History of Ancient Greece

Quiz Notes

On this page, I’ll be posting notes on each of the quizzes that we have. These quiz notes are not meant to be the “right answers” so much as information relevant to the arguments you might make in response to these questions.

PDFs:You can also find the Quiz Notes in PDF form on the Print/PDF page.

Video Quiz Recaps:I’ve also made short video recaps in which I talk about the questions on the quizzes. I use these videos as an opportunity to emphasize the things I found most important about that week’s material, so make sure to check those out as you look over your quizzes and also as you prepare for the exam. These are linked below and on the Videos page.

Quiz #1

1. (a) Why is the early Iron Age in the Aegean sometimes called the “Greek Dark Age”? (b) Is this period more like what came before, or more like what came after? Explain your answer.

The “dark age” is dark to us, because we have much more difficulty “seeing” this period than the surrounding ones, for several reasons. (a) With the collapse of the Bronze Age civilization of the Mycenaean Greeks around 1100 BCE and the abandonment of cities that resulted, the Greeks lost all urban technologies including writing, so there is no documentary evidence giving us direct testimony until a new writing system is developed around 750 BCE. (b) The dispersed, rural civilization of the dark age is also harder to study archeologically because their extremely localized, agricultural economies produced much fewer material goods, because their communities are spread out and difficult to locate and excavate, and because the larger ones became the foundations of cities still occupied today in the modern Aegean.

But the dark age was not dark to them. In rebuilding their society they broke from the Mycenaean past, laying the foundations of the coming Greek world. The dark age was a time of cultural, technological, and social fertility and evolution in which many of the foundations of Greek society were developed, so that Hellas is in many ways already established when the Greeks become “visible” to us again after the 8th century. In particular much of the cultural interconnectedness of the Greeks, weaving the fiercely isolated and independent communities of the Aegean together—through the epic poetry spread by the rhapsodes, intercity competition, and mutual trade relations—developed and flourished during the dark age.

2. Homer’s epics, Iliad and Odyssey, are set during the Bronze Age war against Troy. What makes Homer’s works important for understanding early Iron Age history? Give examples.

Homer’s works preserve the cultural and social conditions of his own time, the 8th century BCE, the last century of the dark age. Key elements include the dominance of chiefs—the local basileus who was both leader and best warrior, represented in Homer as the heroes from all the Greek localities like Achilles, Ajax, and Odysseus. Men were judged on bravery and honor (timē), and were expected to strive to surpass (aretē) in competition with their peers (agon). Strangers arriving in another Greek city expected to be treated with guest-friendship (xenia), a reciprocal pledge of protection, lodging, and assistance symbolized by gifts. This diplomacy and intercity relations were focused through (a) the trade taking place between them and (b) the personal relationships of their chiefs.

EC1. All of the following were found at Lefkandi EXCEPT:

(d) The preserved bones of a young dragon of indeterminate gender

EC2. How would you describe the religion of the Greeks that emerges during this period? What are some of its key characteristics?

Two main characteristics remain constant from the Bronze Age: the Greek religion is (a) polytheistic, worshipping many gods; and (b) honors the gods with public, communal displays—sacrifices, processions, music, dancing, and singing.

What it did not do is impose doctrines of compulsory beliefs, nor was there a caste of priests or an institutional church to create an orthodox interpretation of the gods. The Greek religion belonged to the public and contradictory stories were told of the gods.

The gods insist on proper honors in Homer, but do not police human criminal behavior, though they do condemn oath-breaking and inhospitality. Zeus, leader of the gods, becomes the upholder of justice in literature from Hesiod onward.

Quiz #2

1. (a) How does the polis come about? What kinds of changes were involved in its development? Be specific. (b) In light of these developments, what is the significance of the aristoi (“best men”)?

The polis was a form of city-state—a city and its adjoining territory forming a single political (and economic) unit. So the emergence of the polis involves formal political unification of an urban market center with its surrounding farmland territory, and centralization of government. Unification involves synoecism, whereby every village, town, and hamlet merge their political (and other) identities into a single unit. Also, rule by basileus (chieftain), characteristic of the dark age, gives way to collective leadership by a small group of magistrates (oligarchy) and an assembly made up of the citizens.

