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Warfare in Classical Greece

Warfare in Classical Greece


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The ancient Greek city-states were in a constant rivalry for land, resources and power which meant that warfare became an ever-present aspect of life. Athens and Sparta were famous rivals throughout the Classical period but other cities like Corinth and Thebes were just as active on the battlefield. When the Persians attempted to invade Greece in the 5th century BCE those states then pulled together to defeat a common enemy. In this collection, we examine the two main weapons used in Greek warfare: the hoplite and trireme, as well as the two main conflicts of the period, the Persian Wars and the Peloponnesian War. In addition, we look in detail at some of the most famous battles like the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae and the victory at Marathon which the Greeks celebrated in their art and literature ever after.

Strategies and deception, the ‘thieves of war’ (klemmata), as the Greeks called them, were employed by the more able and daring commanders. The most successful strategy on the ancient battlefield was using hoplites in a tight formation called the phalanx. Each man protected both himself and partially his neighbour with his large circular shield, carried on his left arm. Moving in unison the phalanx could push and attack the enemy whilst minimising each man’s exposure. Usually eight to twelve men deep and providing the maximum front possible to minimise the risk of being outflanked, the phalanx became a regular feature of the better-trained armies, particularly the Spartans. Thermopylae in 480 BCE and Plataea in 479 BCE were battles where the hoplite phalanx proved devastatingly effective.


Classical Greek Geometry - 1

Greek science and mathematics is distinguished from that of earlier cultures by its desire to know, in contrast to a need to make purely utilitarian advances or improvements. Greek geometry displays abstract and deductive elements which were largely lost during the Dark Ages, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, and only gradually recovered in the 16th and 17th centuries. It must be understood that many of the great discoveries in geometry were made about two and half thousand years ago. Given the difficulty of preserving fragile manuscripts, written on parchment or papyrus, over centuries when warfare could wipe out civilizations, it is not too surprising to find that we do not have many reliable records about the origin of Greek geometry or of its practitioners. We may count ourselves lucky that a few commentaries on Greek geometry, written in the fourth or fifth centuries of the present era, have survived to provide us with what details we have.

We cannot give a systematic account of how Greek geometry came into existence and how it was perfected, so we must confine ourselves to describing a few generally agreed highlights. Thales (c. 624-546 BCE) is considered to be the founder of Greek geometry. He was born in Miletus, a town now in modern Turkey (Asia Minor). He was also an astronomer and philosopher. He was held in high regard by the ancient Greeks, and named as one of the seven ‘wise men’ of Greece. He is said to have made a prediction of a solar eclipse which, according to the famous historian Herodotus, occurred during a battle of the Medes and the Lydians. Modern astronomers have dated this eclipse to 28 May, 585 BCE, which serves to give us some idea of the dates of Thales. While it is doubted if someone could have predicted an eclipse so accurately at the given date, the story of its happening assured his fame.

Various stories about Thales have come down to us from historians. One story relates that he travelled to Egypt, where he became acquainted with Egyptian geometry. While the Egyptian approach to geometry was essentially practical, Thales’s work was the start of an abstract investigation of geometry. The following discoveries of elementary geometry are attributed to Thales.

• A circle is bisected by any of its diameters.

• The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal.

• When two straight lines cut each other, the vertically opposite angles are equal.

• The angle in a semicircle is a right angle.

• Two triangles are equal in all respects if they have two angles and one side respectively equal.

He is also credited with a method for finding the distance to a ship at sea, and a method to determine the height of a pyramid by means of the length of its shadow. It is not certain whether this implies that he understood the theory of similar (equiangular) triangles.

Thales may be considered to have originated the geometry of lines, which forms a basic part of elementary geometry. It seems that he passed on no written work to later generations, so we must rely on traditional stories, not all likely to be true, for our information about him.

The commentator Proclus (whom we will discuss in more detail later), writing almost one thousand years after the time in which Thales flourished, says that Thales first brought knowledge of geometry into Greece after his time spent in Egypt. With regard to the state of Egyptian geometry, Herodotus believed that basic knowledge of geometry originated from the recurrent need to measure land after inundation by the Nile. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that mathematics was the invention of Egyptian priests with the time and leisure to speculate on abstract things. There is controversy among modern historians of mathematics about the extent of Thales’s discoveries. It is first noted that Egyptian geometry was rudimentary, had no theoretical basis, and consisted mainly of a few techniques of mensuration. It is also considered unlikely that Thales could have obtained theoretical proofs of the theorems attributed to him, but he may guessed the truth of the results on the basis of measurements in particular cases.

