2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Ancient History, Classical History and Mythology
The term ancient Greece refers to the period of Greek history in Classical Antiquity, lasting from ca. 750 BC (the archaic period) to 146 BC (the Roman conquest). It is generally considered to be the seminal culture which provided the foundation of Western Civilization. Greek culture had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire, which carried a version of it to many parts of Europe.
The civilization of the ancient Greeks has been immensely influential on the language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and arts, giving rise to the Renaissance in Western Europe and again resurgent during various neo-Classical revivals in 18th and 19th century Europe and the Americas.
There are no fixed or universally agreed upon dates for the beginning or the end of the ancient Greek period. In common usage it can refer to all Greek history before the Roman conquest, but historians use the term more precisely. The Greek-speaking Mycenaean ( Helladic) civilization that collapsed about 1150 BC, and which preceded the Hellenic culture is generally excluded from the Ancient Greek era. Traditionally, historians took the date of the first recorded Olympic Games in 776 BC as the beginning of the ancient Greek period. Between the end of the Mycenaean period, and the first Olympics is a period known as the Greek Dark Ages, because there are no written records, and few archaeological remnants. This period is now often included in the term Ancient Greece.
The end of the Ancient Greek period was traditionally seen as the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, which was seen to begin the Hellenistic period. However, Ancient Greece is often taken to include the following period, until to the Roman conquest of 146 BC. Some writers treat the ancient Greek civilization as a continuum running until the advent of Christianity in the 3rd century; this, however, is unconventional.
The Ancient Greek period is subdivided into four periods on a pragmatic basis of pottery styles and political events. The Greek Dark Ages (c.1150-c.800 BC) features the use of geometric designs on pottery; it is followed the by archaic period (c.800-c.500BC), in which artists made larger free-standing sculptures in stiff, hieratic poses with the dreamlike ' archaic smile'. The Archaic period is often taken to end with the overthrow of the last tyrant of Athens in 510 BC. The Classical period (c.500-323 BC) is characterised by a style which was considered by later observers to be exemplary (i.e. 'classical') - for instance the Parthenon. The death of Alexander in 323 BC is used to mark the beginning of the Hellenistic period, when Greek culture and power expanded into the near and middle east; a period which finishes with the Roman conquest of 146 BC.
The tribes who would become the Greeks are believed to have migrated southward into the Balkan peninsula in several waves beginning in the Middle Bronze Age (roughly 2000 BC). The Proto-Greek language would date to the period just preceding these migrations, either to the late 3rd millennium BC, or to the 17th century BC at the latest. The Bronze Age civilisation of the proto-Greeks is generally referred to as Helladic.
This period culminated in the so-called Mycenaean Culture, which features in the famous epics of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey. For reasons which are unknown, this culture collapsed spectacularly around 1150 BC, with cities being sacked and massive depopulation. This Bronze Age collapse approximately coincides with the apparent arrival of the last group of proto-Greeks into Greece proper, the Dorians. The two events have traditionally been causally linked, but this is by no means certain. With the Bronze Age collapse, Greece entered into a period of obscurity, or 'dark age'.
Greek Dark Ages
The period from 1100 BC to the 8th century BC is a " Dark Age" following the Bronze Age collapse from which no primary texts survive, and only scant archaeological evidence remains. Secondary and tertiary texts such as Herodotus' Histories, Pausanias' Description of Greece, Diodorus' Bibliotheca, and Jerome's Chronicon contain brief chronologies and king lists for this period.
In the 8th century BC, Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages which followed the fall of the Mycenaean civilization. Literacy had been lost and Linear B, the Mycenaean script forgotten, but the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, modifying it to create the Greek alphabet. From about the 9th century BC written records begin to appear. Greece was divided into many small self-governing communities, a pattern largely dictated by Greek geography, where every island, valley and plain is cut off from its neighbours by the sea or mountain ranges.
