251 Four Cornerstones of Greek History

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The Four Cornerstones of Greek History:

The Four Cornerstones of Greek History Steve Wood TCCC

Two Importance Places:

Two Importance Places There are two places (and the institutions that developed from those places) that shaped Greek culture over the next several hundred years. Olympia and the Olympic Games Delphi and the Oracle of Apollo

Two More Importance Places:

Two More Importance Places After those two places, there were a number of Greek cities that were important, including the two most famous: Athens and Sparta.

Olympia and The Olympic Games:

Olympia and The Olympic Games The date of the first Olympics is the first recorded date in Greek history (776). A 200 yd. race was the only event until 724. Only citizens with no criminal records and no relatives with criminal records could compete.

Evolution of the Games:

Evolution of the Games 724 BC: 14th Olympiad adds a second footrace (about one-half mile) 720 BC: 15th Olympiad adds long distance race of 2.5 miles 708 BC: 18th Olympiad adds the pentathlon: broad jumping, javelin, 200 yard dash, discus, and wrestling

Evolution of the Games:

Evolution of the Games 696 BC: 23rd Olympiad adds boxing 682 BC: 25th Olympiad adds chariot race 650 BC: 33rd Olympiad adds no-holds barred boxing/wrestling competition, which becomes one of the most popular competitions.


Olympia Olympia was a neutral religious site dedicated to Zeus. The games themselves were protected by a Sacred Truce overseen by Zeus. As the various city-states (the polis) became more powerful, rivalries did develop. The competitions celebrated Homeric virtues.


Vocabulary “agon” – contest “arete” – excellence “kleos aphthiton” – undying glory “polis” – a city-state, the basic political unit in Greece for the next several centuries “eris” – strife, which could be good (as in competition that drives one to achieve arete) or bad (which encourages envy of others’ skills and accomplishments)


Victory The victors at these games were celebrated in song throughout Greece; their lineages were traced back to the mythic heroes of the Mycenaean age.

Delphi and The Oracle of Apollo:

Delphi and The Oracle of Apollo A sacred city, Delphi was thought to be the center of the Greek universe. Apollo, the god of light, truth, and prophecy, was the central deity there, although the sacred space had temples to many gods.


Delphi Delphi came to be a mediator between the various city-states. It offered judgments on disputes and border conflicts in addition to personal advice. Like Olympia, Delphi was not the province of any particular city-state.


Sparta Sparta conquered the Messenians (650-600 BC) and turned their entire population into serfs known as helots. Thus, a small population of Spartans held a much larger population in servitude.

Spartan Government:

Spartan Government The Spartans had two kings at a time. A council of five (known as “euphors”) ran the administrative duties of the government. A Council of Thirty Elders advised the kings and served as a court. All male citizens were members of a general assembly. These full citizens were a small group known as the Spartiates.

Spartan Citizenship:

Spartan Citizenship Boys were drafted into the army at an early age. Crippled infants who would not be able to do so were killed. A secret society, the cryptaea, sent the young men out to live off the land. Those who survived would eventually rule as Spartiates; they called themselves “homoioi” – the Equals.

A Closed Society:

A Closed Society Periodically, the Spartans would expel all foreigners, both out of a fear of the revolt of the helots as well as a fear that foreign ideas would destroy their culture. Commerce was restricted by the use of metals bars instead of coins.


Athens The other city-state that would dominate Greek history was Athens. Named after Athena, Athens came to represent many important aspects of Greek culture – democracy, philosophy, drama, sculpture, and poetry.

City of Many Governments:

City of Many Governments Athens was, at various times, an aristocracy (ruled by members of a privileged upper class), a plutocracy (ruled by the wealthiest members of society), an autocracy (ruled by a single individual, known as a tyrant to the Athenians regardless of how benevolent), and a limited democracy (ruled by the people themselves).

Golden Age of Athens:

Golden Age of Athens It was under the tyrant Pisistratus and the democratic government begun by Cleisthenes that Athens developed into a major power. This “Golden Age” lasted approximately 100 years (508-405 BC).

Golden Age of Athens:

Golden Age of Athens During this time, Athens was known for its riches, its dominance over the other Greek city-states, the rise of its dramatic arts and poetry, and its love of philosophy and learning. This is the age of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripides, and Pythagoras.


Links For more information on Olympia, click here . For more information on the Oracle at Delphi, click here . For a modern explanation of the Oracle’s powers, click here .


Links For more information on the history of ancient Sparta, click here . For an account of how the Spartans saved the Western world, click here . For more information on the history of ancient Athens, click here .

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