The city-states of ancient Greece are famous for many contributions that still impact our world today. From Athens to Sparta all aspects of life, from sports to governmental structure and the arts flourished. Following are just of few of their feats.
The Olympic games took place in Greece every four years, starting back in 776 BCE. It was a HUGE and exciting event that all free men were allowed to participate in. Women were not allowed to compete, or even watch the games unless they owned a horse that was part of the competitions.
For the first 250 years all the action took place in Olympia, located in the north-western Peloponnese. Men competed in various events over a 5-day period. 40,000 people would pack the stadium to watch the festivities.
Some of the games played were: Running, jumping, throwing events, boxing, wrestling, pankration (a type of mixed martial arts with very few restrictions) and chariot racing.
Some fun facts:
– The games were played completely naked!
– The wrestlers and pankration players covered themselves in oil before playing
The word philosopher comes from the two Greek words philo (love) and sophia (wisdom). Ancient Greek philosophers spent many hours observing and analyzing all aspects of life.
They tried to explain the mysteries of life using logic and reason. This was very different from the usual mythical explanations.
Three of the greatest Greek philosophers were:
Socrates is the “father of philosophy” was a stonemason by trade as well as a great thinker. His greatest contribution to philosophy was the practice of learning and understanding new ideas through discussion and questioning.
Today we call it the Socratic method of teaching, named after Socrates
Plato was a student of Socrates and wrote down many of his teacher’s ideas. He was the first to create written dialogue. Plato believed the soul had 3 purposes, desire, emotion and reason.
Aristotle studied many subjects including science, government, physics, and politics. He documented his findings on the topics and explained how they were interrelated. He was the first to develop a formal way of reasoning, known as the field of formal logic.
The ancient Greeks are well-known for their sculpture and pottery. They depicted the human body in a realistic and enhanced manner. They men and women looked strong and fit. The statues were often semi-clothed or nude.
Much of Greek art was lost during the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars. Some of the pottery did survive. Figurines were crafted as gifts to the gods. They were also buried with the dead and given to children as toys. Their pottery included intricate detail and design.
Ancient Greek architecture used simplicity, proportion and perspective to create beautiful structures. Their temples, theaters and stadium style are still copied today. Many government buildings – the United States Capitol being the most famous – copy Greek design.
The most outstanding element of Greek architecture is its columns. There are five orders of classical architecture – Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite. The Greeks invented the first three. Each order is defined by a specific column design:
A few of the most famous Greek buildings are the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Parthenon, the Temple of Hera and Temple of Apollo.
In 507 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms that he called demokratia. In Greek demos means the people and kratos is power – rule by the people. It was the first example of democracy in the world.
This new form of government was a huge shift from oligarchy (a few wealthy men rule). However, it was not truly rule by ALL the people. Only Athenian male citizens could vote in the direct democracy of ancient Athens.
There were 3 parts to this new form of government:
Ekklesia, a group that wrote laws and dictated foreign policy
Boule, 500 representatives that took care of the day-to-day running of Athens
Dikasteria, the court system.
Citizens could argue their cases in front of a 500 lottery-selected jurors. There were no police in Athens, so all problems came before the dikasteria. The death penalty was saved for only the worst of crimes. A common punishment was to be banned from the city-state for a period of time.
Ancient Greek theatre flourished from 700 BC. The city-state of Athens, which became a significant place during this time, was the center of the arts.
Theater was first introduced as part of a festival honoring the god Dionysia. The Greeks had 3 genres of plays, comedies, tragedies and satyr. Much of modern theater was adopted from the Greeks.
Some Facts about Greek Theater:
– women were not allowed to act in plays, a may not have been allowed to attend performances
– for many years plays included only 1 actor on stage. He would speak to the orchestra, who would then sing or play music. Eventually 3 actors were allowed to perform in a play
– death could not be shown on the stage. During tragedies the actor would go behind a curtain and you could only hear him dying.
– playwrights would compete for prizes for the best tragedy and best comedy.
Myths do 2 things for society:
1. they explain the unknown (who made the world, who was the first human)
2. they justify traditions and morals.
In Greece stories of gods and goddesses, as well as heroes and villains were an important part of life. Originally these myths weren’t written down but passed along orally. In the 8th century Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey document many stories.
Common parts of modern life are named after Greek gods. Nike was the goddess of victory. Amazon was a mythical group of warrior women. Cereal is named after Ceres, the god of grain.
The 12 main gods and goddesses lived on Mount Olympus. From their mountaintop, they ruled over all mortals.