Thursday, October 11, 2007


The Greek City and Democracy (15 Oct. Monday)

Economy and Material Culture in the Greek City (17 Oct. Wednesday)

Ancient Greek cities

The emergence of the city-state

Greek achievements would be impossible without the eastern cultures.

Human dignity, individual liberty, participatory government, artistic innovation, scientific investigation, constitutional experimentation, confidence in the creative powers of human mind.

Today’s democracy, equality, justice, freedom are not what the Greeks meant.

Dark ages, 1150-800, decline, 90% depopulation

Many of the inhabitants of the mainland fled to the highland of southern Greece or across the sea to Cyprus and the coast of Asia Minor.

All this had been connected to the arrival of Dorians from the north, a population with military competence. It is now claimed though that the system had already collapsed before.

Tension between Dorian speaking and Attic-speaking populations would always pertain.

Initially, rare contacts with other communities. Equality between the heads of the households.

Homeric epics, 800, after the introduction of the phoenician alphabet.

Until 8th c., aristocrats, ’the best men’, their authority relying on their superior qualities.

Wealth was not enough, singer of songs, doer of deeds, winner of battles, favored by Gods.

Description of heroic ideals, competition between elites, the population is absent.

Greeks already in 1000 had started again trading long-distance. Pottery more sophisticated.

Starting from 9th c. more contact with Near East traditions, sea-faring as described in Odyssey.

Social stratification became more pronounced. Successful traders could use their wealth to increase their political and social standing.

Dramatic population growth, rivalry, need for resources, 8th-7th colonialism.

Archaic Greece, prelude to the classical period, but not so inferior to that.

Colony is independent with ties to its mother city, but no political obligations.

Several hundreds of them from the Black Sea to western Mediterranean. Magna Graecia in Italy. By the end of 4th c. more Greeks lived there than in Greece proper.

The motivation was to establish commercial bonds with a broader network.

It intensified their contacts with other cultures, which sharpened their awareness of a common Hellenic identity.

This did not result to political cooperation.

Greeks had little esteem for political associations adding to linguistic differences. Ionian-Dorian.

Yet pan-Hellenic cult sites were recognized.

Oracle at Delphi. Unintelligible answers of legendary Pythia, translated by the priests.

Pan-Hellenic festivals, Olympic Games, major athletic competitions, 776 BCE. Only Greeks participated. Victory entailed social and political power in the polis.

The creation of polis. Blend of state and local practice. Asty, surrounded by chora (land). which might support several villages, even towns. The vast majority of the citizens were farmers, who came to participate in asty affairs.

Synoikismos was the first form of polis, accomplished through cooperation or conquest.

Was polis the outcome of the urban development around a temple (pheonician tradition) or temples were created afterwards? Athens- Athena.

Changes in warfare. In the dark ages, military power lay with the elite, common foot soldier played a secondary role.

The introduction of hoplite tactics brought aristocratic monopoly to an end. Soldiers armed with sword or spear and protected by a round shield. A breast-plate, a helmet, wrist guards and leg guards. They stood shoulder to shoulder forming a phallanx. Impenetrable wall of armor.

The ability to stay together. It is introduced firstly in the early 7th using as a model the tactics of the Assyrians.

The result was a social and political revolution. Those farmers who could afford an armor became a new ‘hoplite class’. They claimed political participation, equality and justice.

But disgruntled aristocrats might have equally contributed. 7th and 6th aristocrats dominated the polis. Conflicts between aristocratic families, new laws and dispatching of colonial expeditions part of these conflicts. Serving as a magistrate in a polis was a non-salaried duty that only the rich could afford.

The aristocrats claimed a distinct lifestyle, symposiums became a feature of aristocratic male life in the polis.

Respectable women were excluded from them as by any other aspect of political life.

Aristocratic homosexuality was regulated by social custom. Commonly a man in his thirties would have a teenager as a lover, forming an intimate bond of friendship and political support.

Plato claimed that this was the only true love.

Disenchanted aristocrats used the hoplites.

The tension between aristocrats gave rise to tyranny. A word borrowed from the Lydians means someone who seizes power by force.

Would be tyrant appealed to the hoplite class and satisfied their demands to retain power, broadening the right of political participation, and giving them judicial guarantees.

Once these guarantees provided, the continuation of tyranny became an obstacle to the demos, the power of the people.


Considered themselves indigenous people. It emerges from the Dark Ages initially as an agricultural economy, but soon due to its location turned to trade.

