Gerard_Butler_in_300_Wallpaper_1_800.jpgCrisis In The Classical World

There are many factors that caused interaction and change that led to the collapse of classical empires. Among the forces that caused classical empires to collapse was the need to maintain the empire over a large area. This made the empire difficult to govern. The military and political strength of the empire were centralized. It was difficult to control the peripheral areas because of limited technology. Other elements that contributed to collapse were the demands of limited resources, judgment of the rulers, and corruption.

Conflict in the Greek World
Like the generals of Athens, who were set at odds on whether or not to go into battle, the city-states of Greece were often in disputation. In light of the new threat presented by the Persians, though, the Greeks fleetingly forgot their differences to safeguard the freedom of Greece as a whole.

The Persian Wars
Previously, the Persians had brought under their control a large empire that stretched from Asia minor to the edges of India, which included the Greek city-states of Ionia in Asia minor. Despite this, the Ionian city-states were primarily self-ruled. Still, they were resentful of Persia.

In 499 B.C., the Ionian Greeks revolted against Persian rule. They received aid from ships sent by Athens.

Athenians Win at Marathon
Soon after, the Persians quelled the rebellion. Though little came of the part Athens had in the uprising, Darius I was still infuriated; to punish Athens, Darius eventually sent a large army across the Aegean sea. In 490 B.C., the mighty Persian ar
Persian Wars (490 B.C. - 479 B.C.)
my landed near a plain north of Athens named Marathon. The Athenians requested aid from nearby Greek city-states, but they showed little enthusiasm for this idea.

Athenian forces were tremendously outnumbered, there was "a mere handful of men coming on at a run without either horsemen or archers." The Greek troops charged the enemy, who simply rained arrows down on them. Still, they were able to break the Persian line and enter into a bout of intense hand-to-hand combat. Surprised by the ferocity of the Greeks' attack, the Persians swiftly returned to their ships.

Though the Athenians celebrated their victory, the Athenian leader, Themistocles still knew the lull in fighting after the triumph at Marathon was only temporary. He strongly urged his people to build a fleet of ships and make other preparations for war.

Greek City-States Unite
Before Darius could rally his troops once again, he died, but his son, Xerxes, was able to send a greater contingent to seize Greece in 480 B.C. By then, Sparta and other city-states had been persuaded to join forces against Persia.
King Leonidas (Courtesy of the movie 300)

Again, northern Greece was the Persians' landing zone. The narrow mountain pass at Thermopylae was protected by a Spartan company, led by the great warrior-king Leonidas. The Spartans persevered audaciously against the prodigious Persian force, but were still defeated, allowing the Persians to march south and burn Athens to the ground. The city was desolate, though, as Athens had already been evacuated.

Now, the Athenians' hope lay in the fleet of ships they had built at Themistocles' bidding. The Persian navy was lured by the Athenians into the narrow straits of Salamis where Athenian warships smashed into the ships with underwater battering rams. Xerxes watched from the shore, paralyzed, as his fleet was destroyed.

In Asia Minor the following year, the Greeks defeated the Persians, marking the end of the Persian occupation.

The Age of Pericles and Direct Democracy
Athenian Statesman Pericles (Courtesy of Discovery Education)

Under the able statesman Pericles, Athens entered into a golden age in which the economy prospered and the government became more democratized.

Athenian Democracy
Periclean Athens was a direct democracy through which citizens could directly participate in the daily affairs of government.

The Athenian assembly convened several times a month and a Council of 500 that was determined by lot, conducted day-to-day government affairs. Pericles held the belief that all citizens, wealth or social class notwithstanding, should be able to take part in government. Therefore, Athens began to pay members of the Assembly and its governing Council, enabling impoverished men to serve in the government.

Athenians were also required to serve on juries. Unlike a modern American jury, made up of 12 members, an Athenian jury could include hundreds or even thousands of jurors, who were chosen by lot, also.

Citizens could also vote to banish a public figure whom they thought to be antithetical to their government, through a process called ostracism.

The Peloponnesian War
Many Greeks outside of Athens were indignant at Athenian domination and soon, the world of Greece was divided into opposing camps. To counteract the Delian League, the Peloponnesian League was formed by Sparta and other enemies of Athens. In 431 B.C., Athens and Sparta clashed. This conflict, now known as the Peloponnesian War, soon engulfed all of Greece, lasting for 27 years.

