What was the Golden Age of Greece?

coverPolitics, art, mathematics, science, philosophy, and culture flourished during the Golden Age of Greece, a period in the country’s history lasting through the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, or from 510 to 323 BCE, that would profoundly influence the Roman Empire and the Western world (1).

This period was one of great achievement but also one of war. A succession of military conflicts occurred between the Greeks and the Persians and then between the rival city-states of the Athenians and the Spartans (which led to Sparta gaining the ascendancy). However, the achievement were many as under Pericles (495-429 BCE) Athens experienced a prosperous growth that marked the beginning of the city’s political, economic, and cultural dominance (2). Athens produced gymnastics, drama, an alphabetical system, democracy, and a legal system in which people in court could plead their cases.

Architecture flourished as various monuments and temples were constructed. The famous Acropolis and the Parthenon symbolize one of Western culture’s greatest and enduring achievements. The Erechtheum and the Temple of Olympian Zeus are architectural feats symbolizing ancient Greek religion, as were many other temples and sanctuaries. Literacy levels also increased as elementary schools taught boys how to read and write. In many respects, society became conducive to literary and philosophical development, which is no doubt evidenced in Athens producing far more written works than any other city-state. Philosophy, in particular, spread across the Greek world as the city-states grew. Athens brought us the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle whose ideas and reasoning were developed and promoted by their students and later thinkers. Plato, who was a student of Socrates, formed an academy, from which we get the English word academics, and passed on Socrates’ ideas to his students, one of whom was Aristotle. Aristotle requires little introduction other than a deserved tipping of the hat to his scientific work on physics, biology, and zoology.

The Golden Age of Ancient Greece came to an end when Alexander the Great died in 323 BCE (3). Having died, the city-states once again resorted to rivalry and those that had been previously unified under Alexander were divided among his generals. This era was Alexander had, however, ushered in the Hellenistic period that took Greek culture to new territories across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

The rivalry that emerged after Alexander’s death facilitated the flourishing of various schools of philosophical thought, most notable of which were the Epicureans, Skeptics, Cynics, and Stoics. At the close of the Hellenistic period (146 BCE), Greek culture declined as the Roman Republic grew in strength. The Romans had little interest in most of Greek philosophy apart from Stoicism. Greek philosophy continued to live on in the Arab world (see the Gold Age of Islam) where it was preserved on manuscripts and would later resurface in the medieval era.

References

1. Ancient History. Classical Greece. Available.

2. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Classical Greek civilization. Available.

3. Roebuck, C. 1966. The World of Ancient Times. p. 362.

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