The next major figure in the history of Greek geometry is Pythagoras. He is thought to have been born around 582 BCE, in Samos, one of the Greek islands. He had a reputation of being a highly learned man, a reputation that endured for many centuries. He is said to have visited Egypt and possibly Babylon, where he may have learnt astronomical and mathematical information, as well as religious lore. He emigrated around 529 BCE to Croton in the south of Italy, where a Greek colony had earlier been founded. He became the leader there of a quasi-religious brotherhood, who aimed to improve the moral basis of society. After opposition developed to the influence of his followers, he moved to Metapontum, also in the south of Italy, where he is thought to have died around 500.

While geometry was introduced to Greece by Thales, Pythagoras is held to be the first to establish geometry as a true science. It is difficult to distinguish the work of the followers of Pythagoras (the Pythagoreans, as they are called) from that of Pythagoras himself, and the Pythagoreans published none of their work. Thus it is not possible to ascribe accurately any given work to Pythagoras himself.

A number of statements regarding the Pythagoreans have been transmitted to us, among which are the following.

• Aristotle says “the Pythagoreans first applied themselves to mathematics, a science which they improved and penetrated with it, they fancied that the principles of mathematics were the principles of all things.”

• Eudemus, a pupil of Aristotle, and a writer of a now lost history of mathematics, states that “Pythagoras changed geometry into the form of a liberal science, regarding its principles in a purely abstract manner, and investigated its theorems from the immaterial and intellectual point of view.”

• Aristoxenus, who was a musical theorist, claimed that Pythagoras esteemed arithmetic above everything else. (“All is number” is a motto attributed to Pythagoras.)

• Pythagoras is said to have discovered the numerical relations of the musical scale.

• Proclus says that “the word ‘mathematics’ originated with the Pythagoreans.” (The word ‘mathematics’ means ‘that which is learned’, with connotations of knowledge and skill.)

Concerning the geometric work of the Pythagoreans we have the following testimony.

• Eudemus states that the theorem that the sum of the angles in a triangle is two right angles is due to the Pythagoreans and their proof is similar to that given in Book 1 of Euclid’s Elements.

• According to Proclus, they showed that space may be uniformly tesselated by equilateral triangles, squares, or regular hexagons.

• Eudemus states that the Pythagoreans discovered the five regular solids.

• Heron of Alexandria and Proclus ascribe to Pythagoras a method of constructing right–angled triangles whose sides have integer length.

• Eudemus ascribes the discovery of irrational quantities to Pythagoras.

We should now address some of the issues that arise from these claims, as they are not accepted by all commentators and, indeed, some are implausible. The theorem that the sum of the angles in a triangle is two right angles is not provable without recourse to Euclid’s fifth or parallel postulate. This is a highly subtle point and any proof by the Pythagoreans that the sum is constant must have had some implied appeal to the parallel postulate. The Greek historian Plutarch tells us that the Egyptians knew of the right-angled triangle whose sides have lengths equal to 3, 4, and 5 units, and that in this case they observed that the square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides. Other versions of this arithmetical construction seem to have been known earlier in Babylon. More generally, positive integers a, b and c are said to form a Pythagorean triple (a, b, c) if a 2 + b 2 = c 2 . It seems to have become known at some time that such Pythagorean triples may be used to form the sides of a right angled triangle, where the hypotenuse has length c units, and so on. Proclus has described a method of finding such Pythagorean triangles using an odd integer m, which he attributes to Pythagoras. We take an odd integer m and set

Note that both b and c are integers, because m is odd. It is straightforward to verify that (a, b, c) is a Pythagorean triple, and this is the method used by Pythagoras to generate such triples. There seems to be agreement that what we know as the theorem of Pythagoras concerning right-angled triangles is not due to Pythagoras or the Pythagoreans. A proof of the general theorem is found as Proposition 47 in Book 1 of Euclid’s Elements, but is more complicated than the proof that would be given nowadays, using the theory of similar triangles.

We will have more to say about the five regular or Platonic solids later in this chapter. Suffice it to say here that the five regular solids are the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron. The regular tetrahedron, cube, octahedron are of ancient origin and may be seen in Egyptian architecture. Thus it cannot be said that the Pythagoreans discovered these solids. Specialists now agree that it is unlikely that the Pythagoreans discovered the other two regular solids, the dodecahedron and icosahedron,

whose constructions are less obvious. Instead, it seems that Theaetetus, an Athenian who died in 369 BCE, discovered the other two regular solids and wrote a study of all five solids. It is possible that he proved that only five different types of regular solid exist (this is a theorem in Euclid’s Elements). Theaetetus was associated with Plato and his Academy in Athens, and his death was commemorated by Plato’s dialogue entitled Theaetetus. This dialogue also contains information on irrational numbers, which had recently been discovered and had caused a furore in mathematical and philosophical circles of the time. Theaetetus was associated with some of this work on irrationals. The regular solids are also called Platonic solids, because of the importance they held in the teaching of Plato. He used the solids to explain various scientific phenomena. Indeed, the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) were associated with the five regular solids in a cosmic scheme that fascinated thinkers well into Renaissance times.

