World History Lecture Two

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Last week we studied the major early ancient cultures: Mesopotamia and Egypt. This week becomes even more interesting as we begin to learn about the "classical" period of World history: 1000 B.C. to A.D. 500.

During this period, five different regions of the world had civilizations that advanced the frontiers of knowledge, government and the arts. Most of them developed independently of each other, because there was very little communication across long distances in the ancient world. No telephones or the internet existed yet, and sending a message from one side of Europe to the other required a dangerous trip of many weeks or months by a messenger. Good roads did not exist, and messages may never reach their intended destinations.

The five "classical" civilizations were India, China, Greece, Rome and, to a lesser extent, the Americas (in what is now Mexico and Central and South America). We devote this week to what many consider as the greatest civilization ever: classical Greece. It was the birthplace of democracy and many other insights and advances. It was ancient Greece that developed the first language powerful enough to express the concepts at the foundation for Christianity and to enable those principles to be spread throughout the world. Let's begin by looking at language.

Invention of the Western Alphabet

Linguistics, which means the study of language, is a fascinating aspect of World history. A language is essential to the progress and survival of a society - the better the language, the more successful the society becomes. Cultures having only primitive languages could not survive against rival groups having more powerful languages. Language expresses and communicates ideas, and facilitates the trade that brings wealth to a civilization. Observe for yourself how difficult it is, if not impossible, to think about and remember an idea without a term to express it.

All languages develop based on common and basic aspects of life, such as terms needed to describe food, animals, daily activities and commerce or trade (like the word "coin"). But much more is needed in language in order to express the intangibles, such as religious concepts. Christianity could not develop and spread without a language capable of communicating its concepts. Had Christ come into this world in 2000 or 1000 B.C., would there have been a language powerful enough to express His ideas? Probably not. Notice that Ancient Hebrew lacked vowels, and most non-Hebrew languages were very primitive.

An example of a concept that Jesus needed to express was the "Holy Spirit." Almost no language can convey the full meaning of this concept. The Greek words "pneuma" (wind or breath) and "paraclete" (advocate or one who consoles) are what the Gospel of John uses, and those words capture the guiding, driving force of the Holy Spirit. The English word "spirit" fails to convey the full meaning of the Greek. Most languages in the world have smaller vocabularies than English, and thus have even greater difficulty capturing the essence of what we call the "Holy Spirit" and other key concepts of Christianity.

Another example is the last utterance on the Cross by Jesus, typically translated as "it is finished."[1] In the 20th century it was discovered that the actual Greek term used by John had the following meaning in commerce in the 1st century: "paid in full." So now some translate these final words by Christ "it is accomplished." But even that may not fully capture the concept of redemption of the sin ("paid in full") that existed in Greek. Check your Bible to see how it translates John 19:30.

Recall that the language of Mesopotamia was cuneiform, based on wedge-like characters. Can you imagine such primitive writing conveying the concept of "Holy Spirit" or "sin" or "redemption" or "faith"? It was an inadequate language for religion, far too primitive for the needs of the powerful concepts of Christianity.

But in the 1000s B.C., and perhaps earlier, the Phoenicians developed a marvelous new alphabet-based language while trading goods on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where Lebanon is today. The Phoenicians established towns such as Byblos, a religious center after which the Bible is named because the town exported papyrus. The Phoenicians had ports and sea-traders would pick up exports such as fine linen, cedar, pine wood, dyed cloth, wine, glass, salt, dried fish, and embroideries. The Phoenicians traded with the Hebrews, who used the cedars of Lebanon to build Solomon's temple. Colonies of the Phoenicians included Tyre, Sidon and, along the coast of Northern Africa, Carthage. Carthage later became powerful enough to compete with Rome. The Assyrian empire, which was the world's first real empire, invaded the Phoenicians in the 500s B.C., causing them to collapse.

The new language developed by the Phoenicians to facilitate their trading was based on an alphabet of 22 letters. All Western alphabets, such as English and French and Italian and Greek and Latin, were developed using this Phoenician alphabet. This Phoenician alphabet was one of the greatest advances in the history of mankind, perhaps greater than the invention of the wheel, because now language could begin to describe powerful concepts and abstract ideas. This laid the foundation for the accomplishments of Ancient Greece, which in turn laid the foundation for the teaching and spread of Christianity.

Mystery: What was the level of literacy in ancient civilizations? What percentage of people could read and write? Was literacy higher or lower than literacy today?

Ancient Greece


Greece was the most significant ancient civilization, and perhaps the greatest civilization of all time. Intellectually, politically and militarily, ancient Greece had it all. Ancient Greece invented democracy, discovered mathematics and philosophy, and developed places of learning - and these are only a few examples of Greece's great accomplishments. The achievements of ancient Greece are even more remarkable when we consider that they succeeded in discovering and developing new ideas without the benefit of Christianity, which came hundreds of years later. In many ways Greek culture laid the groundwork for Christianity to spread centuries later.

There were two basic reasons for the Greek success: language and political structure. The Greeks developed a complete alphabet that facilitated the expression of powerful ideas. The Greeks also developed a democracy-based political structure that ensured self-government and freedom for its citizens, thereby enabling productive work to flourish.

At its beginning, from 3000 to 1000 B.C. Greece was not as successful or influential as the other ancient cultures. At the end of that period the Dorians, who were tribes speaking the Doric dialect of Greek, settled Greece between 1100 and 1000 B.C. They had a military ruling class that oppressed the local people, and they retained this rule by an aristocracy in Sparta and Crete even after the Greeks established democracy in Athens. The simplest form of Greek architecture, consisting of a straight column without any artistic trim at the top, was created by the Dorians and is known as the "Doric order."

