Anthony F. Magaraci II
As a teacher of World Cultures, and particularly Ancient Civilizations, I think it is important to expose students to various aspects of each culture and make an attempt to recreate the past conditions in those societies. This provides students with the means to arrive at a subjective awareness of themselves as members of contemporary society, while gathering the necessary objective knowledge of past events to meet this end. Although past and present experiences differ substantially, the process of discerning these differences can lead to an eventual understanding of oneself in his/her place in time. I recall one of my history professors in undergraduate school stating: "If only people would learn from history more often, then the world would be a better place to live in." Thus, a good lesson in history is a good lesson in life.
Much of our interpretation of past events, and, in general, of life in the past, is influenced by our own expectations of the way we believe life should have been experienced by others. This is based upon our understanding of our own experiences. Although many people might argue that it is impossible to fully understand the experiences of those who have lived thousands of years ago, I would argue that it is equally impossible to gather a full understanding of one's own experiences or existence unless a comparison is readily available. Thus, the process of studying history and of establishing one's identity in modern society necessarily becomes the process of discovering comparisons and contrasts found in the various civilizations systematically over time. The prospect of adequately accomplishing this task may appear less than possible for many students, and certainly holds true for a great number of adults. For this reason, I believe that the most advantageous approach to the study of any ancient civilization should commence with a focus upon an aspect of society which is consistently present over a lengthy period of time. This aspect of ancient society should also be present in contemporary society so that comparisons and contrasts can be readily observed. This especially holds true when the ancient civilization in question was rich in culture, and credited with heavily contributing to many aspects of our own society and culture.
The cultures which most accurately meet these criteria are found among the Ancient Greek Civilizations. Greek culture was initially developed by the Minoans and Mycenaens, and reached its pinnacle with Athens and Sparta during the Classical Period. Throughout this time, culture blossomed in such areas as religion, mythology, philosophy, political structure, literature, theatre, art, music, science, mathematics, architecture, and economics. Certainly, Greek society was the equivalent, if not the epitome, of most ancient and contemporary cultures. Simultaneously, the advancement of Greek culture was consistently accompanied by warfare.
The Ancient Greek city-states and their experience with military conflicts throughout their lengthy history were reflective of societal aspirations; the desire to increase and/or preserve the potential for cultural development. The Myceneans were warriors who often fought among themselves, and at other times raided their neighbors with pirate fleets. Spartan boys began training for war by the age of seven. The desire of members of the Spartan aristocracy to maintain great military strength was a priority in their society. In the sixth century B.C. Sparta overthrew Athens. The Spartans and other Greek city-states were overthrown by the Macedonians by 371 B.C. Athens also prided itself on a strong military establishment. Together with several other city-states, Athens fought a series of sporadic wars with the Persians which extended-over a period of forty-one years, 520- 479 B.C. Finally, Athens, an increasingly powerful city-state, found itself engaged in war with Sparta and a number of other lesser Greek city-states. The Peloponnesian war, which was fought from 431-404 B.C. signaled the eventual decline of the Classical Greek civilization.1
Warfare played a constant and significant role in the development of Greek culture. This is apparent in the depiction of military conflicts on various artifacts which have survived over the centuries. The Greek warrior is located among the largest artifacts, buildings and statues, and among the smallest, coins. The warrior is also painted on vases. These objects are all reflective of Greek culture, and of the impact war had upon the people who created and used these objects. The most abundant of these artifacts are the hundreds of vases which have been collected over the years. Among these vases are the "Athenian Red-Figure vases and Attic Black Figure Vases."
The development of this unit will proceed upon the premise that wars had a direct impact upon the development of Greek culture and the people who have identified with this experience to create their cultural identity within that society. The development of this unit will establish a direct correlation between culture and the artists' expression of that culture on ceramic jars in representations of war.