ancient greek history

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ancient greek history

Part 1

An epic poem is a long poem that tells a story about heroes. The Iliad is a great epic poem written by Homer in the 8th century BC, reflecting on events that occurred around 1200 BC during the time of the Olympian religion. There were twelve chief gods who supposedly lived in Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece. The twelve Olympian gods were common to all Greeks, who thus shared basic polytheistic religion (Spielvogel 84).
The first of the two excerpts I will discuss from the Iliad, is during the time of the Greek and Trojan War. At one point, the powerful god Zeus forbids the other gods to intervene in the war, but Zeuss wife Hera, wants her brother Poseidon to help the Greeks during this time. Hera decides to distract Zeuss attention by seducing him with her looks. She bathes herself with ambrosia, fixes her lovely and ambrosial curls, puts on her finest earrings, and dresses in intimate apparel. Hera then makes her way down under the clouds where Zeus could see her.

Zeus then approaches her and asks where she is going. Hera lies to him and tells him she is on her way to visit her parents. He is so attracted to her that he insists they must make love above the clouds before she goes. Hera plays hard to get, and suggests they go to a place where they cant be seen. Zeus then tries to persuade Hera by telling her that no woman, out of the many he’s had relations with, had ever melted about his heart like she does. After many attempts, Zeus convinces her to make love to him under the golden cloud. Afterwards, they fall asleep, giving Poseidon his chance to help the Greeks.

Although immortal, the gods seen in the Iliad, seem to be very human like; except for the fact that they are forever youthful. Zeus expresses himself to be a strong, powerful, horny, charming, but also, unintelligent god. On the other hand, Hera is seen as a seductress. She is a liar, and a very devious woman who uses sex to get what she wants.

The second excerpt from the Iliad, is a face to face fight scene between the Trojan Prince Hector, and the Greek hero Achilles. Previous to this event, Achilles had chased Hector around the city of troy three times looking for revenge. Finally, the goddess Athena steps in and tells Achilles that she will trick Hector by disguising herself to be his brother Delphobus; and when he turns around, he will be staring into Archilles face. After Hector has been tricked into coming face- to- face with Archilles, Hector agrees that this is the right time to stand up to Archilles since he now has his brother to stand behind him. First, Hector asks Achilles if he were to overtake him, would he take his corpse back to his family so a proper funeral session could occur. Achilles does not agree with his request. Just then, Archilles throws his spear, but Hector dodges it. Unseen by Hector, Athena gets the spear and returns it to Archilles. Hector then threw his spear but it only stuck in Archilles armor. When Hector asked for another spear from his brother, and realized he was not there, he knew he had been tricked. Archilles strikes again, and with his spear, drove it right through Hectors neck. Going against Hectors wish, Archilles dragged Hectors body through the city of Troy for animals to feed off of it, and to show his victory at last.
The Goddess Athena seen in this selection can best be described as a deceptive, sneaky woman. Her act of tricking Hector was untruthful. Although, in the Trojans eyes, Athena could be seen as a hero for helping Archilles capture Hector.

A mystery cult is a small organization or group of people dedicated to a certain god or goddess. Since there was no personal attachment to the gods in the previous Olympian religion, unfulfilled followers turned to mystery cults. Now, with mystery cults, people were able to form a personal and emotional bond with a god or goddess; making this the most important element seen in mystery cults, because this is what the people had desired for so long. Along with this element of personal and emotional attachment, there were many other elements seen in mystery cults as well.

Many temples were found throughout the Greek cities of the east; making their new religion readily available. All of mystery religions were based on the same fundamental premises. Individuals could preserve a path to salvation and the achievement of eternal life by being initiated into a union who had died and risen again (Spielvogel 110). All mystery cults also had a doctrine that was not meant to be understood; just followed and believed. They also had secret prayers and rituals. People who followed the rules of a mystery cult went to heaven or somewhere good; and people who didnt follow the rules, went somewhere bad such as hell.

Some elements of a mystery cult are seen in Apuleuis Metamorphoses. This story is about a young man named Lucius who is turned into an ass. After repenting his sins to the most powerful Goddess Isis, she turns him back to human form. First, Isis tells Lucius that he must always remember, worship, and dedicate himself to her, for the rest of his life. This here, is an example of a common element seen in most mystery cults. At the end of the excerpt Isis states:
If you shall be found to deserve the protection of my divinity by sedulous
obedience, religious devotion, and inviolable chastity, you shall be sensible that it
is possible for me, and me alone, to extend your life beyond the limits that have
been appointed to it by your destiny (George Bell and Sons 222-226).

This statement is also a great element seen in mystery cults. It basically means, if you follow my rules and prove that you are worthy to live in eternal life, you shall. I find this element most important because the goal of Lucius is to not only return to human form, but to also have eternal life.

Part II

The governments of both Athens and Sparta differ significantly but are somewhat comparable. The government of Athens was considered a democracy; allowing individual differences and freedom. On the other hand, Sparta was considered a dual monarchy; stressing stability, conformity and order.
In 508 BC, the new democratic constitution was introduced. Based on their new constitution, the Athenian government was divided up into 3 branches. The first branch was the Council of 500 which consisted of nobles. Their main function was setting the assembly. The second branch of government was the Ecclesia, which was made up of all male citizens that functioned as a legislature. They were in charge of passing laws, electing some officials, and taking care of the budgeting and taxes of the government. The third branch of government was the Magistrates. They were any elected or appointed officials. Among the Magistrates were ten Archon, which were elected by the council of 500. Their job was to look after all the domestic functions of the town; much like a president. Another important group of people under the magistrates were the strategois. They were elected by the Ecclesia, and their major function was to look after military, and foreign affairs.
Spartas government, based upon the military was made up of four branches. The first branch was the dual monarchy; which was made up of two kings from different families. They were primarily responsible for military affairs, and served as the leaders of the Spartan army on its military campaigns. The second branch of government was the Gerousia. This branch consisted of twenty-eight citizens over the age of sixty, who were elected for life. They shared power with the king, but their main purpose was to prepare proposals that would be presented to the third branch of government, known as the Apella. The Apella was an assembly that consisted of all male citizens. They were more powerful than the Gerousia. This assembly did not debate, they only voted on proposals brought forth to them by the Gerousia. As well as electing the members of the Gerousia; they also elected the five Ephors. The five Ephors duties were to supervise the education of youth, and the conduct of all citizens. They also served as judges.

Just like the governments of Athens and Sparta, their societies differed, but were also somewhat comparable. The society of Athens consisted of three major groups. The first group was made up of Citizens, which consisted of both males and females. Men, held office, voted, owned land, and served in the military. Women on the other hand, had the important role of determining the status of her children. For example, if the mother was a slave and the father wasnt, the child was still a slave. Women could also own land. Rich women didnt go out much, but poor women had to go out and work. The second group in the Athenian social structure were the Metics. A Metic was a resident alien. Once a person became a Metic they were always a Metic; and so were their children and grandchildren. Metics roles were limited. They could serve in the military and own a business. However, they were not entitled to own land. Last, the third group of people that made up the last of the Athenian social structure were the slaves. Slaves took up twenty percent of the population in Athens. Since they were slaves, they had absolutely no rights.

Just as the Spartan government was based around the military, so was the Spartan social structure. Spartas government held communistic characteristics. At the age of six or seven, boys were sent to militaristic boot camps where they could be trained to be skillful soldiers. Girls, on the other hand, were sent to practice strict exercise so they could soon produce strong, healthy soldiers. In general, no one owned land, it was all owned by the government.
The Spartan social structure was rigidly organized (Spielvogel 65). Just like the Athenian social structure, Spartas was also made up of three groups. The first of the three groups, were the citizens or Spartiates, divided into two subgroups, males and females. Males were able to serve in the military, vote, hold office, and conduct business. Unlike the Athenian men, they were able to help determine the status of their children. Because men were usually away with the military, women took on many of their husbands responsibilities. Along with determining the status of her children, women were able conduct public and private business, vote her husbands proxy, and stand as a witness in court. Below the Spartiates, were the Perioci. Though free, they did not possess the privileges of citizenship and served as small merchants and artisans (Spielvogel 65). Even though they did not bear the same rights as a citizen, they were still subject to the military. Then last, and most numerous of the four classes, were the Helots. They were placed at the bottom of the social scale. Helots were assigned to the lands of the of the Spartan citizens; where they farmed the land and gave their master half of what was produced. In compensation for doing this, Helots were given shelter, food, and land to farm on.
Lycurgus was a lawgiver that made many changes in Sparta. In result of Lycurgus reforms; Sparta was turned into a perpetual military camp. I will discuss three of the many changes made by Lycurgus. The first change which was of great importance to the Spartans, was the establishment of the Senate. The new Senate had just as much power as the Kings, but now gave Sparta a firm basis to stand upon. The Senate acted as a central weight, helping the government stay away from having an absolute monarchy.
Lycurgus then took on a second task; making a new division of the Spartan lands.All types of Spartans were now able to live together on equal footing; something that was long sought by the Spartans.
The Third and most masterly stroke of this great lawgiver was aimed to bring down the rich. Lycurgus goal was for everyone to be equal. He wanted everyone to eat the same types of food. He continues by saying rich people should not stay at home being waited on by servants while they lay on the most costly couches getting heavy like greedy brutes. After he took wealth away from the rich, everyone was obliged to be together.
All of these changes made by Lycurgus were beneficial because they stopped the government from having absolute monarchy; and brought equality to the lands and citizens of Sparta.

