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Learning Activities

Timeline Activities

A timeline is a table which shows important events within a particular historical period. An “event” could be a war, a particular invention, a natural disaster, a major change in technology — anything that had a significant impact on the way people lived at that point in history. Use the Timeline provided to carry out the following assignments.

Assignment #1. Step 1. Get a sense of the chronological sequence that characterized ancient Greece by creating a graphic timeline. Using a roll of computing paper, accounting tape or a roll of brown paper students will highlight important milestones in the history of ancient Greece. The first thing to decide is on a practical length for their timeline. If we start the timeline around 2100 BC, when migrants, speaking an early form of Greek moved into the territory that later became Greece, and we end the timeline with the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, that covers roughly a 2100 year period of time.

Let the students suggest a practical length that each year should be on our scale. That may not be obvious at first. For example, some might feel that 1 inch = each year might be good until they discover that would yield a timeline that is 175 feet long. Even if they did a centimeter for each year, that would still give them a piece of paper 20 meters long! A practical length, depending on classroom wall space, might be 2 meters (approx. 6 ft.) or 4 meters (approx 12 ft.) in length. In the first option 1 year = 10 cm; in the second option, 1 year = 5 cm. That should allow ample room to write down on the timeline the major milestones in ancient Greek history.

Step 2. Have a class discussion on what is or what isn’t a milestone event. Have the students look at the Ancient Greece Timeline provided, to identify important events. Feel free to use timelines from other sources — books, encyclopedia, the interne — to identify major events. What one source considers to be a major event may not be ranked so highly by another source. Ask the students to independently come up with the five most important events they would like highlighted on their timeline. Then ask them to defend their choices.

(For example, one student might identify the invention of the Greek alphabet as being one of her five most important events. Given the importance of writing to the trading activities of the Greeks, its importance in recording poetry, myths and literature and its importance in documenting history, advances in medicine, science and philosophy, that seems to be an obvious choice. But another student might argue that without the invention of democracy that enabled people to write what they wanted to write, the invention of the alphabet wouldn’t have been important at all. Another might say that without Greek victories at the Battle of Marathon and the Battle of Salamis, the Greeks would have been swallowed up by the Persian Empire and that these events were more important to the future of Greece than either the invention of the alphabet or the invention of democracy.) Ultimately you may want to use differently-coloured markers to record events- red for military, blue for political, yellow for cultural, etc.

Step 3. Have the class fill in all the important milestone events. You might want to have an “event recorder” or scribe to make sure all is legible and events are put down in the right place the first time. It is suggested that if events are added to the timetable on an on-going basis they are more likely to be remembered, accurately, than if all the information is put down in one attempt.

Step 4. Mark off the centuries in bolder lines.

Step 5. Have the students select one event on the timeline (the traditional start of the Olympics — 776 BC, the invention of coinage, the volcanic eruption at Thera, etc.) and give a report to the class on the event. This can be done as either an individual or team project. The conclusion in each case should support why this event merits inclusion on the timeline.

Assignment 2. People Power. Make a one foot wide strip of paper the same length as the original timeline and affix it, temporarily or permanently, to the bottom of the timeline chart. Have a short discussion with the class on “people power” pointing out that it is primarily people who change the course of history. It is true that natural disasters ( an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, a devastating flood) can have a major impact but day in and day out it is people who can move a country forwards, sideways or even backwards. Following is a list of people who had some kind of an impact on ancient Greece. Each student should select or be assigned a name and report back to the class on the birth, death and impact of the historical figure selected. Following their report the information is recorded on the “people power” portion of the chart.

Themistocles Euripides Peisistratus
Alexander, the Great Phideas Homer
Pericles Herodotus Aesop
Socrates Thucydides Hesiod
Aeschylus Euclid Pindar
Pythagoras Aristarchus Zeuxis
Sappho Demosthenes Archimedes
Draco Cleopatra Thales
Lycurgus Sophocles Xenophon
Aristotle Xerxes Myron
Solon Aristides Plato
Cleisthenes Alcibiades Epaminondas

Some questions…

  • Why, do you suppose, are there only two women on this list of 36 people ?
  • Why are there far more names from Athens than there are from Sparta?
  • About a third of the names are from the field of “arts and sciences” while another third have a strong military background. What does that suggest about the nature of ancient Greek society?
  • Listing those 36 names in order of the magnitude of the impact that they had on ancient Greece is difficult and getting agreement is probably impossible but try and sort the names on the list into three categories - Major, Significant, Important.