Greek and Roman History (82-87)
The classical civilizations that sprang up on the Mediterranean Sea from 800 B.C.E. until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 C.E. rivaled their counterparts in India and China in richness and impact. Centered first in the peninsula of Greece, then in Rome’s burgeoning provinces, the new Mediterranean culture did not embrace all of the civilized lands in the ancient Middle East. Nevertheless, Greece and Rome do not merely constitute a westward push of civilization from its earlier bases in the Middle East and along the Nile; though this is a part of their story, they also represent the formation of new institutions and values that would reverberate in the later history of the Middle East and Europe alike. For most Americans, and not only those who are descendants of European immigrants, classical Mediterranean culture constitutes "our own" classical past, or at least a good part of it.
The rapid rise of civilization in Greece between 800 and 600 B.C.E. was based on the creation of strong city-states rather than a single political unit. Each city-state had its own government, typically either a tyranny of one ruler or an aristocratic council. Sparta and Athens came to be the two leading city-states. Between 500 and 449 B.C.E., the two states cooperated, along with smaller states, to defeat a huge Persian invasion. It was during and immediately after this period that Greek and particularly Athenian culture reached its highest point. However, political decline soon set in as Sparta and Athens vied for control of Greece during the bitter Pelponesian Wars (431-404 B.C.E.), which left both states exhausted.
It was during the fifth century B.C.E. that the most famous Greek political figure, Pericles, dominated Athenian politics. Pericles was an aristocrat, but he fit into a democratic political structure in which each citizen could participate in city-state assemblies to select officials and pass laws....