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Greek Society

By gmcpherson Sep 26, 2013 1755 Words
 The Civilization of the Greeks-Chapter 4 The sea influenced Greek society. Greece had a long seacoast surrounded by bays and inlets that provided numerous harbors. The Greeks also inhabited a number of islands to all points (north, south, east, and west) of its mainland. So it is no accident that they became skilled sailors. They used the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas to establish colonies with the outside world and to spread Geek civilization to those areas. Mycenae was the first of the Greek states. Mycenaean Civilization reached its height between 1400-1200 BC. It consisted of a number of monarchies and fortified palaces. They were skilled warriors who were said to have conquered the city of Troy. Though that remains a mystery. By the late 13th century Mycenaean Greece was showing signs of trouble. It was torched around 1190 and new waves of Greek speaking invaders moved into Greece from the North. By 1100 Mycenaean culture was coming to an end and the Greeks were entering a new world of considerable insecurity. The Greeks entered the Dark Ages from around 1100-750 BC. It is during this time that many Greeks left the mainland and crossed the Aegean Sea to various islands especially to the southwest shore of Asia Minor that would eventually be called Ionia. Two major groups settled in Greece around this time. The Aeolians from north and central Greece colonized the large islands of the Lesbos and the adjacent mainland. The Dorians established themselves in southwest Greece as well as on the Aegean Islands. The first great epics of early Greece were the Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer They had been based on stories that passed down from generation to generation. It is generally assumed that Homer made use of oral traditions to compose the Iliad his epic poem of the Trojan War. The war began after Paris the prince of Troy kidnapped Helen the wife of the king of Sparta. All the Greeks were outraged and led by the Spartan king’s brother, Agamemnon, they attacked the city of Troy. After 10 years of fighting the Greeks finally took the city. It is also an epic romance that recounts the journey of another Greek hero Odysseus after the fall of Troy. He eventually returns to his wife Penelope after being away for 20 years. The Iliad is not so much the story of the war itself, however, as it is the tale of the Greek hero Achilles and how the “wrath of Achilles” led to disaster. The Greeks regarded both as authentic history. Homer’s epics gave them an idealized past and the poems had become standard texts for the education of generations of Greek males. It also inspired the women because Penelope had remained faithful to her husband in all the time he was away. She was known to have great courage and intelligence because she preserved their household during his long absence and eventual return. Between 750-500 BC there are 2 prominent features that stand out in Greek society- one being the rise of the city/state also referred to as the Polis and the Greek colonization of the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The polis could best be described as a small but autonomous political unit in which all major political, social, and religious activities were carried out in one central location. It consisted of cities, towns or villages and the focus was on that one central point or place where citizens would gather for those political, social, and religious activities. One such place was the Acropolis at Athens which could also serve as refuge during an attack because of its high point that allowed for adequate cover. Underneath it was an open space plaza that served as a market where citizens could assemble. Although our word politics is derived from the polis, for the Greeks it served as much more than a political institution. It was above all a community of citizens who shared a common identity and common goals. As a community it consisted of citizens with political rights (adult males), citizens with no political rights (women and children), and noncitizens (slaves and resident aliens). All citizens of the Polis possessed fundamental rights, but these rights were coupled with responsibilities. The loyalty that the citizens felt for their city/state also had a negative side, however. City/states distrusted one another and the division of Greece into these fiercely patriotic yet sovereign units ultimately helped bring about its eventual ruin and destruction. They developed a new military system referred to as the Hoplites. They were a shift from the previous regime who were comprised and dominated by the aristocratic cavalry who reveled in individual duals with enemy soldiers. The Hoplites were comprised of heavily armed infantrymen who wore bronze or leather helmets, breast-plates, and shin guards. They carried shields, swords, and spears. As long as one could provide his own armor and owned property he could be a member of the Hoplite and even advance into the Phalanx (elite group). It did not matter if one was a farmer or an aristocrat so because of this new system aristocratic control could now be