Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

1
EARLY GREECE AND
THE BRONZE AGE

One of the greatest of the Greek cultural heroes was Odysseus, a man who "saw the towns of many men and learned their minds, and suffered in his heart many griefs upon the sea . . ." ( Odyssey 1.3-4). Like their legendary hero, the Greeks were irresistibly drawn to distant shores. From early in their history and continually throughout antiquity they ventured over the seas to foreign lands seeking their fortunes as traders, colonizers, and mercenary soldiers. Their limited natural resources forced the Greeks to look outward, and they were fortunate in being within easy reach of the Mediterranean shores of Asia, Africa, and Europe. By the fifth century BC, they had planted colonies from Spain to the west coast of Asia and from north Africa to the Black Sea. The philosopher Plato (c. 429-347 BC) likened the hundreds of Greek cities and towns that ringed the coasts of the Mediterranean and Black seas to "frogs around a pond" ( Phaedo 109b). Those far-flung Greeks left a priceless legacy of achievements in art, literature, politics, philosophy, mathematics, science, and war. Their story is a long and fascinating one.


THE LAND OF GREECE

A history of the Greeks (Hellēnes) must begin with the land, for the natural environment of a people--the landscape, the climate, and the natural resources-- is a major factor in determining the way they live and how they develop socially. Greece ( Hellas) occupies the southern portion of the Balkan peninsula, which juts far into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Its reach was further extended by the Greek islands to the west and east of the mainland, embracing the large islands of Crete and Rhodes to the south.

Greece is about the size of England in Great Britain or the state of Alabama in the United States. The landscape is very rugged, with mountains covering almost 75 percent of the land. Only about 30 percent of the land can be cultivated at all,

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