The first half of the 7th century saw the Lelantine War (c.710-c.650 BC), an ongoing conflict with the distinction of being the earliest documented war of the ancient Greek period. Fought between the then important poleis ( city-states) of Chalcis and Eretria over the fertile Lelantine plain of Euboea, both cities seem to have suffered a decline as result of the long war, though Chalcis was the nominal victor.
The first half of the 7th century also seems to have seen the rise of a mercantile class (shown by the introduction of coinage in about 680 BC). This seems to have introduced tension to many city states. The aristocratic regimes which generally governed the poleis were threatened by the new-found wealth of merchants, who in turn desired political power. From 650 BC onwards, the aristocracies had to fight not to be overthrown and replaced by populist tyrants. The word derives from the non-pejorative Greek τύραννος tyrannos, meaning "illegitimate ruler", although this was applicable to both good and bad leaders alike.
A growing population and shortage of land also seems to have created internal strife between the poor and the rich in many city states. In Sparta, the Messenian Wars resulted in the conquest of Messenia and enserfment of the Messenians, beginning in the latter half of the 8th century BCE, an act without precedent or antecedent in ancient Greece. This practice allowed a social revolution to occur. The subjugated population, thenceforth known as helots, would farm and labour for Sparta, whilst every Spartan male citizen became a soldier of the Spartan Army in a permanently militarized state. Even the elite were obliged to live and train as soldiers; this equality between rich and poor served to diffuse the social conflict. These reforms, attributed to the shadowy Lycurgus of Sparta were probably complete by 650 BC.
Athens suffered a land and agrarian crisis in the late 7th century, again resulting in civil strife. The Archon (chief magistrate) Draco made severe reforms to the law code in 621 BC (hence Draconian), but these failed to quell the conflict. Eventually the moderate reforms of Solon (594 BC), improving the lot of the poor, but firmly entrenching the aristocracy in power, gave Athens some stability.
By the 6th century BC several cities had emerged as dominant in Greek affairs: Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. Each of them had brought the surrounding rural areas and smaller towns under their control, and Athens and Corinth had become major maritime and mercantile powers as well.
Rapidly increasing population in the 8th and 7th centuries had resulted in emigration of many Greeks to form colonies in Magna Græcia ( Southern Italy and Sicily), Asia Minor and further afield (see below). The emigration effectively ceased in the 6th century by which time the Greek world had, culturally and linguistically, become much larger than the area of present-day Greece. Greek colonies were not politically controlled by their founding cities, although they often retained religious and commercial links with them.
In this period, huge economic development occurred in Greece and also her overseas colonies which experienced a growth in commerce and manufacturing. There also was a large improvement in the living standards of the population. Some studies estimate that the average size of the Greek household, in the period from 800 BC to 300 BC, increased five times, which indicates a large increase in the average income of the population.
In the second half of the 6th century, Athens fell under the tyranny of Peisistratos and then his sons Hippias and Hipparchus. However, in 510 BC, at the instigation of the Athenian aristocrat Cleisthenes, the Spartan king Cleomenes I helped the Athenians overthrow the tyranny. Promptly turning on each other Cleomenes I then installed Isagoras as a pro-Spartan archon. Eager to prevent Athens becoming a Spartan puppet, Cleisthenes responded by proposing to his fellow citizens that Athens undergo a revolution; that all citizens shared in the power, regardless of status; that Athens become a ' democracy'. So enthusiastically did the Athenians take to this idea, that, having overthrown Isagoras and implemented Cleisthenes's reforms, they were easily able to repel a Spartan-led three-pronged invasion aimed at restoring Isagoras. The advent of the democracy cured many of the ills of Athens, and led to a 'golden age' for the Athenians.
