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Greece — that point of light in history !—Hegel.

We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our art, have their roots in Greece. — Shelley.

Except the blind forces of nature, there is nothing that moves in the world today that is not Greek in origin. — Henry Sumner Maine.






Asia had developed the first civilizations; but, at a later date, an independent and more important culture began to rise in Southern Europe. This new civilization was soon to draw from the Orient in many ways, but it remained essentially European in character. Diversity succeeded to Asiatic uniformity, moderation to extravagance, freedom to despotism. This contrast between the cultures of Europe and of Asia is based, in part, upon physical differences. We must note four geographical peculiarities of Europe.

a.    It is a peninsula, oceanic rather than continental.

b.    It has a more temperate climate and more varied products than the semi-tropical river valleys of Asia.

These conditions demanded greater exertion, physical and intellectual, and led to more diverse occupations than Asiatic conditions did. The beginnings of culture were slower; but Man was finally to count for more, and Nature was to he less all-sufficient and overpowering.

c.    In contrast with the great Asiatic plain, the land is broken into many small units fitted for the homes of distinct peoples, all close together and so invited to friendly intercourse, but with natural defenses against hostile attacks from one another. This has conduced to the existence, side by side, of different but mutually helpful civilizations.

d.    Europe as a whole holds a strategic position as against Asia. Physical characteristics, such as those mentioned in the last three paragraphs, were found, of course, in some districts of Asia, notably in Syria and some parts of Asia Minor; and accordingly in these places there began civilizations marked by the “European” characteristics of diversity and freedom; but their vicinity to the earlier and mightier river-empires was fatal, and in the end the Asiatic character was always imposed upon them. Europe was saved by its distance and by its position behind the great moat of the Mediterranean. This sea has been a decisive factor in European history in two respects,—as a road for friendly intercourse, and even more as a barrier against hostile Asiatic invasion. 




A Corinthian alabastron vase depicting two lions and an owl, 595-500 BCE. These vessels were used for storing perfumes and fine oils. (Getty Villa, Malibu)

“ The Greeks are moderns ... Ptah-hotep or Ezekiel could not move in modern society. Aristotle or Menander in all moral and social questions would at once find their way, and enjoy even our poetry and fiction. Even the medieval baron would feel vastly more out of place among us than would an intelligent Greek.”—Mahaffy.


“The Most European of European Lands.”—Hellas, or Greece, meant not European Greece alone, but all the lands of the “Hellenes,” as the Greeks called themselves. This included (a) the peninsula in Europe, together with the shores and islands of the Aegean; and (6) colonial Greece, that is, the Greeks onthe Black Sea on the east, and Greek Sicily and southern Italy on the west, besides scattered patches elsewhere along the Mediterranean. Still, the central peninsula remained the heart of Hellas in culture, as in geography. Omitting Epirus and Thessaly, which were not properly Greek in character or history, its area is less than a quarter that of the state of Hew York. But in this little district are concentrated in miniature all the characteristic traits of European geography; and surely it is no mere coincidence that the lirst home of typical European culture should have been this “most European of European lands.”

Five controlling factors deserve special mention: the breaking up into small districts; the sea roads; the incitement to trade; the vicinity of the open side to Eastern civilization; the moderation and beauty of nature.

a.    The islands and patches of Greek settlements on distant coasts were of course so many distinct divisions; and even little Greece proper counted over twenty geographical units, each encompassed by its sea moats and mountain walls. Some of these divisions were about as large as an American township, and the larger ones (except Thessaly and Epirus) were only seven or eight times that size.

b.    Isolated mountainous tribes are always rude and conservative; but from such tendencies Greece was saved by the sea. Her mountains, it is true, with their many passes, were “guardians of liberty” rather than hostile barriers; but it was the sea that really made friendly intercourse possible on a large scale, and that brought Athens as closely into touch with Miletus (in Asia) as with Sparta or Olympia. This value of the sea, too, held good for neighboring parts of “European Greece” itself, which, with less area than Portugal, has a longer coastline than all the Spanish peninsula. The very heart of the land is broken into islands and promontories, so that it is hard to find a spot distant from the coast more than thirty miles. Only two divisions failed to touch the sea, and they were notoriously backward and unimportant.

c.    Certain products made intercourse exceedingly desirable, and invited to wider travel. The mountain slopes in some parts, as in Attica, grew wine and oil better than grain. Wine and oil—much value in little space—were especially suited for commerce; and with their limited food supply, if population was to increase, the people in such districts were driven to trade. Now, seafaring traders, exchanging commodities, are prone to exchange ideas also; and thus the maritime Greeks became innovators centuries before Paul commended them for “always seeking some new thing.”

d.    These early seekers found valuable new things within easy reach. Fortunately, this most European of all European lands lay nearest of all Europe to the old civilization of Asia. Moreover, it faced this civilized East rather than the barbarous West. On the side toward Italy, the coast is cliff or marsh, with only three or four good harbors the whole length; but on the east the whole line is broken by countless deep, inviting bays, from whose mouths, too, chains of tempting islands lead on and on, so that in clear weather the mariner may cross the Aegean without losing sight of land.

e.    Most important of all, perhaps, was the element of diversity. A great Oriental state found its one dominant life principle in some mighty river; it spread over vast plains, and was bounded by terrible immensities of desolate deserts. Greece contained no navigable river, and, except in Thessaly, no plains of consequence. It was a land of marvelously varied sea and mountain. This variety, and the moderation of the natural features, found a counterpart in the versatile genius of the people, in their originality, and in their lively imagination; while the beauty of intermingled hill and sunlit sea, the exhilarating air, and the soft splendor of the radiant sky, helped to make their intense joy in life.

Thus in their little peninsula the Greeks produced many varieties of society, side by side. They inquired fearlessly into all secrets, natural and supernatural, instead of abasing themselves in Oriental awe; they had no controlling priesthood; and they never submitted long to arbitrary government. Above all other peoples, too, they developed a passion for the beautiful and a sense of harmony and proportion: the same word stood to them for the good and the beautiful; and temperance, or moderation, became their ideal virtue.

A Problem: the Land or the People?—Was the work of Greece in history the result of Greek genius or of these geographical conditions?

As early as the year 2000 B.C. the islands and coasts of the Aegean were peopled by a variety of tribes. Some of these were “the stuff of which the Greeks were afterward made.” Some, so far as we can tell, were wholly alien, like the Phoenicians and the Etruscans. The great body were allied to the Latins on the west, to the Phrygians, Lycians, and Carians on the east, and to the Thracians and Macedonians on the north. Nature and history gradually differentiated those tribes that we call Greeks from these neighbors, of whom they seem to have been at first only a part. So some writers make the land everything, and speak as if even Homer were “only a natural product of the smiling Ionian skies.” But those same skies, in the three thousand years since, have produced no second Homer; and it is hard to believe that Sennacherib’s Assyrians, for instance, if transplanted to Greece, would have been made into Greeks.

The question, of course, goes to the bottom of all history. About all we can say is, that the result was due to land and people, and to outside history. Says Freeman: “Neither the Greeks in any other land, nor any other people in Greece, would have been what the Greeks in Greece actually were”; nor, we may add, the same people in the same land at a later and less plastic stage, or with different influences from without. It was an instance of good seed falling upon good ground under favorable conditions of time and history; but, to read history truly, we must note that a larger portion of the same seed seems to have gone to waste in the regions round about.


The Gate of the Lions at Mycenae.





Dr. Heinrich Schliemann  ( 1822 – 1890) 

Homer and his Age.—Writing of any kind came late in Greece. Until recently our vague knowledge of early culture there was based on the Homeric poems, which were handed down orally from generation to generation for some centuries before they were put into manuscript. Homer’s Iliad describes part of the siege of Troy by the Greeks, to recover the beautiful Helen, whom a Trojan prince had carried off. The Odyssey narrates the wanderings of one of the heroes in the return from the war. Now, the wars and the heroes may be pure fiction, or the story may be based upon an attempt of the Greeks to punish pirates from Asia; but, in either case, the poet’s pictures of society must have truth in them. In rude ages a bard may invent stories, but not a society. As has been well said, what such a poet tells us as history is apt to be false, but what he mentions incidentally is sure to be history. The poems were composed about 1000 B.C. They claim to describe events a century or two earlier, but no doubt they paint that past in colors true for their own day.

Greece, however, had possessed a much earlier life, of which Homer and the historic Greeks never dreamed, but, of which we are now learning from another source. The remains buried in the soil were neglected strangely by students of Greek history long after the study of such objects had disclosed many wonders in Asia; but in 1870 Dr. Schliemann turned to this kind of investigation in order to confirm Homer. The excavations since that time have done this, but they have also opened up a thousand years of older culture. Two incidents in this exploration we will note.

a. Homer places the capital of Agamemnon, leader of all the Greeks, in Argolis at Mycenae, “rich in gold.” Here, in 1876, Schliemann uncovered remains of an ancient city, with peculiar massive (“Cyclopean”) walls. Within were found a curious group of tombs, where (to use the brilliant picture of Walter Pater’s Greek Studies) lay in state rudely embalmed bodies of ancient kings —

“in the splendor of their crowns and breastplates of embossed plate of gold; their swords studded with golden imagery; their faces covered strangely in golden masks. The very floor of one tomb was thick with gold dust—the heavy gilding from some perished kingly vestment; in another was a downfall of golden leaves and flowers; and amid this profusion of fine fragments were rings, bracelets, smaller crowns, as for children, dainty butterflies for ornaments, and that golden flower on a silver stalk—all of pure, soft gold unhardened by alloy, the delicate films of which one must touch but lightly, yet twisted and beaten, by hand and hammer, into wavy, spiral relief.”

One tomb, with three female bodies, contained eight hundred and seventy gold objects, besides vast multitudes of very small ornaments and countless gold beads and pieces of beaten gold. In another, five bodies were “literally smothered in jewels”; and, with all this ornament, there were skillfully wrought, curiously inlaid weapons for the dead, with whetstones to keep them keen, and graceful vases of marble and alabaster carved with delicate forms, to hold the funeral food and wine; while near the entrance lay other bodies, perhaps of slaves or captives who had been offered in sacrifice.

It is true these particular remains belong to a period long before that celebrated by Homer, but no doubt in the poet’s time a like society was to be found in parts of Greece; after these discoveries, the Homeric pictures of royal palaces (Odyssey) adorned with friezes of glittering blue glass, the walls flashing with bronze and gleaming with plated gold, the heroes and their guests feasting through the night, from gold vessels, in halls lighted by torches held on massive golden statues, no longer seem poetic exaggerations.

b.   In 1870 Dr. Schliemann began his first excavations at a little village in the Troad, three miles from the shore, where tradition had always placed the scene of the Iliad. These explorations continued more than twenty years, and disclosed nine distinct layers of debris—each layer the remains of a separate settlement. The oldest, on native rock some fifty feet below the present surface, was a rude village of indefinite antiquity. The second was thought by Dr. Schliemann to be Homer’s Troy. It showed powerful walls, a citadel that had been destroyed by fire, and a civilization marked by bronze weapons and gold ornaments. We know now that this city passed away about 2500 B.C., so that no doubt the very memory of its civilization had perished before the real Troy was built. Above it came the remains of three successive inferior settlements, and then—the sixth layer from the bottom—a much larger and finer city, which had perished in a hostile conflagration some eleven or twelve hundred years B.C. Extensive explorations in the year 1893, after Schliemann’s death, finally proved this sixth city to be the Troy of Homer, with remarkable correspondence in detail to the picture in the Iliad.

The impressive fact, however, was, not the confirmation of Homer’s story, but rather that not even a shadowy tradition of this older culture of Schliemann’s Troy survived to be sung by any poet of a later day. Men began to see that the Greeks were not so young as our former ignorance had taught, but that “obscure millenniums preceded the sudden bloom” of their historic life. A new interest led to important results.

For Further Reading. —

Tsountas and Manatt’s The Mycenaean age; a study of the monuments and culture of pre-Homeric Greece (PDF)

Harry Reginald Hall,The oldest civilization of Greece: studies of the Mycenaean age

Schliemann, Heinrich:

Troja : results of the latest researches and discoveries on the site of Homer's Troy and in the heroic tumuli and other sites, made in the year 1882, and a narrative of a journey in the Troad in 1881

Mycenae : a narrative of researches and discoveries at Mycenae and Tiryns

Tiryns. The prehistoric palace of the kings of Tiryns, the results of the latest excavations

Ilios: the city and country of the Trojans; the results of researches and discoveries on the site of Troy and throughout the Troad in the years 1871, 72, 73, 78, 79. Including an autobiography of the author





Mycenaean Culture.—Excavations at many places on the coasts and islands of the eastern Mediterranean prove now that this early civilization reached from Sardinia to Cyprus, and that it was indigenous in Greece. Steady progress appears, from rude stone implements and crude carvings, through many stages, up to magnificent bronze work and highly developed art. This was the slow work of the dark-skinned, long-headed people of Southern Europe between 2500 and 1500 B.C.; and the culture seems to have been helped to quicker bloom by contact with Phoenicians. These adventurers bartered with the ruder natives, for centuries perhaps, much as English traders did two hundred years ago with American Indians, tempting their ignorant cupidity with strange wares   of small value, and couuting it best gain of all if they could lure curious maidens on board their black ships for distant slave markets. In return, however, the strangers made many an unconscious payment. Language shows that they gave to the Greeks the names (and so, no doubt, the use) of linen, myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, soap, lyres, wine jars, cosmetics, and writing tablets. The Greek alphabet itself is Phoenician, without question. The metal work found in the tombs is often Phoenician or Egyptian. The smelting of metals and use of bronze, and the substitution of fine wheel-made pottery for the ruder handmade article, may have come from the same source. Indeed, it would not be strange if sometimes—as Greek legends so delight to tell—wealthy Phoenician exiles or adventurers actually established themselves as god-descended monarchs in gilded palaces on high-lying citadels, to rule and civilize the Greek tribesmen clustered about the foot of the castle hill.

On the whole, however, scholars today refuse to believe that the European civilization was borrowed in its essential elements, or that the Orient did more than afford the Greeks a few hints. Certainly the lively Hellenes were not slavish imitators; and these same early remains show that they at once made their own, and improved upon, whatever the strangers brought them.   

But this Mycenaean culture is not that of which Homer tells. These earlier Greeks buried their dead, worshiped ancestors, used no iron, and lived frugally on fish and vegetable diet. Homer’s Greeks burn their dead; worship no ancestors, but adore a Sun God; use iron swords; and feast all night mightily on whole roast oxen. So, too, in dress, manners, and personal appearance, so far as we can tell, the two are widely different.

Still, from lack of any other theory, scholars have continued, for the most part, to regard the culture pictured by Homer and that revealed in the older remains, as two stages in one development or as two views of the same culture; and the Mycenaean civilization has usually been known also as Achaean, from the name Homer uses for his Greeks. This, however, is simply to ignore the many striking contradictions; and recently Professor Ridgeway (Early Age of Greece) has suggested an hypothesis which promises to straighten out the maze. The new theory is not yet established thoroughly, but it has much to recommend it.

Achaean Culture.— About 1500 B.C., in Central Europe there had grown up an independent civilization; it was ruder than that of the South, but the people were more vigorous and were armed with iron,—perhaps at first, through some happy accident, by the discovery of iron, free so as not to need smelting. This culture has been named Hallstatt, from a place in the Alps where its remains abound. Professor Ridgeway claims to prove that it corresponds, even in minute details, with the culture Homer ascribes to his Achaean chiefs, and argues forcefully that about 1300 B.C. bands of these fairhaired, blue-eyed, ox-eating warriors from the North, drawn by the splendor and riches of the Mycenaean South, must have broken into Greece, as men of the North so many times since into Southern Europe. These mighty-limbed strangers, armed with long iron swords, easily established themselves among the short, dark, bronze-weaponed natives, dwelt in their cities, became their chiefs, married their women, and possessed their wealth. For a time the older culture was overridden by the practices and ideas of these semi-barbaric Achaeans; but gradually the two civilizations blended, the fair-skinned invaders adopted the native language, and after a while they disappeared in the native population—as has happened to all northern invaders in southern lands. Homer tells us mainly of the Achaeans, but the older society persisted, no doubt, and was again, in modified form, to come to the surface. Even Homer seems to show some mixture of customs as early as his day.

The "Vaphio Cups": 3'5 inches high; 8 ounces each. Found in 1889, and dating back at least to 1200 b.c. Dr. Schuchhardt declares them " unrivaled for originality of design and delicacy of execution, except perhaps by thefinest goldsmith work of the Italian Renaissance."




No doubt we are liable to exaggerate the “golden” side of the Homeric Age. The poet naturally dwelt upon the deeds and homes of heroes, so that sometimes we call the age “Heroic”; but this was only a small part of Greek life after all, and, as a whole, society was primitive and manners were harsh. The culture of Mycenae culminated only at a few points on the coast, and Homer himself, if we look close, shows that wealthy princes were rare even among his kings. The son of Odysseus, astounded by the splendor of Menelaus’ palace, with its “gleam as of sun and moon,” whispers to his companion (Odyssey) : —

“Mark the flashing of bronze through the echoing halls, and the flashing of gold and of amber and of silver and of ivory. Such like, methinks, is the court of Olympian Zeus ... Wonder comes over me as I look.”

The mighty Odysseus had built his palace with his own hands,— “arude farmhouse, where swine wallow in the court”; and the one petty island in which he was head-king held scores of poorer kings.

Industry was still mainly agricultural. The mass of the people were small farmers, though their houses were grouped in compact settlements. Even the kings tilled their larger farms, in part at least, with their own hands. Slaves were few, except in the houses of the greater chiefs. There had appeared, however, a class of miserable landless freemen, who hired themselves to the farmers. When the ghost of Achilles wishes to name to Odysseus the most unhappy lot among mortals, he selects that of the hired servant ; and the poet Hesiod (800 B.C.), himself of the farmer class and feeling keenly for its woes, has no pity for these laborers, but advises the farmer to turn them out to shift for themselves as winter comes on. Highly honored artisans and smiths were found among the retainers of the greater chiefs. A separate class of traders had not arisen. The chiefs, in the intervals of farm labor, varied their profits by trading expeditions, or by piracy on sea or land. Telemachus, son of Odysseus, is asked, evidently without offense intended or received, whether he comes as a pirate or as a peaceful trader.




The Clan. —In early times the lowest political unit in Greek society was a clan, or gens. Each gens, indeed, was a kind of family, containing several such families as we have, and ranging in size from a score, perhaps, to many score of members. The nearest descendant of the forefather of the clan, counting from oldest son to oldest son, was the clan elder, or “ king.” The two bonds of union were blood and worship—a common descent and a common religion; and these two were really one, for the clan religion was a worship of clan ancestors. If provided with pleasing periodic meals and invoked with magic formulas (so the belief ran), the powerful ghosts of the ancient clan elders would continue to aid their descendants. This worship was secret, and hostile to all outside the clan. The altar was the clan tomb, and the only legitimate priest was the clan elder. For a non-clansman even to see the worship was to defile it; for him to learn the sacred formulas was to secure power over the gods. It followed that marriage became a “ religious ” act. The woman had to renounce her own gods, and to be accepted by the gods of her husband into their clan. After that, she and her future children were in law and in religion no longer related to her father and his clan; relationship and inheritance of property came through males only.

In like manner in later times, as the families of the clan more and more became distinct units, each came to have its separate family worship. The father was the priest of the Hearth, or family altar, near which were grouped the Penates, or images of ancestors. There, before each meal, was poured out the libation, and there blessings were invoked. Piety consisted in fulfilling strictly these obligations to the ancestral deities; The family tomb anciently was near the house, “so that the sons,” says Euripides, “in entering and leaving their dwelling, might always meet their fathers and invoke them.”

Larger Units: Phratry and Tribe.— Long before history began, clans united into larger units. In barbarous society the highest unit is the tribe. The clan-elder of the leading clan was the tribal elder, or the priest-king of the tribe. The tribe, too, had a common worship of a real or pretended ancestor. If men at that stage of progress wished to combine in a friendly way, they had to invent some such bond of union. Otherwise they must think of each other as enemies. It is plain that in the larger units such bonds must have been fictitious for the most part; but in credulous, savage society, these “legal fictions.” come quickly to have all the force of fact. Between the Greek tribe and the gens came a less important unit,—the phratry, or “brotherhood” of clans, with the characteristics of a smaller tribe.

The Tribal City.— Originally, the tribe dwelt in its separate clan-villages in the valleys around some convenient hilltop. On the height was the place of common worship, and a ring wall turned it easily into a citadel. In hilly Greece many of these fortified tribal centers grew up close together; and so, very early, groups of tribes combined further. Perhaps one of a group would conquer the others and compel them to demolish their separate citadels and to transfer their temples to its center. This was the way in which Cecrops and Theseus are said to have founded Athens—by incorporating into one body the three hundred and sixty clan-villages of Attica. In such cases, a new legal fiction set up a common city-worship, with the king of the chief tribe for the city priest-king. Sometimes, of course, a growing tribe might enter the city stage without artificially widening its circle; but in general, as clans federated into tribes, so tribes federated into cities, either peaceably or through war. The process seems to have been well under way in Homeric times.

Though it involves a digression, it is well to note here that the city was the limit of political union among the Greeks. If this process of federation could have continued,—or, if by conquest and amalgamation the cities could have been combined into larger units, they might have made a nation-state, like modern England or France. But the city satisfied the political ideal of the Greeks. To them the same word meant “city” and “state.” A union of cities, by which any of them gave up complete sovereignty, was repugnant to Greek feeling. One city might hold others in subjection ; but, in historic times, it never admitted their people to any kind of citizenship. Nor did the subject cities dream of asking such a thing. What they wanted, and would never cease to strive for, was to recover their separate independence. No one thought of union. To each Greek, his city was his country. It followed, through nearly all Greek history, that the political relations of one city with another five miles away were foreign relations, as much as its dealings with the king of Persia. Wars, therefore, were constant and cruel. The concentration of interests gave to each city a vivid and intense life; but the division of Greek power into so many hostile centers made that life brief.




The King.—The tribal city had three political elements—king, council of chiefs, and popular assembly. In these we may see the germs of later monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic institutions. The kings varied in authority. In centers like Mycenae they seem to have been almost absolute, though even there they had no bodyguard; but in general they were limited strictly by custom and by the two other political orders. A Council of Chiefs surrounded, aided, and checked the king. These chiefs were originally the clan elders and the members of the royal family. Socially they were the king’s equals; and in government he could not do anything in defiance of their wish. They could sometimes elect a king, when a vacancy occurred, although their choice must have been limited usually to one royal family. The Folk-moot, or Assembly of Freemen, listened to plans proposed by king and chiefs, and shouted approval or muttered disapproval. It could not start new movements itself. There were no regular meetings and few spokes-men, and the general reverence for the chiefs made it a daring deed for a common man to brave them; so that if the chiefs were agreed among themselves, it must have been hard to keep them from getting their way. However, even in war, when the authority of the nobles was greatest, the Assembly had to, be persuaded; it could not be ordered; and Homer’s songs, flattering of course to the chiefs, show that sometimes popular opposition did find expression.

The Greeks in one council before Troy break away to seize their ships for the homeward journey. Odysseus hurries among them, and by persuasion and threats forces them back to the council, until only Thersites bawls on,—“Thersites, uncontrolled of speech, whose mind was full of words wherewith to strive against the chiefs idly”. “Hateful was he to Achilles above all, and to Odysseus, for them he was wont to revile. But now with shrill shout he poured forth his upbraidings even upon goodly Agamemnon”. Then Odysseus with stem rebuke smites him into silence, while the crowd laughs. Odysseus carries the crowd with him, but Thersites was a cripple, and is represented as ugly and unpopular. Professor Mahaffy comments :    “The figure of Thersites seems drawn with special spite and venom, as a satire upon the first critics that rose up among the people and questioned the divine right of kings to do wrong. We may be sure the real Thersites, from whom the poet drew his picture, was a very different and a far more serious power in debate than the misshapen buffoon of the Iliad. But the king who had been thwarted and exposed by him in the day, would over his evening cups enjoy the poet’s travesty, and long for the good old times when he could put down all impertinent criticism by the stroke of his knotty scepter. Indeed, the Homeric agora could hardly have existed, had it been so idle a form as the poets represent.”

So Professor Freeman: “But, after all, I think that the submission of the mass of Achaian freemen to Agamemnon has been, if not exaggerated, at least misunderstood. It is not the submission of slaves, but the submission of children. It is not the submission of men who wish to oppose, but who dare not; it is the submission of men who have not yet formed the wish to oppose ... The real thing to be marked is that there should be any opposition speakers at all.”


Andrew Lang’s Homer and the Epic. The aim of this book is to prove that the Homeric Epics, as wholes, and apart from passages gravely suspected in antiquity, present a perfectly harmonious picture of the entire life and civilisation of one single age. The faint variations in the design are not greater than such as mark every moment of culture, for in all there is some movement; in all, cases are modified by circumstances. If our contention be true, it will follow that the poems themselves, as wholes, are the product of a single age, not a mosaic of the work of several changeful centuries.




1000-500 B.C.



About 1000 B.C. the barbarous but heavy-armed Dorians from the north destroyed the old civilization of the Peloponnesus, then the most advanced part of Hellas, in a long series of campaigns. A long blank follows, where we have not even such imperfect guides as for the preceding age. Changes continued through the obscure centuries, but the details have forever escaped us. In a rough way, however, we get at the general trend of events by comparing Homeric Greece with the historic Greece that is revealed when the curtain rises again. This happens about 650 B.C. From that time the Greeks used the alphabet freely; and the surviving inscriptions and the fragments of the lyric poets and of contemporary accounts fill out and correct tradition. The movements of the next one hundred and fifty years, however, seem to be simply a continuation of what had gone on in the preceding four centuries, so that the whole period down to the year 500 B.C. is best treated as a unit. The leading facts of the five hundred years have to do with (a) the growth of a new Hellenic consciousness (such as Homer never had) of a race distinction between the Greeks and their neighbors; (b) great migrations and the expansion of the Hellenic world; (c) the political revolution which replaces the old kings by oligarchies, tyrants, and finally sometimes by democracies; (d) the rise of Sparta to military headship; (e) the development of Athens in democracy and power; and (f) the intellectual awakening and its new manifestations in poetry and philosophy. These movements will be treated in separate sections below.   .



Ionians, Achaeans, Dorians, Aeolians —The oldest inhabitants of Greece are sometimes called Pelasgians. In historic times they seem to have been represented by the Ionians, but over southern Greece they had been displaced as rulers by the fair Achaeans before 1200 B.C. Both “Ionians” and “Achaeans” appear on Egyptian monuments of the fourteenth century b.c. among the “peoples of the sea” who attacked the Delta at that time.

Between 1000 and 800 B.C., the Achaean preeminence in southern Greece passed to the invading Dorians. This people and the aboriginal Ionians of the unconquered pails of Hellas were to be the two leading peoples of historic Greece. Some other sections of the race, especially the people of western Greece, were known as Aeolians, or “mixed” peoples. They played a leading part too late, as the Achaeans had played their part too early, for the brilliant period of Greek history.

