Think of Classic Greece; marvelous temples and edifices dedicated to the gods; brutish, highly trained Spartans fighting the Persians; and old, graying men arguing about ethics. But what about these ancient pioneers gave them the guidance to make such modern advancements in medicine, philosophy, science, politics, and architecture? While there is no direct answer, there were several factors that made this civilization so ahead of their time.
First of all, the ancient Greeks (or Hellenes) were separated into individual communities called Poleis; however, they weren’t as neighborly as you might have thought. Every city-state was set up similarly for the most part. A marketplace (agora) would take up the center of a community and allowed for trade and communication. Fortresses atop hills (acropolis) provided defense for the people. Take a classic city-state, Athens for example: after a long history of harsh, despotic rulers, Cleisthenes created the first assembly that granted free men rights to vote, thus incorporating the first known democracy in 508 B.C. Another famous democrat was Pericles, a skilled orator. This government reform was an astounding advancement having originally come from an aristocratic oligarchy. Politicians were required to learn rhetoric to better communicate and debate. Now, this leads me to my next point: conflict results in progress. Draco was a notable Athenian official known for his harsh laws: all misconducts result in death. In response, Solon, after succeeding his Draconian predecessor, had to restore harmony in Athens. In order to cope with the Persian Wars and their own civil war, the Greeks needed to think smartly to survive, and that meant strength in numbers. During the Persian Wars (499-449 B.C.), the Ionian colonies in Turkey revolted against the Persians. Athens and Sparta sent armies to support their comrades that would eventually conquer Persia. So how did Sparta and Athens end up feuding? The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) was fought between the Delian League (headed by Athens) and Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta), two warring factions each composed of allied city-states. Fearing the power of Sparta, Athens assembled on Delos with their allies. Sparta was infuriated by this exclusion and sparked a war out of paranoia and created the Peloponnesian League. These events of coming together of led to Greece’s unity.
This is part one of “What Made the Greeks so Genius?” More topics will come out in the future, so make sure to follow and share this with your friends!
For further reading: It’s All Greek To Me by Charlotte Higgins (2008)