Home / Ancient Greece 3000 B.C. – 323 B.C.

Ancient Greece 3000 B.C. – 323 B.C.

Important events in the early civilization of  Ancient Greece 400,000 B. C. to 323 B. C.

3000 B. C.
Soldiers from Asia Minor land on Greece and settle there.

2200-1400 B. C.
Crete at the height of power at Knossos and Phaestus built.

1500 B. C.
Achaean kings build stronghold at Mycenae.

1400 B. C
Destruction of palaces at Knossos and Phaestus, probably by Greek raiders from the Peloponnesus. Decline of Cretan civilization.

1400-1200 B C.
Age of Mycenae.

1185 B. C.
Troy destroyed by Achaeans.

1100 B. C.
Dorian invasion of Achaean cities. Mycenae destroyed.

1000 B. C.
Dark ages of Greece. Durians invade Peloponnesus, Crete and Rhodes; Aeolians invade Thessaly and Boeotia; Ionians from Attica cross to Western shore of Asia Minor.

800 B. C.-700 B. C.
Formation of the city states and rise of aristocrats.

800-600 B. C.
Colonization begins as Greece becomes overpopulated.

776 B. C.
First Olympic games said to be held.

750 B.C.
Homer writes The Illiad and The Odyssey.

621 B. C.
Draco writes a code of harsh laws for Athens.

594 B. C.
Solon is chosen to lead Athenians and replaces Draco’s laws with a code of his own.

561 B. C.
Pisistratus becomes tyrant of Athens.

544 B. C.
After being exiled, Pisistratus returns and is tyrant again.

528 B. C.
Death of Pisistratus.

507 B. C.
Sparta invades Attica and brings about the fall of the tyrant sons of Pisistratus. Cleisthenes leads Athens towards democracy.

499 B. C.
Athens and Eretria send help to Ionians resisting Darius of Persia.

492 B. C.
First attack by Darius against Athens and Eretria.

490 B. C.
Eretria is burned in Darius’ second attack. The Athenians win the Battle of Marathon.

485 B. C.
Darius dies and is succeeded by Xerxes.

480 B. C.
Themistocles becomes leader of Athens, Xerxes defeats Greek army under Leonidas at Thermopylae. Athenians flee to Salamis. The Persian fleet is defeated at the battle of Salamis.

479 B. C.
Persians retreat after losing Battle of Plataea to Spartans.

461 B. C.
Pericles becomes leader of Athens and the Golden Age of Athens begins.

431 B. C.
Beginning of Peloponnesian Wars. Thebans attack Plataea, Athens’ ally. Attica invaded.

430 B. C.
Plague in Athens. Athenians depose Pericles and then reappoint him. Attica invaded again.

429 B. C.
Pericles dies. Siege of Plataea.

428 B. C.
Cleon, leader of pro-war group, opposes Nicias.

425 B. C.
Thucydides begins to write history of the war.

422 B. C.
Cleon killed in Thrace.

421 B. C.
Peace of Nicias signed by Athens and Sparta.

415 B. C.
Alcibiades, Lamachus and Nicias command expedition to Sicily. Alcibiades recalled, flees to Sparta.

413 B. C.
Athenian forces in Sicily wiped out.

411 B. C.
Sparta and Persia sign treaty.

405 B. C.
10,000 Greeks join Cyrus of Persia’s army. After death of Cyrus, the Athenian Xenophon leads the Greeks home.

399 B. C.
Death of Socrates.

347 B. C.
Death of Plato.

343 B. C.
Aristotle tutors the young Alexander, son of King Philip of Macedonia.

338 B. C.
Philip invades Greece and wins Battle of Chaeronea.

336 B. C.
Philip is assassinated and is succeeded by Alexander, who is elected general of the Greeks.

333 B. C.
At battle of Issus, Alexander defeats Darius of Persia.

331 B. C.
Alexander conquers Egypt and defeats Persian army at Gaugamela.

330 B. C.
Darius dies. Alexander subdues Iran.

323 B. C.
After Alexander’s death, his empire is divided into three parts. Antigonus claims Greece.

Greece and the World 323 B. C. – 250 B. C.


