The Agora in Ancient Greece
The agora was the central marketplace in most Greek city-states. Typically the agora was located in the center of town. Governmental buildings, such as the council building and courts, surrounded the agora in Athens. There were also two temples on the edge of the agora in Athens.
The agora was more than a marketplace. People came to the agora to discuss politics, meet with friends, as well as buy items from the market. Rich women were not seen in the agora; instead, their husbands or slaves would do the shopping for them. Only poor women, who had no help, would go to the market alone.
In Athens, three different officials were elected to insure fair trade. A metronomoi checked weights and measures to insure traders were not shortchanging their customers. An agoranomoi checked the quality of goods, while a sitophylakes oversaw the grain trade.
As is the case in most Greek cities, modern
buildings have been built over the agora of Athens. In 1924, the Greek
government decided to excavate the Athens agora site. The numberof
houses on the excavation site was more that the Greek government could
afford to buy. In 1928, millionaire John D. Rockefeller donated
$250,000 to finance the excavation of the site.
Marble quarries were plentiful in ancient Greece, so Greek architects developed beautiful buildings out of marble. It was a stronger rock than the sandstone used in ancient Egypt. Because of marble’s strength, the Greeks were able to build with smaller pillars that were spaced farther apart. The builders of the temples used mathematical ratios to get equal spaces between the columns. In addition, the architects adjusted their buildings to correct optical illusions to make the buildings appear to be perfectly in proportion.
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The peninsula of ancient Greece had a Mediterranean climate. Its summers were hot and dry. Temperatures averaged about 75° F (24° C) in summer. The Mediterranean waters and a northwesterly breeze, known as the Etesian, kept temperatures at a comfortable level. In the winter, temperatures again were influenced by the surrounding water. Typically temperatures did not go below 40° F (4.4° C) with the exceptions in the high mountains. In the mountains, snow was typical during the wet winter months. The average yearly rainfall ranged from twenty to fifty inches, with the majority coming during the winter months. Greece typically experienced a large amount of sunny days during the year.
The geography of ancient Greece was divided into
three regions: the coast, the lowlands, and the mountains. The rocky
and uneven soil on the peninsula of Greece allowed for less than 20
percent of the land to be farmed, so the Greeks relied heavily on
imports of grains and other foods from other regions around the
Mediterranean. With no rivers that could be used for boats (because
rivers would dry up in the hot summer and be overflowing during the
winter), transportation on the sea was very important to the Greeks.
The mountainous terrain made land travel difficult and contributed to
the formation of independent city-states throughout the region.
Foreign slaves were often employed to police the cities of ancient Greece. Greeks found it uncomfortable to have citizens policing their own fellow citizens. Often Greeks relied on citizens to report crimes. After reporting a crime, if an arrest was made, an informant would receive half of the fine charged to the criminal.
In Athens, criminals were tried before a jury of 200 or more citizens picked at random. Criminals were punished by fines, their right to vote taken away, exile, or death. Imprisonment was not typically used as a punishment.
Before 600 B.C. there was no monetary system in Greece, so they utilized the barter system. This was a system of trading goods and /or services for other goods and/or services. By 500 B.C., each city-state began minting their own coin. A merchant usually only took coins from their own city. Visitors had to find a moneychanger to exchange their coins. Typically a 5 or 6 percent fee was charged to exchange foreign currency to the local currency.
Athens used a currency known as the drachma. Their currency was widely used because of the large trade network that they developed. Often an Athenian coin could be used in other Greek cities and not have to be exchanged for the local currency.
The Athenian monetary system was set up in the following way:
6 obols = 1 drachma
100 drachma = 1 mina
600 minae = 1 talent (or the equivalent of 57 pounds of silver)
A worker in Athens could earn about two drachmas a day. Sculptors and doctors were able to make up to six drachmas daily. An unskilled worker would make around half of a drachma for one day’s work.
