Greek society –Early Development

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GREEK SOCIETY –Early Development

Early Greek history is based on small, autonomous city –states which developed in hard fought isolation with roots in ancient cultures like Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Phoenicia. Over time however, these city states began to trade with each other and then venture out into the Aegean and eventually Mediterranean Seas which they used as a highway to link Europe, Asia & Africa. This highway allowed the spread of Greek goods and, more importantly, ideas and values throughout the Mediterranean basin, Europe and southwest Asia.

Minoan and Mycenaean Societies (Trade & Patterns of Interaction)

Minoan society developed on Crete, c. 2000 BC and thrived there until it fell under foreign domination. 1100 BCE the Minoans developed a written language as yet undecipherable, known as linear A based on syllables rather than words or pictures. They traded olive oil and wine, established colonies, mined copper, created beautiful frescoes, and built luxurious palaces and homes.

Mycenaean society developed from Indo-European roots in Peloponnesus, the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula. Sometimes considered the “Thugs of the Mediterranean,” the Mycenaeans first traded with the Minoans, but eventually overpowered them, taking over their palaces, gods, and trade routes. These aggressive Greek ancestors even adapted Minoan writing to their own language and developed a syllabic script known as linear B, which is yet to be deciphered. The Mycenaeans fought a war with the city of Troy c. 1200 BCE that served as the inspiration for Homer’s epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. By 1100 BCE, even though Mycenaeans had fallen apart under constant foreign invasion.

The World of Polis (Political Structures and Cultural Developments)

The Greek polis, or city-state, developed out of the political chaos of the eleventh century BCE; these local government institutions first served as forts which people would use for refuge in times of danger. Over the centuries, however, the poleis became cultural and economic centers as well as political bases for classical Greek civilization. Each polis was independent and so a range of political institutions developed across the Balkan Peninsula and the Aegean Islands. Frequently, a tyrant one who takes power by force rather than inherits it, ruled the polis. The modern connotation of the word tyrant should not be confused with its original Greek meaning; the Greek tyrants were often very popular and not always oppressive despots.

Sparta & Athens are the two most famous Greek poleis and they reflect the diversity of life in each Greek polis. Sparta, located in a fertile region in Peloponnesus, relied on its military power to control the region and to maintain public order. The Spartans forced the original Peloponnesian inhabitants to work as slaves called helots to effectively cultivate this agricultural region. Because the helots rapidly outnumbered the Spartans, the polis became a military state in which the Spartans increasingly devoted resources to maintaining power and discipline. Equality among Spartan citizens was highly valued, so citizens led materially simple, austere, and frugal lives. Distinction within Spartan society was earned by physical strength, discipline, and military talent. Women, like men, were expected to be physically strong as their role was to produce Spartan soldiers.

The Athenian polis, located in a region called Attica, developed much different traditions than did the Spartans. Athen’s political structure was based on democratic principles and citizen participation in decision making, though citizens were only defined as free adult males, not women, slaves, or foreigners. Over time aristocratic Athenian landowners accumulate more and more wealth through maritime trade, and began to force citizen landowners with small holdings to sell their land, often resulting in high debt and even slavery for the former small land holders. The actions of leaders like Solon and Pericles reduced these tensions and prevented brutal class warfare.


The poleis prospered and expanded by establishing trading centers and colonies along the shores of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. This expansion brought them into conflict with the Persians and into contact with and eventual domination by Alexander of Macedon. This expansion and conquest resulted in immense commercial and cultural exchange from India to Egypt.

Greek Colonization (Migration & Demographics)

Growing populations in the Greek poleis spurred the development of colonies throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Black Sea. This growth was not controlled by any centralized imperial state, but was promoted by population pressures in the individual polis. Settlers in these colonies often did not take guidance or direction from the original polis, but instead developed their own independent political, social and economic structures. These colonies emerged as diverse trading centers for local or regional products including fish, fur, metals, honey, gold, amber, and slaves. At the same time each colony was instrumental in spreading Greek language and cultural traditions far beyond the Greek mainland.

Conflict with Persia (Patterns of Interaction- P of I)

The Greek conflict with Persia had significant international and domestic consequences. Persian Kings Darius and later Xerxes sought to gain control over Greek cities on the Ionian coast and then to punish the Greeks for rebellion. Though the Greeks were victorious at the battle of Marathon and later Salamis, the skirmishes between the two powers continued for more than a century.

Once the Persian threat diminished, the independent Greek poleis began to turn on each other. The Delian League, once formed to unite the Greeks against the Persians, was increasingly dominated by the Athenians, who felt free to use its treasury to finance massive public buildings projects in their poleis; this behavior by the arrogant Athenians caused much resentment among other League members and ultimately resulted in a disastrous civil conflict, the Peloponnesian War.

The Macedonians and the Coming of Empire (Political Structures and Changes & Continuities)

While the Greeks were busy squabbling among themselves, the Macedonians to the north were becoming increasingly powerful due in large part to the win-at-all-costs leadership of Phillip II. Phillip picked off his opponents one by one and by the time the Greek poleis recognized the threat posed by their “barbaric” neighbors, it was too late to mount any significant unified resistance. By 338 BCE Phillip controlled all of Greece and turned its attention to his larger goal: Persia. His mysterious assassination in 336 BCE meant his dream would be realized by his younger son, Alexander.

One of the great complex personalities in history, Alexander inherited his Macedonian father’s relentless and brutal ruthlessness and his Greek mother’s brilliant and wily intelligence. He quickly won control of Ionia and Anatolia, then Syria, Palestine, and Egypt. By 330 BCE, the 26 year old Alexander had defeated the Persians and taken the title of Emperor of the Persians. Unfailingly ambitious, Alexander invaded India, capturing the exotically wealthy region of Punjab and would have gladly continued until the ends of the earth” had his army not clamored to return home. Alexander’s sudden death in Mesopotamia in 323 BCE cut short his plans for exploration and expansion. Historians still debate his potential impact but agree that his efforts spread Greek and Macedonian traditions further and further away from their Balkan beginnings.

The Hellenistic Empires (P of I / C & C)

The time between Alexander’s death and the expansion of the Roman Empire in the east is known as the Hellenistic Era. Alexander’s Empire was divided into 3 large states: the Antigonid Empire which included Greece and Macedon, the Ptolemic Empire which included Egypt and parts of northern Africa, and the Seleucid empire which stretched from Anatolia to Bactria. These large, cosmopolitan empires facilitated trade and the spread of cultural and religious ideals across parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia. The Seleucid Empire, which was the largest of these divisions, provided the greatest channel for the spread of Greek influence. Greek and Macedonian settlers quickly migrated to cities in the former Persian Empire where they formed a large imperial bureaucracy and a wealthy merchant class. The resulting Mediterranean-style urban society influenced places as distant as Bactria and India.


The challenges of Greek geography forced the early Greeks to depend on maritime trade

Trade & Integration of the Mediterranean Basin (Trade & P of I)

Greece’s rocky and fertile soil made it difficult to grow grain, but the terrain and climate were well suited for grapes and olives whose value as trading items was quickly recognized. The Greeks used their easy access to the Mediterranean and thus Asia, Africa, and Europe, to trade their products for much needed food and much desired luxuries. The development of Greek colonies through the Hellenistic Era expanded this trading network and the commercial and economic organizations which made it feasible.

Trade provided an opportunity for positive interactions between and among the poleis and their colonies. The tradition of Pan-Hellenic festivals reminded the Greeks of their shared language and religious traditions and promote the arts and athletics; they established a sense of collective identity among these independent-thinking people.

Family & Society (Social & Gender Structures)

The Greeks had a strong patriarchal society. Male family members headed households and held virtual life-and-death power over their subordinate family members. Upper-class women spent much of their time in the family home and ventured outside only under the watchful eye of a servant or chaperone. Frequently, upper-class women could read and write, and some, like the controversial poetess Sappho, became quite famous. Women in merchant families might operate a small shop or business, but in most poleis, women could not own property. Being a priestess of a religious cult was the only public position open to women. Ironically, in martial Sparta, women enjoyed the most freedom to move freely in public places, participate in athletic games, and join in public festivals; yet even there, only male citizens determined polis policy.


Classical Greek cultural life was guided by the principles of human reason; it is evident in the art, literature, and philosophy produced during this era. Even the written language they developed by adding vowels to the established Phoenician alphabet produced a flexible, easy-to-learn system for recording human speech.

Rational Thought & Philosophy (Cultural & Intellectual Developments)

Though there were many great Greek thinkers, the most significant three for beginning scholars are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates is remembered for his focus on questioning to uncover truths about human ethics and morality. Plato is known for his theory of Forms and Ideas. Aristotle, who was once the tutor of Alexander the Great, believed that philosophers should rely on their senses and their reason to sort out the mysteries of the world. He wrote extensively about the natural world as well as politics, ethics, and psychology and his works earned him the distinction, “the master of those who know”. Plato and especially Aristotle were influential in late Christian and Islamic thinking.

Popular Religion & Greek Drama (Religious & Cultural Developments)

Philosophy like that espoused by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle was not part of popular culture. Instead, most Greeks turned to traditions of popular religion for guidance on proper behavior and to understand human nature. The polytheistic Greeks, like most early people, began by attributing supernatural powers to the elements of nature such as the sun, wind, and rain. Over time, these powers were vested in deities whose stories illustrated the reasons or causes for natural phenomena and human problems. Through the gods, the Greeks sought to explain the worlds and the forces that shape it. Religious cults such as the Cult of Demeter, or Cult of Dionysus, offered rare opportunities for women to openly participate in lives outside of the home.

Over time, the cult of Dionysus became the foundation of Greek Drama which developed from wild, frenzied rites hidden in the woods into much tamer public performances centered in the poleis. These plays explored the limitations and possibilities of human nature as well as comedic criticism of public officials and institutions.

Hellenistic Philosophy & Religion (Religious & CD)

The civic character of Greek philosophy and religion was eclipsed by the growth of the Hellenistic empires. Hellenistic philosophers dealt with questions of the individual need for peace and tranquility. Stoicism was the most significant of these Hellenistic philosophies; it taught the duty of people to aid others and to lead virtuous lives. Salvation cults also developed promising eternal bliss for people who followed the prescribed rites and doctrines of the cult. They promised security for people who were searching in the complex Hellenistic world.

Ancient Greek Philosophies

Greek philosophers deeply influenced the development of European & Islamic cultural traditions. Until the 17th century most European philosophers regarded the Greeks as intellectual authorities. They went to great lengths to harmonize their religious convictions with the views of Plato & Aristotle.

Each of you will be assigned one of the following philosophies:

Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurean, Skeptic Stoic

From your perspective how would you argue the following question?

How can a person achieve happiness?

How can we learn what is true?

What are the most important virtues a person can possess?

Socrates is remembered for his focus on questioning to uncover truths about human ethics & morality.

He was a Greek philosopher and teacher. Socrates was one of the most original, influential, and controversial figures in ancient Greek philosophy and in the history of Western thought.

Before Socrates, Greek philosophy focused on the nature and origin of the universe. He redirected philosophy toward a consideration of moral problems and how people should best live their lives. Socrates urged his fellow Greeks to consider as the most important things in life the moral character of their souls and the search for knowledge of moral ideas like justice. He was credited with saying "the unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates's teachings, combined with his noble life and calm acceptance of death, have made him the model of what it is to be a philosopher.

The Socratic problem. Because Socrates wrote nothing, our only knowledge of his ideas comes from other Greek writers. The most important sources are the dialogues written by one of his followers, Plato. Also important are the writings of the historian Xenophon; the comedy Clouds, by the playwright Aristophanes; and writings of Plato's pupil Aristotle. The difficulty of determining the character and beliefs of Socrates based on these sources is referred to as "the Socratic problem." The most common understanding of Socrates comes from Plato's dialogues, which communicate the force of Socrates's intellect and character. Plato's Apology of Socrates is regarded as a reliable representation of Socrates's defense of his life at his trial. His Euthyphro and Laches are probably true to the spirit of Socrates's philosophical method.