Beginnings hist greece.jpg

The beginning of the ancient or classical Greece (see map above) was 776 B.C. The peak of ancient or classical Greece was 500-336 B.C. when Greece consisted of many small "city-states". A city-state is a nation containing only one city.

Why didn't classical Greece begin before 776 B.C.? After all, Greeks migrated southward into the Greek peninsula as early as about 1600 B.C. But from 1600 to 1100 B.C. was a period known as Mycenaean Greece, when progress was slow and few noteworthy advances were produced. The period from 1100 to 800 B.C. was the "dark ages," during which there was little progress and from which little survived. The momentous event that heralded the beginning of ancient or classical Greece was the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. This played a unifying role for the culture, and the Olympics were then held every four years for a millennium until A.D. 393, when they ended. They were restarted in A.D. 1896, and held again every four years. (The winter Olympics did not begin until A.D. 1924, in France.)

Greece thrived for hundreds of years, from 776 B.C. until Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C. Afterward the term "Hellenistic Greece" is used to describe the region. Greece's land extended far and wide during this period, even to Jerusalem. Ultimately the Roman empire conquered Greece in 146 B.C.

Around 800 B.C., the Greeks formed their alphabet by borrowing from the Phoenician alphabet and adding vowels to it, and this sparked the progress and learning that we remember ancient Greece for. The spread of this new alphabet provides written records pf Greek society, culture, and life which survive today. Greece divided itself into many small self-governing communities because of Greek geography, which made travel and communication between areas difficult. In Greece, every region is separated from its neighbors by water or mountain ranges. Once again we see how geography shaped history: the terrain of ancient Greece led the people to create city-states. (Earlier we saw how the geography of Egypt supported the rise and power of that civilization and prevented its boundaries from changing, even when it was conquered.)

Magnificent Greek literature began to appear almost as soon as the Phoenician alphabet became the standard. Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey in the 800s or 700s B.C., and they remain great works of literature to this day. They describe adventures arising from the mythical "Trojan War" caused by the Greek gods, which included the famous gift of a "Trojan horse" to fool the enemy. In our internet era, a "Trojan horse" is a program or download that looks helpful, but actually contains a harmful computer virus. Greek mythology remains a powerful influence even now, as the names for gods have inspired many common terms today, such as "Achilles heel," "Amazon", "atlas" and "titans". Some would say that modern sports heroes, music stars, and media figures are appealing to the public in the same way as Greek mythological gods were so popular nearly 3000 years ago.

Poetry and fables developed. Aesop's Fables were written around 600 B.C., containing popular insights well worth remembering. For example, the term "sour grapes" applies to someone who complains after he loses, based on Aesop's fable about the fox unable to reach grapes. Aesop was smart enough to know that foxes are the only canines that like grapes. All the Fables are now available for easy access online.[2]

One of Aesop's Fables is "The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing," which conveys a message about the harmful power of deceit:

A Wolf found great difficulty in getting at the sheep owing to the vigilance of the shepherd and his dogs. But one day it found the skin of a sheep that had been flayed and thrown aside, so it put it on over its own pelt and strolled down among the sheep. The Lamb that belonged to the sheep, whose skin the Wolf was wearing, began to follow the Wolf in the Sheep's clothing; so, leading the Lamb a little apart, he soon made a meal off her, and for some time he succeeded in deceiving the sheep, and enjoying hearty meals.

As Greeks and other Gentiles learned insights from Aesop's Fables like the one above, Jewish and Christian warnings about the deceit of the devil became even easier to understand and accept.

The government of Athens in this early period was controlled by aristocrats who owned land. They elected "archons", who were the government officials who made the law. But in the 600s B.C., tyrants rose to power. The tyrants were primarily rich upstarts who illegally took over the government by violent means and catered to the lower classes to maintain popularity.

Athens was then ruled by a series of tyrants. One tyrant was "Draco", who wrote strict laws that had the same penalty of death for every crime, no matter how minor. The negative term "draconian laws" is used to today to criticize overly rigid rules. But Draco was not all bad: he granted voting rights only to people who would bear arms in self-defense![3] Other tyrants included Pisistratus (transferred estates from the nobles to the peasants and started building projects to create jobs) and Cleisthenes (created the democratic Council of 500 and promoted freedom of speech). Cleisthenes is also believed to have founded "ostracism", a system by which any citizen believed to have too much power by other citizens could be voted into exile for ten years, or "ostracized".

In 594 B.C. the Athenians selected Solon to revise their laws. He was a reformer who allowed most "citizens" (males descended from citizens) to vote. This was the beginning of a real democracy.

By this time, the 500s B.C. (6th century), Hellas had become a culture larger than the geographical area of Greece. The basic political unit was the city, which in Greek is called the "polis" (PAH-lus). The plural of "polis", to express many cities, is "poleis" (PAH-lace). Each polis was made up of a city surrounded by a countryside. From that root we obtained our word "politics". Over 200 Greek city-states arose in the Greek landscape and geography, which has many hills and valleys well-suited to separate city-states. The unsuitability of the Greek terrain for farming encouraged more trade.

Several important cities arose: Athens, Corinth, Sparta and Thebes. Athens and Corinth were powerful economically, controlling maritime and mercantile trade. Athens and Sparta were powerful militarily, and were rivals of each other for a long time.

The large cities dominated the areas around them. Sparta, for example, exercised influence over the other cities of the Peloponnese, which was the large island in south Greece, connected to the mainland (where Athens was) by only an isthmus (a thin pathway of land). Sparta was allied with Corinth and Thebes, but was an enemy of Athens.

Athens, as a city-state, instituted a semi-constitutional system of government run by aristocrats, most notably Pisistratus and his sons. Ultimately the Pisistratids lost power, and the world's first democracy was established in 500 B.C. in Athens The powerful body became an assembly open to all (male) citizens.