The aristoi—the wealthy, large-estate-holding, educated families—dominate the oligarchies and see it as their right and responsibility to govern. This creates tension with the common people (demos), who increasingly gain various levels of decision-making power.

2. Who were the hoplites? How did they change Greek warfare? What effect did they have on the polis?

A hoplite is a heavily armed footsoldier, named for his large round shield (hoplon). They fight in a large, tightly packed formation called a phalanx. The effectiveness of the hoplite army made other forms of warfare obsolete.

Within the hoplite army, made up of all citizens who could afford the equipment, all distinctions of status and birth vanish. As a result, the claim of the aristoi that only they were fit to wield power in the state was weakened.

EC1. A kouros is which of the following?

(c) A statue of a young man, often used as grave monuments or offerings

EC2. Compare lyric poetry to epic poetry. How is lyric poetry representative of the social changes of the Archaic age?

Epic poetry involves lengthy, narrative heroic sagas telling of legendary figures that, in a sense, belong to everyone. Lyric poetry tends to concern private life; its subjects are more personal and subjective. Where epic poetry often celebrates the elite (kings and princes of the Homeric era), lyric poetry can also reflect the point of view of the middle strata and the tension between the classes.

Quiz #3

1. Persia was much stronger than Greece. In your opinion, what factors made it possible for the Greeks to defeat the Persians?

The Greek hoplite army was better trained and tactically superior to the motley Persian infantry, capable of wielding great damage even against superior numbers through the crushing power of the phalanx. The hoplite soldier was also better equipped.

The Persians were far from home and dependent on long chains of supply, whereas the Greeks, at home, knew how to take advantage of the terrain (as at Marathon). The Persians lost a number of ships and men trying to weather a difficult passage in the north Aegean.

Psychologically, the Greeks were fiercely invested in what they were fighting for—freedom; the soldiers in the Persian army were not. The Greeks saw the war as a war of free men against slaves, since to the Greek mind no one in Persia has any rights other than the king; the free man fighting for freedom will not give up and prevail over any number of unfree men forced to fight by an oppressive king.

This also meant that the great weakness of the Greeks that Darius and Xerxes were counting on—their fragmentedness and mutual hostility—was overcome by the Greeks uniting in military alliance against a common enemy under the command of the famous Spartans, whose warriors inspired the other Greeks and intimidated the Persians, while the Athenians and others proved they were strong enough to stand alongside the Spartans.

2. Solon wrote, “I took my stand with strong shield covering both sides, allowing neither unjust dominance.” What was he talking about? How was this reflected in his reforms?

Solon had the trust of both aristocrats and the commoners and so was able to enact reforms that benefitted Athens as a whole. He weakened the power of local and family influence by making participation in Athenian politics dependent on wealth, not blood, creating new classes that cut across local and family loyalties in order to strengthen Athenian unity and the prosperity that would come from a stronger and more vibrant unified economy. He strengthened Athenian agricultural production and relieved the debt slavery crisis that was crippling the poor peasantry. He fought not for the poor against the rich (as with the tyrants), or vice versa, but for a stronger Athens.

E1. Stages of Athens’s political development included all of the following EXCEPT:

(c) Pisistratus killing everyone and painting the statues in blood

E2. Briefly describe the significance of as many of the following as you can (including who won and why):

(a) The battle of Marathon saw Athens (without Sparta) defeat a much larger Persian army on the beaches of Marathon in Attica. It demonstrated that the Persians could be beaten despite their vast numbers and Persia’s vast resources, and in particular it could be beaten by the free Greek fighting for freedom against disenfranchised Persians fighting for a despot.

(b) At Thermopylae, a narrow pass into the heart of mainland Greece, 300 Spartans held the narrow pass to the last man, forever remembered as the ideal of bravery.

(c) At Salamis, the Athenian navy under Themistocles thoroughly defeated the larger Persian navy through clever tactics. This marks the beginning of Athens as a naval military power, and thus of the Athenian navy as a rival to the Spartan hoplite army as the protector of Greece.

(d) At Plataea, a combined Greek land army led by the Spartans defeated the Persians, forcing them into retreat and ending the Persian invasions.