The speech made by Pericles can be seen as a motivational speech to the Athenians after the time of the Peloponesian War. Pericles starts his speech off by explaining to the people what a strong government the Athenian people have. He states, Our constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands of the, not of the minority, but of the whole people (Tierney and Scott 44). Pericles also explains that their government does not copy or imitate any other, but it can be seen as a leading government. Pericles also says that, individuals are not only interested in their own affairs , but the affairs of the government as well. He also explains, that a man who takes no interest in the government should not be in Athens at all. The people in Athens have much time to enjoy their leisure activities, but when it comes to the government, most respect and following of the law is expected.
Athens can be described as a free, classless society. The people were not judged by their class, they were judged by their abilities. Also, wealth and poverty were looked at fairly. No one was considered bad if they were poor as long as they took proper measure to escape it. As for being wealthy, that was nothing to boast about. The city of Athens was also free and open for trade, allowing the people to enjoy foreign goods.

Another important topic discussed in Pericles speech was the military. The Athenian men were not forced into strict training for the military; and the women were not forced into exercising to produce healthy soldiers. This is what makes them different from Sparta. The military was an encouraged option to the people of Athens. Preparing for war did not occur in Athens. The people of Athens were very brave and did not worry about losing in war. They took it as it came. Pericles also states, Our city is open to the world, and we have no periodical, deportations in order to prevent people observing or finding out secrets which might be of military advantage to the enemy. (Tierney ; Scott 45). Since the military was split into many different groups; the Athenian military never came at full force, unlike the military of Sparta. And when another foreign military defeats part of the Athenian military, they give themselves credit for destroying the whole thing. The Athenian military never lied about their victories or defeats.

In conclusion, modern Americans would find most of the characteristics of the Athenian government and societies attractive. The most appealing would be the government being a democracy. With the Athenian democratic government, the citizens had the right to enjoy leisure activities as long as the law was obeyed. Also the military being optional for one to join was very favorable. The way the government looked at poverty and wealth was very fair. Also the country being open for trade and foreign visitors would be favored since American is a free nation of people whose origins are from all over the world. An aspect Americans may find negative would be the way women did not yet have as much freedom as they do now in America.


In the excerpt, An Athenian Household, Xenophon discusses the different roles both men and women had in an upper-class household. The roles of women drastically outweigh those of a man. The husbands job in an Athenian household was to basically do any work outdoors. For men are seen to have better fitted bodies and minds to bear cold and heat, travel and military exercises.

Women, on the other hand, had many duties. Their work was primarily done inside the home. The womans job title can be described as a household administrator. They acted as superintendents of the households laborers. They were also able to punish servants if they were found transgressing. They also had the job of budgeting and dividing up anything that came into the home. Women also made proper garments with the wool brought into the home so that they would get the most use. If any of the household servants became sick, the woman had the job of helping them recover. Women trained servants to make them more skillful and valuable in the home. Although women had so much power in the home, if she began to show superiority over her husband, over time she would become less respected within the home. Women were supposed to exercise themselves which would help them take their food with better appetite, enjoy better health and would assume a more truly pleasing complexion. A wifes looks are really attractive to a husband when, compared to a slave girl, she seems more pure and healthy, and is dressed more becomingly, and especially because she gratifies her husband willingly and, not because she is compelled to do so (Tierney ; Scott 83.).

In my opinion, the role love does not come into play in this selection by Xenophon. The marriages in upper class Athenian households are usually arranged, and in this case, it was. The husband and wife dont know each other too well, and it seems as if the husband is ordering his new wife around. She takes care of almost everything. She is like a high positioned slave because she does just as much work as the slaves do. Another thing I found to be unfair, was that the husband had control over the issue of his wife wearing cosmetics; and also the way she dressed.

The Spartan government had one main focus, and that was the military. Womens duties in Sparta differed much from those in Athens. Because of the absence of their husbands who spent most of their lives in war, women took great liberties and assumed superiority. They were treated with much respect, and often called by the title of lady or queen. While their husbands were away, women could conduct public and private business, as well as vote their husbands proxy. Although women were treated so highly, they were still ordered to exercise themselves in the form of wrestling, running, throwing the quolt and casting the dart. This would help them be able to produce healthy soldiers.


In Platos Platonic Utopianism, women are described to be able to take on the same roles in society as men. Plato states, Are dogs divided into hes and shes, or do they both share equally in hunting and in keeping watch and in the other duties of dogs (Tierney ; Scott 77)? The only obvious difference between men and women was that men were stronger. Although men were stronger, women still could practice the same duties as men. If a woman wanted to be treated equal to men, they must have the same nurture and education. Women must practice gymnastics and music, as well as the art of war. Plato also said, Women must then exercise naked with men; and this is the most ridiculous part. He also states, Men and women alike possess the qualities which make a guardian (Tierney ; Scott 77).

