Greek or Roman: Which Ancient Civilization Came First

Further ReadingThe 4 Most Important City-States Of Classical Greece and The 10 Major Events That Led To The Fall Of The Roman Republic

When it comes to ancient Mediterranean civilizations two come to mind for people; the Romans and the Greeks. While both of these civilizations would exist at the same time, roughly between 700-150 BC one of them was significantly older and came first, long before the other.

Between the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks it was the Greeks who came first. The traditional founding date of the city of Rome is sometime believed to be around the year 753 BC while the Greek civilization was founded sometime between 2,500-1,200 BC.

In fact if you were an ancient Roman the Greeks would have appeared as old to you as the Egyptians Pyramids are to us. However, there was never a unified Greece at any point during the Hellenistic time, as such it is hard to date the foundation of the Greek cultural hegemony over the Aegean sea.

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Without further ado, here is an answer to the question of which ancient civilization came first, the Greeks or Romans.

Timeline For Roman History And Civilization: 753 BC

Roman history is believed to have begun sometime in the middle 8th century BC with the foundation of the city of Rome.

According to Roman legend two brothers named Romulus and Remus would be nursed by a wolf mother in Italy. After this they would search out to find a place to found a city. The brothers would find a land of 7 hills with a river flowing through it. This would become the location of Rome.

We have no primary sources which survive from the founding of Rome in 753 BC. The oldest Roman historian is Fabius, from which we have nothing that survives outside of mentions in later primary sources. However, it was common knowledge around Rome of the story of their foundation.

The date of 753 BC comes from Plutarch who briefly mentions that a Roman named Tarutius had calculated the birth of Romulus to the year of 771 BC. This lines up with the accepted date of Romulus being around the age of 18 during the foundation of Rome, which indicates the foundation is the year 753 BC.

However, this date is speculated. We have nothing that survives that indicates that Rome was founded in the 8th century BC. It is simply the currently accepted date. If any modern historian found evidence for another date it would make international headlines in the history field.

As such we can assume that Roman society and history began in the mid 8th century BC.

Timeline For Greek History And Civilization: 3500-1,200 BC.

Greek civilization is far older then Roman. Depending on what ancient civilization you look at the Greeks could either have started sometime around the year 3,500 BC or 1,200 BC.

Minoan Greece: 3,500-2,000 BC

Between 3,500-2,000 BC the Minoan civilization started to colonize and control the islands on the Aegean sea. Around the year 2,000 BC the island of Crete in the southern part of the Aegean sea was becoming urbanized. On this island existed a king and government with a palace at the ancient city of Knossos.

This palace is the location for the myth of the minotaur and labyrinth.

What is not a myth however is that this palace complex housed over 80,000 people. This was around the same time as the old kingdom in Egypt. For many Greeks this is considered the start of their ancient history.

However, this was just on the Islands of Greece. We have no evidence of Minoan culture being located on the mainland of Greece. Chances are because there was another kingdom/culture growing that would eventually eclipse the Minoans.

Mycenaean Greece: 1,750-1,050 BC

Probably the best example of ancient Greece history and civilization comes from the Mycenaean civilization which existed from 1,750-1,050 BC.

During the Mycenaean period the Greek culture that we associate as Greek would begin to develop. Across mainland Greece a unified culture and government started to form sometime in the 2nd millennium BC.

This government would begin to create a Greek writing style, focus upon urban development, and begin the process of building fortified cities. This would remain a distinctive attribute of mainland Greece until it would be conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC.

Also during this time famous cities such as Athens and Thebes would begin to develop.

However, the main indication that we see a Greek culture and history emerge during the Mycenaean period comes from the growth of a shared religion among the Greeks. The Mycenaean people began to develop a complex religion which would eventually transition into the classical Greek Olympic pantheon.

We have very few primary sources which survive from this time period except for one. Homer’s work of the Odyssey and Iliad remain some of the best primary source documents which emerge from this time period and detail the mythical Trojan war.

However, no matter how you look at it Greek history is far older than Roman history. Simply put, the Greek civilization came first.

Could Roman History Be Older Than Greek?

There is one major outliner which could make Roman history far older than Greek.

The normally accepted start date for Roman history is around the year 753 BC. However, Roman’s have mythological tales that date all the way back to the time of the Greeks.

According to Roman legend the Romans were actually Trojan! Historians have absolutely zero primary source evidence to back up this claim except for the Aeneid written by the 1st century AD author Virgil.

In the Aeneid Virgil outlines how the Romans fled the burning of Troy by the Greeks and wandered around the Mediterranean to eventually find a home in modern Italy. While the story of the Aeneid is made up, its main character Aeneas might not have been.

Other ancient Roman historians such as Livy discuss their primary sources which included sources from the time of Aeneas which is dated to around the 12th century BC.

If these sources were real and the story of Aeneas was factual then you could say that Roman history might have been as old as the Greeks. However, this is the only scenario that you can say that and so far we have no sources confirming the statement.

Conclusion

There you have it; an entire article going over which ancient civilization came first, the Romans or the Greeks. The answer is the Greeks.

The discussion of ancient civilizations is a fascinating subject. Few people understand how much we don’t know about the Romans or Greeks. Everyday new evidence comes out about how different their lives were from ours.

Here at The History Ace I strive to publish the best history articles on the internet. If you enjoyed this article then consider sharing around the web and subscribing to the free newsletter.

Further, you can check out some of the other articles below.

Sincerely,

Nick