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Classical Greece
In 510 BC a man named Cleisthenes (KLICE-then-eez), who was an aristocrat (a rich,
powerful man) in Athens, invented another new type of government, the democracy.
Cleisthenes, like other aristocrats, wanted to get more power. But tyrants (warlordsdictators) had gotten unpopular in Athens. Cleisthenes decided to give even more power
to poor people. He organized a new way of making political decisions. Every Athenian
man would have one vote, and they would all meet and vote on what to do. The big
meeting was called the Assembly.
But all the men couldn't meet every day; they had to work. So there was also a smaller
council of 500 men, who were chosen by the people.
In 490 BC the Persians attacked Athens. Everybody was very frightened, because the
Persians were great fighters. Some people thought Athens should go back to the old
system of government, in case democracy didn't work well enough. They thought it
would take too long to make decisions in a democracy. But they didn't go back.
All the men in Athens marched out to meet the Persians at Marathon. They thought they
would lose. But the Athenians fought in the new way, with the wall of shields, and long
spears. The Athenians won. It seemed that the people of Athens actually fought harder
because they felt since they had a say in their government, there was more to fight for!
In 480 BC the Persians, with their king Xerxes (ZERK-sees) attacked again. This time
most of the cities in Greece banded together and formed a league to fight the Persians.
They lost their first battle, at Thermopylae (therm-AH-pill-aye), but they won after that,
at Salamis and again at Plataea (plah-TAY-ah). Again the Persians went home defeated.
The Athenians convinced the other Greek cities that they needed to keep the strong Greek
navy together in case the Persians came back again. At first everyone thought this was a
good idea, except the Spartans, who refused. Then the Athenians said to the other cities,
"Don't bother sending ships and men for the navy anymore; that is too hard. Just send
money to Athens, and we will build ships and defend you against the Persians." So a lot
of cities did that. But the Persians did not come back. After a while, some of the cities
said, "We don't want to send any more money to Athens. We don't think the Persians are
going to come back anymore." But the Athenians used their big navy to MAKE the other
cities keep sending money. When Miletus (my-LEE-tuss) refused, the Athenians took
their city and wrecked it.
The Athenians also spent some of the money on their own city. No Athenians had to pay
taxes anymore. They used the money from the other cities to build great temples like the
1.) Who was the Persian King that attacked the Athenians?
2.) How many times did the Persians attack the Greeks unsuccessfully?
3.) 3.) Why do you think the Athenians were able to defeat a Persian force larger than
their at the Battle of Marathon?
4.) What did the Athenians convince the other city-states to do for protection? Do you
think this was a good idea? Why, why not?
5.) Would you agree or disagree with the statement:
“At their most powerful and wealthy moment, the Athenians
made decisions that showed they thought they were better
than they were; they were capable of great things, just not all
great things.”
Explain your answer.