The term “Classical Greece” refers to the period between the Persian Wars in the early 5th century BC and the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. The Classical period was a time of war and conflict, first between the Greeks and the Persians. , then between the Athenians and the Spartans, but it was also a time of unprecedented political and cultural achievements. Besides the Parthenon and Greek tragedy, classical Greece brought us the historian Herodotus, the physician Hippocrates, and the philosopher Socrates. It also brought us the political reforms that constitute ancient Greece’s most lasting contribution to the modern world: the system known as demokratia, or “rule by the people.”
Led by Athens and Spartathe Greek city-states were engaged in a great war against the The Persian Empire at the beginning of the 5th century BC. In 498 BC, Greek forces sacked the Persian city of Sardis. In 490 BC, the Persian king sent a naval expedition across the Aegean Sea to attack Athenian troops in the region. Battle of Marathon. Despite a resounding Athenian victory, the Persians did not give up. In 480 BC. Leonidas of Sparta was famously killed. The following year, however, the Greeks decisively defeated the Persians at the Battle of Salamis.
Historical lists: builders of the ancient empire
The rise of Athens
The defeat of the Persians marked the beginning of Athenian political, economic and cultural domination. By 507 BC, the Athenian nobleman Cleisthenes had overthrown the last of the autocratic tyrants and designed a new system of citizen self-governance which he called democracy. In Cleisthenes’ democratic system, any male citizen over the age of 18 was eligible to join the ekklesia, or Assembly, the sovereign body of Athens. The other legislators were chosen at random, by drawing lots and not by election. And in this first Greek democracy, officials were sworn to act “in accordance with the laws, in the best interests of the people.”
However, demokratia did not mean that Athens approached its relations with other Greek city-states with anything approaching egalitarianism. To protect distant Greek territories from Persian interference, Athens organized a confederation of allies it called the Delian League in 478 BC. Athens was clearly responsible for this coalition; as a result, most of the Delian League’s dues ended up in the city-state’s treasury, where they helped make Athens a wealthy imperial power.
Athens under Pericles
In the 450s, the Athenian general Pericles consolidated his own power by using all that tribute money to serve the citizens of Athens, rich and poor. (Generals were among the only public officials in Athens who were elected, not appointed, and who could keep their jobs for more than a year.) For example, Pericles paid modest salaries to jurors and members of the ekklesia, so that in theory everyone who was eligible could afford to participate in the public life of democracy.
Art and Architecture
Pericles also used the tribute money to support Athenian artists and thinkers. For example, he financed the reconstruction of parts of Athens destroyed by the Persian Wars. The result was magnificent Parthenona new temple in honor of the goddess Athena in Acropolis. (Pericles also oversaw the construction of the Temple of Hephaestus, the Odeion Concert Hall, and the Temple of Poseidon in Attica.)
Likewise, Pericles financed the annual production of comic and dramatic plays at the Acropolis. (Wealthy people offset some of these costs by paying voluntary taxes called liturgies.) Playwrights like Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and the comic playwright Aristophanes all gained great fame for their depictions of the relationships between men and gods, the citizens and the polis and destiny. and justice.
These pieces, like the Parthenon, still embody the cultural achievements of classical Greece. Along with the stories of Herodotus And Thucydides and the ideas of the physician Hippocrates, they are defined by logic, pattern and order and by a faith in humanism above all. These are the attributes that are today associated with the art, culture and even politics of the time.
The Peloponnesian War
Unfortunately, none of these cultural achievements translated into political stability. Athenian imperialism had alienated its Delian League partners, particularly Sparta, and this conflict played out over the following decades. Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).
The final victory of the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War meant that Athens lost its political primacy, but Athenian cultural life – the essence of classical Greece – continued apace into the fourth century BC. However, in the second half of the century, disorder reigned within the old Athenian empire. This disorder made possible the conquest of Greece by the Macedonian kings Philip II and his son, Alexander The Great (338-323 BC) — a conquest that ultimately marked the end of the Classical period and the beginning of the Hellenistic period.