The Ionians, at the opening of history, held Attica and the islands of the Aegean. Athens, on a rock, was their leading city. The Athenians were maritime, democratic, progressive, artistic. The Dorians had their strength in the southern half of the Peloponnesus. Sparta was their leading city—a military settlement of conquerors, in a fertile valley, organized for defense and ruling over slave tillers of the soil. The Spartans were warlike, aristocratic, conservative, practical. There is a tendency to ascribe these characteristics of the two leading cities to their respective races, and to class all Ionians as democratic and progressive, and all Dorians as aristocratic and conservative ; hut this distinction holds good only within narrow limits. Colonies of Ionians and Dorians, under changed physical conditions, especially in Sicily and Italy, exchanged these “race” characteristics. On the whole, Athens was more nearly typical of the Ionians than Sparta was of the Dorians,—no doubt because nearly all Ionians had much the same physical environment that Athens had.



The Iliad does not make it clear whether Homer regarded the Trojans as Greeks or not; apparently he cared little about the question. Four hundred years later that question would have been a first consideration to every Greek. The forces which, during these four centuries, in the absence of political union, gave gradually to all Hellenes a oneness of feeling, were chiefly the following: language and literature; belief in kinship; and the Olympian religion, with its games and oracles.

a.    The Greeks understood each other’s dialects, while the men of other speech about them they called “Barbarians,” or babblers (Bar-bar-oi). The universal allegiance to Homer (whose poems were sung and recited in every Greek village for centuries), and the glories of the later common literature, made this bond of union more vital.

b.    Then the poets invented a system of relationship, through fabled Ion, Achaeus, Dorus, Aeolus,— descendants of a mythic Hellen,—which confirmed all Hellenes in their belief in a common blood relationship.

c.    Besides the clan worship of ancestors and the city worship of local heroes, there was another religion common to all Greeks. This was originally a nature worship, such as most early peoples have; but the poetic imagination of the Greeks gave an intense reality and a human character to their personification of natural forces, and wove from this material the most complete and beautiful system of myths the world has ever known. The greater deities, to distinguish them from lesser ones and from the gods of the narrow ancestor religion, were called Olympian—from Mount Olympus, whose cloud-capped summit was once thought to be their home. Three special features of this religion helped to bind Greeks together—the Olympic Games, the Delphic Oracle, and the various Amphictyonies.

To the great festivals of some of the gods, men flocked from all Hellas. Especially was this true of the games in honor of Zeus, each fourth year, at Olympia in Elis. The contests consisted of foot and chariot racing, wrestling, and boxing; and the victors, though they received only an olive wreath at Olympia, were commonly honored at their homes with inscriptions and statues. The four-year periods, or Olympiads, became the Greek units in counting time; all events were dated from what was called the first recorded Olympiad, beginning in 776 B.C.

At Delphi was a temple of Apollo and an oracle whose advice was sought by individuals and governments over all Hellas. An ancient league of Greek tribes to protect this temple was known as The Amphictyonic League. Smaller amphictyonies (leagues of dwellers-round-about) were common in other parts of Greece. They afforded the only hint of a movement in the early history toward a union of states, but they were strictly religious in purpose.


Table of Greater Deities. (Latin names in parenthesisr)

Zeus (Jupiter), the supreme god ; god of the sky.

Poseidon (Neptune), god of the sea.

Apollo, the sun god ; god of wisdom, poetry, and medicine.

Ares (Mars), god of war.

Hephaestus (Vulcan), god of fire—the lame smith.

Hermes (Mercury), god of the wind; messenger; god of cunning and wit. Hera (Juno), sister and wife of Zeus; queen of the sky.

Athene (Minerva), goddess of wisdom ; the female counterpart of Apollo, as Hera was of Zeus.

Artemis (Diana), goddess of the moon; goddess of hunting.

Aphrodite (Venus), goddess of love.

Demeter (Ceres), the earth goddess — controlling fertility.

Hestia (Vesta), the deity of the home ; goddess of the hearth fire.




A. First Period, Readjustments in the Aegean, to 900 B.C.


The immediate cause of the first great movements of population in Greece that we can trace was the Dorian invasion. These conquerors and the dispossessed Achaeans, who were seeking new homes, jostled other tribes into motion over all the peninsula. The age was one of rearrangements and of moderate expansion into the Aegean. The Dorian conquest in itself must have seemed a blow to civilization. The ancient glories of the Peloponnesus were trampled out, and that peninsula lost forever its leadership in Hellenic culture. But other districts, especially Attica, strengthened themselves by incorporating the more enterprising of the fleeing peoples; and fugitives carried the seeds of Greek civilization to the islands and coasts of the Aegean. Some of these districts were partly Greek before, but now important Hellenic reenforcements arrived, and the old non-Hellenic elements were driven out. In nearly all Greece it came to pass that a conquering aristocracy ruled a conquered peasantry, usually of different race. Thus a basis was laid for the bitter class struggles within Greek cities in later times.

One phase of the expansion of Greek culture in this period deserves special mention. This is the Hellenizing of the Asiatic coast. A great body of Ionian refugees, passing through Attica, crossed the sea to the central coast of Asia Minor. There they founded or conquered twelve great cities, of which Miletus and Ephesus were the most important. The whole district took the name Ionia, and was united in a religious amphictyony. Just to the north, a confused mass of fugitives from central Greece founded a group of twelve Aeolian cities (also with an amphictyony), while to the south was established a smaller circle of Dorian colonies.

B. Second Period, Wider Colonization, 800-600 B.C.

The real territorial expansion came a century later. The movement went on for two hundred years, and doubled the area of Hellas, carrying it far beyond its Aegean home. Curiously, this dispersion came just when the Hellenes were growing to look upon themselves as a distinct race. In this period of true colonization the colonies were trading stations, not settlements of fugitives. They resulted not from foreign force, but from state policy: one group to secure to the mother city a monopoly of the Thracian gold and silver mines; another to control the corn trade of southern Russia. Social and political motives cooperated with such aims. The old cities were glad to find a vent for their rapidly increasing population, especially as a tendency to class struggles just at that time made the presence of discontented elements a political peril. Sometimes, indeed, the colonists were a defeated faction in a civic conflict. The mother city, however, always gave the sacred fire for the new city hearth, and appointed the “founder,” to establish the new settlement with appropriate religious rites and to distribute the mixed inhabitants, who thronged in from all sides, into artificial tribes and gentes, after the fashion of Greek society. The colonists ceased absolutely to be citizens in their old home, and the new city enjoyed complete independence. Each colony recognized its religious and social obligations to its “metropolis,” but neither mother nor daughter city thought of converting the relation into a political union. Corinth for a time made an exception; that city did retain some political supremacy over its colonies. And Athens in a later period adopted another form of colonization, of which we shall have occasion to speak .     

The map shows the distribution of the colonies. To the east, some sixty settlements fringed the Black Sea and its straits; on the west, Sicily became almost wholly Greek, and southern Italy took the proud name of Magna Graecia. The one city of Chalcis (in Euboea) founded thirty-two colonies in Thrace. Among the more important cities established in this period were Syracuse in Sicily, Tarentum in Italy, Corcyra in the Adriatic, Massilia (Marseilles) in Gaul, Olynthus in Thrace, Cyrene in Africa, and Byzantium on the Bosphorus. No one of the scores of these colonies was an inland settlement.






During the obscure period the old “kings” disappeared from every Greek city except Sparta and Argos; and in those the Homeric king ship was modified. Religious feeling determined the general character of the change. An Homeric king had had the triple functions of priest, judge, and war chief. Plainly, the last could least safely be left to the accident of birth; accordingly, it was this function that was first made elective. Then, as judicial work increased, with the more complex city life, special judges were chosen to take over that part of the king’s work. The priestly dignity (powerless of itself, and connected most closely with family descent) was left longest a matter of inheritance: in some cities we find a “king-archon” (basileus archon) for city priest, from the old royal family, long after all other sign of royalty had vanished; and in democratic Athens, all through her later history, the same title of king-archon was given to the elected city priest.

This was the general order, then, of the change by which the rule of the king became the rule of “the few.” The process was gradual and commonly peaceful. The means and occasion varied. A disputed succession, the dying out of a royal line, a minor or a weak king,—any of these conditions would make it easy for the nobles to encroach upon the royal power.

The Oligarchies overthrown by the Tyrants.— The origin of the oligarchies varied. The original aristocratic or oligarchic element consisted of the council of clan elders. But sometimes the families of a few greater chiefs had come to overshadow the rest; sometimes, possibly, the various branches of one royal clan established their rule; in places, groups of conquering families ruled the descendants of the conquered; sometimes, perhaps, wealth helped to draw the line between “the few” and “the many,” though the distinction was always based fundamentally upon blood. Whatever the exact principle of division, there was in all Greek cities a sharp line between two classes—one calling itself “the few,” “the good,” “the noble,” and another called by these “the many,” “the bad,” “the base.” “The few” had succeeded the kings. “The many” were oppressed and misgoverned, and began to clamor for relief. They were too ignorant as yet to govern themselves or to maintain themselves against the more intelligent and better united “few.” The way was prepared for them by the tyrants.

Everywhere in city Greece, about 700 B.C, these tyrants sprang up, often several times, at short intervals, in the same city. In the outlying parts of Hellas they were a common phenomenon through all the later history, but by the year 500 they had disappeared from the main peninsula, and so the two centuries from 700 to 500 B.C. are called the “Age of Tyrants.”

A tyrant in Greek history is simply a man who by force seizes or holds royal power. Arbitrary rule was hateful to all Greeks, and the murder of a tyrant seemed a virtuous act. Sometimes, too, the selfish and wanton indulgence of such rulers justified the detestation that clings to the name. But at the worst the tyrants seem to have been a necessary evil, to break down the greater evil of the selfish, anarchic oligarchies; and many of them were generous, far-sighted, beneficent rulers, building public works, developing trade, patronizing art and literature. The tyrant was made possible by the strife between the ruling few and the oppressed many, and he always appeared as champion of the democracy. Sometimes he was a noble opposed by his order; sometimes by birth a man of the people. At Argos, King Pheidon massacred the nobles and made himself tyrant, without the city passing through a complete oligarchic stage.

The tyrants surrounded themselves with mercenaries, but they sought also to keep the favor of the masses, who had helped them to the throne. The nobles they could not conciliate; these they burdened with taxes, oppressed, exiled, and murdered in great numbers. The story goes that Periander, tyrant of Corinth, sent to the tyrant of Miletus, to ask his advice in government. The Milesian took the messenger through a grain field, striking off the finest and tallest ears as they walked, and sent him back without other answer. The story certainly does stand for what necessarily became, to some degree, the policy of all tyrants toward the nobles. And thus, when the tyrants themselves were overthrown, democracy had a fairer chance of success. In the Ionian cities, the next step was usually a democratic government. In Doric Greece, more commonly there followed a return to a broader aristocracy, but never to quite the older and more objectionable form of oligarchy. The tyrants had done their work effectively.



Early Sparta: the Need of Reforms; Subsequent Growth.— The invading Dorians founded numerous petty states in the Peloponnesus. For a time one of the weakest of these was Sparta. Her territory—just a few square miles in the rich Eurotas valley—did not approach the sea, and it was surrounded by powerful and grasping neighbors. Internally, too, Sparta was torn by faction.

The later Spartans attributed their escape from these threatening conditions to the reforms of a certain Lycurgus. Certainly about the year 900 B.C., whether the reformer’s name was Lycurgus or not, the Spartans did adopt peculiar social and political institutions that made them a marked people in later Greek history. Disciplined and hardened by this code, they entered upon a career of conquest. Before 700 B.C. they had subdued all Laconia; before 650, Messenia also; while the other states of the Peloponnesus, except hostile Argos, had become their allies for war.

The Political Constitution.— Sparta had two kings. Legend ascribed this to the birth of twin princes. Whatever the occasion, the nobles in this city weakened the royal power by dividing it, and so were less tempted to abolish it. In consequence, Sparta is the one Greek city which had no tyrant in this period. The kings were members of a senate of thirty elders—originally, no doubt, the heads of Sparta’s thirty clans. The other twenty-eight senators, however, had become elective, but only from the old noble families. The office was for life. Ho one under sixty years was eligible. The senate for the greater part of Spartan history was the chief political body in the state. A popular Assembly of all free Spartans chose senators and other officers, and decided important matters laid before it, but it had no right to introduce new measures. Discussion was limited to the chiefs and great officers, and at a later time the senate secured the power, “if the people decide anything crookedly, to put it back.”

So far this was a close survival of the Homeric constitution, except that the two kings checked each other’s authority, and that the Assembly elected the council. But about 725 B.C.  Sparta took a great stride toward democracy. Elected magistrates, called Ephors, assumed the headship of the state. Eive of these were chosen each year by the Assembly, and any Spartan was eligible to the office. The Ephors called the Assembly and presided over it, and acted as judges in all important matters. Ho appeal from their decision was allowed. One or more of them accompanied the king, even in war, with power to control his movements and to arrest and condemn him. The kings had now become simply priests, judges in certain unimportant matters of family law, generals in war, and members of the senate. Sparta kept the form and dignity of ancient royalty, and she was intensely aristocratic in feeling, but in reality she was a military democracy under the annual dictatorship of an elected committee of Ephors.

To the Greeks, however, such delegation of power, even to officers elected for short terms, seemed undemocratic. They would not have called our government by President, Congress, and Supreme Court a democracy at allTo them democracy meant a government in which each freeman took somewhat the same part that a member of Congress does with us—a system such that each citizen voted, not occasionally, to elect representatives, but constantly, on all matters of great state policy, which matters’also he might discuss in the ruling assembly of his city-country. By this standard Sparta was aristocratic.

Classes in Laconia.—Moreover, after the conquest of Laconia, the Spartans as a whole were a ruling oligarchy in the midst of a subject class eight or ten times their number. They were simply a camp of eight or nine thousand conquerors (with their families) living under arms in their unwalled city, and holding the most fertile lands of Laconia. They themselves, wholly given to camp life, could not work, and each man’s land was tilled by certain slaves of the state, called Helots.

The Helots numbered four or five to one Spartan, and so were a standing danger, though they were the indispensable basis for any such system. They furnished light-armed troops in war. A secret police of active Spartan youth busied itself in detecting plots among them and sometimes, it is claimed, carried out secret and widespread massacre of the more intelligent and ambitious slaves. Each year, too, the Ephors declared war against the Helots in the name of the State,—that it might be lawful for any Spartan to kill them without trial,—and ancient critics are prone to refer to the mysterious way in which crowds of Helots vanished sometimes, when their numbers threatened Spartan safety. On one occasion, in the great death struggle with Athens in the fifth century, the Spartans had given the Helots heavy armor, but afterward became terrified at the possible consequences. Thucydides tells how they met the danger: —

“They proclaimed that a selection would he made of those Helots who claimed to have rendered the best service to the Lacedaemonians in the war, and promised them liberty. The announcement was intended to test them; it was thought that those among them who were foremost in asserting their freedom would be most high-spirited and most likely to rise against their masters. So they selected about two thousand, who were crowned with garlands, and went in procession round the temples ; they were supposed to have received their liberty, but not long afterwards the Spartans put them all out of the way, and no man knew how any of them came to their end.”

The inhabitants of the hundred small subject “cities” of Laconia were called Perioeci. They were free in person. They kept their own customs and a share in the government of their respective cities, under the supervision of Spartan harmosts. They had also their own lands, and they carried on such trades and commerce as existed in Laconia. They were three or four to one Spartan; and the heavy-armed soldiers of the Spartan army came in large measure from them. They had no voice in the supreme state, and the Ephors could put them to death without trial, but they seem, as a rule, to have been well treated and well content.

Thus the inhabitants of Laconia fall into three classes:

(1) a small ruling oligarchy, living in one central settlement, itself an elective military dictatorship; (2) a large class of cruelly treated agricultural serfs, to support these aristocratic soldiers; (3) another large class of well-treated city populations, without political rights except for a limited local self-government.

Social Institutions.— The garrison at Sparta maintained its superiority in Laconia by an unrelaxing vigilance and by a rigid discipline, which is sometimes lauded as “the Spartan training.” That training made good soldiers, as was its sole aim; but naturally it was harsh, and in many ways brutalizing. The family, as well as the man, belonged absolutely to the army-state.

At the birth of each child, the Ephors decided whether it should be reared at all or be exposed to die as a weakling. At seven years each boy was taken from his parents, to be trained in a public institution until he was twenty—never again to sleep under his mother’s roof. The system of education aimed to harden and strengthen the body and to render the mind self-controlled and obedient to authority. On certain festival days, boys were whipped at the altars to test their endurance; and Plutarch states that they often died under the lash rather than utter a cry. A bare knowledge of reading and a little martial music were the only germs of culture.

From twenty to thirty the youth lived under arms in barracks. He was one of a mess of fifteen, each of whom must provide from his land his part of the barley meal, cheese, and black broth, with meat on holidays. The mess drilled and fought side by side; and this long exclusive devotion to military drill made it possible for the Spartans to adopt a more complex system of tactics than was natural for their neighbors. The other Greeks continued much longer to fight in masses, with a few heralds to shout the orders of the general. The Spartans were trained in small regiments and companies, so as to maneuver readily at the word of command. This made their great superiority in the field; they stood to the other Greeks as disciplined, professional soldiery to a relatively untrained militia.

At thirty the man was required by law to marry, in order to rear more soldiers; but he must still eat and, for the most part, live, in barracks. Said an Athenian, “The Spartan’s life is so unendurable that it is no wonder he throws it away lightly in battle.”

Certain virtue there was, of course, in this training. The Spartans had the quiet dignity of born rulers. The pithy brevity of their speech (“laconic” speech), their use of only iron money, and their austere simplicity of life, made them a moral force in the Greek world; and the changeless character of their constitution for five hundred years after the introduction of the Ephors was a protest against the kaleidoscopic revolutions of surrounding states. Their women, too, kept a freedom which unhappily was lost in more civilized Greek cities. But, after all, the value of the Spartans to the world lay in the fact that they made a garrison for all Greece, and helped to save something better than themselves. In themselves, they were hard, ignorant, narrow. They did nothing to create art, literature, science, or philosophy. So far as they were concerned, these glories of Greece never had an existence. If the Greeks had all been Spartans, we could well afford to omit the study of Greek history.


Fling's Studies in Greek and Roman Civilization



The history of Athens is for us the history of Greece.—Holm.

A.   Preliminary Considerations.

Two Peculiar Conditions did much to fix the place of Athens in Greek history: (1) Athens was the sole city of Attica (a considerable territory); (2) her population was mingled of many elements, but without the sharp divisions that elsewhere followed conquest by aliens.

As to the first consideration: Sparta and Athens became leading cities in Greece because they, and they alone, were more than single cities. They had both carried the political consolidation of neighboring territory farther than any other Greek state. In other territories as large as Attica or Laconia there were always groups of independent cities. In Boeotia, for instance, Thebes at best could aspire to only a limited leadership among a dozen jealous rivals. In Attica, happily, the germs of such separate cities had been consolidated in one. What Sparta was to Laconia by later conquest, Athens had become to Attica before the opening of history—and something over. It had carried consolidation further. It was the real home of all the free inhabitants of Attica, not merely the camp of one dominant tribe. In Laconia political union came through subjection, which left lasting class distinctions between a ruling city and the other Laconians. In Attica union came through incorporation, which wiped out such distinctions of locality. In legend, Lycurgus made the Spartans an army to hold down neighboring hostile subjects, while Theseus made all inhabitants of Attica Athenians.

As to the second consideration: Ionian Attica seems to have been the one spot of southern Greece not overrun by conquest at the time of the Dorian migration. Naturally, it became an asylum for refugees, especially for Ionian clans driven from the Peloponnesus. The wealthier and more powerful of these were admitted into the tribes of Attica; others, no doubt, were received as dependants. It followed that subsequent class struggles were less bitter than in most of Greece, where class divisions were connected with ancient conquests and race hatreds, instead of with friendly patronage.

The repeated introduction of fresh elements from many sources, under such conditions, in itself made for a progressive, democratic people, open to outside influence. Happily, the tendency was reenforced by the later commercial life of Athens, to which her thin soil impelled her no less than location tempted her.

Despite her peculiar conditions, it is right and convenient to regard Athens as a type. Hellas comprised hundreds of cities, each with its internal history of progress and revolution, and with its foreign relations. No study can survey many of these. Sparta and Athens are selected because they became the leading states. Sparta, however, is less fit than Athens to stand for the history of Greece; and even Athens exaggerates the size, the democracy, and the many-sidedness of the average city.

The chief danger, however, is that the student will not realize the infinite complexity of Greek history, and that he will think of Athens as the whole, instead of as a type. It must be borne in mind constantly that the internal history of this city was paralleled, with slight modifications, by that of scores of others which this volume does not even name.

B.   Eupatrid Rule — after the First Political Revolution.

Like other Greek cities, Athens had lost her kings in the obscure period following the Migrations; and when history begins again, her government is an oligarchy. According to the common tradition, restrictions upon the royal power began in Athens about 1000 B.C., after the death of King Codrus. The royal office was still for life, and hereditary in the family of Codrus, but alongside the king-archon (basileus) with his priestly function, arose a new war-archon (polemarch), and—a little later, perhaps—a chief-archon, usually styled The Archon, to act as judge and administrator. These latter officers were elected by the Eupatrids (“well-born”), or chiefs; and in 752 B.C., the office of king-archon also was made elective and limited to a ten years’ term. For some time, however, the choice was still made from the old royal family; then it was thrown open to any Eupatrid. In 682 B.C. the archons were all made annual officers; and alongside them were set six lesser archons, called “ decision-givers,” to assist in the growing judicial work.

Apparently the Eupatrids were the chiefs, or clan elders, of the numerous clans in Attica. Their council was called the Areopagus, from the hill where it met. They ruled Attica in this assembly and through this committee of archons from their own number. The other tribesmen must have had an assembly.for religious and military purposes; but it seems to have had even less voice than in Homeric times. 

The worst hardships of the tribesmen, however, were economic. Most of the land had come to belong to the Eupatrids. They tilled it largely by tenants, who paid five sixths the produce for rent. A bad season or hostile ravages often compelled these tenants to borrow seed or food, and to mortgage their persons for payment. If the debtor failed to pay promptly, he could be dragged off in chains and sold with his family into slavery.

Apparently, alongside the great Eupatrid landlords and these tenants, there stood a class of small farmers owning their lands; but they also were reduced frequently to borrow of the Eupatrids, and in consequence to pass into much the condition of the poorer tenants. Aristotle says: —


“The poor with their wives and children were the very bondsmen of the rich, who named them Sixth-men, because it was for this wage they tilled the land. The entire land was in the hands of a few. If the poor 'failed to pay their rents they were liable to be haled into slavery. Their very persons were mortgaged, until Solon’s time; for it was he first advocated the people’s cause.” And again — “They [the people] were discontented with every other feature of their lot, for, to speak generally, they had no share in anything.” — Constitution of Athens, 2.

By 593 B.C. very different institutions, political and economic, had come into being, but the steps from the old order to the new are in part uncertain. It does seem clear, however, that the first attempts at reform were only partially successful, because they did not touch these social conditions; and that Solon’s work at the close of the period was more important mainly because it did begin with the economic evils.

C.   The Early Attempts to Overthrow the Eupatrids.

The supremacy of the Eupatrids rested largely on superiority in war. They composed the knights, or heavy-armed cavalry of Attica, in comparison with whom the early foot soldiery was only a light-armed mob. But before B.C. there had grown up a heavy-armed infantry, with shield, helmet, and long spear. The serried ranks of these “hoplites” proved able to repel cavalry; and with the decay of the importance of the Eupatrids in war went some decrease in their exclusive political privilege.

The Four Classes: Political Power based in part upon Wealth.—Better to maintain the military system, a census distributed the tribesmen into four classes, based upon annual income from land—500-measure men, 300-measure men, 200-measure men, and those whose income was less than 200 measures. The first two classes were under obligation to serve as knights, and were doubtless at this time all Eupatrids; the third class were thought able to equip themselves as hoplites; the fourth class were called into the field less often and only as light-armed troops.

This system, designed to regulate obligation to the State, became also, to some degree, a basis for the distribution of privilege. Erom the three higher classes (all the heavy-armed soldiery) was formed a new Assembly, which elected archons (from the first class) and other officers and created a new elective senate to take some of the power of the Areopagus. The exact details of this “Constitution of Classes” are so uncertain that it seems best to leave them to be stated as they appear more clearly after the legislation of Solon.

Much that was attributed to Solon by tradition and by ancient historians, and until recently by modern authorities, is credited to these earlier changes, in a lately discovered treatise by Aristotle on the Athenian constitution. Aristotle wrote, of course, over three hundred years after these early reforms; and while his authority makes the old accounts uncertain, it does not always establish a satisfactory substitute.

In practice, however, authority certainly remained with the old oligarchy, who seemed as securely intrenched under the new system by their monopoly of land as they had been before by birth. The hoplites, too, must have come largely from their immediate dependents. Their rule continued selfish and incompetent, and nothing had been done to remedy the economic distress. Finally, ambitious adventurers began to try to make themselves tyrants by help of the bitter dissatisfaction of the people, and one young noble, Cylon, with his forces, actually held the Acropolis, or citadel, for a time.

The Eupatrids were frightened into further concessions, and in 621 B.C. one of the archons, Draco, was commissioned to draw up a written code of laws, for which the people had been clamoring. Oftentimes the old custom-law was known only to the Eupatrid judges; the growing complexity of society must have made new regulations needful; and the judges had to meet these needs by their own arbitrary.discretion. The people did not yet ask for new laws, but only for fixed and known laws, so that the judges should have a smaller range of discretion to abuse in the interests of their own class.

It seems probable that Draco only reduced ancient customs to more definite form. If any changes were made, they must have concerned some slight rearrangements of political power, without touching the root of existing evils. The laws were engraved on wooden blocks and set up where all might see them. The immediate result was to make men feel how inadequate and harsh the old laws were— “written in blood rather than ink,” as was said in a later age. Now the Athenians were ready to demand new laws.

D.   Solon — Overthrow of the Eupatrids.

Solon—poet, general, statesman, philosopher, merchant—was a descendant of Codrus. He was loved by the poorer Athenians and trusted by all. His patriotism had been proven. Some years before, class dissensions had so reduced Athens that little Megara, under the firm rule of an enterprising “tyrant,” had taken Salamis and blockaded the Athenian ports. Efforts to recover the important island failed so miserably that in despair the Athenians had agreed to put to death any one who should again propose the attempt. Solon shammed madness,—to claim a crazy man’s privilege,—and, by reciting a warlike patriotic poem, roused his countrymen to fresh efforts, which, under his generalship, proved successful. Now, in this internal crisis, all factions concurred in giving him authority to remodel the constitution. Solon had blamed the greed of the rich as the cause of trouble, but had urged reconcilation, in a poem beginning, “My eyes are opened, and I see with anguish the plight of this oldest home of the ancient Ionian race.” This was the immediate occasion, Aristotle says, of Solon’s appointment. The Delphic oracle advised him to make himself tyrant, and his friends certainly hoped that he would not lay down his power. He was really an “ elected tyrant ” for two years.

The first year Solon dealt with economic evils.

a.    Out of the old tenants he created a class of free peasant proprietors. .The lands which they had cultivated for the Eupatrids he made their own; he boasts in a poem of “ freeing the enslaved land” by removing the stone pillars (of religious significance) which had marked Eupatrid ownership.

b.    He canceled all debts.

c.    He freed all Athenians who were in slavery in Attica.

d.    He made it illegal, for the future, to reduce Athenians to slavery, or to own more than a certain quantity of land.

