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SIMPLE GREEK HISTORY FOR THE PERPLEXED

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SIMPLE GREEK HISTORY FOR THE PERPLEXED

May 04, 2010 Bloggies

The Ancient Greeks

The ancient Greeks are in many important ways the founders of the modern world. It is true that their culture thrived thousands of years ago, but the ideas, building designs and governments that they founded anciently still exist in the Western World today. From sports to democracy, the Ancient Greeks will continue to influence the lives of billions of people for centuries to come.

The Aegean Sea

The Greeks were protected on one side by mountains, and on the other side by the waters of the Aegean Sea. The coastline of the Balkan Peninsula where the Greek mainland is found is made of thousands of inlets and coves. These coves were ideal for sea ports. Because no part of Greece was more than fifty miles from the coastline, many Greeks made their living through trade, fishing, and other sea faring means.

The mountains of the Balkan Peninsula made travel over land difficult. This tended to isolate cities and states from one another. As a result, the nation of Greece never united under one central government, but instead was comprised of smaller regions known as city-states, each with its own local government.

In addition to the mainland, the Greeks also spread across much of the Mediterranean, inhabiting the islands and coastlines in the area.

Before The Greeks

Prior to the rule of the Greeks, another great civilization flourished in the same region. These people where known as the Minoans. For centuries the Minoans were lost to history, and were believed to be nothing more than an ancient myth. Then around 1900, an archeologist by the name of Sir Author Evans discovered an ancient palace that predated the Greeks.

It is now known that the Minoans flourished from around 2500 B.C. until about 1400 BC. This civilization was both powerful, and advanced. Their might allowed them to control the Aegean Sea, keeping it free from criminals, and pirates.

Evidence from archeological finds show that the Minoans curled their hair, and that they wore gold jewelry and belts. Just as this society was growing and seeing great success, it suddenly disappeared. Many archeologists believe that it was destroyed by a giant tidal wave. Others believe that they were conquered by another group of people known as the Mycenaeans.

The Mycenaeans

The Mycenaeans originated in Central Asia. As their population grew, they began to spread into the Balkan Peninsula. By around 1400 B.C. the Mycenaeans had overrun the Minoans and began to rule as the dominate culture in the area.

In order to protect their people, the Mycenaeans built large fortresses astride the hills and mountain tops of their villages. These fortresses offered a place of refuge during times of danger.

By 1100 B.C. the Mycenaean fortresses, which had fallen into disrepair due to neglect and battle, where conquered by a new people who spoke the Greek language. These people were known as the Dorians. Using Iron weapons, the Dorians had little difficulty defeating and over running the Mycenaeans.

After conquering the region, the Dorians fell into a ‘Dark Age’. Poverty became wide-spread, and important skills such as reading and writing where lost. This dark age lasted for about 300 years.

Then around 750 B.C. a group known as the Ionians brought many elements of culture, including reading, writing, and art back into the region. This began a new era of civilization referred to as the Hellenic Period. During this period, the Greeks rose to become one of the most powerful civilizations anywhere in the world.

A New Type of Religion

Many of the civilizations that existed prior to the Greeks believed in gods and goddesses that were terrible, mean, and most importantly, that were not human. Instead, these gods often took the form of animals, monsters, and beasts. The people believed that mankind existed for the sole purpose of serving and pleasing the gods.

The Greeks had a new outlook on religion. They believed that the gods and mankind had a partnership with one another, and that both existed to serve one another. They believed that their gods were human in form, and that they exhibited human emotions, including jealousy, love, and hatred. Their gods married, had families, and even committed murder.

The only difference between mankind, and the gods was that the gods had supernatural powers, while mankind did not. Greek students were taught to strive to be the best individuals they could possibly be, so that they could be more like the gods.

Each Greek city-state selected a patron god as their protector. This god was worshiped, in an effort to please them, so that their good favor would fall upon the people of that region. Every Greek Citizen also worshiped the chief god Zues.

The Greeks believed that the 12 most important and most powerful gods lived on top of a mountain in Northern Greece known as Mount Olympus. From this holy mountain, the people believed that the gods ruled, and controlled all aspects of the natural world, as well as all aspects of the lives of individual people.

A Trojan Horse

The Greeks believed in two myths known as the Iliad and the Odyssey. These myths were taught in schools, and were also used as examples of the type of life that a Greek Citizen should strive to live.

Among the stories found in these myths is that of a giant wooden horse. In the Myth of the Iliad, an army attempted to conquer the city of Troy. After ten years, when they have still been unable to break through the Trojan’s defenses. In frustration, they devise a plot to get the Trojan’s to let them into their city.

The soldiers of this army build a giant wooden horse, which they fill with their best and strongest soldiers. The rest of the soldiers climb on their ships, and sail away. The Trojans think that the army has left, and take the gift horse into their city. During the night, the soldiers climb out of the horse, and finally overthrow the city.

