The Ancient Greeks By the Numbers

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Background

Ancient Greece was a civilization that conquered almost all of the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. It ruled much of Europe and Western Asia during its peak under Alexander the Great. The Ancient Greeks came before the Romans, and much of the culture of the Romans was influenced by the Greeks. Ancient Greece created the foundation of the majority of Western culture at the present time. Almost everything, from philosophy, science, art, literature, mathematics, sports, and government, was impacted by the Ancient Greeks.

If you are looking for more information about the Ancient Greeks, you’re in the right place. This post includes much information about them, including their history, population, wars fought, culture, and more. Also included are numerical data about the most interesting facts that you need to know about Ancient Greeks.

Periods in Ancient Greek History

an illustration of an Ancient Greece scene

Many historians divide up the history of Ancient Greece into three periods. They are the following:

Archaic Period

This period occurred from the start of Greek civilization in 800 BC to the introduction of Democracy in 508 BC. It also includes the beginning of the Olympic Games and the writing of the Odyssey and the Iliad by Homer.

Classical Period

The classical period is the time that comes into most people’s minds when they think about Ancient Greece. During this period, Athens was governed by democracy, and great philosophers such as Plato and Socrates arose. In addition to that, the wars between Sparta and Athens happened during this time. The classical period ended with the rise and the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.

Hellenistic Period

This period lasted from the death of Alexander the Great until 31 BC, when Rome defeated Egypt at the Battle of Actium. The term “Hellenistic” came from the Greek word “Hellas,” which is the original word for “Greece.” [1]

Important Milestones in Ancient Greek History

an open-air theater in Acropolis, Greece

The civilization of the Ancient Greeks spanned more than eight centuries. It encompassed lots of conquests, battles, and discoveries. Here are some of the most important events in Ancient Greek history. We’ve arranged them in a timeline for you.

Important Milestones in Ancient Greek History

800 BC

During this time, Greece was beginning to emerge from its so-called “Dark Ages” following the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. On the Greek mainland, city-states called poleis were starting to form and eventually expanded around the Aegean.

776 BC

In honor of Zeus, the first Olympic games were held at Olympia.

750 BC

The Greeks went further afield, and one of their earliest western colonies was Pithekoussai, located in the Bay of Naples. Further settlements also rose in the Mediterranean and North Africa. During this time, Homer the poet wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey.

743-724 BC

The First Messenian War occurred between the Greek city-states of Sparta and Messene. The latter lost and became occupied by Sparta, which made most of its citizens slaves.

660-650 BC

The Second Messenian War started as a slave revolt by the Messenians against the Spartan overlords. However, the rebellion failed, and they remained under the control of the Spartans. In the meantime, the city-states of Athens, Corinth, and Sparta continued to grow in power.

621 BC

There was a new body of laws introduced in Athens, which was allegedly by an aristocrat and legislator named Draco. The punishments were so brutally prescribed that the so-called Draconian Laws were said to have been written in blood, and people were executed.

600 BC

Coins were introduced and first used in Athens as currency.

594 BC

Lawmaker and statesman Solon instituted new constitutional and judicial reforms in Athens. Regardless of social class, men over the age of 18 were allowed to attend the ekklesia, which was the Athenian assembly. Also, the property rights of the poor were protected, debt slavery was forbidden, and there was a revision on the Draconian Laws.

570 BC

Pythagoras, a mathematician and philosopher who was born on the island of Samos had his work on the importance of numbers in understanding the natural world, which helped in developing the field of mathematics.

507 BC

The statesman Cleisthenes established the Athenian democracy and also furthered Solon’s efforts. He made a series of reforms called “demokratia,” or the power of the people. It removed the monopoly over politics held by a small number of prominent families.

490 BC

The Persians were defeated during the battle of Marathon. Based on a popular legend, before the battle, Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger, ran around 150 miles for more than two days to ask help from the Spartans.

480 BC

During the battle of Thermopylae, another Persian invasion saw a heroic but failed defense by an alliance of Greek city-states, which was led by King Leonidas I of Sparta. Though Athens was burned, the Persian forces were defeated at Salamis after a few weeks and again at Plataea in 479 BC. The failed Persian invasion ushers in the Classical period.

