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Back to the Polis
HUM 2051: Civilization I
Fall 2013
Dr. Perdigao
September 23, 2013
Fracturing Civilizations
• Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations (2000-1100 BCE; 2600-1250 BCE)
• Dark Age: 1100-800 BCE
• Persian Wars (490 BCE-479 BCE)
• Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE)
A Tale of Two City-States
• Development of the polis, city-state
• Some city-states with fewer than 5,000 male citizens; Athens, largest citystate, with 35,000-40,000 adult male citizens and total population of 350,000
(Perry 57)
• City-state began as religious institution like in Near East but then shifted
away from a tribal-religious institution to a secular-rational institution,
shift from myth to reason (Perry 57)
• Athenian democracy at height in 5th century BCE
• Sparta and Athens as centers
• Sparta: on Peloponnesian peninsula; as armed camp, conquering
neighboring regions; isolationism and stagnant cultural development (57)
• Sparta: leader of Peloponnesian League, alliance of southern Greek citystates (57)
To the polis
• Athens: unlike agricultural Sparta, near the coast, strong navy and
commercial industry (Perry 57)
• Four stages of Greek city-states: rule by king (monarchy); rule by landowning aristocrats (oligarchy); rule by one man who seized power
(tyranny); rule by the people (democracy) (Perry 57)
• Oligarchy in 8th century BCE Athens when aristocrats took power
• Solon, the Reformer (640-559 BCE): 594 BCE, as chief executive, initiates
transition into democracy, seeing problems with aristocratic power and
threat of civil war; “rational approach” (59)
• De-emphasizing role of the gods; institutes Assembly, with all free men
allowed to sit on Assembly, Council of Four Hundred (59)
• After Pisistratus’ tyrannical government and death, Cleisthenes returned t
a democratic Athens, introduced ostracism as safeguard against tyranny,
singling out individuals who were threats to the state (60)
Conquest and Resistance
• Persian Wars: Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor revolt against Persia; Athens
sends twenty ships to aid revolt (Perry 60)
• 490 BCE, Darius I, king of Persia, in retaliation, sends detachment to
Attica; at Marathon, Athenians defeat Persians (Perry 60)
• 10 years later, Xerxes, Darius’ son, sends force of 250,000 men and over 500
ships, to invade Greece (60)
• Unification of Greek city-states in defense of independence and liberty
• Athens and Sparta united
Conquest and Resistance
• Thermopylae=300, 300 Spartans with training and “ideal of arêté” resist
(Perry 61)
• Northern Greece fell to the Persians now moving south to Athens (61)
• Themistocles, Athenian statesman and general, lures Persian fleet to Bay
of Salamis, then they again defeat Persians at Plataea; military strategy
results in Athenian naval victory (Perry 61)
• 479 BCE: Spartans defeat Persians in land battle of Plataea (61)
• Leads to era of Athenian imperialism, “Golden Age,” Athenian urge for
dominance in Greece (Perry 61)
• 150 city-states organized Delian League, named after treasury on island of
Delos, to protect themselves against Persian invasion, centralized Athenian
power (61)
Conquest and Resistance
• Flourishing of Athenian democracy and culture (Perry 61)
• Assembly open to all adult male citizens; debate and vote on war, treaties,
spending (61)
• Isonomy—equality of political rights of citizens—to vote, to speak before
and submit motions to Assembly, hold public office, receive equal
treatment (62)
• Council of Five Hundred managed ports, military installations, state
properties, and prepared the agenda for the Assembly (62)
• Members chosen by lot; individuals could not serve more than twice in a
lifetime, could never supersede the Assembly
• Limitations and weaknesses of democratic system: slaves and women
denied legal and political rights; denial of “human rights” epitomized in
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Perry 63)
Contextualizing Aristophanes and Plato
• Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta (431-404 BCE;
temporary peace from 421-414 BCE) ends the Golden Age
• Pericles—Athens (495-429 BCE), reforms during the Golden Age, court
system (Perry 65)
• Pericles’ oration reconstructed by Thucydides to commemorate the
Athenian war casualties at the start of the war, reveals “Athenian
democratic ideal,” “civic and personal freedom” (Perry 65)—distinction
between Spartans’ “concept of excellence” with the Athenians’
“humanistic ideal of the full development of the human personality”
• Fear of growth of Athenian power, failed peace treaty negotiated by
Pericles, plague in Athens (430 BCE), death of Pericles
• Athenian sea power leads to first stage ends in stalemate, peace treaty in
421 BCE (65)
• Athenian expedition against Sicily and largest city Syracuse (65), desire
to extend empire west, reignites war; Athens loses 50,000 men and 200
ships; Sparta resumes attack in 414 BCE, now backed by Persia
Contextualizing Aristophanes and Plato
• Athens surrenders as navy and food supply lost
• 404 BCE Sparta dissolves Delian League
• Shatters Hellenic society (66), strife between oligarchs and democrats
• 411 BCE, Four Hundred take power over Athens but ultimately forced
out (67)
• Thirty Tyrants (404-403 BCE) led by Critias, antidemocrat, take power,
supported by Sparta; confiscate property, condemn people to death
• 404-403 BCE, returned exiles lead uprising, unseat the Thirty (67)
• Peloponnesian War as great crisis; city-states never recovered (67)
• Shift from sense of civic duty to personal gain, dismantling of polis
upheld by Pericles (67); move to larger states and empires (68)
• City-states, in unity, had conquered Persian threat but are destroyed in
Peloponnesian War
Contextualizing Aristophanes
• Hubris as downfall for the city-states, ideas of conquest (Perry 70)
• Idea of institutions as human-made, constructs, rather than decreed by
gods, shift in ideas about civic duty; rationalism’s effects (70)
• Sophists, according to Socrates, “attacked the old system of beliefs but
had not provided the individual with a satisfactory replacement” (79)
Constructing History
• Herodotus (485-425 BCE), Thucydides (455-399 BCE)—as key
historians, establishing “Western civilization’s tradition of history
writing”; Herodotus as “father of history” (Perry 95)
• Herodotus’ Histories representing Persian Wars (clash between cultures
of the East and West) (420 BCE); Thucydides’ History of the
Peloponnesian War counters Herodotus’ approach to look at power
politics operating in history, “no place for myths, for legends, for the
fabulous,” “rejecting the notion that the gods interfere in history”
(Perry 96)
• Idea of cause-and-effect, analysis of historical contexts, selfconsciousness
• Man’s “will to power and domination” as cause (96)