The last regulation aimed to prevent any recurrence of the old evils. The first three measures roughly redressed the past. They were, of course, a sweeping confiscation of property. The Eupatrids showed a singular moderation in submitting to them without a death struggle. Happily, the act did not become a precedent. The Athenians never again went so far as to confiscate debts. In later times the whole people celebrated the acts of Solon by a yearly “Festival of the Shaking off of Burdens.”

Indirectly, a political revolution went with these economic changes, although, so far, the letter of the constitution was untouched. Political power was already based upon landed property. Accordingly, these land reforms carried with them a redistribution of political power. The process continued, too, of itself. Merchants, by the purchase of land, rose into the first class, while Eupatrids sank into other classes until the very name soon disappeared. But, in a second year, Solon did directly introduce political changes that carried Athens well into the current of democracy. He seems not to have created new offices or institutions; but, as he had already redistributed the people within the old political classes, so now he redistributed power among these classes and among the old governing bodies.

a.    The fourth class, who had had no political rights, were now admitted to the Assembly.

b.    A senate of four hundred (one hundred by lot from the higher classes of each Athenian tribe) took over the general administration from the Areopagus, and prepared measures to submit to the Assembly.

c.    The new Assembly (all Athenians) discussed and decided upon proposals of the senate; elected archons from the first class, and minor officers from the three higher classes; and tried officers at the expiration of their terms, if any citizen accused them.

d.    The Areopagus was no longer a Eupatrid council. It was composed of ex-archons, and was shorn of most of its powers. Its deliberative and administrative office had gone to the senate; its power of electing archons to the Assembly; its judicial function (for the most part) to the Assembly and to new courts. It remained a court to try murder cases, and to exercise a moral censorship over the life of the citizens, with power to impose fines for extravagance, insolence, or gluttony.

Solon also substituted a milder code for Draco’s bloody laws, introduced a new coinage better suited for foreign commerce, made it the duty of each father to teach his son a trade (upon penalty of forfeiting obligation for support in his old age), limited the wealth that might be buried with the dead, restricted the appearance of women in public, and enacted that any Athenian who remained neutral in civic strife should forfeit citizenship.

Summary of the Solonian Constitution and of the Changes of a Century.

682 B.C. — A few noble families owned most of the soil, and held the rest of the people in virtual servitude. These same families of course possessed all political power, and ruled through the assembly of their order on the Areopagus, and through annual .committees chosen by that body.

693 B.C. —Nearly all Athenian tribesmen were land owners. All tribesmen were members of the political Assembly, which elected officers (so far as election was not settled by lot), tried them upon occasion, and decided public questions: Administrative power rested partly in annual officers and partly in a senate chosen by tribes. Eligibility to office was based upon property qualification.

The economic change was all Solon’s. The political reforms were largely his, and any that had been introduced before gained increased significance from his work. The lot was introduced, doubtless, to check the tendency to elect only the old chiefs. It was regarded as an appeal to the gods, and its use was always accompanied by religious ceremonies.

E.   The Tyrants.

The reforms of Solon did not end the turbulent strife of factions. Bitter feuds followed between the Plain (wealthy landowners), the Shore (merchants), and the Mountain (shepherds and small farmers). Twice within ten years, anarchy prevented the election of an archon at all, and once an archon tried to make himself tyrant by holding over without reelection.

Peisistratus, 560-527.— From such anarchy the city was saved by Peisistratus, a kinsman of Solon, who in 560 B.C. made himself tyrant by help of the democratic faction. Twice the nobles drove liim into exile, once for ten years, but each time he recovered his power almost without bloodshed. His rule was mild, wise, and popular. He lived simply, like other citizens, and appeared in a law court to answer in a suit against him; and he always treated the aged Solon with deep respect, despite the latter’s bitter opposition. Indeed, he governed through the forms of Solon’s constitution, and enforced his laws, taking care only to have his own friends elected to the chief offices,—more like the “boss” of a great political “machine” than like a “tyrant.” During his third rule, however, he did secure himself by mercenary soldiers and by banishing many hostile nobles. He encouraged commerce, enlarged and beautified Athens, built aqueducts and roads, and drew to his court a brilliant circle of poets, painters, architects, and sculptors from all Hellas. The first complete edition of the Homeric poems is said to have been put together at his command and expense. Anacreon wrote his graceful odes at the Peisistratid court, and Thespis began Greek tragedy at the magnificent festivals there instituted to Dionysus (god of wine). The public worship was given new splendor in other ways, and rural festivals were instituted to make country life more attractive. Solon’s peasant proprietors were increased in number by the division of the confiscated estates of banished nobles among landless freemen. The three higher property classes paid a five per cent income tax (at first ten per cent), but in return they were taught the value of peace and order. Attica was no longer plundered by invasion or torn by dissension. Since the Athenians could not yet govern themselves, it was well they had a Peisistratus.

Expulsion of the Peisistratidae.— In 527, Peisistratus was succeeded by his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus. The latter was murdered because of a private grudge, and the terrified Hippias exchanged his previous kindly rule for a cruel and suspicious policy that ripened revolt. Cleisthenes, one of the exiled nobles, saw his opportunity. His family (wealthy even in exile) had just rebuilt the burned temple of Apollo at Delphi with much greater magnificence than the contract had demanded, using Parian marble for the prescribed limestone; and now (according to Herodotus) Cleisthenes “bribed” the oracle to order the Spartans, whenever they applied for advice on any matter, to “set free the Athenians.” In consequence a reluctant Spartan army did finally march against Hippias, and he was expelled in 510 B.C.

F.    Cleisthenes— A Democracy.

The Athenians were now in confusion again, but the outcome proved that they had gained in strength and in power to govern themselves. An oligarchic party that strove for a reaction was defeated by the democrats, led by the returned Cleisthenes. A Spartan army restored the oligarchs for a moment, but was itself soon besieged in the Acropolis, and captured by the aroused democracy. The Thebans and Euboeans had seized what seemed a time of confusion and weakness to invade Attica, but were routed by a double engagement in one day. The Athenians had enjoyed little fame in war, “but now,” says Aristotle, they showed that men would fight more bravely for themselves than for a master.” Chalcis in Euboea was stormed, and its trade with Thrace fell to Athens. At the same time Athens began her special kind of colonization by sending four thousand citizens to possess the best land of Chalcis, and to serve as a garrison there. These men retained full Athenian citizenship. They were known as cleruchs, or out-settlers. In this way Athens was to find land for her surplus population, to strengthen her democratic tendencies, and to fortify her influence abroad ç— all without decreasing her fighting strength.

During the war Athens made fresh strides toward completing the work of Solon by adopting a more democratic constitution, proposed by Cleisthenes. The general design was to develop the democratic features of the older constitution and to weaken the aristocratic ones. It also aimed to get rid of family and local faction, and to strengthen the state by bringing in new citizens.

The tendency to factiousness arose (a) from the method of voting by clans and tribes in tbe Assembly, so that the clans rallied voluntarily each around its clan chief, and (b) from the continued jealousy of Plain, Shore, and Mountain.

The presence of a non-citizen class needs a longer explanation. Solon’s reforms had concerned tribesmen only; and probably in his day few strangers lived permanently in Attica. But in the intervening ninety years, especially under the good rule of Peisistratus, the growing trade of Athens had drawn many aliens there. These were men of enterprise and sometimes of wealth; but though they lived in the city, they had no part in its religion, its politics, its law, or its society. No alien could marry an Athenian or hold land. The city might find it pay to protect his property, in order to attract other strangers to add to the prosperity of the State; but he had no secure legal rights of any kind, because law was a matter of city and clan religion. Nor could his son or his son’s son, nor any later descendant, acquire any of these rights by residence in Athens. Society was based on blood relationship. By adoption into an Athenian clan, single strangers from time to time won positions as citizens; but only a revolution could bring the aliens as a class into the city. The descendants of fugitives and freedmen swelled their numbers, and discontent might make them a danger. Cleisthenes’ plan was to take them into the state, and so make them strengthen it.

This problem was not simply political, like the question of extending the suffrage among a modern people, because there was a religious barrier to be broken down, and because this religious element with the Greeks was the soul of the State. It was different, too, because the outsiders were asking, not political rights, but status, or legal standing. They wanted more secure property rights, and to get these, they had first to get admission into the religion of the city.

The Demes and Geographical Tribes.— The fundamental political change introduced by Cleisthenes was the substitution of geographical units for the old blood units (clans and tribes). This was the soul of his reform, as the land legislation was of Solon’s. Directly or indirectly, it made possible the correction of other chief evils. The plan itself was very simple. Attica was marked off into a hundred divisions called demes. Each citizen was enrolled in one of these, and his son after him. Such eurollment, instead of the old clan connection, became the proof of citizenship. Indeed, in future, a man took his surname from his deme, and no longer from Tiis clan. The clan survived only for religious and social purposes. In all political respects it was superseded by the deme, which became the unit of local government within the city. Each deme had its demarch, or chief, its deme-assembly, and its deme-treasury.

Ten of these demes—not adjacent, but scattered as widely as possible so as to include the various local interests—composed a “tribe,” or ward; and these artificial tribes replaced the old blood tribes in the Assembly. By this arrangement, a clan—whose members now made parts, perhaps, of several “tribes”—could no longer act politically as a unit. Thus the influence of the clan chiefs declined, and other citizens were more likely to be chosen to office. Shore and Mountain, too, no longer had distinct rallying points. This one device cut away the fulcrum of both family and local faction and also of aristocratic power. It helped likewise to solve the more difficult problem of admitting the non-citizen class. When all old associations were being broken tip and all citizens were being distributed in the new demes, it was comparatively easy for Cleisthenes to accomplish this other great reform and to enroll also the noncitizen class. Thus the metics (stranger-sojourners), of that day became citizens; and fresh, progressive, democratic influences were again incorporated into Athenian life. It must not be supposed, however, that outlanders continued to gain admission in future, as with us, by easy naturalization. The act applied only to those then, in Athens and to their descendants. In a few years another metic class grew up, with all the old disadvantages. Such a class was a constant phenomenon in the ancient city democracies, where political power always rested on descent or adoption except for some wholesale revolutionary incorporations, like the one just described. It is true that now for a while the Athenians did permit intermarriage with aliens, and that the children of such marriages became full citizens, but the older exclusive rule was afterward restored.

The Power of the Assembly was greatly enlarged. Any citizen might now introduce new business directly, and the senate was expected to submit to the Assembly all matters of importance. The Assembly also elected archons and other officers, and tried them. It dealt with foreign affairs, taxation, and even with the details of military campaigns. To be sure, it took time for the Assembly to realize its full power and to learn how to control its various agents, but its rise to supreme authority was now only a matter of natural growth.

The senate was enlarged to five hundred—fifty by lot from each of the ten “tribes.” The five hundred divided themselves into ten committees of fifty each, and one of these committees was always in session. Ten generals, or strategic were elected annually from Solon’s first three classes, to share the control of military matters with the pole-march. The archons and the Areopagus were not seriously affected.   .

Ostracism.— The most peculiar and original device of Cleisthenes aimed in another way to prevent faction. Solon had thought civil strife inevitable, and had sought only to force all to take sides, so that the bad man might not win through the indifference of the multitude. Cleisthenes tried by ingenious means to head off civil strife altogether. Once a year the Assembly was given a chance to vote by ballot (on pieces of pottery, “ostraka”), each one against any man whom he deemed dangerous to the State. If six thousand votes were cast, the man receiving the largest number went into honorable exile for ten years. The plan was abused by politicians to remove, not dangerous men, but personal rivals, and was dropped after about a century. Only three or four cities ever imitated it.




This brilliant, jostling society, which had just awakened to national consciousness, which had been sowing Hellenic cities broadcast along the Mediterranean shores, and which was now developing political democracy, was marked also by new forms of intellectual activity. Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture, all began to show a Greek character, though none of them yet reached full bloom. The chief centers of such arts in this period were Miletus and Ephesus in Ionia, and Athens under Peisistratus.

In poetry there was a more complete development. Verse is older than prose; and in this age Solon argued his politics, and Thales his philosophy, in verse. This section, however, is concerned with that poetry which is more properly literature. The earlier Greek poetry had been made up of narrative ballads, celebrating wars and heroes, sung by wandering bards and harpers. The form and meter were simple and uniform. The longer and greater of such compositions rose to epic poetry, of which the Iliad and Odyssey were the great examples. Their epoch is called the Epic Age.

In contrast, the seventh and sixth centuries are styled the Lyric Age. The prevailing poetry consisted of odes and songs in a great variety of complex meters—expressive of the more varied life of the time. These poems (to be accompanied by the lyre) were descriptive of feelings rather than of outward events. Love and pleasure are the common themes; and, if a story is told at all, it is always in order to appeal to some emotion. The more famous poets of the period are grouped below.

a.    Lyric and Elegiac Poets. — Seventh and sixth centuries.

From Lesbos : Alcaeus; Avion, patronized by Periander, tyrant of Corinth; Sappho, whom the ancients were wont to designate simply “the poetess,” just as they referred to Homer as “the poet”; Terpander. From Ceos: Simonides, whose odes incited to Hellenic patriotism, and who lived over into the next age.

From Teos: Anacreon.

From Paros: Archilochus, who wrote war songs.

From Ephesus: Callinus.

From Attica (?): Tyrtaeus, a war poet at Sparta in the Second Mes-senian War.

From Ionia (?), but living at Sparta: Aleman.

From Sicily: Stesichorus.

From Megara: Theognis, poet of the oligarchs against the people.

From Boeotia: Corinna, a woman; and Pindar, who belongs also to the next age.

Pindar was a Theban noble, and was accounted the greatest Greek lyric poet. Professor Jebb says of him (Primer, 68) : “The glory of his song has passed forever from the world, with the sound of the rolling harmonies on which it once was borne, with the splendor of rushing chariots and athletic forms around which it threw its radiance, with the white-pillared cities of the Aegean in which it wrought its spell, with the beliefs and joys which it ennobled; but those who love his poetry, and who strive to enter into its high places, can still know that they breathe a pure and bracing air, and can still feel vibrating through a clear, calm sky the strong pulse of an eagle’s wings, as he soars with steady eyes against the sun.”

b.    Other Poets.— Hesiod (eighth century), from Boeotia: poetic history of creation and of the gods (Theogony), and didactic poems on agriculture in the different seasons (Works and Days); Thespis, of Megara, who under patronage of Peisistratus at Athens begins dramatic poetry (which was to be the characteristic form of literature in the next century and was to remain centered at Athens).

Philosophy. — It was in the sixth century, too, that Greek philosophy was born. Its home was in Ionia. There first the Greek mind set out fearlessly and systematically to explain the origin of things. Thales of Miletus, father of Greek philosophy, taught that all things came from Water, or moisture. His pupil Anaximines substituted Air for Water as the universal first principle. Pythagoras, born at Samos, but teaching in Magna Graecia, sought the fundamental principle, not in a kind of matter, but in Number, or harmony. Xenophanes of Ionia, but also living in Italy, affirmed that the only real existence was that of God, one and changeless—neither in body like unto mortals, neither in mind; the changing world, he said, did not exist; it was only a deception of men’s senses. To Heracleitus of Ephesus, on the other hand, ceaseless change itself was the very principle of things; the world had evolved from a fiery ether, and was in constant flux. Heradeitus lived on well into the fifth century, and was the last of the great Ionian philosophers.

This early speculative philosophy was closely related to early science. Thales was the first Greek to predict eclipses. Anaximander of Miletus (whose philosophical doctrines are too abstruse to deal with here) made maps and globes. The Pythagoreans naturally paid special attention to Geometry, and to Pythagoras is ascribed the famous demonstration regarding the square on the hypothenuse of a triangle. His followers had many mystical ideas, but they were the first to regard Philosophy as a guide to human life. The harmony in the material universe must be matched, they held, by a harmony in the soul of man.

Religion and Morality.— The two religions, of the clan and of Olympus, have been briefly described. Neither had much to do with conduct toward men until the later moral sense of the people put morality into them and explained away, as allegorical, the old immoral stories of the gods. Such a divorce of religion and morality is common among early peoples. The Greek moral ideas are to be sought in their philosophy, literature, and history, rather than in their theology. Their good sense and clear intellect had freed their religion from the grossest features of Oriental worship, but it kept traces of its savage origin in the habits of bedaubing and torturing initiates, in the drunkenness and indecency of the Bacchic festivals, and in various features of the “Mysteries,” though these things were now overlaid by more refined ideas.

The early Greeks believed in a place of terrible punishment for a few great offenders against the gods, and in an Elysium of supreme pleasure for a very few others particularly favored by the gods. For the mass of men, however, the future life was to be “a washed-out copy of the brilliant life on earth”—its pleasures and pains both shadowy. Thus Ulysses meets Achilles in the home of the dead: —

“And he knew me straightway when he had drunk the dark blood; yea, and he wept aloud, and shed big tears as he stretched forth his hands in his longing to reach me. But it might not be, for he had now no steadfast strength nor power at all in moving, such as was aforetime in his supple limbs ... But lo, other spirits of the dead that be departed stood sorrowing, and each one asked of those that were dear to them.” — Odyssey.

And in their discourse, Achilles exclaims sorrowfully: —

“Nay, speak not comfortably to me of death, O great Ulysses. Rather would I live on ground as the hireling of another, even with a lack-land man who had no great livelihood, than bear sway among all the dead.”

Later philosophers, like Socrates, rose to higher conceptions; but for most Greeks, even in the best periods, the future life remained unreal and unimportant. The remarkable quotations given below represent the mountain peaks, not the general level, of Greek thought on this subject

The Greeks accepted frankly the search for pleasure as natural and proper. Self-sacrifice had little place in their ideal; and Christianity, in its aspect as a worship of divine sorrow, is altogether foreign to their ideas. They were moved, not by the Christian spiritual passion for the beauty of holiness, but by an intellectual perception of the beauty of moderation and temperance.

Individual characters at once lofty and lovable were not numerous. No society ever produced so many great men, but many societies have produced better men. Greek excellence was intellectual rather than moral. Trickery and wily deceit mark most of the greatest names, and not even physical or moral bravery can be called a national characteristic.

At the same time, a few individuals do tower to great heights, though those heights were very different from the nobler ideals of modern society; and a few Greek teachers give us some of the noblest morality of the world. Says Mahaffy, after acknowledging the cruelty and barbarity of Greek life: —

“ Socrates and-Plato are far superior to the Jewish moralists; they are superior to the average Christian moralist; it is only in the matchless teaching of Christ himself that we find them surpassed.”


Mahaffy : Social life in Greece from Homer to Menander



ILLUSTRATIVE EXTRACTS. (Mostly from the fifth century.)

Odyssey, xiv. 83-84. — “Verily, the blessed gods love not froward deeds, but they reverence justice and the righteous acts of men.”

From Theognis.— “I will teach you, Cyrnus, a lesson which as a child I learned from the good: ‘ Never, for the honor, or excellence, or wealth, that may come of it, do aught that is base, or shameful, or unjust.’ ”

“Never taunt a poor man with his poverty: God gives wealth as he will; a man may be very rich and very base, but virtue is the portion of the few.”

“We live like children, and the Almighty plan controls the fro ward children of weak men.”

From Menander (a later period). — “He is the best man who knows how to control himself when injured, for this hot temper and bitterness is evidence of a little mind.”

“Prefer to be injured rather than to injure.”

From Aeschylus.

“The lips of Zeus know not to’speak a lying speech,

But will perform each single word.”

“I think not any of the gods is bad.”

“Justice shines in smoke-grimed houses and holds in regard the life that is righteous; she leaves with averted eyes the gold-bespangled palace which is unclean, and goes to the abode that is holy.”

From Sophocles.

“Nor did I deem thy edicts strong enough That thou, a mortal man, should’st overpass The unwritten laws of God that know no change.”

Socrates, to his Judges after his condemnation to death. (Plato’s Apology.)

“Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this of a truth — that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods. . . . The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our waysI to die, you to live. Which is better, God only knows.”

From Plato’s Republic.— “ My counsel is that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow justice and virtue, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus we shall live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here, and when, like conquerors in the games, we go to receive our reward.”

A Prayer of Socrates (from Plato’s Phaedrus). — “Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in The inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as none but the temperate can carry.”






In the sixth century this bustling, aggressive Greek world had seemed on the point of conquering the East merely by diffusing its influence through all lands. The expansion of Greek colonies has been noted; but the movement was wider than mere colonization. Greek cities were formed within the ancient monarchy of Egypt; Greek mercenaries upheld the throne of the Pharaohs, and at the same time made the strength of the armies of Babylon and Lydia; even the commerce of the East was passing from Phoenician to Greek hands. Fortunately this process was arrested before the Greek genius was too much weakened and diluted. Now came an event which severed the Greek world from Asia and threw it back upon Europe, to develop more fully its distinctive European traits before it again entered Asia. Persia within half a century had absorbed four great empires,—Media, Babylon, Egypt, and Lydia. Next it attacked the little, straggling, disunited Greek states.

The contest fills two hundred years and falls into three periods. In the first (500-479 B.C., the period of this chapter), the European Hellenes are on the defensive. In the second and longest period (479-338 B.C.), the struggle is fitful, and concerns the freedom of the Asiatic Greeks. In the third period (338-323 B.C.), Hellas—her civilization now perfected—conquers and Hellenizes Asia. In all this time the relations with Persia dominate Greek politics. To a still broader view, these two centuries of conflict appear only as an opening episode in a struggle between East and West that has gone on ever since—with the Mohammedan attack, the crusades, the Tartar invasion, and the “eternal Eastern Question” of our own time, for later phases.



Three Sections of Hellas were prominent in power and culture: the European peninsula (which we may call Greece), Asiatic Hellas with the coast islands, and Magna Graecia. Elsewhere the cities were too scattered, or too small, or too busy with their own defense against surrounding savages, to be of great significance for the approaching contest. Asiatic Greece was already subject to Persia. The two other sections were now to be attacked simultaneously by Persia and Carthage respectively.

Carthage, on the north coast of Africa, was a colony of Phoenicia. It had built up a great empire of an Oriental nature, and was now about to try to seize Sicily. That island, bringing Africa and Europe within reach of each other, was an important point from which to Control Mediterranean trade. The Greek cities in Sicily and Italy were ruled by tyrants; and thpse, uniting under Celon of Syracuse, were to meet the Carthaginian onset successfully witlrtheir armies of disciplined mercenaries. That story need not be told in detail.

In Greece, small as the forces seemed that could be mustered against the master of the world, they were further wasted and divided in internal struggles. Athens was at war with Aegina and with Thebes; Sparta had renewed the ancient strife with Argos, and had crippled her for a generation by slaying in one battle almost the whole body of adult Argives; and Phocis wras engaged in a wasting struggle with Thessalians on one side and with Boeotians on the other. Worse than all this, domestic strife tore individual cities. The disappearance of the tyrants had been followed everywhere by fresh feuds between classes. The oligarchs were often of Dorian descent, while the democracies commonly were of the conquered Ionic blood. Dorian Sparta had interfered many times in the “age of tyrants” to drive out those oppressors of the oligarchs, and now she continued to support the oligarchs against the democracies.

Sparta was in a sense the head of Greece. She lacked the enterprise and daring that were to make Athens the city of the coming century; but her government was firm, her army was large and disciplined, and so far she had shown more genius than any other Greek state, in organizing her neighbors into a military league. Two fifths of the Peloponnesus she ruled directly, and all the other cities of the peninsula, except Argos, including Corinth and Megara on the Isthmus, formed a war-confederacy of which Sparta was the center. The union was very slight, it is true. On special occasions, at the call of Sparta, the states sent deputies to a conference to discuss peace or war; but there was no constitution, no common treasury, not even a general treaty. Each state was bound to Sparta by its separate treaty, and in case of war it was expected to maintain a certain number of troops for the confederate army; but the union was so loose that the separate cities might, and did, make war upon each other inside the league. Still, this Peloponnesian League was unquestionably the greatest war power in Hellas, and it afforded the one rallying-point for disunited Greece in the coming struggle with the Barbarian.



Croesus became king of Lydia in the same year in which Peisistratus became tyrant of Athens. He soon added to his kingdom all the Greek cities of Asia Minor. To this tme, the Asiatic Hellenes had excelled all other branches of the race in culture. Their names show their preeminence in letters and science. Luxury and refinement were developed among them, and to these qualities their failure to maintain their independence is sometimes ascribed; but it seems unlikely that European Greeks themselves could have preserved their liberty, had they dwelt in so close vicinity to the great Asiatic empires.

Croesus had favored his Greek subjects, and they aided him cordially against Persia. When he was overthrown, the Greek cities continued, their resistance. They applied in vain to Sparta for aid. Then Thales, the philosopher, at a council of the Ionian Greeks, urged a federation. The Greeks could not rise to so wise a plan. Some of the people emigrated to found free colonies; but the cities fell one by one to Cyrus, and under Persian despotism their old superiority over other Greeks soon vanished.

Before the conquest by Persia, the Ionian cities had begun to get rid of tyrants; but the Persians set them up everywhere again, as the easiest means of control. In the year 500 B.C., however, by a general rising, the Ionians deposed their tyrants and broke into revolt against Persia. Another appeal to Sparta proved fruitless; but Athens sent them twenty ships, and little Eretria sent five. The allies took Sardis, the old capital of Lydia, and were then joined by the other Asiatic Greeks. But treachery and mutual suspicion were rampant; Persian gold was used skillfully; and one defeat broke np the league, after which the cities were again subdued, one by one, in the four years following.



According to legend, the Persian attack upon European Greece was caused directly by the desire to punish Athens for sending aid to the Ionian rebels. No doubt Athens was pointed out by this act for special vengeance; but the Persian invasion would have come in any case, and would have come some years sooner had the war in Ionia not occupied the Persians. Their steadily expanding frontier had reached Thessaly just before 500 B.C., and the same motives that had carried their arms through Thrace and Macedonia would have carried them on into Greece. The real significance of the Ionian war was that it helped to delay the main Persian onset until the Greeks were better prepared.

Now that the Ionian disturbance was over, the Persian advance began again. Heralds appeared in the cities of Greece to demand “earth and water,” in token of submission to the Great King. The island states yielded at once; in continental Greece in general the demand was quietly refused; but at Athens and Sparta, despite the sacred character of all ambassadors, the messengers were thrown at the one city into a pit, and at the other into a well, to “take thence what they wanted.”

