Ancient Greece




FestivalAnnual drama event called the City Dionysia. Playwrights would submit plays, competing against each other. Winners of this event included Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.
GaugamelaFamous battle in which Alexander defeated Darius for a third time, even though the Persian forces outnumbered the Macedonian forces by almost 5 to 1. Alexander's brilliant planning again saved the day. Among his winning strategies in this battle was to widen his flanks and allow the Persian charge to outflank his army, then charge hard toward the suddenly weak middle of the Persian line. The dangerous Persian cavalry and war chariots were no match for the sturdy Macedonian spearmen, and Darius again just barely escaped alive.
Gordian KnotAn intricate knot used by a man named Gordius to secure his oxcart. This man was a peasant who came to Phrygia in an oxcart. An oracle had told the Phrygians that their next king would arrive in a wagon. The oxcart was good enough for them, and they made Gordius king. He responded by offering his oxcart to Zeus and tying the cart up with a difficult knot. Gordius was succeeded by Midas, who didn't leave an heir. The same oracle who had spoken before now told the people that whoever cut the knot would have the rule of all Asia. Alexander the Great arrived in Phrygia and cut the Gordian Knot with his sword. Soon, he was pursuing "the rule of all Asia."
GranicusFirst great battle between the Macedonians and the Persians. It was soon after Alexander crossed the Hellespont into Persian territory. The battle began with a river crossing. Alexander's men crossed the Granicus River, taking only light casualties, then routed the larger Persian army. Alexander had more infantry but less cavalry. He managed to even the odds with a quick cavalry strike and an infantry mop-up operation. This is also the battle in which Alexander is said to have taken a javelin thrust straight through his breastplate, pulled out the spear, and rode on at the enemy. Macedonian ferocity and discipline won out over greater numbers, and Alexander could continue his march toward destiny.
HadesGod of the Underworld, which also bore his name.
HellenismConcept that explained the carrying of Greek thought, ideals, and practices to the Persian Empire and beyond by Alexander the Great. Greece called itself "Hellas." Hellenism was the spreading of "Hellas" to the rest of the world. The spread of Hellenism embraced nearly all forms of life, including politics, art, philosophy, religion, and science.
HelotsOriginally free people called the Laconians, they were conquered by Sparta and forced to work for the Sparta state or to serve in the army. The helots were neither slaves nor free, existing somewhere in the middle. Even slaves had the right to be fed by their masters; the helots did not. The main city of Laconia was Helos, a possible source for the word helot.
HephaestusGod of fire and workers. Husband of Aphrodite. He was ugly to look at but good at his work.
HeraWife of Zeus. Protector of marriage, children, and the home.
HermesGod of speakers and writers, business, and games. Protector of mischief-makers. Messenger to mortals. Son of Zeus.
HerodotusHistorian who wrote the first history of Greece. Traveled widely, writing about other civilizations as well. He is called the "Father of History" because he was the first to attempt to categorize things into a historical setting. However, some of what he wrote is now known to be false, so it is not entirely clear if all of his writings are to be believed. Nonetheless, he gives us a clear picture of life "way back then," including a remarkable history of the Persian Wars.
HippocratesGreek scientists who became the "Father of Medicine" because of his work in healing and medicine. He set up a school for physicians on his home, the island of Cos. He was also one of the first to believe that thoughts, ideas, and feelings come from the brain, not from the heart.
Ionian SeaSea to the west of Greece (and the east of Italy) that was the scene of many battles between Greece and Rome. Colonists from Corinth crossed the Ionian Sea on their way to the island Sicily, where they founded the colony of Syracuse.
LyceumAcademy begun by Aristotle. It was separate from Plato's Academy. At the Lyceum, students engaged in studies of a broader range than at the Academy, such as nature and certain kinds of science.
LycurgusAncient and possibly legendary law-giver of Sparta. Among his reforms was the creation of a Senate, which would stabilize the government, making it difficult for a tyrant to take over. He also divided all the land in Sparta equally among the landowners. This created quite a stir among the men who had formerly owned a lot of land. Another law proclaimed that all meals had to be eaten together at public mess-halls. This meant that rich people couldn't eat rich food unless they paid enough to feed everyone else. Lycurgus's laws went a long way toward creating the kind of society that would be receptive to a military way of life.
Macedon/MacedoniaLand to the north of Greece that spawned two great conquerors, Philip and Alexander the Great. Philip succeeded in conquering all of Greece, and Alexander succeeded in conquering Persia, Egypt, and much of Asia..
MarathonLand battle that was a heroic stand by Athenians that fought off an overwhelming Persian advance. On the plains of Marathon, 3,000 Greeks outfought 10,000 Persians, mainly because the Greeks suddenly charged the Persian lines, scattering the invaders and making them take flight.
Mediterranean SeaSea that touched nearly all parts of the Greek world, stretching from the Asia Minor colonies in the east to beyond Syracuse in the west, from the Peloponnesus in the north to the shores of Africa in the south.
MenanderGreek playwright who wrote comedies. He wrote the so-called New Comedy, which was not satirical, like Aristophanes. Rather, New Comedy was gentle humor, largely having to do with love plots. His characters are also highly developed, unlike those in Aristophanes. Sadly, only one of Menander's plays, The Curmudgeon, has survived in its entirety. Fragments of other plays exist, and we know about Menander largely through the works of Plautus and Terence, Romans who based their plays on Menander's.
MidasKing of Phrygia who was granted "the golden touch" by the Greek god Dionysus. Everything Midas touched turned to gold. Then, he got tired of the gold, especially since it no longer gave him happiness. Dionysus removed "the touch." Midas is also famous for receiving "donkey ears" from the Greek god Apollo for saying that another flute player was better than Apollo.
MiletusIonian colony famous for its scientists and philosophers and for its wool and furniture. Thales, the first great scientists, was from Miletus. It was one of the Asia Minor that was captured by Persia and then revolted, bringing about the Persian Wars. After the Greek victories, Miletus was again captured by Persia but was liberated by Alexander the Great.
Mount OlympusSacred mountain that was the home of the gods. It was the highest mountain in Greece, at more than 9,500 feet.
OlympiaCity-state that was home to the ancient Olympic Games and to the Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World.
OlympicsSeries of games that took place every four years to honor Zeus, the king of the gods. The Olympic Games also served to make a natural break between wars. If you were an athlete participating in the Games, you were allowed safe conduct to Olympia for the games from wherever you were, even if you were on the battlefield. No fighting was allowed during the Games, and safe conduct was also granted to athletes returning from the Games.
OracleSaid to be the voice of the god(s). Apollo later claimed it for his own. The Oracle made predictions or pronouncements that were indirect at best and needed priests or priestesses to interpret. An example is that during the Persian Wars, Athenians worried about their city-state's being overrun and consulted the Oracle, which responded by saying that Athens would be saved by "wooden walls." What really happened was that the fleet of Athens, which was made of wood, played a large part in turning back the Persian naval invasion. Also, when Athens was in serious danger, the Athenians escaped in the same ships. Thus, the "wooden walls" saved Athens.
OstracismA democratic practice invented to deal with tyrants. Every year, each citizen could write on a stone or a piece of parchment the name of a person who should be ostracized, or cast out of the city. If enough votes were tallied for one person, that person was ostracized. He couldn't return for 10 years. His property and other assets remained his, though.
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David White