478 BC

The Delian League was founded in the face of Persian aggression. It was a group of city-states under the leadership of Athens.

460-445 BC

The First Peloponnesian War occurred between the two leading Greek city-states of Sparta and Athens. The Thirty Years’ Peace was declared, but it only lasted for 14 years.

447 BC

The construction of the Parthenon started, which was a temple to the goddess Athena. It was on the Athenian Acropolis.

431-404 BC

In the Second Peloponnesian War, the Spartans won.

430 BC

Due to the outbreak of plague, a quarter of the population of Athens was killed, including Pericles, its leader.

399 BC

Socrates, the famed Athenian philosopher, was executed via poison after he was condemned for impiety or irreverence to the gods, and as well as for corrupting the youth of the city.

387 BC

Plato, the philosopher, established his academy in Athens. It was considered the earliest university in the world where mathematics, philosophy, science, and statesmanship were studied.

371 BC

Spartan dominance was ended by Thebes and became the leading military power in Greece after winning the battle of Leuctra.

338 BC

Athens and Thebes were defeated by Philip II of Macedonia. He established the League of Corinth or the Hellenic League. It was an offensive and defensive alliance that united all of the Greek city-states, excluding Sparta, under his rule.

336 BC

Alexander the Great became the king of Macedonia. At the present time, this area includes North Macedonia, along with parts of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, and Serbia. Later on, he conquered Egypt, making its new capital Alexandria.

323 BC

Alexander the Great died, and ancient Greece entered an era known as the Hellenistic period.

214-205 BC

Philip V of Macedonia and Rome fought in the First Macedonian War. It was supported by its allies in the Aetolian League, which was a group of Greek states united in opposition to Macedonia. The battle ended in a draw.

200-196 BC

The defeat of Philip V during the Second Macedonian War caused him to lose much of southern Greece. The newly freed Greek states found themselves under Roman protection.

171-167 BC

The monarchy of Macedonia ended in the Third Macedonian War. It became divided into four republics compliant to Rome.

146 BC

The battle of Corinth occurred between Rome and Corinth, together with its allies in the Achaean League. In this battle, Greece was defeated and became ruled directly by Rome.

Important Cities in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece was a civilization that strived to conquer the world. It has contributed largely to human culture, which gave us science, philosophy, architecture, sports, and democracy. The city-states in Ancient Greece were spread across much of the world, from Europe to the Middle East to Africa to Asia. If you want to learn more about these, here are the important cities in Ancient Greece.

Athens

a view of the Acropolis of Athens in Greece

Based on legends, Athens was seized by the goddess Athena from King Poseidon due to an epic conflict. First settled in 3000 BC, Athens was located on the Acropolis rock. It became a major center of Mycenaean civilization by 1400 BC, wherein the Acropolis was a large Mycenaean fortress.

The power of Athens lay in its trade and naval dominion, which was demanded by the search for provisions warranted by its unproductive soil. During the golden age of Greece in the 5th century BC, Athens was the center of classical civilization, leading democracy.

Sparta

aerial view of Sparta, Peloponnese

In Ancient Greece, Sparta was a large polis and the main rival to Athens. The main strength of Sparta lay in its military power. Their army was small, and every adult male has deemed a soldier and handled a slave-run farm. It started as a small polis that had five villages. Later on, it grew by seizing neighboring villages and states. It eventually consumed most of the Peloponnese and enslaved their inhabitants.

Sparta was massively powerful by 650 BC as it controlled a vast expanse. People there were kept in check by a warrior class. It could only be controlled through military alliances formed between other prime Greek city-states, such as Athens, Argos, Corinth, and Thebes. However, in 362 BC, during the Battle of Mantinea, Sparta eventually fell to Thebes.

Pergamon

the asclepion of Pergamon

Pergamon was a powerful Hellenistic colony that exercised dominion over large paths of Asia Minor in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It has a library that contains the most impressive collection of scrolls, so much that the Egyptians imposed a restriction in Pergamon as they feared competition for Alexandra’s collection of scrolls. But Pergamon, in turn, made “paper” using animal skin.