Athens and Sparta would soon have to become allies in the face of the largest external threat ancient Greece would see until the Roman conquest. After suppressing the Ionian Revolt, a rebellion of the Greek cities of Ionia, Darius I of Persia, King of Kings of the Achaemenid Empire, decided to subjugate Greece. His invasion in 490 BC was ended by the heroic Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon under Miltiades the Younger. Xerxes I of Persia, son and successor of Darius I, attempted his own invasion 10 years later, but was, despite his overwhelmingly large army, defeated after the famous rearguard action at Thermopylae, and victories for the allied Greeks at the Battles of Salamis and Plataea. The Greco-Persian Wars continued until 449 BC, led by the Athenians and their Delian League, during which time the Macedon, Thrace, the Aegean Islands and Ionia were all liberated from Persian influence.
The now dominant position of the maritime Athenian 'Empire' threatened Sparta and the Peloponnesian League of mainland Greek cities. Inevitably, this led to conflict, resulting in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC). Though effectively a stalemate for the vast majority of its length, Athens suffered a number of setbacks during the war. A great plague in 430 BC, followed by the Sicilian Expedition, a disastrous military expedition to Sicily, severely weakened Athens. Sparta was able to ferment rebellion amongst Athens's allies, further reducing the Athenian ability to wage war. The decisive moment came in 405 BC when Sparta cut off the grain supply to Athens from the Hellespont. Forced to attack, the crippled Athenian fleet was decisively defeated by the Spartans under the command of Lysander at Aegospotami. In 404 BC Athens sued for peace, and Sparta dictated a predictably stern settlement: Athens lost her city walls (including the Long Walls), her fleet, and all of her overseas possessions.
Greece thus entered the 4th century under a Spartan hegemony, but it was clear from the start that this was weak. A demographic crisis meant Sparta was overstretched, and by 395 BC Athens, Argos, Thebes, and Corinth felt able to challenge Spartan dominance, resulting in the Corinthian War (395-387 BC). Another war of stalemates, it ended with the status quo restored, after the threat of Persian intervention on behalf of the Spartans.
The Spartan hegemony lasted another 16 years, until, when attempting to impose their will on the Thebans, the Spartans suffered a decisive defeat at Leuctra (371 BC). The brilliant Theban general Epaminondas then led Theban troops into the Peloponnese, whereupon other city-states defected from the Spartan cause. The Thebans were thus able to march into Messenia and free the population. Deprived of land and its serfs, Sparta declined to a second-rank power. The Theban hegemony thus established was short-lived; at the battle of Mantinea in 362 BC, Thebes lost her key leader, Epaminondas, and great loss of manpower, even though they were victorious in battle. In fact such were the losses to all the great city-states at Mantinea that none could establish dominance in the aftermath.
The weakened state of the heartland of Greece coincided with the rising power of Macedon, led by Philip II. In twenty years, Philip had unified his kingdom, expanded it north and west at the expense of Illyrian tribes, and then conquered Thessaly and Thrace. His success was partly due to his innovative reforms to the army. Phillip intervened repeatedly in the affairs of the southern city-states, culminating in his invasion of 338 BC. Decisively defeating an allied army of Thebes and Athens at the Battle of Chaeronea, he became de facto hegemon of all of Greece. He compelled the majority of the city-states to join the League of Corinth, allying them to him, and preventing them from warring with each other. Philip then entered into war against the Achemaenid Empire, but was assassinated by Pausanias of Orestis early on in the conflict.
Alexander, son and successor of Philip, continued the war. Alexander defeated Darius III of Persia and completely destroyed the Achaemenid Empire, annexing it to Macedon and earning himself the epithet 'the Great'. When Alexander died in 323 BC, Greek power and influence was at its zenith. However, there had been a fundamental shift away from the fierce independence and classical culture of the poleis - and instead towards the developing Hellenistic culture.
The Hellenistic period lasts from 323 BC to the annexation of the Greece by the Roman Republic in 146 BC. Although the establishment of Roman rule did not break the continuity of Hellenistic society and culture, which remained essentially unchanged until the advent of Christianity, it did mark the end of Greek political independence.
During the Hellenistic period the importance of "Greece proper" (that is, the territory of modern Greece) within the Greek-speaking world declined sharply. The great centers of Hellenistic culture were Alexandria and Antioch, capitals of Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria respectively. See Hellenistic civilization for the history of Greek culture outside of Greece in this period.
