- With an area of 50,949 square miles (131,958 square kilometers), Greece is roughly the size of Alabama. The population of Greece is more than 10 million people.—comparatively, the population of Alabama is around 4.5 million.
- Approximately 16.5 million tourists visit Greece each year, more than the country’s entire population. Tourism constitutes nearly 16% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- No one in Greece can choose to not vote. Voting is required by law for every citizen who is 18 or older.
- About 7% of all the marble produced in the world comes from Greece.
- Greece has more international airports than most countries because so many foreign tourists want to visit.
- The world’s third leading producer of olives, the Greeks have cultivated olive trees since ancient times. Some olive trees planted in the thirteenth century are still producing olives.
Capturing the Cretan bull
- The saying “taking the bull by its horns” comes from the Greek myth of Hercules saving Crete from a raging bull by seizing its horns.
- According to Greek mythology, Athena and Poseidon agreed that whoever gave the city the best gift would become guardian over the city. Though Poseidon gave the gift of water, Athena’s gift of an olive tree was deemed by the other gods to be more valuable.
- Greece has zero navigable rivers because of the mountainous terrain. Nearly 80% of Greece is mountainous.
- Approximately 98% of the people in Greece are ethnic Greeks. Turks form the largest minority group. Other minorities are Albanians, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Armenians, and gypsies.
- About 12 million people around the world speak Greek. They live mostly in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Albania, Turkey, the United States, among other countries.
- Thousands of English words come from the Greek language, sometimes via the Roman adaptation into Latin and then to English. Common English words from Greek include “academy,” “apology,” “marathon,” “siren,” “alphabet,” and “typhoon.”
- In the 1950s, only about 30% of Greek adults could read and write. Now, the literacy rate is more than 95%.
- An old Greek legend says that when God created the world, he sifted all the soil onto the earth through a strainer. After every country had good soil, he tossed the stones left in the strainer over his shoulder and created Greece.
- Continuously inhabited for over 7,000 years, Athens is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It is also the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, the Olympic Games, political science, Western literature, historiography, major mathematical principles, and Western theories of tragedy and comedy.
Thus, we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.
- Winston Churchill
- Over 40% of the population lives in the capital Athens (Athina in Greek). Since becoming the capital of modern Greece, its population has risen from 10,000 in 1834 to 3.6 million in 2001.
- Greece has more than 2,000 islands, of which approximately 170 are populated. Greece’s largest island is Crete (3,189 sq. miles) (8,260 sq. km.).
- Some scholars say that the Greek civilization has been around for so long that it has had a chance to try nearly every form of government.
- Currently, Greek men must serve from one year to 18 months in any branch of the armed forces. The government spends 6% of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the military.
- Ancient Greece was not a single country like modern Greece. Rather, it was made up of about 1,500 different city-states or poleis (singular, polis). Each had its own laws and army, and they often quarreled. Athens was the largest city-state.
- Until the late 1990s, the greatest threat to Greece was Turkey, as the two nations have had historical disputes over Cyprus and other territory for decades. After coming to each other’s aid after a devastating earthquake that hit both countries in 1999, their relationship has improved.
- The life expectancy for ancient Greek women was 36, and the average for males was 45. Of the children born, only half survived infancy.i Currently the life expectancy for Greek females is 82 years and for men, 77 years. Greece is ranked #26 in the world for life expectancy rates. The United States is ranked #49.
- Greece is the leading producer of sea sponges.
- Greek ships make up 70% of the European Union’s total merchant fleet. According to Greek law, 75% of a ship’s crew must be Greek.
A Spartan specialty was a black soup made from salt, vinegar, and blood
- A Spartan specialty was a black soup made from salt, vinegar, and blood. No one in the rest of Greece would drink it.
- Greece has more archaeological museums than any other country in the world.
- Football, or what Americans call soccer, is the national sport of Greece.
- Retirement homes are rare in Greece. Grandparents usually live with their children’s family until they die. Most young people live with their families until they marry.
- Many Greek structures such as doors, windowsills, furniture, and church domes are painted a turquoise blue, especially in the Cyclades Islands. It is used because of an ancient belief that this shade of blue keeps evil away. They called the color kyanos, which the words “cyan” and “cyanide” are derived from.
- Feta, which is made from goat’s milk, is the Greece’s national cheese. It dates back to the Homeric ages, and the average per-capita consumption of feta cheese in Greece is the highest in the world.
- In Greece, people celebrate the “name day” of the saint that bears their name rather than their own birthday.
- Thousands of birds stop in Greece’s wetlands on their migrations. As many as 100,000 birds from northern Europe and Asia spend their winters there.
The Colossus stood about 108 feet high, which is about as high as the modern Statue of Liberty from feet to crown
- The city of Rhodes (the capital of the island of Rhodes) is the most popular location for tourists in Greece. The city is famous for housing one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Colossus of Rhodes (from which the word “colossal” is derived). This gigantic 98-foot (303-meter) statue of the god Helios, whose legs straddled the harbor, was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 B.C.
