The Origins of Greek Culture 1) Intro 2) Geography 3) The Earliest Greek Civilizations i) Prehistoric times ii) Minoan Crete iii

) Mycenae 1. Introduction --we in the west are heirs to a great many ancient civilizations: Asian, African, European --however, we owe a special debt to the Greeks and the Romans --and the Greeks, especially, warrant being studied in their own right --although they borrowed heavily from the cultural traditions of the Near East, Egypt and elsewhere, they fashioned these elements into an extraordinary culture, a keystone of western civilization --the ancient Greeks gave birth to philosophy, political ideologies and scientific thought and also created noble poetry and brilliant art --of course, the were a quarrelsome, competitive lot, just as prone to destructive behaviour as they were to the creative impulse --and, for the next 5 weeks, we’re going to be exploring the grandeur and the complexity of their world --we’re going to look at the fundamental contours of Greek civilization and Greek thought: politics, religion, philosophy, artistic traditions and a number of other aspects --but before we go on to discuss the history and the culture of the Greeks, I want to pause and discuss the setting --I want to give you an idea of the scope and scale of ancient Greek society; I want you to see the canvas on which the many great dramas of the ancient world were played 2. Geography --first, let me tell you that the Ancient Greeks referred to their country as Hellas, they called themselves Hellenes (the adjective form, therefore, is Hellenic) --“Greece” is the name that the Romans used for the Hellenic peoples, it’s not a name that they themselves recognized until much, much later --now, the term Hellas did not signify a united country, it didn’t refer to a place with distinct boundaries --instead, it referred collectively to all the places where the Hellenic people had settled over the course of their long history --so, it included the Greek mainland as far north as the Macedonian border (i.e., the territory that we consider the modern country of Greece), however, it also came to include a number of other areas as well: 1) the islands of the Aegean Sea (i.e., the Cyclades and the other small islands) 2) the large island of Crete

3) the western coast of Asia Minor --at the height of Greek power in the 5th century BCE the Hellenic territories also incorporated: 1) trading colonies along the Black Sea Coast 2) colonies in southern Italy and Sicily 3) settlements in North Africa (including towns in modern Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) 4) settlements along the Mediterranean coast of France and Spain as far west as the Pillars of Hercules --taken together, the territories of ancient Hellas (i.e., mainland, islands, colonies) comprised a total land area of about 50,000 square miles—approximately the size of modern England --however, the geographic centre of their extensive realm was not located on land or in any territory, but rather, in the middle of the Aegean Sea --so, when we consider the shape of the ancient Greek world, we should probably think of it as a ring of lands surrounding the Aegean rather than as a peninsula with a number of spores and off-shoots --and, of course, the Greek world was completely and utterly dominated by the sea --indeed, when we think of Greece, many of our primary associations are aquatic --we tend to think of a sun-bleached, rocky shores that are washed by the deep cobalt waters of the Aegean --we think of seas studded with shimmering islands; porpoises leaping alongside the prows of fast-moving little ships; schools of fat tuna racing through deep-sea channels --we think of the epic voyages by Odysseus, Jason and Aeneas --we think of octopus, squid and scallops dripping with olive oil and lemon --and these images are borne out by the facts --for example, in ancient times no one lived further than about 35 miles from the ocean, and most Greeks actually lived much closer than this (i.e., within 10 to 15 miles) --the ocean was a vital conduit between the various cities and towns of the Hellenic world, and served as the primary transportation and communications corridor --indeed, given the state of Greek infrastructure (even at the height of Hellenic civilization) it was much more economical to ship goods by boat than by oxcart or any other mode of terrestrial transport --the Greek reliance on the Aegean and on the other bodies of water that surrounded them had a profound effect on the shape of Hellenic civilization. For example: 1) at a basic, everyday level, the sea contributed substantially to the diet of Hellenes: fish and other types of seafood became a vital component of the Greek diet at a very early date 2) as well, because of their reliance on the ocean, the Hellenes became some of the best sailors in the ancient world; indeed, because they regularly communicated with other parts of the Hellenic world, the Greeks focused on shipbuilding, navigation, meteorology, naval warfare

