The unit will begin with an introduction to ancient Greece in which students are exposed to a number of facts concerning Greek culture in the areas of mythology, astronomy, architecture, art, and artifacts. These categories will appeal to the wide range of interests within the classroom. My intention is for students to identify with several aspects of Greek culture which can also be identified with twentieth century thought in the western world. A brief segment on geography follows the introduction. Students learn the location of the various city-states within the overall region, and the climate and the natural resources available to these ancient civilizations. Students will search for possible trade routes, and describe early patterns of life as they were determined by the physical geography. Of special interest is the cultural achievement of the Minoans as made manifest at the Palace of Knossos, Crete.
Students will begin a study of mythology in an attempt to discover characteristics of daily life and thought found in ancient Greek society. The ancient Greeks assigned their gods mortal traits and weaknesses. Therefore, students are expected to gather insight of ancient Greek society through the actions of their gods. Students have the opportunity to learn the legends of the following gods through role-play activities: Zeus, lord of Olympus; Hera, queen of Heaven; Hestia, goddess of the home; Athena, goddess of wisdom; Demeter, goddess of agriculture; Apollo, god of music, archery, medicine and prophecy; Eros, god of love; Aphrodite, goddess of love; Ares, god of war; Poseidon, god of the sea; Hades, lord of the underworld; and Persephone, his queen.5 Students are provided an excellent opportunity to discover the importance placed upon warfare in relation to other aspects of culture as revealed by various mythological tales.
For example, Ares, the god of war, and his brother and sister, were always eager to engage the enemy in battle. Yet they were, more often than not, unsuccessful. Warfare made Hades, the god of the underworld, happy because he received a steady stream of newly slain warriors for his kingdom. Once people entered the underworld, they assumed their fate as determined by Hades based upon their actions in the world prior to death.6 Discovering how this type of legend unfolds prompts students to place their values within the context of the lesson. For instance, students can be asked, "To what extent can a society claim to be advanced (all innovations) when the extent of this cultural advancement, and of life itself, rests in the balance of warfare and destruction of man?" Also, "Why were the Greeks compelled to worship the will of gods, whose desires ultimately led to man's own destruction?" Of notable interest, Ares was the god who supported and protected the Trojans in their struggle with the Greeks, while Athena, the goddess of wisdom, supported the Greek side.7 An appropriate question to ask students would be, "Do you think both civilizations would have fought for long, or at all, had they worshipped the same god?"
Athena, also the daughter of Zeus, was credited with teaching mankind how to weave cloth and make the wheel, ax, plough, flute and trumpet. She often settled disputes peacefully, but was also skilled in the art of warfare.8 A clear connection between culture and warfare can be established here.
The next avenues of research provide students with different opportunities to examine aspects of Greek culture which have influenced both ancient Greece and the modern world, and those members of society who have made these advancements and contributions.
In the area of medicine students learn that Hippocrates, a medical practitioner, was the first person to establish a scientific approach to medicine. Hippocrates founded a school for medicine where dissection of corpses was performed in an attempt to understand how the human body functioned. He also established a code of practice for other doctors to follow. Hippocrates believed that careful observation and attention to the patient's overall condition was the key to discovering and curing illness. Many doctors still practice this code today.9
In the area of mathematics, students discover that Euclid introduced basic concepts such as the "line" and the "angle", both of which he described within the context of space.10 The geometric mathematician Pythagoras is noted for his contribution to the basics of science. The Pythagorean theorem identifies the "equality in the unequal elements forming the sides and hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle."11 Thus, a relationship is established between all things and space. Pythagoras is also known for his contributions to music and astronomy where he applied his geometric principles.
Pictures of buildings such as the Parthenon in Athens, with its Doric columns, show evidence that knowledge of "angles, proportions, and views" used in geometry were applied to construction and design.12 For example, the columns of the Parthenon are slightly fatter in the middle than at both ends. The columns were designed in this manner to offset the concave appearance which is experienced by the human eye.13 Similar building designs found in contemporary society such as the Court House in New Haven provide students with evidence of the influence of Greek mathematical achievement, and suggests where and how comparisons and contrasts can be formed.
The next portion of the unit focuses on the exploration of various aspects of Greek warfare. Concepts such as hoplite, armor, weapons, formations, and tactics are presented in an attempt to expose students to the warrior's experience as this relates to the influence warfare had on society and culture. This inquiry lends itself to role-plays, when students can re-enact famous battles or the life-style of warriors. The impact warfare had upon the outcome of Greek civilization is an important goal in this unit segment.
