By Shani Asokan
Ceylon Today Features
To learn about the interesting civilisation of Ancient Greece, we have to travel back 3000 years to when they first existed. Ancient Greece followed a Dark Age in Greece, which ended around 800 BCE. The Dark Age saw the collapse of the Mycenaean civilisation and wars between various conflicting states within the region. However, towards the end of this age of instability and conflict, Greece began to enjoy economic development and a general rise in prosperity. This paved way for the rise of a new civilisation and way of living.
Ancient Greece was made up of several small city states which each had their own customs, laws and rulers. However, a few hundred years later, in 300 BCE (remember: in the BCE time period, time was counted backwards until it reached zero!) these small city states were forced to unite under a single ruler, Alexander the Great. He was the founder of the Ancient Greek Empire which expanded greatly, with territories in Europe, Egypt and South West Asia.
While it would take us a long time to go through the entirety of this great civilisation, here are some cool and interesting facts that will give you an idea of what it was like to live in Ancient Greece, 3000 years ago.
The Ancient Greeks had strange superstitions about food. They would not eat beans because they thought beans contained the souls of the dead. This was just one among the several superstitions they had around food, some that are believed even today!
As mentioned above, the Ancient Greeks descended from the Mycenaeans. They were the first writers and speakers of Ancient Greek. You may have heard of the legend of Troy, where an army of soldiers captured the city of Troy by hiding in a giant wooden horse. Those soldiers were Mycenaean! If you haven’t heard of this story before, the soldiers left the giant horse just outside the gates of the city of Troy and thinking it was a gift, the people of troy wheeled it in. Little did they know, the Mycenaean soldiers were hidden inside the horse! Once inside Troy, they crept out and laid siege to the city.
Yes, the Ancient Greeks invented theatre! They loved putting on and watching plays, and most of the cities had theatres. All the actors wore masks that showed the audience whether their characters were happy or sad. Some of the masks had two sides so that the actors could change the mood of the character depending on the scene. However, only men and boys were allowed to be actors, a tradition that has thankfully not continued to this day.
Most Ancient Greeks wore a piece of clothing called a ‘chiton’. This was a tunic that looked like a long t-shirt. It was made of a large piece of cotton. However, this article of clothing was only for citizens of the empire. Slaves (yes, the ancient Greeks had slaves) had to make do with a loincloth which was a small piece of fabric wrapped around the waist.
The Gods of Olympus played a huge role in Ancient Greek culture and tradition. They held festivals to honour and celebrate them. In fact, the first Greek Olympics were held in the Greek city of Olympia in honour of the God Zeus. The winners of these games would begiven a wreath of leaves as medals, free meals and the best seats in the theatre. This is thought to have inspired the Olympic Games we have today.
Statues of Greek gods and goddesses were placed inside temples and some gods and goddesses even had their own temples like the temple in Athens built for the goddess Athena, the protector of the city. Stories and legends were created to show the gods powers, most featuring mythological creatures such as Medusa or Cyclops.
Aside from the Greek Olympics, the Greeks also enjoyed wrestling, boxing, long jump, javelin, discus throw, and chariot racing. All but one of these are sports we too enjoy today, thanks to the Ancient Greeks. Wrestling was considered one of the toughest sports at the time, and participants had to be in their best shape to compete – and win!
The period of Ancient Greece was not entirely peaceful. The city states were almost always at war with each other. However, when an event like the Olympics came about, they would often call a truce and set aside their differences to come together as an Empire. Though Ancient Greece is far in the past, their legacy still lives on in most parts of the world.