1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Greek History to the Death of Alexander the Great - Introduction

Greece
(Part 2)




UNIT II: GREEK HISTORY

SECTION I: GREEK HISTORY TO THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT

Part 2. Introduction

The early history of Greece is the first chapter in the political and intellectual life of Europe. In contrast with nations still in the tribal stage the Greeks have already the life of cities; in contrast with the despotic monarchies of the East they recognize the principle that no personal rule should be unlimited. From the first they appear as a people obedient to reason and to a native instinct of measure. In the political sphere this leads them to aim at a due balance of powers and tendencies in the state, at the definition of duties and the protection of rights. In the intellectual sphere it leads them to explore causes, to interpret thought in clear forms, to find graceful expression for the social feelings and sympathies. The historical interest of Greece does not begin therefore only at the point where details and dates become approximately certain, but with the first glimpses of that ordered life out of which the civilization of Europe arose. At a later stage the Greek commonwealths offer the most instructive study which the ancient world affords in the working of oligarchic and democratic institutions. Then, as the Roman power rises, culminates, and declines, Greek history assumes a new character and a new interest. From Alexander the Great dates the beginning of a modem Greek nation, one, not in blood, but in speech and manners. Two main threads link together the earlier and later history of civilized man. One passes through Rome, and is Latin ; the other passes through the new Rome in the east, and is Greek.

In a sketch like the present it would be impossible to attempt a detailed narrative of facts, which, besides, fall to be considered under particular headings. The aim here will be rather to trace in outline the general course of the development, and to indicate, so far as a rapid survey permits, the leading causes and tendencies which were at work in its successive stages.

Six periods may be distinguished. I. The prehistoric period, down to the close of the great migrations. II. The early history of the leading states down to about 500 B.C. III. The Ionic revolt and the Persian wars, 502-479. IV. The period of Athenian supremacy, 478-431. V. The Peloponnesian War, 431-404, followed by the period of Spartan and then of Theban ascendency, 404-362. VI. The reigns of Philip and Alexander, 359-323 B.C.





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