Corinth

ruins of temple in Corinth, Greece

The city of Corinth lay at the foot of AcroCorinth, which was a rock that was more than 500 meters long. It is a massive city that equaled Athens and Sparta. It colonized Corfu and Sicily. Even under the control of Romans, the city flourished as a shipbuilding center.

Olympia

ruins of the ancient site of Olympia

This city was an important sanctuary that was dedicated to Zeus. It was also home to the Panhellenic Games, which is the Olympic Games today. The city is based at the foot of Mount Cronus on the right bank of River Alpheus. Its Temple of Zeus contained a statue of Zeus that was 12 meters high. It was considered to be a Wonder of the Ancient World.

Thebes

Thebes was a city built at the base of the Teumessus mountain. It was 48 kilometers northwest of Athens. It also grew to be the largest city in that region. It has the famous seven gates whose names were not agreed upon by historians of old. For example, Euripides refers to them as Neista, Pretida, Ogigia, Homoloid, Crenea, Electra, and the unnamed Seventh Gate. According to modern historians, the people of Thebes were Pelasgians and not of Phoenician origin. Some also believed that Thebes was a colony on Crete, and the only contribution of the Phoenicians was the alphabet.

Miletus

the ruins of Miletus

This was one of the true ancient cities. It was made with iron granite from Mount Olympus. Miletus was a premier fortified city on the western coast of Anatolia, near the mouth of the Meander River. It used to be the most flourishing among the twelve cities of the Ionian confederation. However, it was looted and burned many times. During the 6th and 5th centuries, Miletus was at the peak of its glory. Some of the famous inhabitants of the city were philosophers Anaximander, Anaximenes, and Thales.

Syracuse

aerial view of a fortress in Syracuse

This was a premier Greek city in Sicily that was built in 734 BC. The city was the birthplace of Archimedes, the physicist. Sicily was controlled mostly by Syracuse in 382 BC. It had also seized Carthage in the far west along with several Greek cities of Italy. During that time, it was the most powerful Greek polis, and its tyrant Dionysius I was the most powerful man in Greece.

Byzantium

This city was the capital of Thrace. It was built in 667 BC at the entrance to the Bosphorus Strait. However, the city of Byzantium crumbled under the control of Rome.

Cyrene

The city of Cyrene was built by Greeks who came from Santorini under the influence of the Oracle of Delphi. It was founded in the valley of Djebel Akhdar. Cyrene became the most important of the five Greek colonies in the region, which amped up trade relations with all the cities in Greece.

Argos

Argos was a Greek city in the Peloponnese region, and it was founded in 2000 BC. Based on legends, Inacus, along with his descendants, ruled the city for nine generations.

Ephesus

ruins of Celsus library in Ephesus

Ephesus was included in the twelve Ionian cities on the shores of the Aegean Sea. The city was built in the 11th century BC by Athenian colonists under the leadership of the son of King Codros. It was an important cultural, religious, and commercial center.

Halicarnassus

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

This city was built around 1000 BC. It was originally named Zephyria and was considered part of the Doric Hexapolis. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, which was built by Artemisia II, who fought and defeated the Rhodians, was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Some of the most famous inhabitants of Halicarnassus were Herodotus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

Knossos

the Knossos palace at Crete, Greece

Knossos was the most important city in Crete during the time of the Minoan civilization. It was located about 5 kilometers southeast of present-day Heraklion to the west of the Kairatos River.

The Kingdom of Macedonia

The Kingdom of Macedonia became powerful during the 4th century BC under Philip II. Alexander the Great, his son, set out to overpower the world, which started in the Hellenistic period of Greek history. An odd fact about the city was that its inhabitants had to hunt a boar to be able to claim a set at the banquet table.

Samos

The first Greek to cross the Pillars of Hercules was the Colaeus of Samos. The city of Samos was economically rich from 538 to 522 BC. It ruled over the archipelago and became a strong maritime city-state in the Aegean Sea. The city was home to the architect and inventor Theodore, philosopher Pythagoras and Epicurus, mathematician and astronomer Aristarchus, and ruler Polycrates.

