Xlf.ca - Samurai and Code of Honor. Visit Xlf.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
Home - Ancient States



Most Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David


Least Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David





Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars








Early civilization. We understand by civilization the progress which
nations have made in art, literature, material strength, social culture,
and political institutions, by which habits are softened, the mind
enlarged, the soul elevated, and a wise government, by laws established,
protecting the weak, punishing the wicked, and developing wealth and
national resources.

Such a civilization did exist to a remarkable degree among the Greeks,
which was not only the admiration of their own times, but a wonder to all
succeeding ages, since it was established by the unaided powers of man,
and affected the relations of all the nations of Europe and Asia which
fell under its influence.

It is this which we propose briefly to present in this chapter, not the
highest developments of Grecian culture and genius, but such as existed in
the period immediately preceding the Persian wars.

One important feature in the civilization of Greece was the
progress made in legislation by Lycurmis and Solon, But as this has been
alluded to, we pass on to consider first those institutions which were
more national and universal.

The peculiar situations of the various States, independent of each
other, warlike, encroaching, and ambitious, led naturally to numerous
wars, which would have been civil wars had all these petty States been
united under a common government. But incessant wars, growing out of
endless causes of irritation, would have soon ruined these States, and
they could have had no proper development. Something was needed to
restrain passion and heal dissensions without a resort to arms, ever
attended by dire calamities. And something was needed to unite these
various States, in which the same language was spoken, and the same
religion and customs prevailed. This union was partially effected by the
Amphictyonic Council. It was a congress, composed of deputies from the
different States, and deliberating according to rules established from
time immemorial. Its meetings were held in two different places, and were
convened twice a year, once in the spring, at Delphi, the other in the
autumn, near the pass of Thermopylae. Delphi was probably the original
place of meeting, and was, therefore, in one important sense, the capital
of Greece. Originally, this council or congress was composed of deputies
from twelve States, or tribes--Thessalians, Boeotians, Dorians, Ionians,
Perrhaebians, Magnetes, Locrians, Octaeans, Phthiots, Achaeans, Melians, and
Phocians. These tribes assembled together before authentic history
commences, before the return of the Heracleids. There were other States
which were not represented in this league--Arcadia, Elis, AEolia, and
Acarnania; but the league was sufficiently powerful to make its decisions
respected by the greater part of Greece. Each tribe, whether powerful or
weak, had two votes in the assembly. Beside those members who had the
exclusive power of voting, there were others, and more numerous, who had
the privilege of deliberation. The object of the council was more for
religious purposes than political, although, on rare occasions and
national crises, subjects of a political nature were discussed. The
council laid down the rules of war, by which each State that was
represented was guaranteed against complete subjection, and the supplies
of war were protected. There was no confederacy against foreign powers.
The functions of the league were confined to matters purely domestic; the
object of the league was the protection of temples against sacrilege. But
the council had no common army to execute its decrees, which were often
disregarded. In particular, the protection of the Delphic oracle, it acted
with dignity and effect, whose responses were universally respected.

As the Delphic oracle was the object which engrossed the most
important duties of the council, and the responses of this oracle in early
times was a sacred law, the deliberations of the league had considerable
influence, and were often directed to political purposes. But the
immediate management of the oracle was in the hands of the citizens of
Delphi. In process of time the responses of the oracle, by the mouth of a
woman, which were thus controlled by the Delphians, lost much of their
prestige, in consequence of the presents or bribery by which favorable
responses were gained.

More powerful than this council, as an institution, were the
Olympic games, solemnized every four years, in which all the states of
Greece took part. These games lasted four days, and were of engrossing
interest. They were supposed to be founded by Hercules, and were of very
ancient date. During these celebrations there was a universal truce, and
also during the time it was necessary for the people to assemble and
retire to their homes. Elis, in whose territory Olympia was situated, had
the whole regulation of the festival, the immediate object of which were
various trials of strength and skill. They included chariot races, foot
races, horse races, wrestling, boxing, and leaping. They were open to all,
even to the poorest Greeks; no accidents of birth or condition affected
these honorable contests. The palm of honor was given to the men who had
real merit. A simple garland of leaves was the prize, but this was
sufficient to call out all the energies and ambition of the whole nation.
There were, however, incidental advantages to successful combatants. At
Athens, the citizen who gained a prize was rewarded by five hundred
drachmas, and was entitled to a seat at the table of the magistrates, and
had a conspicuous part on the field of battle. The victors had statues
erected to them, and called forth the praises of the poets, and thus these
primitive sports incidentally gave an impulse to art and poetry. In later
times, poets and historians recited their compositions, and were rewarded
with the garland of leaves. The victors of these games thus acquired a
social pre-eminence, and were held in especial honor, like those heroes in
the Middle Ages who obtained the honor of tournaments and tilts, and, in
modern times, those who receive decoration at the hands of kings.

