Ancient Greece was a thriving civilization that made impressive strides in many fields such as art, architecture, engineering, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy and government. Many of their ideals were the foundation of future civilizations and their influence is still with us today. This teacher guide utilizes the popular G.R.A.P.E.S. acronym for teaching about ancient civilizations and focuses on the geography, religion, achievements, politics, economy and social structure of Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greece was located in southeastern Europe along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The mainland of Greece is a peninsula surrounded by water on three sides with the Aegean, Adriatic, Ionian and Mediterranean Seas. Greece also includes many islands. Access to the ocean provided fishing, trading, and traveling. The climate had hot summers and mild winters. The soil could be difficult to farm as it was very mountainous and rocky. However, Ancient Greeks did farm crops like olives, grapes, small vegetables, nuts, honey and also raised livestock such as goats and sheep. The Greeks expanded throughout their reign, conquering territories in Italy, France, Spain, Turkey, and North Africa.
Ancient Greeks practiced polytheism, meaning they believed in many gods and goddesses. The first set of gods were the Titans. They were overthrown by the Olympians led by Zeus. Greek mythology tells the stories of the gods, goddesses, and heroes. Ancient Greeks built temples to the gods and honored them with festivals. The Ancient Greeks would make sacrificial offerings to the gods of sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, fish, and birds in order to honor, thank, or request something from them.
Ancient Greeks made many great contributions. Here are some of their achievements:
Ancient Greeks created lifelike sculptures, paintings, and pottery. A famous sculptor named Phidias carved a huge marble statue of Athena that stood inside the Parthenon.
The Ancient Greeks perfected different column types that were used in their buildings and could withstand great weight. These columns are still in use today. The doric column has a plain capital (top), the Ionic has scrolls on its capital and the Corinthian has the most elaborate capital topped with leaves and small scrolls. Ancient Greece advanced engineering and architectural designs and built large, elaborate temples and buildings. A famous example of their architecture is the massive Parthenon on the acropolis in Athens.
Ancient Greeks excelled in theater and wrote and performed plays of tragedy and comedy. Athenians attended the Theater of Dionysus that could hold thousands of people!
Ancient Greeks invented many things like: a watermill, an alarm clock, central heating, a crane and the Archimedes screw.
Ancient Greeks loved to think about and debate the meaning of life, justice and truth. They named this "philosophy" which means "the love of wisdom". Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were famous philosophers and teachers.
Greece is credited with creating the first direct democracy meaning citizens voted on all the laws. The government had three parts: the assembly, the council and the courts.
Ancient Greeks made huge strides in mathematics, astronomy, biology and medicine. Hippocrates was a famous physician who established medicine as a science based on observation and case recording.
The Greeks valued a strong, healthy body and loved sports. The Olympics began in Greece in 776 BCE and were held in Olympia every four years for almost 12 centuries! Games included: running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, and equestrian events.
Ancient Greece was made up of city-states that were ruled by different governments at different time periods such as a monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. Greece is credited with creating the first direct democracy, meaning citizens voted on all the laws. The government had three parts: the assembly, the council, and the courts.
Greek city-states were ruled by a king, or monarch, from about 2000-800 BCE. In a monarchy, the king has all the power. Kings were given advice by a council of wealthy landowners called aristocrats. Aristocrats eventually overthrew their kings in most city-states by 800 BCE to form an Oligarchy.
By 800 BCE many city-states were ruled by oligarchs where the power is in the hands of a few people who had inherited wealth. They made laws that benefited themselves. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Eventually the oligarchs were overthrown by political leaders who had the support of the poor and backing of the army.
A tyrant is a person who seizes power. During the mid 600s BCE people desired change from the oligarchs and turned to people who could overthrow them. However, the government was changed by force and tyrants maintained their power through force.
Around 500 BCE, Athenians created a democracy meaning "rule by the people". Athens had a direct democracy meaning every citizen voted on every issue. They had an assembly to make laws. Any free man could speak and vote. They also had a council of 500 and a courts system.
Ancient Greece was very mountainous and thus difficult to farm. However, in Ancient Greece more than half of the population worked in agriculture. The main livestock were goats although sheep, cows, pigs and chickens were kept as well. Farmers grew olive trees as a staple crop. Olive trees provided wood for building houses and ships, olive oil for lamps, food, and medicine, olive leaves for crowns and decorations, and, of course, olives to eat. Olive branches were used as symbols of victory, peace, and prosperity throughout ancient Greece. Farmers also produced grape vines for food and wine. Grape vines were planted in uniform rows. In between the vines farmers might grow corn, small vegetables and fruits. Greeks also were famous for their honey which was used as a sweetener and traded throughout the ancient world.
Being on the Mediterranean, Aegean, Ionic and Adriatic Seas, Ancient Greeks were also expert sailors, fishermen, and divers. Sea sponges, mussels, and oysters (for their pearls) were gathered by divers while fishermen caught fish like tuna, sea bass, swordfish, eels, and sprat.
Many Ancient Greek city-states like Athens relied on trade to supplement their needs. They would trade items such as wine, olives, honey, metalwork, and pottery with Egypt, Spain, and Italy for goods like wood, grain, papyrus, linen, and enslaved people. Merchants, farmers and artisans would sell their goods in the agora.
