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Polis and Oikos: Ancient Greece

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mike smith

on 28 August 2014

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Transcript of Polis and Oikos: Ancient Greece

Many Greek words had multiple meanings

Politics, Metropolitan
Polis means City, Citizen, or Citizenship
Oikos as a unit meant everything from a husband's wife and kids, to the extended family (cousins, grandchildren, etc.)

Wives were in charge of the house itself, while men were considered the most important person in the family.

We'll discuss this issue of gender later on.
Oikos means Household, House, Family
Athens as a city (Polis)

Athenians as a people (Oikos)
Athens, Greece
At the time, there was no unified land known as Greece.

Greece was a collection of 'city-states' called Poleis

The Greeks did not call themselves Greeks. (That was what the Romans called them)

They called themselves Hellenes, and their land Hellas
As a City (at least in the fifth century BCE)
According to fifth century BCE historians:

Cities were established away from the sea and the most important buildings were placed on a steep hill with a flat top.

This created the akropolis (the Upper City)
Major Feature of a City: The Akropolis
Seas, Mountains, and Unity
One of the reasons for a
lack of unity is the amount
of mountains and water that
separated one city from another
The Akropolis (Acropolis)

Major temples:
The Parthenon
The Temple of Athena

Buildings for the arts:
The Odeon (sort of a music hall)
The Theatre of Dionysus
The City: The Arkopolis and surrounding buildings. Home of rich families who ruled cities such as Athens under what was called Aristocracies.

The Farmlands: Surrounding areas nearest to the city

The Coastal Lands: Areas on the coast itself.

Farms and Coasts were lead by a growing merchant class.

Tensions between these two groups lead to Tyrannies
Major Areas of a Polis
Means one man rule.

Not necessarily a harsh ruler

For our purposes, the first Tyrant we need to focus on is Peisistratos (late sixth century BCE)

Built temples and aqueducts, expanded festivals and encouraged the development of theater.

Thespis, around 534 BCE is considered the first actor.
Son of Peisistratos. When his father died he left both of his sons to jointly rule Athens.

The other son was assassinated (I don't know any more details than that)

Hippias, the surviving son, became a harsh and brutal ruler. He was expelled from the city. He turned to the Athenian enemy Persia and joined them in attacking Athens.

When Hippias was expelled, the next leader that took control of the city lead the path to democracy.

His name was Kleisthenes.
Tyrant number two: Hippias
Originally Athens was ruled by a King

Sometime around 800 BCE, Monarchies were replaced by Aristocracies.

At this time, Athens was grouped by four large families or Tribes. Aristocracies allowed the most powerful family to rule. Political power was based on birth

Oikos = Polis
Oikos: the family and the people
Divided the city into ten districts. Each district had a section in the city, the farmlands, and the coast.

Each district had to send 50 people each year to be on the city council.

Political power now based on location, not birth.

This broke up the tribes and created tension within families.
The shift into and out of Tyranny created a fear of too much power in one person's hands. This theme shows up in almost every piece of drama that we have.

As we read Antigone, be aware of how rulers use (and abuse) power over others.
Fear of the Tyrant
There has always been an element of Oikos Vs. Polis

Whenever our personal wishes come into conflict with our professional duties, that is an example of Oikos vs. Polis.

However, the new reforms on Athenian society must have had an effect on this theme and explains why it is so common in Greek tragedy.
Oikos Versus Polis
War and the Effects on Athens
492 BCE The First Persian Invasion of Greece

Persian King Darius I (working with the former Tyrant Hippias) versus Athens

Battle of Marathon 490 BCE
The Second Persian Invasion
480-479 BCE

Battle of Thermopylae (The 300)
Symbolic victory (but a major blow to Sparta)

Athens (the city) is taken and partially destroyed

Battle of Salamis (Athenian Navy battle)
Beginning of the end of the War.
Athens on top.
Note: 497 Sophocles is born
Note: Sophocles was somehow involved in the battle of Salamis. Both in the war and he lead the song of victory to the gods.
Final Peace with Persia was somewhere around 449 (50 years) after a fight on the island of Cyprus.

Meanwhile, Sparta starts a war with Athens from 460-445. (15yr) Athens wins.

Sophocles writes Antigone in 441.
He would have been around 56.
Polis V Oikos (Public V Private)

Power and Law (Fear of the Tyrant)

War and Death

Choices and Consequences
Big Themes to look for:
Full transcript