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The  Mediterranean  is  renowned  for its ancient history, its  civilisation, its light and its beauty. The Greek archpelago is  its crowning jewel. These  islands crowd the northeast part of the  Mediterranean, sparklihg in the sun. There are  inluded the number reaches  9500, 140 of  which are inhabited. Most  of them are in the  Aegean, the sea that lies between Greece and  Asia Minor. Delos is at the center  of this sea, the  home of  Apollo, the god of light  according  to mythology. What  islands could  have more light than those in  Aegean?.                                                                       .But these islands are not only unique for their sun and light. These is also their  natural beauty, their lcy coastline with its dazzling  white  beaches and the blue sea ruffled in summer by the cooling meltemi wind. These are the villages,  gazing at the sea from on high, the castles, churches and monasteries. History and civilization stretch back  to five  thousand years here. One must not forget the simple, good-hearted  residents who welcome you in their melodious voices. All the islands are beatiful but each one has its own charm and history. In the space at our  disposal we will supply  as much information as we can, at the very least givihg the distinctive  mark of  777  of these islands, be they large  or small. You of course will find other beauties we have not described.


The Areopagus

   Athens entered the Archaic Period in the same way so many of its neighbors, as a city-state ruled by a basileus , or "king." Unlike Sparta, however, Athens' history was not dominated by invasion of a neighbor, for the land around Athens was agriculturally rich and the city had a harbor so that it could trade easily with city-states around the Aegean. The power of the basileus slowly faded; underneath the basileus was a council of nobles, which were called the Areopagus, from the name of the hill on which they met. In the eighth century BC, these nobles gradually became very wealthy, particularly off of the cash crops of wine and olive oil, both of which require great wealth to get started. As their wealth increased, the nobles of the Areopagus slowly stripped the king of power until Athenian government imperceptibly became an oligarchy. The Areopagus consisted of a varying number of members, and it elected nine archons, or "rulers," to run the state. The archons, however, always had to submit to the approval or veto of the Areopagus, and they also became members of the Areopagus when their term in office expired, so, in reality, the Areopagus ruled the country.

   Rule by the wealthy, however, is often inherently unstable. In Athens, the farmers in the surrounding countryside produced mainly wheat, while the wealthy and nobility owned estates that produced wine and olive oil. Wheat-farming was badly managed, however; the average Athenian farmer didn't rotate crops or let fields lie fallow. Production of wheath plummeted at the same time that Athenians began to import wheat and to export olive oil and wine. So not only did production of wheat fall, so did its price. Pretty soon, even though the wealthy farmers were making money hand over fist, the average farmer had fallen deeply into debt to the wealthiest members of society. To pay for that debt, farmers sold their children, their wives, and even themselves into (limited) slavery both in Athens and abroad. The situation was a powder-keg waiting to go off; suffering under unmanageable debts, sold into slavery, with the government under the control of the wealthy people that were the causes of their problems, the average Athenian farmer was primed for revolution.


The Reforms of Solon

   But history takes strange turns sometimes. Recognizing the danger of the situation, in 594 BC, the Areopagus and the people of Athens agreed to hand over all political power to a single individual, Solon. In effect a tyrant, Solon's mission was to reform the government to stem the tide of privation and exploitation and set up a system to guarantee that Athens didn't slip into such a situation again.

   Solon immediately dismissed all outstanding debts, and he freed as many Athenians as he could from the slavery they had sold themselves into. He banned any loans that are secured by a promise to enter into slavery if the loan is defaulted, and he tried to bring people who had been sold into slavery abroad back to Athens. In addition, he encouraged the development of olive and wine production, so that by the end of the century, most of Athenian land was dedicated to these lucrative crops.

   As far as government is concerned, he divided Athenian society into four classes based on wealth. The two wealthiest classes were allowed to serve on the Areopagus. The third class were allowed to serve on an elected council of four hundred people. This council was organized according to the four tribes making up the Athenian people; each tribe was allowed to elect one hundred representatives from this third class. This council of four hundred served as a kind of balance or check to the power of the Areopagus. The fourth class, the poorest class, was allowed to participate in an assembly; this assembly voted on affairs brought to it by the council of four hundred, and even elected local magistrates. This class also participated in a new judicial court that gradually drew civil and military cases out of the hands of the wealthiest people, the Areopagus.


Peisistratus and the Tyranny

   The Athenians considered Solon the great hero of their state and pointed to the reforms of Solon as the basis of their state. Solon's new state, however, lasted very briefly. Although he brilliantly reformed the government, he really didn't solve the economic crisis, and within a few years, Athens was collapsing in anarchy. A nobleman, Peisistratus, swept into power during this anarchy and set about restoring order. The tyranny of Peisistratus, however, was as important to the foundation of Athenian democracy as Solon's reforms had been. Although he was a military leader who backed up his power with a frightening mercenary army, Peisistratus began to actively build in and around Athens, and actively reform Athenian religion and religious practices, and, in particular, devoted his government to cultural reform. He sought out poets and artists in order to make Athens a culturally sophisticated and dynamic society. But, in particular, he launched a full attack on the power of the nobility. He increased the power of the Assembly and the courts associated with the poorest classes, and used all his power to make sure that the Solonian government worked smoothly and that elections were held (provided his supporters were elected).






  National Library ewas designed by Danish

architect Theophil Hansen in 1887 with Pentelic



   The  Tomb of the Unknow Soldier in Plateia

Syntagmatos. There is also the Greek parliament in

Voulin building.