Quiz #4

1. What was the Delian League? What was its original purpose, and how did it change over the years?

The Delian League is the modern historians’ term for the naval alliance formed after the Persian Wars. The intent was to counterstrike against the Persians and win back Greek lands in the eastern Aegean and Anatolia previously conquered by Persia. A tribute of either ships or money was levied on all members of the league. Its treasury was at a neutral location, the temple of Apollo at Delos.

Originally Athens led the League as military hegemon. In a few short years the League had achieved its goal of winning back the Greek lands from the Persians, however, and after that the League became more and more about ensuring the cultural and economic preeminence of Athens, in opposition to its rivals Corinth and Sparta. Worse, Athens started punitively enforcing its dominance on member cities, forbidding them to leave the alliance and exacting retribution on cities that tried to do so or otherwise showed resistance. From the mid-century onward some modern historians call this alliance the Athenian Empire.

2. What struck you as most interesting in the text’s discussion of family, marriage, and childhood, and why?

(This is a subjective question; the main point here is to discuss a distinctive element of Athenian society.)

EC1. All of the following are true about the Athenian Assembly EXCEPT:

(b) It required a quorum of at least 60 citizens to pass important legislation [a quorum was closer to 6,000]

EC2. What was a metic? What kinds of roles did they play in Athens’s society and economy?

“Metic” is the term for a resident alien. As skilled artisans and entrepreneurs who contributed to the robustness of Athens’s economy. Though they could not vote and paid special taxes, they were often wealthy or respected for their craft. Many were deeply integrated into culture and were often close friends of wealth Athenians and aristocrats, joining the nobility in public and private social gatherings. This means they had cultural and even political influence behind the scenes.

Quiz #5

1. What were the most important events that helped end the Thirty Years’ Peace after only fifteen years?

Long-term causes include: (a) Diverging ideas about what it means to be Greek (warrior Sparta, cosmopolitan Athens, etc.); (b) Trade rivalries between Athens and Corinth; (c) Class tensions between the few (aristoi) and the many (demos) throughout the Aegean world, exacerbated by the emergence of democracy in Athens; (d) A trend toward domination by both Athens and Sparta over their allies, weakening the autonomy of the polis.

Short-term sparks: (a) Corcyra; (b) Potidaea; (c) Megara.

2. How was Thucydides’s approach to writing history different from Herodotus’s? What did they have in common?

Both were early historians living in fifth-century Greece who pioneered the writing of history. Herodotus wrote about the Persian wars; Thucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian wars.

Herodotus tends to explore human nature and behavior through anecdotes of the customs of various peoples, apparently partly derived from travel in various lands. Thucydides practices something closer to the modern historical method, advancing meticulously researched primary source evidence in support of arguments explaining historical events, so that future generations can understand why those events occurred. Thucydides also tends to focus on Athenians’ motivations, whereas Herodotus looks to contrast the natures of Greeks and other peoples.

3. For today you read the first part of Clouds. (a) Why does Strepsiades go to the Thinkery? (b) How does “Socrates” first enter (appear on stage)? Why do you think the playwright, Aristophanes, introduces him like this?

Strepsiades goes to the Thinkery to learn how to argue away the debts his son piled up. “Socrates” appears descending from above, much like gods at the end of a tragedy descending to dispense wisdom and justice (“deus ex machina”), only “Socrates” talks not about the wisdom of the gods but the “natural functions” and physical processes of the temporal heavens.

EC1. All of the following describe classical theories about the natural world EXCEPT:

(d) Gynecos argued that the womb and the liver are in fact the same organ

EC2. Pick one of the three main surviving tragedians, Aeschylos, Sophocles, and Euripides. How was his work distinctive—different from the others? What did his work have in common with them?

Aeschylus pioneered tragedy, most famously with plays about the house of Agamemnon.

Sophocles explored fate and judgment in tragedies, including a trilogy about the house of Oedipus.

Euripides challenged traditions about heroes, reason, and passion, especially with the murdering heroine Medea.

Generally, tragedies served to reinforce collective wisdom regarding an individual’s responsibility to society. This included the importance of justice for the greater good of the community, the burden for which shifted somewhat in Euripides’s plays from the gods more toward humanity.