The typical costs of goods in ancient Greece:
loaf of bread 1 obol
lamb 8 drachmas
gallon of olive oil 5 drachmas
shoes 8 to 12 drachmas
slaves 200 to 300 drachmas
houses 400 to 1000 drachmasThe Olympics in Ancient Greece
The first Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C. They
were held for five days every four years as a part of a religious
festival to Zeus, the king of the gods. A two-month truce was called
throughout Greece to insure the safety of those traveling to and from
the events. Conflicts and wars between city-states were halted during
this time. The five most common events at the Olympics were wrestling,
running, long jump, discus, and javelin. Another event was an all-out
fighting match called the pankration. In this event, almost everything was legal except biting or eye gauging.
Chariot racing was another favorite event at the games. Two-or-four horse teams pulled the chariots. Chariots raced twelve laps around posts at either end of a circular course. Often thirty or more chariots raced making for a crowded field where collisions were common. In some races, only a few competitors completed the race because of the numerous collisions.
Winners of the competitions were awarded a laurel wreath from a sacred tree dedicated to Zeus. Winning athletes were treated like stars by fellow citizens from their home cities. Some city-states began to pay the winners of events to encourage athletes to train and compete. Some cities gave meals for life to the winners. Victories brought honor to a city.
The Olympics Games were for males only. Once, a mother attended the games disguised as a trainer. She became so excited after her son’s victory that her true identity was revealed. After that, the trainers had to attend the games naked. This was to prevent anymore women from disguising themselves as men. The rule was already in force for the athletes.
Females often attended the Heraea, an event held in another area of Olympia at the same time as the Olympics. The Heraea was in honor of Hera, the queen of the gods. The events featured a foot race of about 500 yards. Spartan women had a greater advantage because of their city’s emphasis on athletic training for both men and women.
Going from Town to Town in Ancient Greece
People traveled by boat or over land depending on their starting and ending points. Once arriving at a destination, a traveler needed to find a place to stay. A traveler could seek out a proxinoi from their city-state. A proxinoi was an ambassador of sorts, who looked out for the citizens from the city-state he represented. If a traveler ran into legal problems, needed tickets, or a place to stay, the proxinoi gave him directions and support.
A traveler had several options for lodging. If a person was in town on business, his clients often had small rooms or apartments attached to their houses where they could stay. Typically a businessman would share his first meal in town with his host, and then he was on his own for meals for the rest of his stay.
Others might find a place to stay, for a small fee, in a little room in a private house. There were also inns, but the rooms were usually small and dark. A bathroom at an inn consisted of a pot, which was emptied every day or two depending on the quality of the inn.
If a traveler could not afford a room, he could look for a lesche. A lesche was a public shelter, which amounted to a roof over one’s head. For example, in Athens, a traveler could go to the agora at night and use the covered sidewalks for shelter.
Houses and apartments in ancient Greece were very sparsely furnished. The Greeks spent the majority of their days outside. Because of this, they invested little on indoor furnishing. Even in homes of the wealthy, furnishings were limited. They did not want to offend the gods by having more luxuries than were found in the temples.
Travel by Land in Ancient Greece
Travel by land in ancient Greece was difficult. Roads were nothing more than dirt paths that were dry and dusty during the summer and muddy during the winters. Some roads were cut with ruts so that the wheels of carts could roll within them. The ruts were a standard size, so only carts with a specific size of wheelbase were able to travel on the roads. Roads were very expensive so they were rarely built, and then only on the most traveled routes. When a large amount of goods was needed to be transported, water transportation was used instead.
Rich people could rent or own horses for travel. Poor people rode donkeys or walked from place to place. Oxen were used for heavy loads, while horses pulled light loads. Farmers typically transported their goods short distances to town on mules.
Travel by Sea in Ancient Greece
Due to the mountainous features of the Greek landscape, overland travel was difficult. The Greek coastline provided an abundance of harbors and inlets for shipping. In ancient Greece, nearly 700 small communities were within forty miles of the coast. These communities typically enjoyed more wealth than their inland counterparts.
Greece had limited food supplies due to the rocky and mountainous landscape. To make up for this, the Greeks produced goods to trade for food from other areas around the Mediterranean. The bulk of this food was transported by boat. For example, it is estimated that Athens imported over three-fourths of its grain at the height of its population.