 Like most tyrants, Peisistratus had monarchical ambitions; on his death, the tyranny fell to his son, Hippias. The life of a tyrant is not a comfortable one, and although Hippias began in the mold of his father, the assassination of his brother caused him great fright and consternation. He became suspicious and withdrawn and increasingly arbitrary. His enemies, which were many, if they hadn't already started, began plotting his overthrow. In particular, a wealthy family, the Alcmaeonids, who had been exiled by Peisistratus, prevailed on Sparta to assist them in the overthrow of Hippias. Under the Spartan king, Cleomenes I, Athens was overcome in 510 BC and Hippias ran to exile in Persia




   The Spartans followed their usual practice and entered into a truce with Athens and installed their own hand-picked Athenians to lead the government. The Spartans, however, were too clever for their own good. They chose an individual, Isagoras, whom they felt was the most loyal to Sparta; Isagoras, however, was a bitter rival of the Alcmaeonids, who had been the original allies of Sparta. Isagoras, for his part, set about restoring the Solonic government, but he also set about "purifying" Athenian citizenship. Under Solon and later Peisistratus, a number of people had been enfranchised as citizens even though they weren't Athenian or who were doubtfully Athenian. For in the Greek world, you could only be the citizen of a city-state if you could trace your ancestorship back to the original inhabitants of the state. Isagoras, however, began to throw people off the citizenship rolls in great numbers. Cleisthenes, an Alcmaeonid noble, rallied popular support and threatened the power of Isagoras, who promptly called for the Spartans again. The Spartans invaded a second time, and Cleisthenes was expelled, but soon a popular uprising swept Isagoras from power and installed Cleisthenes.

   From 508 to 502 BC, Cleisthenes began a series of major reforms that would produce Athenian democracy. He enfranchised as citizens all free men living in Athens and Attica (the area surrounding Athens). He established a council which would be the chief arm of government with all executive and administrative control. Every citizen over the age of thirty was eligible to sit on this council; each year the members of the council would be chosen by lot. The Assembly, which included all male citizens, was allowed to veto any of the council's proposals and was the only branch of government that could declare war. In 487, long after Cleisthenes, the Athenians added the final aspect of Athenian democracy proper: ostracism. The Assembly could vote (voting was done on potsherds called ostra ) on expelling citizens from the state for a period of ten years. This ostracism would guarantee that individuals who were contemplating seizing power would be removed from the country before they got too powerful.

   So by 502 BC, Athens had pretty much established its culture and political structure, just as Sparta had pretty much established its culture and political structure by 550 BC. Athens was more or less a democracy; it had become primarily a trading and commercial center; a large part of the Athenian economy focussed on cash crops for export and crafts; it had become a center of art and literature; the city had become architecturally rich because of the building projects of Peisistratus—an architectural richness that far outshone other Greek city-states; and Athenian religious fesitivals were largely in place. The next one hundred years would be politically and culturally dominated by Athens; the event that would catapult Athens to the center of the Greek world was the invasion of the Persians in 490 BC.


Like the Trojan War, the Persian Wars were a defining moment in Greek history. The Athenians, who would dominate Greece culturally and politically through the fifth century BC and through part of the fourth, regarded the wars against Persia as their greatest and most characteristic moment. For all their importance, though, the Persian Wars began inauspiciously. In the middle of the sixth century BC, the Greek city-states along the coast of Asia Minor came under the control of the Lydians and their king, Croesus (560-546 BC). However, when the Persians conquered the Lydians in 546 BC, all the states subject to the Lydians became subject to the Persians. The Persians controlled their new subject-states very closely; they appointed individuals to rule the states as tyrants. They also required citizens to serve in the Persian army and to pay fairly steep taxes. Smarting under these new burdens and anxious for independence, the tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, began a democratic rebellion in 499 BC. Aristagoras was an opportunist. He had been placed in power by the Persians, but when he persuaded the Persians to launch a failed expedition against Naxos, he began to fear for his life. So he fomented a popular rebellion against the Persians and went to the Greek mainland for support. He went first to the Spartans, since they were the most powerful state in Greece, but the Spartans seem to have seen right through him. When he approached the Athenians, they promised him twenty ships. In 498 BC, the Athenians conquered and burned Sardis, which was the capital of Lydia, and all the Greek cities in Asia Minor joined the revolt. The Athenians, however, lost interest and went home; by 495 BC, the Persians, under king Darius I (521-486 BC), had restored control over the rebellious Greek cities.

   And there it should have ended. But Athens had gotten the attention of the Persians, who desired that Athens be punished for the role it played in the destruction of Sardis. The Persians also had Hippias, the tyrant of Athens who had been deposed by Cleisthenes in 508 BC. So in 490 BC, the Persians launched an expedition against Athens. They were met, however, by one of their former soldiers, Miltiades. He had been an outstanding soldier in the Persian army, but he took to his heels when he angered Darius. Unlike other Athenians, he knew the Persian army and he knew its tactics. The two armies, with the Athenians led by Miltiades, met at Marathon in Attica and the Athenians roundly defeated the invading army. This battle, the battle of Marathon (490 BC), is perhaps the single most important battle in Greek history. Had the Athenians lost, Greece would have eventually come under the control of the Persians and all the subsequent culture and accomplishmenst of the Greeks would probably not have taken the form they did.

   For the Athenians, the battle at Marathon was their greatest achievement. From Marathon onwards, the Athenians began to think of themselves as the center of Greek culture and Greek power. This pride, or chauvinism, was the foundation on which much of their cultural achievements were built. The first great dramas, for instance, were the dramas of Aeschylus; the principle subject of these dramas is the celebration of Athenian greatness. The great building projects of the latter half of the fifth century were motivated by the need to display Athenian wealth, greatness, and power.

