Although ancient Greek Society was dominated by the male citizen, with his full legal status, right to vote, hold public office, and own property, the social groups which made up the population of a typical Greek city-state or polis were remarkably diverse. Women, children, immigrants (both Greek and foreign), labourers, and slaves all had defined roles, but there was interaction (often illicit) between the classes and there was also some movement between social groups, particularly for second-generation offspring and during times of stress such as wars.
Although the male citizen had by far the best position in Greek society, there were different classes within this group. Top of the social tree were the ‘best people’, the aristoi. Possessing more money than everyone else, this class could provide themselves with armour, weapons, and a horse when on military campaign. The aristocrats were often split into powerful family factions or clans who controlled all of the important political positions in the polis. Their wealth came from having property and even more importantly, the best land, i.e.: the most fertile and the closest to the protection offered by the city walls.
IN the first half of the first millennium BCE, ancient Greekcity-states, most of which were maritime powers, began to look beyond Greece for land and resources, and so they founded colonies across the Mediterranean. Trade contacts were usually the first steps in the colonization process and then, later, once local populations were subdued or included within the colony, cities were established. These could have varying degrees of contact with the homeland, but most became fully independent city-states, sometimes very Greek in character, in other cases culturally closer to the indigenous peoples they neighboured and included within their citizenry. One of the most important consequences of this process, in broad terms, was that the movement of goods, people, art, and ideas in this period spread the Greek way of life far and wide to Spain, France, Italy, the Adriatic, the Black Sea, and North Africa. In total then, the Greeks established some 500 colonies which involved up to 60,000 Greek citizen colonists, so that by 500 BCE these new territories would eventually account for 40% of all Greeks in the Hellenic World.
The Greeks were great sea-farers, and travelling across the Mediterranean, they were eager to discover new lands and new opportunities. Even Greek mythology included such tales of exploration as Jason and his search for the Golden Fleece and that greatest of hero travellers Odysseus. First the islands around Greece were colonized, for example, the first colony in the Adriatic was Corcyra (Corfu), founded by Corinth in 733 BCE (traditional date), and then prospectors looked further afield. The first colonists in a general sense were traders and those small groups of individuals who sought to tap into new resources and start a new life away from the increasingly competitive and over-crowded homeland.
THE Peloponnesian War fought between ancient Athens and Sparta (who won) and their respective allies came in two stages, the first from c. 460 to 446 BCE and the second and more significant war from 431 to 404 BCE. With battles occurring at home and abroad, the long and complex conflict was damaging to both sides but Sparta, with financial help from Persia, finally won the conflict by destroying the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami in 405 BCE.
In the 5th century BCE Sparta and Athens were the two major powers in Greece and it was perhaps inevitable that their spheres of influence would overlap and cause conflict. Sparta seems to have been particularly alarmed at the growing power of Athens, able to build an ever-bigger fleet of ships thanks to tributes from its allies and dependants. Sparta was also suspicious of the Athenians’ project to rebuild their Long Wall fortifications which protected their harbour of Piraeus. In addition, Sparta was also concerned that inaction would push the other major Greek power, Corinth, to side with Athens.
The Turkish national flag is mostly red, with a white star and a crescent in the center. Ottoman Sultan Selim III formalized the look in 1793, but the flag is actually much older.
The crescent-and-star combination has been used in Turkey since Hellenistic times (400s to 100 BCE). It likely came from ancient Mesopotamian iconocraphy. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward and with the star placed inside the crescent, for reasons that have been lost to time. When it came to Turkey, they gave it their own meanings. For Byzantium the moon symbolized Diana, also known as Artemis, the patron goddess of the city.
In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the flag remained unchanged. With time, it became not just Istanbul’s flag but the Ottoman flag, with its design formalized in 1793 and its status as national flag formalized in 1844. Turks affectionately call the flag “ay yildiz” – the “moon star” flag.
Many nations that were once part of Ottoman Empire adopted the star-and-crescent when they gained independence, including Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. In the 1900s the symbol became associated with not just the Ottomans, but with Islam in general, and many states that were never part of the Ottoman Empire adopted it too, including Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Pretty amazing that an ancient Mesopotamian symbol is flown around the world today.
A man who beat his wife or child laid violent hands, Cato the Elder said, on what was most sacred. A good husband he believed to be more worthy of more praise than a great senator. He admired the ancient Socrates “for nothing so much as for having lived a temperate and contented life with a wife who was a scold, and children who were half-witted.”
The Wasps is a play written by the lone representative of Ancient Greece’s Old Attic Comedy, Aristophanes (c. 445 – c. 386 BCE). It won second place at the Lenaea competition in 422 BCE. Written in two acts, the play focuses on a reoccurring theme, the tension between the old and new.
The first act revolves around the young Athenian Bdelycleon (Cleon-hater) and his old-fashioned father Philocleon (Cleon-lover). Bdelycleon endeavors to prevent the father from participating in the city’s jury system; a system he believes is controlled by the unscrupulous pro-war Athenian leadership, namely Cleon. The son barricades his father in the house, stationing two slaves outside to prevent his escape. Late, one night, dressed as wasps and denouncing the son as pro-Spartan, a chorus of old men arrives at their house and endeavors to help Philocleon escape and perform what they consider to be their civic duty. Finally, the son cures his father of his passion for the law court by staging a mock trial of their own at home, trying a dog for the theft of a piece of cheese.
Ancient Greek soldiers would hold shields with their left arm, and swords with their right. This created an interesting dilemma.
Thucydides, an Athenian general and historian, wrote that “fear makes every man want to do his best to find protection for his unarmed side in the shield of the man next to him on the right.” The soldier who is farthest right must try to “keep his own unarmed side away from the enemy, and his fear spreads to the others who follow his example.” In other words, the man farthest to the right would always try to go to the right of the enemy, so his unprotected right side would be safe. He would keep going to the right, and each man would follow, trying to protect their own unprotected right side. The result, Thucydides wrote: “the right wing tends to get unduly extended.”
More than two years ago researchers from the University of Cincinnati unearthed a 3,500-year-old tomb in the southwest of Greece. The tomb belonged to a Bronze Age warrior nicknamed the “Griffin Warrior.“ Inside were beautiful treasures, which made headlines and challenged previous theories about how Greek civilization developed.
Almost a year after the tomb was found, a new discovery was made. A tiny, tiny sealstone – just an inch and a half wide. The “Pylos Combat Agate” meticulously displays two warriors engaged in battle with bodies strewn at their feet, with some details less than a millimeter wide. The carving is perhaps most astonishing because it predates artistic skills that were not associated with Greek civilization for another thousand years.
The anatomical precision in the fighter’s muscles, for instance, is not seen again until the classical period of Greek art, around 2,500 years ago. Also astonishing? Magnifying glasses were not believed to be used for another thousand years, either. The anonymous artist either had hawk-level eyesight, or the magnifying glass was invented earlier than previously believed.
One tiny seal is upending archaeologists’ understanding of how ancient Greek art developed and progressed. It shows a sophistication and interest in true-to-life representational art literally centuries ahead of its time.