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The grim and glorious Ancient Greeks

Ancient Greece was a civilisation that existed thousands of years ago in the Mediterranean (the geographical region that includes Italy, Spain and Greece). At the height of its rule, Ancient Greece ruled over most of Europe and Western Asia. The Greeks came before the Romans and they have a very similar culture. 

Much of today’s western culture comes directly from the Ancient Greeks including government, art, philosophy and science.

In Ancient Greece there was two main cities – Sparta and Athens. Spartans were very into war and fighting while the people of Athens were interested in learning and the arts. 

The Greeks believed in some very special Gods and Goddesses… there was a king and queen of the God’s and each God represented something important in Greek life. They worshipped these Gods and Goddesses and built many temples where they could pray to them.

Fun facts

  • The Greeks often ate dinner while lying on their sides.
  • They invented the yo-yo which is considered the second oldest toy in the world after the doll.
  • Ancient Greece was not just Sparta and Athens – there were around 100 other Greek cities.
  • About one third of the Greeks were slaves – even though they did not get paid they did lots of important jobs like policing, craftspeople and farming.
  • In a court-case, there could be as many as 500 people in the jury! The verdict was often reached by number of votes, but it was not always fair, because there was so many different people voting.
  • The Ancient Greeks held many festivals in honour of their gods. To celebrate the god Zeus, for example, the first Greek Olympics were held in the city of Olympia in 776 BC and are thought to have inspired our own Olympic Games!
  • Some Greek Gods lived on top of Mount Olympus – but not all of them. Only 12 lived there and they spent all day fighting with each other. 
  • Greeks never called themselves Greeks! This name actually came from the Romans. They call themselves 'Hellenes', this is because the country of Greece was called ‘Hellas’

We are Greek Song

Books to read about the Ancient Greeks:

Words from the Greeks

  • Acrobat From the word akri (meaning edge) and the verb vaino (to walk). So, it means to walk on the edge, like an acrobat often does.
  • Cemetery From the word koimame (to sleep) and the word koimitirion (dormitory/residence). Do you think it is creepy that cemetery can be translated to houses of rest? 
  • Dinosaur How would you describe a dinosaur? The Greeks thought of them as terrible (deinos) lizards (savra).
  • Galaxy The ancient Greeks thought our galaxy (the milky way) was created when the Greek god Zeus’s baby son, Hercules, tried to drink milk from his step-mother while she slept. She woke up and got a fright and milk (gala) came out of Hercules mouth, spraying across the universe and creating the Milky Way
  • Melancholy Meaning sad or gloomy, came from a Greek belief. The ancient Greeks thought that you felt sad or gloomy when your spleen had too much black bile (a fluid created by your liver). Melancholy means melas (black) and khole (bile). 
  • Music Literally meant the art of the Muses (the nine goddesses who took care of the arts and sciences).
  • Panic The Ancient Greek god Pan spread terror among the nymphs (fairy like creatures that lived among the Greek gods) and from that the word panic was created
  • Sarcasm From the word sarx (flesh) the ancient word sarcasm meant to "tear someone down" or make them feel bad, with just your words. 

Although Greek is one of the oldest languages in the world it is now considered a "dead language" – it has been replaced with Modern Greek. How many English words do you think have come from Ancient Greek?  

The best (or worst) of the Greek Gods 

  • Zeus The King of the Gods and the most powerful. He hated liars and threw lightning bolts at everyone who upset him. He controlled the sky and the weather. Best to stay out of his way. 
  • Hera The Queen of the Gods and the goddess of women and family. She was beloved by all her people. She had many children and did not always get along well with her husband, Zeus. 
  • Poseidon God of the sea and earthquakes. He spent most of his time in the ocean and he wielded a trident strong enough to shake the earth. He was often moody and nasty – he would seek revenge on people who angered him.  
  • Hades Older brother of Zeus and Poseidon and the Ruler of the Underworld – the dark kingdom where the dead reside. Hades was the most frightful of them all, the Ancient Greeks feared him and his three headed dog Cerberus more than any other god.

Interested in more tales from Ancient Greece? Borrow from these titles from the library:

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