Classical Humanities Theme

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Classical Humanities

Theme This elective course is devoted to the study of classical Greek and Roman civilizations. Students will gain a better understanding of two of the most influential civilizations in world history. Through the study of history, mythology/religion, and culture, students will be able to identify ancient Greece and ancient Rome’s contributions to modern warfare, government, philosophy, religion, language, poetry, literature, art, and architecture.

Strand Ancient Greek Civilization

Topic Ancient Greek History

This unit addresses ancient Greek history by starting with the geographic context and introducing the earliest civilized societies in Greece. It traces the emergence and evolution of the Greek poleis and their defense against the Persian invasion. The alliance between Athens and Sparta and their allies, forced under the Persian threat then collapsed due to Athenian imperialism, resulted in the devastating Peloponnesian War. This war left Greece vulnerable to invasion by the Macedonians, whose leader Alexander the Great spread Greek culture and merged it with the cultures of the East, thus preserving and expanding the influence of the Greeks. In this way, the Greeks, particularly the Athenian Greeks, became a foundation of Western (and ultimately world) civilization.


Weeks 1-4

Content Statement

1. The geography of ancient Greece gave rise first to a seafaring, trade-based civilization called the Minoans, and a culture of isolated palace kingdoms called the Mycenaeans. These two civilizations first clashed with each other, resulting in the decline of the Minoans, then the Mycenaean waged war with Troy. Disruptions of trade, piracy, and civil war finally ended the Mycenaean era and Greece entered a Dark Age.

Learning Targets:

a. I can describe the geography of Greece and the Aegean region and explain how it influenced Ancient Greek history.

b. I can analyze the factors which contributed to and reflected the expansion and wealth of the Minoan Civilization.

c. I can analyze the factors which contributed to the collapse of the Minoan Civilization.

d. I can outline the key features of Minoan mythology.

e. I can describe the Mycenaean culture and compare/contrast it with the Minoans culture.

f. I can compare the characteristics of Mycenaean culture with that of the Trojans.

g. I can explain the historic/archaeological evidence that explains the causes and conduct of the Trojan War.

h. I can describe the conditions which contributed to the coming of the Ancient Greek Dark Age and Ancient Greece’s reemergence from the Dark Age.
2. The reestablishment of trade by the Dorians reintroduced civilized society to Greece, and multiple, geographically-isolated poleis (city-states) emerged. The people of the polis developed a concept of citizenship in which a balance of benefits and obligations between polis and demos (people) prevailed, though this balance took different forms in Athens and Sparta.

Learning Targets:

a. I can describe the conditions which contributed to the coming of the Ancient Greek Dark Age and Ancient Greece’s reemergence from the Dark Age.

b. I can describe the features of the Ancient Greek polis.

c. I can analyze and evaluate the Ancient Greek invention of citizenship.

d. I can compare and contrast how Athens and Sparta’s governments exercised civil power.
3. The expansive Persian Empire threatened the independence of the Greek poleis, which formed an alliance to defeat them. This victory left Athens as the dominant polis, which they parlayed into a trade empire. Fear of Athens’ growing power led to a fracturing of the alliance and a mutually devastating war with Sparta. These events gave rise to the discipline of history.

Learning Targets:

a. I can analyze the causes of conflict between the Ancient Greek city-states and the Persian Empire.

b. I can evaluate the conduct of the Greek and Persian armies and explain the outcome of the Persian War.

c. I can explain how the behaviors of Athens and Sparta following the Persian Wars led to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.

d. I can explain the evolution of history as a discipline.
4. Though Athens suffered a defeat, all of the Greek poleis were weakened by the Peloponnesian War. This opened them up to invasion by the ambitious Macedonians whose leader Alexander conquered most of Greece and Persia, merging their cultures to form the Hellenistic Culture.

Learning Targets:

a. I can analyze how the results of the Peloponnesian War set up the conquest of Ancient Greece by the Macedonians.

b. I can explain the factors which contributed to the formation and expansion of Alexander’s empire.

c. I can explain how Alexander’s management of his empire contributed to the creation of the Hellenistic culture and ultimately to the empire’s collapse.

Content Elaborations

Greece is a mountainous peninsula surrounded by islands, which caused isolation on one hand and, on the other, forced the ancient Greek civilizations to the sea for movement and interaction.

