Friday, June 1, 2007

Ancient Greece

By Princessa


The city was an amazing place, the largest in Greece. Athens controlled the land around it, a large region called Attika. Between the many mountains were fertile valleys, where farmers grew olives, grain, fruit and grapes. Athens became rich and powerful, helped by Attika's valuable sources of silver, lead and marble.

This is how the Parthenon in Athens looks today. A famous general called Perikles had this huge temple built in 432 BC, for the glory of the city.

Not everyone lives in the city. Lots of people farm in the countryside or live by the sea, fishing or working in the navy.

Athens has some of the most beautiful buildings in all Greece.

In 510BC a new way of government was invented in Athens. Demokratia, from which we get our word democracy, which means rule by the people. Any man with full citizen rights could go to the assembly, where they could speak and vote freely. Public debates like this decided how the city was run.

Athens had law courts with trial by jury. Juries were much larger than today, with several hundred members. After listening to the evidence jurors voted by placing metal discs into one of two jars. One for guilty, and one for not guilty. Punishments were decided by the court, and included the death penalty.

Women did not have citizen rights. They could not take part in the assembly, or vote, or serve on juries.

In wealthy families girls were educated to run the household of servants and slaves, and were usually married by the age of 13. In poorer families women worked alongside men, farming in the fields or running the family business.

Between a quarter and a third of Athens 300,000 population were slaves. These were men and women captured in wars or born into slavery.

Many slaves had special skills, such as nurses and teachers, while others had the hardest and most unpleasent work to do. It was common for a rich household to have many slaves.

Some slaves were owned by the state. For example archers from Scythia were used as a kind of police force by the Athenian government.

Athens had had yearly festivals for athletics, drama and religous occasions. The city paid for these using taxes, but the wealthiest citizens of Athens were obliged to give extra help.

Rich citizens considered it an honor to pay the performers' fees in the many drama festivals. Similarly they may have to serve as captain of a warship for a year, paying the crew and making repairs.


In ancient Greece the Olympic Games were held in honor of Zeus, King of the Gods. The games were part a a great five day festival held every four years at Olympia, a valley near a city called Elis.

It was an opportunity for individual cities to get together and people came in large numbers from all over the Greek world.

At Olympia today you can still see remains of some of the buildings.

The statue of Zeus at Olympia is thirteen metres high, covered with gold and ivory. It's one of the wonders of the world, and has to be seen to be believed.

Each of the cities of Ancient Greece had its own government, and there were often wars between them. Messengers sent out from Elis announced a sacred truce of one month before the festival began.

The truce meant that the people could travel to Olympia in safety. The Olympic games were more important than wars because they were a religous festival.

The ancient Greek world was spread around the edges of the Mediterranean sea.

The earliest Olympic Games were held in about 776BC. In those days the only event was a short sprint, from one end of the stadium to the other. Gradually over the years more were added until there were four days of many different competitions.

The running track was much wider than a modern one. Twenty people could run at once.

Spectators had to find somewhere to pitch their tents or sleep rough, but important visitors and athletes had special accommodation. It would have been very hot and overcrowded, and the water supply was poor. But it didn't stop people from coming though.

Only men, boys and unmarried girls were allowed to attend the Olympic Games. Women caught sneaking in faced a severe punishment.

Pankration wrestling was one of the contests held on the fourth day. It may seem very violent to us, but it was very popular among the ancient Greeks. It was a kind of wrestling with hardly any rules.

Women were not allowed to go to the Olympic games, but they did have their own festival at Olympia once every four years. It was called the Heraia and was held in honor of Hera, wife of Zeus.

The events there were all running races, and unmarried girls took part. Winners were awarded crowns of sacred olive branches, the same as men.

A girl called Kallipatira was caught at the men's Olympics. Luckily she wasn't punished because her father was a famous boxer.

There were other religous athletics festivals, held in other parts of Greece. These were important occasions for people from different cities to get together.

Successful athletes enjoyed great benefits from their home city for the rest of their lives, they recieved free meals, invitations to banquets, and specially reserved places in the theatre.

An athlete called Exainetos won the short sprint at two Olympics in a row. When he was back home is Sicily he was met by 300 chariots each pulled by a pair of white horses.


Ancient Greece was made up of many small city states. These were cities and the land around them, and they had their own laws and rulers. They were almost like small countries in their own right. The city state of Corinth had 900 square kilometres of fountains and farmland.

The city state of Corinth was between those of Sparta and Athens.

From the name Corinth, we get the english word currant, for small black grapes that have been dried in the sun.

In the 7th century BC, a man called Kypselos overthrew the government of Corinth. He made himself ruler of the city state. This kind of leader is called a tyrant. When Kypselos died, his son Periander took over the role of tyrant.

Soon after Periander's death, Corinth was ruled by a council of 80 men. This type of government is called a oligarchy.

Some people say that soldiers were sent to kill Kypselos when he was a baby. His mother didn't realise and handed him over to them!

The narrow piece of land that joins the southernmost part of greece to the mainland is called the Isthmus of Corinth. Periander built a stone track across it, so that ships could be dragged over the land from coast to coast (by large numbers of slaves). Corinth made money by charging a toll.

Why did they do this? A lot of trading in ancient Greece went on by ship.

Corinth made beautiful pottery, all decorated without any paint. Instead a water clay mixture was used. When the pot was baked in a kiln, the areas painted with clay mixture turned black. Unpainted areas turned a light brown or reddish brown color, depending on the type of clay.

For 200 years the Corinthians sold their pottery all over the Greek world. and Corinth became a wealthy and busy trading centre.

Corinthian soldiers played a big part in wars fought by the ancient Greeks. They fought on the same side as the other Greek cities to defeat the invasion from the Persians.

However shortly afterwards Sparta and Athens were at war with each other and Corinth fought with Sparta against Athens.

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