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Introducing Ancient Greece

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

“Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man.” – Sophocles, Antigone (332)

One of the oldest and most influential civilisations in history, Ancient Greece dominated Mediterranean culture for over three millennia. It is generally agreed that Greece began to form a discernible civilisation in the Bronze Age (2000-1200BC) with the emergence of the Mycenae. Its subsequent collapsed plunged Greece into the Dark ages of the 12th to 9th centuries in which much of Mycenaean literature was lost. The incoming 8th century started a period of Greek history known as the archaic period (700BC-500BC) which was heralded by Homer’s Iliad. This landmark in literature set the precedent for the rest of the archaic period with major developments being made in the fields of culture, politics, art and literature.

The city-state (polis) became the preeminent political system in Greece with Sparta emerging as the dominant mainland power and Athens as the naval counterpart. The Classical period (510-323 BC) began when these two ascendant powers began to turn their attention to repelling the advances of Persian invaders from the East. What followed was a two-century conflict known as ‘the Persian Wars’, characterised by internal fighting in Greece, multi-state confederations and opportunistic imperialism. A continual power struggle for dominance in Greece was put to an end ruthlessly by an outsider, Philip of Macedon. Alexander the Great inherited his father’s throne in 336BC with the entirety of Greece united, bar Sparta, under his command and continued his predecessor’s invasion of the Persian Empire. Alexander conquered all from the Balkans to India and, for the briefest of times, Greece and Persia were unified.

Alexander’s death in 323 BC was succeeded by a prolonged spread of Greek (Hellenistic) culture across the Mediterranean basin and central Asia. This was known as the Hellenistic period (323BC-31AD) and abruptly ended with Egypt’s integration into Augustus’ Roman Empire. Greece’s hegemony of the Mediterranean sharply declined with Rome regularly intervening. The Battle of Corinth (146BC) put an end to any major resistance and signalled the beginning of a Roman-dominated Greece. However, Greek culture continued to flourish even under the subjugation of a foreign power with Horace remarking that “Greece, the captive, made her savage victor captive, and brought the arts into rustic Latium” (2.1.156)

Written by Harry Ferrigno

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