3) also, most of the main towns and cities of the Greek world all faced the sea and were oriented towards the open water; in fact, of all the major cities, only Sparta lay significantly inland 4) all of this, in turn, contributed to the mythological and aesthetic systems of the Greeks: from stories about Poseidon, Icarus and Prometheus to vase painting and other artistic pursuits, oceanic themes dominated Hellenic culture --so, when we talk about Hellas, we’re talking about a profoundly maritime culture --and, based on the description that I’ve given you, the Hellenic world can be divided into four main geographical zones: 1) the Greek mainland, 2) the Islands, 3) Asia Minor, and 4) the Colonies --let me talk a little bit about each of them i) the Greek Mainland --since ancient times, the mainland of Greece (what we sometimes call the “Greek peninsula”), has been famous for its beauty, its complexity and its variety --the landscape is ribbed with mountains, and in fact, more than 40% of the peninsula rises above 1600 feet (i.e., 500 meters) --the whole peninsula is indented by long gulfs and innumerable bays --the mountains and inlets have the effect of dividing the Greek mainland into countless small segments --because it’s difficult to travel overland between these small segments, there emerged a significant degree of physical separation and isolation throughout the Greek-speaking world --except in times of extreme political pressure (i.e., when the Persians invaded in the 5th century BCE) most of the country remained fragmented into hundreds of little city states --we can divide the mainland into 3 sections: 1) Northern Greece, 2) Central Greece, 3) the Peloponnesus 1) Northern Greece: throughout much of its history, Greeks regarded the north of the country as a hinterland, a kind of back-water that contributed very little to the cultural life of Hellenic civilization. --there are five primary regions in the north: Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace (show where they’re located: Epirus in the west, Thessaly hugging the Aegean, Macedonia to the north of Thessaly, Thrace in the northeast—modern Bulgaria) --of the four regions, only 2 really warrant mention at this point: Thessaly and Macedonia --Thessaly contained the largest pockets of agricultural land in ancient times, and therefore became the “breadbasket” of ancient Greece --Macedonia was characterized by broad plains; while most Greeks considered Macedonians Hellenic only in the remotest sense, the territory would become very important during the 4th century BCE --this is where King Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great heralded from --the dividing line between Macedonia and Thessaly was Mt Olympus—the highest mountain in all of Greece, and long considered the seat of the Greek gods

2) Central Greece: this is the area that stretches from Thermopylae in the north to the Gulf of Corinth in the south --while it is mountainous in the west, most of the territory in central Greece is rolling, open country that is suitable for farming and grazing --many of the great landmarks and cities of ancient Greece were in this part of the country --for example, this is where the famed Mt Parnassus (i.e., home of the Oracle of Delphi) was located --it’s also where Mt Helicon is located (i.e., where the Muses dwelt) --of course, it’s also where a number of important Greek city-states were located: Thebes (i.e., the site of the Oedipus stories) is the capital of Boeotia; Athens (with its port of Piraeus) is the dominant city of Attica 3) The Peloponnesus: this is a peninsula that is joined to central Greece by the so-called Isthmus of Corinth; on either side of the isthmus there are large gulfs: the Gulf of Corinth in the west, and the Saronic Gulf in the east --the Peloponnesus is tremendously important region, the site of the early high civilization of the Mycenaeans, it’s the location of the earliest Olympic Games, and it’s the territory in which one of the major conflicts of the Greek world, the so-called Peloponnesian War, was fought --the Peloponnesus contains a number of geographic regions, the most important of which are Laconia, the Argolid and Arcadia --we’ll be talking about the Argolid next day, as this was the centre of Mycenaean civilization, the Bronze-Age city of Mycenae, the Lion Gate and the great shaft grave associated with the hero, Agamemnon, are all located in the Argolid --later we’ll be talking about Laconia, whose capital city, Sparta, produced one of the most fascinating cultures of the Greek-speaking world ii) The Islands --Hellenic culture also flourished on many of the islands that dotted the Aegean Sea --from Crete and Rhodes in the south, to Lesbos and Samothrace in the north, Greek colonists brought Hellenic physical culture as well as Greek political and philosophical ideas to these sparkling little outcroppings of land --in fact, so central were the islands to the Greek imagination that the Hellenes set many of their greatest stories on the shores of the Cycladic Isles --for example, it was said that the great god Apollo was born on the island of Delos --according to another legend, the goddess Aphrodite emerged from the bubbling surf and waded ashore at the island of Cythera --in fact, it is not a stretch to say that European civilization began in the Greek Islands --indeed, next class we’re going to begin our examination of Greek history and culture by looking at Minoan civilization which appears to have first sprouted up on the islands of Crete and Thera (referred to today as Santorini)

