Western Civ   Week 3 Notes:


ISSUE:  The Impact of the Mycenaean culture on the Homeric Greeks


~The first civilization in the region we think of as Greece were the Minoans, who built cities on the Island of Crete circa 2000 BCE.  There were farming villages with bronze metalworking on the Greek mainland at this time, and we know that they traded with Anatolia.  But we don’t know if they were related to the Minoans—part of the problem is that we still have not “decoded” any Minoan written texts and we don’t know what language they spoke.

~The Minoans clearly had city-states with great palaces and temples, like other civilizations we’ve discussed.  They practiced agriculture, they had skilled artisans and artists, and their ships traded with other cities around the eastern Mediterranean.   We also know that they had a “palace economy”—that the theocratic government collected food in the form of taxes and then redistributed it to the population.  And we are pretty sure that many of their cities were destroyed by volcanic eruptions and by invasions (perhaps by the Mycenaeans).


~The Mycenaeans were “Greek” speaking people who had moved to the Greek costal regions in about 1700 BCE.  They replaced the previous farming/village culture, which had disintegrated in about 2300 BCE.


~The Mycenaen city states had contact with the Egyptians, the Hittites, the city states of the Levant, and the Minoans in Crete—they seem to have traded with all of these peoples and also borrowed technologies from them.  They conquered Crete in about 1400 BCE, then adopted the Minoan system of urban and economic organization.  We know that there government was based upon a monarchy that ruled the entire region, and that the monarch had to contend with a power and influential nobility.


~Sailing was critical to the Mycenaean culture:  they were traders, but also raiders (which is probably a key to the Homeric story of the Trojan Wars—the Iliad  (and also the Odyssey). 

~The Mycenaean culture had developed excellent crafts as well (the culture is known in particular for its pottery).

~We also know that they made extensive use of slave labor.

~The Mycenaean civilization was at its height in the 1400s-1200s BCE, but then it crashed very quickly, and was ravaged by the Sea Peoples in the 1150s BCE.


~The collapse of Mycenaean civilization began the Greek Dark Ages (1100-800s BCE).  Cities crumbled, the lands were depopulation, and the culture forgot its crafts and even forgot how to read and write.  What survived was a very low-level agricultural economy, based upon scattered farms, and an oral cultural tradition.  That oral tradition presented the leaders of  he previous urban civilization as mythic heroes, and blended their stories together with stories of the their gods.


~Circa 800s-700s, there was peace in the Greek territory, and agriculture began to recover.   Surplus production was linked to an increase in population and the restoration of trade.  By the 750s BCE, a new urban-based civilization had emerged.


~The oral tradition created in the Dark Ages lived on in a mix of myths and historical memory, preserved in the form of “Epic Poetry.”  The greatest example of this are the epic poems attributed to Homer, who supposedly lived in the Greek colony of Ionia (in Anatolia) around 725 BCE.  (The Iliad/The Odyssey)

~In epic poems and myths, Greek gods and heroes were examples of ARETE—the key Greek value of “excellence.”  For the Greeks, excellence in warfare, as in sports or music or poetry, was about character and intelligence as well as physical strength. 

~Greeks in the time of Homer lived in villages and in towns that would, a hundred years later, develop into great city states. 

~In the time of Homer, there was very little economic differentiation between ordinary people (the Demos) and the town chiefs (the Basileis)—farming small landholdings was the basis of the economy for both groups. 

~In these towns and villages, the Demos had a voice in decision making.  Councils of chiefs consulted the men of the Demos (who were the warriors) regarding questions of war and peace.  The Basileis, and also the men of the Demos, were expected to prove their excellence (Arete) in warfare, and the chiefs were expected to rule their example by demonstrating Arete.  Like other aspects of Homer’s world (the status of women, the importance of family and friends, etc), this is reflected in the characters of the Iliad and the Odyssey.



ISSUE:  What was the Polis in Archaic Greece and how did the governmental practices of the polis differ in Sparta, Athens and Corinth?


Polis = state of citizens.   Not necessarily democratic, but based upon collective/community activities of core groups of legal equals.  BUT this excluded women, immigrants, slaves.  Many historians (like Noble) see the polis (like Hebrew monotheism) as one of the roots of western culture.


POINT:  The Polis grew out of Archaic Greek society (750-500 BCE)—it was the product of a society of family farms and small city states, that combined individualism with collectivism...