Concerning irrational quantities, we encounter some problems about the Greek concepts of magnitude and number. Magnitudes are what we would call continuous quantities, such as lengths of lines or areas of plane figures. Number is a discrete quantity, such as an integer. Aristotle made a distinction between these two quantities. A magnitude is that which is divisible into divisibles that are infinitely divisible, while the basis of number is the indivisible unit. The Pythagoreans did not make such a distinction, as they considered number to be the basis of everything and believed that everything can be counted. To count a length, one needed a unit of measure. Once this unit was chosen, it was indivisible. They then assumed that it is possible to choose a unit so that the diagonal and side of a square can both be counted. This was eventually shown to be untrue–the precise time is uncertain. As was said in Greek mathematics, the lengths of the diagonal and the side of a square are incommensurable–they do not possess a common unit of measure. Nowadays we would say that, in its initial stages, the Greek theory of numbers essentially held that all numbers are rational. The consensus now is that the discovery of incommensurable magnitudes, or equivalently, of irrational quantities, is not due to Pythagoras or the group associated with him, but to later Pythagoreans, around 420 BCE.

The modern approach to the question is quite straightforward. Suppose that we have a unit square. Then by the Pythagoras theorem, if c is the length of the diagonal, c 2 = 2. Now we claim that c cannot be a rational number, that is, it cannot be expressed as a quotient of two integers. For suppose thatwhere r and s are integers. We can

assume that r and s have no common factors. Then, on squaring, we obtain

Since 2s 2 is an even integer, r 2 is even and thus r is even. Thus we can write r = 2t, where t is an integer. Substituting, we obtain s 2 = 2t 2 , and hence s is also even. This contradicts the assumption that r and s have no common factor. Rather similar arguments can be used to prove that several other square roots of integers are irrational. This was already known in the circles around Plato. Indeed, in his dialogue Theaetetus, Plato says that his teacher, Theodorus of Cyrene, also the teacher of Theaetetus, had proved that the square root of any non-square integer between 3 and 17 is irrational. From the modern point of view, this is easy to prove, as the the square root of any non-square integer is irrational. Presumably the method used by Theodorus involved specific arguments that missed the full mathematical generality.

The personality and thought of Plato play a large role in the history of Greek mathematics, so we should say something about his life and influence. Plato (427-347 BCE) is known primarily as a philosopher but he was an important promoter of mathematics, especially geometry. He founded the famous Academy in Athens, around 380 BCE, which became a centre where specialists met and discussed intellectual topics. Innovative mathematicians, including Theodorus of Cyrene, Eudoxus of Cnidus, Theaetetus and Menaechmus, are closely associated with the Academy. Plato himself made no significant contribution to creative mathematics, but he inspired others to ground-breaking work and guided their activity. It is said that over the doors of his school the motto “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter” was written. The authenticity of this claim is doubtful, as the earliest reference to it occurs in the sixth century CE, but nonetheless it encapsulates the spirit of his Academy.

We know much detail about Plato’s life and career, and virtually all his writings have survived. The source for much of our information about Plato, and indeed about many other philosophers, is “Lives of the Philosophers” by Diogenes Laertius (3rd century CE?). Diogenes has been described as a mere compiler and anecdote-monger, and his testimony cannot always be trusted, but he seems to be reliable on many aspects relating to Plato (he provides, for example, Plato’s will).

Plato became associated with Socrates, close to the trial and execution of the latter for impiety in 399. Plato was impressed by Socrates’s use of the art of argument and his

search for truth, but we should note that Socrates was himself no enthusiast for mathematics. Plato felt that it was his duty to defend Socratic ideas and methods, and conceived the notion of training the young men of Athens in the discipline of mathematics and then, when mentally ready, in Socratic interrogation. This was to counteract what he saw as the problem of young people bewildering themselves in philosophical enquiry at too early an age.

