What was the average height in Classical Greece?

What was the average height in Classical Greece?


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This is a follow-up for Average height of Ancient Roman Men and Women? :

I'm curious what was the average height and build of men & women citizens of Greek states (Athens, Sparta, etc) in 7th-3rd centuries BC as well as civilizations they interacted with (Persians, Egyptians).

In particular, were there height and build differences between the above states/peoples statistically significant in comparison with height and build variations within individual state/people?


In 1944-45, the late forensic anthropologist John Lawrence Angel studied Ancient Greek skeletal remains. His results were 162 cm for men and 153 cm for women. He only had a rather small sample size at the time, though.

Right after his death, excavation began on the cemetery of the Magna Graecia colony-city of Metapontum. The Metaontum necropolis was remarkably well preserved, and an examine of the excavated remains vindicated Dr. Angel's earlier results.

The Metapontion necropolis… revealed that the average height of adult males was between 162 and 165 cm, that of females between 153 and 156 cm, and with a body weight of approximately 60-65 kg for males and 50-55 kg for females; in other words, the findings of earlier examinations were soundly confirmed in this respect.

- Kagan, Donald, and Gregory F. Viggiano, eds. Men of Bronze: Hoplite Warfare in Ancient Greece. Princeton University Press, 2013.


For future reference, height of European skeletal remains since Classical Antiquity:

- Koepke, Nikola, and Joerg Baten. 2005. “The Biological Standard of Living in Europe during the Last Two Millennia.” European Review of Economic History 9(1): 61-95.


What was the average height in Classical Greece? - History

Greece – The Classical Period (500-336 BC)

From the Persian Wars to the conquests of Philip II of Macedonia

The Classical Period of ancient Greece was a time when the Greeks achieved new heights in art, architecture, theater, and philosophy. Democracy in Athens was refined under the leadership of Pericles. The Classical Period began with the Greek victory over the Persians and a new feeling of self-confidence in the Greek world. This was a war for freedom, and the Greeks would continue on, free from Persian rule. The Persian Wars was one of the rare times that several Greek city-states cooperated for the sake of all Greek people. Not since the Trojan War, 800 years earlier, had the Greeks joined together. Greece would go on to great achievements, especially Athens. One of the most spectacular achievements in Athens during this time was the rebuilding of the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena on the Acropolis.

When we talk about the accomplishments of the Greeks in the Classical Period, we are really talking about Athens. The polis of Athens prospered after the defeat of the Persians in 479 BC. As you read in the last chapter, Athens had a fleet of over 200 warships. This large fleet, a result of the Persian Wars, was something new to the Greek world. No polis had ever possessed a navy as large as the Athenian navy. It was the Athenians who contributed most of the Greek warships at the Battle of Salamis.

The Delian League

The Ionian city-states gained their independence after the Persian Wars, however, the threat of a Persian attack was real. The Persian Empire was as large, powerful, and rich as it always had been. Greek city-states in and around the Aegean Sea needed protection, and Athens was the logical protector, with its large navy. Athens also depended on trade routes throughout the Aegean Sea and into the Black Sea for grain to feed its large population. Many Greek city-states in the Aegean islands and Asia Minor joined with Athens to form an alliance in 478-77 BC called the Delian League. The allies, around 150 Greek cities, met on the Island of Delos, the supposed birth-place of Apollo. Athens was made the leader of the league. Each member had to pay money to a common treasury, which was held in a bank on the Island of Delos, or contribute ships and crew to the league navy. The alliance was intended to keep the Greek allies free from Persian rule, and make Persia pay for the damages they caused during the Persian Wars. In 466 BC at the Battle of Eurymedon, off the south coast of Asia Minor, the Athenian navy, led by Cimon, destroyed the Persian fleet. It was now clear that Athens ruled the Aegean Sea. No power, including the Persians, could now challenge Athens' navy.

In 480, Xerxes and the Persian army razed the city of Athens, the temple on top of the Acropolis was robbed and destroyed. After the Persian Wars, the Athenians set out to rebuild their city, including surrounding the city with stone walls. Some of the neighboring Greeks were uncomfortable with the idea of the Athenians building walls, they were concerned that these walls, along with the large Athenian navy, would cause the Athenians to become aggressive. Sparta was one of the concerned city-states. Themistocles went to Sparta and told the Spartans that, yes, the Athenians were building walls, and it was none of Sparta's business. Themistocles warned Sparta to stay out of Athens' business, and that Athens would not interfere with Sparta. This was the beginning of distrust between the two city-states that had fought together during the Persian Wars. Sparta, hesitant to get involved in affairs outside of the Peloponnesus, did not join the Delian league.

Surprisingly, Themistocles, the man who convinced the Athenians to build a navy with their silver, was not rewarded. In a democracy, there was no room for standout personalities like Themistocles, and he was ostracized. Themistocles was forced to leave Athens for ten years. He never returned, and instead went to Persia, were he lived out the rest of life.

In the 460s BC, an earthquake hit Sparta, some Spartans were killed, so the helots, the Spartan slaves, took this opportunity to revolt. Desperate, Sparta asked Athens for help. The Athenian named Cimon led an Athenian army to help Sparta, but when they arrived the Spartans had second thoughts and sent Cimon and the Athenian army back home. Perhaps the Spartans feared the spreading of democratic ideas by these Athenians, as Sparta was not fond of this new way of governing. The Athenians were insulted, and Cimon, on the advice of an Athenian named Pericles, was ostracized.

445-429 BC: The Age of Pericles

Pericles came from a famous family, his father was a hero at the Battle of Mycale, and his uncle was Cleithenes, the father of democracy. So, it is no surprise that Pericles was a believer in democracy. Pericles became a politician in Athens. His first public office was choregos, a person who funds and produces plays. Pericles funded the plays of Aeschylus, one of the famous playwrights of Athens, including his play, Persians in 472 BC. Persians was a play about the Persian Wars and the Greek victory.

Pericles is best known for holding the office of archon, or general. Pericles was first elected to this one-year position in 458 BC, he was re-elected 29 times. As archon, Pericles had the Long Walls built between Athens, and the nearby port city of Piraeus. Piraeus was about five miles from Athens and had three harbors, which were a perfect location for the Athenian navy base.

Pericles planned the rebuilding of the destroyed Acropolis. Pheidias, a friend of Pericles, created a new statue of Athena, sculpted in ivory and gold, on the Acropolis. The Parthenon, a temple that housed the Athena statue, was built to replace the temple destroyed by the Persians. Pericles used Delian League treasury money for this building project. Some historians claim that Pericles was a builder on a scale with Ramses the Great of Egypt.

Pericles made changes to Athenian democracy. In the beginning of the democracy, public positions were filled by the rich. This was because there was no pay for government jobs. Since the poor could not afford to stop working for any long period of time, they could not serve in these jobs. Pericles wanted to make sure all citizens had a chance to fill government jobs, he made these jobs paying positions, so even the poor could serve in the Athenian government. Pericles also granted free admission to the poor who could not afford to go to the theater, these seats were paid for by the government. Pericles made the law that a man's mother and father had to be Athenian for him to be a citizen of Athens.

It was during the Classical Period that Herodotus and Thucydides wrote their history books. Theater flourished as Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles wrote tragedies, while Aristophanes wrote comedies. Hippocrates lived during this period, and is given credit as one of the first doctors. Pythagoras, the famous mathematician, lived into the Classical Period. Socrates, considered the father of philosophy, gathered followers on the streets of Athens during the Classical Period.

Everything was going well for the Greeks until the outbreak of the Peloponnesian Wars, between Athens and Sparta. We will learn more about these wars and their effect on the Greek world in the next chapter.


Greek Architecture (c.900-27 BCE)

The architecture of Ancient Greece concerns the buildings erected on the Greek mainland, the Aegean Islands, and throughout the Greek colonies in Asia Minor (Turkey), Sicily and Italy, during the approximate period 900-27 BCE. Arguably the greatest form of Greek art, it is most famous for its stone temples (c.600 onwards), exemplified by the Temple of Hera I at Paestum, Italy the Parthenon , Erechtheum, and Temple of Athena Nike, all on the Acropolis at Athens and the Temple of the Olympian Zeus at the foot of the Acropolis. As well as temples and altars, Greek designers - who included some of the greatest architects of classical antiquity - are also famous for the design of their theatres (c.350 onwards), public squares, stadiums, and monumental tombs - exemplified by the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos (c.353 BCE), Turkey. Like Greek sculpture, Greece's architecture is traditionally divided into three periods: Archaic (c.650-480 BCE) Classical (c.480-323 BCE) and Hellenistic (c.323-27 BCE).

Greek Architecture: Why is it Important?

Greek architecture is important for several reasons: (1) Because of its logic and order. Logic and order are at the heart of Greek architecture. The Hellenes planned their temples according to a coded scheme of parts, based first on function, then on a reasoned system of sculptural decoration. Mathematics determined the symmetry, the harmony, the eye's pleasure.
There had never been an architecture in just this sense. Egyptian pyramid architecture had been an early, attempt, but Greek building art offered the first clear, strong expression of a rational, national architectural creed. It is the supreme example of the intellect working logically to create a unified aesthetic effect. Greek designers used precise mathematical calculations to determine the height, width and other characteristics of architectural elements. These proportions might be changed slightly, and certain individual elements (columns, capitals, base platform), might be tapered or curved, in order to create the optimum visual effect, as if the building was a piece of sculpture. (2) Because of its invention of the classical "orders": namely, namely, the Doric Order, the Ionic Order and the Corinthian Order - according to the type of column, capital and entablature used. (3) Because of its exquisite architectural sculpture. Architects commissioned sculptors to carve friezes, statues and other architectural sculptures, whose beauty has rarely, if ever, been equalled in the history of art. (4) Because of its influence on other schools. Although Greek architects rarely progressed further than simple post-and-lintel building techniques, and failed to match the engineering techniques (arch, vault) developed in Roman architecture, they succeeded in creating the most beautiful, monumental structures of the Ancient World. Their formulas - devised as far back as 550 BCE - paved the way for Renaissance and Neoclassical architecture, and had the greatest possible influence on the proportions, style and aesthetics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern architects, too, have been influenced by Greek architectural forms. Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), for instance, a leading figure in the First Chicago School, based a number of his skyscraper designs on the Greek template of base, shaft, and capital, while using vertical bands (reminiscent of the fluting on Greek columns) to draw the eye upwards.

The origins of Greek architectural design are not to be found in the various strands of Aegean art that appeared in the eastern Mediterranean, notably Minoan or Mycenean art, but in the Oriental cultures that poured their influences into the Greek settlements along the shore of Asia Minor (Turkey) and from there to Hellas itself. Ever since the Geometric Period (900-725 BCE), the main task of the Greek architect was to design temples honouring one or more Greek deities. In fact, until the 5th century BCE it was practically his only concern. The temple was merely a house (oikos) for the god, who was represented there by his cult statue, and most Geometric-era foundations indicate that they were constructed according to a simple rectangle. According to ceramic models (like the 8th century model found in the Sanctuary of Hera near Argos), they were made out of rubble and mud brick with timber beams and a thatched or flat clay roof. By 700 BCE, the latter was superceded by a sloping roof made from fired clay roof tiles. Their interiors used a standard plan adapted from the Mycenean palace megaron. The temple's main room, which contained the statue of the god, or gods, to whom the building was dedicated, was known as the cella or naos. (For more about the history of Greek architecture, see: Ancient Greek Art: c.650-27 BCE.)

Development of Stone Architecture

Until roughly 650 BCE, mid-way through the Orientalizing Period (725-600 BCE), no temples were constructed in finished stone. However, from 650 BCE onwards, or thereabouts, there was a renewal of contacts and trade links between Greece and the Middle East, including Egypt, the home of stone architecture. (See: Ancient Egyptian Architecture.) As a result, Greek designers and masons became familiar with Egypt's stone buildings and construction techniques, including those of Imhotep, which paved the way for monumental architecture and sculpture in Greece. This process - known as "petrification" - involved the replacement of wooden structures with stone ones. Limestone was typically used for pillars and walls, while terracotta was used for roof tiles and marble for ornamentation. It was a gradual process, which began in the latter part of the 7th century, and some structures, like the temple at Thermum, consisted of timber and fired clay, as well as stone.

At the same time, the switch from brick and timber to more permanent stone stimulated Greek architects to design a basic architectural "template" for temples and other similar public buildings. This first "template", known as the "Doric Order" of architecture, laid down a series of rules concerning the characteristics and dimensions of columns, upper facades and decorative works. Subsequent "templates" included the Ionic Order (from 600) and the Corinthian Order (from 450).

Unlike their Minoan and Mycenean ancestors, the Ancient Greeks did not have royalty, and therefore had no need for palaces. This was why their architecture was devoted to public buildings, such as the temple, including the small circular variant (tholos) the central market place (agora), with its covered colonnade (stoa) the monumental gateway or processional entrance (propylon) the council building (bouleuterion) the open-air theatre the gymnasium (palaestra) the hippodrome (horse racing) the stadium (athletics) and the monumental tomb (mausoleum). But of all these buildings, it is the temple that best captures the qualities of Greek design.