iii) Asia Minor --Hellas also included the western shore of Asia Minor (which today belongs to Turkey) --this territory is physically very similar to the Aegean seaboard of mainland Greece, though the climate and the growing conditions are much more gentle --the region is watered by several small rivers and the soil is much more conducive to agriculture --so, from a very early date, Hellenic colonists sought out suitable areas for settlement on the shores of Asia Minor, and several of Greece’s most important and famous cities were located here --these include cities such as: Ephesus, Smyrna, Miletus, Pergemon --I should also mention that Asia Minor is where the fabled city of Troy was located --it was strategically situated in northwest Anatolia, near the Dardanelles (i.e., the channel that joins the Aegean Sea with the Black Sea) --this is the point where Asia and Europe meet --it is also the site of the Battle of Troy, which, according to Homer and later writers was fought over the fate of Helen, the daughter of Zeus and Leda --a more probable source for the conflict was control of the Dardanelles and the lucrative Black Sea trade routes iv) the Colonies --well, speaking of the Black Sea, this leads me to the fourth area for consideration, namely, the Greek colonies --while the Hellenic world was centered on the Aegean, throughout much of its history, it also extended out into other areas --so, for example, there were a number of towns on the Black Sea --these were primarily trading centers, places where Hellenic merchants sold their wares, and in return bought items that could be sold back home --thus, there was a heavy traffic of merchant ships up and down the coast of what is now Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Russia --of course, these colonies also supplied the rest of Greece with wheat --even more lucrative, from the Hellenic perspective, were the Greek trading-centres in the far south --at Cyrene in Libya and at Naucratis in the Nile Delta, Greeks merchants engaged in high volumes of commercial traffic with various North African cultures --gold, precious stones, papyrus, textiles and all manner of luxury items were bought and sold in the market-places of these colonial outposts --in return, the Greeks sold vast quantities of wine and olive oil to the peoples of Saharan Africa --there was also a more or less constant exchange of ideas: while there were never any formal alliances, the Greeks and the Egyptians shared cordial relations

--the intellectuals of Nile Valley civilization were happy to transmit mathematical and scientific ideas in return for Greek knowledge of international affairs, philosophy and other areas of Hellenic expertise --Greece also had a great number of military and merchant colonies in the far west, along the coast of southern Italy, on the island of Sicily (which together the later Greeks referred to by the Latin name “Magna Graecia”) as well as in coastal France and Spain --while many of these had been captured from the Greeks’ only rivals in the western Mediterranean, the Phoenicians, a number of the towns were established for the first time by the Greeks themselves --as was the case for the Black Sea colonies, the western colonies supplied the Aegean homeland with large amounts of grain and other commodities 3. The Earliest Greek Civilizations: i) Prehistory --well, that tells you a little about the great sweep of territory that we’re going to be talking about over the next 5 weeks --however, it doesn’t reveal much about the kind of culture that emerged in the Aegean Basin --so, for the rest of today’s class, I’d like to begin our examination of Hellenic culture by looking at some of the earliest manifestations of human society throughout the region --first, I want to tell you a little bit about early settlement patterns during the Neolithic era, then I want to discuss two early, formative groups: the Minoans and the Mycenaeans --the former (i.e., the Minoans) settled primarily on the island of Crete (though they extended their influence out to the Cycladic Isles and elsewhere) --the latter (i.e., the Mycenaeans) lived, for the most part, in the Peloponnesus, though they too exported many features of their culture to other parts of the Greek world --both of these groups were important forbears of Classical Greek civilization, and therefore warrant our attention --so, let’s begin by talking about Greece during Neolithic times --simply put, we don’t know a great deal about the earliest inhabitants of the Greek peninsula or the Greek islands --the best guess of archeologists and historians is that Neolithic farmers arrived in the Aegean world around 7000 BCE --they probably came from Asia Minor, crossing into Europe at the Dardanelles or the Bosporus, though some might have arrived by crossing open water --scholars think that most of the Greek homeland was largely empty of people until roughly that time, though they concede that there might have been small bands of huntergatherers who were displaced by the newcomers