In 1967, the wreckage of an ancient Greek cargo ship was discovered near the city of Kyrenia in Cyprus. This wreck gave archeologists great insight into the shipping practices of the ancient Greeks. The cargo of the “Kyrenia” ship included 400 large jars of wine, 10,000 almonds, and over twenty-five millstones. Evidence seems to suggest the ancient ship had a crew of four and was steered by one person with two oars at the rear of the ship. A replica of the ship was built and sailed at about two knots on the Mediterranean Sea.
Although water transportation was a great asset to the ancient Greeks, it was not without dangers. Pirating was common, especially around Delous, until the fifth century when Athens began to patrol the seas with its large navy. Even though the Mediterranean Sea was calm compared to the oceans, terrible storms were another hazard that endangered the ships and their crews. One example of a treacherous voyage was when Alexander the Great sent an expedition of 1000 ships to the Indian Ocean via the Mediterranean Sea. The crews suffered terrible seasickness, and they were exhausted from the long voyage.
Typically, ships sailed during the day and anchored at night. They would sail in sight of land and found harbors or inlets to anchor for the night. Lighthouses were established to guide ships to safe waters.
Children of Ancient Greece
Babies born in ancient Greece often had a difficult time surviving. Many died in the first couple days of life; therefore, babies did not receive names until the seventh or tenth day of life. If a baby was born deformed, it might have been abandoned on a mountain (female babies were abandoned more often than males). Sometimes abandoned babies were rescued and brought up as slaves by another family.
In some Greek cities, children were wrapped up in cloths until they were about two years old to insure straight and strong limbs. Other city-states, such as Sparta, did not do this to their children..
Children spent the majority of their time with their mother. They stayed in the women’s part of the house. While they were being raised, girls would receive their entire education and training in the home with their mothers. Boys, on the other hand, might learn their father’s trade or go to school around the age of seven.
In Sparta, seven-year-old boys were taken to the barracks by the city and raised. They were trained in the military and were not allowed to leave the barracks until age thirty.
Many toys, similar to current day toys, have been found in archeological sites. Dolls, rattles, tops, swings, and many other items have been unearthed. As is common today, those from richer families had a greater assortment of toys, while those from poorer families were expected to work for the family at a much younger age. Evidence also shows that Greeks kept pets such as dogs, pigs, tortoises, and caged birds.
Girls reached puberty at ages twelve or thirteen, at which point they were considered adults and could marry. Girls took their childhood toys and left them at the temple of Artemis. This signaled that their childhood was over and that they were becoming adults. After marrying, the women were expected to have a baby. Not being able to bear children was seen as curse from the gods.
At age eighteen, boys in several ancient Greek cities were required to join the army for two years of service. Many cities required males to reach the age of thirty before they were able to participate in city politics.
Clothing was made in the home by the ladies of the house. It was the mother’s responsibility to make the clothing for her family, with the help from her daughters or from slaves employed in the home.
The main cloth used in ancient Greek clothing was wool. First the wool was soaked in hot water to rinse off some of the grease. Only rich people would dye the wool because it was expensive. The Greeks used different materials to produce dye for their clothing: for brown dye they used oak bark; for pink, roots of the herb madder; for yellow, stalks of weld; and for blue, dried wood leaves would be used. After these processes were complete, they spun wool into yarn. Using a large loom, women wove the yarn into cloth to be used for fabric.
Sometimes flax was also used to make clothing. The processing of flax into cloth was a long procedure. The plants had to be gathered and combed to remove all the seeds and then soaked. The stalks were beaten to soften the fibers. The finer fibers were used for under clothing or tunics. The rougher fibers were made into bags or aprons.
Perfume was made by mixing different items with oils. Some typical types of items were cinnamon, basil, almonds, roses, lavender, and lilies.
