Ancient Greece: history, social, military, economic and cultural policy

Ancient Greece

The history of Europe begins with ancient Greece. She is the first to inherit the culture of Mesopotamia, the Phoenician experience and the wisdom of Egypt.

Like no other, the Greeks knew how to enrich what they borrowed from other peoples, so they came to create the most brilliant civilization of the ancient world, a model of cleverness and beauty to this day.

Greece is part of the Balkan peninsula.

Three were the most widespread riches of the Greeks: clay, marble and the beauty of the landscape. They made ancient Greeks untamed artists: potters, builders, sculptors and poets.

The climate of Greece is Mediterranean, with long, hot, dry summers and rainy winters. Water was most often missing.

The division of Greece

By extension, ancient Greece included a continental Greece, an island and an Asian one.

Continental Greece was also made up of 3 main parts: northern Greece, middle Greece and southern Greece.

Northern Greece

Northern Greece is crossed by the Pindu Mountains and is home to the Olympus Peak (House of the Eternal Gods), as well as the religious village of Dodona, where the Greeks believed Zeus’s holy tomb was.

In Thessaly is one of the few largest plains of the Greeks.

Middle Greece

Middle Greece starts from the Strait of Thermopylae and extends to the Corinth isthmus.

In this region there is Mount Parnas, at the foot of which is the famous temple of Delphi. The Greeks believed that Parnassus was the center of the Earth, the only mountain that the waters of the Flood did not reach.

It is the region with the most important cities such as Athens, Teba, Cheroneea, Plateea and the famous Piraeus port.

Southern Greece

Southern Greece or the Peloponnese make up the third continental region. It included the cities of Sparta and Corinth as well as the religious locality of Olimpia.

Crete and Mycenae

About 1600 BC a brilliant Greek civilization was born, the Mycenaean one, created by Ahei, a tribe of the Hellenes.

The Mycenaeans are thought to have developed after the Minoan settlements on Crete were destroyed. Mycenae, the city after which the people are named, is located on mainland Greece, on the Peloponnesian peninsula.

Their rulers had large fortress palaces, protected by cyclopean walls, as they were discovered at Mycenae, Tirint, Pilos.

In parallel with this civilization, but appeared much earlier, Cretan civilization develops on the island of Crete. However, it does not belong to the Greeks, but probably to the Aegean.

The Cretans also extended their influence to the other islands, forming a true commercial maritime empire.

However, the powerful fleet and wealth of the Cretan kings aroused the envy of the Achaeans, so they took over the island.

Shortly thereafter (1400 BC) the Cretan civilization disappears in unclear circumstances.

The Trojan War

A last glorious expedition of the Achaeans was the war for the conquest of the city of Troy, also called Ilion or the Citadel of the Sun, famous for the richness and brilliance of its palaces.

Over the years, the Greeks will remember these warrior times. They will create the wonderful legends of Greek mythology full of heroes with huge powers who venture into daring expeditions and perform miraculous acts of bravery.

Such heroes are Prometheus and his son Deucalion, Heracles, Theseus or Bellerophon.

Some of these legends will later be reunited by the first great poet of the Greeks, Homer, in the two poems, Iliad and Odyssey.

The dark years

Around 1200 BC Mycenae and Pilos, in turn, are destroyed. Clay tablets keep track of a disastrous fire.

Historians have determined that the invaders were the Dorians, the warriors and destroyers of all the Hellenes. The period of their migration is also called the dark years.

Social and political conflict

The Greek cities were originally monarchies, although many of them were very small and the term king (basileus) for their rulers is deceptively great.

In a country always short of farmland, power rested on a small class of landowners, who formed a warrior aristocracy that fought frequent small wars between cities on earth and quickly overthrew the monarchy.

Around this time, the emergence of a mercantile class (shown by the introduction of the currency in approximately 680 B.C.) introduced class conflict in the larger cities.

From 650 B.C.E. henceforth, the aristocracies had to fight not to be overthrown and replaced by populist leaders called tyrants (tyranny), a word that did not necessarily have the modern meaning of oppressive dictators.

