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Useful Notes / Ancient Greece

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The Caryatid porch of the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece

"In short, I say that as a city we are the school of Hellas; while I doubt if the world can produce a man, who where he has only himself to depend upon, is equal to so many emergencies, and graced by so happy a versatility as the Athenian."

Think of Crystal Spires and Togas, but without the crystal spires or the togas.

Home of columned temples, chiton-wearing gods, slinkily dressed goddesses, amazons, and bearded philosophers. Also home to mythic thong-wearingnote  heroes who ride winged horses and do great deeds (all without getting either chafed or sunburnt). The Spartans live here too, and they're known for their brutal training methods, stylish slow-motion fighting techniques and for being manly enough to charge nearly naked into battle even when outnumbered 70 to 1. And they definitely aren't gay. Frequently confused with Ancient Rome by directors who just don't care.

In fact, this picture is a blend of two distinct periods; mythical/Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece, conventionally said to end with The Trojan War and the wider Bronze Age collapse at around 1200BC, and classical/ancient Greece which started around the 8th century BC and lasted until the Roman conquest.note  The "classical Greece" period itself tends to blend cultures that evolved and combined over the course of many centuries. While Athens at one time pulled the city-states together for defense against Persia, and both Sparta and Athens were heads of large military unions at one time or another, Greece never had a monolithic culture any more than the NATO bloc or Europe; it was the sum of the cultures of many independent city-states, each with its own culture, religion and calendar, all ultimately blended together in the giant food processor of history. If you were to visit the Balkan Peninsula in, say, Pythagoras' day, you'd find that religious practices and social mores varied heavily depending on what city you were in. Nonetheless, it's been suggested that the Ancient Greeks in general did see themselves as such, in a manner not too dissimilar to what's now called nationalism.

The ancient Greeks were also great colonizers, founding cities across the Mediterranean from what is now Spain to the Black Sea. In fact after the 4th century BC the largest Greek-speaking cities were generally outside the territory of modern Greece, though only Alexandria in Egypt shows up much in popular fiction (popular science may bring up Syracuse, mainly due to Archimedes living there). The classic Greek City State era ended with the conquests of Alexander the Great followed by Macedonian Succession Wars, by which time Greek actually spread across the Balkans and across the Middle East, all the way to Bactria (Afghanistan) and India. The Mauryan Emperor Ashoka left behind pillars with inscriptions in Greek alongside Pali and other Indian languages, and Greek sculpture inspired Buddhist sculpture in India. Eventually, these colonies became conquered by The Roman Republic where Hellenistic civilization nonetheless continued on unperturbed under the patronage of Romans who rather liked Greek culture. Indeed by the time the Western Roman Empire fell, The Remnant of a truly Greco-Roman culture became Eastern Roman Empire.

Ancient Greece has suffered more than usual cliche-making tendencies because it was unfortunately cast as the embodiment of Enlightenment in the Romanticism Versus Enlightenment contrast (with The Middle Ages suffering the opposite fate as its foil). Additionally, most fictional depictions of Ancient Greece will usually focus on the Trojan War (especially with Achilles), the Greco-Persian Wars (particularly the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans) or the rise of Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire. Occasionally, The Peloponnesian War will be covered in other works but not as much as the Trojan and Greco-Persian conflicts. Mycenaean civilization despite its overall importance to Greek history is not covered that much in many works other than the Trojan War (which is set approximately around this time period) and the Minoans are even less well represented in modern media portrayals of Ancient Greek culture.

Ancient Greece, alongside Ancient Rome, is one of the two primary cultures from which Classical Mythology originates.

Compare Ancient Egypt, another historically prominent ancient civilization with a rich culture and mythology that lasted for millennia until the Roman conquest in 30 BC. See also Ancient Persia, its main rival which it ended up conquering.