In all of this, I feel that Plato does not distinguish the ideal from reality in his assessment of the role of women in Greek society. Women in Greece generally could not serve in the military. Also, women usually received a different form of education. This example that Plato describes is definitely ideal in the time this work was produced.

Part III

In 509 B.C., the Romans made a transformation from a monarchy government to a tripartite republic. The new government consisted of three major branches. The first major branch was the assembly. Although the Roman Republic possessed many popular assemblies, they all shared the same characteristics. The assemblies were made up of all males of age. Their major purposes were to make laws, declare war and peace and to elect officials. The assembly was also allowed to vote. Voting was done in blocks. Each block was called a century; where each century got one vote. The centuries were divided up amongst the Patricians, the Equites and the Plebians.

The second branch of Roman government was the Magistrates. They were basically any elected or appointed officials. The Magistrates were split up into four groups and had to go through the curses honorum process. The curses honorum was a course of honor, in which one must start at the bottom and work himself to the top notch job, making sure the person at the top has had much experience in all the lower jobs. The lowest of the four groups of magistrates were the Aediles. They would be described as commissioners; men that oversaw day-to-day running of the town. Aediles oversaw almost everything in the town from parks, to sewer systems. The next group going from lowest to highest were the Quaestors. Quaestors were always elected in groups of two. Their two functions were to be treasurers and they were also the military equivalent to a supply master. The next group were Praetors who could simply be described as judges. And last of the Magistrates were the Consuls. Consuls were the most powerful of all the positions. They were always elected in pairs so that no one person could become too powerful. They ran for one-year terms and once their term was over, they had to wait ten years to run again. The functions of the consuls were like those of an American president. They also served as generals in the military, which meant they had much authority.

The third branch of the new government was the Senate. The Senate consisted of about three hundred members. The position of a Senate was hereditary. Also retired Consuls could be part of the Senate. The Senate basically set the agenda for the Roman republic.

The social class system was also important with the new Roman republic. The social structure was divided into two parts. The Patricians class in Rome consisted of those families who were descended from the original senators appointed during the period of the kings. The Patrician wealth gave them much prominence, giving them certain religious privileges that let them control the government (Spielvogel 119). Only Patricians could be consuls; others magistrates and senators. They also controlled the Centuriate assembly and many other facets of Roman life. The Plebians on the other hand, had less privileges. They can best be described as independent, unprivileged, and vulnerable men. Also, they were poorer, owned less land, were smaller farmers and merchants.


According to Polybius, the Roman republic government was considered strong. Polybius thought that the royal government would fall and lead to a king taking full power over the Roman people. But in this excerpt, he explains that the new governments power was divided up in an equal manner causing it to hold up well.

First Polybius introduces the consuls. The consuls were important members of this government. They brought forth proposals to the senate. They also had absolute power over the military, meaning they made up roles for soldiers which best suited them. Censors also expended as much public money as they chose. They also had absolute power to punish anyone who worked under them.

The next branch that was important to the government was the senate. The senate had the job of controlling the treasury by issuing receipts and disembursements. Their largest and most important job is to grant money to the censors to repair or construct public buildings. The senate also investigated crimes.

The last role, which Polybius says is most important, is that of the people. Polybius states, For the people is the sole fountain of honour and of punishment; and it is by these two things and these alone that dynasties and constitutions and, in word, human society are held together (Tierney ; Scott 102). Men have the most important role in government; and that is to vote. It is the men in the society that decide on the most important issues passed. Also, it is the men who run to hold office. They also pass and repeal laws. Last, it is the state that holds the constitution. It is the strong basis on which all of these positions of government stand. He ends his excerpt by stating, Even when these external alarms are past, and the people are enjoying their good fortune and fruits of their victories, and, as usually happens, growing corrupted by flattery and idleness, show a tendency to violence and arrogance, it is in these circumstances, more than ever, that the constitution is seen to possess within itself the power of correcting abuses (Tierney ; Scott 103.)
Homer. The Iliad, Trans. Richmond Lattimore, in Tierney and Scott, Western
Societies: A Documentary History.

Plato. The Republic, Trans. B. Jowett, in Tierney and Scott, Western Societies:
A Documentary History.

Plutarch. Life of Lycurgus, Trans. A.H. Clough, in Tierney and Scott, Western
Societies: A Documentary History.

Polybius. The Histories of Polybius, Trans. E.S. Shuckburgh, in Tierney and Scott,
Western Societies: A Documentary History.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization to 1715., West Publ. Co, Inc., St. Paul: 1999
(4th Ed.)
Thucydides. History of the Peloponesian War, Trans. B. Jowett, in Tierney and Scott,
Western Societies: A Documentary History.

Xenophon. Oconomics, Trans. J.S. Watson, in Tierney and Scott, Western Societies: A
Documentary History.