Landed aristocracy was in power until the 6th c. and monopolized the office of the archon. Nine of theme presided over civil, military, judicial, religious functions. They served a term of one year, after which they became lifetime members of Areus Pagus Council, a kind of ‘high court’. In the course of 7th c. social divisions emerged as many fell into debt slavery.

In 621 the aristocrat Drakon set new laws. His attempt fails and both aristocrats and hoplites assigned the task in 594 to Solon who had made a fortune as a merchant.

Solon forbade debt slavery; he spurred crash-crop economy and the urban industries necessary to make Athens a commercial power.

He set up courts where citizens served as jury. A new political system based on property, a non-aristocrat could also achieve prominence.

He established vouli where the population was represented. Eventually, the citizen’s assembly, the ekklesia where all free men participated.

After a brief aristocratic counterrevolution, the aristocrat Cleisthenis was supported by demos as an archon in 508-507.

He reorganized the countryside population into 10 voting tribes which eliminated economic tension.

He introduced ostracism, for the demos to protect itself from tyrants.

Drawing reproducing the golden-ivory statue of Athena standing within Parthenon

3.The complex of Karyatis maidens from the temple of victorious Athena 421-405 BCE.

4.Horsemen from the Panathenea procession, the most glorious celebration in Athens. Part of the frieze on the western side of the Parthenon. 432 BC.


It represented everything that Athens was not, simple, earthly, traditional.

A synoikismos of five villages created the polis. Probably because of that it had a dual monarchy, with two lines of succession.

Neither of the kings was technically superior, something which led to political intrigue.

Spartans believed that Lycurgus, a legendary figure from the heroic Age gave them their laws, Great Rhetra a set of laws that remained unwritten when most other cities had their laws written down.

These reforms militarized Sparta.

Their army was so superior that the Spartans left their city unfortified.

Every full citizen, a Spartan or an equal was a professional soldier of the phalanx.

Whereas Athenian government was democratized to reflect the interests of the people, in Sparta the citizenship was aristocratised.

Sparta consolidated its power when in the early 7th c. conquered Messinia, a wealthy region in the west. Its population was enslaved and became helotes, assigned to worked the land. Thus, Spartans could devote themselves to war.

A society organized for war. At birth every child was examined by the five ephors, the guardians of Great Rhetra. The healthy ones at the age of seven were introduced to the state-run educational system.

Girls and boys together until 12 years old when girls would continue education in letters and boys real military training. At the age of 18 the young man would become full citizen. He could then remain at the barracks until 30. A Spartan could remain in active duty until he saw 60.

The homoerotic culture of the Spartans and the little time they had for a family partly accounts for the population decrease in the 5th c.

All males were member of the assembly, the Apella, that voted for important issues.

Upper government included two kings and the council of elders, where upon completing 60 years any Spartan could apply to be elected for life.

The ephors elected for a year had tremendous powers and controlled the kryptia, secret services.

They lived under constant threat of revolt by the helots whom they took always with them in campaigns and tried not to leave their hometown for long.

Spartans could not engage in commerce and Lycurgus had prohibited coinage, instead heavy metal which were worthless outside Sparta.

These functions were taken up by the perioiki who were dwelling around the city and were in-between citizens and helots. The grew wealth but were excluded from any political right.

The Persian Wars

This experience changed the Greek world immeasurably.

Herodotus the first Greek historian born in Alicarnassus. His account starts with the revolt in Miletos against the Persians in 499-494. The rebels with Athenian and Eretrian help were overwhelmed by the Persians.

Darius realized that mainland Greece would be a threat for his kingdom. He was defeated in Marathon. Themistocles convinced Athenians to build a two hundred warships (trieremes) fleet.

When Xerxes campaigned in 480, Athens, Sparta and others formed the Hellenic League. Defeat at Thermopylae, victory at Salamis. Athenians abandoned their city but used their fleet.

Classical Athens

In the next fifty years, heyday of Athens.

Athens unified the polis who wished to continue the fight against the Persians under the Delian League. Each member would contribute ships or money. However gradually Athens imposed its authority over its allies leading to resentment.

Only one office remained open to traditional voting: strategos. The same person could be elected year after year.

Politics in Athens had changed though, as it was the huge fleet that counted, not the infantry. The 40000 rowers came from those too poor to afford hoplite equipment, the thetes.


Pericles dominated as a strategos for thirty years. He moved legislative power from Areus Pagus and Bouli to the Ecclesia.

He made it easier for any citizen to participate by paying a day’s wage for attendance. He launched an ambitious project of public buildings and lavish festivals to honor gods. He became a patron of arts.

Art and Architecture

Black figure’ vases and jugs with cheerful sensuality and vulgar wit.