   The Persians, however, weren't done. For the Persians, Marathon barely registered; the Persians, after all, controlled almost the entire world: Asia Minor, Lydia, Judah, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. While Marathon stands as one of the greatest of Greek military accomplishments, it was really more of an irritation to the Persians. The Persian government, however, was embroiled in problems of its own, and it wasn't until Xerxes (486-465 BC) became king, that the Persians really got down to business and launched a punitive expedition against Athens. This time the Persians were determined to get it right. In 481 BC, Xerxes gathered together an army of some one hundred fifty thousand men and a navy of six hundred ships; he was determined that the whole of Greece would be conquered by his army.

   The Athenians, however, were prepared. While many Athenians celebrated their victory at Marathon and thought that the Persians had gone home permanently, the Greek poitician, Themistocles, convinced the Athenians otherwise. So while Persia delayed through the 480's, Themistocles and the Athenians began a navy-building project of epic proportions. Themistocles convinced the Athenians to invest the profits from a newly discovered silver mine into this project; by 481 BC, Athens had a navy of two hundred ships.

   When Xerxes gathered his army at the Hellespont, the narrow inlet to the Black Sea that separates Asia Minor from Europe, most Greeks despaired of winning against his powerful army. Of several hundred Greek city-states, only thirty-one decided to resist the Persian army; these states were led by Sparta, Corinth, and Athens: the Greek League. Sparta was made leader of all land and sea operations.

   Themistocles, however, understood that the battle would be won or lost at sea; he figured that the Persian army could only succeed if it were successfully supported by supplies and communications provided by the fleet. He also understood that the Aegean Sea was a violent place, subject to dangerous winds and sudden squalls. While he kept the Athenian fleet safe in harbor, many of Xerxes' boats were destroyed at sea. He also waited his time; if the Persians could be delayed on land, then he could destroy the Persian fleet when the time was right.

   That time came in a sea battle off the island of Salamis. The Greeks had slow, clumsy boats in comparison with the Persian boats, so they turned their boats into fighting platforms. They filled their boats with soldiers who would fight with the opposing boats in hand-to-hand combat; it was a brilliant innovation, and the Athenians managed to destroy the majority of the Persian fleet. The Persians withdrew their army.

   However, one Persian general, Mardonius, remained. He wintered in Greece, but he was met in 479 BC by the largest Greek army history had ever known. Under the leadership of the Spartan king, Pausanias, Mardonius was killed in the battle of Plataea, and his army retreated back to Persia.

   It's difficult to assess all the consequences of the Greek victory over the Persians. While the Spartans were principally responsible for the victory, the Athenian fleet was probably the most important component of that victory. This victory left Athens with the most powerful fleet in the Aegean, and since the Persians hadn't been completely defeated, all the Greeks feared a return. The majority of Greek city-states, however, didn't turn to Sparta; they turned, rather, to Athens and the Athenian fleet. The alliances that Athens would make following the retreat of the Persians, the so-called Delian League, would suddenly catapult Athens into the major power of the Greek city-states. This power would make Athens the cultural center of the Greek world, but it would also spell their downfall as the Spartans grew increasingly frightened of Athenian power and increasingly suspicious of Athenian intentions.


When the Persians retreated from Greece, the Greek League began show tensions. Although Sparta had contributed the most to the war and had fought the deciding battle at Plataea, the victory over the Persians would not have been possible without the Athenian navy, which remained powerful after the war. All the Greek cities in Asia Minor lived under the direct threat of Persian invasion and revenge; Sparta, being a land-based military, was in no position to defend these city-states. So these city-states, and the city-states of the islands in the Aegean, turned to Athens and her powerful navy for protection and alliance. The city-states in the south of Greece, and some in the north, turned to Sparta, which had led the Greek League in the war against the Persians. Thus was set up the great rivalry between these two diametrically opposed Greek states and cultures, a rivalry that would lift Athens to the height of empire only to be finally defeated by an increasingly distrustful Spartan alliance.

   The Persians had become a permanent fixture in Greek life; Greek experience throughout the fifth century BC was lived under the shadow of a possible Persian return. For Persia remained powerful and revenge was always on the horizon. In 478 BC, one year after the final defeat of the Persians, representatives from the Greek city-states of Asia Minor and the islands scattered throughout the Aegean Sea, met on the island of Delos—a sacred island associated with the cult of Apollo—to discuss an alliance with the Athenians. They swore oaths of alliance to each other and to Athens; thus was born the Delian League. This new league had several purposes besides defense; one of these was to wage a military campaign against the Persians to free those Greek cities that were still under the control of the Persians. Alhtough Athens was the leader of the League, each city-state had one vote—the League was essentially a democratic alliance between equals.

   The League busily set about fighting the Persians, freeing city after city until they achieved a decisive victory against the Persians in 467 BC. This battle freed several Greek cities, all of which joined the league. Many cities joined unwillingly; they were coerced by the League members sometimes under threat of destruction. Although the League was essentially democratic, they believed that the safety of the League and its objectives would be seriously compromised by states independent of the League.

   Athens during all this time was led by a powerfully brilliant political leader named Cimon, who was the son of Miltiades, the great hero of the battle of Marathon. Under his leadership, Athens and the League constantly and aggressively attacked the Persians; as the League grew, the power of Athens, as leader of the League, grew proportionately.

