Located at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the East, Greece is considered the birthplace of Western civilization. Greece occupies the southern Balkan peninsula and is bounded on three sides by water—the Aegean, the Mediterranean, and the Ionian seas.
Like other Mediterranean countries, Greece generally has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Its landscape is dominated by three natural elements: rugged mountains, lowland valleys, and the sea. No place in Greece is more than 60 miles from the coast. In fact, island clusters make up about one-fifth of the territory of modern Greece. With its limited natural resources and poor, rocky soil (only 20 percent of the land is arable*), the Greeks became a seafaring people, depending on the sea for importing food and for overseas trade.
* arable suitable for plowing and producing crops
Physically separated from one another by mountains, the early Greek communities that formed in the fertile valleys remained small and fiercely independent of one another. Each city-state* controlled its own trade, government, and religion. Nevertheless, towns throughout Greece shared many characteristics. They usually consisted of a walled-in community built on a fortified hill (acropolis), with an open marketplace (agora) at its center. The agora served as the hub of the town’s economic and social life. Although the city-states never united, the Greek people considered themselves “Hellenes” and called their land “Hellas,” and they made a special distinction between themselves and non-Greek-speaking peoples.
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory