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Note to Teacher:  Read the Story of the Trojan Horse, found in the index, before you begin this unit. 

(Teachers: This text is a copy of what students will read in the brief history of Egypt.)

The Story of Greece

Imagine being the first person to discover a city.  That's what Heinrich Schielmann did.  When he was a kid he vowed to find the mythical city of Troy.  When he grew up he went to a big hill in Asia where Troy was suppose to have been.  He brought with him a bunch of men and tools, and they started to dig.

Amazingly, he found a city right away.  The artifacts were fabulous, and there were many of them.  He was thrilled and told the whole world that he had found the legendary city of Troy.  But he was wrong. Soon other archeologists told him that the beautiful statues, and jewelry and decorated vases were of a pattern and design unknown to the Greeks!  Boy, that must have been pretty embarrassing.

But wait, the story gets better.  He found a city one thousand years older than Troy called Mycenae, and it was way bigger and more beautiful than Troy.  And guess what?  He also discovered Troy and 7 other cities, all buries one on top of the other under that same hill.  Well, Heinrich was pretty famous after all that discovering.  He also learned a lot.  When your finished with this activity, I think you'll be able to tell me a lot about Greek history too.

Before we discuss ancient Greece, let's look at where Greece is.

Greece is a country located in the Mediterranean Sea.  This map shows the shape and size of Greece today.

When Greece was at its biggest and most powerful, this is what it looked like. You can see that there were many colonies dotted around the coastlines.

4500 BC - 1500 BC - The Bronze Age

The first people to build big palaces and develop a culture were the Minoans. also called Aegeans. The Minoans built their main city on the island of Crete and their culture dominated the region. The most famous Minoan king was called King Minos and he was very  powerful.  The Minoans were a lively, fun-loving, peaceful people who build huge palaces with running water and flushing toilets. They had a written language, but we still don't understand it.

Their clothes and jewelry were beautiful and they loved games. They built terrific ships and made fine pottery, jewelry, art and dishes and swords of metal.  Since their work has been found all over the Mediterranean, including Egypt, we know they were great traders and travelers. 

The myth tells us that the Minotaur was killed by brave prince Theseus, son of the king of Athens.  He volunteered to be one of the youths to be sacrificed.  The youths to be sacrificed sailed to Crete on a ship with white sails.  Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos.  She fell in love with Theseus and gave him a sword and ball of string to help him kill the Minotaur.  Can you guess how he used these two things?

The Minoan culture died away  in about 1450.  Some people think a huge volcanic eruption caused so much damage that their rival, the Mycenaeans, took them over.

Remember how I told you about the city that Heinrich found called Mycenae?  Well, the people who livedthere were called Mycenaeans.   They built their capital at Mycenae, a city on the Greek peninsula.  (Insert Map here).  Like the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, they had a written language.  Unfortunately, little of it has survived.  They were spectacular builders.  The foundations and walls of their homes and palaces were so big that the people who came to their city later thought they had been built by giants!  Some of the walls were ten feet thick!

Activity:Measure ten feet in your room.  Now measure how think the walls in your room are.  Now you see why people were impressed.

The Mycenaeans were the first people to use the bathtub every day.  They were great artists too.  In their tombs were found wonderful death masts made of pure gold and beautiful cups and jewelry.  But they were different than the Minoans because they liked to fight.  They were good sailors, but liked to raid other cities and run away with their good stuff. The Mycenaeans  were basically pirates, rather than traders. 

The Mycenaeans  were the ones that fought the Trojan War against the Hittites of Troy.  The Hittites' myth about the Trojan War was that they got tired of Mycenaeans  ships always raiding their villages and they deny that they kidnapped Helen.  The war lasted 10 years and when it was over, Mycenae was in chaos at home, even though they won.  It is believed that the migration of the Hellenes destroyed their civilization. Soon, much of those two wonderful cultures were lost. Only through songs and stories did the faint memory of their heroes and their culture live.

11001100 - 850 BC - Dark Age

A wave of barbarians that called themselves Hellenes invaders began to pour down on Greece around 1100 BC. These people were hunters and herders.  They moved constantly to find new pastures for their cattle.  The Hellenes were very primitive savages, but they had a lot of strong weapons made of iron. They were very brutal and conquered and destroyed the entire Mycenaean civilization.

It took these barbarians a long time to develop skills in shipbuilding and sailing. But when they did they became great sailors and fishermen.  Their sailing skill enabled them to use the surrounding seas to trade with others, find new resources that they lacked, and  find new places to settle. 

