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Written Report in World Civilization


Arnista, Lucresio jr D.

Malavega, zherrouine rhedd V.

Pua, Andrea Lougene G.

The civilization of Ancient Greece emerged into the light of world history in the 8th century BC. Normally it
is regarded as coming to an end when Greece fell to the Romans, in 146 BC. However, major Greek (or
“Hellenistic”, as modern scholars call them) kingdoms lasted longer than this. As a culture (as opposed to
a political force), Greek civilization lasted longer still, continuing right to the end of the ancient world.
Timeline of Ancient Greece:
776 BC: Traditional date for the first Olympic Games
c. 750: Greek cities start planting colonies on other Mediterranean coasts, adapt the Phoenician alphabet
for their own use, and later adopt metal coinage from Lydia, in Asia Minor
594: Solon gives Athens a new constitution; this is the start of the rise of democracy in Greece
490-479: The Persian Wars – Athens and Sparta lead the Greeks in defending their land against
invasion from the huge Persian Empire
447: Work begins on the Parthenon in Athens, then at the height of its glory
431-404: The Second Peloponnesian War – Athens is defeated by Sparta, which now becomes the
leading power in Greece
399: The Athenian philosopher Socrates is condemned to death for questioning conventional ideas
338: King Philip II of Macedon defeats the Greek city-states and imposes his dominion on them.
Philip of Macedon’s defeat of the Greek city-states is traditionally seen as drawing down the curtain on
“Classical Greece” and ushering in the “Hellenistic Age“. This includes the conquests of Alexander the
Great, and ends with the conquests of the different Hellenistic states by Rome (146-31 BC).
The history of Ancient Greece falls into four major divisions. The Archaic period , when the civilization’s
main features were evolving, lasted from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC. Classical Greece flourished
during the 5th to 4th centuries BC. This was marked by the period of the Persian Wars (c. 510-479 BC),
the Golden Age of Athens (c. 479-404 BC), and the later Classical era (404-338 BC).
Greek civilization had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire. Indeed, some modern scholars see the
Roman era as a continuation of the same civilization, which they label “Graeco-Roman”. In any case, the
Roman conquest carried many features of Greek civilization to far-flung parts of the Mediterranean world
and Western Europe. Through the mediation of the Romans, therefore, Greek civilization came to be the
founding culture of Western civilization.

The geographical coverage of Ancient

Greek civilization changed markedly during
its history. Its origins were in the land of
Greece and the islands of the Aegean Sea,
plus the west coast of Asia Minor (modern
Turkey). This is a landscape of mountains
and sea. Land useful for farming is found
in valley bottoms, hedged in by steep
slopes, or on small islands, confined by
water. As a result, ancient Greece
consisted of many small territories, each
with its own dialect, cultural peculiarities,
and identity. Cities tended to be located in
valleys between mountains, or on narrow coastal plains, and only dominated a limited area around them.
These “city-states” were fiercely independent of each other.

From about 750 BC the Greeks began sending out colonies in all directions, settling the coasts and
islands of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. By around 600 BC Greek city-states could be found,
“like frogs round a pond”, as one Greek writer put it, from the coasts of Spain in the west to Cyprus in the
east, and as far north as present day Ukraine and Russia and as far south as the Egypt and Libya. Sicily
and Southern Italy above all became a major locus for Greek colonization, and this region was known to
the Romans as “Magna Graeca”.
Later, the conquests of Alexander the Great took Greek civilization right across the Middle East. There it
mingled with the more ancient cultures of that region to form a hybrid civilization which scholars label
“Hellenistic” civilization. This is described in a separate article; here we shall focus on the original Greek

The ancient Greeks certainly thought of themselves as ‘one people’ – they had the same religion,
language and culture. Every four years all Greek city-states sent their young men and women to compete
in the Olympic Games. Politically, however, Ancient Greece was divided amongst several hundred
independent city states (poleis). These city-states fiercely defended their independence from one another.
Political unity was not an option, unless imposed from outside (which first occurred when Philip II, king of
Macedonia, conquered the city-states of Greece in the mid-4th century BC.)

The social framework varied significantly from city-state to city-state. Most cities, however, had a large
class of free, native-born peasant farmers. These owned small farms to subsist on. The adult males
formed the citizen body of the state. They were entitled to vote in elections, participate in trials in the law
courts, and hold public office; They also had a duty to fight in the city’s army. They had a real say in how
their city was run and what decisions were made.
Within this group of citizens was a smaller number of wealthier families, who owned more land than the
rest. They were the aristocrats. As they could afford to keep horses, they were distinguished from the bulk
of the citizens by fighting in the army of horse-back. Their older men were often the leading office-holders
in the city, the magistrates and military commanders; they could often trace their families back through
generations of office-holders, who had helped shape the city’s history. They had a disproportionate
influence on affairs of state. Indeed, in many city-states they formed an aristocratic council who played a
leading role in the direction of the state. In those city-states which were democracies, however, it was the
bulk of the citizens who held the power, through their assembly.
At the bottom of society was a large class of slaves – modern scholars estimate that in some city-states
such as Athens they may have made up almost half the population.
These were people who had been captured in war, or been condemned to slavery as a result of debts
which they could not pay; or for crimes. Since the children of slaves were also slaves, many had been
born into slavery. In law they were the property of their owners. They worked as household servants or
farm labourers for the wealthy, or miners and industrial workers for businessmen. Trained slaves could
act as skilled craftsmen, or perhaps secretaries.
As the Greek cities grew in size and wealth, their societies became more complex. New classes
appeared, of prosperous craftsmen, sailors and traders, to stand alongside the older classes of
aristocrats, peasants and slaves. These new groups became the natural opponents of the aristocrats, and
their influence in politics helped undermine aristocratic power. It is no coincidence that those cities with
the largest commercial sectors moved furthest along the road to democracy.
Most city-states also had numbers of “aliens” living within their walls. These were free men and women
who had homes in the city, but had been born elsewhere (or their parents and grandparents had), usually
in another Greek city-state. They were often merchants or craftsmen. They were not enrolled amongst the
citizens and did not have their privileges; they were deemed to have the citizenship of the city they or
their families had originally come from. In most cities, citizenship was jealously guarded by a hereditary
group of native families.

A typical Greek city was built around a fortified hill, called an “acropolis”. Here was located the city’s chief
temple, the city’s treasury, and some other public buildings.
At the centre of the city was the “Agora” – the central space where public meetings were held, and where
traders set up their stalls. The agora was often flanked by colonnades.
Most industrial production took place in small workshops. Family members plus some slaves would make
up the workforce in most of these. However, one workshop in Athens for manufacturing shields was said
to have 120 workers, mostly slaves. Different trades were concentrated in different parts of the city, but
mostly near the agora, the main trading centre in the city. Potters, blacksmiths, bronze workers,
carpenters, leather workers, cobblers, and other craft workshops would all have their own streets or (in
large cities) districts.
As a city outgrew its local water supply, water was brought in from neighbouring hills by means of
channels cut in the rocks, and clay pipes. These fed fountains, from which the poorer people could collect
water; and also private wells situated in the larger houses.
The city was surrounded by high, wide walls. In later times these were made of stone, brick and rubble.
Towers were built at regular interval, and fortified gateways pierced the walls to allow roads to pass
Outside these wall was another public space, the gymnasium. This is where athletes trained; covered
porticoes allowed training to continue in bad weather, and also provided shaded areas for activities such
as music, discussion and social meetings. Many gymnasia had public baths attached.
Also outside the walls would be the theatre, built into a hillside and semicircular in shape. The audience
would sit on the tiered seats looking down on to a space called the “orchestra”, where the performances
took place. This space would be backed by columns and behind them, small buildings where actors
changed clothing and masks, and for the props.
Surrounding the city was the farmland of the city-state.
Many of the citizens lived within the city walls and walked
out to their fields each day to work. Those whose land was
further away, however, lived in the countryside, in the
hamlets and villages which doted the landscape, and
walked into the city for special occasions. They were as
much citizens of the city-state as those who actually lived
in the city itself.
In many cases this farmland only stretched for a few miles
before sloping upwards to the hills and mountains which
divided one city-state from the next. Here, with the land
less suitable for growing crops, grain fields and olive
groves gave way to pasturage for sheep and goats.
Many Greek city-states were situated on the coast, or on a small island. The city itself would often be
located some distance inland, centred on a hill where the acropolis was built for defence. On the
seashore would be a harbour, consisting of wooden quays for loading and unloading ships, and beaches
were the ships could be drawn up onto dry land for repair. In many cases there would also be ship-sheds,
where the city’s war galleys were housed when not in use.
Like all pre-modern societies, the Greeks were primarily an agricultural people. They practiced the
agriculture of the ancient Mediterranean region. involving the cultivation of grains, vines and olives, and
the keeping of sheep, goat and cattle.
Farms were very small – mere plots of land of a few acres. Aristocrats and other landowners would own
larger farms, worked by slaves; but an estate of 100 acres was considered large.
The main challenge facing Greek farmers was that there was too little good farming land in Greece and
the Aegean. This forced them to take to sea-borne trade on a scale unmatched by most other ancient
peoples. However, land shortages continued to be a problem throughout the ancient times. They were a
source of the social tensions between rich and poor which led, in Athens, to the rise of democracy, and in
several other cities, to violent clashes between the different classes.