The Greek city-states were remarkable because they adopted a form of democracy that inspired our Constitution: citizens elected representatives who would then make decisions for everyone. But there was only a legislature in Athens and no president or court system, so there was no separation of powers that is unique to our Constitution. Also, not all Greek males in Athens were citizens. The city-state of Athens had 225,000 residents at its peak, but only 30% of the males were citizens. Males born to families with large incomes became citizens. Still, Athens is considered to have invented "democracy", and its residents felt an allegiance to the State because of this.

Athens had a direct democracy: every citizen (Athenian adult males) could propose laws and participate in their consideration and approval. Nobles served as judges to interpret the law, but there was a right to appeal and citizens served as jurors for trials in court.

Democratic Athens' main rival was the city-state of Sparta, which was not a democracy. Instead, Sparta was a harsh military culture based on high military discipline. Parents were forced to let their boys leave the house at age seven and receive training at a strict military camp — if the boys were lucky enough to make it to the age of seven, that is. The Spartans had a cruel practice by which all baby boys were examined by community leaders immediately after birth. If the child appeared weak or deformed in any way, then he was taken into a remote area and left to die from exposure or wild animals. The Spartans did not want any member of their military to be anything less than 100% fit.

There were rigid social class structures in Sparta. The aristocrats, called the "spartiates", were people descended from the Dorian invaders of the second century. The second class of citizens, called "perioeci", consisted of landowners, artisans, and traders. They were primarily relatives of the natives who had lived in the region before the Dorians conquered it. The third class was comprised of conquered people who were basically serfs and were known as "helots", and lastly there were slaves in Sparta—usually prisoners of war. The last two classes did not enjoy the rights of citizens. At times it was even legal for citizens to kill the non-citizens (the helots) to reduce population!

The helots did the farming and were 4/5ths of the overall population. The Spartans were not the brightest people in the world: they forbade the use of gold and silver for money, and instead used heavy iron bars as money! For most Greek city-states, trade consisted of making olive oil and wine and exchanging it with surrounding regions to obtain timber and grain in return.

The Persian Empire versus Athens, and the Persian Wars (500-479 B.C.)

Nothing unites two rivals as well as a common enemy. From 500 B.C. into the early 400s B.C. (i.e., 490s and 480s), Athens and Sparta had a common enemy: the Persian empire, located where Iran is today.

In 530 B.C., the Persian empire formed under a powerful ruler named Cyrus, who established the Achaemenid dynasty. He conquered the Medes and established trade routes to India and the Mediterranean. In 525 B.C., Cyrus's son Cambyses expanded the empire further to Egypt and parts of Arabia. He established loyal governors in distant lands known as "satraps", who were carefully watched by a special force called the "King's Eyes and Ears" to prevent any rebellions. The distant lands sent taxes and soldiers to the king; in return the king protected them and allowed local customs and traditions to continue (most other empires harshly suppressed local customs). The Persian empire founded their own religion called Zoroastrainaism, which described life as a struggle between good and evil in the expectation that good would ultimately prevail. Its sacred text was called "Avesta".

Persian empire.jpg

The greatest Persian ruler was Darius I, who was in power for nearly 40 years (521-486 B.C.). He expanded his empire to the coast of North Africa and Macedonia, and established a capital at Persepolis. He introduced a currency (coins) for trade, imposed a common calendar, and built the 1,600 mile Royal Road across the Middle East. Mail was carried by couriers on the Royal Road, and it was a Greek historian (not the U.S. Postal Service) who described the couriers like this: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stop these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

The Persian King Cyrus conquered the Ionian Greek city-states on the western shore of Asia Minor in 546 B.C., but in 499 B.C. Athens encouraged support for a revolution against the Persian empire. Athens came to the aid of the Ionian city-states when they revolted against their Persian masters. Other Greek city-states also helped the Ionian city-states.

Furious, Darius suppressed the revolution and then sought to punish Athens in particular. In 490 B.C., Darius brought his army to the plains of Marathon, just north of Athens and prepared to invade the rich city-state. Outnumbered ten to one by the Persians, the Athenians sent an athlete named Philippides to run 150 miles to Sparta in an attempt to enlist the aid of the Spartans. Ironically, the Spartans — with their military-obsessed society — refused to come, as they were in the middle of a festival! However, Athens proved strong enough on their own to defeat the mighty Persians, and won a stunning victory on the plains of Marathon. Ambitious joggers imitate the long "marathon" run as inspired by the remarkable athlete Philippides (also known as Pheidippides).

Xerxes, who had succeeded Darius, tried again in 480 B.C. to defeat Greece. This time he had a massive army of 200,000 Persians and a strong navy. He marched the army to a narrow pass in the mountains at Thermopylae. But he was met by 300 Spartans, the finest soldiers in the world, and they gave their lives to delay the Persians at the pass. Ultimately the Persians broke through the mountains by using an alternate route given to them by a Greek traitor. The Persians then conquered and ransacked ("sacked") Athens. But Athens was able to strike back and defeat the Persian navy at Salamis in 479 B.C., and went on to conquer the Persian army the same year at the Battle of Plataea. Athens had won and became the dominant city-state.

The Athenian triumph in the Persian Wars (with the help of Sparta) in 466 B.C., and the subsequent peace beginning in 450 B.C., catapulted Athens to a great power. It controlled the sea and commerce. Pericles (495–429 B.C.) rose to political prominence and rebuilt the Parthenon and other monuments in Athens. The city encouraged the creation of wealth, and it became the intellectual center of the world. Many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world lived there. The Golden Age of Athens was the period when Pericles held power, also known as the Age of Pericles. Pericles expanded democracy in Athens by granting the right to hold government offices to all citizens and providing salaries for public service in government and on juries.

