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The boys learned to read and write but their primary educational goal was to learn to be brave and strong. Maybe the most frightening of the Spartan institutions were the Crypteia , where young boys were sent to the countryside to live off the land similar to 'Outward Bound' except for a critical difference. These boys were permitted to kill any helot they ran into.

This pretty much kept the helots at home. The Spartans not only feared their own subjugated population but they also feared ideas like democracy for instance entering and polluting their system. Though it is easy to get the impression that the Spartans were a society of militaristic robots this is not the case. The Spartans were known for their wit and their ability to say a lot without wasting words.

The School of History: Athens in the Age of Socrates

Because the helots did all the work the Spartans had plenty of time for leisure and it is a myth that they spent every free moment in training. They used mercy as a tactic as well. The Spartans would not pursue and slaughter a retreating enemy, considering such behavior disgraceful and not befitting a true warrior.


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This gave their adversaries the option of not fighting to the death but turning around and running and living to fight another day. It was a policy of Lycurgus not to fight too many wars with the same opponent since that gives him a chance to learn your style and strategies and defeat you. He made the Kings and the people of Sparta take an oath that they would not change any of his laws until he returned. He left the city and disappeared forever. At the age of sixteen Theseus was given the task of lifting the heavy stone where his father had put a sword and sandals. Successful in his efforts he walked to Athens to find his father, defeating monsters and evil along the way.

After arriving in Athens as a hero he volunteers to go to Crete where King Minos has been demanding a sacrifice of young men and virgins to a monster called the Minotaur. Theseus defeats the Minotaur and returns to Athens though he forgets to remove the black sail of death from the ship. His father, King Aegeus, thinking his beloved son has died, hurls himself into the sea, which is how it came to be known as the Aegean.

He makes it a policy to give aid to the weak and helpless. Later he was overthrown and then murdered while exiled on the island of Skyros. Whether fact or fiction, the meaning behind these stories is what is important to the Athenians. Theseus embodies all they stand for.

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The Athenians of the 5th Century used his deeds as the standards to measure themselves and their democracy. Theseus was to the Athenians what George Washington is to Americans today. The Athenian democracy was reformed by King Solon in Solon was to Athens what Lycurgus was to Sparta and his reforms paved the way out of a volatile period and into the Golden Age.

Under Athenian law if you could not pay your debt, the person you owed money to could seize you and your family and sell you as slaves to get his money back. The economic reforms that Solon enacted led to the future prosperity of Athens. He banned the export of all agricultural products with the exception of olive oil, which was as valuable to the ancient Greeks as it is to the modern Greeks. By offering citizenship he attracted some of the finest craftsmen of the Greek world to Athens.

He made being unemployed a crime. He created a supreme court made up of former Archons ruler or chief magistrate of Athens and another legislative body of to debate laws before putting them before the people for a vote. Though Solon's reforms did not cure the ills of Athenian society overnight in the way that Lycurgus had done with the Spartans, the long term effect was to solidify the rule of law and eventually led to Athenian democracy. After committing these laws to writing Solon left Athens because he did not want to be bothered by the Athenians who would be continuously asking him to interpret his laws.

He wanted to let them figure it out and he went off to Egypt where he started but never finished a story about Atlantis, which he had learned about from the Egyptian priests. After he left, the Athenians began fighting amongst themselves again and for two years the city was a leaderless anarchy. The word anarchy comes from the Greek, meaning without a leader or archon. Athenian politics was comprised of three groups which corresponded to the different areas of the Attica peninsula.

With these men he seized the Acropolis and tried to make himself ruler. He was driven out. Three years later he tried again by marrying a young girl from another leading aristocratic family but she left him for not fulfilling his matrimonial duties and Pisistratus left for Thrace where he focused on amassing more wealth by digging for silver and gold. Apparently this worked because his followers defeated his opponents at the Battle of Palini and Psistratus became the ruler of Athens.

So in other words it did not mean he was a bad guy. It just meant he could do whatever he wanted because there was nothing above or below that could stop him. The period of Athenian history under Pisitratus was one of peace and his rule was a positive step in the establishment of democracy, perhaps more so than Solon.

Unfortunately his sons, who assumed power after his death in were not quite up to the task and were tyrants in the sense of the word that we are familiar. After another period of instability following the expulsion of Hippias, two aristocratic leaders, Cleisthenes and Isagoras, emerge as the leading contenders for rulership of Athens in Cleisthenes becomes archon. He redraws the political map of Athens in a way that breaks the power of the old aristocracy and gives all the Athenian people a voice in politics.

The Athenians embrace this and identify strongly with their deme to such a degree that when asked his name he would give his first name, the name of his father and his deme. So I would be Matt, son of Nicholas of Kalithea. Read more on Athenian Democracy Just imagine the US declaring war and invading Costa Rica.

When a herald named Phidippides runs the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory and dies on the spot, an event which may or may not have happened, we have the origin to the marathon races which are now run all over the world. That's why they are 26 miles.