Very many Greek city-states were located by the sea. Also, many of them, confined as they were by
steep hills and mountains, or by the sea itself (if they were on islands), suffered from a shortage of
agricultural land. From an early stage in their history, therefore, many Greeks looked to the sea for their
livelihood. For a period of about 150 years after 750 BC, many city-states sent out groups of their citizens
to found colonies on distant shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. These established
strong trading ties with their mother city. Greek traders soon dominated maritime trade of the
Mediterranean, edging out the Phoenicians who had preceded them. The adoption of metal coinage must
have facilitated this process.
Some Greek cities became large and wealthy trading centres. Athens, the largest Greek city-state of all,
was only able to feed her large population through trade. The poor soil of Attica (the area of Greece
where Athens was located) was ideal for growing olives on, and so from an early date the Athenians
concentrated on growing olives for export. They imported almost all their grain from other states. The
Athenians built up a large merchant fleet, and their city became the leading commercial centre of Greece.
At the height of its glory, almost a third of its population may have been made up of “alien” businessmen
and their households, mostly Greeks from other cities. The wealth that this commerce brought Athens
enabled it to become the leading city of Greece, both in politics and culture.
Athens also became the major banker to the Greek world. In the fifth century BC the Athenian coinage
became the international currency of the Mediterranean. Bankers operated from long tables set up in the
agora, making loans at very high rates of interest.

As in many pre-modern societies, unwanted children were exposed in the countryside to die. Sons were
preferred over daughters, so it was baby girls who tended to suffer this fate. Exposure was not illegal,
though once the baby was more than 10 days old it was fully protected by law. Exposed babies were
often rescued and brought up as slaves.
Babies in wealthy families were usually breast-fed by a household slave. Older children had toys to play
with, as in all societies: rattles and balls were popular, as were dolls.
Boys from wealthier families went to school (see the section on education, below), and some girls were
also educated. Poorer boys would be trained in a craft, on the job. This often involved picking up the
rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Women lived very sheltered lives, first under the authority of their father or another male relative, and
then under that of their husband. Marriages were arranged by the parents.
The man was very much the dominant partner in a marriage (at least in law). The role of the woman was
to cook, weave, raise her children. In poorer families, a woman might also help her husband in his work,
especially if he worked on a farm (which the majority of men did); or she herself might keep a market stall
or do some other kind of work.
Divorce was easy for men – they could divorce their wives without justification – and almost impossible for

The majority of the poor lived in what we would regard as squalid rural hovels, or crowded urban slums
crowded together in narrow, filthy lanes. In a large city like Athens, some of the poor lived in multi-story
blocks of apartments.
Larger houses were constructed around a courtyard, with rooms leading off. Some of these were quite
modest, for well-to-do craftsmen or farmers; some were large and luxurious, with accommodation for a
large household including many slaves. These houses were of two stories, and were equipped with
bathrooms and toilets. The walls of the reception rooms and family quarters were painted with large,
colourful scenes.

Men wore tunics, over which a large piece of cloth could be draped. Women wore long tunics falling to
their ankles, and they too could drape large pieces of cloth over themselves. These tunics and cloaks
were mostly made of wool. Children’s clothing consisted of short tunics. Leather sandals were worn on
the feet.

Young men tended to be clean shaven, with hair cropped short. Older men often wore beards. Women
grew their hair long, then tied it into a bun or pony tail with ribbons.

The English word “politics” comes from the Greek word for city-state, “polis”. For the Greeks, the city-state
was essentially a community of citizens making decisions together about matters of communal concern.
This is why the Greeks never referred to the name of a city – “Athens”, for example – but always to its
citizens – “the Athenians”.
Citizens were the free members of the community who had been born to native families (those who had
lived in the city-state for generations). From the earliest days of the city-states the adult male citizens
would regularly meet together in public assembly to decide matters of importance for the state. This was
made possible by the fact that most city-states would have no more than a few thousand such citizens.
In contrast to political developments in Mesopotamian city-states, more than two thousand years before,
kings early on lost most of their power in Greek city-state, and in many cases vanished altogether. From
that time onwards these city-states were republics rather than kingdoms.
In all the states, a small group of aristocrats initially had a controlling position. They formed a small
council of men who frequently met to discuss public matters in depth – something that a large assembly
of several thousand citizens could not do.

Many citizens’ assembly gained more and more power, however, and in the fifth century BC many states
were full-blown democracies(the word “democracy” is based on the Greek word for common people,
Athens was by far the largest and most famous of these democracies, and we know a great deal about
how Athenian democracy worked. The citizens not only met in a full assembly, but chose (by lot) some of
their members to form a much smaller council, which discussed public matters more fully before laying
them before the full assembly. Public officials were also chosen by lot (except military commanders, who
were elected). All citizens were liable to be selected for public office or membership of the governing
council, and would serve for a year. In this way, office-holding was constantly rotating, and the majority of
citizens gained some direct experience of government.

Each polis had its own law code. We know most about the
legal system of Athens, as in most things. Here, there were
many courts, each trying different kinds of case. Very
serious crimes against the state came before the entire
assembly of citizens. Capital punishment was inflicted for
blasphemy, treason and murder – the method differing for
each crime but including beheading, poisoning and
stoning. For other serious crimes, including manslaughter,
exile was a common punishment. For lesser crimes, fines
or confiscation of property were used.

In all courts, cases were tried by large juries of citizens, selected by lot, and presided over by a
magistrate. Any citizen could bring charges against another. – but to limit the bringing of false accusations
any accuser who failed to convince a fifth of the jurors was heavily fined. The accuser put his case, and
the accused then defended himself. The jurors cast their vote as they left court by each dropping a pebble
into a jar for guilty or for innocent.
A board of eleven magistrates was responsible, with the help of a body of slaves, for maintaining law and
order, arresting wrong-doers and supervising prisons (which were mainly used for condemned prisoners
awaiting execution).

