Ancient Greece is called 'the birthplace of Western civilisation'. About 2500 years ago, the Greeks formed a way of life that people admired and later copied. The Ancient Greeks started and tested out democracy, started the Olympic Games and bought about new ideas in science, art and philosophy. The Ancient Greeks lived in mainland Greece and the Greek islands, and even extending into what we now call Turkey, and small colonies that spread across the Mediterranean sea. There were Greeks in Italy, Sicily, North Africa and as far west as France. Sailing the sea to trade and find new land, thus the Greeks took their way of life to many different places. Ancient Greece had a warm, dry climate, much like Greece has today. The people lived by farming, fishing, and trade. Some were soldiers, while others were scholars, scientists and/or artists. In the villages and small cities in Greece there were beautiful temples built with stone columns and statues, and open-air theatres. Many Greeks were poor and life was hard because farmlands, water and timber were all very scarce. This was the reason for many Greeks setting sail in search of new, fertile land to settle on.
There was no one country called "Ancient Greece." Instead, there were small 'city-states' each with its own government eg. Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Olympia. In the 300s BC Greece was controlled by one very powerful ruler, Alexander the Great, from Macedonia. He led his army to conquer not just Greece but an empire that reached as far as Afghanistan and India.
Athens was the largest city and controlled a region called Attica. Between its many mountains were fertile valleys, with many farms and also had valuable sources of silver, lead and marble. Athens was a beautiful city, busy and rich in culture. People came from all over Greece, and from other countries around Europe and the world, to study and trade. Athens had yearly festivals for athletics, drama and religious occasions.
In the early 500s BC a new way of government was invented in Athens. It was called "democracy" or "'rule by the people". Unfortunately not everyone could vote, only male citizens had a say in how the city was run. The ruling Council had 500 members, all men, and chosen for a year at a time. Women could not be citizens, nor could slaves or foreigners. Usually about 5000 citizens met, on a hill called Pnyx, every 10 or so days to vote on new laws put forward by the Council. In Athens, you can still see the stones of this historic meeting place. Athens had law courts with trial by jury, they were much larger than the ones we have today - 500 citizens normally, but sometimes more. They did not have lawyers, so people spoke in their own defence and were timed using a water clock. After listening to the evidence, the jury would vote by placing a metal disc into one of two jars - one for guilty, one for not guilty.
Of the 250,000 to 300,000 people in Athens, between a quarter and a third were slaves. Some slaves were captured in wars, others were born slaves and some people were forced into slavery when they could not afford to pay their debts. Some slaves were owned by the state, and were used as police by the Athens government. A few slaves had special skills, such as nurses, teachers, or pottery painters but most slaves did the hardest and most unpleasant jobs. A lucky slave could save up enough money to buy his freedom.
Greek parents wanted boy children because a son would look after them in their old age, whereas a daughter left home to get married and start a family of her own. A father could decide whether or not the family kept a new baby. The unwanted or weak babies were sometimes left to die outdoors and anyone who found an abandoned baby could adopt it and take it home, perhaps to raise it as a slave. At 3, children were given small jugs which were a sign that babyhood was over. Boys went to school at age 7 and girls were taught at home by their mothers. Girls learnt housework, cooking and skills such as weaving at home, while the boys at school learnt reading, writing, arithmetic, music and poetry. They wrote on wooden tablets covered with soft wax, using a pointed stick called a stylus as a ‘pen’. They used an abacus, with beads strung on wires or wooden rods, to help them with maths. Boys did athletics, to keep fit for war. They ran, jumped, wrestled and practised throwing a spear and a discus in a sports ground called a gymnasium. Most girls were only 13-16 years old when they married. Often their fathers chose husbands for them, they were often much older, about in their 30s. The day before the wedding, the girl would have to sacrifice her toys to the goddess Artemis, to show her coming of age. Most boys had to work hard as farmers, sailors, fishermen and craftworkers - such as potters, builders, metalworkers and stone-carvers. Some clever boys went on to studying. Eg. Aristotle, who became a great scientist and thinker, went to Athens when he was 17 to study at the Academy which was run by a famous teacher named Plato.
