CLA230H1S The Greeks History, Culture and Society Textbook Notes
Week 1— Chapters 1 2
Chapter 1: A Small, Far Off Land
- in 700 200 BC, the Greeks built societies with citizens who applied their reasons to
explaining the world
o they created masterpieces of literature and art
o democracy, philosophy, history writing, and drama began in ancient Greece, and
the Greeks developed science, mathematics, and representational art in
- Byron saw in Greek art and literature timeless truths that laid bare the meaning of life
- The Greeks struggled with problems about freedom, equality, and justice that we also
- The great Bronze Age civilizations had arisen in Mesopotamia and Egypt
o The Mesopotamia kings claimed that they had special relationships with the gods
o The kings of Egypt claimed that they were themselves gods
o Their palaces flourished until 1200 BC, but then were burned down
o From about 1200 until 800 BC, writing disappeared from Greece
- The book focuses on the Greek societies that emerged from this Dark Ages in the 8 th
century BC, creating a new Greek world that had little in common with the bronze Age
- This new world had several radical features: (1) Greeks organized themselves in small
city states called poleis; (2) Greeks sailed off and established new communities around
the shores of the Mediterranean; (3) Greeks came to see their city states as communities
of equal, free males, the basis for and origin of the concept of citizenship; (4) they
refused to believe that the gods gave any individual or narrow elite a divine right to rule
- The Greeks thought that the gods were powerful and wise, that the world was full of
spirits and ghosts, and that a few oracles and priests could give access to the supernatural
o These conditions created a fundamental conflict that we call the Greek Problem
Without gods or gods to rule and to reveal the truth, many Greeks
concluded that human reason was the only guide to truth
If no King had special access to truth, then all males must be roughly
equally well qualified to discuss it, and therefore the only source of good
decisions must be the whole male community.
By 500 BC, the theory of equal qualification led to the worlds first
democracies, in which all male citizens debated and voted on the major
*other Greeks saw different solutions to the "Greek problem" some
believed only the elite should rule, the richest/ most respected could be
trained in the skillful exercise of reason on behalf of the whole
community. **The conflict between mass and elite democracy and
experts was a driving force in Greek History.
- leading men in the polis competed for power and wealth, richest often in positions of
power over poor.
- Neighboring polis fought one another and competed for power and wealth, sometimes
uniting into larger and more powerful land units. - Sparta developed a militaristic society, suppressing debate in the interests of security,
while Athens turned towards democracy and pluralism, glorifying in open expression.
These different approaches produced two results
1- constant intercity warfare, as different polis promoted their own interests and their
own visions of the good society
2- 2Greek thinkers were pressured into explaining how the universe worked differently
and independently of divine presence leading to advances in Greek science and
- 5th C BC Athens was close to defeating their enemies and uniting Greece by creating a
nationstate while becoming the capital city. Sparta's defeat of Athens in 404 BC meant
the wars were intensified, becoming increasingly expensive, violent and destructive.
- the Greeks fought with powers such as Persia, and Carthage
- Herodotus and Thucydides the origins of history, anthropology and political science
writings led from the Greek fascination with the development of Greek culture and how
citystates were run and why did the Greek way of life differ so radically from the
Persian Empire and other foreign people.
- End of Dark Age 8th C BC poets and artists struggled to define man's relationship to the
gods Homer Iliad + Odyssey set in ancient days when men and Gods walked together.
- Hesiod relayed the history of the God's.
- 5th C BC greatest tragedians Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides retold Greek
legends to explore profound moral problems + sculptor Phidias Pathenon.
- Archaic Period 7th and 6th C BC
- Classical Perdiod 5th and 4th C BC ** both periods driven by the 'Greek Problem' If we
can't rely on the Gods to tell us the truth, how do we know what to do?
- 4th C BC Philip of Macedon modernized and Centralized his large, loosely organized
kingdom using wealth and power to defeat Greek cities. Intended to overthrow Persian
Empire, taking Greece wasn't main goal.
- Murdered in 336 BC, son Alexander took over his control. 324 BC Alexander ordered the
polis to worship him as a divinity.
