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ATHENS AND ATTICA: Home of Classical Greek Civilization

Ancient Greece was not the unified country we know today, but an assortment of independent city-states, loosely controlled at various times by Athens, Sparta, Thebes, Macedonia, or Mycenae. Athens wielded power during the height of Greek civilization, the Classical period (450-400 BCE) chiefly because Athenian generals and statesmen led the effort to repel the Persian invasions of 490 and 480 BCE.

One of Athens' greatest statesmen, Pericles, provided the leadership to build the grand monuments on the Acropolis in Athens, most famously the Parthenon (shown at left).

During the Classical period the great Athenian dramatists -- Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes -- created masterpieces of theater that still hold our attention today. In this same period the great philosophers -- Socrates, Plato, Aristotle -- provided a basis for much of western thought and ideas.

Long before the Classical period, however, Athens was one of the lesser powers in the glorious Bronze Age civilizations (2000-1000 BCE) known from the Homeric epics and classical tragedies. Mycenae was the home of Agamemnon, Tiryns of Menelaos, Pylos of Nestor, and Thebes of Oedipus. After the destruction of these great cities, a period of unrest and primitive conditions, called the Dark Ages, lasted for several centuries (1100-800 BCE).

Great religious centers such as Olympia and Delphi, arose from the ashes of those lost civilizations, which inspired the Homeric epics and stories of later legends. Greek cities outgrew their meager surroundings and sent out settlers to colonize South Italy and Sicily, ancient Magna Graecia, and to the east in what is now Turkey.

Read "The Athenian Constitution" by Aristotle: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/athenian_const.1.1.html

The more recent history of iron age Greece is divided chronologically into four periods listed below with major sites for each period:

Basic Chronology of Greek Art and Culture

Geometric - 900-700
Olympia and the

Archaic - 700-480
Delphi and the

Classical - 480-323
Athens and the

Hellenistic - 323-31
Pergamon and the
Altar of Zeus

Divisions are based both on historical events and on artistic styles. 480 represents the last Persian war as well as the beginning of the Early Classical Period. 323 represents the death of Alexander the Great as well as the beginning of the Hellenistic Period, so named because it represents an extension of Hellenic (Greek) culture into the wider Mediterranean world. 31 represents the time when Octavian (later Augustus) gained control as first Roman emperor.

For all questions about ancient Greek civilization, first consult

The Perseus Digital Library
For example, a web site is devoted to the Olympic Games.  

The web site for the Ancient City of Athens also contains much information about one of the greatest cities of the ancient world: http://www.indiana.edu/~kglowack/athens/



Elements of Greek Mythology

The family of Greek gods became well known and loved chiefly through the poetry and drama of ancient Greece, which had the legends of gods and heroes as subjects. Several DIVINITIES are represented in the SIIAS@CSI Study Collection, chiefly EROS, god of love; Aphrodite with Eros; Nike or Victoria; Athena or Minerva; Seilenos an old Satyr; and Herakles.  

Read the Theogeny of Hesiod to learn about the origin of Greek religion and the family of gods.

The primeval force Chaos produced Gaia (Earth), as well as Tartarus (Underworld), Nyx (Night), Erebus (Darkness), and Eros (the spirit of Love). Gaia then produced Uranus (Sky), Pontus (Sea), and Mountains. Gaia and her son Uranus together produced the Titans and Titanesses who then produced the first generation of gods.

Titans: Cronos * Rhea * Themis * Mnemosyne * Cyclopes
First Generation of Gods: Zeus * Hera * Hestia * Demeter * Hades * Poseidon

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Second Generation of Gods: Apollo * Artemis * Athena * Aphrodite * Ares * Hephaistos
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesos was another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World



Elements of Greek Architecture

Greek architects developed the "orders" or types of architecture over several centuries from the Archaic period, until they were perfected in the Classical period. The "order" means the type of building elements, and they were strictly followed in the Greek era. These orders became the standard for many later neo-Classical buildings such as our U. S. Capitol in Washington D.C. as well as many court houses and banks.