The Trojans lived in the city of Troy, in what is now known as Turkey. The Trojan War began when Paris, Prince of Troy, ran away with Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta. The Greeks sent a fleet of ships, with a huge army, to get her back. The war lasted for 10 years and in single combat, the greatest Greek warrior, Achilles, killed the Trojan leader Hector. In the end the Greeks won, by a clever trick using a wooden horse... The Wooden Horse was a trick the Greeks used to capture Troy. First they pretended to sail away, leaving behind a giant wooden horse. Inside the horse, the Greek soldiers hid silently. Rejoicing that the Greeks had gone, the Trojans dragged the horse, thought to be a gift, into the middle of the city. That night the Greek ships returned and while the Trojans were asleep, the Greeks hiding in the horse climbed out. They opened the city gates, and let in the Greek army. Troy was destroyed.
The Olympic Games began over 2,700 years ago in Olympia, in southwest Greece, they were part of a religious festival. The Greek Olympics, thought to have begun in 776 BC, inspired the modern Olympic Games. The Games were held in honour of Zeus, king of the gods, and were staged every four years at Olympia, a valley near a city called Elis. People from all over the Greek world came to watch and take part. Visitors to Olympia stared in wonder as they entered the great Temple of Zeus, inside it was a huge statue of him sitting on a throne. The statue was covered in gold and ivory, and was about six times bigger than a man. It was built in about 435 BC, and no one who made the trip to Olympia missed seeing it. The city-states of Greece were often at war, making it very dangerous to travel. Because the games were a religious festival and thus far more important than any war, messengers from Elis were sent out to announce a 'sacred truce' which lasted one month before the Games begun. This meant people could travel to Olympia in safely.
While Athens was trying out their new form of government, democracy, its rival Sparta had two kings. One king would stay at home, while the other was away, doing what Spartans did best, fighting battles. Greeks said that in a battle, one Spartan was worth several other men. The Spartans spent most of their time training for battle, so they had slaves called helots who worked on their farms. They grew the food for the Spartan soldiers and their families. Although every Spartan man had a farm, they spent a lot of his time preparing for war. They became soldiers at the age of 20. But their training began much earlier; they left their family homes at the age of 7, and went to live in an army school. Discipline was tough, they were only allowed one tunic, and had to walk barefoot, even in cold weather. They were taught how to live rough and steal food and were warned that it was foolish to get drunk, like some other Greeks did. Men lived in army camps even after they got married. It was tough being a Spartan! Sickly babies were killed and children ran around naked. Boys practised fighting and did athletics, and the girls also did physical exercises. Spartan women had more freedom than other Greek women; she ran the family farm and gave orders to the helots. Old people were also shown more respect in Sparta than in other Greek states. Spartan mothers told their sons before they left for battle, "Come back with your shield, or on it." Dead Spartans were carried home on their shields because it was said that only a coward would drop his shield and run away.
In 480 BC, Sparta fought their most famous battle, Thermopylae. A huge Persian army was trying to invade Greece. By barring the way at the mountain pass of Thermopylae were 300 Spartan soldiers led by King Leonidas, along with a few hundred other Greeks. The Spartans' brave fight lasted three days. One story says that after they broke their swords, the Spartans fought the Persians with their bare hands and teeth! In the end, Leonidas and his Spartans lay dead. The Persians marched on to capture Athens. But soon afterwards the Greeks defeated the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis.
In Greek mythology the Twelve Olympians, were the principal gods of the Greek pantheon, residing atop Mount Olympus.
Mount Olympus was the most worshiped mountain of Greece. It’s said that it has never rained on that mountain nor has there ever been winds. They say that the clouds that appeared would isolate the Gods kingdom from the outside world and bless the world with water.
The Olympians were a group of twelve gods who ruled the earth. They each had different personalities and responsibilities. The Ancient Greek Civilization greatly worshiped and respected these gods. They also built many shrines and buildings for these gods and much of the art from the time depicts images of these gods.
There were fourteen different gods recognized as Olympians.
Theatre By the 300's BC, in the Hellenistic period, there are some new architectural types. Less time is spent on temples. The new form is the theatre, and people build many theatres all over the Greek world. Also, there is new interest in town planning at this time: people begin to lay out streets in straight lines, instead of just developing naturally.
Fashion in Ancient Greece Clothing… Clothing in ancient Greece was loose fitting, unlike the tight-fitting outfits worn by those people the Greeks considered barbarians. Both men and women typically wore sleeveless tunics. The women’s tunics were usually ankle length, while the men’s were shorter. For the common person, the colour of cloth was plain. Those with the financial resources had their clothing dyed in various colours. During the winter, a heavy wool cloak was worn for warmth. Greeks went barefoot or wore sandals outside the home. Inside the home, they went barefoot. Clothing was made in the home by the ladies of the house. It was the mother’s responsibility to make the clothing for her family, with the help from her daughters or from slaves employed in the home.
