SETTING THE STAGE In ancient times, Greece was not a united country. It was a collection of separate lands where Greek-speaking people lived.
Ancient Greece consisted mainly of a mountainous peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea. It also included about 2,000 islands in the Aegean (ih•JEE•uhn) and Ionian (eye•OH•nee•uhn) seas. Lands on the eastern edge of the Aegean were also part of ancient Greece. The region’s physical geography directly shaped Greek traditions and customs.
The Sea The sea shaped Greek civilization just as rivers shaped the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Fertile Crescent, India, and China. In one sense, the Greeks did not live on a land but around a sea. Greeks rarely had to travel more than 85 miles to reach the coastline. The Aegean Sea, the Ionian Sea, and the neighboring Black Sea were important transportation routes for the Greek people. These seaways linked most parts of Greece. As the Greeks became skilled sailors, sea travel connected Greece with other societies. Sea travel and trade were also important because Greece lacked natural resources, such as timber, precious metals, and usable farmland.
The Land Rugged mountains covered about three-fourths of ancient Greece. The mountain chains ran mainly from northwest to southeast along the Balkan Peninsula. Mountains divided the land into a number of different regions. This significantly influenced Greek political life. Instead of a single government, the Greeks developed small, independent communities within each little valley and its surrounding mountains. Most Greeks gave their loyalty to these local communities. In ancient times, the uneven terrain also made land transportation difficult. Of the few roads that existed, most were little more than dirt paths. It often took travelers several days to complete a journey that might take a few hours today. Much of the land itself was stony, and only a small part of it was arable, or suitable for farming. Tiny but fertile valleys covered about one-fourth of Greece. The small streams that watered these valleys were not suitable for large-scale irrigation projects. With so little fertile farmland or fresh water for irrigation, Greece was never able to support a large population. Historians estimate that no more than a few million people lived in ancient Greece at any given time. Even this small population could not expect the land to support a life of luxury. A desire for more living space, grassland for raising livestock, and adequate farmland may have been factors that motivated the Greeks to seek new sites for colonies.
The Climate Climate was the third important environmental influence on Greek civilization. Greece has a varied climate, with temperatures averaging 48 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. In ancient times, these moderate temperatures supported an outdoor life for many Greek citizens. Men spent much of their leisure time at outdoor public events. They met often to discuss public issues, exchange news, and take an active part in civic life
Early Greece *Minoans Trade in the Mediterranean
A powerful seafaring people, the Minoans (mih•NOH•uhnz) dominated trade in the eastern Mediterranean from about 2000 to 1400 B.C. They lived on Crete, a large island on the southern edge of the Aegean Sea (ee•JEE•uhn). The Minoans produced some of the finest painted pottery of the time. They traded that pottery, along with swords, figurines, and vessels of precious metals, over a large area. Along with their goods, Minoans also exported their art and culture. These included a unique architecture and religious rituals.
Unearthing a Brilliant Civilization Archaeologists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries excavated Knossos, the Minoan capital city. There, they found the remains of an advanced and thriving culture. It must have been a peaceful one as well, since Minoan cities did not seem to need fortifications to protect them. The archaeologists named the civilization they found in Crete Minoa after King Minos (MY•nuhs). The excavation of Knossos and its painted walls produced much information about Minoans. The wall paintings, as well as the official seals and vases, show the Minoans as graceful, athletic people who loved nature and beautiful objects. They also enjoyed sports such as boxing and wrestling. Many Minoan artworks depict women and their role in religious ceremonies. The art suggests that women held a higher rank than in most neighboring cultures.
Minoan Culture’s Mysterious End The Minoan civilization finally ended about 1200 B.C. The reasons for its end are unclear. Could it have been the result of some natural disaster? Did the island become overpopulated? Or was it overrun by invaders? The civilization had withstood previous disasters. In about 1700 B.C., a great disaster, perhaps an earthquake, destroyed most Minoan towns and cities. The Minoans rebuilt the cities with equal richness. Then in 1470 B.C. a series of earthquakes rocked Crete. The quakes were followed by a violent volcanic eruption on the neighboring island of Thera. Imagine the shaking of the earth, the fiery volcanic blast, then a huge tidal wave, and finally a rain of white volcanic ash. The disaster of 1470 B.C. was a blow from which the Minoans never fully recovered. This time, the Minoans had trouble rebuilding their cities. Nonetheless, Minoan civilization did linger on for almost 300 years. After that, invaders from Greece may have taken advantage of their weakened condition to destroy them. Some Minoans fled to the mountains to escape the ruin of the kingdom. Crete’s influence as a major sea power and cultural force was over.
