Ancient Greece Facts for KS2 Children and Teachers
The ancient Greek civilisation was one of the most important civilisations in the ancient world. Find out all about this fascinating era with these ancient Greece facts for KS2 children and teachers.
When was ancient Greece?
The first civilisations in Greece began around the year 2000 BC. From this date until around 1450 BC, the Minoan people lived on the Greek island of Crete, ruled over by kings. The Minoans were a very advanced people – they had homes with running water, recorded events in their own written language and were competent architects, building huge, elaborate palaces all over the island.
When the Minoan civilisation declined in 1450 BC, a new civilisation developed on mainland Greece. This was known as the Mycenaean civilisation, named after their largest city, Mycenae. They lived in Greece until around 1100 BC.
After this there was a Dark Age in Greece until around 800 BC when the main ancient Greek civilisation began. There are three main periods in the ancient Greek civilisation:
- The Archaic Period (c. 800 BC to 480 BC)
- The Classical Period (c. 480 BC to 323 BC)
- The Hellenistic Period (c. 323 BC to 146 BC)
If you're looking for a more in-depth lesson on the ancient Greece timeline, check out this ready-to-teach 'Timelines' lesson.
How was ancient Greece run?
Ancient Greece had no central government. People lived in city-states, known as ‘polis’. Each city-state had a main city which ruled the areas surrounding it. Each city-state was completely independent from the others, with their own form of government, usually a monarchy, oligarchy or democracy:
- Monarchies, such as the city-state of Corinth, were ruled by a king.
- Oligarchies, such as the city-state of Sparta, were ruled by a small group of people, usually rich men.
- Democracies, such as the city-state of Athens, were ruled by many people. Every year, 500 citizens were chosen at random to form a council. The council was responsible for making the laws. The rest of the citizens in the city-state (known as the assembly), voted for or against the laws made by the council.
Citizens in ancient Greece would vote using different coloured beans.
City-states were often at war with each other, and often teamed up against a common enemy. There were as many as 1000 city-states in ancient Greece. Some were very small but some, like Athens and Sparta, were very large and powerful.
What was ancient Greek warfare like?
Ancient Greek city-states often had an army. Ancient Greek soldiers were known as hoplites. Some hoplites were professional soldiers but during times of war in some city-states, all men would be called upon to join the army to become a hoplite, or another member of the armed services.
Hoplites wore a bronze helmet, a bronze or leather breastplate (called a thorax), bronze greaves (or knemides) to protect the shins, and sometimes arm guards too. They were armed with a long wooden spear called a doru and a short sword called a xiphos.
Other weapons used by the ancient Greeks included the catapult which could send stones, rocks and other objects flying over walls and across long distances, the crossbow which was like a normal bow and arrow but had much more power and speed, and the battering ram which was used to smash through walls or doors.
What did ancient Greeks wear?
Ancient Greeks wore light and loose clothing because of the warm weather. Men wore a tunic called a chiton, which was a large piece of fabric held in place with pins and the shoulder and a belt around the waist. Women wore a similar garment called a peplos, which came down to their ankles instead of their knees. A himation was worn by both men and women, and was a wrap which could be draped over a tunic and arranged in different ways according to the latest style.
Wealthier Greeks wore jewellery, such as rings, necklaces and earrings. Decorated pins, used to attach a wrap or a cloak, were particularly popular.
What did ancient Greeks eat?
The ancient Greeks had a simple and healthy diet. They mainly ate cereals (from which they made bread), vegetables, cheese, eggs and fruit. Legumes, especially lentils and chickpeas, were also an important ingredient. Those who lived on the islands or near the coast also ate fresh fish. Meat, such as deer, hare and boar, was eaten infrequently. For poorer Greeks, the only time they ate meat was when an animal was sacrificed for the gods during a festival.
Men and women ate separately. If the house was too small to have separate eating areas, the men would eat first with the women, children and slaves serving them. They typically ate three or four meals a day.
Did you know…?
A symposium (a banquet and drinking party for men only) consisted of two parts - the first was dedicated to eating, and the second to drinking. Simple food in the form of snacks such as chestnuts, beans and honey cakes were eaten in the first part. In the second part, men would recline on couches, and a 'king of the banquet' (called a symposiarch) was chosen - he had the job of telling the slaves how strong to mix the wine!
What were ancient Greek houses like?
Most houses in ancient Greece were made from sun-dried mud bricks. Most houses had a courtyard (an unroofed area enclosed by walls), where children could play safely. The house then had other separate areas, such as the andron (a room for men only), the gynaeceum (a room for women only), a kitchen and a bathroom. Bathrooms were very simple – they had a chamber pot, which, when full, was emptied out onto the street.