Ancient Greek Sculpture There are three main periods of Greek Sculpture; Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic. The Greeks used many different types of materials in their sculptures including stone, marble and limestone as these were abundant in Greece . The Greeks were blessed with a large supply of marble, which was what they used most in their sculptures. Bronze was also used in their artistic work of humans. Many of the original sculptures were damaged or destroyed. Yet, many still survived because the Romans make copies or duplications of the original works. The Archaic period was the earliest period in Greek Sculpture which started around 600 B.C. and lasted until 480 B.C. These works have a stiff and ridged appearance similar to that of the Egyptian sculpture. The second period, the Classical period, was between the Archaic and Hellenistic times. The Classical period shows a very large shift from the stiff Archaic to a more realistic and sometimes idealistic portrayal of the human figure. Females, after the 5th century B.C., were depicted nude, often with flowing robes. The robes gave the sculpture the idea of movement and realism in an effort by the artist to show humans more realistically. The third period, the Hellenistic period, started a little before 300 B.C. To the average person, it is more difficult to see the distinctions between the Classical and Hellenistic period. Both periods did the majority of their sculpture as nudes. The Greeks portrayed a young, vigorous, and athletic person in their works. These works idealized the individual and in a way, attempted to capture the idea of youth and strength in their design. The works reflect the commonly held views of youth, strength, and courage which were encouraged in the Greek City states. A couple of interesting notes about Greek sculptures. Greeks portrayed the gods in very similar fashion as they did the regular humans. There were no distinctions of size or body make up in their sculpture which would suggest that the gods where greater or more powerful then the humans. This is also similar in Greek stories, where the gods are shown to have very human characteristics, both good and bad. Pheidias 5th century BC Pheidias is considered to be one of the greatest ancient Greek sculptors. He is most well known for the colossal gold and ivory statue of Athena in the Parthenon. Another of his sculptures, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. He was chosen by Perikles to oversee the creation of the sculptures for the Parthenon. Polykleitos 5th century BC Polykleitos was a sculptor from Argos. He wrote a book called the Canon. In this, he described the ratios of the human body.
Architecture 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. The earliest buildings that were built in Greece, in the New Stone Age, are small houses or huts, and wooden walls around them for protection. Later there are bigger houses, and stone walls around the villages. By the Early Bronze Age, we find one bigger house in the middle of the village, and fancier, bigger stone walls. In the Late Bronze Age, under the influence of Western Asia, and the Minoans on Crete, there are palaces and big stone tombs, as well as paved roads and bridges, and dams (and more stone walls). During the Greek Dark Ages the palaces were burned, and the roads and bridges and dams mostly fell apart. But at the end of the Dark Ages, with the beginning of the Iron Age and the Archaic period in Greece, we see a new type of building: the temple for the gods. These earliest temples are built in the Doric style. There are houses, but no more palaces. But roads and bridges and stone walls begin to be built again. In the Classical period, there are more temples, bigger and with new design ideas: the Athenians built the Parthenon in the 440's BC. People begin to build in the Ionic style. Democracy prevents the Greeks from building palaces or big tombs, because politically all men are supposed to be equal, and so it would look bad to have a big palace even if you could afford it. Instead, the Greeks build public buildings: gymnasia, and stoats, where men can meet and talk. ( By the 300's BC, in the Hellenistic period, there are some new architectural types. Less time is spent on temples. The new form is the theatre, and people build many theatres all over the Greek world. Also, there is new interest in town planning at this time: people begin to lay out streets in straight lines, instead of just developing naturally. With the conquests of Alexander the Great, architecture becomes an important way to spread Greek culture and show who is in charge in the conquered countries. On the other hand, once the Romans conquer Greece, around 200 -100 BC, they too use architecture to show that they are in charge, and suddenly there is a lot of building in the Roman style. Corinthian, architecture became more popular. About 400 AD, the Greeks convert to Christianity, and begin to build churches and monasteries. They turned many old temples into churches. During the middle Ages, parts of Greece were taken over by the Normans, who built castles, and other parts were still controlled by the Byzantine Empire, and built in a more West Asian style. Finally, in 1453 AD, the Turks took over the Byzantine Empire, and people began to build Islamic mosques in Greece.
A short walk thought Washington D.C. clearly shows the impact the Greeks have had on architectural design even today. As you study art history of the Renaissance, it will be very familiar in design to that of the Greeks. The Renaissance was a rebirth of Classical Greek and Roman ideas and art. As with others areas, the Art of Ancient Greece has had a large impact on Western Civilization.
