Ancient History/Greece/Introduction

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Introduction

Map of regions throughout the Mediterranean under Greek influence around 550 BCE.

Ancient Greece is undoubtedly one of the most influential civilizations in European history. The Hellenes, the term used by the Greeks to describe themselves, laid the foundations for democracy, philosophy, theater, and the sciences. In architecture the Ionic, Doric and Corinthian orders were perfected and their aesthetic function utilized during all periods up to the modern state. In the plastic arts Greek sculptors shook off the influence of Egyptian statuary with its stylized perspective seeking instead to explore proportion in relation to an aesthetic idealism of perfect form. Above the entrance to the Delphi oracle were inscribed the words "Know Thyself" as an ominous portent to those seeking answers at the sanctuary of Apollo. Critical introspection, of which the Delphic epigram is only one example amongst many, freed the Greeks from the restraints of censure. The arts and sciences flourished and the great poets and philosophers of Ancient Greece laid bare the human condition in a psychological drama that still resonates today.

Overview

The history of Ancient Greece begins long before our earliest written records. Archeology has provided us with what little information we have about such civilizations as the Minoans, Mycenaeans, and the world of the Greek Dark Ages. These civilizations were not even believed to have existed until very recently, when archeologists began to think the epic poetry of Homer's Iliad might contain more truth than previously thought. During the Classical Period, Greek culture was reborn and flourished, and was spread throughout the Mediterranean Sea by the Athenian Empire, as well as other Greek traders, colonists, and conquerors.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) between Athens and Sparta, and their respective allies, greatly weakened Greece's collective power, and by 336 BCE, nearly every Greek city-state was under the control of Macedon, and for the first time united into a single political unit. Alexander III, the next king of Macedon, took this united Greece and with it conquered the entire known world, spreading Greek culture (called Hellenism, or ελληνισμος) from Egypt, through Persia, all the way to India. Upon the death of Alexander the Great (as he would come to be known), the Empire split into fourths. A united Greece was one of the four new kingdoms, which lasted until 168 BCE, when Macedonia was absorbed into the growing Roman Republic. The entirety of Greece came under Roman rule by 146 BCE. In 529 CE Justinian I ordered the closure of all pagan institutions including Plato's Academy. Pagan philosophy would collapse under the weight of Christian dogma.


Ancient Greece: Introduction · 01 · 02 · 03 · 04 · 05