For footwear, leather was the most commonly used material. An animal was skinned and the hide was soaked in a water and urine (or pigeon dung) mixture to remove the outer layer of hair and glands. After being scraped, only rawhide remained. Oils were applied to soften the rawhide. The rawhide was then soaked in water and oak bark for weeks to waterproof the leather. It was then cut and formed into sandals and other materials.
Clothing in ancient Greece was loose fitting, unlike the tight-fitting outfits worn by those people the Greeks considered barbarians. Both men and women typically wore sleeveless tunics. The women’s tunics were usually ankle length, while the men’s were shorter. For the common person, the color of cloth was plain. Those with the financial resources had their clothing dyed in various colors. During the winter, a heavy wool cloak was worn for warmth. Greeks went barefoot or wore sandals outside the home. Inside the home, they went barefoot.
Archeological excavations in various Greek sites have given evidence that jewelry was popular in ancient Greece. Women wore earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Evidence suggests that men in early Greece wore jewelry also, but by the fourth century, it appears that the trend had ended.
Hairstyles in ancient Greece also changed over time. In the early days of Greece, men normally wore their hair short and grew beards. During the Hellenistic era, beards went out of style. Long hair was typical for Greek women; only slave women would wear their hair short. Women curled and braided their hair in early Greece. Later the style was to tie their hair back or put it up into a bun.
Makeup was used in ancient Greece. Rich women stayed indoors most of the day. Pale skin was fashionable and a sign of prestige. Women applied white lead (which was toxic) to their faces to lighten their complexion. Chalk was also used to lighten their complexion, but it wore off quickly. Connected eyebrows were also fashionable, so women decorated their eyes with dark powder. Red powder was also applied to their cheeks.
The Greek diet consisted of foods that were easily raised in the rocky terrain of Greece’s landscape. Breakfast was eaten just after sunrise and consisted of bread dipped in wine. Lunch was again bread dipped in wine along with some olives, figs, cheese or dried fish.
Supper was the main meal of each day. It was eaten near sunset. It consisted of vegetables, fruit, fish, and possibly honey cakes. Sugar was unknown to ancient Greeks, so natural honey was used as a sweetener.
Fish was the main source of protein in the Greek diet. Beef was very expensive, so it was rarely eaten. Beef and pork were only available to poor people during religious festivals. It was during the festivals that cows or pigs were sacrificed to the gods, and the meat was cooked and handed out to the public.
Wine was the main drink in ancient Greece. It was watered down; to drink it straight was considered barbaric. Milk was rarely drunk, because again, it was considered barbaric. Milk was used for cheese production. Water was another possible choice as a drink.
The Greeks did not have any eating utensils, so they ate with their hands. Bread was often used to scoop out thick soups. Bread was also used as a napkin to clean hands. After being used as a napkin, the bread was then thrown on the floor for the dogs or slaves to clean up at a later time.
Men often gathered for dinner parties called symposiums. Having guests in the house was a “male-only” affair. Women of the house were not permitted to attend. After giving a wine offering to the gods, the men drank and talked about politics or morals. Often young girls and boys would be employed to entertain guests with music and dance.
Most homes in ancient Greece had a courtyard, which was the center of activity. Children could safely play outside in the warm climate. Homes were divided into areas for the men and areas for the women. The andron was a room reserved for males to entertain male guests. The room had a separate entrance to the street so male guests did not have to cross paths with any of the ladies of the house.
Houses were made out of sun-dried brick on a foundation of stones. Sun-dried brick was not a dependable material and often crumbled. Burglars were termed “wall piercers” because they broke through the walls to gain entry into homes. Roofs were made of overlapping clay tiles. Andron room floors were sometimes tiled, but the flooring of the rest of the rooms was packed dirt.
The Greeks had a very limited amount of furniture in their houses. The rooms were relatively bare by today’s standards. Wooden chairs, couches and stools were typical.
Food was cooked outside during most of the year. When the weather was not conducive to cooking outside, a hearth or brazier was used in the kitchen. Kitchens were built with a hole in the roof so that smoke could escape.
Houses had one or two private rooms. Bathrooms consisted of a chamber pot, which was dumped into a gutter or into the street.