--all regions of Greece appear to have been settled at approximately the same time, give or take a few hundred years --so, it appears that regions that were as far ranging as Thessaly, Boeotia, the Argolid and Crete were all put under the plow at about the same time --as in other areas, grains were amongst the first crops to be domesticated, though from quite an early date, these Neolithic agriculturalists were also cultivating fruit crops: especially grapes, olives and soft-fleshed fruits such as apples and pears --throughout the Greek peninsula and the islands, archeologists have discovered numerous examples of Neolithic pottery as well as figurines that seem to tell us something about the religious or devotional practices of these prehistoric inhabitants of the region --one especially popular form, one which has been found from the ancient Near East, through central Europe to the fringes of the Celtic territories in France and the British Isles, was a naked female figure that scholars refer to as the “mother-goddess,” or “the Great Mother” --these are small, rough-hewn statues of women that are made out of clay or stone --they appear to be fertility talismans, and consequently, the figures tend to accentuate the reproductive aspects of women --thus, they usually feature large breasts and big bellies; very often they also have conspicuously prominent labias --it’s believed that these figurines were used widely throughout Greece (and elsewhere) to promote the vitality and fecundity (i.e., fertility) of the indigenous population as well as to ensure an agricultural bounty --the existence of these female figures in such great numbers throughout prehistoric Greece (and elsewhere) poses all sorts of questions for modern researchers: 1) Was this the main, primary goddess of Neolithic Greeks? 2) Does her prominence indicate a culture that was primarily matriarchic or matrilineal? 3) If so, at what point did Greek and European culture make the transition from a matriarchy to patriarchy? --these are all important questions, and we’d like to know the answers to them --unfortunately, the evidence is partial and ambiguous ii) Minoan Crete --what we can say, is that prehistoric Greek society began to make a shift from the Neolithic Age to the Bronze Age around 3500 BCE --it’s been convincingly argued that new settlers probably arrived around that time from more civilized regions such as Syria and Asia Minor --they appear to have brought with them a wealth of metallurgical technology, particularly the secret for making bronze (which, you’ll no doubt remember is an alloy made from copper and tin) --for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, it appears that the Aegean island of Crete was the earliest Greek centre for bronze-making

--indeed, there is considerable evidence to suggest that Cretan metal-workers were the first to produce durable bronze tools and weapons --this gave Crete a great technological advantage over other areas in the Aegean basin, and led directly to the establishment of comparatively large urban communities—the first ever to exist on European soil --the four main ancient cities of Crete, all of them dating from early in the 3rd millennium BCE, were: Knossos, Mallia, Zakro and Phaistos --what is perhaps most interesting about these early cities is the fact that, until 1901, no one knew they were there --the story of their discovery is fascinating --it all began when a British scholar named Sir Arthur Evans decided to follow up on the theories of another celebrated archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who had discovered the fabled city of Troy in the final decades of the 19th century --Schliemann discovered Troy by first arguing that many of the ancient myths of the Greek world were, in fact, distorted memories of real historical events --working on this assumption, he found both Troy and the ancient city of Mycenae (both of which we’ll be talking about a little later) --Schliemann was also convinced that the legendary realm of King Minos was buried beneath the hills of northern Crete, and so he planned an expedition to the region in the late 1880s --unfortunately, at that time the island of Crete was a possession of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish officials remembered how Schliemann and his wife had stolen a number of archeological treasures at Troy; thus, they refused to give him permission to dig at the Knossos site --well, by 1901 the situation had changed considerably: Schliemann was dead and the Greeks were now governing the island of Crete --so Arthur Evans, who was a kind of academic disciple of Schliemann, decided he would go to the island and investigate --working at Knossos, he and his team unearthed a spectacular palace complex, one which was far more advanced and far more elaborate than anything Europeans had ever produced before --during the course of their dig, Evans and his team uncovered multi-story buildings that had originally been illuminated by a series of sophisticated light-wells; they uncovered vibrant frescoes and the remains of Europe’s earliest indoor plumbing --they also found Europe’s oldest paved roads and some of the earliest written records from anywhere on the European peninsula --as the discoverer of this culture, Evans decided to call it Minoan, after the king who I mentioned a few moments ago (King Minos) --he argued that when the ancient Greeks came upon the ruins of Minoan civilization in ancient times, they tried to make sense of the site by creating the myth of the Labyrinth, the Minotaur (and Theseus and Ariadne) [the story goes as follows: King Minos and King Aegeus were brothers. Aegeus ruled over Athens, while
his brother ruled over Crete. Because Minos transgressed the great sea-god Poseidon, the god made

