PHI 201: Ancient Philosophy






A.    INTRODUCTION: The unification of the Greeks during the Persian battles led to a new alliance, the Delian League, headed by the Athenians. Their wealth greatly increased (they controlled the League’s treasury), and they became a huge cultural center (playwrights Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, Aristophanes, Phidias the sculptor, and historian Thucydides, were all born in Athens). Athenians used some of their money to build the Parthenon; Delphi was honored as well with a huge temple to Zeus.

B.    THE AFTERMATH OF THE PERSIAN WARS AND THE FOUNDATION OF THE DELIAN LEAGUE: The Greek allies crafted a monument with the 31 states that fought against Persia inscribed on the coils of three bronze, intertwined serpents (called the Serpentine Column, it now stands – headless – in the Hippodrome in Istanbul, Turkey). Athens rebuilt her walls, but Sparta protested that Athens was getting too powerful and would be making a nice city for the Persians if it got overtaken in the future. Athens didn’t listen and rebuilt the walls anyway.

1.     The Continuing Persian Threat: Conflicts over Greek Leadership: Sparta still commanded all the Hellenic League’s navy, which was a source of tension, because Athens had most of the ships and power now. Pausanias (Spartan leader, now regent because Leonidas’ son Pleistarchus was underage) was accused of behaving like Persian potentate and exchanging treasonous letters with King Xerxes, so he alienated the Greeks (including the Ionians) serving under him. Thus, Dorcis was appointed to take over the fleet, but the Athenians weren’t impressed. They still wanted to secure the Hellespont and northern Aegean areas because they needed the grain therefrom. Thus, the Athenians took over the naval command.

2.     The Delian League: In 477, Athens and dozens of other states met at Delos in the Aegean and took oaths to bind themselves against the Persians, signing a treaty – in return for annual contributions in ships or money to lead the league in military operations against Persia, they would receive internal autonomy of each polis. Each polis (probably about 150 of them) had one vote, regardless of size, and Athens controlled the treasury (ten Athenian magistrates, called the hellnvotamiai – “treasurers of the Greeks”). This League was supposed to be permanent; its goals were to contain Persia, gather booty as compensation for war damages done to Greece, and to commit revenge.

3.     From Delian League (Themistocles) to Athenian Empire (Cimon): Themistocles had founded the Delian League, but his rivals, Aristides and Miltiades’ son Cimon advanced the interests of Athens significantly. Cimon was a great general until his death in 450 BCE, eventually ousting the Persians from Europe, and helping to establish naval bases in Ionia. In 476, Cimon set off to expel the Persians from all Thrace, de-pirate-ize the island of Scyros, and clear Hellespont of any obstacles. Cimon completed the mission on Scyros, also finding the bones of King Theseus (gaining him much popularity). In 467, Cimon badly beat the Persian forces at the mouth of the Eurymedon River in southern Asia Minor, destroying 200 Phoenician ships and capturing 80 reinforcement ships coming from Cyprus. This is known as the Battle of Eurymedon.

4.     Greek Leaders in Trouble Again: Themistocles and Pausanias: Defections from the League happened after Cimon’s successful conquests and defenses. Thasos revolted in 465 (they wanted to control the mines of Thrace) but eventually surrendered to Cimon (and then had to turn in their ships, yield the mines, and pay tributes in cash thenceforth). Themistocles thought they should go after Sparta and focus on democracy; Cimon favored Sparta and opposed further democratization. Themistocles was ostracized in around 471 BCE for his sharp tongue and quickness to claim credit for his achievements. While exiled, he encouraged democracy to undermine Sparta. Thus, in the 460’s, Sparta and Athens teamed up to charge Themistocles and Pausanias with treasonous correspondence with the Persian king; Themistocles (probably innocent of the charge) managed to flee to Artaxerxes and lived for about 10 years in Persia; Pausanias (probably guilty of the charge) was walled into a temple where he had taken refuge, and died of starvation.

5.     Further Conflicts at Athens: The Fall of Cimon and the Reforms of Ephialtes: Helots rebelled against Sparta (holing up at Mount Ithome), prompting them to ask for help from the Hellenic League – Athens. Athens vigorously debated what to do. Cimon defended the idea of the Spartan-Athenian alliance, while Ephialtes urged Athenians to “let Sparta’s pride be trampled underfoot” (Plutarch, Cimon 16.8). Cimon won the argument and took 4000 men to Sparta, but this sparked panic in the Spartans, who then sent them home. Athens then formed an alliance with Argos (Sparta’s enemy); Cimon was ostracized for his miscalculation. Ephialtes passed some democratic reforms: He diminished the power and prestige of the Council of the Areopagus, which had consisted of ex-archons. He still allowed its jurisdiction over homicide and some religious matters, but transferred lots of other powers to the council (boulē), assembly (ekklesia), and the body of prospective jurors (hnliaia). Men who didn’t like this turn of events had Ephialtes assassinated, however; this led to Pericles’ assumption of leadership from 461 to 429.