   Athens itself grew tremendously wealthy during this time; part of the agreement of the League involved tax payments by other members of the League to Athens for maintaining the fleet. With all that wealth, Athens began to invest in large building projects (such as the Acropolis), in drama, in art, and in crafts. The great flowering of Athenian culture begins in the heyday years of the Delian League, as wealth and power seemed to flow to Athens as if it were the center of the world.

   The turning point in the Delian League came with the revolt of a small island city, Thasos. Unhappy with the League and payments to Athens, Thasos rebelled against the League. Cimon promptly squashed this revolt; however, the reaction to the Thasos rebellion was the first time in the League history where a decision was made only in regard to the interests of Athens rather than the interests of the League as a whole. At home, Cimon became unpopular, and a radical democratic movement, under the leadership of Pericles, challenged his authority. As Athens stood on the brink of becoming a democratic state, Pericles stood ready to move the Delian League into an Athenian Empire.



The First Peloponnesian War

   In 461 BC, under the leadership of Pericles, Cimon was ousted from power. Athens overnight changed direction in domestic and foreign politics. In foreign affairs, Athens began to define its role in direct relationship with Sparta rather than in relationship with Persia. Immediately after the exile of Cimon, the Athenians formed an alliance with Argos, a long-standing rival of Sparta. They later formed an alliance with Megara, the city which lay directly in the path of the route from Athens to the Peloponnesus, the southern part of Greece. To get at Athens, then, the Spartans would first have to go through the Megarans. The Spartans, as you can imagine, grew suspicious of these moves, particularly the alliance with Megara, and began a campaign against the Athenians: the First Peloponnesian War.

   Athens dominated the war in its early years, but a disastrous campaign against the Persians in Egypt decimated the Athenian navy and inspired several members of the Delian League to revolt. For the Delian League had imperceptibly become the Athenian Empire; the alliance was less about the security of the League as equal states, and more about Athenian power politics in Greece. Reeling from the Egyptian defeat and the various rebellions, Athens made peace with the Spartans. In 449 BC, Athens stopped the war with Persia that it had been aggressively pursuing since 478 BC.

   The Athenian empire, though, which was maintained not so much through good will as through the threat of force, began to fray at the edges. When Megara and a neighboring state, Boeotia, revolted from the alliance, Athens no longer had a buffer zone between it and the Peloponnesian states allied with Sparta. In 445 BC, Pericles, however, diverted disaster by making a thirty year peace with Sparta. Both sides got they wanted. Athens gave up political power over the states on the Greek mainland; in return, Sparta recognized the Athenian Empire as a legitimate political institution. The Athenian Empire, which had been gradually forming, was now official.


The Empire

   Before the peace with Sparta, Athens benefitted from the taxes paid into the League and began growing quite wealty; after the peace, the Athenians moved the treasury to Athens and began keeping one sixtieth of all the revenue. The Athenians began to grew especially wealthy. The League, after all, was no longer at war with Persia, but the tribute money kept rolling in. At this stage, when the League had lost its military justification and when the tribute money was no longer really going for defense, the League in reality had become an Athenian empire. Reaction among the tribute states was mixed; some city-states eagerly participated in the empire, but most fumed under the onerousness of Athenian control and taxation. As Athens grew more and more powerful and the city more opulent, discontent grew among the tribute states. However, the Spartans, in particular, grew increasingly distrustfull of Athenian power and wealth. They had agreed to recognize the Athenian Empire in exchange for Athens giving up claims to continental territories; however, it was becoming apparent that even without the continental territory, the Athenians were a major threat to Sparta and its influence.


Democracy and the Age of Pericles

   The great Athenian leader of this age, Pericles, was swept into power in a popular democratic movement. A member of a noble and venerable family, Pericles led the Athenians against Cimon for harboring autocratic intentions. Pericles had been the leader of the democratic faction of Athenian politics since 462 BC. Ephialtes was the Athenian leader who had finally divested the Areopagus of all its power; Athens was now solely governed by the council and the democratic Assembly. Pericles quickly brought forward legislation that let anyone serve as the archon (one of the nine central leaders of the country) despite birth or wealth. The Assembly became the central power of the state. Consisting of all the free-born (no freed slaves) male citizens of Athens, the Assembly was given sole approval or veto power over every state decision. The Assembly was not a representative government, but instead consisted of every male citizen. In terms of numbers, this still was not a democratic state: women weren't included, nor were foreigners, slaves, or freed slaves. Pericles also changed the rules of citizenship: before the ascendancy of Pericles, anyone born of a single Athenian parent was an Athenian citizen; Pericles instituted laws which demanded that both parents be Athenian citizens. So, in reality, the great democracy of Periclean Athens was in reality only a very small minority of the people living in Athens. It was, however, the closest human culture has come to an unadulterated democracy.

   The Assembly was given unprecedented power over the selections of officials; elected officials, such as military generals, were not chosen by the Assembly, but the Assembly did hire and fire all other public officials. In addition, the Assembly served as a law court hearing major cases. Any decision made in a court of law could be appealed to the Assembly where a court of free citizens would hear the case. There was no standing army, either, as there was in Sparta; free citizens could choose to serve in the military.