Minos’s wife go mad: she found herself lusting after a bull. She ordered the master craftsman, Daedalus, to make for her a hollow wooden cow; she would climb inside and present herself to the bull. --well…she gets pregnant, and bears an abominable child: the Minotaur: half-man, half-bul. --alarmed at the existence of such a creature, Minos has Daedalus create a large maze to contain it: this of course is the Labyrinth --well, years go by and the city of Athens finds itself in debt to King Minos; to pay the debt, Minos orders that 7 maidens and 7 young men should be sent every nine years to feed the Minotaur --Theseus, the son of King Aegeus, is among the chosen victims and sails off to Crete, before he does so, however, he promises his father that upon his return he would change the sail of his ship from black to white if he’s been successful in defeating the Minotaur --when he gets to Crete, Minos’s daughter, Ariadne, falls in love with Theseus and helps him defeat the Minotaur --she gives him a ball of yarn to unwind behind him as he moves through the Labyrinth --this way, when he defeats the creature, he’ll be able to find his way out --well, he meet the Minotaur, defeats it, finds his way out of the maze and then leaves Crete together with his new bride --of course, he proves to be very fickle, and even before he gets back to Athens, Theseus abandons his new wife on one of the Cycladic islands --and, on returning to Athens, Theseus forgets to switch his black sail with a white one --thus, Aegeus, who has been watching their approach from a cliff, believes his son is dead, and hurls himself into the sea, --the sea was subsequently named after him (i.e., the Aegean Sea)]

--well, that’s the myth --but, since the time of Arthur Evans, historians have learned a great deal about the society of Ancient Crete --for example, the archeological record indicates that Minoan culture flourished between about 2600 and 1630 BCE --after the latter date, a series of calamities befell Minoan civilization and the whole island witnessed a period of steady and uninterrupted decline --so, what was Minoan society and culture like? --before answering this question, I should caution that most of what we know about the Minoans comes to us through archeology, pictorial representations (i.e., frescoes and vases) and from comparisons with other ancient civilizations (i.e., Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indo-European, etc.) --now, the Minoans did leave written records --in fact, they left two types of script: an earlier form called Linear A (used between 1800 and 1450 BCE), and a later form called Linear B (used between 1450 and 1200 BCE) --and, like the writing system of Mesopotamia, these scripts were pressed into wet clay and sometimes fired in ovens to make them more durable --however, while scholars can read the later form of writing (Linear B), they have made little headway in deciphering the earlier script (Linear A) --the reason for this is that while Linear B is a syllabic system (i.e., the symbols stand for various sounds), Linear A is hieroglyphic (i.e., symbols tend to stand for entire words) --it’s far more difficult to translate complete words than it is to figure out the letters of a proto-Greek language --also, there are far fewer samples of the earlier script, Linear A, to work with

