Ancient Greece




AcademyFamous Athens school founded by the famous philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Students would come to the Academy to study with the famous men. Other great thinkers would come there, too. The Academy also included a gymnasium.
AcropolisHighest hill in any Greek city-state. Where many important buildings were, including government buildings and temples. In Athens, it was the home of the Parthenon.
Aegean SeaSea to the east of Greece proper that separated most of the city-states from the Asia Minor colonies. Site of many naval battles in the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War.
AeschylusFirst great Greek playwright, who introduced the Second Actor. Before that, action onstage took place only between the one Actor and the Chorus, a group of people who filled the audience in on what was really going on. Aeschylus wrote about 80 plays, but only seven survive. His most famous work is the Oresteia, a trilogy that touches on many human themes, including justice, revenge, duty, family ties. Aeschylus won several First Prizes at the City Dionysia, the annual drama Festival in Athens.
AlcibiadesHe was saved by and in return saved the life of Socrates. He was also a Peloponnesian War hero who fought on both sides. He fought first for Athens, then for Sparta, and finally for Athens again. His naval skills were legendary. He was ostracized from Athens for his failures and murdered while he was in hiding near the end of the war.
Alexander the GreatMacedonian general whose conquests equaled the majority of the known world. He defeated the great Persian emperor Darius twice, in humiliating fashion, then took over the Persian Empire. He was welcomed as a conquering hero in Egypt, which he ruled by acclimation from his new capital of Alexandria. He led his troops thousands of miles from him, into the wilds of India. In the process, he brought Greek culture to the rest of the world. This was his lasting achievement. He achieved all this in less than 20 years. In fact, he died at age 33.
AlexandriaEgyptian city planned, designed, and supervised by Alexander the Great. It was for a long time the most majestic and famous city in the ancient world. In its harbor was the Pharos, a lighthouse that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Also in Alexandria was the Great Library, which had thousands of scrolls' worth of information of all kinds on every subject.
AlphabetThe Greeks had their own letters for writing, from Alpha to Omega. Many of these letters are still used today.
AphroditeGoddess of love and beauty. Wife of Hephaestus. She is said to have caused the Trojan War by promising Helen of Troy to Paris, hero of the Achaeans, in exchange for a golden apple. Among her children are said to have been Aeneas, a Trojan hero, and Eros, who made quite a name for himself with his arrows of love.
ApolloGod of the sun. Patron of truth, archery, music, medicine, and prophecy. Twin brother of Artemis. He is also known for being the moving force behind the Oracle at Delphi. He is the only god to be named the same in both Greek and Roman mythology.
ArchimedesGreek inventor from Syracuse who was famous for his invention of the Lever and the Screw, a device that would raise water from one level to another. He came up with the theory of buoyancy, as in water. He was also a brilliant mathematician who came up with many famous theorems. He also invented weapons that repelled a Roman attack for a good long time.
ArchitectureGreek architecture was noted for its orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Each style was different and served a slightly different purpose. The purpose was originally to keep the tall and ornate temples to the gods standing. The result was a new way of construction.
AreopagusPlace on the Acropolis in Athens where the god of war, Ares, was acquitted of murder. Called Ares' Hill (Areopagus), it was later the site of trials and other justice-related matters, as well as a meeting place for government officials. This council had the same name as the place.
AresGod of war. Athens had a temple to him. Surprisingly, it is not known whether Sparta had a temple to him. He was acquitted of murder, and the spot where the trial took place was then called the Areopagus, which became a court and a gathering place for government officials.
AristarchusGreek scientist who calculated the distance from the Earth to the Moon, using an eclipse as a measuring tool.
AristidesPersian War general who led the Athenians into battle at Marathon. During the war, he criticized the naval strategy of Themistocles, the great naval general, and was ostracized for it. He returned, however, fought in the naval battle of Salamis, and commanded the Athenians yet again in their victory at the battle of Plataea. He was also responsible for the organization of the Delian League.
AristophanesGreek playwright who wrote comedies. He wrote 40 plays, of which 11 survive. Among his famous plays are Clouds and Frogs. His plays were satires, which poked fun at government officials or other important people. His play Clouds was such a satire on Socrates that people actually believed that the things the Socrates said in the play were true. Aristophanes won several First Prizes at the City Dionysia, the annual drama Festival in Athens.
AristotleGreek philosopher whose famous teacher was Plato. The two of them founded the famous Academy in Athens. Aristotle wrote about nearly every subject, not just philosophy. He wrote about ethics, law, nature, astronomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and many other subjects. He was the tutor of Alexander the Great.
ArtemisGoddess of the moon and the hunt. Guardian of cities, young animals, and women. Twin sister of Apollo. Her temple at Ephesus was one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
AthenaGoddess of wisdom. Daughter of Zeus. Patron of household crafts. City god of Athens. Among her many gifts to her namesake city-state was an olive tree.