- The first Olympic Games took place in 776 B.C. The first Olympic champion was a Greek cook named Coroebus who won the sprint race.
- Slaves made up between 40% and 80% of ancient Greece’s population. Slaves were captives from wars, abandoned children, or children of slaves.
- A long-standing dispute between Britain and Greece centers around the Elgin Marbles (the Greeks prefer to call them the Parthenon Marbles), which are housed in a London’s British Museum. The British government believes that it acquired them fairly through its purchase from Lord Elgin, while the Greeks claim the purchase was illegal.
- Greece has one of the richest varieties of wildlife in Europe, including 116 species of mammals, 18 of amphibians, 59 of reptiles, 240 of bird, and 107 of fish. About half of the endemic mammal species are in danger of becoming extinct.
- The monk seal has been a part of Greek’s natural and cultural heritage and is described in The Odyssey. The head of a monk seal was even found on a coin dated 500 B.C. Now, however, only 250 monk seals are left.
- Greece organized the first municipal dump in the Western world around 500 B.C.
- During the Nazi occupation of Greece in WWII, most Jews were taken to concentration camps across Europe. The Jewish population in Greece fell sharply from 78,000 to less than 13,000 by the end of the war.
- In Greece, the dead are always buried because the Greek Orthodox Church forbids cremation. Five years after a burial, the body is exhumed and the bones are first washed with wine and then placed in an ossuary. This is done in part to relieve the shortage of land in Greek cemeteries.
- Government corruption cost Greece about $1 billion in 2009. Currently Greece’s national debt is larger than the country’s economy.h Its credit rating, or its perceived ability to repay debts, is the lowest in the euro zone. The EU and the International Monetary Fund are considering a bailout package for the heavily indebted nation.
- Greek has been spoken for more than 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest languages in Europe.
- Greece enjoys more than 250 days of sunshine—or 3,000 sunny hours—a year.
Greece has nearly 3,000 sunny hours a year
- Greeks do not wave with an open hand. In fact, it is considered an insult to show the palm of he hand with the fingers extended. Greeks wave with the palm closed.
- After giving a compliment, Greeks make a puff of breath through pursed lips, as if spitting. This is meant to protect the person receiving the compliment from the “evil eye.”
- No point in Greece is more than 85 miles (137 kilometers) from water. Greece has about 9,000 miles of coastline, the 10th longest in the world.
- Greece was once a mass of rock that was completely underwater. When a tectonic plate crashed into Europe, the collision created Greece’s mountainous ranges. The plate is still moving and causes earthquakes all around the Aegean.
- Soldiers (hoplites) in ancient Greece wore up to 70 pounds (33 kilograms) of bronze armor.
- The ancient Greeks are often called the inventors of mathematics because they were the first to make it a theoretical discipline. The work of Greek mathematicians such as Pythagoras, Euclid, Archimedes, and Apollonius lies at the basis of modern mathematics.
- The first Greek philosopher is considered to be Thales of Miletus (c. 624-546 B.C.). He was the first to give a natural explanation of the origin of the world rather than a mythological one.
Greek researcher, Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c.480-c.429 BCE) is considered the world's first historian.
- The first historian is considered to be the Greek writer Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.), the author of the first great book of history on the Greco-Persian Wars.i Herodotus’ book is a major symbol in the novel The English Patient.
- The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between Athens and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta left ancient Greece in ruins and marked the end of the golden age of Greece.
- The British poet Lord Byron (1788-1824) was so enamored with the Greeks that he traveled to Greece to fight against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence. He contracted a fever there and died at the age of 36. The Greeks consider him a national hero.
- The word “barbarian” comes from Greek barbaroi, which means people who don’t speak Greek and therefore sound like they’re saying “bar-bar-bar-bar.”
- One of the dishes enjoyed by ancient Greek men at feasts was roast pig stuffed with thrushes, ducks, eggs, and oysters. Most feasts were for men only, though there were female entertainers (this was not considered a respectable occupation for women).
- The first Greek tragedy was performed in 534 B.C. and was staged by a priest of Dionysus named Thespis. He also wrote and performed a part separate from the traditional tragic chorus, which also designated him as the first actor. In fact, the word “thespian” (actor) derives from his name.
- At its height, Greek colonization reached as far as Russia and France to the west and Turkey to the east.
- Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Anaximander (c. 610-546 B.C.) is credited with writing the first philosophical treatise and making the first map of the known world. He can also be considered the first scientist who recorded a scientific experiment.
- Spartan warriors were known for their long, flowing hair. Before a battle, they would carefully comb it. Cowardly soldiers would have half their hair and half their beards shaved off.
- Wealthy people would sacrifice animals at the temples. Poor people who couldn’t afford live animals offered pastry ones instead.
- Ostracism allowed Athenian citizens to temporarily exile people thought dangerous to the public. If it was voted that ostracism was necessary, each citizen inscribed a name on a piece of pottery or ostracon in a secret ballot. The person with the most names had to leave town in 10 days for 10 years.
