Studying ancient Greek history gives us the chance to view in microcosm all the variablesthat affect the course of history at other times in other places. We can see human beings and human societies at their best and worst, understand how power works in human societies, weigh decisions and outcomes and how they are made, observe different kinds of political and economic systems, and consider how cultural values are shaped and what influence they have on what human beings do. We shall study the origins of democracy and de-mystify what ancient democracy was. The history of Greece is also a history of warfare and competition. This course surveys Greek history from the palatial period of the late Bronze Age through the ‘Dark Ages’ and the 'polis' period to the rise of Macedonia.
We shall first look at the geography of Greece and how that affects cultural developments. We always want to ask, “What was it like to be alive in these times and places? How did these historical actors (named and anonymous) live within their world?”
We shall also puzzle over how to interpret the often very uneven and very peculiar evidence for the social, political and economic systems that develop in different districts of Greece in 'prehistoric' and historical times.
Throughout we shall be making use of Herodotus, the father of history, and Thucydides, the father of scientific history, as (1) cultural texts and documents; (2) as insights into the behaviors of human beings and societies in times of crisis and stress; and (3) as inventors of the discipline of history and experimenters with how it is best practiced. We shall also read excerpts from authors like Homer and Hesiod (epic poetry of two different kinds), Solon, Tyrtaeus, Callinus and Archilochus (social song poets), Plutarch (ancient biography), and Greek tragedians.