*Mycenaean Civilization Develops
A large wave of people migrated from the sian plains to Europe, India, and Southwest Asia. Some of the people who settled on the Greek mainland around 2000 B.C. were later known as Mycenaeans. The name came from their leading city, Mycenae (my•SEE•nee).
Mycenae was located in southern Greece on a steep, rocky ridge and surrounded by a protective wall more than 20 feet thick. The fortified city of Mycenae could withstand almost any attack. From Mycenae, a warrior-king ruled the surrounding villages and farms. Strong rulers controlled the areas around other Mycenaean cities, such as Tiryns and Athens. These kings dominated Greece from about 1600 to 1100 B.C.
Contact with Minoans Sometime after 1500 B.C., through either trade or war, the Mycenaeans came into contact with the Minoan civilization. From their contact with the Minoans, the Mycenaeans saw the value of seaborne trade. Mycenaean traders soon sailed throughout the eastern Mediterranean, making stops at Aegean islands, coastal towns in Anatolia, and ports in Syria, Egypt, Italy, and Crete.
The Minoans also influenced the Mycenaeans in other ways. The Mycenaeans adapted the Minoan writing system to the Greek language and decorated vases with Minoan designs.
The Trojan War During the 1200s B.C., the Mycenaeans fought a ten-year war against Troy, an independent trading city located in Anatolia. According to legend, a Greek army besieged and destroyed Troy because a Trojan prince had kidnapped Helen, the beautiful wife of a Greek king.
For many years, historians thought that the legendary stories told of the Trojan War were totally fictional. However, excavations conducted in northwestern Turkey during the 1870s by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann suggested that the stories of the Trojan War might have been based on real cities, people, and events. Further archaeological studies conducted in the 20th century support Schliemann’s findings. Although the exact nature of the Trojan War remains unclear, this attack on Troy was almost certainly one of the last Mycenaean battle campaigns.
*Greek Culture Declines Under the Dorians
Not long after the Trojan War, Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Around 1200 B.C., sea raiders attacked and burned many Mycenaean cities. A new group of people, the Dorians (DAWR•ee•uhnz), moved into the war-torn countryside. The Dorians spoke a dialect of Greek and may have been distant relatives of the Bronze Age Greeks.
The Dorians were far less advanced than the Mycenaeans. The economy collapsed and trade eventually came to a standstill soon after their arrival. Most important to historians, Greeks appear to have temporarily lost the art of writing during the Dorian Age. No written record exists from the 400-year period between 1150 and 750 B.C. As a result, little is known about this period of Greek history.
Epics of Homer Lacking writing, the Greeks of this time learned about their history through the spoken word. According to tradition, the greatest storyteller was a blind man named Homer. Some historians believe that Homer composed his epics, narrative poems celebrating heroic deeds, sometime between 750 and 700 B.C. The Trojan War forms the backdrop for one of Homer’s great epic poems, the Iliad. The heroes of the Iliad are warriors: the fierce Greek, Achilles (uh•KIHL•eez), and the courageous and noble Hector of Troy. In the following dramatic excerpt, Hector’s wife begs him not to fight Achilles:
P R I M A RY S O U R C E
“My dear husband, your warlike spirit will be your death. You've no compassion for your infant child, for me, your sad wife, who before long will be your widow. . . .
As for me, it would be better, if I'm to lose you, to be buried in the ground. . . .”
Great Hector . . . replied, “Wife, all this concerns me, too.
But I’d be disgraced, dreadfully shamed . . . , if I should slink away from war, like a coward.
striving to win great fame for my father, for myself.”
HOMER, Iliad (translated by Ian Johnston)
Hector’s response to his wife gives insight into the Greek heroic ideal of arete(ar•uh•TAY), meaning virtue and excellence. A Greek could display this ideal on the battlefield in combat or in athletic contests on the playing field.
*Greeks Create Myths The Greeks developed a rich set of myths, or traditional stories, about their gods. The works of Homer and another epic, Theogony by Hesiod, are the source of much of Greek mythology. Through the myths, the Greeks sought to understand the mysteries of nature and the power of human passions. Myths explained the changing of the seasons, for example.
Greeks attributed human qualities, such as love, hate, and jealousy, to their gods. The gods quarreled and competed with each other constantly. However, unlike humans, the gods lived forever. Zeus, the ruler of the gods, lived on Mount Olympus with his wife, Hera. Athena, goddess of wisdom, was Zeus’ daughter and his favorite child. The Greeks thought of Athena as the guardian of cities, especially of Athens, which was named in her honor.
