Below we are going to detail a short brief about the culture of ancient Greece. We will discuss various aspects of this fascinating ancient civilization and their corresponding views upon the world. We hope this will allow some of you to appreciate all of the wondrous concepts given to us by the ancient Greeks. We have divided this into multiple sections as to make it easy to sort through.
Politics & Government
Ancient Greece was quite innovative for their time regarding how they ran their country. Their system consisted of several hundred relatively independent city states known as poleis. This was rather uncommon for their era and most other contemporary societies were either tribal, or they had kingdoms which ruled over larger territories. Due to the Greek’s tribal origins, they seem to have grouped together according to their more recent heritage lines and enjoyed many of their own laws. Herodotus was able to extensively categorize each of these poleis by tribe.
This led to a rather strange state of mind for Greeks in view of who they were as a people. Although they regarded themselves as a single group of people, the poleis strongly defended their independence from a larger ruling system. This independence clearly had some positive influences, and arguably may have even been necessary due to the geography of Greece, yet, during the second Persian invasion of Greece, the vast majority of poleis remained neutral and simply defended their own territory.
The political system of Ancient Greece was quite fragmented in nature and the poleis seemed to do what they thought was necessary for their own survival. Later in the classical period, these poleis would become fewer and fewer and began being controlled by larger cities such as Athens, Sparta, and Thebes.
Originally only land-owning, native-born men who were considered ‘free’ were entitled full protection of law in city-states. A law introduced by Pericles later allowed exceptions to the native-born restriction.
In Athens, they had a sort of caste system where wealthier people were considered of a higher social class. However, if you became wealthy, you were allowed to change classes. In Sparta, all male citizens who completed their education were considered equal. That didn’t apply to Spartan royalty though, as all of Sparta’s military and religious leaders came from only 2 families.
Ancient Greek Art
The art made in ancient Greece has had an immense influence on the future of art in not only surrounding areas, but both western and eastern culture. The classical statues and sculptures of ancient Greece are not the only things the ancient Greeks enjoyed crafting. Alexander the Great’s famous conquests initiated culture exchange between Greece and Central Asia, including those of Indian descent. This resulted in Greco-Buddhist art.
The philosophy of ancient Greece often horned in on the inquiries of logic and reason. When looking through history, this is actually not to different from the philosophy of other ancient cultures. Neither reason nor inquiry began with the Greeks. Although it is hard to define exactly what is unique to the system of Greek philosophy, it is hard to deny that the works of Plato weren’t instrumental in the formation of our current philosophical system.
Ancient Greeks held literature deep to their hearts. Famous works such as Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are considered literary classics. The ancient depictions of Greek mythology and war have aged well. What is truly interesting about these stories, and similar ones like it, is the ability for the authors to insert philosophy into their writings. Greek literature often has a philosophical binding, making you wonder why characters did what they did, and giving you a far-reaching glimpse into Greek thought.
Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle are probably the most well-known Greek philosophers and their writings are still studied today. Sacrates, of course, invented Socratic questioning. Plato took Socratic questioning and put it into written form. Aristotle was Plato’s student.
Below are some quotes from the previously mentioned philosophers.
“An unexamined life is not worth living.” ― Socrates
“For no man is voluntarily bad; but the bad become bad by reason of an ill disposition of the body and bad education, things which are hateful to every man and happen to him against his will.” ― Plato, Timaeus
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ― Aristotle
Science & Technology
The ancient Greeks made many discoveries in the fields of math, science, technology, and medicine.
Hippocrates, a physician from the classical period is referred to as the ‘father of medicine’. He is the founder of the Hippocratic school of medicine. This had an important affect on Greek and future culture because medicine was no longer looked at as philosophical or esoteric. Medicine became it’s own profession and this allowed people to be treated in a legitimate manner.
The ancient Greek mathematicians, such as Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras made monumental discoveries which are still taught in schools today. The basic ideas of geometry and mathematical proofs are often attributed to Ancient Greeks.
They also developed astronomy, which was regarded as a form of mathematics and used to define their views of the greater world.
Religion & Mythology
Greeks were polytheistic and extremely religious. They had a rather large pantheon of gods and goddesses. Their mythology consists mostly of stories relating to these beings. Notable gods and goddesses might include Zeus, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Apollo, Hades. Heracles, a demigod, is also very well-known and has formed the basis of many children’s stories involving Hercules.
The worship of these gods and goddesses were often a part of everyday life in ancient Greece. Common religious practices included story-telling, the archiving of religious documents such as Hesiod’s Theogeny, and even sacrifices. Additionally, most households had altars dedicated to Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. Even the ancient Olympia games were held in the honor of Zeus.
Essentially, the ancient Greeks used religion as a means to explain the world around them in a similar manner as the rest of the world.
I just finished a class in Ancient Art History at SDCCD and found this article interesting. I am always searching and looking to learn more, thank you for sharing.