1. Black-figured pottery, representing a symposium 520 BCE
2. Early classical period, Black figured pottery, The Homeric hero Achilles as he prepares for the campaign.560 BCE

Marble statuaries and sculptured surfaces. Sculptors took human greatness as their theme, most important being the appearance of well-proportioned naturalistic nude.

1.Marble Statuary of ‘Athena in veils’ 470 BCE
2.Detail from a marble statuary where Asklipios and his sons are represented 360 BCE.

It appears between 490-480 for the first time and we can assume that the triumph of Greek ideals of human dignity was related to that.

The ‘classic’ Greek temple emerged gradually but reached its peak with Parthenon, a celebration of power and confidence.


An innovation that developed out of the chorus that chanted odes to god Dionysus.

Great Dionysia part of religious and political life.

Aeschylos introduced more than one characters. Well-known legends but it could also have contemporary themes. Sophocles and Euripides

Comedy, Aristophanes, direct political commentary, parody, full of vulgarity and sexual references. Repeatedly dragged into court.

History. Thucydides wrote the history of the Peloponnesian war.

Social relations

Slavery was widespread. While free Athenians debated politics and arts, slaves were in the fields and mines.

But still it was small in scale. Slaves were distributed among families and thus they seldom suffered cruelty since they created bonds with their master. Yet, they were not considered to be entirely human.

For the free citizens, Athens was an exciting place, center of commerce and culture. Some were richer but they were obliged to donate for public festivals.

Gender Relations

The growth of Greek democracy did not lead to greater equality among the sexes.

In the aristocratic world women were greatly estimated but in the democratic one women lived in the shadows.

Legally, wives were the property of their husbands, weddings were arranged, women would stay home and would be involved in presumably inferior occupations at home.

Men apart from homosexuality were allowed to seek for pleasure to household slaves.

The Peloponnesian War

Athenians could have never achieved their projects without the wealth from the allied cities.

The revolts increased until the 440s when eventually the Athenians signed a treaty with the Persians and the Delian League collapsed.

The Peloponnesian League was established by the Spartans and their allies.

The war 431-404 was eventually won by the Spartans with the Persian help. The role of the demagogues who stirred hostility.

By 401, after an interval of tyrannical rule, Athens was again a democracy but a feeble one.

Sparta’s hegemony:

Spartans’s hegemony soon became unpopular. They were not accustomed to that role.

The war demonstrated the limitations of the polis system. The competitive ethos between different Greek polis had proved to be their flaw. It brought a questioning of old certainties; even gods seemed to be challenged.

Philosophical schools:

After the Persian conquest of Asia Minor, Pythagoras and his circle due to distress over loss of freedom, believed that the essence of things were not matter but numbers thus focused on mathematics.

After the Greek victories the increasing power motivated inquiry into how the individual might best act in here and now. The sophists as professional instructors.

Protagoras: ‘man is the measure of all things’.

Socrates argued that absolute standards exist. Reexamination, ‘Socratic questioning’, opposed sophists for employing false reasoning, focused on ethics not on the physical world.

He believed in polis as a positive framework of truth.


Greek contribution:

Despite the religious criticism of some intellectuals, the Greeks were neither secularists nor rationalists. Democracy was limited, slavery existent, patriarchy prevalent. Statecraft was based on imperial aggressiveness.

And yet, contrast to the Near East Empires the culture of polis was based on concepts of human dignity, individual achievement and freedom.

Several terms on politics originate there but most importantly paideia which later was replaced by the Roman humanitas.

The Hellenic World: From City State to Empire

October 19, 2007

Vangelis Kechriotis

Hellenistic period

Dissolution of the polis system

Every time a polis was on the brink of establishing a hegemony, a coalition of old enemies would defeat it. Civil wars resulted to social and economic problems.

The Spartans were harsher than the Athenians against their allies and were eventually supported by the Persians, a support which led to a continuous Persian intervention in the Greek affairs until 340.

The old ideas of equality declined since the number of free citizens declined as many poverty-stricken descended into slavery.

Strife between oligarchs and democrats continued throughout the Greek world.

Economy was devastated. Many towns had been repeatedly looted. Agriculture suffered. Many people turned to mercenary service in south Italy or Persia. When these people did not find a job, they terrorized the local population.

Culture in the 4th c. forms a response to the social crisis. In sculpture, instead of the idealized forms of the classical period, realism was promoted, attention to life and movement.

In the drama at that period, there is no social and political commentary any more. The audience looked for entertainment and escape.

Heyday of philosophy

Plato. Socrates’ experience made him reject direct political involvement. Plato’s academy, writing of dialogues. Symposium.