This "Pericles Age" was the "Golden Age" of Athens. It was a time of prosperity and peace, occurring between the the Persian and Peloponnesian wars.

During this period, Athens decided to take advantage of the anti-Persia sentiment that existed throughout Greece, and formed the "Delian League" (477 B.C.). The alliance consisted of Athens and various other Greek city-states and Aegean towns. Athens quickly assumed a leadership position and began to control the various allies by imposing taxes and using the League's budget to fund Athenian projects. But during this Pericles Age of prosperity, immorality began to creep in as Athens started to expand aggressively, using bribes, trickery and often force to gain the cooperation of its allies. This sparked internal strife amongst the Greek city-states and much animosity towards what had become an Athenian empire.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.)

Military success breeds abuse of power and jealousy, which leads to war. The rivals Athens and Sparta began fighting each other in a lengthy series of battles known as the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.). The war began in 431 B.C., when fighting erupted between Athens and Sparta and its allies. Athens controlled the sea but Sparta had a strong army. The Spartan military is famous for its tremendous discipline; boys were trained to be great soldiers beginning at age seven and serving the army from ages 20 to 60. After 27 years of fighting between Athens and Sparta, the Athenian leader Nicias negotiated the Peace of Nicias (421 B.C.).

But the peace lasted only a few years. Fighting resumed, and Sparta defeated the combined armies of Athens and her allies at Mantinea. In 415 B.C. a radical new leader of Athens, Alcibiades, convinced the Athenian Assembly to invade Syracuse, a large city in Sicily that was attacking allies of Athens. Alcibiades had dreams of conquering Sicily entirely in order to form a massive new empire. But Alcibiades' plan was a total disaster. The end was near for Athens, which was weakened further by a plague that killed much of her population. Sparta then had a fleet to challenge Athens on the seas, and benefited from an extraordinary military leader named Lysander. He seized Hellespont to cut off Athens' grain imports and threaten Athens with starvation. Athens sent all the men and resources it had left to confront and fight him, but failed at Aegospotami in 405 B.C.

Faced with bankruptcy, Athens gave up nearly everything just to attain peace. Athens lost her city walls and all of her possessions overseas. She also lost democracy as Sparta's anti-democratic party took control. Sparta had won the Peloponnesian War.

Postscript: A decade after the war, democracy rose up again and the tables turned on Sparta. In 395 B.C. Sparta removed Lysander from office. In 387 Sparta lost the favor of public opinion when it surrendered Greek cities (Ionia and Cyprus) to the enemy Persia. The surrender was a surprise loss because Greece had been beating Persia for a hundred years. When Sparta then tried to weaken its former ally Thebes, a battle broke out between them and Athens joined with Thebes to defeat Sparta. Perhaps the ultimate fall of Sparta is an illustration of the biblical insight, "he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword."

Greek Knowledge

Ancient Greece advanced knowledge tremendously. That may have been its finest achievement, even more than inventing democracy. The Greeks founded an Academy, considered to be the first university ever founded in the world. In a sense, homeschoolers today are emulating the Academy in starting their own educational system, developing logical skills and knowledge through informal classes and debates.

Socrates (469-399 B.C.) was the first of the three greatest Greek philosophers. He advocated the improvement of one's soul, concentrating on ethics. He was constantly urging students to doubt and question things, and his "Socratic method" set the standard used in American law schools today, whereby the professor asks a series of questions of the students and they are expected to provide correct answers. But Socrates ultimately fell out of favor with the Athenian state for refusing to bow to its will. He questioned the actions of leaders during the Peloponnesian War (there was no right of free speech then), and several of his students were implicated in bad conduct. He was charged with impiety and corruption of the youth. Socrates was executed by being forced to drink poison hemlock, thereby becoming the greatest pagan martyr in the history of the world. Some even suggest that Jesus's reference in connection with his Crucifixion to "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"[4] to be an allusion to Socrates' death by being forced to drink poison. Socrates left no writings.

Socrates' greatest student was Plato (428-347 B.C.), who founded the Academy, which became one of the greatest places of learning in all of history. Born as a nobleman, Plato was fascinated with the power of reason and developed a philosophy based on reason rather than experience. He felt the essence of the world was abstract universals or "forms" or "ideas", such as justice and truth and the Good. Plato was particularly interested in physics and mathematics. His writing style was in the form of dialogs. Early Christians made use of Plato's work.

Plato's greatest writing was his book called "The Republic," which forms the foundation for the American republican system of government. Under this system, the people typically do not vote directly on issues, but elect representatives who then cast hopefully more informed votes on legislation. Plato wanted government to be run by philosophers.

Plato's finest student was Aristotle, perhaps the greatest philosopher of all time. Aristotle lived from 384 to 322 B.C., and wrote a treatise that is still taught in the finest university philosophy departments. Aristotle came to the Academy when he was 17 and remained there until the death of Plato twenty years later. But Aristotle's approach was the opposite of Plato's: Aristotle thought experience was the key to knowledge, and embarked on the massive task of observing and compiling as much information as possible. In contrast to Plato's interest in physics and math, Aristotle was fascinated by biology and classified over 500 animal species. He ultimately founded his own school, the Lyceum, and equipped it with specimens, libraries, maps and other accouterments found in modern universities. Less impressive was how Aristotle defended the usefulness of slavery.

Another disciple of Socrates, Antisthenes, founded "Cynicism", a philosophy which, not surprisingly in light of its name, focuses on the negative aspects of life. The cynics believed the cares and pleasures of the natural world were small, and they rejected materialism. Only the pursuit of virtue could bring happiness. They believed no divine force existed, and that only through extreme self-discipline could virtue and simplicity be attained and happiness found. Diogenes was the most famous "Cynic".

