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Big Era Four: Landscape Unit 4.4

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An Age of Greek and Persian Power:
600 – 200 BCE

Why This Unit?

The 400 years from 600 to 200 BCE is the period that included the flowering of Greek civilization and the Golden Age of Athens. Those developments took place, however, on a much larger stage than just the area that is today Greece. We will explore Greek civilization here but also several other important developments that occurred about the same time. In much the same way that we can conceive of a history of North America that includes the interlocking experiences of three countries (Canada, the United States, and Mexico), we can also see ancient history as unfolding not just country by country or kingdom by kingdom but within a large, intercommunicating region.

In this unit we will introduce the concept of “Indo-Mediterranea” as a single zone of human interaction that ran from the Bay of Bengal to the Strait of Gibraltar. That is, Indo-Mediterranea is a belt of land and sea stretching from the northern Indian subcontinent (thus “Indo”) westward across the Mediterranean Sea basin (thus “Mediterranea”). Although before 600 BCE, the societies within this region had many commercial and cultural links, the number and complexity of those links expanded enormously by 200 BCE. In other words, the history of Greek civilization makes most sense within the frame of Indo-Mediterranea that includes other places and developments as well.

A succession of empires contributed greatly to Indo-Mediterranea’s integration. At its height in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, the Persian, or Achaemenid empire stretched from the eastern Mediterranean to northwestern India. In the fourth century came the huge, though short-lived empire of the Greek-speaking Macedonian general Alexander the Great. His conquests contributed to the introduction of Greek ideas and customs far east of the Aegean Sea. Greeks had been colonizing and trading along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea for several hundred years before the fourth century. Many more Greeks traveled in the entourage of Alexander. They came as mercenaries, scientists, philosophers, doctors, artisans, adventurers, and courtiers. Alexander built Greek-style cities as far east as the Indus Valley.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, three successor empires emerged. Their rulers were all Greek-speakers, and they eagerly promoted Greek culture and settlement in their realms. The expansion of Greek language and culture proved to be a tie that facilitated interaction among disparate societies and increased ties between the Mediterranean region and the lands that are today Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and several of the post-Soviet republics of Inner Eurasia. In northern India, the Maurya empire emerged. It developed strong commercial and diplomatic ties with the Greek kingdoms.

Trade was a major force in this integration. As the number of cities grew, demand for goods expanded. The well-to-do in all parts of the region cried out for exotic products—silk, lapis lazuli, wool rugs, fine pottery, linen, and ivory. Governments needed gold and silver, papyrus and parchment, horses, and timber. In response to these demands, land and sea trade routes expanded.

Because of the integration of the region, ideas flowed rapidly and freely. As cities and their populations grew, more and more people and their ideas rubbed shoulders. Collective learning expanded exponentially. The 600-200 BCE period witnessed an explosion of scientific, political, and religious ideas. This was the era of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Herodotus, Euclid, and Pericles. The Parthenon was built in Athens in this period, and Siddhartha Gautama taught the principles of Buddhism. Jews built their second temple in Jerusalem, and innumerable sects such as the cult of Mithras arose and spread. It was a time of unprecedented intellectual ferment.

By the end of the period, the Indo-Mediterranean region was not only interconnected by an expanding network of trade routes but had tentacles that reached to the northwest to Britain, to the south into sub-Saharan Africa, to the east as far as China, and to the southeast across India to southeast Asia. Goods and ideas were circulating on an ever-expanding scale. Life in the region was more interconnected and complex in every way.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. Locate geographical features on a map:

a. Land features: the Anatolian Peninsula, the Iberian Peninsula.
b. Regions: Indo-Mediterranea, the Levant, Macedonia, Syria, Bactria.
c. Cities: Athens, Alexandria, Sardis, Susa, Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, Pataliputra.
d. Rivers: the Ganges, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Nile, the Indus, the Amu Darya.
e. Bodies of water: the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf.
f. Mountains: the Hindu Kush, the Khyber Pass.

2. Describe and explain the factors that helped integrate the Indo-Mediterranean region.

3. Define and explain the concept of “empire”. Locate the major empires of the period and analyze their relative importance. Analyze major differences and similarities between these empires.

4. Describe the basic teachings of Zoroastrianism and Buddhism.

5. Analyze the importance of trade expansion in this period.

Time and Materials

This unit could take up to four 45-minute class periods for students reading on grade level. The unit includes, however, a Fast Track version of Lesson One that can be done in one 30-45 minute class period. To this can be added the Student Handouts in Lesson Two, which might take another 20 minutes. The amount of time needed will depend on the reading level of the students and the time it takes to set up groups.


  • Complete Teaching Unit in PDF format
  • Lesson One: The short version requires only a way to display or distribute relevant maps, blackboard, paper, and pencil. The longer version requires everything that the fast version does, plus the Student Handouts.
  • Lesson Two: requires only the Student Handout, paper, and pencil.
  • Lesson Three: requires blank maps of the world or, preferably, the Eastern Hemisphere with latitude and longitude markings; an overhead projector with a transparency of a blank map like those given to the students; at least one student atlas for each group of students; and pencils.

Table of Contents

Why This Unit?


Unit Objectives


Time and Materials




The Historical Context


This Unit in the Big Era Timeline




Lesson 1: Empire: Rule of Awe


Lesson 2: Emperors Speak for Themselves


Lesson 3: Global Trade Routes


This Unit and the Three Essential Questions


This Unit and the Seven Key Themes


This Unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking




Correlations to National and State Standards and to Textbooks


Conceptual Link to Other Teaching Units


Complete Teaching Unit in PDF Format


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