Greece

Ancient GREECE (lite)

The Greek civilization was preceded by an advanced civilization located on the lands surrounding the Agean Sea.

This civilization was known as the Minoan civilization which peaked at about 2000 BC and then suddenly collapsed around 1200 BC.

The civilization was centered on the island of Crete and is called Minoan after the legendary King Minos.

The Minoan civilization spread from Crete to the Agean Islands, the coast of Asia Minor, and mainland Greece.

After 1450 BC the center of Agean political power moved to Mycenae on the Greek mainland and was called the Mycenaean civilization.

The 160 mile long island of Crete was a stepping stone between Europe, Asia and Africa and it had contacts with Mesopotamia and Egypt.

The Minoan economy was based on large scale trade that ranged from Troy to Egypt and from Sicily to Syria.

Minoan exports included olive oil, wine, metalware and beautiful pottery.

All trade was under the monopoly of the efficient and heavily bureaucratized government.

The great palace of Minos was located in Knossos which was the dominant city in Crete after 1700 BC. The palace of Minos is one of the most beautiful architectural achievements of the ancient world.

In many of the Minoan art works women are shown enjoying a freedom and dignity unknown anywhere in the ancient world.

There were advanced sewer systems, running water and an extensive and well paved road network.

Minoan is known for its art work more than anything else.

Minoan culture profoundly affected later classical Greek culture for the Greeks believed that even Zeus and other deities came from Crete.

About 2000 BC the first Indo-European Greek tribes called the Achaens entered Greece, absorbed the earlier settlers and ruled from the strongly fortified cities of Mycenae, Athens and other cites.

By 1600 BC the Mycenaeans had evolved their own civilization by borrowing liberally from the Minoan cultural traditions and were trading actively and sailing the high seas in search of profit.

The expansive force of Mycenaen civilization led to the planting of colonies in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In about 1450 BC a great tidal wave and volcanic eruption destroyed the palace at Knossos.

The palace was rebuilt by the Mycenaeans, but an earthquake and fire destroyed it again in 1380 BC and the center of Agean civilization shifted to the Greek mainland.

Mycenaen centers were fortified palaces and administrative centers and not as in Crete true cities.

The bulk of the Mycenaen population lived in scattered villages where they worked either communal land or land held by nobles or kings.

The nobility was under the close control of the kings.

The royal bureaucracy kept detailed records by its scribes of the disbursement of grain and wine as wages and the collection of taxes in kind.

The most important item of export was olive oil and the royal family had a monopoly on the production of olive oil.

It has been speculated that perhaps the role of being a Mycenaen king as well as a merchant may have led to the famous expedition against Troy in the 13th century BC, by the Mycenaen kings in order to eliminate a powerful commercial rival.

The city-state of Troy occupied a strategic position on the Hellespont which was the strait from the Agean to the Black seas now known as the Dardenelles.

In this key geographic position Troy could sea traffic through the straits and land caravans going between Asia and Europe.

In 1870 an amateur archeologist named Henri Schlieman began excavating the ruins of Troy, where he unearthed several cities one built on top of the other.

According to the Illiad written by Homer a Greek poet the Trojan War was caused by the abduction of Helen the Queen of Sparta whose beauty it was said launched a thousand ships. She was abducted by the Prince of Troy, Paris who fell madly in love with her at first sight.

Led by Agammenon a Mycenaen King the Acheans besieged Troy for ten long years.

Currently no evidence exists to corroborate that Troy was destroyed by commercial rivalries or because of a beautiful woman.

In 1200 BC a new wave of Indo-Europeans called the Dorian Greeks aided by weapons made of stronger iron invaded Greece and Mycenaen civilization was destroyed.

Mycenaen refugees fled to Athens and Ionia which is on the western part of Asia Minor.

The next 400 years are known as the Greek Dark Ages and the social, political and economic organization and rational of the Mycenaen civilization disappeared.

The Dorian invasion was a disaster it did provide for the rise of the Hellenic Greeks.

Geography plays a major role in the development of fiercely independent and autonomous political units known as the Greek city-states. This was due to the mountainous topography of Greece.

Most of the information available about the Greek Dark Ages that lasted from 1150-750 BC are derived from the epic poems of Homer who also wrote the heroic masterpiece The Odyssey.

This is also what is known as the Homeric Age where the values that gave meaning to life were heroic values such as strength, skill and the valor of the great warrior

To the Homeric Greeks the gods were plainly human. Zeus the king of the gods was often the undignified victim of the plots of his wife Hera which shows the Greek attitude towards women in positions of power and authority.

