The History of the Greeks: Hellenic and Hellenistic
The Hellenic Age and the Hellenistic Age are the two main periods in Greek history. The Hellenic Age is significantly different from the Hellenistic Age. The Hellenic period saw the rising and falling of the polis while Hellenistic period was plagued by warfare among the remaining dynasties. Despite the differences between the Hellenic and Hellenistic periods, the one thing that remained consistent in both periods was the Greeks' ability to not only advance science and philosophy but to strive for excellence in everything that they undertook including their ability to deemphasize the role of the gods in their lives.
The first period that shaped Greek history was the Hellenic (c.750-323 B.C.). One of the characteristics of the Hellenic period was the polis, or very small city-state. Each polis was dedicated to one specific god. Each polis was self-governing and allowed for the citizens to be involved in the political and cultural life of the city. The early city-states were colonized as religious institutions. The citizens of each polis had a desire to maintain a bond with the gods. The city-states were originally in Greece, with Athens being the largest, however, because of the growing population, the Greeks needed to expand their territory. They began their colonization to the east on the coast of the Aegean Sea. They then moved to Cyprus along with the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara and the south coast of the Black Sea. Their western colonization included the coasts of Albania, Sicily, southeastern Italy, the south coast of France, Corsica and Spain. The two most distinct city-states of Greece were Athens and Sparta. During this massive colonization period, one poet would forever change the way the Greeks lived their lives.
The poet's name was Homer. Around 750 B.C. Homer's two works, the Illyad and the Odyssey, were becoming widely popular among the Greeks. These two works influenced the Greeks both in religion and everyday life. The heroes that he wrote of in his works became idols to the older as well as the younger Greek citizens. In his poems, Homer originated the idea of arête, or excellence. He believed that they should strive for excellence in everything. His two poems provided a basis for Greek for Greek education and culture. During Homer's influential period on the Greeks, the task of de-emphasizing the gods' role in politics was also being attempted.
The city-states were changing their political outlook. They went from purely religious influence to a more humanistic form of government. While they never truly denounced the gods, the Greeks removed the religious influence of the gods from their politics, and in its place, they based their governments on human intelligence. This new type of government was embraced by many, however, the peasants still hung on to their dedication to religion. Even though the politics of the Greeks were changing, they still remained faithful to their gods and the worshiping of the god of each polis was still required. Although all of the Greek city-states were changed by the influence of Homer and the change of politics, the two that stood out the most were Sparta and Athens.
The influence of Homer on Sparta was immense. Using the philosophy of excellence, the Spartans strove for excellence in their ability to be warriors. Through this philosophy, the Spartans were able to conquer their neighboring city-states. The most prominent of these city-states was Messenia. The Spartans made the Messenians into helots owned by the state of Sparta. The Messenians soon grew frustrated by their conquerors and began to up rise. Because the Messenians out numbered the Spartans, the Spartans decided to put them and the other people they conquered to work. While the Spartans were training to be excellent warriors, the helots were forced to do the agricultural labor, as well as the other trades and crafts. The Spartans were only...
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