C.   THE “FIRST” (UNDECLARED) PELOPONNESIAN WAR (460-445 BCE): Pericles oversaw wars with Persia and the Peloponnesian League. The First Peloponnesian War (i.e., the war between Sparta and Athens) went from 460-445 BCE; the Second Peloponnesian War (commonly known simply as the Peloponnesian War) went from 431-404. The First war was undeclared and consisted of many conflicts with Sparta, including some considerable intervals of peace.

1.     Athens’ Conflicts with Its Neighbors: Megara played an important role in both Peloponnesian wars, because Megara separated Athens from Corinth (an ally of Sparta). At the time of Ephialtes’ death, Megara aligned with Athens to be protected from Corinth. So, since Athens (1) controlled the Megaran port of Pegae and (2) settled at Naupactus on the mouth of the Corinthian Gulf in the north, Corinth enlisted Sparta’s help in fending off Athens from controlling Corinth as well. In 459, Corinth and Aegina attacked Megara, but Athens successfully defended itself against them, with the Long Walls that linked Athens to the port of Piraeus (making it impossible to attack by land, since boats could bring supplies). In 457, the Spartans decided to engage war with Athens.

2.     Disaster in Egypt and the Transfer of the League Treasury to Athens: With Athens’ reach as great as it had ever been, Pericle convinced Athens to attack Cyprus (to damage the Phoenician fleet) and Egypt (to quash rebels of King Artaxerxes)—two different campaigns—with ships. The Athenians got trapped on the island of Prosopitis by general Megabazus, and almost all of them died. A relief force of 40 Athenian ships joined the fight and only a small number of ships survived the attack. The loss of morale was even greater than the loss of life. In 454, the Athenians transferred the treasury of the Delian League to Athens, to demonstrate their superiority as an empire.

3.     A Brief Hiatus: Athens at Peace with Persia and Sparta: Cimon came back from his exile in 451 agreeing with Pericles that he (Cimon) would resume efforts to make war with Persia, but peace with Sparta, and not interfere with Pericles’ domestic policy. So in 451 Cimon negotiated a 5 year truce with Sparta and abandoned Athens’ alliance with Argos (who itself signed a 30 year treaty with Sparta). Cimon then went off to fight at Cyprus and died there. Cimon’s brother, Callias, negotiated peace with Persia, called the Peace of Callias, though some scholars doubt that this document ever even existed, while others dispute when it was negotiated. The Thirty Years’ Peace was a treaty signed between Athens and Sparta in 445, which lasted only 13 years, until 432, when Athens attacked a Spartan ally at the Battle of Potidaea. The five conditions of the treaty were:

1.     Neither state could interfere with each other’s allies;

2.     Neutrals were free to join either side;

3.     Disagreements needed to be settled by arbitration;

4.     No allies were permitted to switch sides, and

5.     Each hegemon (alliance leader) was free to use force to resolve conflicts within its own alliance.

D.   PERICLES AND THE GROWTH OF ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY: Athens had much respect for Pericles, repeatedly electing him to strategos, even though there were other strategoi – they didn’t exert as much influence in the Athenian assembly (this was an outdoor meeting that made policy in 5th century Athens, backed by large juries – hundreds of citizens – selected from the heliaia (the body of possible jurors). Pericles was very good at persuading the assembly to vote his way.

1.     The Athenian Assembly: This assembly met at the hill of the Pnyx, originally meeting only about once a month, but during Pericles’ time, at least once every ten days, or less. Serious questions would have about 6000 men in attendance (this was the quorum for actions such as ostracisms). From about 500 to 450 BCE, children with at least one Athenian parent would become Athenian citizens at 18. But Pericles’ citizenship law of 451 limited citizenship to one’s having two Athenian parents (this was aimed at the aristocrats who would arrange marriages with nobles from outside Athens). So citizenship became important for girls as well, so they could bear Athenian children. This law fostered a sense of separateness that frequently led to war, and affected Pericles himself – for he divorced his wife (the mother of his legitimate children) and then lived with Aspasia (a highly intelligent immigrant from Miletus). His legitimate sons died, so he needed and got a special decree stating that his son with Aspasia was a citizen, so that Pericles the younger became strategos in 406 and was one of 6 generals executed when they failed to retrieve sailors in a storm in Ionia.

