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Government in Ancient Greece. The Greeks had a lot of different kinds of governments, because there were many different city-states in ancient Greece, and they each had their own government. People’s ideas about what made a good government changed over time.

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Government in Ancient Greece

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Government in Ancient Greece

The Greeks had a lot of different kinds of governments, because there were many different city-states in ancient Greece, and they each had their own government. People’s ideas about what made a good government changed over time.

Aristotle divided Greek governments into monarchy, oligarchy, tyranny and democracy, and most historians still use these same divisions. For the most part, Greece began by having monarchies, then oligarchies, then tyrannies and then democracies.

In 510 BC, the city-state of Athens created the first democratic government, and soon other Greek city-states imitated them. Athenian democracy did not really give power to everyone. Most of the people in Athens couldn't vote - no women, no slaves, no foreigners (even Greeks from other city-states), no children. And also, Athens at this time had an empire, ruling over many other Greek city-states, and none of those people living in the other city-states could vote either.

Democracy in ancient Athens was quite different from the way people practice it today. Democracies today are "representative democracies", by which the general population elects a small group of people every few years who then make all of the governmental decisions on behalf of the people. In Athens, however, every governmental decision had to be made by a big assembly of all eligible citizens who wanted to take part – in some cases, this had to be at least 6,000 citizens. This is called a direct democracy.

The Athenian Assembly would meet in a large open-air area on the side of a hill in Athens called the Pnyx. Only male citizens over the age of 20 were allowed to take part. Any member of the assembly could speak and make proposals (at least in theory), and everyone at the assembly voted on each issue by a show of hands. The assembly met at least 40 times a year. Sometimes, the authorities had trouble rounding up enough people to attend the assembly, so they would send out slaves carrying ropes dipped in red dye. Anybody that they hit would be fined, so people would run from the slaves to the Pnyx where they were safe and join the assembly.

The Athenians also had a council with 500 members (called the "boule“ or Council of 500), which prepared the agenda for the assembly and carried out its decisions. The members were chosen by lottery from the population of citizen men over the age of 30 and served for one year. A man was allowed to be a member only twice in his whole lifetime. The council would meet on most days of the year in a council chamber in the agora. Juries in ancient Athens were also chosen by lottery drawn from any male citizens over the age of 30 who volunteered at the start of each year. Juries were made up of different numbers depending on the type of case. Often there were 501 jurors deciding a case. Speeches were timed and after each side had put forward his case, all of the jurors voted by secret ballot. The case was decided by a simple majority. Witnesses were allowed, but unlike today, there was no cross-examination. Imprisonment was not used as a punishment following a conviction in ancient Athens – usually a person found guilty either had to pay a fine or was put to death.

Another important part of Athenian democracy in the fifth century was something called ostracism. Once every year, the assembly would be asked if they wanted to hold an ostracism. If they said yes, then, two months later, the assembly met in the agora. Everybody who wanted to could scratch the name of somebody they wanted to get rid of on to a piece of pottery and deposit it. If there was a total of 6,000 pieces of pottery, then whoever had the most votes had to leave the country for ten years within ten days.

Athenian democracy was limited, but it gave some people the opportunity to make decisions about how they were governed. Participation in government by common people was a new idea that later became a model for other governments. Democracy of this kind has two preconditions. The community must be small enough for citizens to be capable of attending debates and voting on issues. And its economy must give these citizens enough leisure to engage in politics; in the ancient world this means that there must be slaves to do most of the work. Both circumstances prevail in Athens.


Art and Architecture

in Ancient Greece

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 Greeks developed three architectural systems, called orders, each with their own distinctive proportions and detailing. The Greek orders are: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.

During the Hellenistic Period, there are some new architectural types. Less time is spent on temples. The new form is the theater, and many theaters are built all over the Greek world. Also, there is new interest in town planning at this time: streets begin to be laid out 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.

Greek art is mainly in four forms: architecture, sculpture, painting and painted pottery.

Sculpture includes small figurines and life-size statues, but also relief sculptures which were on the sides of buildings, and also tombstones. Early works consisted mostly of sculptures made from marble and limestone The sculptors of Ancient Greece could portray the human body perfectly in stone and bronze. Whether carving self-standing statues for temples or intricate bas-relief work to adorn architecture, the work of the Classical era was so good, it was unsurpassed. Early sculpture was stiff, although sculptors such as Polyclitus perfected the proportions of the male standing figure.

