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Ancient Greece is called 'the birthplace of Western civilization'. About 2500 years ago, the
Greeks created a way of life that other people admired and copied.

Ancient Greek culture covers over a thousand years of history, from the earliest civilizations in
the area to the cultures that became the Ancient Greeks. Following a Greek Dark Age, Greece
once more flourished and developed into the ancient culture that we recognize today. The
culture of Greece has evolved over thousands of years, beginning in Mycenaean Greece,
continuing most notably into Classical Greece, through the influence of the Roman Empire and
its successor the Byzantine Empire. Other cultures and states such as Latin and Frankish states,
the Ottoman Empire, the Venetian Republic, Genoese Republic, and British Empire have also left
their influence on modern Greek culture, but historians credit the Greek War of Independence
with revitalizing Greece and giving birth to a single entity of its multi-faceted culture.
In ancient times, Greece was the birthplace of Western culture. Modern democracies owe a debt
to Greek beliefs in government by the people, trial by jury, and equality under the law.
Greek culture is based on a series of shared values that connected independent city-states
throughout the region, which expanded as far north as Mount Olympus. Greek society was
insular, and loyalties were focused around ones polis ("city"). Greeks considered themselves
civilized and considered outsiders as barbaric. While Greek daily life and loyalty was centered
on ones polis, the Greeks did create leagues, which vied for control of the peninsula, and were
able to unit together against a common threat (such as the Persians).
Greek culture is focused on their government, art, architecture, philosophy, and sport. The
ancient Greeks pioneered in many fields that rely on systematic thought, including biology,
geometry, history,[2] philosophy, and physics. They introduced such important literary forms as
epic and lyric poetry, history, tragedy, and comedy. In their pursuit of order and proportion, the
Greeks created an ideal of beauty that strongly influenced Western art
Athens was intensely proud of its creation of democracy, and citizens from all poleis ("cities")
took part in civic duties. Cities commissioned artists and architects to honor their gods and
beautify their cities. Greek philosophers, mathematicians, and thinkers are still honored in
society today. As a religious people, the Greeks worshipped a number of gods through sacrifice,
ritual, and festival.
Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture

The ancient Greeks were a deeply religious people. They worshipped many gods whom they
believed appeared in human form and yet were endowed with superhuman strength and ageless
The Iliad and the Odyssey, our earliest surviving examples of Greek literature, record men's
interactions with various gods and goddesses whose characters and appearances underwent little
change in the centuries that followed.
While many sanctuaries honored more than a single god, usually one deity such as Zeus at
Olympia or a closely linked pair of deities like Demeter and her daughter Persephone at Eleusis
dominated the cult place.
Elsewhere in the arts, various painted scenes on vases, and stone, terracotta and bronze
sculptures portray the major gods and goddesses.
The deities were depicted either by themselves or in traditional mythological situations in which
they interact with humans and a broad range of minor deities, demi-gods and legendary
Spartan Education - Military Training
The goal of education in the Greek city-states was to prepare the child for adult activities as a
citizen. The nature of the city-states varied greatly, and this was also true of the education they
considered appropriate. In most Greek city-states, when young, the boys stayed at home, helping
in the fields, sailing, and fishing. At age 6 or 7, they went to school. Both daily life and education
were very different in Sparta [militant], than in Athens [arts and culture] or in the other ancient
Greek city-states.
The goal of education in Sparta, an authoritarian, military city-state, was to produce soldiercitizens who were well-drilled, well-disciplined marching army. Spartans believed in a life of
discipline, self-denial, and simplicity. Boys were very loyal to the state of Sparta.
The boys of Sparta were obliged to leave home at the age of 7 to join sternly disciplined groups
under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers. From age 7 to 18, they underwent an
increasingly severe course of training.
Spartan boys were sent to military school at age 6 or 7. They lived, trained and slept in the
barracks of their brotherhood. At school, they were taught survival skills and other skills
necessary to be a great soldier. School courses were very hard and often painful. Although
students were taught to read and write, those skills were not very important to the ancient
Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture

Only warfare mattered. The boys were not fed well, and were told that it was fine to steal food as
long as they did not get caught stealing. If they were caught, they were beaten. They walked
barefoot, slept on hard beds, and worked at gymnastics and other physical activities such as
running, jumping, javelin and discus throwing, swimming, and hunting. They were subjected to
strict discipline and harsh physical punishment; indeed, they were taught to take pride in the
amount of pain they could endure.
At 18, Spartan boys became military cadets and learned the arts of war. At 20, they joined the
state militia--a standing reserve force available for duty in time of emergency--in which they
served until they were 60 years old.
The typical Spartan may or may not have been able to read. But reading, writing, literature, and
the arts were considered unsuitable for the soldier-citizen and were therefore not part of his
education. Music and dancing were a part of that education, but only because they served
military ends.
Somewhere between the age of 18-20, Spartan males had to pass a difficult test of fitness,
military ability, and leadership skills. Any Spartan male who did not pass these examinations
became a perioikos. (The perioikos, or the middle class, were allowed to own property, have
business dealings, but had no political rights and were not citizens.)
If they passed, they became a full citizen and a Spartan soldier. Spartan citizens were not allowed
to touch money. That was the job of the middle class. Spartan soldiers spent most of their lives
with their fellow soldiers.
They ate, slept, and continued to train in their brotherhood barracks. Even if they were married,
they did not live with their wives and families. They lived in the barracks. Military service did
not end until a Spartan male reached the age of 60. At age 60, a Spartan soldier could retire and
live in their home with their family.
Unlike the other Greek city-states, Sparta provided training for girls that went beyond the
domestic arts. The girls were not forced to leave home, but otherwise their training was similar to
that of the boys. They too learned to run, jump, throw the javelin and discus, and wrestle
mightiest strangle a bull. Girls also went to school at age 6 or 7. They lived, slept and trained in
their sisterhood's barracks. No one knows if their school was as cruel or as rugged as the boys
school, but the girls were taught wrestling, gymnastics and combat skills.
Some historians believe the two schools were very similar, and that an attempt was made to train
the girls as thoroughly as they trained the boys. In any case, the Spartans believed that strong
young women would produce strong babies.
Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture

At age 18, if a Sparta girl passed her skills and fitness test, she would be assigned a husband and
allowed to return home. If she failed, she would lose her rights as a citizen, and became a
perioikos, a member of the middle class.
In most of the other Greek city-states, women were required to stay inside their homes
most of their lives. In Sparta, citizen women were free to move around, and enjoyed a great deal
of freedom, as their husbands did not live at home.
Athenian Education
The goal of education in Athens, a democratic city-state, was to produce citizens trained in the
arts of both peace and war.
In ancient Athens, the purpose of education was to produce citizens trained in the arts, to prepare
citizens for both peace and war. Other than requiring two years of military training that began at
age 18, the state left parents to educate their sons as they saw fit. The schools were private, but
the tuition was low enough so that even the poorest citizens could afford to send their children
for at least a few years. Until age 6 or 7, boys generally were taught at home by their mother.
Most Athenian girls had a primarily domestic education. The most highly educated women were
the hetaerae, or courtesans, who attended special schools where they learned to be interesting
companions for the men who could afford to maintain them.
Boys attended elementary school from the time they were about age 6 or 7 until they were 13 or
14. Part of their training was gymnastics. Younger boys learned to move gracefully, do
calisthenics, and play ball and other games. The older boys learned running, jumping, boxing,
wrestling, and discus and javelin throwing. The boys also learned to play the lyre and sing, to
count, and to read and write. But it was literature that was at the heart of their schooling.
The national epic poems of the Greeks - Homer's Odyssey and Iliad - were a vital part of the life
of the Athenian people. As soon as their pupils could write, the teachers dictated passages from
Homer for them to take down, memorize, and later act out. Teachers and pupils also discussed
the feats of the Greek heroes described by Homer.
The education of mind, body, and aesthetic sense was, according to Plato, so that the boys. From
age 6 to 14, they went to a neighborhood primary school or to a private school. Books were very
expensive and rare, so subjects were read out-loud, and the boys had to memorize everything. To
help them learn, they used writing tablets and rulers.

Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture

At 13 or 14, the formal education of the poorer boys probably ended and was followed by
apprenticeship at a trade. The wealthier boys continued their education under the tutelage of
Until about 390 BC there were no permanent schools and no formal courses for such higher
education. Socrates, for example, wandered around Athens, stopping here or there to hold
discussions with the people about all sorts of things pertaining to the conduct of man's life. But
gradually, as groups of students attached themselves to one teacher or another, permanent
schools were established. It was in such schools that Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle taught.
Those who wanted learning for its own sake studied with philosophers like Plato who taught
such subjects as geometry, astronomy, harmonics (the mathematical theory of music), and
Those who wanted training for public life studied with philosophers like Socrates who taught
primarily oratory and rhetoric. In democratic Athens such training was appropriate and necessary
because power rested with the men who had the ability to persuade their fellow senators to act.
Distinguished Poets, Writers and Philosophers
The origins of Western literature and of the main branches of Western learning may be traced to
the era of Greek greatness that began before 700 BC with the epics of Homer, the Iliad and the
Odyssey. Hesiod, the first didactic poet, put into epic verse his descriptions of pastoral life,
including practical advice on farming, and allegorical myths
Pindar celebrated the Pan-Hellenic athletic festivals in vivid odes. The fables of the slave Aesop
have been famous for more than 2,500 years. Three of the world's greatest dramatists were
Aeschylus, author of the Oresteia trilogy; Sophocles, author of the Theban plays; and Euripides,
author of Medea, The Trojan Women, and The Bacchae. Aristophanes, the greatest author of
comedies, satirized the mores of his day in a series of brilliant plays. Three great historians were
Herodotus, regarded as the father of history, known for The Persian Wars; Thucydides, who
generally avoided myth and legend and applied greater standards of historical accuracy in his
History of the Peloponnesian War; and Xenophon, best known for his account of the Greek
retreat from Persia, the Anabasis.
The leading philosophers of the period preceding Greece's golden age were Thales, Pythagoras,
Heraclitus, Protagoras, and Democritus. Socrates investigated ethics and politics. His greatest
pupil, Plato, used Socrates' question-and-answer method of investigating philosophical problems
in his famous dialogues. Plato's pupil Aristotle established the rules of deductive reasoning but

Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture

also used observation and inductive reasoning, applying himself to the systematic study of
almost every form of human endeavor.
How was Greece Ruled
There was not one country called "Ancient Greece." Instead, there were small 'city-states'. Each
city-state had its own government. Sometimes the city-states fought one another, sometimes they
joined together against a bigger enemy, the Persian Empire. Athens, Sparta, Corinth and Olympia
were four of these city-states, and you can find out more about them on this site. Only a very
powerful ruler could control all Greece. One man did in the 300s BC. He was Alexander the
Great, from Macedonia. Alexander led his army to conquer not just Greece but an empire that
reached as far as Afghanistan and India.
Early Forms of Government
Three main forms of government in ancient Greece:

Monarchy: Rule by a king. One city-state whose government was a monarchy was the
city-state of Corinth.


Oligarchy: Rule by a small group. One city-state whose government was an oligarchy
was the city-state of Sparta.


Democracy: Rule by the citizens, voting in an assembly. One city-state whose

government experimented for about a hundred years with democracy was the ancient
city-state of Athens.

Athens and Sparta were the two most important city-states in ancient Greece, or so they believed.
But they were not the only city-states. There were many city-states in the ancient Greek world.
Each was important in its own way. The Greeks who lived in each city-state were proud of their
hometown. They were also proud to be Greek. All Greeks, wherever they made their home, had
things in common. The ancient Greeks referred to themselves, however, as citizens of their
hometown - their city-state. Each city-state (polis) had its own personality, goals, laws and
customs. Ancient Greeks were very loyal to their city-state.
The Root of Democracy in Athens
Around 510 BC, the ancient Athenians invented democracy. Over 2400 years ago, the famous
Greek general, Pericles, said, "It is true that we (Athenians) are called a democracy, for the
administration is in the hands of the many and not the few, with equal justice to all alike in their
private disputes."
Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture

Only in Athens, and only for a short time, "rule by many" meant that all citizens had to be
willing to take an active part in government. That was the law. Each year, 500 names were
drawn from all the citizens of Athens. Those 500 citizens had to serve for one year as the law
makers of ancient Athens. All citizens of Athens were required to vote on any new law that this
body of 500 citizens created. One man, one vote, majority ruled. Women, children, and slaves
were not citizens, and thus could not vote.
After the Peloponnesian War with Sparta, which Athens lost, once again Athens was ruled by a
small group of people. But for a brief period of about 100 years, Athens was a democracy. It was
not a perfect democracy, but it established the roots of democracy.
Contributions of the Greek culture to world civilization

Trial by Jury

Greek Myths


Tragedy and Comedy


The Olympics


Bruce Thornton.(2002). Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization, Encounter
Hart, Laurie Kain (1999). "Culture, Civilization, and Demarcation at the Northwest Borders of
Greece". American Ethnologist 26 (1): 196220.
Krentz, Peter ."Greece, Ancient." World Book Advanced. World Book, 2012. Web. 8 July 2012.
Mazlish, Bruce.(2004) Civilization And Its Contents. :Standfod:Stanford University Press
Myres, John.(1953). Herodotus, Father of History. Oxford: Clarendon Press
www.boundless.com ... Ancient Greece The Greek Civilization

Lesson 1: Overview of Greek Culture