challenged in a way it was not before-from its own citizens. Around the same time (750-500 BC) many Greeks began to leave their homeland in large numbers for distant lands. This was done for a variety of reasons which included an overwhelming gulf between the rich and poor, overpopulation, and the development of trade. The result was the establishment of more Greek settlements. Some of these settlements included areas along the coast of Southern Italy, Southern France, Eastern Spain, and Northern Africa which lied west of Egypt. This new colonization led to increased trade and industry. They were skilled at making wine, pottery, and olive oil. They would send these materials to those from the Black Sea region and in return received grains, metal, fish, and most importantly slaves. There was a rise in Greek tyranny within the polis around the 7th and 6th century BC. They came to power in an unconstitutional way. Many were actually aristocrats themselves who opposed the rule of other aristocrats. Their support came from the new wealthy class who made their money in trade and industry and from poor peasants who felt indebted to them. They were opposed to the aristocratic oligarchy which refers to rule by a select few. Between 800 and 600 BC Sparta and Athens would become models of the Greek polis. In Sparta it is believed that the supreme lawmaker Lycurgus called for the establishment of a military state. Although history is unclear that he actually existed. It is here that young boys were taken from their mother at the age of 7 and trained until they were 20 in which case they were forced into military service. They had to live away from home for 10 years. At the age of 30 they could move back home and vote. They had to remain in the military to age 60 unless they died before that. (disease and war often ensured they would not live that long). The women had greater freedom of movement and power within the home. They were encouraged to be fit and exercise so that they could bare children. The daughters stayed home and helped their mothers until they were of age to give birth and marry. They were expected to hold the same values as Spartan men. Athens had more political problems because many Athenian farmers found themselves sold into slavery because they could not pay their debts so as a result of this there were less people in the workforce so productivity suffered even though the labor was now free. Originally it was set up as a monarchy but soon fell under the control of the very wealthy group of aristocrats and because they had the best land and controlled political life it was difficult to move about. To respond to these challenges they set up a group known as the Solon and they were a group of lesser known aristocrats who hoped to pass reform that would make it easier to pay off debts and give land to the poor. They also outlawed new loans that allowed humans to be used as collateral and freed people who had fallen into debt. As with all of the Greek colonies there was an emphasis on the military but not to the degree of Sparta which was for all intensive purposes a military state. The city of Athens was threatened by an onslaught from the Persian Empire around 486 BC. The onslaught was so fierce that they were forced to abandon their city as the Persian army burned Athens to the ground. A select group of the Athenian fleet remained to fight off the Persian invaders and all though they were outnumbered they were skilled enough that they outmaneuvered and ultimately defeated them. A few months later they expanded the army to the largest it had ever been and decisively defeated the Persian army. They won the war and were free to pursue their own destiny. The Athenian Empire would grow in the age of Pericles as he would govern for close to 3 decades starting around 460 BC. He helped expand democracy both at home and abroad and he called for a greater appreciation of Greek history. He would give more power to the common people as the routine administration of public affairs was handled by a large body of city magistrates that were democratically chosen without regard to class. By limiting them to 1 year terms they allowed for a freer flow of ideas. As a result many male citizens could now hold public office. As Athens grew the Spartans became concerned that they posed a threat to their military empire. This rivalry that culminated in the Great Peloponnesian War would eventually lead to the decline of the Greek states. War between the two would break out after a series of disputes around 431 and would last until 404 BC when the Athenians could no longer sustain the Spartan onslaught. They disbanded their navy and tore down their walls. This conflict caused division and weakened the Greek state forever even though Sparta was victorious and the great war was finally over. Eventually this would help lead to the culture of classical Greece as they would grow with a greater appreciation for the arts and philosophy. The Peloponnesian War would inspire tales of heroism and bravery. The writings of Socrates would dominate this period as well and even today he is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

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