How Well Do You Know Ancient Greek History?


By: Geoff Hoppe

6 Min Quiz

Image: Cierra Ayers/Moment/Getty Images

About This Quiz

If you live in the Western world, then it's all (or mostly) Greek to you. Everything from our democratic forms of government to the columns that hold up our buildings, to the sciences we employ, started with the Greeks. Studying Ancient Greece is not only fascinating, it shows us a lot about where we modern people get our ideas and habits. 

If you've ever thought critically about anything, then asked questions to find an answer, thank the Greeks. If you've admired the way citizens get a say in their political future, thank the Greeks. Even if you're glad Western Civilization exists, thank the Greeks (especially the Spartans). 

You can't get through a day without running into some sign of Ancient Greece. In the morning, you pull on your Nike shoes (named for Athena Nike, goddess of victory), listen to news about the upcoming elections (democratic government), and go for a run. Health's important to you, but you want to balance body and mind, so you also work on that book you've been reading during breakfast. Halfway through, you realize you should eat in moderation, and put back half your cereal. All that mind/body balance is what the Greeks called sophrosyne, and your modern ideas of what's good and healthy derive from it. Before work even begins, thank the Greeks.

So, do you know this part of our past well enough to avoid repeating it again? This quiz will take you from the basics, to the slightly harder, to knowledge that even might challenge a Plato or Demosthenes! 

Who was the chief god of the Greek pantheon?

Zeus! Zeus was the son of Rhea and Kronos the Titan. When his father ate the rest of Zeus' siblings, Zeus rebelled, killed Kronos and freed his brothers and sisters. They became the first of the Olympians.


What Greek city-state was named for the goddess of wisdom?

Athena gave her name to Athens. According to myth, she won that right in a contest with her uncle Poseidon. Poseidon gave the Athenians a sea, but Athena gave them an olive tree. The tree provided the Athenians with food and farming, so she won.


At which Greek city-state was the most famous oracle of the ancient world located?

Delphi. The Oracle of Apollo was located at Delphi. The oracle, a young girl, would predict the future for petitioners.


The Athenian leader Solon is known for which of the following?

Solon introduced political and economic reforms to Athens. One of these was getting rid of the debt slavery that existed in the legal code. Another example of his reforms was allowing any citizen to take someone to court.


This Greek poet, author of The Works and Days and the Theogony, is revered as one of Greek poetry's fathers. What is his name?

Hesiod's Theogony describes the "titanomachy," or battle where the gods overthrew the titans. Hesiod is one of the main sources for this myth. Hesiod likely composed the Theogony, and Works and Days, about 750 B.C.


This poet is considered one of Greek poetry's fathers, and is famous for writing the Iliad and the Odyssey. Can you name him?

Homer is traditionally credited with composing the Iliad, the story of the Trojan War. That said, scholars still argue over whether Homer's poetry was written by one person, or was a collection of different storytellers.


Which of the following best describes the "Socratic turn?"

The Socratic Turn is the turn from focusing on nature to focusing on mankind. The change is so radical that the philosophers who came before Socrates are collectively called the "Pre-Socratics." Where these philosophers asked what the world was made of (water? fire? air?), Socrates asked how you should live in the world.


This man, Socrates' most famous pupil, wrote most of what we know about Socrates. Does this ring a bell for you?

Plato was Socrates' most famous pupil. Socrates did not write his ideas down; Plato recorded them all in his dialogues. Scholars still debate how much of the Socrates in Plato's dialogues is actually Socrates, and how often Plato uses his teacher as a mouthpiece.


Can you name the mythological hero who was considered the founder of Athens?

Theseus was Athens' founder in mythology. He was sent to fight the minotaur as part of a yearly sacrifice of young people Athens sent to Crete. Theseus was meant to die, but killed the minotaur with the help of Ariadne, a Cretan princess.


This Greek city-state was known for its famous temple of Aphrodite. Do you know what it was named?

Corinth was home to a famous temple of Aphrodite. Aphrodite was particularly important to Corinth. At her temple, people could pay to have sex with the female servants (a practice sometimes called "sacred prostitution").


What was the name for the peasant slaves of Sparta?

Sparta had a very militant class system, and the helots were the slave class of Sparta. It was their revolt that led the Spartans to constitute a strict military government.


Which two city-states were the principal enemies in the Peloponnesian War?

Athens and Sparta were the primary enemies in the Peloponnesian War. Athens lost after 27 years of fighting. That loss signaled the end of Athens' dominance.


The Greek city-states fought a pair of major wars with which other ancient empire?

The Persian Wars were a major event in Greek history. The first was fought against Darius, and the second against Xerxes. Their victory in the second Persian War ended the threat of Persian invasion for good.


Do you know which Athenian general was responsible for engineering Athens' victory in the second Persian War?

Athens has Themistocles to thank for the naval strategy that won the second Persian War. They also have him to thank for their navy, period. It was Themistocles' idea to put a vein of silver to the purpose of building a fleet.


Can you name the virgin goddess of the hunt if we tell you she was one of a pair of twins?

Artemis, goddess of the hunt, vowed never to take a husband. She was so intent on chastity that she killed a man who accidentally saw her naked. Her twin brother, Apollo, was god of the sun, poetry and archery.


What figure from Greek mythology is famous for writing and singing music so beautiful it made stones cry?

Orpheus was the legendary musician whose music moved inanimate objects and calmed beasts. He's also known for botching an attempt to bring his wife, Eurydice, back from the underworld. There are theaters named “Orpheum” in cities as diverse as Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Vancouver.


What was the name of the heavily armed Greek soldiers, and how were they recruited?