The epitaph of the heroic Spartans was written by the poet Simonides and carved in the stone walls of the pass:. Tell them in Lacedaemon passerby that here obedient to their words we lie. As the Persians continued their relentless march south towards Athens, the Greek fleet lures the Persian fleet into the straits between Attica and the island of Salamis where their smaller and more maneuverable ships have an advantage. This is the end of the Persian wars and the beginning of the end of the Persian empire. Had the Persians won and occupied Greece, western civilization as we know it might not have occurred.

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What did occur is a feeling among the Greeks that because they had defeated a larger and more powerful enemy, the Persians must be somehow weak, effeminate and inferior to them. It also is the beginning of the split between east and west and the word barbarian which had meant speaking an incomprehensible language , now came to mean uncivilized or inferior. In the Athenian general and statesman Cimon travels to the island of Skyros where he finds the bones of Theseus, brings them back and builds a shrine to the great king who had not only been an inspiration to them but who had been seen fighting alongside the Greek soldiers in the battle of Marathon.

With the threat from the east gone Athens begins a fifty year period under the brilliant statesman Pericles BC during which time the Parthenon was built on the Acropolis and the city becomes the artistic, cultural and intellectual as well as commercial center of the Hellenic world, attracting all sorts of smart and interesting people and taking command of the other Greek states.

In the Delian League is formed by Athens and its allies on the island of Delos , the sacred island of Apollo. After swearing an oath, these Greek city-states, some who were forced to join by threats, begin to rid the land of the last remaining Persians and free the seas of piracy. But as enemies became fewer and members of the league want to devote their resources to peaceful endeavors, Athens is becoming more powerful and forces other members do what is best for Athens. This takes the form of payments, supposedly for the maintenance of the fleet, from the other members.

The flow of money is used to build the temples and monuments of the city of Athens. When the island of Thassos rebels against this payment they are attacked by Athens. In the treasury of Delos is moved to the Acropolis for 'safe-keeping'. Among the dwellers of Athens during its Golden Age is the philosopher Socrates. Though he left no writings of his own, he is mostly known through the work of his student Plato in the form of written dialogues which are conversations with other learned and un-learned men on a variety of topics.

The ' Socratic method ' consists of asking questions until you arrive at the essence of a subject, or sometimes not by a negative method of hypotheses elimination, where the better hypotheses are found by identifying and eliminating the ones that lead to contradictions.

His philosophy begins with the belief that he knows nothing and that life is not for attaining riches but a process of knowing oneself. He believed that virtue was the most valuable of all possessions and that the job of a philosopher was to point out to people how little they actually knew. He was executed by the state, forced to drink hemlock, for corrupting the youth of the city.

Oddly, more members of the jury voted to give him the death sentence than originally voted that he was guilty. In other words some who thought he was innocent still voted to have him executed, pointing out early problems of democracy that are still with us today, that people are either stupid or not paying attention.

Plato became an opponent of the Athenian-style democracy, probably because any society that would condemn someone like Socrates to death had to be insane.

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He believed that society should be governed by governor kings, or benevolent dictators, educated and trained from the beginning of life for this purpose. He went on to open the world's first university, the Academy, the ruins of which can still be seen in Athens. Plato was an idealist. He believed in a higher reality of which the material world is just a manifestation. It is said that all philosophy is just a footnote to Plato. His student and then fellow philosopher Aristotle was more of a materialist and he believed in putting everything in categories and was the inventor of logic.

He opened his own school the Lyceum and went on to become the tutor of Alexander The Great.

He is considered the father of European thought, though some of his scientific observations were simply wrong. Other well known personalities of this period were the great dramatists Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, Menander, and Sophocles photo all who performed at the theatre of Dionysios at the foot of the Acropolis and whose comedies and tragedies tell us a lot about ancient life, history and the psychology of the ancient Greeks.

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Most of his work is known through ancient descriptions and Roman copies. Demosthenes, known as the greatest orator in Athens, actually overcame a speech impediment through a variety of methods which might be described as self-torture. Apparently they worked and he is known to us today. Herodotos, from Halicanarssis in Asia Minor, moved to Athens and became known as the 'father of history' through his writings on the Persian Wars which were detailed and hard to separate fact from fiction and even history from mythology.

Thucydides who came a few decades after, was more of a journalist, collecting information and writing history from his own personal viewpoint. His primary subject was the Peloponnesian war, which he believed was the greatest of all wars.

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His analysis of war was for future generations to understand the causes and progression of future wars, though not necessarily to prevent them. Music in Ancient Greece was seen as something magical, a system of pitch and rhythm ruled by the same mathematical laws that govern the universe and capable of changing the heart and soul of humans.

This was known as the 'Doctrine of Ethos' and as an art form it was humanistic, as was poetry, drama, sculpture and the other art of ancient Greece. When you read that the ancient Greeks gave us our culture this is what they meant. Religion was an important part of Greek society and they believed in a polytheistic system, a belief in many Gods. These Gods lived on Mount Olympus, led by Zeus, whose job was to keep all the other Gods in line, a difficult task, considering that he was one of the most unruly, coming to earth in various forms to seduce immortals and mortals alike.

His sister Hera was also his wife and was the protector of women and the family.