Bruce Morrison » Classical Greece, 2000 B.C.–300 B.C.

Classical Greece, 2000 B.C.–300 B.C.

The history and culture of classical Greece has a significant impact on the modern world.


Section 1: Cultures of the Mountains and the Sea

Section 2: Warring City-States

Section 3: Democracy and Greece’s Golden Age

Section 4: Alexander’s Empire

Section 5: The Spread of the Hellenistic Culture


Section 1: Cultures of the Mountains and the Sea

The roots of Greek culture are based on interaction of the Mycenaean, Minoan, and Dorian cultures.


Geography Shapes Greek Life


Ancient Greece

  • Collection of separate lands where Greek-speaking people live
  • Includes mainland and about 2,000 islands


The Sea

  • The sea shapes Greek civilization
  • Proximity to sea, lack of resources encourage sea travel and trade


The Land

  • Mountains slow travel, divide land into regions
  • Lack of fertile land leads to small populations, need for colonies


The Climate

  • Moderate climate promotes outdoor life
  • Greek men, especially, spend much of their time outside


Mycenaean Civilization Develops



  • Mycenaeans—Indo-Europeans who settled on Greek mainland in 2000 B.C.
  • Took their name from their leading city, Mycenae
  • Mycenaean warrior-kings dominate Greece from 1600–1100 B.C.


Contact with Minoans

  • After 1500 B.C., Mycenaeans adopt Minoan sea trade and culture


The Trojan War

  • Trojan War—fought by Mycenaeans against city of Troy in 1200s B.C.
  • Once thought to be fictional, archaeological evidence has been found


Greek Culture Declines Under the Dorians


Dorians Replace Mycenaeans

  • Mycenaean civilization collapses around 1200 B.C.
  • Dorians—possibly relatives of Bronze Age Greeks—move into Greece
  • Less advanced than Mycenaeans, Dorians leave no written records

Epics of Homer

  • Oral tradition grows, especially epics ofHomer—a blind storyteller
  • Epic—a narrative poem about heroic deeds
  • Homer’s epic theIliad, about Trojan War, shows Greek heroic ideal


Greeks Create Myths

  • Greeks develop their ownmyths—traditional stories about gods
  • Greeks seek to understand mysteries of life through myths
  • Greeks attribute human qualities—love, hate, jealousy—to their gods
  • Zeus, ruler of Gods, lives on Mount Olympus with his wife, Hera
  • Zeus’s daughter Athena is goddess of wisdom and guardian of cities


Section 2: Warring City-States

The growth of city-states in Greece lead to the development of several political systems, including democracy.


Rule and Order in Greek City-States


The City-State

  • By 750 B.C. the Greekcity-state, orpolis, is the formal government
  • A polis is a city and its surrounding villages; 50 to 500 square miles
  • Population of a city-state is often less than 10,000
  • Citizens gather in the marketplace andacropolis—a fortified hilltop


Greek Political Structures

  • City-states have different forms of government
  • Monarchy—rule by a king; aristocracy—rule by nobility
  • Oligarchy—rule by small group of powerful merchants and artisans


Tyrants Seize Power

  • Rulers and common people clash in many city-states
  • Tyrants—nobles and wealthy citizens win support of common people
  • They seize control and rule in the interests of ordinary people


Athens Builds a Limited Democracy


Building Democracy

  • About 621 B.C.,democracy—rule by the people—develops in Athens
  • Nobleman, Draco, develops legal code based on equality of citizens
  • Ruler Solon abolishes debt slavery; Cleisthenes has citizens make laws
  • Only native-born, property-owning males are citizens


Athenian Education

  • Schooling only for sons of wealthy families
  • Girls learn from mothers and other female members of household


Sparta Builds a Military State


A Unique City-State

  • Sparta, isolated from much of Greece, builds military state

Sparta Dominates Messenians

  • Around 725 B.C., Sparta conquers Messenia
  • Messenians becomehelots—peasants forced to farm the land
  • Harsh rule leads to Messenian revolt; Spartans build stronger state