Quiz #6

1. Who were the sophists? How was what they did different from the work of philosophers?

Sophists taught the skill of arguing a question from any or all positions, as part of the art of rhetoric, in fifth-century Athens. Democracy in Athens created a market for this service, since effectively persuading other voters to your point of view was a valuable ability in a society where ordinary votes mattered. Critics charged that sophists taught the ability to argue a position regardless of truth or morality.

Unlike sophists, who taught a skill, philosophers as a group sought the spread and increase of knowledge and understanding, whether of the physical world or of human behavior. They tended to question received wisdom and superstition in order to develop more rational explanations. Those who taught philosophy, generally, were interested in teaching their students how to question things in order to discover truth; sophists, by contrast, taught their students how to give the most convincing answer regardless of its truth or value.

2. What is the debate over nomos vs. physis about? What are some implications for society if those who argue for nomos are right?

As Athens sought to achieve an ideal society, it was forced to confront the ultimate philosophic question: what is the source of morality? Some noted morality varies from city to city and county to country and argued that morality is nomos, whatever is agreed on in any one time and place; this suggests that morality is relative, and that it can be changed to suit whatever it is needed to be. The moral relativism of the sophists and the rhetoric they taught embodies this idea.

Others rejected moral relativism and argued that right and justice are physis, permanent laws of nature and therefore universal and unchangeable: what is right is always right. The real Socrates, unlike the cartoon of him presented by Aristophanes in Clouds, rejected the sophists and sought universal truths.

3. For today you read the rest of Clouds. What does Strepsiades do at the very end? What reasons does he give for doing it?

Pheidippides beat up his father, a shocking twist in the story and symbolizing the way shifting morals were leading Athenians to attack the very traditions and customs that made Athens strong. Remorseful over his willingness to be taught moral relativism and impiety by the sophists, Strepsiades later burns down the Thinkery.

EC1. All of the following are true of the Parthenon temple EXCEPT:

(b) It was a place for the entire Athenian populace to regularly gather together and worship Athena as a congregation

EC2. What was the agora, and why was it important?

The agora is the beating heart of the polis. The agora is the main marketplace of a polis, used not only for trading at merchants’ stalls but for gathering, posting of laws, and public speeches. It was where news was exchanged, and the focus of social, political, and judicial activities. It represented the “outdoors” nature of the public space, where men were expected to spend their time.

The agora was surrounded by government buildings and public meeting places, including the buildings the housed the council and the board of strategoi, as well as altars, shrines, statues, inscriptions, fountains, and trophies of war. There could also be found shops, booksellers, bankers’ tables, wholesale merchants, schools, and other kinds of public social and commercial interaction.

Quiz #7

1. Did Sparta win the Peloponnesian War, or did Athens lose it? Explain using examples either of what Spartans did right, or of what Athenians did wrong, that resulted in the Spartan victory.

This is a subjective question, but some of the things that can be mentioned are as follows. For Athens to “lose” this war, would mean that Athens had an advantage that might have led to them winning, but which they squandered. One argument for this would be the overextension of their strength and resources by extending the war to Sicily. This ended up being a huge catastrophe which permanently weakened Athens’s ability to fight off Sparta. An argument could also be made for Athens losing through disaffection caused by Athens’s ruthlessness toward its allies, as exemplified by the siege and massacre at Melos. Athens was also weakened at the start of the war by the great Plague of Athens, which greatly reduced not only manpower but also many ordinary Athenians’ faith in the path they were taking.

For Sparta to “win” would mean overcoming their own disadvantages to defeat Athens through their own agency. Arguments in this line of reasoning would involve the establishment of the base at Decelea in Attica, allowing year-round raising and harassment of Attica’s countryside. Also the deal with Persia in which Persia provided naval help to Sparta, overcoming Sparta’s disadvantage at sea, in exchange for the return of the Ionian Greek states Persia had ruled over before they were taken back by the Delian League. Another, more minor factor is the unexpected ability of a laconic Spartan general, Brasidas, winning over Athenian allies to Sparta, leveraging their disaffection and overcoming their feat of Athens.

2. How did the Plague affect Athens? What impacts did it have on the war?

The Plague brought about a breakdown in custom and morality in Athens, with burial rites and other sacred customs unobserved, looting of homes and warehouses, and other erosions of the social fabric.

