World History Edu
- Ancient Greece
How and Why Ancient Greece Fell
by World History Edu · February 26, 2021
Fall of Ancient Greece | Image: L-R: Acropolis of Athens and Acropolis of Pergamon
Ancient Greece’s title of being one of the most influential civilizations in world history did not come easily. For several centuries, the Greeks and their culture dominated not just the Mediterranean but also other parts of the known world. They gave us numerous scientific, social and cultural inventions, including democracy, histography, the Olympics , geometry, philosophy, theatre and medicine.
And as it is natural with any civilization, the demise of ancient Greece came as a result of a number of factors. Ancient Greece was nudged off by the more powerful and vibrant Romans, who ended up incorporating ancient Greece into their territory.
Below, we explore the factors that caused the decline and fall of ancient Greece. But first, here is a quick look at the political, social and cultural environment of ancient Greece.
Ancient Greece as a civilization and not an empire
In the truest sense of the word, ancient Greece was never really an empire or a country; rather it was a loose coalition of independent city-states that shared so many cultural and religious beliefs. It was only in the modern times (i.e. in 1821) that Greece did eventually become a country. Although, not united per se, the ideas and inventions that were produced by the ancient Greeks ended up becoming the foundation of our Western civilization.
A quick look at the timeline of ancient Greece shows that the history of the civilization goes all the way back to around 1100 BCE, a time period historians often refer to as the Greek Dark Ages. Following that period was the Archaic Period, which started around 776 BCE and ended in 500 BCE.
Then, there was the famous Greek Classical Period (480 BCE – 323 BCE) which witnessed tremendous burst of ideas and scientific innovations. This period could boast of philosophers such as Socrates and Plato , and the famous Greek playwrights Euripides and Aeschylus .
Finally, there was the Hellenist Period, which spanned from 323 BCE to 31 BCE. Hellenistic Greece began following the death of Alexander the Great, the famous conqueror and king of Macedonia.
Not until Alexander Great, ancient Greek city-states often busied themselves either fighting amongst each other or loosely banding together to ward off the Persians. It has been estimated that there were several Greek city-states; however, the most prominent of them were Athens and Sparta.
Even during the reign of Alexander the Great and his father Philip II of Macedon , Greeks never really felt like being part of unified empire. Alexander the Great, a huge admirer of Greek culture, was crucial in spreading Greek culture and ideas to other parts of the Mediterranean, as he went on several conquests in the region.
Read More: 10 Most Famous Ancient Greek Philosophers
Factors that led to the fall of ancient Greece
In 146 BCE, the Roman army completely destroyed the Greek city-state Corinth and its Greek allies in the Achaean League | Image: The Destruction of Corinth, by Thomas Allom
The following are the 4 major factors that caused the fall of ancient Greece:
The loose coalition that existed amongst Greek city-states
Right from its beginning ancient Greece was always made up of city-states that had their own independent governments. For most of the time, these city-states locked horns with each other, fighting for dominance in the region. For example, it was not uncommon for the very militrialistic city-state of Sparta to spar with the quite liberal and intellectual (philosophical) city-state of Athens.
Individual city-states also suffered from the constant threat of the mighty Persian Empire in the east. The most known of those clashes came in the form of the Persian Wars, which saw a series of Persian attacks from 492 BCE to 449 BCE. Examples of some legendary battles fought in the Persian Wars include Marathon (490 BCE), Platea (479 BCE), and Themopylae (480 BCE). Although, the Greek city-states banded together to repulse the Persians, the effects of the Greco-Persian wars weakened the influence of Greeks in the region.
Basically the combination of those two factors, as well as others, allowed for the decline of the ancient Greek civilization.
Read More: Major Causes and Historical Importance of the Battle of Marathon
The Death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE
Alexander the Great was king of Macedon from 336 BCE to 323 BCE | Image: Alexander Mosaic, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.