His experience from the Sophists and the decline of his era led to the search of absolute truths. Our world changes, but there is a realm of eternal forms or ideas that only the mind can grasp. Highest is the idea of God. Through our senses we perceive only imperfect copies.

In his Republic, the farmers, artisans, traders would be ruled by an intellectually superior elite the guardians. Those wise among them would be educated and become the philosopher kings. Not property or hereditary title but intelligence.


Aristotle, a Plato’s student. Human mind can perceive the universe though the rationality of sense experience.

Objective reality of material objects. A compromise between Platonism and materialism. The universe is teleological.

In his Politics, true happiness can be found in the harmonious relation between individual human mind and the body, using reason. The philosophers were the happiest people.

Plato conceived politics as a means to the pursuit of a supernatural God, Aristotle conceived it as an end in itself. Inferior individuals would be slaves. Women were excluded from polis.

These thinkers saw that something was wrong with the polis and opted for a ‘utopia’.


Macedonian hegemony:

Initially, the royal house was challenged by its own nobility and surrounded by barbaric tribes. Greeks saw the Macedonians as equally barbarians as the Persians.

Philip II by 356 achieved full authority, stabilized northern borders and then defeated the Greek cities.

He developed superior warfare techniques. Mineral resources allowed him to create professional army.

While politicians like Isokrates found in Philip an answer to the Greek fragmenation, others like Demosthenes considered him a ruthless barbarian.

His dream was to reconciliate and ally all Greeks, in order to attack Persia. The Athenians resisted and in Chaeronea in 338 they were defeated. The League of Corinth was founded, where Greek cities would participate in a state of autonomy.

Alexander III or the Great succeeded Philip when the latter was murdered in 336.

A series of battles would lead him dissolve the Persian Empire. In 331, at Gaugamela, today’s northern Iraq, Alexander destroys the Persian army. He proceeded to Bactria, today’s Afghanistan and reached up to the Indus River.

A visionary, a genius and a butcher who wished to transform the world by turning Greek culture from its parochial homeland to a world culture.

He systematically founded Greek style polis along his route. He also forced his officers to get married to local noblewomen. A desire to eliminate ethnic distinctions in the empire, or an attempt to breed a new nobility loyal to himself.

Alexander’s Conquests

Alexander’s Legacy:

Marble Head of Alexander, (Roman Copy)
After Alexander’s death two generations were involved in endless wars to claim the heritage.

Eventually, by 275 three military and political powers had emerged. The style of rule indicates return to the past, especially in the Near East and Egypt, where the successors of Alexander established new cities and revived the concept of divine king.

Ptolemaic Egypt proved to be the most durable and the dynasty used the wealth of the country to patronize sciences and arts. Alexandria, with its museum and library became the center of scholarship, displacing Athens. Cleopatra.

Seleucid Asia. Like the Ptolemaics, the Seleucids merged the Near Eastern tradition of the Mesopotamian subjects and the Greek one of the Hellenized populations of the coast. They built cities that grew to commercial centers such as Antioch.

Antogonid Macedonia and Greece. Macedonian general Antigonus established a rule influenced by Stoic philosophy. Kingship as a servitude rather than a privilege. He did not compete with the other kingdoms, since his resources were limited.

The Greeks were restless and two Leagues were formed, the Aetolian League and the Achean League, calling for freedom from the barbarian Macedonians. They represented a real political unification, with some centralization of governmental function.

Social conditions

The Hellenistic world prosperous through long-distance trade in a network of rapidly growing cities. Money circulation instigated investment.

Greek rulers imported Greek officials and soldiers to control over non-Greek population.

Urban settlements were created from nothing. Alexander founded 70 cities. Alexandria 500.000 population. Before Rome no other city surpassed it. Splendid public buildings but the masses had no share in that brilliant life.

Agriculture still remained the main occupation. However, social instability led to sudden poverty.

Hellenistic Religion

Escapism from political and collective commitments. The new philosophical schools Stoicism, Epicurianism, Skepticism partly replaced worship of local deities.

Ordinary people though embraced a variety of local religions with elaborate rituals. In the Greek-speaking communities ecstatic mysticism attracted even more.

Zoroastrianism (in an extreme form that claimed that everything material is evil) returned in the form of an off-shoot called Mithraism.

Mithras was believed to have lived as human, performed miracles, proclaimed Sunday as sacred day and the 25th December, the birthday of the sun. One of the most popular religions in the Roman world and had influence on Christianity.

(All of the images are taken from "Judith G.Coffin, Robert Stacey, Robert E.Lerner, Standish Meacham, Western Civilizations, New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002")