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The rise of Greece brought with it revolutionary changes to society and innovations that would forever alter how civilizations conducted themselves. With its sudden growth brought sudden changes that fundamentally changed how people viewed the world around them and how people chose to spend their time. Its philosophical knowledge would last far longer than it would, influencing great empires such as Rome, and its ancient architectural and artistic breakthroughs would influence many future projects, and continues to even to this day.
Indeed, Greece’s contributions to the world around it were far greater than many civilizations at the time.
As Greek poleis’ began to seek trade, a competitive nature began to grow between them. The result was a large amount of colonization, which caused Greek culture to spread rapidly. The rapid expansion of Greek ideals through trade and colonization resulted in a large area of land being consumed by a “Panhellenic” culture. While colonies within this Panhellenic region were considered independent entities, often they would retain strong relations with the mother polis, continuing to support them when called for.
This web of support, as well as a common language and heritage, resulted in a large expansion of Greek culture that was firmly rooted.
The Greeks brought with them revolutionary new strategies for war and, as a result, saw much success in military endeavors. Along with harnessing the power of the horse, the Greek militaries created new and much more effective ways of using foot soldiers. Citizen-soldiers, known as hoplites, would carry a hoplon, or round shield, as well as a spear, short sword, breastplate, helmet, and occasionally leather greaves and wrist-guards, in total weighing about seventy pounds.
These well-guarded warriors would then stand shoulder to shoulder in combat. This was done so that a soldier holding a shield in his left hand could have his right side protected by the soldier standing to his right, allowing his right hand to hold a spear or sword. The result was, if done right, was an almost impenetrable wall of soldiers called a phalanx. However, this strategy required that all the soldiers shared a common goal and remained one unit. As soon as the phalanx dissolved, defeat was almost guaranteed.
Greece is often associated with the first forms of a democracy. However, Greek governments were originally ruled by a select few of the aristocratic elite. These rulers competed with each other by passing laws that benefited themselves or their agenda, as well as sponsoring building projects or colonial expeditions. Elites were also very concerned with cultivating a very different lifestyle than that of commoners and hoplites. Aristocrats would often attend a symposium, or drinking party, where there would be wine, poetry, trained dancers and acrobats, and hetaeras providing witty conversation, music, and the promise of sex. These parties were highly exclusive, and were intended to show off the wealth and the power of the aristocrats of the day. However, as the aristocratic circle began to become even tighter, some aristocrats left outside of that circle would forge an alliance with the powerful hoplite soldiers, and occasionally one would succeed in setting up a tyranny. Tyrants in Greece at this time were not necessarily unforgiving warlords, but rather political leaders who had used force to obtain their rank. As a result, these tyrants had to extend greater rights to the hoplites that put them there while also keeping the power within their own hands. Because of the unstable nature of these tyrannies, they very rarely lasted for longer than two generations. They would, however, be the driving force that led to the transition to democracy.
Like many of the great civilizations throughout history, Greece was the home of some of the greatest works of art during its time. Greek artists paid special attention to natural beauty and individuality in both their paintings and sculptures. Greek paintings tended to depict things such as sensuality, sexual encounters, and bawdy tales, while Greek sculptures embraced a more detailed art of naturalism. Beginning in Athens, special attention was paid to making sculptures, both clothed and nude, as realistic as possible. Although this style of art had been seen in small amounts in the previous century, the extent to which it was taken in Greece was unprecedented. It is believed that this trend was accepted so quickly due to defeating the Persians and embracing some of their culture. Indeed, this change in visual style was part of a larger reform in how the Greeks viewed masculinity and power.
Greece’s conquest of other peoples resulted in the collection of many ideas, causing Greece to be pushed to the forefront of excelled thinking. Two main groups of philosophical thinkers came from Greece: the Pythagoreans and the Sophists. The Pythagoreans believed that the life of speculation was the highest good, but fleshly desires must be removed from oneself first. They also believed that like how the essence of life lies in the mind, the essence of the universe was to be found in the study of abstracts. The studies of the Pythagoreans were very mathematically founded, and brought us mathematical ideas that are still used today, such as the Pythagorean Theorem. The Sophists, however, were much more focused on questions of ethics and politics. They sought to answer questions such as how a man should conduct himself in daily life, both in public and private, in order to increase himself by the use of his wits. They largely made their livings by selling their knowledge, and their goals are best shown in the life of Protagoras. However, perhaps the greatest mind to come out of Greece was Socrates. Socrates taught through conversation and encouraged his pupils to examine their own assumptions and to reflect upon the principles of proper conduct.
Greece was truly a center of innovation for its time. They helped fundamentally change how warfare was conducted and brought us many of our governmental ideals we still use to this day. They also helped pioneer early philosophical ideas that would later be altered and further refined to help shape philosophy for years to come. The advancements that were present in Greece help shape future civilizations and further drive the revolutions that were to come. All civilizations following Greece were and still are, in one way or another, indebted to the Greek minds that helped shaped society as it is known today.
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