In the decades and centuries that followed after the death of Alexander the Great , the various Greek city-states that were on the verge of uniting became more divided. Owing to the sudden death of the 32-year-old military genius, a successor could not be named. Alexander’s generals went ahead and sliced up the empire, leaving each area to be ruled by a general. So, for example, Alexander’s conquered territories in Egypt came to be ruled by the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BCE marked the end of the Classical Greek period, ushering in the Hellenistic Period. During this time, attention started moving from traditional cultural hubs such as Athens and Sparta to places like Alexandria (in Egypt) and Ephesus (in Turkey).
Did you know : The military genius and leader Alexander the Great went on a conquering spree that saw him march as far as India?
The Rise of Rome
The inability of ancient Greek city-states to unite was not the only reason why ancient Greece fell. Ancient Rome ’s increased influence in the region, which started around 200 BCE, ended up being a huge factor in the fall of ancient Greece. A very militaristic and prosperous Rome made it their goal to conquer all of Greece.
Fearing the growing threat of Rome, many Greek city-states did not hesitate to form an alliance with the North African region of Carthage in waging war against Rome in 215 BCE. However, Rome proved to be a far superior force and defeated the Greeks.
In 146 BCE for example, Rome (under the command of Lucius Mummius) defeated a coalition of Greek armies at the Battle of Corinth. The sheer devastation of the Greek city-state of Corinth scared the living hell out of the remaining Greek city-states, compelling many of them to quickly push for an alliance with Rome. As a result, Rome became the dominant force in the Mediterranean.
Not only did Rome absorb the various ancient Greece city-states into their empire, the Romans also kind of appropriated a great deal of Greek culture, including ancient Greek religious beliefs and gods. So, for example, the king of the Greek pantheon of gods Zeus became Jupiter in Rome; and the Greek god of war Ares became Mars in the pantheon of Roman gods .
Ancient Greece fall | Rome’s meteoric rise in the Mediterranean was too much for the various Greek city-states to handle |Image: The Colosseum in Rome
Revolt of the lower classes in Ancient Greece
As seen in many empires and civilizations, internal rife within the various Greek city-states ended being a significant factor in the fall of ancient Greece. The rife was primarily caused by a class war, which saw the lower classes rise up against the upper classes and ruling elites.
Often times those uprisings created a conducive environment for brutal rulers to cease power. And with that came more chaos and uprisings. As a result of those internal uprisings, the Greek city-states became even more vulnerable to external invasions.
Other facts about Ancient Greece and its fall
Ancient Greece Fall | Image: The last day on Corinth, Tony Robert-Fleury, 1870
- Although ancient Greece became a protectorate of Rome, it was still allowed to keep much of its culture. So long as the Greek city-states paid homage to Rome, Greeks continued to go about their life unimpeded, even maintaining the Greek language. As a matter of fact, the Romans had deep admiration for the Greek culture. This explains why Roman culture appeared to be similar to the Greek culture.
- By adopting a great deal of Greek culture, the Romans helped spread Greek culture to regions that the Roman Empire conquered. Therefore, the philosophies, literature, educational systems, and other social inventions of the Greeks became an important component of Western Civilization.
- Ancient Greece was only united for about a decade or so. This period was during the reign of Alexander the Great.
- Excluding the Greek Dark Ages (c. 1200 – c. 800 BCE), ancient Greek civilization in effect began in the 8th century BCE and lasted until around the 2nd century BCE.
Timeline of Ancient Greece
1. Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations (circa 2600-1100 BCE):
- Minoan Civilization (2600-1400 BCE): Flourished on the island of Crete. It’s best known for its monumental palaces, especially at Knossos.
- Mycenaean Civilization (1600-1100 BCE): Mainland Greek civilization known for its fortified palaces and Linear B writing.
2. The Dark Ages (circa 1100-800 BCE):
- Following the fall of the Mycenaeans, Greece entered a period of decline characterized by depopulation and the absence of written records.
3. Archaic Period (circa 800-500 BCE):
- The rise of the polis (city-state) and colonization of the Mediterranean basin.
- Introduction of the Greek alphabet.
- Homer composes the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.”
4. Classical Period (circa 500-323 BCE):
- Persian Wars (499-449 BCE): Greek city-states unite against Persian invasions. Major battles include Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis.