The head of each household was the husband. It was the woman’s role to complete the daily chores and raise children. Often large families included the parents and children, grandparents, unwed female relatives, and slaves all under the same roof.
Marriages in ancient Greece were arranged by the parents of the intended bride and groom. A financial arrangement was made between the families in the form of a dowry. Girls married between the ages of fourteen to eighteen, while typically men married in their twenties or even thirties. Spartan men continued to live in the barracks, even after the wedding, until they reached the age of thirty when they could move home with their wives.
Priests did not direct weddings in ancient Greece. Instead, a set of rituals was followed, after which the couple would live together. The rituals started with baths. The groom then would go to the bride’s house in a chariot or a cart. A feast may be held at the bride’s father’s house, after which the groom would take his bride back to his parents’ house. They were greeted at the door by the groom’s parents and led to the hearth. There they were showered with nuts and fruit. The couple then retired to their bedroom. For the wife to be fully accepted into the groom’s family, a child had to be conceived from their union.
Divorces were easily arranged. The man would have to pay back, in cash, the remaining dowry money to his wife’s parents. Divorces were granted on many grounds; for example, if the wife could not bear children. When a wife committed adultery, divorce was legally required.
Greek men did not discuss with others their wives or other female relatives. They dared not even give their names outside their close family circle. They did not want to attract unwanted attention from unrelated males.
This post was modified from its original form on 28 Aug, 10:32
Men had the dominant role in public life in ancient Greece. They were engaged in politics and public events, while women were often encouraged to stay in the home. When men entertained, their wives were not invited to the dinner. The Olympic Games were for males only, while in another part of Olympia, the women had a small event of their own in honor of Hera. In Athens, pale skin was in style for women, showing that they were wealthy enough to stay inside. Also in Athens, only the very poor woman was found at the agora without a male escort.
The sheltering of women was not as common in other Greek cities. For example, in Sparta, women had much more freedom and a larger role in society, but still secondary to men.
In ancient Greece, the central shopping area of a city was called the agora. A typical Greek city had a large open area where local merchants could set up displays and sell their products. In Athens, one could find a large variety of items from around the Mediterranean. There was linen from Egypt, ivory from North Africa, spices from Syria, and dates from Phoenicia. Merchants of similar goods had shops together in a specific area in the agora. The market was often crowded and tended to be noisy. Criers called out specials or announced when fresh fish arrived from the boats. Prices were rarely firm, so bargaining with the merchants was a common practice.
In Athens women shopped with a male relative or slave. Only very poor women would shop in the markets alone. Women from other city-states often found the Athenian customs restrictive and overprotective. The rich carried their money in purses, while the poor kept coins in their mouths.
Women in most city-states of ancient Greece had very few rights. They were under the control and protection of their father, husband, or a male relative for their entire lives. Women had no role in politics. Women with any wealth did not work. They stayed indoors running their households. The only public job of importance for a woman was as a religious priestess.
In Sparta, men stayed in barracks until they were thirty. Since Spartan women did not have this restriction, they had more freedoms and responsibilities in public life. They were able to go out in public unescorted, participate in athletic contests, and inherit land. In the fourth century, over two-fifths of the land in Sparta was owned by women. In Athens, the law required all inheritances to go through the male line and limited property that could be owned by women.
It was the wives who supervised the slaves and managed the household responsibilities, such as weaving and cooking. In affluent homes, women had a completely separate area of the house where men were not permitted. In the homes of the poor, separate areas were not available. Poor women often worked outside the home, assisting their husbands at the market or at some other job. Poorer women often went to the market without a male escort.
A foot solider in the ancient Greek army was known as a hoplite. A hoplite was equipped with a thirty-inch shield, a helmet, leg guards, a breastplate, a spear, and a sword. The equipment for one soldier weighed altogether as much as seventy pounds. When in battle, the hoplites formed a tightly packed formation known as a phalanx. They stood shield to shield in rows of eight to sixteen soldiers deep. Holding their spears out in front of them, they pushed through enemies lines by sheer weight alone.
