How did Greece come to have such a large influence on the world during antiquity?


Reading about Hellenistic dynasties in Egypt and Greek rulers in Judea doesn’t make sense to me given the size of Greece and that they afaik were divided into multiple small city states.

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After Philip II of Macedon united Greece under his rule, his son, Alexander the Great, conquered the entire Near East region, including Egypt and Judea, in the second half of 4th century BC. Those Greek dynasties were established by his Greek generals after he died without a successor. It’s like one of the most exciting parts of ancient history, look it up.

the two short answers are their prime location for trade across the Mediterranean sea with any other early civilizations and Alexander the Great/the Macedonians conquering most of the med sea before other empires stepped in

Another faucet to the issue is our euro centric mindset. We are not frequently taught about the early civilisations east of Egypt. These civilisations are frequently forgotten, or ignored. If you lived in Iran, Pakistan or India, you would have a slightly different history lesson.

The Greeks didn’t do much influencing, but the power houses who loved Greek culture did

Classical Greece was conquered by Persia, then freed, then conquered by Macedon, and then Alexander the Great conquered territories all the way out to India and spread the Greek culture that he liked to all of them. When he died he put generals in charge of various portions of his empire. Ptolemy I Soter got Egypt and a bit of the Levant forming Ptolemaic Egypt, Seleucus I Nicator got Asia Minor and formed the Seleucid Empire, there were 5 in all. These are the Hellenistic Dynasties and would reign until Rome popped by to try to take them over.

Later on Rome really liked Greek culture and appropriated and spread it a lot, and the Eastern Roman Empire would maintain their love of Greek culture and ideas until its fall in 1453 AD.

The individual city states of the Greeks really didn’t do much to spread their culture and rules by force, but their enticing culture intrigued others who were good with force but bad at culture(Rome) and they spread it for the Greeks.

2 reasons : war and imperialism.

For a few hundred years Greek cities were military powerhouses thanks to hoplite tactics and trireme techniques, which allowed them to conquer territory all over the mediterranean. Later on the Roman were greatly inspired by greek culture and conquered and influenced most of Europe. And western European countries, influenced by Greek and Roman culture, especially after the Renaissance, went on to colonise large parts of the world.


In addition, you and I most likely coming from western culture, are influence by ethnocentric history: the way we teach history is biased towards our own origins. Chinese or Japanese history books tell different stories.

Greece had a big population at the time. 10-13 million in late Antiquity compared to 5 million in Egypt, 3-4 million for the Carthagian Empire. I couldn’t find any number for Italy at the time, but a couple of hundred year later in the 1st century we estime at 6 million the population on the whole peninsula. This leave use with Persia, who had 50 million at their peak, but this include Persia, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Levant, Egypt, etc.

So as you can see Greek was pretty powerful in term of demography. Yes they were fractured into city states, but most of the world was fractured too. It’s not because you have an empire that everybody follow you. Most of the time local power kept their own power and only a fraction of the local ressources made it to the leader to project power. A bunch of Greek nation banding together was a force to be reckon with.

The reason why Greece had such a population at the time was mostly because of Geography. A bit reason why a population wouldn’t grow was because of war. Invasion, migration, pillaging, etc. Population had to rebuild their region from time to time. Greece was mostly protected by their mountains, more mountain in the North in the Balkan, Sea all around in the south. Allowing the polation to prosper for longer period of time. Something similar happened in the heartland of Persia with the mountain protecting them.

Greece was also a naval power. Persia was far inland so their naval tradition was a lot more recent, Egypt had no wood making it hard for them to make ships, in Anatolia most of the biggest valley where people lived where more into the interior of the land, leaving Greece and the Levant as the main two naval region of the time. Greece was protected by mountain and keep their supremacy, the Levant were conquered by the land, leaving their colony of Carthage as their sucessor in naval power. Eventually Persia having access to the Levant would become a Naval power too, but then Alexander happened.

Greece also had limited Arable land so by that point in history they just had too many people for the land. This is one of the reason why some cities declined in the late Antiquity like Sparta but also why the Greek started to colonize the hell out of the Mediterranean Coast. So if most ships on the sea is Greek and they create Greek colonies along the coast, you can see where their influence come from.

Finally, Macedon and then Rome did a lot of conquering and kept the Greek influence, keeping it alive and kicking.