Around the year 390, Plato visited Sicily, where he came under the influence of Archytas of Tarentum, a follower of the Pythagoreans. Archytas studied, among other mathematical topics, the theory of those means that are associated with Greek mathematics: the arithmetic, geometric and harmonic means. Plato returned to Athens in 388, and in the next twenty years, his Academy came into existence. The purpose of the Academy was to train young people in the sciences (mathematics, music and astronomy) before they undertook careers as legislators and administrators. The two main interests of the Academy were mathematics and dialectic (the Socratic examination of the assumptions made in reasoning). While Plato regarded the study of mathematics as preparatory to the study of dialectic, he nonetheless believed that the study of arithmetic and plane geometry, as well as the geometry of solids, must form the basis of an education leading to knowledge, as opposed to opinion. Plato’s teaching at the Academy was assisted by Theaetetus, whom we have mentioned above. Eudoxus of Cnidus, a pupil of Archytas and an important contributor to the emerging Greek theory of magnitude and number, also taught from time to time at the Academy. Plato’s role in the teaching at the Academy was probably that of an organizer and systematizer, and he may have left the specialist teaching to others. The Academy may be seen as a place where selected sciences were taught and their foundations examined as a mental discipline, the goal being practical wisdom and legislative skill. Clearly, this has relevance to the nature of university learning nowadays, especially as it relates to the conflict between a liberal education, as espoused by Plato, and vocational education with some special aim or skill in mind.

Plato’s enthusiasm for mathematics is described by Eudemus, writing some time after the death of Plato:

• Plato . . .caused the other branches of knowledge to make a very great advance through his earnest zeal about them, and especially geometry: it is very remarkable how he crams his essays throughout with mathematical terms and illustrations, and everywhere tries to arouse an admiration for them in those who embrace the study

Aristotle (384-322 BCE), the famous philosopher and logician, came to Athens in 367 and became a member of Plato’s Academy. He remained there for twenty years, until Plato’s death in 347. As we noted above, in Plato’s time, dialectic was of primary importance at the Academy, with mathematics an important prerequisite. Aristotle held that the mathematical method then being developed was to be a model for any properly organized science. Greek mathematics at the time was distinguished by its axiomatic method, and sequence of reasoning, from which irrefutable theorems are derived. Aristotle required that any science should proceed as mathematics does, and the mathematical method should be applied to all sciences.

Aristotle is important for laying down the working method for each demonstrative science. Writing in his Posterior Analytics, he says:

• By first principles in each genus I mean those the truth of which it is not possible to prove. What is denoted by the first terms and those derived from them is assumed but, as regards their existence, this must be assumed for the principles but proved for the rest. Thus what a unit is, what the straight line is, or what a triangle is must be assumed, but the rest must be proved. Now of the premises used in demonstrative sciences some are peculiar to each science and others are common to all . . .Now the things peculiar to the science, the existence of which must be assumed, are the things with reference to which the science investigates the essential attributes, e.g. arithmetic with reference to units, and geometry with reference to points and lines. With these things it is assumed that they exist and that they are of such and such a nature. But with regard to their essential properties, what is assumed is only the meaning of each term employed: thus arithmetic assumes the answer to the question what is meant by ‘odd’ or ‘even’, ‘a square’ or ‘a cube’, and geometry to the question what is meant by ‘the irrational’ or ‘deflection’ or the so-called ‘verging’ to a point.

Aristotle notes that every demonstrative science must proceed from indemonstrable principles otherwise, the steps of demonstration would be endless. This is especially apparent in mathematics. He discusses the nature of what is an axiom, a definition, a postulate and a hypothesis. It is quite difficult to distinguish between a postulate and a hypothesis. All these terms play a leading role in Euclid’s Elements.

Aristotle’s influence on later European thought was immense. For many centuries,

virtually all Greek learning, except that of Aristotle, fell into oblivion. Aristotle was held to be the basis of all knowledge. Universities and grammar schools were founded with the study of Aristotle as their main intellectual activity. We see the extent of his influence even now by noting how many Aristotelian words have survived in modern use, for example: principle, maxim, matter, form, energy, quintessence, category, and so on. It was really only in the Renaissance that the authority of Aristotle was questioned and supplanted.

We have little reliable knowledge about the lives of the early Greek geometers, and our best sources are the Alexandrian mathematician Pappus (exact dates unknown, probably third century CE) and the Byzantine Greek mathematician Proclus (410-485 CE), who both lived many centuries after the golden age of Greek geometry had ended. Proclus, who wrote a commentary on the first book of Euclid’s Elements, is our main authority on Euclid. He states that Euclid lived in the time of Ptolemy I, king of Egypt, who reigned 323-285 BCE, and that Euclid was younger than the associates of Plato (active around 350 BCE) but older than Eratosthenes (276-196 BCE) and Archimedes (287-212 BCE). Euclid is said to have founded the school of mathematics in Alexandria, a city that was becoming a centre of commerce, and of learning, following its foundation around 330 BCE. Proclus has preserved a famous incident relating to Euclid. On being asked by Ptolemy whether he might learn geometry more easily than by studying the Elements, Euclid replied that “there is no royal road to geometry”. The exact dates of Euclid, his place of birth, and details of his life are not known, but we can say that he flourished around 300 BCE.