In the last years of the fourth century B. C., Greek citizens going about their business in the stoas or the shops sometimes stopped and wondered what was wrong. Everything seems strange. They themselves had not changed and their cities looked the same as before, but the world around them was so different that they could hardly recognize themselves. The little poleis on the mainland looked out at an enormous empire, which stretched across Asia and Egypt. They shipped their olive oil and pottery across the Mediterranean. Their corn came from fields beside the Black Sea and the Nile. Merchants who crowded their market places now did business in Antioch and their sculptors had gone to Alexandria. There were new Greek cities, thousands of miles from Greece, where Asians spoke Greek and Greeks began to dress like the barbarians. There were no barbarians now, only the many sorts of people who shared a world which Alexandria had conquered for  the Greeks. As the world the Greeks knew became larger, a man and his city seemed to become smaller. The Greeks began to wonder if there was a Greece at all any more. Athenians who travelled on business saw Athens in a new way when they came home. It was not very big and not very busy. When they went to the Assembly, the fine speeches had a hollow ring. In the old days, when Pericles or Themistocles spoke to the Assembly, things happened and the world felt the difference. Now, a man who spoke out in Athens might as well have dropped a pebble in an ocean. Alexander’s empire was much too big to be run by a group of citizens who talked over their problems in an Assembly. One man could rule it, if he was a king like …

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The Conquerors 343 B. C. – 323 B. C.


In 343 B. C., the philosopher Aristotle left the quiet of his study and journeyed to Macedonia, a country in the mountain wilderness north of Greece. He had been hired to tutor the rowdy young son of a king. The boy, Alexander, was a yellow-haired thirteen-year-old. His manners were polite and he seemed to be clever enough, but he was wild. It was hard for him to pay attention to his studies. He much preferred galloping across the fields on his huge horse. He proudly told his new tutor that he had tamed the horse himself. When he did come to his lessons, instead of discussing arithmetic and Greek grammar, he chatted on about armies and his father’s campaigns and his own great plans to conquer the world. Alexander said he was a descendant of the family of Achilles – his mother had told him so. The Iliad, Achilles’ story, was the one book he loved. He carried it with him wherever he went and read it over and over until he knew it by heart. He dreamed of growing up to be a hero like the ones in Homer’s poem. He pestered Aristotle with questions about Greece and Athens, which he longed to visit. Aristotle said that it was very different from Macedonia. Philip of Macedon In those days Macedonia was just beginning to be a kingdom that civilized people talked about seriously. The Greeks still said it was a country of barbarians, but the Greeks called everyone who wasn’t Greek a barbarian. Macedonia was changing. Alexander’s father, King Philip, had spent his youth as a hostage in Greece and he had learned to love almost everything Greek. He had studied the language and tried to learn the ways of the people; but he had also heard the Greeks …

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The Greek Way of Life 700 B. C. – 343 B. C.


In the first years of Spartan peace, Greece was filled with wandering soldiers. Their little cities needed them no more. The new governments, which Spartans appointed, looked on them as men who might make trouble and were quick to get rid of them. Homeless and with no way to earn a living, the old campaigners roamed from place to place. They became soldiers of fortune, men who fought for any general or city that offered pay and three meals a day. In 401 B. C., ten thousand of them hired themselves out to Cyrus, a prince of Persia, who hoped to steal his brother’s throne. The Army of Ten Thousand was an odd lot. There were officers and men from a dozen or more Greek states, soldiers who had fought with and against each other during the thirty years of war that had torn Greece apart. Yet, under a foreign commander, they worked well together. They made a strong force which no Asian army could begin to match. Cyrus led them far into Persia and wherever they went they were victorious. Then Cyrus was killed in battle and the Greek officers were tricked and treacherously murdered. The great army suddenly found itself stranded, with neither money nor leaders. The men were not even sure where they were, except that it was hundreds of miles from the coast of Greece. Election of Xenophon The Persian king waited for them to lose heart and surrender, as any Asian army did when it had no officers to give it orders. The Army of Ten Thousand was Greek. After a day of confusion, the soldiers called an Assembly and elected a new general, Xenophon, a young Athenian who had been the assistant of one of the dead officers. For four months he led them …

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Greek Against Greek 430 B. C. – 404 B. C.

About 425 B. C., a lonely man, in a country that was not his own, sat down to write the story of a war that had begun six years before. Thucydides, an Athenian, had fought in the war’s first battles. He had been a general, in command of thousands of his city’s troops. Then he was ordered to go to the aid of another commander whose men were outnumbered. When he arrived, the battle had already been fought and lost. It was not his fault but the people of Athens were too anxious about the war to consider that. They stripped Thucydides of his command and forced him to leave his homeland. Now, while the war raged on, he could only watch and he was troubled by the things he saw. Athens and its rival Sparta were caught in a deadly struggle to see which would be the master of the Greek world. Men died, cities were destroyed and nothing was gained, but the war went on. Thucydides began to write about the senseless fighting, hoping that he might teach the men of another time to avoid war. He wrote about the ambassadors from the city of Corinth, who spoke to the Spartans in their assembly, warning them about Athens. “You have no idea what kind of people these Athenians are”, the Corinthians said, “how altogether different from you. They are always thinking up new schemes and they are quick to make plans and to do something about them; but you are happy with what you have and slow to do even what is necessary. The Athenians are bold and adventurous; you Spartans are cautious and afraid to trust your own strength. They love foreign adventure, which you hate, because they think there is something to win, while you think …

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The Golden Age of Athens 480 B. C. to 430 B. C.


