Week 6 – Athens, the Persian wars and the Peloponnesian war

1. Describe the circumstances leading to the Persian Wars. Why were they significant events in Western history?

The Persians wanted to control Ionians, but there were some Ionian Greeks within them and they asked Athens and Sparta for help. Sparta refused but Athens agreed and sent their ships to help. The Persians won and were seeking revenge on Athens for helping Ionians.

In 490 BC the Persians decide to attack Athens → Athenians ask for help from Spartans, but they could not help since they had a religious ceremony. And this is leading us to the reason why Persian wars were so important – Athens won even though Persians had predominance.


2. According to Herodotus, what advice is Xerxes given regarding war with the Greeks? How does Xerxes respond?

Xerxes wants to avenge his father and wants to attack Athens, but he is told not to, that they will defeat them. Xerxes disregards this and sends a quarter million men and over 500 ships to Greece.


3. Why was the Peloponnesian War fought? What was its long-term significance?

After the Persian wars, a league called Delian League was formed. It was a defensive alliance of city-states under direction of Athens. Each city had to supply ships and money. Athens supplied ships, but not money – they used them to decorate Athens, saying that they need to decorate them after they were burnt to the ground. Some cities wanted to leave, but Athens denied – it was no longer a voluntary league. Sparta noticed and did not like it, saying that Athens were growing arrogant and Spartans were scared of Athens spreading. Sparta’s concern was the main reason for the Peloponnesian war.

This war weakened everybody, mainly the Greeks, which lead to them being taken over.


4. How was Athenian government organized? How much citizen involvement in government was there?

At first it was a system dominated by a few, but then it has grown into a more democratic system.

In 600 BC the people got together and discussed the politics. There was an assembly, which consisted of all Athenian citizens (a citizen was a male born to two Athenian parents), Council of Five Hundred, who decided which matters would be brought to the assembly, that was chosen each year along with law courts, where 6,000 citizens were chosen each year and who would hear cases and decided their outcomes, and magistrates, about 401 people chosen at random each year. The number 401 was chosen so there would not be a tie.

There was a high chance of you getting voted since there were only about 40,000 people in Athens.

They had ostracism, which means that anybody could be exiled as long as at least 6,000 people decided that the person is a danger to Athens, even if it his fault was not proven.

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