Early Greek Culture

The influence of the Greek civilization globally remains one of the most pervasive and important influences politically, scientifically, and artistically in the modern era (Roberts, 1997). Indeed, as historian Jackson Spielvogel asserts, the ancient Greeks represent the “fountain-head of Western culture” as the philosophical, artistic, literary, and political concepts that are familiar features of our daily lives today and reflect the continuing legacy of Greek civilization (Spielvogel, 2000, p. 88).


Map 1. The City-sates of Ancient Greece. (Sayre, 2013, p. 40)

The span of the ancient Greeks existence is impressive, ranging from 2000 BCE through the conquest of Greece in 338 BCE by Philip II of Macedonia. Although various groups emerged, the center of Greek civilization was the Greek mainland.

Given the expansive influence of the Greeks, it is ironic that early mainland Greek civilization suffered a devastating series of collapses, including the 1450 BCE invasion and destruction wrought by the Mycenaean Greeks (warriors) and then the Greek Dark Age (Spielvogel, 2000).

Some historians argue whether a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a tsunami, might have been the cause of Greek Dark Ages.  However, there is a widespread theory relating to an invasion by the Mycenaean Greeks, who themselves would later disintegrate and collapse by 1100 BCE, as the actual cause of the Greek Dark Ages.


Fig 1. The Botkin Class, in the mage two warriors are confronting each other. (Sayre, 2013, p. 47)

Following the decline suffered in the Greek Dark Age, a revival of Greek culture produced what historians call the Greek Renaissance (Chambers, Hanawalt, Rabb, Woloch, Grew, & Tiersten, 2007). This era, termed the Archaic Age, revolved around two central developments: the development colonization and the establishment of the city-state (or polis) (Spielvogel, 2000).

By 800 BCE, Greek poleis (city-states) began to develop. The rise of a truly Greek civilization happened as these city-states developed. The people of the early city-states, even the large ones, were mainly agricultural farmers and life was centered on the production of crops.

Religious beliefs assigned gods and goddesses to each area of life in which Greek people functioned, and the gods had human qualities, both positive and negative.


Fig. 2 A reclining god, possibly Dionysus, the god of wine and festivles, ca. 435 BCE. (Sayre, 2013, 65)


Fig. 3 Aphrodite of Knidos by Praxiteles, a Roman copy of the original Bronze, ca. 350 BCE. (Sayre, 2008)

The poleis were not geographically close to one another, and by the 8th century BCE, sanctuaries arose where people, generally men, from various poleis could gather to share important cultural elements. As city-states competed for status, the construction of ever more impressive temples developed.


Fig. 4 The Athenian Tresury, Delphi ca. 510 BCE. (Sayre, 2013, p.50)

Hera Temple

Fig. 5 The Temple of Hera I (background) ca. 560BCE, and the Temple of Hera II (foreground) ca. 460BCE, Paestum, Italy. (Sayre, 2010, p.45)

The early Greek civilization developed its own distinctive forms of architecture, government, art (including performing arts such as theatre, music, and dance), sculpture and painting, poetry, literature, philosophy, and religion, which were the hallmarks of the Golden Age of Athens during the 5th century BCE under the rule of Pericles.  It was at this time in Greek history that Pericles started the building of the large religious center on top of Mount Acropolis.


Fig. 6 The Acropolis, Athens, Greece. Originally constructed in the 2nd half of the 4th century BCE. (Sayre, 2013, p. 39)

Additionally, from Classical Greece comes the birth of drama. The staging of tragedies was first and foremost an event of the citizenry and was used to educate and to ponder questions of daily life like the struggle between good and evil.  These dramas were performed at theaters due to their “democratic design – (where) not only is every viewer equally well situated, but the acoustics of the space are unparalleled.” (Sayre, 2013, p. 69). Similarly, art—especially architecture—was “based on the ideals of reason, moderation, symmetry, balance, and harmony in all things” (Spielvogel, 2000, p. 80).


Fig. 7 Theater, Epidaurus. Early 3rd century BCE. (Sayre, 2013, p. 69)


Chambers, M., Hanawalt, B., Rabb, T., Woloch, I., Grew, R., & Tiersten, L. Levack, B. P., Muir, E., Maas, M., & Veldman, M. (2007). The West: Encounters & transformations. New York: Longman.

Sayre, H. M. (2010). Discovering the humanities. (1st ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

——-, H. M. (2013). Discovering the humanities. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Spielvogel, J. J. (2000). Western civilization. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.


About kmjantz

My primary goal is to explore humanities existence to date as we know it. I also create works of art that search to understand and explain why humans die because of diseases has plagued humankind since the beginning of time. Until recently, artistic expression of said search was constrained by religious ideology and scientific understanding. Today modern artists have access to a multitude of scientific technological advancements and enjoy greater creative freedom. For these reasons, my projects combination of artist styles/movements, scientific discovery, folklore, and my own imagination. My overall goal is to introduce viewers to a world so small that most do not think about it until they must due to illness. This goal is accomplished by taking selected microorganisms (thought of as ugly, disgusting, and devastating annoyances) and illustrating them as beautiful symbols of humanity’s co-evolution with nature. Making art can be a way of simplifying complex thoughts and scientific findings imbedded in humanity’s narrative.
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