Colophon

According to legends, Andremon, husband of Gorge, son of Oenaeus, and father of Toas, was the one who founded the city of Colophon. It was an Ionian city in Asia Minor that was built on the banks of the River Ales. It was close to the coast, which made it ideal for a rich maritime culture.

Aegina

the Temple of Aphaia on Aegina in Greece

This city was an island that had immense commercial development and a naval fleet to rival that of all Greece during 500 BC. It was ruled by Aristocracy, and its citizens accumulated wealth through trade.

Eretria

scenery of the ancient city of Eretria in Greece

Eretria was an important city-state during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Based on Homer, the poet, the ships of Eretria were among those from other Greek cities that participated in the Trojan War. From 3000-2000 BC, or known as the Early Helladic period, the first known settlement was located on the plane. By the Middle Helladic period from 2000 to 1600 BC, it had moved to the top of the Acropolis since the plain had flooded. However, the settles reduced over time, and it was abandoned by the Middle Ages.[3]

Most Significant Battles in Greek History

statue of King Leonidas of Sparta

There were many battles fought by the Ancient Greeks throughout history. But among those, these three are the most significant of their clashes:

Most Significant Battles of Ancient Greeks

The Peloponnesian War

This war saw Sparta and Athens squaring up for a clash that changed history. It occurred from 460 to 404 BC. It can be divided into three stages. The first one was a 10-year series of inconclusive clashes. The second one was a six-year truce. However, there was nothing inconclusive about the third phase. In 405 BC, the Spartan general Lysander won over the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami, which led to the surrender of Athens. With this, Sparta became the undisputed top dog in the region.

The Battle of Marathon

the reconstructed ancient monument of the famous battle of 490 BC

In 490 BC, when Athenian forces attacked a huge Persian invading army at Marathon, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. Victory would give a huge shot in the arm for the nascent Athenian democracy, but losing would see it engulfed by the Persian empire. Fortunately, Miltiades, the commander of Athenians, executed a brilliant battle plan. They have drawn the best Persian troops into his army center before surrounding and attacking them.

The Macedonian Wars

The Macedonian Wars include four battles that were fought between the Greek kingdom of Macedonia and Rome during the third and second centuries BC. In the first war, Macedonia under King Philip V defeated Rome. However, they suffered defeats in the second and third wars. The fourth war saw Macedonia turn into a Roman province in the second century BC. Rome stayed the dominant force in the Mediterranean for generations.[4]

Ancient Greeks in Numbers

an illustration-cartoon of Ancient Greeks

In this part, we are giving you the different statistics and data about the Ancient Greeks, including their population, slavery, and battles.

Ancient Greece Population

Ancient Greece Population

The geographical definition of the Greek area transformed over time. Today, Macedonia is considered part of the Greek world. However, back in the classical period, it was a separate kingdom that used the Doric dialect and later on changed to the Attic dialect.

Based on estimates, the Greek-speaking population in the hinterland and islands of the Aegean Sea in the 5th century varied from 800,000 inhabitants to more than 3,000,000. In the 4th century, Athens had 60,000 natives. If you add the slaves and the foreign population, the number will rise to 350,000 to 500,000 inhabitants, wherein 160,000 of them lived in the city and the rest in the suburbs.

The population of the whole Greek territory, which includes Greece, Greek colonies in Sicily, the coasts of western Asia Minor, and the Black Sea, during the 4th century BC was about 8,000,000 to 10,000,000 inhabitants based on the latest estimates. It is about 12 times greater than in the 8th century BC, which was 700,000 inhabitants.[5]

Number of Slaves in Ancient Greece

Slavery in Ancient Greece

80,000 – 100,000 The estimated number of slaves in Ancient Greece.

