The Ancient Greek Climate and weather, today is similar to what it was thousands of years ago except for the fact that even Greece today, like every other place in the world, is affected by global warming.
Generally, Ancient civilizations have been based on or near the banks of major rivers like the Indus Valley civilization(River Indus), Egyptian civilization(River Nile), etc. But there was no river bringing in fertile silts to create great farmlands in Ancient rather it two thirds of the lands were mountainous and not suitable for agriculture. Similarly, its climate was harsh, making it very difficult for agriculture and communication between the people of Greece which hugely impacted its society, culture, politics, etc.
Ancient Greek Climate
Greece has constantly enjoyed the three major seasons and it was no different before. We can divide Greece into two major categories as per its Ancient Greek Climate i.e. Northern Greece and Southern Greece. Surrounded by a lot of mountains and also the sea, Greece enjoyed a balance of seasons and temperatures. Summers were hot, winters cold and just about enough rain in the monsoon.
Similar to modern times Ancient Greek had a Mediterranean type of climate where the summers were hot and dry in which the average temperature was about 24 degrees Celsius or 75 Fahrenheit. Northwesterly wind and the Mediterranean waters kept the temperatures at a comfortable level.
The winters were cold and wet in which the temperatures did not go below 4.4 Celsius or 40 Fahrenheit in the Greek plains and lowlands. But the temperature went further down in the high mountains where snow was very common. We have references to the melting of snow by Homer as evidence of snowfall in Ancient Greece.
Ancient Greek had three main seasons and the third one apart from summer and winter was the monsoon which was very erratic and brought in storms. The average rainfall ranged from about 20 to 50 inches with a large amount of rain in the winters.
Spring and Autumn
Apart from the three main seasons of summer, winter and monsoon, there were two more minor seasons which overlapped with the other three.
Spring came in before summer and it was still rainy, especially in Northern Greece which became green and leafy with temperatures around 60 Fahrenheit or 10- 20 degrees Celsius.
Autumn was squeezed between winter and summer when storms were common and temperatures of about 70 Fahrenheit or 10-25 degrees Celsius.
In Northern Greece, near Thermopylae, it would rain heavily in spring and the entire surrounding region would turn a lush green. The temperature would range between 10-20 degree Celsius. Northern parts of Greece would sometimes have snowfall during monsoon.
Snowfalls were much more regular after October when the winters would set in. Northern Greece would get really cold and you would need a lot of layers to feel warm. Temperatures would easily drop down below 10 degree Celsius. Summer months used to be hot with temperatures easily going above 30 degree Celsius.
Southern Greece i.e. parts around the Peloponnese near Sparta have different temperatures. Summers in the Southern parts are much hotter and dryer. Northern Greece would sometimes have to face thunderstorms in summer.
A temperature in the Northern parts would vary in the range of 30o-35o Celsius while in the Southern parts it would easily go up to 40o Celsius. Southern parts of Greece like Sparta would hardly ever have snowfall in the winters.
Temperature would vary in the range of 10-15 degree Celsius in the Southern parts and one could observe a considerable difference in the Northern and Southern parts of the country. Greece even today has almost similar climate and the temperature doesn’t observe many extreme and undesired changes.
Effects on Agriculture
Agriculture is one of the important components of ancient civilizations as trade options were limited in those times. Civilizations was based on a foundation of fertile lands.
But in the case of Ancient Greeks, most of the land was Mountainous especially in Western Greece, with only 20 per cent of the land being farmable with the other 80 per cent being hard or mountainous terrain.
The Mediterranean climate also with its hot and dry summers, and wet winters seriously challenged ancient Greek cultivators. Erratic rain and oceanic storms were also common which brought great devastation to crops. This issue hampered agriculture and so most of the states were not self-sufficient in producing their own and had to depend on trade.
The farmers supplemented crops with livestock to maintain their income.
Barley was the most common crop in ancient Greece as it required less water and was more productive. Attica had the most productive lands to produce their cereals.
Apart from cereals olive trees and grapes were commonly cultivated on the sides of the mountain and were suitable even for hard lands.
So the climatic factors heavily influenced the type of crops grown and the food habits of ancient Greeks.
Effects on trade
The harsh climatic situations in ancient Greece and along with it the problem of communication and travelling, waterways were the preferred way of movement. This led to a flourishing of trade and commerce in ancient Greek states. They entered into extensive commerce with Egypt and also other areas like the Indian subcontinent especially in food grains and luxury items.
Greek olive oil and wine were popular worldwide, which led to merchants from all over the world coming into trading contact with Greece.
Wheat was extensively imported by many states due to a lack of food grains as a result of the harsh weather which often led to the rise of navies to protect this trade and also a rise of piracy.
Effects on Politics
The harsh climatic conditions also affected the political relations among the Greek states. Many have attributed the extensive warfare among the Greek states as a way to capture farmlands and resources. With a deficit in resources and lack of self-sufficiency among states, they had to go in search of foreign lands to maintain their food supply to the population.
This led to many powerful states like Athens with a powerful navy to colonize lands and extract tribute. One of the biggest reasons for Ancient Athenian prosperity was the huge tribute coming in from their overseas empire.
The Ancient state of Sparta also came into prominence with their capture of Messenia, a fertile stretch of land, which helped them to become self-sufficient and focus more on their famed hoplite army. This also led to Sparta always being anxious about slave revolts and much of their efforts went into the prevention of such events.
Effects on state policies
Private initiatives and private enterprises were the most preferred mode of business and trade in ancient Greece. But with harsh climatic conditions hampering agriculture and often causing droughts and floods, the state had to intervene and control the trade in wheat. It was the only trade which was regulated by the state.
They decided to limit the amount of wheat being exported to prevent famines in their lands for the sake of profits. In Athens, the importance of the wheat trade was immense with its urban city not producing enough food grains to feed the population. So they had to form elaborate machinery to mobilize ships, and crews to keep this trade going on smoothly. They even provided loans for ships and other things required for trade with a guarantee to forfeit loans in case of the drowning of the ships to incentivize the wheat trade.
They also had to build a huge navy to maintain their overseas empire and collect their tribute, a huge factor in their prosperity.