- 3rd C= Greeks Golden Age, Greeks more numerous, richer than ever, cities spread as far
as Afghanistan, culture triumphed borders of India to Atlantic, scientists + engineers
making amazing breakthroughs.
- Hellenistic Period from Alexander's death in 323 BC to Cleopatra's death in 30 BC, the
Greeks had to wonder should we live together with the people we have conquered? And
as Rome's power and size grows each day, must we live in a world with only one
WHO WERE THE GREEKS?
- The Greeks recognized that Freedom and equality of male citizens were logically
incompatible with the subjection of slaves and women
o The Greeks conducted experiments in freedom, equality, and rationality that
match our own efforts to build a rational and just society
- the concept of the nation state did not exist in ancient Greece
- modern nation state= everyone belongs to an athnic group defined by a shared language,
culture, and descent from common ancestors. more complicated in ancient Greece.
- Greek speakers called themselves Hellenes, and lived in cities scattered from Spain to the
Ukraine. agreed their ancestral home Hellas lay around the Aegean Sea. - Greekness had nothing to do with belonging to a particular political unit.
- Athenians claimed to be different than the Greeks, they said they were autochthonous
(born of soil): because they had always lived in Athens. Other Athenians believed that
their ancestors had at some time invaded their territory from outside and called this the
Pelasgians (people of the sea) goes to show that in Homer's day the Greeks were not a
single people they all claim different lineage/history.
- most of the time, Greeks identified themselves simply by the polis they lived in, although
sometimes during a large war, groups of polis would recognize a larger identity to form a
- During the Peloponnesian war in 431 BC, Those who considered themselves Ionians
sided with Athens and those who called themselves Dorians, sided with Sparta.
- Occasionally people would put aside their differences to unite under the term Hellenes.
- blood, language, religion and customs are the foundations of modern nationstates, while
Greeks often felt distinct from peoples around them who didn't speak their language to
live like them .Often wars highlighted these distinctions but political unity wasn't
achieved until after 300 BC when the divide between Greek and foreigner was partly
broken down and thousands emigrated from Greece to the Near East and Egypt.
- This emigration resulted in native born Egyptians, Syrians etc learning Greek, taking
Greek names and integrating Greek culture into their own, speaking Greek, wearing
Greek clothing etc.
- American and French revolutions upheld some very Greek ideas about the state being a
community of equal male citizens, founded on reason, aiming at the pursuit of happiness.
- 19th C Democracy right of free, equal rights to rule themselves was a burning social
question all over Europe Greeks are good to think with, as their ideas inspire and aid
modern day thought.
Chapter 2: Country and People
- Basic rhythms of Greek life: geography, diet, health, and standards of living
- Provide the foundations for making sense of Greek history and culture
- 90 % of Greeks lived within a day’s walk of the Mediterranean Sea people living inland
were essentially cut off from the greater world.
o Best place for farming
- After Alexander's conquests, the Greeks also settled in Egypt and Mesopotamia where
they encountered the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Here farming depended on
harnessing rivers through irrigations but in the northern Mediterranean farmers relied on
rainfall to water their crops.
- Small plains were the prime grain growing areas in Greece, but the thinner soil on the
hills supported olives and vines.
- Nothing mattered more than the rain, very important for crop success. 2,500 years ago,
Mediterranean climate wasn't much different than it is today, hot and very dry in the
summer months= hard to grow crops. Little rain.
- Cool, wet winters= busy growing season, can get snow on planes, but very rare.
Mountains can get lots of snow/storms.
- Farmers who sewed their fields with wheat would see their crops fail 1/4 years. Barley
failed only 1/20 years. - Mountains supported few crops, were mainly used by herdsmen for sheep and goats.
Cattle very expensive, used for plows, rarely used for meat.
- Greek climate put limits on what they could do. Greek poets liked to talk about how poor
they were. Hesiod mentions the struggle with crops and the harsh weather conditions in
Works and Days.
- government records don't exist to tell us population, life expectancy etc. those who were
writing at the time (Educated Greeks) wrote tragedies, philosophy, and legal speeches,
not statistical reports.
- by combining the brief literary referenc