The polis, or city-state, was the geographic and political center of Greek life. Each polis was made up of farming villages, fields, and orchards grouped around a fortified hill called an acropolis. At the foot was the agora, an open area used as a marketplace. By 700 B.C., this inner part of the polis had become a city. The average city-state contained between 5,000 and 10,000 citizens.
For Greek citizens in ancient times, civic and personal honor were one and the same. Two of the greatest Greek citystates were Sparta and Athens. The Land and City States of Greece Sparta was in an area known as the Peloponnesus. By 500 B.C., it had become the greatest military power in Greece. Though first ruled by a king, aristocrats, or nobles, took over the
government. Only aristocrats could be Spartan citizens. All citizens over 20 years old were members of the Assembly, which passed laws and decided questions of war and peace. Each year, the Assembly chose five managers, known as ephors, to take charge of public affairs and guide the education of young Spartans. The Council of Elders helped the ephors. The Spartans had little interest in farming. The land was worked by helots, or enslaved people owned by the city-states.
The Spartans were not interested in business or trade either. They left those to the perioeci, or merchants and artisans who lived in the villages. Helots and perioeci worked, while aristocrats trained for the army and war. By about 750 B.C., there were 20 times as many helots and perioeci as there were aristocrats. The Spartans tried to become the strongest people in Greece. When Spartan boys turned seven, they were sent to live in military camps.
Spartan men were expected to marry at 20 years of age. Spartan women had more freedom than the women of other Greek city-states. They mixed freely with men and enjoyed sports such as wrestling and racing. The Spartans believed new ideas would weaken their way of life; therefore they tried to resist change. From its beginnings until its defeat in 371 B.C., Sparta had only one goal to be militarily strong. SPARTAN WARRIORS
The city-state of Athens had a very different philosophy about living than the Spartans. About 750 B.C., some Athenian nobles, merchants, and manufacturers took over the government. They set up an oligarchy, or form of government in which a few people have the ruling power. Fights broke out between them and the farmers and artisans over land ownership. The first attempt to change the government was made by Draco, a noble. He failed because his punishments were too harsh. In 594 B.C., a rich merchant named Solon was chosen to undertake the task. Solon prepared a constitution, or a set of principles and rules for governing. This constitution broke the political power of the rich. Under Solon, more
Athenians began to take part in government, and trade increased. About 560 B.C., the government was taken over by another Athenian named Peisistratus who was supported by the lower classes. He stated that a person no longer had to own land to be a citizen. In 509 B.C., Cleisthenes put into effect the worlds first constitution that was democratic, or favoring the equality of all people. Cleisthenes opened the Assembly to all males over 20 years old. The Council of Five Hundred handled the daily business of Athens. The names of 500 citizens were drawn from a
large pot. Under Cleisthenes, citizens were required to educate their sons starting when they were seven years old. When they turned 18 years old, Athenian males became citizens. Problem Leader Solution Fights broke out
between aristocrats and farmers over land ownership Dracos punishments were too harsh Draco Made the first attempt to change government with harsh policies Solon
prepared a constitution, or a set of principles People were put into debt bondage because they owed debts Lower classes did not own land and rules for Solon Peisistratus
governing Erased all debts Divided large estates among farmers who owned no land Spartans took over Athenian government Cleisthenes Put into effect the
worlds first democratic constitution Wanted to give every citizen a chance to take part in government Cleisthenes A Council of 500 was chosen each year by lot Citizens were uneducated
Cleisthenes All sons were required to be educated by tutors or attend private schools ATHENS In 545 B.C., the Persians conquered Ioniathe Greek city-states in Asia Minor and on the Aegean islands. About 20 years later, the lonians revolted and asked the city-states on the Greek mainland for help.
In 490 B.C., Darius sent a fleet of 600 ships and a well-equipped army to Greece. The Persians landed on the plain of Marathon about 26 miles northeast of Athens. Greek soldiers launched a strategic attack and won the battle. A runner set off for Athens with news of the victory. Upon reaching Athens, he cried out Nike!, the Greek goddess of victory, and then died of exhaustion. Shortly after the Battle of Marathon, rich silver mines were found near Athens. The Athenians spent their new wealth
on triremes, or warships that had three levels of rowers on each side, one above the other. In 480 B.C., Dariuss son Xerxes sent 250,000 soldiers across the Aegean and conquered northern Greece. In order to stop the Persians from taking all of Greece, 20 Greek city-states banded together. The Greeks tricked the Persian fleet into sailing into the strait between Athens and Salamis. With their lighter, faster ships, the Greeks defeated the Persian fleet. Following the defeat, Xerxes returned to Asia, leaving some troops
behind. In 479 B.C., the Greeks defeated them and destroyed what was left of the Persian navy. After the Persian Wars, the Athenians suggested that the Greek city-states form a defensive league, or protective group, called the Delian League. Sparta was one of the few Greek city-states that did not join the League. As time passed, though, Athens gained more and more power. In short, the Delian League had turned into the Athenian Empire. The main leader of Athens at the time was a general named Pericles.
He rebuilt the palaces and temples on the Acropolis. Pericles led Athens for almost 30 years. During this Golden Age of Athens, art, philosophy, and literature reached new heights. When the Athenians attacked one of Spartas allies, a group of city-states led by Sparta declared war on Athens. The war, which was called the Peloponnesian War, lasted almost 30 years, ending in 404 B.C. when Athens surrendered to Sparta. Between the war and a plague that struck
during the war, Athens also lost more than one quarter of its people. Thousands of young Athenian men left home and became mercenaries, or hired soldiers, in the Persian army. When the Spartans took control of Athens in 404 B.C., they set up an oligarchy and chose 30 Athenian aristocrats to rule there. After the Peloponnesian War, most Greeks began to lose their sense of community. Bitterness developed between the upper and lower classes within each polis. Sparta ruled Greece. The Spartans were harsh
rulers who angered the other Greeks. As a result, in 371 B.C., a group of city-states led by Thebes overthrew Spartan rule. The rule of Thebes, however, was no better than that of Sparta, weakening the city-states even more. The Greeks were no longer strong enough or united enough to fight off invaders. In 338 B.C., Philip II of Macedonia conquered Greece. Critical Thinking Questions Why do you think these city-states developed in the places that they did, and what geographic features
might have affected this development? Do you think that the Spartan emphasis on military training benefited Sparta? Why or why not? What would Cleisthenes say about a city-state ruled by one woman who served for life, a council elected by voting, no organized army, and public schools for all citizens? What may happen to a community as a result of a long war? Why?
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