The world of Ancient Greece still influences many aspects of 21st Century life, albeit in slightly different forms, within the cultural identity of the modern world. In many ways, these notions are even more important that the way that Greek art, medicine and science have impacted us, because cultural identity is an essential component to the way in which the individual interacts with and understands the world and himself. It is crucial to see the through line of these ideas from antiquity to now, because it shows the ways in which the notions of identity that the individual tries to solidify have not changed very much throughout the course of history.
The ancient civilization of Greece began around 3000 B.C. The people in Greece were not farmers, as the land possessed little fertile land on which to farm. Because of this, the ancient Greeks became great ship builders. They established colonies in many far-off places along the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea from which they imported food back to Greece.
Ancient Greece and Sparta
Around 800 B.C. the Greeks began to build city-states. Because the mountains of the country separated these city-states, each one grew into an independent entity with its own laws, rulers, and money. Two of the greatest city-states were:
The people of Greece were unified by a strong cultural identity, and they considered themselves to be the most civilized culture in the world. Any individual who spoke a foreign language was considered to be a Barbarian, a distinction that was established around 800 B.C.
The city-state of Sparta prospered as a result of its powerful army. Within Sparta, three distinct classes existed, and the government consisted of two kings.
- The first class of people consisted of citizens. Only those men born in Sparta were considered citizens. Although women had considerable freedom in Sparta including the right to own land and businesses, they were not considered citizens.
- The second class of people consisted of men from other city-states who moved to Sparta.
- The lowest class consisted of slaves.
The most important aspect of life in Sparta consisted of building a well-trained army. To accomplish this, young boys were taken from there families at an early age in order to begin training. Both Spartan girls and boys were expected to be accomplished in sports, and learning to read and write was not high on the list of priorities.
Ancient Greece and Athens
The second largest city-state was that of Athens, which became the world's fist democracy around 508 B.C. Several other city-states followed Athens lead and became democracies. In Athens all citizens were allowed to vote, yet less than half of the people living there qualified as citizens. People born outside of Athens, women, and slaves were not classified as citizens.
Unlike Sparta, learning was considered very important in Athens. Most boys and some girls attended school and learned to read and write. The Greeks utilized the Phoenician alphabet, although they changed it somewhat. The new Greek alphabet became the foundation for all of their writing. Two famous and influential Greek teachers lived in Athens, Socrates and Aristotle. The teachings of these two men are still being studied today.
Alexander the Great conquered many lands for Greece as well as initiated culture into the lands he conquered. Under the rule of Alexander, people began to use Greek money in all the conquered lands. Like the Hindu's of India, the Greeks believed in many Gods and were great builders. People of ancient Greece built many great temples and coliseums. In addition, many great artistic styles emerged from ancient Greece, including the geometric style and Black-figure painting. The early Classical Style of sculpture originated in Athens.
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