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Ancient Greece: History & Culture

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  • 0:03 The Archaic Period
  • 2:15 Classical Greece
  • 3:51 Alexander the Great
  • 4:33 Hellenistic Greece
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Molly Richards

Molly has ten years of middle school teaching experience and two master's degrees in teaching.

The ancient Greeks thrived from about 800 BCE until roughly 30 BCE. Through culture, conquest, architecture, government, and the arts, the ancient Greeks made an impact on civilizations then, and continue to do so today.

The Archaic Period (800-500 BCE)

Democracy. Architecture. Science. Astronomy. These are just a few of the ways the world has been influenced by the ancient Greeks. When it comes to the way people live, study, and govern, it may be argued that the Greek harbored one of the most influential civilizations ever.

Ancient Greece found its beginnings around 800 BCE near what's now Southern Europe. Mountains, rugged terrain, and water separated these early people, and so they created poleis, or politically independent colonies of citizens centered around a specific city. These city-states (as they're also known) formed governments based on rule by the wealthy. They had gathering places called agoras, or marketplaces, and economies based on agriculture. They were very religious and relied heavily on the gods and goddesses for good fortune and wealth. Although independent, the city-states spoke the same language and shared many of the same characteristics, and most importantly for this time, there was a new alphabet. The Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet and adapted it to be a new Greek alphabet, which allowed for standardized written books. Certain city-states became very strong during this period, especially Athens and Sparta.

Religion

The Greek poleis also shared religion. The ancient Greeks practiced polytheism, or the worship of many gods. The father of those gods was Zeus. Their belief in gods and goddesses helped explain the beginnings of human nature as well as what were deemed supernatural events. Ancient Greeks believed that the gods and goddesses controlled things such as the weather, good crops, and good fortune. Ancient Greeks paid tribute to the gods and goddesses by building temples, making offerings, and hosting games like the Olympics in their honor.

Social Structure

It was also during the Archaic Period that the Greeks first organized people into different social categories. Although each city-state organized itself in a way that made sense to its people, the idea of a hierarchical social structure across the whole was largely the same. Different groups included the wealthy, usually land owners; military; foreigners; and slaves. This classification was important not only to the organization of a city-state, but the beginnings of democracy that would come later.

Classical Greece (500-336 BCE)

As independent city-states grew strong, some began to seek more power. The Classical Period of Greece is defined by the growth and importance of Athens and Sparta. These two city-states became very wealthy and powerful and helped defend Greece from the Persian invasion. However, it's important to note they also fought with each other for a long time.

Athens

After the defeat of the Persian Empire, an Athenian named Cleisthenes came up with a new system of government in which male citizens over the age of 18 could participate in government, which he called demokratia. This new system allowed Greeks to participate in their own government and paved the way for modern democracies.

Another important Athenian was Pericles, a general who put tax and tribute money to good use. He used funds to rebuild the city of Athens from the damage done during the Persian War and encouraged art, science, and theater. These funds not only built such amazing buildings such as the Parthenon, but were also used to encourage critical thinking and creativity.

Sparta

While Athens focused on government, Sparta gained strength through its military and was entirely focused on being a militaristic society. Education was centered on the military and was expected of all healthy boys. Helots were those captured in war and made slaves, were expected to do all other manual labor. Spartan women enjoyed more freedom than other Greek women, being independent and educated. Though allies during the Persian invasion, Athens and Sparta would eventually fight each other in an almost 30-year long conflict. Though Sparta won, Athenian culture and democracy survived - at least for a while.

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