Ancient Iran, also known as Persia, a historic region of southwestern Asia that is only roughly coterminous with modern Iran. The term Persia was used for centuries, chiefly in the West, to mark regions where Persian language and culture dominated, but it more correctly refers to a region of southern Iran formerly known as Persis, alternatively as Parsa. Parsa was the name of an Indo-European nomadic people who migrated into the region about 1000 BC. The first mention of Parsa occurs in the annals of Shalmanesar II, an Assyrian king, in 844 BC. During the rule of the Persian Achaemenian dynasty (559–330 BC), the ancient Greeks first encountered the inhabitants of Persis on the Iranian plateau, when the Achaemenids, natives of Persis, were expanding their political sphere. The Achaemenids were the dominant dynasty during Greek history until the time of Alexander the Great, and the use of the name Persia was gradually extended by the Greeks and other peoples to apply to the whole Iranian plateau. This tendency was reinforced with the rise of the Sāsānian dynasty, also native to Persis, whose culture dominated the Iranian plateau until the 7th century ad.
Persia was surrounded by mountains, deserts, and Persian Gulf. They were open to attack from the Central Asian nomads. Persian had a limited amount of natural resources, and water was scarce. This caused the people of Persia to create an underground irrigation network for water supply. They also created an extensive road system for transportation. Persia was blessed with copper, tin, iron, gold, silver, and timber. Between 546 and 539 BC Cyrus, (580-529 BC) was the first Achaemenes Emperor: he founded Persia by uniting the two original Iranian Tribes- the Medes and the Persians, captured Anatolia, and Mesopotamia. Darius I, king of Persia in 522–486 BC: one of the greatest rulers of the Achaemenid dynasty, who was noted for his administrative genius and for his great building projects, extended his empire to the Indus Valley and European Thrace. After Darius I, the empire was divided into 20 provinces. Each of these provinces was administered by Satrap. Satrap was related or connected to the royal family, and the Satrap position was almost hereditary. In the distant provinces, satraps had more autonomy, the provinces were required to pay annual tribute of gold and silver to the satrap. Kings were an important part of the Persian society. They were seen as aloof and majestic. They were the masters of all subjects and nobles, and they owned vast tracts of land around the empire. They acted as lawgivers, and managed the administration at the capital Susa. Occasionally they performed ceremonies at Persepolis.
The people of Persia believed in a religion known as Zoroastrianism. Today only a few amount of people practice this religion. The originator of this religion was known as Zoroaster. He lived between 1700–500 B.C.E. He wrote the Gathas, holy books, or hymns of Zoroastrianism. He believed that the universe was dualistic. There was good and evil. The god of good, Ahuramazda, was locked in epic battle with the god of evil, Angra Mainyu. This religion is said to be the earliest form of monotheism. Many of its beliefs influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Beliefs such as heaven and hell, good and evil, and judgment day.
Furthermore, the fact that geography plays an important role in shaping a country can be seen in the ancient Greek civilization. The Greek peninsula has two distinctive geographic features that influenced the development of Greek society. First, Greece has easy access to water. The land contains countless scattered islands, deep harbors, and a network of small rivers. This easy access to water meant that the Greek people might naturally become explorers and traders. Second, Greece's mountainous terrain led to the development of the polis (city-state), beginning about 750 B.C.E. The high mountains made it very difficult for people to travel or communicate. Therefore, each polis developed independently and, often, very differently from one another. Eventually, the polis became the structure by which people organized themselves. Athens and Sparta are two good examples of city-states that contrasted greatly with each other.
The city-state of Athens was the birthplace of many significant ideas. Ancient Athenians were a thoughtful people who enjoyed the systematic study of subjects such as science, philosophy, and history, to name a few.
Athenians placed a heavy emphasis on the arts, architecture, and literature. The Athenians built thousands of temples and statues that embodied their understanding of beauty. Today the term "classical" is used to describe their enduring style of art and architecture. Athenians also enjoyed a democratic form of government in which some of the people shared power. Life in Sparta was vastly different from life in Athens. Located in the southern part of Greece on the Peloponnisos peninsula, the city-state of Sparta developed a militaristic society ruled by two kings and an oligarchy, or small group that exercised political control. Early in their history, a violent and bloody slave revolt caused the Spartans to change their society. A Spartan, Lycurgus, drafted a harsh set of laws that required total dedication to the state from its people. The laws' goal was to train citizens to become hardened soldiers so that they could fight off potential enemies or slave revolts. The result was a rigid lifestyle unlike any seen in Greece at the time. The devotion of Spartans to developing a military state left little time for the arts or literature. A Spartan baby had to be hardy and healthy. To test a baby's strength, parents would leave their child on a mountain overnight to see if it could survive on its own until the next morning. By age seven, Spartan boys were taken from their families and underwent severe military training. They wore uniforms at all times, ate small meals of bland foods, exercised barefoot to toughen their feet, and were punished severely for disobedient behavior. Boys lived away from their families in barracks until the age of 30, even after they were married. Men were expected to be ready to serve in the army until they were 60 years old. Women, too, were expected to be loyal and dedicated to the state. Like men, women followed a strict exercise program and contributed actively to Spartan society. Although they were not allowed to vote, Spartan women typically had more rights and independence than women in other Greek city-states.
