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Ancient Athens and Maritime Trade (redirected from Geography of Ancient Athens and Maritime Trade)

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 3 months, 3 weeks ago


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

external image Gr-map.png
Topics on the Page




Naval Power

  • Greek Trireme




Greek Colonization


Cultural Influences


Teaching Resources




An interactive site about adventures in Ancient Greece.


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.

Naval Power

Depiction of a Greek trireme
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.


The trireme was a fast ship that enabled control of the sea.





Sea Trials of the Trireme Olympias



Visit the World's Oldest Shipwreck of a Greek Trading Vessel in the Black Sea



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.


Corinth, Ancient Greece's Biggest Port is Older Than We Thought (March 2024).


Click here for comparison of Athenian trade vs. Spartan Trade:


Click here for interactive map detailing trade routes in Greece circa 500 B.C.  (flash required)

  Click 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.


  A video explaining Ancient Greece's utilization of the sea for trade.

Free 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).


Trade in Ancient Greece 

Greek Colonization


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.


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.

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

Expansion 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.


Click here for an interactive visual timeline on Greek colonization.


In Ancient Sparta, conquered land was not assimilated, but rather allowed to remain relatively independent in terms of economic production,

with mandatory reparations of half of all agriculture produced. The term used to identify these conquered people was Helots. 


Click here for Article detailing the stories of Spartan Helots


This map, above, was made by Greek cartographers at the time and showed how they viewed their entire region. It is fairly accurate considering what they were working with and helps understand why they went where they went and did what they did. 

Ancient Greek Jewelry, 300 BCE


Ancient Greek Jewelry, 300 BCE

Expanding Cultural Influences


Link to AP Art History, Ancient Mediterranean


Role of Africans in Ancient Greek art




 Teaching and Learning Resources

While the Greeks were always looking outward and thinking of exploring, their geographic location also made them accessible from the outside.

  • Sometimes this left them vulnerable, like when the Persians attacked.
  • At other times they benefited greatly from it, like when they came in contact with the Phoenicians who introduced them to the alphabet.



The Greek Alphabet


  • The adoption of alphabetic writing from the Phoenicians, and its adaptation, by the Greeks sometime in the eighth century BC, was one of the most critical developments in world history.


Early Greek Alphabet


How the Greek Alphabet Developed


The Early History of the Greek Alphabet


Overview of Ancient Greek economy as well as book for different ages of students to read to learn more


Click here for Jeopardy review game on Ancient Greece


Role 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


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.


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