For the sixth century B.C.E. Several cities had emerged as dominant in Greek affairs: Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Thebes.

Each of them had put the surrounding rural areas and smaller cities under their control, and Athens and Corinth had also become great maritime and mercantile powers. Athens and Sparta developed a rivalry that dominated Greek politics for generations.

In Sparta, the landed aristocracy retained its power, and the constitution of Lycurgus (around 650 B.C.E.) consolidated its power and gave Sparta a permanent militaristic regime under a double monarchy. Sparta dominated the other cities of the Peloponnese with the only exceptions of Argus and Achaia.

Ancient Greek Society

The distinctive characteristics of ancient Greek society were the division between free and slave, the different roles of men and women, the relative lack of status distinctions based on birth and the importance of religion.

The way of life of the Athenians was common in the Greek world compared to the special system of Sparta.

Social Structure in ancient Greek

Only free people can be citizens with the right to full protection of the law in a city-state. In most city-states, unlike Rome, social prominence did not allow special rights. For example, being born in a certain family generally did not bring special privileges.

Sometimes families controlled public religious functions, but this normally did not grant any additional power in government. In Athens, the population was divided into four social classes based on wealth. People could change classes if they earned more money.

In Sparta, all male citizens were given the title of “equal” if they finished their education. However, the Spartan kings, who served as dual military and religious leaders of the city-state, came from two families.

Slaves had no power or status. They had the right to have a family and their own property; However, they had no political rights. By 600 B.C.E., chattel slavery had spread in Greece. By the fifth century B.C.E., slaves constituted a third of the total population in some city-states.

Slaves outside Sparta almost never rebelled because they were made up of too many nationalities and were too dispersed to organize.

Education

For most of Greek history, education was private, except in Sparta. During the Hellenistic period, some city-states established public schools. Only rich families could afford a teacher. The children learned to read, write and cite literature.

They did not study for a job, but to become effective citizens. The girls also learned to read, write and do simple arithmetic operations to manage the home. They almost never received education after childhood.

Medicine

Medicine in ancient Greece was limited compared to modern medicine. Hippocrates helped separate the superstition of medical treatment in the fifth century B.C.E.C.

Herbal remedies were used to reduce pain, and doctors were able to perform some surgeries. But they had no cure for infections, so even healthy people could die quickly from the disease at any age.

Mathematics

Ancient Greece produced an impressive list of mathematicians, perhaps the most famous of them being Euclid (also referred to as Euclid of Alexandria) (c. 325–265 B.C.E.) who lived in Alexandria in Hellenistic Egypt.

Religion in ancient Greece

It may be misleading to talk about “Greek religion.” First, the Greeks did not have a term for “religion” in the sense of a dimension of existence distinct from all others, and were based on the belief that the gods exercise authority over the fortunes of human beings and demand recognition as a condition for salvation.

The Greeks spoke of their religious acts as ta theia (literally, “things that have to do with the gods”), but this lax use did not imply the existence of any authorized set of “beliefs.” In fact, the Greeks did not have a word to “believe” in either of the two familiar senses.

Since the existence of the gods was a given, it would have made no sense to ask whether someone “believed” that the gods existed.

On the other hand, individuals could certainly show themselves to be more or less mindful of the gods, but the common term for that possibility was nomizein, a word related to nomos (“custom,” “customary distribution,” “law”); to nomizein, the gods were to be acknowledged by their rightful place in the scheme of things, and were to be given their due.

Some bold individuals could nomizein the gods, but deny that they were due some of the customary observances. But these customary observances were so highly unsystematic that it is not easy to describe the ways in which they were normative for anyone.

Different cities worshipped different deities, sometimes with epithets that specified their local nature; Athens had Athena; Sparta, Artemis; Corinth was a center for the worship of Aphrodite; Delphi and Delos had Apollo; Olympia had Zeus, and so on down to the smaller cities and towns.

Identity of names was not even a guarantee of a similar cultus; the Greeks themselves were well aware that the Artemis worshipped at Sparta, the virgin huntress, was a very different deity from the Artemis who was a many-breasted fertility goddess at Ephesus.

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