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This is your complete lesson about Ancient Greece. I took care of selecting the most important points and some amusing facts. Hope you won’t be lazy and that you will enjoy reading it and learning new things from it.
The Greek World
Where Western civilisation began
Ancient Greece is called ‘the birthplace of Western civilisation’. About 2500 years ago, the Greeks created a way of life that other people admired and copied. The Romans copied Greek art and Greek gods, for example. The Ancient Greeks tried out democracy, started the Olympic Games and left new ideas in science, art and philosophy (thinking about life).
The Ancient Greeks lived in mainland Greece and the Greek islands, but also in what is now Turkey, and in coloniesscattered around the Mediterranean sea coast. There were Greeks in Italy, Sicily, North Africa and as far west as France. Sailing the sea to trade and find new land, Greeks took their way of life to many places.
What was ancient Greece like?
Ancient Greece had a warm, dry climate, as Greece does today. People lived by farming, fishing, and trade. Some were soldiers. Others were scholars, scientists or artists. Most Greeks lived in villages or in small cities. There were beautiful temples with stone columns and statues, and open-air theatres where people sat to watch plays.
Many Greeks were poor. Life was hard because farmland, water and timber for building were all scarce. That’s why many Greeks sailed off to find new lands to settle.
How Greece was ruled
There was not one country called “Ancient Greece.” Instead, there were small ‘city-states’. Each city-state had its own government. Sometimes the city-states fought one another; sometimes they joined together against a bigger enemy, the Persian Empire. Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Olympia were four of these city-states, and you can find out more about them on this site. Only a very powerful ruler could control all Greece. One man did in the 300s BC. He was Alexander the Great, from Macedonia. Alexander led his army to conquer not just Greece but an empire that reached as far as Afghanistan and India.
When did Greek civilisation begin?
About 3000 BC, there lived on the island of Crete a people now called Minoans. The name comes from their King Minos. Minos and other Minoan kings grew rich from trade, and built fine palaces. The Minoan civilization ended about 1450 BC.
After the Minoans came the Myceneans. They were soldiers from mainland Greece, and were the Greeks who fought Troy in the 1200s BC. After the Mycenean age ended, about 1100 BC, Greece entered a “Dark Age”. This lasted until the 800s BC when the Greeks set off by sea to explore and set up colonies.
The Olympic Games begun in 776 BC. This was the start of “Archaic” Greek civilization.
Around 480 BC the “golden age” of Greece began. This is what historianscall “Classical” Greece.
What was the Trojan War?
The Trojans lived in the city of Troy, in what is now Turkey. The story of their war with the Greeks is told in the Iliad, a long poem dating from the 700s BC, and said to be by a storyteller named Homer. The Odyssey, also by Homer, is the tale of the adventures of a Greek soldier named Odysseus, after the war.
The Trojan War began when Paris, Prince of Troy, ran away with Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. The Greeks sent a fleet of ships, with an army, to get her back. The war lasted for 10 years. In single combat, the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles, killed the Trojan leader Hector. In the end the Greeks won, by a clever trick using a wooden horse.
The Wooden Horse
The Wooden Horse was the trick the Greeks used to capture Troy. First they pretended to sail away, but left behind a giant wooden horse. Inside the horse, Greek soldiers were hiding. Rejoicing that the Greeks had gone, the Trojans dragged the horse into their city. They thought it was a gift.
That night the Greek ships returned. While the Trojans were asleep, the hidden Greeks climbed out of the wooden horse. They opened the city gates, and let in the Greek army. Troy was destroyed. The Trojan War was over.
What is Ancient Greek Philosophy?
Ancient Greek Philosophy studies the philosophical activities and enquiries of the Greco-Roman thinkers. It covers a period of 1,000 years; from the 6th century BC to the 6th century AD. It starts from the theoretical novelty the early Presocratic thinkers such as Thales and Anaximander and ends to the late Neoplatonic and Aristotelian commentators such as Simplicius and Philoponus. Ancient Greek philosophers can be found throughout the Greek-speaking Mediterranean regions such as South Italy, Sicily, Asia Minor, Egypt and North Africa. The questions posed from the Greek thinkers concern the philosophical areas of Cosmology, Ethics, Epistemology, Logic, Metaphysics and Aesthetics such as: What is the origin of the Universe? What is the nature of Cosmos? Is there any transcendental reality beyond perceptual existence? Is there any true knowledge? Is there any ethical standard for good life?