- Golden Age of Athens (circa 460-404 BCE): Under the leadership of Pericles, the Parthenon was built, and the arts, philosophy, and science flourished.
- Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE): A protracted conflict between Athens and Sparta.
- Socratic Period (469-399 BCE): Time of the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and the establishment of Plato’s Academy in Athens.
- Macedonian Hegemony and the rise of Philip II (359-336 BCE): Consolidation of Macedonian power and the subjugation of much of mainland Greece.
5. Hellenistic Period (circa 323-146 BCE):
- Death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE): After his conquests from Greece to India, his vast empire gets divided among his generals.
- Emergence of Hellenistic Kingdoms (circa 323-30 BCE): The Seleucid Empire, Ptolemaic Egypt, and the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia.
- The city of Alexandria in Egypt becomes a major center of Greek learning and culture.
- Stoicism, Epicureanism, and other Hellenistic philosophies flourish.
6. Roman Domination (146 BCE onward):
- Battle of Corinth (146 BCE): Marks the beginning of Roman domination over Greece.
- Greek culture heavily influences Roman civilization, leading to the blend known as Greco-Roman culture.
Throughout these periods, Ancient Greece produced foundational texts in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and politics, and its legacy deeply influenced the Renaissance and modern Western civilization. From the democratic ideals of Athens to the Hellenistic spread of Greek culture, its impact remains profound.
Tags: Alexander the Great Ancient Civilizations Ancient History Athens Battle of Corinth Battle of Lefkopetra Corinth Rome Sparta
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By: History.com Editors
Updated: May 30, 2023 | Original: March 5, 2010
The term Ancient, or Archaic, Greece refers to the years 700-480 B.C. The period is known for its art, architecture and philosophy. Ancient Greece saw advances in art, poetry and technology, and is known as the age in which the polis, or city-state, was invented. The polis became the defining feature of Greek political life for hundreds of years.
The Birth of the City-State
During the so-called “Greek Dark Ages” before the Archaic period, people lived scattered throughout Greece in small farming villages. As they grew larger, these villages began to evolve. Some built walls, most built a marketplace (an agora) and a community meeting place.
They developed governments and organized their citizens according to some sort of constitution or set of laws. They raised armies and collected taxes. And every one of these city-states (known as poleis) was said to be protected by a particular god or goddess, to whom the citizens of the polis owed a great deal of reverence, respect and sacrifice. (Athens’ deity was Athena, for example; so was Sparta’s.)
Though their citizens had in common what Herodotus called “the same stock and the same speech, our shared temples of the gods and religious rituals, our similar customs,” every Greek city-state was different. The largest, Sparta , controlled about 300 square miles of territory; the smallest had just a few hundred people.
Did you know? Greek military leaders trained the heavily armed hoplite soldiers to fight in a massive formation called a phalanx: standing shoulder to shoulder, the men were protected by their neighbor's shield. This intimidating technique played an important role in the Persian Wars and helped the Greeks build their empire.
However, by the dawn of the Archaic period in the seventh century B.C., the city-states had developed a number of common characteristics. They all had economies that were based on agriculture, not trade: For this reason, land was every city-state’s most valuable resource. Also, most had overthrown their hereditary kings, or basileus, and were ruled by a small number of wealthy aristocrats.
These people monopolized political power. (For example, they refused to let ordinary people serve on councils or assemblies.) They also monopolized the best farmland, and some even claimed to be descended from the Greek gods . Because “the poor with their wives and children were enslaved to the rich and had no political rights,” Aristotle said, “there was conflict between the nobles and the people for a long time.”
Emigration was one way to relieve some of this tension. Land was the most important source of wealth in the city-states; it was also, obviously, in finite supply. The pressure of population growth pushed many men away from their home poleis and into sparsely populated areas around Greece and the Aegean.
Between 750 B.C. and 600 B.C., Greek colonies sprang up from the Mediterranean to Asia Minor, from North Africa to the coast of the Black Sea. By the end of the seventh century B.C., there were more than 1,500 colonial poleis.
Each of these poleis was an independent city-state. In this way, the colonies of the Archaic period were different from other colonies we are familiar with: The people who lived there were not ruled by or bound to the city-states from which they came. The new poleis were self-governing and self-sufficient.