Marathon.— The first great attack came by way of Thrace, and was rendered harmless by a storm: the Persian fleet accompanying the army was shattered on the rocks of Mount Athos. Two years later, Darius sent a second expedition directly across the Aegean. Eretria was captured, through treachery, and her citizens sent in chains to Persia. Then the armament landed at the plain of Marathon in Attica, to punish the greater city that had dared to send troops to Asia. From the rising ground where the hills of Pentelicus meet the plain, the ten thousand Athenian hoplites faced the Persian host for the first struggle between Greeks and Asiatics on European ground. A swift runner had run the hundred and fifty miles of rugged hill country to implore the promised aid from Sparta, reaching that city on the second day; but the Spartans waited a week, on the ground that an old law forbade them to set out on a military expedition before the full moon. The Boeotian city of Plataea, however, remembering how Athens had protected it against Thebes, joined the little Greek army with its full strength of a thousand hoplites. Without other help, the Athenians won a marvelous victory over ten times their number of the most famous soldiery in the world. The result was due to the generalship of Miltiades, the Athenian commander, and to the superior equipment of the Greek hoplites. The charge of their dense array, with long, outstretched spears, by its sheer weight broke the light-armed Persian lines, utterly unprepared for conflict on such terms. The darts and light scimeters of the Persians made little impression upon the heavy bronze armor of the Greeks, while linen tunics and wicker shields counted for little against the thrust of the Greek spear. One hundred and ninety-two Athenians fell. The Persians left over sixty-four hundred dead upon the field

Natural as the result came to seem in later times, it took high courage at that day to stand before the hitherto unconquered Persians, even without such adverse odds. “The Athenians,” says Herodotus, “were the first of the Greeks to face the Median garments, whereas up to this time the very name of Mede had been a terror to the Hellenes.” Athens broke the spell, and grew herself to heroic stature in an hour. The memory of Marathon became the richest inheritance of the Athenians, and inspired them to daring enterprise. The sons of the men who conquered on that field could find no odds too crushing, no prize too dazzling, in the years to come. It was now that the Athenian character first showed itself as Thucydides described it a century later: “The Athenians are the only people who succeed to the full extent of their hope, because they throw themselves without reserve into whatever they resolve to do.”



Themistocles.— Marathon, together with an Egyptian revolt against Persia, gained the Greeks ten years more of respite; but except in Athens little use was made of the interval. In that city the guiding spirit had come to be Themistocles, one of the most energetic and statesman-like leaders in all history. Under his guidance the Athenian democracy grew in unity and power. Two especially important measures are noted in the following sections.

Athens crushed Internal Faction by weakening and terrorizing the oligarchs. This involved the ruin of Miltiades, the hero of Marathon. He was an Athenian noble who had formerly made himself tyrant of Chersonese. Not long before the Persian invasion he had incurred the hatred of the Great King and had fled to Athens, where he became at once a prominent supporter of the oligarchic party. The democrats tried to prosecute him for his previous “tyranny,” but the attempt failed, and his genius was available at Marathon. Soon after, he failed in a military expedition against Paros, and this time the democrats secured his condemnation. He died shortly after in prison; and the blow was followed by the ostracism of some oligarchic leader each season for several years, until that party was utterly broken and Athens was freed from danger of internal dissension.

The victorious democrats divided into new parties on questions of policy. Aristeides, “the Just” led the more moderate wing, content with the Cleisthenian constitution and inclined to follow old customs. Themistocles headed the more radical faction, and was bent upon a great departure from all past custom. The two appealed to the ostracism, and fortunately Aristeides was banished.

Some new and rich veins of silver had just been discovered in the mines of Attica, and it had been proposed to divide the large revenue among the citizens. Themistocles now persuaded his countrymen to reject this tempting plan; and instead to bnild a great fleet. He saw that the real struggle with Persia was yet to come, and that for a country like Hellas, the final issue must be decided by the command of the sea,—where, too, the Greeks could not be so infinitely outnumbered. The policy, wise though it was, broke with all tradition. No European Greeks up to this time had used ships in war in any considerable measure; and Attica was utterly insignificant upon the sea. But, thanks to Themistocles, in the next three years Athens became the greatest naval power in Hellas; and the decisive victory of Salamis was to be the result.

The Greeks and the Persians



Meantime, happily for the world, Darius had died, and the invasion of Greece fell to his vain and feeble son, Xerxes. Marathon had proved that no Persian fleet could transport troops sufficient for the enterprise, so the route through Thessaly was tried again. Another such accident as had wrecked the first expedition was guarded against by the construction of a ship-canal through the isthmus of Mount Athos — a great engineering work that took three years. Meantime, supplies were collected at stations along the way; the Hellespont was bridged; and finally, in the spring of 480 B.C., Xerxes in person led a mighty host of many nations into Europe. Ancient reports put the Asiatics at from one and a half to two millions of soldiers, with followers and attendants to raise the total to five millions. Modern critics think Xerxes may have had some half-million effective troops, with numerous followers. A fleet of twelve hundred ships accompanied the army.

The danger forced the Greeks into something like common action: into a greater unity, indeed, than they had ever known so far, unless in the legendary war against Asiatic Troy. Sparta and Athens joined in calling an Hellenic congress at the Isthmus, in the spring of 480 B.C. The deputies that appeared bound their cities by oath to mutual aid, and pledged their common efforts to punish any states that should “Medize,” or join Persia. Plans of campaign were discussed, and Sparta was recognized formally as leader. Ancient feuds were pacified, and messengers were sent to implore aid from outlying portions of Hellas, though with little result. Crete excused herself on a superstitious scruple; Corcyra promised a fleet, but took care it should not arrive; and Gelon of Syracuse had his hands full at home with the Carthaginian invasion. Indeed, the double attack by Asia and Africa upon the two sections of the Greek race was probably concerted to prevent any joining of Hellenic forces.

The outlook was full of gloom. Argos, out of hatred of Sparta, and Thebes, from jealousy of Athens, refused to attend the congress, and were ready to join Xerxes. Even the Delphic oracle predicted ruin, advised submission, and warned the Athenians to flee to the ends of the earth.

Against a land attack the Greeks had three lines of defense. The first was at the Vale of Tempe near Mount Olympus, where only a narrow pass opened into Thessaly. The second was at Thermopylae, where the mountains shut off northern from central Greece, except for a still narrower road. The third was behind the Isthmus of Corinth.

At the congress, the Peloponnesians had wished selfishly to abandon the first two lines. They urged that all patriotic Greeks should retire at once within the Peloponnesus, the final citadel of Greece, and fortify the Isthmus by an impregnable ^vall. This plan was as foolish as it was selfish. Greek troops might have held the Isthmus against a land army; but the Peloponnesus was readily open to attack by sea, and the Persian fleet would have found it easier here than at either of the other lines of defense to land troops in the Greek rear without losing touch with its own army. Such a surrender of two thirds of Greece, too, would have meant a tremendous reenforcement of the enemy by excellent Greek soldiery.

The Loss of Thessaly.— Sparta had no gift for going to meet an enemy, but must await its attack on its own terms. From fifty thousand to one hundred thousand men should have held the Vale of Tempe. The feeble and insufficient garrison sent there retreated wisely before the Persians appeared. Xerxes entered Greece without a blow, and the Thessalian cities, so deserted by their allies, joined the invaders with their powerful cavalry. 

Thermopylae.—This made it evident, even to Spartan statesmen, that to abandon central Greece would strengthen Xerxes further, and it was decided in a half-hearted way to make a stand at Thermopylae. The pass was only some twenty feet wide between the cliff and the sea, and the only other path was one over the mountain, equally easy to defend. The long island of Euboea approached the mainland just opposite the pass, so that the Greek fleet in the narrow water passage could guard the land army against having troops landed in the rear. The Athenians furnished and manned one hundred and twenty-seven ships of the fleet (out of a total of two hundred and seventy). The land defense had been left to the Peloponnesian league and the other non-maritime states. A shamefully small force was sent for this important duty. The Spartan king Leonidas lay in the pass with three hundred Spartans and three thousand other Peloponnesian hoplites, besides light-armed Helots and a few thousand allies from central Greece. The main force of Spartans was again left at home, on the ground of a religious festival. Battle was joined on land and sea, and raged for three days. Four hundred Persian ships were wrecked in a storm, and the rest were checked by the Greek fleet in a sternly contested conflict at Artemisium. On land, Xerxes flung column after column of chosen troops into the pass, to be beaten back each time in rout. But on the second night Ephialtes, “The Judas of Greece,” guided a force of Persians over the mountain path, which, with criminal carelessness, had been left insufficiently guarded. Leonidas’ position could no longer be held. The allies withdrew, but the three Hundred Spartans remained with their king to die in the pass their country had sent them to protect. Sparta had shown no capacity to command in this great crisis, but her citizens could set Greece an example of calm heroism that has stirred the world ever since. In later times the burial place of the three hundred was marked by this inscription: “ Stranger, tell at Sparta that we lie here in obedience to her laws.”

At the moment, Thermopylae was disastrous. Xerxes advanced on Athens and was joined by nearly all the states of central Greece, while the Theban oligarchs welcomed him with genuine joy. The Peloponnesians would risk no further battle outside their own peninsula, and the Athenians took refuge on their fleet. Delphi had finally prophesied safety for them within “wooden walls.” Some thought the palisade of the Acropolis was meant, but Themistocles, who perhaps had secured the prophecy, persuaded his fellow-citizens to put their trust in the wooden walls of their ships. The Spartan admiral, by persistent entreaty, had been brought to delay the retreat of the fleet long enough to help remove the women and children from Athens. But Themistocles was determined also that the decisive battle should be fought at this spot. The narrow strait between the shore and Salamis helped to compensate for the smaller numbers of the Greeks; and it was evident to his insight that if the fleet withdrew to Corinth, as the Corinthians insisted it should do, all chance of united action would be lost: some contingents would sail home to defend their own cities against Persian demonstrations; and others, like those of Megara and Aegina, their cities deserted, might join the Persians. The Athenians furnished two hundred of the three hundred and seventy-eight ships now in the fleet; and though with wise and generous patriotism they had yielded the chief command to Sparta, with her ten ships, still of course Themistocles carried weight in the council of captains. It was he who, by persuasion, entreaties, and bribes had kept the despairing allies from abandoning the land forces at Thermopylae. A similar but greater task now fell to him. Debate waxed fierce in the night council. Arguments were exhausted, and Themistocles had recourse to threats and stratagems. The Corinthian admiral sneered that they need not regard a man who no longer represented a Greek city; the Athenian retorted that he represented two hundred ships and could make a city where he chose; and by a threat to sail away to found a new Athens in Italy he forced the allies to remain. Even then the decision would have been reconsidered had not the wily Athenian induced Xerxes, by a secret message, pretending treachery, to block up the strait. The news of this Persian move was brought to the Greek chiefs by Aristeides, whose ostracism had been revoked and who now slipped through the hostile fleet in his single ship to join his countrymen.

The Battle of Salamis.— The Persian fleet more than doubled the Greek, and was itself largely made up of Asiatic Greeks, while the Phoenicians who composed the remainder were redoubtable sailors. The conflict lasted the next day from dawn to night, but the Greek victory was overwhelming.

“A king sat on the rocky brow

Which looks o’er sea-horn Salamis ;

And ships by thousands lay below,

And men in nations, — all were his.

He counted them at break of day,

And when the sun set, where were they ?”

Aeschylus, who fought on board an Athenian ship, gives a noble picture of the battle in his drama, The Persians. The speaker is a Persian recounting the event to the Persian queen mother: —

“ Not in flight

The Hellenes then their solemn paeans sang,

But with brave spirits hastening on to battle.         ,

With martial sound the trumpet tired those ranks:

And straight with sweep of oars that flew thro’ foam,

They smote the loud waves at the boatswain’s call;

And swiftly all were manifest to sight.

Then first their right wing moved in order meet;

Next the whole line its forward course began ;

And all at once we heard a mighty shout —

‘Osons of Hellenes, forward, free your country ;

Free, too, your wives, your children, and the shrines

Built to your fathers' Gods, and holy tombs

Your ancestors now rest in. The fight

Is for our all. . . .

. . . And the hulls of ships

Floated capsized, nor could the sea he seen,

Filled as it was with wrecks and carcasses;

And all the shores and rocks were full of corpses,

And every ship was wildly rowed in flight,

All that composed the Persian armament.

And they, as men spear tunnies, or a haul

Of other fishes, with the shafts of oars,

Or spars of wrecks, wrent smiting, cleaving down;

And bitter groans and wailings overspread

The wide sea waves, till eye of swarthy night

Bade it all cease: —and for the mass of ills,

Not, tho’ my tale should run for ten full days,

Could I in full recount them. Be assured

That never yet so great a multitude

Died in a single day as died in this.”


On the day of Salamis the Sicilian Greeks won their decisive victory over the Carthaginians at Himera. That battle closed the struggle for a while in the west. In Greece the Persian chances were still good. Xerxes returned at once to Asia with his shattered fleet, but his general Mardonius remained in Thessaly with three hundred thousand chosen troops to renew the struggle in the spring.

The Athenians began courageously to rebuild their city, which Xerxes had laid in ashes. In the early spring, Mardonius sent them an offer of favorable alliance, with the restoration of their city at Persian expense—a compliment which showed that he at least knew where lay the soul of the Greek resistance. The terrified Spartans sent in haste to beg the Athenians, with many promises, not to desert the cause of Hellas. There was no need of such anxiety. The Athenians sent back the Persian messenger: “Tell Mardonius that so long as the sun holds on his way in heaven the Athenians will come to no terms with Xerxes.” They courteously declined the Spartan offer of aid in rebuilding their city, but did urge them to take the field early enough so that Athens need not be again abandoned. Mardonius approached rapidly. The Spartans found another sacred festival before which it would not do to leave their homes, and the Athenians in bitter disappointment a second time took refuge at Salamis. With their city in his hands, Mardonius offered them again the same favorable terms of honorable alliance. Only one of the Athenian Council favored even submitting the matter to the people, and he was instantly stoned by the enraged populace while the women inflicted a like cruel fate upon his wife and children. We may regret that the nobility of the Athenian policy should have been sullied by such violence, but nothing can seriously obscure their heroic self-sacrifice, unparalleled in history. Mardonius burned Athens second time, laid waste the farms over Attica, cut down the olive groves, and then retired to the level plains of Boeotia.

Plataea, 479 B.C. — Athenian envoys had been at Sparta for weeks entreating instant action, but had been put off with meaningless delays. The fact was, Sparta still clung to the stupid plan of defending only the Isthmus. Some of her keener allies, however, at last made the ephors see the uselessness of the wall at Corinth if the Athenians should be forced to join Persia with their fleet; then Sparta finally acted with energy, and gave a striking proof of her resources. One morning the Athenian envoys, who were about to announce their wrathful departure, were told, to their amazement, that fifty thousand Peloponnesian troops had been put in motion during the night. The Athenian forces and other reenforcements raised the total to about one hundred thousand. The final contest with Mardonius was fought near the little town of Plataea. Spartan generalship blundered sadly, and most of the allies were not brought into the fight; but the stubborn Spartan valor and the Athenian skill and dash won a victory which became a massacre. It is said that of the two hundred and sixty thousand Persians engaged, only three thousand escaped. The Greeks lost in the battle itself only one hundred and fifty-four men.

Plataea closed the first period of the Persian War. The Persians and Carthaginians were not barbarians in our sense of the word. In some respects they stood for at least as high a civilization as the Greeks then did. They possessed refinement and high moral ideals. Ancient Greece as a Persian province would have had an infinitely happier and more prosperous fate than modern Greece has had for many centuries as a Turkish province. But, none the less, a Persian victory would have meant the extinction of the world’s best hope. The victory of the Greeks decided that the despotism of the East should not crush the individuality of the West in this first home until it had been transplanted into other European lands.

To the Greeks themselves their victory opened a new epoch. It was not only that they were cast back upon themselves for a more European development; they were victors over the greatest of world empires. It was a victory of intellect and spirit over matter. Unlimited confidence gave them still greater power. New energies stirred in their veins and found expression in manifold forms. The matchless bloom of Greek art and thought, in the next two generations, had its roots in the soil of Marathon and Plataea.







Immediately after Plataea, the Athenians began once more to rebuild their temples and homes; but Themistocles persuaded them to leave even these in ashes until they should have surrounded the city with walls. Corinth, jealously eager to keep Athens helpless, urged Sparta to interfere, and, to her shame, that city did send a protest. Such walls, she said, might prove an advantage to the Persians if they should again occupy Athens. The interference was the more cruelly unjust since the helpless condition of the Athenians was due to their heroic sacrifice for Hellas. A Peloponnesian army, however, could hardly have been resisted by ravaged Attica, and Themistocles had recourse to wiles. As Thucydides tells the story: —

“The Athenians, by the advice of Themistocles, replied that they would send an embassy to discuss the matter, and so got rid of the Spartan envoys. He then proposed that he should himself start at once for Sparta, and that they should give him colleagues who were not to go immediately, but were to wait until the wall had reached the lowest height which could possibly be defended. ... On his arrival, he did not at once present himself officially to the magistrates, but delayed and made excuses, and when any of them asked him why he did not appear before the assembly, he said that he was waiting for his colleagues, who had been detained by some engagement ... The friendship of the magistrates for Themistocles induced them to believe him, but when everybody who came from Athens declared positively that the wall was building, and had already reached a considerable height, they knew not what to think. He, aware of their suspicions, desired them not to he misled by reports, but to send to Athens men whom they could trust out of their own number, who would see for themselves and bring back word. They agreed; and he, at the same time, privately instructed the Athenians to detain the envoys as quietly as they could, and not let them go till he and his colleagues had got safely home. For by this time, those who were joined with him in the embassy had arrived, bringing the news that the wall was of sufficient height, and he was afraid that the Lacedaemonians, when they heard the truth, might not allow them to return. So the Athenians detained the envoys, and Themistocles, coming before the Lacedaemonians, at length declared, in so many words, that Athens was now provided with walls and would protect her citizens; henceforward, if the Lacedaemonians wished at any time to negotiate, they must deal with the Athenians as with men who knew quite well what was best for their own and the common good.”

Neglecting all private concerns, the Athenians had toiled with feverish haste—men, women, children, and slaves. To later generations the story was told in part by the irregular nature of the walls. No material was held too precious. Inscribed tablets and fragments of sacred temples, and even monuments from the burial grounds, had been seized for the construction. But Themistocles was not yet content. Athens lay several miles from the shore. In his archonship, some years before, with a view to future naval greatness, he had given the city the improved harbor of the Peiraeus, instead of an open roadstead formerly used; and this port was now fortified, more deliberately than the main city, with a massive wall of solid masonry clamped with iron, sixteen feet broad and thirty feet high, so that old men and boys might easily defend it against any enemy. Thus the Athenians were put in possession of two walled cities, each some seven miles in circuit, and only five miles apart. The metics who had thronged the port had fled at the Persian invasion, but this new security, together with special inducements now held out to strangers, brought back the merchant-class in crowds to contribute to the power and wealth of Athens. It was at this time, too, that Themistocles carried a resolution to add each year twenty ships to the fleet.

Before these events at Athens, while the Greek army was still encamped at Plataea after the victory, it had been agreed to hold there an annual congress of all Greek cities, and constantly to maintain eleven thousand troops and a hundred ships for war against Persia. The proposal for this Pan-Hellenic confederation came from Athens. Of course it looked to Spartan leadership. It was a wise and generous attempt to render permanent the makeshift union that the Persian danger had forced upon the allies. But the episode of the walls proved the hollow nature of the union, and the plan never really went into effect. Instead, Greece fell into two rival leagues, and Athens became head of the more brilliant one.



Prominence of Athens —The repulse of Persia had counted more for the glory of Athens than of Sparta. Athens had made greater sacrifices than any other state. She had shown herself free from petty vanity, and had acted with a broad, Hellenic patriotism. Herodotus, in his history of the war, feels constrained to insist that the victory over Persia was due mainly to the skill, wisdom, and energy of the Athenians. They furnished the best ideas and ablest leaders; and even in the field, Athenian enterprise and vigor had accomplished at least as much as Spartan discipline and valor.

Sparta had been indispensable as a rallying point: but she had shown miserable judgment; her leaders, too often, had proved incapable or corrupt; and now that war was to be carried on at a distance, her lack of enterprise became even more conspicuous. Indeed, events in Asia Minor were already forcing Athens into the leadership to which she was entitled. The European Greeks had been unwilling to follow any but Spartan generals on sea or land; but on the Ionian coast Athens was the more popular city, and her superior activity and fitness at once won recognition.

Athens assumes Leadership of the Ionian Greeks (479 B.C.).— While the Persians on Greek soil still threatened conquest, the Greeks had taken the offensive. In the early spring of 479 B.C., a fleet had crossed the Aegean to assist Samos in a revolt. A Spartan king commanded the expedition, of course, but three fifths of the whole fleet were Athenian ships. On the very day of Plataea, a double victory was won at Mycale on the coast of Asia Minor: the Greeks defeated a great Persian army, and then, storming the fortified camp, seized and burned the three hundred Persian ships. Ho Persian fleet was to show itself again in the Aegean for nearly a hundred years,—until after the fall of Athens. In this decisive battle, the Athenians were fortunate enough to have practically completed the work before the Spartans and their wing of the army were able to reach the field.                 

A general rising of the Ionian cities followed, but the Spartans shrank from the responsibility of admitting them into the Hellenic league and of defending so distant allies against Persia. They proposed instead to transport the Ionians to European Greece and to give them the cities of the Medizing Greeks there. The Ionians of course would not leave their homes, and the Athenians denied the right of Sparta so to decide the fate of “Athenian colonies.” The Spartans seized the excuse to sail home, leaving the Athenians to manage as best they could by themselves. The latter gallantly undertook the task, and began the reduction of the scattered Persian garrisons in the Aegean.

The next year, thinking better of it, Sparta sent Pausanias, the general of Plataea, to take command; but he entered into treasonable correspondence with Xerxes, and by his unendurable insolence so offended the allies that, though his treason was only suspected as yet, they formally invited the Athenians to take the leadership. Another Spartan general arrived to replace Pausanias; but the allies chose to remain under Athenian command, and Sparta, with all the Peloponnesian league, withdrew finally from the war. Athens was thenceforth the recognized head in the struggle to preserve the freedom of the Asiatic Greeks. The league of Plataea was still nominally in existence, but the war was to be waged henceforth on Asiatic shores, and by Greeks who (excepting the Athenians) had had no share in Plataea.

The Confederacy of Delos, 477.— The first step was to organize a more definite confederacy. This work fell to Aristeides; and Athens was as fortunate in her representative as Sparta had been unfortunate in hers. The courtesy and tact of the Athenian won universal favor, and his known integrity inspired a rare confidence in the settlement of the money contributions. The arrangements he proposed were ratified by all the allies, and created the Confederacy of Delos. A congress of the states to direct the affairs of the league was to be held annually at Delos—the seat of an ancient Ionic amphictyony. Each state had one vote. Each paid a yearly contribution to the treasury, and the larger cities furnished also ships and men. Athens was the president city. Her generals commanded the allied fleet, and her delegates presided at the congresses. In return, Athens seems to have borne far more thanher share of the burdens. The purpose of the league was to complete the process of freeing the Aegean and to prevent the return of the Persians. Any city in the vicinity of Asia that should have refused to join would have appeared desirous of reaping the benefit of the confederacy without contributing to its support. The allies seem to have planned a perpetual union. Lumps of iron were thrown into the sea, when the oath of federation was taken, as a symbol that it should be binding until the iron should float. The league remained to the last predominantly Ionian and maritime. It was therefore a natural rival of Sparta’s Dorian continental league.

The confederacy grew rapidly until it took in nearly all the islands of the Aegean and the cities of the northern and eastern coasts. The Persians were expelled from the whole region. Then the great general of the league, Cimon, son of Miltiades, carried the war beyond the Aegean, and won his most famous victory, in 466 B.C., at the mouth of the Eurymedon in Pamphylia, where in one day he destroyed a Persian land host and captured a fleet of two hundred and fifty vessels. After this the Carian and Lycian coasts joined the confederacy. The cities at the mouth of the Black Sea, too, were added; and the trade of that region streamed through the Hellespont to the Peiraeus. Aristophanes speaks of a thousand cities in the league, but only two hundred and eighty are known by name.

After a few years the character of the union altered radically. The details are not known, but we can discover two general tendencies.

a.    The change came largely by a natural growth—because the Athenians were willing to bear burdens and accept responsibilities, while their less energetic allies preferred peace and quiet. Many cities chose to increase their money payments in place of furnishing men and ships, so that before long the navy was solely Athenian. As a natural result, Athens no longer felt it needful to consult the allies as to the operations of the war; the congress ceased to meet; and finally the treasury was removed from Delos to Athens.

b.    The second process was even more significant, changing not only the practice, but also the theory, of the union. Even before the first tendency became prominent, single states here and there began to refuse their quotas and to attempt secession. Persia, they thought, was no longer a danger, and the need for the league had passed away. But of course the Athenian fleet patrolling the Aegean was the only reason why the Persians did not reappear there, and Athens was certainly right in holding the allies to their engagements. Cities that rebelled were conquered by the very navy their contributions had built up; but, instead of being brought back into the union, they were reduced to the position of subjects of Athens. That is, they were no longer connected with the other cities of the league except through their subjection to the conquering city, to which they were bound in each case by a separate treaty imposed by the conqueror. Athens took away their fleets, leveled their walls, sometimes remodeled their governments upon a democratic basis, and made them pay tribute.

The League becomes an Athenian Empire.—We know of only a few such rebellions; but it is clear that gradually Athens came to treat most of the other cities of the old league much as she did these conquered cities. The confederacy of equal states became an empire, with Athens for its “tyrant city.”

By 450 B.C. Lesbos, Chios, and Samos were the only states of the league possessing anything like their original independence, and even these had no voice in the imperial management. Besides these, however, now or later, Athens had other independent allies that had never belonged to the Delian Confederacy—like Plataea, Corcyra, Naupactus, and Acarnania, in central Greece, Neapolis and Begium in Italy and Segesta and other Ionian cities in Sicily.

On the whole, despite the strong Greek tendency to city sovereignty, the subject cities seem to have been attached to Athens. Revolts were infrequent, and enemies confessed that the bulk of the people looked gratefully to Athens for protection against oligarchic faction. Athens was the true mother of Ionian democracy. As the Athenian Isocrates said, “Athens was the champion of the masses, the enemy of dynasties, denying the right of the many to be at the mercy of the few.” Everywhere throughout the empire, as thousands of inscriptions show, the ruling power became an Assembly and Council like those at Athens; but the arrangement was commonly brought about without violence. Later, during the Peloponnesian war, most of the cities remained faithful long after they might have revolted with impunity: and when rebellion did come it was usually preceded by internal oligarchic revolution. In the next century, too, after a period of Spartan tyranny, many of these same cities again sought protection and democracy in a new Athenian league.

In 465 B.C. Athens made war upon Thasos, a revolted member of the league. After a two years’ siege, the Thasians applied to Sparta for aid. That city purposed secretly to invade Attica, although the two states were still in alliance under the league of 481 B.C. The treacherous project was prevented by a destructive earthquake at Sparta, which was followed at once by a desperate revolt of the Messenian Helots. Instead of attacking Athens, the hard-pressed Spartans called upon her for aid. Ephialtes, leader of the democratic party, opposed such a step, but Cimon urged that Athens should not let her yokefellow be destroyed or Greece be lamed. The generous but shortsighted policy of the aristocratic party prevailed, and Cimon led an Athenian army into the Peloponnesus. A little later, however, the Spartans, suspecting the same bad faith of which they knew themselves guilty, dismissed the Athenians insultingly. The anti-Spartan party in Athens was strengthened by this act. Cimon was ostracized, and his party was left utterly helpless for many years. Athens now formally renounced her alliance with Sparta, and entered into treaty with Argos, Sparta’s sleepless enemy. Megara, too, joined the Athenian league, to secure protection against Corinth, and so gave Athens command of the passes from the Peloponnesus.