The Hellenes settled on the farms and in the building that they had not burned.  They learned how to terrace the steep hillsides to hold the water and protect the soil from erosion.  They learned how to grow crops to feed themselves and their animals. They even learned to tame their wild and violent ways. 

Teacher:  It is important to discuss the geography of Greece at this point.  Why would the Hellenes have settled in this mountainous and rocky area?

  • Forced out of their own homelands
  • No place to go since they were at the sea
  • Had the might to overpower a highly developed civilization and use the structures and systems they had already been developed
  • Saw that the geography provided safety from invaders

How did they need to change in order to live here?

  • Stop their nomadic lifestyle and become farmers
  • Learn how to both use and preserve what soil there was
  • Learn how to trap and use sparse rainwater
  • Adapt their diet to new foods
  • Learn now to use the resources available in Greece (stones and gravel) to build  (Remember, the Hellenes came from Europe, in the area of Austrian where wood was plentiful.)

What new skills did they need in order to survive? 

  • Farming, sailing, fishing, shipbuilding, stone masonry, irrigation

How did they change the geography to suit their needs? 

  • Terraced the hillsides
  • Cleared out land in the harbors to accommodate their boats
  • Moved rocks to clear spaces for homes and buildings
  • Used the stones for buildings

The Hellenes usually lived in family clans that expanded as their family grew, but also married some of the local people.  As the cultures blended, the Greeks became a unique type of people. They did not try to make an empire like the Egyptians, but permitted each clan to govern itself.

The people of Hellenes were divided into four large tribes. They were the Achaeans, the Ionians, the Dorians, and the Aeolians. As population grew over the first 600 years, these tribes were spread out over many cities and villages. Even though there were four different tribes there were five elements that unified these cities in Greece.  Can you guess what they were?

Teacher:  The students will probably only get a few of these, but each is important because these common characteristics enable each city-state to develop independently, with the interference of others. 

  1. A common language, with local dialects (language)
  2. A common intellectual life in which only a few political, philosophical and literary people are known very far beyond their immediate borders (education)
  3. A common passion for athletics which found a common outlet in local and "inter-state" games (leisure and social activities)
  4. A love of beauty expressed locally in forms common to all Greeks (art)
  5. A common way of expressing beliefs through similar rituals (religion) 

In the beginning, all the Greeks were equally rich and equally poor.  Every man owned a certain number of cows and sheep.  They all lived in mud huts.  Men and boys were free to come and go as he pleased. Women and girls had no power or voice in Greece.  Once they were married they were not seen or heard in public, except at the theater.  

Whenever there was a problem, the men gathered in the town square, called the agora, and talked it out.  If there was a war, one energetic villager would be elected leader.  When the war was over, the "leader" would stop being the leader if the villagers decided. As you can see, the villages were very independent and because there was no king, they had all the freedom they wanted. 

850850 BC Oligarchy

As we said, in the beginning, most people were equally well off.  But gradually, the villages grew into cities. The Greeks called their cities polis.  Because some people were lazy or unlucky, and others were smarter or luckier, all men, eventually, were not equally well off.  Some were rich and some were poor.  The rich and smart people figured out how to get richer and to make it harder for the poor people to compete with them.  If a man was in debt and couldn't pay, he was sold into slavery.  In these times the city was managed by the rich. This form of government is called an oligarchy.  It means that a small group of nobles make all the decisions for the rest of the people, without the permission of the people. 

Educator: the following list provides a basis for discussion about power based on wealth.  Ask your students to divide into groups of four, making sure that there is a student with good writing skills in each.    Ask them to list all of the reasons why they think the rich Greeks would have more power than poor people.  Also ask them how aa group of wealthy people could be good leaders of their city-state. Ask each group to name a spokesperson.  After a five minute discussion, ask each spokesperson to address the class.  Make a list of their ideas on the board.  Here is a list of possible reasons:

  • the rich could afford to buy weapons to fight with and the poor couldn'tthe rich had many slaves to do their work for them and had the time to train to be great fighters and the poor couldn't
  • the rich could hire other men to fight with them (mercenaries) and the poor couldn't
  • the rich had lots of time to talk endlessly about government matters, and the poor had to work all the timethe rich had large farms and businesses that they wanted to protect so they had a lot to lose if people in the city got mad at them or if they lost a war, so they worked hard to be good governors, to keep the polis safe, secure and prosperous

Colonization and Population Density

During times of peace, the Greek cities grew in population.  Because Greece had very poor soil, as population grew, raising enough food became a problem.  So the cities organized groups of colonists and sent them to settle new lands.  The new colonists grew their own food and quickly became self sufficient. 

