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Hellenic Greece is the ancient civilization of Hellas in what is modern
Greece. The people are called Hellenes.
After the collapse of Mycenae around 1100 B.C., the Greek cities fell into
decline and the country entered into a dark age such that the classical
Greek alphabet reflects nothing of the Mycenaean syllabary.
Around 800 BC, the Hellenic civilization began to arise and by 600 BC they
were using standardized coinage.
Social divisions were rigid in Hellenic society and slavery was common.
The metics oversaw Hellenic commerce and banking and formed part of the
The basic unit of Hellenic civilization was the polis, or city-state.
Hundreds of these filled Greece, and others, called apoikia, were founded
around the Mediterranean, especially in Italy and Asia Minor, but also in
North Africa and Sicily. Usually, a polis was ruled by an oligarchy. Towards
the end of the seventh century a number of dictatorships were established
In the seventh and sixth centuries many cities came to be ruled as
democracies. The best known of these is the Athenian democracy. In these,
the ability to vote, hold office, and own property were restricted to
citizens, and so excluded slaves and resident foreigners.
By about 650 BC, the military was based around hoplites (heavy infantry),
organized into rough phalanxes which usually had 8 or more rows. The
hoplites' shields were held nearly touching, each covering its carrier's
left side and his neighbor's right side. Because it was important for more
than just individual defence, losing one's shield was the ultimate symbol of
cowardice and could be considered treason.
Hoplites were provided mainly by the middle class, which usually included
most of the citizen population. Wealthier individuals might fight as
cavalry, and poorer ones as peltasts, archers, or slingers, but these were
not very important in Hellenic militaries until fairly late. In the few
naval powers, poor citizens would row the warships (pentekontors and
triremes), and the wealthy might command them.
Hellenic temples were typically oblong pillar-framed buildings decorated
with sculpted figures.
Hellenes produced iron in clay-lined stone furnaces with stoppered holes
that were positioned on hilltops, in order to make use of winds. Slaves fed
the furnace crushed charcoal, limestone, and ore and removed slag from the
bottom. They would then cool the furnace and remove the bloom which would be
heated and hammered until wrought iron was the final product.
Hellenic civilization reached the peak of its power duing the 5th Century
BC. In 478 B.C., following the defeat of the Persian invasion, Athens
assumed leadership of an alliance known as the Delian League, which would
later come to be known as the Athenian Empire. Sparta, the other great power
in Greece, and leader of the Peloponnesian League, fearing the growth of
Athenian power, sparred with Athens throughout the middle of the century.
Finally, the two sides fought in the Peloponnesian War, from 431-404 B.C.,
which involved virtually every state in Greece, including colonies in Asia,
Italy, and Sicily. The war ended in the decisive defeat of the Athenian Empire.
Sparta made an attempt to assure her own supremacy in the Aegean, but in the
end Persia managed to recover the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor,
and starting with the King's peace in 386 B.C. even began dictating affairs
on the mainland. Athens built up a second confederacy and recovered a
position equal to Sparta's, and then Thebes became for a moment the supreme
power under Epaminondas. After his death, Greece was left weak and exhausted
by continual warfare, leading to its conquest by Macedonia.
The usual periodization practiced by modern historians is to see the death
of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. as dividing the Hellenic period from the
Hellenistic. The shift from "Hellenic" to "Hellenistic" represents the shift
from a culture dominated by ethnic Greeks, however scattered geographically,
to a culture dominated by Greek-speakers of whatever ethnicity, and from the
political dominance of the city-state to that of larger monarchies.