Throughout Greek history the idea of the “ Greek Hero” can be referenced as a point of influence in almost every major event. The Greeks were fascinated with the idea of the epic hero. It is then by no mistake that Greek history is firmly based upon the fictional stories that the Greeks constructed about their past. In the eighth century BCE Homer told the story of a great war between the Greeks and the Trojans in the Iliad and the Odyssey. These stories featured such memorable heroes as Achilles and Ulysses; the prototypes the ideal Greek hero. Whether the stories of Homer are based upon long forgotten battles or pure myth remains irrelevant as their significance upon the Greek world testifies. The Greeks themselves believed these stories to be true, and the ideals that they held to be those most important to mimic. If there is any common bond between the Greek peoples during the ancient period it is this belief in the heroic ideal. This ideal will influence many of those who shaped the history of the Ancient Greek world; men such as Kleisthenes, Themistocles, Pericles and perhaps the most famous conqueror of the Ancient world, Alexander the Great. These men, like many of other Greeks, were all shaped by the heroic ideal created by the epic poems of Homer.
Much of what the Ancient Greeks believed to be “Greek History” remains veiled in myth and fiction. This becomes evident in the works of such scholars as Herodotus, Thucydides. Herodotus, often referred to as the father of history, wrote what can be considered the first true history, the story of the defense of Greece against the invading Persians in 492 BCE. Thucydides chronicled the Peloponnesian War in which Sparta faced off against Athens. Both of these authors, and almost every other author for that matter, used the Iliad and the Odyssey as a template to construct their histories. In both Herodotus and Thucydides elements can be found that trace back to these two great works. Battles and characters are often skewed so that they more closely resemble the epic battles and heroes from Homer’s tales. It is important when examining ancient scholarly sources in Greek history to know that Greek historians were not looking to tell the story word for word. They wanted to embellish the story, to give it character and moral significance so that those who read their works would see their argument for the heroic ideal and more importantly, enjoy them.
Ancient Greek history can largely be divided into five sections. The first section, the birth and development of the Bronze Age 3000 to 1100 BCE, examines the changes brought upon the Greek world by the Bronze Age and the development and fall of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. The second section, the coming of the Iron Age and the rise of the Polis 1100 BCE to 499 BCE, details the shift between the Bronze and the Iron Age and the rise of the Polis and its effects on the Greek world. The third section, the Persian Wars 499 BCE to Victory at Mykale 479 BCE, examines the first truly documented wars in histories, and how the Greeks clash with the Persians forever changed the Greek world. The fourth period, the Pentecontaetia and Peloponnesian Wars 479 to 405 BCE, investigates the factors that led to the Peloponnesian Wars and subsequent consequences of these wars on the Greek world. The fifth and final section, Macedon and the Hellenistic World 405 BCE to 323 BCE, examines Philip and Alexander the Great and how their efforts led to the creation of the Hellenistic world.
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