The city-states relied on their own citizens to fight in their armies. Each citizen had to have his own
armour and weapons, and spend a certain amount of time undergoing military training. The fact that the
Greek world was fragmented into hundreds of small city-states, with only a few thousand citizens each,
meant that wars, though frequent, were limited the scale. The duration of campaigns was determined by
the need for most of the citizens to return to their farms for harvest time. Campaigns would therefore often
be restricted to summer.
Battles were fought between large formations of foot soldiers, fighting at close quarters: the majority of
the casualties in a set-piece battle would obviously occur at the front of the two formations; if one of the
sides turned and ran (a not infrequent occurrence) the all were in danger. Cavalry played a comparatively
minor role in Greek warfare.
A hoplite, or heavy-armed infantry soldier, was armed with a spear, large shield, and helmet. Swords
might also be carried, but as a secondary weapon. Better-off hoplites would have in addition a bronze
breastplate and greaves. These would tend to fight in the front line, the place of most honour.
The scale of Greek warfare increased somewhat in the 6th century BC, when groups of city-sates formed
alliances. The most famous of these was the Peloponnesian League, under the leadership of Sparta.
During the Persian Wars, the Delian League emerged, under the leadership of Athens. These and other
leagues (the Achaean, the Aetolian) increased the scale of Greek warfare further in the 5th and 4th
centuries. Large armies were fielded, forces were deployed further from their homes, and campaigns
grew longer. Naval warfare became more important, with several city-sates maintaining large fleets of
galleys (the rowers of these galleys were usually the poorest of the citizens, who could not afford to pay
for their own armour). Blockades and sieges became common.

The Greeks worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses, headed by the chief of the gods, Zeus.
Other gods included Hera, Zeus’s wife; Athena, goddess of wisdom and learning; Apollo, god of music
and culture; Aphrodite, goddess of love; Dionysus, god of wine; Hades, god of the underworld; and Diana,
goddess of the hunt.
Greek religion placed little emphasis on ethical conduct – stories about the gods portrayed often them as
lying, cheating, being unfaithful, getting drunk and so on. As in many traditional religions, a Greek god or
goddess was seen more as a potential source of help, rather than as a focus of devotion.
Each city-state had its own festivals, but certain festivals were common to all the Greeks. The most
famous of these were the Olympic games, held in honour of Zeus every four years (starting traditionally in
776 BC). There were much fewer events than in a modern Olympics, and there were competitions in
music and poetry as well as in athletics. The winner of an Olympic event was awarded an olive wreath
and won great honour in his home city.
The Greeks often consulted oracles – priests or priestesses at certain shrines who, in a trance, uttered
messages from the gods. People would go to oracles for advice and guidance on specific matters. The
most famous of these was the oracle at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi. Advice was sought by private
individuals as well as by politicians and military commanders.
The Greek religion was not something to engage a person’s spirituality, and various cults grew up to fell
that void. The Eleusian Mysteries and the cult of Orpheus injected an emotional elements into worship.
One joined these through initiation, and their beliefs were secret. Hence we know little about them.
However, they stressed the importance of the afterlife – initiates were promised immortality – and the
need for ethical standards of behaviour were emphasised.
Numerous myths have come down to us about the Greeks gods, goddesses and semi-divine heroes.
They also have much to say about the origins and nature of the world. Many of these myths contradict
one another, something that the Greeks found no problem with.

Most Greek cities did not have publicly-funded schools – Sparta was the exception. Education was
therefore a private affair.
Wealthy families would put a boy under the care of a slave who would accompany him everywhere. The
boy (and the accompanying slave) would attend a small school run by a private teacher, who would have
a few pupils in his charge. Here, the boy would learn to read and write, and do arithmetic. Later, they
learned to sing and play music (which for the Greeks included poetry).
After the age of 12 boys focussed on physical education. They trained in such sports as the throwing
thediscus and javelin, running and wrestling.
Some wealthy families would also have their girls educated. They would be taught to read, write, and play
music; and they were also given also some physical education.
After school, older boys underwent military training. The family bought armour and weapons for them, and
the young men learnt how to fight effectively in military camps. From this age they were expected to serve
in the state’s army, if needed.
For boys from wealthy families, training in public speaking would round off their education. In Athens,
some of the first higher education institutions recorded in history were founded: Plato’s Academy and
Aristotle’s Lycaeum. Here, courses involving logic, literature and philosophy were taught.
Meanwhile, girls from wealthy families were trained in managing the household. This would have involved
account-keeping, as well as more domestic tasks such as weaving. In fact, how educated a young
woman actually became would have depended entirely on her family, and of course her own motivation.

Even while the Greeks were emerging from their Dark Ages after the fall of Mycenae (c. 1200-750 BC),
when they produced their greatest poet, Homer. Most modern scholars think that Homer’s two epic
poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were composed around 750 BC. It was almost certainly first composed
in oral form before being written perhaps a hundred years later. These poems have been studied by
western scholars ever since.
Later poets included Hesiod (7th century BC), whose “Works and Days” portrays the tough life of an
ordinary farmer; Sappho (6th century BC), whose love poetry uses beauty of language to explore intense
personal feelings; and Pindar (late 6th century – early 5th century BC), who expressed emotion in lyrical
poems praising famous athletes or gods, and mourning the dead.
The Greeks were the first to pioneer the art form of drama. This had its origins in the dances and songs of
sacred rites, and was always associated with religious festivals. A chorus chanting words or singing
songs replaced the dancers, and originally only one solo actor stood out from the rest. Actors wore
different masks to depict various standard moods or characters.
Greek drama included both tragedy and comedy. It reached maturity in 5th century Athens. Aeschylus
(525-456 BC) reduced the importance of the chorus, and increased the role of individual actors and
dialogue. Sophocles (496-406 BC) took these innovations further, while Euripides (484-406 BC) used
dialogue to portray deep human emotions.
The Greeks also pioneered the writing of history as not merely the chronicling of events, but in striving for
accuracy, objectivity and meaning in their accounts. Herodotus (c. 485-425 BC) is known the “father of
history” (in the West), and was the first to develop a coherent historical narrative (in his case, of the
Persian Wars); but it was his successor, Thucydides (c.460-396 BC), who was the one to first write what
we today would call proper history.

Greek architecture is known for its grace and simplicity. The finest buildings the Greeks erected were their
temples; and the most famous of these is the Parthenon, in Athens.
The centre of each temple was space known as the “cella”. Here was located the statue if the god. In
front of the cella was the porch, and both porch and cella were surrounded by a colonnade of columns.
Each column was topped by a “capitals”, a carved block of stone. On top of these rested the
“entablature”, a band of carved stone on which, in turn, rested the roof. These elements went together to
form a simple yet gracious building.

Greek sculpture – usually in stone and bronze; sometimes in gold and ivory – was solid and formal,
much like that of the ancient Middle East. In the Classical period, sculptures strove for realism, and their
work became more graceful and elegant. They applied mathematical ratios to achieve aesthetic beauty.
As time went by, and their skills improved still more, they sought to represent movement and emotion. In
their best works they achieved a fluidity in stone which has seldom been matched.

In ancient times, statues would have been painted with vibrant, lifelike colours. Virtually no trace of this
survives. The only paintings that have come down to us are on vases, where the images are of necessity
simple and economic. We know of other painting as well from literary sources, for example on walls of
palaces; and some painters achieved wide fame. However, none of their work has come down to us.
The earliest school of Greek philosophers were those of the Ionian tradition (7th-5th centuries BC). Ionia
was in what is today western Turkey, and it is tempting to see the influence of the ancient Middle East on
their work. Much of this involved quasi-religious speculations about the origins and structure of the
universe: but this led them on to quasi-scientific propositions, such as that all matter comes from water
(reminiscent of Mesopotamian beliefs).
The Pythagoreans were another group of early Greek thinkers (6th-5th century BC). They formed a
curious combination of philosophical school and religious brotherhood. They believed that all things could
be explained by numbers. As a result, they did much mathematical speculation (see below, section on
Science). However, they believed in such religious ideas as the transmigration of the soul. They lived
simple, ascetic lives.
By the 5th century, Greek thinkers such as Parmenedes (c.504-456 BC) were advocating the idea that
reason is the best way to reaching truth.
The Sophists – “teachers if wisdom” – were travelling teachers prominent in the 5th century, after the
Persian Wars. They preferred to study man and worldly problems rather than speculate about universal
truths. In fact, some claimed that truths were only meaningful when placed in a particular context, and
seen from a particular point of view. They rejected the notion of the supernatural and universal standards
of morality and justice. Some went on the state that nothing really exists, the material world is just an
illusion. Some taught that all the meaning there is in the universe resides in the words we use. Language
is therefore a tool to give things meaning. In due course sophists came to be associated with specious
reasoning, using words to mean whatever one wants them to mean.
Greek philosophy reached its high point in the careers of three thinkers who lived and worked in Athens,
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Socrates (469-399 BC) challenged the thinking of his contemporaries by posing penetrating questions. In
this way he aimed to strip away the prejudices we all bring to our thinking. He developed the “Socratic
method”, based on questions and discussion, rather than on lectures and received teaching. He that
reason and clear thinking could lead men to truth and happiness. In 399 BC, he was put on trial in Athens
for “corrupting the minds of the youth” and not revering the gods. He was executed by poisoning.
Plato (427-347 BC) was a disciple of Socrates; it is through him we know of Socrates’ teaching. Plato
believed that the material world is not real, but an imperfect image of the real, or ideal. He founded the
“Academy”, the first known institute of higher education in the West.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a student of Plato’s. He spent some time as tutor to the future king of
Macedon, who would become known to history as Alexander the Great. After this, he founded the
Lyceum in Athens. Aristotle left behind a vast body of work. To help clear thinking, he developed a
system of formal rules of logic. These became extremely influential in future Western thought. He
believed ideas were indistinguishable from matter, in that they could exists only through material objects.
He believed that God was the “first cause” of all things, and that the good life can be achieved through

