In this episode of Empire Builders: The Ancient Greeks, we explore the great sites of Athens, Delphi, Olympia, and Epidaurus which together form some of the greatest sites in antiquity.
When the Greeks defeated the Persians in the 5th century, they rebuilt the Acropolis in the heart of Athens and erected its greatest site- the Parthenon.
Overseen by Athens’ greatest statesman, Pericles, the Acropolis building project became home to several sites that survive to this day including the Theatre of Dionysus. The Temple of Athena Nike, and the temple known as The Erechtheion dedicated to the gods Athena and Poseidon and which features the famous Porch of the Maidens.
The greatest site of all, the Parthenon, was a temple to the goddess Athena. A giant statue of Athena was housed inside its massive facade supported by 17 columns on each side.
Every element of Greek society worshiped their Gods, and Delphi, two hours north of Athens, was a a site of pilgrimage for centuries. Here, the ruins of fabulous temple to Apollo remain.
The ancient Greeks invented the Olympic Games. For over a millennia, sporting contests were held at Olympia where athletes would gather to compete in honour of the king of the gods, Zeus, in sports such as discus, boxing, wrestling and chariot racing. The Olympic Games were abolished by the Romans in the 4th century, although the Romans did copy and emulate other elements of Greek culture, including its literature, architecture, and religion.
Even though his rule was short lived, Alexander the Great took the Greek empire to its greatest extent, invading the Persian Empire which only 150 years earlier had invaded Greece. When Alexander died prematurely, his generals divided up his empire among themselves.
Ptolemy 1st created a Greek empire in Egypt which lasted more than 300 years. His son built the great Lighthouse of Alexandria, regarded as one of the great wonders of the ancient world, and the reign of the Ptolemies only came to an end when Cleopatra and Marc Anthony were defeated by Rome’s Augustus in the 1st century AD.
With the collapse of Rome in the 5th century, Greek culture and language lived on in Constantinople, which then became capital of the Byzantine Empire, which also held Greek culture and language at its heart.
The Byzantines are responsible for retaining and rescuing many priceless manuscripts, which showcase some of the ancient Greeks’ most famous writings, authors, and literature. The ancient Greeks invented many forms of literature including the novel, comedy, tragedy, and drama.
With the coming of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, many sites of Ancient Greece were destroyed and pillaged. After the Renaissance, and during the 250-year Ottoman occupation of Greece, new European powers such as France and England looted these sites. Lord Elgin famously crowbarred friezes off the facade of the Parthenon, which still reside in the British museum.
Many of Ancient Greece’s fabulous ruins have now been lovingly restored although others are still being discovered, uncovered and restored. The Ancient Greeks left behind many legacies which form the basis of Western society, including the concept of democracy and philosophical writings expounded by its scholars such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.