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Lecture 6: Classical Greece. -- Greece reached its height during the “Classical Period” c. 500 – 338 BCE, after which it is conquered by Philip II of Macedon -- Sparta and Athens represent two extremes of the Greek poleis -- 740 BCE Sparta invades Messenians, who

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Lecture 6: Classical Greece

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-- Greece reached its height during the “Classical

Period” c. 500 – 338 BCE, after which it is

conquered by Philip II of Macedon

-- Sparta and Athens represent two extremes of

the Greek poleis

-- 740 BCE Sparta invades Messenians, who

become serfs (“helots”); harsh revolt of

Messenians turns Sparta into military state

-- Spartan boys put under control of state at age 7,

after which they live in military-style barracks

until age 20, when they enroll in the army

-- Men only marry at age 30, are in military until

age 60 (aristocrats may join “gerousia” or

ruling council instead)

-- Gerousia advises the king and acts as criminal



-- Spartan women freer than others in Greece;

marched naked in processions, exercised in

nude; raised to believe in complete loyalty

to the State above all

-- To promote military, Spartans gave up many

cultural amenities; were discouraged from

traveling abroad

-- Athens: by 600’s BCE, a prosperous

port city of 150,000 ruled by oligarchy of

aristocratic elite who owned best farmland

-- Aristocracy controlled political and religious

life through council of nobles, the “Areopagus”

lead by an assembly of all citizens (“Ecclesia”)

-- Only adult males who were citizens took part in

politics; slavery common

-- Role of women was to bear children; could parti-

cipate in religious life and festivals but could not

own property, except personal items and had

guardian if unmarried


-- Religion was part of everyday life; piety meant

participating in festivals and state cult, rather

than belief

-- Greeks believed in 12 main gods who lived on

Mt. Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece

-- No sacred books or doctrine, other than belief

in the existence and pre-eminence of the gods

-- Gods and goddesses had both animal and human

forms and their behavior arbitrary, thus belief

in fate or “fortuna” – life was dictated by whims

of the gods

-- Greek culture supported bisexuality, both men

and women allowed to have lovers of the same


-- Rivalry among elites created economic problems

which lead to revolt and election of Solon, as

sole archon in 594 BCE


-- Solon canceled all land debt, encouraged export of

olive oil, allowed non-aristocrats into government

-- Mid-6th century Ionian Islands and Greek cities in

Asia Minor conquered by Persians

-- When Greeks revolt, Persians under Darius attack

the Greek mainland; Athens asks for help from

Sparta, which arrives too late

-- Athenians able to defeat Persians with help of

another polis at battle of Marathon

-- 478 BCE Athens and its neighbors form the

Delian League and attack the Persians, liberating

Greek colonies across the Aegean

-- Solon’s rule followed by two tyrants who

lead Athens into war against Spartans from

431 – 404 (Peloponnesian War) and make

Sparta predominant polis


-- Thucydides, first modern historian, describes

the Peloponnesian War, notes that events of

the past are often repeated in much the same

way in the future

-- Opposition to Peloponnesian War in Aristophanes’ play, Lysistrata, in which wives of Athenian soldiers go on sex strike until their husbands renounce the war

-- By 371 Sparta is defeated by polis of Thebes;

by 339 BCE Greeks conquered by Philip II of


-- Expansion of democracy leads to growth of


-- Greek philosophers attempt to discover true

nature of things, correct action, ideal society

and government


Socrates, 470 – 399 BCE

“Question Authority”


-- Socrates left no writings, but his pupil, Plato

recorded many of the dialogues between Socrates and his students

-- Socratic method: posing a question and then

challenging the answer so as to raise another

question until the pupil comes to the ultimate

truth through his own thought process

-- Socrates believed that all real knowledge was

within each individual and that critical examination by the individual would reveal the truth

-- Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth


-- Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth

of Athens by inciting atheism

-- Believed fervently in democratic principles, refused, as a citizen of Athens to accept the exile offered by his judges, and drank hemlock in prison after being sentenced to death


-- Plato became extremely critical of Athenian

society after the death of Socrates and tried to

determine the ideal society

-- The Republic is a dialogue describing the ideal

society; believed individuals could not live

ethical lives unless they lived in a just and

rational state

-- The ideal state would consist of a ruling elite of

philosopher kings and courageous warriors

-- The masses, who are only concerned with desire,

become artisans, tradesmen and farmers

-- Believed in equality between men and women,

“ideal forms” as represented in mathematics,

and the idea of the soul

-- Established the Academy in Athens in order

to train the new political elite


-- Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle, would

become the tutor of Alexander the Great

-- Believed in Plato’s ideal forms, but as a marine

biologist, believed that form and matter were

inseparable and that everything had a purpose

in the universe = “teleology”

-- “Teleology” = an oak is the purpose of the


-- Aristotelian logic criticized for confusing

function with purpose

-- At its extreme, teleology suggests that any

action exists because it is meant to exist


Theater at Epidaurus, c. 350 BCE

(Polyclitus the Younger)