A rush of startling events followed. Corinth and Aegina declared war upon Athens. Aegina was blockaded, and reduced after a long siege; Corinth was struck blow after blow, even in the Corinthian gulf; and Athenian fleets ravaged the coasts of Laconia and burned the Spartan dockyards. At the same time, while keeping up her fleet in the Aegean, Athens sent a great armament of two hundred ships (and more, later) to aid Egypt in a revolt against Persia. The expedition was at first brilliantly successful, and Persia seemed on the point of being deprived of all contact with the Mediterranean. Elsewhere also for a time Athens was almost uniformly victorious. A Spartan army crossed the Corinthian gulf and appeared in Boeotia to check Athenian progress there. It won a partial victory at Tanagra,—the first real battle between the two great states,—but used it only to secure an undisturbed retreat into the Peloponnesus. The Athenians at once reappeared in the field, crushed the Thebans in a great battle at Oenophyta, became masters of all Boeotia, and, expelling the oligarchs, set up democracies in the various towns. Phocis and Locris at the same time allied themselves to Athens, so that she seemed in a fair way to extend her land empire over all central Greece, to which she held the two gates, Thermopylae and the passes of the Isthmus. A little later, part of Thessaly was brought under Athenian influence, and Achaea in the Peloponnesus itself was added to the league. Indeed it is impossible even to mention the multiplied instances of limitless energy and splendid daring on the part of Athens for the few years after 460 B.C., while her empire was at its height. For one instance: just when Athens’ hands were fullest in Egypt and in the siege of Aegina, Corinth tried a diversion by invading Megaris. Athens did not recall a man, but, arming the youths and the old men past age of service, repelled the invaders. The Corinthians, stung by shame, made a second, more determined, attempt, and were again repulsed with great slaughter. It was at this time, too, that the city completed her fortifications by building the Long Walls from Athens to Peiraeus—a measure which added also a large open space to the city, where the country people might take refuge in case of invasion.

But the resources of Athens were severely strained, and a sudden series of stunning blows well-nigh exhausted her. Two hundred and fifty ships and the whole army in Egypt were lost—a disaster that would have annihilated almost any other Greek state. Megara, which had itself invited an Athenian garrison, now treacherously massacred it and joined the Peloponnesian league. A Spartan army entered Attica through the recovered passes; and, at the same moment, Euboea—absolutely essential to Athenian safety —burst into revolt. All Boeotia, too, except Plataea, fell away: after an Athenian defeat, the oligarchs won the upper hand in its various cities and joined themselves to Sparta.

The activity and address of Pericles saved Attica and Euboea, but the other continental possessions and alliances were for the most part lost, and in 445 B.C. a Thirty Years’ Truce was concluded between the contending leagues.

A little before this, according to a somewhat vague account, by the Peace of Callias, Persia had recognized the freedom of the Asiatic Greeks and had promised to send no warship into the Aegean. In any case, these conditions were effectively secured, whether by express treaty or not, and the long war with Persia, too, came to a close.




A. Material Strength.

Athens had failed to keep her continental dominion, and the second chance for a united Hellas had passed; but at the moment the loss of this territory did not seem to impair her strength. The maritime empire was saved and consolidated, and, for a generation more, the Greeks of that empire were the leaders of the world in power as in culture. They had proved themselves more than a match for Persia; the mere magic of the Athenian name sufficed to restrain Carthage from any renewal of her attack upon the now weakened Sicilian Greeks; the Athenian power in Thrace easily held in check the rising Macedonian kingdom; Rome was still a barbarous village on the Tiber bank. The center of physical power in the world was imperial Athens.

Population.— The cities of the empire counted some three millions of people. The number seems small to moderns; but it must be kept in mind that the population of the world was small, and that the Athenian Empire was made up—as no other empire ever has been—solely of select, cultured, wealthy, progressive communities. Of course, slaves made a large fraction of this population. Thus Attica itself contained from two hundred and thirty-five thousand to two hundred and seventy-five thousand people, of whom from forty thousand to one hundred thousand were slaves. Thirty thousand or forty-five thousand more were metics. This left a citizen population of some ona hundred and twenty thousand or one hundred and fifty thousand, of whom perhaps thirty-five thousand were adult males. To this number should be added half as many cleruchs whom Pericles had settled as garrison colonies in outlying parts of the empire. The cleruchs—like the Roman colonists later, and unlike other Greek colonists—kept their enrollment in the Attic demes with all the rights of citizenship, though of course they could not exercise the higher political rights unless they came to Athens in person. They were mostly from the poorer classes, and were given lands in the new settlements sufficient to raise them at least to the class of hoplites.

The chief steps from the constitution of Cleisthenes to that of Pericles were: (a) the growth of the office of general; (6) the continued extension of the sphere of the Assembly, with the subordination of all other parts of the government to it; (c) the limitation of the Areopagus and the growth of the dicast courts; and (d) the introduction and wide extension of state pay for public service. There was no general recasting of the constitution at one moment, as there had been at the time of Solon and of Cleisthenes; and the change was much more in the spirit of the people than in the outer form of institutions. The first two steps mentioned above were altogether the result of a gradual development, independent of legislation. The others were brought about by piecemeal enactment. Ephialtes, and afterward Pericles, were the guiding spirits in the development.

In 487 B.C. Solon’s method of choosing archons by lot had been restored. Partly as a result of this, the office grew unimportant, and its powers passed to the board of ten generals, who became the real administrators of the empire, subject to the sovereign Assembly. It was on their proposals, as a rule, that troops were levied and equipped, ships built and manned, and moneys raised. In particular, they managed foreign relations, carried on all intercourse with ambassadors, and watched the movements of other powers through their agents abroad. They could call special meetings of the Assembly at will, and were conceded precedence in addressing it.

With the development of the Assembly’s power there grew up, alongside these official administrators, a semi-official position of “leader of the people.” The written law knew no such office; but the statesman most trusted by the popular party could exercise an authority greater than that of any officer of the constitution. It became desirable, therefore, from every point of view, that the Board of Generals should contain the “leader of the people” for the time being, to advocate its plans in the Assembly; and such a union was kept up through all this period. A “leader of the people” who was also president of the Board of Generals, held a position in some ways similar to an English prime minister’s.

The Assembly.— Cleisthenes had left the Assembly theoretically sovereign, but in fact its various agents at first exercised independent authority. It was only after some time that the Assembly came to think it proper to supervise and check these other forces day by day; and it was only by practice that it learned how to do so effectively. But in the Age of Pericles this had come to pass. All other powers had become the obedient servants of the Assembly. The Council of Five Hundred existed not to guide it, but to do its bidding. The generals were its creatures and might be deposed by it any day of their short term of office. Ho act of government was too small or too great for it to deal with. The Assembly of Athens was to the greatest empire of the world in that day all, and more than all, that a Hew England town meeting a century ago was to its little unit of government. The world has never seen such a phenomenon elsewhere.

The Assembly held forty stated meetings a year and many special meetings, so that a patriotic citizen was called upon to give one day in six or seven to the state in this regard alone. 

After the period of Athenian greatness was past, it was found needful to pay citizens for the time given to these meetings; but, while Athens ruled an empire, patriotism alone brought men to grant this serious tax upon their time.

The Waning of the Areopagus .—The decline of the archonship to an ornamental office involved a like fate for the Areopagus—made up, as it was, of ex-archons. As a body holding office for life, it was always unpopular. During the Persian War, it is true, it had won high credit, justly; and for some years afterward it was allowed to resume something of its ancient importance in the state, but, after the banishment of Cimon, Ephialtes reduced it to a minor criminal court.

The Dicasteries.— The chief judicial business fell now to large popular courts, whose importance became fully developed under Pericles. Six thousand citizens were chosen by lot each year (probably only from those who offered themselves), of whom one thousand were held in reserve, while the others were divided into ten jury courts of five hundred each, called dicasteries. For important cases, several of these were sometimes thrown together.

To these bodies the Assembly turned over the trial of officials, so that they became high courts of impeachment. It was with a view to this duty that each dicast took an oath “above all things to favor neither tyranny nor oligarchy, nor in any way to prejudice the sovereignty of the people.” Besides performing this semi-political function, the dicasteries made: (a) supreme imperial courts to settle all disputes between separate cities of the empire; (6) courts of appeal for all important law cases in each of the subject cities; and (c) the ordinary courts for all Athenians. A dicastery was both judge and jury; it decided by majority vote, and no appeal was possible.

Large bodies of this kind, without the check that even our smaller juries have in trained judges to guide them, gave many wrong and evil verdicts, no doubt. Passion and emotion and bribery all interfered, at times, with even-handed justice ; but, on the whole, the system worked astonishingly well. Probably no other community has ever been educated up to a point where it could have made so great a success of such judicial machinery. In particular, it is notable that any citizen of a subject city was sure to get redress, if wronged by an Athenian officer. The public conscience was commendably sensitive upon that matter.

State Pay.— Since these courts exercised so great weight and tried political offenders, it was essential to the democratic idea that they should not fall altogether into the hands of the rich. To prevent this Pericles introduced payment for jury duty. The amount (three obols a day, or about ten cents) would furnish a day’s sustenance for one person in Athens, but it did not suffice for a family. Moreover, even at such pay, a dicast could hardly count upon employment on more than two hundred days in the year; and it is clear that jury pay could not have been a serious financial object with any large portion of the citizens, especially when it is remembered that Athens had no pauper class.

Afterward, Pericles extended the principle of public payment to other political services. Aristotle says that some twenty thousand men—over half the whole body of citizens—were constantly in the pay of the state. Half of this number, however, were engaged in some form of military service, and in some cases were not citizens. But, besides the six thousand jurymen, there were the five hundred senators, seven hundred city magistrates, seven hundred more officials representing Athens throughout the empire, and many inferior state servants—keepers of public buildings, overseers of markets and the ports, jailers, and the like; so that always from a third to a fourth of the citizens were in the civil service.

Pericles has been accused sometimes of corrupting the Athenians by the introduction of such payment. But there is no evidence that the Athenians were corrupted under the system; and further, such a system was inevitable when the democracy of a little city became the master of an empire. It was quite as natural and proper as is the payment of congressmen and judges with us.

Sparta, it will be remembered, attained a less desirable end in a less desirable manner. She kept her whole citizen class on constant military footing by giving them the free use of state slaves to till their lands. In both Athens and Sparta the practice was totally different from the later custom, with which it is sometimes classed, of distributing free corn as a gratuity or a bribe to the rabble of Rome.

Political Capacity of the Average Athenian.— Many of the numerous offices in Athens (nearly all the higher ones, in fact) could be held only once by the same man, so that each Athenian citizen could count upon serving his city at some time in almost every public capacity. Politics was his occupation; office-holding, his normal function. An unusually high average of intelligence is the only explanation of the fact that such a system worked. It certainly did work well. With all its faults, the empire was vastly superior to the rude despotism that followed in Greece under Sparta, or the anarchy under Thebes; it gave to a large part of the Hellenic world a peace and security never enjoyed before, nor again until the rise of Roman power; while Athens itself, during and after its empire, was better and more gently governed than oligarchic cities like Corinth.

Indeed, there is reason in the contention of Edward Freeman that the average Athenian’s political training and ability resembled more nearly that of the average member of Parliament (or of the American Congress) than that merely of the average citizen of England or America.

“Moderns are apt to blame the Athenian Democracy for putting power in hands unfit to use it. The truer way of putting the case would be to say that the Athenian Democracy made a greater number of citizens fit to use power than could be made fit by any other system ... The Assembly was an assembly of citizens—of average citizens without sifting or selection; but it was an assembly of citizens among whom the political average stood higher than it ever did in any other state ... The Athenian, by constantly hearing questions of foreign policy and domestic administration argued by the greatest orators the world ever saw, received a political training which nothing else in the history of mankind has been found to equal.” 

Pericles. — A portrait bust, now in the Vatican.

Pericles.— A few words will summarize party history up to the leadership of Pericles. All factions in Athens had coalesced patriotically against Persia, and afterward in fortifying the city; but the brief era of good feeling was followed by a renewal of party strife. The aristocrats rallied around Cimon, while the two wings of the democrats were led at first, as before the invasion, by Aristeides and Themistocles. Themistocles was ostracized, and his friend Ephialtes became the leader of the extreme democrats. When Ephialtes was assassinated by aristocratic opponents, Pericles stepped into his place.

The aristocratic party had been ruined by its pro-Spartan policy; the two divisions of the democrats reunited, and for a quarter of a century Pericles was in practice as absolute as a dictator, so that Thucydides characterizes Athens during this period of her greatness as “a democracy in name only, in reality ruled by its ablest citizen.” Pericles belonged to the ancient nobility of Athens, though to families that had always taken the side of the people. His mother was the niece of Cleisthenes the reformer, and his father had impeached Miltiades, so that the enmity between Cimon and Pericles was hereditary. The supremacy of Pericles rested in no way upon the flattering arts of later popular leaders. His proud, austere reserve verged on haughtiness, and he was rarely seen in public. He scorned to display emotion. His stately gravity and unruffled calm were styled Olympian by his admirers—who added that, like Zeus, he could on occasion overbear opposition by the majestic thunder of his oratory. His great authority came from no public office. He was elected general, it is true, fifteen times, but in the board he had most weight chiefly because of his unofficial position as recognized “leader of the people”. It must be remembered that, general or not, he was master only so long as he could carry the Assembly, and that he was compelled to defend each of his measures against all who chose to attack it. The long and steady confidence given him honors the people of Athens no less than the statesman, and his noblest eulogy is that which he claimed for himself upon his death-bed—that, with all his authority, and despite the virulence of party strife, “no Athenian has had to put on mourning because of me.”

He stated his own policy clearly, and in his lifetime, on the whole, carried it to success. As to the empire, he sought to make Athens at once the ruler and the teacher of Hellas, the political, intellectual, and artistic center; and, within the city itself, he wished the people to rule not merely in theory, but in fact, as the best means of training themselves for high responsibilities.

C. Intellectual and Artistic Athens.


Hermes of Praxiteles.

After all, in politics and war, Hellas has had superiors. Her true service to mankind and her imperishable glory lie in her intellectual and artistic development. It was in the Athens of Pericles that these phases of Greek life developed most fully, and this fact makes the real significance of that city in history. Part of the policy of Pericles was to adorn Athens from the surplus revenues of the empire. The justice of this may easily be questioned, but the result, just at that period of the perfection of Greek art, was to make the city the most beautiful in the world, so that, ever since, her mere ruins have enthralled the admiration of men. Everywhere arose temples, colonnades, porticoes, theaters—inimitable to this day.

The center of this architectural splendor was the ancient citadel of the Acropolis, no longer needed as a fortification, but crowned with white marble, and devoted to purposes of religion and art. The “holy hill” was inaccessible except on the west. Here was built a stately stairway of sixty marble steps, leading to a series of noble colonnades and porticoes (the Propylaea) of surpassing beauty. From these the visitor emerged upon the leveled top of the Acropolis, to find himself surrounded by temples and statues, any one of which alone might make the fame of the proudest modern city. Just in front of the entrance stood the colossal bronze statue of Athena the Defender, whose broad spear point glittering in the sun was the first sign of the city to the mariner far out at sea. On the right of the entrance and a little to the rear was the temple of the Wingless Victory, and near the center of the open space rose the larger structures of the Erechtheum and the Parthenon. This last, the temple of the virgin goddess Athene (Parthenon means “maiden’s chamber”), remains absolutely peerless in its loveliness among the buildings of the world. It was of no great size,—only some one hundred feet by two hundred and fifty (the proportions, more exactly, are as four to nine),—while the marble pillars supporting its low pediment rose only thirty-four feet from their base of three receding steps, so that the effect was due wholly, not to the sublimity and grandeur of vast masses, but to the perfection of proportion, to exquisite beauty of line, and to the delicacy and profusion of ornament. On this structure, indeed, was lavished without stint the highest art of the art capital of all time. Pheidias and his disciples cared for the ornamentar tion within and without. Fifty life-size, or colossal, statues in the pediments, and the four thousand square feet of smaller reliefs in frieze and metopes, were all finished with the same perfect skill, even in the unseen parts.

Pheidias still ranks the greatest of sculptors, rivaled, if at all, only by his pupil, Praxiteles. Much of the work on the Acropolis he merely designed, but the great statues of Athene were his special work. The bronze statue has already been mentioned. Beside this, there was, within the Parthenon, a smaller, but still colossal, statue in gold and ivory, even more notable. These two works divide the honor of Pheidias’ great fame with his Zeus at Olympia, which, in the opinion of the ancients, surpassed all other sculpture in grandeur of conception and in awe-inspiring attributes. Pheidias said that he planned the latter work, thinking of Homer’s Zeus, at the nod of whose ambrosial locks Olympus trembled. The Hermes of Praxiteles is one of the few great works of antiquity that survive to us; of his Marble Faun we have a famous copy, which plays a part in Hawthorne’s novel.

Figures from the Parthenon Frieze


Painting.— In sculpture, then, the Greeks remain easily masters. About their painting we know less. Until the age of Pericles that art had been used chiefly to decorate vases; now first it became independent in the work of Polygnotus, an alien Greek, upon whom the Athenians conferred citizenship, and who assisted in adorning the temples of the Acropolis. A higher development in technique came later, but Polygnotus remains famous for a lofty sublimity of style. It was said that it was good for the young to look upon his work, for he painted men “as they ought to be.”

Sophocles a portrait -statue, now in the Lateran Museum at Rome.

The Drama.—In the age of Pericles, the chief form of poetry became the tragic drama—the highest development of Greek literature. As the tenth century was the epic age, and the seventh and sixth the lyric, so the fifth century begins the dramatic period. The drama originated in the songs and dances of a chorus in honor of Dionysus, god of wine. The leader of the chorus came at length to recite stories in the intervals between the songs. Thespis at Athens, in the age of Peisistratus, is said to have developed this leader into an actor, apart from the chorus and carrying on dialogue with it. Now Aeschylus added another actor, and his younger contemporary, Sophocles, a third. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and their successor, Euripides, are the three greatest Greek tragedians. They carried this noble form of literature to its highest expression. Together they produced some two hundred plays, of which nine tenths are lost.

The Greek drama will not admit readily of comparison with the modern drama. Sophocles and Shakespeare differ somewhat as the Parthenon differs from a vast Gothic cathedral. The “unities” of time and place were strictly preserved by the Greek; the scene never changed, and all the action had to be such as could have taken place within one day; everything else necessary to understand the action had to be told by one of the actors. The plays were presented, however, in sets of three (a trilogy), so that a longer series of connected events could be treated by the same dramatist. Never more than three actors appeared at once, but the  important factor, to add explanations and to voice the spectators’ judgment, “to breathe forth the fire and shed the tears of the play.” 

Attic comedy arose also from the worship of the wine god—not from the great religious festivals, however, but from the ruder village merrymakings, marked by indecent rites and orgies. It kept a scurrilous license throughout the century, and was used to attack public characters like Pericles and Socrates. Still, its great master, Aristophanes, for his wit and genius, must ever remain one of the bright names in literature.

Pericles’ Policy as to Theater Money.— The great Theater of Dionysus, in Athens, was on the southeast slope of the Acropolis—the rising seats, cut in a semicircle into the rocky hill, looking forth, beyond the stage, over the blue Aegean. It could accommodate practically the whole free male population of the city. Here, twice a year, for some days, the masterpieces of the Greek drama were presented. Pericles secured from the public treasury the admission fee for each citizen who chose to ask for it. This measure was altogether different from the payment of officers and dicasts, and perhaps came nearer the vicious distribution of gratuities to a populace; but it must be kept in mind that the Greek stage was the modern pulpit and press in one. The practice, on the whole, was rather to advance religious and intellectual training than to give amusement. It was a form of adult education at state expense.




Theater of Dionysus at Athens


History.— Prose literature appears in history, philosophy, and the essay. The three great historians of the period are Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. For charm of narrative they have never been excelled. Herodotus was a native of Halicarnassus; he traveled widely, lived long at Athens as the friend of Pericles, and finally in Italy composed his great History of the Persian War, with an introduction covering the world's history up to that event. Thucydides wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War to the year 410 B.C. Xenophon, who belongs rather to the next century, completed this story, and gave us, with other works, the Anabasis, an account of the expedition of the Ten Thousand Greeks through the Persian Empire in 401 B.C.

Philosophy — The age saw a rapid development in philosophy—centered also at Athens. Anaxagoras of Ionia, the friend of Pericles, taught that the ruling principle was Mind: “In the beginning, all things were chaos; then came Intelligence, and set all in order." He also attempted rational explanations of strange natural phenomena, which had been regarded as miraculous.

But Anaxagoras, like Democritus and Empedocles of the same period, turned in the main from the old problem of a fundamental principle to a new problem—how man knows the universe. Their early attempts at explanation were not very satisfactory, and so next came the Sophists, to close one era by a skeptical philosophy. Man, they held, cannot reach truth itself, but must be content to know appearances. They taught Rhetoric, and were the first of the philosophers to accept pay for their services. Thus they were accused by conservative men of advertising, for gain, to teach youth how to make the worse appear the better reason, and the name sophist received an evil significance; but many of them were certainly brilliant thinkers, who did much to clear away old mental rubbish. The most famous were Gorgias, the rhetorician, a Sicilian Greek at Athens, and his pupil, Isocrates, whose essays and orations represent the most famous Greek prose, and were the models on which Cicero trained himself—to influence all later prose.

Socrates, the founder of a new philosophy, is sometimes confounded with these sophists. Like them, he abandoned the attempt to understand the material universe, and ridiculed gently the explanations of Anaxagoras; but he took for his motto, “know thyself,” and considered philosophy to consist in rightthinking upon human conduct. Socrates was a poor man, an artisan-sculptor who neglected his trade to talk in the market place. He wore no sandals and dressed meanly; and his large, bald head and ugly face, with its thick lips and flat nose, made him good sport for the comic poets. His practice was to entrap unwary antagonists into public conversation by innocent-looking questions, and then, by the inconsistencies of their answers, to show up the shallowness of their conventional opinions. This of course afforded huge merriment to the crowd of youths who followed him, and it raised him bitter enemies among his victims; but his method of conversation was a permanent addition to our intellectual weapons, and his beauty of soul, his devotion to knowledge, and his largeness of spirit make him the greatest name in Greek history. Late in life (399 B.C.) he was accused of impiety and of corrupting the youth, and was condemned to death by the dicasts on a close vote, mainly because he would not condescend to defend himself in any ordinary way. He refused to escape from prison, and after memorable conversations with his friends upon immortality, he drank the fatal hemlock with a gentle jest upon his lips. His execution is the greatest blot upon the intelligence of the Athenian democracy; but it must be remembered that that body was keenly religious and jealous of attacks upon its deities. Socrates’ disciple, Plato, pictures him for us in his Dialogues, but rather, perhaps, as the mouthpiece of Plato than as the real Socrates. Xenophon’s Memorabilia is a truer portrait.

Plato (the “broad-browed”), with his great pupil and rival Aristotle, belongs really to the following period of history, but may be best treated at this point. Plato taught that ideas are the only real things, eternal and unchangeable; the phenomena of this world are only shadows of the ideas, which exist in heaven. He was much influenced by the Pythagoreans, and his philosophy is shot through with noble poetic imagination. His pupil Aristotle (born at Stagira in Macedonia) established a systematic body of philosophy that dominated the world until very modern times. His work was too many-sided to be summed up in any brief phrase. Besides his philosophical treatises he wrote upon rhetoric, logic, poetry, politics, and physics. He is by far the most modern in spirit of all the Greek philosophers.

Education.—Education at Athens typifies that of Ionian Greece. It aimed to train harmoniously the intellect, the sense of beauty, the moral nature, and the body. At the age of seven the boy entered school, but he was constantly under the eye not only of the teacher, but of a trusted servant of his own family, called a pedagogue. Indeed, no other people have ever been so solicitous to preserve their boys and youth from evil and contamination; and Professor Mahaffy thinks that Greek boys retained a delicacy of thought and feeling found among no other people. The chief instruments of instruction were Homer and music.

When the youth left school it was but to enter on a wider training of a like kind—in the Assembly, in the lecture halls of the rhetoricians and sophists, in the countless festivals and religious processions and dramatic representations of his city, and in the constant enjoyment of the noblest and purest works of art.

Physical training began with the child and continued through old age. Ho Greek youth would pass a day without devoting some hours to the development of his body and to overcoming any physical defect or awkwardness.

All classes of citizens, except those bound by necessity to the workshop, met for exercise.

The result was a perfection of physical power and beauty never attained so universally by any other people. Indeed it was from this perfection of the body, and from the unrivaled opportunity to study it constantly in all the exercises of the gymnasium, that the surpassing excellence of Greek sculpture came. Says Symonds: “The whole race rehearsed the great works of Pheidias and Polygnotus in physical exercises, before it learned to express itself in marble or in color.”




Summary: Extent and Degree of Culture.—The amazing extent and degree of Athenian culture overpower the imagination. With the few exceptions indicated, the famous men mentioned in the paragraphs above were all Athenian citizens. That one city with its small free population gave birth to more famous men of the first rank in this one century, it has been said, than all the world has ever produced in any other equal period of time. Others swarmed to the same center from less favored parts of Hellas; for, despite the condemnation of Socrates and some other such crimes, it remains true that no other city in the world afforded such freedom of thought, and that nowhere else was artistic merit so appreciated. The lists of names that have been mentioned give but a faint impression of the splendid throngs of brilliant poets, artists, philosophers, and orators, who jostled each other in the streets of Athens. This, after all, is the final justification of the Athenian democracy; and Abbott, one of its sternest modern critics, is forced to exclaim, “Never before or since has life developed so richly as it developed in the beautiful city which lay at the feet of the virgin goddess.”

Summary: Limitations. — At the same time two limitations in Greek culture must be noted.

a. It rested necessarily on slavery and consequently could not honor labor, as modern culture at least tries to do. It was militant rather than industrial. Trades and commerce were left largely to the free non-citizen class, and actual manual labor was performed mainly by slaves. As a rule, it is true, this slavery was not harsh. In Athens, in particular, the slaves were ordinarily hardly to be distinguished from the poorer citizens, and indeed they were better treated than were poor citizens in many oligarchic states; but there was always the possibility of cruelty and of judicial torture, aud in the mines, even in Attica, the slaves were killed off brutally by the merciless hardships to which they were subjected.

b. Greek culture was for males only. It is not probable that the wife of Pheidias or of Thucydides could read. Women had lost the freedom of the semi-barbaric society of Homer’s time, without gaining much in return. Except at Sparta, where physical training was thought needful for them, they passed a secluded life in separate women’s apartments, with no public interests, appearing rarely on the streets. At best they were only higher domestic servants. The chivalry of the medieval knight toward woman and the love of the modern gentleman for his wife were equally unthinkable by the finest Greek society of this age.

A rare exception proves the rule. No account of the Athens of Pericles should omit mention of Aspasia. She was a native of Miletus, loved by Pericles. Since she was not an Athenian citizen he could not marry her; but he lived with her in all respects as his wife, a union not grievously offensive to Greek ideas; and her dazzling wit and beauty made his home the focus of the intellectual life of Athens. Anaxagoras, Socrates, Pheidias, delighted in her conversation, and she has sometimes been credited with inspiring the policy of Pericles himself; but she is the only woman who need be named in Greek history after the time of Sappho and Corinna.