Ancient Greece produced two great historians, Herodotus (pronounced hi-rah-duh-tus) (484-425 B.C.) and Thucydides (thew-ci-dah-deez) (d. 401 B.C.), who emphasized the importance of history. Herodotus' History described the Persian Wars. Because he was the first to collect historical materials systematically, check their accuracy and present them in a logical manner with a vivid narrative, Herodutus is considered the "Father of History." Thucydides also wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War, which was the first full work of historical analysis. Thucydides blamed Athens' loss on its failed expedition to Sicily, which wasted resources and hurt morale. He said Athens deserved its loss because of its own mistake. A third historian was Xenephon (427-355 B.C.), a disciple of Socrates. Although not comparable in achievement to Thucydides and Herodotus, Xenephon was the primary historian of the last days of Greece's freedom, and he picked up from where Thucydides left off (411 B.C.) in his detailed historical account, "Hellenica".

Ancient Greece contributed enormously to medicine. The father of medicine was Hippocrates (460–377 B.C.), although some claim that medicine started even earlier in ancient India. Hippocrates issued the "Hippocratic Oath" that has been required of medical students around the world as a condition of graduation. It originally stated in part: "I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion." People who profit from abortion today refuse to obey the Oath, and most medical schools have improperly omitted this key part of the Oath.

Archimedes (285 to 212 B.C.) lived in the Greek city-state of Syracuse and is considered to be one of the finest mathematicians of all time. He discovered "pi", the ratio between the circumference of a circle to its diameter. He discovered the relationship between the surface and volume of a sphere and its circumscribing cylinder. He discovered "Archimedes' principle" allegedly when he was sitting in a bathtub one day, recognizing that volume of a body can be measured by seeing how much the water rises when the body is submerged. He supposedly ran into town naked from his bathtub declaring "eureka!", meaning "I have found it!" Archimedes also invented military devices useful for keeping the Roman soldiers out, although eventually Romans conquered his city-state and then senselessly killed him. The "Archimedes screw" is a very clever way to use a large screw surrounded by a pipe to remove water from the bottom of a boat or basement.

Other mathematicians from the Greek empire are just as famous. Euclid (325–265 B.C.) lived in Hellenistic Alexandria (located in Egypt), and invented geometry. Pythagoras (582–507 B.C.) lived much earlier than Archimedes and Euclid, and was a philosopher, mathematician and teacher. He is often credited with proving the Pythagorean Theorem for calculating the length of a hypotenuse in a right triangle, but actually the Mesopotamians discovered it first. The Greek astronomer Aristarchus (310-230 B.C.) understood and taught that the earth revolved around the sun. Greek poetry and drama was tremendous too.

Ancient Greece also produced a great orator and statesman, Demosthenes (384-322 B.C.). As a young man, Demosthenes had very weak lungs and could not speak loudly or clearly. However, he did not let this defeat him; to improve his voice, Demosthenes would go to the ocean, fill his mouth with pebbles, and practice speaking loudly enough for his voice to be heard over the waves! He went on to give powerful political speeches -- known as the "Phillipics" -- against Philip II of Macedon, once causing the crowd to shout, "Let us take up arms and march!" But in 338 B.C. Philip of Macedon completely conquered the Greeks at the battle of Chaeronea. Demosthenes' life later ended in failure when an Athenian revolt against Macedon was unsuccessful.

The Greeks had a tremendous philosophical influence. Two main schools of philosophical thought from the Hellenistic Period were the Stoics and the Epicureans.

The Epicureans were founded by Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) in the late fourth century B.C. and did not believe in any divine power. They did not believe in human ability to know and understand absolute truth, instead teaching that only the senses could be trusted. They sought pleasure and inner peace, but unfortunately their teachings later led to justification for excess and indulgence.

In contrast, the Stoics — founded by Zeno (333-264 B.C.) in the early third century B.C. — sought to find a sense of divine justice. They de-emphasized emotion and feelings, teaching that both plain and pleasure should be disregarded. Instead, cool-headed reason and logic should be used at all times with an emphasis on self-discipline.

A note about slavery: it existed widely in Greece, using both Greeks and non-Greeks (such as Russian slaves and also African slaves purchased from Egypt). Criminals and people who could not pay their debts were enslaved. The harshest treatment of slaves was of criminals put to work in the Athenian silver mines. Slavery has a very ancient history. It was not until free enterprise was invented and promoted in the British Empire by Adam Smith in 1776 that the world could generate enough wealth and free itself from the scourge of slavery.

Did Jesus Preach in Greek?

The traditional view is that Jesus and the Apostles spoke in Aramaic, the colloquial language of that region and time. Many of Jesus' sayings are quoted directly in Aramaic, including Talitha cum, which means, "Little girl, get up!" (Mark 5:41). Also, Abba ("Father"; Mark 14:36; Gal.4:6; Rom.8:15); Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"; Mark 15:34); Cephas ("Peter"; John 1:42); Mammon ("Wealth"; Matt.6:24, RSV); Raca ("Fool"; Matt. 5:22, RSV). Linguists can even pinpoint Jesus' dialect to be western Aramaic associated with Galilee, rather than the Aramaic dialect spoken in Jerusalem. But notice how these Aramaic sayings were not part of His teachings, but were less formal emotional utterances (or a name).

