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Ancient Greece - Index

Greek Index / Timeline Aegean Sea Civilizations Trojan War Greek Dark Ages Greek Archaic Period
Greek Gods Greek Classical Period - I Persian War Greek Classical Period - II Peloponnesian War
Philosophers Tragedy - Oedipus Greek Classical Period - III Alexander the Great Greek Hellenistic Period

500 - 323 BC - Greek Classical Period - Part I (500 - 431 BC)
 

 

Click here to find additional information on the Persian War.

 

Tensions Mount between Greeks and Persians

499 BC

Ionians of Asia Minor declare a revolt against the Persians

  • Herodotus Histories, 5.36, p. 292. Aristagoras called a council to bolster support for the revolt. "His friends were unanimous in their approval, and all recommended revolt--with a single exception: the writer Hecataeus. Hecataeus was strongly opposed to war with Persia, enumerating the resources at Darius' command, and supporting his point with a long list of the nations under Persian dominion."

Ionians seek assistance from the Greeks

  • Herodotus Histories, 5.49, p. 296. Aristagoras spoke to Cleomenes of Sparta, "We beg you, therefore, in the name of the gods of Greece, to save from slavery your Ionian kinsmen. It will be an easy task, for these foreigners have little taste for war, and you are the finest soldiers in the world. The Persian weapons are bows and short spears; they fight in trousers and turbans--that will show you how easy they are to beat!"

Athenian assistance helped the Ionians against the Persians, but was short-lived

  • Herodotus Histories, 5.103, p. 318. "After [a battle at Ephesus] the Athenians would have nothing more to do with the Ionian rebellion, and in spite of frequent appeals from Aristagoras refused to help him. But the Ionians, in view of the injury they had already done Darius, pressed on the war with no less vigour [sic], even without Athenian aid."

Despite their efforts, the Ionian revolt ends in failure, subjecting them to Persian rule

  • Herodotus Histories, 6.31, p. 333-4. The Persian fleet lay during the winter at Miletus. The following year it put to sea again, and took without difficulty the islands of Chios, Lesbos, and Tenedos off the Asiatic coast. Each island, as soon as it was occupied, was gone through with the drag-net--a process in which men join hands and make a chain right across the island from north to south, and then move from one end to the other, hunting everybody out. The Persians also took the Ionian towns on the mainland..."
  • Island of Chios

495 BC

Persia seeks to punish Athens for assisting the Ionians

Athenian warships conquered by Persians

Pericles is born

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Pericles," 3, p. 167. "His physical features were almost perfect, the only exception being his head, which was rather long and out of proportion. For this reason almost all his portraits show him wearing a helmet, since the artists apparently did not wish to taunt him with this deformity. However, the comic poets of Athens nicknamed him 'schinocephalus' or 'squill-head.'"

490-449 BC

Persian War and the Greek Response

490 BC

Darius invades Greece at Marathon

Click here to find additional information on the Battle of Marathon.

Battle of Marathon signals the beginning of the Persian War

  • Herodotus Histories, 6.105, p. 358-9. Herodotus records the advent of the marathon. He records, "...the Athenian generals sent off a message to Sparta [c. 140 miles from Athens]. The messenger was an Athenian named Pheidippides, a professional long-distance runner. According to the account he gave the Athenians on his return, Pheidippides met the god Pan on Mt. Parthenium, above the Tegea. Pan, he said, called him by name and told him to ask the Athenians why they paid him no attention, in spite of his friendliness towards them and the fact that he had often been useful to them in the past, and would be so again in the future. The Athenians believed Pheidippides' story, and when their affairs were once more in a prosperous state, they built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis, and from the time his message was received they have held an annual ceremony, with a torch-race and sacrifices, to court his protection."
  • Herodotus Histories, 6.106, p. 359. The message that the Athenians sent to Sparta via Pheidippides read as follows: "Men of Sparta...the Athenians ask you to help them, and not to stand by while the most ancient city of Greece is crushed and enslaved by a foreign invader..."
  • Herodotus Histories, 6.103, p. 358. "The Athenian troops were commanded by ten generals, of whom the tenth was Miltiades. Miltiades' father, Cimon the son of Stesagoras, had been banished form Athens by Peisistratus, the son of Hippocrates."