For the Greeks, science was indistinguishable from philosophy (in fact, science was called “natural
philosophy” in the West right up to the 18th century).

Thales of Miletus is usually regarded as the first prominent Greek mathematician, and he is credited with
developing the methodologies of observation, experimentation and deduction, which are still used
today. Thales’ younger contemporaries, Pythagoras and his school, developed geometry as a branch of
knowledge. They uncovered Pythagoras’ theorem, that the sum of any three angles of a triangle is equal
to two right angles.
One of the main concerns for Greek philosophers was the nature of the universe, and their thinking about
this had theological dimensions – Heraclitus (533-475 BC), for example, believed that the universe
pervaded by Logos, or divine will, and Xenophanes (540-485 BC) taught that was a supreme being, and
attacked the idea of a pantheon of gods – and some was more along what we today would recognize as
scientific lines.
Empedocles (495-430 BC) proposed that all matter was indestructible and eternal. He was the first to
come up with the idea that matter exists in only four basic forms – earth, air, fire and water. Different
balances lead to different kinds of materials. Democritus (c.460-362) developed this idea and anticipated
modern physics by proposing that all matter consists of minute and indivisible units called atoms.
Anaximander (611-547 BC) asserted the theory of organic evolution, with the earliest animals being fish,
which later adapted to different environments to become land animals and human beings.
In medicine, the Greeks dissected animals to refine their ideas on anatomy. They located the optic nerve
and recognized the brain as the locus of thought. They discovered that blood flows to and from the heart.
Hippocrates (c.460-377 BC) argued that diseases had natural rather than supernatural causes, and that
they therefore could be treated by natural means. He advocated rest, proper diet, and exercise for a
healthy life; he knew the uses of many drugs, and he helped improve surgical practices. He is considered
one of the key figures in the history of Western medicine.
In astronomy, the first three-dimensional models to explain the apparent motion of the planets were
developed in the 4th century BC.
Aristotle advanced the scientific method by his insistence on observation of the material world being an
important root to knowledge. Together with his rules of logic (see the section above, Philosophy), this laid
some important foundations for the scientific method in the West. He put this method into action himself
by classified many plants and animals, so making a great contribution to botany and zoology. He
developed Empedocles’ ideas on matter by adding a fifth element, ether, to the other four.
Greek mathematics and science continued to make advances in Hellenistic times.
The Greek Archaic Period (c. 800- 479 BCE) started from what can only be termed uncertainty, and
ended with the Persians being ejected from Greece for good after the battles of Plataea and Mykale in
479 BCE.

The Archaic Period is preceded by the Greek Dark Age (c.1200- 800 BCE), a period about which little is
known for sure, and followed by the Classical Period (c. 510- 323 BCE), which is one of the better
documented periods of Greek history, with tragedies, comedies, histories, legal cases and more surviving
in the form of literary and epigraphic sources. Each of these periods had its own distinctive cultural
identity, yet despite this, there is a certain degree of flexibility with the dates given to the periods. They
are modern terms that try to frame various aspects of change in Greek culture which by no means
occurred either over one particular year or all together in the same year.

In the Archaic Period there were vast changes in Greek language, society, art, architecture, and politics.
These changes occurred due to the increasing population of Greece and its increasing amount trade,
which in turn led to colonization and a new age of intellectual ideas, the most important of which (at least
to the modern Western World) was Democracy. This would then fuel, in a rather circular way, more
cultural changes.


The politics of Athens underwent a series of serious changes during the archaic period, and the first
change was quite possibly for the worse, with the laws of Draco, in around 622/621 BCE (the semi-
legendary nature of these laws and its namesake should be noted, and secondly the semi-legendary
nature of most occurrences during the first couple of hundred years of the period). As Aristotle says of
Draco “there is nothing peculiar in his laws that is worthy of mention, except their severity in imposing
heavy punishment” (Politics 2.1274b).

The legacy of their infamy (loans could be made on the security of one’s own person), still exists in the
modern word ‘draconian’. Most brutal of all however were the death penalties; Plutarch relates that “it is
said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences,
answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for
more important ones”. Whilst Aristotle comments that there was nothing particular about the laws, what is
important is that the laws, for the first time in Athens, were written down for all to see, and to read (for
those who were literate).

The next major changes that came were brought about by Solon (c. 594 BCE), whose historical
authenticity is more certain than Draco's due to fragments of his poetry that Plutarch relates as still
existing in his time. His changes to Athenian law were the first to give the lower classes a fairer chance --
however, the positions of power were still only available to those of wealth. It was the effects of class
inequality that Solon tackled, not the causes of them. The most notable change implemented by Solon
was the seisachtheia, the ‘shaking-off-of-burdens’. This decree cancelled debts, banned the use of one’s
own person as security for a loan, and recalled all of those who had been sold as slaves and those who
had fled to escape such a fate.

There were also Solon's reforms of weights and measures, the right of third party appeal was introduced
among other developments. In order that he might not be pressured into changing these laws, Solon left
Athens for ten years (according to Herodotus) and went to Egypt where he wrote political poems.
Map of Archaic Greece

It was only after Solon that a sense of self-conscious democracy in Athens began to develop; a
development that could be seen as either a social phenomenon or a political and institutional
phenomenon. The changes then came thick and fast. The age of tyrants that had started with Draco
would soon nearly be over, but not if the Peisistratids had anything to do with it.

The Peisistratids were a short line of Athenian tyrants that started with Peisistratos, and it should be
noted that the term ‘tyrant’ during this period did not have the negative connotations that it has today. In
fact, Peisistratos was no draconian ruler, but one who felt a certain amount of sympathy with the poorer
classes of Athens. Aristotle gives a good account of the events that follow. After Pesistratos’ death his
sons Hippias and Hipparchus held the tyranny until an assassination plot was launched against them by
Harmodias and Aristogen.

Cleisthenes came to power in the political gap that was left after the tyrannicides and is famous for
introducing isonomia (equal laws) in Athens. He achieved this through various reforms which meant that
less importance was given to aristocratic background. The biggest reform that Cleisthenes made was to
the tribal system of Athens. Previous to his reform there had been four tribes (based on family ties),
Cleisthenes changed this to ten tribes, each formed by a slightly complicated subsystem.

The tribes were formed by a collection of demes (similar to an English Parish; small localities of
residence) which were themselves placed into one of thirty trittyes, 'thirds' (three per tribe); a deme would
be in either one of three regions depending on its location: the coast, the city, or the inland.
The trittyes therefore were an amalgamation of ten demes from each of the three regions; each tribe
therefore had three trittyes in it, one composed of demes from the city, one with demes from the coast,
and one of demes from inland. Further to this Athenians would no longer take their ‘surname’ from their
father, but from their deme. This all meant that the family ties, traditions and allegiances that had caused
prior political friction (and had led in some way to the Peisistraid tyrannies) had been broken up. It was
also during Cleisthenes’ time that many Athenian official positions began to be selected by lot. Aristotle
and Herodotus cover these events in quite good detail.


