Week 4: Tuesday
The Ancient Greeks: From Arrival to Glory, 2000-479 BCE
Michael Wood, “In Search of the Trojan War” (BBC, 1985):
Episode 1/6: The Age of Heroes (56:31 min.; start at 15:50 for Troy; at 32:00 for Mycenae; 44:00 for Tiryns; 47:00 for Troy again):
Episode 2/6: The Legend under Siege (56:51 min.):
Episode 3/6: The Singer of Tales (55:15 min.):
Episode 4/6: The Women of Troy (59:36 min.):
Episode 5/6: The Empire of the Hittites (59:53 min.):
Episode 6/6: The Fall of Troy (58:24 min.):
Cultures, pp. 89-108 (The first Greeks; Archaic Greece; colonists, hoplites, and citizenship; masculinity; poetry; Sparta)
c. 2000-1500 BCE Minoan civilization flourishes on the island of Crete and on the nearby island of Santorini. The Minoan language had a written script (“Linear A“), which was scratched onto clay tablets, but has not yet been deciphered. Archaeological finds show that the Minoans had a rich culture based on farming, fishing, and on trade with the Near East and Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and Greece. Minoan Crete was ruled from five or six palaces, all near the sea, of which the biggest was at Knossos. These palaces were not fortified, implying that there was no internal warfare, and that the Minoans trusted their fleet to defend them against foreign attack. The palaces and great houses were lavishly decorated with frescoes depicting daily life, court life, ritual activities, and the scenes of nature and the sea.
c. 1450-1200 BCE Decline and fall of Minoan civilization, probably beginning with an earthquake, followed by invasion by the Mycenaean Greeks
c.1600-1200 BCE First known Greek-speaking culture: the Mycenaeans, whose script (known as Linear B, used primarily for supply lists for royal armies) has been discovered to be an early form of Greek. There were multiple palaces in Mycenaean Greece, presumably representing multiple kings, including at Mycenae, Pylos, Tiryns, Thebes, and Athens. The mountainous topography of mainland Greece led to the development of multiple small kingdoms (later, city-states) rather than a unified kingdom. The Mycenaeans, unlike the Minoans, were militaristic; their royal palaces were fortified, and their art includes images of armor, hunting and warfare (Mycenaean dagger excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at Tiryns), but also images of the natural world (perhaps influenced by Minoan art). No Mycenaean temples or prayers have been found, but private houses had domestic shrines. Around 1250 BCE Mycenaean palaces were re-fortified.
The Trojan War and its aftermath that were the subjects of Homer’s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey (written c. 750 BCE), may reflect Mycenaean attempts to seize part of Asia Minor, but the poems are not a surviving oral history from Mycenaean times. More likely they reflect conditions during the Dark Age that followed.
c. 1200-750 BCE Dark Age in Greece perhaps beginning with destruction by the Sea Peoples, was part of the widespread late Bronze Age collapse all around the eastern Mediterranean c. 1200 BCE. During the Dark Age, Greece lost c. 90% of its population, and writing (Linear B) disappeared. Most of the surviving population moved from the upland plateaus to the coastal towns.
c. 750-500 BCE Archaic Period: rise of the Greek city-states (poleis), including the establishment of networks of small colonies, each tied to an individual polis, first in the Aegean, then in the Black Sea, and eventually more broadly in the Mediterranean. The rise of Greek sea power and the spread of Greek colonies overseas was made possible by the disruption of Phoenician maritime dominance in the eastern Mediterranean, caused by the Assyrian destruction of the kingdom of Israel c. 722 BCE, followed by the Neo-Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah c. 587 BCE. The poleis needed standing militias to defend themselves, requiring all free men aged 18-60 to be liable for military call-up. The Greeks perfected fighting by infantry soldiers (hoplites), armed with breastplate, helmet, sword, shield, and spear, in trained units, called phalanxes. The need for men to stay in good physical shape and to train for war led to the rise of pan-Hellenic athletic competitions, such as the Olympic games, and a cult of masculinity that valorized the male body and male homosexuality. In Greece’s militaristic society, girls and women were considered of far less value than men. They were given little education and were kept secluded at home. (One celebrated female poet, however, Sappho of Lesbos, wrote of female homosexual love and of Aphrodite, goddess of love.)
The most militaristic polis of all was Sparta, although it sought no colonies, and focused on war in order to control its large number of state-owned slaves (helots), who did all the manual work of the Spartans. Babies considered defective were ordered to be left to die in the mountains; boys and girls began physical training at age 7; at age 12 the girls were given a basic education and the boys were sent to military barracks and trained to fight. The boys were required to steal food to teach them self-reliance, and underwent brutal discipline and training. At age 20 they entered the army for a service period of 10 years, after which they were awarded full citizenship.
British Museum, Curator’s Corner: Killing time with Ajax and Achilles (painted on Greek vases) (10:39 min.):
Michael Wood: Art of the Western World – The Classical Ideal (1989, 55:38 min.; start at 3:34):
Cultures, pp.108-117 (Miletus and the birth of philosophy; Athens and democracy; the Persian Wars)
Sources, pp. 47-62 (Hesiod, Works and Days; Homer, The Iliad; Herodotus, The Persian Wars and Histories; Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War)
Miletus, founded in the Mycenaean period, after the Dark Age revived to become a commercial and cultural hub with numerous colonies, especially around the Black Sea. Miletus produced a very distinctive style of pottery (see also here), and a high-quality coinage displaying a lion, and it was the birthplace of Western philosophy – home of the 6th-cent. philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes, who investigated whether there was a rational pattern, or set of universal truths, to the natural world, that humans can learn. They also asked what was the origin of all things (water? ether? air?), and sought to understand the process(es) by which the physical world changes. They pioneered the concept of submitting ideas to critical inspection by others.