When Themistocles and the people of Athens came home from Salamis, they found only the ashes of a city. Their houses and shops were gone. The Acropolis was littered with chunks of broken limestone and smoke-blackened statues, the ruins of their sacred temples. The years of war had taught the Athenians courage and victory gave them pride and hope. They began to build again. While the citizens planned new houses, Themistocles planned new walls – walls around the city, walls to protect the harbour at Piraeus and walls along the four miles of road that connected the two. When they were finished, Athens would be an island, surrounded by ramparts of stone instead of the sea and as safe as Salamis. The Spartans already jealous of the Athenian navy, wanted badly to stop the work on the walls. They wrote to Themistocles and asked him to join them in a pact to outlaw all city walls in Greece. Themistocles knew well enough what they were after, but he agreed to go to Sparta to talk. Once he was there, he kept the talk going for weeks. When the Spartans heard that the walls were still going up, they complained. Themistocles suggested that they send ambassadors to Athens to look for themselves. When the ambassadors returned, they said that the walls were indeed being worked on. “No” Themistocles said, “by now they are finished” and he left the conference. It was a Spartan sort of trick and no one blamed Themistocles for it. In fact, many of the Greeks were pleased, not only because Sparta had been fooled, but Athens was the city they looked to as their defender against the Persians. The Spartans had lost interest in fighting Persians, once their own land was safe. Athens, however, had carried the …

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Greece Fights for its Life 499 B. C.-479 B. C.


Across the Aegean, from the oriental court of King Darius of Persia, came messengers to all the city-states of mainland Greece. Their words were smooth, their smiles like sneers and they demanded gifts for their master – earth and water, the ancient tokens of tribute and surrender. The Greeks in Asia Minor already knew the Persians – too well; once the smiling messengers had come to the cities. After the messengers, the soldiers came, attacking the little poleis, one by one, until all of them were taken. Nothing could stop the Persian armies. From the capital, deep in Asia, they had pushed westward and they had gone so far that the journey home was counted in months instead of miles. They had conquered Egypt and Phoenicia, the kingdom of sailors. Now Darius, their king, meant to add Greece to his empire. He would do it quietly, if the Greeks gave up without a fight. If not, he would send his soldiers and take Greece by force. When the messengers arrived, the men of some poleis bowed their heads and gave the tokens; if Darius came, they would not fight. Others refused. The Spartans dropped the Persian ambassadors down a well and told them to find their earth and water there. At Athens, Darius’ messengers were thrown into a pit. Darius was not sorry that the Athenians were so bold. He had a grudge to settle with them and he looked forward to seeing his troops destroy their city. Seven years before, in 499 B. C., Athens and Eretria, another city on the mainland, had sent help to the Greeks in Asia Minor. When Darius was told about it, he had sneered, “The Athenians – who are they?” He had called for his bow and arrow, which he shot toward the …

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Sparta: City of Soldiers 700 B. C. – 500 B. C.


In Sparta, the shops in the market place had little gold or jewelry to sell and no fine furniture at all. The people in the streets were not well dressed. Even the temples, although big, were plain and there was little in Sparta to show that this was the strongest polis in Greece. Sparta was old fashioned and proud of it. The polis had begun as a kingdom and it stayed a kingdom. The only change its citizens made in more than 400 years was to have two kings instead of one. Each kept a watchful eye on the other and the one who was the better general took charge of the army. For a Spartan, that was progress enough. He did not like experiments. The system that modern Athens called “democracy” looked to him like bad organization and if there was one thing a Spartan wanted it was to keep things in order. His own days and years were run on a military schedule, because he was a soldier in the army. Each citizen of the polis was in the army. He started his training when he was seven and he remained a soldier until he was sixty. His orders came from his officers, the kings and the five ephors who managed the day-to-day affairs of the city. He obeyed orders and had no time for experimenting with newfangled ideas. In the early days, Sparta had been very much like Athens. By the seventh century B. C., when Athens was changing almost from day to day, the Spartans established their own way of doing things. As a matter of fact, they had no choice. Their ancestors, a fierce tribe of Dorian invaders, had taken the city from its old Achaean rulers. Using iron swords, they had quickly overrun the …

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Athens: City of Wisdom and War 700 B. C. to 500 B. C.


