AN02a2_New Directions in Government and Society- Ancient Greece’s Warring City-States, Turmoil, and New Ideas (Ch.05)
Timeline: 9th C. – 4th C. BCE
FQ: How could a period of turmoil lead people to question old habits and Nature?
After Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations flourished in Greece for hundreds of years, Greece entered a Dark Age during which nobles and the aristocracy dominated politics and society. However at the end of this Dark Age social and political upheaval threatened the aristocracy and brought about crucial changes that defined Greece into its classical period.
I. The Dark Age
The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations flourished in the Aegean region during the Bronze Age. On the island of Crete, the Minoans built palaces and traded with other islands between 2000 and 1400 B.C.E. On mainland Greece, warrior kings ruled the fortress city of Mycenae from 1600 until 1200 B.C.E. After invaders (Dorians and others) put an end to the Mycenaean civilization, the region entered a dark age that would last for 400 years. During this ‘Dark Age’, the recording of data was significantly reduced. Information about the period is limited, but augmented by the tales that survived in the oral tradition (Ex. Bards like Homer).
II. Reactions to the Threat of Rebellion
Emerging from the Dark Age, many Greek city-states faced problems. Civil war and tyranny threaten the Polis. Peasants, faced with debt slavery, begin to rebel. The advent of the phalanx and cheaper, more abundant iron weapons exacerbate the threat posed by peasant unrest.
A. The Rise of Tyrants
In several Greek City-States disaffected members of the nobility utilize peasant unrest to lead rebellions against their rivals and establish tyrannical rule.
B. Reforms in Athens
The appearance of tyrants in other city-states is a worrying development for powerful Athenian aristocrats. Political reform seems inevitable. Solon and later Cleisthenes initiate political reforms that stave off tyranny and eventually lead Athens to its famed experiment with democracy.
- Solon: (6th C. BCE)
- Canceled debts and freed those imprisoned for having outstanding debts
- Encouraged the cultivation of commercially profitable crops like grapes and olives.
- Encouraged the expansion of industry (trades and wares)
- Reorganized Athens into tribes based on geographic divisions
- Established the Council (drawn by lot from the tribes) and the Assembly (all citizens) to govern Athens
- Reform in Athens concludes with the adoption of a system of direct democracy. Citizens of the polis (city-state) gather as an assembly to make major decisions by voting.
III. Sparta: Tyranny over Fear
A. Code of Lycurgus (Legendary figure of Lycurgus). (1)
B. Structured/ Ordered Society
- Military life of males
- Society’s goals supersede that of the individual
C. Tyrannical Rule via an Oligarchy
D. Increased role of women in public + private affairs.
IV. Ponder for a Moment
Why, of all the city-states in Greece, was Athens the only one to relent in response to peasant unrest? Was it coincidence? Was it all thanks to the wisdom of Solon?
To what extent was Sparta’s direction a better or worse choice?
In both societies (Ancient Athens and Sparta), rights and privileges were never intended for everyone. It was an accepted fact that certain groups of people were not entitled to the rights, privileges and duties of citizens of the polis. Among these disenfranchised peoples you must include slaves (2), non-citizens, and women (3) (this latter group especially in Athens, less so in Sparta).
Is it possible that these ancient Greek traits were also inherited by the ‘Western World’ along with the arts and sciences? Does our democracy and its principles apply to citizens regardless of race, gender, creed, and economic condition? Are the words ‘…liberty and justice for all…’(4) not applicable beyond our borders?
- ‘Whether or not the events and persons in a myth are true is unimportant in understanding the underlying values of the society.’- Joseph Campbell
- They were usually war captives and numbered ~100,000 in 5th C BCE Athens.
- Were generally confined to their homes and sequestered in a particular area of the home. If they ventured outside the home they were often required to veil their faces. Consequently, they were often educated at home. They had no jury appeal and no right to inheritance or own property.
- Pledge of Allegiance