Ancient Greek Civilization : Facts, History and Information: Culture, Life, Achievements, Women's Roles

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The Greeks 1150 - 800 BCE

After the fall of Mycenia, in 1150 BCE there was a period of dark ages because there are no records of this period.

The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer are composed from the oral tradition and reflect village life of the times.

The village ruler controlled the army. Assemblies were of warriors. There was no legal system. Households raised own food and produced own tools. Slaves were prisoners, mostly women because men were killed rather than taken as slaves. Women were free to entertain male guests. Gods represented natural forces but no priesthood or temples for worship existed. Used sacrifice to appease the gods. Did not believe in an afterlife or the rewards of goodness. Immortality came from earthly remembrances of earthly achievements. Loved human beauty and exemplified this in their art.

Emergence of the City States

The Greek population grew and communities organized into larger units. A result was centers with permanent populations. These permanent centers were named polis or city state (which we base our word politics). The polis was built on hills and fortified, containing marketplaces. The Polis controlled surrounding territories too. The growth of polis was due to the reestablishment of trade and the invention of the Greek alphabet.

The Greek alphabet was simple and easy to learn. Literacy became widespread and allowed for a wide distribution of wealth for anyone who had the skill to keep records.

The Greeks made early efforts to trade overseas. As population grew and outstripped the food supply, Greeks migrated to form new colonies and begin new lives as farmers.

Athens had a varied mineral deposits and good harbors. The nation developed an extensive trade network.

A rebellion of poor farmers against the new rich who had gained wealth through the raising of grapes and olives led to new democratic institutions.

In 534 BCE, Solon, a Greek wise man, was given the task of settling disputes. He canceled the debts of the poor. Established political control based on wealth not heredity. He created a general assembly that could veto the decisions of the rich.

In 507 BCE Clisthenes instituted elections of magistrates based on geography rather than by families. This led to a system whereby every free male could participate in government.

Daily life - Women's Roles

Women came to be considered the weaker sex and lost their freedoms. They were not citizens. They could not participate in government, sue or own property.

Women came to be considered baby machines. They were not allowed in public. They married at age 14 to men that were maybe twice their age or more as the younger men were in the military. Women were confined to women's work. Men were not generally attached emotionally to their wives. Males were considered superior which led to widespread homosexuality. Fathers and husbands governed in a patriarchal society.

Slaves did not work while the free men debated. Discovery of silver in Attica around 500 BCE led to buying of slaves and a greater leisure class.  Slaves treated brutally. There was social equality for citizens, but there were very citizens.

The Greeks avoided imperialism and aggressive wars. They had no advances in economics or bookkeeping.

Socrates was put to death for expressing an opinion.

Greek word for freedom unique in all Eurasia. Admired intellect and rationality.

Words derived from the Greeks that are still used today: politics, democracy, philosophy, metaphysics, history and tragedy.

Greek Literature and Art

The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer excel in description of battles and passion.

Sappho was a woman who wrote and sang poetry on the island of Lesbos. Here, women were granted much freedom and many women became homosexuals hence the term lesbians.

In Athens, drama developed. All participants were men and masked. Men played women's parts and all shouted their lines through the masks. Plays were tragedies with a single plot.

  • Aeschylus wrote patriotic tragedies.
  • Sophocles wrote the Oedipus the King, a tale of an unexceptional person with whom the audience could identify.
  • Euripides introduced satire and psychological elements. He depicted war as tragic no glorified.
  • Aristophanes was a master of satire, the father of Greek comedy and the writer of Lysistrata about an idea yet to be tried.

Athenian sculpture used human greatness and beauty. Nudity was emphasized and men openly went around nude.


Ancient Greek Philosophers