--this means that we have a number of records from the period of Minoan civilization’s decline, but we have very few sources from the time when the culture was flourishing --anyway…these are some of the limitations that have been imposed on scholars who want to understand the nature and complexity of Minoan civilization --and based on the available evidence, we can say the following with a degree of certainty: --from earliest times, Minoan culture was based around central palaces at places such as Knossos, Mallia and Phaistos (i.e., the towns I mentioned earlier) --the opulence of these structures and their endurance (i.e., the fact that they survived for more than a millennium) suggests a number of things: --first, there must have been an intense and prolonged concentration of economic and cultural resources at each of these sites --that is to say, there must have been a flourishing economy throughout much of Minoan history, and it seems that this state of affairs led to the emergence of strong artistic and cultural traditions --moreover, for the palaces to succeed, they must have controlled much of the economic, social, military and religious activity of the surrounding society --history suggests that the best way to accomplish this is through social stratification --this is where an elite class governs and controls the resources of the community and a group of compliant subordinates produce and distribute these resources according to the dictates of their superiors --all of this is to say that Minoan civilization probably developed in much the same way as some of the other cultures that we’ve studied to this point --however, there are a number of anomalies and oddities about Minoan culture that are certainly worth mentioning --for example, throughout most of their history, the Minoans didn’t build city walls, defensive towers or any of the other fortifications so prominent in the cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia --this suggests one or two things about Minoan culture: 1) the various towns of ancient Crete probably formed a confederacy or union at some point early in their history; 2) they viewed their island home as a defensive perimeter in and of itself; 3) they relied on their navy for protection; 4) they had little fear of amphibious invasion --also, Minoan religion appears to have been profoundly goddess-centered --this is anomalous (or untypical) because, even though many other Neolithic cultures featured female deities, by the time that most of them reached the Bronze Age stage of development, they largely abandoned their goddesses in favor of masculine deities --in Crete, the goddess survived

--and judging from the frescoes, figurines and vases that have survived, the goddess was the central devotional figure in Minoan religion --the evidence also suggests that priestesses (i.e., female clerics) were the most important religious leaders in Minoan communities and that they conducted an elaborate and enthusiastic series of rituals in the various shrines of the Minoan world: in temples, in caves, and on mountaintops throughout the island --another important difference between Minoan culture and the cultures of other parts of the ancient world is the quality and nature of Minoan artistic expressions --and Minoan art and architecture are distinct: distinctly beautiful, distinctly graceful, distinctly functional and distinctly compelling --let’s take as an example Minoan painting and frescoes --the spacious palaces of the Minoan world were positively festooned with scores of lively paintings—paintings which, in the words of one historian, are worthy of any modern gallery today --they tend to feature charming natural motifs; prominently figured are dolphins, octopuses, monkeys, bucking goats and sheep as well as large groups of lithe young Minoan aristocrats --most of the human images depict handsome, well-proportioned young people, most of them in their mid to late teens --the human scenes also concentrate on sporting events such as boxing, fishing and a ritual called bull-jumping --in one especially famous fresco, called the “bull-jumping fresco”, three young Minoans (a male and two females) are engaged in an amazing feat of acrobatics --as a bull charges at the young athletes, they grab the horns and propel themselves into the air and over the bull’s head --they land, either sitting or standing, on the back or haunch of the bull --the scenes depict a culture that is exuberant, vibrant and tremendously playful --there is a sensuality and vivaciousness that is extremely seductive and compelling --unfortunately, your textbook doesn’t have any images of the Minoan world, but I strongly suggest that you type in “Minoan Art” at the Google Image browser --so, what happened to Ancient Minoan civilization? --why did Knossos not go on to become one of the leading cities of Classical Greece? --why are Mallia and Phaistos not remembered as flourishing urban centres of the Hellenistic world? --well, the answer is complicated --it seems that two phenomena intersected around 1600 BCE to bring about the collapse of Minoan civilization: 1) the eruption of the island of Thera (modern day Santorini), and 2) the growing power of another Aegean people, the Mycenaeans --the island of Santorini lies about 70 miles (105 km) due north of Crete --it is a volcanic island that, while dormant, is still active today

--in 1630 BCE, the island erupted in a volcanic explosion, the likes of which the earth only sees about once every 10,000 years --scientists figure that it caused a tsunami more than 50 feet high, and scattered ash throughout the Aegean basin to a depth of 10 ft --it sent plumes out as far as the Black Sea, Syria and the Nile Delta --it affected weather and crop patterns for more than a decade --it was one of the greatest volcanic explosions ever recorded, and it probably obliterated the palaces and the farms of Minoan Crete --around the same time, a group that we call the Mycenaeans began their rise to dominance. --throughout much of the Peloponnesus and central Greece, Mycenaean towns and cities began to crop up iii) Mycenae