Greek Essay, Research Paper
During the 5th Century B.C., the Athenians government, religion, and architecture
were three of the most important aspects of their polis.
The Athenians had a very good understanding of government, literature, and
science, and had more influence on our civilization than any other people in history.
The Classical Period in Greece lasted 150 years from 480 to 300 B.C. This is
when ancient Greek civilization was at its peak. Athens population was about
300,000 people. The Athenians developed a system of government called democracy,
meaning the government was elected by the people. It was not like our modern day
democracy, because only adult male citizens had a say in the government. The supreme
power of the government was their Assembly. It was open to all adult male citizens. It
met forty times a year. It was guided by a Council of 500 citizens chosen by lot (drawing
a name from a selection of names submitted), from the ten tribes of Athens. The
Athenians day to day decisions were made by the Prytaneis, their inner council of 50.
Metics were the 50,000 foreigners living in Athens during the 5th Century. They had no
active part in the government, and paid light taxes. They were allowed to own slaves.
They were mostly businessmen and craftsmen, like weavers and metalworkers. Some
were doctors and teachers. The Athenians considered the metics valuable members of
their community. Slavery was an accepted part of Athenian life, and over half of the
population were slaves. Slaves did most of the manual work. The state also owned
slaves. They were paid a salary and allowed to marry. The 1,000 Scythian archers were
the states best known slaves as they were employed by the police force. The
administration of Athens was divided into phylai, trittyes, and demes.
The Athenian women had no political rights of any kind. They were controlled by
men during every stage of their lives, before marriage by their fathers, and after marriage
by their husbands. Women could only participate in certain festivals, and could not
compete or watch the Olympic Games.
The importance of Athens having a democracy enabled its citizens to have a say
in running their city, it did not matter if they were wealthy land owners or the lower class.
Unlike other city-states of their time like Sparta that was ruled by kings or small groups of
aristocrats. Even though Athens had a so-called democracy , they did not extend equal
rights to slaves and women.
Religion was very important to the Athenians. Religion touched all aspects of their
every day life. Even though all city-states in ancient Greece shared the same language and
culture, they were governed differently and each state choose its own god as its
protector. For the Athenians, religion involved prayer, sacrifice, and purification. There
were no weekends in ancient Greece. The Athenians really looked forward to the forty
religious festivals held each year for the time off work. There was always a lot of food,
drinking, and entertainment during these festivals, especially the Panathenaia Festival held
every July in honor of Athena. Many Athenians had an alter of Zeus in their homes. Zeus
was the king of all gods. He lived on Mount Olympus. The Olympic Games which were
every four years in Olympia was held in his honor. Outside of the main door of many
Athenian houses was often a statue called Herm of the Messenger, for god Hermes. It
was placed there to protect the family from evil spirits.
Funerals were very important events to the Athenians. The family of the dead
person came together to mourn and pray to the gods. The dead persons body was
prepared with sweet smelling oils in a clay oil flask called a lekythoi. The lekytthoi was
decorated with scenes of the dead person in every day life. The Athenians believed that
dead people went to the underworld which was ruled by Pluto. An olive wreath was
placed on the head of each dead person because the Athenians believed that olive trees
were sacred, and it was Athena s symbol. According to ancient legends, Athena and
Poseidon, the god of horses and the sea, once competed for Athens. Poseidon produced
a horse, and Athena the olive tree. Since the olive tree was thought to be more useful,
Athena won and Athens was named for her.
Most of the famous temples can be seen on the Acropolis, a high rocky plateau
which dominates the city of Athens. The Acropolis was a sacred area in Classical times,
but before that, it was a place for safety where the Athenians retreated if they were under
attack. The Acropolis was one of the most important buildings in Athens. The Acropolis
means High City . In its center, there is an awesome temple called the Parthenon. The
Parthenon was built to celebrate the end of the long Persian Wars. The Parthenon was
dedicated to Athena, the patron of the city and the goddess of wisdom and war. It was
built with dazzling white marble. The great statue of Athena in the Parthenon can be seen
by sailors far out at sea. Other statues of gods with different powers are also located
within Athens walls. Apollo, the god of the arts, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and
many more. Iktinos was the architect of the Parthenon. He designed the columns to taper
slightly at the top so that they would look straight from a distance. If the columns were
built straight, the optical illusion would have made them seem too thin in the middle.
The Agora was the main square of the town. It was crowded with carts and
people. It was also surrounded by temples, fine buildings, and jammed with shops. This
marketplace was where the Athenians came every day to do household shopping, meet
friends, or to conduct business. The Agora was the center of Athenian life. Men spent
most of their day there. The Agora was located inside the high walls of Athens and could
only be entered by one of the ten gates. Everyone likes to wander around the city and
drop in at the barbers for a chat . . . and they always choose somewhere in the agora rather
than in a place on the outskirts of the city. Speech by Lysias, 400 B.C.
The greatest gift the Athenians gave to the world was a belief in the worth of the
individual human being. This set out the framework for later cultures to build upon. Our
respect for democracy, laws, and human rights comes directly from the achievements of
the Athenians of the 5th Century B.C. Future ages will wonder at us, as the present age
wonders at us now. Pericles, Athenian statesman, in a funeral speech during the
Peloponnesian War. 431-404 B.C.E. This could be the reason that we are interested in
learning about this civilization.