The first great civilization in Europe began in ancient Greece. During the high point of Greek culture (800-300 BCE), the Greeks invented science, philosophy, theater, and democracy. They introduced the alphabet to Europe, and their art, architecture, and literature left a lasting legacy.
Minoans of Crete (2900 BCE)
On the island of Crete, the Minoan civilization builds large palaces and trades with the Greek mainland. Bulls are sacred animals in their religion.
Mycenaean civilization (1600 BCE)
On the Greek mainland, the Mycenaeans build fortified palaces at Mycenae, Thebes, and Athens. They are warlike people, fighting from chariots and wearing bronze armor with boar-tusk helmets.
Olympic Games (776 BCE)
The first recorded Olympic Games are held at Olympia in honor of the god Zeus. Held once every 4 years, the games give the Greeks a common dating system.
Greek colonies (750-500 BCE)
The Greeks establish overseas settlements around the Mediterranean and Black Seas. These include Emporion (Empuries) in Spain, Neapolis (Naples) in Italy, Massilia (Marseilles) in France, Syracuse in Sicily, Naucratis in Egypt, Cyrene in Libya, and Olbia in the Ukraine.
Iliad and Odyssey (750 BCE)
Two epic poems are composed, according to tradition, by Homer. The Iliad tells of a mythical war against Troy, and the Odyssey is the story of one hero’s journey home from the war.
Greek pottery (700 BCE)
Greek artists in Corinth begin to make "black figure" vases, with figures painted in black on the red or white background of the vase. Around 525 BCE, Athenians invent the "red figure" style, with outlines of figures left in the red of the clay while the background is painted black.
Greek vases were painted with scenes from myths, warfare, sporting events, and daily life. Unlike bronze statues, which were mostly melted down for their metal by later civilizations, painted vases have survived because they were often buried as tomb offerings.
Greek architecture (600 BCE)
The Greeks begin to build stone temples, replacing earlier timber buildings. Two main styles emerge - sturdy Doric on the mainland, and the more delicate Ionic in Ionia (in present-day Turkey).
Athenian democracy (508 BCE)
The Athenians drive out Hippias, a tyrant ruler, and establish the first democracy. All citizens can vote directly on laws - but women, slaves, and foreigners are not considered to be citizens.
Greek drama (499 BCE)
The Athenian playwright Aeschylus writes his first recorded tragedy. Plays are performed in honor of Dionysus, god of wine, at first in the marketplace and later in an open-air theater.
Greek-Persian Wars (490-479 BCE)
The Persians make two unsuccessful attempts to conquer Greece. Resistance is led by the cities of Athens and Sparta. The Persians sack Athens, but are then defeated at sea and on land.
Parthenon (447 BCE)
The Athenians rebuild the temples on the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel in Athens. The Parthenon, a new marble temple to Athena, is constructed at the same site.
First history book (440 BCE)
Herodotus writes the first history book, an account of the Greek-Persian Wars, together with descriptions of the customs of foreign peoples.
Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BCE)
Athens and Sparta fight the Peloponnesian Wars, which end in a Spartan victory. Sparta replaces Athens as the dominant city-state.
Academy (387 BCE)
The philosopher Plato founds the Academy, an exclusive "school" where he gives lectures and poses problems to be solved.
Alexander the Great (336-323 BCE)
Uniting Greece under his rule, Alexander of Macedon conquers the Persian Empire. A new age begins, in which Greek cities are founded as far east as India.
The Greeks were divided into scores of city-states. Each city-state, known as a polis, included the city and surrounding countryside. It operated as a small state with its own laws, calendar, public assemblies, and coins.
By 500 BCE, city-states controlled the entire Greek mainland, as well as coastlines across the Aegean Sea.