Classical Greek Poetry and History

Homer, one of the greatest Greek poets, significantly influenced classical Greek historians as their field turned increasingly towards scientific evidence-gathering and analysis of cause and effect.

Learning Objectives

Explain how epic poetry influenced the development of classical Greek historical texts

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The formative influence of the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the teacher of Greece.
  • The Iliad, sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium, is set during the Trojan War and recounts the battles and events surrounding a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.
  • Herodotus is referred to as “The Father of History,” and is the first historian known to have broken from Homeric tradition in order to treat historical subjects as a method of investigation arranged into a historiographic narrative.
  • Thucydides, who had been trained in rhetoric, provided a model of historical prose-writing based more firmly in factual progression of a narrative, whereas Herodotus, due to frequent digressions and asides, appeared to minimize his authorial control.
  • Thucydides is sometimes known as the father of “scientific history,” or an early precursor to 20 th century scientific positivism, because of his strict adherence to evidence-gathering and analysis of historical cause and effect without reference to divine intervention.
  • Despite its heavy political slant, scholars cite strong literary and philosophical influences in Thucydides’ work.

Key Terms

  • Homer: A Greek poet of the 7th or 8th century BCE author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
  • dactylic hexameter: A form of meter in poetry or a rhythmic scheme. Traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin, and consequently considered to be the grand style of classical poetry.

Homer

In the Western classical tradition, Homer is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest of ancient Greek epic poets. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature. Whether and when Homer lived is unknown. The ancient Greek author Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at around 850 BCE, while other ancient sources claim that he lived much nearer to the supposed time of the Trojan War, in the early 12 th century BCE. Most modern researchers place Homer in the 7 th or 8 th centuries BCE.

Homer: Idealized portrayal of Homer dating to the Hellenistic period located at the British Museum.

The formative influence of the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the “Teacher of Greece.” Homer’s works, some 50% of which are speeches, provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval Greek worlds. Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds.

The Iliad

The Iliad (sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium) is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter. Set during the Trojan War (the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states), it tells of the battles and events surrounding a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes to many of the Greek legends about the siege. The epic narrative describes events prophesied for the future, such as Achilles’ looming death and the sack of Troy. The events are prefigured and alluded to more and more vividly, so that when the story reaches an end, the poem has told a more or less complete tale of the Trojan War.

Nineteenth century excavations at Hisarlik provided scholars with historical evidence for the events of the Trojan War, as told by Homer in the Iliad. Additionally, linguistic studies into oral epic traditions in nearby civilizations, and the deciphering of Linear B in the 1950s, provided further evidence that the Homeric poems could have been derived from oral transmissions of long-form tales about a war that actually took place. The likely historicity of the Iliad as a piece of literature, however, must be balanced against the creative license that would have been taken over years of transmission, as well as the alteration of historical fact to conform with tribal preferences and provide entertainment value to its intended audiences.

Herodotus

Herodotus was a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the 5 th century BCE. He was a contemporary of Socrates. He is referred to as “The Father of History” and is the first historian known to have broken from Homeric tradition in order to treat historical subjects as a method of investigation arranged into a historiographic narrative. His only known work is a history on the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars, entitled, The Histories. Herodotus states that he only reports that which was told to him, and some of his stories are fanciful and/or inaccurate however, the majority of his information appears to be accurate.

Athenian tragic poets and storytellers appear to have provided heavy inspiration for Herodotus, as did Homer. Herodotus appears to have drawn on an Ionian tradition of storytelling, collecting and interpreting oral histories he happened upon during his travels in much the same way that oral poetry formed the basis for much of Homer’s works. While these oral histories often contained folk-tale motifs and fed into a central moral, they also related verifiable facts relating to geography, anthropology, and history. For this reason, Herodotus drew criticism from his contemporaries, being touted as a mere storyteller and even a falsifier of information. In contrast to this type of approach, Thucydides, who had been trained in rhetoric, provided a model of historical prose-writing based more firmly in factual progression of a narrative, whereas Herodotus, due to frequent digressions and asides, appeared to minimize his authorial control.

Thucydides

Thucydides was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5 th century BCE war between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides is sometimes known as the father of “scientific history,” or an early precursor to 20 th century scientific positivism, because of his strict adherence to evidence-gathering and analysis of historical cause and effect without reference to divine intervention. He is also considered the father of political realism, which is a school of thought within the realm of political science that views the political behavior of individuals and the relations between states to be governed by self-interest and fear. More generally, Thucydides’ texts show concern with understanding why individuals react the way they do during such crises as plague, massacres, and civil war.