The Olympics

As the Greek civilization continued to evolve, they began to practice many important festivals. One of these festivals was a sporting event that took place every four years in the city of Olympia. These sporting events celebrated the human form, and the strength of both mankind, as well as the gods. In particular, the god Zues. Citizens of Greece would travel to Olympia from all over the nation to take part in a variety of sporting events where they could demonstrate their strength and athleticism.

The Greek Governments

Each Greek city-state was called a polis. The word polis still shows up in many English words today, such as politics, police, and metropolis. A polis typically included a city, along with surrounding villages, and fields.

Typically a polis, or city-state had a high hill at the center, called the acropolis. At the top of the acropolis, the Greeks built temples to their patron gods. At the base of the acropolis the Greeks carried out the business of the polis, including merchant activities, such as buying and selling goods, as well as the business of their government.

Most city-states granted rights to their citizens. These citizens could vote for their leaders, own property, and participate in both government and civic responsibilities. Not everyone who lived in a city-state was a citizen however. These city-states had many slaves, and foreigners who did not have the rights of those native born men. Most women also did not have the rights of a citizen.

The Greek Colonies

As the Greeks began to see great prosperity, their population exploded. As a result of this increasing population, the farmers in the city-states where not able to produce enough food to support and feed everyone.

To solve this problem, the city-states began to colonize regions around the Mediterranean Sea. These colonies supplied their parent polis, known as a metropolis with grain and food, while the metropolis would supply its colony with the supplies that it needed.

The Development of Money

For generations the people of the Balkan Peninsula and throughout the world did business by bartering goods. Items were traded directly for items of an equal value. Then around 600 B.C. this all changed with the development of coin money.

At first coins were produced by merchants as a type of credit system. Over time, the local city-states took over the responsibility of manufacturing coin money. This new tool allowed their economy to explode. Goods from all over the world were shipped into the area, while other items were shipped out.

The Two Rival Capitals

While not capitals in the traditional sense, two of the Greek city-states competed with each other for the title of most important, and for the power and wealth that was associated with being the most successful. These two city-states where Athens, and Sparta.

Around 700 B.C. both Athens and Sparta where ruled by powerful kings. These kings slowly lost power to local merchants and noblemen. The lower classes were not given any rights, nor authority. This was a source of anger and a possible cause of revolts.

The farmers and other lower classes demanded that their voices be heard, and that their rights be granted. Both Athens and Sparta faced great challenges. How would they maintain their control and influence over their people. Each city-state solved this challenge very differently.

Athens – A People of Freedom And Dreams

The people of Athens granted rights and privileges of citizenship to all the lower classes. Every male member of their city-state were given the same rights as the wealthiest politicians. They could buy property, serve in public office, and participate in other aspects of daily life.

Athenian men were highly educated. They began their formal education at the age of seven, and continued until age eighteen. The reason that they placed such high importance on educating all young men, was because it was likely that everyone would at some point have an opportunity to serve in public life.

Instead of voting for their public leaders, these leaders were selected at random through the process of a lottery. The Athenians believed that any male was capable of making a good leader, and they worried about votes being influenced by those with money, or important family names.

The Athenians also introduced the concept of trial by jury. Juries might be made up of more than 1,000 individuals, which they believed insured that no one could bribe them. A decision of a jury had to be made by the majority vote.

This freedom and emphasis on education helped create an atmosphere that would produce some of the most important advancements that the Greeks are credited for. Everything from science, to art, to medicine. Athens became a center of culture and education for the entire world.

Sparta – A City of Soldiers

Sparta took a very different approach to controlling their people. They decided that the best way to insure that their people remained obedient to their laws was to create a massive army.

Spartan boys were expected to join the army. Even from birth, if a male child did not appear to be strong, city officials would leave the baby on a hill to die. At the age of seven boys were required to leave their families, and begin training for battle. They would remain in the army until age 60, when they were allowed to retire.

Their emphasis on war was very effective at keeping obedience and loyalty in their city-state. Sparta’s military expertise has been credited for many victories that helped protect the other city-states. However, Sparta did not focus on much else. As a result, they were poorer, and less technically advanced than the other city-states.

The Peloponnesian War

Over time, Athens gradually became richer, and more powerful than all the other city-states. As its influence grew, the leaders of Athens began to demand loyalty from the other city-states. This loyalty was further strengthened when an alliance was formed to fight the Persians from invading Greece. After the Persians were defeated the troops raised for the war were used by Athens to control the other city-states.

Shortly after an Athenian general by the name of Pericles insisted that all criminal trials be held in Athens. He also attempted to force the other city-states to adopt and use Athens money.

Lead by Sparta, the other city-states rebelled against the growing strength of Athens. The war that followed is known as the Peloponnesian war. This war lasted from 431 B.C. until 404 B.C., and had devastating effects on Greece.