Figure 1. Greek Orders of Architecture

Except for the circular tholos, most Greek temples were oblong, roughly twice as long as they were wide. Most were small (30𤩔 feet long), although a few were more than 300 feet long and 150 feet wide. (For comparison, the dimensions of the Parthenon are 235 feet in length, 109 feet in width.) The typical oblong floor plan incorporated a colonnade of columns (peristyle) on all four sides a front porch (pronaos), a back porch (opisthodomos). The upper works of the temple usually consisted of mudbrick and wood, except for the upper facade which was usually stone, and designed according to the Order (Doric, Ionic). Columns were typically carved from limestone, with upper facades usually decorated with marble.

The interior of the Greek temple typically consisted of an inner shrine (cella, or naos) which housed the cult statue, and sometimes one or two antechambers, which were used as storage places for devotees to leave their votive offerings, like money, precious objects, and weapons.

Note: For a brief comparison between the pagan Greek temple and the Christian church, see: Early Christian Art (150-1100).

The layout of the inner shrine, the other chambers (if any) and surrounding columns usually followed one of five basic designs, named as follows. (1) If the entrance to the cella incorporated a pair of columns, the building was known as a "templum in antis". ["in antis" means "between the wall pillars"] (Example: Siphnian Treasury, Delphi, 525 BCE or Temple of Hera, Olympia, 590 BCE.) (2) If the entrance was preceded by a portico of columns across its front, the building was known as a prostyle temple. (Example: Temple B, Selinunte, Sicily, c.600-550 BCE.) (3) If in addition to the portico of columns at the front, there was a colonnade of columns at the rear exterior of the cella, the building was known as a amphiprostyle temple. (Example: Temple of Athena Nike, Athens, 425 BCE. Or see the later Temple of Venus and Roma, Rome, 141 CE.) (4) If the colonnade surrounded the entire building, it was known as a peripteral temple. (Example: The Parthenon, Athens, 447-437 BCE) (5) If the colonnade encircling the building comprised a double row of columns, it was known as a dipteral temple. (Example: The Heraion of Samos, 550 BCE or Temple of Apollo, Didyma, Asia Minor, 313 BCE.)

The temple was built on a masonry base (crepidoma), which elevated it above the surrounding ground. The base usually consists of three steps: the topmost step is the "stylobate" the two lower steps are the "stereobate". Like the Parthenon, most temples have a three-step base, although the Temple of Zeus at Olympus, has two, while the Temple of Apollo at Didyma has six. During the petrification process (650/600 BCE onwards), temples were given masonry walls, consisting mostly of local stone rubble, sometimes augmented by high quality ashlar masonry. Inside the temple, the inner sanctum (cella/naos) was made of stone, as were the antechambers, if any.

All early temples had a flat thatched roof, supported by columns (hypostyle), but as soon as walls were made from stone and could therefore support a heavier load, temples were given a slightly sloping roof, covered with ceramic terracotta tiles. These roof tiles could be up to three-feet long and weigh as much as 80 pounds.

Greek architects and building engineers knew about both the "arch" (see, for instance, The Rhodes Footbridge, 4th century BCE) and the "vault" (corbel and barrel types), but they made little use of either in their architectural construction. Instead, they preferred to rely on the use of "post and lintel" techniques, involving vertical uprights (columns or posts) supporting horizontal beams (lintels). This method, known as trabeated construction, dates back to earliest times when temples were made from timber and clay, and was later applied to stone posts and horizontal stone beams. However, it remained a relatively primitive method of roofing an area, since it required a large number of supporting columns.

The stone columns themselves usually consisted of a series of solid stone "drums" - set one upon the other, without mortar - but sometimes joined inside with bronze pegs. The diameter of columns usually decreases from the bottom upwards, and to correct any illusion of concavity, Greek architects usually tapered them with a slight outward curve: an architectural technique known as "entasis".

Each column is composed of a shaft and a capital some also have a base. The shaft may be decorated with vertical or spiral grooves, called fluting. The capital has two parts: a rounded lower part (echinus), above which is a square-shaped tablet (abacus). The appearance of the echinus and abacus varies according to the stylistic "template" or "Order" used in the temple's construction. Doric Order capitals are plainer and more austere, while Ionic and Corinthian capitals are more ornate.

Entablature and Pediment

The temple's columns support a two-tier horizontal structure: the "entablature" and the "pediment". The entablature - the first tier - is the major horizontal structural element supporting the roof, and encircles the whole building. It is made up of three sections. The lowest section is the "architrave", made up of a series of stone lintels which span the spaces between the columns. Each joint sits directly above the centre of each capital. The middle section is the "frieze", consisting of a broad horizontal band of relief sculpture. In Ionic and Corinthian temples, the frieze is continuous in Doric temples sections of frieze (metopes) alternate with grooved rectangular blocks (triglyphs). The top part of the entablature immediately under the roof is the "cornice", which overhangs and protects the frieze.

The second tier is the pediment, a shallow triangular structure occupying the front and rear gable of the building. Traditionally, this triangular space contained the most important sculptural reliefs on the exterior of the building.

How Stone Temples Were Built

The design and construction of Greek temples was dependent above all on local raw materials. Fortunately, although Ancient Greece possessed few forests, it had lots of limestone, which was easily worked. In addition, there were plentiful supplies (on the mainland and the islands of Paros and Naxos) of high grade white marble for architectural and sculptural decoration. Lastly, deposits of clay, used for both roof tiles and architectural decoration, were readily available throughout the country, notably around Athens.

However, the quarrying and transport of stone was both costly and labour-intensive, and typically accounted for most of the cost of building a temple. It was only the wealth which Athens had accumulated after the Persian Wars, that enabled Pericles (495-429) to build the Parthenon (447-422 BCE) and other stone monuments on the Acropolis, at Athens. In some cases, older stone monuments were cannibalized for their marble and other precious stones.

Typically, each building project was controlled and supervised by the architect, who oversaw every aspect of construction. He selected the stone, managed its extraction, and supervised the craftsmen who cut and shaped it at the quarry. At the building site, master stone masons made the final precise carvings, to ensure that each stone block would slot into place without the need for mortar. After this, labourers hoisted each block into position. The architect also supervised the professional sculptors, who carved the reliefs on the frieze, metopes and pediments, as well as the painters who painted the sculptures and various architectural elements of the building.

Don't forget, the Greeks regularly painted their marble temples. In fact they seem not only to have painted them, but to have used gaudy colours for the purpose, indulging generously in red, blue, and gold. There must have been some attempt to correlate colour and structure, with the structural members kept clear and outstanding, the lower parts little coloured, and the upper parts alone flowering in hue as they did in sculptural adornment, but all evidence has long since vanished. See also: Greek Painting: Classical Period, and Greek Painting: Hellenistic Period.

Orders of Greek Architecture

Ancient Greek architecture devised three main "orders" or "templates": the Doric Order, the Ionic Order and the Corinthian Order. These Orders laid down a broad set of rules concerning the design and construction of temples and similar buildings. These rules regulated the shape, details, proportions, and proportional relationships of the columns, capitals, entablature, pediments and stylobate.

Take proportions, for instance, which are critical for the overall appearance of a building, especially a cult temple. The Doric Order stipulated that the height of a column should be five and a half times greater than its diameter, while the Ionic Order laid down a slimmer more elegant ratio of nine to one.

That said, Ancient Greek architects took a highly pragmatic approach to the rules surrounding proportions, and when it came to the mathematics of an architectural design they took "appearance" as their guiding principle. In other words, if the correct mathematical proportions didn't look right, they used a different set! In particular, they treated a temple like a sculptor treats a statue: they wanted it to look good from every angle. So they added a bit of width here, a bit of height there, and so on, until the structure looked perfect. As a result, measurements of Doric and Ionic temples can vary tremendously, so don't take the measurements and ratios, quoted below, too literally.

History of Greek Architectural Orders

Historically, the two early orders, the Doric and the Ionic, have parallels, if not antecedents, in earlier Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia. The stronger of the two, the Doric, retains primitive heaviness and the effect of powerful stability. It was a favourite with the Greek builders through the Archaic period (c.650-480 BCE) it was standard in the Greek settlements in Sicily and Italy, and was chosen for the Parthenon but it gave way to the more ornamental types in the fourth century. The Doric column and capital are not unlike those to be observed in the Egyptian tombs at Beni-Hasan, though it is not necessary to infer direct copying from that model. (See also: Egyptian Art: 3100-395 BCE Mesopotamian Art: 4500-539 BCE and Ancient Persian Art: 3500-330 BCE.)

The more graceful and lighter Ionic order, however, has too many parallels in Eastern building not to be marked as an importation from the Orient. Probably the Egyptian lotus-capital had had echoes in Mesopotamia and Ionian culture had developed in advance of that of the Greek mainland, partly due to the influence of Assyrian art (c.1500-612 BCE). When the Ionians refined the feature into something distinctively their own, they carried it back to the Athenians, who were their blood brothers.

At any rate, the austere Doric Order appeared on the Greek mainland during the pre-Archaic period and spread from there to Italy. It was well established in its mature form by 600 BCE, the approximate date of the Temple of Hera at Olympia. The more decorative Ionic order only arrived about 600 BCE, and co-existed thereafter alongside the Doric, being the favourite style of the rich and highly influential Greek cites of Ionia, along today's western coast of Turkey, as well as a number of other Aegean Islands. (Example: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.) It reached its mature form during the High Classical period, around 450 BCE. The flamboyant Corinthian Order, which elaborated many of the characteristic features of the Ionic Order, did not emerge until the era of Hellenistic art and was fully developed by the Romans.

Doric Order of Architecture

The Doric order is easily identified by its plain capital, and lack of column-base. Its echinus started out flat and more splayed in Archaic-era temples, before becoming deeper and more curvaceous in Classical-era temples, and smaller and straighter during the Hellenistc period. Doric columns nearly always have grooves, or flutes (usually 20), which run the full length of the column. The flutes have sharp edges known as arrises. At the top of the columns, there are three horizontal grooves known as the hypotrachelion.

The columns in early Doric-style temples (Temple of Apollo at Syracuse, Sicily, 565 BCE), may have a height to base-diameter ratio of only 4:1. Later, a ratio of 6:1 became more usual. During the Hellenistic era (323-27 BCE), the typically solid, masculine look of the Doric temple was partly replaced by slender, unfluted columns, with a height to diameter ratio of 7.5:1.

In the Doric order, there are clear rules about the positioning of architectural sculpture. Reliefs, for instance, are never used to decorate walls in an arbitrary way. They are always arranged in predetermined areas: the metopes and the pediment.

Doric temples are clearly identified by their sectioned, non-continuous frieze, with its alternating arrangement of scored triglyphs and sculpted metopes.

The Doric pediment, a notoriously difficult space in which to lay out a sculptural scene, was filled initially with relief sculpture. By the time of the Parthenon, sculptors had begun carving freestanding stone sculpture for the pediment. Even then, arranging figures inside the tapering triangular area continued to be problematical. But by the Early Classical period (480-450 BCE), as exemplified by the scenes carved at the temple of Zeus at Olympia, (460 BCE), sculptors had found the solution: they had a standing central figure flanked by rearing centaurs and fighting men shaped to fit each part of the space. At the Parthenon (c.435 BCE), the celebrated sculptor Phidias succeeded in filling the pediment with a complex arrangement of draped and undraped deities.

Doric Order temples occurs more often on the Greek mainland and at the sites of former colonies in Italy. Among the best-preserved examples of Archaic Doric architecture are the temple of Apollo at Corinth (540 BCE), and the temple of Aphaia, Aegina (490 BCE).

The supreme example of Doric architecture of the Classical Period (c.480-323 BCE) is of course the Parthenon (447-437 BCE) on the Athens Acropolis. It was a Greek sculptor, not an architect, who said that "successful attainment in art is the result of meticulous accuracy in a multitude of arithmetical proportions" but the Parthenon is the aptest illustration. Every esoteric scholar delving into the mysteries of "the divine proportion" or "the golden mean" claims the Parthenon as his first example: it has so unfailingly pleased millions of eyes, and it measures out so exactly to a mathematical formula. In the whole aspect there are calculated proportionings of parts and rhythmic correspondences. Then on from the whole to the parts: the areas of the entablature are divided on logical and harmonious ratios and of course there is the equally refined relationship of column and capital. Perfection within perfection! The Greek builders, in their search for "perfect" expressiveness, went on to optical refinements unparalleled elsewhere. The entasis, or slight swelling and recession of the profile of the column, is but one of the mathematical tricks to ensure in the beholder's eye the illusion of perfect straightness or exact regularity. Another is that the tops of the columns lean slightly toward the centre at each side of the colonnade, the inclination increasing in proportion as they are farther toward each end, because a row of columns which are actually parallel seems more widely spaced at the top corners. (The Parthenon columns of the outer colonnade are inclined, curiously enough, at such angles that all their axes would meet, if continued, at a point one mile up in the air.) Another concession to the eye is the slight curve upward at the centre of the main horizontal lines, made because straight steps or straight-set series of columns seem to sag slightly at the centre.