The art and architecture of the Archaic Period also underwent various overhauls; the earlier geometric
style was replaced with an orientalising style, which in turn was replaced by black figure pottery. Black
figure pottery was first starting to be used in Corinth c. 700s BCE, but the first signed example dates to c.
570 BCE, when attic black figure pottery was in its heyday (c. 630- 480 BCE) and is of Sophilos. As this
technique was further developed and explored, it gave way to Red Figure pottery, which started to
develop c. 530 BCE.

It was also during this period that many changes and developments were made to templebuilding. The
first phase of the Heraion at Samos was built in the mid. 8th C. BCE, yet its final, unfinished, reincarnation
wasn’t begun until c. 530 BCE. Many changes had occurred by then. The Heraion at Olympia, built c. 600
BCE, was the first temple to have a stone stylobate and lower wall course, but was still built with wooden
columns, one of which still survived to Pausanias day. Today the remnants of this development can be
seen in the varying sizes and styles of the temple’s Doric stone columns since they were created by
different hands in different times in order to replace wooden columns as needed.

The Corcyra Artemision (c. 580/ 70 BCE) was the first Greek temple to have a stone entablature and the
Temple of Apollo (c. 580-550 BCE) at Syracuse is now known as the Cathedral of Syracuse, being the
longest continually lasting single building to remain consecrated ground, in this case, since its Archaic
origins. The age of tyrants can also be witnessed in one particular temple, in this case, not relating to
Athens’ tyrants, but to Samos’, namely Polykrates (c.540- 520 BCE) who commissioned the fourth stage
Heraion at Samos. Greece's developing international realtionships can be witnessesed in this was too,
with King Croeus dedicating a column of the Temple of Artemis and Ephesus; and it still bears his mark to
this day.


It was during the Archaic period that the four major panhellenic games of Greece were founded. In 776
BCE the Olympic games were traditionally begun by Hercules and Pelops (and their influence can be
seen in the sculptural decoration of the classical Temple of Zeusthere), whilst at Delphi athletic games
had taken place from c. 586 BCE, the home of the Pythian games, and the panhellenic Isthmian games
were founded at Corinth c. 581 BCE. The last of the ‘big four’ was founded c. 573 BCE, and this was the
Nemean games.

However, in the normal Archaic tradition, each of these games was surrounded by its own foundation
myth, not just the Olympics. The Pythian games, which had originally been solely a games of music and
dance, were supposedly founded by Apollo himself (according to Pindar), the Isthmian games (according
to Pausanias) by the legendary King of Corinth, Sisyphus, and the Nemean Games after Hercules had
slain the Nemean lion. But when we think of victory at the games, there is one name that jumps out, and it
isn’t that of a victor, but of a poet, Pindar, who was composing between c. 500- 446 BCE, writing his
Pythian odes and others in honour of the various victors at the games.


From Homer and Hesiod, through to Pindar and Aeschylus, the Archaic Period underwent a vast
development in the field of Greek literature, and language too, with the first Greek alphabet being
developed. The Greek alphabet developed out of the Phoneician alphabet, and is in itself a tribute to the
increase in trade and exploration in the period that made this cultural exchange possible: the earliest
Greek writing being dated to c. 750 BCE. However, despite the development of the Greek alphabet, the
oral tradition of poetic composition and transmission was still the method used by Hesiod and Homer; it
wasn’t until c. 670 BCE and the rule of Peisistratus that a definitive version of the Iliad and Odyssey was

The end of the Archaic period also had a literature that is just as influential, less well known perhaps, but
it set the stage for the later classical tragedians and comedians. 535 BCE was the year of the first
dramatic festival in Athens and in 485 BCE comedy was added, and one year later Aeschylus had won
his first dramatic competition in Athens, but it wasn’t until 472 BCE that Aeschylus’ Persians was

The Persian Wars, perhaps the most influential set of events in the Archaic period, which couldn’t
possibly be given justice to here, started with the Ionian revolt of Greek colonies and settlements in Asia
Minor from the Persian Empire which prompted Darius I’s retaliation to invade Greece, which failed at
the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. This was later avenged by the second invasion of Greece by Xerxes,
who was finally expelled with the combined victories at Plataea and Mykale, though only after the equally
as famous battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. Salamis was won by the fleet that Themistocles had
persuaded the Athenians to build from the silver mines at Laurium, and this silver would continue to be
vitally important into the Classical Period.

However, there were loses in these wars; the sacking of the Athenian acropolis and Agora, the death
of Leonidas, and in the end, the freedom of the Ionic tributaries to Athens as the Delian League soon
became the Athenian League. The change being that in the Archaic period there was war with Persia, in
the Classical period, diplomacy.

The Archaic Period is, therefore, a highly important time period in its own right, but is also highly important
in putting the events of the Classical Period into context. However, this definition only covers some of the
many events and developments, and covers some of them only briefly: the Archaic Period is perhaps the
richest and most complicated in Greek history.

The Classical Period or Golden Age of Greece, from around 500 to 300 BC, has given us the great
monuments, art, philosophy, architecture and literature which are the building blocks of our own
The two most well known city-states during this period
were the rivals: Athens and Sparta. It was the strengths of
these two societies that brought the ancient world to its
heights in art, culture and with the defeat of the Persians,
warfare. It was the same two Greek states whose thirst for
more power and territory, and whose jealousy brought
about the Peloponnesian wars which lasted 30 years and
left both Athens and Sparta mere shadows of their former

The seeds of the classical period were sown in the 8th

century with the committing to writing of the works of
Homer, the Illiad and the Odyssey, which in a way created
a code of conduct and an ethnic identity for the Greeks.
The heroic exploits of Odysseus, Achilles and the other Achaeans served as role models for the Greeks
which told them how to behave, (and in some cases, how not to behave) in many situations, particularly
on the field of battle and in competition. Just as important in the creating of a Greek identity was the
emergence of the Olympic games and the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi both of which had their roots in the
8th century.

The Spartans

The Spartans who were founded by Lycurgus around 800 BC were known for their militaristic society.
These Spartans, known as the Lacedemonians controlled the Peloponessos. The Spartans had not
always lived in such a society. Earlier in their history they had produced art, poetry and music and
seemed to be on the same course as the rest of Greek civilization which might have led them to give us
some of the famous names that have been passed down through history. But from the late 8th Century
Sparta fought a war with their neighbors in Messinia to the west and unlike other wars in ancient Greece
where an invading army fought, won, worked out a treaty and left (to fight again someday), the Spartans
subjugated the entire population of Messinia, reducing them to slaves or helots. These helots were no
more than serfs and worked the land for the Spartans. Because the helots vastly outnumbered them,
the Spartans had to create a society that would protect themselves not just from external enemies but
from a helot revolt from within. Men lived in barracks and male children were taken from their mothers at a
young age to learn how to serve the state, meaning the art of warfare. Unhealthy children were killed or
left to die. Life had one purpose. To defend the state.

The Spartan Constitution was credited to Lycurgus who in his travels had studied governments in Crete
and Ionia, had read the epics of Homer which strongly influenced his ideas on how a nation should be
run. Lycurgus traveled to Delphi for guidance. Told by the Oracle that his laws would make Sparta
famous, he returned to convince first his influential friends and eventually all the Spartans that his reforms
will bring power and glory to Sparta. The system of government he created included two Kings,
five ephors (executives), a council of thirty elders and a general assembly which was made up of all male
citizens. Full citizenship was reserved for the elite, known as the Spartiates who spent much of their time
training for and fighting in wars, while their helotsworked the land to provide food for the communal mess
halls known as syssitia. This is where the Spartiates ate their meals and each was expected to contribute
a certain quota of produce every month. Those who could not keep up with their commitment were kicked
out and became part of the inferior classes. Children served and then listened to the men discuss state
affairs and other topics, as part of their education. Girls were required to exercise and be strong so that
they would give birth to strong men. They were also required to dance naked in front of the men to teach
them bravery and to be too ashamed to let themselves get fat. The boys learned to read and write but
their primary educational goal was to learn to be brave and strong.

