Ancient Greek culture: history, contributions and characteristics

Ancient Greek culture: history, contributions and characteristics

Ancient Greek Culture will always be one of the most important in the entire history of mankind.This is due to the great contributions it has made to later civilizations.

Thanks to the 1,054 years it lasted, specifically from 1200 BC to 146 BC, its history is impressive. The customs and traditions that they left for posterity are endless. For this reason, it is vital that you have knowledge about it. In this article we will take care of providing you with all the information regarding the subject: religion, politics, medicine, art, etc.

What was Ancient Greece?

Ancient Greece, also known as Classical Greece, it was a culture considered the cradle of western civilization. This was established in the extreme northeast of the Mediterranean Sea, which today are the territories of Greece, Turkey and a good part of the small islands of Crete, Cyprus, Rhodes and Sicily.

Around the year 2100 BC, the Achaeans, a people with an important warrior tradition, invaded and besieged the Cretan population. Thus beginning the imminent development of the Minoan civilization.

After this, these gradually spread throughout the entire peninsula, reaching the southern part of Italy and the western coast of Asia Minor or Anatolia. These regions formed that area of ​​the world that was called Magna Grecia and the locals called Hellas or Ellada. From there comes the title of “Hellenes” to the inhabitants of the region.

After the passage of time, in the Dark Ages, the small villages that were part of this civilization, evolved into polis, independent city-states very innovative for the time. Among the best known, Athens and Sparta stand out, since both had their own legislation and organization system, before democracy emerged in the 7th century BC. C. and was implemented throughout the nation.

Ancient Greek culture: history, contributions and characteristics

The importance that is given today is not by mere chance. Even many years after its creation, countless aspects of its culture are still alive, to the point that they have exerted a notable influence in areas of Western society. These are politics, language, fine arts, philosophy, medicine, architecture, among others.


Before the establishment of Ancient Greece, there was the Mycenaean people, a civilization that dates back to the 16th century BC. C., almost at the end of the Bronze Age. After several years, in the 12th century BC. C., the Mycenaeans put an end to their culture and ushered in the Dark Ages, a period that precedes the Doric Invasion.

The so famous Hellenic Greece, was founded in the 8th century BC. C. as a result of this invasion, whose inheritance was a large part of the Mycenaean traditions and customs. The commemoration of the first Panhellenic Games in 776 BC. C., was the milestone that formally marked its beginning.

For a better understanding of the subject, historians tend to divide the history of Ancient Greece into five different periods:

Archaic Period: is known for the characteristic sculptures of “archaic smile” that were made. It dates back to the years between 750 and 500 BC. C., that is, from the end of the Dark Ages until the defeat of the last tyrant in Athens, Hippias, son of Pisistratus, and the creation of democracy.

Classical period: is the one who took place between the years 500 and 323 a. C. In this period, Greek culture managed to develop exponentially until reaching its totality: its main ideals, the construction of huge and important temples and the writing of transcendent literary works.

Hellenistic Period: In it, Greek civilization finally materialized its expansion throughout the Mediterranean and part of Africa and Asia, with the help of one of the most recognized world leaders in history, Alexander the Great. This began in 323 BC. C. and culminated in 146 a. C. with the failure of Greece against the Roman troops thanks to its internal conflicts.

Roman Greece: Because of the victory of the Roman people at the Battle of Corinth, Greece was part of the vast dominions of the Roman Empire until 330 AD. C. when its split takes place and the Byzantine Empire arises.

Late Antiquity: consists between 330 and 529 AD. C. During this period of time the emperor Constantine I took power and founded the city of New Rome or Constantinople. In addition, a few years later, Justinian I, another important emperor, banned Christianity and closed the Academy of Athens created by Plato in 387 BC. C.

Cultural contributions

The contributions that Ancient Greece gave humanity are many and they manage to cover a wide set of study areas. For this reason, we have only compiled a few that we will develop below:

Invention of democracy

As many already know, the Greeks were the ones who invented democracy, in order that the government had a clear representation of the needs and demands of the people.

Each polis that made up the territory had its own laws and internal organization. It should be noted that it was a little different from what we are used to as a democracy today, since only Athenian males of legal age could participate, women, slaves and Meticians were totally excluded.

Creation of the Olympics

Greeks too They are credited with creating the Olympics. This is because, in ancient times, in the city of Olympia a series of athletic competitions were held every four years. These were deputies by various representatives from various states and cities, and were organized in order to generate peace between communities in honor of the gods of Olympus.

Emergence of philosophy

Ancient Greece provided the world with original philosophical doctrineThis consisted basically of a set of reflections based on reason, the essence of man and the vastness of the universe. Likewise, it gave the rest of Western culture fundamental thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates or Democritus, who later ventured into other areas of study such as science and mathematics.

Ancient Greek culture: history, contributions and characteristics

Mythology and literature

Greece is famous for how vast and interesting its mythology is, because here the greatest founding stories of the world are gathered, the ascent of the gods to Olympus and countless existing natural phenomena are explained.

In addition to this, the territory stands out for its important contributions to universal literature, since its most recognized authors developed successful literary genres such as epic, fable, comedy, among others.

General characteristics

Like their contributions, the characteristics of Greek civilization are infinite thanks to how rich their culture was and is. Among the most important points we could highlight:

  • Throughout its history, within Greek society there were various systems of government, such as: the aristocracy, democracy, the monarchy, the oligarchy and tyranny.
  • Men were the only ones who had the right to access a quality education, so they could become professionals in the fields of science, letters, philosophy or music.
  • The main tasks of Greek women within society were to carry out household cleaning, cooking and sewing work. Very little was taught to read, do calculations, and play a musical instrument. Sparta was the only region where they were educated.
  • People dedicate much of their time to leisure, which is why it was quite common for them to take walks, visit theaters or do a lot of physical exercise in everyday life.
  • Their religion is considered polytheistic, which means that multiple divinities were worshiped, being those that enjoyed the most popularity: Zeus, Poseidon, Ares, Aphrodite, Hera, Artemis and Apollo. These were put both in small altars of houses, as in large monuments.
  • To carry out one of their most famous artistic expressions, sculpture, they used resistant and luxurious materials such as marble and, to a lesser extent, wood. The representations that were made were extremely realistic and with exceptional ornamental details.
  • The clothing they used in their daily lives was quite simple, it was based on a long, mostly white tunic, which was fastened with a belt and a cape was placed on top that was called: himation.
  • Their complex rooms were made of adobe. For their part, the palaces used to be made of marble and other more solid and expensive materials. The distribution consisted of an interior patio, a room to receive visitors, dining room, kitchen and bedrooms.
  • The Greeks considered illness as divine punishment and healing as a gift from the gods. However, from the V century BC. C., were innovators in medicinal techniques and put aside their orthodox religious beliefs, to make use of much more analytical methods.
  • Their diet was based on the Mediterranean diet, that is, rich in vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds and olive oil. In addition to this, they added wine to the three meals of the day, with dinner being the most important of all.

Keep reading about the Chichimeca Culture.

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