For a long time, the ancient Greeks did not create a unified territorial state, but chiefly lived in city-states or poleis. Their home was the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula and the coastal region of the Mediterranean (1). Besides Greece, they founded settlements that still flourish today, for example in Spain (Emporion / Ampurias, 2), France (Massalia / Marseille, 3), Italy (Neapolis / Naples, 4), Libya (Kyrene, 5) and Turkey (Smyrna/Izmir). Their Greek identity was preserved through their shared culture. They had gods and heroes as well as myths in common, they shared religious festivals and institutions, such as the Olympic Games (6). Their common language and writing-system, and the cohesive power of art, music, and literature were also decisive for their identity.

Greek-speaking people were already living in Hellas in the mid-second millennium BC; and the first known period of their history was the age of the Mycenaean palaces (16th–12th centuries BC). The shared culture of the poleis evolved in the 9th–8th centuries (the so-called Geometric period). In the Archaic period (7th–6th centuries), monumental temple architecture and sculpture was born, partly inspired by Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences.

The decades around the turn of the 6th century BC saw significant events in world history. This is when democracy was established in Athens (510 BC), this was the decisive period of the Persian wars (490; 480–479 BC), and the first flowering of Athenian drama. Ideas – those of liberty, democracy, and the autonomous citizen – were conceived that are still significant for us today.

The history of the 5th and 4th centuries was defined by the futile struggle for hegemony, which ceased with the Macedonian conquest (338 BC). The culture of the poleis gave way to the age of the Hellenistic empires (3rd–1st centuries BC).