Archaic Era social conditions:  a) Population increase after Dark Ages.  b) Long period of peace.  Shift to farming on small FAMILY farm units towards greater productivity (and sense of individual/family independence).  c) Expanding trade with neighboring lands that led to commercial colonization—eg, Black Sea, Sicily, North Africa, Marseilles, etc.  d) Contact with “advanced” cultures influenced arts (Egypt) and introduced ALPHABET—transformation from purely oral culture to literate culture.


POINT:  Another example of this interaction of individual and group was a new kind of warfare circa 700 BC—the Hoplite phalanx.  To participate, an individual needed independent source of wealth (family farms) for pike, shield, short sword.  But fighting also depended entirely upon group coherence (vs. heroic single combat of aristocratic warriors in Homer...).  So this kind of warfare combined individualism and individual excellence (Areté) with disciplined membership in community (which became another kind of arete).


POINT:  Beyond the family network, the basic community was the POLIS  (not just the city and its environs [city state], but the people as well...  E.g., Athens= the city itself and the surrounding villages in the countryside (which actually had a bigger population than the city).  The two centers of city life = acropolis (high spot with temple to main gods of city); and the agora (the marketplace, which was also the meeting place).  All men who were citizens were expected to take part in the political life of the community by attending meetings at the agora, where all—at least in theory—were equal.   But in 700s it still was OLIGARCHY of wealthy landowners (basileis) who dominated political life.  Still, by end of 700s, Greeks clearly thought of themselves as members/citizens of a community, as Athenians, Spartans, Corinthians, etc.      


POINT:  CORINTH as example of “tyranny.”  The wealthiest seaport trade center in Greece, it exported farm goods and  luxury goods.  Its politics were dominated by wealthy landowning elites and the new rising merchant class.  Tyranny in Corinth probably resulted from the merchants’ alliance with small farmer-soldiers vs the landowning elites (basileis).  “Tyrant” originally meant “champion of the people” (demos)—someone who helped overthrow the aristocrats.  Circa 660 BC in Corinth, wealthy merchants used hoplite soldiers to take power from the aristocrats who had ruled, which led to a new elite oligarchy...  Corinth was the classic example.


One man (e.g., Cypselus in Corinth in 650s-620s) claimed to rule for “the people” (demos) with support of soldiers.  [ALMOST ALL GREEK CITY STATES HAD TYRANTS AT SOME POINT]  The tyrant stayed popular by promoting economic growth, trade, colonies, building public buildings like temples, hosting games and festivals [jobs, leisure, civic pride].  Generally, there was a cycle wherein tyrants aligned with soldiers to overthrow elites, then tried to make own family into hereditary elites, with increased repression; that then led new alliance of old elites with soldiers.


POINT:  SPARTA as example of oligarchy.  This was the only Greek city state that NEVER had rule by tyrants.   Spartan myths said legendary founder Lycurgus gave them law/constitution for their system of gov., but it really evolved over time...  Their government system = kings (usually 2 at a time) advised by a council of elders and an assembly of citizens (ephors).  SO, it was a monarchy with elements of an oligarchy with elements of a representative system.


The Spartan economy was based upon agriculture that used slave labor.  Their society was divided into 3 basic classes:  helots = slaves (esp. Messenians) =the majority, who had NO legal rights; perioikoi=free men who were not soldiers (spartai), and who therefore did not have full rights as citizens; Spartai= (“similars”), the soldiers who were full citizens—maybe 10,000 circa 600. After age 30, all Spartai men could vote at agora and hold public office.  All had land and slaves, so full-time soldier/citizens.   


Some historians (e.g., Noble ) say full-time army developed as means to control the majority slave population.


Spartan “education” was the Agoge system of bringing up children to be warriors.  It involved the selection of infants; the training of boys [and girls] after age 7; and boys’ training to age 18; then from age 18-20, service in secret units that terrorized Messenians.  After that, young men were chosen for units = Spartai; those not picked = perioikoiSpartai lived in barracks, as “equals” with rights and duties to the community.  That also shaped their marriage/family life, and resulted in the dominance of women over the home/streets.

Spartan warriors’ skill, their dedication to community, and their simple (austere) life, made them  (more than the Athenians) the object of admiration in Greece and later in Rome...