A revolution came around 400BC when the new technique of metal casting allowed sculptors to make hollow bronze figures, with more finely honed musculature, hair and clothing than solid metal had allowed. Surprisingly, sculpture was brightly painted to make it stand out at a distance.. During this period Greeks making the large statues and representations of Gods and humans that they are so famous for. Sculptors honored the Gods by expressing the beauty of the human body. Young and athletic men were the main subjects of classical sculpture. Emotion and movement were shown in the works of art in the Hellenistic style. Pain and fear were shown on the faces of the figures and battle scenes where even carved into relief sculptures for temples

Pottery provides a hugely important link to the past, thanks to its durability and widespread use. Decorative amphora, mixing bowls, drinking cups and oil flasks are the best surviving medium for Greek painting, while the distribution of pottery remains provides a record of ancient trade routes. Early decorative designs were dropped in favor of scenes from myth or daily life, with fine details giving added depth and realism.

The Doric style is rather sturdy and its top (the capital), is plain. This style was used in main land Greece and the colonies in southern Italy and Sicily.

The Ionic style is thinner and more elegant. Its capital is decorated with a scroll-like design (a volute). This style was found in eastern Greece and the islands.

The Corinthian style is seldom used in the Greek world, but often seen on Roman temples. Its capital is very elaborate and decorated with acanthus leaves.


Theater in Ancient Greece

Greekhistory began around 700 B.C. with festivals honoring their many gods. Dionysus was honored with an unusual festival led by drunken men dressed up in rough goat skins who would sing and play in choruses. Tribes competed against one another in performances, and the best show would have the honor of winning the contest.

At the early Greek festivals, the actors, directors, and dramatists were all the same person. Later, only three actors could be used in each play. Actors were always men, even if they were playing female roles. The actors were so far away from the audience that without the aid of exaggerated costumes and masks, they would be difficult to see. Actors wore thick boots to add to their height and gloves to exaggerate their hands so that their movements would be discernable to the audience. The mask is the best-known symbol of Greek theater. A distinctive mask was made for each character in a play. The masks were made of linen or cork, so none have survived. We know what they looked like from statues and paintings of ancient Greek actors. Tragic masks carried mournful or pained expressions, while comic masks were smiling or leering. An actor's entire head was covered by his mask, which included hair. It has been theorized that the shape of the mask amplified the actor's voice, making his words easier for the audience to hear. After some time, non-speaking roles were allowed to perform on-stage.

Because of the limited number of actors allowed on-stage, the chorus evolved into a very active part of Greek theatre. Though the number of people in the chorus is not clear, the chorus was given as many as one-half the total lines of the play. Music was often played during the chorus' delivery of its lines.

Tragedy told a story that was intended to teach religious lessons Most Greek tragedies are based on mythology or history. They were designed to show the right and wrong paths in life. Tragedies were not simply plays with bad endings. Tragedies depicted the life voyages of people who steered themselves or who were steered by fate on collision courses with society, life's rules, or simply fate. Comedy was supposed to be a mockery of people and situations, a criticism against immorality, greed and corruption. Its goal was to pass the message of the return to tradition and to the values of the ancestors.

The well-known Greek playwrights of the fifth century are Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes and Euripides.

Aeschylus introduced the second actor and created the first play as we know it today. He also attempted to involve the chorus directly in the action of the play

Sophocles won twenty-four contests for his plays, never placing lower than second place. His contributions to theatre history are many: He introduced the third actor to the stage, fixed the number of chorus members to fifteen, and was the first to use scene painting.

Aristophanes, who competed in the major Athenian festivals, wrote 40 plays, 11 of which survived. All comedies of note during this time are by Aristophanes.

Greek theaters were large, open-air structures constructed on the slopes of hills. They consisted of three principal elements: the orchestra, the skene, and the audience. The centerpiece of the theatre was the orchestra, Behind the orchestra was a large rectangular building called the skene. It was used as a "backstage" area where actors could change their costumes and masks. The audience sat on tiers of benches built up on the side of a hill. Greek theatres, then, could only be built on hills that were correctly shaped. A typical theatre was enormous, able to seat around 15,000 viewers.