Hades was the land of the dead and was a subterranean land of dust and darkness.

Society was clearly aristocratic and the common man was beaten if he questioned his superiors.

Yet the common man did have certain political rights as a member of the assembly that was summoned whenever there was a crisis such as a war or famine.

The king himself was nothing more than a chief among his peers, the other nobles who sat on a council to advise him and check any attempt the king might make to exercise arbitrary power.

The polis or city-state did not exist in the Greek Dark Ages. The center *ofthe polis was the elevated fortified site of the Acropolis where people could take refuge from attack.

With the revival of trading in the 8th century BC a growing trading center developed below the Acropolis.

Polis is the base of our word for politics.

The political development of the polis went through 4 main stages.

1.) The monarchy, limited by an aristocratic council and a popular assembly.

2.) an oligarchy (rule of the few) arising when the aristocratic council ousted the king and abolished or restricted the popular assembly.

3.) tyranny, imposed by an individual who came to power on the discontent of the lower classes.

4.) democracy (rule of the people) the greatest political achievement of the Greeks, which emerged after the tyrant was deposed and the popular assembly revived and made the chief organ of the government.

However, after dissatisfaction with democratic government became widespread in the 4th century BC many of the city-states returned either to oligarcy or to one man rule.

By the middle of the 8th century BC the nobles who resented the power held by the tribal kings had taken over the government ushering in an age of oligarchy.

The nobles were ruthless in exercising their new found power, they acquired a monopoly of all the best land and reduced the common people to serfdom

Corruption among judges was widespread and the people were cheated out of their land by bribe taking legal officials.

From 750 to 550 BC the Greeks planted colonies throughout much of the Mediterranean world.

Settlements sprang up along the northern coast of the Agean and around the Black Sea. And many thousands of Greeks migrated to southern Sicily. There were also Greek colonies in France, Spain and in parts of Africa.

Migration served to ease the Greek’s economic and social problems.

By 600 BC economic progress and the use of coined money had created the beginnings of a middle class.

The Greek home states slowly went through a proto stage of industrialization as they concentrated on the production of specialized wares and light manufactured products such as metal tools, vases, wine and processed food stuffs.

Before the economic revolution was completed land hunger and poverty prompted the peasants to carry out a political revolution.

After 650 BC tyrants arose in many Greek states and supported by the impoverished peasantry and the rising merchant class seized the reins of government from the nobility.

In return for the support of the peasantry the tyrants redistributed the land of the nobles to the peasants, promoted further colonization, trade and industry, accelerated the rise of a Greek middle and merchant class and completed the Greek commercial revolution.

Greek history from this point on will become dominated by two main city states that of Athens and Sparta which were different in many fundamental ways due to the fact that starting in 500 BC each city state underwent a different path of social development.

In the 7th century BC the council of nobles became supreme at Athens. The popular assembly no longer met and the king was replaced by nine magistrates called archons chosen mainly by the council to exercise the king’s civil. military and religious powers.

While the nobles on their estates prospered the small farmers suffered many bad years and fell into debt and then into a form of debt slavery.

The small indebted farmers became increasingly vocal and outspoken in order to end their indebtedness and they formed an alliance with the landless farmers. The farmers were ready now to back a tyrant to overthrow the inequitable system.

When the Athenian nobles realized that if they failed to reform the system they would be overthrown for a tyrant they agreed to a policy of compromise. Under the leader Solon all debts were cancelled out bought out by the state but Solon refused to carry out a land reform.

He sought instead to create full employment by stimulating trade and industry.

The olive oil trade became subsidized by the government to stimulate the economy.

Solon also sought to carry out a policy of political reform for the poor but they were not granted equality, since wealth and not birth or citizenship became the prerequisite for political representation. This form of political system is called a plutocracy.

Solon’s reform attempts satisfied neither party. The poor had received neither land nor full political equality while the nobles thought that Solon had betrayed them and his own class by implementing some of his reforms.

Solon warned the Athenians to accept the reforms or the people would overthrow the system and support a tyrant and he lived to see his prediction come true.

In 560 BC after a period of civil war Pisistratus a military hero and champion of the poor usurped power as the tyrant.

He ended the power of the nobles by redistributing their lands to the landless and poor, and by promoting commerce and industry. He also carried out extensive public works

Psisatrus was succeeded by his two sons, one of whom was assassinated and the other exiled. The nobles then took this opportunity, aided by a Spartan army to restore the oligarchy.

But by 508 BC Cleisthenes seized power and put through more reforms that effectively destroyed the power of the nobles.