Unlike Herodotus, Thucydides did not view his historical accounts as a source of moral lessons, but rather as a factual reporting of contemporary political and military events. Thucydides viewed life in political terms rather than moral terms, and viewed history in political terms. Thucydides also tended to omit, or at least downplay, geographic and ethnographic aspects of events from his work, whereas Herodotus recorded all information as part of the narrative. Thucydides’ accounts are generally held to be more unambiguous and reliable than those of Herodotus. However, unlike his predecessor, Thucydides does not reveal his sources. Curiously, although subsequent Greek historians, such as Plutarch, held up Thucydides’ writings as a model for scholars of their field, many of them continued to view history as a source of moral lessons, as did Herodotus.

Despite its heavy political slant, scholars cite strong literary and philosophical influences in Thucydides’ work. In particular, the History of the Peloponnesian War echoes the narrative tradition of Homer, and draws heavily from epic poetry and tragedy to construct what is essentially a positivistic account of world events. Additionally, it brings to the forefront themes of justice and suffering in a similar manner to the philosophical texts of Aristotle and Plato.


Atreus, Agamemnon’s Father, Fights His Own Brother

Atreus, however, was adamant that Zeus wanted him to be king, and declared that as proof, the god would make the sun rise in the west and set in the east. Indeed, this happened, Atreus became king, and banished his brother.

Not long after this, Atreus learned of his wife’s infidelity, and plotted to exact revenge on his brother. Therefore, Atreus made Thyestes believe he was forgiven, and invited him for a meal. At the end of the meal, however, Atreus brought out the heads and limbs of Thyestes’ sons, revealing that the meal had been prepared with their bodies. This is eerily similar to what their grandfather had done to their father.

In any event, Thyestes himself was not harmed, fled from his brother, and ended up fathering a child, Aegisthus, with his own daughter, Pelopia. Aegisthus eventually killed Atreus, and Thyestes became the new king of Mycenae.

Atreus’ sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, fled to Sparta, and found refuge with their king, Tyndareus. The king had two daughters, Clytemnestra and Helen. The former married Agamemnon, whilst the latter was courted by many suitors, which put Tyndareus in a difficult position.

Odysseus, who was one of the suitors, though he was certain that he would not succeed, proposed a solution in exchange for the hand of Penelope, a niece of the king. Odysseus’ suggestion, which became known as the Oath of Tyndareus, was for the suitors to swear a solemn oath that none of the suitors would retaliate against Helen’s chosen husband. Instead, they had to defend the marriage from anyone seeking a quarrel over it.

It was only after the oath was sworn that Menelaus was chosen as Helen’s husband. The oath was meant to prevent the suitors from fighting against each other. As it turned out, however, when Paris, a prince of Troy, stole Helen, the oath was invoked, and the suitors entered the Trojan War on Menelaus’ side.

The sacrifice of Polyxena by Neuptolemos in front of the tomb of his father Achilles. (Dosseman / CC BY-SA 4.0 )


Roasted in the brazen bull

While the Greeks may not have been quite so torture-happy as the civilizations that would succeed them, tales from antiquity contain plenty of the macabre. Most famous of these is the brazen bull. The story is told by the Roman orator Cicero and a Sicilian historian known as Diodorus. According to them, the tyrant ruler Phalaris ordered the creation of a large, bronze structure in the shape of a bull. A door was placed in the bull's side, through which the victim would be placed. The door would be shut and a fire then lit beneath the bull itself. The victim, essentially, would be roasted alive.

The exact historical details of the story (which appears to have been common knowledge by the time Cicero and Diodorus came along) aren't certain, but many instances like this tend to have at least some grain of truth to them. And while the Greeks arguably weren't as bloodthirsty as, say, the Romans, the tale of Phalaris and the bull is a decent case for Greece's worst rulers being easily as vicious and sociopathic as Rome's.


2nd Peloponnesian War

After the disastrous expedition in Sicily the confidence of Athens had been severely traumatized. Having sustained heavy losses of ships and troops, as well as money financing the expedition, Athens was in no fit state to prepare for what would follow.

** The image above shows the plague of Athens
See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In 413 B.C. Sparta invaded Attica, and occupied the northern region of Decelea. A base was formed there and was used by the Spartans for pestering the farmers of the region. This resulted in Athens facing extreme shortages of grain and crops, as it had just lost it supplies from Sicily in the ill-fated expedition.

The silver-mines in Lavrio also became detached from Athens. With the desertion to the enemy of thousands of slaves and a severe shortage of food supplies getting through, Athens began to feel the full force of what the Spartans were doing. It wasn’t long before Persia entered into the picture. Having previously refused in get involved in the first Peloponesse war as there was no real reason to offer support for Sparta, Persia did become a component a little later on.