Warring City-States SETTING THE STAGE During the Dorian period, Greek civilization experienced decline. However, two things changed life in Greece. First, Dorians and Mycenaeans alike began to identify less with the culture of their ancestors and more with the local area where they lived. Second, by the end of this period, the method of governing areas had changed from tribal or clan control to more formal governments—the city-states.
Rule and Order in Greek City-States By 750 B.C., the city-state, or polis, was the fundamental political unit in ancient Greece. A polis was made up of a city and its surrounding countryside, which included numerous villages. Most city-states controlled between 50 and 500 square miles of territory. They were often home to fewer than 10,000 residents. At the agora, citizens gathered to discuss city government. The agora served a double purpose as the marketplace and as a forum where the city’s political matters were debated. Many citizens flocked there to learn and discuss the latest news, so that they would be prepared to play a part in the government.
Greek Political Structures Greek city-states had many different forms of government. (See the chart below.) In some, a single person, called a king, ruled in a government called a monarchy. Others adopted an aristocracy (AR•uh•STAHK•ruh•see), a government ruled by a small group of noble, landowning families. These very rich families often gained political power after serving in a king’s military cavalry. Later, as trade expanded, a new class of wealthy merchants and artisans emerged in some cities. When these groups became dissatisfied with aristocratic rule, they sometimes took power or shared it with the nobility. They formed an oligarchy, a government ruled by a few powerful people.
Athens Builds a Limited Democracy The idea of representative government also began to take root in some city-states, particularly Athens. Like other city-states, Athens went through power struggles between rich and poor. However, Athenians avoided major political upheavals by making timely reforms. Athenian reformers moved toward democracy, rule by the people. In Athens, citizens participated directly in political decision making.
Building Democracy The first step toward democracy came when a nobleman named Draco took power. In 621 B.C., Draco developed a legal code based on the idea that all Athenians, rich and poor, were equal under the law. Next, more far-reaching democratic reforms were introduced by Solon (SO•luhn), who came to power in 594 B.C. He said all citizens, regardless of class, could participate in the Athenian assembly. Finally, around 500 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes (KLYS•thuh•NEEZ) introduced further reforms. Cleisthenes created the Council of Five Hundred. This body proposed laws and counseled the assembly. Council members were chosen by at random. The reforms of Cleisthenes allowed Athenian citizens to participate in a limited democracy. However, citizenship was restricted to a relatively small number of Athenians. Only free adult male property owners born in Athens were considered citizens. Women, slaves, and foreigners were excluded from citizenship and had few rights.
Athenian Education For the most part, only the sons of wealthy families received formal education. Schooling began around the age of seven and largely prepared boys to be good citizens. They studied reading, grammar, poetry, history, mathematics, and music. Because citizens were expected to debate issues in the assembly, boys also received training in logic and public speaking. And since the Greeks believed that it was important to train and develop the body, part of each day was spent in athletic activities. When they got older, boys went to military school to help them prepare for another important duty of citizenship—defending Athens.
Athenian girls did not attend school. Rather, they were educated at home by their mothers and other female members of the household. They learned about child-rearing, weaving cloth, preparing meals, managing the household, and other skills that helped them become good wives and mothers. Some women were able to take their education farther and learned to read and write. A few even became accomplished writers. Even so, most women had very little to do with Athenian life outside the boundaries of family and home.
Sparta Builds a Military State
Located in the southern part of Greece known as the Peloponnesus (PEHL•uh•puh•NEE•sus), Sparta was nearly cut off from the rest of Greece by the Gulf of Corinth. In outlook and values, Sparta contrasted sharply with the other city-states, Athens in particular. Instead of a democracy, Sparta built a military state.
Sparta Dominates Messenians Around 725 B.C., Sparta conquered the neighboring region of Messenia and took over the land. The Messenians became helots (HEHL•uhts), peasants forced to stay on the land they worked. Each year, the Spartans demanded half of the helots’ crops. In about 650 B.C., the Messenians, resentful of the Spartans’ harsh rule, revolted. The Spartans, who were outnumbered eight to one, just barely put down the revolt. Shocked at their vulnerability, they dedicated themselves to making Sparta a strong city-state.
