Climate, plants and animals of ancient Greece
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Climate of ancient Greece

Rhodes
The island of Rhodes

May 2016 - Fishing was very important to early Stone Age people, and fishing is probably what brought the first people to Greece, because Greece was a great place to fish. Greece has a lot of good ports and beaches. No part of Greece is more than about forty miles from the sea: a couple of days walking. Plus there are a lot of small islands as well. Some of these islands are a good place to get obsidian, which might be another reason why people moved to Greece.

On the other hand, the soil in Greece is not very good for growing things, there are a lot of mountains that make it hard to walk from one place to another, and there is never enough fresh water. In Greece, plants tend to be small and scrubby: thyme bushes, sage, olive and fig trees, laurel, and little thin evergreens like juniper and oleander.

Central Greece
Near Thebes, in Central Greece

The combination of good sailing and lousy farming encouraged Greek people to get their living from the sea. Many Greeks were fishermen. Other Greek people sailed trade routes from one city to another, both Greek cities and elsewhere, all over the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, and made a living buying and selling things. Some Greek men hired themselves out as soldiers to fight for other people around the Mediterranean, especially in West Asia and Egypt (where there is money to pay them). And, less attractively, ancient Greeks also often turned to piracy or raiding to make a living, as in the Trojan War.

greek temple that fell down
An earthquake knocked down
the Temple of Zeus at Olympia

Another important thing about the Greek environment is that it is very unstable. Greece is smack-dab in the middle of a very active volcanic zone, where the Europe tectonic plate meets the Africa tectonic plate. There are several active volcanoes, and earthquakes are also very common. You get a nervous feeling that there could be a natural disaster at any time. This got the Greeks interested in a particular kind of religion which we call oracles. Oracles are the gods speaking to people, often in the form of minor earthquakes, and the gods tell the people what is going to happen in the future.

One final observation: the Greek landscape does not look the same today as it did in the Bronze Age. There used to be quite a lot of trees on the hillsides of Greece, but people cut most of them down, and now the hills of Greece are mostly bare, or have little bushes on them. Nobody is quite sure when exactly the trees were cut down, but very likely it has to do with the beginning of using iron in Greece, around 800 BC. You have to heat iron very hot (1537 degrees Centigrade) in order to melt it, and that takes a lot of wood fires.

Yeah, but what was the weather like?
Learn by doing: eat some Greek food

Bibliography and further reading about the climate in ancient Greece:

Greece the Land (Lands, Peoples & Cultures), by Sierra Adare (1998). Geography, climate, and more.

Ecology of the Ancient Greek World, by Robert Sallares (1991). Not easy going, even for adults, but very interesting.

Find out what the weather is like in Greece right now: Holiday Weather - We provide Greek Weather forecasts.

More about ancient Greek weather
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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