Greece - Fast Facts About Greece

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Fast Facts About Greece

Map of Modern Greece
Map of Modern Greece. Athens | Piraeus | Propylaea | Areopagus | Corinth | Fast Facts About Greek Colonies

Name of Greece

"Greece" is our English translation of Hellas, which is what the Greeks call their country. The name "Greece" comes from the name the Romans applied to Hellas -- Graecia. While the people of Hellas thought of themselves as Hellenes, the Romans called them by the Latin word Graecia.

Location of Greece

Greece is on a European peninsula extending into the Mediterranean Sea. The sea to the East of Greece is called the Aegean Sea and the sea to the west, the Ionian. Southern Greece, known as the Peloponnese (Peloponnesus), is barely separated from mainland Greece by the Isthmus of Corinth. Greece also includes many islands, including the Cyclades and Crete, as well as islands like Rhodes, Samos, Lesbos, and Lemnos, off the coast of Asia Minor.

Location of Major Cities

Through the classical era of ancient Greece, there was one dominant city in central Greece and one in the Peloponnese. These were, respectively, Athens and Sparta.

  • Athens - located in Attica in the lowest area of central Greece
  • Corinth - located on the Isthmus of Corinth about halfway between Athens and Sparta.
  • Sparta - located on the Peloponnese (the lower detached section of Greece)
  • Thebes - In Boeotia, which is north of Attica
  • Argos - in the Peloponnese in the east
  • Delphi - in central Greece about 100 mi. northwest of Athens
  • Olympia - in a valley in Elis, in the western Peloponnese

Major Islands of Greece

Greece has thousands of islands and more than 200 are inhabited. The Cyclades and Dodecanese are among the groups of islands.

  • Chios
  • Crete
  • Naxos
  • Rhodes
  • Lesbos
  • Cos
  • Lemnos

Mountains of Greece

Greece is one of the most mountainous countries of Europe. The highest mountain in Greece is Mount Olympus 2,917 m.

Land Boundaries:

Total: 3,650 km

Border countries:

  • Albania 282 km
  • Bulgaria 494 km
  • Turkey 206 km
  • Macedonia 246 km

  1. Fast Facts About Ancient Greece
  2. Topography of Ancient Athens
  3. The Long Walls and the Piraeus
  4. Propylaea
  5. Areopagus
  6. Fast Facts About the Greek Colonies

Image: Map courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

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Remains of Ancient Athens

View of the Acropolis
View of the Acropolis. Fast Facts About Greece | Piraeus | Propylaea | Areopagus | Fast Facts About the Greek Colonies

By the 14th century B.C., Athens was already one of the major, wealthy centers of Mycenaean civilization. We know this because of area tombs, as well as evidence of a water supply system and heavy walls around the Acropolis. Theseus, the legendary hero, is given credit for unifying the area of Attica and making Athens its political center, but this probably happened c. 900 B.C. At the time, Athens was an aristocratic state, like those around it. Cleisthenes (508) marks the start of the period democracy associated so closely with Athens.

  • Social Order of Athens
  • Rise of Democracy

Acropolis

The acropolis was the high point of a city -- literally. In Athens, the Acropolis was on a steep hill. The Acropolis was the main sanctuary of Athens' patron goddess Athena, which was called the Parthenon. During Mycenaean times, there was a wall surrounding the Acropolis. Pericles had a Parthenon re-built after the Persians destroyed the city. He had Mnesicles design the Propylaea as a gateway to the Acropolis from the west. The Acropolis housed a shrine of Athena Nike and the Erechtheum in the 5th century.

The Odeum of Pericles was built at the foot of the southeastern part of the Acropolis [Lacus Curtius]. On the south slope of the Acropolis were sanctuaries of Asclepius and Dionysus. In the 330s a theater of Dionysus was built. There was also a Prytaneum perhaps on the north side of the Acropolis.

  • More on the Acropolis
  • Parthenon
  • Odeum of Herodes Atticus

Areopagus

Northwest of the Acropolis was a lower hill where the Areopagus law court was located.

Pnyx

The Pnyx is a hill west of the Acropolis where the Athenian assembly met.

Agora

The agora was the center of Athenian life. Laid out in the 6th century B.C., northwest of the Acropolis, it was a square lined by public buildings, which served Athens' needs for commerce and politics. The Agora was the site of the bouleuterion (council-house), the Tholos (dining hall), the archives, mint, law courts, and magistrates' offices, sanctuaries (Hephaisteion, Altar of the Twelve Gods, Stoa of Zeus Eleutherius, Apollo Patrous), and stoas. The agora survived the Persian wars. Agrippa added an odeum in 15 B.C. In the second century AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian added a library to the north of the Agora. Alaric and the Visigoths destroyed the Agora in A.D. 395.

