Lesson 1.1: Greeks and Romans

It’s All Greek to Me! Or is it Roman?

A Timeline of major Greek and Roman events

The Greeks and Romans have many things in common—so many that it might be easy to get confused between the two—but these are actually two different civilizations. It’s important to know who’s who! Though they were neighbors, shared some mythological stories, and thrived roughly during the same span of history, they spoke different languages, had different systems of government, and had very different views of the world.

Can you think of two countries today that are geographically close and might share some cultural traits, but speak their own language and are distinct in their own ways?


When we talk about the Greeks, we are referring to a collection of city-states that shared a similar culture and language. Each city-state operated with its own unique form of government and values. Often, the city-states would unite to defeat a common enemy, but sometimes they would fight amongst themselves too! Athens and Sparta frequently clashed as rival powers with contrasting cultures. Athens was ruled by a democracy, meaning every male citizen could vote on laws and decisions. Sparta was ruled by two kings and a council of elders, similar to Rome’s republican form of government.

The Romans first developed as a monarchy—meaning they were ruled by kings. Later, they developed a republican form of government and ended with an empire ruled by emperors.


The Greeks were around long before the Romans expanded their empire, but eventually the Romans grew and conquered the Greeks. Check out the map to see how close they were as neighbors!


You may have noticed that the Greeks and Romans share mythological stories and have the “same” gods—just with different names. This is because they both believed in many gods—or polytheism. When they encountered a new god that was similar to one of their own, they assumed he was the same and absorbed all the stories and characteristics from the other god.

However, Romans and Greeks were very different in the ways that they worshipped and practiced their religion. The Romans were very formal, public, and ritualistic. The Greeks varied widely in how and who they worshipped, with many secret cults and mystical stories.


A famous Roman named Horace once wrote, “Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit,” or “Captive Greece took captive her savage conqueror.” He meant that although Rome conquered Greece, Greek culture and art thrived amongst the Romans who admired and adopted so much of the Greek culture. The Romans were known for being very practical and militaristic, while the Greeks loved beauty, creativity, and perfection in the arts.


The Romans spoke Latin. The Greeks spoke Greek. However, the Latin alphabet evolved from the same letters as the Greek alphabet! Many Romans learned Greek to be able to travel and do business with their neighbors, so other elements of the Greek language influenced Latin over time—just like English is influenced by Latin words.