Why should one study the Ancient Greeks? There exist almost countless contributions that Greek culture has made to western society in the areas of art, literature, philosophy, drama, architecture and politics. Lasting visions of thought and inspiring intellect helped shaped today's western culture with notions of democracy and personal freedoms. Greek scientists made revolutionary discoveries in medicine, mathematics, physics, and astronomy. It was the Greeks who, through philosophy, instilled thoughtful exploration of the mind and consciousness. The beauty of their artwork and the precision of their statues reflected human development and expression of individuality. The most important reason to study the Greeks is for the opportunity to take small glimpses of history related to them, and try to better understand our humanity.
The early history of Greece is not very detailed. Because of this it is often called the Dark Age of Ancient Greece. The first people to inhabit Greece built settlements along the shores of Greece. They relied on the Aegean Sea for trade and supplies. Travel by sea introduced the Greeks to other cultures, and they were exposed to western benefits of agriculture and various techniques of metalwork. (Archibald, p. 13)
Different communities began to develop in Greece: the Aegeans, Achaeans, the and Pelasgians. Crete became the center of the Aegean civilization, also called the Minoans, and their culture dominated the region about 2500 BC. The Achaeans built their capital at Mycenae. A volcanic eruption in 1400 BC caused the destruction of the Minoan Thera, an island east of Crete. The destruction crushed the Minoan functionality and their culture was absorbed by the Mycenaean Greeks (New World, p G254).
Around 1200 BC, a conflict arose at the city of Troy, where a ten year battle took place. Armed invaders hid themselves inside a large wooden horse. As the horse was brought into the city, the soldiers attacked and seized control. This was the subject of an epic poem by Homer. Homer is also well known for his epic poem of the hero Odysseus. These works of literature are now popular school studies.
Greek settlements transformed themselves into city-states, or poleis. Regions ruled by a council and a king. Their political structure was unstable because the kings often acted like tyrants to the citizens. The Aristocratic people, mostly landowners, served on the council. Many citizens were not fairly represented in this system. This caused tension, and in many cases political uprisings. (Archibald, p. 19) It is ironic that the Greek culture is given so much credit for ideas of democracy, because times of democracy seldom existed in Ancient Greece; only for short whiles in-between unstable governments.
The Olympic Games, a great athletic contest, began in 776 BC. The Olympics marked a rise of the Greek culture, and the beginning of the Archaic Period of Greece. During this time period, foreign culture held a great influence over Greek ideas. Artwork began to focus on human figures and of mythology. The culture soared even higher into the Classical Period, approximately 500 BC. This was the highest point of Greek creativity especially in the areas of philosophy, art, and literature.
The Persian Wars began in 490 BC, with a Persian invasion in Greece led by Darius the Great of Thrace. The Greek forces were superior and crushed the invasion at Marathon, under Miltiades. In 480 BC, the Persians launched a second attack led by Xerxes and sacked and ruined Athens. The Greeks later won a decisive military victory at Salamis, they defeated the Persian naval fleet.
More Wars followed, and in 461 BC, the first of the Peloponnesian Wars began between the Athenians and Spartans. Athens had a completely democratic government, and the Spartan aristocratic government saw that as a potential threat. Athens was victorious and they signed a peace treaty with Persia and made a truce with Sparta (New Standard, p. G254b-B255). Athens lost the second Peloponnesian War, and its empire was crushed. The Thirty Tyrants, a group of aristocratic Spartans, took control of Athens. In 399 BC, Socrates, the philosopher, was tried and executed for his objection to the Thirty Tyrants.
In 386 BC, Pluto, a famous pupil of Socrates, founded his philosophical Academy. In 359, Philip II becomes the king of Macedon. Thebes, Athens, and Sparta were three major competing powers. Philip II eventually took control of the entire Greek penninsula. In 336 BC, King Philip II was assassinated, and his son Alexander took control of the kingdom. Alexander the Great (see Greek maps) took Egypt and conquered the entire Persian empire. Upon his death at Babylon in 323 BC, his empire was divided into three main regions: Ptolemic Egypt, Antigonid Macedonia, and Seleucid Syria.
The time period after Alexander the Great's death
became known as the Hellenistic Age. Throughout this time, the seperate
kingdoms constantly feuded with one another, crippling each other and foreshadowing
the Greek downfall. In 197 BC,
King Philip V lost to Roman forces at Kynoskephalai. The Roman military campaign overtook the Greek warriors, and Rome tried to incorporate Greek culture within its own.
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