The conquests of Alexander had a number of consequences for the Greek city-states. It greatly widened the horizons of the Greeks, and led to a steady emigration, particularly of the young and ambitious, to the new Greek empires in the east. Many Greeks migrated to Alexandria, Antioch and the many other new Hellenistic cities founded in Alexander's wake, as far away as what are now Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and the Indo-Greek Kingdom survived until the end of the 1st century BC.
After the death of Alexander his empire was, after quite some conflict, divided amongst his generals, resulting in the Ptolemaic Kingdom (based upon Egypt), the Seleucid Empire (based on the Levant, Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Antigonid dynasty based in Macedon. In the intervening period, the poleis of Greece were able to wrest back some of their freedom, although still nominally subject to the Macedonian Kingdom. The city states formed themselves into two leagues; the Achaean League (including Thebes, Corinth and Argos) and the Aetolian League (including Sparta and Athens). For much of the period until the Roman conquest, these leagues were usually at war with each other, and/or allied to different sides in the conflicts between the Diadochi (the successor states to Alexander's empire).
The Antigonid Kingdom became involved in a war with the Roman Republic in the late 3rd century. Although the First Macedonian War was inconclusive, the Romans, in typical fashion continued to make war on Macedon until it was completely absorbed into the Roman Republic (by 149 BC). In the east the unwieldy Seleucid Empire gradually disintegrated, although a rump survived until 64 BC, whilst the Ptolemaic Kingdom continued in Egypt until 30 BC, when it too was conquered by the Romans. The Aetolian league grew wary of Roman involvement in Greece, and sided with the Seleucids in the Roman-Syrian War; when the Romans were victorius, the league was effectively absorbed into the Republic. Although the Achaean league outlasted both the Aetolian league and Macedon, it was also soon defeated and absorbed by the Romans in 146 BC, bringing an end to the independence of all of Greece.
During the Archaic period, the population of Greece grew beyond the capacity of its limited arable land (according to one estimate, the population of Ancient Greece increased by a factor larger than ten during the period from 800 BC to 400 BC, increasing from a population of 800,000 to a total estimated population of 10 to 13 million). From about 750 BC the Greeks began 250 years of expansion, settling colonies in all directions. To the east, the Aegean coast of Asia Minor was colonized first, followed by Cyprus and the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara and south coast of the Black Sea. Eventually Greek colonization reached as far north-east as present day Ukraine and Russia ( Taganrog). To the west the coasts of Illyria, Sicily and Southern Italy were settled, followed by Southern France, Corsica, and even northeastern Spain. Greek colonies were also founded in Egypt and Libya. Modern Syracuse, Naples, Marseille and Istanbul had their beginnings as the Greek colonies Syracusae (Συρακούσαι), Neapolis (Νεάπολις), Massalia (Μασσαλία) and Byzantion (Βυζάντιον). These colonies played an important role in the spread of Greek influence throughout Europe, and also aided in the establishment of long-distance trading networks between the Greek city-states, boosting the economy of ancient Greece.
Politics & Society
Ancient Greece consisted of several hundred more-or-less independent city states (poleis). This was a situation unlike that in most other contemporary societies, which were either tribal, or kingdoms ruling over relatively large territories. The most comparable situation is probably to be found in the great maritime cities-states of Phoenicia. Undoubtedly the geography of Greece, divided and sub-divided by hills, mountains and rivers contributed to the fragmentary nature of Ancient Greece. However, there is also a degree to which the situation was something inherently Greek. The ancient Greeks had no doubt that they were 'one people'; they had the same religion, same basic culture, and same language. Yet the independence of the poleis was fiercely defended; unification was something rarely contemplated by the Ancient Greeks. Thus, the major peculiarities of the Ancient Greek political system were; firstly, its fragmentary nature, and that this does not particularly seem to have tribal origin; and secondly the particular focus on urban centres within otherwise tiny states. The peculiarities of the Greek system are further evidenced by the colonies that they set up throughout the Mediterranean Sea, which, though they might count a certain Greek polis as their 'mother' (and remain sympathetic to her), were completely independent of the founding city.