Science and Mathematics

in Ancient Greece

The Greeks were very interested in science as a way of organizing the world and making order out of their world, and having power over some very powerful things like oceans and weather. Science in Ancient Greece was based on logical thinking and mathematics. From about 600BC, many Greek men spent time observing the planets and the sun and trying to figure out how astronomy worked.

Thales of Miletus is regarded by many as the father of science; he was the first Greek philosopher to seek to explain the physical world in terms of natural rather than supernatural causes. By the 400's BC, Pythagoras was interested in finding the patterns and rules in mathematics and music, and invented the idea of a mathematical proof. His famous theorem for calculating the length of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is well known. Although Greek women usually were not allowed to study science, Pythagoras did have some women among his students.

Socrates, a little bit later, developed logical methods for deciding whether something was true or not. Although the Greeks were the first Europeans to consider questions of astronomy, mathematics, physics and biology, it was not until the time of Aristotle that they recognized science as a discipline distinct from philosophy. Nevertheless, they made some astounding discoveries and their names live on. In the 300's BC, Aristotle and other philosophers at the Lyceum and the Academy in Athens worked on observing plants and animals, and organizing the different kinds of plants and animals into types.

Hippocrates (460-390BC), a physician and medical writer, is the father of modern medicine. He established a renowned school of medicine on the island of Cos, where students learned to diagnose illness through observation rather than theory. It was from this school that the first version of the Hippocratic oath derived.

Archimedes (287-211BC) is most famous for running through the streets shouting “Eureka!” when he discovered the principle of specific gravity while sitting in his bath. But we can also credit him with the invention of the Archimedean screw – a device still used to draw water upwards – and many important theories of geometry. The threads on the inside collect water and as the tube rotates, the water is brought up and put into a storage tank. This massive device was run by human power. The person running the screw, usually a slave, held onto a rail at the top and used his own muscle power to propel the water upward.

Because the Greeks had only very clumsy ways of writing down numbers , they didn't like algebra. They found it very hard to write down equations or number problems. Instead, Greek mathematicians were more focused on geometry, and used geometric methods to solve problems that you might use algebra for.

Greek mathematicians were also very interested in proving that certain mathematical ideas were true. So they spent a lot of time using geometry to prove that things were always true, even though people like the Egyptians and Babylonians already knew that they were true most of the time anyway. The Greeks in general were very interested in rationality, in things making sense and hanging together. They wanted to tie up the loose ends. They liked music, because music followed strict rules to produce beauty. So did architecture, and so did mathematics.


Sports in Ancient Greece

The Greeks took games of all kinds very seriously, but especially physical athletic competition. The Greeks believed that their gods particularly loved to see strong, fit, graceful human bodies, especially boys' and men's bodies. So one way to get on the good side of the gods was to exercise, to eat right, to oil your skin, to create a beautiful body that the gods would love. Because of the Greek tendency to turn everything into a competition, this also meant that there were a lot of athletic competitions in Greece. Every set of sporting games was dedicated to a god. The most famous of these is the Olympic Games, but there were other games held in other places as well, like the Isthmian Games at Corinth.

Young men (from richer families who didn't have to work) in most Greek cities spent a lot of their time training for these competitions, and the best of them were chosen to compete against the best young men from other cities. Then they would all meet, at the Olympic Games or the Isthmian Games or elsewhere, and compete for prizes and for the favor of the gods. Of course these games also served as good training for the army, because all these men would be soldiers as well. The events were the same kind as in the Olympics today: running, jumping, throwing a javelin, and throwing a discus. Only men could compete.

The greatest victory for an athlete was to win the Olympic crown, the prize for each event winner in the Olympics. The crown was a wreath of wild olive cut from the tree sacred to Zeus. The glory of the victorious athlete reflected glory to all the inhabitants of his home town. To show that he had become famous, the winner had a statue erected of himself, poets wrote verses telling of his feats and coins were made with his likeness on them.

Although we associate the Olympic Games with sport, the Games of Ancient Greece were primarily a religious festival in honor of Zeus. Legend has it that the Games were founded by Heracles, who planted an olive tree from which the winners’ garlands were made.

So seriously did the Greeks take the Games that a truce was declared and strictly observed during each Olympics. Even during the Peloponnesian Wars, enemies mingled and competed side by side during the event. The truce was only broken once, by Sparta, who were banned from the 420BC Games as a punishment.