POINT:  ATHENS is the best example of developments that  led to democracy.  Circa 650s,  it was a city-state ruled by landed elites, “aristocrats,” who served as city magistrates (judges, 1 year terms) and on council of elders (life members).  Service as judges and administrators limited to aristocrats (power and rank by BIRTH).  But the DEMOS also had assembly that voted on key issues like war.  By 630s-620s, popular frustration at corruption led to failed attempts to set up tyrant.  That led to an elite backlash--the Code of Draco.  But harsh code created its own popular backlash—a movement of merchants/prosperous farmers (all hoplite soldiers) who pushed for overthrow of aristocratic oligarchy.


By 600, those political tensions were joined by social tension—the growing impoverishment of small farmers.  The crisis culminated circa 590s in reforms by the archon (sort of like chief judge and mayor) Solon.  Solon pushed trade and commerce and ended debt-peonage.  New Government reforms= wealthy commoners can serve as magistrates, the poor (thetes) could serve as jurors and vote in assembly.  In addition, Solon’s reforms brought greater systematization to the practices of the assembly and to government administration. 


So the reforms under Salon made Athen’s more “democratic” in some ways.  But at the same time, after Solon’s reforms Athenian society developed slave-based agriculture and craft-manufacturing base, and made wide use of foreign slaves purchased or captured in wars.  Growing use of slaves actually hurt economic status of free poor, who joined in alliance with radical reformers to make Pisistratus the tyrant of Athens in 560-550s.  Two generations later, Sparta helped overthrow P’s grandson, and pendulum swung back to oligarchy of elites [aristocrats = Eupatrids].  And that set the stage for further democratization....


ISSUE: What were the basic religious beliefs of the Archaic Greeks and how was religion related to early Greek philosophy?


First, note that Greek Archaic literature introduced the “self” of the writer as a subject for literature—love, sex, fame, emotions, were all aspects of INDIVIDUAL self expressed more by the Greeks than in any earlier literature...  Also in the arts (esp. sculpture), at this time there was a shift in Greece from copying Egyptians to greater attention on realism and physicality....


OK—Religion:   They were Polytheistic, and had mix of very old (Minoan?) and Mycencean myths and gods, to which they added newer stories and gods,  Olympian Gods= 


In Archaic Greece, these gods were worshiped in most of the cities, but each city-state had its own Patron god (Athens=Athena, and so was Sparta!).  The patron god’s temple was at the center of the city.   [Also, each city had its own favorite mythic heroes (Sparta’s favorite = myths about Hercules)].  Each temples “housed” a God, and priests and priestesses performed rituals like sacrifices of goats, etc. on the exterior porch alter. 


The Greeks believed that the gods communicated divine wisdom through ORACLES (e.g., Apollo, god of music and healing, spoke through the oracle at Delphi).  But the oracles’ messages were ambiguous and could be read in many different ways  (as we see in some of the plays).


The Greeks believed that the gods might lust after humans, but the gods did not love or care for them in sense that Hebrew/ Christian/ Muslim god is said to...  The gods could be petty and vengeful and toy with humans.  They really hated human arrogance and pride (hubris).    So, the gods expected humans to follow all the proper rituals and ceremonies and to remember their place (humility and piety).  BUT most of all, they expected justice; no matter what man might do, in the end Zeus will have justice.


Early Greek philosophy (the word means the love of wisdom), is traced back to the 500s in the city-state of Miletus (Ionia)—a spot with a lot of contact with Eastern kingdoms.    What the thinkers of Miletus are best known for is “ rational speculation.”   The key to this is that they believed that things happen for REASONS.  They still believed in the Gods, but they also believed that men are capable of understanding what causes things to happen in nature (physics).  E. g, some philosophers argued that all nature is made of one substance (water), some said it is made of many substances (water and air), etc.—the point is that they attempted to understand nature in abstract and rational (logical) terms.


By 500 BC, debate and speculation was spreading to other regions of Greece—e.g., Heracleitus, who developed the first dialectic philosophy (all mater/things in constant state of flow, change, in struggle of opposites, yet still coherent/unity);  Pythagoris argued that all reality is based upon mathematical ratios; Parmenides—whose ideas were the basis of “idealism”—argued that the nly reality is in the pure unchanging realm of ideas—all things that change and are of the material world are all illusion.  All of these thinkers borrowed from other sources, but they then innovated.  They and their successors established the basis for ideas that would lead to rationalism of classical Greece.   


ISSUE:  What role did ordinary people (non-elites) play in moving Athens towards democracy and how did Athenian democracy actually function?


