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There are basically two geographical features of Greece that had a profound effect on how Greeks lived. The important geographical factors on the social and political development of Greece are the seas and mountains. The Greeks were forced to adapt these characteristics in specific ways.
Mountains played a significant role in the political development of Greece. The mountains also worked as barriers to separate different areas. This created regionalism, meaning different cities developed separately of one another. This meant different social structures, government systems, and military strategies. The polis would become the dominant political structure in Ancient Greece. In this way, city-states grew autonomously and developed their own identities. This would explain the marked contrast between the city-states of Sparta and Athens.
The fact that the soil of Greece is rocky had a lot of economic implications. It limited the population because agricultural output was so low. It also caused the Greeks to look outside of its peninsula for colonies that possessed soil that could be farmed. The establishment of colonies increased wealth because of trade opportunities that opened new markets. Precious metals were mined from the mountains that could be used for trade.
The Greeks utilized the seas around their land to great advantage. The development of advanced shipbuilding techniques enabled the Greeks to travel. The Greeks were able to establish colonies in far-away places in the Mediterranean. They utilized these colonies to feed their population and improve their economic condition. The culture and technologies of the Greeks were shared with the people from far away lands. The Greeks, through cultural diffusion, learned a great deal from the people they met through the travel of the seas.
Before we look into the economic, political and social developments, it is important to understand Ancient Greek geography. Generally, Greece is very mountainous. Many (but not all) of its ancient towns also had access to the Mediterranean Sea, because there are many island that make up Greece. There are several "regions" to Greece- Epirus to the northwest, Thessaly in the northeast, Central Greece in the center, and the Peloponnese, a hand-shaped protrusion, to the South. While they all share mountains as a basic geographic characteristic, they also have differences. Epirus is isolated by mountains. Thessaly has warm, dry plains and lower mountain ranges. Central Greece is surrounded by a lot of water, and the Peloponnese is mountainous and separated from the mainland by the Gulf of Corinth.
Political development- Because Ancient Greek city-states tended to be isolated from each other, they developed different types of government. Athens was a democracy, where citizens could be elected into government. Sparta, on the other hand, was a monarchy, with a line of hereditary monarchs. Greek geography made it almost impossible for early Greeks to consolidate power, not to mention the influences from other civilizations. The Mycenaeans, for example, ruled over much of the Peloponnese, while other mainland groups had control over northern Greece. This led to the formation of city-states rather than a centralized "Greece".
Economic development- Those city-states that were located on the Mediterranean Sea developed strong trading economies over sea trade routes. Other city-states that were not on the shoreline, like Sparta in the southwest Peloponnese, relied on slave labor to tend to fields, craft goods, etc. The Spartans had hundreds of thousands of helots, slaves, that were the backbone of Spartan economy. This enabled the Spartan citizens to train in the art of battle.
Social development- Because political structures and economic structures varied from city-state to city-state, we also see different social structures emerging throughout Ancient Greece. Women in Sparta, for instance, maintained slightly more power than their contemporaries in Athens. Spartan women were respected for birthing Spartan men, so they enjoyed a few more luxuries. Women in Athens were on the bottom rung of the social ladder and were not considered citizens.
The most important geographical and topographical features of Greece were its mountainous terrain and its placement as a peninsula in the Mediterranean.
Greece's geographical location gave it a very advantageous position for trading. This, of course, affected economic development.
Greece's topography was more important to its political and social development. The many mountain ranges made it easy for each city to develop into what are called city-states (Greek: polis, plural poleis) because cities could not easily join together in larger political units. Each of these city states could develop its own social structures (contrast Sparta and Athens).
On the "teachingmatters" link, scroll down to "Narrative Mini Lesson."
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