Greece, Ancient. The civilization of the ancient Greeks grew up around the Aegean Sea and spread through the Greek mainland. At its height it extended to Sicily and Italy on the west, and through Asia Minor and around the end of the Mediterranean Sea to the east and south. The Greek world, called Hellas by the Greeks, was united culturally, but never politically. It was not brought under a single government until it became part of the Roman Empire in the second century B.C.

Greek civilizationGreek civilization arose along the shores of the Aegean and Ionian seas. Ancient Greece consisted chiefly of a peninsula that separated the two seas, nearby islands, and the coast of Asia Minor (now part of Turkey).

Greek civilization developed later than that of the Euphrates and Nile valleys, but earlier than that of Rome. Ancient Greece reached its highest point of achievement in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., but its influence remained strong throughout the era of Roman supremacy.

The Greeks are the most celebrated people of antiquity because their accomplishments form the basis of Western civilization. Vigorous, adventuresome, and freedom-loving, of strong practicality and great intellectual capacity, they produced art, architecture, literature, drama, and philosophic concepts that have never been surpassed. The Greeks developed the political institution of democracy, established freedom of speech and religion, and founded a system of law defining the rights of citizens. They made major discoveries in astronomy, physics, mathematics, and medicine. The first experimental scientists were Greeks.

The Greeks worshipped many gods and goddesses, each representing either some part of the universe (such as the sea or the underworld) or some aspect of human life (such as love or war). They believed that these gods frequently intervened in human affairs, and they turned to the gods for aid and revelations. Many Greek myths tell of adventures of the gods and their dealings with humans. The names of the Greek gods and many of the legends about them have survived to become part of Western tradition.