Architectural Sculptures of the Parthenon

In general the bases of the structure, the weight-bearing members, and the first horizontals, were kept clear of elaboration or figurative sculpture. In the Parthenon and earlier structures, it was deemed that the proper place for exterior sculptures was in the spaces between the triglyphs, or surviving beam-ends, and in the pediment. On the roof, single figures might be set in silhouette against the sky, at gable top and especially gable ends. Within the colonnade in some late Doric temples a continuous frieze ran like a band around the cella's exterior wall, and was seen in bits from the outside, between columns.

The marble sculpture on the Parthenon originally appeared on the building in two series, the continuous frieze within the colonnade and the separated panels between the triglyphs and the two triangular compositions in the pediments. The best preserved of the figures were taken to England early in the nineteenth century, and are universally known, from the name of the man who carried them away in battered remnant form, as the "Elgin marbles."

There is grandeur in the pediment figures. They are among the world's leading examples of monumental sculpture. As in the case of the architectural monument of which they were decorative details, they doubtless have gained in sheer aesthetic value by the accidents of time. The grand votive statues, such as the outdoor Athena on the Acropolis and the colossal image of the same goddess in the cella of the Parthenon, were big enough, by all report, but they seem to have been distressingly and distractingly overdressed, and their largeness and sculptural nobility were lost in excessive detail. The magnitude of the pediment figures is the magnitude of the powerful in repose, of strength kept simple. In terms of narrative, the east pediment group represented the contest of Athena and Poseidon over the site of Athens. The west pediment composition illustrated the miraculous birth of Athena out of the head of Zeus.

The technical problem of fitting elaborate sculptural representations within the confined triangular space of a low pediment challenged the inventiveness and logic of sculptors collaborating on temple projects. At Aegina, Olympia, and Athens the solution balanced nicely with the architecture. There was a related flow of movement within the triangle, which was lost in later examples and certainly in every attempted modern imitation.

The panels between the triglyphs under the Parthenon cornice, known as the "metopes," originally ninety-two in number, have been even more disastrously defaced or destroyed than have the pediment groups during their twenty-three centuries of neglect. Each panel, almost square, bore two figures in combat. Sometimes the subjects were taken from mythology, while others are read today as symbolic of moral conflict.

The low-relief frieze which runs like a decorative band around the outside of the cella wall, within the colonnaded porch, is of another range of excellence. The subject is the ceremonial procession which was an event of the Panathenaic festival held every fourth year. The figures in the sculptural field, which is a little over four feet high and no less than 524 feet long, are mainly those of everyday Athenian life. Even the gods, shown receiving the procession, are intimately real and folk-like, though oversize. To them goes all the world of Athens: priests and elders and sacrifice-bearers, musicians and soldiers, noble youths and patrician maidens.

There is a casualness about the sculptured procession, an informality that would hardly have served within the severe triangles of the pediments. Everything is flowing and lightly accented. Particularly graceful and fluent are the portions depicting horsemen. The animals and riders move forward rhythmically, their bodies crisply raised from the flat and undetailed background. The sense of rhythmic movement, of plastic animation within shallow depth limits, is in parts of the procession superbly accomplished.

Ionic Order of Architecture

Unlike Doric designs, Ionic columns always have bases. Furthermore, Ionic columns have more (25-40) and narrower flutes, which are separated not by a sharp edge but by a flat band (fillet). They appear much lighter than Doric columns, because they have a higher column-height to column-diameter ratio (9:1) than their Doric cousins (5:1).

Ionic Order temples are recognizable by the highly decorative voluted capitals of their columns, which form spirals (volutes) similar to that of a ram's horn. In fact, Ionic capitals have two volutes above a band of palm-leaf ornaments.

In the entablature, the architrave of the Ionic Order is occasionally left undecorated, but more usually (unlike the Doric architrave) it is ornamented with an arrangement of overlapping bands. An Ionic temple can also be quickly identified by its uninterrupted frieze, which runs in a continuous band around the building. It is separated from the cornice (above) and architrave (below) by a series of peg-like projections, known as dentils.

In Ionic architecture, notably from 480 BCE onwards, there is greater variety in the types and quantity of mouldings and decorations, especially around entrances, where voluted brackets are sometimes employed to support an ornamental cornice over a doorway, such as that at the Erechtheum on the Athens acropolis.

Ionic columns and entablatures were always more highly decorated than Doric ones. In some Ionic temples, for instance, (quite apart from the ornamented echinus), certain Ionic columns (like those at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus) contained a continuous frieze of figures around their lowest section, separated from the fluted section by a raised moulding.

The use of draped female figures (Caryatids) as vertical supports for the entablature, was a characteristic feature of the Ionic order, as exemplified by the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi (525 BCE) and the Erechtheion on the Athenian Acropolis.

The Erechtheion (421-406 BCE) is representative of the special features of the Ionic Order at its best. The almost fragilely graceful columns are there, the less severe massing, the breaking up of the entablature into more delicate units, and the general lightening of effect and greater enrichment by applied ornamentation. The East Porch (now restored) is, like the Parthenon, Greek architecture at its purest. The doorway within the North Portico has served a thousand architects as the classic model. The South Porch of the Erechtheion follows an innovation already seen at Delphi. Six statues of maidens, known as caryatids, took the place of the conventional columns. The experiment leaves the building somewhere between architecture and sculpture, and the result is interesting as a novelty rather than for any defensible daring or good purpose in the art of building. The statues very likely serve their purpose as supports today with more architectural plausibility than they could have done in the days when their arms, noses, and other members had not been shorn off. Even so, they are a bit ludicrously natural and unmathematical. As the Greeks failed here, so they often enough failed elsewhere. The monuments they left are not always the matchless and perfect compositions we have been led to believe by other generations.

Another famous Ionic building, this time from the Hellenistic Period (323-27 BCE) is the Altar of Zeus at Pergamon (c.166-156 BCE). As the name indicates, it was not a temple but merely an altar, possibly connected to the nearby Doric Temple of Athena (c.310 BCE). The Altar was accessed via a huge stairway leading to a flat Ionic-style colonnaded platform, and is noted for its 370-foot-long marble frieze depicting the Gigantomachy from Greek mythology. See also Pergamene School of Hellenistic Sculpture (241-133 BCE).

Corinthian Order of Architecture

The third order of Greek architecture, commonly known as the Corinthian Order, was first developed during the late Classical period (c.400-323 BCE), but did not become at all widespread until the Hellenistic era (323-27 BCE) and especially the Roman period, when Roman architects added a number of refinements and decorative details.

Unlike both the Doric and Ionic Orders, the Corinthian Order did not originate in wooden architecture. Instead, it emerged as an offshoot of the Ionic style about 450 BCE, distinguished by its more decorative capitals. The Corinthian capital was much taller than either the Doric or Ionic capital, being ornamented with a double row of acanthus leaves topped by voluted tendrils. Typically, it had a pair of volutes at each corner, thus providing the same view from all sides. According to the 1st century BCE Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius, the distinctive Corinthian capital was invented by a bronze founder, Callimarchus of Corinth. The ratio of the column-height to column-diameter in Corinthian temples is usually 10:1 (compare Doric 5.5:1 Ionic 9:1), with the capital accounting for roughly 10 percent of the height.

To begin with, the Corinthian Order of architecture was used only internally, as in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae (450 BCE). In 334 BCE it was used on the exterior of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, and later on a huge scale at the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens (174 BCE). During the late Hellenistic period, Corinthian columns were sometimes constructed without any fluting.

In addition to the Greek Orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian) there were two other styles of architecture. (1) The Tuscan Order, a solid-looking Roman adaptation of the Doric Order, famous for its unfluted shaft and a plain echinus-abacus capital. Not unlike the Doric in proportion and profile, it is much plainer in style. The ratio of its column-height to column-diameter is 7:1. (2) The Composite Order, only ranked as a separate order during the era of Renaissance art, is a late Roman development of the Corinthian Order. It is known as Composite because its capital consists of both Ionic volutes and Corinthian acanthus-leaf motifs. The ratio of its column-height to column-diameter is 10:1.

Legacy of Greek Architecture

The legacy of Greek architectural design lies in its aesthetic value: it created lots of beautiful buildings.

This beauty came not just from the grandeur and nobility of its architectural columns, but also from its ornamental features. The fluting of its columns, for instance, affords grace and vibration to the otherwise stolid shafts but the channels reinforce rather than cut across support lines. The frieze is lifted above an architrave kept unadorned, preserving crossbar strength. The transitional members, capitals and moldings, agreeably soften the profile angles without loss of firmness. Supports are cushioned, but without undue softening. Just how great and distinctive are these achievements may be seen by contrast in Roman art when the insensitive Romans pick up the Greek elements and use them grandiosely and thoughtlessly, vulgarizing the ornamental features. Nevertheless, Greek ornament as a style of adornment in applied art was to be an overwhelming favourite in later ages, even down to the twentieth century. See also: Greatest Sculptors (from 500 BCE).

Whatever the precise ingredients of Greek building design, Western architects have tried for centuries to emulate the finished product. During the 15th and 16th centuries Renaissance architecture embraced the whole classical canon, albeit with a slightly more modern touch - examples include: Dome of Florence Cathedral, S Maria del Fiore, 1418-38, by Filippo Brunelleschi - for more on this, see: Florence Cathedral, Brunelleschi and the Renaissance (1420-36) - as well as Tempietto of S Pietro in Montorio, Rome, 1502 by Donato Bramante. Meantime, Venetian Renaissance architecture featured numerous villas in Vicenza and the Veneto designed by Andrea Palladio (1508-80), who himself influenced the English designer Inigo Jones (1573-1652).

Baroque architecture used Greek designs as the basis for many of its greatest creations (examples: St Peter's Basilica and St Peter's Square, 1504-1657, by Bernini et al St Paul's Cathedral, London, 1675-1710, by Christopher Wren (1632-1723).

Eighteenth century architects in both Europe and North America rediscovered Greek designwork in Neoclassical architecture (examples: the Pantheon, Paris, begun 1737, by Jacques-Germain Soufflot (1713-80) the iconic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin built by Carl Gotthard Langhans (1732-1808) the US Capitol Building, Washington DC, 1792-1827 by Thornton, Latrobe & Bulfinch Baltimore Basilica, 1806-21, by Benjamin Latrobe Walhalla, Regensburg, 1830-42, by Leo von Klenze). In nineteenth century architecture, Greek "Orders" were resurrected in both Europe and the United States through the Greek Revival movement. Even modern Art Nouveau architects like Victor Horta (1861-1947) borrowed from antique Greek designs.

For long periods of time Western Europe and America accepted the belief that artistic practice, even in the machine age, must be based upon study of these classic "Orders." This was part of the neo-Hellenism which was a religion in Europe, so that even in the 1920s Sir Banister Fletcher - the renowned architectural historian - could write: "Greek architecture stands alone in being accepted as above criticism, and therefore as the standard by which all periods of architecture may be tested." (A History of Architecture: 6th Edition, 1921.)

Ultimately, Greek architecture presents us with a concrete illustration of moral and spiritual truth. The solid foundation platform the down-pressing mass of architrave, frieze, and roof-structure, counteracting the otherwise too powerful sense of lift, from the columns the serenity of the colonnade, modified by the exuberance of sculptured frieze and pediment - all this may be seen as a tangible expression of the Greek combination of freedom and restraint, of perfectly poised aspiration and reason, of invention and discipline. The columns, some say, mark the rise toward truth or perfection but the downbearing weight restores balance, caps the too aspiring lift. Thus Fate stops the too presumptuous human reach. This is the philosophical meaning of Greek architecture, which has entranced architects around the world for more than two thousand years.

Temple of Hera, Olympia (590 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building in the Archaic style.

Temple of Apollo, Syracuse, Sicily (565 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building.

Selinunte Temple C, Sicily (550 BCE)
A peripteral hexastyle temple, it is one of a series of Doric temples on the Selinunte Acropolis. Metopes depicting the Labours of Hercules are in the National Museum, at Palermo.

The Temple of Apollo, Corinth (540 BCE)
This Doric peripteral hexastyle temple resembled the Temple of Hera at Olympia, but was built entirely of stone.

Temple of Hera I, Paestum (530 BCE)
Known as "the Basilica", it is one of the earliest of all Doric temples to have survived largely intact.

Selinunte Temple G (The Great Temple of Apollo), Sicily (520-450 BCE)
A Doric peripteral octastyle structure, it is the largest temple at Selinunte and was never finished.

Temple of Apollo, Delphi (510 BCE)
This hexastyle Doric temple, supposedly designed by legendary architects Trophonius and Agamedes, was in fact erected by Spintharus, Xenodoros and Agathon. Little remains apart from foundations.

Temple of Athena, Paestum (510 BCE)
Known as the Temple of Demeter, this Doric peripteral hexastyle building displayed a number of Ionic features, including the columns of its pronaos.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Agrigento, Sicily. 510-409 BCE
Doric-style pseudoperipteral building.

Temple of Aphaia, Aegina (490 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle temple set high on the east side of the island of Aegina.

Temple of Athena, Syracuse, Sicily (480 BCE)
Doric hexastyle temple. Part of its structure is now in Syracuse Cathedral.

Delian Temple of Apollo, Delos (470 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building, now largely in ruins.

Temple of Hera Lacinia, Agrigento, Sicily (460 BCE)
Doric temple constructed southeast of Agrigento. It stands, along with the Temple of Concord, the Temple of Zeus Olympias and others, in the Valley of the Temples.

Temple of Zeus, Olympia (460 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle temple, designed by Libon of Elis. Famous for its marvellous pedimental sculpture, as well as its colossal chryselephantine sculpture of Zeus, sculpted by Phidias (488-431 BCE), who also created the Statue of Athena at the Parthenon.

Temple of Poseidon, Paestum (460 BCE)
One of the best preserved Doric hexastyle temples.

Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Bassae (450 BCE)
Designed by the famous Greek architect Ictinus, it incorporates elements from all three Orders (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian).

Temple on the Ilissus, Athens (449 BCE)
A small Ionic amphiprostyle tetrastyle temple beside the Ilissus River, designed by the Greek architect Callicrates.

For the top Greek sculptors of the 5th century, see: Myron (fl. 480-444 BCE), Polykleitos, noted for his statue of Hera, and Callimachus (fl. 432-408 BCE).

Temple of Hephaestos, Athens (449 BCE)
Also called the Theseion, this exceptionally well-preserved Doric peripteral hexastyle building now acts as an Orthodox church.

The Parthenon, Athens Acropolis (447-432 BCE)
The major Doric temple on the Acropolis of Athens, and the quintessential work of Greek High Classical architecture, it remains one of the world's most influential and iconic buildings. Built for Pericles by architects Ictinus and Callicrates, and sculpted under the direction of Phidias, who personally created its huge chryselephantine cult statue of Athena, it is based on a peripetral octastyle ground plan. Although its pedimental and metope relief sculpture is laid out in the Doric style, it also has an Ionic style frieze which encircles the building.

Temple of Poseidon, Sounion (444 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building.

Temple of Nemesis, Rhamnous (436 BCE)
Doric hexastyle temple with an unfinished stylobate.

Temple of Concord, Agrigento, Sicily (430 BCE)
Well-preserved Doric peripteral hexastyle temple.

Temple at Segesta, Sicily (424 BCE)
Doric peripteral hexastyle building, complete with unique unfluted columns.

Selinunte Temple E (Temple of Hera), Sicily (5th Century BCE)
The best preserved Doric peripteral hexastyle temple at Selinunte, it belongs to the eastern group along with Temples "F" and "G".

Selinunte Temple C, Sicily (5th Century BCE)
Doric hexastyle temple with a deep colonnaded porch and a long narrow naos with a second chamber.

Temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Asia Minor (560 BCE)
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the bottom drum of the columns of this Dipteral octastyle temple have an encircling figurative frieze.

Temple of Hera, Samos, Asia Minor (540 BCE)
Ionic dipteral temple designed by architects Rhoikos and Theodoros of Samos.

Temple of Athena Nike, Athens (427 BCE)
A small amphiprostyle tetrastyle building, also known as "Nike Apteros" (Victory without wings), this Ionic temple was designed by Greek architect Callicrates. Stands close to the Propylaea on the Athens Acropolis.

The Erechtheion, Athens Acropolis (421-406 BCE)
Ionic amphiprostyle hexastyle temple dedicated to Athena Polias, designed by Mnesicles.

Tholos of Athena, Delphi (400 BCE)
A circular temple - with a Doric exterior and a Corinthian interior - constructed by Theodorus of Phocaea.

Temple of Asclepius, Epidauros (380 BCE)
Doric hexastyle building designed by Theodotus, featuring pedimental sculpture by Timotheos.

Temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Asia Minor (356 BCE)
Ionic Dipteral octastyle temple designed by Greek architects Demetrius and Paeonius of Ephesus, with reliefs by Skopas (395-350 BCE), but no frieze.

Tholos of Polycleitus, Epidauros (350 BCE)
Circular temple surrounded by 26 Doric columns. Also has 14 internal Corinthian-style columns.

For the top sculptors of the 4th century BCE, see: Lysippos (c.395-305 BCE), official sculptor to Alexander the Great, and Praxiteles (Active 375-335 BCE), famous for his Aphrodite of Cnidus.

The Philippeion, Olympia (339 BCE)
Ionic tholos building, surrounded by 18 Ionic-style columns and 9 internal Corinthian columns. Designed by architect and sculptor Leochares (4th Century BCE), it was erected to commemorate Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.

Temple of Athena Polias, Priene, Asia Minor (334 BCE)
Ionic peripteral hexastyle temple designed by Pythius of Priene. Like the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, it had no frieze.

Temple of Artemis, Sardis, Asia Minor (325 BCE)
Ionic dipteral octastyle temple, one of the biggest temples in Asia Minor, it was left unfinished, and completed by the Romans.

Temple of Dionysus, Teos, Asia Minor (193 BCE)
Ionic peripteral hexastyle temple designed by architect Hermogenes of Priene.

Temple of Apollo Didymaeus, Miletus, Asia Minor (310 BCE - 40 CE)
Ionic dipteral decastyle temple with Corinthian features, designed by Greek architects Paeonius of Ephesus and Daphnis of Miletus.

Temple of the Olympian Zeus, Athens (174 BCE)
One of the largest Corinthian dipteral octastyle temples, it was designed by architect Ossutius. Some of its columns were taken to Rome before the temple was finished and incorporated in the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus where they had a major impact on Roman architecture.

Ancient Greek Architects

Few biographical details are known about the greatest Greek designers. While we know some of their names, and some of the buildings they designed, we know almost nothing about their training, or the extent of their careers. The most famous architects we know about, include:

Daphnis of Miletus, Demetrius of Ephesus, Hermogenes of Priene, Hippodamus of Miletus, Ictinus (mid-5th century BCE), Libon of Elis, Mnesicles (mid-5th century BCE), Ossutius, Paeonius of Ephesus, Polykleitos the Younger, Pythius of Priene, Rhoikos of Samos, Theodoros of Samos, and Theodotus, to name but a few.

• For more about building designs of Ancient Greece, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.


Spartans ruling capacity when it was in power is unquestionable. They had a positive as well as a negative impact on the ancient Greek population. After conquering Greece, they formed the city Sparta and bestowed it the status of the capital city.

Spartans significance to Greece and its population:

Sparta was located on the banks of the River Eurotas. In 10 B.C. it emerged as a significant seat of power. It soon became a place of military activity. Military establishments and arsenals were set up here.Given its prominence amongst the military, Greek rulers called the shots from Sparta. During the Greek-Persian wars, Sparta overlooked matters concerning wars. Very soon, Sparta attacked Athens and emerged victoriously.

Sparta was politically independent. Until the Romans conquered Greece in 146 B.C, Spartans independent sovereignty remained unperturbed.Spartans contribution to humankind is remarkable. It was here that the population of Greece rose. Sparta laid a lot of emphasis on military training. Spartan citizens, called Spartiates, had a formal military education.

Looking at the ancient Greek population of Sparta:

The estimate of the population in ancient Sparta is created using a piece of the line found in one of the retrieved manuscripts. In one such manuscript, a mention is made about eight thousand Spartan males currently available for war in Sparta. This was told by Democrats, ruler of Sparta, to the King of Persia.

This was around 480 B.C. Scientists estimated based on this calculation that at that time there were more than fifteen thousand males in all age groups. There were around seven thousand adolescent men, six thousand youth and middle-aged men, and about one thousand men above the age of fifty.

Out of this population, many were Spartans, others were Perioikoi and Helots. Perioikoi were non-Spartans freed from jails and allowed to live in the land. The Helots were owned by Sparta and as Serfs.

The rise and decline of population in ancient Greece:

From 800 B.C. to 400 B.C, the population in ancient Greece rose. This was due to healthy standards of living and an increase of medical inventions. It is estimated that by 400 B.C, ancient Greece had a population of 13 million.

It is surprising that given the sheer number of people living in those times, only little remains of their constructs. Probably, the Greeks never imagined that a future lay beyond them for mankind for more than thousands of years.

Ancient Greek population rapidly declined with the arrival of Romans. The Romans completely overturned the cultural fabric of ancient Greece, and this resulted in a decline in ancient Greece population.


Wine and Water

Besides water, wine was the main drink of the ancient Greeks. (Fetching the water was a daily task for the women of the house.) The Greeks drank wine at all meals and during the day. They made red, white, rose, and port wines, with the main areas of production being Thasos, Lesbos, and Chios. But the ancient Greeks didn't drink their wine straight—it was considered barbaric to do so. All wine was cut with water. The Greeks drank for the pleasure of the beverage, not with the intention of getting drunk.

They also drank kykeon (κυκεών), a combination of barley gruel, water (or wine), herbs, and goat cheese in an almost shake-like consistency.


Human height in prehistoric times

Mesolithic times, middle ages, subsistence societies and modern foragers

In the last two centuries height has substantially increased in many world regions, but up until modern times the archeological record of human skeletons suggests that there was no trend towards improving living conditions.

The two tables present estimates of the heights of men in foraging and subsistence societies with those from preindustrial societies. There is no clear difference between these records suggesting that preindustrial societies were just as badly off as their ancestors millennia ago – which is consistent with the ‘Malthusian Model’ of the pre-growth economy, which we discuss in our entry on economic growth.

Heights of adult males in modern foraging and subsistence societies – Clark (2008) 8
PeriodGroupLocationAgesHeight (centimeters)
1892Plains Indians (a)United States23�172
1970sAnbarra (b)AustraliaAdults172*
1970sRembarranga (c)AustraliaAdults171*
1910Alaskan Inuit (d)United StatesAdults170*
1890Northern Pacific Indians (e)United StatesAdults167*
1944Sandawe (f)TanzaniaAdults167*
1891Shoshona (g)United States20�166
1970sFox Basin Inuit (c)CanadaAdults166*
1880sSolomon Islanders (h)Solomon Is.Adults165*
1906Canadian Inuitd (d)CanadaAdults164*
1969!Kung (i)Bostwana21�163
1980sAche (j)ParaguayAdults163*
1970sHadza (c)TanzaniaAdults163*
1985Hiwi (j)VenezuelaAdults156*
1980sBatak (c)PhilippinesAdults155*
1980sAgta (c)PhilippinesAdults155*
1980sAka (c)Central African RepublicAdults155*
Heights from skeletal remains by period, from mesolithic times until now, globally – Clark (2008) 9
PeriodLocationObservationsHeight (centimeters)
Mesolithic (a)Europe82168
Neolithic (a,b)Europe190167
Denmark103173
1600� ( c)Holland143167
1700� ( c)Norway1956165
1700� ( c)London211170
Pre-Dynastic (d)Egypt60165
Dynastic (d)Egypt126166
2500 BC (e)Turkey72166
1700 BC (f)Lerna, Greece42166
2000� BC (g)Harappa, India169
300 BC� 250 (h)Japan (Yayoi)151161
1200� (h)Japan (medieval)20159
1603� (h)Japan (Edo)36158
1450 (i)Marianas, Taumako70174
1650 (i)Easter Island14173
1500� (i)New Zealand124174
1400� (i)Hawaii173

Ancient Greek Civilization

This article deals with the civilization of Classical Greece. Other articles cover the Minoan civilization, which preceded it, and the Hellenistic civilization, which followed it.

Overview and Timeline of Ancient Greek Civilization

The civilization of Ancient Greece emerged into the light of history in the 8th century BC. Normally it is regarded as coming to an end when Greece fell to the Romans, in 146 BC. However, major Greek (or “Hellenistic”, as modern scholars call them) kingdoms lasted longer than this. As a culture (as opposed to a political force), Greek civilization lasted longer still, continuing right to the end of the ancient world.

Timeline of Ancient Greece:

776 BC: Traditional date for the first Olympic Games

c. 750: Greek cities start planting colonies on other Mediterranean coasts, adapt the Phoenician alphabet for their own use, and later adopt metal coinage from Lydia, in Asia Minor

594: Solon gives Athens a new constitution this is the start of the rise of democracy in Greece

490-479: The Persian Wars – Athens and Sparta lead the Greeks in defending their land against invasion from the huge Persian Empire

447: Work begins on the Parthenon in Athens, then at the height of its glory

431-404: The Second Peloponnesian War – Athens is defeated by Sparta, which now becomes the leading power in Greece

399: The Athenian philosopher Socrates is condemned to death for questioning conventional ideas

338: King Philip II of Macedon defeats the Greek city-states and imposes his dominion on them.

Philip of Macedon’s defeat of the Greek city-states is traditionally seen as drawing down the curtain on “Classical Greece” and ushering in the “Hellenistic Age“. This includes the conquests of Alexander the Great, and ends with the conquests of the different Hellenistic states by Rome (146-31 BC).

The history of Ancient Greece falls into four major divisions. The Archaic period , when the civilization’s main features were evolving, lasted from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC. Classical Greece flourished during the 5th to 4th centuries BC. This was marked by the period of the Persian Wars (c. 510-479 BC), the Golden Age of Athens (c. 479-404 BC), and the later Classical era (404-338 BC).

Greek civilization had a powerful influence on the Roman civilization. Indeed, some modern scholars see the Roman era as a continuation of the same civilization, which they label “Graeco-Roman”. In any case, the Roman conquest carried many features of Greek civilization to far-flung parts of the Mediterranean world and Western Europe. Through the mediation of the Romans, therefore, Greek civilization came to be the founding culture of Western civilization.

The Geography of Ancient Greece

The geographical coverage of Ancient Greek civilization changed markedly during its history. Its origins were in the land of Greece and the islands of the Aegean Sea, plus the west coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). This is a landscape of mountains and sea. Land useful for farming is found in valley bottoms, hedged in by steep slopes, or on small islands, confined by water. As a result, ancient Greece consisted of many small territories, each with its own dialect, cultural peculiarities, and identity. Cities tended to be located in valleys between mountains, or on narrow coastal plains, and only dominated a limited area around them. These “city-states” were fiercely independent of each other.


Steep hills cover much of Greece

From about 750 BC the Greeks began sending out colonies in all directions, settling the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. By around 600 BC Greek city-states could be found, “like frogs round a pond”, as one Greek writer put it, from the coasts of Spain in the west to Cyprus in the east, and as far north as present day Ukraine and Russia and as far south as the Egypt and Libya. Sicily and Southern Italy above all became a major locus for Greek colonization, and this region was known to the Romans as “Magna Graeca”.

Later, the conquests of Alexander the Great took Greek civilization right across the Middle East. There it mingled with the more ancient cultures of that region to form a hybrid civilization which scholars label “Hellenistic” civilization. This is described in a separate article here we shall focus on the original Greek civilization.

Society in Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks certainly thought of themselves as ‘one people’ – they had the same religion, language and culture. Every four years all Greek city-states sent their young men and women to compete in the Olympic Games. Politically, however, Ancient Greece was divided amongst several hundred independent city states (poleis). These city-states fiercely defended their independence from one another. Political unity was not an option, unless imposed from outside (which first occurred when Philip II, king of Macedonia, conquered the city-states of Greece in the mid-4th century BC.)

The City-State

A typical Greek city was built around a fortified hill, called an “acropolis”. Here was located the city’s chief temple, the city’s treasury, and some other public buildings.

At the center of the city was the “Agora” – the central space where public meetings were held, and where traders set up their stalls. The agora was often flanked by colonnades.

Most industrial production took place in small workshops. Family members plus some slaves would make up the workforce in most of these. However, one workshop in Athens for manufacturing shields was said to have 120 workers, mostly slaves. Different trades were concentrated in different parts of the city, but mostly near the agora, the main trading center in the city. Potters, blacksmiths, bronze workers, carpenters, leather workers, cobblers, and other craft workshops would all have their own streets or (in large cities) districts.

As a city outgrew its local water supply, water was brought in from neighboring hills by means of channels cut in the rocks, and clay pipes. These fed fountains, from which the poorer people could collect water and also private wells situated in the larger houses.

The city was surrounded by high, wide walls. In later times these were made of stone, brick and rubble. Towers were built at regular interval, and fortified gateways pierced the walls to allow roads to pass through.

Outside these wall was another public space, the gymnasium. This is where athletes trained covered porticoes allowed training to continue in bad weather, and also provided shaded areas for activities such as music, discussion and social meetings. Many gymnasia had public baths attached.

Also outside the walls would be the theatre, built into a hillside and semicircular in shape. The audience would sit on the tiered seats looking down on to a space called the “orchestra”, where the performances took place. This space would be backed by columns and behind them, small buildings where actors changed clothing and masks, and for the props.


Theaters such as this were situated outside many Greek cities

Surrounding the city was the farmland of the city-state. Many of the citizens lived within the city walls and walked out to their fields each day to work. Those whose land was further away, however, lived in the countryside, in the hamlets and villages which doted the landscape, and walked into the city for special occasions. They were as much citizens of the city-state as those who actually lived in the city itself.

In many cases this farmland only stretched for a few miles before sloping upwards to the hills and mountains which divided one city-state from the next. Here, with the land less suitable for growing crops, grain fields and olive groves gave way to pasturage for sheep and goats.

Many Greek city-states were situated on the coast, or on a small island. The city itself would often be located some distance inland, centered on a hill where the acropolis was built for defense. On the seashore would be a harbor, consisting of wooden quays for loading and unloading ships, and beaches were the ships could be drawn up onto dry land for repair. In many cases there would also be ship-sheds, where the city’s war galleys were housed when not in use.

Agriculture

Like all pre-modern societies, the Greeks were primarily an agricultural people. They practiced the agriculture of the ancient Mediterranean region. involving the cultivation of grains, vines and olives, and the keeping of sheep, goat and cattle.

Farms were very small – mere plots of land of a few acres. Aristocrats and other landowners would own larger farms, worked by slaves but an estate of 100 acres was considered large.

This vase depicts harvesting olives, a major crop in ancient Greece

The main challenge facing Greek farmers was that there was too little good farming land in Greece and the Aegean. This forced them to take to sea-borne trade on a scale unmatched by most other ancient peoples. However, land shortages continued to be a problem throughout the ancient times. They were a source of the social tensions between rich and poor which led, in Athens, to the rise of democracy, and in several other cities, to violent clashes between the different classes.

Trade

Very many Greek city-states were located by the sea. Also, many of them, confined as they were by steep hills and mountains, or by the sea itself (if they were on islands), suffered from a shortage of agricultural land. From an early stage in their history, therefore, many Greeks looked to the sea for their livelihood. For a period of about 150 years after 750 BC, many city-states sent out groups of their citizens to found colonies on distant shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. These established strong trading ties with their mother city. Greek traders soon dominated maritime trade of the Mediterranean, edging out the Phoenicians who had preceded them. The adoption of metal coinage must have facilitated this process.

Some Greek cities became large and wealthy trading centers. Athens, the largest Greek city-state of all, was only able to feed her large population through trade. The poor soil of Attica (the area of Greece where Athens was located) was ideal for growing olives on, and so from an early date the Athenians concentrated on growing olives for export. They imported almost all their grain from other states. The Athenians built up a large merchant fleet, and their city became the leading commercial center of Greece. At the height of its glory, almost a third of its population may have been made up of “alien” businessmen and their households, mostly Greeks from other cities. The wealth that this commerce brought Athens enabled it to become the leading city of Greece, both in politics and culture.

Athens also became the major banker to the Greek world. In the fifth century BC the Athenian coinage became the international currency of the Mediterranean. Bankers operated from long tables set up in the agora, making loans at very high rates of interest.


Athenian coins were used throughout the Mediterranean

Society

The social framework varied significantly from city-state to city-state. Most cities, however, had a large class of free, native-born peasant farmers. These owned small farms to subsist on. The adult males formed the citizen body of the state. They were entitled to vote in elections, participate in trials in the law courts, and hold public office They also had a duty to fight in the city’s army. They had a real say in how their city was run and what decisions were made.

Within this group of citizens was a smaller number of wealthier families, who owned more land than the rest. They were the aristocrats. As they could afford to keep horses, they were distinguished from the bulk of the citizens by fighting in the army of horse-back. Their older men were often the leading office-holders in the city, the magistrates and military commanders they could often trace their families back through generations of office-holders, who had helped shape the city’s history. They had a disproportionate influence on affairs of state. Indeed, in many city-states they formed an aristocratic council who played a leading role in the direction of the state. In those city-states which were democracies, however, it was the bulk of the citizens who held the power, through their assembly.

At the bottom of society was a large class of slaves – modern scholars estimate that in some city-states such as Athens they may have made up almost half the population.

These were people who had been captured in war, or been condemned to slavery as a result of debts which they could not pay or for crimes. Since the children of slaves were also slaves, many had been born into slavery. In law they were the property of their owners. They worked as household servants or farm laborers for the wealthy, or miners and industrial workers for businessmen. Trained slaves could act as skilled craftsmen, or perhaps secretaries.

As the Greek cities grew in size and wealth, their societies became more complex. New classes appeared, of prosperous craftsmen, sailors and traders, to stand alongside the older classes of aristocrats, peasants and slaves. These new groups became the natural opponents of the aristocrats, and their influence in politics helped undermine aristocratic power. It is no coincidence that those cities with the largest commercial sectors moved furthest along the road to democracy.

Most city-states also had numbers of “aliens” living within their walls. These were free men and women who had homes in the city, but had been born elsewhere (or their parents and grandparents had), usually in another Greek city-state. They were often merchants or craftsmen. They were not enrolled amongst the citizens and did not have their privileges they were deemed to have the citizenship of the city they or their families had originally come from. In most cities, citizenship was jealously guarded by a hereditary group of native families.

The Family

As in many pre-modern societies, unwanted children were exposed in the countryside to die. Sons were preferred over daughters, so it was baby girls who tended to suffer this fate. Exposure was not illegal, though once the baby was more than 10 days old it was fully protected by law. Exposed babies were often rescued and brought up as slaves.

Babies in wealthy families were usually breast-fed by a household slave. Older children had toys to play with, as in all societies: rattles and balls were popular, as were dolls.

Boys from wealthier families went to school (see the section on education, below), and some girls were also educated. Poorer boys would be trained in a craft, on the job. This often involved picking up the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Women lived very sheltered lives, first under the authority of their father or another male relative, and then under that of their husband. Marriages were arranged by the parents.

The man was very much the dominant partner in a marriage (at least in law). The role of the woman was to cook, weave, raise her children. In poorer families, a woman might also help her husband in his work, especially if he worked on a farm (which the majority of men did) or she herself might keep a market stall or do some other kind of work.

Divorce was easy for men – they could divorce their wives without justification – and almost impossible for women.

Houses

The majority of the poor lived in what we would regard as squalid rural hovels, or crowded urban slums crowded together in narrow, filthy lanes. In a large city like Athens, some of the poor lived in multi-story blocks of apartments.

Larger houses were constructed around a courtyard, with rooms leading off. Some of these were quite modest, for well-to-do craftsmen or farmers some were large and luxurious, with accommodation for a large household including many slaves. These houses were of two stories, and were equipped with bathrooms and toilets. The walls of the reception rooms and family quarters were painted with large, colorful scenes.

Clothing

Men wore tunics, over which a large piece of cloth could be draped. Women wore long tunics falling to their ankles, and they too could drape large pieces of cloth over themselves. These tunics and cloaks were mostly made of wool. Children’s clothing consisted of short tunics. Leather sandals were worn on the feet.

Young men tended to be clean shaven, with hair cropped short. Older men often wore beards. Women grew their hair long, then tied it into a bun or pony tail with ribbons.


Statue of the goddess Athena, dressed in typical Greek women’s clothing British Museum

Government and Politics in Ancient Greece

The English word “politics” comes from the Greek word for city-state, “polis”. For the Greeks, the city-state was essentially a community of citizens making decisions together about matters of communal concern. This is why the Greeks never referred to the name of a city – “Athens”, for example – but always to its citizens – “the Athenians”.

Citizens were the free members of the community who had been born to native families (those who had lived in the city-state for generations). From the earliest days of the city-states the adult male citizens would regularly meet together in public assembly to decide matters of importance for the state. This was made possible by the fact that most city-states would have no more than a few thousand such citizens.

In contrast to political developments in Mesopotamian city-states, more than two thousand years before, kings early on lost most of their power in Greek city-state, and in many cases vanished altogether. From that time onwards these city-states were republics rather than kingdoms.

In all the states, a small group of aristocrats initially had a controlling position. They formed a small council of men who frequently met to discuss public matters in depth – something that a large assembly of several thousand citizens could not do.

Democracy

Many citizens’ assembly gained more and more power, however, and in the fifth century BC many states were full-blown democracies(the word “democracy” is based on the Greek word for common people, “demos”.)

Athens was by far the largest and most famous of these democracies, and we know a great deal about how Athenian democracy worked. The citizens not only met in a full assembly, but chose (by lot) some of their members to form a much smaller council, which discussed public matters more fully before laying them before the full assembly. Public officials were also chosen by lot (except military commanders, who were elected). All citizens were liable to be selected for public office or membership of the governing council, and would serve for a year. In this way, office-holding was constantly rotating, and the majority of citizens gained some direct experience of government.