   One figure towers over this new democratic state: Pericles. This Age of Athens, which begins either in 462 or 450 or 445 BC and lasts until 404 BC, when Athens is defeated by Sparta, is called the Athenian Age, the Classical Age, or, after its most important political figure, the Age of Pericles. Just about everything that you associate with Greek culture is squeezed into this half century of wealth, energy, creativity, and chauvinism in Athens. All the great works of Greek tragedy and comedy, the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, were written in this time in the city of Athens. Most of the monumental works of architecture, built off of the wealth that literally poured into Athens from her imperial possessions, were built at this time: the Acropolis, the rebuilding of the Agora. Flush with wealth and at peace with Persia and Sparta, the Athenians had nothing better to do with this wealth then invest it in a massive cultural flowering of art, poetry, philosophy, and architecture.

   And still there remains the figure of Pericles himself. There is no question that the democratic reforms of the Age of Pericles owe their existence to the energy of this political figure. He was a man of immense persuasiveness and an orator of great power. Although he was eventually ostracized by the Athenians (he later returned), he dominated the democratic government of Athens with his formidable capacity to speak and to persuade. He had two central policies: democratic reform and the maintenance of the empire.

   Sparta, however, growing increasinly wary of Athenian prosperity, would soon find itself entangled once again with its old rival. The thirty year peace managed to hang on for only fourteen years before hostilities broke out again. In 431, a second war broke out, called simply The Peloponnesian War; this war would see the death of Pericles in its second year, but eventually witness the foolish destruction of the Athenian navy, the defeat of Athens, and the end of Athenian democracy.

   Suspicious and fearful of Athenian power and wealth, the Spartans were not happy with the thirty year peace they had agreed to. The Athenians themselves had become chauvinistic and power hungry, and seemed ready to begin to reassert their power on the mainland of Greece. In 431, spurred on by a relatively trivial event in a distant part of the Greek mainland, Sparta and Athens fell into another war which is simply called, The Peloponnesian War.

   The Spartans wished to fight a land war, which they were very good at. They outnumbered the Athenians two to one, odds they believed the Athenians could stand up to only for a very short time. At the outbreak of the war, then, they invaded Attica and began burning crops in order to starve the Athenians into submission.

   The Athenians, however, had a harbor and a powerful navy. Pericles knew that they could hold out against the Spartans for several years on the tribute money from the Empire. He also knew that he could take the war right to the doorsteps of Spartan allies, by sailing troops along the coast of Greece and landing them far from Athenian lines. Although Pericles died in the second year of the war in a plague that devestated Athens, the Athenians, nevertheless, kept to the Periclean strategy of prosecuting the war.





The ruins of the Temple of Poseidon on

Cape  Sounion. Built in 444 BC.


 Caryatids , figures of women, were used instead

of columns in Erechtheion at Athens Acropolis.

   Both sides believed that their strategy would wear down the other side and force a surrender. However, this really didn't happen. After ten years of fighting and some disastrous events among allied cities, the situation was no different than it was at the beginning of the war. Both sides had become worn down, so Sparta and Athens signed a fifty year peace called the Peace of Nicias, after the Athenian politician and general who was leading Athens at the time. Essentially similar in view and ability to Pericles, Nicias was a brilliant and cautious man who managed to pull off an effective truce. Everyone was allowed to go home, and the territorial status as it stood at the time of the peace, was allowed to remain in place. Athens kept its continental territories and allies, and Sparta got to keep all the territories it had acquired.

   Nicias, however, had rivals in the democratic assembly. Perhaps the most talented of these rivals was a young, brilliant follower of the philosopher Socrates named Alcibiades. With creativity, energy, and immense oratorical ability, Alicibiades in 415 BC convinced the Athenians to attack the Greek city-states on the island of Sicily and bring them under the glove of the Athenian Empire. Although the expedition was in part under the leadership of Nicias, it soon turned into a disaster. In 413 BC, the entire army was defeated and captured and a large part of the great, powerful fleet of the Athenians was destroyed in the harbor of Syracuse. Athenian power since the Persian Wars had rested solely on the power of the navy; the disastrous Sicilian expedition left Athens almost completely powerless.

   Knowing a good thing when they saw it, the Spartans soon attacked Athens and—worse news piled on top of bad news—they were soon joined by the Persians who were still smarting from the war Athens had so vigorously prosecuted in the first half of the fifth century. For awhile the Athenians hung on, even enjoying tremendous victories when the war was shifed to the Aegean Sea. But in 405, the rest of their navy was destroyed in a surprise attack, and by the next year the situation was hopeless. In 404 BC, the Athenians surrendered totally to the Spartans, who tore down the walls of the city, barred them from ever having a navy, and installed their own oligarchic government, the Thirty. The Age of Athens, the Age of Pericles, the Classical Age, the Athenian Empire, had come to an end.

After the unconditional surrender of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta became the undisputed major power among the Greek city-states. Stripped of its navy and its empire, Athens simply became just one more city under the political control of its more powerful neighbor in the south. This period in Greek history is called the Spartan hegemony, for although Sparta didn't rule the city -states of Greece as if it were an empire, Sparta did exercise considerable influence over the domestic and foreign decisions of these independent states: it exercised, then, hegemonic control over these states.

   In Athens, the Spartan general who defeated the city, Lysander, pulled down the democratic government and established an oligarchy. Members of the democratic factions fled the city and raised armies in Corinth and in Thebes. The oligarchy ruled with an iron fist, often ordering summary executions of its political opponents (as Socrates tells us in 
The Apology); for this, the thirty members of the oligarchy were called "the Thirty Tyrants," or simply, "the Thirty." Eventually the Athenians were allowed by Sparta to return to a democratic constitution.