Plato a disciple of Socrates he composed dialogues that represented Socrates views. As time passed he gradually formulated his thought into systematic vision of the world and human society. The cornerstone of his thought was his theory of Forms or Ideas. It disturbed him that he could not gain satisfactory intellectual control over the world. The quality of virtue meant different things in different situations, as did honesty, courage, truth, and beauty. Plato developed his belief that the world in which we live was not the only world and not the world of genuine reality, but a pale reflection of the world of Forms & Ideas. The secrets of this world were available to only to philosophers – those who applied their rational faculties to the pursuit of wisdom.

Though abstract, Plato thoughts had political and social implications. In “The Republic” he held the best state was one where either philosophers ruled as kings or else kings themselves were philosophers. He advocated an intellectual aristocracy where philosophical elite would rule, and other, less intelligent classes would work at functions for which their talents best suited them.

Aristotle During the generation after Plato, he elaborated a systematic philosophy that equaled Plato’s work in its long term influence. Aristotle came to distrust the theory of Forms or Ideas which he considered artificial construct unnecessary for understanding the world. Unlike Plato he believed that philosophers could rely on their senses to provide accurate information about the world and depend on reason to sort out the mysteries.

He wrote on biology, physics, astronomy, psychology, politics, ethics and literature. His work provided a coherent & comprehensive vision of the world that his later disciples (Christian scholastic philosophers of Medieval Europe) called him “The master of those who know”.

Epicureans, Skeptics & Stoics were the most popular of the Hellenistic Philosophers and addressed individual needs by searching for personal tranquility and serenity

Epicureans – identified pleasure as the greatest good. By pleasure that did not mean unbridled hedonism, but rather a state of quiet satisfaction that would shield them from the pressures of the Hellenistic world

Skeptics refused to take strong positions on political, moral and social issues because they doubted the possibility of certain knowledge. Rather than engage in fruitless disputes, they sought equanimity, and left contentious issues to others.

Stoics - The most respected and influential of the Hellenistic philosophers who considered all human beings members of a single universal family. Unlike the Epicureans & skeptics they did not seek to withdraw from the pressures of the world, but rather taught that individuals had the duty to aid others and lead virtuous lives. The stoics believed that individuals could avoid anxieties caused by the pressures of Hellenistic society by concentrating their attention strictly on the duties that reason and nature demanded of them

Like the Epicureans and Skeptics, the Stoics they sought ways to bring individuals to a state of inner peace and tranquility

Part of Quiz

1) Plato was a disciple of which prior philosopher? Aristotle

2) What does the term disciple mean? Student

3) In “The Republic” Plato held the best state was one where philosophers ruled as kings.


4) Aristotle began to distrust Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideas which he considered artificial forms of constructs

5) He wrote about biology, physics, astronomy, psychology, politics, …ethics & literature


6) Epicureans identified pleasure as the greatest good. By pleasure they did not mean unbridled hedonism. What does it mean by unbridled hedonism? (unrestrained pleasure)


7) Skeptics refused to take strong political positions on political, moral and social issues because they doubted the possibility of certain knowledge.


8) Stoics were the most respected of the Hellenistic philosophers who considered all human beings a single universal family. They taught that individual had the duty to aid others and lead virtuous lives.

Ancient Greek Mythology

Jot down a few characteristics of each & then decide which one you would like to be & explain how you could use your influence to better serve the world!

Gods Goddesses

Ares Artemis

Hephaestus Aphrodite

Dionysus Demeter

Apollo Hera

Poseidon Athena



Name: ______________________________________________________
What is the contribution of each of the following individual to World History






Philip of Macedon

Alexander of Macedon



State in your own words what each of the following means & why it is significant to WH?


Minoan Society

Mycenaean Society

The Polis



Persian Wars

Delian League

Peloponnesian War

Hellenistic Era

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