Best to think about this as a process that went through two stages:


Stage 1:  Around 508 BC an aristocrat named Cleisthenes appealed to support from the Demos to take power from the oligarchy of his fellow aristocrats.  He did this by promising greater equality and promising that all Athenian citizens (not just elites in city) would benefit.  The oligarchy tried to get help from Sparta, but was defeated by a popular army.  That allowed Cleisthenes to destroy the old aristocratic order, reform the system of government to include immigrants who had been excluded, and create a new Council that represented much broader segment of society (Council of 500).  Although the inner government council (Areopagus) was still made up only of the wealthy, the Council of 500 gave “commoners” real voice.

How did they prevent factions and tyrants from gaining power?  One way was the practice of Ostracism (10 year exile)...


Stage 2:  In Persian Wars (round two of the Persian wars, actually) in 480s, the Greeks won in part because of heroism of Athen’s navy of “trireme” ships rowed by lowest classes of free men (thetes).  The hoplite soldiers were citizens, but the rowers were not.  Circa 461, Pericles and his cohort of reformers pushed for citizenship for the thetes/rowers.  Step 1—they took away power of Areopagus and strengthened the Council of 500 and the public courts.  Step 2, in 450s, Athens introduced the idea of paid civil servants and jury members, so the poor could afford to serve.  So under Pericles, government “rewarded” the service of poor by giving them full citizens’ rights...


How was the government of democratic Athens organized? 

The Assembly:  made up of all adult male citizens.  Gathered about once a week, debated key issues like war, taxes, decrees, ostracism, etc.  Any citizen could speak.

Courts:  open to all, juries of hundreds, to prevent corruption.

Executive:  No “president,” no “mayor.”  Council of 500 plus about 700 civil servants/magistrates.  Male citizens 30 or over.  Chosen by lottery then vetted by Council.  Only GENERALS and the TREASURER were elected ( by the Council).  Most terms of office in ANY post = 1 or 2 years.

Legislature:  The Assembly, which voted on all important matters.

Outside the City:  every county had its own assembly, executive and judges.


WHO was/wasn’t a CITIZEN?  Only adult males were citizens (40,000 out of 400,000).  TO be a citizen, you had to prove that you were a) legitimate; b) the son and grandson of a citizen.  So, no women,  no immigrants (METICS =resident aliens), no slaves!  Women exercised some limited public power through influence on men (e.g., influence of Aspasia on Pericles), and also had some domestic power through property ownership (their dowries).   



ISSUE: What role did the Persian Wars (499-479 BCE) play in shaping the relationship between Athens and the other Greek city states, and why did this lead to the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE)?


Persia under Cyrus the Great had conquered Ionian Greek city-states (in Anatolia) in 540s.  In 499, Miletus led revolt vs. Persia, with help from Athens (which then bailed on them!).  Persia crushed Miletus, then “had to” crush Athens to prove point.  In the year 490, King Darius I sent his navy and 25,000 + soldiers to crush Athens---but lost the battle at Marathon.  Athens/hoplites BEAT the Persians!  That was a huge boost to Athens.


In the year 486, King Xerxes returned with HUGE force to finish the job.  Athens under Themistocles built up its navy (triremes), and in coalition with Sparta and Hellenic League fought the Persians.  (Not all city states joined, and Thebes and Argos actually sided with Persia).  The key battle = heroic blocking effort by Spartans (led by King Leonidas) at Thermopylae.  This delaying action gave Athenians time to abandon their city, which the Persians then sacked.  But the Athenian fleet then trapped the Persians near Salamis and sunk the Persian fleet.  The Athenians had cut the Persians’ supply lines, so the Persians had to retreat.  The Spartans led forces that chased and beat them on land; the Athenian navy chased and beat them at sea and drove them out of Ionia.

This victory really sparked the Greek (esp. Athenian) “Golden Age”—it was a high point in Greek confidence, dominance, and trade.


But the way that Athens led the post-war Delian League (vs the Persians) led to conflict with other city states.  The Spartans remained outside the Delian alliance.  Athens demanded payments from its allies, and if they rebelled, Athens crushed them (often brutally).  Several city states then joined Sparta in an alliance against Athens, which led to the Peloponnesian War (431-404).  This bloody war disrupted entire region.  Sparta dominated land war; Athens dominated the naval war.  BUT, in 415-413 Athens tried to conquer Sicily (it was a trap) and lost much of its army/fleet there.  That turned the tide.  Athens now was weak, and more city states joined with Sparta.  Plus, the Persians came to Sparta’s aid, too (gave them naval support in return for control over Ionia).  Sparta put Athens under siege for years, and the city starved and was  devastated by plague (the victims included Pericles!).  The only thing that kept it going was access to sea [the long walled causeway to the port at Piraeus].  When the Persians cut off access to sea in 404 BC, Sparta was able to defeat Athens.