Sparta’s Government and Society

  • Sparta government has four branches; citizens elect officials
  • Three social classes: citizens, free noncitizens, helots—slaves


Spartan Daily Life

  • Spartan values: duty, strength, individuality, discipline over freedom
  • Sparta has the most powerful army in Greece
  • Males move into barracks at age 7, train until 30, serve until 60
  • Girls receive some military training and live hardy lives
  • Girls also taught to value service to Sparta above all else


The Persian Wars


A New Kind of Army Emerges

  • Cheaper iron replaces bronze, making arms and armor cheaper
  • Leads to new kind of army; includes soldiers from all classes
  • Phalanx—feared by all, formation of soldiers with spears, shields


Battle at Marathon

  • Persian Wars—between Greece and Persian Empire—begin in Ionia
  • Persian army attacks Athens, is defeated at Marathon in 490 B.C.


Pheidippides Brings News

  • Runner Pheidippides races to Athens to announce Greek victory


Thermopylae and Salamis

  • In 480 B.C., Persians launch new invasion of Greece
  • Greeks are divided; many stay neutral or side with Persians
  • Greek forces hold Thermopylae for three days before retreating
  • Athenians defeat Persians at sea, near island of Salamis
  • Victories at Salamis and Plataea force Persian retreat
  • Many city-states formDelian Leagueand continue to fight Persians


Consequences of the Persian Wars

  • New self-confidence in Greece due to victory
  • Athens emerges as leader of Delian League
  • Athens controls the league by using force against opponents
  • League members essentially become provinces of Athenian empire
  • Stage is set for a dazzling burst of creativity in Athens


Section 3: Democracy and Greece’s Golden Age

Democratic principles and classical culture flourish during Greece’s golden age.




Pericles’ Plan for Athens


Pericles as Leader

  • Skillful politician, inspiring speaker, respected general
  • Dominates life in Athens from 461 to 429 B.C.


Stronger Democracy

  • Pericles hires more public officials; creates direct democracy
  • Direct democracy—citizens rule directly, not through representatives


Athenian Empire

  • Takes over Delian League; uses money to strengthen Athenian fleet
  • Sparta and other cities resent Athenian power


Pericles’ Plan for Athens


Glorifying Athens

  • Pericles buys gold, ivory, marble; hires artisans to beautify Athens


Glorious Art, Architecture and Sculpture

  • Pericles builds theParthenon—a large temple to honor goddess Athena
  • Within temple, sculptor Phidias crafts 30-foot statue of Athena
  • Sculptors create graceful, strong, perfectly formed figures
  • Classical art—values harmony, order, balance, proportion, beauty


Drama and History


Tragedy and Comedy

  • Greeks invent drama as an art form; includes chorus, dance, poetry
  • Two forms of drama: tragedy and comedy
  • Tragedy—tells story of heroes’ downfall; themes of love, hate, war
  • Comedy—makes fun of politics and respected people; slapstick humor
  • Greek dramatists include Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristophanes


  • Historians Herodotus and Thucydides record and study past events


Athenians and Spartans Go to War


War Begins

  • 431 B.C. city-states Sparta and Athens at war—Peloponnesian War


Peloponnesian War

  • Sparta has better army, Athens has better navy
  • Plague strikes Athens in 430 B.C., kills many—including Pericles
  • Sparta and Athens sign truce in 421 B.C.


Sparta Gains Victory

  • 415 B.C. Athens renews war, attacks Syracruse; is defeated in 413 B.C.
  • Athens and allies surrender to Sparta in 404 B.C.


Philosophers Search for Truth


Rise of Great Philosophers

  • After the war, rise ofphilosophers—thinkers, "lovers of wisdom"
  • Believe universe is subject to absolute and unchanging laws
  • People could understand these laws through logic, reason
  • Sophist philosopher Protagoras questions the existence of Greek gods



  • Socrates—believes in questioning, self-examination of values, actions
  • Convicted of corrupting young people; sentenced to death in 399 B.C.



