Many historians consider Ancient Greece to be a seminal culture, from which the foundation of Western Civilization sprung. A small group of non-conformists believe that seminal culture is something that should only be used during in vitro fertilization. Humor bloggers just giggle at the mention of the word “seminal”.
In any case, if you were alive in the years from 500 BC to about 146 BC, then Greece was the place to be. You also would have been fabulously old, and probably incapable of enjoying Greece’s many fine pastimes, such as philosophy, drama, hanging with your hoplite buddies, or a variety of activities with olives. (Some of them illegal nowadays.)
This time period is often broken up in to two periods, the Classical, and the Soft-Rock period (also known as the Hellenistic period).
Prior to this time period, the Greek city-state had developed; these city-states were ruled by kings, tyrants and oligarchies. An oligarchy was a kind of large-headed pirate that owned land, slaves and enormous bronze helmets. The most powerful oligarchy was in Sparta, which was renowned for its powerful warriors, cruel child-rearing practices, and a susceptibility to sore necks. While the Spartans were at the masseuse, the city of Athens developed a new method of ruling, which they called democracy (though only a small number of male citizens were allowed to vote, no matter how big their heads were.)
These city-states existed not only in Greece itself, but in Asia Minor, or what is now the Aegean coast of Turkey. This area was called Ionia, and the Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, thought it would be nice to own, so he did. (According to Darius’ younger brother, Whinius, he always taking things without asking.) When the Ionian Greeks rebelled, the Greek Greeks (in Athens and a few other cities in Greece) supported them. Then Darius thought it would be nice to own Greece too.
Darius wasn’t all bad — he was one of the few ancient rulers to ban slavery, but this didn’t help him invade Greece. The Persians landed their fleet at a place called Marathon, which is about 25 miles from Athens. Knowing the large-headed pirates of Sparta were excellent soldiers, the Athenians sent a runner to ask for their help, a round-trip jog of nearly 300 miles, which the messenger, a long-legged freak of nature named Pheidippides did in three days. We celebrate this magnificent feat of athletics by strapping on running shoes (often named after the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike), and clogging the streets of Boston during their annual short constitutional run: