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Greece and Medieval Europe Theme: Alternatives to centralized empire. Lesson 8. Part 1: Greece. ID & SIG:. advantages of women in Sparta, cults, Hellenikon, helot, patriarchal society, polis, Athens, Corinth, democracy, oligarchy, Pericles, Solon, Sparta, tyrants. Mycenaean Society.

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Greeceand Medieval EuropeTheme: Alternatives to centralized empire

Lesson 8

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  • advantages of women in Sparta, cults, Hellenikon, helot, patriarchal society, polis, Athens, Corinth, democracy, oligarchy, Pericles, Solon, Sparta, tyrants

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Mycenaean Society

  • The Mycenaeans established a society on the Greek peninsula beginning with migrations in 2200 B.C.

  • From 1500 to 1100 B.C., they expanded their influence beyond the Greek peninsula, overpowering Minoan society in Crete

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Trojan War

  • About 1200 B.C., the Mycenaeans fought the Trojan War with the city of Troy in Anatolia

  • At the same time, foreigners invaded the Mycenaean homeland

  • From 1100 to 800 B.C., chaos reigned throughout the eastern Mediterranean

  • In the absence of a centralized state or empire, local institutions took the lead in restoring political order to Greece

    • City-states

The Trojan Horse

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  • Concept of Herodotus to reflect the Greeks’ being of “shared blood, shared language, shared religion, and shared customs”

  • Established an ethnic identity that set them apart from the “barbarians”

  • However, Hellenikon lacked a common political component

    • In the absence of a centralized state or empire, local institutions took the lead in restoring political order to Greece

      • City-states (polis)

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The Acropolis of Athens

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Cities: The Polis

  • The city-state or polis was originally a fortified site that provided refuge in war or other emergencies

    • Gradually they attracted increasing populations, took on an urban character, and began to exert authority over the surrounding regions

      • Much authority was based on the possession of large hoplite armies

    • Levied taxes on their hinterlands and appropriated a portion of the agriculture surplus to support the urban population

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Cities: The Polis

  • Poleis were different because they developed independently of each other

    • Different traditions, economies, political systems, etc

  • Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes are examples

    • These will be discussed in greater detail in Lesson 15.

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Sparta, Athens, Corinth

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Sparta: Helots

  • Helots wereservants of the Sparta state

    • Not chattel slaves, but not free either

    • By the 6th Century B.C., helots probably outnumbered Sparta citizens by 10 to 1

    • The large number of helots allowed the Spartans to cultivate their region efficiently, but also posed the threat of constant rebellion

  • Sparta responded for the need for order by military means

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Sparta: Society

  • In theory, all Spartans citizens were equal

    • To discourage economic and social distinctions, Spartans observed an extraordinarily austere lifestyle as a matter of policy

      • No jewelry, elaborate clothes, luxuries, or accumulation of great private wealth

    • Even today, “spartan” means

      • Practicing great self-denial

      • Unsparing and uncompromising in discipline or judgment

      • Resolute in the face of pain or danger or adversity

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Sparta: Society

  • “Come back with your shield - or on it” was the reported parting cry of Spartan mothers to their sons.

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Sparta: Society

  • What distinctions did exist in Spartan society were based not on wealth or social status, but on prowess, discipline, and military talent

  • Spartan educational system cultivated such attributes from an early age

    • Boys left their homes at age seven to live in military barracks under a rigorous regime of physical training

    • At age 20 they went into the military where they served until retirement

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Sparta: Society

  • Women married at age 18 or 20 but did not live with their husbands

    • The men stayed in the barracks until about age 30 when they began to set up households with their wives and children

    • Women maintained strict physical regimes in the hopes of bearing strong children

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Patriarchal Society

  • Male family heads ruled their households

    • Greek women fell under the control of their fathers, husbands, or sons

  • In most poleis, women could not own landed property

  • The only public position open to Greek women was priestess of a religious cult

  • In Sparta, men were still the family authorities, but women had more opportunities

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Advantages of Women in Sparta over Women in Athens

  • Girls were given a good education in both the arts and athletics.

  • Women were encouraged to develop their intellect.

  • Women owned more than a third of the land.

  • There was less difference in age between husbands and wives, and girls in Sparta married at a later age than their sisters in Athens.

  • Husbands spent most of their time with other men in the military barracks; since the men were rarely home, the women were free to take charge of almost everything outside of the army.

  • Mothers reared their sons until age 7 and then society took over. Fathers played little or no role in child care.

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Sparta: Government

  • Highly unusual government that contained elements of democracy, timocracy, monarchy, and oligarchy

King Leonidas

ca. 530 BC-480 BC

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Rule by a few

Power was in the hands of five men called Ephores who were elected annually by the Council of Elders


Government by people of honor

All Ephores were over the age of 60 and had completed their military career

The Ephores controlled all daily life in Sparta

Sparta: Government

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Rule by a hereditary sovereign

Under the five Ephores there were two Kings that came from the two noble families of Sparta

With divine approval, shown in an oracle or an omen, the Ephores had the power to force the Kings’ abdication


Election based on numerical majority

Under the Kings were the Council of the Elders.

The council passed laws and elected the five Ephores

Beneath them all you had the rest of the free Spartan men who voted for the Council of Elders

Sparta: Government

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  • Whereas Sparta tried to establish order by military means, Athens instead tried a government based on democratic principles

    • Sought to negotiate order by considering the interests of the polis’s various constituencies

  • Citizenship was restricted to free adult males, but government offices were open to all citizens

    • Broadened the political base

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Athens: Solon

  • As tensions developed between aristocrats and less privileged classes, Solon devised a compromise

  • Aristocrats were allowed to keep their lands, but at the same time Solon cancelled debts, forbade debt slavery, and liberated those already enslaved for debt

  • To prevent future abuses, he provided governmental representation for the common classes by opening the councils of the polis to any citizen wealthy enough to devote time to public affairs, regardless of lineage

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Athens: Pericles

  • Solon’s reforms gradually transformed Athens into a democratic state, but the high tide of Athenian democracy was reached under the leadership of Pericles from 443 to 429 B.C.

  • His government included hundreds of officeholders from common classes

  • Pericles boasted that Athens was “the education of Greece”

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  • Each year Athenians would decide whether to hold an election to banish someone from the city for 10 years

  • Means to prevent politicians from dividing the community and to stop tyrants before they seized power

  • First ostrakaphoria held in 487 B.C.


ballots made from pieces of pottery

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Periander, second

tyrant of Corinth

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  • Founded in the 10th Century B. C.

    • Strategically located

      • Guards the narrow isthmus that connects the Peloponnesus to the mainland and hosts the important harbors of Lechaeum and Cenchreae

    • Became the richest port and the largest city in ancient Greece

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  • The two seaports were only four miles apart

    • Lechaeum, the western harbor in the Corinthian Gulf was the trading port to Italy and Sicily

    • Cenchreae, the eastern harbor in the Saronic Gulf, was the port for the eastern Mediterranean countries

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Corinth: Diolkos

  • Periander constructed a five foot wide rock-cut tract for wheeling small ships and their unloaded cargo from one gulf to the other

  • By 400 B.C., a double wall ran from Corinth to Lechaeum to protect a two mile rock paved street, about 40 feet wide, leading to the port

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Corinth: Government

  • With increased wealth and more complicated trade relations and social structures, some city-states overthrew their traditional hereditary kings

    • Corinth, the richest city-state, led the way

    • Instead of developing long-term solutions to the societal and economic problems, ambitious politicians or generals called “tyrants” seized power by irregular means and ruled without being subject to the law

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Corinth: Government

  • Tyrants were usually members of the ruling aristocracy who either had a personal grievance or led an unsuccessful faction

  • They were generally supported by the politically powerless new wealthy and by poor farmers

  • Once in power they often seized land from the aristocrats and divided it among their own supporters

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Corinth: Government

  • Tyrants were not necessarily oppressive despots

    • Many were quite popular, in part due to the public works programs they established and the debts they cancelled

    • The word “tyrant” comes from how they gained power rather than how they governed

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Corinth: Government

  • Tyrants maintained order by:

    • reinforcing the state’s centralization by consolidating power

    • encouraging individuals to identify with the state through their capacity as citizens and building a common consciousness

    • pursuing peaceful relations with other tyrants

      • Did not want to build a citizen army because it might become a threat to their rule

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  • What is Hellenikon?

  • What maintained order in Greece in the absence of centralized political authority?

  • How was order maintained in

    • Athens

    • Sparta

    • Greece

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Part 2: Medieval EuropeTheme: Order in the absence of empire

Lesson 18

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  • chivalry, feudal system, lords, manors, serfs, “three estates”

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Regional States

  • Germanic invaders toppled Rome’s authority in the late 5th Century A.D. but no clear successor to centralized authority emerged

    • The Franks temporarily revived empire; the high point of which was the reign of Charlemagne from 768-814


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Regional States

  • After Charlemagne, his successor Carolingians had no effective means of defending against Magyars, Muslims, Vikings, and other invaders

  • In response, European nobles sought to protect their lands and maintain order in their own territories

  • Political authority in early medieval Europe thus devolved into competing local and regional jurisdictions with a decentralized political order

    • “Feudalism”

Viking long ship

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  • There really was no “feudal system” if that implies a neat hierarchy of lords and vassals who collectively took charge of political and military affairs

  • Because the feudal hierarchy arose as a makeshift for defense against invaders, it always had a provisional, ad hoc, and flexible character

    • There was no “system”

  • However, medieval European society was characterized by:

    • Fragmentation of political power

    • Public power in private hands

    • Armed forces secured through private contracts

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Medieval SocietyEarly Middle Ages (450-1050)

  • The country was not governed by the king but by individual lords who administered their own estates, dispensed their own justice, minted their own money, levied taxes and tolls, and demanded military service from vassals

  • Usually the lords could field greater armies than the king

    • In theory the king was the chief feudal lord, but in reality the individual lords were supreme in their own territory

      • Many kings were little more than figurehead rulers

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  • The nobles maintained their armies by offering grants, usually land, to armed retainees

  • In exchange for the grants, the retainees pledged their loyalty and military service to their lords

    • The retainees gained increased rights over their land, to include the prerogative to pass on their rights to the heirs

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Political-Military Relationship

  • A close relationship between political and military authorities developed

    • As a result, political authorities and military specialists merged into a hereditary noble class which lived off the surplus agricultural production that it extracted from the cultivators

    • Only by tapping into this surplus could the lords and their retainees secure the material resources necessary to maintain their control over military, political, and legal affairs

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  • Free peasants sought protection from a lord and pledged their labor and obedience in exchange for security and land to cultivate

  • Beginning in the mid 17th Century, this category became recognized as serfs– neither fully slave nor fully free

    • Not chattel slaves subject to sale by their master

    • But still owed obligations to the lords whose lands they cultivated

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Serfs’ Obligations

  • Had the right to work certain lands and to pass those lands on to their heirs

  • In exchange they had to perform labor services and pay rents in kind (a portion of the harvest, chickens, eggs, etc)

  • Male serfs typically worked three days a week for their lords with extra services during planting and harvesting times

  • Women serfs churned butter, spun thread, and sewed clothes for their lords and their families

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Serfs’ Obligations

  • Since the lord provided the land, the serfs had little opportunity to move and had to get the lord’s permission to do so

    • Even had to pay fees to marry someone who worked for a different lord

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  • Manors were large estates consisting of fields, meadows, forests, agricultural tools, domestic animals, and serfs

  • The lord of the manor and his deputies provided government, administration, police services, and justice for the manor

  • Many lords had the authority to execute serfs for serious misconduct

  • In the absence of thriving cities in rural areas, manors became largely self-sufficient communities

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Transition to the High Middle Ages(1050 to 1400)

  • The regional stability of the early middle ages allowed local rulers to organize powerful regional states

    • Holy Roman Empire

    • Capetian France

    • Norman England

    • Papal States

    • etc

  • The kings of England and France used their relationships with retainees to build powerful, centralized monarchies

    • Still no one could consolidate all of Europe under a single empire

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Three Estates of Medieval Society

  • Those who pray

    • The clergy of the Roman Catholic Church

  • Those who fight

    • Nobles

  • Those who work

    • Peasants

  • The result was a society marked by political, social, and economic inequality

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  • Church officials originally proposed a chivalric code to curb fighting within Christendom

  • By the 12th Century, the ritual by which a young man became a knight commonly included the candidate placing his sword upon an altar and pledging his service to God

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  • With chivalry, warriors were encouraged to adopt higher ethical standards and refined manners and become cultivated leaders of society

  • The chivalric code called for a noble to devote himself to the causes of order, piety, and the Christian faith rather than seeking wealth and power

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How was order maintained in the Early Middle Ages?

  • In the absence of a strong centralized authority, local political and military elites worked out various ad hoc ways to organize and protect their territories

    • Lords and retainees

    • Manors

    • Serfs

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How was order maintained in the High Middle Ages?

  • The regional stability of the Early Middle Ages allowed powerful regional states to be built, but there was still no single European Empire

  • The code of chivalry helped provide some order and protection for those who otherwise would be most vulnerable to unchecked power

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  • Midterm