Of all the city-states in Greece, Athens was the most fortunate. The city’s guardian was Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom. Indeed, the Athenians did well in war and were blessed with wisdom. In the dark days, when barbaric invaders had conquered one city after another, Athens had not surrendered. Later, when Athens felt the growing pains that brought civil war and ruin to so many city-states, a series of wise men guided Athenians safely through their troubles. The right leaders always seemed to come along at the right time. It was more than good luck, ofcourse. The Athenians put their trust in men with new ideas and they were willing to experiment. The experiments changed an ordinary little town into a great brilliant polis that left an enduring mark on the world. Athens was old. Its story began with a list of kings so ancient that no one was quite sure when they had lived. The greatest of them was Theseus, the young hero who killed the monster at Crete. The storytellers said that he won the friendship of the neighbouring tribesmen and persuaded their chiefs to swear loyalty to his city. That was the beginning of the polis, but many years passed before it became important. In the seventh century B. C., Athens was only a second-rate, backwoods polis. Its king could do little more than dream of the glorious old days when their forefathers had defended the town’s acropolis – the Athenians called it the Rock – against the barbarians. Attica, the countryside around the old fortress on the Rock, was really ruled by a quarrelsome lot of rival noblemen, the chiefs of the clans. These barons ran their vast estates like private kingdoms. They owned the country villages and all but owned the people in …

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Kings, Tyrants and Democracy 1000 B. C. to 100 B. C.


During the Dark Ages, the large kingdoms of Homer’s Achaean heroes had disappeared. The Greek world was now dotted with dozens of little countries. They had begun with fortresses set on hills and crags. Soon each fortress was surrounded by a village, as farmers abandoned their huts in the fields and built new homes close to the walls. In times of danger, they could take refuge behind the walls. A market place was built and a few metalsmiths and potters opened shops. When temples were set up inside the fortress, the castle hill became an acropolis, a “high town,” the sacred centre of a kingdom as well as a place to hide from attackers. The village chief began to call himself a king. The New Noblemen In a kingdom not much bigger than a town, everyone could keep an eye on the king and his friends, the noblemen. The people watched their rulers carefully, for life in Greece was changing and not always for the better. Food was scarce and there was meat only on holidays. The rest of the year, the people ate mostly barley porridge and sometimes fruit and olives. Even wheat was expensive and no one had any money. The little kingdoms did not have enough olive trees to make them rich. Besides, the groves belonged to the noblemen, who never shared their profits. These new noblemen were not knights. They managed the kingdom’s business, like a town council and they kept a tight hold on their land but when it came to war, they were perfectly willing to give everyone a share in the fighting. Noblemen no longer rode to battle in chariots and fought in single combat. Battles were now fought by long lines of men who formed a deadly wall of swords and shields. …

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Gods and Heroes 800 B.C. – 550 B.C.


From island to island and town to town, across the wide new world of the Greeks, the minstrel wandered, with a harp slung across his back and a batch of stories in his hand. When he knocked at the gate of a palace or great house and offered to sing for his supper, he was never refused. There were no shows to see and no books to read. The people relied on the minstrels to entertain them and to tell their stories of the past, which otherwise might be forgotten. The minstrel’s stock of stories was a mixture of tall tales, half-remembered history and myths, the stories of the gods. He collected them wherever he travelled, usually from other minstrels. As the stories were passed along from singer to singer, the history grew a little fuzzier and the tales grew a great deal taller. In the great hall of a palace, where the lord and his guests gathered in the evening, the minstrel was given a place of honour. After dinner, he was invited to sing. Most of his songs began with the Achaean attack on Troy. First, he reminded his listeners of the reason for the war: Paris, a prince Troy, stole Helen, the wife of the king of Sparta, Menelaus and the most beautiful woman in the world. The minstrel told about Agamemnon’s call to arms and the fleet that was made ready to sail. Then he listed the famous heroes who boarded the ships. Each had his own adventures and the minstrel chose different ones to tell about every evening. He might sing about Agamemnon, who came home from Troy victorious, only to be killed by his wife; or Achilles, the greatest of Greek warriors, who slew the Trojan champion Hector; or Odysseus, the craftiest of the …

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