Educator: the following list provides a basis for discussion about the colonization in Greece.  Ask your students to divide into groups of four, making sure that there is a student with good writing skills in each.    Ask them to list all of the reasons why they think the Greeks were such active colonizers.  Ask them to consider all of the geographic features of  the area. Ask them to provide a list of the benefits of colonization for the Greeks.  Ask each group to name a different spokesperson.  After a five minute discussion, ask each spokesperson to address the class.  Make a list of their ideas on the board.  Here is a list of possible reasons:

a. It reduced the number of people in the homeland

b. It left more food for the people in the homeland so it could continue to grow

c. It gave the colonists a way to improve their lives in a new place

d. It provided a new place to trade goods

e. A new location often had different plants, fish and minerals that could be traded to the homeland

f. It helped spread the Greek culture to other places

g. since Greece was surrounded by water, exploring and traveling to new places was very easy.

h. The Greeks were great  sailors and built excellent ships, so water travel was very safe

i. because the mountainous geography of Greece, colonists could settle in a place that was both easy to defend and close to transportation routes. 

The Greek colonization movement began in the 8th century BC and lasted for 2 centuries.  The Greeks made many colonies in France, Italy, and along the coast of the Black Sea and the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

776 BC The Olympic Games

The Olympic Games was a great athletic contest that began in 776 BC. At this time the Greek ideas.  Artwork began to focus on human figures and of mythology.  Much of the artwork showed the athletes performing during the Olympic contests.

620 - 527 BC Draco and the Law

Eventually, the commoners demanded a written code of laws that protected the poor from the rich.  They asked Draco, a respected citizen, to write some of them. Draco wrote a code of law for Athens, but the penalty for many offences was death.  His laws were so severe that the word "draconian" comes from his name and has come to mean, in the English language, an unreasonably harsh law. Many small crimes were punished by death.  His laws were the first written laws of Greece. Dracos laws started the idea that the government had the responsibility to punish persons accused of a crime.  This was different from the previous system that relied on the bloody system of private justice.

 Teacher:  this is an excellent place to discuss justice.   What does justice mean?  What was private justice? 

Ask your students to divide into groups of four, making sure that there is a student with good writing skills in each.  Ask each group to name a spokesperson.  Each group should create a list all of types of crimes that could have been committed and how the criminal could have been punished under the private justice system - be prepared for the very creative and gory imagination of the 2nd grader!  After a five minute discussion, ask each spokesperson to address the class.  Make a list of their ideas on the board.

Now ask each group to make a new list of the problems with using the private justice system.  Is it fair?  Is it just?  How would it need to change in order for it to be just? Each group should select a different spokesperson.

The citizens adored Draco and upon entering an auditorium one day to attend a reception in his honor, the citizens of Athens showered him with their hats and cloaks as was their customary way to show appreciation. By the time they dug him out from under the clothing, he had been smothered to death! But his ideas were so harsh and cruel that they were quickly set aside

The poet Solon was a man everyone respected.  He was selected to change Draco's laws in a fair and beneficial way to all.  One of Solon's first acts was to forgive all debt and make it illegal to enslave a man because he could not pay his debts. 

Solon changed the old system of government which allowed only those born into certain wealthy families  to govern. That system was replaced with an annual assembly at which all male citizens of Athens were allowed one vote, but not hold office until they could afford to buy their own weapons.  A Council of Four Hundred was established to administer the annual assembly. Solon's laws were inscribed on wooden tablets and circulated throughout Athens for all to see. He refused to redistribute the land as the poorest group was demanding that did not work out so well. The poor people became angry over this new constitution, because as long as the rich owned all of the good land, the poor could never hope to make a better living.

This opened the door for Peisistratus. Peisistratus was a rich man who had a small army of his own. He thought he could change things to be more fair to the poor and middle classes.  He and his army took over the Athens and he made himself the ruler.  The Greeks called people who illegally took over the government tyrants. Peisistratus was a popular tyrant among the poor and middle classes.  He made some changes that helped them.  But still a few  rich families still controlled just about everything.

507 BC

After Peisistratus died, Cleisthenes, another military man, gained control of Athens.  He instituted the first a democratic-like form of government in Athens. Even though he was a tyrant also, he made the most important changes to the Greek government system of any one in history. 

500-479 BC  

The Persian Wars

The Persian Wars were started by Cyrus, the great Persian king in 548. By 528 he had circled Greece and many of her colonies. 

After his death and the death of his son, the Persian nobles made Darius I their leader.  He spread the Persian empire through India, Egypt, and Asia. Then he and headed for Greece.  His first battle with Greece was at Marathon.  At that battle the Greeks beat the Persians. 