For teaching purposes, the powerful Greek language would have been useful. Greek was in common use by Jewish people in Palestine, thanks in part to the conquest by Alexander the Great. Greek was even widely used in Jewish ossuaries to bury the dead. Commerce took place often in Greek, and Jesus had been in business as a carpenter. He surely knew the language. Several of the key terms, such as Jesus' criticism of the Pharisees as "hypocrites", is derived directly from Greek without any comparable term in Aramaic or Hebrew. Several of the Apostles had Greek names (e.g., Andrew and Philip), but others, like John, Bartholomew, Matthew, and Thomas, had Aramaic or Hebrew names. There has been no discovered book in the New Testament written in Aramaic or Hebrew that predates the Greek versions. The Gospel of John even seems to take advantage of the Greek "Socratic method" in repeating questions and then providing the important information as answers to the questions.[5]

Here is a comparison of Greek and English:

The Introduction to the Gospel of John in its original Greek[6] Translation (notice how the English requires more letters)
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The oldest manuscripts of the New Testament are in "biblical Greek," or "Koine Greek." Biblical Greek was a product of the confluence or combination of the Jewish and Greek cultures in Palestine in the 1st century A.D. The New Testament has 550 Greek words that scholars could not find anywhere else, until the spectacular discovery in the 1800s of Greek papyri manuscripts that had been preserved in the sand in Egypt. These manuscripts included all kinds of literary and legal documents, in Greek. Nearly all of the unusual New Testament Greek words were found used in ordinary writings in these manuscripts. After examining these Egyptian manuscripts, the preeminent German scholar Adolf Deissmann concluded what Christians had known all along: the New Testament was written in the Greek language of the common man in the 1st century A.D., and there is nothing to criticize about it.

Mystery: Did Jesus teach in Greek?

The Hellenistic Age

The term "Hellenistic" means anything related to Greek history, culture or art after the life of one remarkable man named "Alexander the Great," who lived from 356 to 323 B.C. and conquered nearly the entire world of his day. Alexander was not originally Greek himself, as he came from Macedonia (the region north of Athens, Corinth and Sparta). But he spread the Greek culture far and wide with his extraordinary military conquests, the equal of which has never been seen since.

Here is Alexander's background. The kingdom of Macedon was formed in the 7th century B.C. and became Greek in culture and language by the 5th century B.C., even though the Greeks considered Macedonians to be barbarians. Philip II of Macedon organized most of the cities into the League of Corinth, and promised to invade the dreaded enemy of Persia to liberate Greek cities there.

In ancient Greece the common military formation was the "phalanx", which is the Greek word for "finger". It is composed of a rectangular formation consisting of heavily armed infantry carrying spears and shields. Philip II was able to raise a well-trained phalanx in Macedonia at lower cost than the Greek city-states, and he crushed the Greek armies. But Philip II was assassinated in 336 B.C., leaving his throne in the hands of his 20-year-old son, Alexander, who became "Alexander the Great."

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great had benefited from homeschooling while growing up: Philip II arranged for Aristotle to tutor him, and as a result Alexander became the greatest military leader of all time. Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), as he is known, came closer to conquering the entire world than anyone else before or since. He mapped out his battles with logical precision and never lost a single one. He went to sleep at night with Aristotle's marked-up copy of the Iliad, the great work of Greek literature, under his pillow. He treated his conquered peoples better than Aristotle would have, because Aristotle advised Alexander to treat them like animals.

Alexander the Great personally traveled over 22,000 miles with his troops and often knew the foreign terrain better than his enemies who lived there. He defeated the most feared empires the world had known and expanded the Hellenistic empire from Persia to Egypt to India, before dying from swamp fever (perhaps malaria) at the young age of 33. The world would never be the same again.

In a mere four years (334-331 B.C.), Alexander conquered the greatest empire in the history of the world until then: the Persian empire led by Persian king Darius III. The Persian armies were far superior to Alexander's army, but Alexander was a brilliant, ferocious and unrelenting military leader. King Darius III offered half of the Persian empire and even his daughter's hand in marriage to Alexander in exchange for peace. Alexander refused and proceeded to completely destroy the Persian army -- capturing every one of its empire's vast treasures! Darius was then assassinated by one of his own guards, and Alexander became ruler of Persia. Alexander did not stop there.

There are numerous fascinating stories told about Alexander the Great. Many consider him to have been the finest military leader ever. Illustrating Alexander's approach, legend tells the story of how Alexander confronted a huge "Gordian knot," a massive tangle of rope wrapped too tightly for anyone to unravel. Alexander and was told that whoever could unravel the knot would rule the world. Alexander supposedly drew his sword and sliced the Gordian knot in half, and proceeded on his way.

He surrounded himself with a staff of secretaries, philosophers and scientists, yet would also engage in drunken brawls to the point where he accidentally killed a friend who had once saved his life. Alexander enjoyed battle himself, and would often be wounded by an enemy while leading his own soldiers. In one conflict, Alexander even used underwater divers to defeat the enemy. Alexander never lost a single battle, and seemed to have unlimited energy, motivation, and determination. His work ethic was an inspiration to the world. His vast influence but premature death at 33 has led to comparisons with Jesus Christ, though obviously they were very different from each other! And unlike Jesus, Alexander lacked any disciples to carry on after his death.

Alexander's death from a fever in his capital city of Babylon in 323 B.C. marked the end of his empire, but the beginning of the great Hellenistic influence. Seeds of Greek knowledge had been planted all around the world and were beginning to spring up everywhere. For centuries these seeds grew and influenced cultures from Persia to Egypt to Rome.

Alexander's empire was too vast to survive his death, and his generals murdered the remaining members of his family. But many thousands of Greeks who traveled with Alexander during his conquests brought their knowledge and culture to all corners of the ancient world except China. The great ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt, showed its tribute to him by using his name. Athens and Sparta again became independent city-states until the Roman empire conquered them. Greek-speaking kingdoms were established in Egypt, Syria and Iran, and the Greek language became popular among the educated for trade in Palestine. The post-Alexander era is known as the Hellenistic Age (232-146 B.C.)

