- The ancient Greeks were a culture that lived thousands of years ago.
- They were one of the first civilizations to produce great works in art, mathematics, literature, and philosophy.
Ancient Greece was an astounding culture that developed throughout the centuries. They developed a complex culture throughout the centuries. The Cyclades, the Minoans, and the Mycenae were the precursors of the ancient Greeks.
The Cycladic people, from the islands around Greece, started to develop their own culture a long time ago. Cycladic people became experts at carving statues into the pure white marble that they found on the islands of Paros and Naxos.
Then a change in the population of the Cyclades happened. Communities near the coast moved into the middle of islands and built citadels so they were less vulnerable to attack.
Cycladic people lived in homes usually two or three stories high. The narrow streets of their city even had a system to take away sewage. Some houses had large jars for storing food like grain, vegetables, dried fish, wine, or oil.
The Minoan culture was one of the first major cultures to appear in Europe. Their people lived on the island of Crete.
They built great palaces at places such as Knossos and Phaistos. These palaces were a complex of several buildings.
The Minoans used pictures to write. They used a system of hieroglyphs or pictographs with pictures of animals and objects. The idea might have been from the Egyptians.
In Greek mythology, there was a story where the god Poseidon sent a snow-white bull to King Minos of Crete to sacrifice. But when the king refused to sacrifice the bull, Poseidon made the queen fall in love with it.
She had a child with a human body and a bull’s head that was called the Minotaur. King Minos built a maze so complex that nobody could find their way through it. The Minotaur lived inside so he could not escape.
This culture had a lot of cities in mainland Greece. Each city was a unique kingdom.
The cities shared a common language and way of life. The great centers of this society were Athens, Thebes, and Sparta.
The Ancient Greeks
Ancient Greece had two main cities: Sparta and Athens. Each was a different kingdom in itself.
In the city of Sparta, the army was very important. Boys had to go through a lot of training.
At birth, if they were not fit, they were left to die on the mountain. When boys turned 7 years old, they left home to live in groups with other boys.
Spartan girls were taught how to exercise alongside the boys.
In the Spartan society, everything was about maintaining a powerful army. The government was more important than any person’s individual needs.
Many admired Sparta for its military strength and for teaching its citizens to be virtuous, honest, and loyal.
In Athens, there were three social classes. All of them were considered citizens and could vote.
- The aristocrats were rich and had the most land. They owned servants.
- Next came the farmers who owned a yoke of oxen, making enough money to live on their own.
- Finally, the poor worked as day laborers for other people.
Unlike Spartan women, Athenian women had very low status. Some women were citizens, but they couldn’t vote.
Women mostly stayed in their homes and did chores such as sewing clothes for the family and cleaning.
In Athens, the system of government was a democracy. This meant that all citizens were allowed to decide which government they wanted.
The most important part of the government was the ecclesia, which was like a meeting where all citizens came together to talk about political decisions. The representatives were chosen by lot.
The Greeks worshiped many gods. They believed that these deities had a lot of influence on life on earth.
Most of the gods were believed to have human form and, although they were immortal, they had many mortal defects and needs.
The main gods were twelve: Zeus, king of the gods, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Demeter, Dionysus, Hephaestus, and Ares.
To please the gods, the Greeks offered prayers, sacrifices, and festivals to win divine help.
The Greeks would consult oracles for answers. Oracles were people who could speak for the gods.
The highest mountain in mainland Greece is Mount Olympus.
In the old days, people thought that the most important gods lived there because they were all family.
The Greek alphabet
The word alphabet comes from the first two letters in the Greek alphabet: alpha and beta. It is a writing system where each letter represents one sound.
The Greek alphabet is still in use today.
The Iliad and the Odyssey
These epic poems by Homer tell us about a 10-year war in Greece to conquer the city of Troy. The reason for the war was that Paris, prince of Troy, has kidnapped Helen, the king of Sparta’s wife. When the king found out his wife was gone, he started a ten-year war.
When Troy fell, one of the warriors, Odysseus, went back home. His journey is told in the Odyssey, and it is full of adventures.
These poems have been thought of for a long time to be fiction. Now historians know that they can give us information about the Mycenaean and Greek civilizations.
Theatre and acting
Drama as we know it started in ancient Greece. Comedies and tragedies were presented on a stage.
Actors wore masks and shoes with very high heels. Plays were presented in festivals, and awards were given to the best playwriters.
Greek tragedy started with Aeschylus. He wrote around 90 plays that were performed as part of the Dionysian festival. Only 7 have survived because he wrote them on papyrus.
Aeschylus’ successor was Sophocles. He was almost 30 years younger. Sophocles won the drama festival 18 times, but only seven of his 123 tragedies have survived.
The Persian Wars
Greece went to war with the biggest empire of its time: Persia. They fought three important battles: Thermopylae, Marathon, and Salamis.
After the Athenian victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, a Greek runner was dispatched to run to Athens with good news.
Because he was so tired, he died when he got there. Years later, this story inspired the marathon race.
The age of Pericles
The Athenians had a good life when Pericles ruled them. Under his guidance, Athens became a very important city.
It was an unmatched center for culture and learning. This led to the construction of the Parthenon on Acropolis.
For the first time, Athens became a place where many people came to think about new ideas in philosophy. They found a warm welcome among the richer citizens. Some of these people were Socrates and Plato.
The Greeks began putting order to human thoughts in a system we call philosophy. Three Greek philosophers remain important to this day: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Socrates was important to Western thought. He would use logic in his arguments and words from everyday life.
Socrates said that only good can guide men. He thought that people should try to find out what good is. When they have found it, they will always do what is right.
The way Socrates talked about this was in a conversation or dialogue. He created a school where students walked around a garden talking to their teacher.
Socrates’ student Plato went on to become a good philosopher, too.
He was the founder of a famous academy. He thought that only ideas were real.
Aristotle was Plato’s most important student. His philosophy developed in a different direction from Plato’s.
Aristotle preferred an experimental approach, insisting that the observation of the visible was very important.
His major contribution to philosophy was to establish a system of logic that we used for more than two thousand years.
The Greeks learned science from the Egyptians and Babylonians. They knew that math could be put together like a puzzle. They found out that math has rules, and they used logic to figure these out.
To understand how the planets move in space, Greek astronomers said that the universe is like a big ball. They said that Earth is at the center of this ball. And then they explained that every planet has its path across this sphere.
Hippocrates was the Greek father of medicine. People used to think that illness was caused by magic. Hippocrates taught that doctors must examine a patient to find out what is wrong with his body.
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great was one of the best military leaders that the world has ever known.
He was a Greek king that created an empire in the eastern Mediterranean. His empire reached all across Asia to India.
When Alexander was barely 22, he crossed over to Persia and conquered it. He then moved east to India, where he subdued millions of people.
After the death of Alexander, different empires rose to power. The Ptolemaic dynasty took control of Egypt, and the Seleucids took over the area that had belonged to the Persians.
The death of Alexander the Great was the end of ancient Greece.
But Greek discoveries and culture were copied by other people, like the Romans. In many ways, Greeks set the foundations of who were are and how we think today.
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