Inevitably smaller poleis might be dominated by larger neighbours, but conquest or direct rule by another city state appears to have been quite rare. Instead the poleis grouped themselves into leagues, membership of which was in a constant state of flux. Later in the Classical period, the leagues would become fewer and larger, be dominated by one city (particularly Athens, Sparta and Thebes); and often poleis would be compelled to join under threat of war (or as part of a peace treaty). Even after Philip II of Macedon 'conquered' the heartlands of Ancient Greece, he did not attempt to annex the territory, or unify it into a new province, but simply compelled most of the poleis to join his own Corinthian League.
Government & Law
Initially many Greek-city states seem to have been petty kingdoms; there was often a city official carrying some residual, ceremonial functions of the king ( basileus), e.g. the archon basileus in Athens. However, by the Archaic period and the first historical consciousness, most had already become aristocratic oligarchies. It is unclear exactly how this change occurred. For instance, in Athens, the kingship had been reduced to a hereditary, life-long chief magistracy ( archon) by c. 1050 BC; by 753 BC this had become a decennial, elected archonship; and finally by 683 BC an annually elected archonship. Through each stage more power would have been transferred to the aristocracy as a whole, and away from a single individual.
Inevitably, the domination of politics and concommitant aggregation of wealth by small groups of families was apt to cause social unrest in many poleis. In many cities a tyrant (not in the modern sense of repressive autocracies), would at some point seize control, and govern according to their own will; often a populist agenda would help sustain them in power. In a system racked with class conflict, government by a 'strongman' was often the best solution.
Athens fell under a tyranny in the second half of the 6th century. When this tyranny was ended, as a radical solution to prevent the aristocracy regaining power, the Athenians founded the world's first democracy. A citizens' assembly (the Ecclesia), for the discussion of city policy had existed since the reforms of Draco in 621 BC; all citizens were permitted to attend after the reforms of Solon (early 6th century), but the poorest citizens could not address the assembly, or run for office. With the establishment of the democracy, the assembly became the de jure mechanism of government; all citizens now had equal privileges in the assembly. However, non-citizens, such as metics (foreigners living in Athens), or slaves, had no political rights at all.
After the rise of the democracy in Athens, other city-states founded democracies. However, many retained more traditional forms of government. As so often in other matters, Sparta was a notable exception to the rest of Greece, ruled through the whole period by not one, but two hereditary monarchs. This was a form of diarchy. The Kings of Sparta belonged to the Agiads and the Eurypontids, descendants respectively of Eurysthenes and Procles. Both dynasty founders were believed to be twin sons of Aristodemus, a Heraclid ruler. However, the powers of these kings was trammeled by both a council of elders (the Gerousia) and magistrates specifically appointed to watch over the kings (the Ephors).
Only free, land owning, native-born men could be citizens entitled to the full protection of the law in a city-state (later Pericles introduced exceptions to the native-born restriction). In most city-states, unlike Rome, social prominence did not allow special rights. For example, being born in a certain family generally brought no special privileges. Sometimes families controlled public religious functions, but this ordinarily did not give any extra power in the government. In Athens, the population was divided into four social classes based on wealth. People could change classes if they made more money. In Sparta, all male citizens were given the title of equal if they finished their education. However, Spartan kings, who served as the city-state's dual military and religious leaders, came from two families. Slaves had no power or status. They had the right to have a family and own property, however they had no political rights. By 600 BC chattel slavery had spread in Greece. By the 5th century BC slaves made up one-third of the total population in some city-states. Slaves outside of Sparta almost never revolted because they were made up of too many nationalities and were too scattered to organize.