Christianity used the Greek language to evangelize the Hellenistic world in the first century A.D. The Greek language, culture, and advances in knowledge had prepared people well for Christianity.

Greek Contributions

What can we thank Greece for today? How about this: the Greeks started the Olympics!

We thank Ancient Greece for far more than that. Our system of laws and government is based partly on the Greek example, especially the concept of democratic participation in government. Trial by jury is from Greece, as is the concept of a defense attorney (Roman law lacked a defense attorney - notice how Jesus did not have an attorney at His trial during the Passion). Greece established democracy for the first time in history. Our language, too, is due to the Greek adoption of an alphabet. The Greeks invented the study of history, so this course is indebted to the Greeks!

Ancient Greece had tremendous achievements in the fields of science, philosophy and art. The concept of truth began to acquire meaning in ancient Greece, as did the concepts of freedom and knowledge. The idea of moderation illustrated by the "Golden Mean": the whole is to the larger part as the larger part is to the smaller part, or in mathematical terms (a+b)/a = a/b = 1.618. The design of ancient Greek buildings like the Parthenon[7] (built in 438 B.C. to honor the goddess Athena) used the Golden Mean in its dimensions. The Golden Mean also occurs in many living creatures and has fascinated mathematicians ever since; for those interested in math, the Fibonacci sequence is a manifestation of the golden mean.

The Greek and Hebrew approaches to knowledge were very different. The Greeks emphasized spatial relationships, benefiting from the discovery of geometry by the Greek Euclid. The Hebrews rarely discussed spatial aspects of history in the Old Testament, and instead focused on their relationship with Yahweh, which has no spatial elements. Notice that the Hebrews were inspired by one God, while the Hellenistic Greeks worshiped many gods and permitted many religions including Cynicism, Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Many credit the Greeks for "humanism", by which historians mean the Greek emphasis on reason, ethics and rational thinking rather than religion. But the Greeks did not choose to reject religion the way that modern humanists do. Instead, the Greeks advanced knowledge as best they could before the advent of Christianity.

Greek plays remain famous. There were two types: the tragedy and the comedy. In a Greek tragedy, the main character has a flaw (such as arrogance) that causes him to fail. Playwrights of tragedies included Euripides ("Medea") and Sophocles ("Antigone" and "Oedipus Rex"). The comedies consisted of humor and satire, and the leading playwright was Aristophanes ("Lysistrata").

Not everything in Ancient Greece was great. It was polytheistic, worshiping many gods like Zeus and Hercules. The Greek gods were superhuman, but not divine. The Greek gods cared little about ethics or morality, and were the least influential aspect of the Greek culture. At most, this tradition of polytheism inspired some colorful literature and art. At its worst, it inspired silly rituals. For example, there were ancient Greek ceremonies known as "oracles" during which priests tried to predict the future by looking at the internal body parts of animal sacrifices — a crude process called "divination".

The Greeks are not known for being as practical as the later Romans, but the Greeks did invent some useful devices. They are credited with inventing soap, the shower, central heating, the alarm clock (built by Plato to signal to his students that it is time to enter the Academy!), the odometer, floating bridges, the lever, the anchor, bricks, the catapult and even chewing gum.

Other Ancient Peoples

The Hittites

The Hittites were an ancient people in the Middle East, described in the Old Testament as having descended from Noah's son Ham, through his great-grandson Heth.

In 1650 B.C., the Hittites were able to gain control of most of Mesopotamia largely because of their advanced warfare, including horse-drawn chariots. Under their rule, life in the Babylonian empire did not flourish artistically or culturally as it did under others' rule.

The Old Testament mentions the Hittites more than 50 times. Because no trace of this ancient civilization could be found for many years, skeptics claimed it proved that the Bible was an unreliable source. But remarkable archeological discoveries in the 19th and 20th centuries proved that the Hittites existed as the Bible describes.


Assyria was a very ancient kingdom in northern Mesopotamia. Today that would be in northern Iraq.

Assyria was dependent on Babylonia for a while, but rose to become an independent civilization in the 14th century B.C. Beginning with the 12th century B.C., Assyria declined, but reemerged as a kingdom again in the 8th century B.C. Under a sequence of powerful Assyrian kings of Tiglath-pileser III, Sargon II, Sennacherib and Esarhaddon, Assyria controlled most of the Middle East from Egypt to the Persian Gulf.

The Assyrians were known for their cruelty and military skills, and more than a few references in the Bible lament their treatment of the Hebrews. The Old Testament mentions "Assyria" 119 times, including this typical verse: "The Lord was with him; wherever he went, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him."[8]

Ultimately, a Chaldean-Median coalition destroyed the Assyrians in 612-609 B.C.

The Chaldeans (also spelled as "Chaldaeans")

The Chaldeans seized the Assyrian capital, Ninevah (from the story of Jonah), in 612 B.C., and destroyed it. They soon conquered all of Mesopotamia, as well as Judea and Syria. Although the Chaldeans remained in power for only fifty years, they were responsible for founding what is known as the "Neo-Babylonian empire." Elaborate and beautiful palaces and buildings were constructed by the Chaldeans, including the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The Chaldeans' short reign is chronicled in the biblical Book of Daniel. As a teenager, Daniel was captured by the Chaldean army during its first attack on Jerusalem. While Daniel served under Nebuchadnezzar, one of only a few Chaldean kings, Daniel interpreted dreams, witnessed the miraculous survival of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, and accurately predicted Nebuchadnezza's downfall. Under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar's son, Belshazzar, Daniel witnessed the writing on the wall, which he interpreted as a sign of Belshazzar's imminent downfall. The very next day, the Persians invaded, killed Belshazzar, and took over the Babylonian empire.