What triggered Persia’s involvement was when Athens, during the first Peloponesse war, supported an uprising in the western region of Anatolia. This uprising was to rebel against the Persian king. Even though this uprising was short-lived it provided Persia with a justification of helping Sparta.

Darius II of Persia offered finance to Sparta for the construction of the Spartan fleet. In return for this Sparta had to return the Ionian cities in Asia Minor back to Persia. What is important to understand here is that originally Sparta declared war on Athens as it wanted to free all Greeks from the stranglehold of Athens. However, the promise of returning the Ionian cities in Asia Minor was not in line with their original intentions.

The relationship between Sparta and Persia was not always a very good one. Each promising each other things though when time came to deliver on the promises, excuses and compromises were made. Without the help of Persia Sparta’s attempts at winning this new was with Athens would have been limited. It really had no choice to take the help Persia was offering, even though it was against their reasons for originally starting this war.

Persia, on the other hand, had everything to gain from the war. With Persia promising more and more as time went by, it was prolonging the war. No matter who was the victor between Sparta and Athens, after exhausting themselves in this long drawn out war and using all of their supplies and resources, Persia would be in a good position to take total control over Greece.

Years passed and the war was still raging. Sparta’s lack of naval warfare was a factor in this, as was the determination of Athens to keep fighting at all costs. The pendulum of the war was swinging from side to side, and for a short while, was swinging heavily in favour of Athens.

However, during the battle of Aegospotami in 405 B.C., the Spartans destroyed the fleet of Athens. General Lysander, who was a very important figure for Sparta in this battle, managed to take over control of the black sea. With trade and supply routes to Athens stopped and the taking over of Attica, Athens was forced into starvation.

In 404 B.C. Athens surrendered to Sparta. Corinth wanted Athens totally destroyed. It was General Lysander who was against this saying he could not accept the destruction of Athens as it was the city that had saved all of Greece from the Perisans in the wars many years before.

Instead Athens was forced to destroy its main defenses, abolish the Delian League and its fleet was handed over to the Spartans. However, more difficult was the fact that Athens now had to recognize and accept Sparta as the leader of Greece . Sparta had won the war. However, in reality, it was actually Persia who had won the war.


The War of Independence

On March 25th, 1821, after four centuries of Ottoman occupation, the Greek Revolution broke out. Sporadic revolts against the Turkish broke out in the Peloponnese and the Aegean islands by some determined guerrilla fighters. A year later, the rebels had set the Peloponnese free and the independence of Greece was declared in January 1822 by the National Assembly of the Greeks.

The Greek cause created a feeling of philhellenism from foreigners all over Europe. Many of them came to Greece to fight and die for the country. The determination of the Greeks and the Philhellenes finally won the support of the Great Powers: Russia, United Kingdom, and France. The Great power asked the Turkish Sultan to drawback. The Turks refused and the Great Powers sent their naval fleets to Navarino, destroying the Egyptian fleets that were helping the Turkish forces.

A Greco-Turkish arrangement was finally signed in London in 1829 which declared Greece an independent state with Ioannis Kapodistrias as his first governor. Once the War of Independence came to an end, Greece fell into a period of disillusion. The first state included Peloponnese, Sterea, the Cyclades islands and the Saronic islands. The country was very poor, the landowners were asking for their ancient privileges while the peasants wanted a redistribution of the land.

After the assassination of Kapodistrias in Nafplion, the Bavarian Prince Otto was named the King of Greece. He governed for many years till 1862, when he was exiled for ignoring the Greek Constitution. The next king was Danish, King George I. As a gift to Greece, the United Kingdom to the new king the Ionian islands, that were under British occupation till then. King George, I ruled the country for 50 years and brought stability and a new Constitution which specified the monarchic powers.

All: Greece history | Read previous: Byzantine Period | Read next: the Twentieth Century


Voting with the Ancient Greeks

This Greek wine cup from the 5th century B.C. offers one of the earliest depictions of voting in art. As the Trojan War rages, Greek chieftains are forced to choose between the competing claims of heroes Ajax and Odysseus to a momentous prize, the armor of the fallen warrior Achilles. So they do what comes naturally to the fathers of democracy. They vote.

The small dots on either side of the pedestal in the detail shown above represent stones heaped in two mounds for Odysseus and Ajax. The number of pebbles on Ajax’s side, at right, falls short of the more politically savvy Odysseus’s by one, causing Ajax to grasp his head in despair. This loss is the backstory for the tragic scene portrayed inside the cup, where we see Ajax fallen in agony on his sword.