Maybe the most frightening of the Spartan institutions were the Crypteia, where young boys were sent to
the countryside to live off the land similar to 'Outward Bound' except for a critical difference. These boys
were permitted to kill any helot they ran into. This pretty much kept the helots at home.

The Spartans not only feared their own subjugated population but they also feared ideas (like democracy
for instance) entering and polluting their system. They would occasionally expel all foreigners and they
discouraged commerce and trade by banning ownership of silver and gold, instead using heavy iron coins
which were then dipped in vinegar to make brittle. This eliminated the import of luxury items, robbery,
bribery, prostitution, jewelry and the amassing of property and resulted in a society where it was
impossible to get richer than your neighbor, creating equality, among the Spartan elite anyway.

Though it is easy to get the impression that the Spartans were a society of militaristic robots this is not the
case. The Spartans were known for their wit and their ability to say a lot without wasting words. Because
the helots did all the work the Spartans had plenty of time for leisure and it is a myth that they spent every
free moment in training. Nonetheless much of their time was spent in training in the art of war and
discipline and their soldiers were feared by all their enemies and even some of their 'friends'. Marching
into battle to the sound of flutes and inspirational music, the Spartans seemed to be completely
comfortable and at ease which of course made their adversary uncomfortable and uneasy. They used
mercy as a tactic as well. The Spartans would not pursue and slaughter a retreating enemy, considering
such behavior disgraceful and not befitting a true warrior. This gave their adversaries the option of not
fighting to the death but turning around and running and living to fight another day. It was a policy of
Lycurgus not to fight too many wars with the same opponent since that gives him a chance to learn your
style and strategies and defeat you.

In his final act as leader, Lycurgus informed the Spartans that there was one thing more that had to be
done and that he needed to go to Delphi to ask the Oracle how best to implement this final piece of the
puzzle. He made the Kings and the people of Sparta take an oath that they would not change any of his
laws until he returned. He left the city and disappeared forever.

The Athenians

The primary rivals of the Spartans were the Athenians who were founded by Theseus around 1300.
Theseus was from the city of Troezen across from the Saronic Island of Poros and was said to have
been born in the union of Aegus, king of Athens, and the daughter of Troezen's King. At the age of
sixteen Theseus was given the task of lifting the heavy stone where his father had put a sword and
sandals. Successful in his efforts he walked to Athens to find his father, defeating monsters and evil along
the way. After arriving in Athens as a hero he volunteers to go to Crete where King Minos has been
demanding a sacrifice of young men and virgins to a monster called the Minotaur. Theseus defeats the
Minotaur and returns to Athens though he forgets to remove the black sail of death from the ship. His
father, King Aegeus, thinking his beloved son has died, hurls himself into the sea, which is how it came to
be known as the Aegean. Upon Theseus' return he abolishes the monarchy and declares Athens a
democracy and unifies the scattered villages of Attica. He makes it a policy to give aid to the weak and
helpless. His exploits also include adventures with Hercules, Jason and the Argonauts, the Amazons and
even a journey to the underworld. Later he was overthrown and then murdered while exiled on the island
of Skyros. Whether fact or fiction, the meaning behind these stories is what is important to the Athenians.
Theseus embodies all they stand for. The Athenians of the 5th Century used his deeds as the standards
to measure themselves and their democracy. Theseus was to the Athenians what George Washington is
to Americans today.

The Athenian democracy was reformed by King Solon in 594. Solon was to Athens what Lycurgus was to
Sparta and his reforms paved the way out of a volatile period and into the Golden Age. The 6th Century
was a time of social strife and to keep society from falling apart the Athenians elected Solon, a poet and
statesman, to mediate between the various groups that were in conflict and to reform the system of
economics in Athenian society, where there was an enormous difference between those who were well
off and those who were not. Under Athenian law if you could not pay your debt, the person you owed
money to could seize you and your family and sell you as slaves to get his money back. Solon's
economic program was called the seisachteia or the 'shaking off of burdens' because it released the lower
classes from the burden of debt to those in the wealthy classes. By canceling and reducing debts and
abolishing a system of mortgage which had turned many poor land owners into slaves, Solon made a
more level playing field. Solon wanted even the poor to take part in Athenian government and He
formalized the rights and privileges of the four social classes whose access to public office now depended
on how much property they had instead of by birth. The lowest class was called the thetes (laborers) who
could take part in the general assembly but they could not run for office. The other economic groups from
the bottom up were the Zeugitai (Yeomen), Hippeis (Knights) and the Pentakosiomedimnoi (Those with
over 500 measures of wet and dry produce).

The economic reforms that Solon enacted led to the future prosperity of Athens. He banned the export of
all agricultural products with the exception of olive oil, which was as valuable to the ancient Greeks as it is
to the modern Greeks. By offering citizenship he attracted some of the finest craftsmen of the Greek
world to Athens. He discarded the Athenians system of weights and measures in favor of the system
used in Evia which was in wider use, enabling the Athenians to more easily trade with the other Greeks in
the Aegean. He made being unemployed a crime. He created a supreme court made up of
former Archons (ruler or chief magistrate) of Athens and another legislative body of 400 to debate laws
before putting them before the people for a vote.

Though Solon's reforms did not cure the ills of Athenian society overnight in the way that Lycurgus had
done with the Spartans, the long term effect was to solidify the rule of law and eventually led to Athenian
democracy. After committing these laws to writing Solon left Athens because he did not want to be
bothered by the Athenians who would be continuously asking him to interpret his laws. He wanted to let
them figure it out and he went off to Egypt where he started but never finished a story about Atlantis,
which he had learned about from the Egyptian priests. After he left, the Athenians began fighting amongst
themselves again and for two years the city was a leaderless anarchy. (The word anarchy comes from the
Greek, meaning without a leader or archon.)

The Tyrants

Athenian politics was comprised of three groups which corresponded to the different areas of the Attica
peninsula. The three groups were the Men of the Shore, the Men of the Plain and the Men from Beyond
the Hills. In 561 Pisistratus, the leader of the Beyond the Hills faction from eastern Attica and a
remarkable orator, showed up in the agora with his clothes ripped and bleeding and told the Athenians he
had been attacked by his enemies. He was given permission to protect himself with bodyguards. With
these men he seized the Acropolis and tried to make himself ruler. He was driven out. Three years later
he tried again by marrying a young girl from another leading aristocratic family but she left him for not
fulfilling his matrimonial duties and Pisistratus left for Thrace where he focused on amassing more wealth
by digging for silver and gold. In 546 he returned with his riches and a six foot tall woman who he dressed
up as the Goddess Athena and had her drive him into Athens on a chariot. Apparently this worked
because his followers defeated his opponents at the Battle of Palini and Psistratus became the ruler of
Athens. Though the word tyrant in our culture brings up images of Nazis, secret police and torture
chambers it actually means a leader who was not restrained by law or constitution, nor was he elected,
chosen or born into power. So in other words it did not mean he was a bad guy. It just meant he could do
whatever he wanted because there was nothing above or below that could stop him.

The period of Athenian history under Pisitratus was one of peace and his rule was a positive step in the
establishment of democracy, perhaps more so than Solon. It was under his rule that the Dionysian and
Panathenaic Festivals turned Athens into the cultural center of the Greek world while the sculpture,
and pottery of this period raised the bar to a new level. By establishing relations with other Greek tyrants
and annexing the island of Delos and its sanctuary of Apollo he created prosperity as well as a sense of
Athenian identity that brought the people of the city together and an end to the in-fighting which had been
the cause of so much stasis (stagnation). Unfortunately his sons, who assumed power after his death in
528 were not quite up to the task and were tyrants in the sense of the word that we are familiar.
Hipparchus was assassinated in 514 and Hippias was expelled from Athens in 514, returning in 490 BC
when the Persians (unsuccessfully) invaded Attica.

