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Ancient History of Greece

Alexander the Great of Greece

Aeschylus Greece


Ancient Greek History

One of the great civilizations in the world during the 4th and 3d millennium BC was the Minoan culture of Crete. The Minoan culture is divided in three periods: old, middle and late. The old period was synchronized with the Old Kingdom of Egypt. There were connections between the two cultures through trade, and these influences can be found in the art in both Crete and Egypt.

During the middle period, about 1900 BC, the great palaces of Knossos and Phaestos were built. There are debates whether these buildings were housing kings or priests, but it is thought there was a religious association to them. The Great Goddess, perhaps called Rhea was worshipped, and her priests and priestesses had the highest position in the society.

During the second millennium BC a series of natural catastrophies plagued the Minoan civilization. At 1700 BC there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed the old palaces, and a second one occurred at about 1450 BC destroying most of the buildings of that time. The Volcano at Thira ( Santorini ) erupted at this time, causing half the island to sink.

The palace of Knossos was destroyed and rebuilt several times but the final catastrophy happened in 1200 BC when the temple of Rhea burnt. Ironically, this was what saved the claytables - in the fire they were burnt hard, and so saved to history. When the archaeo-logist Nicholas Evans found them in the beginning of the 20th century he did not know they were actually written in Greek.

At the same time of the Minoan civilization, especially the middle and late, the Mycenaean culture flourished on mainland Greece. It was also around the 13th and 12th century BC that the Dorians invaded the Peloponnese and took over as a leading tribe with Sparta and Corinth as their main cities.

The time between the end of the Mycenaean culture and the Classic times are sometimes called the Greek Middle Ages or Dark Ages. This is partly because we do not know much about this time. In general, the ancient world was going through a period with small states without major connections. The Doric invasion of Greece had left Mycenae in ruins, and there were limited resources to build anything.

Greece consisted of many small city-states, with kings as rulers. The people were only united at certain days of the year at various cultlocations. There they worshipped the Gods and organized athletic competitions. So called rhapsodists, bards, traveled around and recited epic poems, the Iliad and Odyssey being the best known to the aftermath.

From 800 - 650 BC aristocratic families had the power and a system of oligarchy was dominant. During the 8th century BC connections with other countries improved and it is during this time the writing started, with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey as the earliest known works. In 776 the first Olympic Games were held. Another important discovery was the chicken, imported from Persia. This improved the Greeks diet and health.

Ca 650 BC there were many turnovers in the leadership of the city-states, since many noble families were overthrown and replaced by tyrants, or one man rulers as the title suggests. The tyrant system, which often was popular, lasted until about 500 BC.

The Archaic Period started at about 550 BC and during this time connections with the other countries improved even more. But there was also the new threat of Persia, which was expanding westwards, forcing the Greeks of Asia Minor emigrate. Many moved to the colonies in south Italy, and to the Greek mainland. Athens was beginning to be a powerful city. During Pisistratos, who was considered a tyrant, Athens became an important political and financial center. Until now cities like Corinth, Megara and Aegina had been significant commercial centers, but Athens was now rising in power.

On the Peloponnese, Sparta was completing its organization, making pacts with other city-states on the peninsula. Argos remained independent, but suffered interior setbacks under its king Kleomenes, who had tried to stretch the Doric reign to Middle Greece. In the west, other important centers were Syracuse, Akragas (Agrigentum), Selinous and Taras (Tarent). From the South of Sicily they had the threat from the Carthages and from the North the Etruscans.

The religion was flourishing everywhere, with the oracle of Delphi and its many visitors and the Eleusinian mysteries in Athens.The first philosophers started gathering knowledge. From Miletus Thales and Anaximander worked, and this influenced amongst others Heraclitus in Efesos and Pythagoras and Xenofanes in South Italy. Pisistratos and his sons gathered scientists and artist at their court and the first dramas were played in Athens.

This was a time when the Greeks came closer together, and what one would call a nationa-listic feeling. Although the city-states were still very much autonomous, people came to realize that they shared the same culture, history, language, religion and also games.

In the beginning of the 5th Century BC the cities in the Ionian part had been destroyed by the Persians, and Greece had to struggle against the Eastern enemy. Athens united the Greeks against the Persians, and managed to free the cities of the coast of Asia Minor, thus controlling the Aegean sea. The feelings towards the orient were hostile, and the different cultures were set against each other: democracy against despotism, freedom against slavery, simplicity against overwhelming luxury. Pindarus with his religious poetry and Aeschylus with his serious strictness were the literary giants.

The classic period 450-300 BC was the time when Athens became the most powerful city-state. Thanks to its fleet, the Greeks had defeated the Persians, and Athens now had a vast empire. It became the cultural and financial center of Greece, attracting merchants, scientists, philosophers and people of the Arts. Sophocles wrote dramas about the power of the Gods and the religious feelings were depicted in the arts. The Parthenon on the Acropolis was built by Ictinus and Callicrates, the crown of the Greek temples.

In 431 the Peloponnesian wars began. The old political and religious ideals were crushed, the new ideal was the individual, the person, and not the whole and general any more. It was a kind of anarchy against authorities and religious rules. Alcibiades was the first to practice this - he recognized noone as his superior, neither in official nor in private life. As far as we know he was the first to hire an artist to decorate his house. New gods were worshipped, like Asclepius, the god of medicine and obviously closer to Man than the Olympic Gods. Also foreign gods were venerated, like Cybele from Asia Minor.

Athens lost its empire and financial power at the Peloponnesian wars, but remained cultural center. The 4th century was to be the time of the Macedonians, since the state in the north grew stronger under its king Philip II, who became ruler in 359 BC. Philip had the vision to unite Greece since he saw the country's potential if united. Macedonia expanded into Greek territory and in Athens the Macedonians had a great enemy in the orator Demosthenes. Eventually the Greek city states recognized Philip II as commander. He started preparing for war against Persia, but was assassinated before he started.

It was his son, Alexander, that was to make the Greek culture and civilization ruler of the then known world. After a series of conquest, Alexander the Great had expanded Greece's borders from Egypt and Greece to India.

The Hellenistic time 200 - 27 BC followed the conquers of Alexander the Great. Many foreign peoples, as far away as from India, now was part of the Greek culture, and the ancient world took an international form. The individualism was now stronger than ever, creating the idea of nothing being impossible.

 
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