The popular assembly now had the right to initiate legislation while a new democratic council that was representatives of the various Greek tribes was created to supervise the administrative actions of the archons.

The city state of Sparta stood in sharp contrast to the city state of Athens which was Sparta’s main rival.

Sparta refused to trade with other Greek cities or colonize other area but expanded by conquering and enslaving other cities.

To prevent rebellions by the slave states which Sparta controlled Sparta was forced to transform itself into a highly centralized, militaristic totalitarian state.

For a tiny group of upper-class Spartans the government represented a sort of democracy, but for the masses it was an oligarchy.

The government included two kings and an assembly of all 900 Spartan citizens who were created to serve as a constitutional check on royal authority.

The Athenian state required that a man serve two years in the armed forces, but in Sparta a man was a soldier of the state for most of his life.

A form of social darwinism was practiced in Sparta where sickly new born children were abandoned to die.

At the age of 7 a boy was taken from his family to be raised by the state educators who taught him to bear hardships, become highly disciplined and serve the state.

At the age of 20 the Spartan would enlist in the army and live in barracks.

At the age of 30 he was allowed to marry, but continued to live in the barracks, visiting his wife only at night.

Some commentators of the period suggested that sometimes Spartans had children before they ever saw the face of their wife by the light of day.

This social indoctrination of the Spartan produced great warrior and an excellent army.

On the other hand most Spartans were crude, obscene, uncultured and unintelligent individuals when compared with Athenians of the same period.

Spartan girls also received training from the state in order to become competent mothers for warrior sons.

The women wore scanty tunics, engaged in wrestling, running, throwing the javelin and other sports.

When their men went to war Spartan women bid their men farewell by saying "come back with your shield or on it.

While Sparta was the preeminent state for war and military excellence it remained culturally backward, underdeveloped economically and technologically backward.

Spartans were forbidden to trade or travel to other city states because the Spartan state felt that such contact could pollute the Spartan individual with alien ideas and customs.

Sparta historically rejected peaceful relations with democratic states in favor of relations with oligarchic and totalitarian states in Plenoponnesia.

Often Sparta helped these totalitarian states suppress rebellions and uprisings, especially when it involved democratic rebellions.

This Spartan policy of helping other totalitarian states resulted in the Spartan League of Oligarchic States by the end of the 6th century BC.

Also this league of oligarchic states would soon face an Athenian led union of democratic states.

The people who led the economic and cultural revival after 750 BC were the Ionian Greeks who were direct descendents of the Mycenaens

Originally Ionia was part of the Persian empire but by 499 BC the Ionians who were weary of Persian tyranny revolted and established democratic regimes.

They appealed to the Athenians who sent 20 ships to late to aid in the liberation struggle for by 494 BC the Persians had crushed the rebellion and the insurrection fizzled out.

The leader of Persian, Darius knew that Ionia would rebel again so long as Athens remained free to serve as an example of a free-democratic regime.

Therefore, in 490 BC Darius sent 20,000 Persian warriors to force the Athenians to accept a pro-Persian tyrant for their leader.

But the Persians were surprised when the Athenian army of 8,000 met them at the Battle of Marathon and won an overwhelming victory by killing over 6400 Persians while losing only 192 Greeks.

The Battle of Marathon was one of the greatest decisive battles in history. Besides defeating the Persians militarily, it destroyed forever the belief that the Persians were invincible.

The battle also proved in the eyes of men of the classical world that Free Men Fight Better than Slaves, and this gave the Athenians the cultural and psychological confidence that would soon make their state the leading city state in Greece.

The Greeks then underwent a great military buildup program and were well prepared for the invasion by the Persian leader Xerxes. By this time Athens had over 200 ships, and Sparta agreed to lead a defensive army alliance of 31 Greeks states.

The Persian army was reported the first historians to be over a million men who crossed the Hellespont on platoon bridges.

The Spartans carried out a holding action at the narrow pass of Thermopylae. In this famous battle 300 Spartans who had stumbled onto the entire Persian army, together with about 1000 Greeks held the gigantic Persian army for three days.

Unfortunately they were betrayed by a traitor who showed the Persians a pass through the mountains to surround the allied force.

The Persians then burned Athens, but the city had already been evacuated.

In the great naval of battle of the Bay of Salamis the Greeks turned the tide by destroying 200 of the 350 Persian ships and cutting the Persian lines of supply and communication.

Xerxes was forced to retreat and in the following summer of 479 BC the Greek army led by the Spartans routed the Persians and drove them from Greece.

The 30 years period following the end of the Persian wars 461 BC to 429 BC is known as the Golden Age of Greece.