Spartan generals put tyrants in power over Athens; their rule was so corrupt that the Spartan oligarchy itself overthrew them and restored Athenian democracy.  But Athens never really recovered. 

After Sparta’s victory, there followed a long series of wars for dominance between Sparta, Corinth, Thebes.  The Spartan population crash, then was defeat by Thebes in 371 BC, which signaled end for Spartan dominance (Thebes then freed the Messenian Helots).  But wars also exhausted Corinth, Thebes, etc. in turn.  This set the stage for the rise of Macedonia under Philip and Alexander...


ISSUE:  What were the most important characteristics of Greek religion, drama, and historical thought in the Classical period?


KEY point is that this was PUBLIC culture.  Even when it was “personal,” it was about individuals as part of the POLIS.


Religion.   Most people still believed in the gods/that we have to please the gods.   BUT, there was a growing sense of doubt.  Most of the city states tried to reshape religion to fit political/social needs—e.g, Athens used wealth from Delian League to build grand temples as PUBLIC spaces that stressed pride and also created JOBS.  New gods became popular in response to new conditions (e.g., during the Peloponnesian War, Asclipius, god of healing, became very popular).  Religion provided women with public spaces in Athens—they culd be priestesses, participate in festivals, etc.

ART-your text does not stress this, but this was high-point in Greek sculpture—they reached a level of naturalism and balance that would not be matched until the Renaissance.

Drama:  Plays were poetic in form, and grew out of religious festivals.  The stress in theater was on the relationship between individual and polis/community.  Tragedy = oldest form, presented by playwrights at festivals in trilogies.  “Tragic”—learning through suffering, failure.  E.G., plays of Aeschylus (525-456), Sophocles (495-406), and Euripides (485-406).   The emphasis in these plays was on divine justice and will of gods.  POINT made in text is that emphasis shifts during Peloponnesian Wars, after which plays show less confidence in goodness of the community, polis, civic order (at a time when it seemed to be collapsing).  Comedy also usually included moral commentary or comments on public life (e.g., Aristophanes  made fun of Socrates in The Clouds; in Lysistrata, women declare a sex strike vs the war).

History:  key figures in writing history were Herodotus and Thucydides.  They saw historical events in context, as part of larger story of history of the Polis.  Their main topic was war and its impact on Greek society (Thucydides put more stress on politics).  The point again is that history was about PUBLIC LIFE.


ISSUE:  What were the most important elements of the thought of these philosophers:  Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle?


Sophists were paid teachers who stressed rhetoric and the distinction between nomos (law, convention) and physis (nature)—they stressed the importance of nature and the relativity of nomos.   They tended towards relativism in matter of ethics.  They taught that an argument need not be rooted in TRUTH, what matters is that your argument convinces the listener...

The greatest critic of this approach was Socrates (469-399).  Socratic Method = questions to get at heart of issue, push logic to its ends.  He had no paid students, no school, and never wrote out his ideas, but he had loyal followers...  He said that he was wise only in that he knew he was ignorant.  He believed in absolute truth, that Truth must guide behavior in ethics.  He also argues that:  Knowledge is the key to virtue/arete; the Purpose of life = pursue excellence; virtue = pursuing knowledge and living the truth....  In many was, he was a product of his time—a hero in Athen’s wars, a product of Athenian confidence.


Plato (427-348), a follower of Socrates, wrote down his teacher’s ideas in dialogues...  He himself was a product of decline of Athens, which he blamed on the masses (death of Socrates, etc.).  He also rejected public debate in favor of forming school for intellectual elites... 


IDEALISM.  Absolutes in forms/ ideas.  Forms don’t change.  Material change “illusion.”

Aristotle (384-322) was a student of Plato (and the tutor of Alexander).  He attempted to use Platonic concepts to analyze nature as well as man.  He stressed sensory observation/categorization/analysis to understand CHANGE, which he say as teleological (everything has a specific purpose, Harmony, moving towards a goal—excellence/perfection)