Oldest was the Doric order, the plainest type, but one that epitomizes the Classical spirit. The distinctive elements of this order are the plain cushion-like capital and the triglyph-metope frieze, which often had sculpted metopes as on the Parthenon. It originated in Dorian areas of Greece, the Peloponnesos and the island of Crete. The Doric order is often thought to derive from wooden constructions, since the very earliest temples and buildings were made of wood. Only later, in the sixth century BCE did marble and limestone buildings become common.

The Ionic order originated in the Greek east, in the cities along the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey. Ionic columns have the distinctive volute capital as well as a carved base. The architrave above the columns often carries a sculpted relief frieze.

In later times the Corinthian order was used for columns on the outside of buildings, but originally this order was reserved for interior spaces. The Parthenon had Corinthian columns in the interior.

Left: Drawing of the Theseion in Athens, a Doric temple; Right: Mark Fullerton, Greek Art, N 5630 .F85 2000


Greek vases come in standard shapes for specific purposes:
the amphora for storing oil;
the hydria for carrying water;
the krater for mixing wine;
the oinochoe or pitcher for pouring;
the kylix or cup for drinking.
Although the basic shapes remained constant through centuries of Greek potting, variations occur from the Archaic through the Classical and Hellenistic periods.

Left to right: amphora, krater, hydria, oinochoe

In addition to the basic shapes, Greek vases were made primarily in two techniques:

black figure and red figure.
Black figure vases are named because the glaze which was used for the painted figures fires black and the background remained in the red ground of the clay color. Red figure vases reversed the process, leaving the figures unglazed and remaining in the red clay color, with the background firing black. This technique also enabled vase painters to display more painterly techniques in showing details of human body and clothing.

For more information about Greek vases, consult the Perseus Project, which is the premier resource for all aspects of ancient Greece: Art, Architecture, Literature, History, and Religion. A much more specialized resource exists in the Beazley Archive, an online version of the real collection of photographs and data in Oxford. There are many other sources for descriptions of the various shapes of Greek vases as well.

Some examples from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/view50.asp?dep=13 =

More images of Greek pottery from the University of Pennsylvania Musuem:


Greek Vase Tour from the Krannert Art Museum:


Attic Black Figure Kylix

SIIAS A 1574; late sixth century BCE

Gift of D. Wallace MacDonald
in memory of
Mrs. Francis MacDonald, 1911

This is one of the finest objects in the Archaeology Collection, and shows the black figure technique used as a decorative picture zone around the entire exterior of the cup. The interior tondo had a smaller image. The subject on the exterior is a favorate and frequent one, the departure of warriors for battle. Figures of Greek hoplite soldiers holding large round shields are interspersed with seated men who bid them farewell.

Attic Red Figure Lekythos

SIIAS A 1605; mid fifth century BCE;
Height 10 1/8 inches

Gift of D. Wallace MacDonald
in memory of
Mrs. Francis MacDonald, 1911

The vase comes from Athens, Greece, and is called "Attic" after the area of Attica that includes Athens and surrounding towns. The style is "red figure" from the drawing of the figure of a girl, which is left in the red color of the clay after the background turns black in firing. Red figure vases first appeared around 530 BCE in Athens, supplanting the former black figure style.



Further Reading about Greek Vases

John Boardman, Early Greek vase painting : 11th-6th centuries BC NK 4645 .B549 1998
John Boardman, Athenian Black Figure Vases, NK 4648 .B62 1991
John Boardman, Athenian Red Figure Vases, NK 4649 .B624 1989


Click Here for Further Reading
about Ancient Greece in the CSI Library

John Boardman
Early Greek Vase Painting:
11th-6th centuries BC

NK 4645 .B549 1998

Robin Osborne
Archaic and classical Greek art
N 5630 .O83 1998

Cambridge Illustrated History of
Ancient Greece

DF 77 .C32 1998

Peter Green
Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.
DF 234 .G68 1991

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