Historians have differing opinions on when the chronology of ancient Greece begins; however, there are several dates widely considered to be important. The period of Greek history from the 8th century B.C. to the death of Alexander the Great was an epoch of political, philosophical, scientific and cultural achievements. During that time, the ancient Greeks invented new concepts in government, philosophy, religion, science, sports, art and literature, all of which greatly influenced Western civilization.
The First Olympic Games, 776 B.C.
According to historical evidence, the first Olympic Games were held in Greece in approximately 776 B.C. Dedicated to the god Zeus and presented at the ancient site of Olympia, the celebrated sports event lasted one day and consisted of running and wrestling competitions. During the following century, single horse and chariot races were included. Organized every four years, the Olympics endured until 393 A.D. when the Roman Emperor Theodosius, a Christian, condemned and banned the games as a pagan cult. They would not be held again until the late 19th century.
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, 750 B.C.
Homer, a blind poet believed to have come from the island of Chios, composed two of the most important literary works in ancient Greece, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Both are epic poems concerning the Trojan War and its aftermath. Although virtually nothing is known about Homer, his works were of immense importance to Greek culture. Homer's poems were recited orally before being put in writing around 700 B.C., after the Greeks developed their own alphabet by integrating vowels with Phoenician characters.
The Foundation of Democracy, 594 to 593 B.C.
Solon, an Athenian chief magistrate, carried out numerous legal and social reforms in Athens. By replacing the existing Draconian code, he laid the groundwork for democracy. He initiated tax and debt relief, established the use of coinage, created a system of weights and measures, released agricultural laborers from serfdom and freed slaves. He also granted Athenian citizenship to immigrant craftsmen in order to promote industry and trade. Solon's reforms were part of an effort to restore the balance of power between rulers and the masses. Solon did not believe that the people themselves should rule Greece, but that they ought to be represented. To that end, he set up the Council of Four Hundred to represent ordinary citizens. This governing body was the precursor to Athenian democracy.
The Parthenon, 449 to 432 B.C.
Greek architects designed and built the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, on a hill in the center of Athens called the Acropolis. The Parthenon was the key project in a large-scale building program initiated by Pericles, the leader of Athens. An architectural innovation, the structure incorporates both the Doric and Ionic styles and is made of marble and limestone. Its panels of relief sculpture, an exemplar of Greek art known as the Parthenon frieze, depict a procession of hundreds of Athenian nobles, as well as mythological deities and animals. In its original state, the Parthenon accommodated an ivory and gold statue of Athena. Today, the ruins of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Death of Alexander the Great, 323 B.C.
Alexander the Great was considered one of the greatest military commanders in world history. In his late teens, he commanded a cavalry regiment; by the age of 20, had been crowned king of Macedonia. He succeeded his father, Philip II, to the throne. By the age of 26, Alexander had conquered the Persian Empire, expanding the Greek world as far east as present-day Afghanistan. At 33, after a brief illness, he died. Almost immediately, his generals and family members began fighting for control of his empire. The battles continued for 40 years. By 281 B.C. most of Alexander's empire had been divided between his successors. The date of Alexander's death is generally regarded as a turning point in ancient Greek history, marking the end of the Classical period and the beginning of the Hellenistic period.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Ancient Greece, 1000 B.C. – 1 A.D.: Key Events
- British Museum: Ancient Greece: Timelines
- Fordham University: Ancient History Sourcebook: History of Ancient Greece
- PBS: The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization
- Olympic.org: Ancient Olympic Games: History
- BBC -- History: Historic Figures: Homer
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images