Saturday 11 June 2016

The Greek City States

The rise of the polis - city-state - in ancient Greece was a major development in world politics. Great states such as Athens, Sparta, and Corinth provided a variety of models for ruling through a system of law, with Athens in particular paving the way to a ground breaking idea: Democratic Government.

The period of Greek history leading up to the  Archaic period was preceded the rich civilization of Myceane and a period known as the "Dark Age" of Greece. Artifacts from Mycenae,Greece are evidence of a rich Mediterranean civilization that existed before the rise of the city-states. This culture peaked around 2nd millennium BC.

Between 1100 - 750 BC, ancient Greece was in a Dark Age about which little is known. All of the future city states may have been clusters of village at this time. At the start of Archaic period(750 - 480 BC), increasing Mediterranean populations fueled their rise. They reached their height during the Classical period(480 - 323 BC).

By the 7th century BC Athens was on the rise as a leading city state. Central to its identity was its legal system. Around 621 BC, Athenian magistrate Draco laid down a series of laws which were city's first significant legal code. Athenian statesman Solon (630 - 560 BC), brought in laws that helped protect rights of "Ordinary" people.


Central to city-state concept was that the inhabitants were identified by their state above all else. So being a citizen of Sparta - a Spartan, was more important then being Greek.  The types of government kept changing in these city-states and these included monarchy, tyranny(one strong leader,not necessarily an unpopular one), oligarchy(rule by small group of nobles) and democracy.

The period of city states saw philosophers and scholars such as Thales of Miletus bringing together Mathematical principles from Mesopotamia and Egypt to invent Geometry(geo meaning earth and metron measure in Greek).       

Thales of Miletus

The defining work on Geometry was written by Euclid a mathematician from Egypt, born 300 BC, author of treatise on geometry, "The Elements". His ideas on geometry and number theory remain key to mathematics today.

11th century relief of Euclid

City states of Greek model came to be found right across the Aegean and its islands, in western Asia minor(Ephesus), Sicily(Syracuse), southern Italy(Tarentum), Africa(notably Cyrene in Libya) and France(Marseilles).

Theater at Epidauros

This theater at Epidauros, a city state in Peloponnese, was built in 4th century BC. The best preserved theater to survive from ancient Greece, it seated around 12,000 people and has exceptional acoustics. The theater of the Ancient Greeks influenced both the development of drama and  theater design.

Athenian city state life in the 5th and 4th centuries BC saw remarkable flourishing of intellectual and artistic life. Playwrights including Aeschylus and Sophocles explored great philosophical themes that were later tackled by Plato and Aristotle. When Athens won over Persia in 4th century BC its Acropolis was rebuilt and the great Parthenon temple completed.     

The Parthenon

This breath taking marble temple was built on Athens' acropolis between 447 and 432 BC and was dedicated to city's patron goddess Athena. A gold and ivory statue(now lost) of the Goddess by the famous sculptor Phidas stood in the center of the temple.

Parthenon treasure

This exquisite sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens is widely believe to have come from the workshop of Phidas, the most famous sculpture of Ancient Greece.

Aristotle (384 - 322 BC)

Born in northern Greece, Aristotle was one of history's great philosophers. In his famous work, politics ,he analyzed many of the great city states in an exploration of what might be the best form of government. In general he had a great respect for the polis as a good way to govern.  

Rivalry between city states was constant, particularly between Athens and Sparta. Some events brought the states together, such as Panhellenic games which included the Olympic games, and religious festivals. City states combined forces against the Persians in 5th century BC, an alliance effectively led by Sparta. 

Sanctuary of Athena
Sanctuary of Athena is one of the several buildings clustered around the oracle at Delphi a sacred site close to Gulf of Corinth. From about 650 - 550 BC, Corinth experienced a golden era. With colonies in the Adriatic and Macedonia, its command of several important harbors made it important seafaring and trading center.  

Temple of Apollo at Corinth

In 338 BC, the Macedonian king Philip II defeated the Greeks and formed the League of Corinth to support its own imperial plans. Rome grew in power and ruled over an empire using some of the ancient Greek models.

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