After another period of instability following the expulsion of Hippias, two aristocratic leaders, Cleisthenes
and Isagoras, emerge as the leading contenders for rulership of Athens in 510. When Isagoras calls on
the Spartans to help him assume power and banish the family of Cleisthenes, the Athenians reject the
outside interference and Isagoras himself. Cleisthenes becomes archon. He redraws the political map of
Athens in a way that breaks the power of the old aristocracy and gives all the Athenian people a voice in
politics. His reforms include the annual rotation of power (so no single group or person could become
dominant) and the splitting up of the four tribes of Athens into ten new tribes which were then broken up
into smaller demes (municipalities) which were then spread around so that it was more difficult for the old
families to organize into a political faction. The Athenians embrace this and identify strongly with
their deme to such a degree that when asked his name he would give his first name, the name of his
father and his deme. (So I would be Matt, son of Nicholas of Kalithea). Read more on Athenian

The Persian Wars

It is this sense of identity as an Athenian, combined with that of being

Greek, which gave the people of Athens a feeling of superiority. As
anyone who watches sports knows, believing in yourself can be the
most important factor when facing a superior opponent. When the
Persian empire expanded to encompass the Ionian Greek city states
in Asia Minor they decided to punish the Athenians for sending a
contingent during the rebellion that burned the city of Sardis in 498. It
was the classic David vs Goliath scenario. (Just imagine the US
declaring war and invading Costa Rica). An expedition sent by the
Persian King Darius landed on the coast at Marathon, just 26 miles
from Athens where they were defeated by the Athenian army. When a
herald named Phidippides runs the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens
to announce the Greek victory and dies on the spot, an event which
may or may not have happened, we have the origin to the marathon
races which are now run all over the world. (That's why they are 26
miles. The distance from Marathon to the center of Athens). Those
who fought at Marathon are treated as heroes for the rest of their
lives. It also added to the Athenian mystique and the feeling that they
are superior and can not be beaten.

Almost twenty years later King Darius died and his son Xerxes mounted another attack on Athens, this
time with overwhelming force by land and sea, planning to conquer and annex all of Greece. In the years
following the battle of Marathon the Athenian statesman Themistocles had convinced the Athenians to
use the silver which had been discovered in Lavrion, to build a fleet in order to fight the Greek state on
the island of Aegina, which was so close it could be seen from the Acropolis. As the Persians advanced
this Athenian fleet was sent north where they fought an inconclusive battle with the Persian fleet at
Artemisium. On land the Greeks could not agree on the best way to fight the Persians. Their first defense
at Tempe was abandoned and there were plans to fall back as far as the Peloponessos and make their
last stand there. A Spartan King named Leonidas wa sent with his Royal Guard of 300 men to delay the
Persians at a narrow pass at Thermopylae where they held out for three days before being
overwhelmed and killed. The epitaph of the heroic Spartans was written by the poet Simonides and
carved in the stone walls of the pass:

Tell them in Lacedaemon passerby

that here obedient to their words we lie

As the Persians continued their relentless march south towards Athens, the Greek fleet lures the Persian
fleet into the straits between Attica and the island of Salamis where their smaller and more maneuverable
ships have an advantage. As Xerxes watches from a hill the Greeks sink 200 Persian ships, capture
some and the rest flee. Xerxes and his army retreat north where they wait through the winter and return in
the summer of 479 to burn and sack Athens. The Greeks are now one hundred thousand strong,
commanded by the Spartan General Pausanias and reinforced by other Greek city-states which
have entered the war sensing a Greek victory. They defeat the Persian army in the battle of Plataea while
the Greek's navy destroys the Persian fleet at Mykale off the coast of Asia Minor. This is the end of the
Persian wars and the beginning of the end of the Persian empire.

Had the Persians won and occupied Greece, western civilization as we know it might not have occurred.
What did occur is a feeling among the Greeks that because they had defeated a larger and more powerful
enemy, the Persians must be somehow weak, effeminate and inferior to them. It creates a sense among
the Greeks that they are meant to live free from outside influences and the word for freedom: eleftheria,
becomes an important idea which it has remained even to this day. It also is the beginning of the split
between east and west and the word barbarian which had meant speaking an incomprehensible
language, now came to mean uncivilized or inferior.

In 476 the Athenian general and statesman Cimon travels to the island of Skyros where he finds the
bones of Theseus, brings them back and builds a shrine to the great king who had not only been an
inspiration to them but who had been seen fighting alongside the Greek soldiers in the battle of Marathon.

The Age of Pericles

With the threat from the east gone Athens begins a fifty year period under the brilliant
statesman Pericles (495-429 BC) during which time the Parthenon was built on the Acropolis and the city
becomes the artistic, cultural and intellectual as well as commercial center of the Hellenic world, attracting
all sorts of smart and interesting people and taking command of the other Greek states. Continuing their
war against the Persians they liberate the Ionian Greek
cities of Asia Minor and the Aegean islands.

In 478 the Delian League is formed by Athens and its allies

on the island of Delos, the sacred island of Apollo. After
swearing an oath, these Greek city-states, some who were
forced to join by threats, begin to rid the land of the last
remaining Persians and free the seas of piracy. But as
enemies became fewer and members of the league want
to devote their resources to peaceful endeavors, Athens is
becoming more powerful and forces other members do
what is best for Athens. This takes the form of payments,
supposedly for the maintenance of the fleet, from the other
members. The flow of money is used to build the temples
and monuments of the city of Athens. When the island of
Thassos rebels against this payment they are attacked by
Athens. In 454 the treasury of Delos is moved to the Acropolis for 'safe-keeping'.
Greek Philosophy, Theater and Historians

Among the dwellers of Athens during its Golden

Age is the philosopher Socrates. Though he left
no writings of his own, he is mostly known
through the work of his student Plato in the form
of written dialogues which are conversations
with other learned and un-learned men on a
variety of topics. The 'Socratic method' consists
of asking questions until you arrive at the
essence of a subject, (or sometimes not) by
a negative method of hypotheses elimination,
where the better hypotheses are found by
identifying and eliminating the ones that lead to
contradictions. His philosophy begins with the
belief that he knows nothing and that life is not
for attaining riches but a process of knowing oneself. He believed that virtue was the most valuable of all
possessions and that the job of a philosopher was to point out to people how little they actually knew. He
was executed by the state, forced to drink hemlock, for corrupting the youth of the city. Oddly, more
members of the jury voted to give him the death sentence than originally voted that he was guilty. In other
words some who thought he was innocent still voted to have him executed, pointing out early problems of
democracy that are still with us today, (that people are either stupid or not paying attention.) Plato
became an opponent of the Athenian-style democracy, probably because any society that would
condemn someone like Socrates to death had to be insane. He believed that society should be governed
by governor kings, or benevolent dictators, educated and trained from the beginning of life for this
purpose. He went on to open the world's first university, the Academy, the ruins of which can still be seen
in Athens. Plato was an idealist. He believed in a higher reality of which the material world is just a
manifestation. It is said that all philosophy is just a footnote to Plato. His student and then fellow
philosopher Aristotle was more of a materialist and he believed in putting everything in categories and
was the inventor of logic. He opened his own school the Lyceum and went on to become the tutor of
Alexander The Great. He is considered the father of European thought, though some of his scientific
observations were simply wrong.