The Rise of the Tyrants
As time passed and their populations grew, many of these agricultural city-states began to produce consumer goods such as pottery, cloth, wine and metalwork. Trade in these goods made some people—usually not members of the old aristocracy—very wealthy. These people resented the unchecked power of the oligarchs and banded together, sometimes with the aid of heavily-armed soldiers called hoplites, to put new leaders in charge.
These leaders were known as tyrants. Some tyrants turned out to be just as autocratic as the oligarchs they replaced, while others proved to be enlightened leaders. (Pheidon of Argos established an orderly system of weights and measures, for instance, while Theagenes of Megara brought running water to his city.) However, their rule did not last: The classical period brought with it a series of political reforms that created the system of Ancient Greek democracy known as demokratia, or “rule by the people.”
The colonial migrations of the Archaic period had an important effect on its art and literature: They spread Greek styles far and wide and encouraged people from all over to participate in the era’s creative revolutions.
The epic poet Homer, from Ionia, produced his “Iliad” and “Odyssey” during the Archaic period. Sculptors created kouroi and korai, carefully proportioned human figures that served as memorials to the dead. Scientists and mathematicians made progress too: Anaximandros devised a theory of gravity; Xenophanes wrote about his discovery of fossils and Pythagoras of Kroton discovered his famous Pythagorean Theorem.
The economic, political, technological and artistic developments of the Archaic period readied the Greek city-states for the monumental changes of the next few centuries.
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Course: world history > unit 2.
- Classical Greece
- The Greek polis
- State-building: the Greek polis
- Greco Persian Wars
- Second Persian Invasion
- Classical Greek Society and Culture
- Philosophy: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
- Classical Greek society
Classical Greek culture
- Classical Greek culture and society
- Prelude to the Peloponnesian War
- The Peloponnesian War
- The Greeks made important contributions to philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.
- Literature and theatre was an important aspect of Greek culture and influenced modern drama.
- The Greeks were known for their sophisticated sculpture and architecture.
- Greek culture influenced the Roman Empire and many other civilizations, and it continues to influence modern cultures today.
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Greece, now a country in the Aegean, was a collection of independent city-states or poleis in antiquity that we know about archaeologically from the Bronze Age on. These poleis fought among one another and against bigger external forces, especially the Persians. Eventually, they were conquered by their neighbors to the north and then later became part of the Roman Empire. After the western Roman Empire fell, the Greek-speaking area of the Empire continued until 1453, when it fell to the Turks.
The Lay of the Land - Geography of Greece
Greece, a country in southeastern Europe whose peninsula extends from the Balkans into the Mediterranean Sea, is mountainous, with many gulfs and bays. Some areas of Greece are filled with forests. Much of Greece is stony and suitable only for pasturage, but other areas are suitable for growing wheat, barley, citrus, dates, and olives.
Prehistory: Before Greek Writing
Prehistoric Greece includes that period known to us through archaeology rather than writing. The Minoans and Mycenaeans with their bullfights and labyrinths come from this period. The Homeric epics—the Iliad and the Odyssey—describe valiant heroes and kings from the prehistoric Bronze Age of Greece. After the Trojan Wars, the Greeks were shuffled around the peninsula because of invaders the Greeks called Dorians.
- What Are the Letters of the Greek Alphabet?
- An Introduction to the Development of the Greek Alphabet
There were two main periods of colonial expansion among the ancient Greeks. The first was in the Dark Ages when the Greeks thought the Dorians invaded. See Dark Age Migrations . The second period of colonization began in the 8th century when Greeks founded cities in southern Italy and Sicily. The Achaeans founded Sybaris was an Achaean colony perhaps founded in 720 B.C. The Achaeans also founded Croton. Corinth was the mother city of Syracuse. The territory in Italy colonized by the Greeks was known as Magna Graecia (Great Greece). Greeks also settled colonies northward up to the Black (or Euxine) Sea.
Greeks set up colonies for many reasons, including trade and to provide land for the landless. They held close ties to the mother city.
