Ancient Greece, history, Minoan Crete
[Sparta, Athens, Peloponessian war, Ancient Greece, history, Minoan Crete]
Sparta, Athens, Peloponessian war

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A history of
Ancient Greece

  By the standards of the times Bronze Age (3000-1000B.C.) Ancient Greece was comparatively sophisticated but was also strongly influenced by the yet more accomplished Minoan civilization based on Crete that strongly flourished from 2000 -1450 B.C.
  Minoan Crete maintained an extensive network of trading links that brought influences drawn from Egypt and Mesopotamia to Crete. The Minoans exported pottery, grains, wines, and oils, and tended to import luxury materials such as precious metals, jewels, and ivory. Minoan culture gave rise to several great cities that featured stone buildings and provision for a water supply and drainage. The city adjacent to the great Palace of Knossos was home, at its peak, to almost one hundred thousand people. Knossos was thus one of the first major cities in human history!!!

  On the Greek mainland meanwhile Mycenaen authority was exercised through a number of localised kingdoms. These kingdoms may have adopted written record keeping based on Minoan examples.

  In or around 1450 B.C. one of the most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in recorded history, that may have involved tidal waves, earth quakes, and crop failures, severely disrupted Minoan civilisation and the Mycenaens were able to bring Minoan Crete under their sway and to displace the Minoans in exercising a widespread power and influence.

  For reasons that are not fully clear today most Mycenaen cities tended to very much fortify their perimeters from around 1250 B.C. This period is however associated with the Trojan wars that are the subject of Homer's Iliad.

  The Iliad has it that these Trojan wars irrupted after the wildly beautiful Helen (the face that launched a thousand ships) left her husband Menelaus, a brother of the  king of Sparta, after having fallen in love with Paris, a prince of Troy.
  Greek mythology often asserted that the Gods of Olympus intervened directly in human lives and in human history. In this instance the goddess Aphrodite is said to have promised Helen to Paris, and to have caused Helen to fall in love with him.

   The Greeks are presented as having laid siege to Troy for some ten years without success. Then the siege was lifted, and the Greeks apparently sailed away, but a large "Horse" fashioned from wood was left outside the gates of Troy.
  This "Horse" in fact was hollow and contained a number of armed Greeks. The Trojans opened their gates and drew the wooden horse inside. That night the concealed Greeks were able to emerge from the Trojan Horse and to facilitate the invasion of Troy by a Greek army.
  The ploy of the Trojan Horse is attributed to Ulysses, King of Ithaca. The name Ulysses is a Latin term for the actual original Greek name Odysseus. Ulysses / Odysseus features as the central figure in Homer's Odyssey. 
   Following the Greek capture of Troy its menfolk were put to the sword, and its women and children enslaved. Only the Trojan Prince Aenaes, and his family, escaping to the west. Aeneas later became involved with a Latin Princess and the early history of Rome.

  There was a time of turmoils - a "Dark Age" - between circa 1100-800 B.C. The Mycenaen cities were abandoned, houses no longer tended to be built with stone, and the keeping of written records fell away.

  Sources suggest that Mycenaen Greece was itself challenged by vital and energetic "Dorian" invaders from the north. These Dorians bore weapons made of iron, in contrast to the softer Bronze of the Mycenaens. 

  Emergent "Archaic Period" Ancient Greece (800-500 B.C.) increasingly featured a number of city states of which "Mycenaen" Athens and "Dorian" Sparta were amongst the more prominent.
  The first "Olympic" games were held in 776 B.C. between contestants drawn from many city states. The ancient Greeks increasingly dated notable events in their history in relation to this Olympiad.
  From Phoenician sources Greece again adopted the practice of written record keeping. Trading activities were often accompanied by the deliberate sponsorship by city states of colonies. This colonialism was encouraged by periodic famines in ancient Greece and by the results of political and other disputations. Such colonialism led to an emergence of numerous Greek communities abroad. The coasts of Asia Minor were colonised from 1000-800 B.C., the south of the Italian peninsula, Sicily, and an area of the south of France were colonised from 750-650 B.C.  and parts of North Africa and the Black Sea region were colonised from 650-550 B.C.
   Mainland Greek visitors to some of the colonial greek cities were often much impressed by their wealth.