The Minoan civilization rose on the islands and focused their efforts on the accumulation of wealth through trade. They lived lives of luxury and did not prepare for defense, believing that their island location would suffice. Their religion was matriarchal, and they worshipped symbols of fertility. But the eruption of the island of Thera ruined their fleet, crops, and palaces, and left them vulnerable.
The Mycenaean civilization emerged on the Greek mainland and took the form of isolated palace kingdoms which were in competition with each other. They were warriors because of their mainland location, but they gradually adopted trade as well and took over the Minoan trade empire, its trade routes, and its trade rivalries.
These brought them into conflict with other Greeks across the Aegean region; these Greeks had migrated in previous centuries to form a diaspora, including the powerful city of Troy in Asia Minor. War erupted between Mycenae and Troy over trade, and while the Mycenaean prevailed, the war introduced instability that the Mycenaean never overcame, leading to the collapse of civilization and the Greek Dark Age.
Trade was reestablished with the other eastern Mediterranean civilizations by a Greek civilization moving in from the northern mainland, the Dorians, whose mastery of iron allowed them to restore stability, and whose contact with the Phoenicians allowed them to develop a new Greek alphabet, thus reintroducing literacy.
Across Greece, independent, self-governing poleis emerged as the basis of Greek society. In all of these, civil liberty was safeguarded in exchange for the fulfillment of civic duties; this was the earliest known form of the social contract. Civil power was duly administered by leaders whose charge was to ensure the balance between benefits and obligations. In Athens, this impulse forced the evolution from a monarchy to a democracy, as the demos was increasingly seen as the most reliable authority to ensure this balance. In Sparta, a military state emerged, wherein the people’s liberties were widely sacrificed for the preservation of their security and independence.
Athens, however, earned the hostility of the massive Persian Empire by assisting rebellious Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor. The Persian king Darius launched an invasion of Greece that was defeated at the Battle of Marathon by a force of Athenians and their allies, without the help of the Spartans. The Persian soldiers, forced into battle on behalf of their god-king, were no match for Greek citizen-soldiers fighting to preserve a system that they believed in.
Darius bequeathed his wrath to his son Xerxes, whose invasion of Greece dwarfed his father’s. This time the Spartans assisted Athens, bravely stalling the Persian onslaught at Thermopylae and allowing the Athenians to devise a plan to defeat the Persian navy at Salamis. Further military defeats forced the Persians to give up their invasion, and in the wake of this, Athens’ closest allies formed the Delian League. Athens, however, used it navy to dominate the league and form a trade empire.
This generated fear among the other Greeks, who aligned with Sparta and waged war against Athens to restore the balance of power. The Peloponnesian War lasted for thirty years as the Spartans first besieged and finally (with the assistance of their former enemy the Persians) blockaded Athens. Though Athens lost the war, all of Greece had suffered and was now vulnerable.
Chroniclers like Herodotus and Thucydides established the discipline of history in their efforts to understand and explain these wars.
The vulnerability of Greece was exploited by the kingdom of Macedonia, as its young leader Alexander conquered most of Greece and then set his sights on the Persian Empire. His conquests took him as far east as India before he succumbed to a fever. In the meantime, he had spread Greek culture and merged it with that of the East to form the pluralistic Hellenistic Culture.

Content Vocabulary

 geographic isolation  agoge

 Mediterranean climate  Apella

 palace kingdoms  Ephors

 frescoes  Darius I

 Linear A  Battle of Marathon

 matriarchal  god-king

 Mother Goddess  citizen-soldier

 seal-stone  Pheidippides

 Cult of the Bull  Miltiades

 Lion’s Gate  Xerxes I

 Treasury of Atreus  Battle of Thermopylae

 Grave Circle A  Leonidas

 Linear B  Battle of Salamis

 Bronze Age Greek diaspora  Themistocles

 Heinrich Schliemann  trireme

 Carl Blegen  Delian League

 Troy VII  Pericles

 Dorians  Athenian Empire

 Phoenician alphabet  Peloponnesian League

 polis (city-state)  Siege of Athens

 hinterland  Athenian plague

 hoplite  Melian Dialogue

 phalanx  war by proxy

 acropolis  Alcibiades

 agora  Persian blockade

 stoa  Herodotus

 demos  The Histories

 citizen  investigation

 civil liberty  Thucydides

 civil power  History of the Peloponnesian War

 social contract  Philip II

 monarchy  Demosthenes

 aristocracy  Alexander

 oligarchy  Battle of Chaeronea

 tyrant  Macedonian phalanx

 Draco  Darius III

 Solon  Battle of Gaugamela

 Cleisthenes  Bucephalus

 direct democracy  Gordian Knot

 Assembly  intermarriage

 helots  cultural pluralism

 military state

Academic Vocabulary

 analyze

 compare

 compare and contrast

 describe

 evaluate


 outline

Formative Assessments

Formative assessments will follow this format: For each assigned Learning Target, the student will…

write a thesis statement that states what the student will prove in response to the target

 follow up with multiple sentences that provide evidence or specific examples in support of the thesis statement

incorporate all essential vocabulary, used properly, into the response

 write in complete sentences relatively free of errors in grammar or spelling

Summative Assessments

Each unit will culminate in a unit test that includes items that are associated with each of the learning targets. These items may include multiple choice questions, matching exercises, true/false statements with corrections, map questions, short-answer questions, or extended response questions. These may be supported by images, passages from primary sources, or graphic organizers. All content included on unit tests will also be addressed in a cumulative final exam that will include multiple choice questions as well as primary source items that require students to identify the source, time period, and map location.


 Cahill, Thomas. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter.

 Connolly, Peter and Dodge, Hazel. The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome.

 Davison, Michael Worth. Everyday Life Through the Ages.

 Hall, Sir Peter. Cities in Civilization.

 Hamilton, Edith. The Greek Way.

 Herodotus. The Histories.

 Keegan, John. The Mask of Command.

 Livesey, Anthony. Great Commanders and Their Battles.

 Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War.

 Time-Life Lost Civilizations: Aegean (video).

 University of Cincinnati. Troy (website:

Enrichment Strategies

Students who wish to challenge themselves further will be invited to conduct independent research into specific topics addressed in the unit. Also, students may choose to read the complete original source materials to supplement the extracts that are used in class. When available, study tours in the Mediterranean region will be offered to students who demonstrate an interest.


 AP European History: background for emergence of modern Europe

 AP U. S. History: basis for Founders’ beliefs about government

 ELA: historical background for the Trojan War mythology

 Government: concepts of citizenship, civil liberty, civil power, civic duties, social contract; difference between direct and representative democracy

Intervention Strategies

Students will be individually encouraged to take the full opportunity to make corrections to formative assessment responses that do not earn a complete score. Students may consult individually with the teacher or the academic assistant to gain support in making these corrections.

Teachers may also conduct sessions outside of class time to provide individualized or group support. In some cases, students who struggle to read may be provided with simplified versions or summaries of difficult original source material.

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