Ancient Greek Philosophers were mainly pagans and for this reason their philosophical activities were not totally welcomed by the rising Christianity. Hence the end of ancient philosophy is usually marked by the close of the Platonic Academy of Athens by the emperor Justinian in 529AD. The last director of the Academy was Damascius.
Unfortunately only a small part of the ancient philosophical writings survive nowadays. It is noteworthy that the works of the Presocratic thinkers as well as of the Hellenistic philosophers survive only in fragments mainly from late doxographical sources. On the other hand, despite the fragmentary evidences of the Greek philosophical thought, its theoretical completeness and originality can be undoubtedly observed in the survived texts.
Ancient Greek Philosophy is usually divided into four time-periods:
1- Presocratic Period (6th – 5th century BC) 2- Classical Period (4th century BC)
3- Hellenistic Period (late 4th – 1st century BC) 4- Imperial Period (1st BC – 6th century AD).
In general, the Greeks knew four types of government:
1-Monarchy : The rule by a single person, a king, or equivalent (either sex), who has the final word in law by right. Most of the poleis (A city-state) were monarchies at one time or another and many of them apparently began and ended as such.
2-Aristocracy: The rule by those who are born in the leading families and thereby are qualified to rule, whether or not they are particularly qualified. Aristocrats are born to the nobility, but not all nobles are born aristocrats
3-Oligarchy: The rule by a few, of course they represent the wealthiest members of the society. Many poleis were ruled by an oligarchy of landlords whose land was worked by farmers.
4-Democracy: The rule by the people-almost always by means of the majority vote on disputed issues. Voting rights in executive and legislative acts are limited to citizens, and in the Greek poleis, this meant freeborn adult males.
Guilty or not guilty?
Athens had law courts with trial by jury. Juries were larger than the ones we have today – 500 citizens normally, but sometimes more. There were no lawyers, so people spoke in their own defense. After listening to the evidence, jurors voted by placing metal discs into one of two jars – one for guilty, one for not guilty. Punishments included the death penalty. Speeches were timed by a water-clock.
Citizens also voted to get rid of politicians they did not like. They wrote the name of the person they hated on a piece of broken pottery, called an Ostrakon. Any politician who got more than 600 votes was banished from the city of 10 years.
Life in Athens
Athens had yearly festivals for athletics, drama and religious occasions. The city taxes paid some of the cost, but rich citizens had to pay extra. Important people in Athens were the strategoi (Plural of strategos), who were ten generals chosen from each of the ten “tribes” of citizens. There were also nine archons. Their jobs were mostly ceremonial, to do with festivals and family matters. One of the archons had to organize the Dionysia Festival, for the god Dionysos, every year. It was a time for fun, wine-drinking, parties and plays.
Sparta and Athens
The two rivals of ancient Greece that made the most noise and gave us the most traditions were Athens and Sparta. They were close together on a map, yet far apart in what they valued and how they lived their lives.
One of the main ways they were similar was in their form of government. Both Athens and Sparta had an Assembly, whose members were elected by the people. Sparta was ruled by two kings, who ruled until they died or were forced out of office. Athens was ruled by archons(A chief magistrate in ancient Athens), who were elected annually. Thus, because both parts of Athens’ government had leaders who were elected, Athens is said to have been the birthplace of democracy.
Spartan life was simple. The focus was on obedience and war. Slavery made this possible by freeing the young men from household and industrial duties and allowing them to focus on their military duties. Young boys were trained to be warriors; young girls were trained to be mothers of warriors.
Athenian life was a creative wonderland. As an Athenian, you could get a good education and could pursue any of several kinds of arts or sciences. You could serve in the army or navy, but you didn’t have to. (This applied only to boys, however: Girls were restricted to other pursuits, not war or business or education.)
For many years, Spartan armies provided much of the defense of the Greek lands. The Spartan heroism at the Battle of Thermopylae, during the Persian Wars, inspired all of Greece to fight back with all their might against the invading Persians. Athenian and Spartan fought side by side in the Battle of Plataea, which ended Persian invasions of Greece.
