Ancient Greece Article: Golden Age of Athens
In the previous article, you read about Athens and the form of government that they adopted. You learned that Athens governed with democracy, which is rule by the people. This was unlike anything else the ancient world had seen before. Up until this time, the ancient world was dominated by Kings and Emperors. Athens showed the world that if the “common man” was put in charge, things would work out well. This form of governmental thinking has lasted through the ages and is still being practiced today.
In our next section of Ancient Greece learning, we will talk about the Golden Age of Athens. The golden age of Athens did not start out so “golden.” Instead, it started out with a war, called the Persian War. In 490 B.C., Persia attacked the Greek mainland with a huge army. With the attack on the Greek mainland, it was Athens that stepped up to meet the challenge. The Persians and Athens clashed at a town called Marathon. You may recognize the name of this town, for it is a very common word in the world today. Athens claimed victory. To spread the good news of the victory, Athens sent a warrior to run all the way back to the city of Athens to tell everyone of the victory. One warrior ran the entire distance of 26 miles. Today, a “marathon” is a 26.2 mile race that is held all over the country. The race gets its name from this specific event in ancient Greece, when a warrior ran all the way back to Athens.
The Persians were not going to give up so easily after just one fight, however. Persia attacked again, but this time, with an even larger army. This time, Athens was too small compared to the Persians to claim another victory. Instead, Athens teamed up with their rival, Sparta, to defeat a common opponent. Even though Athens and Sparta did not like each other, they hated Persia even more so they put aside their differences and worked together to defeat Persia. Throughout this phase of the war, Sparta held off the Persians for three days in the mountains. Sparta continued to fight until all Spartan soldiers were killed. This part of the war was made famous by the movie “300” which shows this battle and how hard the Spartans fought. Athens did their part as well. Athens fought a mighty sea battle at Salamis. As a result of this epic sea battle, Athens destroyed the Persian fleet. This was a major blow to the Persian army. The result of the Persian War was that Greece was victorious, thanks in large part to the fact that Athens and Sparta worked together to win.
With the Persian war behind them, Greece, and specifically Athens, entered into a Golden Age. Greek philosophers extended human knowledge. Three famous Greek philosophers were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Have you ever heard of them? These three men are very famous in the philosophical department. So, you may be asking yourself, “What did they do?” Well, these three men tried to explain why things happen in nature. They said that when things happened, it was not just the whims of the gods and goddesses. This angered many people because according to this thought, Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, etc. did not exist. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle studied causes of sickness and the human body.
Throughout the Golden Age of Greece, many good things happened. However, all good things must come to an end and this was certainly the case. The Greeks started to fight against each other, despite the fact they had just worked together to defeat the Persians. Athens grew to be the most powerful city-state. This began angering the other city-states. Sparta rose to the top as the leader of the city-states who opposed Athens. So now, Greece found themselves with another war on their hands, called the Peloponnesian War. In this war, it was Athens against Sparta. Athens had the sea power, but Sparta had the land power. As battle broke out, it was clearly going to be a very tough, long war. However, a plague broke out in Athens which killed the leader of Athens, Pericles. This caused the government to be unstable and Athens surrendered. With the surrender of Athens, this war weakened all of Greece, allowing Macedonia to emerge as most powerful. Macedonia was led by Alexander the Great.