The Disk Thrower. After Myron, in the Vatican.





The Thirty Years’ Truce between Athens and Sparta ran only half its length. The immediate occasion for the renewal of the conflict was some assistance that the Athenians gave Corcyra against Corinth in 432 B.C., but the real causes lay in natural antagonism of character and in a standing conflict of interests. Sparta began to pose as the champion of a free Hellas, and finally sent an ultimatum: Athens must let all the Greek cities go free; that is, abandon her empire. Athens replied that Sparta might first set free Messenia and the Perioeci towns of Laconia; and the war began.

The Peloponnesian League with its allies could muster a hundred thousand hoplites, against whom in that day no army in the world could stand; but it could not keep in the field any considerable fraction of that force longer than a few weeks. Sparta could not capture Athens, therefore, and must depend upon ravaging Attic territory and inducing Athenian allies to revolt. Athens had only some twenty-six thousand hoplites at her command, half of whom were needed for distant garrison duty; but she had a navy even more unmatched on the sea than the Peloponnesian army was on laud; her walls were impregnable; the islands of Euboea and Salamis, and the open spaces within the Long Walls, could receive her country people with their flocks and herds; the corn trade of south Russia was securely in her hands, the grain ships entering the Peiraeus as usual, however the Spartans might hold the open country of Attica; and Athens could easily afford to support her population, for a time from her annual revenues, to say nothing of the immense surplus of six thousand talents in the treasury. Under these conditions Pericles refused to meet the Spartans in battle, and confined himself to ravaging the Peloponnesian coasts with his navy. Neither party could get at the other. The war promised to be a matter of patience and endurance.

Pericles died in the third year of the war, but his plan apparently would have worked well except for a tragic fatality that had already fallen upon Athens. A terrible plague had been ravaging Asia, and, just at this time, reached the Aegean. In general, in Greece it did little harm; but in Athens—the streets overcrowded with the population of all Attica living in unusual and unsanitary conditions—the pestilence returned each summer for some years and was deadly beyond description. It is estimated that a fourth of the population was swept away, and the demoralization of society was even more fatal.

Still, Athens recovered her buoyant hope, and the war lasted from 431 to 404 B.C., with one short and ill-kept truce. The notable matters for special reports or for further study are: —

(1)  Athenian superiority in naval tactics—the easy equality of an Athenian squadron in the early years to triple its numbers (illustrated by Phormio’s engagements in the Corinthian gulf).

(2)  Massacres of prisoners: Thebans by Plataeans,431 B.C.; Plataeans by Thebans, 427 B.C.; Mytilenaean oligarchs by Athens (the story of the decree and the reprieve); the Melians by Athens, 415 B.C.; thousands of Athenians in the mines of Syracuse; the four thousand Athenians by Sparta after Aegospotami.

(3)  The condemnation of the Athenian generals after the victory of Arginusae.

(4)  Cleon's leadership at Athens.

(5)  The surrender of one hundred and twenty Spartans at Sphacteria.

(6)  The war in Thrace.

(7)  The “Peace of Nicias.”

(8)  Alcibiades.

(9)  The Syracusan expedition—Nicias.

The turning-point in the war was the unwise and misconducted Athenian expedition against Syracuse. Two hundred perfectly equipped ships and over forty thousand men—among them eleven thousand of the flower of the Athenian hoplites—were pitifully sacrificed by the superstition and miserable generalship of their leader, the good but stupid Nicias (413 B.C.). Even after this crushing disaster Athens refused peace that should limit her empire. Every nerve was strained, and the last resources and reserve funds exhausted to build and man new fleets. Indeed, the war lasted nine years more, and part of the time Athens seemed as supreme in the Aegean as ever. Two things are notable in the closing chapters of the struggle—the attempt at political reaction in Athens, and the betrayal of the Asiatic Greeks to Persia by Sparta.

a.    In 411 B.C., after a century of quiet, the oligarchs tried to secure the government. Wealthy men of moderate opinion were wearied by the ruinous taxation of the war. The democracy had blundered sadly and had shown its unfitness for dealing with foreign relations, where secrecy and dispatch are so essential; and at home it had fallen under the control of a new class of leaders—men of the people, like Cleon the tanner, and Hyperbolus the lampmaker, men of strong will and of ability, but rude, unscrupulous, and demagogic. Under these conditions the officers of the fleet conspired with the oligarchic secret societies at home and terrorized the city by the assassination of leading democrats. The Assembly was induced to pass a decree for a new constitution. Five of the conspirators chose ninety-five others, and each of the hundred added three more, making a council of Four Hundred. This body was to govern the city and appoint all magistrates. It was pledged to create an Assembly of the five thousand wealthier citizens. This step the oligarchs hesitated to take. Meantime, they betrayed Athenian interests to Sparta, and proved generally incompetent, except in murder and plunder. After a few months, the Athenian fleet at Samos revolted and deposed its oligarchic officers; then the democracy at home expelled the Four Hundred and restored the old constitution.

b.    In 412 B.C., immediately after the destruction of the Athenian army and fleet in Sicily, Persian satraps appeared again upon the Aegean coast, and Sparta bought the aid of their gold by promising to betray the freedom of the Asiatic Greeks, to whom the Athenian name had been a shield for seventy years.

Aegospotami: the Surrender.—Persian funds now built fleet after fleet for Sparta, and slowly Athens was exhausted, despite some brilliant victories. In 405 B.C. her last fleet, discouraged and demoralized and possibly betrayed by its commanders, was surprised and routed at Aegospotami. Lysander, the Spartan commander, executed in cold blood the four thousand Athenian citizens among the prisoners.

Athens still held out through a terrible siege, until it was starved into submission in 404 B.C. Corinth and Thebes wished to raze it to the earth; but Sparta had no mind to remove so useful a check upon Thebes, and was content with gentler terms. Athens renounced her empire and all her old alliances, surrendered all her ships but twelve, and bound herself to follow Sparta in peace and war. Then the Long Walls and the fortifications of the Peiraeus were demolished, to the music of Peloponnesian flutes, and Hellas was declared free. In reality it remained only to see to what master Hellas would fall.



A Brief Sketch of Events in Magna Graecia ought to be included in this portion of Greek history. The tyrant Gelon and his brother and successor Hiero for a few years after the repulse of Carthage (480 B.C.) made Syracuse the most powerful city in the West; indeed, for a short time just before the full bloom of Athens, it was the center of Greek civilization and the most brilliant city in the world. Between 475 and 450 B.C. the tyrants gave way to democracies in Magna Graecia; but the old political union of the cities was lost, and petty wars and incessant strife of faction blasted the rising culture.

It was these dissensions and the wars between Ionians and Dorians in Sicily that called in Athens (415-413 B.C.), to her own ruin, during the Peloponnesian War. Then, in 409 B.C., like Persia in the East, Carthage renewed her designs, and quickly overran all the island except Syracuse, which was saved by a new tyrant, Dionysius. This remarkable ruler built up a great military power, and in a long war won back much of the island, setting up dependent tyrants in the various cities, after the fashion of Gelo before him. Thus the prize of Sicily hung between Greek and Carthaginian for a century more, until it was finally seized by Rome. The only episode worthy of attention here was the career of Timoleon the Liberator (344-336 B.C.), a Corinthian hero, who for a brief period drove out the, tyrants, preserved order, and checked the barbarians. Soon after his death the noted Agath-ocles restored the rule of tyrants, which lasted until Rome became mistress.


Further Reading.—

Cox, Athenian Empire;

W.W. Lloyd, The history of Sicily to the Athenian war; with elucidations of the Sicilian odes of Pindar

The age of Pericles : a history of the politics and arts of Greece from the Persian to the Peloponnesian war : VOLUME ONE --- VOLUME TWO

Grant’s Greece in the Age of Pericles;

Cox, Greek Statesmen : Solon & Temisthocles






At Aegospotami the brilliant political work of Athens was undone. Persia and Carthage had already begun again to enslave the Sicilian and Asiatic Greeks: and in the European peninsula the power which so long had kept these barbarians in check was crushed.

The Athenian Empire had lasted seventy glorious years. Nearly an equal time was yet to elapse before Hellas fell under Macedonian sway; but this period is one of shame or of profitless conflict, and it need not detain us long. It falls into three divisions—the brutal terrorism of Sparta, the hopeless anarchy under Thebes, and the subtle encroachments of the northern monarchy. In the whole period, the city state is declining,—to give way to the system of great monarchies. Neither Thebes nor Sparta make any contributions toward the accomplishment of Hellenic unity.



A.   Character in General.

For thirty years Sparta was to be physical mistress of Greece more completely than ever Athens was; and had she been capable of enlightened leadership, this opportunity would have been the fairest of all to make a single Greek state. But the cities of the old Athenian Empire found that they had exchanged a wise, mild rule for a coarse and stupid despotism. Their old tribute was doubled; a Spartan harmost (military governor), supported by a garrison, held supreme authority in each cityand such local control as was left to the citizens was everywhere taken from the old democracies and given to boards of oligarchs—commonly made up of ten persons each, and so called decarchies. The garrisons plundered at will; the harmosts grew rich from extortion and bribes; the decarchies were slavishly subservient to their masters and protectors, the harmosts, while they wreaked a long pent-up vengeance upon their fellow-citizens in confiscation, outrage, expulsion, assassination, and massacre. With regard to these decarchies, an Athenian exclaimed, just after their overthrow: —

“What form of oppression escaped them? Or what deed of shame or cruelty did they not perpetrate? They found their friends among the most lawless; they considered traitors as benefactors; they chose to be themselves slaves.to Helots [the harmosts were often of low birth] that they might be supported while they outraged their country.” — Isocrates.

The “Thirty Tyrants” at Athens.— For a brief time Athens itself suffered from this form of Spartan rule. Lysander had appointed a committee of thirty from the oligarchic clubs of Athens to “reestablish the constitution of the fathers”; meantime they were to exercise dictatorial power. Their guiding genius was Oritias, a brilliant and unscrupulous pupil of Socrates. The more cautious members rallied around Theramenes, a shifty politician who had played many parts. The Thirty filled all offices with their followers, and plotted to establish their ride permanently. They installed in the Acropolis a Spartan harmost and garrison, disarmed the citizens, except some three thousand of their own adherents, and began against wealthy democrats and metics a career of bloody proscription and greedy confiscation. The victims were counted by hundreds—perhaps by thousands. Larger numbers fled, and, despite the orders of Sparta, were sheltered by Thebes. The more conservative faction of the Thirty tried to check the wholesale butchery, only to become themselves the victims of the extremists. Theramenes was seized and sent to immediate execution. He seems to have expected his fall to drag down his opponents, and as he drank the hemlock he ponred out the dregs with the mocking salutation, “Here’s to the gentle Critias.” But Critias had crushed all opposition within the city, and he relied upon Lysander to protect him from without.

Finally, however, in 403 B.C., after something over a year of this reign of terror, one of the democratic exiles, Thrasybulus, with a band of companions from Thebes, seized the Peiraeus. The men of the Port rose to his support. The Lacedaemonian garrison and the forces of the Thirty were defeated; a quarrel between Lysander and the Spartan king prevented serious Spartan interference, and the old democracy was restored. Thrasybulus, one of the most liberal of Greek statesmen, urged that the metics and sailors of the Peiraeus, who had fought the Thirty, should be incorporated in the State. Unfortunately, this just measure, which would have compensated Athene partly for her terrible losses in the Peloponnesian War, was not adopted; but in other respects the restored democracy showed itself generous and self-controlled. Critias had fallen in battle. A few of the most guilty of the Thirty were punished, but all their adherents were admitted to a general amnesty—the first sweeping measure of the kind in history. The good faith and moderation of the democracy contrasted so favorably with the cutthroat rule of the two recent experiments at oligarchy that Athens was undisturbed in future by internal revolution.

In Sparta itself a social revolution had been going on. Spartan officials abroad had yielded to corruption before, but now wealth and luxury replaced the old simplicity at home. Moreover, the number of full citizens was rapidly decreasing. Through the accumulation of property in the hands of a few men, it came to pass that many Spartans lost the power to support themselves at the public mess, and so ceased to enjoy political rights. The nine or ten thousand citizens of 700 B.C. shrank to two thousand. The resulting class of “Inferiors” added by their discontent to the standing menace of the Helots, and a successful rising seems to have been averted only by an accident. The Spartan Empire even at home rested on a volcano.

B.   Wars and Leagues to the Peace of Antalcidas.

The March of the Ten Thousand; Renewal of War with Persia.—In 401 B.C.the weakness of the Persian Empire was made strikingly manifest. Cyrus the Younger, brother of the king Artaxerxes, endeavored to seize the Persian throne. As satrap in Asia Minor he had given Sparta decisive help against Athens, and now Sparta gave some countenance to his expedition. Through her aid, Cyrus enlisted ten thousand Greeks in his army. He penetrated to the heart of the empire, but in the battle of Cunaxa, near Babylon, he was killed and his Asiatic troops routed. The Ten Thousand, however, proved unconquerable by the Persian host of half a million, but the Greek leaders were entrapped afterward by treachery and murdered; still, under the inspiration of Xenophon the Athenian (whose Anabasis is our history of these events), the Ten Thousand chose new generals and made good a remarkable retreat to the coast.

Until this time the Greeks had waged their contests with Persia only along the coasts of Asia; after this, the dream of conquering and Hellenizing the continent became a fixed idea in the Greek mind, and at length Alexander made it fact. First, however, the attempt was made by Agesilaus, king of Sparta. Sparta had incurred the wrath of Persia by favoring Cyrus, and Agesilaus burned with a noble ambition to free and protect the Asiatic Greeks, who a little before had been abandoned to Persia by his country. He invaded Asia Minor with a large army, and seemed in full career of conquest, when he was checked by the progress of events in Hellas.

League against Sparta, 395 B.C.—No sooner was Sparta engaged with Persia than enemies rose against her in Greece itself. Thebes, Corinth, Athens, and Argos leagued in a struggle called the Corinthian War. Persia supplied the allies with funds, and the two wars became intermingled. The contest turned upon two remarkable battles: in the first, an Athenian general in Persian service shattered the maritime empire of .Sparta; and in the second, Athens for the first time shook Spartan supremacy on land.

Conon.— Conon was the ablest of the Athenian generals in the latter period of the Peloponnesian War. At Aegospotami he was the only one who had kept his squadron in fighting order, and after all was lost he had escaped to Rhodes and entered Persian service. Now, in 394 B.C., in command of a Phoenician fleet, at the battle of Cnidus he completely destroyed the Spartan naval power. Spartan authority in the Aegean fell at once. Conon sailed from island to island, expelling the Spartan harmosts and garrisons, and restoring the democracies; and in the next year he anchored in the Peiraeus and rebuilt the Long Walls. These events raised Athens again to the place of one of the great powers, and threw Sparta back into her old position as head of the powerful Peloponnesian league only.

Iphicrates.— Shortly after, even this position was threatened. The Athenian Iphicrates introduced the first striking innovation in land warfare since the hoplite overcame the chariot and the knights, five hundred years before. His work was to increase the efficiency of lightarmed mercenaries so as to make them a match for the citizen hoplites. This he did by making their pikes and swords heavier and longer (to do which he lightened even their former defensive armor), and by training them to a nimble dexterity that the hoplite could not imitate. The result was seen in 390 B.C., when, with these peltasts, Iphicrates cut to pieces a Spartan battalion of seven hundred hoplites near Corinth. The leadership of Sparta had rested upon her acknowledged superiority in the field, and now this supremacy was challenged.

Peace of Antalcidas, 387 B.C.— Accordingly, Sparta sought peace with Persia. The two powers invited all the Greek states to send deputies to Sardis, where the Persian king dictated the terms. The document read: —

“King Artaxerxes deems it just that the cities in Asia, with the islands of Clazomenae and Cyprus, should belong to himself; the rest of the Hellenic cities, both great and small, he will leave independent, save Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyrosj which three are to belong to Athens as of yore. Should any of the parties not accept this peace, I, Artaxerxes, together with those who share my views [the Spartans], will war against the offenders by land and sea.” — Xenophon, Hellenica.

These terms were taken by Sparta to dissolve all the other leagues (like the Boeotian, of which Thebes was the head), but not to affect the control of Sparta over her subject towns in Laconia, nor to weaken the Peloponnesian confederacy. Thus Persia and Sparta again conspired to betray the Greeks. Persia would help Sparta keep the European Greek states divided and weak, as they were before the Persian War; and Sparta would help Persia recover her old authority over the Asiatic Greeks. By this crowning iniquity the tottering Spartan supremacy was bolstered up a few years longer.

Of course the shame of betraying the Asiatic Greeks must be shared by the enemies of Sparta who had used Persian aid against her; but the policy had been first introduced by Sparta in seeking Persian assistance in 412 against Athens, and so far no other Greek state had offered to surrender Hellenic cities to barbarians as the price of such aid.

C.   From the Betrayal of Hellas to Leuctra.

The power so infamously recovered by Sparta was used with the same brutal cunning as in the past, and with even more arrogant contempt for justice. The Spartan government cynically announced the maxim that anything was right which, was expedient and avowed a policy of keeping down all beginnings of greatness in Greece. Arcadia had shown signs of growing strength, but the leading city, Mantinea, was now broken up and the inhabitants dispersed in villages; by treachery in time of peace a Spartan force seized the citadel of Thebes; and, a little later, when the Athenian naval power began to revive, a like treacherous, though unsuccessful, attempt was made upon the Peiraeus.

Ruin of the Chalcidic Confederacy.—These outrages were all to recoil finally upon the head of the offenders; but first there occurred an event, deplorable for Greece. After the overthrow of the Athenian power on the north coast of the Aegean in the Peloponnesian War, Olynthus, a leading Greek city of the district, had built up a promising Hellenic confederacy, to check the Thracian and Macedonian barbarians. From the little that we know of this league, it seems probable that a definite advance in federal government was made here. The cities retained their equality and separate independence in local matters; but they were merged in a large state with new bonds of union never before seen in Greek leagues. The citizens of any city could live and hold land and intermarry in anu other city of the confederacy; and no one city had superior right or privileges, as Athens had had in the Delian League.

The forty states so united made already a formidable power, and if left to grow, this union might have saved Hellas from Macedonian conquest, or even have brought all Hellas into union. Athens and Thebes had declined to join, however, and now Sparta destroyed the confederacy, leaving the ground cleared for the subsequent growth of Macedon.

Revolt of Thebes, New Athenian Confederacy. — The attack upon Spartan rule came from Thebes, and Athens, who had been so wantonly injured. The Spartan garrison at Thebes supported an oligarchic Theban government whose terrorism drove crowds of citizens into exile. Athens received them, as Thebes had sheltered Athenian fugitives in the time of the Thirty Tyrants; and from Athens their leader Pelopidas struck the return blow. Thebes was surprised and seized by the exiles, and the government passed into the hands of the democrats.

An indecisive war with Sparta followed for some years. During this conflict, in 377-376 B.C., the cities of the Aegean began to seek protection against Sparta in a new league with Athens. This confederacy had a definite written constitution. Each state was to send a deputy to a congress at Athens. Athens herself was to have no representative in the congress, but she was to have a veto upon its decisions. Thus the confederacy consisted of two parts,—Athens and the allies, neither of which could coerce the other. The old arrangement of contributions of money and ships was adopted under new names. The league came to count seventy communities; but it was designed only to check Sparta, and it faded away when Sparta became too weak to be feared.

Leuctra; Overthrow of Sparta.— In 371 B.C.the contending parties, wearied with war, concluded peace. But when the deputies were about to sign for their cities, Epaminondas, the Theban representative, demanded the right to sign for all Boeotia, as Sparta did for all Laconia. Sparta, therefore, excluded Thebes from the peace and turned to crush her, now left alone. A powerful army at once invaded Boeotia,—and met with an overwhelming defeat by a smaller Theban force at Leuctra.

This amazing result was due to the military genius of Epaminondas. Hitherto the Greeks had fought in extended lines, from eight to twelve men deep. Against such a Spartan line Epaminondas adopted a new arrangement that marks a step in warfare. He massed his best troops in a solid column, fifty deep, on the left, opposite the Spartan wing in the Peloponnesian army. His other troops were spread out as thin as possible. The solid phalanx was set in motion first; then the thinner center and right wing advanced more slowly, so as to engage the attention of the enemy opposite, but not to come into action until the battle should have been won by the massed column.

In short, Epaminondas simply adopted a device whereby he could safely mass a great part of his force against one part of his enemy’s line. The weight of the Theban charge crushed through and trampled under the Spartan force. Four hundred of the seven hundred Spartans, with their king and with a thousand Perioeci, went down in ten minutes. The field was won, and Sparta was a second-rate power. The mere loss was a fatal enough blow, now that Spartan citizenship was so reduced,—the number of full citizens after this battle did not exceed fifteen hundred,—but the effect upon the military prestige of Sparta was more deadly. Hone the less, the Spartan character never showed to better advantage. Sparta was always greater in defeat than in victory. Her virtue was that of endurance rather than of action; and she met her fate with heroic courage. The news of the overthrow did not interfere with a festival that was going on, and only the relatives of the survivors of the battle appeared in mourning.





The Interest in the Brief Supremacy of Thebes centers in two facts—the personality of Epaminondas and the connection with young Philip of Macedon.

Epaminondas marks one of the fair heights to which human nature ascends. With a more lovable and more justly balanced character, he sought to do for Thebes what Pericles had done for Athens; and while he lived, success seemed possible. Sparta was humiliated and Laconia ravaged. Messenia was liberated on one side, with its new capital, Messene, and Arcadia was organized into a federal union on another side—“to surround Sparta with a perpetual blockade.” In the latter district, Mantinea was restored, and Epaminondas united forty scattered villages into a new city, Megalopolis (the Great City). Except for aid from Athens, Sparta probably would have been totally destroyed. Epaminondas then turned upon Athens, built fleets, swept the Athenian navy from the seas, and made Euboea a Theban possession. Meantime Pelopidas had been active in the north. Both Thessaly and Macedonia were brought under Theban influence, and the young Philip, prince of Macedon, spent some years in Thebes as a hostage, learning lessons in war and in politics that were to result in the conquest of Greece and of Asia.

Thus Thebes had replaced Sparta as head of Greece, and a humiliating embassy to the Persian court obtained express recognition of that fact from the Great King. This leadership, however, rested solely on the supreme genius of one statesman, and vanished instantly at his death. In 362 B.C., for the fourth time Epaminondas marched against Sparta, and at Mantinea won another great victory, by tactics like those of Leuctra. This was the greatest land battle ever fought between Hellenes, and nearly all the states of Greece took part on one side or the other. The victory of Thebes ought to have made her supremacy lasting; but Epaminondas himself fell on the field, and his city sank at once to a slow and narrow policy.

No state was left in Greece to assume leadership. Even within the Peloponnesus, Arcadians and Messenians proved incapable of steady government; and a turbulent anarchy, in place of the stern Spartan rule, seemed the only fruit of the brief glory of the great Theban.





The failure of the Greek cities to federate or consolidate made it certain that sooner or later they must fall to some outside power. Sparta and Thebes (with Persian aid) had been able to prevent Athenian leadership; Thebes and Athens had overthrown Sparta; Sparta and Athens had still been able to stalemate Thebes. Each state had been discredited and exhausted in turn; and each, in varying degree, had sinned by calling in Persia or by recognizing her as arbiter in Hellenic politics. No one of the three had thought of empire primarily as involving duties to the subjects. The Greeks had not degenerated, as is sometimes taught; but the imperfections of their political system had become apparent, and it was to be replaced by something stronger.

Macedon.— The Macedonians were part of the “outer rim of the Greek race.” They were still barbaric, and perhaps were mixed somewhat with non-Hellenic elements. They had remained in the tribal stage until just before this time, when a series of able kings had consolidated them into a real nation. The change was so recent that Alexander a little later could say, in his one reproachful speech to his army: —

Philip II.—From a gold medallion struck by Alexander.

“My father, Philip, found you a roving people, without fixed habits tions and without resources, most of you clad in the skins of animals,  pasturing a few sheep among the mountains, and, to defend these, waging a luckless warfare with the Illyrians, the Triballans, and the Thracians on your borders. But he gave you the soldier’s cloak to replace the skins and led you down from the mountains into the plain, making you a worthy match in war against the barbarians on your frontier, so that you no longer trusted to the security of your strongholds so much as to your own personal valor for safety. He made you to dwell in cities and provided you with wholesome laws and institutions. Over those same barbarians, who before had plundered you and carried off as booty both yourselves and your substance, he made you, instead of slaves and underlings, to be masters and lords.” — Arrian.

This Philip II is one of the most remarkable men in history. He was ambitious, crafty, sagacious, persistent, unscrupulous, an unfailing judge of character, and a marvelous organizer. He set himself to make his people true Greeks by making them the leaders of Greece. He was determined to secure that primacy for which Athens, Sparta, and Thebes had all vainly striven. The struggle revealed the advantages of a consolidated national monarchy as against divided, mutually jealous city states, and of a single powerful ruler, able to keep his own council and to pursue one policy unwaveringly, as against public discussions, changing votes, and conflicting plans, in city assemblies. The result was foregone.






At Philip’s accession Macedon was still a poor country without a safe harbor. The first need was an outlet on the sea. Philip found one by conquering the Chalcidic peninsula. Though Sparta had ruined the Athenian power there, and afterward the Olynthian, yet both Athens and Olynthus kept important possessions in that region, and, at this stage, by combining they might still have checked Macedon. By playing them off against each other, Philip won; and his energy developed the gold mine of the district until they furnished him a yearly revenue of a thousand talents—as large as that of Athens at her greatest power. Then he turned to Greece itself, and here, too, he used an adroit mingling of cunning, bribery, and force. In all Greek states, among the pretended patriot statesmen, there were secret emissaries in his pay. He set city against city; and the constant tendency to quarrels among the Greeks played into his hands.

The only man who saw clearly the designs of Philip, and who at the same time constantly opposed them, was Demosthenes the Athenian, the greatest orator of Greece. To check Macedonia became the one passionate aim of his life; and the last glow of Greek political independence flames up in his appeals to Athens to champion Hellas against Macedon as she had once done against Persia, irrespective of all selfish ends: —

“Suppose that you have one of the gods as surety that Philip will leave you untouched, in the name of all the gods, it is a shame for you in ignorant stupidity to sacrifice the rest of Hellas! ”

The noble orations by which he sought to move the Athenian assembly to action against Philip (the Philippics), are still unrivaled in that form of literature, but their practical effeot was to secure only a halting policy.

Meantime, Philip built up an army as superior to the four-months citizen armies of Hellas as his diplomacy was superior to that of a popular assembly. His wealth enabled him to keep ready for action a disciplined force of veterans. He enlarged the Theban phalanx, and improved it, so that the ranks presented five rows of bristling spears projecting beyond the front soldier. The flanks were protected by light-armed troops modeled after the peltasts of Iphicrates; and the Macedonian nobles furnished the finest of cavalry. At the same, time a field “artillery” first appears, able to throw darts and great stones three hundred yards. Such a mixture of troops, and on a permanent footing, was altogether novel. Philip was organizing the engine with which his son was to conquer the world.