Greek sculpture captured athletic energy
- The Greeks revolutionized the art of sculpture. Instead of stiff poses and blank faces, Greek artists began to carve statues of people that showed both movement and emotion.
- Only boys and men were actors in ancient Greek plays. They wore large masks so audience members could see what part they were playing. Theater staff carried big sticks because sometimes the huge audiences would get excited by a play and would riot.
- The term “Ancient Greece” usually refers to the time between Homer (c. 750 B.C.) and the Roman conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt (Antony and Cleopatra, 30 B.C.).
- Democracy in Athens was significantly different from modern democracies in that it was both more participatory and exclusive. There were also no political parties in Athenian democracy.
- The Greeks would sacrifice one hundred bulls to Zeus during each Olympics.
- The Greek Temple of Artemis, built on the site of two earlier shrines dating back as far as the eight century B.C. in modern-day Turkey, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built around 550 B.C. and was destroyed in 356 B.C. by Herostratus.
- The ancestors of the Greeks were Indo-Europeans who entered Greece around 1900 B.C. They lived alongside the Minoans for many centuries before giving rise to the Mycenaean civilization which ended abruptly in the twelfth century B.C. After a “dark ages” of 300 years in which the knowledge of writing was lost, Greece gave birth to one of the most influential civilization the world has ever known: Classical Greece.
- By law, the only people eligible for citizenship in Sparta were direct descendants of the original Doric settlers. Because of this, there were never more than about 6,000-7,000 male citizens in Sparta, compared with up to 40,000 in Athens.
- Greek’s highest elevation is the legendary home of Zeus and other Olympian gods and goddesses, Mount Olympus at 9,750 feet (2,917 meters). Its lowest elevation is the Mediterranean Sea, or sea level.
- Alexander the Great was the first Greek ruler to put his own face on Greek coins. Previously, Greek coins had shown the face of a god or goddess.
- The Parthenon (“Place of the Partheons,” from parthenos or “virgin”) was built almost 2,500 years ago and sits on the Acropolis above the city of Athens. It actually featured colorful sculptures and a large gold-and-ivory statue of Athena. It took 15 years to build.
Athens is considered the cradle of Western civilization
- The word “tragedy” is Greek for “goat-song” because early Greek tragedies honored Dionysus, the god of wine, and the players wore goatskins. Tragedies were noble stories of gods, kings, and heroes. Comedy or “revel,” on the other hand, were about lower-class characters and their antics.
- Greece’s most famous modern writer is Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). His novels Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ were both made into movies, though the Greek Orthodox Church expelled him for The Last Temptation of Christ.
- Greece’s official name is the Hellenic Republic. It is also known as Ellas or Ellada.
- Greece has two major political parties: the Socialists (Panhellenic Socialists Movements or PASOK) and the Democrats (the New Democracy Party). Both were founded in 1974 after Greece’s military dictatorship collapsed.
- Greece has one of the lowest divorce rates in the EU.e Greece traditionally also has the highest abortion rates.
- Throughout history, Greeks have loved the sea. With more than 1,800 merchant ships in service, Greece has one of the largest fleets in the world. Aristotle Onassis and Stavros Niarchos (“The Golden Greek”) are some of the better-known Greek shipping businessmen.
- About 10% of a Greek worker’s pay is taken for taxes and another 10% for national health care. The government provides free hospitals and other medical services.
The Greek flag was officially adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus on January, 13 1822
- The Greek flag is includes nine blue-and-white horizontal stripes, which some scholars say stand for the nine syllables of the Greek motto “Eleftheria i Thanatos” or “Freedom or Death.” Blue represents Greece’s sea and sky, while white stands for the purity of the struggle of freedom. In the upper left-hand corner is the traditional Greek Orthodox cross.
- Greek workers get at least one month of paid vacation every year.
- About 10% of Greek adults are unemployed. Even with a college education, it’s hard to find a job.
- Greece’s currency, the drachma, was 2,650 years old and Europe’s oldest currency. The drachma was replaced with the Euro in 2002.
- When the Roman Empire split in two in A.D. 285, the eastern half, including Greece, became known as the Byzantine Empire. In 1453 A.D., Greece fell to the Ottoman Empire. Greece wouldn’t achieve independence until 1829.
1Ackroyd, Peter. Ancient Greece: Voyages through Time. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 2005.
2Dubois, Jill et. al. Cultures of the World: Greece. New York, NY: Benchmark Books, 2003.
3“Greece: The World Factbook.” CIA. Accessed: March 27, 2010.
4Heinrichs, Ann. Greece: Enchantment of the World. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc., 2002.
5Kilzer, Nicholas et. al., eds. Ancient Greece. Chicago, IL: World Books, Inc., 2009.
6Pearson, Anne. Ancient Greece. New York, NY: DK Publishing, Inc., 2007.
7“Q&A: Greece’s Financial Crisis Explained.” CNN. March 26, 2010. Accessed: March 30, 2010.
8“The Greek Cheese Page.” HELLAS. Accessed: March 30, 2010.
9“World Divorce Statistics.” Divorce Magazine. Accessed: March 30, 2010.