Most families owned slaves as household servants and labourers, and even poor families might have owned a few slaves. Owners were not allowed to beat or kill their slaves. Owners often promised to free slaves in the future to encourage slaves to work hard. Unlike in Rome, freedmen (slaves who were freed) did not become citizens. Instead, they were mixed into the population of metics, which included people from foreign countries or other city-states who were officially allowed to live in the state.
City-states legally owned slaves. These public slaves had a larger measure of independence than slaves owned by families, living on their own and performing specialized tasks. In Athens, public slaves were trained to look out for counterfeit coinage, while temple slaves acted as servants of the temple's deity.
Sparta had a special type of slaves called helots. Helots were Greek war captives owned by the state and assigned to families where they were forced to stay. Helots raised food and did household chores so that women could concentrate on raising strong children while men could devote their time to training as hoplites. Their masters treated them harshly and helots often resorted to slave rebellions.
For most of Greek history, education was private, except in Sparta. During the Hellenistic period, some city-states established public schools. Only wealthy families could afford a teacher. Boys learned how to read, write and quote literature. They also learned to sing and play one musical instrument and were trained as athletes for military service. They studied not for a job, but to become an effective citizen. Girls also learned to read, write and do simple arithmetic so they could manage the household. They almost never received education after childhood.
Boys went to school at the age of seven, or went to the barracks, if they lived in Sparta. The three types of teachings were: grammatistes for arithmetic, kitharistes for music and dancing, and Paedotribae for sports.
Boys from wealthy families attending the private school lessons were taken care by a paidagogos, a household slave selected for this task who accompanied the boy during the day. Classes were held in teachers' private houses and included reading, writing, mathematics, singing, and playing of the lyre and flute. When the boy became 12 years old the schooling started to include sports as wrestling, running, and throwing discus and javelin. In Athens some older youths attended academy for the finer disciplines such as culture, sciences, music, and the arts. The schooling ended at the age of 18, followed by military training in the army usually for one or two years.
A small number of boys continued their education after childhood, as in the Spartan agoge. A crucial part of a wealthy teenager's education was a mentorship with an elder, which in few places and times may have included pederastic love. The teenager learned by watching his mentor talking about politics in the agora, helping him perform his public duties, exercising with him in the gymnasium and attending symposia with him. The richest students continued their education by studying with famous teachers. Some of Athens' greatest such schools included the Lyceum (the so-called Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle of Stageira) and the Platonic Academy (founded by Plato of Athens). The education system of the wealthy ancient Greeks is also called Paideia.
At its economic height, in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, ancient Greece was the most advanced economy in the world. According to some economic historians, it was one of the most advanced preindustrial economies. This is demonstrated by the average daily wage of the Greek worker which was, in terms of wheat, about 12 kg. This was more than 3 times the average daily wage of an Egyptian worker during the Roman period, about 3.75 kg.
Greek philosophy focused on the role of reason and inquiry. In many ways, it had an important influence on modern philosophy, as well as modern science. Clear unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers, to medieval Muslim philosophers and scientists, to the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, to the secular sciences of the modern day.
Neither reason nor inquiry began with the Greeks. Defining the difference between the Greek quest for knowledge and the quests of the elder civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, has long been a topic of study by theorists of civilization.
Alfred North Whitehead once claimed that all of philosophy is but a footnote to Plato. To suggest that all of Western literature is no more than a footnote to the writings of ancient Greece is an exaggeration, but it is nevertheless true that the Greek world of thought was so far-ranging that there is scarcely an idea discussed today not already debated by the ancient writers.
Science & Technology
Religion and mythology
Greek mythology consists of stories belonging to the Ancient Greeks concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world and the origins and significance of their religious practices. The main Greek gods were the twelve Olympians, Zeus, his wife Hera, Poseidon, Ares, Hermes, Hephaestus, Aphrodite, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Demeter, and Hestia. Other important deities included Hebe, Helios, Hades, Dionysus, Persephone and Heracles (a demi-god). Zeus' parents were Kronos and Rhea who also were the parents of Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter.