The ancient Greek civilization lasted from the 6th and 8th century BC to 146th century BC. The classical age of the Greek civilization also fell in this age, during the 4th and 5th century BC.
It was in this time span that under the leadership of the Athenians, Greeks defeated the Persian army. The golden era of the Athenians, end, with the defeat of Sparta in the Peloponnesian war. The culture of the Greeks proved a powerful influence on the Romans. The Romans carried this culture to different parts of Europe. Therefore, classical Greek culture forms the base of the western culture.
Early elements of Ancient Greek civilization
The existence of Greek civilization is equated with the existence of the Greek language. The early existence of the Greek language is seen in the Mycenaean civilization which flourished in the Greek mainland during the Bronze age as one of the prominent ancient civilizations along with Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus valley civilization. Huge palatial buildings can be seen with powerful aristocrats ruling from their palaces and the land saw a prosperous civilization before its sudden collapse around the 18th century BCE.
This collapsed at the onset of the dark ages, which was a general decline in civilization with chaotic tribal states, a fall in literacy, and a rumored invasion of the Dorians.
Archaic Age, the beginning
The actual beginning of the Greek civilization is considered to be the beginning of the archaic period when urban life started re-emerging and during the 8th century BC, Greece began to emerge from the shadows of the Dark Age. with increased production of food grains and increased population. Famed urban centers like Athens emerged with marked prosperity. The stateless time during the dark ages led to a marked development of the state system and quite impressive bureaucratic control over the provinces which led to the growth of its civilization, increasing trade with prosperous trade routes through the Aegean.
The emergence of the Archaic age is also attributed to the colonization of new unclaimed or uncultivated areas, which led to increased agricultural production that could support a bigger population and elaborate urban structures
We have very little information about the earliest period of Greek civilization. The pieces of information only revolve around the city of Athens. During the zenith of the civilization, settlements were made in Asia Minor, southern Italy, Sicily, and the Greek islands.
Classical Age- The Peak
The classical age began around the century which saw the peak of the Greek civilization with great innovations in art, culture, and science. It even saw the invasion from Persia, one of the most powerful states of the time which was repelled by the union of Greek states. The pinnacle of the Greeks came with the rise of Alexander the Great who United Greece for the first time under his rule and spread the Greek way of life around the globe.
Decline and Assimilation
The death of Alexander led to the division of his empire into four different empires under his general, out of whom most of them went far away from Greek culture and integrated themselves into the local conditions of central Asia. This instability caused the weakening of the Greek mainland and was threatened by the rise of the Roman Empire. After stiff resistance to the Roman army, it ultimately went under roman rule and ended its independence.
Although it ended its political power and is considered to be the end of Greek civilization, we see the continuation of Greek culture even into the Roman period. Artistic and architectural styles were quite prominently adopted into Roman culture and Greece itself remained quite a prosperous area with trade and commerce in the Aegean. Some consider ancient Greece to be the cradle of modern western civilization with strands of them still found in modern western culture.
Division of Greek Civilization
The ancient Greek civilization was divided into city-states. Amongst them, Athens and Sparta were the most powerful. They had separate functioning systems and governing systems. There were many battles fought between Athens, Sparta and their allies. Some of them were the Peloponnesian war, the battle of Corinth.
Some city-states of ancient Greek civilization were governed by a democratic form of government. The Greeks were the pioneers of democracy. They laid the foundation of the most modern political systems. The first Olympic game was held in 776BC.
The Greeks had an interest in athletic competition. Scholars were born in the soil of this civilization. Philosophy, literature flourished during this time. Some of the names of the eminent scholars are Plato, Aristotle, historians like Thucydides etc.
The name of a homer is worth mentioning. The ancient Greek civilization also contributed enormously to art, architecture, sculpture etc. The buildings of Athenian Acropolis, speaks volumes on the cultural enlightenment of the ancient Greek civilization.
Types of Governments in Ancient Greece
There were mainly four main types of governments in ancient Greece:
- Aristocracy was the most commonly found system of government in which there was a completely different political class known as the aristocrats who monopolized political power excluding the masses.
- Tyranny was the rule by the one who overthrew the ruling order and monopolized political power in his own hands mostly with the support of the masses.
- Democracy was a system of direct rule by the masses through voting and debates, and all the policies decided by the popular assemblies.
- Monarchy was uncommon but it was still present in certain states like Sparta which were ruled by royal families or a single royal king.
Transition to democracy
Greece saw the rise of Tyrants around mid-seventh century BC from among the aristocrats. At this moment Athens was ruled by archons or a kind of Dictator like those of Draco who were very harsh and oppressive, which soon made the people against monopolization of political power in the hands of a single person and wanted to be a part of the political process. Sensing growing discontent among the people Solon innated a series of reforms which gave the people some rights. Then Cleisthenes gave more rights and is credited for the rise of Democracy in Ancient Athens. It led to flourishing of talents with great contributions which continue to hold importance even today.
The rise of democracy led the way for more states to adopt egailatarian popular councils, even though not a direct democracy like hat in Athens but almost state had to adopt these councils which gave people the right to raise their voice.
The prosperity of Ancient Greece was mainly due to overseas trade. The city-states were very isolated and engulfed themselves more in seafaring bringing the main source of wealth. The luxury items of ancient Greece, wine, and olives were popular items of export from Greece.
Apart from trade, there were also several trades, queries that had rich natural resources which yielded great wealth to their owners. Slaves were the main workers in these mines and states like Athens gained great wealth from their diamond mines.
There were main states who had no access to the sea, especially the Peloponnesians, and could not trade. So these inland states had to depend on agriculture for their economy. But with very little land fir for agriculture, they had to hunt for other lands for their safety in the food supply. For example, Sparta derived most of its wealth from the called region of Messenia.