2.     Athenian Officials: It was tough to be distinguished in politics if one was not a military hero; and if one was a military hero, he expected to be rewarded with a political career. Many men from the upper two classes became officials – pentakosiomedimnoi (“500-measure men”) and hippeis (“horsemen”), as Athenians usually voted for rich men from prominent families.

3.     The Judicial System and State Pay for State Service: During Pericles’ time, Athenians started calling their government demokratia (from demos = people – here the men, and kratia = power). Athenian males could vote in the assembly and be jurors in the courts. The size of a jury might be as small as several hundred, and as large as 1501, and “facilitated the legal fiction that a decision of a jury was a decision of the demos, and the participation of large numbers of citizens in the judicial system was considered to be a hallmark of Athenian democracy.” Pericles created a measure that paid citizens for jury service – less than a day’s wage for a laborer; this was not trivial and made Pericles popular at the polls.

E.    LITERATURE AND ART: “Grandeur” is the word most commonly used to signify the art and literature of 5th century Athens.

1.   Lyric Poetry: Simonides (c. 556-468) was a very distinguished lyric poet. His epitaphs to the war dead were as famous to the Greeks as our opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. Simonides’ nephew was Bacchylides, also a poet, who composed an epinician ode (an ode to an athletic victor) for Heiro’s victory in a chariot race at the 476 Olympics. But Pindar was the favorite of the Sicilians. Pindar (and Theognis, another poet) disliked democracy, as he believed that merit was inherited from illustrious families, and ultimately back to divine ancestors. He also connected physical prowess with all-around virtue in his odes. He is quoted often by Plato concerning human virtue (see ode excerpt in the text).

2.   The Birth of Tragedy: Tragedy had a central role in the spiritual and intellectual life of Athens, and developed from lyric poetry. These were performed at the festival of Dionysius of March (paid for by liturgies, as mentioned above). After performing, they had to remain to vote on the best chorus. They also sat around discussing the painful issues the tragedies raised. Serious intellectual work had to be undertaken to attend these festivals, so this tells us much about the richness of Athenian culture. We have 30 tragedies from this period, but none of the discussion about them (except literary jokes about them in Aristophanes). Female parts were played by men with masks (which allowed them to play multiple parts).

3.   Aeschylus and the Oresteia: Aeschylus (525-456) was the first of the famous tragedians of 5th century Athens. He wrote about 70 plays (only 7 of which survive), dying at an old age in Sicily. He was honored by having it that an archon needed to grant a chorus to anyone who wanted to perform his work. Aeschylus added another actor, which made possible real conflict and moved tragedy to drama (but it was still in verse). His greatest achievement was his Oresteia, a trilogy which treats the supreme difficulty of understanding and obtaining a just social and religious order. It is more unified than other comparable works, because it treats of one grand drama theme in three plays.

4.   The Visual Arts: Painters and sculptors shared the tragedians’ fascination with the divine. They desired to organize the world in accord with harmony, balance, and proportion. Painters and sculptors had limitations, just as the poets did – their medium (pots, bronze and marble) were difficult to produce movement on or in, but they succeeded to do so, building a sense of anticipation and excitement, nonetheless.

F.    OIKOS AND POLIS: Greek women spent most of their time focusing on their families. We need to be careful about the information we might get from tragedies/dramas, however, since they got their plots from the Bronze Age in some cases, and the stories were written from a male (sometimes misogynistic) point of view. The polis was made up of oikoi (plural of oikos) – families, estates, or households – the primary unit of production, consumption, and reproduction. Citizens became members of the polis by being members of the oikoi.

1.     Family Membership: Babies were born in the home, sometimes with a midwife; the father decided whether to raise or expose it, by evaluating its health and his financial ability to raise it. Most sons were raised because they carried on the family’s lineage. Males were expected to support their aged parents, bury them, and look after their tombs; their labor was important. Girls were less valuable, lacking earning power and their children would belong to another family.

2.     Names: It was usual to name the son and have the father’s name right after it. Socrates, son of Sophronicus, e.g. it was usual to name one’s first son after the father’s paternal grandfather, and the second after his maternal grandfather. Scholars believe that the first daughter was named after her paternal grandmother.

