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Ancient Greece was organized by the concept of the polis, or city-state. Each city-state acted independently and developed a unique identity. However, the ancient Greeks often came together during religious or athletic festivals such as the Olympic Games. Through these activities, the Greek people developed a sense of common identity. This alliance became important during times of invasion when the Greeks banded together against foreign threats such as the Persians from the East.
During the Classical Period, Athens was the pre-eminent power in the Mediterranean. Although known as the birthplace of democracy, Athens controlled an empire consisting of 172 tribute-paying states which gave them complete control of the Aegean Sea. The enormous wealth permitted Athens to flourish in art, architecture, literature, philosophy, and politics—all of which had significant, and continuing, influence on world culture and society. In art, the Greeks developed a concept of ideal beauty based on the human figure. They excelled at portraying the human body and dynamically conveying stories of gods and mortals.
Weakened through ongoing war with rival city-state Sparta, Athens was eventually conquered by troops from Macedonia and became part of Alexander the Great’s Empire.