The “Dark Age” occurred after the Mycenaean period between 1150 – 800 B.C.E. It ended when contact and trade with Mediterranean lands reestablished. The Phoenicians supplied Greeks with alphabetic writing system, which made trading easier for the Greeks. Learning the alphabetic system was easier and faster than leaning the cuneiform or hieroglyphic systems. The Archaic period began in 800 BCE and ended in 480 BCE. During this period, there was explosive population growth, and a shift to agricultural economy, in which food and materials were imported. Urbanization developed in Greece, and this led to the development of the polis. Frequent wars were fought between the city-states. They used the hoplites, a close formation of heavily armoires infantrymen to break enemy’s line of defense, anytime they were at war. Unlike other military systems, the Greek soldiers were farmer-citizens who served for short periods of time when they needed. The wars usually lasted only a couple of hours. As time went on the Greek population started to increase greatly. There were not enough resources to support the surplus population. Thus, Greeks sent excess population to colonies in the Mediterranean and Black Sea to acquire territory. This brought the Greeks into contact with different kinds of people with different ideas. This helped sharpen the Greek identity, and this spurred the invention of the coinage system in Lydia during the sixth century BCE. The emergence of middle class in Archaic Greek society led to the one-man rule by tyrants in the mid-seventh and sixth centuries B.C.E. This reduced the power of the traditional elites. Eventually, the tyrants were rejected and the government developed into two forms: oligarchy and democracy. In Athenian democracy, every citizen was required to participate or suffer punishment. This practice stands in stark contrast to modern democratic governments in which citizens can choose whether or not they wish to participate. In Athenian democracy, all citizens pulled their weight. Not everyone in Athens was considered a citizen. Only free, adult men enjoyed the rights and responsibility of citizenship. Only about 20 percent of the population of Athens were citizens. Women were not citizens and therefore could not vote or have any say in the political process. They were rarely permitted out in public and were even restricted as to where they could be within their own homes. Slaves and foreigners were not citizens and also could not participate in the democracy. In the end, democracy existed only for the free men who were originally from Athens.
In addition, the Greek cities in Anatolia revolted against the Persian rule. They were aided by Eretria and Athens. This 5 year revolt led to the Persian Wars. In the first Persian war the generals of Darius I captured Eretria, and attacked the Athens in 490 BCE. The attack on the Athens resolved when the Athenian forces defeated the Persians at Marathon. A messenger named Philippidès ran from Marathon to Athens to tell of the victory. He died from exhaustion. Today, the marathon, 26 miles, is run to celebrate his heroism. The second Persian war was fought in 480 B.C.E. In this war, Xerxes led a large army, and fleet against the Greeks. Many Greek city states submitted to his domination. This led Sparta to organize the Hellenic League to defeat the Persians. The Athens organized the Delian League to go on offense, and drive the Persians out of eastern Mediterranean (except Cyprus). During the classical period, the Athens had the dominant power in Greece. Their power was based on the Athenian navy. They created the trireme, a 170 oar boat in which lower class men were rowers. Due to the fact that the rowers were so important, they demanded full rights of citizenship in Greece. The Athens used their power and wealth to carry out profitable trade, and extract tribute from subject states. The wealth of Athens allowed them to construct massive public works project, put on grand festivals, and support arts and science. One of the most influential philosophers of this time was Socrates. He focused on ethics and the precise meaning of words. He created the Socratic method of question and answer. He was later charged with corrupting the youth, and not believing in the gods of the city. Socrates was sentenced to death, and he was forced to drink hemlock. Another philosopher by the name of Plato was a man who explored justice, excellence, and wisdom. He taught that the world is a pale reflection of a higher, ideal reality. He read and wrote many books, and he founded a school called “The Academy”. The Peloponnesian war emerged when Imperial Athens upset the other city-states. In 431 BCE the Athenian and Spartan alliances went to war. With the aid of the Persian navy, the Spartans defeated the Athens in 404 BCE.
In the Northern Greek Northern Greek Kingdom of Macedonia, King Philip developed Macedonia into a great military power. He strengthened the army by giving soldier longer spears, using cavalry and infantry forces, and developing new siege equipment like catapults. Alexander the Great, king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, invaded Persia in 336 B.C.E. and was victorious, his goal was to conquer the known world, build his own empire as far as Pakistan, and use Persian, Greek, and Macedonian officials in his empire. When Alexander died, his empire broke into 3 kingdoms, each ruled by a Macedonian dynasty. This period is known as the Hellenistic Age (323-30 B.C.E.). Alexandria was the greatest city during the Hellenistic age. It had a population of 500,000. They had significant Jewish population that dominated 2 of 5 of their residential districts. The most important aspect of the Hellenization was the intermarriage between the Greeks and the non-Greeks. The Greek language, lifestyle and culture spread across the world. There was a synthesis of indigenous and Greek culture.
Ultimately, the ancient Greeks were polytheistic- that is, they worshipped many gods. Their major gods and goddesses lived at the top of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, and myths described their lives and actions. In myths, gods often actively intervened in the day-to-day lives of humans. Myths were used to help explain the unknown and sometimes teach a lesson. For example, Zeus, the king of the gods, carried his favorite weapon, the thunderbolt. When it rained and there was thunder and lightning, the ancient Greeks believed that Zeus was venting his anger. Many stories about how the Greek gods behaved and interacted with humans are found in the works of Homer. He created two epic poems: the Iliad, which related the events of the Trojan War, and the Odyssey, which detailed the travels of the hero Odysseus. These two poems were passed down orally over many generations.
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