   Sparta, meanwhile, vigorously went about establishing an empire of its own. Shortly after the defeat of Athens, they entered into an alliance with Cyrus, who claimed the Persian throne against his brother, Artaxerxes II, who occupied the throne. The Persians the the Greeks, under the leadership of Sparta, managed to make it all the way to the center of Mesopotamia and the capital itself, where Cyrus was killed. The Greeks escaped, but the Spartans soon entered into defensive alliances with the Greek city-states of Asia Minor.

   The great figure of this age is Agesilaus, the king of Sparta from 396 to 360 BC. Agesilaus was an energetic and aggressive general who, though physically lame, was incomprehensibly physically brave whenever in battle. Soon the Spartan and Greek army was threatening Persia again, but the Persians destroyed the Spartan sea empire in 394 BC. The Spartans had been distracted by another war on the Greek mainland, the Corinthian War (395-387 BC), when Athens, Corinth, and Argos formed an alliance against Sparta. Athens rebuilt the walls of the city and its navy.

   This war, like the Peloponnesian War, essentially accomplished nothing. In the end, all sides agreed to a peace established by the Persian king. Fearful of the Athenians, the Persian king put Sparta in charge of Greece, and Agesilaus promptly broke up the Corinthian alliance and any other alliances that didn't involve Sparta. From 387 BC onwards, Agesilaus and the Spartans closely controlled political decisions in the individual city-states and stacked their governments with individuals friendly to Sparta and its interests.

   The period of Spartan hegemony saw the first years of the maturing of Greek philosophy. 
Socrates, who looms large as a principle foundation of Greek philosophy, had come to the end of his years when the Age of Pericles closed. He was put to death in 399 BC. However, his pupil, who more than anyone else is responsible for synthesizing earlier Greek philosophy int a single, overarching system, began his activities as a philosopher and teacher in these years. Based in Athens, his school, the Academy, would become the intellectual center of Greece in the decades to follow.

   Agesilaus finally overstepped himself when he captured the city of Thebes without any provocation whatsoever. When he then turned on Athens, the Athenians allied themselves with the Thebans, and the Spartan control over Greece came to a final end in 371 BC.

   Under the leadership of two brilliant generals, Apaminondas and Pelopidas, the Spartans were defeated in 371 BC at the battle of Leuctra. Life in Greece changed overnight. The Thebans dismantled the Peloponnesian League and created a new league of states which didn't include Sparta. The Thebans took territory away from the Spartans, whose population had been severely depleted because of Agesilaus's wars, freed all of the helots, and allowed them to set up an independent state. For the next thirty years, Thebes, a democracy would hold sway over much of the politics of the Greek mainland. The Thebans, however, were no more enlightened in their hegemony than the Spartans were, and they soon met bitter resentment and resistance. In 362, in the face of the rivalry of a new Peloponnesian coalition and a resurgent Athenian empire, as well as the deaths of Apaminondas and Pelopidas, Thebes quickly slipped out of its powerful position.

 After the bitter defeat at the hands of the Spartans and the dismantling of the Athenian Empire in 404 BC, Athens soon began building its empire even during the period of Spartan hegemony. In 378 BC, Athens formed the Second Athenian Confederation, a league of Aegean city-states; the sole purpose of this confederation was to resist the growth of Spartan power in the Aegean Sea. However, after Sparta had been conclusively defeated in 371 BC and Thebes just as conclusively defeated nine years later, the reason for the league evaporated. Persia no longer seemed to be a threat, and there seemed no reason to pour tribute money into Athens. The Second Athenian Empire, then, soon crumbled in a series of revolts. In 355 BC, when the Athenians gave over the Confederation, Greece had once again become a nation of independent, unallied city-states. In less than two decades, those city-states would disappear forever as political units, to be replaced by a vast kingdom under an ambitious Macedonian king, Philip II.


   In spite of the political turbulence and chaos of the fourth century BC, Greece was poised on its most triumphant period: the Hellenistic age. The word, Hellenistic, is derived from the word, Hellene, which was the Greek word for the Greeks. The Hellenistic age was the "age of the Greeks; during this time, Greek culture and power extended itself across the known world. While the classical age of Greece produced great literature, poetry, philosophy, drama, and art, the Hellenistic age "hellenized" the world. At the root of Hellenism were the conquests of Philip of Macedon and his son, Alexander. However, the Macedonians did more than control territory; they actively exported Greek culture: politics, law, literature, philosophy, religion, and art. This was a new idea, exporting culture, and more than anything else this exporting of culture would deeply influence all the civilizations and cultures that would later erupt from this soil: the Romans, the Christians, the Jewish diaspora, and Islam.



   Macedon all during the age of the Greek city-states was an anomaly: it was a Greek kingdom. Located north-east of the Greek mainland and northwest of Asia Minor, Macedon was firmly entrenched on the European continent. The Macedonians were the Greeks who had to contend, then, with all the European tribes, many of which were war-like. So the Macedonians served as a kind of buffer for the Greeks, as the faithful Greeks who stood between the tribal Europeans and the Greek city-states. For all that, the Macedonians were deeply unappreciated by their fellow Greeks; they were looked on as no better than barbarians themselves, particularly since they had never developed or adopted the polis.

   The Macedonians were ruled by a king, much like the Mycenean kings. The king came to power through inheritance, but first had to be approved by the army. Beneath the king was an aristocracy of nobles who had a limited amount of power; like all monarchies that shared power with an aristocracy, the balance of power frequently shifted from the king to the nobles and back again. Into this situation, at the peak of the political chaos roiling the Greek world to the south, stepped a powerful king who unified the country of Macedon and set his sights on conquering the whole of the Greek world: Philip of Macedon.