During this period the great Greeks statesman Pericles guided the government and foreign policy of Athens.

In this period executive power no longer rested in the archonship, but in a board of ten elected generals which operated much like a modern day cabinet

The generals would urge and lobby the popular assembly to adopt certain measures or reject others and the success or failure of the policies of the general would have a direct bearing on whether or not they would be reelected again.

Even the poorest Athenian could participate for Pericles formed the jurors who were chosen by chance and received a stipend for serving on the council.

However, the majority of people in Athens during the Golden Age were not considered citizens. Children, women and slaves were denied citizenship and had no voice in the government.

Women and children and slaves were clearly the legal property of men.

Athens was a mans world and a woman’s function was to become a wife and bear children. Men did not marry until they were in their 30’s and they married women/girls who were about 14 to 15 at the oldest.

In addition men regularly sought the company of foreign prostitutes who were more their age.

In Athens over 25% of the population were slaves. In fact Athenian society like all the ancient societies could not function without slaves.

There were no large plantations employing slaves. In Athenian society small farmers might have one or tow slave working alongside him in the fields.

In only one recorded instance did an Athenian own 1000 slaves which he hired for piece work jobs.

Many slaves were taught a trade and set up in business. The artisan slaves class was allowed to keep one-sixth of their wages and in this manner many were able to purchase their freedom through manumission.

A few such as Aristotle argued that slavery was contrary to the ideals of Athenian society, but the vast majority of Greeks believed that these people were slaves because they were incapable of human reason.

Unity of the Greek states had been responsible for the great victory over Persia, but this unity quickly dissolved when the external Persian threat was defeated and the threat of an internal helot rebellion in Sparta occurred.

Sparta to meet this threat recalled its troops and again resumed a policy of isolation.

However, the Persians still ruled the Ionian cities and most analysts suggested that another invasion by Persia was likely in the near future.

The threat of Persian invasion prompted Athens to form a defensive alliance called the Delian League.

The goal was to maintain a 200 ship navy that would patrol the seas and each state in the alliance of 173 states would contribute what they could militarily on a sliding scale.

Still Athens by far was the largest contributor of ships while the other states contributed money for the common defense.

By 468 BC the Ionian cities had been liberated from Persian rule, the Persian fleet had been destroyed and many league members decided that it was unnecessary to continue the league.

Athens refused to let the league break apart arguing that the Persians could still rise up for another invasion.

But to many Greeks, especially those in the Spartan League it seemed as though the Greeks wished to sustain an Athenian empire whereby Athens would rule as the tyrant state.

The Peloponnesian War broke out in 431 BC between the Spartan League and the Athenian Empire.

Much commercial rivalry had been present over their common ally Corinth and a whole series of mistakes and miscommunications led to the outbreak of the war.

Sparta’s hope for victory lay in the ability of its awesome land army to take Athens. While the Athenians under Pericles relied on the superb navy of Athens to import foodstuffs and to harass the enemy and its coasts.

Unfortunately for the Athenians a plague broke out in Athens in the second year of the war which killed off a one-third of the population that year.

The war lasted for eight more years until it ended in 421 BC with a compromised peace.

But in prosecuting the war the Athenians practiced some ofthe most ruthless and naked forms of imperialism to take for instance the strategic island of Melos where the Greeks executed all men and boys old enough to serve in the army and sold the women and children into slavery.

Despite the peace the war was resumed again in 415 BC when the Athenians sought to conquer Syracuse the major Greek state in Sicily. The attempt ended in disaster, as two fleets and one army of Athenians were destroyed by the Syracusans who were supported and advised by Sparta.

The war lasted until 404 BC until Sparta destroyed the last Athenian fleet. The Spartan fleet had been built due to the financing by Persia, in which Persia received political control of the Greek cities in Ionia.

Athens in turn was conquered by Sparta who stripped it of its empire and demilitarized Athens.

After the P. War anarchy and economic depression were the end results in the Greek world. The Spartans were ruthless rulers and imperialists and everywhere in the Greek world democratic revolutions broke out against Spartan despotism.

Commerce and industry languished and the whole region slipped into an economic depression, disunity and there was great unemployment.

the poor became poorer and the rich more reactionary and cruel than ever.

Then Philip the II of Macedonia who was related to the Greeks intervened and then came to unify Greece under Macedonian rule.

After a short military conquest, Philip forced the Greeks into a sort of federal league in which each state would govern itself, swear allegiance to the alliance and furnish Philip with men and money for his campaign against the Persians.

But in 336 BC Philip was assassinated in a power struggle and his son Alexander assumed the throne.