Ancient Greece Unit Vocabulary

Here are the vocabulary words and definitions for our Greece unit. Copy them into your notebook.

Notice that the land of Greece consists of jagged islands and peninsulas that surround the Aegean Sea

1. MonarchyA monarchy is a government with one person in control. Usually the king’s oldest son takes over when a king dies.

King Leonidas of Sparta famously fought against the Persian invasion of Greece

This golden death mask was found in a tomb at Mycenae


2. OligarchyAn oligarchy is a government in which a small group of people makes the decisions.

Ancient Sparta was an example of an oligarchy -- It was ruled by two kings and five ephors (law officers)

Before the invention of democracy, ancient Athens was dominated by a small group of powerful men

3. DemocracyA democracy is a government in which all citizens make decisions by voting.


According to myth, the first issue Athenians decided by vote was to make Athena, not Poseidon, the goddess of the city

Athenian citizens, men only, would vote using colored rocks or scratched pieces of pottery placed into jars for counting
One tradition was called ostracism, when Athenian citizens are able to vote on who should be sent into exile
Athenian citizens all gathered at a place called the pnyx, and public speakers would stand on the platform in the center

4. TyrantA tyrant is a person who takes power by force. A government ruled by a tyrant is called a tyranny.


Tyrants used military force to seize power, and were usually supported by the people when an unpopular government was thrown out
Being a tyrant was a dangerous job -- Here the tyrant Hipparchus of Athens is assassinated by two men

5. OracleAn oracle is a prediction about the future. An oracle is also the person who makes a prediction. The oracle was believed to talk to a god or ancestor.


The most famous oracle was the Pythia, who told visitors to Delphi about the will of the god Apollo

The temple of Apollo at Delphi was a huge complex, with a special room in the back where the Pythia communicated the messages of Apollo to the priests
Even though it was the most famous, the oracle at Delphi was only one of many such sites around Greece

6. PhilosophyPhilosophy is the pursuit of wisdom.

The philosopher Socrates was condemned to death by the government of Athens for questioning the existence of the gods
The three most famous philosophers of the ancient world were Socrates, Plato, Aristotle

The School of Athens was not a real place, but a collection of men that met and talked about issues of the day

Philosophy was often a topic of discussion at a symposium -- a party with lots of wine and entertainment

7. ArchitectureArchitecture is the design and construction of buildings.

Greek architecture is known for its geometry and symmetry -- And more basically for the columns and pediment design

There were three orders of Greek columns -- Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian

The Parthenon, the Temple of Athena on the acropolis of Athens, is one of the most famous example of Classical Greek architecture

8. CitizenA citizen is a resident of a city who enjoys rights like voting.

A citizen soldier of Corinth would have worn a bronze helmet like this one 

Citizens were expected to fight to protect their city-state from all enemies, especially those from other city-states

Pericles was the famous leader of Athens who spoke about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship

9. AcropolisAn acropolis is the protected high part of an ancient Greek city. The most famous acropolis is that of Athens.

The Athens has the most famous example of an acropolis -- Notice its high position on a rocky outcropping

In the ancient city-state of Corinth, the acropolis may be seen in the distance behind the temple of Apollo

A model reconstruction of the acropolis of Athens as it would have appeared in the 400s BC

10. BarbarianA barbarian was a person considered by the Greeks as uncivilized; a non-Greek

The fight between the Lapiths (Greeks) and the centaurs represented the struggle between civilized people and the wildness of nature -- The centaurs got pretty drunk and ruined a wedding party

The half man/half horse nature of a centaur represents the barbaric tendencies of people

The Amazons were warrior women of myth, and they represented the wrong way for women to act in ancient Greece

Heracles had to fight off centaurs as well -- Several of them came looking to drink his wine

For the ancient Greeks, the ultimate barbarian was a Persian -- Persians could be seen by their recognizable hoods and by their pants. Greeks thought that the idea of wearing pants was just barbaric!

11. AssemblyAn assembly was a gathering of citizens.

The Assembly of Athens gathered at certain points of the year to make decisions on important matters of war and politics

The citizens of Athens would also participate in the theater, as plays were seen to have political and religious importance

The Athenians had a sophisticated system for keeping track of votes, and for selecting citizens to serve on the Council of 500 and on juries for important trials

12. HelotsThe helots were the slaves of Sparta.

The slaves of Sparta were called helots and they performed all of the tedious, tough, and necessary jobs to keep the city running

Because the helots did all of the other jobs, Spartan men could spend all day in military training

13: Hellenism: Greek culture

The spread of Hellenism was greatly increased by Alexander the Great, who brought Greek culture to many conquered lands


After Alexander died, his top generals continued mixing local cultures with Greek culture during the Hellenistic period
Here Heracles, a Greek hero, guards Buddha, a divinity of India
This image of the pharaoh Ptolemy VI shows him in the traditional crown of Egypt but with a Greek face and beard

14: AgoraThe agora was the outdoor marketplace of ancient Greek cities.

The agora of Athens was a loud, busy place where citizens went to shop, gossip, talk politics, and meet friends

Athens had a large agora consisting of many market stalls and open areas where people could gather

15: MythA myth is an ancient story usually involving heroes and gods.


Poseidon was the mythological god of the sea.


16: HopliteA hoplite was a Greek soldier.

The hoplite was well armed and able to move quickly on the battle field.



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