Athens took its name from Athena, goddess of wisdom. Its Acropolis (city high-point) was first settled c. 3000 BCE, and it was a major Mycenaean city. After the Dark Age, between c. 700 and 650 BCE the aristocracy of Athens conquered the surrounding territory (Attica), which led to conflict between the now-expanded number of ordinary Athenians and the wealthy elites. In 594 BCE the city council appointed the aristocrat Solon to resolve this: he made all adult male citizens members of the Assembly (which elected officials), loosened the qualifications for holding office; allowed foreign merchants and craftsmen who settled in Athens with their families to become citizens; and cancelled the debts of poor farmers who had fallen into debt-slavery. Solon’s efforts failed, and the tyrant Pisitratos seized power c. 560 BCE, and held power for 3 periods until his death in 527 BCE, trying to resolve the city’s problems (including unfair distribution of offices, high taxes, and backlog of court cases); he also had archival copes made of the Iliad and Odyssey. His two sons (Hippias and Hipparchus) succeeded him, but in 510 BCE Hipparchus was murdered (a pair of statues commemorating the Tyrannicides, Harmodius and Aristogeiton, was set up in the Agora [marketplace]), and Hippias was expelled. After a couple of tumultuous years, Cleisthenes, who had been exiled by a rival for helping to force out Hippias, was recalled by the Athenians and re-organized the city’s government as the first western democracy. Citizens (free men of some means, comprising only 5%-10% of the city’s population) were organized by neighborhood (deme) and met in a general assembly (ekklesia). The assembly considered legislation, judged trials, and set policies. Day-to-day governance and yearly magistrate selection were handled by a council (boule) chosen by lot and serving for a single day. Army commanders (strategoi) were elected for one year, but could then be re-elected.
494-479 BCE The Persian Wars
Persia controlled the Ionian coast (the west coast of Anatolia), and the Ionian cities, including Miletus, formed a league to break away from Persian overlordship. Sparta (which had no overseas colonies) refused to send an army overseas to help the Ionians, but in 499 BCE Athens did, and sacked the Persian city of Sardis. In 490 BCE the Persian emperor Darius sent a large Persian army to attack Athens. The ensuing battle of Marathon (26 miles N. of Athens) was a huge victory for Athens (thanks to the tactical leadership of Miltiades), and the Persian army withdrew. Between 490 and 480 BCE the Athenians, expecting the Persians to return in force, built a fleet of 200 triremes (warships with 3 tiers of oars and bronze-sheathed prows). In 480 BCE Darius’s son Xerxes launched a massive attack on Greece by land. The Greek city-states, including Sparta, banded together to resist them. At the coastal pass of Thermopylae, a tiny Spartan rearguard under their king Leonidas held back the entire Persian army for 3 days before they were overcome and killed, but allied Greek victories at Salamis (480: naval battle) and Plataea (479: land battle) forced the Persians to withdraw once more.
Hesiod, Works and Days (c. 735-700 BCE): Describes the “golden age” of humans who were made of gold and lived like gods; then the “silver age” of lesser humans, who flouted the gods’ wishes, and so were exterminated; then the third race of men, made of bronze, who lived like savages. Then came a race of demi-gods, who fought like heroes, including at Troy. Finally came the present (5th) race of men, who live lives of toil and misery in an age of iron.
Homer, The Iliad (c. 750 BCE): Clash between Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, and Achilles, the Greek hero, over possession of a girl taken as booty during the Trojan War. Achilles sulks in his tent and refuses to fight, until his friend Patroclus is killed by the Trojan prince, Hector. Then Achilles (who was invulnerable to wounds except on his heel) went out to fight Hector, killed him, and dragged Hector’s body around the walls of Troy behind his chariot, by the heels, to dishonor him.
Herodotus of Hallicarnassus (484-423 BCE), The Persian Wars and Histories: In The Persian Wars, Herodotos identifies the custom of abducting high-status women as a major cause of warfare between the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the Persians. He says that the Greeks considered it wrong to abduct a woman, but believed that only women who did not resist were abducted. In Histories, he describes the kinds of evidence he uses, including linguistic evidence, religious rituals and images, and interviewing religious authorities (such as the priestesses at Dodona),
Thucydides of Athens (460-400 BCE), The Peloponnesian War: Thucydides recognized immediately the historical significance of the war as the ultimate face-off between Athens and Sparta, and he wrote about it while it was occurring. He also did extensive research through oral interviews and documentary records to analyze what happened and why. Although he invented dramatic scenes and dialogue to depict what he considered to be the genuine points of view of his subjects, he did not (unlike Herodotos) depict events as the result of intervention by the gods. In his introduction, Thucydides also examines evidence for the early history of the Greeks – for example, he sees early Greek history as one in which tribes were constantly migrating, there were no alliances before the Trojan War, and violence was endemic, requiring men of the past to carry arms as a matter of course in everyday life. In his depiction of Pericles’ funeral oration for the war dead, he first describes how the Athenians buried their fallen soldiers, with a common coffin for the dead of each tribe, an empty bier for those whose bodies were not found, the burial of the coffins in the public cemetery in the suburbs, and then a public eulogy. In the eulogy, he has Pericles describe the basic principals by which the Athenians live, beginning with their democratic form of government, which is designed to serve the interests of the many, not the few. He sees Athens as a model for all Greece to follow, and sees honor as the chief prize of life.