<Standard 7.24......................................................................................................................................Standard 7.26>

Explain how the geographical location of ancient Athens and other city-states contributed to their role in maritime trade, their colonies in the Mediterranean, and the expansion of their cultural influences.

Focus Question: How did the geography of the Mediterranean and surrounding areas influence the Greek outlook on the world?

This page examines the role of geography in the development of trade and the expansion of culture in ancient Greece.

Topics include:


Naval Power

  • Greek Trireme


Greek Colonization

Cultural Influences

Teaching Resources

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 11.47.54 AM.pngAn interactive site about adventures in Ancient Greece.


external image Gr-map.png

Imagine that you live in a land where you are rarely more than 60km from the sea. Maybe you live on the coast, or even an Island. Water is everywhere.

Most likely boats would be the central means of travel. For the Greeks, this often meant that travel, trade, visiting, and war were common. All of these things brought different people in contact with each other, and through this contact they exchanged ideas and customs.

This is known as cultural exchange. (It is interesting to note, however, that Sparta didn’t want their people to be influenced by others—therefore they didn’t allow trade with people from other places.)

See British Museum for information about geography in ancient Greece.

An Interesting Article Detailing the Influence of Trade on Art

For further background, see Troy, an educational website from the University of Cincinnati.

Depiction of a Greek trireme
Depiction of a Greek trireme

Naval Power

Athens possessed the strongest navy in the world and this power helped to create a powerful state and a maritime empire based on trade and commerce, and democracy in Athens.

Screen Shot 2017-11-10 at 2.39.52 PM.pngThe trireme was a fast ship that enabled control of the sea.

Multimedia.pngSea Trials of the Trireme Olympias


Each community in Ancient Greece was able to be self-sufficient and grow its own food. Therefore, usually only specialized items were traded.
  • The invention of the standardized coin made trade easier and also more advanced—it is said to have moved Greece out of the Dark Ages.

Because of its location and the natural harbors that it possessed, Greece was able to conduct trade with all of the major civilizations that flourished around the Mediterranean. They could trade with the Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, and Gauls. Also, many commodities were traded from inland Germanic cultures to the north.

Multimedia.pngClick here for a short video about the basics of Greek trade.

Click here for an encyclopedic link about Greek Trade.
Greeks Imported...................
Greeks Exported...................
Ship Building materials such as................
timber, linen, pitch
Olive Oil

Click here for a comparison of Greek and Egyptian Trade.
Multimedia.pngA video explaining Ancient Greece's utilization of the sea for trade.

lesson_plan_icon.jpgFree Powerpoints about Ancient Greece (the Quiz PPT format: Ancient Greece was located on a peninsula is especially helpful in understanding trade, money, and colonial expansion in Ancient Greece)

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Trade in Ancient Greece.

Greek Colonization

The Greeks expanded and set up different colonies for 2 reasons:
  1. First, they needed to set up new city-states when old ones became too big or when they needed to find new land to grow crops.
  2. Second, colonial expansion became an important way to expand their region of influence.

Multimedia.pngClick here for a video about the collapse of Mycenae colonial expansion.

Map icon.pngExpansion was largely conducted by crossing the Mediterranean Sea. This map shows how where the Phoenicians and Greeks set up colonies.

Colonial expansion had a lasting effect on the regions that Greece spread to.
  • The current African country of Libya is one example. Cities further inland were either left alone or had a greater degree of autonomy.
    • The city of Cyrene got its current name from the Greeks.
  • For the Greeks, colonization was a divine mission bestowed by the oracle Apollo at Delphi. For those living there, it was just a military conquest.
  • The Greeks ultimately established five colonies in Libya: Cyrene, Apollonia, Ptolemais, Taucheira and Berenice.

timeline2_rus.svg.pngClick here for an interactive visual timeline on Greek colonization.

Expanding Cultural Influences

external image art-151360_960_720.pngLink to AP Art History, Ancient Mediterranean

Ancient Greek Jewelry, 300 BCE
Ancient Greek Jewelry, 300 BCE

When a city-state became too big for its resources (i.e., when there were too many people for the amount of food they had), a group of families would leave and establish a new city-state.

The new city-state, however, maintained connection and loyalty to the original city-state.

In this way, the original city-state could make sure that their culture, religion, and way of life was maintained.

Teaching Resources

While the Greeks were always looking outward and thinking of exploring, their geographic location also made them accessible from the outside.
Multimedia.pngOverview of Ancient Greek economy as well as book for different ages of students to read to learn more

Role of Africans in Ancient Greek art
womens history.jpgRole of Women, Children, and Slaves.

external image Red_apple.jpgLesson from Plan National Geographic: Using Geography to learn about the World: How geography impacted daily life, warfare and trade in Ancient Greece.

An article about the Pillars of Hercules

Current Map of Southern Europe- Expressing the Location of Greece


Nosotro, Rit (2000). Athens and Sparta. Retrieved February 13, 2007, from HyperHistory.Net Web site: http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw4athensspartap2dz.htm

Roberts, J.M. (1997). The Penguin History of Europe. London: Penguin Books

Gombrich, E.H. (1985). A Little History of the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.