Sparta’s Government and Society Spartan government had several branches. An assembly, which was composed of all Spartan citizens, elected officials and voted on major issues. The Council of Elders, made up of 30 older citizens, proposed laws on which the assembly voted. Five elected officials carried out the laws passed by the assembly. These men also controlled education and prosecuted court cases. In addition, two kings ruled over Sparta’s military forces. The Spartan social order consisted of several groups. The first were citizens descended from the original inhabitants of the region. This group included the ruling families who owned the land. A second group, noncitizens who were free, worked in commerce and industry. The helots, at the bottom of Spartan society, were little better than slaves. They worked in the fields or as house servants.
Spartan Daily Life From around 600 until 371 B.C., Sparta had the most powerful army in Greece. However, the Spartan people paid a high price for their military supremacy. All forms of individual expression were discouraged. As a result, Spartans did not value the arts, literature, or other artistic and intellectual pursuits. Spartans valued duty, strength, and discipline over freedom, individuality, beauty, and learning. Since men were expected to serve in the army until the age of 60, their daily life centered on military training. Boys left home when they were 7 and moved into army barracks, where they stayed until they reached the age of 30. They spent their days marching, exercising, and fighting. They undertook these activities in all weathers, wearing only light tunics and no shoes. At night, they slept without blankets on hard benches. Their daily diet consisted of little more than a bowl of coarse black porridge. Those who were not satisfied were encouraged to steal food. Such training produced tough, resourceful soldiers.
Spartan girls also led hardy lives. They received some military training, and they also ran, wrestled, and played sports. Like boys, girls were taught to put service to Sparta above everything—even love of family. A legend says that Spartan women told husbands and sons going to war to “come back with your shield or on it.” As adults, Spartan women had considerable freedom, especially in running the family estates when their husbands were on active military service. Such freedom surprised men from other Greek city-states. This was particularly true of Athens, where women were expected to remain out of sight and quietly raise children.
The Persian Wars Danger of a helot revolt led Sparta to become a military state. Struggles between rich and poor led Athens to become a democracy. The greatest danger of all— invasion by Persian armies—moved Sparta and Athens alike to their greatest glory.
A New Kind of Army Emerges During the Dorian Age, only the rich could afford bronze spears, shields, breastplates, and chariots. Thus, only the rich served in armies. Iron later replaced bronze in the manufacture of weapons. Harder than bronze, iron was more common and therefore cheaper. Soon, ordinary citizens could afford to arm and defend themselves. The shift from bronze to iron weapons made possible a new kind of army composed not only of the rich, but also of merchants, artisans, and small landowners. The foot soldiers of this army, called hoplites, stood side by side, each holding a spear in one hand and a shield in the other. This fearsome formation, or phalanx (FAY•lanks), became the most powerful fighting force in the ancient world.
The 1stInvasion: Battle at Marathon The Persian Wars, between Greece and the Persian Empire, began in Ionia on the coast of Anatolia. Greeks had long been settled there, but around 546 B.C., the Persians conquered the area. When Ionian Greeks revolted, Athens sent ships and soldiers to their aid. The Persian king Darius the Great defeated the rebels and then vowed to destroy Athens in revenge. In 490 B.C., a Persian fleet carried 25,000 men across the Aegean Sea and landed northeast of Athens on a plain called Marathon. There, 10,000 Athenians, neatly arranged in phalanxes, waited for them. Vastly outnumbered, the Greek soldiers charged. The Persians, who wore light armor and lacked training in this kind of land combat, were no match for the disciplined Greek phalanx. After several hours, the Persians fled the battlefield. The Persians lost more than 6,000 men. In contrast, Athenian casualties numbered fewer than 200.
Pheidippides Brings News Though the Athenians won the battle, their city now stood defenseless. According to tradition, army leaders chose a young runner named Pheidippides (fy•DIP•uh•DEEZ) to race back to Athens. He brought news of the Persian defeat so that Athenians would not give up the city without a fight. Dashing the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, Pheidippides delivered his message, “Rejoice, we conquer.” He then collapsed and died. Moving rapidly from Marathon, the Greek army arrived in Athens not long after. When the Persians sailed into the harbor, they found the city heavily defended. They quickly put to sea in retreat.
