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Thematic Essay_Chapter Three

Thematic Essay_Chapter Three

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Miguel Espinal Western Civilizations 101 3- 7-2013 Thematic Essay: End of Chapter 3

Civilization of Greece, 1000-400 B.C.E

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of ancient Greece in the history of the West. Much of that which is "modern" has its roots in the ancient Greeks. Their democracy, philosophy, science, and literature all seem to be much more "modern" than they are ancient. But such a judgment says more about contemporary observers than it does about the ancient Greeks. What is often forgotten is that ancient Greece developed under significant Near Eastern influence from the days of the Mycenaeans through the tumultuous aftermath of Alexander's empire. The appearance of the Greeks serves nonetheless as a turning point in the development of Western civilizations. From the Greeks, modern societies have inherited the values of human dignity, rational thought, participatory government, and the creative powers of the human mind. An excellent insight into early Greece can be provided by Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. It was Homer who portrayed the values of Greek civilization in their starkest form, and thanks to Homer that one can identify their fixation upon the cultivation of virtue. A citizen who cultivated virtue would result in the development of a virtuous city-state, which in many ways was a Greek or Hellenic ideal. Although the path to virtue was difficult, it was the Greeks who made the quest for virtue a uniquely human quest.

Although the Hellenic world was little more than a collection of semi-independent citystates, two of these poleis have always deserved special attention. On the Peloponnesus, the Spartans created a society led by a dual monarchy organized for war. The Athenians, who inhabited the Attic peninsula, created a democratic form of government based on the direct participation of all citizens. Both poleis became powerful, and by the end of the fifth century, tensions between them resulted in a "cold war," which became "hot" during the Peloponnesian War. In the wake of that war, Athens was destroyed and Sparta became the hegemonic force in the Hellenic world. As the economic resources of Greek city-states and individuals increased during the seventh century B.C., armies of foot soldiers were formed within the wealthier citystates. Known as hoplites, these soldiers were characteristically equipped with about seventy pounds of armor, most of which was made of bronze. The typical panoply included an eight- to ten-foot thrusting spear with an iron tip and butt, and bronze armor consisting of a helmet, cuirass (chest armor), greaves (shin guards), and a large shield about thirty inches in diameter. The heavy bronze shield, which was secured on the left arm and hand by a metal band on its inner rim, was the most important part of a hoplite's panoply, as it was his chief defense. In nearly every medium of Attic art of the sixth century B.C., the hoplite and warfare feature prominently, as military service was a primary distinction of citizenship — a mark of status and often of wealth, as well as a means of attaining glory. Furthermore, the initiatives taken during the latter part of the sixth century to standardize the Homeric epics in written form fostered a broader interest in heroic subject matter. In Athens, military service was determined by a citizen's social and economic position. In the early

sixth century B.C., the archon Solon instituted four classes defined by income and gave each class a proportionate measure of political responsibility. The second wealthiest class, the hippeis ("horsemen"), earned enough from their land to maintain a horse and so fought as cavalry; the third wealthiest group, the zeugitai, were able to afford the equipment of a hoplite; the wealthiest class, the pentakosiomedimnoi ("five-hundredbushel men"), supplied the leaders for the armed forces; and the poorest class, the thetes, were hired laborers who served as oarsmen in the Athenian fleet, or as archers and light-armed men on land. Backed up by archers and light-armed troops, the hoplite phalanx remained the most important fighting unit for centuries. They advanced in close formation while protected by their overlapping shields. A successful battle often consisted of one phalanx, hundreds of men across and eight or more warriors deep, pushing against an enemy's phalanx until one or the other broke formation, exposing its hoplites to danger and death. In conclusion; profound as the Greek achievement certainly was, we cannot forget that slavery and the subjection of women were common in the Hellenic world. Greece remained a militant and intolerant society. Just the same, the Greeks were the first to develop the concept of eleutheria (freedom), and they certainly elevated the primacy of human intellect. The Greeks made a lasting impact on Western civilizations; it can be argued that none was more important than the concept of paideia—the concept of becoming a total person, something Socrates understood when he asked us, above all, to "know thyself."

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