Bronze armies in Greece were controlled and dominated by armored aristocrats on their chariots while infantry played a supporting role. But with the coming of the Archaic and classical age, a group of wealthy farmers became involved in wars as heavy infantry which came to be known as the hoplites. A hoplite army became the norm for every Greek state in which the hoplites in heavy armor fought side by side in tight formations in directly confronted battles which resulted in direct wins or losses without much room for tactics with the main emphasis being on the ability to hold on.
Ancient Greece was a highly unequal society with the aristocrats reuniting great wealth and prosperity. Apart from them the traders and merchants also grew wealthy from their overseas trade.
But on the other hand, slaves were at the bottom of the social ladder and had to work at the whim of their masters. Ancient Greek society was also known as a slave society with most of their surplus being derived from the labor of their states.
Even their women had no freedom in society and had to stay indoors except for a male to accompany them outside. They did not enjoy any rights and were expected to just take care of the household and children. Their marriage was also primarily the concern of the make members and a heavy dowry had to be paid by the side of the bride in ancient Greece
Art And Architecture:
The Ancient Greeks were known for their huge architectural structures which made them look majestic. Just like other Greek Things, Greek life was dominated by religion and so it is not surprising that the temples of ancient Greece were the biggest and most beautiful. They also had a political purpose as they were often built to celebrate civic power and pride or offer thanksgiving to the patron deity of a city for success in war. In Athens memory never fades. Wherever you stand, wherever you turn, the city’s long and rich history will be alive in front of you. This is where that marvel of architecture, the Parthenon, was created. This is where art became inseparable from life, and this is where Pericles gave the funerary speech, that monument of the spoken word.
Ancient Greek art focused on portraying the human figure according to its perfect anatomy. Through the classical ages, we see idealized male nude figures dominating the theme of portraits and statues. Most of the figures we see were based on Greek mythology and truth gave their gods a completely human version although a very idealized version of that. The Hellenistic period goes from focusing on perfecting the human anatomy to focusing on the portrayal of emotions and actions. Most later figures are in a stage of an activity portraying their emotions perfectly.
Ancient Greece can be said to be the golden period of Philosophy. Legendary philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. contributed to the field of philosophy immensely. A huge portion of modern western philosophy is still based on the work of these philosophers. The renaissance thinkers were highly influenced by these ancient Greek thinkers and came up with theories based on their work.
The ancient Greeks have left a lasting effect on modern society and modern science. Greeks astronomers like Eratosthenes was the first to calculate the circumference of the earth and similarly, Aristarchus created a model of the universe in which the sun was placed at the center with the planets revolving around them including the earth which inspired Copernicus to build his heliocentric theory.
Famous mathematicians like Archimedes made great contributions to the field of geometry and calculus. Even models depicting the movement of the sun and moon were created by Hipparchus which included solar eclipse too.
Greek epics, literature ,Drama
Ancient Greek literature have always captured the minds of western thinkers and writers and have had a profound impact on western literature as a whole.
The earliest surviving Greek literature are the Epics, Iliad and Odyssey by Homer in the Archaic Age. Classical Greece was a hub of literary activities with famous writers like Herodotus being termed, the Father of History. Famous writers like John Milton and Bernard Shaw have been influenced the Greek ancient literature.
The modern Olympic games started in 1896 AD but this idea of a multi-sporting event was derived from the Ancient Panhellenic Olympic Games which had started in the city of Olympia in the year 776 BC in honor of Zeus. Although have fundamental differences but the concept has been highly influenced by the Ancient Olympics. Even the idea of the Olympic flame is derived from the sacred fire on the altar in the sanctuary of Hestia in ancient times during the games.
Ancient Greek Famous People
One of the most Greek Famous People was Plato (c.429-327 BC) who is said to have been one of the most brilliant students of Socrates and later carried on his work. It was Plato who gathered the ideas of Socrates into one book and also he who founded the world’s first university. He wrote down his teachings and even today studied all over the world.
He was a philosopher as well as a mathematician. His work has heavily on western philosophy and even founded an institution of higher learning in ancient Greece. His works are even studies in logic, ethics and rhetoric.
Alexander the great:
Alexander the Great was born in 356 B.C. in Pella, Macedonia, the son of Philip of Macedon, who was an excellent general and organizer. He was called ‘the Great’ because he conquered more lands than anyone before him and became the overall ruler of Greece. He is credited with building the largest empire in history which stretched from the Mediterranean to the African lands of Egypt, across central Asia up to the southwestern borders of the Indian subcontinent.
Apart from being a legendary general, he was also profoundly interested in philosophy, music, and art which pushed him to patronize many talented artists and musicians. He carried with him many learned men who had written histories and anecdotes of his experiences.
Even today the modern doctors have to take the Hippocrates oath, referring to his ancient documents setting a doctor’s ethical principles and is known as the father of modern medicine. The directions compiled in the 60 books known as the Hippocratic corpus are still relevant and modern manufacturing of medicine are still heavily influenced by his works.
His ways of examining the patients before treatments even are form a part of medical studies. His contributions in the study of epidemics and classification of diseases into four categories are very important.
These are some of the important men (Greek Famous Leaders) who were a part of the Greek history due to their massive contributions. Their names have been engraved in golden letters and are always remembered with appreciation and respect.
Pericles was the leader which took Athens in what can be called their Golden Age. They reached a great level of prosperity with the help of their powerful navy which they used to colonise lands and collect tribute.
He was also a great patron of art and literature which encouraged the Athenians to produce a great number of works of drama, epics, and statues which survive even today as ancient Greek is known for.