Around 1200 b.C. the Doric
people descended upon the Peleponessos. They came from northern Greece
and were attracted by the enormous wealth of the Greek peninsula.. The
Doric conquered the original population by means of iron weapons as well as bringing horses
to the battlefield. After their victory they settled down in Sparta and
The Ionic people conquered Athena as well as Attika. The Spartan people developed themselves especially strategically while the new inhabitants of Athena focussed on cultural development. For many ages these two groups of people were in war with each other, both aiming for the absolute power over Greece. It never became a unity but around 700 b.C. a relatively quite period began. This was the beginning of the Ancient Greek Period.
The social and cultural developments from the period of 700 b.C till around 100 b.C. exerted enormous influence on the European society. Therefore the Ancient Greek Period is seen as the cradle for western civilization. The very high level of civilization can be mostly explained by the way the Greek society was functioning.
The first conditions needed for the spiritual development of a society are political stability as well as economic prosperity.
Just like the original people, the new people lived to a large extend based on trade. They lived in cities and therefor took more active part in social life. When the economy of the nation would have been based on agriculture, this would not have been the case. In an agricultural civilization the people would have lived more isolated form each other and the control would have been in the hands of a small group of people. Most farmers would have been working for this small group of people with the power. The business people however were independent and therefore had more freedom of action.
The overseas trade and the exploitation of colonies brought the ancient Greek a period of enormous wealth. Due to the fact that their primal needs were provided in abundance the people could develop themselves on a cultural level. Their spiritual development was stimulated by their trade with different cultures. Because of the mixture of Oriental traditions, the remains of the Minoan civilization and their natural urgency to discover and understand the world, the Greek way of thinking was born.
The examination of the phenomena taking place in the world as well as trying to explain them, are universal qualities of human beings. The way in which human worked differed throughout time.. We are used to looking into things from a scientific point of view while the people in the prehistoric times tried to explain phenomena by ascribing them to supernatural powers. During the Classical Period these explanations did not do anymore. Because of their overseas trade the consciousness of the people became stronger. They could not accept any longer that they were insignificant beings totally depending upon the moods of the deities. The Greek in the Ancient History became aware of their ability to reason. In stead of explaining everything they encounter through the supernatural powers of the deities, the Greek tried to explain everything by reason.
This is how philosophy originated. 'Filos' means friend and 'sofos' means wisdom. Therefore the word philosophy can be explained as 'wanting to amass wisdom' and 'wanting to get to know the unknown. The philosophy of the Classical Period forms the basis of spiritual development of human in general. Everything was influenced by the philosophy. From politics and scientific developments to religion and art.
In the early beginnings the philosophy was practiced in the streets. The philosophers gathered in an open air but roofed hall with enormous pillars situated near a square. These place formed the sophisticated center of town and was surrounded by governmental buildings, temples, a theater and shops.
During these meetings of the philosophers ideas and thesis were exchanged. Due to the fact that some philosophers even gathered students around themselves to teach them their ideas and principals, schools originated: stoic (insensible regarding adversity of fate), cynic (in pursuit of virtue and renouncing materialism), septic (peace of mind by accepting the fact that nothing in life is to be sure of), sophism etc.
While all of these schools differed in their opinions and idea, they all shared a view basic principles. Specially these basic principles were of major influence for the society and culture of the Classic Period.
Human formed the center of the universe as an independent human being. Human were able to contribute and take active part in the success of their life. To achieve this it was important to pursuit harmony in their lives in stead of chaos.
Balance, harmony, was a very important concept during the Classic Period. Optimally harmony was believed to be a sign of divinity. Therefore training the body and the spirit to pursuit harmony was a very important part in the education of the young Greek. In the Greek grammar schools the young ones were trained athletically. In the mean time scholar were present to teach them grammar, astrology, philosophy and other subjects. The people strove for spiritual as well as physical perfection.
In the Greek society a rational mentality developed in which inner and outer beauty (achieved through harmony) played a very important part.
The basic elements of philosophy could also be found in the structure of their society, the administrative level. Because human was considered the center of the universe the idea of equal right for everyone started to grow (this however only in relation to adult males with a civil status). From this, democracy as polity originated (demos means people: dominion of the people). In the Greek democracy the majority of votes determined what decisions should be made. It was every adult male his duty to vote, when the occasion occurred. Not voting was punished by getting deprived of their civil status. People who lost their position in society this way were called 'idiots'.
The above mentioned elements in the Greek society were a substrate for the flourishment of many different cultural activities like literature, architecture, plastic arts etc.
The Greek sculpture beautifully shows us their strive for spiritual and physical perfection; The male nudes have a muscular and perfectly proportioned body. The expression is distant and self-controlled. This sculpture reflects the optimal harmony of body and spirit. Therefore this must be the sculpture of a god. It just can't be a mortal.
Striving for perfect harmony can also be found in Greek architecture. Especially within the temple-construction this was of great importance. The temple was after all the house of a god. Therefore the proportions of these buildings (height, length and width) had to be perfectly harmonized. The human body formed the basis for the right proportions within the architecture. A perfect balance could be achieved.
In this manner the basic philosophy of the Ancient Greek was expressed through sculpture and architecture.
The Greek society was also influenced by religion. Their religion was based on myths. Originally the term represented 'spoken words' or stories. Nowadays myths represent a tale without a kernel of truth: fantasy. In the classic period these stories had the same meaning as the stories of the Bible during the Middle Ages.
In nearly every civilization the people tried to get grip on their surroundings and the things happening around them in order to make them less threatening. In the prehistoric cultures myths were used to explain the natural phenomena. But they had more functions than just explaining the supernatural phenomena. They also explained the beginning of the world and the origin of man. Besides, they myths kept the memories of the foundation of important cities and areas as well as the heroic deeds of civilizations and individuals alive. The tales about the heroes - human beings with often supernatural capacities and a moralizing function - symbolized the perfect examples for mankind.
During whole of the classic period the people believed in the myths but during time the myths were taken less and less serious.
In the Ancient Greek History nearly all art objects were of religious nature. Because myths lay on the basis of the Greek religion, many myths can be recognized in Greek painting.
The Romans roughly took over the religion and accompanying deities of the Greek. They did however named the deities differently, like Jupiter, Diana, Neptune, etc. Striking is the fact that the Romans only took over those subjects that suited their ruling society. Other subjects were adjusted or just not used at all. The Romans loved to conquer new regions. Therefore their deities had a much more belligerent character as the same deities showed within the Greek culture. The hero was in case of the Romans a war hero. These war heroes were very important in the Roman society. They were a role model for the common people.