Public finances and administration

Taxation seems not to have been highly developed by the Greeks. Taxes were levied in times of emergency otherwise, government was supported financially by duties on goods being bought and sold, or on property.

In fact, Greek government was not expensive by later standards. There was no bureaucracy to speak of. Some cities kept public slaves for various tasks (rudimentary police force, or a small corps of public scribes, for example), but their numbers were very small. Public officials and soldiers were largely unpaid, serving their cities voluntarily (Athens was an exception, paying citizens for undertaking public duties but it was an exceptionally wealthy city). Moreover, the wealthy were expected not only to serve as magistrates or generals, but to contribute funds from their own pockets for the upkeep of warships, theaters and other public assets.

We know surprisingly little about Greek law. No law codes have survived, except in small fragments enough has survived, however, tell us that the Greek city-states wrote down their laws on stone tablets and set them up in public places (presumably the open space known as the Agora). Greek histories tell us much the same ting when dealing with such famous law givers as the Athenian Solon.

Each polis had its own law code. We know most about the legal system of Athens, as in most things. Here, there were many courts, each trying different kinds of case. Very serious crimes against the state came before the entire assembly of citizens. Capital punishment was inflicted for blasphemy, treason and murder – the method differing for each crime but including beheading, poisoning and stoning. For other serious crimes, including manslaughter, exile was a common punishment. For lesser crimes, fines or confiscation of property were used.

A law code inscribed on stone, from Gortyn, Crete

In all courts, cases were tried by large juries of citizens, selected by lot, and presided over by a magistrate. Any citizen could bring charges against another. – but to limit the bringing of false accusations any accuser who failed to convince a fifth of the jurors was heavily fined. The accuser put his case, and the accused then defended himself. The jurors cast their vote as they left court by each dropping a pebble into a jar for guilty or for innocent.

A board of eleven magistrates was responsible, with the help of a body of slaves, for maintaining law and order, arresting wrong-doers and supervising prisons (which were mainly used for condemned prisoners awaiting execution).

Although we know little about Greek law, there can be no doubt that Greek law would have a profound influence on Roman law, not least in the fact that the earliest laws of the Romans were inscribed on stone tablets and set up in a public place.

International politics

As time went by, most city-states of Greece did in fact give up a measure of their much-prized independence to form alliances with one another, against joint enemies. They did this often voluntarily, but sometimes under coercion.

The most famous of these alliances were the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League, led by Athens and Sparta respectively.

The Delian League originated as a defensive alliance against the Persian threat, being founded in the early fifth century. However, as time went by, Athens became more and more dominant, treating the other league cities more as subjects than as equals. This behavior eventually helped lead to the downfall of the League (click here for more in this period of Athenian history).

The Peloponnesian league was founded much earlier than the Delian, in the 7th century BC, and endured much longer. Its chief city, Sparta, had achieved its position of leadership largely through military means however, the League served the interests of the other cities by offering them effective protection from non-League enemies. Also, Sparta made sure that League cities were under aristocratic regimes which tended to be in favor of Spartan values (click here for more on Sparta and the Peloponnesian League and its later leading role in Greece.

Warfare

The city-states relied on their own citizens to fight in their armies. Each citizen had to have his own armor and weapons, and spend a certain amount of time undergoing military training. The fact that the Greek world was fragmented into hundreds of small city-states, with only a few thousand citizens each, meant that wars, though frequent, were limited the scale. The duration of campaigns was determined by the need for most of the citizens to return to their farms for harvest time. Campaigns would therefore often be restricted to summer.

Battles were fought between large formations of foot soldiers, fighting at close quarters: the majority of the casualties in a set-piece battle would obviously occur at the front of the two formations if one of the sides turned and ran (a not infrequent occurrence) the all were in danger. Cavalry played a comparatively minor role in Greek warfare.


A hoplite fighting a Persian soldier

A hoplite, or heavy-armed infantry soldier, was armed with a spear, large shield, and helmet. Swords might also be carried, but as a secondary weapon. Better-off hoplites would have in addition a bronze breastplate and greaves. These would tend to fight in the front line, the place of most honor.

The scale of Greek warfare increased somewhat in the 6th century BC, when groups of city-sates formed alliances. The most famous of these was the Peloponnesian League, under the leadership of Sparta. During the Persian Wars, the Delian League emerged, under the leadership of Athens. These and other leagues (the Achaean, the Aetolian) increased the scale of Greek warfare further in the 5th and 4th centuries. Large armies were fielded, forces were deployed further from their homes, and campaigns grew longer. Naval warfare became more important, with several city-sates maintaining large fleets of galleys (the rowers of these galleys were usually the poorest of the citizens, who could not afford to pay for their own armor). Blockades and sieges became common.

In Hellenistic times the scale of Greek-style warfare would become much larger still.

Ancient Greek Religion

The Greeks worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses, headed by the chief of the gods, Zeus. Other gods included Hera, Zeus’s wife Athena, goddess of wisdom and learning Apollo, god of music and culture Aphrodite, goddess of love Dionysus, god of wine Hades, god of the underworld and Diana, goddess of the hunt.

Greek religion placed little emphasis on ethical conduct – stories about the gods portrayed often them as lying, cheating, being unfaithful, getting drunk and so on. As in many traditional religions, a Greek god or goddess was seen more as a potential source of help, rather than as a focus of devotion.

Each city-state had its own festivals, but certain festivals were common to all the Greeks. The most famous of these were the Olympic games, held in honor of Zeus every four years (starting traditionally in 776 BC). There were much fewer events than in a modern Olympics, and there were competitions in music and poetry as well as in athletics. The winner of an Olympic event was awarded an olive wreath and won great honor in his home city.

The Greeks often consulted oracles – priests or priestesses at certain shrines who, in a trance, uttered messages from the gods. People would go to oracles for advice and guidance on specific matters. The most famous of these was the oracle at the shrine of Apollo at Delphi. Advice was sought by private individuals as well as by politicians and military commanders.

The Greek religion was not something to engage a person’s spirituality, and various cults grew up to fell that void. The Eleusian Mysteries and the cult of Orpheus injected an emotional elements into worship. One joined these through initiation, and their beliefs were secret. Hence we know little about them. However, they stressed the importance of the afterlife – initiates were promised immortality – and the need for ethical standards of behavior were emphasized.

Numerous myths have come down to us about the Greeks gods, goddesses and semi-divine heroes. They also have much to say about the origins and nature of the world. Many of these myths contradict one another, something that the Greeks found no problem with.

Ancient Greek Education

Most Greek cities did not have publicly-funded schools – Sparta was the exception. Education was therefore a private affair.

Wealthy families would put a boy under the care of a slave who would accompany him everywhere. The boy (and the accompanying slave) would attend a small school run by a private teacher, who would have a few pupils in his charge. Here, the boy would learn to read and write, and do arithmetic. Later, they learned to sing and play music (which for the Greeks included poetry).


A slave accompanies his two charges to school

After the age of 12 boys focussed on physical education. They trained in such sports as the throwing the discus and javelin, running and wrestling.

Some wealthy families would also have their girls educated. They would be taught to read, write, and play music and they were also given also some physical education.

After school, older boys underwent military training. The family bought armor and weapons for them, and the young men learnt how to fight effectively in military camps. From this age they were expected to serve in the state’s army, if needed.

For boys from wealthy families, training in public speaking would round off their education. In Athens, some of the first higher education institutions recorded in history were founded: Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lycaeum. Here, courses involving logic, literature and philosophy were taught.

Meanwhile, girls from wealthy families were trained in managing the household. This would have involved account-keeping, as well as more domestic tasks such as weaving. In fact, how educated a young woman actually became would have depended entirely on her family, and of course her own motivation.

The Cultural Life of the Ancient Greeks

Literature

Even while the Greeks were emerging from their Dark Ages after the fall of Mycenae (c. 1200-750 BC), when they produced their greatest poet, Homer. Most modern scholars think that Homer’s two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, were composed around 750 BC. It was almost certainly first composed in oral form before being written perhaps a hundred years later. These poems have been studied by western scholars ever since.

Later poets included Hesiod (7th century BC), whose “Works and Days” portrays the tough life of an ordinary farmer Sappho (6th century BC), whose love poetry uses beauty of language to explore intense personal feelings and Pindar (late 6th century – early 5th century BC), who expressed emotion in lyrical poems praising famous athletes or gods, and mourning the dead.

The Greeks were the first to pioneer the art form of drama. This had its origins in the dances and songs of sacred rites, and was always associated with religious festivals. A chorus chanting words or singing songs replaced the dancers, and originally only one solo actor stood out from the rest. Actors wore different masks to depict various standard moods or characters.

Actors wore masks such as this
3304 – Athens – of Attalus Museum – Theatre mask – Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto, Nov 9 2009 by Giovanni Dall’Orto

Greek drama included both tragedy and comedy. It reached maturity in 5th century Athens. Aeschylus (525-456 BC) reduced the importance of the chorus, and increased the role of individual actors and dialogue. Sophocles (496-406 BC) took these innovations further, while Euripides (484-406 BC) used dialogue to portray deep human emotions.

The Greeks also pioneered the writing of history as not merely the chronicling of events, but in striving for accuracy, objectivity and meaning in their accounts. Herodotus (c. 485-425 BC) is known the “father of history” (in the West), and was the first to develop a coherent historical narrative (in his case, of the Persian Wars) but it was his successor, Thucydides (c.460-396 BC), who was the one to first write what we today would call proper history.

Art and Architecture

Greek architecture is known for its grace and simplicity. The finest buildings the Greeks erected were their temples and the most famous of these is the Parthenon, in Athens.

The center of each temple was space known as the “cella”. Here was located the statue if the god. In front of the cella was the porch, and both porch and cella were surrounded by a colonnade of columns. Each column was topped by a “capitals”, a carved block of stone. On top of these rested the “entablature”, a band of carved stone on which, in turn, rested the roof. These elements went together to form a simple yet gracious building.


A typical Greek temple
A model of the temple of Aphaia, Aegina, in the Glyptothek, Munich

Sculpture and Painting

Greek sculpture – usually in stone and bronze sometimes in gold and ivory – was solid and formal, much like that of the ancient Middle East. In the Classical period, sculptures strove for realism, and their work became more graceful and elegant. They applied mathematical ratios to achieve aesthetic beauty. As time went by, and their skills improved still more, they sought to represent movement and emotion. In their best works they achieved a fluidity in stone which has seldom been matched.

In ancient times, statues would have been painted with vibrant, lifelike colors. Virtually no trace of this survives. The only paintings that have come down to us are on vases, where the images are of necessity simple and economic. We know of other painting as well from literary sources, for example on walls of palaces and some painters achieved wide fame. However, none of their work has come down to us.

Philosophy

The earliest school of Greek philosophers were those of the Ionian tradition (7th-5th centuries BC). Ionia was in what is today western Turkey, and it is tempting to see the influence of the ancient Middle East on their work. Much of this involved quasi-religious speculations about the origins and structure of the universe: but this led them on to quasi-scientific propositions, such as that all matter comes from water (reminiscent of Mesopotamian beliefs).

The Pythagoreans were another group of early Greek thinkers (6th-5th century BC). They formed a curious combination of philosophical school and religious brotherhood. They believed that all things could be explained by numbers. As a result, they did much mathematical speculation (see below, section on Science). However, they believed in such religious ideas as the transmigration of the soul. They lived simple, ascetic lives.

By the 5th century, Greek thinkers such as Parmenedes (c.504-456 BC) were advocating the idea that reason is the best way to reaching truth.

The Sophists – “teachers of wisdom” – were traveling teachers prominent in the 5th century, after the Persian Wars. They preferred to study man and worldly problems rather than speculate about universal truths. In fact, some claimed that truths were only meaningful when placed in a particular context, and seen from a particular point of view. They rejected the notion of the supernatural and universal standards of morality and justice. Some went on the state that nothing really exists, the material world is just an illusion. Some taught that all the meaning there is in the universe resides in the words we use. Language is therefore a tool to give things meaning. In due course sophists came to be associated with specious reasoning, using words to mean whatever one wants them to mean.

Greek philosophy reached its high point in the careers of three thinkers who lived and worked in Athens, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.

Socrates (469-399 BC) challenged the thinking of his contemporaries by posing penetrating questions. In this way he aimed to strip away the prejudices we all bring to our thinking. He developed the “Socratic method”, based on questions and discussion, rather than on lectures and received teaching. He believed that reason and clear thinking could lead men to truth and happiness. In 399 BC, he was put on trial in Athens for “corrupting the minds of the youth” and not revering the gods. He was executed by poisoning.

Plato (427-347 BC) was a disciple of Socrates it is through him we know of Socrates’ teaching. Plato believed that the material world is not real, but an imperfect image of the real, or ideal. He founded the “Academy”, the first known institute of higher education in the West.