The Social Groups of Early Athens
Early Athens had the household or oikos as its basic unit. There were also progressively larger groups, genos, phratry, and tribe. Three phratries formed a tribe (or phylai) headed by a tribal king. The earliest known function of the tribes was military. They were corporate bodies with their own priests and officials, as well as military and administrative units. There were four original tribes in Athens.
- Archaic Greece
- Classical Greece
The Acropolis - Athens' Fortified Hilltop
The civic life of ancient Athens was in the agora, like the Romans' forum. The Acropolis housed the temple of the patron goddess Athena, and had, since early times, been a protected area. Long walls extending to the harbor prevented the Athenians from starving in case they were besieged.
Democracy Evolves in Athens
Originally kings ruled the Greek states, but as they urbanized, the kings were replaced by a rule by the nobles, an oligarchy. In Sparta, the kings remained, possibly because they didn't have too much power since the power was split in 2, but elsewhere the kings were replaced.
Land Shortage was among the precipitating factors leading to the rise of democracy in Athens. So was the rise of the non-equestrian army. Cylon and Draco helped create a uniform law code for all Athenians that furthered the progress to democracy. Then came the poet-politician Solon , who set up a constitution, followed by Cleisthenes , who had to iron out the problems Solon left behind, and in the process increased from 4 to 10 the number of tribes.
Sparta - The Military Polis
Sparta started with small city-states (poleis) and tribal kings, like Athens, but it developed differently. It forced the native population on the neighboring land to work for the Spartans, and it maintained kings alongside an aristocratic oligarchy. The fact that it had two kings may have been what saved the institution since each king could have prevented the other from becoming too abusive of his power. Sparta was known for its lack of luxury and physically strong population. It was also known as the one place in Greece where women had some power and could own property.
The Greco-Persian Wars - Persian Wars Under Xerxes and Darius
The Persian Wars are usually dated 492-449/448 B.C. However, a conflict started between the Greek poleis in Ionia and the Persian Empire before 499 B.C. There were two mainland invasions of Greece, in 490 (under King Darius) and 480-479 B.C. (under King Xerxes). The Persian Wars ended with the Peace of Callias of 449, but by this time, and as a result of actions taken in Persian War battles, Athens had developed her own empire. Conflict mounted between the Athenians and the allies of Sparta. This conflict would lead to the Peloponnesian War.
Greeks were also involved in the conflict with the Persians when they hired on as mercenaries of King Cyrus (401-399) and Persians aided the Spartans during the Peloponnesian War.
The Peloponnesian League was an alliance of mostly the city-states of the Peloponnese led by Sparta . Formed in the 6th century, it became one of the two sides fighting during the Peloponnesian War (431-404).
The Peloponnesian War - Greek Against Greek
The Peloponnesian War (431-404) was fought between two groups of Greek allies. One was the Peloponnesian League, which had Sparta as its leader and included Corinth. The other leader was Athens who had control of the Delian League. The Athenians lost, putting an effective end to the Classical Age of Greece. Sparta dominated the Greek world.
Thucydides and Xenophon are the major contemporary sources on the Peloponnesian War.
Philip and Alexander the Great - Macedonian Conquerors of Greece
Philip II (382 - 336 B.C.) with his son Alexander the Great conquered the Greeks and expanded the empire, taking Thrace, Thebes, Syria, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, and on to the Punjab, in northern India. Alexander founded possibly more than 70 cities throughout the Mediterranean region and east to India, spreading trade and the culture of the Greeks wherever he went.
When Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided into three parts: Macedonia and Greece, ruled by Antigonus, founder of the Antigonid dynasty; the Near East, ruled by Seleucus , founder of the Seleucid dynasty ; and Egypt, where the general Ptolemy started the Ptolemid dynasty. The empire was wealthy thanks to the conquered Persians. With this wealth, building and other cultural programs were established in each region
Macedonian Wars - Rome Gains Power Over Greece
Greece was at odds with Macedonia, again, and sought the help of the budding Roman Empire. It came, helped them get rid of the northern menace, but when they were called back repeatedly, their policy gradually changed and Greece became part of the Roman Empire.