There is clearly not a formal register of the number of slaves in Ancient Greece. But a historian named Paul Catledge estimated the numbers. He compared it from modern slave societies such as Brazil, the Caribbean, and the Antebellum South and expects the number to be around 80,000 to 100,000. With a total population of 2,500,000 between 450 and 320 BC, it means that one in four of the people in Athens were slaves.[6]

Ancient Greeks in Wars

The Ancient Greeks fought a lot of wars, and that is a fact. However, we cannot determine the exact number of battles they have been into. One of the most famous battles in history was the Battle of Thermopylae, which was told in the 2006 film titled 300. Based on the film, back in 480 BC, a handful of Spartans fought the armies of Persia for three days. Do you think this was just a one-sided legend?

The Battle of Thermopylae

Well, based on historians, it is true that there were only 300 Spartan soldiers at the Battle of Thermopylae. However, they were not alone. It’s because the Spartans had formed an alliance with other Greek states. Based on estimates, it is thought that the number of ancient Greeks was around 7,000. However, the size of the Persian army is disputed. According to 5th century Herodotus, there were more than 2 million, but it was more likely to be about 100,000 to 300,000. This means that the Greeks were still against overwhelming odds.

Since Persia had a huge army, they were intent on invading and conquering Greece. However, the Spartans were brutal, and they never surrendered. Much of the Greek armies were wiped out, but it allowed the bulk of the army to retreat and regroup. With this, the invasion of Persia ended in failure as the Greeks won at the Battles of Salamis and Plataea.[7]

Interesting Facts About Ancient Greeks

the combat equipment of an ancient Greek warrior

To learn more, here are some of the most interesting facts about Ancient Greeks:

  1. Ancient Greece first ascended during the 8th century BC.
  2. Between the 8th and 6th centuries BC, the Greeks founded lots of colonies.
  3. It was in Athens where democracy was first developed during the 6th century BC.
  4. In the early 5th century BC, the Greeks fought against the Persian Empire.
  5. Athens dominated Ancient Greece during the mid to late-5th century BC.
  6. The Athenian dominance was ended by Sparta and its allies during the Peloponnesian War.
  7. In the early 4th century BC, Macedonia rose to dominance.
  8. During Alexander the Great’s campaigns of conquest, Greeks fought as part of his army. They regained independence after the death of Alexander the Great.
  9. Greece was conquered by the Romans between the 2nd and 1st century BC.
  10. The alphabet of Ancient Greece was based on the Phoenician alphabet.
  11. Among the city-states of Ancient Greece, Athens had the biggest fleet. It had 200 ships manned by about 34,000 sailors.
  12. The Ancient Greeks referred to their land as Hellas and to their people the Hellenes.
  13. Epic poetry dominated Greek literature during their dark age.
  14. As Ancient Greece left its dark age behind, aristocrats replaced kings.
  15. Among the Greek city-states, Sparta had a unique government.

References

[1] Ducksters. (2022). History: Ancient Greece for Kids. Ducksters. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.ducksters.com/history/ancient_greece.php

[2] Chrystal, P. (2017, September). Your Guide to Ancient Greece: Everything You Wanted to Know. HistoryExtra. Retrieved January 7, 2022, from https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-greece/ancient-greeks-facts-homer-troy-achilles-aristotle-thucydides/

[3] Romero, S. (2020, May 28). Important cities of Ancient Greece. MegaInteresting.com. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.megainteresting.com/history/gallery/important-cities-of-ancient-greece-621590689750/19

[4] Mizen, S. (2021, September 21). The Ancient Greeks at War: Hoplites, the phalanx and the greatest battles. HistoryExtra. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-greece/greek-warfare-battles-hoplites/

[5] K, K. (2021, March 9). What was the population of Ancient Greece and Athens? GHD. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.greecehighdefinition.com/blog/2021/3/8/what-was-the-population-of-ancient-greece-and-athens

[6] Garland, R. (2020, September 15). The principles of slavery in Ancient Greece. The Great Courses Daily. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/the-principles-of-slavery-in-ancient-greece/

[7] History Extra, E. (2021, December 14). Were there really only 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae? HistoryExtra. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-greece/spartans-battle-thermopylae-how-many/

[8] Tadashi. (2021, November 25). 50 ancient greece facts: Land of the Olympians. Facts.net. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://facts.net/ancient-greece-facts/

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