 Philip of Macedon ascended the throne of Macedon in his late twenties. He had found himself regent, that is, the individual in charge of the kingdom because the king was only an infant. As regent, he promptly overthrew his infant nephew, the king, and crowned himself king in 359 BC. In his early twenties, however, he had been a Macedonian hostage living in Thebes during the heyday of the Theban hegemony. Political hostages generally lived a good life, they were simply kept in order that they may be executed if hostilities commenced between the government the hostage came from and the government that held him (or her). Philip lived a good life in Thebes and was well-integrated into the politics and military. He grew to think of himself as a Greek rather than as a Macedonian, but he also learned Greek politics and Greek military strategy. Philip had learned to be a general.

   When he assumed the throne of Macedon, he promptly pacified all the European tribes to his north, seized gold and silver mines by conquering the city of Amphipolis to his south, and began to build new cities and large standing armies.

   He then turned his eyes to the south in 349 BC and began to systematically conquer all the Greek cities; after a great victory against Athens and its allies in 338 BC, Philip found himself in control of all Greece (except Sparta). Philip promptly went to work at securing his power in Greece, building garrisons at Corinth, Thebes, and Chalcis; in 338 BC, he created the Federal League of Corinth. Ostensibly an alliance of free city-states, Philip was its ruler and for all practical purposes had become king of Greece. The independent city-state, the 
polis, had ceased to exist.    But Philip wasn't finished. The Persian Wars still festered in the Greek memory, and the Spartan invasion of Persia in 379 BC showed Philip that it was possible to defeat the mightiest empire known to humanity. So in 337, Philip announced the the League would attack Persia as revenge for the wars, and in 336 he stood poised to prosecute his mighty invasion of the Persian Empire, but an assassin's sword ended his great campaign. It should've ended the brief Macedonian control of Greece; but Philip's twenty-one year old son stepped into his father's shoes and became the conqueror of the world.

The decisive battle of Philip's conquest of Greece occurred in 338 BC at Chaeronea in Boeotia, when Philip beat the Athenians and their allies. The military feat that won that day was a cavalry charge by Philip's eighteen year old son, Alexander. Alexander seems to have inherited much from his brilliant father: physical courage, arrogance, extreme intelligence, and, most importantly, unbridled ambition. For when his father died in 336 BC at an assassin's hand, Alexander quickly consolidated his power and set out to conquer the world. At the age of twenty-one.

   He had been a youth of infinite promise. Physically handsome, strong, brave, and nothing short of brilliant, he had been schooled by no less a person than 
Aristotle. With all these qualities, he took up his father's ambition and prosecuted it with a swiftness that is almost frightening.

   In 334 BC, Alexander crossed over into Asia Minor to begin his conquest of Persia. To conquer Persia was to conquer the world, for the Persian Empire sprawled over most of the known world: Asia Minor, the Middle East, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Iran. He didn't have much to go on: his army numbered thirty thousand infantry and only five thousand cavalry. He had no navy. He had no money.

   His strategy was simple. He would move quickly and begin with a few sure victories, so he could gain money and supplies. He would focus on the coastal cities so that he could gain control of the ports; in that way, the Persian navy would have no place to make landfall. Finally, he took the battle right to the center of the opposing forces, and he threw himself into the very worst of the battle. His enemies were stunned and his troops grew intensely loyal to this man who threw both them and himself right into the teeth of the wolf.

   He quickly overran Asian Minor after defeating the Persian forces that controlled the territory, and after seizing all the coastal cities, he turned inland towards Syria in 333 BC. There he engaged the main Persian army under the leadership of the Persian king, Darius, at a city called Issus. As he had done at Chaeronia, he led a astounding cavalry charge against a superior opponent and forced them to break ranks. Darius, and much of his army, ran inland towards Mesopotamia, leaving Alexander free to continue south. He seized the coastal towns along the Phoenician and Palestinian coasts. When he entered Jerusalem, he was hailed as their great liberator. He continued south and conquered Egypt with almost no resistance whatsoever; the Egyptians called him king and son of Re.

   By this point, Darius understood that the situation was out of his control. As Alexander moved down the Phoenican coast, he managed to conquer the city of Tyre, which was absolutely central to Persian naval operations. Darius knew that he could never recover Asia Minor, Phoenicia, or Palestine, so he sent an offer to halt hostilities. If Alexander would cease, Darius would cede to him all of the Persian Empire west of the Euphrates River; Mesopotamia, Persia (modern day Iran), and the northern territories would remain Persian.

   Alexander would have none of this. In 331 BC, he crossed the Euphrates river into Mesopotamia. Darius met him near the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, the city that had been destroyed by the Chaldeans only three centuries earlier. This was the last battle between Darius and Alexander; the Macedonian king again put the numerically superior Persian army to flight, and Darius ran also. In January of 330 BC, Alexander entered Babylon: he had conquered Mesopotamia and now controlled its greatest and wealthiest city.

   The Persians had amassed vast wealth from the tribute paid by the various states under them. Alexander, who had started with no money at all, was now in control of the fattest treasury that had ever existed.

   Darius, meanwhile, met his death at the hands of a conspiracy. The Persian nobles no longer felt that he could effectively lead them and, under the leadership of his brother Bessus, the nobles killed Darius and left his body for Alexander to find. Alexander, however, pushed on, found Bessus, and killed him and as many Persian nobles as he could. The Persian Empire had officially come to a close.