Darius suddenly died in 484, but his son, Xerxes I, invaded Greece and cut a path of destruction all the way to Athens.  The Athenians had left the city and went to other cities.  Xerxes I destroyed Athens, the Acropolis, and all of the temples and buildings, homes and harbors. When Xerxes tried to sail away, the Greeks were waiting for him.  They cut the Persian's fleet to shreds. After that the power of the Persian Empire passed away.

525-405 BC 

Greek Tragedy

The Greeks were the people who developed drama and the theater.  The three great writers of Greek tragedy were, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.  These writers all wrote during the time that followed the victories of the Persian Wars..  Of the two hundred plus dramas produced by these poets, only thirty-two have survived.

Euripides  (480-406 BC) was the most popular dramatist.  His fame spread far beyond the limits of Greece and it is reported that his plays were so popular that many prisoners of war bought their freedom from the Sicilians, who loved the works of Euripides, by teaching them the lines of his plays. 

479-445 BC   - Rebuilding of Athens 

When the Athenians who had fled from the Persians returned to their home, they discovered it was in ruins.  Under the leadership of Pericles, they began rebuilding their homes and surrounding the town with huge walls. Other city-states, especially the Spartans who were part of the Peloponnesian League, watched the Athenians with jealous interest.  They didn't want Athens to build big walls because they believed that if the Persians attacked again, they could use the rebuilt Athenian fortress as a stronghold.  But the Athenians built their walls anyway. They built a raised road to their harbor city of Pireus.

In 447 BC a large number of city-states banded together to form the Confederacy of Delos. These independent and equal states voted to make  Athens the leader.  They all contriubted money to a treasury and were all suppose to build ships to make a navy in case there was another war.

Sparta was part of a confederacy called the  Peloponnesian League  and was not included  in this group because members of the Delos confederacy did not trust them.

Sometimes, people with a little power become very bossy.  That's what happened with Athens.  Pretty soon she was telling all of the other members of the Delian League what to do.  If  one city-state decided they didn't want to belong to the league, Athens sent in her army and convinced them, with force, to stay in.  If a city-state didn't pay their dues, Athens sent the army to collect it.  Athens even moved the treasury from the island of Delos to the Acropolis in Athens.  And guess what?  After a while Athens started spending the money in the treasury on cool stuff for Athens.  That was just like stealing from the other league members.  Athens became a "tyrant city."  Finally, Athens began interfering with trade and the government of Corinth, another city-states not in their league.  This was the final straw.  They asked Sparta to come in and help.  This is what led up to the worse war in Greek history.


Peloponnesian War

The Athens picked a fight with Corinth and Athens won. So the Corinthians asked Sparta for help.  After discussing the problem with the rest of the Peloponnesian Confederation, they all agreed to start a war against Athens. 

The Spartans and their confederation gathered near Corinth and marched to Athens, burning everything they came across.  Fortunately the people had mostly fled to the Acropolis in Athens.  Since Athens had those great big walls, the Spartans were stopped.  The Spartans did not come to Athens with enough food and eventually went back to their homes. 

The Spartans came back the next year.  And although the Athenians were protected inside their walls, the Athenians had no protection from the plague that broke out and quickly killed a quarter of the population in the Acropolis. There were many battles at sea and all across the countryside.  It was an extremely cruel and pitiless war.  All prisoners were killed, in some cases as many as 6,000 men that were captured were put to death.  All buildings were destroyed, animals slaughtered, and fields burned. 

Eventually the Spartans won. The Spartans did not destroy Athens, but forced her to take down her walls and the walls around the harbor city of Piraeus.  They made her give up all but 12 of her ships. The Spartans then appointed 30 men, called the Thirty Tyrants, to rule over Athens.

404-371 BC  

Spartan Supremacy and Death of Socrates

The Spartans only maintained their supremacy over Athens for 67 years.  Even though Sparta was supposed to give the city-states back the freedoms that Athens had taken from them, Sparta quickly began acting even worse than Athens. The Athenians only tolerated the "30 Tyrants" for 8 months before they threw the 30 Tyrants out and instituted their old constitution.

The death of Socrates, who was an Athenian, was one of the saddest tragedies in Greece's history. Socrates was one of the greatest teachers and thinkers of all time.  The Athenians charged Socrates with not worshipping the gods that the city worshipped and for corrupting youths. Socrates' was tried by a group of citizens that performed the function of both judge and jury.  There were over 500 jurors and the sentence of death was passed by a majority of them. Socrates was led to jail and remained there for about 30 days before he was executed.  When at last the hour for his death came, he said goodbye to his friends and calmly drank the cup of hemlock, which is a poison.

