The history of this region is dominated by two titans: the Greeks and the Romans. During the height of the Classical Era, the Greeks introduced cultural, civic and philosophical ideas and innovations that heavily influenced the Roman Empire and, in turn, laid the foundations of Western civilization.
Ancient Greece was settled by four different Greek-speaking groups. During the Bronze Age, Mycenaean Greece of Homer's epics consisted of the Achaeans, Aeolians and Ionians. It was one of the great powers of its time. The remaining group, the Dorians, rose to prominence around 1100 B.C. when the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. The influence of these groups spread beyond mainland Greece to the western coastline of modern Turkey and the islands of the Aegean Sea.
The Greeks also founded colonies in southern Italy and Sicily. Called Magna Graecia in Latin, these settlements existed alongside the native tribes of the Italian peninsula, including the Etruscans, Umbrians and Latins. The Latins would later build their capital in Rome, drawing heavily on the culture of their Greek neighbors.
Colonies of Italy/Greece
Besides Sicily and southern Italy, the Greeks established many more colonies around the Mediterranean, from approximately 750 B.C. until 500 B.C. Established as small city-states, most of these colonies were trading outposts. Others were created by refugees when Greek cities were overrun and the displaced inhabitants looked for new land. More than 90 Greek colonies were established, from Ukraine and Russia to the north, Turkey to the east, southern Spain in the west, and Egypt and Libya in the south.
The Classical Age of Greece began around the 5th century B.C. It was the era of Athens, Sparta, the birth of democracy, and many of Greece’s famous playwrights and philosophers. After two bloody wars with the Persian Empire, Athens and Sparta went to war with each other, leading to the eventual decline of both. The Macedonian king, Philip II, united the Greek city-states in 338 B.C. After Philip’s assassination, his son, Alexander the Great, became king of Macedonia and carried out his father’s plans to invade Persia. Alexander led his armies in conquest of the Middle East, part of India, and Egypt, spreading the Greek language and culture throughout much of the ancient world.
His triumph was short-lived, however; he died on his campaign and his conquered territories were divided among his generals. But many important Greek cities and colonies were established and remained under Greek rule, including Seleucia, Antioch and Alexandria.
While Greece spread its influence eastward, the small city of Rome was growing into a regional power in Italy. As the Roman Republic expanded, it established colonies of Roman citizens to maintain control of newly conquered lands. By the time Julius Caesar seized power from the Senate, the Roman war machine was nearly unstoppable. Soldiers who served for years in the military were rewarded with land in Roman colonies throughout the empire, which stretched from Turkey and the Middle East to Spain and northern France.