The celebrity of the Olympic games, which drew spectators from Asia
as well as all the States of Greece, led to similar institutions or
festivals in other places. The Pythian games, in honor of Apollo, were
celebrated near Delphi every third Olympic year; and various musical
contests, exercises in poetry, exhibitions of works of art were added to
gymnastic exercises and chariot and horse races. The sacrifices,
processions, and other solemnities, resemble those at Olympia in honor of
Zeus. They lasted as long as the Olympic games, down to A.D. 394. Wherever
the worship of Apollo was introduced, there were imitations of these
Pythian games in all the States of Greece.

The Nemaean and Ithmian games were celebrated each twice in every
Olympiad, the former on the plain of Nemaea, in Argolis; the latter in the
Corinthian Isthmus, under the presidency of Corinth. These also claimed a
high antiquity, and at these were celebrated the same feats of strength as
at Olympia. But the Olympic festival was the representation of all the
rest, and transcended all the rest in national importance. It was viewed
with so much interest, that the Greeks measured time itself by them. It
was Olympiads, and not years, by which the date of all events was
determined. The Romans reckoned their years from the foundation of their
city; modern Christian nations, by the birth of Christ; Mohammedans, by
the flight of the prophet to Medina; and the Greeks, from the first
recorded Olympiad, B.C. 776.

It was in these festivals, at which no foreigner, however eminent,
was allowed to contend for prizes, that the Greeks buried their quarrels,
and incited each other to heroism. The places in which they were
celebrated became marts of commerce like the mediaeval fairs of Germany;
and the vast assemblage of spectators favored that communication of news,
and inventions, and improvements which has been produced by our modern
exhibitions. These games answered all the purposes of our races, our
industrial exhibitions, and our anniversaries, religious, political,
educational, and literary, and thus had a most decided influence on the
development of Grecian thought and enterprise. The exhibition of sculpture
and painting alone made them attractive and intellectual, while the
athletic exercises amused ordinary minds. They were not demoralizing, like
the sports of the amphitheatre, or a modern bull-fight, or even
fashionable races. They were more like tournaments in the martial ages of
Europe, but superior to them vastly, since no woman was allowed to be
present at the Olympic games under pain of death.

It has already been shown that the form of government in the States
of Ancient Greece, in the Homeric ages, was monarchical. In two or three
hundred years after the Trojan war, the authority of kings had greatly
diminished. The great immigration and convulsions destroyed the line of
the ancient royal houses. The abolition of royalty was in substance rather
than name. First, it was divided among several persons, then it was made
elective, first for life, afterward for a definite period. The nobles or
chieftains gained increasing power with the decline of royalty, and the
government became, in many States, aristocratic. But the nobles abused
their power by making an oligarchy, which is a perverted aristocracy. This
aroused hatred and opposition on the part of the people, especially in the
maritime cities, where the increase of wealth by commerce and the arts
raised up a body of powerful citizens. Then followed popular revolutions
under leaders or demagogues. These leaders in turn became tyrants, and
their exactions gave rise to more hatred than that produced by the
government of powerful families. They gained power by stratagem, and
perverted it by violence. But to amuse the people whom they oppressed, or
to please them, they built temples, theatres, and other public buildings,
in which a liberal patronage was extended to the arts. Thus Athens and
Corinth, before the Persian wars, were beautiful cities, from the lavish
expenditure of the public treasury by the tyrants or despots who had
gained ascendency. In the mean time, those who were most eminent for
wealth, or power, or virtue, were persecuted, for fear they would effect a
revolution. But the parties which the tyrants had trampled upon were
rather exasperated than ruined, and they seized every opportunity to rally
the people under their standard, and effect an overthrow of the tyrants.
Sparta, whose constitution remained aristocratic, generally was ready to
assist any State in throwing off the yoke of the usurpers. In some States,
like Athens, every change favored the rise of the people, who gradually
obtained the ascendency. They instituted the principle of legal equality,
by which every freeman was supposed to exercise the attributes of
sovereignty. But democracy invariably led to the ascendency of factions,
and became itself a tyranny. It became jealous of all who were
distinguished for birth, or wealth, or talents. It encouraged flatterers
and sycophants. It was insatiable in its demands on the property of the
rich, and listened to charges which exposed them to exile and their
estates to confiscation. It increased the public burdens by unwise
expenditures to please the men of the lower classes who possessed
political franchise.

