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The Lighter Side of Greek History
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The Lighter Side of Greek History


Study overview for an undergrad survey course in Ancient Greek history

Study overview for an undergrad survey course in Ancient Greek history

Published in Education , News & Politics
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  • 1. The Lighter Side of Greek History
  • 2. The Fall of Mycenaean Civilization Around 1200 BC, the palace network of the Mycenaeans collapsed under the combined pressure of social upheaval, disintegrating trade routes, and invading peoples.
  • 3. The Dark Ages The paucity of evidence for the period from 1150-750 BC often fosters the opinion that these four centuries were an uneventful time in Greek history. On the contrary, they were a time of frenetic growth and cultural renewal in the wake of the Mycenaean fall.
  • 4. Writing and the Olympic Games The oldest extant Greek writing comes from an inscription of the first Olympic victor recorded in 776 BC.
  • 5. The Emergence of City States In the first half of the 8 th century BC, the Greek polis developed through the political unification ( sunoikismos ) of a newly constructed city center ( astu ) and the surrounding countryside ( chora ). The Greeks often attributed such prodigious undertakings to specific individuals; in the case of Athens, Theseus is said to have accomplished its sunoikismos .
  • 6. The First Messenian War In the third quarter of the 8 th century BC, Sparta invaded the territory of the Messenia, inhabited by a Doric culture which controlled fertile lands to the west of Lakedaimonia. The result was the subjugation of the Messenians, who became perioikoi and helots under Spartan domination as the Lakonians had before them.
  • 7. Hoplite Warfare Alongside the new polis came hoplite warfare, the deployment of regiments consisting of citizen soldiers armed with a spear, shield, breastplate, and greaves. Such units aimed to “turn” the opposing force to expose a weak flank, hence the name “trophy” for ancient victory monuments.
  • 8. Draconian Law In 620 BC, Draco established laws in Athens to differentiate between intentional and unintentional killing, which had been treated as equivalent by vengeful relatives. His prescribed punishments for other crimes were severe, mainly execution or exile.
  • 9. Tyranny The political experimentation of the 7 th and 6 th centuries provided a climate suitable for the rise of Tyrants such as Peisitratus, who came to power in 560 BC. Within five years, the people drove him out, but he managed to trick the Athenians into accepting him back when he rode up to the city in a chariot alongside a peasant girl dressed as Athena.
  • 10. The Ionian Revolt Greeks living on the east coast of the Aegean grew discontent with increased taxation and puppet tyrannies of the Persians. In 499 BC, Aristagoras, the tyrant of Miletus, headed the revolt of the Ionian cities of Asia Minor after a failed attempt to capture the Cyclades with Persian assistance. Thus began the Persian Wars.
  • 11. Marathon In 490 BC a Greek force halted the Great King Darius’ invasion of the Greek mainland at Marathon under the command of Miltiades; their victory was made possible by their superior equipment and discipline, as well as their desperation at fighting so close to home.
  • 12. Thermopylae When Xerxes, Darius’ successor as Great King, headed the second Persian invasion of Greece, the Spartan general Leonidas left the Thebans, Thespians, and 300 Spartans to defend the pass at Thermopylae in 480 BC; although this force was completely destroyed, it inflicted sufficient casualties to give the Persians pause, allowing the Greeks to consolidate their forces.
  • 13. Salamis Following the Persian victory at Thermopylae, central Greece lay open to the Persian advance. Themistocles, upon interpreting an oracle, advocated the evacuation of Athens and devised a plan to trap the Persian fleet in the narrows near Salamis. The Persians’ subsequent defeat after losing 200 ships ended the conflict at sea and effectively stranded the Persian army in Greece.
  • 14. Plataea The Greeks, under Pausanias, the nephew of Leonidas, finally defeated the Persian army led by Mardonius near the town of Plataea in the spring of 479 BC, achieving victory on land coinciding with the pursuit and subsequent defeat of the Persian navy at the Battle of Mycale near Asia Minor.