AthensMost famous of all the city-states of ancient Greece. Birthplace of democracy and, at the same time, home to several tyrants. Home to great philosophers and the Academy. Home to the Festival, an annual dramatic showcase. Home to giant fleet, which helped defeat Persia. Rivalry with Sparta led to Peloponnesian War, which ended in a Spartan victory. Athens was home to the great philosopher Socrates. His pupil Plato founded his Academy near Athens, and Plato's pupil Aristotle founded his Lyceum nearby as well. Athens was also home to historians, scientists, mathematicians, and other great thinkers.
CleisthenesFamous archon who instituted major reforms that led to Athenian Democracy. One of his reforms was that any free man living in Athens or the surrounding area was a citizen. Before that, in order to be a citizen, a man had to be born in Athens to parents who were born in Athens. Cleisthenes also instituted the Council of Five Hundreds, a representative body charged with evaluating government proposals.
ComedyGreek form of play that was basically either farce (physical humor like people falling down) or satire (poking fun at important people). The most famous early comedy writer was Aristophanes.
CorinthCity-state that saw its share of cultural achievements and wars. It was situated between Athens and Sparta and so saw the brunt of action between those two. Corinthian troops fought in both the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian Wars. In the latter, they fought against Athens. Corinth also gave its name to the third and most ornate style of column, the Corinthian column. Colonists from Corinth also founded the city-state of Syracuse, far to the west on the island of Sicily.
CreteIsland that spawned the Minoan civilization, the first great civilization in the Aegean world. One of the more famous Minoan kings was Minos, whose palace at Knossos was a wonder of architecture. As the ancient Greeks became more powerful, they absorbed the Minoan civilization into their own.
CyrusFounder of Persian Empire. He did this by conquering his neighbors, including the Lydians, Parthians, and Medes. He solidified his power by naming his rivals satraps, or sub-kings, each of which ruled one province in Cyrus's name. He was succeeded by emperors who wanted to conquer Greece, among them Xerxes and Darius.
DariusOne of three Persian emperors. The first was known as Darius the Great. He it was who invaded Greece in the first Persian War. The Greek victory at Marathon ended his hopes of a quick victory. Darius II played a part in the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War by aiding Sparta both openly and secretly. Darius III is the one who was defeated and conquered by Alexander the Great.
Delian LeagueOrganization of island city-states and Asia Minor colonies formed after the Persian Wars to protect against future Persian invasions. Headquarters was in Delos, an island colony in the Aegean Sea. Athens eventually took over the Delian League and used it to further its ambitions for empire. The result was unrest and, eventually war–the Peloponnesian War.
DelphiFamous Greek city-state known for its Oracle and Temple of Apollo. The head priestess was called Pythia, and the Pythian Games (something like the Olympic Games) took place in Delphi every four years. Delphi was a focal point in the Persian Wars because of its location.
DemeterGoddess of crops. Giver of grain and fruit. As the provider of agriculture, she was one of the Greeks' most important goddesses.
DemocracyGovernment that professed to be representative. Began in Athens. Citizens of Athens could vote for their leaders and on other government proposals. But not everyone was a citizen. Also included principle of ostracism, which allowed citizens to vote to expel a person from Athens.
DemosthenesGreat speaker who made a name for himself by speaking out against things and people, among them Philip and Alexander. As a youth, he had a speech impediment. He practiced his orations by speaking with pebbles in his mouth and by shouting to be heard over the ocean waves.
DionysusGod of fertility, joyous life, and wild things. He is also said to have given King Midas the "golden touch."
DracoFamous archon whose set of laws were harsh and unforgiving. The penalty for many offenses was death. Such harsh laws were said to be "draconian," a word that exists to this today. Still, his achievement was putting all the laws in place and writing them down, making them known to everyone. And some of those harsh laws were aimed to curb the powers of tyrants.
EratosthenesGreek mathematician and scientist who did many incredible things. Among them was his calculation of the circumference of the Earth. He also invented a helpful method of calculating prime numbers. And he did all this without a calculator! It was the second century B.C., after all. He was also a geographer who drew a famous world map, and he was for a time the librarian at the famous Library of Alexandria.
EuclidGreek mathematician who is called the "father of geometry." His famous book Elements lays out the foundation of much of what we today call Euclidean geometry. He studied at Plato's Academy in Athens and later taught at Alexandria.
EuripidesThird great Greek playwright. He wrote about 90 plays, of which 18 survive. He introduced more real-sounding characters, complete with psychological and thoughtful reasons for their actions. Among his famous plays are Medea, Hippolytus, and The Trojan Women. Euripides won several First Prizes at the City Dionysia, the annual drama Festival in Athens.
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David White