Plato created a school where students could learn the ideas of the great Greek philosophers.  Plato is pictured with his teacher, Socrates.

371 BC

Battle of Leuctra and the end of Spartan power

Sparta's big mistake was taking over the Acropolis of the city of Thebes.  This was a sacred place and the Spartans housed their soldiers in the temples and other buildings.  It was very foolish and disrespectful.  The Greeks were sick of the Spartans bossing them around.  The Thebans and other Greeks had a big battle with the Spartans and beat them.  After that, Sparta never gained power again.

The Decline of Sparta

Many Spartans warriors died in the course of the man wars, and it was very hard to replace them. Families had to pay to have their sons trained and this was expensive.  If a family had more than one son, sometimes the younger son could not be trained, the son would not be a member of ruling society called the phalanx and to a very low and shameful class in Spartan society called the minors. Being a minor caused a man to lose his place among the equals and their rightful place in the elite phalanx. There developed a large group of these men who had been reduced status to became part of this new social class.  This was very destructive to the Spartan society and made it so weak that it was unable to help with Phillip II of Macedonia started taking over the other Greek city-states. 

336-323 BC

Alexander the Great and the Decline of Greece

Phillip II of Macedonia realized that Greece was very weak.  He used his armies to unitee the city-states by offering to protect them.  He had a great vision to conquer all of Persia.  Everyone in Greece hated the Persians for what they had done to Greece. 

His son, Alexander the Great became king of Macedonia after his father, Phillip II, was murdered.  He fulfilled the plans that his father, Phillip II, had made of a combined Greek attack on its archenemy, Persia. In 334 Alexander invaded Asia and worked on his conquests for twelve years where he eventually conquered lands as far as Russia, Afghanistan and Punjab. 

Teachers: A detailed account of his life is found within his biography found in the Index.

At his death, he invited the strongest among his soldiers to take over the empire he carved.  There were none who were strong enough to take his place so Hellenistic world was divided into three kingdoms and Greek culture was spread throughout Asia. These kingdoms slowly fell into smaller pieces and finally it was Rome who ended the Hellenistic world. 

In Summary

The internal destruction of Greece came from these main facts:

  • deforestation and abuse of the soil
  • depletion of precious metals
  • migration of trade routes
  • disturbance of economic life by political disorder
  • corruption of democracy and degeneration of stable family dynasties
  • decay of morals and patriotism
  • decline or deterioration of the population
  • replacement of citizen armies with mercenary troops
  • murder and violence to humans and their property within cities and villages

Teacher:  The following paragraphs, found in the Educator's Brief History, should help you add details to the above list. 

Deforestation had washed away much of the best farmland and incessant reuse of the arable land had both used up the minerals and depleted its fertility.  Many farms were simply abandoned.  The silver mines that had also been depleted, and cheaper silver could be gotten from Spain.  The gold that had once poured wealth into Athens now increased the coffers of Macedonia.  The villages, once a source of virile, independent citizenry, were dying out. The wealthy became even wealthier, building factories, banks, and shipping companies who traded between the new colonies. The northern cities were no longer on the great trade routes.  Their navies were gone and they had no control of the critical grain supply that both Sparta and Athens has mastered.  Athens and other cities instituted a form of taxation to help support the poor.  This was very unpopular with the rich, especially in Macedonia.  Rich soon became a synonym for 'pro-Macedon' and 'oligarch'. The Athenian democracy was finally liquidated in 321 by Macedonia after a revolt in 323 and 322 under the leadership of the imperialist Demosthenes.

From then on the right of citizenship depended on ownership of a rather large amount of property. Ten thousands of property-less, and now also political right-less Athenians were offered to settle down as colonists on an area in Thrace, which was given to them by Macedon. The rich Athenians who stayed behind no longer had to share their wealth with the poor classes because of this hidden form of deportation, but it also meant the end of Athenian power. The Athenian democracy that was installed in a time of prosperity thanks to the rivalry of the nobility was now ended with foreign interference in a time of wealth for some, and social insecurity for many.

Meanwhile, the working class, subject to great fluctuations in work, barely managed not to starve.  As cities became highly diverse, populated with foreign merchants and traders who had no vested interest in the city.  They were cynical about the local religious beliefs and religion also began to decay.  Obviously, the Greek gods could not protect the people from endless war and calamity. This new doubt coupled with extreme poverty promoted a strong sentiment of socialism and communism that would solve the problems of the vast underclass. The ideas of Plato, the Utopian, take sharp contrast to the Stoic and the Epicurean philosophies that and created chaos in attitudes and beliefs.   Open class war, killing, robbing, and destruction of property became common.

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