In addition to the hoplites, other units were also formed. Poorer men, who could not afford the equipment of a hoplite, joined auxiliary units. These units included archers, slingers, javelin throwers, as well as those equipped with clubs and swords. A cavalry was formed from the wealthier classes and would use javelins to harass the opponent’s phalanx.
In addition to the soldiers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cooks, servants, and even at times wives and families followed the army. Marching an army with all the people, supplies, and equipment was often a slow process.
Wars were generally fought in the summer. At first, citizens were called as volunteers to fight whenever their city-state was threatened. By the end of the fifth century, standing armies and required military service was the norm. Before going into battle, the armies sacrificed to Ares or Athena, the god and goddess of war.
After a battle, prisoners may be swapped. At other times, they were sold into slavery to help offset the cost of the war. During the Peloponnesian War, prisoners were often killed after the battles.
The earliest Greek warship was known as a pentecounter. The pentecounter had one row of fifty oarsmen. The Greeks later made improvements to their ships by copying the bireme, a type of Phoenician ship, which had two rows of oarsmen. Around 700 B.C., the first trireme was used in Corinth. The trireme had three rows of oarsmen on each side, totaling one-hundred and seventy oarsmen per ship. This ship became the main naval vessel from 500 B.C. to 300 B.C. In addition to the oarsmen, a trireme also held a crew of thirty marines and five officers.
The trireme was equipped with a bronze ram in the front. The ship could travel at speeds of up to eight or ten knots in order to ram and sink enemy ships. Another battle tactic was to pull up close to an opponent’s ship to knock out their oars making it difficult for the ship to maneuver.
When not in battle, the trireme was used with its two large sails to travel from place to place. During a battle, the sails were taken down and oar power was used.
Early in Greek history, most battles were fought between armies in open fields. As time progressed, large walls were built to fortify cities against invasions. In time, special weapons were created to penetrate the high walls. Catapults, crossbows, battering rams, and siege towers were developed to break opposing defenses. Catapults and crossbows were used to attack people manning the walls. Battering rams were used to attack weak points in the walls. Siege towers were large square towers on wheels from which men could get to the top of a wall. A siege tower was rolled up to a wall, and soldiers came out of the tower to take that area of the wall around the city. Another war tactic used was for an army to surround a city and wait until it ran out of food and supplies. The city was then vulnerable to a siege.
Many Greek cities were located on the coast with good harbors. To protect the harbors, the Greeks invented a device known as a “ship shaker.” The device had a large grappling hook at one end of a rope. The hook would be lowered and hooked under the enemy ship. Oxen would pull the rope up, causing the ship to rise out of the water. The oxen would pull up as far as they could, and then the rope was quickly released, sending the ship crashing down.
Athens defeated the Persians
Greeks defeated the Persians in naval battle
Sparta nearly wiped out the Athenian navy
Thebans defeated the Spartans
Athenians and Spartans defeated the Thebans
Phillip II of Macedon defeated the Greeks
Alexander’s first victory over the Persians
Alexander’s second victory over the Persians
Alexander defeated Darius III of Persia
Alexander against Indian forces
Romans defeated the Macedonians for control of Greece
In September of 490 B.C., King Darius of Persia sent an army to take over Athens. The force led by generals Datis and Artaphernes landed their ships on beaches near the plain of Marathon. Here they unexpectedly encountered 9000 Athenian troops. Even more unexpected, this smaller Athenian army launched a full frontal assault on the much larger Persian force. The Athenians were able to drive the Persians into a full retreat, and they captured seven Persian ships before they were able to depart. The Persians lost 6,400 men, while the Athenians only suffered 192 deaths. The Athenians were buried on the Marathon Plain, in a mound which is still visible today. An Athenian named Pheidippides ran all the way back to Athens (22.75 miles) to tell of the great victory. Pheidippides died as he gave his message of the victory. The running race known as a marathon was named in his memory.
