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Humanities Libertexts

5: The Greek World from Bronze Age to Roman Conquest

  • Page ID
    1204
  • This chapter’s title refers to the Greek World, rather than Greece. While Greece is a unified country today, the territory of the present-day country was not unified under one rule until the rise of the Macedonians in the fourth century BCE. Instead, the basic unit of organization in the period covered in this chapter was the polis, an independent city-state, which consisted of a walled city that controlled and protected the farmland around it. Historians estimate that close to 1,500 of these city-states dotted the ancient Greek landscape.

    • 5.1: Chronology
    • 5.2: Introduction
    • 5.3: Questions to Guide Your Reading
    • 5.4: Key Terms
    • 5.5: Geography and Topography
      Each polis possessed its own form of government, law-code, army, cults of patron gods, and overall culture that set it apart from the other city-states. While the two most famous poleis, Athens and Sparta, controlled vast territories of farmland, most city-states were small, with a population of just a few thousand citizens. Furthermore, the Greek world in antiquity encompassed much more than present-day Greece, extending as far as Italy and the territories of modern-day Turkey and Ukraine.
    • 5.7: Methodology: Sources and Problem
      Modern scholars of ancient history are notoriously obsessed with evaluating their primary sources critically, and with good reason. Studying Greek history, especially in its earliest periods, is like putting together a puzzle, most of whose pieces are missing, and some pieces from another puzzle have also been added in for good measure. Greek history requires careful consideration of a wide range of sources, which fall into two broad categories: literary sources and material culture.
    • 5.8: From Mythology to History
      Mythology refers to stories that are clearly false, of long-forgotten gods and heroes and their miraculous feats. History, on the other hand, refers to actual events that involved real people. And yet, the idea that the two are opposites would have seemed baffling to a typical resident of the ancient Mediterranean world. Rather, gods and myths were part of the everyday life, and historical events could become subsumed by myths just as easily as myths could become a part of history.
    • 5.9: Archaic Greece
      The Archaic period was a time of growing contacts and connections between different parts of mainland Greece. Furthermore, it was a time of expansion, as the establishment of overseas colonies and cities brought the Greeks to Italy and Sicily in the West, and Asia Minor and the Black Sea littoral in the East. Furthermore, while Greeks in the Archaic period saw themselves as citizens of individual city-states, this period also witnessed the rise of a Pan-Hellenic identity.
    • 5.10: The Classical Period
      The story of the Greeks in the Classical Period is best described as the strife for leadership of the Greek world. First, Athens and Sparta spent much of the fifth century BCE battling each other for control of the Greek world. Then, once both were weakened, other states began attempting to fill the power vacuum. Ultimately, the Classical Period will end with the Greek world under the control of a power that was virtually unknown to the Greeks at the beginning of the fifth century BCE: Macedon.
    • 5.11: Hellenistic Period
      Historians today consider the death of Alexander to be the end point of the Classical Period and the beginning of the Hellenistic Period. That moment, for historians, also marks the end of the polis as the main unit of organization in the Greek world. While city-states continued to exist, the main unit of organization from that point on was the great Hellenistic kingdoms. These kingdoms, encompassing much greater territory than the Greek world had before Alexander.
    • 5.12: Conclusion
    • 5.13: Works Consulted and Further Reading
    • 5.14: Links of Primary Sources
    • 5.6: Periods of Greek History

    Thumbnail: Roman bronze reduction of Myron's Discobolus, 2nd century AD (Glyptothek, Munich). Image used with permission (CC BY 2.5; MatthiasKabel).

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