided an abundant source of water for the city’s population as well as for use in the irrigation of its crops. This
meant Thebes was not as reliant on trade to ensure an adequate food supply. Thebes grew into a military power and became a rival of Athens and Sparta.
Although the Greek city-states developed independently, they did share some common culture and goals. When faced with threats, the Greek city-states were capable of defending themselves individually, but were also willing to work together to protect the common elements of their cultures. These threats often came from another great power—Persia. Persia sought to expand its own power and influence in the region and take advantage of the trade routes in the Aegean sea. This often brought Persia into conflict with Greek city-states and colonies.
Persia Vs Greece
The Greek colonies along the Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts maintained close contact with the city-states on the Greek peninsula. When King Darius sent Persian troops to suppress, or stop, the rebellion in the Greek colonies, the Greek city-states of Athens and Eretria sent boats and soldiers to aid the Greek rebels. This was the first in a series of wars between the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, known as the Persian Wars.
The rebellion was defeated, and Persia regained control of the territory. However, King Darius was concerned about the influence of the city-states on the Greek peninsula on the Greek colonies. He decided that to prevent future rebellions he would need to conquer all of Greece. Historians think Darius was also motivated by the opportunity to expand the Persian Empire even further by taking over Greece and its profitable trade routes.
The Persian Wars
In 490 BCE King Darius sent a fleet of Persian ships to conquer Greece. The soldiers landed at the plain of Marathon, northeast of the city-state of Athens. The Persian army was larger than any Greek army, but they had problems getting supplies to their troops across the Aegean Sea, which could be dangerous to travel. An early attempt at invasion in 492 BCE by the Persians had ended when many of the Persian ships were destroyed in a storm. The natural protection of the sea was a great advantage to the Greek city-states.
Despite early Persian victories, a few combined Greek city-states were able to beat the Persian army at the battle of Marathon. After the defeat at Marathon, the Persian troops retreated back to their empire. Legend has it that an Athenian man ran from the battle of Marathon all the way back to Athens to share news of the victory. The first modern marathon race, which was run at the 1896 Olympics in Athens, mirrored the route of this legendary ancient Athenian.
The Persian army returned to Greece in 480 BCE, 10 years after the battle of Marathon, under the command of King Xerxes, the son of Darius. Xerxes not only sought to revenge his father’s defeat at Marathon but, like his father, he also wanted to establish Greece as a Persian province and gain control of its trading network. Unlike his father, however, Xerxes traveled not over sea, but instead marched his armies around the Aegean Sea and invaded the Greek peninsula from the north. Meanwhile, the Persian navy sailed south along the Greek coast line.
Because of the size of the Persian army, which historians estimate at 360,000 men, and the rocky and hilly terrain of Greece, the Persian army moved slowly. This gave the Greek city-states time to prepare a strategy for battle. The Greek city-states worked together to try and stop Xerxes’ march southward. The Athenians, who had a fleet of warships, were charged with destroying the Persian fleet, while the formidable Spartan army was sent to stop the Persian ground forces.
The Spartans met the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae with a force of about 7,000 men. The Greeks decided to fight in a narrow canyon, where the Persians could only send a few soldiers at a time, which limited the advantage the Persians had because of the size of their army. However, a Greek soldier betrayed the Spartans and showed the Persians how to circle around behind the Spartan army. Trapped on both sides, the Spartan commander decided to let most of his army flee and prepared to hold off the Persians with only 300 Spartan soldiers as well as soldiers from Thespiae and Thebes. Although all the soldiers who remained behind died in the battle, they held off the Persian army for about a day and allowed the rest of the Greek troops to escape.
After the Persian victory at Thermopylae, Xerxes’ army conquered Athens and burned it to the ground. Most Athenians were able to flee the city to nearby islands in advance of Xerxes’ army. However, a battle at sea would change the course of the war.
The End of the Wars - Although the city-state of Athens had been conquered, the Athenian navy was still intact. The Greek fleet was made up of ships called triremes. The design of these ships allowed the Greeks to travel quickly between and around the islands. They also had sharp points on the end designed for ramming enemy ships.
In 480 BCE, the Greeks lured the Persian fleet into a narrow channel between the mainland near Athens and the Greek island of Salamis, knowing that the speed and maneuverability of their ships, along with their knowledge of the waters, would give them a significant advantage. The larger Persian ships could not move as effectively in such a narrow space, allowing the Greeks to ram multiple Persian ships and eventually win the battle of Salamis.
The defeat at Salamis discouraged the Persians. They waited until the next spring to attack the Greeks again but lost the battle of Plataea. The Persian army withdrew, and the Persian Wars were over. Greece would remain independent from the Persian Empire. Whether at the cliffs of Thermopylae or on the seas surrounding Greece, the Greeks’ knowledge of the terrain played an important part in their victories against the Persians.
The geography of Greece not only aided in its protection but also contributed to all factors of Greek life. The agriculture, trade, and governments of ancient Greece were all influenced by the geography of the region.
Share with your friends: