The Landscape

The Greek homeland lay in and around the Aegean Sea. This section of the Mediterranean Sea is dotted with numerous islands both large and small and flanked on the west by the land mass called the Balkan Peninsula, which today forms the territory of the modern nation of Greece, and flanked on the east by the coast of modern Turkey. Greeks also came to live in the western Mediterranean and on the coast of north Africa, and some of the most famous and prosperous of Greek cities were founded in southern Italy and on the island of Sicily (an area commonly referred to by the Latin name “Magna Graecia”).

The landscape of mainland Greece1 is dominated by mountains, many of which run in ranges along the Balkan Peninsula in a northwest-southeast orientation. A chain of rugged peaks also fences Greece from the northern Balkan peninsula and the region that was Macedonia2 in antiquity. Although none of the mountains wrinkling the landscape of the Greek mainland looms higher than 10,000 feet, their steep slopes were difficult to traverse and operated as barriers separating communities. Some regions, such as Thessaly3 in eastern central Greece, Messenia4 in southwestern Greece, the island of Crete5 southeast of the mainland, and the island of Sicily, had large plains, but much of Greek territory lacked such large-scale open areas. Settlements tended to spring up where there were pockets of arable land nestled among the mountains or along the coast where good harbors could be found. Greece's rivers were practically useless for trade and communication because most of them slowed to a trickle during the many months each year during which little or no rainfall occurred.

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