Persia was the "Land of the Aryans,"[9] and in 1935 the name for the nation of Persia was changed to Iran. Even now oriental rugs from Iran are called "Persian rugs." These rugs are considered the best in the world and were banned as imports after Iranian students took Americans hostage in 1980.

The Aryans were nomadic people who migrated into India through the Kyber Pass around 1500 B.C. The language in ancient Persia was Avestan and in Northern India it was Sanskrit. All major European and Indian languages are considered related to the Aryan languages, but Hebrew and Arabic are not.

Fast-forward to the 20th century: The Nazis, as ignorant as they were, used the term "Aryans" to refer to Nordic people, and as a result of the incorrect Nazi usage, the term "Aryan" today is misleadingly used to describe blond and blue-eyed people descended from Northern Europe rather than from the Persian region (the region between India and Europe, or Indo-European). After Darwin's theory of evolution became popular in England and Germany around 1900, racists claimed that the Aryans (Nordics) were superior to everyone else. One of the worst of these Darwinian racists was the Englishman Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who insisted that Aryans were responsible for all of human progress, and that Jewish people were somehow inferior because they did not descend from the Aryans (Hebrew developed independent of the Aryan language).

Let's return to the ancient world. The glory days of the Persian empire were from 550 to 331 B.C., and were discussed in detail earlier in this lecture. The Old Testament mentions Persia frequently during this time period. When the Persians took over Babylon, Daniel served under Cyrus and Darius (who threw him into the lion's den). The Persians are also seen in the Bible in the story of Esther, when King Xerxes I held what might be called a "Miss Persia" beauty contest. Esther, a beautiful Jewish girl, won the contest and she went on to save the Hebrews with her remarkable courage. It is the Book of Esther that first refers to the Hebrew people as "Jewish", and it was written around 300 B.C.

The Persians controlled a vast amount of territory, including most of the Middle East, Turkey and a portion of Northern Africa -- primarily under Cyrus the Great. Accordingly, the Persian empire was one of the first great empires of the world. They were unstoppable and greatly feared until Alexander the Great conquered them.

After Alexander the Great died, the Parthians (based in modern-day Iran) tried unsuccessfully to reestablish the Persian empire. But the past greatness of the Persian empire was never achieved again. They could not withstand the Roman army, which conquered it in A.D. 226.

Afterward, a Persian noble named Ardashir seized power by killing the Parthian king, and established the Sassanid empire along with the official state religion of Zoroastrianism, a polytheistic religion that had a creator (Ahuramazda) and a sun-god (Mithra). This religion was essentially limited to Persians. The Sassanid empire made no attempt to convert others and it tolerated other religions in the region, including Judaism. Its greatest king was Shapure II (A.D. 309-379), who beat back the weakening Romans and also extended Persian power towards China. This empire remained in control of Persia until Muslims took control of the region in A.D. 651. Today Persia is called "Iran", and it is 99% Muslim.

The Celts

The Celts (pronounced "kelts") were the first ethnic group to become widespread in Europe. Using tribes rather than stable civilizations, the Celts began in central Europe and migrated west beginning in about 500 B.C. to the British Isles (especially Ireland) and also to northwest France and portions of Spain. Their religion consisted of worshiping gods and goddesses, and their priests were called "druids". They had no written language but often told myths and folktales. The Boston Celtics basketball team is named after the Celts. The Celts were not converted to Christianity until the Italian "Saint Patrick" was a successful missionary there in the mid-400s A.D.

Central and South America

In about 2000 B.C., Mesoamerica (which means "middle America") consisted of primitive societies in what is called the Archaic period. Mesoamerica was located in Central America, including present-day Mexico.

Beginning about 1200 B.C. a civilization developed known as the Olmec ("mother civilization"). By then maize (corn) was a plentiful crop, and it was grown along the fertile rivers. Massive stone-hewn sculptures of warriors with helmets can be found in the tropical forests off the Gulf of Mexico in eastern Mexico, San Lorenzo and La Venta. This civilization lasted until 100 B.C. It used a numerical system having base 20 and a 365-day calendar that included 260 days of religious ritual. Religious ceremonies were prominent in this culture.

In South America, Peru was home to agriculture-based civilizations on the altiplano (highlands) of the Andes mountains, and also in coastal valleys. They had irrigation systems and built roads and bridges. They used the llama (a relative of the camel) as a beast of burden and created pottery and textiles using cotton. They lived in stone and adobe structures built between 3000 and 2000 B.C., and constructed large ceremonial centers beginning in 900 B.C.; the most famous center was "Chavin de Huantar."

The Americas did not develop civilizations as advanced as ancient Europe and Asia. Hunting and gathering were easier in the Americas, and there was less reason to settle down into an agricultural society that could generate a surplus and enable workers to spend time on other tasks, such as building cities. The Americas did not have use of the wheel, the plow, glass, iron, steel or horses until these were brought over by European explorers.


There were three major groups in Africa. The Bantu people spread their language through Africa by migrating to the east and south. They benefited from the iron-smelting technology. The Kush existed in North Africa and imitated the Egyptians. They also had iron smelting and traded for iron, especially at their capital city of Meroe. Finally, the Nok existed in West Africa and created terra cotta sculpture. They also had iron-smelting technology.


  1. John 19:30 (King James Version).
  4. John 18:11 (NIV).
  5. For example, John 3:4 states, “How can a man be born again? Is it even possible?” (Answer, yes, by the Spirit and water. John 3:5-8).
  6. Textus Receptus
  7. A full-sized replica of the Parthenon sits in Nashville, Tennessee.
  8. 2 Kings 18:7 (NRSV).
  9. The word "Aryan" means "the noble"; the "Aryans" were "the noble ones."