At first it appeared that Athens would win. Their powerful navy dominated the Mediterranean Sea. However, Sparta’s hatred of Athens was deep. The Spartans made a deal with Persia, their former enemy. They traded the Persians land for money. Sparta then used this gold to build a navy of their own.

For decades the war tore the city-states of Greece apart. Finally in 404 B.C. Sparta was able to conquer the city of Athens, and demand its surrender. Though Sparta had won, no one could claim victory. The war had resulted in the deaths of many of their citizens. Orchards, vineyards, and fields had been destroyed. The treasuries of the city-states had been destroyed, and faith in democracy had been reduced. As a result of the Peloponnesian War, Greece became weaker, and poorer.

Within a few decades, when attacked by the Macedonians, they would be completely unable to defend themselves, and their civilization would collapse.

Socrates

During the golden age of freedom and education in Athens, many teachers traveled around Greece educating the young. One of the most famous of these teachers was a man named Socrates.

Many of the teachers of his day taught that a man should consider the consequences of his actions before making a decision. Socrates taught that the consequences did not matter. What was most important was that you always did what was right. He believed that if something was right, it did not matter what would happen to you, you should do it.

Socrates also taught his students to think for themselves. He created a teaching method known today as the Socratic Method, which helped students think clearly, and question their currently accepted way of thinking.

Socrates was eventually accused of corrupting the young. After being convicted by a jury he was sentenced to death.

Plato

A young student of Socrates by the name of Plato began teaching upon the death of Socrates. At the age of 30, Plato opened a school that would remain in operation for nearly nine centuries following his death.

Plato authored a book which he titled ‘The Republic’, which outlined what he believed was the perfect government. Plato felt that a democracy was not the most effective form of government, because the lower classes of people could not be trusted. He felt that the higher classes which were more educated aught to be in charge of the government.

Aristotle

After studying with Plato for nearly 20 years, Aristotle set out on his own as a teacher. He opened a school in Athens, where he taught on everything from science, to politics, to critical thinking.

Aristotle wrote over 200 books during his life. These books would remain long after his death, and would effect western thinking for centuries to come.

Alexander The Great

A young Macedonian prince by the name of Alexander was taught for four years by his teacher, Aristotle. Aristotle instructed Alexander in politics, war, and in critical thinking.

Alexander The Great

A young Macedonian prince by the name of Alexander was taught for four years by his teacher, Aristotle. Aristotle instructed Alexander in politics, war, and in critical thinking.

Then at the age of 16, Alexander was made a captain in the Macedonian armies where he gained the respect of his soldiers for his bravery, and battle strategies. When Alexander was 20 years old, his father was murdered. After the death of his father, Alexander became the king of Macedonia. The capital of Macedonia was the city of Babylon.

Having been tutored by Aristotle, Alexander admired the Greeks. He thought that their culture was refined, and that it had many things to offer. Alexander also admired the Persian culture, seeing many things that he thought were note worthy.

Alexander determined to conquer both Greece and Persia, and combine them into an empire that would equal any other empire, anywhere in the world. For the next 13 years, Alexander, now known as Alexander The Great marched his troops from battle to battle, conquering more and more territory.

At the age of 33, Alexander The Great contracted a fever, which quickly took his life. The empire he had worked so hard to build was divided among three of his generals, whose descendants ruled these three territories as separate empires.

Alexander Spreads Greek Culture

Upon his death, the empire that Alexander The Great had built fractured into three separate kingdoms. These kingdoms later fractured into yet more smaller states. However, even though his kingdom did not last long, his influence did. The conquests of Alexander The Great spread the Greek culture throughout much of Europe and Asia.

The Greek culture mixed with other cultures, forming a new type of civilization which is today referred to as Hellenistic. These Hellenistic cities spoke Greek, and practiced many of the religious and other culture practices first introduced by the Greeks.

Greece as a nation was gone, but as a culture, it had been spread throughout the known world. In Egypt a new city was founded, by the name of Alexandria. In Alexandria the first museum was founded in the history of the world. This museum included a zoo, a botanical garden, and a vast library. Scientists and scholars from around the world traveled to Alexandria to study the works collected there.

Even today, many thousands of years later, the Greek culture continues to influence many aspects of western culture. This small nation has become one of the most influential cultures in the history of the world.

GUESS THIS BOOK!

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GUESS THIS BOOK!

April 30, 2010 Bloggies

  1. The novel takes its title from a street at the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community.
  2. Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is also partly set in this street.
  3. The novel delineates the emotional conflicts and survival of an immigrant, Nazneen, married to a pompous man who is double her age.
  4. The publication of the novel and its adaptation into film in 2007 caused uproar among the Bangladeshis in London for what they considered a negative representation of the community.
  5. The campaign against the novel was allegedly supported by Germaine Greer whose involvement was condemned by Salman Rushdie.

NOW WHICH IS THIS BOOK?

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