The 2nd Invasion: Thermopylae Ten years later, in 480 B.C., Darius the Great’s son and successor, Xerxes (ZURK•seez), assembled an enormous invasion force to crush Athens. The Greeks were badly divided. Some city-states agreed to fight the Persians. Others thought it wiser to let Xerxes destroy Athens and return home. Some Greeks even fought on the Persian side. Consequently, Xerxes’ army met no resistance as it marched down the eastern coast of Greece. When Xerxes came to a narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae (thur•MAHP•uh•lee), 7,000 Greeks, including 300 Spartans, blocked his way. Xerxes assumed that his troops would easily push the Greeks aside. However, he underestimated their fighting ability. The Greeks stopped the Persian advance for three days. Only a traitor’s informing the Persians about a secret path around the pass ended their brave stand. Fearing defeat, the Spartans held the Persians back while the other Greek forces retreated. The Spartans’ valiant sacrifice—all were killed— made a great impression on all Greeks.
Salamis Meanwhile, the Athenians debated how best to defend their city. Themistocles, an Athenian leader, convinced them to evacuate the city and fight at sea. They positioned their fleet in a narrow channel near the island of Salamis (SAL•uh•mihs), a few miles southwest of Athens. After setting fire to Athens, Xerxes sent his warships to block both ends of the channel. However, the channel was very narrow, and the Persian ships had difficulty turning. Smaller Greek ships armed with battering rams attacked, puncturing the hulls of many Persian warships. Xerxes watched in horror as more than one-third of his fleet sank.
He faced another defeat in 479 B.C., when the Greeks crushed the Persian army at the Battle of Plataea (pluh•TEE•uh). After this major setback, the Persians were always on the defensive. The following year, several Greek city-states formed an alliance called the Delian (DEE•lee•uhn) League. League members continued to press the war against the Persians for several more years. In time, they drove the Persians from the territories surrounding Greece and ended the threat of future attacks.
Consequences of the Persian Wars With the Persian threat ended, all the Greek city-states felt a new sense of confidence and freedom. Athens, in particular, basked in the glory of the Persian defeat. During the 470s, Athens emerged as the leader of the Delian League, which had grown to some 200 city-states. Soon thereafter, Athens began to use its power to control the other league members. It moved the league headquarters to Athens, and used military force against members that challenged its authority. In time, these city-states became little more than provinces of a vast Athenian empire. The prestige of victory over the Persians and the wealth of the Athenian empire set the stage for a dazzling burst of creativity in Athens. The city was entering its brief golden age.
Greece’s Golden Age & Pericles SETTING THE STAGE For close to 50 years (from 477 to 431 B.C.), Athens experienced a growth in intellectual and artistic learning. This period is often called the Golden Age of Athens. During this golden age, drama, sculpture, poetry, philosophy, architecture, and science all reached new heights.
Pericles’ Plan for Athens
A wise and able statesman named Pericles led Athens during much of its golden age. Honest and fair, Pericles held onto popular support for 32 years. He was a skillful politician, an inspiring speaker, and a respected general. He so dominated the life of Athens from 461 to 429 B.C. that this period often is called the Age of Pericles. He had three goals: (1) to strengthen Athenian democracy, (2) to hold and strengthen the empire, and (3) to glorify Athens.
Stronger Democracy To strengthen democracy, Pericles increased the number of public officials who were paid salaries. Earlier in Athens, most positions in public office were unpaid. Thus, only wealthier Athenian citizens could afford to hold public office. Now even the poorest citizen could serve if elected or chosen by lot. This reform made Athens one of the most democratic governments in history. The introduction of direct democracy, a form of government in which citizens rule directly and not through representatives, was an important legacy of Pericles. Few other city-states practiced this style of government
Athenian Empire After the defeat of the Persians, Athens helped organize the Delian League. In time, Athens took over leadership of the league and dominated all the city-states in it. Pericles used the money from the league’s treasury to make the Athenian navy the strongest in the Mediterranean. A strong navy was important because it helped Athens strengthen the safety of its empire. Prosperity depended on gaining access to the surrounding waterways. Athens needed overseas trade to obtain supplies of grain and other raw materials. Athenian military might allowed Pericles to treat other members of the Delian League as part of the empire. Some cities in the Peloponnesus, however, resisted Athens and formed their own alliances. As you will read later in this section, Sparta in particular was at odds with Athens.
Glorifying Athens Pericles also used money from the Delian League to beautify Athens. Without the league’s approval, he persuaded the Athenian assembly to vote huge sums of the league’s money to buy gold, ivory, and marble. Still more money went to pay the artists, architects, and workers who used these materials.
History As you learned earlier in this chapter, there are no written records from the Dorian period. The epic poems of Homer recount stories, but are not accurate recordings of what took place. Herodotus, a Greek who lived in Athens for a time, pioneered the accurate reporting of events. His book on the Persian Wars is considered the first work of history. However, the greatest historian of the classical age was the Athenian Thucydides (thoo•SID•ih•DEEZ). He believed that certain types of events and political situations recur over time. Studying those events and situations, he felt, would aid in understanding the present. The approaches Thucydides used in his work still guide historians today.