But different forms of government existed in different States. In
Sparta there was an oligarchy of nobles which made royalty a shadow, and
which kept the people in slavery and degradation. In Athens the democratic
principle prevailed. In Argos kings reigned down to the Persian wars. In
Corinth the government went through mutations as at Athens. In all the
States and cities experiments in the various forms of government were
perpetually made and perpetually failed. They existed for a time, and were
in turn supplanted. The most permanent government was that of Sparta; the
most unstable was that of Athens. The former promoted a lofty patriotism
and public morality and the national virtues; the latter inequalities of
wealth, the rise of obscure individuals, and the progress of arts.

The fall of the ancient monarchies and aristocracies was closely
connected with commercial enterprise and the increase of a wealthy class
of citizens. In the beginning of the seventh century before Christ, a
great improvement in the art of ship-building was made, especially at
Corinth. Colonial settlements kept pace with maritime enterprise; and both
of these fostered commerce and wealth. The Euxine lost its terrors to
navigators, and the AEgean Sea was filled with ships and colonists. The
Adriatic Sea was penetrated, and all the seas connected with the
Mediterranean. From the mouth of the Po was brought amber, which was
highly valued by the ancients. A great number of people were drawn to
Egypt, by the liberal offers of its kings, who went there for the pursuit
of knowledge and of wealth, and from which they brought back the papyrus
as a cheap material for writing. The productions of Greece were exchanged
for the rich fabrics which only Asia furnished, and the cities to which
these were brought, like Athens and Corinth, rapidly grew rich, like
Venice and Genoa in the Middle Ages.

Wealth of course introduced art. The origin of art may have been in
religious ideas--in temples and the statues of the gods--in tombs and
monuments of great men. But wealth immeasurably increased the facilities
both for architecture and sculpture. Artists in old times, as in these,
sought a pecuniary reward--patrons who could afford to buy their
productions, and stimulate their genius. Art was cultivated more rapidly
in the Asiatic colonies than in the mother country, both on account of
their wealth, and the objects of interest around them. The Ionian cities,
especially, were distinguished for luxury and refinement. Corinth took the
lead in the early patronage of art, as the most wealthy and luxurious of
the Grecian cities.

The first great impulse was given to architecture. The Pelasgi had
erected Cyclopean structures fifteen hundred years before Christ. The
Dorians built temples on the severest principles of beauty, and the Doric
column arose, massive and elegant. Long before the Persian wars the
temples were numerous and grand, yet simple and harmonious. The temple of
Here, at Samos, was begun in the eighth century, B.C., and built in the
Doric style, and, soon after, beautiful structures ornamented Athens.

Sculpture rapidly followed architecture, and passed from the
stiffness of ancient times to that beauty which afterward distinguished
Phidias and Polynotus. Schools of art, in the sixth century, flourished in
all the Grecian cities. We can not enter upon the details, from the use of
wood to brass and marble. The temples were filled with groups from
celebrated masters, and their deep recesses were peopled with colossal
forms. Gold, silver, and ivory were used as well as marble and brass. The
statues of heroes adorned every public place. Art, before the Persian
wars, did not indeed reach the refinement which it subsequently boasted,
but a great progress was made in it, in all its forms. Engraving was also
known, and imperfect pictures were painted. But this art, and indeed any
of the arts, did not culminate until after the Persian wars.

Literature made equal if not greater progress in the early ages of
Grecian history. Hesiod lived B.C. 735; and lyric poetry flourished in the
sixth and seventh centuries before Christ, especially the elegiac form, or
songs for the dead. Epic poetry was of still earlier date, as seen in the
Homeric poems. The AEolian and Ionic Greeks of Asia were early noted for
celebrated poets. Alcaeus and Sappho lived on the Isle of Lesbos, and were
surrounded with admirers. Anacreon of Teos was courted by the rulers of
Athens.

Even philosophy was cultivated at this early age. Thales of Miletus
flourished in the middle of the seventh century, and Anaximander, born
B.C. 610--one of the great original mathematicians of the world, speculated
like Thales, on the origin of things. Pythagoras, born in Samos, B.C.
580--a still greater name, grave and majestic, taught the harmony of the
spheres long before the Ionian revolt.

But neither art, nor literature, nor philosophy reached their full
development till a later era. It is enough for our purpose to say that,
before the Persian wars, civilization was by no means contemptible, in all
those departments which subsequently made Greece the teacher and the glory
of the world.





Next: The Persian War

Previous: The Grecian States And Colonies To The Persian Wars



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 6586