488 BC

The Greeks score an early victory

  • Herodotus Histories, 6.117, p. 363. According to Herodotus, "In the battle of Marathon some 6400 Persians were killed; the losses of the Athenians were 192." However, the number of Persians killed was likely inflated, as was the custom of Herodotus and other ancient historians.

488 BC

Athenian system of ostracism is employed, ostracizing unpopular citizens for 10 year periods

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Aristides," 7, p. 116-7. Plutarch describes the system of ostracism. "This sentence of ostracism was not in itself a punishment for wrongdoing. It was described for the sake of appearances as a measure to curtail and humble a man's power and prestige in cases where these had grown oppressive; but in reality it was a humane device for appeasing the people's jealousy, which could thus vent its desire to do harm, not by inflicting some irreparable injury, but by a sentence of ten years' banishment. Later on the penalty came to be inflicted on various ignoble creatures, the scum of the political world, and it was later abandoned."
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Aristides," 7, p. 117. "The procedure, to give a general account of it, was as follows. Each voter took an ostrakon, or piece of earthenware, wrote on it the name of the citizen he wished to be banished and carried it to a part of the market-place which was fenced off with a circular paling. Then the archons first counted the total number of votes cast, for if there were less than six thousand, the ostracism was void. After this they sorted the votes and the man who had the most recorded against his name was proclaimed to be exiled for ten years, with the right, however, to receive the income from his estate."

487-461 BC

Athenian democracy develops and expands

  • Plato Meno, p. 31. Regarding democracy, Plato's Meno is instructive. Socrates tells Menon that if a democracy or any other government is to be a good one, it must possess the virtues of "justice and temperance." Much of Plato's work reflects this same philosophy and concern with Athenian democracy.
  • Plato Republic, 8.558c, p. 236. Of democracy, Socrates states that it seem to be "a sweet regime, without rulers...dispensing a certain equality to equals and unequal's alike."
  • Plato Republic, 8.561b-d, p. 239-40. However, Socrates also states some of the problems of democracy. He states that in a democracy, a man "lives his life in accord with a certain equality of pleasures he has established. To whichever one happens along, as though it were chosen by the lot, he hands over the rule within himself until it is satisfied; and then again to another, dishonoring none but fostering them all on the basis of equality." He later says that "he also lives along day by day, gratifying the desire that occurs to him...And there is neither order nor necessity in his life, but calling this life sweet, free, and blessed he follows it throughout."

News of the Persian defeat incites Darius into strengthening his hatred for the Athenians

  • Herodotus Histories, 7.1, p. 372. "When the news of the battle of Marathon reached Darius, son of Hystaspes and king of Persia, his anger against Athens, already great enough on account of the assault on Sardis, was even greater, and he was more than ever determined to make war on Greece."

486 BC

Xerxes succeeds Darius as leader of the Persians

  • Herodotus Histories, 7.4, p. 373. "Xerxes, then, was publicly proclaimed as next in succession to the crown, and Darius was free to turn his attention to the war. Death, however, cut him off before his preparations were complete; he died in the year following this incident and the Egyptian rebellion, after a reign of thirty-six years, and so was robbed of his chance to punish either Egypt or the Athenians. After his death the crown passed to his son Xerxes."

Xerxes is persuaded to militarize against Greece, despite his earlier intentions

  • Herodotus Histories, 7.5, p. 373. "Xerxes at first was not at all interested in invading Greece but began his reign by building up an army for a campaign in Egypt. But Mardonius--the son of Gobryas and Darius' sister and thus cousin to the king--who was present in court and had more influence with Xerxes than anyone else in the country, used constantly to talk to him on the subject."

