Greece is the most influential ancient civilization in Western history. The modern country of Greece is located in the Southern Balkan region in Europe. It’s an extremely mountainous area with most cities built in the coastal areas. Greece also has many islands and the Ionian region of ancient Greece, now in modern-day Turkey, contained the most creative people of the Old World.
For instance, Homer was an Ionian bard who wrote the two epic poems, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Part myth, part history, “The Iliad” was about the Trojan War, a conflict between the city of Troy, in modern-day Turkey, and the Greek city of Sparta along with her allies. The war began when King Menelaus of Sparta married a woman named Helen, who was thought to be the most beautiful mortal woman on earth. Paris of Troy coveted Menelaus’ wife and finally decided to steal her for himself. After the kidnap, Menelaus called other Greek warriors to help him to retake his wife.
After 10 years, the war was won when the Greeks sent a giant horse, which was thought to be a peace offering, to the city gates of Troy. The Trojan soldiers took it inside the gates thinking it was a gift. While the city slept, Greek soldiers who were hiding inside the horse jumped out, razing and destroying the city completely. Afterwards, Helen was returned home and Troy was occupied.
“The Odyssey” is another myth about the Trojan War that was also written by Homer. This story was not about the actual war, but about the return home of a soldier named Odysseus after the conflict concluded. It had been years since the war had ended and Odysseus’ son and wife were worried. During his attempt to return home to his family, he had a myriad of adventures. Odysseus encountered many obstacles including a sorceress and the struggle of sailing past sirens, creatures that had voices that were so beautiful it would make someone go mad. He solved this problem by instructing his crew to tie him up until they passed the tricky creatures.
When he finally arrived home, the soldier found that his wife had remained faithful to him even though he had been away for a long time and a flock of different suitors had tried to take Odysseus’ throne by marrying his wife. Like an angry wolf protecting its pack, Odysseus killed all the suitors with the help of his son.
Ancient Greece also had another bard named Virgil who wrote “The Aeneid.” About the founding and origins of Rome, the story focuses on a mythical man named Aeneas who’s trying to found a new Trojan nation after the fall of Troy. We can use this story to understand that Rome began around the same time as the fall of Troy to the Greeks.
Let’s now move from literature to Greek government. There were four forms of Greek government: Anarchy, Oligarchy, Monarchy, and Democracy. Anarchy is lawlessness with little or no government. Oligarchy is rule by a few wealthy, powerful people. Monarchy is the rule of one king or tyrant. And finally, Democracy is rule by 51% of the voting population.
The creators of Greek law were two tyrants. Draco wrote the law and Solon reformed them. In Greek times the word tyrant didn’t mean a brutal oppressor like it does today; instead, it just meant a king or ruler.
Athens was the first city to use Democracy as a form of government and Cleisthenes introduced it. Democracy consists of two Greek words, demos and kratos, meaning people and rule. Under Democracy, the government was divided into two branches, the Assembly and the Council. The Assembly voted on proposals the Council made. If a council didn’t serve the people, they would be banished for 10 years. Only free men were allowed to vote in the Assembly.
As you can understand, Greece was a highly important and impactful civilization. We can thank Greece for creating the basis of our government and largely affecting our literature and even architecture today.