The Battle of Salamis
After their defeat at the battle of Thermopylae, the Greeks were in great need of a victory to stop the Persian advance into their territories. An Athenian politician and general named Themistocles decided to abandon Athens and evacuated the entire city, with exception of a small honorary force to defend the Acropolis. He did not want to offend Athena, their patron goddess, by leaving her temple completely undefended. Themistocles decided to concentrate the Athenian forces in their navy to attack the Persians.
After taking Athens, the Persian King Xerxes set up his throne on a hill overlooking the sea. He expected his larger fleet of 800 triremes to easily defeat the Greek fleet of 200 triremes. The Greeks, lead by Themistocles, took advantage of the narrow waterways around the island of Salamis. Their ships were more maneuverable and were able to trap the larger fleet of the Persians. Because the Persians were not able to maneuver well, the Greeks were able to ram them almost at will. The Persian defeat was so great that they were never able to mount another attack into Greece again.Battle of Thermopylae
The Persian army marched into Greece under the leadership of King Xerxes. They encountered a small Greek force led by the Spartan commander Leonidas at a narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae. The Greeks were able to defend the pass against the much larger Persian forces until they were betrayed. A Greek traitor showed the Persians a secret passage around the pass. The Persians were able to attack from two sides. Realizing the battle was lost, Leonidas stayed back with 300 other Spartans to give time to the bulk of the Greek force to retreat safely. It was a tremendous act of sacrifice on the part of Leonidas and his fellow Spartans.
This post was modified from its original form on 07 Sep, 8:47
Peloponnesus (also called Peloponnese) is the name of the peninsula where the city of Sparta is located. Ancient Sparta was famous for its dedication to a strong fighting force. The city led a group of city-states in an alliance known as the Peloponnesian League.
The city of Athens was famous for its strong navy. Athens had built what was known as the “Long Wall” connecting the city to its harbor at Piraeus. Athens was the head of a group of city-states known as the Delian League. Sparta was concerned that Athens had plans to go to war against them. In 431 B.C., fighting broke out between Corinth and one of its colonies. Sparta and Athens took opposite sides in the conflict. Sparta marched on the city of Athens that year. Because Athens had built the Long Wall that securely connected the two cities, they were able to keep the city supplied from their port city. However, a plague broke out in Athens that killed over one-fourth of its population. In 421 B.C., a peace treaty was signed. In 415 B.C., an Athenian politician named Alcibiades betrayed the military plans of Athens to the Spartans. His betrayal cost the Athenians 175 ships and over 40,000 men. At the same time, Athens began to lose some of its influence over the cities in the Delian League. Some of those cities started to abandon the league. Sparta joined forces with Persia to defeat the Athenian navy at Aegospotami in 405 B.C. Without a navy, Athens was not able to supply food to its city when it was besieged again. They surrendered in 404 B.C.
Although the Spartans won the war, peace did not come to Greece. Sparta’s alliance with Persia collapsed. Wars between the city-states continued until fifty years later when Macedonia took over most of the Greek city-states and made them part of the new Macedonian Empire.
The Greeks were credited with several important discoveries in astronomy. Aristarchus of Samos (310-230 B.C.) was the first to suggest that the earth revolved on an axis and moved around the sun. His ideas were not accepted until the 1500’s when Copernicus further developed the theory.
Another scientist, Hipparches (second century B.C.) believed the earth was the center of the universe. He also discovered the constants of the equinoxes and the length of a year.
The Greek philosopher Anaxagoras discovered that the moon reflected the suns rays, instead of producing light itself. He discovered the causes of eclipses. Thales of Miletus, was able to predict when a solar eclipse would occur. Although scholars believe his prediction was a one-time event and was only approximate (some say he only predicted the year), the alleged feat added to his reputation as an astronomer.
Children in most of ancient Greece started their education at age seven. In Sparta, boys were given military training from ages seven to twenty to prepare them for service in the army. Girls also were required to train physically. They believed strong women produced strong babies.