   During these times most of the states of Ancient Greece were initially ruled by rich landowners known as Aristocrats, a word that translates as "best people".
  As a result of resentments of Aristocratic rule, and political disputations, it became common from 650-500 B.C. for the city states to be ruled by so called Tyrants. Modern English usage of this word implies well, "Tyranny", but the original usage of the word more or less meant "Ruler".
   Democracy - rule by the people - appeared in Athens around 508 B.C. following a two year period of civil war.
   In Sparta meanwhile a Dorian elite, organised on martial lines, maintained its authority over a subject population of "Helots" that paid heavy taxes. Sparta, fearing rebellion by its Helots, imposed a Peloponessian League within its orbit that compelled neighbouring states to render assistance to Sparta if required.
   Although Sparta was militarily more formidable than Athens the Athenians were inclined towards commercial and artistic persuits and gained much in wealth and prestige as a result.
   The trading states of Ancient Greece, with Athens and Corinth being the most prominent, tended to export oils, wines, and pottery and to import grains to feed their hungry people.
 

  The Classical Period of the history of Ancient Greece (500-336 B.C.) featured an intense rivalry with the mighty Empire of the Persians. This Empire had been greatly extended under Cyrus the Great 600-529 B.C. who had united Media and Persia in 549 B.C., become master of Asia Minor in 546 B.C., and captured Babylon in 539 B.C. The Greek states in Asia Minor were variously imposed upon by the Empire of the Medes and Persians from 546 B.C. 
  In 522 B.C. Darius I ascended to the throne in the Empire of the Medes and Persians. Under Darius I the Persian Empire continued to be expansionary and also continued in its practice of making demands for such things as revenues and manpower from territories subject to it's control. In 499 B.C. several colonies variously founded by the city states of Ancient Greece in Asia Minor rose in rebellion against the Persian Empire and received the backing of Athens in this insurrection.
  As the struggles continued a formidable Persian army landed on the shores of Greece where it crushed an ally of Athens, but was itself humbled in a battle contested at Marathon in 490 B.C. A Greek soldier perished from exhaustion after running the 42 km. (26 miles) from Marathon to Athens with news of a Greek victory.
   Following these events the Athenian politician Themistocles urged that Athens should undertake the heavy expense of building a large number of warships for its future defence. It happened that the state silver mines that were worked at Laurion in the Attic hills by some twenty thousand slaves at that time yielded a particularly rich body of ore and this helped to defray the costs involved.
  The Athenians built a number of Triremes, a newly developed type of war galley, that featured rowers being arrayed in three banks on each side of the ship. 
   The war galleys of the day tended to have an armoured prow that could burst through the sides of adversary ships as a result of planned collisions. The Triremes with their three banks of oars required a high degree of sophistication in their construction, and their handling, to allow them to be used without the myriad of oars clashing and causing confusion.

  In 480 B.C. Xerxes, successor to Darius, led the largest army the world had ever seen against the Greek world. In his progress towards Greece Xerxes ordered a a mighty bridge supported by a large number of boats ambitiously bridged the formidable "Hellespont - Greek bridge" channel and allowed Xerxes' army to proceed from Asia Minor to Europe. Xerxes also ordered that a canal be built to avoid the necessity of rounding a notorious headland where ships were known to founder in storms.
  At Thermopylae three hundred Spartans and Boetians led by King Leonidas checked Xerxes' advance for several days. Once Xerxes army was through the pass of Thermopylae Athens was captured and largely burnt. The Athenian fleet however was able, through astute leadership, to inflict much damage on that of Xerxes at the battle of Salamis. In 479 B.C. a League of Greek states, under a Spartan general, decisively overwhelmed Xerxes' forces at Plataea. 

  From these times Athens recovered in trade and influence and entered upon what is known to history as its Golden Age (479-431 B.C.). Athenian trade centered upon the nearby harbour at Piraeus recovered. A statesman named Pericles ruled in Athens 460-430 B.C. and encouraged an ambitious rebuilding of the city. This programme of included the construction of the Parthenon, an  imposing temple dedicated to the goddess Athene, on the elevated site known as the Acropolis. 
   Wealthy Athens became a centre for the arts where the ancient Greeks, and humanity, made great strides in, amongst other things Philosophy. Socrates lived from about 470-400 B.C., Plato from 428-347 B.C., and Aristotle from 384-322 B.C. 