Sparta Defeats Athens
Athens faced a serious geographical impediment, despite its riches and powerful navy. Because of Sparta's inland location, Athens could not launch a naval assault. When Sparta's troops drew near, Pericles opened the city to people from the country, but the resulting overpopulation brought about a ghastly plague that killed many Athenians, one of which was Pericles himself.

As this conflict became more drawn out, each side committed vicious war atrocities. Sparta went to such lengths as to ally itself with Persia, the longtime enemy of the Greeks. With the help of Persia's navy, the Spartans finally captured Athens, in 404 B.C. The victors divested the Athenians of their fleet and empire, but rejected calls from allies to destroy Athens.

Greek Dominion Declines
The Peloponnesian War marked the end of Athens' rule over the Greek world. Athens remained the cultural center of Greece and its economy was eventually revitalized, its spirit and liveliness declined. As Greeks fought amongst themselves, a new power concurrently rose in Macedonia, a kingdom north of Greece, and by 359 B.C., its ambitious ruler stood in a position to bring the quarrelsome Greek city-states under his control.

The Glory That Was Greece
Even in the middle of war and political conflicts, Greeks put their faith in the power of the human mind. Motivated by curiosity and a belief in logic, Greek thinkers, artists, and writers studied the nature of the universe and the place of people in it. To future admirers, Greek achievements epitomized the pinnacle of human development in the Western world.

Philosophers: Lovers of Wisdom
Some Greek thinkers discarded the conviction that the whims of the gods determined the occurrence of events and instead, they employed the use of observation and reason to learn the cause for events. They were referred to as philosophers.

Greek philosophers studied many subjects, from mathematics and logic to music. They believed that through reason and observation, they could realize what laws ruled the universe. Much present-day science traces its origins back to the Greek search for simple principles.

Debating Morality and Ethics
The focus of some philosophers' studies were ethics and morality. They debated such as the perfect type of government and what standards human behavior should be ruled by.

Sophists were Athenians who questioned accepted ideas. To them, success overruled moral truth. They honed their skills in rhetoric which was used by ambitious men to advance their careers. The Sophists gained many young followers due to the turmoil of the Peloponnesian War, although older citizens accused them of subverting classic Greek values.
Parthenon (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Idealism in Architecture and Art

Monumental Architecture
Grecian architecture endeavored to communicate a sense of perfect balance to demonstrate the harmony and order of the universe. The most celebrated specimen of Greek architecture is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, the Parthenon, which is composed of a simple rectangle, with lofty columns holding a gradually inclined roof. Dignity and grace are incorporated by the subtle curves and arrangement of the columns. This style of architecture has been widely admired for centuries and today, Greek architectural elements are included in many public buildings throughout the world.

Artists Craft Lifelike Human Forms

Possibly through the emulation of Egyptian styles, early Greek sculptors carved statues in stiff positions. Greek sculptors developed a alternative method that stressed more natural forms. Although their work was more realistic, it was also extremely unrealistic; that is, sculptors fashioned gods, goddesses, athletes, and famous men in a way that showed humans in their most flawless, elegant form. The only extant Greek paintings are on pottery and depict captivating views of daily Greek life that are purposely fit to the shape of the pottery.

Recording Events as History

The Greeks' study of history incorporated intense study, rational thought, and logic. Due to Herodotus' comprehensive work, he was nicknamed the "Father of History" in the Western world. Herodotus traveled to many kingdoms and domains, gathering facts from witnesses of the historical events he recorded in "The Persian Wars." Fittingly, Herodotus defined his
Herodotus (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
work with the Greek term historie, which translates into English as inquiry. "History" is derived from this word, but has come to mean the simple documentation and study of past events.

Throughout his process of inquiry, Herodotus was careful to heed the danger of biased or incongruous portrayals. Still, the fact that he thought the war was a unmistakable victory of Greek's righteous delight for freedom against Persian despotism was shown in his creation of opinionated speeches for well-known individuals.

Another historian, Thucydides, chronicled a subject the Greeks found much grimmer: the Peloponnesian War. He wrote a detailed description of the war's brutality and how it demoralized all involved; despite his Athenian heritage, he attempted to represent the conflict impartially.

Through Herodotus' emphasis on research and Thucydides' demonstration of objectivity, ethical standards were established for later historians.

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