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

Central Greece
Near Thebes, in Central Greece

Greece, unlike Egypt or West Asia, is not a place that is easy to live in.

The soil 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. Because of this, people did not settle in Greece as early as they moved to Egypt and the Fertile Crescent.

The island of Rhodes

On the other hand, what Greece does have is a lot of coastline (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. So when people did come to live in Greece, they were sailors, and the Greeks have always spent a lot of time sailing on the ocean.

The combination of good sailing and lousy farming tends to make Greeks try to get a living from the sea. This can take several forms. First, Greeks fish a good deal. Second, they sail trade routes from one city to another, both Greek cities and elsewhere, all over the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, and make a living buying and selling things. Third, Greeks hire 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, Greeks also often turn 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 aspect of 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. There is 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 home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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