  Relations between Athens and Sparta deteriorated and there was a brief contest of arms in 448-447 B.C. In 431 B.C. Corinth came to blows with its colony of Corcyra and Sparta lent support to Corinth, Athens to Corcyra. From these events there was an outbreak of what history calls the Pelopenessian war. This Peloponessian war intermittently continued from 431-404 B.C. 
   Athens was subjected to a Spartan siege and, in 430 B.C. suffered cruelly from a plague lasting several years that swept up perhaps a quarter of her population including Pericles. The Spartan army was however unable to breach Athens defensive walls. These defensive walls included the so-called long walls that inclusively linked Piraeus to Athens. Even though the city was besieged food could still be imported through Piraeus. 
   There was a declared peace in 421B.C. and then a renewal of hostilities. In 415 B.C. Athens suffered the ultimately disastrous loss of an army that had been sent against Syracuse. Some six thousand men, perhaps one in ten of her citizens, were lost. Athens suffered a degree of political unsettlement, a council of 400 men asserted their control and abolished democracy in 411 B.C. 
   Sparta, as well as being involved in its long tussle with Athens, was also giving the Greeks of Asia Minor support against Persia. Persia bought off the Spartans, awarding them vast monies that allowed the construction of a Spartan fleet.  In 405 B.C. this Spartan fleet inflicted a critical reverse on that of Athens. Without its fleet Athens could be starved into submission and fell to Sparta.
   At Spartan insistence democracy was abolished and an oligarchy known as the Thirty Tyrants ruled in Athens. In the ensuing times the Athenian Empire was largely dismembered.
 

  In 386 B.C. the Persian King Artaxerxes again asserted Persian sway over the several colonies established by the states of Ancient Greece in Asia Minor.
  In 359 B.C. Philip II gained the Macedonian throne and thereafter transformed his traditionally disunited and weak dominions into a political and military power.
  The history of King Philip's reign was remarkable for the degree to which Macedonia imposed its sway over other Greek states. In 338 B.C. Macedonia defeated the forces of the Greek Confederation in a battle contested at Chaeronea. This was followed by the formation, at Philips behest, of a pan-Hellenic Corinthian League directed against the Persian Empire. Philip himself was regarded as the Hegemon ( as in Hegemony!!!) of this League that was dominated by the Macedonian power.
   In 337 B.C. took yet another wife marrying a lady named Cleopatra, he had several wives already one of whom, Olympias, bore the title of Queen !!!, but this marriage involved the displacement of Olympias.
  In 336 B.C. an expeditionary force was sent against the Persian Empire by Philip II. 
  Philips' son and accepted heir, Alexander, a son of Olympias, was coming into young manhood.  Alexander had, from the age of thirteen, been tutored by Aristotle and had shown himself to be an enthusiatic student. He had later assisted his father in military operations intended to remind the rest of Greece of the reality of Macedonian power. 

   Philip II was murdered by a bowman at a wedding feast for a daughter and the twenty one year old Alexander was recognised as king.
   Alexanders accession is considered to mark the beginning of the Hellenistic Age in the history of Ancient Greece. 
   Alexander decided to continue his fathers policy of outright opposition to Persia and led an army several tens of thousands strong into Asia Minor.
   Between 334-323 B.C. armies led by Alexander conquered the Persian empire and much of the known world!!!
  Macedonian Greek armies were victorious as far east as India and as far south as Egypt. 

   In 323 B.C. Alexander "the Great" became severely sick and died. His empire was initially adminstered in the name of close male relatives of Alexander but was subsequently contested over by several prominent soldiers.
   Although Alexander's empire was dismembered the establishment of Macedonian dynasties over sweeping Asian and Egyptian territories allowed the continuance of a high degree of Macedonian and Greek influence over a most extensive geographical area. 
   By 281 B.C. the contest between the claimants to the Macedonian territories left Ptolemy in control in Egypt, Seleucus in power over much of Asia Minor and the Middle East, and Antigonas holding sway in Macedonian Greece. 

  In these times a new power , centered on Rome, was emerging and encroaching upon the Greek colonies in the Italian peninsula. 
   The Macedonian King Philip V offered support, against Rome, to the Carthaginian general Hannibal. This support given by Macedonia to a dire enemy of Rome led to a protracted series of wars between Rome and Macedonia. 
   The Antigonid dynasty was dethroned by Rome in 168 B.C. and by 146 B.C. Greece was brought within Rome's system of provinces.

  The Queen Cleopatra who was involved a century later in the history of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and the Roman Empire, was a descendant of the Ptolemaic dynasty. With her death in 30 B.C. the tradition of powerful eastern ruling dynaties of Macedonian extraction came to an end.  


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