A bust of the philosopher Plato

Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a student of Plato’s. He spent some time as tutor to the future king of Macedon, who would become known to history as Alexander the Great. After this, he founded the Lyceum in Athens. Aristotle left behind a vast body of work. To help clear thinking, he developed a system of formal rules of logic. These became extremely influential in future Western thought. He believed ideas were indistinguishable from matter, in that they could exists only through material objects. He believed that God was the “first cause” of all things, and that the good life can be achieved through moderation.

Greek thought would continue to evolve in Hellenistic times, with the Stoics and Epicurians becoming particularly prominent.

Mathematics and Science

For the Greeks, science was indistinguishable from philosophy (in fact, science was called “natural philosophy” in the West right up to the 18th century).

Thales of Miletus is usually regarded as the first prominent Greek mathematician, and he is credited with developing the methodologies of observation, experimentation and deduction, which are still used today. Thales’ younger contemporaries, Pythagoras and his school, developed geometry as a branch of knowledge. They uncovered Pythagoras’ theorem, that the sum of any three angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles.

One of the main concerns for Greek philosophers was the nature of the universe, and their thinking about this had theological dimensions – Heraclitus (533-475 BC), for example, believed that the universe pervaded by Logos, or divine will, and Xenophanes (540-485 BC) taught that was a supreme being, and attacked the idea of a pantheon of gods – and some was more along what we today would recognize as scientific lines.

Empedocles (495-430 BC) proposed that all matter was indestructible and eternal. He was the first to come up with the idea that matter exists in only four basic forms – earth, air, fire and water. Different balances lead to different kinds of materials. Democritus (c.460-362) developed this idea and anticipated modern physics by proposing that all matter consists of minute and indivisible units called atoms.

Anaximander (611-547 BC) asserted the theory of organic evolution, with the earliest animals being fish, which later adapted to different environments to become land animals and human beings.

In medicine, the Greeks dissected animals to refine their ideas on anatomy. They located the optic nerve and recognized the brain as the locus of thought. They discovered that blood flows to and from the heart. Hippocrates (c.460-377 BC) argued that diseases had natural rather than supernatural causes, and that they therefore could be treated by natural means. He advocated rest, proper diet, and exercise for a healthy life he knew the uses of many drugs, and he helped improve surgical practices. He is considered one of the key figures in the history of Western medicine.

In astronomy, the first three-dimensional models to explain the apparent motion of the planets were developed in the 4th century BC.

Aristotle advanced the scientific method by his insistence on observation of the material world being an important root to knowledge. Together with his rules of logic (see the section above, Philosophy), this laid some important foundations for the scientific method in the West. He put this method into action himself by classified many plants and animals, so making a great contribution to botany and zoology. He developed Empedocles’ ideas on matter by adding a fifth element, ether, to the other four.

Greek mathematics and science continued to make advances in Hellenistic times.

The Legacy of Ancient Greece

The civilization of ancient Greece has been immensely influential on subsequent world history. The language, politics, educational systems, philosophy, science, and the arts of the ancient Greeks were crucial in laying the foundations of Western civilization. Through the Roman Empire, much Greek culture came to Western Europe. The Byzantine Empire inherited Classical Greek culture from the Hellenistic world, without Latin intermediation, and the preservation of classical Greek learning in medieval Byzantine tradition further exerted strong influence on the Slavs and later on the Islamic civilization of the Golden Age. Through these channels it came again to Western European in renewed force, and was hugely instrumental in stimulating the Italian Renaissance.

The art and architecture of ancient Greece have had an enormous impact on later cultures, from ancient times to the present day. This is particularly the case with sculpture and architecture. Roman art was largely a continuation of Greek – in fact, in many cases it was actually executed by Greek artists. In the East, Alexander the Great‘s conquests led to the rise of the hybrid Hellenistic civilization in which Greek and Asian styles mingled. The distinctive Persian art of the medieval period incorporated the plasticity of Greek art and solidity of Mesopotamian. The Ghandara style of northern India similarly embodied the artistic heritage of two quite different civilizations, ancient India and Greece, and had a large impact on the Buddhist art of northern India, central Asia and Eastern Asia.

In the West, following the Italian Renaissance (after c. 1400), the technical brilliance of Greek (and its offspring, Roman) art and architecture stimulated artists to look to these ancient models for inspiration. From that time until well into the 19th century, the classical tradition derived from Greece and Rome was the dominant strand in Western civilization.

Ancient Greek mathematics contributed many important developments, including the basic rules of geometry, the idea of formal mathematical proof, and discoveries in number theory and applied mathematics. It is now increasingly recognized that Greek mathematics owed a great deal to Mesopotamia however, the Greeks made many advances of their own. The discoveries of Greek mathematicians are foundational to modern mathematics.

Greek science provided Islamic and medieval European thought with its world view. The Greeks came up with a huge range of rationally argued propositions about nature and the universe, which, even when dramatically wrong, provided hypotheses which modern Western thinkers have been able to test, often demolish, and in some cases corroborate.

Further Study

Maps on Ancient Greece

– of ancient Europe, which show Greek civilization in the broader context of European history

– of the Middle East, showing Greek history in the broader context of Middle Eastern history

– of the World, showing Ancient Greece in the broad context of World History.

Other maps which include references to ancient Greek civilization (including the Minoan and Hellenistic periods), and show the impact of theAncient Greeks on a wide area of the world, are:


The Greek Ideal Body

THE human body occupies a key place in Greek art and sculpture. In the earliest Greek works many beasts and monsters were depicted, but the range soon narrows to a few domestic animals such as dogs and horses a trend reflecting the central place of man in Greek thought religion and culture.

The Greeks believed profoundly in the value of the ideal man. This conviction underlies Aristotle's statement that the city-state is the ideal political institution. For Plato "Man participates in the divine" and is "related to the gods". The great lyric poet Pindar wrote that "Gods and men have a single mother, only our strengths are different". At the dawn of Greek civilization Homer sang of a world where the gods not only mingled with men and behaved like them. The main difference between man and the gods were immortal.

The gods are thus almost always represented in human form. The human body is a constantly recurring motif in Greek art. Soaring temple columns with their finely-chiseled lines recall the slender bodies of Greek youths, and the name for the capital of a column (kionokranon) means head. In paintings and sculptured reliefs the beauty of the human form in relaxation or in action stands out against a neutral background. Only later, during the Hellenistic period, do we find some rather clumsy attempts to represent man in a natural setting.

This human idealism explains why their sculpture could render the beauty of the human body more successfully than previous art forms. In Plato's Republic, when the philosopher Glaucon refers to Socrates' description of the magistrates in his ideal city, he utters this revealing phrase: "My dear Socrates, you have made your magistrates too beautiful, just as if you were a sculptor."

Only by representing the gods and their heroes in a purely human form could the ancient Greeks understand their gods and communicate with them, almost as equals.

In around the middle of the seventh century BC, sculptors first dared to carve stone statues that were life-size or larger. They initially restricted themselves to a small number of human types, always viewed from the front. These types were a young man, naked and standing upright, his arms held close to his sides and his left leg slightly forward a young woman who is always depicted clothed, her feet together and the male or female figure seated in a hieratic posture. All of these types have points in common with Egyptian statues of gods and pharaohs, but there are some notable differences. The young males unlike his Egyptian prototypes, is never portrayed wearing a garment around his waist or leaning against a Pillar, and his legs are not attached by a support. The figure is usually naked, like the Greek athlete on which it is modeled. It seems to be on the verge of movement or action, unlike Egyptian figures which seem fixed for all eternity. By contrast the Greek statues have expressions of great vitality. They seem to be joyful and full of life.

How did Greek sculptors succeed in rendering this ideal, these figures in the full bloom of youth? Above all through the science of proportions which, until the beginning of the Middle Ages, was considered to be the key to beauty. The use of proportions in Greek sculpture started even before Pythagoras . (about 550 BC). A detailed description of its principles was given in the fifth century BC by the sculptor Polyclitus in a treatise on his statue the "Doryphorus" (Spearbearer) which was known as the "Canon" because it embodied the ideal proportions of the male form. Although what he says is not always clear, Polyclitus created a system of fixed ratios between the different parts of the body which was taken as a model for several centuries.

The aim of Greek sculptors was not to recreate the appearance of nature, but to bring to the surface the very essence of the model and above all to render it dynamically, so that it seems to live. It might be said that the Greek sculptor worked from the inside out. He brought to light the masses of the body as though he himself were creating life, rendering in every detail the harmony of forms. Even during the most naturalistic periods sculptors never attempted to produce photographic likenesses, as in academic art, or cold reflections of abstract forms, as in neoclassicism. Their works vibrate with life which is tempered only by a

profound sense of balance and moderation.

Plato believed that beauty lies not in the deceptive and illusory appearance that gives pleasure to the eye but in a higher reality, which he called the Idea. He approved only of geometrical forms, pure volumes, and mathematical proportions. He seems to have accepted only works of very ancient Greek and Egyptian art, which he valued for their purity of form and their immutability.

Closer to reality and to the Greek tradition, Aristotle in the fourth century BC found beauty in ideal proportions, symmetry and order. Art for him was merely an imitation of nature the instinct for imitation being inherent in man. Faithful to the naturalistic ideas of his time, Aristotle remarked that a work of art is a source of pleasure when we recognize in it a familiar object, even if the object is not beautiful in reality. In this he prefigured the modern notion that there is a distinction between artistic beauty and physical beauty.

What then did the Greeks understand by artistic beauty? Was it the mathematical rules and relations of number which for centuries imposed simple, clear and symmetrical forms and harmonious proportions, as demanded by Polyclitus, the most normative of sculptors, and Plato, the most brilliant of philosophers? Or the power of life, the force which brings life to the smallest surface, the tiniest detail of a Greek sculpture and makes it a joy to see and touch?

Gradually realism triumphed in Greek art However, even at the end of its long development, the art of ancient Greece, in spite of its capacity for penetrating the secrets of the human soul and its plastic virtuosity, never went so far as to create a gallery of portraits, a chronicle peopled with figures, as the Romans did. Until the end Greek art was illuminated, however dimly, by the tender and beautiful light which emanated from the Greek idea of the perfect man.


Ancient Greece

Greece is a country in southeastern Europe, known in Greek as Hellas or Ellada, and consisting of a mainland and an archipelago of islands. Ancient Greece is the birthplace of Western philosophy (Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle), literature (Homer and Hesiod), mathematics (Pythagoras and Euclid), history (Herodotus), drama (Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes), the Olympic Games, and democracy.

The concept of an atomic universe was first posited in Greece through the work of Democritus and Leucippus. The process of today's scientific method was first introduced through the work of Thales of Miletus and those who followed him. The Latin alphabet also comes from ancient Greece, having been introduced to the region during the Phoenician colonization in the 8th century BCE, and early work in physics and engineering was pioneered by Archimedes, of the Greek colony of Syracuse, among others.

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Mainland Greece is a large peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Sea (branching into the Ionian Sea in the west and the Aegean Sea in the east) which also comprises the islands known as the Cyclades and the Dodecanese (including Rhodes), the Ionian islands (including Corcyra), the isle of Crete, and the southern peninsula known as the Peloponnese.

The geography of Greece greatly influenced the culture in that, with few natural resources and surrounded by water, the people eventually took to the sea for their livelihood. Mountains cover 80 percent of Greece and only small rivers run through a rocky landscape which, for the most part, provides little encouragement for agriculture. Consequently, the early ancient Greeks colonized neighboring islands and founded settlements along the coast of Anatolia (also known as Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey). The Greeks became skilled seafaring people and traders who, possessing an abundance of raw materials for construction in stone, and great skill, built some of the most impressive structures in antiquity.

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Etymology of Hellas

The designation Hellas derives from Hellen, the son of Deucalion and Pyrrha who feature prominently in Ovid's tale of the Great Flood in his Metamorphoses. The mythical Deucalion (son of the fire-bringing titan Prometheus) was the savior of the human race from the Great Flood, in the same way Noah is presented in the biblical version or Utnapishtim in the Mesopotamian one. Deucalion and Pyrrha repopulate the land once the floodwaters have receded by casting stones which become people, the first being Hellen. Contrary to popular opinion, Hellas and Ellada have nothing to do with Helen of Troy from Homer's Iliad. Ovid, however, did not coin the designation. Thucydides writes, in Book I of his Histories:

I am inclined to think that the very name was not as yet given to the whole country, and in fact did not exist at all before the time of Hellen, the son of Deucalion the different tribes, of which the Pelasgian was the most widely spread, gave their own names to different districts. But when Hellen and his sons became powerful in Phthiotis, their aid was invoked by other cities, and those who associated with them gradually began to be called Hellenes, though a long time elapsed before the name was prevalent over the whole country. Of this, Homer affords the best evidence for he, although he lived long after the Trojan War, nowhere uses this name collectively, but confines it to the followers of Achilles from Phthiotis, who were the original Hellenes when speaking of the entire host, he calls them Danäans, or Argives, or Achaeans.

