Back To CourseHistory 112: World History I
30 chapters | 246 lessons
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
I love Greek food. Gyros, spanakopita, moussaka - all of it. And olives; I love olives. I am pretty influenced by Greece, but I'm not just talking about the food. Yes, I love Greek food. Especially olives. But Greece has done so much more for humanity than just great marinated vegetables. Greece set foundations for modern civilization that include art, government, science, and even sports.
Ancient Greece was one of the first major civilizations of Europe. Ancient Greek culture officially lasted from the eighth century BC to the seventh century AD, but their height was in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, a period that was so influential on Western culture that we call it the Classical era.
Amongst the many influences of ancient Greece was art. The ancient Greeks were the first to develop the standards of aesthetic beauty that we still use today. Although the Greeks painted beautiful vases and made clay statues, the biggest influences are in sculpture. During the Classical era, artists made incredible innovations that went beyond the rigid, stiff styles of previous sculptures, like those of ancient Egypt. Greek figures were realistically designed with mathematically accurate proportions, modeled into intricate poses, meaning the Greeks used a geometric formula to devise ideal standards of beauty and perfection.
This formula reflected the golden ratio, a relationship between two parts of a whole that appears commonly in geometry, where the ratio of two lengths equals the ratio of the sum of both pieces compared to the larger length. Sounds confusing at first, I know, but this relationship appears again and again in nature, and it fascinated the ancient Greeks. The calculated, precise sculptures of the Greeks reflected the most perfect ideals of the human form; ideals still respected to this day. Their work greatly influenced the artists of the mighty Roman Empire, who continued working in marble and bronze and spread realistic sculpture across their vast empire.
Okay, let's take a vote - who's impressed by the ancient Greeks? By voting, you just participated in another Greek legacy. The Greeks cities were some of the first major civilizations to question the rule of a king, and in the sixth century BC, the people of Athens developed a new government system called democracy. In a democracy, every citizen has the right to participate in politics. Athens instituted a system where every citizen - then defined as free males - had the right to both vote and speak in the legislative assembly where new laws were made. Additionally, the government officials of the city were chosen at random to ensure that every person had an equal opportunity to be a ruler.
The legacies of democracy aren't hard to see. Nearly every nation in the world relies on democracy in some part of its government. Voting on laws, electing officials, the power of the people to impeach those officials; all of these are reflections of ancient Athenian political systems.
The people of Ancient Greece thought about a lot of things. They thought about art. They thought about politics. And they thought about the way that the universe worked. Ancient Greek scientists made some of the most important discoveries in the early fields of geometry, astronomy, applied mathematics, and medicine; discoveries so great that many ancient Greek writings are still standard textbooks to this day.
In math, the Greeks, like Pythagoras and Archimedes, developed proofs to solve complex questions about the relationships between things in nature, and even came close to inventing calculus. Their biggest innovations, however, were in geometry; a field founded by Euclid. In astronomy, Aristarchus and Eratosthenes used mathematical formulas and precise observations to calculate the movement of the stars, the size of the Earth, and the distance between planets. Medicine was so carefully studied that, for the first time, it became an actual profession under Hippocrates, whose name is still attached to the code of ethics sworn by modern doctors.
Somewhere in between carving sculptures, voting on democracy, and perfecting the sciences, the ancient Greeks found the time for sports. To the ancient Greeks, the ideal human strove for both intellectual and physical perfection. To this end, the Greeks were amongst the first civilizations to make physical education part of a state-mandated education for children. Greek children went to school at seven and studied math, music, and sports until the age of 18. The Greeks developed gyms for exercise, starting a tradition of working out to attain physical perfection.
The Greek enthusiasm for sports was exemplified in a religious ceremony held once every four years, called the Olympics. According to Greek mythology, the Olympic Games were invented by Hercules, or Heracles as he was called in Greece, to honor Zeus. With these games, the Greeks not only invented modern competitive sports but also important things required for sports, like a standardized size field and stadiums. Historians believe that the first Olympic Games began around 776 BC and featured competitions like running, wrestling, boxing, and discus throwing. According to tradition, the first winner of the games was a cook named Coroebus, reflecting the idea that anybody could gain physical perfection and compete in the games.
Ancient Greece, one of the first major civilizations of Europe, left some incredible impacts on the world. During their Classical era of the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the ancient Greeks achieved major developments in art, government, science, and sports. Their highly-realistic sculptures helped set standards of beauty for European art, based around geometric ratios of the ideal body. The golden ratio, a formula for a perfect ratio between parts of a figure, was central to this.
The Greeks of the city Athens changed government by developing democracy, a system in which every citizen has the right to participate equally in politics. Greek scholars turned science into a profession and made major breakthroughs in astronomy, medicine, and math (especially geometry).
As dedicated to physical perfection as they were to intellectual perfection, they created modern sports competitions, routine sports education in school, and a culture of exercise that culminated in the Olympic Games. Yeah, the ancient Greeks left behind some pretty incredible legacies. And olives. Don't forget about the olives!
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Back To CourseHistory 112: World History I
30 chapters | 246 lessons