Greek society essay

Greece is home to some of the greatest philosophers of all time. It is also rich in history, dating back to many centuries before Christ. Sparta and Athens were the major cities in Greece then, and they had a rich social, economic and political culture. This paper aims at analyzing some of the important aspects of the Greek history, some of the challenges and their solutions. Part 1 Question one How Helots affected Spartan society. In Spartan society, there was no equality, since humans were not equal. According to Martin (23-37), everyone had his place in society, and responsibilities were given according to the social class.

For instance, women could not become magistrates, marrying was restricted and ownership of land was also restricted. Helots were considered to be peasants, although at times they were given responsibilities, like guarding homes and general duties in homes, as servants. They were forced to work for the Spartans and hand over the fruits of labor to them. However, the Helots outnumbered the Spartans by as much as seven to one, which made Spartans live under a constant fear of an uprising. This made the Spartans introduce strict discipline in the military, which made them have a very strong military class.

The military strength made the Spartans declare war on the Messenians, each year and the killing of a helot was considered an act of war, not murder. The Spartans were preoccupied with fear of a Helot uprising, which affected their foreign policy, due to neglect of all issues, other than containing the Helots. Question two How the duties of magistrates (Basileis) change, from Bronze Age to when they acquired title of ‘Archon Basileis’? The title ‘Basileis’ was given to a magistrate or leader, who sometimes had a board to assist him in decision making.

The leaders mostly got the title through heredity, and thus were not popular with the people. According to Vermeule (44-58), their duties varies between different states, and in some states they had military responsibilities, such as leading the warriors into battle. However, the majority had responsibilities that concern judicial duties and religious matters. Most of them lost respect from the people, due to their oppression of Helots, and tribal chiefs gained popularity. In time, the duties were assigned to one of the Archons, who was elected, and the name changed to Archon Basileus.

However, their duties changed to conducting investigations concerning cases that affected the State. They were now elected and people had confidence in them. The Archon Basileus became a ceremonial and elected office, which investigated religious phenomenon, such as mysteries and sacrifices. He was also tasked with protecting heiresses and orphans without families. This is a change from the oppressive days of Basileus. He also had the responsibility of appointing choregos, who organized a religious festival. Question three

How Pericles’ fighting strategy in the ‘Archidamian’ war, affected the Athenian effort in the Peloponnesian war as a whole. Fighting was started after Plataea was attacked by Thebans. Peloponnesians had a strategy of burning Athenian fields, annually, as a means of luring them to a land battle. However, Athenians had a strategy, which Pericles developed, of remaining in the city, and ignoring the Peloponnesians. There was no technology then, to break the Athenian wall or use siege ramps on it. Athens would then wear down the Peloponnesians through interference with their trade, while they controlled the sea, and had enough supplies.

This strategy worked during the first year and the Peloponnesians were worn down. They had to go back to their land to harvest, which made them more vulnerable. However, an unforeseen outbreak of plague weakened the Athenians. In the short term however, Pericle’s strategy worked very well, since Potidaea surrendered, after two years, of siege. Question four How changing method of choosing the Athenian office of archon, from elected position to one drawn by lot affect the importance of the office. Previously, members of the Athenian office were chosen through elections, but this did not go down well with the people.

This is because prominent people could manipulate the process and ensure that they are elected. Citizens soon realized the they too can govern themselves and soon enough, the method of choosing archons was changed to lot. The lot chose officials who took over duties in government, and they served only once. This move was seen to reflect genuine democracy. The effects of change to lot were clear, first of all, well known and wealthy people could not ride on their popularity anymore, unlike they did in the past. According to Lane (52-65), the new method also removed corruption, and gave everyone an equal chance of becoming an archon.

Another major significance of this change was that the ekklesia and boule, had increased participation in government, and this reduced the powers of the office of an archon, thereby discouraging influential people from campaigning for it. Question fives Why individual leaders continued to hold much power under the Athenian democracy during the 5th c. BCE Individuals continued holding much power during this period, because of restrictions on basis of the social classes. Since everyone had his or her place in society, and that was generally acceptable, it was difficult for a peasant to acquire any powers.