The advent of the Plague strongly affected the Athenian relationship with the gods, already disturbed by the fifth century emphasis on reason and science; some were sure that this plague came from the gods and reflected their hostility to Athens’s might, while others decided the gods had abandoned humanity, leaving the Athenians without divine protection. Either way there is powerful disillusionment with Athens’s drive for dominance being sanctioned by the gods. The Athenians are a lot more ruthless and pragmatic in conducting the war from here on out.

The massive loss of life meant that Athens was much weaker in terms of its agricultural and industrial labor force, so there was a huge impact on its economy. It was also weakened militarily, losing a great deal of manpower both for army and navy. Finally, the Plague removed the one leader most of Athens had faith in, Pericles; though he was under a cloud at the time due to accusations of corruption, his loss was like a blow.

EC1. All of the following are true about Alcibiades EXCEPT:

(c) He returned to Athens after the war and opened a successful brothel

EC2. In your opinion, which city is most to blame for the Peloponnesian War? Explain and give examples.

There are three obvious candidates.

Athens gets the blame for its aggressive expansionism, especially the founding of cleruches and expanded trading during the Thirty Years’ Peace, and its mistreatment of its allies (e.g., Potidaea).

It’s Corinth, however, who treats every act of trading aggression by Athens as an indefensible provocation, and they call upon their ally, Sparta to turn the commercial rivalry between Athens and Corinth into Hellas-wide war.

Sparta, for its part, agrees to fight Athens because the Spartans believe that only their community is a true expression of the Greek idea, and that Athens’s version, empowering the demos and fostering widespread creative expression, was so detrimental to Hellas that it had to be stopped.

Quiz #8

1. What were some of the ways Macedonian society was unlike that of the Greeks? What did the two societies have in common?

This question arises in part because Alexander saw himself as the champion not only of the Greek peoples but of Greek culture, which he embraced and admired.

One way of looking at “being Greek” involves embracing Greek culture. As their interaction with the Greeks progressed the Macedonian nobility increasingly embraced and adopted elements of Greek culture, including art, architecture, education, and religion as well as facility with the Greek language alongside their own. Given that the Greeks themselves shared a common culture but pursued it in different ways, the Macedonians could be seen as being one of many different forms of Hellas. The Macedonians also pursued the Greek vendetta against the Persians despite their own history of alliance with them.

However, many elements of Macedonian society were decidedly and inherently un-Greek, starting with the feudal monarchy characteristic of the Thracian “barbarian” kingdoms but alien to Greece. The Macedonian nobility’s pastimes—drinking undiluted wine to excess, polygamy, and hunting—were also not characteristic of the Greeks, and their burial methods (a defining characteristic of any society) were different as well.

2. What do you think were the key factors that made possible Philip’s domination of Greece?

The Greeks exhausted themselves economically and culturally in the fourth century wars of hegemony. In the end Philip was the only force able to offer unity, which some Greeks wanted both to restore economic stability and to make possible the long-awaited offensive against Persia.

Philip’s fast and steady rise to power is a big part of this (see E2) below; Philip’s leadership inspired loyalty because of his personal strength and achievements as well as a canny ruthlessness when necessary.

EC1. All of the following were true of the Amphictyonic Council of Delphi (also called the Delphic Amphictyony) EXCEPT:

(c) It was named after some guy named Amphictyos

EC2. What do you think were Philip’s most important acts or reforms, and why?

A number of points could be discussed here, of which the most noticeable include

(a) Philip’s unification of Macedon at a moment of extreme crisis;

(b) his pacification and dominion of the Baltics and Thrace, greatly elevating Macedon’s standing wealth in resources;

(c) his revolutionary reforms of the military in terms of tactics, equipment, and specialized support as well as the effort to induce bonding with the king and leadership through the naming of companions and pages;

(d) the means by which he brought about the domination of Greece through successive diplomatic maneuvers and surgical use of war as the opportunity dictated, playing the Greeks’ enmities of each other to his own advantage;

(e) the preparation for marshaling sentiment and resources in both Macedon and Greece for war with Persia that Alexander assumed on his succession.