485-482 BC

Xanthippus (father of Pericles) and Aristides are exiled or ostracized, leaving Themistocles in command

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Pericles," 3, p. 167. Xanthippus is known for defeating the Persian generals at Mycale.
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Aristides," 25, p. 137-8. "Themistocles and Cimon and Pericles...filled the city with colonnades and treasures and all kinds of nonsense, but Aristides tried to lead the city to virtue."
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Aristides," 4, p. 113. Themistocles was instrumental in removing the archon Aristides from power. Plutarch notes, "Themistocles was able to unite a large number of people against Aristides: he then proceeded to prosecute him for malversation in the presenting of his accounts, and, according to Idomeneus, actually got him convicted."

Themistocles leads the Greeks toward victory over the Persians

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Themistocles," 4, p. 81. Plutarch writes that Themistocles "continued to draw on the Athenians little by little and turn their thoughts in the direction of the sea. He told them that their army was no match even for their nearest neighbours [sic]... He turned them, to use Plato's phrase, from steadfast hoplites into sea-tossed mariners, and he earned from himself the charge that he had deprived the Athenians of the spear and the shield and degraded them to the rowing bench and the oar."
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Themistocles," 7, p. 84. "For this action Themistocles is generally regarded as the man most directly responsible for saving Greece, and also for earning for the Athenians the reputation of surpassing their enemies in courage and their allies in wisdom.

Themistocles collects money to raise a fleet of 200 triremes

  • Herodotus Histories, 7.144, p. 417-8. "The Athenians had amassed a large sum of money from the produce of the mines at Laurium, which they proposed to share out amongst themselves at the rate of ten drachmas a man; Themistocles, however, persuaded them to give up this idea and, instead of distributing the money, to spend it on the construction of two hundred warships..."

481 BC

Sparta, with its strong military, leads the league of Greek city-states against the Persians

  • Herodotus Histories, 7.104, p. 405. "...the Spartans; fighting singly, they are as good as any, but fighting together they are the best soldiers in the world. They are free--yes--but not entirely free; for they have a master, and that master is Law, which they fear much more than your subjects fear you. Whatever this master commands, they do; and his command never varies: it is never to retreat in battle, however great the odds, but always to remain in formation, and to conquer or die."
  • Herodotus Histories, 7.145, p. 418. The Greeks form what became known as the Hellenic League. Herodotus writes, "At a conference of the Greek states who were loyal to the general cause guarantees were exchanged, and the decision was reached that the first thing to be done was to patch up their own quarrels and stop any fighting which happened to be going on amongst members of the confederacy."

480 BC

Naval battle at Thermopylae leads to great losses on both sides, but little gain

  • Herodotus Histories, 7.176, p. 430. "The pass through Trachis into Greece is, at Thermopylae, fifty feet wide..."
  • Herodotus Histories, 7.223, p. 444. "As the Persian army advanced to the assault, the Greeks under Leonidas [of Sparta], [knew] that they were going to their deaths..." "Many of the barbarians fell; behind them the company commanders plied their whips indiscriminately, driving the men on. Many fell into the sea and were drowned, and still more were trampled to death by one another. No one could count the number of the dead."

Persians, led by Xerxes, conquor Athens for the first time

Naval battle at Salamis

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Themistocles," 10, p. 86. Because the Athenian people were afraid of the Persian army, and because they still did not accept Themistocles' notion of developing a strong navy, Themistocles used oracles and signs to convince the people to listen to him. "In his efforts to sway the people he again invoked the famous oracle from Delphi, and insisted that the 'wooden wall' could only refer to their ships and that Apollo had spoken of Salamis in his verses as divine, not as terrible or cruel, for the very reason that its name would one day be associated with a great blessing for the Greeks." He was successful. Plutarch further records, "In this way the whole city of Athens put out to sea."
  • Herodotus Histories, 8.88, p. 477. Xerxes says of his troops, "My men have turned into women..."
  • Herodotus Histories, 8.89, p. 477. In the battle, many "well-known men from Persia, Media, and the confederate nations [were killed]. There were also Greek casualties, but not many; for most of the Greeks could swim, and those who lost their ships, provided they were not killed in actual fighting, swam over to Salamis."
  • Herodotus Histories, 8.91, p. 478. "...the Persian rout began..." "The enemy was in hopeless confusion; such ships as offered resistance or tried to escape were cut to pieces by the Athenians..."
  • Herodotus Histories, 8.97, p. 480. Xerxes flees in defeat. "Xerxes, when he realized the extent of the disaster, was afraid that the Greeks...might sail to the Hellespont and break the bridges there. If this happened, he would be cut off in Europe and in danger of destruction. Accordingly, he laid his plans for escape..." He left in command a general named Mardonius," who thoroughly understood how his master's mind worked..."