References:

  • Oliver T. P. K. Dickinson, Simon Hornblower, Antony J. S. Spawforth "Athens" The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth. © Oxford University Press.
  • Lacus Curtius Odeum

  1. Fast Facts About Ancient Greece
  2. Topography of Ancient Athens
  3. The Long Walls and the Piraeus
  4. Propylaea
  5. Areopagus
  6. Fast Facts About the Greek Colonies

Image: C.C. Tiseb at Flickr.com

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The Long Walls and Piraeus

Long Walls and Piraeus
Long Walls and Piraeus Map. Fast Facts About Greece | Topography of Ancient Athens | Propylaea | Areopagus | Colonies

Walls connected Athens with her ports, Phaleron and (northern and southern long walls) Piraeus (c. 5 mi.). The purpose of such harbor-protecting walls was to prevent Athens from being cut off from her supplies during ​times of war. The Persians destroyed Athens long walls when in occupied Athens from 480/79 B.C. Athens rebuilt the walls from 461-456. Sparta destroyed Athens' long walls in 404 after Athens lost the Peloponnesian War. They were rebuilt during the Corinthian War. The walls surrounded the city of Athens and extended to the port city. At the start of the war, Pericles ordered the people of Attica to stay behind the walls. This meant the city was crowded and the plague that killed Pericles held a substantial population captive.

Source: Oliver T. P. K. Dickinson, Simon Hornblower, Antony J. S. Spawforth "Athens" The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth. © Oxford University Press 1949, 1970, 1996, 2005.

  1. Fast Facts About Ancient Greece
  2. Topography of Ancient Athens
  3. The Long Walls and the Piraeus
  4. Propylaea
  5. Areopagus
  6. Fast Facts About the Greek Colonies

Image: 'Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography;' edited by Ernest Rhys; London: J.M. Dent & Sons. 1917.

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Propylaea

Propylaea Plan
Propylaea Plan. Fast Facts About Greece | Topography - Athens | Piraeus | Areopagus | Colonies

The Propylaea was the Doric order marble, u-shaped, gate-building to the Acropolis of Athens. It was made of the flawless white Pentelic marble from the area of Mt. Pentelicus near Athens with contrasting darker Eleusinian limestone. The building of the Propylaea was begun in 437, designed by the architect Mnesicles.

The Propylaea, as an entry way, extended the incline of the rocky surface of the west slope of the Acropolis by means of a ramp. Propylaea is the plural of propylon meaning gate. The structure had five doorways. It was designed as a long hallway on two levels to deal with the incline.

Unfortunately, the building of the Propylaea was interrupted by the Peloponnesian War, finished hastily -- reducing its planned 224 feet width to 156 feet, and burned by Xerxes' forces. It was then repaired. Then it was damaged by the lightning-triggered explosion of the 17th century.

References:

  • Architecture of Greece, by Janina K. Darling (2004).
  • Richard Allan Tomlinson "Propylaea" The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth. © Oxford University Press.

  1. Fast Facts About Ancient Greece
  2. Topography of Ancient Athens
  3. The Long Walls and the Piraeus
  4. Propylaea
  5. Areopagus
  6. Fast Facts About the Greek Colonies

Image: 'The Attica of Pausanias,' by Mitchell Carroll. Boston: Ginn and Company. 1907.

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Areopagus

Areopagus From the Acropolis
Areopagus (Mars Hill) taken from the Propylaea. Fast Facts About Greece| Topgraphy of Ancient Athens | Piraeus | Propylaea | Colonies

The Areopagus or Ares' Rock was a rock northwest of the Acropolis that was used as a court of law for trying homicide cases. The etiological myth says that Ares was tried there for the murder of Poseidon's son Halirrhothios.

"Agraulos ... and Ares had a daughter Alkippe. As Halirrhothios, son of Poseidon and a nymphe named Eurtye, was trying to rape Alkippe, Ares caught him at it and slew him. Poseidon had Ares tried on the Areopagos with the twelve gods presiding. Ares was acquitted."
- Apollodorus, The Library 3.180

In another mythological figure, the people of Mycenae sent Orestes to the Areopagus to stand trial for the murder of his mother, Clytemnestra,​ the murderer of his father, Agamemnon.

In historical times, the powers of the archons, the men who presided over the court, waxed and waned. One of the men credited with creating radical democracy in Athens, Ephialtes, was instrumental in removing much of the power the aristocratic archons held.

More on the Areopagus

  1. Fast Facts About Ancient Greece
  2. Topography of Ancient Athens
  3. The Long Walls and the Piraeus
  4. Propylaea
  5. Areopagus
  6. Fast Facts About the Greek Colonies

Image: CC Flickr User KiltBear (AJ Alfieri-Crispin)