Since the minority of the people were wealthy, they could manipulate the election process, such that they got elected. According to Stanley & Walter (33-40), once they got elected, the power remained with the wealthy, and they knew that the peasants could do nothing about it. One of the primitive forms of thinking that they had at the time, was that it was better to elect wealthy individuals so that in case they embezzled money, it would be obtained from their property. This is one of the several factors that ensured that only the upper class ruled, and that they had as much power at their disposal as possible.

The public opinion was ignored, while the minority ruled. Part II Homer’s poems on ancient Greek military, political and social structures in the Dark Age. Homer’s poems explain a lot about the ancient Greek military, political and social structures in the Dark Age. The first word in the poem Iliad, is menis, a Greek word that denotes rage or fury. According to Goldhill (12-13), this word explains the overall story about the fury of Achilles. The Greek commander of forces that are in Troy, took a slave woman after the war, as a trophy thereby dishonoring Achilles.

This made Achilles have rage and he subsequently withdrew from the battle, taking his worthy warriors with him. This was a severe blow to the morale of the Greek fighters and eventually led to their defeat by Trojans. Hector, the prince for Trojan unsuccessfully tried to convince Achillles to go back to war, though Achilles’ friend Patroclus, gave in and subsequently died in battle. According to Powell (13-18), this situation made Achilles go back to war where he slaughtered many Trojans and he eventually killed Hector. He refused to return the body of Hector and subsequently defiled it.

Priam, Hector’s father then ransomed the body of his son, and the poem ended with Hector’s funeral. In one of the passages, (Illiad 9: 410-416), Homer writes; “For my mother Thetis the goddess of silver feet tells me I carry two sorts of destiny toward the day of my death. Either, if I stay here and fight beside the city of the Trojans, my return home is gone, but my glory shall be everlasting; but if I return home to the beloved land of my fathers, the excellence of my glory is gone, but there will be a long life left for me, and my end in death will not come to me quickly.

” According to Hammond (22-28), this passage is translated to mean that Achilles realized that for him to gain his kleos, he must lose his nostos. However, he was not just offered kleos, but kleos aphthiton, which means ‘fame imperishable’. This word is further repeated five other times in the poem, and it describes an object that is immortal. Such objects are seen to be house of Hephaistos, Agamemnon’s sceptre, Zeus’ throne, house of Poseidon and Hebe’s chariot wheel. Achilles finds courage to stay in war, since no other mortal has ever been called ‘immortal forever’.

This shows deep belief in religion or supernatural powers, since Achilles has faith in the rewards that await him, and that is the reason that he continues fighting. It also shows that the social system is set in such a manner, that one’s life accomplishments dictate one’s time, in life. According to Sealey (22-31), the poem also reveals the military prowess of Troy, since the warriors have well described and elaborate armor. They also use chariots in battle, have spears and are generally well trained in personal combat. Telamonian Ajax carries a large shield that covers both his brother and him, further showing their superior combat weapons.

Further on, (Iliad 8: 267–272), Homer writes: “Ninth came Teucer, stretching his curved bow. He stood beneath the shield of Ajax, son of Telamon. As Ajax cautiously pulled his shield aside, Teucer would peer out quickly, shoot off an arrow, hit someone in the crowd, dropping that soldier right where he stood, ending his life—then he’d duck back, crouching down by Ajax, like a child beside its mother. Ajax would then conceal him with his shining shield. ” According to Carol & Leslie (44-56), in this passage, weaknesses of Troy’s military weapons begin to show, since Ajax’s shield is heavy and he finds difficulty in carrying it.

The shield seems to be more suitable for offense, rather than defense. The ordinary soldiers rely on the round shield, which works very well for them, unlike heroes who have heavy shields. The ordinary soldiers are seen to lack the breast plates for protection, unlike the heroes. There is also difference between the shields and spears that the ordinary soldiers and heroes use. This points to a class difference that is so deeply rooted in society, that is even visible during war. The heroes are accorded better protection since they are seen to be more important to society, than the ordinary soldiers.