479 BC

Persians sack Athens for a second time, this time with Mardonius in command

  • Herodotus Histories, 8.140a, p. 496. Mardonius sends Alexander of Macedonia to convince Athens to ally with the Persians. "So stop trying to be a match for the king [Xerxes], at the cost of the loss of your country and continual peril of your lives. Come to terms with him instead--you have the finest possible opportunity of doing so, now that Xerxes is inclined that way. Make an alliance with us, without craft and deceit, and so keep your freedom."
  • Herodotus Histories, 9.3, p. 499. Mardonius' "whole heart was set upon taking Athens again." "When he reached Attica, once again there were no Athenians to be found; for nearly all of them, as he learnt, were either with the fleet or at Salamis. So he captured a deserted town--ten months after its previous capture by Xerxes."

Battles of Plataea and Mycale give Greeks the upper hand and facilitate a Greek victory over the Persians

  • Herodotus Histories, 9.69, p. 524. Of the battle of Plataea, Herodotus writes, "During the panic rout of the enemy...the victors [Athenians] were still pursuing the fugitives [Persians] with great slaughter..."
  • Herodotus Histories, 9.82,84, p. 529. "It is said that Xerxes on his retreat from Greece left his tent with Mardonius." Mardonius was later killed. "The body of Mardonius disappeared the day after the battle" of Plataea.
  • Herodotus Histories, 9.106, p. 537. Of Mycale, Herodotus writes, "When most of the enemy forces had been cut to pieces, either in the battle or during the rout, the Greeks burnt the Persian ships and the fort, having first removed everything of value..."

479-435 BC

Pentecontaetia (fifty year period between Persian War and Peloponnesian War)

  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.89-117, 87-103. Thucydides describes the rise of Athens under the leadership of Themistocles and Pericles.
 

Athens rebuilds and seeks to expand its empire

  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.89-90, 87-88. "Meanwhile the Athenian people, as soon as their land was free from foreign occupation, began...the rebuilding of their city and their fortifications..." "When the Spartans heard of what was going on they sent an embassy to Athens. This was partly because they themselves did not like the idea of Athens or any other city being fortified..."
  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.91, 89. "...Themistocles sent secretly to Athens, telling the Athenians to keep the Spartan envoys there, to avoid, if possible, putting them under open constraint, but not to let them go until he and his colleagues had got back."
  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.93, 90. Themistocles "considered that if the Athenians became a seafaring people they would have every advantage in adding to their power. Indeed it was he who first ventured to tell the Athenians that their future was on the sea. Thus he at once began to join in laying the foundations of their empire."

478/7 BC

Delian League formed

  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.95, 91. "Meanwhile the Spartans recalled Pausanias to face a court of inquiry...instead of acting as commander-in-chief, he appeared to be trying to set himself up as a dictator. It happened that he was recalled just at the time when, because of his unpopularity, the allies, apart from the soldiers from the Peloponnese, had gone over to the side of the Athenians."
 

Athens supercedes Sparta as the leader of the war effort against the Persians

  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.97, 92. "The leadership of the Athenians began with allies who were originally independent states and reached their decision in general congress." "Some of [the League's] actions were against the Persians, some against their own allies when they revolted, some against the Peloponnesian Powers with whom on various occasions they became involved."

477-449 BC

Delian League (Athenian empire) wages nearly continual war against Persia

462-440's

Pericles pushes reform in Athens

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Pericles," 11, p. 177. Pericles hands over "the reins of power to the people to a greater extant than ever before and deliberately shaped his policy to please them. He constantly provided public pageants, banquets, and processions in the city, entertaining the people like children with elegant pleasures."
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Pericles," 12, p. 178. Pericles states that "all kinds of enterprises and demands will be created which will provide inspiration for every art, find employment for every hand, and transform the whole people into wage-earners, so that the city will decorate and maintain herself at the same time from her own resources."