In Athens, poor children did not go to school. They were needed around their homes to help their family make a living. Middle-class boys might go to school for only three to four years. For their lessons, the students used a wax-covered board with a stylus to carve out letters in the wax. When completed, the wax was smoothed over again and reused. The subjects they learned were reading, writing, basic math, music, and physical training. At the age of eighteen, most boys were required to join the army for two years of training.
After military training, boys from wealthy families studied under a sophist. Known as a “wisdom seller,” a sophist charged a fee to teach subjects such as public speaking or rhetoric. In Athens and other democracies, public speaking and persuasion were highly prized skills. Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher, believed it was unethical to take money for teaching young people. He believed the pursuit of knowledge was more important than the art of speaking.
The Greeks produced great advancements in mathematics which are still used today. Euclid was known for the basic rules and terms of geometry. Pythagoras was famous for his theorem A2 +B2 = C2 for a right triangle. Pythagoras also came up with the value of pie to calculate the circumference of a circle.Archimedes discovered the physical law of displacement. The law of displacement is when an object moves the same volume of water as the object which is placed in it. Archimedes also used levers and pulleys to move heavy objects. He once launched a fully loaded ship all by himself. Archimedes also invented the Archimedes screw, which raises water up from rivers for the irrigation of fields. In addition to discoveries in math and physics, he also invented weapons to help the Greeks fight off Roman invasion. One of those weapons was the catapult. In 21 B.C. the Romans captured his city and killed him.
The Greeks made great advancements in medicine. Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) introduced the idea of looking at disease as something that occurred naturally, instead of coming from the gods. He also believed that doctors should observe symptoms to determine how to treat a patient. He wrote over fifty books on the subject. The Hippocratic oath, to do no harm to a patient, is still used in medicine today.
Painting in Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks enjoyed brightly painted items. Evidence suggests that most of their marble statues were originally painted; however, the paint has worn off the few statues that have survived. Greeks also decorated walls with fresco paintings. Fresco painting mixed paint with wet plaster to make a wall mural. There are a very limited number of wall paintings that have survived from early Greek times.
Greeks also used tiles and rocks of different colors to create floor mosaics. One mosaic found at Olynthus reportedly cost 3,500 drachmas, or the equivalent of ten years of wages for the average worker. Because of the great expense, mosaic floors were only used by the wealthiest of Greeks.
Greek Education and Culture
The Parthenon is the most famous and the most recognizable ancient Greek building. It was completed in 432 B.C. at the cost of 12,000,000 drachmae (an average worker earned about two drachmae a day). On the inside of the temple a thirty-five to forty foot statue of Athena was created by the famous Greek sculptor Phidias. Athena was the goddess of war and wisdom and was the patron goddess of Athens.
Two architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, designed the Parthenon. The base of the temple is 228 feet (69.51 meters) long by 101 ¼ feet (30.86 meters) wide. The temple has a total of forty-six columns, eight in the front and seventeen along the sides (corners being counted twice). Both the base and columns were designed for visual effect.
Long floors tend to have an appearance to sag in the middle. To correct this optical illusion in the Parthenon, the center of the base was raised four inches along the sides and two inches along the front. In addition, straight columns have the appearance of being thinner in the middle. The Greeks made the middle of the columns slightly wider in the middle and smaller at the top. The adjustment drew the viewer’s eyes upward to the sculptures along the top of the building.
Above the columns of the Parthenon’s outer wall was a series of small sculptured panel called metopes that represented, on the east side, the famous battle between the gods and the giants of Greek mythology; on the west, the battle between the Greeks and the mythical Amazon warriors; and on the south side, a battle between men and centaurs. The metopes on the north side are almost gone, but probably portrayed the Trojan War.
The Parthenon’s central area, the cella, once contained a gold and ivory statue of Athena. Across the top of the cella was a continuous band of flat-panel sculpture called a frieze. The frieze portrayed the people of Athens in a parade celebrating the birthday of Athena.
In the early 1800’s, Lord Elgin of Britain got permission from the occupying Turkish authorities to take a large portion of the remaining sculptures back to England. He sold the marble sculptures to the British Museum in London, where they are displayed today. Ownership of these important pieces of Greek history remains a controversy even today.