The life-style of the Athenian hoplite demonstrates this point. The hoplites were not only soldiers, but also farmers, businessmen, traders, and rich men. These people felt it was their civic duty to report for military service in time of need. The hoplites represented the majority of citizens. They were not full-time soldiers. Rather, they resembled the role people play in modern society during time of war.14
Much of a boy's education and role in Athenian society was influenced by warfare. Although a paid education varied depending upon the financial status of the parent, most boys whose parents could afford to pay for an education learned the fundamentals of fighting. This was accomplished through athletic training in the form of "fitness exercises, jumping, wrestling, throwing the discus and javelin, and boxing".15 At the age of eighteen, all men were required to serve in the military for two years as cadets. During the first year of service, these young men were required to live in barracks outside Athens. Cadets were taught to handle weapons, dress in armor, and drill. During the second year of service, cadets were required to garrison forts along the outskirts of the city. After this two year term, cadets returned to private life where they awaited to be called upon to fight if necessary.16
The unit proceeds with an introduction to Greek art and artifacts. Students view objects which reflect warfare. A great portion of these objects are painted amphorae. Particular attention will be given to the iconography found on the vessels. This iconography (in the form of paintings) depicts Greek hoplites engaged in battle or the epic struggles of the mythological gods. Students will be challenged to speculate on what exactly the artists were expressing in their paintings, and why a great emphasis was placed on this aspect of Greek society. Students are also expected to identify the various forms of vessels manufactured over time.
A prime example of this type of artifact is an Attic Black-Figure Amphora found in the Yale University Art Gallery (catalog #1.1994.1). The object is reflective of Greek society as denoted by the iconographic inscriptions along the panels of the object. Here we have depictions of warfare. In one panel, the goddess Athena, and the god Ares are engaged in battle with two giants. The gods are triumphant as evidenced by the timely retreat of the two giants. On the other panel four figures are preparing a warrior (the fifth figure) for battle. Here we grasp the relationship of gods and mankind; the shared traits and experiences of both beings which symbolized much of their existence.
Although the object reflects conflict, the fact that it is a vessel used for carrying food, wine, or water, and not an object used in battle becomes a point of particular interest. Most people experience contentment after receiving nourishment, or knowing that a life sustaining and necessary supply of material is readily available. Most people would also argue that the presence of military conflict becomes a threat to one's existence. Warfare threatens a change in familiarity with one's environment, and in many instances, death or extermination. I find this to be a curious relationship, and one which leads to speculation concerning the connection between culture and warfare. Greek pottery was a basic essential of the survivability of their culture, yet warfare was a direct challenge to that culture.
The depiction of warfare may appear to be the anti-thesis to cultural development at first glance. Students should be made aware that military conflicts resulted in the destruction of the Greek civilizations and their cultures. Yet, the preservation of societies, and of their cultural identities, would have also depended upon their ability to defend themselves against hostile forces. Warfare was quite common among the ancient Greeks, and although the act of warfare cannot be directly credited with the development of culture, it is a fact that intermittent wars accompanied this development and concomitant changes in cultural identity, while influencing people's perception of society. Cultural development and identity rests with the balance of successful and unsuccessful military conflicts.
Mythology can also be credited with influencing cultural identity. Most historians will argue that religious beliefs form the foundations of cultural identity. Holding this notion to be true, and taking into consideration that Greek gods assumed mortal roles and weaknesses, we can assume that the attic black-figure amphora and its simultaneous reflection of men and gods in military conflict, is an accurate perception of one aspect of Greek culture. This would certainly hold true for the artist who painted this vessel during his/her lifetime, and at one point in Greek history.
I would like to remind you that many gods existed for the Greeks. Caution must be used when placing an emphasis on the importance of warfare and its influence upon Greek culture. The degree of emphasis upon warfare and culture must be in relation to the frequency and lengths of wars fought among the various polis. Also, time intervals between wars must be taken into consideration when determining culture. (see page 3) An examination of the various roles gods assumed in mythology, on earth and in the heavens, is imperative when determining Greek culture.
In the final segment of the unit, attention is given to various comparisons and contrasts found between the city-states of Athens and Sparta. Those aspects of society which comprise their individual cultural identities are given considerable emphasis. Students are expected to discover how warfare directly influenced the cultural identities or development of the two polis. For instance, students will discover that Athens, while not considered a military city-state, found itself entangled in conflicts to preserve its cultural identity as a peaceful and refined civilization. On one occasion, Sparta, a fierce warrior polis, chose not to fight because of a religious superstition.17 Students will analyze the decisions of those in power as they influenced the outcome of history. Students then speculate on the probable outcome or effects upon those polis involved in the various military conflicts had other decisions been made by those in control. For instance, had the Persians been successful in their military pursuits against the Greeks, how might the culture of Athens and Sparta been changed? What changes to contemporary society might have occurred? Students must recall their previous knowledge of the Persian culture in their attempt to infer the various possibilities.
At various times throughout this segment, and whenever appropriate, students will view slides of Athenian vases to assist them in discovering changes in attitudes about the society in which the Greeks lived. Students will detect subtle changes in culture throughout this process by observing changes in style exhibited by the pottery makers and artists who painted them as they were affected by warfare.