Pottery The Greeks made pots from clay. They made small pottery bowls and cups for drinking, middle-sized pots for carrying and cooking, elegant vases for decoration, and large jars for storing wine and foods. Potters in the city states of Corinth and Athens made beautiful pottery. They used a watery clay mixture to make figures or decoration on the clay before it was hard. When the pot was baked in a kiln , the areas painted with the clay mixture turned black. Unpainted areas turned red-brown. Black animal figures are typical of Corinthian pottery. Greek potters also made pottery decorated with red figures on a black background
Jewellery… Rheological excavations in various Greek sites have given evidence that jewellery was popular in ancient Greece. Women wore earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Evidence suggests that men in early Greece also wore jewellery, but by the fourth century, it appears that the trend had ended. Different types of jewelry were produced in the Hellenistic period of Ancient Greece-Necklaces, earrings, pendants, pins, bracelets, armbands, thigh bands, finger rings, wreaths, diadems, and other elaborate hair ornaments. Bracelets were often worn in pairs or in matched sets. Pieces were usually inlaid with pearls and dazzling gems or semiprecious stones-emeralds, garnets, carnelians, banded agates, sardonyx, chalcedony, and rock crystal. Artists also incorporated colorful enamel inlays that dramatically contrasted with their intricate gold settings. Elaborate subsidiary ornamentation drew plant and animal motifs, or the relation between adornment and the goddess, Aphrodite, and her son, Eros. Popular designs for earrings included; Airborne winged figures, such as Eros, Nike, and the eagle of Zeus carrying Ganymede up to Mount Olympus. In Hellenistic times, jewelry was often passed down through generation. Occasionally, it was dedicated at sanctuaries as offerings to the gods. There are records of headdresses, necklaces, bracelets, rings, brooches, and pins in temple and treasury inventories, as, for example, at Delos. Hoards of Hellenistic jewelry that were buried for safekeeping in antiquity have also come to light. Some of the best-preserved samples come from tombs where jewelry was usually placed on the body of the deceased. Some of these pieces were made specifically for interment; however, most were worn during life .
Alphabet The ancient Greek was also the first country in Europe to have a language that could be read and that could be taught through the use of an standard alphabet.
Painting of the Ancient Greeks has survived primarily in the form of Vase Painting. The paintings were done in red and black with some use of accent colours. The vases depicted battles, heroes, gods, and every day life. Hairstyles in ancient Greece also changed over time. In the early days of Greece, men normally wore their hair short and grew beards. During the Hellenistic era, beards went out of style. Long hair was typical for Greek women; only slave women would wear their hair short. Women curled and braided their hair in early Greece. Later the style was to tie their hair back or put it up into a bun. Makeup was used in ancient Greece. Rich women stayed indoors most of the day. Pale skin was fashionable and a sign of prestige. Women applied white lead (which was toxic) to their faces to lighten their complexion. Chalk was also used to lighten their complexion, but it wore off quickly. Connected eyebrows were also fashionable, so women decorated their eyes with dark powder. Red powder was also applied to their cheeks. Food in Ancient Greece The Greek diet consisted of foods that were easily raised in the rocky terrain of Greece’s landscape. Breakfast was eaten just after sunrise and consisted of bread dipped in wine. Lunch was again bread dipped in wine along with some olives, figs, cheese or dried fish. Supper was the main meal of each day. It was eaten near sunset. It consisted of vegetables, fruit, fish, and possibly honey cakes. Sugar was unknown to ancient Greeks, so natural honey was used as a sweetener. Fish was the main source of protein in the Greek diet. Beef was very expensive, so it was rarely eaten. Beef and pork were only available to poor people during religious festivals. It was during the festivals that cows or pigs were sacrificed to the gods, and the meat was cooked and handed out to the public. Wine was the main drink in ancient Greece. It was watered down; to drink it straight was considered barbaric. Milk was rarely drunk, because again, it was considered barbaric. Milk was used for cheese production. Water was another possible choice as a drink. The Greeks did not have any eating utensils, so they ate with their hands. Bread was often used to scoop out thick soups. Bread was also used as a napkin to clean hands. After being used as a napkin, the bread was then thrown on the floor for the dogs or slaves to clean up at a later time. Men often gathered for dinner parties called symposiums. Having guests in the house was a “male-only” affair. Women of the house were not permitted to attend. After giving a wine offering to the gods, the men drank and talked about politics or morals. Often young girls and boys would be employed to entertain guests with music and dance.