Remnants of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
And so I am looking through my notes to decide what to write here about the Greeks, and I've discovered that I have eleven folders with information on different aspects of Ancient Greece. I'll list the topics here, just for the fun of it:
The Ancient Greeks contributed much to the development of Western culture in so many different areas: alphabet, drama, comedy, poetry, politics, democracy, medicine, architecture, science, sculpture and philosophy. Much of the Greek experience remains deeply embedded in the Western world today; and not just as letters to distinguish one fraternity or sorority from another. The Greek use of rational thought, and not supernatural explanation, to understand the natural world formed the basis of Western philosophy and science. The Greek appreciation of the value and beauty of the individual was crucial to the ensuing artistic and aesthetic history of the West. The Greeks also developed the idea and practice of "democracy," an idea and practice so radical in the ancient world and much different than the current understanding and use of the concept. (You could argue that the contemporary understanding of democracy is still not all that clear.)
Whereas the Hebrews provided an ethical religion for the West (in the form of Judaism and the idea of ethical monotheism), the Ancient Greeks provided an ethical philosophy. Both focused on the role of the individual (and not community responsibility for events), and both would complement each other (ethical irrationalism in the form of religion and ethical rationalism in the form of philosophy) when merged later in Christianity. I'll repeat that in my comments on Christianity.
The Greek city states--it is important to remember that there was never any unified kingdom or state of Greece even under Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE--let's get back to my point about the Greek city states. They were all individual polities, and all engaged in colonization. Colonial expansion first began relatively early in the eighth century. Already by the 600s BCE, Greeks had established overseas settlements/colonies throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas (Marseilles, Syracuse, Odessa, etc.). Some historians have theorized that the colonialism was a response to overpopulation, but in any case by the fifth century (400s BCE) there were Greek settlements scattered all along the Mediterranean and Black Sea shorelines. Many of these later came under the imperial control of Athens, but these settlements ensured that Greek language and culture spread widely and influenced local societies wherever there was cultural and economic contact.
Here's a quick timeline of Ancient Greece. (all dates BCE)
Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World
The emergence of Macedon, to the north of the Greek Peninsula, culminated in the reign of Philip II, king of Macedon, 359-336 (assassinated). He used his professional army to defeat the individual Greek city-states and create the League of Corinth under his complete control.
Alexander 3 of Macedon, aka the Great, born 356, became king 336, died 323 (possible poisoned), the great warrior who created an empire extending eastward to India and including Syria, Persia, Palestine, Egypt, present-day Pakistan. This was the largest empire up to that time (before Rome).
As Alexander spread Greek civilization eastward, it is often said that he kind of orientalized it in the process, i.e., he merged Greek, Persian and other cultures to create a cosmopolitan empire in which science, philosophy, art all flourished. That's why it is called the Hellenistic world; it was no longer solely a Greek (Hellenic) empire; it was Hellenistic, a merged Greek empire.
We often associate the ancient Greeks with philosophy. Feel free to investigate all of these different philosophic schools as they are all part of the philosophical heritage of the world today. These are just some quick notes.
Classical Greek Philosophy
Some recommended online lectures and websites:
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