Voting with pebbles? Even allowing for artistic license, it seems the Greeks really did it this way. Voters deposited a pebble into one of two urns to mark their choice after voting, the urns were emptied onto counting boards for tabulation. The principle of secret voting was established by at least the 5th century B.C., and Athenians may have used a contraption to obscure the urn into which a voter was placing his hand. In ancient Greece a pebble was called a psephos, which gives us the dubious term psephology, the scientific study of elections.

Another modern word, ballot, preserves this ancient history of bean-counting: it comes from medieval French ballotte, a small ball.

The pain of losing by one vote: Following Ajax’s suicide, his lover Tekmessa drapes his fallen body.


Ancient Greece Influence On America - Is Ancient Greece The Cradle Of Science

Greek mythology is a great collection of myths and stories about Greek legends. There are so many of them, and majority of them have achieved a godly status in mythology. Most of the stories are about the wars fought by the Greek gods, and how they became gods. There are several of them. Also, it is very interesting to learn about Greek mythology as the stories are very interesting. More.

The Summer Olympics, also known as the Olympiad, occurs every 4 years. It is an international event where multiple sporting events are held, and athletes from many countries participate in these various events. The Summer Olympics is organized by the International Olympics committee. The first modern Olympics was held in Athens, Greece in 1896. Until now the games have been hosted every 4 years except once, when the games were due to be held in Berlin, but were cancelled due to the war. More.

Archimedes went to school in Alexandria and learnt mathematics under Euclid. At that time Euclid was a very famous mathematician. Archimedes was very interested in mathematics since childhood as his father was an astronomer. So, computations were not something new to him. He spent most of his time solving new problems, and also arriving at conclusions. Some of the greatest inventions in the world were made by Archimedes. These inventions were very simple in functionality and even the theories he came up with were extremely logical. More.

Alexander the Great is the king of Macedonia. He was the son of King Philip of Macedonia. He was a Greek warrior, and soon he became the great conqueror. He is the first and the only king who was referred to as great. In Greece, people worshipped Alexander the Great, and considered him equivalent to god when he ruled. Like every Macedonian ruler, Alexander was very fond of drinking. His drinking habits knew no limits and some historians think that is what took his life. More.

Ancient Greek civilization deeply believed in god and religion. All the important events in their life involved gods and their worship. They built great temples, which were extremely beautiful and artistically designed. Most of the temples had the most beautiful locations. In the ancient times, Greece was the biggest country, and also the most popular one because of its warriors. Several structures were built in the country to celebrate their status, and also as a part of the thanksgiving to their deities. More.

The Battle of Marathon was fought in Marathon in Greece in which the Persians launched an ambush attack on the soldiers of Athens. However, in the beginning Athenians did not respond to the attacks in anyway. There was a stalemate for four to five days, and the Persians had no clue as to what the Greeks were up to. There was a stalemate for four to five days, and the Persians had no clue as to what the Greeks were up to.After the fifth day of landing on the shores, the Greeks launched the Hoplites, who were considered to be undefeatable. More.

There are many who want to know whether ancient Greece was the cradle of science. It is without a doubt since the ancient Greeks gave us formulas, devised theorems and supplied us with written records which acted as foundation for every basic field of study. Often ancient Greeks studies both heaven and earth and that is why usually when we talk about the geography and astronomy and ancient Greece, we club them together. More.

According to Greek mythology the 2 Olympians were the main Greek pantheon gods who lived on Mount Olympus. Sometimes it is said that there are 14 main Olympian gods. The 12 principal gods on the Mount Olympian are as follows: More.

Zeus is depicted as an older god and also as a powerful young man in several stories. He is attributed by the famous thunderbolt or the lighting. Some of the strongest points for Zeus were he was highly powerful, very strong god and very charming. He had his way with women. He was also very persistent when it came to women. Zeus was the son of Cronus and Rhea, the god of time and the mother god respectively. More.

Ancient Greece made a huge impact on America which is evident even today. The ancient Greeks helped to lay the foundations for art, literature, theater, math, science, architecture, engineering and warfare. In fact, practically every area of American lives is influenced by Ancient Greece. More..


Athenian democracy was short-lived

Around 550BC, democracy was established in Athens, marking a clear shift from previous ruling systems. It reached its peak between 480 and 404BC, when Athens was undeniably the master of the Greek world. But this Golden Age was short lived, and after suffering considerable loss during the Peloponnesian War, Athens, and the rest of Greece, was conquered by the kingdom of Macedonia in the 4th century BC, leading to the decline of its democratic regime.


Watch the video: Η Ελλάδα στον Β Παγκόσμιο Πόλεμο - Ο Ελληνοϊταλικός πόλεμος 1940-1941 (June 2022).


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