Being a maritime merchant could be a dangerous endeavor as piracy was commonplace and the risk of pirates capturing your ship and stealing your merchandise was a constant threat. Pirates could not only steal your merchandise, but would also enslave the people from captured ships and sell them for profit.
The unfortunate reality is that Ancient Greece thrived on the backs of enslaved people. They were an integral part of the economy and society. People from conquered lands were often enslaved and forced to work. Their lives were harsh and they had no rights. They were forced to work in every aspect of society: in the home cooking, cleaning, caring for children, guarding the house, working on farms, in factories and mines, on engineering and building projects. In some city states half the population was enslaved.
Artisans in Ancient Greece included painters, sculptors, shoemakers, carpenters, shipbuilders, blacksmiths, coin-engravers, metal workers, stonemasons, potters, and musical instrument makers.
Ancient Greeks like the Athenians used coins made of gold, silver, and bronze as money. The silver drachma was one of the world’s earliest coins. Spartans used iron rods as their currency.
Ancient Greece had a strict social hierarchy. Only free men could be citizens and take part in government. Politicians were considered the highest social status followed by soldiers and other male citizens, then male children. Male children were groomed to take over the profession of their fathers. They were educated and also taught to fight as military service was compulsory. Women’s role was in the house cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. Women were not considered citizens and had few rights. They could not hold property and could not even leave the house in many cases unless accompanied by a man. Marriages were often arranged and women were expected to provide children, male heirs specifically, for their husbands. Female children were treated as lower than their male siblings and taught to follow in their mother’s role. Foreigners, or those not born in the city-state, also had few rights. They were not considered citizens and thus had no say in government. Enslaved people, as stated earlier, had no rights and led harsh and difficult lives at the whim of their masters.
Ancient Greek clothing usually consisted of a long piece of fabric draped around the body. Men’s were usually white while women’s were a range of colors and patterns. They also wore leather sandals.
Greeks used the labor of enslaved people to provide for their luxurious lives of leisure. As women’s roles were in the home and enslaved people cared for the farms and other labor, male citizens would spend their days in the agora, a bustling open marketplace for shopping, socializing, and political and philosophical debates. Ancient Greeks also enjoyed going to the theater where lively plays of tragedy or comedy were performed. Theaters could hold ten thousand people!
Athens and Sparta were two powerful city-states in ancient Greece but much of their society and traditions differed greatly in their economies, government, and culture. They were bitter rivals and were often at war and developed surprising different philosophies about life, work and government. Here are some of the major differences:
|Government||Around 500 BCE, Athens became a democracy where all free men over the age of 18 were allowed to be citizens and take part in government, debate issues, and create laws.||Sparta was ruled by an oligarchy which is a government that is in the hands of a few wealthy and powerful people. Their rulers were called the Council of Elders and it included two kings and 28 men. They also had an assembly of male citizens, but they held little power.|
|Economy||As the land in Athens was not fertile enough for extensive farming, the Athenians relied on trade to supplement their needs. They would trade their olive oil, figs, honey, cheese, perfume, and pottery for goods such as wood from Italy and grain, papyrus and enslaved people from Egypt. They used coins made of gold, silver and bronze for money.||Sparta did not produce enough food for its people on its own and discouraged trading, so instead relied on conquering other lands to provide its citizens with enough farmed goods and services. They forced the people of their conquered lands to give them their harvests and also produce goods such as shoes, clothing, iron tools, weapons, and pottery. They used heavy iron rods as money.|
|Education||Athenians believed strongly in rigorous training of the mind and body. They raised boys to be citizens by educating them from an early age in strict schools learning reading, writing, math and music as well as wrestling and gymnastics. Young men furthered their studies in military training or public speaking and politics. Girls did not learn to read or write but instead how to cook, clean and weave cloth.||Spartans were an austere and war-like people. The modern definition of the word spartan is “showing the indifference to comfort or luxury traditionally associated with ancient Sparta.” They believed in discipline and strength and thought the highest purpose was to protect the city-state. While boys were educated to read and write, they did not feel those skills were important. The most important skill was to learn to fight. Even girls received some military training. Boys were taught to suffer pain without complaining. To become a full citizen they had to become a Spartan soldier by passing a difficult test of fitness, military and leadership skills.|
|Women||Women were not considered equal to men and had far fewer rights. They could not take part in government, own property or even choose their own marriages in most cases. Their job was to care for the home and children.||Women in Sparta were expected to be strong, healthy, and able to fight. They also had to care for their husbands property and business when the men were at war. Because of this, Spartan women had more rights than in other Greek city-states of the time. They could own property, could speak to men in public and remarry.|
|Enslaved People||Enslaved people had harsh lives and no rights, performing many important jobs throughout Athens such as working on farms, factories, mines, in the home and tutoring children.||Spartans enslaved the people of the lands they conquered. They called them helots and they were treated very harshly in order to maintain control. Enslaved people were even killed en masse to intimidate and prevent uprisings.|
With the activities in this lesson plan, students will demonstrate what they’ve learned about Ancient Greece. They’ll become familiar with the environment, resources, technologies, religion and culture of Ancient Greece and be able to demonstrate their knowledge in writing and illustrations.