The Mediterranean Sea and Ancient Civilization

My first glimpse of ancient Greek culture came in grade 7 and I was fascinated by it. I would run through my back yard, sporting my own homemade toga or armour, impersonating the great names of those times: Alexander the Great, Pericles, Socrates. To this day I am enthralled with Greek and Roman studies, and while I don’t claim to be an expert, I will attempt to pass on what knowledge I do have!

First, an overview:

Our area of study for the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome centres around the Mediterranean Sea. Both of their histories are intertwined with this body of water, as well as the histories of other ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Carthage, and Phoenicia, to name a few. The Mediterranean Sea was used for travel and trade, shaping the cultures of these seaside civilizations.

Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Sea

Greece is the giant peninsula pointed out by the big blue arrow in this picture of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. As you can see, you can’t go far in Greece without hitting water. The Aegean Sea lies to the east, the Ionian Sea to the west, and to the south the open water of the Mediterranean Sea.

We will be looking at the history of two Greek cities in particular: Athens and Sparta. Now, you may be wondering why I am choosing to start with Greece. Why not the history of Italy and Rome? Or earlier civilizations, such as the Minoans and Mycenaeans?

The Latin word for city is “civis”, thus those who lived in cities, or city states, were ‘civilized’. On the other hand, if you didn’t live in a city, you were a barbarian. Western Civilization can be said to start with Greece, then; it was dominated by city states and arguably the two most important city states of Greece were Athens and Sparta.

Athens and Sparta

Athens and Sparta


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