The prehistory and history of ancient Greece extend over millennia, and the Greeks were eventually located in many parts of Europe, Africa and Asia as well as in Greece proper. Since no one source could possibly adequately discuss so much history, our class will focus primarily on the city-states of Athens and Sparta.
Why "city-state"? One of the most notable elements of Greek history was that, despite their amazing cultural achieveents. they were never able to achieve unity among themselves. Each major city, such as Athens, was a separate political entity (polis, city-state). There were brief, shifting alliamces and leagues, or a temporary unity might be imposed by conquest, but the Greeks' constant conflict exhausted their resources and ultimately made them easy prey for such well-organized military powers as Macedonia and Rome -- although in ther finest hour the Greeks had together faced and repelled the attacks of the might Persian Empire (490-479 BCE).
A series of invasions between about 2000 and 1000 BCE had brought the various Greek-speaking tribes into the Greek mainland. Athens, which was populated by the 13th century, was spared the worst of the later turmoil and was strong enough to be involved in sending emigrants across the Aegean (the Ionic migration) from around 1050 on. At home, magistrates eventually replaced moarchs, and a series of lawgivers, such as Solon, paved the way for effective democratic institutions. By the 6th century BCE, the arts were flourishing. Indeed, Athenian pottery was the best in Greece and fine sculpture was beiing created.
No one could have predicted the marvels of at, literature, science and philosophy that Athens was to produce in its 5th and 4th century Golden Age. These marvels later became the basis of all later Western developments and are still immediately meaningful and stirring to us today.