One way that Athens and Sparta really differed was in their idea of getting along with the rest of the Greeks. Sparta seemed content to keep to itself and provide army and assistance when necessary. Athens, on the other hand, wanted to control more and more of the land around them. This eventually led to war between all the Greeks. This was the Peloponnesian War. After many years of hard fighting, Sparta won the war. In true Greek spirit, Sparta refused to burn the city of Athens. Rather, the culture and spirit of Athens was allowed to live on, as long as the Athenians no longer desired to rule their fellow Greeks. In this way, the influence of Athens remained and grew stronger. Other city-states had the same kinds of temples, buildings, and meeting-places, but it was Athens that became most famous.
Sparta Land of two kings
While Athens was trying democracy as a form of government, its rival Sparta had two kings. One king might stay at home, while the other was away fighting battles. Fighting battles was what the Spartans did best. Greeks said that in a battle one Spartan was worth several other men.
The Spartans spent so much time training for battle that they would have starved without slaves called helots. The helots worked on the Spartans’ farms. They grew the food for the Spartan soldiers and their families.
The 300 Spartans
Sparta’s most famous battle was Thermopylae. The year was 480 BC. A huge Persian army was trying to invade Greece. Barring the way at the mountain pass of Thermopylae were 300 Spartan soldiers led by King Leonidas, along with a few hundred other Greeks.
The Spartans’ brave fight lasted three days. One story says that after they broke their swords, the Spartans fought the Persians with their bare hands and teeth! In the end, Leonidas and his Spartans lay dead. The Persians marched on to capture Athens. But soon afterwards the Greeks defeated the Persian fleet at the sea battle of Salamis.
The Greek gods
The Greeks believed that gods and goddesses watched over them. The gods were like humans, but immortal (they lived for ever) and much more powerful.
A family of gods and goddesses lived in a cloud-palace above Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece The gods looked down to watch what people were doing, and from time to time, interfered with what went on.
The gods did not always behave very well. Their king, Zeus, was always being unfaithful to his wife Hera. He appeared on Earth as a human or an animal to trick women he had fallen in love with.
The Battle of Marathon
The Battle of Marathon was a famous Greek victory against the Persians. About 10,000 Greeks, mostly from Athens, fought an army of 20,000 Persians led by King Darius. The Greeks surprised their enemies by charging downhill straight at the Persians.
Marathon is remembered for the heroism of a Greek named Pheidippides. Before the battle, he’d run for 2 days and nights – over 150 miles (240 km) – from Athens to Sparta to fetch help. Then he fought at Marathon. After the battle, he ran 26 miles (42 km) non-stop to Athens, but died as he gasped out the news of victory. The modern Marathon race is over the same distance as his epic run from Marathon to Athens.
The Battle of Chaeronea
In the north of Greece were the Macedonians, whom the Greeks regarded as savage and barbarian, although they were ethnically related. Philip of Macedonia, the ruler of this northern kingdom, had transformed it from a relatively backwards society into an effectively governed, aggressive state. One by one, he began to absorb the northern Greek poleis, until by the 340s he had made himself the master of much of the mainland.
After much delay, the Athenians finally awoke to the danger and convinced Thebes to join forces with them against the menace from the north in the battle of Chaeronea, 338BCE. However, Philip’s forces defeated the allies. The former city states became provinces in a rapidly forming Macedonian Empire. Chaeronea was the effective end of the ear of polis independence and of the Classical Age. From the latter of the fourth century BCE onward, Greeks were to almost always be under the rule of foreigners.
Alexander the Great and the creation of a World Empire
After the Battle of Chaeronea, King Philip was assassinated, and his young son, Alexander, succeeded to the throne. He reigned for 32 years (336-323 BCE), Alexander the Great conquered most of the world known to the Greeks and proved himself one of the most remarkable individuals of the world history. His boldness and vigor made of him a legend among the Greeks.
Alexander was acknowledged as a military genius who always led by example, although his belief in his own indestructibility meant he was often reckless with his own life and those of his soldiers. The fact that his army only refused to follow him once in 13 years of a reign during which there was constant fighting, indicates the loyalty he inspired.He died of a fever in Babylon in June 323 BC.
Website to check: http://www.ushistory.org/civ/6.asp