Politics, art, mathematics, science, philosophy, and culture flourished during the Golden Age of Greece, a period in Greek history lasting through the 5th and 4th centuries BC (510-323 BC) that would have a profound influence on 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 (of whom the Greeks eventually defeated) and then between the rival city states of the Athenians and the Spartans (which led to Sparta gaining the ascendancy).
The city of Athens, under Pericles (495-429 BC) experienced a prosperous growth which marked the beginning of the city’s political, economic, and cultural dominance (2). At the time it developed gymnastics, drama, an alphabetical system, democracy in which Athenians above the age of 18 could join the governing body of Athens, and a legal system in which people in court could plead their cases.
Numerous monuments and temples were constructed, and literacy increased significantly as a elementary schools were teaching young boys how to read and write. Athenian society in many respects became conducive to literary and philosophical development as evidenced in the fact that it produced far more written works than any of the other Ancient Greek states. Philosophy, in particular, spread across the Greek world as the city states grew. The flourishing of Athens brought forth the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The ideas and reasoning of these influential men were developed and taught by their students and followers. Plato, who was a student of Socrates, formed an Academy (from which we get the English word academics) where he passed on Socrates’ ideas to his students, one of whom was Aristotle (who is widely appreciated today in academia not only because of his philosophy but also due to his scientific work on physics, biology, and zoology). The ideas presented by these thinkers formed the foundation of western philosophy up until the present day.
The Golden Age of Ancient Greece came to an end when Alexander the Great died in 323 BC (3). Having died the city states once again resorted to rivalry, and the states unified under Alexander the Great were divided among his generals. This moment also marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period which took Greek culture to new territories in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
The rivalry that resulted following the death of Alexander the Great’s resulted in the flourishing of different schools of philosophical thought such as the epicureans, skeptics, cynics, and stoics. However, at the close of the Hellenistic period (146 BC) Greek culture continued to decline as the Roman Empire grew in might. The Romans had little interest in most of Greek philosophy apart from stoicism although Greek philosophy continued to live on in the Arab world where it was being persevered on manuscripts and would also resurface during the medieval era in both Christian and Islamic circles.
1. Ancient History. Classical Greece. Available.
2. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Classical Greek civilization. Available.
3. Roebuck, C. 1966. The World of Ancient Times. p. 362.