  • Plato—student of Socrates; writesThe Republic—an ideal society
  • In 387 B.C., establishes Athens school, the Academy; lasts 900 years
  • His writings dominate European philosophy for 1,500 years



  • Aristotle—student of Plato; uses rules of logic for argument
  • His work provides the basis for scientific method, still used today
  • Tutors 13-year-old prince who becomesAlexander the Great


Section 4: Alexander’s Empire

Alexander the Great conquers Persia and Egypt and extends his empire to the Indus River in northwest India.


Philip Builds Macedonian Power



  • Macedonia—kingdom of mountain villages north of Greece
  • King Philip II—ruler, brilliant general; dreams of controlling Greece
  • Macedonians call themselves Greek; rest of Greece does not


Philip’s Army

  • Philip creates well-trained professional army; plans to invade Greece


Conquest of Greece

  • 338 B.C. Macedonians defeat Greece; 336 B.C. King Philip murdered
  • His son named king of Macedonia—becomes Alexander the Great


Alexander Defeats Persia


Alexander’s Early Life

  • Tutored by Aristotle; inspired by the Iliad; has military training
  • Becomes king when 20 years old; destroys Thebes to curb rebellion


Invasion of Persia

  • 334 B.C. Alexander invades Persia; quick victory at Granicus River
  • Darius III—king of Persia, assembles army of 50,000–75,000 men
  • Alexander defeats Persians again, forces King of Persia to flee


Conquering the Persian Empire

  • Alexander marches into Egypt, crowned pharaoh in 332 B.C.
  • At Gaugamela in Mesopotamia, Alexander defeats Persians again
  • Alexander captures cities of Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis
  • Persepolis, the Persian capital, burned to the ground
  • Ashes of Persepolis signal total destruction of Persian Empire


Alexander’s Other Conquests


Alexander in India

  • Alexander fights his way across the deserts of Central Asia to India
  • Alexander conquers Indus Valley area in 326 B.C.
  • Reluctantly returns to Babylon, dies in 323 B.C.


Alexander’s Legacy

  • Alexander melds Greek and Persian cultures; wife is Persian
  • Empire becomes three kingdoms: (1) Macedonia, Greek city-states; (2) Egypt; (3) old Persia, also known as Seleucid kingdom


Section 5: The Spread of Hellenistic Culture

Hellenistic culture, a blend of Greek and other influences, flourishes throughout Greece, Egypt, and Asia.


Hellenistic Culture in Alexandria


Trade and Cultural Diversity

  • Result of Alexander’s policies—a new vibrant culture
  • Hellenistic culture—Greek blended with Egyptian, Persian, Indian
  • Alexandria—Egyptian city becomes center of Hellenistic civilization


Alexandria’s Attractions

  • Lighthouse, called the Pharos, stands over 350 feet tall
  • Museum contains art galleries, a zoo, botanical gardens, dining hall
  • Library holds masterpieces of ancient literature; supports scholars


Science and Technology


Alexandria’s Scholars

  • Scholars preserve Greek and Egyptian learning in the sciences


  • Astronomer Aristarchus proves sun is larger than Earth
  • Proposes planets revolve around sun; not accepted for 14 centuries
  • Eratosthenes uses geometry to calculate Earth’s circumference


Mathematics and Physics

  • Euclid—mathematician; Elements the basis for courses in geometry
  • Archimedes—scientist; ideas help build force pump and steam engine



Philosophy and Art


Stoicism and Epicureanism

  • Zeno founds Stoic school; promoted virtuous, simple lives
  • Epicurus believes people should focus on what senses perceive


Realism in Sculpture

  • Colossus of Rhodes—Hellenistic bronze sculpture over 100 feet tall
  • Sculptors move to non-classical, natural forms; real people