Citizenship requirements solidify, constitution includes checks and balances

449 BC

Callias negotiates end of the Persian War

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Aristides," 25, p. 137. Callias was known as the "Torchbearer in the Eleusinian Mysteries" and was related to Aristides.

Hubris is seen as the cause of Xerxes' defeat

  • Homer Iliad, 9, p. 166-72. Hubris (excessive pride) is also a factor in the Trojan War. Despite the deplorable position of the Greek's military situation, Achilles refuses Agamemnon's honorable offer of wealth and possessions as a token of repentance for publicly humiliating Achilles. The hubris of Achilles becomes a turning point in the war. Achilles says, "I will help him neither by my advice nor in the field. He has broken faith with me..."
 

Literature and Culture in Athens

496-406 BC

Sophocles writes 123 plays, including Oedipus Rex

Read a summary of the Oedipus Trilogy here.

485-406 BC

Euripides writes plays, including Medea

469-399 BC

Hippocrates writes his medical texts

469 BC

Socrates, arguably the greatest philosopher in history, is born

  • Plato Republic, 7.514a-515d, p. 193-4. Socrates is well known for his many analogies, allegories, and his method of questioning, now called the Socratic Method. His allegory of the cave, found in Plato's Republic, is perhaps his most famous.

View additional information about Classical Greek Philosophers by clicking here.

460's BC

Sophists rise in prominence, revolutionizing philosophy in Greece

460-400 BC

Thucydides lives in Athens and writes his History of the Peloponnesian War

450-385 BC

Aristophanes writes comic plays, including Clouds

447-438 BC

The Parthenon is built and dedicated to the goddess Athena

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Cimon," 13, p. 155-6. Cimon is responsible for capturing a great deal of money as spoils from the Persian War. "So much money was raised from the sale of the captured spoils that the Athenians were enabled to meet various public expenses and in particular to construct the southern wall of the Acropolis... It is said, too, that while the building of the Long Walls, known as 'The Legs', was completed at a later date, yet the original foundations were securely laid by Cimon."
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Cimon," 4, p. 144. At one point in his life, Cimon was considered "so stupid that he was nicknamed Coalemus, or The Booby."

 Acropolis Parthenon Erechtheion

440's-430's BC

Athens expands its empire under the reforms of Pericles

  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Pericles," 17, p. 184-5. According to Plutarch, "When the Spartans began to be vexed by the growing power of Athens, Pericles, by way of encouraging the people to cherish even higher ambitions and making them believe themselves capable of great achievements, introduced a proposal that Greeks, whether living in Europe or in Asia, in small or in large cities alike, should be invited to send delegates to a congress at Athens."
  • Plutarch Parallel Lives, "Pericles," 21, p. 188. "Pericles...constantly strove to...restrain the desire to meddle with foreign states and to devote Athens' main strength to guarding and consolidating what she had already won. He considered that to hold the Spartans in check was one of the prime objectives of Athenians policy, and he set himself to oppose them in every way."

432/1 BC

Old rivalry is reborn, and tensions mount between Athens and Sparta at Thebes, an ally of Sparta, attacks Plataea, an ally of Athens

  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.18, 46. "So from the end of the Persian War till the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, though there were some intervals of peace, on the whole these two Powers were either fighting with each other or putting down revolts among their allies. They were consequently in a high state of military preparedness and had gained their military experience in the hard school of danger."
  • Thucydides Peloponnesian War, 1.102, 95. "And now the Spartans, finding that their war in Ithome showed no signs of ending, appealed for help to their allies, including Athens, and the Athenians came to Sparta with a considerable force under the command of Cimon." Due to growing fear of the Athenians, the Spartans "sent the Athenians home again..." The Athenians "were deeply offended, considering that this was not the sort of treatment that they deserved from Sparta, and, as soon as they had returned, they denounced the original treaty of alliance which had been made against the Persians and allied themselves with Sparta's enemy, Argos. At the same time both Argos and Athens made an alliance on exactly the same terms with the Thessalians."


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