Athenians and Spartans Go to War
As Athens grew in wealth, prestige, and power, other city-states began to view it with hostility. Ill will was especially strong between Sparta and Athens. Many people thought that war between the two was inevitable. Instead of trying to avoid conflict, leaders in Athens and Sparta pressed for a war to begin, as both groups of leaders believed their own city had the advantage. Eventually, Sparta declared war on Athens in 431 B.C.
Peloponnesian War When the Peloponnesian War between the two city-states began, Athens had the stronger navy. Sparta had the stronger army, and its location inland meant that it could not easily be attacked by sea. Pericles’ strategy was to avoid land battles with the Spartan army and wait for an opportunity to strike Sparta and its allies from the sea. Eventually, the Spartans marched into Athenian territory. They swept over the countryside, burning the Athenian food supply. Pericles responded by bringing residents from the surrounding region inside the city walls. The city was safe from hunger as long as ships could sail into port with supplies from Athenian colonies and foreign states. In the second year of the war, however, disaster struck Athens. A frightful plague swept through the city, killing perhaps one-third of the population, including Pericles. Although weakened, Athens continued to fight for several years. Then, in 421 B.C., the two sides, worn down by the war, signed a truce.
Sparta Gains Victory The peace did not last long. In 415 B.C., the Athenians sent a huge fleet carrying more than 20,000 soldiers to the island of Sicily. Their plan was to destroy the city-state of Syracuse, one of Sparta’s wealthiest allies. The expedition ended with a crushing defeat in 413 B.C. In his study of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recalled: “[The Athenians] were destroyed with a total destruction—their fleet, their army—there was nothing that was not destroyed, and few out of many returned home.” Somehow, a terribly weakened Athens fended off Spartan attacks for another nine years. Finally, in 404 B.C., the Athenians and their allies surrendered. Athens had lost its empire, power, and wealth.
Answer the following questions:
Why is Pericles important?
Why are Herodotus & Thucydides important to this time period?
Who fought in the Peloponnesian War? Why?
Philosophers Search for Truth
After the war, many Athenians lost confidence in democratic government and began to question their values. In this time of uncertainty, several great thinkers appeared. They were determined to seek the truth, no matter where the search led them. The Greeks called such thinkers philosophers, meaning “lovers of wisdom.”
Socrates 470–399 B.C.
Socrates (SAHK•ruh•TEEZ) believed that absolute standards existed for truth and justice. However, he encouraged Greeks to go farther and question themselves and their moral character. He asked them a series of leading questions to show that people hold many contradictory opinions. This question-and-answer approach to teaching is known as the Socratic Method. Historians believe that it was Socrates who once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Those who understood Socrates admired him deeply. The majority of citizens, however, could not understand this strange old man and his ideas. In 399 B.C., when Socrates was about 70 years old, he was brought to trial for “corrupting the youth of Athens” and “neglecting the city’s gods.” In his own defense, Socrates said that his teachings were good for Athens because they forced people to think about their values and actions. The jury disagreed and condemned him to death. He died by drinking hemlock, a slow-acting poison.
Plato 427–347 B.C.
A student of Socrates, Plato (PLAY•toh), was in his late 20s when his teacher died and he left Greece. Sometime in the 370s B.C., Plato wrote his most famous work, The Republic. In it, he set forth his vision of a perfectly governed society. It was not a democracy. In his ideal society, all citizens would fall naturally into three groups: farmers and artisans, warriors, and the ruling class. The person with the greatest insight and intellect from the ruling class would be chosen philosopher-king. He later returned to Athens and founded a school called the Academy in 387 B.C. The school lasted for approximately 900 years.
Aristotle 384–322 B.C.
One of the brightest students at Plato’s Academy, the philosopher Aristotle questioned the nature of the world and of human belief, thought, and knowledge. Aristotle came close to summarizing all the knowledge up to his time. He invented a method for arguing according to rules of logic. He later applied his method to problems in the fields of psychology, physics, and biology. His work provides the basis of the scientific method used today. One of Aristotle’s most famous pupils was Alexander, son of King Philip II of Macedonia. Around 343 B.C., Aristotle accepted the king’s invitation to tutor the 13-year-old prince. Alexander’s status as a student abruptly ended three years later, when his father called him back to Macedonia.