Chaeronea and the Congress of Corinth. — In 338 B.C.Philip threw off the mask and invaded Greece. Athens and Thebes combined against him—to be hopelessly crushed at Chaeronea. Then a congress of Greek states at Corinth recognized Macedonia as the head of Greece. A formal constitution  provided that the separate states should retain their local self-government without payment of tribute, but that foreign matters, including war and peace, should be committed to Philip. Philip was also declared general-in-chief of the armies of Greece for a war against Persia.

Thus Philip posed, wisely, not as the vanquisher, but as the champion of Greece against the great foe of all Hellenes. He showed a patient magnanimity, too, toward fickle Greek states, and in particular he strove to reconcile Athens. Indeed, Philip needed, not reluctant subjects, but willing followers. The conquest was disguised under the color of national sympathies, but none the less the history of Hellas had closed. Greece thereafter, until well into the nineteenth century, was only a province of this or that foreign power. We pass to the story of a wider Hellenism and the creation of a new Graeco-Oriental world. For this, Philip had prepared by his two great achievements. He had united Greece under Macedonian supremacy by means of a national undertaking, and he had previously created the Macedonian political and military instruments with which his son was to carry that undertaking to successful issue. For these things Philip II ranks among the great positive forces in history.


Cartledge, Paul (2002). Sparta and Lakonia: A regional history 1300–362 BC.






Benjamin Wheeler , Alexander the Great : the merging of East and West in universal history


Head of Alexander. Rondanini. Probably a copy of the gold-ivory portrait statue by the sculptor Leochares, just after the battle of Chaeronea. (Now at Munich.)


Two great men engaged in the same work could hardly differ more widely than Philip of Macedon and his greater son, Alexander. The contrast was due no doubt to Alexander’s mother, Olympias, a half-barbaric Epirot princess of intense passions and generous enthusiasms, which mounted sometimes into frenzied religious ecstasies. Says Benjamin Wheeler:-

“While it was from his father that Alexander inherited his sagacious insight into men and things, and his brilliant capacity for timely and determined action, it was to his mother that he undoubtedly owed that passionate warmth of nature which betrayed itself not only in the furious outbursts of temper occasionally characteristic of him, but quite as much in a romantic fervor of attachment and love for friends, a delicate tenderness of sympathy for the weak, and a princely largeness and generosity of soul toward all, that made him so deeply beloved of men and so enthusiastically followed.” 

Much, too, in Alexander’s character was due to careful training. As a boy, he had been fearless and self-willed, with fervent affections and with a restless eagerness for action; but his earliest tutors taught him to curb his impulses, to endure hardship, and to despise ease and luxury. His later education had been directed by Aristotle. The young prince had phown an impatient ambition to master all departments of knowledge, and he was devoted to Homer, whose poems he knew by heart. Homer’s Achilles he claimed as an ancestor and took for his ideal.

Philip was assassinated two years after Chaeronea, when just ready to begin the invasion of Asia. Alexander was a stripling of twenty years. He was to prove a rare military genius; indeed, he never refused an engagement and never lost a battle; and also, on occasion, he could be shrewd and adroit in diplomacy. But at this time he was known only as an impetuous youth; and it was natural enough to expect a rash boy to fail to hold together the empire that had been built up by the force and fraud of the most astute ruler of the time. Revolt and disorder broke out everywhere; but the young king showed himself at once both statesman and general. With marvelous rapidity he struck crushing blows on this side and on that. A hurried expedition conciliated Greece; the savage and semi-dependent tribes of the north were quieted by a rapid march beyond the Danube; then, turning on Illyria, Alexander forced the mountain passes and overran the country; and while it was believed that he was killed or defeated among the barbarians, he suddenly appeared a second time in rebellious Greece, falling with swift and terrible vengeance upon Thebes, the center of revolt. The city was taken by storm and leveled to the ground, except for the house of Pindar; and the thirty thousand surviving inhabitants were sold as slaves. The other states were terrified into abject submission, and were treated generously. A congress at Corinth renewed the compact formerly made with Philip; and, like his father, Alexander now turned, as the champion of Hellas, to the attack upon Persia. With the cool and practical Philip, this attitude may perhaps have been only a politician’s device to secure empire in Hellas. With the enthusiastic Alexander, in the full flush of power, it became at once an all-controlling ideal.

The Persian Campaigns.—In the spring of 334 B.C.Alexander crossed the Hellespont with thirty-five thousand disciplined troops. The number was quite enough to scatter any Oriental army, and as large as any general could handle in long and rapid marches in a hostile country; but it contrasts strangely with the huge hordes Xerxes had led against Greece a century and a half before. The path of march and the immense distances traversed can be best traced by the map. The conquest of the empire occupied five years, and the story falls into three distinct chapters, each marked by a world-famous battle.

a.    Battle of the Granicus.—The Persian satraps of Asia Minor met the invaders at the Granicus, a small stream in the Troad. With the personal rashness that was the one blot upon his supreme military skill, Alexander led the Macedonian charge through the river and up the steep bank into the midst of the Persian cavalry, where he barely escaped death. The Persian nobles fought, as always, with gallant self-devotion, but were utterly routed. Then the Greek mercenaries in Persian pay were surrounded and cut down to a man. No quarter was to be given Hellenes fighting as traitors to the cause of Hellas. The victory cost Alexander only one hundred and twenty men, and it made him master of all Asia Minor. He then set up democracies in the Greek cities,—requiring them, however, to grant amnesties to other factions,—and he spent some months in receiving the submission and organizing the government of the various provinces.

b.    Battle of Issus.—To strike at the heart of the empire at once would have been to leave in the rear a large Persian fleet which might encourage revolt in Greece. Alexander wisely determined to secure the entire coast before marching into the interior. Turning south, just after crossing the mountains that separate Asia Minor from Syria, at Issus he defeated a Persian host of six hundred thousand men, led by King Darius in person. The cramped space between the mountains and the sea made the very numbers of the Persians an embarrassment to themselves, and they soon became a huddled mob of fugitives. Alexander now assumed the title of King of Persia. The sieges of Tyre and Gaza detained him a year, but Egypt welcomed him as a deliverer, and by the close of 332 B.C. all the sea power of the world was his. While in Egypt he showed his constructive genius by founding Alexandria at one of the mouths of the Kile—a city destined to be the commercial and intellectual capital of the world for centuries, where before there had been a mere haunt of pirates.

c.    Battle of Arbela.—Rejecting contemptuously a proposed division of the empire with Darius, Alexander resumed his march. Following the ancient routes from Egypt to Assyria, he met Darius at Arbela, near ancient Nineveh. The Persians are said to have numbered a million men. Alexander purposely allowed them choice of time and place, and by a third decisive victory proved the hopelessness of resistance in the field. Darius never gathered another army. The capitals of the empire—Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana, Persepolis— surrendered, with enormous treasure in gold and silver, and the Persian Empire had fallen (331 B.C.)

Campaigns in the Far East.—The next six years went, however, to much more desperate warfare in the eastern mountain regions, and in the Punjab. Alexander carried his arms almost twice as far east from Babylon as Babylon was from Macedonia. He traversed great deserts, subdued the warlike and princely barons of Bactria and Sogdiana up to the steppes of the wild Tartar tribes beyond the Oxus, twice forced the passes of the Hindukush (a feat almost unparalleled), subdued the valiant mountaineers of what is now Afghanistan, and led his army into the fertile and populous plains of northern India. He crossed the Indus, won realms beyond the ancient Persian province of the Punjab, and planned still more distant empires; but on the banks of the Hyphasis his faithful Macedonians refused to be led farther to waste aWay in inhuman perils, and the chagrined conqueror was compelled to return to Babylon—to die there of a fever two years later (323 B.C.) in the midst of preparations to extend his conquests both east and west. The last years, however, were given mainly to organizing the empire; and to the results of this constructive work we will now turn.

Alexander in a Lion-hunt. (Sarcophagus of Alexander)




Alexander began his conquest to avenge the West upon the East; but as he came to see the excellent and noble qualities in Oriental life also, he rose rapidly with the years to a broader vision. He aimed no longer to hold a world-empire in subjection by the force of a small conquering tribe, but to amalgamate Persian and Greek into one people on terms of equality and cooperation; he wished to marry the East and the West—“to bring them together into a composite civilization, to which each should contribute its better elements.”

Persian youth were trained by thousands in Macedonian fashion to replace the veterans of Alexander’s army; Persian nobles were welcomed at court and given high preferment; and in general the government of Asia was entrusted largely to Asiatics, on a system similar to that of Darius the Great. Alexander himself adopted Persian manners and customs, and married Persian wives, and he bribed and coaxed his officers and soldiers to do the like. This was all part of a deliberate design to encourage the fusion of the two peoples. The Macedonians jealously protested, and even rebelled, but were quickly reduced to obedience; and there is no question as to the statesmanlike wisdom of Alexander’s plan.

At the same time Alexander saw that to fulfill this mission he must throw open the East to Greek ideas. The races might mingle their blood; the Greek might learn from the Orient, and in the end be absorbed by it; but the thought and art of little Hellas must leaven with its active energy the vast passive mass of the East. A vital measure, adopted consciously to this end, was the foundation of chains of cities to bind together these conquests and to become the homes of Hellenic influence. Alexander himself built seventy of these towns (usually called from his name, like the first Alexandria in Egypt). Their walls sprang up under the pick and spade of the soldiery along the lines of march—sometimes mere garrison towns on distant frontiers, but oftener mighty emporiums at the intersection of great lines of trade. There was an Alexandria on the Jaxartes, on the Indus, on the Euphrates, as well as on the Nile. One great city, we are told, walls and houses, was completed in twenty days. The sites were chosen wisely, and many remain great capitals to this day, like Herat and Kandahar (Iskandar, the Oriental form of the name Alexander).

This building of Greek cities was continued by Alexander’s successors. Once more, and on a vaster scale than ever before, the Greek genius for colonization found vent. Each of these cities from the first had a Greek nucleus. Usually this consisted only of worn-out veterans left behind as a garrison; but enterprising youth emigrating from old Hellas, almost to its depopulation, continued to reenforce the Greek influence. The native village people roundabout were gathered in to make the bulk of the inhabitants, and these also soon took on Greek character: from scattered, ignorant rustics, they became artisans and merchants, devotedly attached to Greek rule and zealous missionaries of Greek culture. The cities “were all built on a large and comfortable model; they were well paved; they had ample provision for lighting by night, and a good water supply; they had police arrangements, and good thoroughfares.” They received extensive privileges and enjoyed a large amount of self-government, even in the despotic East: they met in their own assemblies, managed their own courts, and collected their own taxes. They made the backbone of Hellenism throughout the world for centuries, and were truly Greek in character. Greek was the ordinary speech of their streets; Greek architecture built their temples and houses; Greek sculpture adorned them; they celebrated Greek games and festivals; and, no longer in little Hellas alone, but over the whole East, in Greek theaters, vast audiences were educated by the plays of Euripides.

The unity of this widespread civilization cannot he insisted upon too strongly. Political unity, it is true, was soon lost; hut the oneness of culture endured for centuries, and maintained its character even after Roman conquest. Over all that vast area there was for all cultivated men a single common language, a common literature, a common mode of thought. The civilization that had been developed by one small people became now the heritage of a great world.

Hellenic Civilization.—Hellas itself lost importance relatively, and even absolutely. It was drained of its intellect and enterprise, which wandered to the east to win fortune and distinction. And, of course, the victorious Hellenic civilization was modified by its victory, both in the old and in the new home. Sympathies were broadened. The barrier between Greek and barbarian faded away. Without some compromise with Orientalism, Greek ideas would hardly have won their way so rapidly. In particular, we may note two forms of the reaction upon the older Greek culture: the economic and the scientific.

a.    Economic.—The wealth of the world, and especially of Europe, was enormously augmented. The vast treasure hoards of Oriental monarchs were thrown again into circulation, and large sums were brought back to Europe by returned mercenaries and adventurers. Trade was stimulated; a higher standard of living arose for the many; manifold new comforts and enjoyments adorned and enriched life. In its economic aspects, the conquest had results not unlike those of the discovery of Mexico and Peru upon medieval Europe. Somewhat later, perhaps as a result of this increase of wealth, there came other and unfortunate changes. Extremes of wealth and poverty appeared side by side, as in our modern society; the great cities had their hungry, sullen, dangerous mobs; and socialistic agitation began on a large scale. These last phenomena, however, concerned only the last days of the Hellenic world before its absorption by Rome.

b.    Scientific.— A new era of scientific progress began. Alexander himself always manifested the zeal of an explorer, and one of the most important scientific expeditions ever sent out by any government is due to him while in India. When he first touched the Indus, he thought it the upper course of the Nile; but he built a great fleet of two thousand vessels, sailed down the river to the Indian Ocean, and then dispatched his friend Nearchus to explore that sea and to find a water route to the mouth of the Euphrates. After a voyage of many months, Nearchus reached Babylon, thus reopening an ancient route of commerce between Chaldea and India. He had mapped the coast line, made frequent landings, and collected a mass of observations upon natural phenomena and a multitude of strange plants and animals.

Like collections were made by Alexander at other times, to be sent to his old instructor Aristotle, who embodied the results of his study upon them in a Natural History of fifty volumes. The Greek intellect, indeed, attracted by the marvels of a new world opened before it, turned from metaphysics and verbal discussions to scientific observation and to the classification of the facts of the universe. Again the result was not unlike that of the discovery of America upon the intellect of medieval Europe. This impulse was intensified by the discovery of the long series of astronomical observations of the Babylonians and of the historical records and traditions of the Orientals, reaching back to an antiquity of which the Greeks had not dreamed. The active Greek mind, seizing upon all this confused wealth of material, began to compare and put in order, and to erect, with principles of scientific criticism, a great system of knowledge about man and nature.

Summary.— Thus the new product was not simply either of the old factors. Alexander’s victories are not merely events in military history. They make an epoch in the onward march of humanity. Alexander enlarged the map of the world again and made these vaster spaces the home of a higher culture. He grafted the new West upon the old East, and from this graft sprang the plant of our later civilization.

Alexander died at thirty-two. Had he lived to seventy, it is hard to say what he might not have done in providing for lasting political union, and perhaps even in bringing India and China into the current of our civilization. His lamentably early death brought about the political disruption of his empire, and has left the world in two halves from that day to this.

“No single personality, excepting the carpenter’s son of Nazareth, has done so much to make the world we live in what it is as Alexander of Macedon. He leveled the terrace upon which European history built. Whatever lay within the range of his conquests contributed its part to form that Mediterranean civilization, which under Rome’s administration became the basis of European life. What lay beyond was as if on another planet.” — Wheeler, Alexander the Great.

Further Reading. —

Mahaffy, Story of Alexander’s Empire






Wars of the Succession (323-280 B.C.).— For nearly half a century after Alexander’s death the political history of the civilized world was a horrible welter of war, intrigue, and assassination, while his generals strove with one another for empire. For a time it seemed possible that some able leader might prove strong enough to hold together all Alexander’s conquests. Antigonus came nearest such success; but four other great generals and satraps united against him, and after his defeat at Ipsus in Phrygia (301 B.C.), the contest became one merely over shifting lines of partition.

Finally, about 280 B.C., something like a fixed order emerged, and then followed a period of sixty years known as the Glory of Hellenism. The Greek world reached from the Adriatic to the Indus, and consisted of: (a) three great powers, the kingdoms of Syria, Egypt, and Macedonia ; (b) a broken chain of smaller monarchies scattered from Media to Epirus, some of them, like Pontus and Armenia, under dynasties descended from Persian princes; and (c) single free cities like Cos and Byzantium, or leagues of such cities, like that under the leadership of Rhodes.

nvasion by the Gauls.— The chief event of general interest in this period was the great Gallic invasion of 278 B.C. It was the first formidable barbarian attack upon the Eastern world since the Scythians had been chastized by the early Persian kings. A century before, however, hordes of these same Gauls had devastated northern Italy and sacked Rome. Now (fortunately not until the ruinous Wars of the Succession were over) they poured into exhausted Macedonia, penetrated into Greece as far as Delphi, and, after horrible ravages there, carried havoc into Asia. For a long period every great sovereign of the Greek world turned his arms upon them, and they were finally settled as peaceful colonists in a region of Asia Minor, called Galatia from their name. Perhaps we are most interested in noting that the Hellenic patriotism roused by the attack—in some measure like that in little Hellas, two hundred years earlier, by the Persian invasions—played a part in the national outburst of art and literature which followed and which found its themes largely in this conflict. The Dying Gaul and the Apollo Belvidere, among the noblest surviving works of the period, commemorate incidents in the struggle.

The Decline of the Hellenic World may be dated from 220 B.C. At that time the thrones of the three larger kingdoms received youthful occupants who were all to illustrate the too common degeneracy in Oriental royal lines a few generations after great founders; and at almost the moment of this decay, there began the final attack from without upon the Hellenic East. Sixty years before, the rising Roman power had come into conflict with the Greek states in southern Italy and in Sicily. Complications with the eastern Greek kingdoms followed. Then came the Punic wars between Kome and Carthage. The Second .Punic War began in 218 B.C. and involved all the great Greek powers, one by one, in its consequences.


The Dying Gaul, incorrectly called The Dying Gladiator.




Syria was the largest of the great monarchies. It comprised most of Alexander’s empire in Asia, except the small states in Asia Minor. After the battle of Ipsus, it fell to Seleucus, whose descendants (Seleucidae) ruled it to the Roman conquest. They excelled all other successors of Alexander in building cities and extending Greek culture over distant regions. Seleucus alone founded seventy-five cities. About 250 B.C. Indian princes reconquered the Punjab, and the Parthians arose on the northeast to cut off the frontier Bactrian provinces from the rest of the Greek world, though these isolated districts remained under independent Greek kings, as their coins show, some two centuries more. Thus Syria shrank up to the area of the ancient Assyrian Empire—the Euphrates-Tigris basin and old Syria proper—but it was still, in common opinion, the greatest world power. After the second Punic War, the Syrian monarch gave shelter to Hannibal, the defeated Carthaginian leader, and so incurred Roman hostility. His power was shattered at Magnesia in the year 190 B.C., but the country did not become a part of the Roman dominions until 63 B.C. During this last, and weak, period of Syrian power, occurred the heroic rebellion of the Jews under the Maccabees; the Jewish state secured independence and maintained it a hundred years, until the East fell under Roman sway (162-163 B.C.).

251. Egypt included Cyprus, and exercised a vague suzerainty over many coast towns of Syria aud Asia Minor. Immediately upon Alexander’s death, one of his generals, Ptolemy, chose Egypt for his province, and his descendants ruled it until Cleopatra yielded to Augustus Caesar (30 B.C.), though it had become a Roman protectorate some time before. The first Ptolemies were wise, energetic sovereigns. They aimed to make Egypt the commercial emporium of the world, and to make their capital Alexandria the world’s intellectual center. Ptolemy I established a great naval power, improved harbors, and built the first great lighthouse. Ptolemy II. (Philadelphus) restored the old canal of Neco from the Red Sea to the Nile, and constructed roads. Ptolemy III, in war with Syria, carried his arms to Bactria, and on his return secured the circumnavigation of Arabia which Alexander had planned. The even more remarkable progress in intellectual development under these kings will be treated below. The later Ptolemies were weaklings or infamous monsters, guilty of every despicable folly and crime; but even they fostered learning.

Macedonia ceases to be of great interest after the death of Alexander, except from a military point of view. Naturally it was the first part of the empire of Alexander to come into hostile contact with Rome. King Philip V joined Carthage in the second Punic War a little before the year 200 B.C. A series of struggles resulted, and Macedonia, with parts of Greece, became Roman in 146 B.C.

Rhodes and Pergamum.— Among the many smaller states, two deserve special mention. Rhodes had been a member of the second Athenian confederacy, but had become independent before the Macedonian era. Later on she headed a maritime confederacy herself, and in the third century she became the leading commercial state of the Mediterranean. Her policy was one of peace and freedom of trade. Pergamum was a small Greek kingdom in Asia Minor, which the genius and liberality of its rulers (the Attalids) raised to prominence in politics and art. When the struggles with Rome began, Pergamum allied itself with that power, and long remained a favored state under Roman protection.



Venus of Melos (Milo). — A statue uow in the Louvre.

General Culture.—From 280 to 150 B.C.was the period of the chief splendor of the new, widespread Hellenism. The age was a great and fruitful one. Society was refined; the position of woman improved; private fortunes abounded, and private houses possessed works of art, which, in earlier times, would have been found only in palaces or temples. For the reverse side, there was corruption in high places, hungry and threatening mobs at the base of society, and, in general, shallowness and insincerity. Among the countless cities, all homes of culture, five great intellectual centers appeared—Athens, Alexandria, Rhodes, Pergamos, Antioch. The glory of Alexandria extended over the whole period, which is sometimes known as the Alexandrian age; the others successively held a special preeminence for a generation. Athens, however, always excelled in philosophy, and Rhodes in oratory. (Julius Caesar studied oratory at Rhodes.)

Literature.— Some new forms appeared in art and literature : especially, (a) the prose romance, a story of love and adventure, the forerunner of the modern novel; (6) the pastoral idyllic poetry of Theocritus, which was to influence Vergil and Tennyson; and (c) personal memoirs. These make a part of the debt we owe to this many-sided Alexandrian age. The old Attic comedy, too, became the New Comedy of Menander and his followers, devoted to satirizing gently the life and manners of the time. In general, no doubt, the tendency in literature was toward critical scholarship rather than toward great and fresh creation. Floods of books appeared, more notable for style than matter. Erudition and technique are the key words to the age. Treatises on literary criticism abounded; the science of grammar was developed; and poets prided themselves upon writing all kinds of verse equally well. In many of its faults, as in some of its virtues, the time strikingly resembles our own.

Apollo Belvedere

Painting gained prominence at the expense of calmer, more monumental sculpture—as befitted a complex society that loved great passions and exciting moments. Zeuxis, Parrhasius, and Apelles are the three great names connected with this art. These men seem to have carried realistic painting to great perfection. According to the stories, Zeuxis painted a cluster of grapes so that birds pecked at them, while Apelles painted a horse so that real horses neighed at the sight.

Despite the attention given to painting, Greek sculpture produced some of its greatest work in this period. Multitudes of splendid statues were created—so abundantly, indeed, that even the names of the artists are not preserved. Among the famous pieces that survive, besides the Dying Gaul and the Apollo Belvidere, are the Venus of Milo (Melos) and the Laocoon group.

Philosophy separates itself finally from science, and turns to theories of human conduct. It also leaves the closet for the street; it ceases to be the province of the secluded thinker, and seeks converts and proselytes. The period of the Wars of the Succession saw two new philosophical systems born—Epicureanism and Stoicism. These were both essentially practical; they dwelt mainly upon ethics and the laws of moral action, and sought human happiness and virtue, not knowledge.

Epicurus was an Athenian citizen. He taught that every man must pursue happiness as an end, but he held that the most and the highest pleasure was to be obtained not by gratification of lower appetites, but by a wise choice of the refined pleasures of the intellect and of friendship. He advised temperance and virtue as means to happiness; and he himself lived an abstemious life, saying that with a crust of bread and a cup of cold water he could rival Zeus in happiness. But, under cover of his theories, some of his followers taught and practiced a grossness which Epicurus himself would have earnestly condemned. Epicureanism produced some lovable characters, but no exalted ones. On the speculative side, the Epicureans denied the supernatural altogether, and held death the end of all things. Contemporary with Epicurus, Zeno the Stoic taught at Athens. His followers made virtue, not happiness, the end of life. If happiness were to come at all, it would come as a result, not as an end. They placed emphasis upon the dignity of human nature. The wise man, they held, should be superior to all the accidents of fortune. They believed in the gods as manifestations of one Divine Providence that ordered all things well. The noblest characters of the Greek and Roman world from this time belonged to this sect. Stoicism was inclined, however, to ignore the gentler and kindlier side of human life; and with weak and bitter natures it merged into the philosophy of the Cynics, of whom Diogenes with his tub and lantern is the great example.

Both Stoics and Epicureans held to a wide brotherhood of man. Philosophy, like Greek civilization, became cosmopolitan. It took the place of religion as a real guide to life, and the great body of philosophers were the clergy of the next few centuries much more truly than were the various priesthoods of the temples.

Libraries and Museums (“Universities”).— Two new institutions appeared, which, when combined as at Alexandria, made the forerunner of the modern university. The union of a body of teachers and learners into a corporation, with permanent endowment and legal succession, began at this time in Athens and Alexandria, and the idea has never since died out of the world. Plato had bequeathed his gardens at Athens, with other property, to his followers, on the basis of a worship of the Muses (since the Athenian law could not recognize property rights in. a club unless it avowed some religious purpose). This was the first endowed academy. The model and name were used a little later by the first and second Ptolemies at Alexandria in their Museum. Here was founded a great library of over half a million volumes (manuscripts), with scribes to make careful editions and copies of them; here also were established observatories and zoological and botanical gardens, with collections of rare plants and animals from distant parts of the world. The librarians and other scholars who were gathered about the institution by the Ptolemies corresponded in some measure to the faculty of a university, and devoted their lives to a search for knowledge and to teaching.

“The external appearance was that of a group of buildings which served a common purpose—temple of the Muses, library, porticoes, dwellings, and a hall for meals, which were taken together. The inmates were a community of scholars and poets, on whom the king bestowed the honor and privilege of being allowed to work at his expense with all imaginable assistance ready to hand. It was a foundation which had something of the Institute of France, and something of the Colleges at Oxford. The managing board was composed of priests, but the most influential post was that of librarian.”—Holm.

One enterprise, of incalculable benefit to the later world, may illustrate the zeal of the Ptolemies in regard to collecting and translating texts. Alexandria had many Jews in its population, but they were coming to use the Greek language. Philadelphus, for their benefit, had the Hebrew Scriptures translated into Greek, the famous Septuagint translation, so called from the tradition that it was the work of seventy scholars.

Science.— As compared with all previous time, science made great strides. Medicine, surgery, botany, and mechanics first appear as real sciences. Archimedes of Syracuse discovered the principle of the lever, and of specific gravity, and constructed burning mirrors and new hurling engines that made effective siege artillery. Euclid at Alexandria produced the geometry which, with little modification, is still taught in our schools. Eratosthenes (born 276 B.C.), the librarian at Alexandria, wrote a systematic treatise on geography, invented delicate astronomical instruments, and devised the present method of measuring the circumference of the earth—with results nearly accurate. A little later, Aristarchus taught that the earth moved round the sun; and Hipparchus calculated eclipses, catalogued the stars, and wrote scientific treatises on astronomy; indeed, he is regarded as the founder of mathematical astronomy and of plane and spherical trigonometry. Aristotle  had already given all the proofs of the sphericity of the earth that are common in our text-books now (except that of actual circumnavigation), and had asserted the probability that men could reach Asia by sailing west from Europe.








During the ruinous Wars of the Succession, Greece was the battle ground for Egypt, Syria, and Macedonia. Those struggles left the land for a time in vassalage to Macedonia, and that country tried to secure her rule by garrisons in important places or by local tyrants subservient to her. But, almost at once, a new champion of Hellenic liberty appeared in a spot hitherto obscure. A league of small Achaean towns grew into a formidable power, gallantly freed most of historic Greece, brought much of it into its federal union on equal terms, and for a glorious half-century maintained Greek freedom successfully.