Early History of Ancient Greece

Ancient Greek history is most easily understood by dividing it into time periods. The region was already settled, and agriculture initiated, during the Paleolithic era as evidenced by finds at Petralona and Franchthi caves (two of the oldest human habitations in the world). The Neolithic Age (c. 6000 - c. 2900 BCE) is characterized by permanent settlements (primarily in northern Greece), domestication of animals, and the further development of agriculture. Archaeological finds in northern Greece (Thessaly, Macedonia, and Sesklo, among others) suggest a migration from Anatolia in that the ceramic cups and bowls and figures found there share qualities distinctive to Neolithic finds in Anatolia. These inland settlers were primarily farmers, as northern Greece was more conducive to agriculture than elsewhere in the region, and lived in one-room stone houses with a roof of timber and clay daubing.

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The Cycladic Civilization (c. 3200-1100 BCE) flourished in the islands of the Aegean Sea (including Delos, Naxos, and Paros) and provides the earliest evidence of continual human habitation in that region. During the Cycladic Period, houses and temples were built of finished stone and the people made their living through fishing and trade. This period is usually divided into three phases: Early Cycladic, Middle Cycladic, and Late Cycladic with a steady development in art and architecture. The latter two phases overlap and finally merge with the Minoan Civilization, and differences between the periods become indistinguishable.

The Minoan Civilization (2700-1500 BCE) developed on the island of Crete, and rapidly became the dominant sea power in the region. The term 'Minoan' was coined by the archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered the Minoan palace of Knossos in 1900 CE and named the culture for the ancient Cretan king Minos. The name by which the people knew themselves is not known. The Minoan Civilization was thriving, as the Cycladic Civilization seems to have been, long before the accepted modern dates which mark its existence and probably earlier than 6000 BCE.

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The Minoans developed a writing system known as Linear A (which has not yet been deciphered) and made advances in shipbuilding, construction, ceramics, the arts and sciences, and warfare. King Minos was credited by ancient historians (Thucydides among them) as being the first person to establish a navy with which he colonized, or conquered, the Cyclades. Archaeological and geological evidence on Crete suggests this civilization fell due to an overuse of the land causing deforestation though, traditionally, it is accepted that they were conquered by the Mycenaeans. The eruption of the volcano on the nearby island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) between 1650 and 1550 BCE and the resulting tsunami is acknowledged as the final cause for the fall of the Minoans. The isle of Crete was deluged and the cities and villages destroyed. This event has been frequently cited as Plato's inspiration in creating his myth of Atlantis in his dialogues of the Critias and Timaeus.

The Mycenaeans & Their Gods

The Mycenaean Civilization (approximately 1900-1100 BCE) is commonly acknowledged as the beginning of Greek culture, even though we know almost nothing about the Mycenaeans save what can be determined through archaeological finds and through Homer's account of their war with Troy as recorded in the Iliad. They are credited with establishing the culture owing primarily to their architectural advances, their development of a writing system (known as Linear B, an early form of Greek descended from the Minoan Linear A), and the establishment, or enhancement of, religious rites. The Mycenaeans appear to have been greatly influenced by the Minoans of Crete in their worship of earth goddesses and sky gods, which, in time, become the classical Greek pantheon.

Greek mythology provided a solid paradigm of the creation of the universe, the world, and human beings. An early myth relates how, in the beginning, there was nothing but chaos in the form of unending waters. From this chaos came the goddess Eurynome who separated the water from the air and began her dance of creation with the serpent Ophion. From their dance, all of creation sprang and Eurynome was, originally, the Great Mother Goddess and Creator of All Things.

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By the time Hesiod and Homer were writing (8th century BCE), this story had changed into the more familiar myth concerning the titans, Zeus' war against them, and the birth of the Olympian Gods with Zeus as their chief. This shift indicates a movement from a matriarchal religion to a patriarchal paradigm. Whichever model was followed, however, the gods clearly interacted regularly with the humans who worshipped them and were a large part of daily life in ancient Greece. Prior to the coming of the Romans, the only road in mainland Greece that was not a cow path was the Sacred Way which ran between the city of Athens and the holy city of Eleusis, the birthplace of the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrating the goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone.

By 1100 BCE, around the time of the Bronze Age Collapse, the great Mycenaean cities of southwest Greece were abandoned and, some claim, their civilization destroyed by an invasion of Doric Greeks. Archaeological evidence is inconclusive as to what led to the fall of the Mycenaeans. As no written records of this period survive (or have yet to be unearthed) one may only speculate on causes. The tablets of Linear B script found thus far contain only lists of goods bartered in trade or kept in stock. It seems clear, however, that after what is known as the Greek Dark Ages (approximately 1100-800 BCE, so named because of the absence of written documentation) Greek colonization was ongoing in much of Asia Minor, and the islands surrounding mainland Greece and began to make significant cultural advances. Beginning in c. 585 BCE the first Greek philosopher, Thales of Miletus, was engaged in what, today, would be recognized as scientific inquiry on the Asia Minor coast, and this region of Ionian colonies would make significant breakthroughs in Greek philosophy and mathematics.

From the Archaic to the Classical Periods

The Archaic Period (800-500 BCE) is characterized by the introduction of republics instead of monarchies (which, in Athens, moved toward democratic rule) organized as a single city-state or polis, the institution of laws (Draco's reforms in Athens), the great Panathenaic Festival was established, distinctive Greek pottery and Greek sculpture were born, and the first coins minted on the island kingdom of Aegina. This, then, set the stage for the flourishing of the Classical Period of ancient Greece given as 500-400 BCE or, more precisely, as 480-323 BCE, from the Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis to the death of Alexander the Great. This was the Golden Age of Athens, when Pericles initiated the building of the Acropolis and spoke his famous eulogy for the men who died defending Greece at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. Greece reached the heights in almost every area of human learning during this time and the great thinkers and artists of antiquity (Phidias, Plato, Aristophanes, to mention only three) flourished. Leonidas and his 300 Spartans fell at Thermopylae and, the same year (480 BCE), Themistocles won victory over the superior Persian naval fleet at Salamis leading to the final defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE.

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Democracy (literally Demos = people and Kratos = power, so power of the people) was established in Athens allowing all male citizens over the age of twenty a voice in the Greek government. The Pre-Socratic philosophers, following Thales' lead, initiated what would become the scientific method in exploring natural phenomena. Men like Anaximander, Anaximenes, Pythagoras, Democritus, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus abandoned the theistic model of the universe and strove to uncover the underlying, first cause of life and the universe.

Their successors, among whom were Euclid and Archimedes, continued to advance Greek science and philosophical inquiry and further established mathematics as a serious discipline. The example of Socrates and the writings of Plato and Aristotle after him have influenced western culture and society for over two thousand years. This period also saw advances in architecture and art with a movement away from the ideal to the realistic. Famous works of Greek sculpture such as the Parthenon Marbles and Discobolos (the discus thrower) date from this time and epitomize the artist's interest in depicting human emotion, beauty, and accomplishment realistically, even if those qualities are presented in works featuring immortals.

All of these developments in culture were made possible by the ascent of Athens following the victory over the Persians in 480 BCE. The peace and prosperity which followed the Persian defeat provided the finances and stability for culture to flourish. Athens became the superpower of the day and, with the most powerful navy, was able to demand tribute from other city-states and enforce its wishes. Athens formed the Delian League, a defensive alliance whose stated purpose was to deter the Persians from further hostilities.

The city-state of Sparta, however, doubted Athenian sincerity and formed their own association for protection against their enemies, the Peloponnesian League (so named for the Peloponnese region where Sparta and the others were located). The city-states which sided with Sparta increasingly perceived Athens as a bully and a tyrant, while those cities which sided with Athens viewed Sparta and its allies with growing distrust. The tension between these two parties eventually erupted in what has become known as the Peloponnesian Wars. The first conflict (c. 460-445 BCE) ended in a truce and continued prosperity for both parties while the second (431-404 BCE) left Athens in ruins and Sparta, the victor, bankrupt after her protracted war with Thebes.

This time is generally referred to as the Late Classical Period (c. 400-330 BCE). The power vacuum left by the fall of these two cities was filled by Philip II of Macedon (382-336 BCE) after his victory over the Athenian forces and their allies at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BCE. Philip united the Greek city-states under Macedonian rule and, upon his assassination in 336 BCE, his son Alexander assumed the throne.

Alexander the Great & the Coming of Rome

Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) carried on his father's plans for a full scale invasion of Persia in retaliation for their invasion of Greece in 480 BCE. As he had almost the whole of Greece under his command, a standing army of considerable size and strength, and a full treasury, Alexander did not need to bother with allies nor with consulting anyone regarding his plan for invasion and so led his army into Egypt, across Asia Minor, through Persia, and finally to India. Tutored in his youth by Plato's great student Aristotle, Alexander would spread the ideals of Greek civilization through his conquests and, in so doing, transmitted Greek art, philosophy, culture, and language to every region he came in contact with.

In 323 BCE Alexander died and his vast empire was divided between four of his generals. This initiated what has come to be known to historians as the Hellenistic Period (323-31 BCE) during which Greek thought and culture became dominant in the various regions under these generals' influence. After the wars of the Diadochi ('the successors' as Alexander's generals came to be known), Antigonus I established the Antigonid Dynasty in Greece which he then lost. It was regained by his grandson, Antigonus II Gonatas, by 276 BCE who ruled the country from his palace at Macedon.

The Roman Republic became increasingly involved in the affairs of Greece during this time and, in 168 BCE, defeated Macedon at the Battle of Pydna. After this date, Greece steadily came under the influence of Rome. In 146 BCE, the region was designated a Protectorate of Rome and Romans began to emulate Greek fashion, philosophy and, to a certain extent, sensibilities. In 31 BCE Octavian Caesar annexed the country as a province of Rome following his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium. Octavian became Augustus Caesar and Greece a part of the Roman Empire.


What was the average height in Classical Greece? - History

Everything went to hell after the fall of the Roman empire — at least in the western part. Literacy collapsed roads were no longer maintained interregional trade pretty much died out barbarian marauders from the north preyed on the weak and innocent steppe nomads from the east raped and pillages perfectly arable land went fallow for centuries and there was depopulation of much of what had been Roman civilisation in the West.

Because of all that people generally assume “Dark Age” incomes were abysmally low. I think that bias gets reflected in the sort of highly conjectural income data we see for the period prior to 1200.

But surely the Dark Ages were utterly Malthusian. In that case, with a substantial depopulation of the western Roman empire, enormous swaths of land must have been re-“frontierised” and “re-virginised”. That would have been a tremendous boon, i.e., more land per surviving inhabitant. Thus even in post-Roman Dark Age semi-tribal England with Aedelbehrts and Engelwulfs and Sigheoiscs pretending to be kings, perhaps it was possible to fill your belly everyday without too many worries. Perhaps you didn’t have many other amenities of civilisation, like entertaining theatres and exotic fruits, but you did eat more.

We know from the settlement history of the Americas and Australia that they quickly became some of the richest places on earth, on a per capita basis. In Argentina, for example, there was so much more land, in relation to people, that at first it made sense to let cattle roam the place rather than intensively cultivate it (which requires a lot of workers).

Thus Argentina’s first economic strategy :

But there must be some evidence about living standards in the “Dark Ages” (from 400 to

1000). And there is — the heights of people inferred from skeletal remains.

The above data are separated by regions so populations with different genetic potentials for height aren’t totally mixed up. We see heights in the west rising with the decline of the Roman empire, and falling with the limited state reconsolidation under the Carolingians. (Not saying this pattern necessarily implies causation.) The High Middle Ages show a sizeable jump in heights (survivors better fed after the Black Death?) but after the peak circa 1400 show a commensurate decline.

Overall I don’t see much reason to believe, at least in terms of a narrowly biological standard of living judged from stature, that the “Dark Ages” were worse than the subsequent 1000 years. Worse in welfare terms, perhaps, because civilisation should offer more than just bread, but in terms of offering the nutrition for stature, not worse.

Just for completeness’s sake, heights by sex :

The abstract of the source paper :

This paper offers the first anthropometric estimates on the biological standard of living in central Europe in the first millennium, and expands the literature on the second millenium. The overall picture is one of stagnant heights. There was not much progress in European nutritional status, not even between 1000 and 1800, when recent GDP per capita estimates arrive at growing figures. We find that heights stagnated during the Roman imperial period in Central, Western and Southern Europe. One astonishing result is the height increase in the fifth and sixth centuries. Noteworthy is the synchronicity of the height development in three large regions of Europe. In a regression analysis of height determinants, population density was clearly economically (but not statistically) significant. Decreasing marginal product theories and Malthusian thought cannot be denied for the pre-1800 period. Of marginal significance were climate (warmer temperatures were good for nutritional status), social inequality and gender inequality (both reduce average height).