   Having conquered what was then the known world, Alexander had pushed his army to the very limits of civilization as he knew it. But he wanted more; he saw that the world extended further and partly out of curiosity, and partly out of a desire to conquer the enitre world within the boundaries of the river Ocean (the Greeks believed that a great river, called Ocean, encircled all the land of the world), Alexander and his army pushed east, through Scythia (northern Iran), and all the way to Pakistan and India. He had conquered Bactria at the foot of the western Himalayas, gained a huge Bactrian army, and married a Bactrian princess, Roxane. But when he tried to push on past Pakistan, his army grew tired, and he abandoned the eastward conquest in 327 BC.

   In 324 BC, Alexander returned to Babylon. He was now, literally, king of the world, and began to lay down his strategies for consolidating his empire. He began to plan cities and building works, new conquests, and even considered deifying himself. But like so many human gods, his own death caught up with him. In 323 BC, at the age of thirty-three, he fell into a fever and died.

   It's rare in history that human events become so focussed on a single individual; rarely is that focus justified. Alexander, however, is one of the notable exceptions. The age of Alexander was the age created by Alexander, and he would permanently stamp world culture with a Greek character. He was in many ways a brilliant and selfless person, quite possibly the most brilliant military leader in human history. With a small army, little or no supplies, and no money, he conquered the greatest, wealthiest, and most powerful empire in the world. He never lost a battle, not once, and he flung himself into battle with intense physical bravery. He was also a tyrant and a bully, given to fits of uncompromising violence. He was certainly a drunkard and at times unstable. We will never know if he could have ruled or unified this huge empire, for it may have crumbled into nothing within a few years. His death, however, guaranteed that the empire he had built would never last.

 While there is much controversy among historians about the significance of Alexander in Greek history and culture, there is no question that the Alexandrian empire was built because of his military genius and his unbridled ambition. Whether or not Alexander could have kept this unimaginably large empire together is an unanswerable and ultimately useless question. It is clear, however, that his death, only a year after completing his Herculean conquest of the world, spelled the end of the empire he had acquired so quickly.

   Alexander, who was only thirty-three years old when he died, had made no preparations for his succession. He had married a Bactrian princess, Roxane, when he had conquered Bactria; their son, however, was unborn when Alexander died. Alexander also had a brother, but he was both weak and unintelligent. So the generals which had aided him divided the empire among themselves in order to preserve the empire for the future, as yet unborn, king; this would guarantee that Alexander's empire would remain in the royal line of Macedonian kings. Like all powerful and ambitious men, they soon fell into conflict with one another. In two decades of conflict, several of the original generals were killed, along with Alexander's son and brother. By 300 BC, all that was left of Alexander's empire were four smaller empires, each controlled by military generals who declared themselves kings. Greece and Macedonia fell to Antigonus, who founded the Antigonid dynasty of Greek kings; this dynasty would eventually control Asia Minor. Asia Minor original came under the control of Attalid dynasty, but was eventually subsumed under the Antigonids. Mesopotamia and the Middle East came under the control of Seleucus, who crowned himself Seleucus I and began the Seleucus dynasty (every king in this dynasty would be named Seleucus). Egypt came under the control of Ptolemy, who crowned himself Ptolemy I and began the Ptolemid dynasty. The Ptolemids maintained Greek learning and culture, but adopted several Egyptian customs surrounding the kingship, such as inheritance through the maternal line

   These empires periodically fought with one another, for none of these kings ever fully accepted the fact that the empire had fractured into three parts. Each believed that they were the rightful heirs to the entire empire that Alexander had built. Countries, such as Judah, periodically shifted from one empire to another as the fortunes of war went now to the Ptolemies and now to the Seleucids.

   Despite the constant conflict, the Hellenistic world was an incredibly prosperous one. Alexander and his successors had liberated an immense amount of wealth from the Persian empire, and with this new wealth in circulation the standard of living rose dramatically. Each of the empires embarked on building projects, on scholarship, on patronage of the arts, and on literature and philosophy. The Ptolemies built an enormous library in their capital city of Alexandria, and sponsored the translation of a host of religious and literary works into Greek.

   This period really marked the first international culture in western, middle eastern, and north African history. The Greeks imported their culture: political theory, philosophy, art, and literature all over the known civilized world. This culture would greatly alter the culture and religion of the Mediterannean. But the flow of culture worked in the opposite direction as well; non-Greek ideas and non-Greeks flowed into Greece (and Italy). They took with them their religions, their philosophies, science, and culture; in this environment, eastern religions in particular began to take hold in the Greek city-states both in the east and in Greece. Among these religions was Zoroastrianism and Mithraism; in later years, this international environment would provide the means for the spread of another eastern religion, Christianity.

   This process of the "hellenization" ("making Greek") of the world took place largely in the urban centers the Greeks began to zealously build. While the Greeks had for a long time believed that monarchy was a sign of barbarity, they had to come to terms with the reality of their new form of government. So they compromised. While they accepted the monarchy, the set about building somewhat independent poleis that had the structure of the 
polis without its political independence. The growth of these cities provoked massive migrations from the Greek mainland, as Greeks settled in these new, far-flung poleis to assume lucrative positions in the military and administration.

   Spread from Italy to India, from Macedonia to Egypt, Greek culture was the most significant of its times. The mighty empires of the Greeks hung onto this vast amount of territory for almost three centuries. Slowly, however, a new power was rising in the west, steadily building its own, accidental empire. By the time of Christ, the great Greek empires of the Hellenistic world had been replaced and unified once more into a single empire under the control of an Italian people, the Romans.