The story offers curious resemblances and contrasts to the period of Athenian leadership just two hundred years earlier. Greece could no longer hope to become one of the great physical powers; we miss the intellectual brilliancy, too, of the fifth century; but the epoch affords even more instructive political lessons—especially to Americans, interested, as we are, in federal institutions.      

In early centuries the more backward and tribal parts of Greece had offered many examples of confederation, as in the cases of the Phocians, Locrians, Acarnanians, and Epirots. In city Greece, however, no such league had flourished. The ancient Boeotian confederacy sank under the rule of a predominant city; the later attempts of Athens and Olynthus to apply the federal principle to numerous city states had failed, the one from internal causes, the other from Spartan interference. Now, two of the older confederacies— Aetolia and Achaea— stepped forth as champions of Hellas, and the federal organization gained a prominence wholly new in history.

The Aetolian League seems to have been originally a loose union of mountain cantons for defence. The Wars of the Succession, however, made the Aetolians famous as the boldest soldiers of fortune in the Hellenic world; and this repute, together with the wealth brought home by the thousands of such adventurers, led to a more aggressive policy on the part of the league. The people remained, on the whole, rude mountaineers, “brave, boastful, rapacious, and utterly reckless of the rights of others.” They did play a part in saving southern Greece from the invading Gauls, but their confederacy became more and more an organization for lawless plunder. Their original constitution seems to have been much like the Achaean (which, however, we know more in detail).; but as they extended their authority over distant cities by conquest or by threats of blackmail, they did not incorporate these new elements into the union on equal terms, as the great Achaean League was to do with its new members. The Aetolian Union, therefore, soon comes to be less valuable as an example of federal government than is its great rival.



The people of Achaea were unwarlike, and not particularly enterprising or intellectual. They gave no great name to literature or art, nor did they even furnish great statesmen, for all the heroes of the league, were to come from outside old Achaea. But, still, the Achaean League is one of the most remarkable federations in history before the adoption of the present Constitution of the United States.

A federal union of Achaean townships existed as early as the Persian wars, as a common coinage of that time proves. Under the Macedonian kings the league was destroyed, and tyrants were set up in several of the ten Achaean cities. But, about 280 B.C., four small towns revived the ancient confederacy. Neighboring tyrants were driven out; indeed, Iseas of Ceryneia voluntarily resigned his tyranny, and brought his city into the league. The union swiftly absorbed all Achaea. The ruin that followed the Gallic invasion in the north seems to have prevented Macedonian interference until the federation was securely established.     

During this period the constitution took Torm. The supreme authority of the league was vested in a federal, congress. This was not a representative body, but a primary assembly, or mass meeting, of all citizens of the league who chose to attend. To prevent the city where the meeting was held from outweighing the others, each city was given only one vote. The Assembly was held twice a year, for only three days at a time, and in a small place, so that a great capital should not overshadow the rest of the league. It chose yearly a General (or president), with various subordinate officers, a Council of Ten, and a Senate. The same general could not be chosen two years in succession.

This government raised federal taxes and armies, and represented Achaea in all foreign relations. Each city remained a distinct state, with full control over all its internal matters—with its own Assembly, Council, and Generals; but no city of itself could make peace or war, enter into alliances, or send ambassadors to another state. That is, the Achaean League was a true federation, and not a mere alliance.

In theory the constitution was extremely democratic; in practice it proved otherwise. Men attended the Assembly at their own expense; any Achaean might come, but only the wealthy could afford to do so habitually. Then, since the meetings were necessarily so few and brief, great authority had to be left in the intervals to the general and council. Any Achaean was eligible to these offices; but as they were unsalaried, poor men could hardly afford to take them, and, in any case, could not get them from the wealthy class that dominated the Assembly. Thus a decidedly aristocratic character resulted from applying to a large territory the Greek system of a primary assembly, suited only to single cities. A primary assembly made the city of Athens a perfect democracy; the same institution made Achaea intensely aristocratic.

The constitution, it is plain, avoided several dangers and evils common in early attempts at federation. Its two weaknesses were: (a) that it made no use of the representative system, which no doubt would have seemed to the Achaeans less democratic, but which in practice would have enabled a larger part of the citizens to have a voice in the government; and (ib) that all cities, great or small, had the same vote. This last did not matter so much perhaps at first, for the little Achaean towns did not differ materially in size; but it became a manifest injustice, and therefore an element of weakness, when the union came later to contain some of the most powerful cities in Greece. However, this feature was almost universal in early confederacies that did not change into consolidated empires, and it was the principle of the American Union until 1789.

The one exception of note was the Lycian confederacy in Asia Minor, The Lycians were not Greeks, apparently ; but they had taken on some Greek culture, and their federal union was an advance even upon the Achaean, though it was absorbed by Rome before it played an important part in history. In its Assembly, the vote was taken by cities, but the cities were divided into three classes: the largest had three votes each, the next class two each, and the smallest only one. This was the nearest approach in ancient history to a federation wherein the states should have weight according to their importance. Even the Lycians had no representative assemblies, and, at the league gathering, the numerical value of the vote of a city depended, of course, not upon the size of its contingent at that meeting but upon the relative place assigned it by the constitution.

The power vested in the general makes the history of the league the biography of a few great men. The most remarkable of these leaders was Aratus of Sicyon, who now entered upon the stage to extend the union far beyond Achaea. As a youth of twenty he had returned from exile to free his native city from a bloody and despicable tyranny (251 B.C.). The daring venture was brilliantly successful, but it aroused the enmity of Macedon; and to preserve the freedom so nobly won, Aratus brought Sicyon into the Achaean federation. Five years later he was first elected general of the league, and he held that office each alternate year (as often as the constitution permitted) from this time until his death, thirty-two years later, while the generals in the odd years were commonly his partisans.

Aratus hated tyrants and longed for a free and united Greece. He aimed at a noble end, but did not refuse base means. He was personally incorruptible, and he lavished his own vast wealth for the union: but he was jealous of other leaders; he betrayed to death on the field of battle the noblest hero of the league; and finally, to maintain his supremacy, he called in Macedonia, and himself undid all his work. With abounding daring in a dashing project, as he many times showed, he lacked nerve to command in battle; he frequently showed cowardice, and he never won a real victory in the field; but, despite his many defeats, his persuasive power and his merits kept him the confidence of the union to the end of a long public life.

In his second generalship, Aratus freed Corinth from her Macedonian tyrant by a desperate night attack upon the garrison of the citadel. That powerful city then entered the union. So did Megara, which itself drove out its Macedonian garrison. The league now commanded the Isthmus, and was safe from attack by Macedonia. Then several cities in Arcadia joined, and in 234 B.C.Megalopolis was added—at this time one of the leading cities in Greece. Some years earlier its tyranny had been seized by Lydiadas, a gallant youth animated by enthusiasm for beneficent autocratic reform. The growth of the Achaean League opened a nobler way; Lydiadas resigned his tyranny, and as a private citizen brought the Great City into the union. This made him a candidate for popular favor, and Aratus became his bitter foe. The new leader was the more lovable and heroic figure—generous and ardent, a soldier as well as a statesman. He several times became general of the league, but even in office he was often thwarted by the disgraceful trickery of the older man.

For many years Aratus had aimed to free Athens and Argos—sometimes by heroic endeavors, sometimes by assassination and poison. In 229 B.C. he succeeded. He bought the withdrawal of Macedonian troops from the Peiraeus, and Athens became an ally, though not a member of the league. The tyrant of Argos was persuaded or frightened into following the example of Lydiadas,—as indeed had happened meanwhile in many smaller cities,— and Argos joined the confederacy. The league now was the commanding power in Hellas. It included all Peloponnesus except Sparta and Elis. Moreover, all Greece south of Thermopylae had become free,—largely through the influence of the confederacy,—and most of these states also had entered into friendly alliance with it.    

Social Reforms in Sparta.— But now came a conflict with Sparta. The struggle was connected with a great reform within that ancient city. The forms of the Lycurgan constitution had survived through many centuries, but at this time Sparta had only seven hundred full citizens. This condition brought about a violent agitation for social reform, the beginning of which indeed was noticeable one hundred and fifty years before. About the year 243 B.C. Agis, one of the kings, set himself to do again what Lycur-gus had done in legend. Agis was a youthful hero, full of noble daring and pure enthusiasm. He gave his own property to the state and persuaded his relatives and friends to do the like. He planned to abolish all debts and to divide the land among forty-five hundred Spartans and fifteen thousand Perioeci—thus reestablishing the state upon a broad and democratic basis. He refused to use violence, and sought his ends by constitutional means only; but the disciplined conservative party rose in fierce opposition and, by order of the ephors, Agis was seized, with his noble mother and grandmother, and murdered in prison,— “the purest and noblest spirit,” says Freeman, “that ever perished through deeming others as pure and uoble as himself.”

But the ideals of the martyr lived on. His wife was forced to marry Cleomenes, son of the other king; and from her this prince adopted the hopes of Agis. Cleomenes had less of high sensitiveness and stainless honor, but he is a grand and colossal figure. He bided his time; and then, when the ephors were planning to use force against him, he struck first. He became king in 236 B.C.Aratus had led the Achaean League into war with Sparta in order to consolidate the Peloponnesus; but the military genius of the young king made even old, enfeebled Sparta a match for the league under the miserable leadership of its general. Cleomenes won two great victories. Then, the league being helpless for the moment, he used his popularity to effect reform at home. The oligarchs were plotting against him, but he was enthusiastically supported by the disfranchised multitudes. Leaving his Spartan troops at a distance, he hurried to the city by forced marches with some chosen followers, seized and slew the ephors, and proclaimed a new constitution, which embodied the economic designs of Agis and which virtually placed all political power in the hands of the king.

Cleomenes designed to make this new Sparta the head of the Peloponnesus. He and Aratus each desired a free united Greece, but under different leadership. Moreover Sparta now stood forth the advocate of socialism, and so was particularly hateful and dangerous to the aristocratic government of the league. The struggle between the two powers was renewed with fresh bitterness. Cleomenes won more victories, and then, with the league at his feet, he offered generous terms. He demanded that Sparta enter the union as virtual leader. This would have altered the character of the confederacy, but it would have created the greatest power ever seen in Greece, and, for the time, it would have insured a free Hellas. The Achaeans were generally in favor of accepting the proposal; but Aratus—jealous of Cleomenes and fearful of social reform—broke off the negotiations by underhanded methods, and bought the aid of Macedon by betraying Corinth, a free member of the league and the city connected with his own most glorious exploit. As a result, the federation became a protectorate of Macedonia, holding no relations with foreign states except through that power; and the war became a struggle for Greek freedom, waged by Sparta under her hero-king against the overwhelming power of Macedon assisted by the confederacy as a vassal state.

The date (222 B.C.) coincides with the general decline of Hellenic power in the world. For a while, Sparta showed surprising vigor, and Cleomenes was marvelously successful. The league indeed dwindled to a handful of petty cities. But in the end Macedonia prevailed. Cleomenes fled to Egypt, to die in exile; and Sparta opened her gates for the first time to a conquering army. The league was restored to nearly its full extent, but its glory was gone. It still served a useful purpose in maintaining internal peace and order over a large part of Peloponnesus, but it was no longer a champion of a free Hellas.

A war followed between Achaea and Aetolia. This soon became a struggle between Macedonia and her vassals on the one side, and Aetolia aided by Rome on the other; for as Achaea had called in Macedon against Sparta, so now Aetolia called in Rome against Achaea and Macedonia,—and Greek history is closed.

Some gleams of glory shine out at the last in the career of Philopoemen of Megalopolis, the greatest general the Achaean League ever produced, and one of the noblest characters in history; but the doom of Achaea was already sealed. “Philopoemen,” says Freeman, “ was one of the heroes who struggle against fate, and who are allowed to do no more than to stave off a destruction which it is beyond their power to avert.” The sentence may stand not unfittingly for the epitaph of the great league itself.




Mahaffy, John Pentland, Sir



We here find the same excellent characteristics as in the author’s other works. From beginning to end it has the favor of the open field and of fresh breezes. It is somewhat more descriptive and less critical than the work of Muller and Donaldson, doubt­less for the reason that it is designed for a less mature class of scholars. But though the author has written for pupils in the schools, he compliments the robust scholarship of young England and Ireland by giving the illustrative quotations exclusively in the original Greek. Mr. Mahaffy, in common with a large number of modern German scholars, has abandoned the belief in the unity of Homer. In support of his position on this point he has intro­duced as an appendix to his first volume an essay by Professor Sayce, who presents with great cogency the reasons that have led a very large number of modern critics to give up the doctrine of unity. The essayist says that “a close examination of Homer shows that it is a mosaic” and that “in its present form it cannot be earlier than the seventh century before the Christian era”.

The first volume is devoted to the poets; the second, to the writers of prose. It is furnished with a full index.



The military annals of Greece from the earliest time to the beginning of the Peloponnesian war


Cox, George W.—The Greeks and the Persians.


The design of this little volume is to give a history of that great struggle between the despotism of the East and the freedom of the West, which came to an end in the Anal overthrow of the Persians at Plataia and Mykale. The aim of the author is to show how much of the history and traditions is trustworthy, rather than how much is to be set aside as untrue. It is a narrative rather than a critical account, and is a clear exposition, not only of the great conflict which it is the more especial object of the volume to describe, but also of the political and military institutions of the Persians and of the several Grecian states. The author's studies preliminary to his larger work had admirably fitted him for the preparation of this. The style is clear and interesting. The maps are admirable.

The second Athenian confederacy

The Spartan and Theban supremacies

Cox, George W.—The Athenian Empire


An account of Greek history from the rebuilding of the walls of Athens at the close of the Persian invasions to the surrender of the city at the end of the Peloponnesian war. The author shows this period to have been one of struggle not only between two cities, but also between two contending elements of society. Opinions favorable to the extension of popular liberty were arrayed against those desiring to establish the narrow and exclu­sive power of an oligarchy. The success of Sparta is attributed in great part to the fact that the Peloponnesians were powerfully aided by members of the haughty Eupatrids in Athens. The work is a reproduction, in more popular form, of much of the second volume of the author's larger history.

The Fall Of The Athenian Empire

Lloyd, William Watkiss.—The Age of Pericles. A History of the Politics and Arts of Greece, from the Persian to the Peloponnesian War.volume 1


The Age of Pericles. A History of the Politics and Arts of Greece, from the Persian to the Peloponnesian War. volume2


A work that endeavors to give a broader view of Greek life and culture than had before been given by any English author. It aims to represent the Greek mind, not only in its political, but also in its artistic activity. The nature of the book may be correctly inferred from the following titles of chapters : Athenian Democracy as Administered by Pericles; Poetry, Lyric and Dramatic, in the Age of Themistocles; Painting, Rudimentary and Advanced Music in the Age of Pericles. To this breadth of method the author has brought thoughtful and scholarly research, and a judgment usually sound. Unfortunately, the merits of the book are in some measure counterbalanced by one serious drawback. The author does not add to the abundance of his good and strong qualities the graces of a literary artist. In his preface he gives expression to his contempt for writers only on the lookout for opportunities to be smart, in the first place, and, in the second, picturesque and this clause, both by its sentiment and by its awkward method, conveys a correct intimation of the author’s entire lack of appreciation of a good English style. His modes of expression are so awkward that the reader often finds his attention put to a severe strain to understand his meaning. Long sentences sometimes appear to have been transferred from the German almost without transposing a single word. This very serious drawback must limit the use of what is, nevertheless, a very useful and excellent book.

Thucydides.—The History of the Peloponnesian War.


By all critics in all ages this has been considered one of the most remarkable pieces of historical composition ever produced. It is no exaggeration to say that the author has given us a more exact and a more complete history of a long and eventful period than we have of any modem period of equal length and importance. From beginning to end, the work shows the most scrupulous care in the collection of facts, and the utmost exactness in statements of chronology. Occasionally the author has a chapter of political and moral observations, showing the keenest perception and the deepest insight into human nature. He seldom pauses to make rejections in the course of his narrative. He relates his facts in the fewest possible words, without parade of ornament or of personal impression. Some of the events he describes he himself witnessed, others he became acquainted with through the most painstaking, and often difficult, investigations. But throughout the whole work there is the moderation and self­restraint that evinces a great mind and a lofty purpose. It is said that Macaulay read the work oftener than any other historical production, and was accustomed to say that though he might sometimes hope to rival any other work with which he was acquainted, he could never hope to rival the seventh book of Thucydides.      

Mahaffy, J. P.—Social Life in Greece, from Homer to Menander.


A very interesting and successful attempt to portray the everyday life of the Greeks. The author visits them in their homes, in their temples, in their assemblies, and on their journeys. Every person in the least interested in the characteristics of ancient life and manners will read the book with profit and delight. It is as interesting as it is scholarly.

Curteis, Arthur M.—Rise of the Macedonian Empire


A rapid but a clear and graphic picture of Macedonian power from its earliest development to the death of Alexander the Great. The special quality of the book is to be found in its judicious omission of encumbering details and its agreeable admixture of narrative and comment. While it is a book of facts, it is also a book of ideas. The most important events are described in such a way as to convey a clear impression of their peculiar significance and importance. At the beginning is a short but sugges­tive chapter on the influence of geographical peculiarities on the character of Grecian history. It is by far the best short history of Alexander we have.

From Polybius to Plutarch




Curtius, Ernst.—The History of Greece. Translated by A. W. Ward, 1871-74.


The author is probably more familiar with the climate, resources, and physical characteristics of Greece than is any other writer on Grecian history. As an archaeological and historical investigator, he travelled over and examined all parts of the Greek peninsula. With classical literature he is also very familiar; and he seems to have a special gift for the work of interpreting it. These qualifications doubtless go far towards justifying a manner of treating the subject which in a scholar of less general and special information would have been very unsatisfactory. Without taking the time and space to indicate his authorities, the author contents himself with advancing his theories and indicating his conclusions. As he differs on many points from the high authority of Grote, it would afford great satisfaction to the care­ful student of Greek history to see the reasons for the author's views. This absence of all references to authorities is the most unsatisfactory feature of the work, though the explanation is that the volumes were not so much intended for the use of scholars as for the use of general readers.

In his treatment of political questions the author resembles Thirlwall and Mitford more nearly than he resembles Grote. His sympathies are monarchical, and, therefore, he attaches far less importance than does Grote to the characteristics of self-government as an inspiring influence. He also differs from Grote in regard to the origin and movements of the early Hellenic races. Former historians have found no connecting thread till after the Dorian migrations. But Curtius, taking the myths as the foundation, and bringing to his assistance the results of modern philological research, has built up a theory which he puts forward with considerable confidence. He even goes so far as to describe the manner in which, as he believes, the ancestors of the Ionians separated from the ancestors of the Dorians. The book is in every way scholarly, and is entitled to careful attention.



Smith, William.—A History of Greece, from the Earliest Times to the Roman Conquest. With Supplementary Chapters on the History of Literature and Art


First published in 1854, this is still one of the best summaries in our language of the ancient history of Greece for the use of schools and colleges. It follows Grote as an authority, many of its parts being chieRy an abridgment of that distinguished historian. To the general reader it will, perhaps, be found less interesting than the work of Cox; but its conclusions are probably quite as trustworthy, and, on that account, its intrinsic merits are somewhat greater. The maps and illustrations are good and abundant.



Benjamin, S. G. W.—Troy, its Legend, History, and Literature. With a Sketch of the Topography of the Troad in the Light of Recent Investigation.


This little volume is an attempt to tell the Trojan story in the light of recent discoveries and explorations. The story is pleasantly narrated, and is perhaps as near the truth as any other account in our possession. As a preliminary, or as an accompaniment to the reading of the works of Homer, or of Dr. Schliemann, the volume may be of some value. It must be remembered, however, that it rests upon no very firm historical basis.


Muller, C.O.—The History and Antiquities of the Doric Race.


Translated from the German by Henry Tupnell and Geo. Cornwall Lewis. 2 vols., 1830.


On the appearance of this work it was greeted as one of the most scholarly of modern time. It is still entitled to high praise, though the archaeological studies of the past twenty-five years have shown that some of the author's positions are untenable. His theories concerning the early life of the Dorians are essentially the opposite of those held by Curtius and, probably, by a majority of modern scholars. The second volume is devoted to the political institutions of the Dorians, and still retains its great importance. The characteristics of the Spartan government and society have nowhere been more satisfactorily presented, unless it be in the recent work of Jannet.


HERODOTUS. by Canon Rawlinson


This must be considered as by far the most valuable version of the works of ‘The Father of History’. The writings of the author are illustrated by the editors from all the most recent sources of information. Copious historical and ethnographical results are embodied in the illustrative notes. The superior scholarship in Eastern history of Sir Henry Rawlinson and Sir J. G. Wilkinson gives great importance to the essays furnished by these gentlemen and published as an appendix.

The history of Herodotus was probably not written until near the end of his life—it is certain that he had been collecting materials for it during many years. There was scarcely a city of importance in Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Persia, Arabia, or Egypt that he had not visited and studied; and almost every page of his work contains results of his personal inquiries and observations. He visited the sites of all the great battles between the Greeks and Persians; followed the line of Xerxes’s march; went to nearly all of the Greek islands; visited the tribes on the Black Sea; went to Babylon, Ecbatana, and Susa; made excursions into Arabia; saw with his own eyes the wonders of Egypt; travelled as far south as Elephantine, and as far west as Cyrene.

The object of these extensive journeyings was to procure infor­mation for his account of the struggles between the Greeks and the Persians. It will be seen that he brought to his work certain remarkable qualifications. His purpose was to sketch, in a man­ner that would interest as well as instruct, the long struggle which extended from the time of the first dispute in Asia Minor between the colonists to the final repulse of the Persians and the permanent establishment of Grecian authority. The history is a kind of prose epic, into which the author has wrought, with remarkable skill, the varied and interesting results of his inquiries and obser­vations. It abounds in episodes and digressions; but these are given in organic connection with the other parts in such a way as not seriously to impair the unity of the whole. The work is woven together in a style so charming as to give at least plausibility to the story of Lucian that when the author, in his old age, recited his history at Olympia, the youthful Thucydides was moved to tears, and the assembled Greeks, in their enthusiasm, gave to the books of the history the names of the nine muses.

As an authority, the work of Herodotus must be used with discretion. Care must be taken to discriminate between what came under the author's own observation and what he relates as having been received from others. The stories related to him by priests are to be received as of little or no historical value. But recent researches in the East have tended to confirm the authority of the author in all matters that came under his personal observation. Many things laughed at for centuries as impossible are now found to have been described in strict accordance with truth. As a narrator of his own observations, he is now seen to have been a model of truthfulness and accuracy.



Xenophon.—The Whole Works


Xenophon is doubtless entitled to high praise as a writer of simple, clear, and unaffected style. His numerous histories are to be regarded as remarkable for their literary qualities, however, rather than for their great historical merits. His mind was not adapted to the deepest insight into political affairs, and therefore his work is not for a moment to be compared with that of Thucydides. The ‘Anabasis’ and the ‘Hellenica’ are the works of greatest importance from an historical and literary point of view. The ‘Cyropaedia’ is a political romance, of no historical value whatever. The author’s purpose in this, as in several of his other works, seems to have been to represent what a state might be, and ought to be, in contrast with the actual turbulent condition of Athens. It is evident that he preferred the aristocratical institutions of Sparta to the more democratic methods of Attica. Even the ‘Cyropaedia’, though of no historical consequence, is of some importance as showing the political opinions of an intelli­gent observer. Throughout his works Xenophon shows that he had no faith whatever in the extreme tendencies to absolute democracy that prevailed at Athens.



Finlay, George.—A History of Greece, from the Conquest by the Romans to the Present Time.


This is a new and improved edition of a work on the Byzantine Empire and Greece, the several volumes of which appeared under separate titles as they were completed. The edition of 1877 received the careful revisions of the author, and has been edited by a competent and judicious hand.

It is no empty compliment to compare this work with that of the historian of the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. While some of the qualifications of Gibbon are notably absent, others that Gibbon did not possess are conspicuously present. The au­thor carried on his investigations in the very heart of the country whose turbulent vicissitudes he describes. Spending a large portion of his life in his library, immediately beneath the Acropolis, he had the good fortune not only to complete his great work, but also to subject it to such careful revision as the criticism of recent scholarship had made necessary.

The most prominent characteristics of the work are learning, accuracy, and fidelity. In addition, it may be said that the author is severely critical. He is inclined to desponding views of those about him. This shows itself not only in the severity of his criticisms of Greek statesmen, but also in his judgments of English ministers who have had to deal with Greek affairs. He finds it not difficult to criticise the policy of Lord John Russell, or even that of Mr. Gladstone. He says of his book that “it has been its melancholy task to record the errors and the crimes of those who governed Greece, much oftener than their merits or virtues”.

The last two volumes are devoted to a history of the Greek Revolution, and of Grecian affairs during the last twenty years. As a help to those who would become acquainted with the history of the East, these learned and eloquent volumes have no equals. They are worthy to stand by the side of those of Grote.



Coulanges, Fustel de.—The Ancient City. A Study on the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome.


Whatever is written by Coulanges is worthy of the student’s most thoughtful attention. He possesses the rare gift of uniting a very profound and broad scholarship with a spirited and entertaining literary style. Any one at all interested in Greek and Ro­man institutions will be enticed by a glance at the table of contents, and will not be disappointed when he puts the body of the work to the test of perusal.

In no other book has the organization of the ancient family been so briefly and clearly described; and nowhere else have the peculiarities of the Greek and Roman religious systems been so well presented. It will be a favorite book with every scholar that possesses it.



Muller, and Donaldson.—A History of the Literature of Ancient Greece.


For most students this will be found to be one of the most complete and satisfactory accounts of Greek literature. It is much less exhaustive in its treatment of the earliest period, than is the great work of Colonel Mure; but it has the advantage of covering a much longer period of time. In matters of literary judgment, moreover, it is probably quite as trustworthy as the larger work. The concluding chapters are devoted to Greek literature during the Middle Ages, and the work closes with the taking of Constantinople by the Turks.




Schomann, G. F.—The Antiquities of Greece


The work of Schomann, of which the fist volume is now published in translation, is in Germany one of a series of manuals designed to spread among a wider circle a vivid knowledge of antiquity. The book was designed for a class of educated readers who have not made a special investigation into the characteristics of the ancient world. The present volume, entitled “The State”, is to be followed by a second on “The Greek States in their Relations with one Another”, and “The Religious System of Greece”. The work, it will be seen from the title, is chiefly political in its character; and, as such, it occupies a distinctive place among books on Grecian antiquities. While Boeckh deals chiefly with financial questions, and Guhl and Koner with social ones, Schomann discusses with similar insight and thoroughness the affairs of politics. Nowhere else is there to be found so good an account of the political assemblies, and of their significance in the life of the State. The work is written in a scholarly and attractive style, and the translation is excellent.



Winckelmann, John.—The History of Ancient Art.


Winckelmann was doubtless the most skilful and delightful connoisseur of ancient art that has ever written. It is more than three fourths of a century since the original of the work was prepared; but these volumes are by no means yet superannuated. The numerous illustrations are exquisite, and, what is remarkable, are far better in the translation than in the original. The author’s spirit may be gathered from his canon of criticism : “Seek not to detect deficiencies and imperfections until you have learned to recognize and discover beauties”.