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How Geography & Climate Shaped Early Greek Life

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  • 0:00 Greece's Location
  • 0:59 Landforms of the Greek Region
  • 3:04 Greek Climate
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Just as the Nile shaped Egypt, so too did the unique geography of Greece help to shape one of the most enduring cultures in history. From politics and war to the economy and colonies, the geography of Greece impacted them all.

Greece's Location

Greece is composed of an archipelago and a peninsula located in the Eastern Mediterranean, between Italy and Turkey, and is itself the southernmost tip of the Balkan Peninsula. Given its unique location, it's not surprising that Greece has served as a crossroads for the Mediterranean world since the earliest days of its settlement. Since it's located roughly in the middle of the Eastern Mediterranean world, influences from foreign powers and cultures have long been part of the Greek experience. As a result, the Greeks were forced to create a culture that itself was more powerful, to the point of greatly influencing most of the Western world. However, it wasn't just ideas being traded, as Greece was a natural point for trading vessels traversing the seas. Additionally, the Greeks were forced to interact with the sea from their earliest period, meaning that they were soon comfortable enough to sail outside of the sheltered waters of the Aegean and into the greater Mediterranean.

Landforms of the Greek Region

This reliance on the sea was reinforced by the nature of the land in Greece. In short, Greece is extraordinarily mountainous, meaning that any large society that were to exist here would have to be based, at least in part, on either trade or fishing for a food supply. Luckily for the first Greeks, the seas off of their respective islands and inlets were among the richest fishing grounds in the ancient world, meaning that Greece would have enough not only to feed itself, but to trade the excess.

While Greece was hilly, those hills were surprisingly fertile for certain cash crops, lending themselves to the cultivation of both olive orchards and vineyards for making wine. In fact, the very hilliness that made the terrain horrible to drag a plow through, or to realistically harvest with a scythe for grains, allowed for the greater drainage and selective sunlight necessary to produce truly superb olives and grapes. The resultant olive oil and wine were both easily exported throughout the known world, and meant that Greek farmers could concentrate on growing crops that would actually succeed in Greece, rather than just scratching out what wheat and other cereal crops could grow on hillsides.

The mountains also created consequences for geopolitics in ancient Greece. As communication on the Greek mainland was difficult, a number of city-states would come to rule the area independent of each other. However, these city-states would often find themselves in alliance with certain states against others, most notably with the differences between the two most famous city-states, Athens and Sparta. Conversely, the ease with which the seas could be navigated meant that the city-states that could establish control of the seas could have control of those regions on islands in the Aegean Sea, as the Athenians were able to do with the Delian League. Further, many of the largest battles of the Greeks would be sea battles, while land battles would be almost exclusively fought by foot soldiers, as the area required to raise horses was simply a luxury few ancient Greeks could afford.

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