What did ancient Greeks do for leisure and entertainment?
A very popular form of entertainment in ancient Greece was the theatre, where comedy or tragedy plays were performed. Actors wore masks so that the audience members sitting farther away could easily spot the different characters. Only men were allowed to be actors, and only men could visit the theatre.
The remains of the Ephesus theatre of ancient Greece
Learn how to make ancient Greek comedy and tragedy masks with this fun Art lesson.
Sport was also an important pastime. Every four years, the Olympic Games were held in Olympia. After the first Olympic Games in 776 BC, more and more events were added to the usual running race. In later years, wrestling, chariot racing and boxing were popular events.
Women’s leisure opportunities were more limited than men’s. They were confined to the house unless their husbands gave them permission to leave. They often played games, such as checkers (a board game) or marbles. Both men and women also enjoyed playing musical instruments, such as the lyre, which is similar to a harp.
What did the ancient Greeks believe?
The ancient Greeks had a polytheistic religion. This means that they believed in lots of different gods and goddesses. It was essential to the ancient Greeks to keep the gods happy. Happy gods were helpful and generous, whereas unhappy gods were vengeful and would punish them.
Ancient Greeks would go to temples to worship the gods, to bring offerings such as food, and to pray. Some temples were built to honour one particular god or goddess, while others were built for more than one deity.
The ancient Greeks had many stories, or myths, about the gods. Often these tales were a way of explaining an aspect of nature, such as earthquakes or the changing of the seasons.
The most important Greek gods were the twelve Olympian gods.. The Olympian gods and goddesses lived on Mount Olympus, argued amongst themselves, and met in a council to discuss and decide things together.
The 12 ancient Greek Olympian gods and goddesses:
- Zeus was the king of the gods. He was the god of the sky and thunder, and was both brother and husband of the goddess Hera.
- Hera was the queen of the gods. She was the goddess of marriage, women, childbirth and family.
- Demeter was the goddess of fertility and the harvest.
- Ares was the god of war and violence.
- Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty.
- Hermes was the god of travel and roads.
- Athena was the goddess of wisdom, war and crafts.
- Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses.
- Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, archery, the wilderness and the moon.
- Apollo was the god of music, poetry, light and prophecy.
- Hades was the god of death and the underworld.
- Dionysus was the god of wine and the theatre.
Why was the ancient Greek civilisation important?
The ancient Greeks made important contributions to philosophy, mathematics, literature, astronomy, medicine and many other areas. Even after 3000 years, we are still using ancient Greek ideas in many aspects of modern-day life. For example:
- Our alphabet is based on the ancient Greek alphabet.
- Many of the prefixes and suffixes in the English language come from ancient Greek words, such as ‘anti’ which means ‘against’, ‘micro’ which comes from the Greek word ‘mikros’, meaning small, and ‘photo’ which comes from the Greek word for light.
- Our modern democracies are based on the ancient Greek democracies of city-states like Athens.
- The modern Olympic Games are based on the original ancient Greek Olympics.
- Doctors today still sometimes take the Hippocratic oath, which is an ethical promise to treat people to the best of their abilities. Today’s Hippocratic oath is based on the original text written by the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates.
- The ancient Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, was the first to prove that in a right-angled triangle, the sum of the squares of the two right-angle sides will always be the same as the square of the hypotenuse (the long side). Pythagoras’ theorem is still taught in schools today.
Why did ancient Greece end?
The ancient Greece civilisation eventually became weaker due to a variety of factors, such as warfare between city-states and rebellions against rich Greeks by poor people. It was eventually conquered by the ancient Romans in 146 BC.
10 Fascinating Ancient Greek Facts:
- Ancient Greeks often bought slaves with salt. This is where the phrase ‘not worth his salt’ comes from.
- No wars were allowed to take place in the month before the Olympic Games so that spectators could travel to the games unharmed.
- Ancient Greeks used to exercise naked! The word ‘gymnasium’ means ‘school for naked exercise’.
- In ancient Greece, the word ‘idiot’ meant anyone who wasn’t a politician.
- Throwing an apple at someone was a declaration of love in ancient Greece.
- Ancient Greeks didn’t call their country ‘Greece’. It was known as Hellas or Hellada.
- The tradition of greeting someone by shaking hands began in ancient Greece.
- One of the first historical references to the yo-yo appears on a Greek vase from 440 BC.
- Most girls were married at the age of 13 or 14, and marriages were arranged by their fathers.
- Ancient Greeks didn’t have toilet paper but instead used pebbles and pieces of broken ceramics.
Looking for ready-to-teach Ancient Greece lessons? Check out this Ancient Greece Cross-Curricular Topic for KS2.