Byzantine Empire - The Greek Roman Empire
The fourth-century A.D. Roman emperor Constantine established a capital city in Greece, at Constantinople or Byzantium. When the Roman Empire "fell" in the following century, only the western emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed. The Byzantine Greek-speaking part of the empire continued until it fell to the Ottoman Turks about a millennium later in 1453.
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Ancient History of Greek Civilization Essay
In ancient Greece, the corporeal essence was a key to embracing the human-divine connection. As the democratic state and philosophy developed, the perception and presentation of the human form also changed. In ancient Greece, the body was the material means of constructing and transmitting social values; the body’s visual representation exemplified the moral codes of the time. With the development of philosophy and moral judgments of right and wrong, some human body depictions gradually transformed from realistic to distorted and exaggerated to highlight the implied ethical message.
The rank and personal status of a person in ancient Greece were evaluated, among other things, by one’s physical form. The Athenian democracy was established around the fifth century B.C. but soon evolved into an aristocracy, where the best-elected people ruled (Tridmas 995). At roughly the same time, the classically ideal body sculpture took over ancient Greece art. Some of the sculptures of that time began depicting the set of beliefs about how society works – and who gets to be a part of it. For instance, public sculptures with prominent postures and distinct physiques acted, arguably, as a reminder of societal progress.
Moreover, the accent on the development of science and philosophy was reflected in the realm of art as well. For example, the mathematical precision of the bodily proportions and their ratio, embraced by Aristotle, Socrates, and other philosophers, became an increasingly bigger part of fine art, including representing the human form (Gondek and Weaver 2). Overall, this era was signified by the strive for perfection, manifesting itself in depicting ideal bodies, which signified (nearly) ideal citizens.
As time went on, well-developed musculature stayed associated with superiority – which is why the ancient Greek gods or god-like warriors are portrayed in perfect physical shape. However, the representations of exaggerated stylistic behavior and appearance returned after the classically harmonious era (Gondek and Weaver 2). For example, a notable exception to perfect divine bodies is Dionysus, a god of festivity and insanity, who has sometimes been portrayed as a moderately obese man, clearly reflecting a passing judgment. In the later centuries, many Greek sculptures returned to being almost cartoon-like.
The human body was the foundational part of a person’s image, by which they fit within the societal hierarchy. As Socrates’ and then Plato’s philosophy took hold, a well-sculpted body and high intelligence became major determinants of social status. For instance, Tanner analyzes an example of two vase paintings, where an alert, muscular, and tall Lapith fights with an awkward Centaur with a confused and unappealing face (198). The beautiful and highly ordered posture of the Lapith refers to Plato’s description of “fine physiques” that go along with “noble characters” (Tanner 200). Thus, the appearance of human (or semi-human) bodies began to convey part of the moral narrative.
To conclude, the way the human form was portrayed reflected a larger picture of the development of ancient Greek political and philosophical systems. Initial and most commonly knowns portrayals of perfect bodies reflected the political, philosophical, and mathematical desire to portray perfect people. However, as the notions of right or wrong developed, ancient Greek artists partially moved away from the flawless human form, focusing on enhancing features to convey a story.
Gondek, Renee M., and Carrie L. Sulosky Weaver. “Approaching Transformation.” The Ancient Art of Transformation: Case Studies from Mediterranean Contexts , Oxbow Books, 2019, pp. 1–6. JSTOR .
Tanner, Jeremy. “Social Structure, Cultural Rationalization and Aesthetic Judgement in Classical Greece.” Word And Image in Ancient Greece , Edinburgh University Press, 2020, pp. 183–273.
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IvyPanda. (2023, February 18). Ancient History of Greek Civilization. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ancient-history-of-greek-civilization/
"Ancient History of Greek Civilization." IvyPanda , 18 Feb. 2023, ivypanda.com/essays/ancient-history-of-greek-civilization/.
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1. IvyPanda . "Ancient History of Greek Civilization." February 18, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ancient-history-of-greek-civilization/.
IvyPanda . "Ancient History of Greek Civilization." February 18, 2023. https://ivypanda.com/essays/ancient-history-of-greek-civilization/.
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