3.     Demography and the Life Cycle: Average lifespan at this time: Females: 36.2 years; males: 45 years. Average amount of kids – 4.3 children, 2.7 survived infancy. Men married around 30 years of age; women around 15. Women were often widowed from war and from the older age of their husbands. Divorces happened, and were not a big deal unless there was scandal involved. Children of divorcees usually lived with their fathers. Children of deceased fathers were considered orphans, even if mom was still alive, and they generally lived with their fathers’ families.

4.     Childhood: Not much is known here (unlike in Sparta), but children of wealthier parents might spend a lot of time with nannies and nurses. Poorer children (including slaves and helots) probably worked the land early in their lives. Children in general also helped perform religious rituals, including sacrifices. Both rich and poor parents practiced “exposure”, leaving their kids when they were unfit or unwanted.

5.     Marriage: Marriage sustained the oikos, and its principal purpose was reproduction. When an official engagement was announced/endorsed, the father/guardian would declare “I give you my daughter to sow for the purpose of producing legitimate children.” After the groom agreed, the daughter’s father would agree to a dowry; this dowry was a chief reason for infanticide for female infants. Before marriage, a daughter would declare her dolls and toys to Artemis as a rite of adulthood. Athenian weddings usually happened at night; the big event was a procession, where a chariot would carry the bride to the home of her future husband (depicted in the text).

6.     Death and Beyond: Rituals varied depending on the status and situation. Soldiers killed in battle would be typically carried home and buried (exceptions – Marathon and Plataea battles during the Persian wars). The corpses of Athenian citizens typically were washed by women, anointed with oil, dressed in special (usually white) garments, placed on a bed, and covered with a cloth. The house was adorned with wreaths, the family held a vigil (with songs). Close family members clawed their cheeks and tore their hair; Solon’s law said that women over 60 could be hired on as professional mourners to add to the drama (and under 60 could only participate if they were close relatives). Burial took place before dawn the next day, the body being transported, accompanied by an aulos, a sort of flute. Burial was very important – even a few handfuls of dirt could prevent pollution of the gods’ altar and allow passage to the underworld. AFTERLIFE: There were varied beliefs of eschatology amongst the Greeks. Generally, bad deeds were thought to lead to eternal punishment in Hades – EX1: Sisyphus, forced to push a rock up a hill until, just as he reached the top, it would roll back to the bottom so that he had to start over; EX2: Tantalus (where we get “tantalize”), hungry and thirsty, seeing fruit and cool water, but as he approaches, it retreats out of reach. Good deeds were not really rewarded.

G.        THE GREEK ECONOMY: Although it’s not entirely clear, many male slaves probably worked on the farms, or in factories, making crafts and weapons; female slaves made textiles; but slaves were a muted class, like women, as not much is known about them and their attitudes towards life. The wages of slaves who were rented out were paid to their masters. Aristotle claimed that most craftsmen were rich (so all craftspeople were not slaves). Farming was seen as a noble profession; indoor manual work (e.g., factory work) was looked down upon by the wealthy (with the name “banausic” – work performed over a hot furnace); distinctions between skilled and unskilled work were not made. They probably looked down on this work because slaves and women did it.

1.     Agriculture and Trade: Most people in the world made their living by agriculture during this time. Athens and Corinth were trade rivals. Most trade went by boat and provided not only for the mix of cultures, but the exchange of ideas. (However, Boeotia used lots of pack animals and traded by land.) Greek vessels tended to stay by the shore, not having great navigational instruments. Athens ridded the area of pirates, for the most part. They had their own marine judges (nautodikai) for court cases. Trade was necessary because no polis had everything it needed to survive. EX: Athens needed grain (from the north or south), but also hides, cattle, fish, hemp, wax, iron, and slaves; they traded wine and oil for these goods. Athens was by far the largest city – from between 200,000 and 300,000.

2.     Metics in Fifth-Century Athens: Metics were resident aliens. These were rich residents of Athens who did not own any land because they couldn’t legally do this without special dispensation. But they played a key role in the economy, as they were craftspeople and entrepreneurs who had come from all over the Greek world to conduct business in Athens. They accounted for a significant portion of the Athenian population. They (and their children) couldn’t vote or hold office. They were forced to live in rented homes.


Conclusion: The Greeks made many cultural achievements in the 6th and early 5th centuries, but the conflicts with other city-states would take them off into a different direction. The Thirty Years Peace agreement was promising, but not foolproof and had its problems (it divided the world into a Spartan land empire with an Athenian naval influence in the Aegean; Megara was upset; and Athens and Corinth were commercial rivals). In 445 it was hard to tell if the peace would last.