Hoplites were the name of Greece's heavily armed, and armored, soldiers. They were usually rich, as they bought their own arms and armor, and chose to fight. Hoplites were sought out as mercenaries throughout the ancient world.


This city-state is most famous for its indefatigable army, and its devotion to war. What is its name?

Sparta! Sparta's army was famously well-trained. From age seven, Spartan boys were trained as soldiers. They came to be one of two dominant city-states in the Greek world.


The Greek city-states would eventually be conquered by their neighbor to the north — do you know the name of the conquering nation?

The Macedonians, under Philip II and Alexander the Great, would conquer Greece. The Macedonian Empire would continue beyond Greece, as well, and spread Greek culture farther than it had even spread.


This famous playwright fought at Marathon, and is best known for writing the trilogy of plays called the Oresteia. Can you name this famous writer?

Aeschylus wrote the Oresteia, a trilogy of plays about Agamemnon and his family. Aeschylus is also famous for introducing a second actor to drama (previously, plays only featured a solo performer). Despite his dramatic success, Aeschylus's self-composed epitaph refers instead to his participation at the Battle of Marathon.


This battle formation was famous in ancient Greece, and responsible for the Greek victory at Marathon.

The phalanx was a battle formation where a line of hoplites stood with shields facing the enemy, and advanced against them.


Can you name the major naval battle of the second Persian War, which saw 1/3 of the Persian navy destroyed?

At Salamis, the Greek fleet, led by the Athenians, crushed the Persian navy. The Greeks only fought the Persians because Themistocles tricked the Greeks into it. Worried his countrymen would avoid a chance to crush Persia, he arranged for the Greek fleet to be trapped, so they'd be forced to fight. The gamble paid off.


This battle near a spa town saw 300 Spartans hold off the entire Persian army, buying the Greeks more time. This was the battle of where?

At Thermopylae, King Leonidas and 299 Spartans held off the Persian army. They only lost when the Persians were shown a way around the Spartans, and were able to attack them from behind. When Xerxes told Leonidas to lay down his arms, he famously responded "molon labe"-- come and take them.


This legendary Spartan leader supposedly designed a law code for his people, and he instituted militaristic reforms that made Sparta a military power. What was his name?

Lycurgus was the legendary (and possibly mythical) Spartan who designed that city's draconian laws. One legend says that he told the Spartans not to change the laws he'd made until he returned, then chose to starve himself in the wilderness so the law code wouldn't be able to change.


This "Greek" god of wine and the theater may have originated in Thrace, actually north of Greece. Can you name the god of partying?

Dionysus was the god of wine and theater. He was adopted by the Greeks. Dionysus was also a god of manic excess, and the philosopher Nietzsche would use his name to define the chaotic force necessary to civilization.


This Theban military innovator changed the face of Greek warfare by putting his best soldiers on the left, rather than right, side of the line. Can you remember his name?

Epaminondas changed the face of Greek warfare by putting his best troops on his left flank. For years, it was common to put the best troops on the right. At Leuctra, this radical idea helped him defeat the Spartans.


Can you identify the man who is most famous for his plays Medea and The Bacchae?

Euripides wrote Medea and The Bacchae. The Bacchae is about the worship of Dionysus, and Medea is about the hero Jason's jilted wife. Both plays feature mothers killing their children.


Can you name the Greek philosophy which stressed both self-control and the inability of individuals to control outside forces?

The stoics were philosophers who emphasized controlling oneself, rather than outside forces. They believed that fear was merely a reaction to outside phenomena, and could be conquered. They also believed virtue was its own reward.


Alexander the Great idolized this mythological hero, the greatest warrior in the Iliad. Can you name the hero with the weak ankle?

Alexander idolized Achilles, and is said to have slept with a copy of Homer beneath his pillow. He wasn't the only fan. There were several spots throughout the ancient Mediterranean where cults worshipped Achilles. Alexander stopped to worship at one of these sites on his way through Asia Minor.


In some stories, Zeus fathers monsters with this creature. Can you name the mother of monsters?

Zeus fathered monsters with Echidna. Hesiod says Hera raised the monsters so they could later attack heroes, many of whom were Zeus' illegitimate children.


This philosopher developed the peripatetic method, and was Alexander the Great's childhood teacher. Can you name the famous philosopher?

Aristotle's method was called peripatetic, and entailed walking around constantly, observing the natural world. Aristotle was Plato's greatest student. He was also Alexander the Great's tutor.


This famous Athenian rhetorician opposed Macedonian rule of his polis. What was his name?

Demosthenes was the famous Athenian rhetorician who opposed Macedonian rule. Demosthenes made his money as a speechwriter. Demosthenes' famous speeches, the Philippics, attempted to warn Greece against the invading Philip II of Macedon.


Do you know which mythological hero defeated Medusa and her gorgon sisters?

Perseus killed Medusa. One legend states that Pegasus, the winged stallion, burst from her decapitated body. Perseus defeated Medusa by looking at her reflection in his shield, as looking at her directly could turn you to stone.


This mystic and philosopher is best known today for his theorem, which all middle schoolers are forced to learn. Can you triangulate his name?

Pythagoras, mathematician and philosopher, is best known today for his eponymous theorem. But math was actually a form of mysticism for Pythagoras, who saw numbers as the key to understanding the divine framework underlying reality.


This Athenian political leader gave his name to an entire golden age for that city. Can you name him?

Pericles is the Athenian politician and general who presided over an Athenian golden age. He is responsible for the construction of the Parthenon, the Odeon, and the fostering of intellectual life in Athens. Under Pericles, Athens also became an economic powerhouse.


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