Engraving of Aristotle teaching Alexander the Great, 1866, by Charles LaPlante
Classical Greece—the cradle of western philosophy, democracy, and science—was the heir of grand achievements by the earlier Bronze-Age Greeks. These Achaeans, as they called themselves, excelled as warriors but were also enterprising merchants and talented artisans. Following the widespread upheavals of the Trojan War, the Greek city-states gradually recovered and subsequently altered much of the ancient Mediterranean world as they introduced numerous social and political innovations.
Athens provided the most notable standards for education, arts, and architecture that were widely imitated in the Greek world. It created an Aegean commercial empire but overreached and fell into a devastating civil war. Other Greek states then failed to check the rapid rise of Macedonian Greeks who then transformed the democratic ideals.
Archaeologist Robert Stieglitz explores the marvelous cultural heritage of the Greeks as revealed by historical sources and impressive archaeological discoveries, notably their achievements in education, politics, arts, and architecture in Greece and beyond.
9:30–10:45 a.m. The Mycenaean Heritage
The early Greeks we call Mycenaeans greatly expanded their mainland feudal kingdoms after 1600 B.C. from centers such as Thebes, Sparta, Pylos, Argos, and Mycenae. They introduced the horse and chariot to warfare and, having mastered seafaring, they extended hegemony over the Aegean and trade widely. After 1400 B.C. they adapted a script from Minoans on Crete. This prosperous Mycenaean civilization ended abruptly following the Trojan War as invading Dorian Greeks displaced them.
11 a.m.–12:15 p.m. The Spirit of the City-State
The city-state (Greek polis) that gradually emerged on the mainland differed drastically from its Bronze Age predecessors as it created public institutions to prepare citizens for better governance by attaining their full potential in body and mind. Among the well-known cities were Thebes, Corinth, Sparta, Argos, Athens, and Miletos, where Greek philosophy originated. Early philosophers sought to explain natural phenomena and their teachings laid the foundations for western science. They speculated about traditional religious beliefs and brought about significant cultural changes.
12:15–1:30 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
1:30–2:45 p.m. The Golden Age of Athens
In the 5th century B.C., Athens under Pericles became a model for other Greek cities through its brilliant social, political, and artistic achievements. Architecture, sculpture, painting, and theatre attained remarkable peaks that were spread well beyond Greece. The golden age was mitigated by an intermittent civil war with Sparta and a disastrous naval expedition to Sicily but remained a source for inspiration.
3–4:15 p.m. Alexander and the Hellenistic Ideals
The Hellenistic world order ushered in by Alexander the Great transformed Greece and the parts of the ancient world with new ideals for society, religion, science, and the arts. Kings and city councils returned to replace political institutions in various territories taken over by the Macedonian heirs of Alexander. Athens remained a cultural capital as Greek became the dominant language and literature in the eastern Mediterranean.
Stieglitz, a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, specializes in ancient maritime interconnections. He has excavated at various harbors in Greece and Israel and has led numerous archaeological tours in the eastern and western Mediterranean.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)