Ancient Greek History Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Herodotus is called first historian, as he was the first known author of the historical book called the Histories, which contained various myths, legends and also many important historical events that were commented by this great Greek.

Herodotus was a very smart man but when reading his book I have to mention that we have to treat him as ancient man who sincerely believed different myths (for example he was sure that men living in Eastern Europe near Carpathian mountains were covered with hair allover their bodies). Sure, we know that was not true, and such features of his book can surprise but we should remember that he lived about 2,5 thousands years ago and ancient Greeks though being very educated nation believed in various myths and legends.

Also we have to remember that he was Greek and considered his nation and state as the most progressive civilization of all times. Herodotus was interested in other nations as well but he considered majority of them as -- barbarian --, -- wild -- etc. It can be explained by popular Antique idea that only Greeks were civilized and highly developed state; all other nations were treated as imperfect and wild groups of barbarians. This idea influenced not only ancient times of Greece but also we can find such theories in Plato's or Aristotle's philosophy. Nevertheless Herodotus's Histories is a very valuable source of information about ancient world, especially Greece and particularly -- Athens as the main Greek city-state.

The last part of The Histories contains history of Greek-Persian war which was a very important event for both Greeks and Persians and had a great influence on future Greek history: Greeks' victory in this conflict meant superiority of Antique society over all Eastern states of that time (Xerxes army included, according to Herodotus, soldiers of all nations who lived within Persian Empire's territory and all of them were moved to fight Greeks).

Now I'll try to find out main features of characters of these great people according to Herodotus's book.

Greek-Persian wars formed a new generation of Greek patriots, fighters for Greek freedom and independence. History preserved very few facts about their life and their deeds, but life of the most famous and heroic national leaders didn't perish; it was preserved by many generations of Greek nation as a great example of braveness and devotion to own country during the great tragedy for all Greek states of those times- Persian invasion. Themistocles and Leonid were the most famous heroes of this war but the first man leaded Greeks to victory and won the war and Herodotus paid him much attention, characterized his deeds and features of his character. In other words, Themistocles was the main person in this war among all Greeks and Herodotus praised his great deeds being sure he was the only man who managed uniting Greeks and directing their strength against Persian conquerors in a correct form.

Themistocles was born in one of the Athens district and his father belonged to a famous dynasty of Licomides. His mother was a foreigner and that's why many Greeks blamed Themistocles for being a half-Greek, treated him with great disrespect and simply didn't consider this young man as a real Athens citizen. This idea could not be real but formed by public opinion and Herodotus could create some facts as well. The only aim of these discriminating facts was to show readers of Histories that Themistocles was a real Greek patriot, even more than many original Greeks and it didn't matter who his mother was. Herodotus announced that discrimination formed such feature of Themistocles's character as self-respect which displayed in his constant wish to be first everywhere: while studying, playing sport games etc. Themistocles turned into a self-reliant and harmonious personality and sure, had some leader's features. Talented boy wanted to become famous to make everybody respect him and forget his origin. When having free time he didn't had rest as all his friends did: he created speeches as he knew that only under the condition of having good orator skills he would manage to become famous in Athens where every person who wished gain any success had to speak well on the meetings and be able to convince the crowd follow him. His teacher noticed Themistocles's talents and told him that he would be either a great good man or great evil person, nothing else. These words we repeated by many ancient Greeks and especially they were valued by Herodotus and Thucydides. Another interesting fact of his early biography was his studying: Themistocles learned poetry and music without of a great wish because found them not worth wasting his time on. He was sure that these subjects would not be necessary for him in future and paid much attention to subjects he considered useful in his future activities -- praising own state -- Athens. But as every usual man he had some vices too but they were only results of his poor life experience. Being disrespected he tried to attract peoples' attention using even bad deeds as wanted to be in the center of attention anyway. Later he felt sorry for that because his opponents used these negative deeds in their interests. Mentioning Themistocles's vices Herodotus wanted to show that even this future hero was not perfect and as every person had some bad features but they didn't bother his future activities at all, on the contrary, they saved his character from negative wishes and interests. Also description of Themistocles's childhood is important to find out the way his character developed, moral values of this man and his interests for future.

Though his father was against it, Themistocles started speaking on the tribune during the national meeting and his success attracted many city's masses. Herodotus wrote the following about this: "Now, there was in Athens a man called Themistocles the son of Neocles who had just recently risen to a position of prominence"

Brave and wise Athens citizen Themistocles told them that they should prepare to the sea battle but not wait for Persian army on land. He didn't tell them oracle was wrong, but he said they understood its words in incorrect form. Greeks loved his words more than oracle's which told them find some other land to live but not resist Persians capturing Attica.

It doesn't matter whether Themistocles was a real man or just Greeks fantasy but his paradigm gave them moral strength and wish protect their homeland and they really hoped to win as they knew Attica was their land and nobody had any right to take it. Another reason of his popularity was that his advice meant that many poor Greeks were let serve in the navy, because they were not even able to buy necessary ammo to serve in land forces as hoplites. But rich people resisted Themistocles and wanted strengthening hoplites units and providing passive politics. That was a great mistake but Themistocles insisted on his plan and won. He became a symbol of that war, a symbol of braveness, honor, freedom and strong self-confidence.

We know that Themistocles managed defeating strong Persian navy because of his smart strategy. Persian fleet was destroyed and Xerxes watched this disaster getting angry and frustrated. But before the sea battle started some commanders got on board of their ships and wanted to leave the war theater as they were frightened by the fact that Xerxes managed capturing Athens including Acropolis. " ... they decided to retreat down into Greece. It occurred to Themistocles, however, that if they could detach the Ionian and Carian contingents from the Persian forces, they could overcome the rest."

. Themistocles convinced all commanders to stay at their positions and fight Persians.

That was an original military decision -- to leave cities without land forces and try to defeat Persians only on the sea. Practically the same strategy was used many centuries later by Russian field marshal M.I. Kutuzov who let Napoleon capture Moscow but later defeated him in more important battle. "Athenians, Aeginetans, and Megarians put the case for staying and resisting the enemy where they were.' In this debate, Themistocles was being beaten by the Peloponnesians -- but he succeeded later and convinced commanders stay and fight."

. Themistocles was perfect orator and did his best to convince those Greeks who were not that smart to realize the situation or simply afraid of Persian troops.

As a result Persians were defeated: Asian tyrant was forced by brave Greeks to respect them.

"Themistocles' tactics had saved the Peloponnesus from invasion but have not saved Athens itself from being burned and sacked" - these are the words of wise Herodotus who realized that Athens was not that important as all Greek cities-states and Greek civilization in general. Sure, there were some Greeks who blamed Themistocles for that but every real Greek patriot knew that if Themistocles protected Athens he would loose Greece. So, Athens had to be destroyed for other Greek states could…

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