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Would You Lie to Save a Life? Ethics Book Home Page. Adkins, Arthur W. Merit and Responsibility: a Study in Greek Values. Oxford: Clarendon Press, Barr, James. Biblical Words for Time. London: SCM Press, Studies in biblical theology S. Furley, David J. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, Ihara, eds. Human Virtue and Human Excellence. NY: P. Lang, Deissmann, Adolf. NY: George H. Doran, Dihle, Albrecht. The Theory of Will in Classical Antiquity.

Protocol of the 16th colloquy, Dodd, C. The Bible and the Greeks. London: Hodder and Stoughton, Gartner, B. The Areopagus Speech and Natural Revelation. Uppsala: C. Gleerup, Glisson, G. For a period of about years after BC, many city-states sent out groups of their citizens to found colonies on distant shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

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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 centres. 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 centre of Greece. 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.

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The social framework varied significantly from city-state to city-state. Most cities, however, had a large class of free, native-born peasant farmers.

Ancient Greek Civilization

These owned small farms to subsist on. The adult males formed the citizen body of the state. 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. 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 labourers 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.

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.

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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. 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.

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Divorce was easy for men — they could divorce their wives without justification — and almost impossible for women. 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, colourful scenes. 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.

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. For the Greeks, the city-state was essentially a community of citizens making decisions together about matters of communal concern.

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. 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. Click here to find out how Greek democracy arose. 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, theatres 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. 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.


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. 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 Peloponesian 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 behaviour 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 favour of Spartan values click here for more on Sparta and the Peloponesian League and its later leading role in Greece.

The city-states relied on their own citizens to fight in their armies. Each citizen had to have his own armour 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 honour. 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. 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 armour. Blockades and sieges became common. In Hellenistic times the scale of Greek-style warfare would become much larger still.

The Greeks worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses, headed by the chief of the gods, Zeus. 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 honour of Zeus every four years starting traditionally in 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 honour 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 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.

Moral values and political behaviour in ancient Greece

However, they stressed the importance of the afterlife — initiates were promised immortality — and the need for ethical standards of behaviour were emphasised. 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. 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 armour and weapons for them, and the young men learnt how to fight effectively in military camps. For boys from wealthy families, training in public speaking would round off their education. 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.