Greek Religion

Religion was an important part of Greek society and they believed in a

polytheistic system, a belief in many Gods. These Gods lived on Mount
Olympus, led by Zeus, whose job was to keep all the other Gods in line, a
difficult task, considering that he was one of the most unruly, coming to earth in
various forms to seduce immortals and mortals alike. His sister Hera was also
his wife and was the protector of women and the family. Ares was the God of
war. Haephestus was the God of craftsmen and created the first women,
Pandora, as a punishment for man. Her box unleashed all the evils that were to
afflict mankind. Aphrodite was the beautiful Goddess of love and lust, punished
by Zeus and forced to marry the unattractive Hephaestus. Demeter was the
goddess of the fertility of the earth and the harvest who was celebrated in the
ancient mysteries of Eleusis. Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom and the
patron of Athens. Poseidon (photo) was the God of the sea, a brother of Zeus
and a moody individual who caused storms, floods, earthquakes and volcani eruptions. Apollo was the
God of the sun who daily drove his chariot through the sky. He was also the God of light, both physical
and spiritual. Artemis was the Goddess of childbirth and the protector of young animals. Hermes was the
God of commerce, wealth, and oratory and was also known as the messenger of the Gods. Today he is
the symbol of the Greek postal system. Dionysus was the God of wine and song. Asclepius was the God
of healing, Eros the God of Love, Hypnos the God of sleep and Pan was the God of shepherds. The most
important part of the ancient Greek religion was the act of sacrifice. Though we often think of the Greek
temple as being the center of the ancient Greek religion it is actually the alter which was the most
important. Sacrifices were held at festivals devoted to the God where animals were slaughtered and
cooked, their rising smoke was the offering.

The most important of the festivals in Athens was the Panathenaea. All the inhabitants would meet at the
Dipylon gate, walking the road known as the Sacred Way up to the Acropolis where sometimes hundreds
of cattle were slaughtered on the alter of Athena which must have created rivers of blood. There were
seasonal festivals for the harvest and grape-picking among others as well as astronomical festivals. A
ritual known as Apatouria was a rite of passage for young men going from adolescence to adulthood.
They are introduced to the fellow demesmen of their fathers and the initiates name is inscribed on the roll
of Athenian citizenship. The girls had a ceremony that took place in the coastal town of Bauron where at
the age of 12 or so they passed into womanhood in a festival dedicated to the Goddess Artemis. A ritual
to ward off evil in the home was called the Anthesteria and was performed at the same time by everyone
in the city. The Mystery cults like that of Demeter at Elefsis had its origins in the dark ages. Initiates may
have taken psychedelics to induce a religious experience and create a sense of awe and a sense of the
divine. There were also many shrines in Greece where one could supposedly have direct contact with the
gods, similar to the experience at Delphi.

Though later on Christianity claimed that pagan religion failed because it did not address the inner need
of humans, this seems to not be the case. For the ancient Greeks their religion and faith was a highly
personal matter which did spring from a sense of awe, based on experience. If one is to believe the
accounts of this period it seems possible that the Greeks did talk to the Gods and the Gods talked back.

The Peloponnesian War

The ancient Hellenes often fought each other and the period is a series of wars and changing alliances. It
was the Peloponnesian war which finally brought down Athens. The historian Thucydides has written an
eye-witness account that goes into great detail and is a fascinating window on what the ancient Greeks
said, and thought and how and why they fought. The cause of the Peloponnesian War (from 431 to 404
BC) had to do mainly with Sparta's fear of the expansion of Athens. This and the plague finally brought
down Athens, along with an unhealthy dose of Athenian arrogance that usually comes with power,
particularly after the death of Pericles in 430 and the rise of the next generation of Athenian leaders who
were unscrupulous and hungry for power. In one well known incident the island of Milos did not join the
Athenian league and so was given the choice of paying tribute or being destroyed. These negotiations,
written about by Thucydides, had the people of Milos taking the point of view that by trusting in God and
having faith in human decency they would be spared. The Athenian's point of view was that 'might makes
right' and because they were powerful they could do whatever they wanted including wipe out the people
of Milos, which they did in 416 BC. The men were massacred and the women and children were made
into slaves. Five hundred Athenians were sent to the island to re-colonize it. It was the beginning of the
end for the Athenians as well. The massacre of the Melian's exposed the Athenians as ruthless
imperialists and turned the ancient world against her in a way that seems to mirror events of our own

It is the ill-fated invasion of Sicily in 415 that finally brings down the Athenians. Alcibiadis claims
passionately that they can easily defeat the enemy and that they will be welcomed as liberators by the
Sicilians. Despite the apprehensions, the Athenians are convinced that this is an opportunity to defeat the
Spartans and their allies and rally to the cause. But they are victims of poor intelligence or perhaps over-
zealous leadership and find themselves with fewer allies and a larger and more organized enemy then
they had planned on. Rather than withdraw they decide to escalate (or as we might say now surge). It
was a disaster.

The Athenian fleet is destroyed by the Syracusians. Athenian troops watch in horror realizing their escape
is cut off. They are then defeated and sold into slavery. With the Athenian army and navy gone the
Spartans are able to march right into Athens, suspend the democracy and install a pro-Spartan oligarchy
known as 'The Thirty'.

After a period of civil war The Thirty are overthrown and democracy is restored. What follows is a period
of decline in the 4th century where though Athens is not the great power it was, it is still capable of
producing the most important developments in philosophy, drama, art and literature.

The Hellenes of the Golden age, when threatened by an external enemy were capable of coming together
and performing miracles. This is true all the way to the present time as is the sad fact that when there was
no external threat they were their own worst enemy and throughout history have fought amongst
themselves, sometimes turning what could have been great victories into sad defeats or chaos.

The Olympics

From 776 BC through the Golden Age until they were

finally banned by the Roman Emperor Theodosius in 393,
every 4 years men from all over the Greek world came to
the town of Olympiato compete in the Olympic Games.
Though there were other games in classical Greece, the
Olympics were the most important. During the period of
the games a sacred truce was in effect so competitors
could go through hostile territories to get to Olympia. The
games were held on the second full moon of the summer
solstice and was not restricted to athletic events. There
were also feasts, competitions between orators, poets,
prayers and sacrifices since it was in actuality a religious
festival dedicated to Zeus for his enjoyment as well as for
the Greek love of competition and the Homeric value
of arete or excellence which was perhaps the most important quality of the Greek heroes of the Illiad.
Athletic fanaticism is yet another gift of the ancient Greeks and by the 2nd century even the priests in
Jerusalem were spending more time practicing the discus then they were on their priestly duties. The
Olympic and other pan-Hellenic games were open only to Greeks and one's Greekness was confirmed by
his inclusion in the games. By the definition of Herodotus to be a Greek meant to share blood, language,
religion and customs. But eventually to be considered a Greek meant to live and act as a Greek
particularly by engaging in competition with other Greeks. Those who competed were not after riches and
lucrative endorsement contracts but for undying glory or cleos aphthiton for themselves, their families and
their community. Their victories were turned to prose by poets like Pindar so that even today we know
their names and exploits. While the Greeks who competed at these games did not see themselves as a
nation they did see themselves as a culture united in language, blood, religion and especially the spirit of
Homeric competitiveness as they cheered on the athletes who modeled themselves on Homer's heroes..

The 4th Century

From 396 to 387 BC the Greek states were in revolt against Sparta. Led by Corinth, and fueled with funds
that came from Persia to keep the Greeks fighting amongst themselves peace finally comes to all the
Greek states for the first time in what is known as the Peace of Antalcidas. In 398 the Athenians reform
the Delian league and once again becomes the leading power in the Aegean world. In 371 the Thebans
defeat the Spartans in the Battle of Leuctra. Sparta is then invaded and the Messinian helots
emancipated. Hemmed in on all sides, Sparta will never again be the power it had been. Thebes under
Epaminondas becomes the most powerful city-state though not powerful enough to unite the others.
Much of this period is witnessed by the soldier-writer Xenofon. In 4th Century Athens sculpturers like
Scopas and Lysippus are exploring the beauty of the human form. The playwright Menandor has
introduced a style of drama known as New Comedy which might be compared to what we know
as situation comedy. Aristotle is busy collecting data on everything to develop his theories of the visible
world while Plato is focusing on the spiritual with his theory of forms, which will influence Christian
mysticism. Meanwhile the speeches of Demosthenes and his rival Aeschines are asking the critical
question of the time, how to deal with the rising power of Phillip of Macedon.