  • 15. Athens Naval Empire In 477 BC, the Greeks established the Delian League to exact revenge for Persian aggression. The Athenian administration demanded that each polis pay tribute to the League’s treasury in the Temple of Apollo on Delos. The Athenians used the funds to expand their navy and consolidate their hold over the Aegean.
  • 16. Growth of Athenian Democracy In the mid fifth century BC, Athens applied more stringent limitations on citizenship to curb the influence of aristocrats who entered marriage alliances with nobles of other poleis . Also, political and military service no longer coincided as neatly as the once had, and jurors drew salaries to stave off bribery and compensate for time spent away from their farms.
  • 17. The Peloponnesian War From 431-404 BC, Athens and Sparta became embroiled in a bitter conflict sparked by a growing concern among the Greek poleis that Athens had grown too powerful. In a bold move, Perikles ordered the construction of fortifications from Athens to its port, Piraeus, in order to isolate Athens from assailants on land.
  • 18. The Sicilian Expedition Following the death of Perikles, the Athenian politician Alcibiades, bolstered by popular consent, undertook the invasion of Sicily under the guise of aiding Egesta against Selinus and Syracuse. The expedition failed, and Athens lost tens of thousands of troops, together with their ships and gear; the defeat crippled Athens and led to its eventual capitulation.
  • 19. The Thirty The Spartan Lysander had set up “decarhies” (councils of ten men) to govern Athenian allies following Athens’ defeat in 404 BC. Lysander forced Athens itself to submit to the rule of thirty citizens sympathetic to Sparta, known as the Thirty Tyrants. In 403 BC, Thrasybulus led a army in exile against the Thirty, and overthrew them.
  • 20. Spartan Conquest Despite Athens’ overthrow of its Spartan-sponsored oligarchs and the long term failure of the decarhies, Sparta maintained its imperialist stance toward its allies. With the Athenian navy out of commission for the time being, Sparta established oligarchies among the other poleis whenever the opportunity presented itself.
  • 21. Athens Regains its Fleet During the Corinthian War (395-387 BC), Sparta recalled the general Agesilaus from Asia, and a naval force headed by the Persian satrap Pharnabazus and the Athenian admiral Conon redeployed to bolster resistance in the western Aegean. As a result, Athens regained the fleet, now rebuilt with Persian gold, that it had lost in the final years of the Peloponnesian War.
  • 22. Continued Persian Influence Although Persia remained a significant factor throughout Greek history, the period following the Corinthian War and the subsequent King’s Peace revealed that the eastern power was willing and able to keep the Greek poleis at odds with one another lest one of them grow too powerful.
  • 23. 2 nd Athenian Naval Confederacy In the face of growing Spartan influence, the Athenians formed a new confederacy, principally with Thebes, as a successor to the Delian League. It was an attempt to regain and consolidate Athens’ influence in the Aegean, while maintaining the charade that the league’s purpose was to contain Sparta’s ambition in the wake of the King’s Peace of 387 BC.
  • 24. Theban Military Supremacy In 371, Thebes walked out of peace talks with Sparta after an attempt by Epaminondas to sign for all of Boeotia had been rebuffed. Thebes defeated the subsequent Spartan invasion in part through a new regiment called the Sacred Band, establishing itself as the most formidable military power on the Greek mainland.
  • 25. Macedonian Subjugation of Greece At the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, a Macedonian army defeated a combined force of Athenian, Theban, and Boeotian troops supplemented by several Peloponnesian units. The battle marked the end of Greek resistance to Macedonian military domination.
  • 26. Alexander the Great In the course of Alexander’s campaigns from 334-323 BC, he brought Egypt and the former Persian Empire as far as India into the Greek fold; upon his death, this vast empire would be divided and governed by his officers and their descendants for centuries.
  • 27. Women in Antiquity Despite their diminished rights and isolation from public life within the home, women were far more than simply a means to produce more Greek citizen males. They played an important managerial role in domestic affairs, and also formed the basis of familial (and financial) ties through marriage. Their contribution is not to be forgotten in the study of Classical times.