The culture of revenge is also brought forward by the poem. The Greeks take offense with the Trojans’ taking of the king’s wife and subsequently decide to revenge. In another instance, Apollo and Chryses seeks revenge on Agamemnon, since he defies them. In yet another instance, Achilles is insulted by Agamemnon, and subsequently seeks revenge. Finally, the poem shows revenge as an embedded culture, when after Patroclus dies, Achilles wants to revenge against Hector, and Trojans in general. Finally, the poem reveals the role of women in shaping futures.

According to the poem, Helen leads to the start of the war in Trojan. The rift between Apollo’s priest and Agamemnon, is due to another woman, Chryseis. The rift between Achilles and Agamemnon is caused by a woman, Briseis, while other women like Aphrodite, Athena and Hera also contribute significantly to the plot of the poem. PART III Different solutions enacted by Sparta and Athens to deal with economic and related social problems within their own polis. Athens Sparta and Athens had their fair share of economic and social problems, within their polis.

According to Simon & Robin (33-42), sad years had forced Athens to to borrow seeds from their neighbors and failure by peasants to pay made them slaves. This problem was further complicated by claims for land redistribution by the landless. The Athenian nobles were forced to give in due to fear of an uprising from the lower classes. In 594 B. C. , the current archon, Solon, was given the mandate to ensure reconciliation of the lower classes. He made reforms, that were inspired from, Hesiod, who lived a century earlier. He first canceled all debts and forbade future debts, though he rejected the idea of redistributing land.

His long term solution was to stimulate industry and trade so that employment levels would rise. In order to achieve this objective, he granted citizenship to artisans from foreign countries, to Greece and required fathers to teach their children a profession. He also encouraged production and exporting of olive oil. This helped in the growth of the economy. According to Snodgrass (44-58), the other major problem was the social problem; social classes differentiated members of society, making them unequal. Peasants were made to work for the wealthy in society and they took all the harvests back to them.

They were restricted from owning land, being in leadership, marrying and so on. Women could also not become magistrates. This was a very unfair approach, since the peasants’ services were needed in times of crisis, for example wars. Cleisthenes, a leader who came to be in power later, helped to solve this problem by disregarding noble-dominated tribes, and creating ten other tribes. These new tribes contained citizens of all classes, which helped bridge the gap between higher and lower social classes. Sparta Sparta, on the other hand, took a militaristic approach in its affairs.

According to Rose (16-31), it aimed at transforming its citizens to ideal militants through abandoning sickly or deformed babies at birth. When a boy was seven years old, he was separated from the parents and taken to educators, who taught him to be disciplined and to endure hardships. At twenty, the boy was trained in the military and by thirty, he could live with his wife in the barracks. The person then lived the rest of his life obeying the things that have been instilled in him. In terms of democracy, Helene (66-79), says that the king and his advisers ruled the states.

However, there were restrictions on who could become leaders since wealthy people were accorded preferential treatment. As previously stated, there was a mentality that wealthy people would make good leaders, since their property would be seized, if they misappropriated wealth. This left out the peasants who had little, if any wealth. The wealthy people were also notorious in influencing the outcome of the election through manipulation of the process, and corruption, which ensured their victory. This made the general public despise them. However, Sparta took a different approach in solving the problems.

Since there was a high level of military training, Sparta took an aggressive approach in solving problems. Whereas Athens exported goods to solve problems caused by high populations, Sparta invaded her neighbours in a bid to acquire extra land to relocate the landless. Sparta also resorted to conquests of foreign land, where it could control resources that it did not have. This was aimed at improving the economic welfare of the citizens. This made Sparta have endless wars with the Greek neighbours. It used primitive institutions to solve its problems, but these institutions did not survive the test of time.

Sparta was therefore seen to use its military might in solving social and economic problems, while Athens used the local resources in solving the same. This is the major difference in approach, in solving problems, between these two states.

Works cited

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New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Hammond, Nathan, A history of Greece to 322 B. C. Britain: Oxford, 1997. Helene, Foley, Reflections of women in antiquity, New York: Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1999. Kurke, Leslie, Coins, bodies, games, and gold: the politics of meaning in archaic Greece. New. Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999. Lane, Robin, Travelling Heroes: Greeks and their myths in the epic age of Homer. New York: Allen Lane, 2008. Martin, Mueler, The Illiad. London: Allen & Unwin, 1994. Powell, Barry, Homer. Malden, Mass: Blackwell, 2004.

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