Popular tropes featured or that came around in this time period are:

  • Achilles' Heel: Actually not from The Iliad but rather a later writer who just happened to write that himself. Yes, Fan Fiction is Older Than They Think.
  • Achilles in His Tent: From The Iliad.
  • Action Girl: Artemis, Atalanta, Athena, the Amazons... and that's just startin' with the letter A!
  • An Aesop: The Trope Namer, Aesop, lived and wrote back then, although the concept is probably as old as storytelling itself.
  • Athens and Sparta: The Trope Namers, though the Mycenae Greeks would be this to the Minoans, who were artists and traders, and were ultimately conquered by the Mycenaean people.
  • Badass Army:
    • The Spartans (well, according to pop culture that rose since, anyway; other cities were no slouch either).
    • Athens and Rhodes counted as a Badass Navy during their respective time periods.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed:
    • Inverted to Tartarus and back. A small wang was a sign of virility, while being hung like a horse was just plain silly looking! More specifically, the Greeks valued intellect and self-control in men, and a smaller penis was taken as a symbol of such, while a larger penis meant being closer to animals and lacking self-control.
    • Though played straight (hem, hem) with Priapus, a Greek god of fertility, who sported such a monster, and in fact is the source of the medical term for an unnaturally long-lasting erection. However Priapus' erection is also seen as a symbol of his incredibly boorish and vulgar nature, and all the other gods scorn him.
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: The Agora was not only the town market but the place where they went to argue philosophy and politics. You could say that its most bizarre product was knowledge (or attempts at it).
  • Boarding Party: The normal tactic for any navy that wasn't handy with a ram.
  • Call That a Formation?: Averted. When Greeks fought they liked to get into dense columns called phalanxes (roller, because of course it rolls over people), and simply smash into each other. Holding this formation against the enemy's was more or less Greek warfare for a good while.
  • Conscription: Citizens of Greek city-states were expected to buy the equipment of a hoplite and serve in campaigns whenever called upon. Those unable to afford such equipment served as skirmishers, while wealthy nobles were expected to pay for the upkeep of horses and act as cavalry. Fortunately for them, since that's what everyone did and no more for major military manpower, warfare was confined to the summer and generally single-battle conflicts. Also, the amount of time someone had to serve in the military depended on the city state. In Athens, the minimum is three years to obtain citizenship, and in Sparta it is thirty years.
  • Contrapposto Pose: The Greek development of this pose was a crucial step in the evolution of art.
  • The Federation: What the Delian league started as, before becoming a Hegemonic Empire.
  • Erastes Eromenos
  • Fatal Flaw: Since it's the keystone of Greek Tragedy.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: How Athens saw itself compared to the Persian Empire, liking to depict their republic as the good and moral hero against a loose and corrupt empire. The truth was rather more nuanced. The Persian Empire was more of an Hegemonic Empire, where every satrapy (or kingdom) could keep their custom and religion as long they acknowledge the Great King's authority and pay taxes. Slavery was also tolerated by not actively exploited. Aside from rebellions from time to time it went on fine for centuries. Athens, on the other side, was notoriusly bad at granting right to anyone who was not a male affluent citizen, actively counted on slavery and formed an Hegemonic Empire through the Delian League that dominated militarily and economically the other cities and claimed taxes for the membership (that sometimes was imposed on them).
  • Love Potion: Eros's arrows. They are not exactly potions, but they make everyone they are aimed at fall in Love at First Sight.
  • Losing the Team Spirit: Battles in ancient Greece for many years were just hoplite formations smashing into each other. Being both heavily armoured and in close formation, these battles led to very few casualties and ended with one side cracking first by breaking ranks and subsequently fleeing, knowing they couldn't win anymore.
  • Hegemonic Empire: Athens could be considered the Ur-Example and Trope Namer. It led the formation of the Delian League of cities to fight the Persians, but continued leading the league after the war (as "hegemon"), and militarily/navaly and economically dominated the other cities and dictated policy to them to the point that it became referred to as the "Athenian Empire".
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics:
    • The innovation of lightly-armoured skirmishers attacking from afar and retreating when the slow hoplite formations got close ended the hoplites' dominance over Greek battlefields.
    • To be more precise, it wasn't that skirmishers (archers, javelin users, etc.) were unknown to the Greeks. Most armies had them, although they were considered to be far less honorable than hoplite heavy infantry and rarely decided the outcome of battles. During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), however, the role of the skirmishers and other, more flexible troops became more important, particularly after an incident when an entire Spartan mora of six hundred hoplites was defeated by a force comprised mostly of peltasts. By the time the Roman legions landed in Greece, the hoplite phalanx had long since been made obsolete by more flexible troops.
  • Home Guard: Standing armies were not a known concept for much of Ancient Greece - warfare largely consisted of middle-class citizens acting as hoplites with equipment purchased by themselves. Due to this, conflicts were close to the participants' land, confined to summertime and usually consisted of a single battle. However, serving in the military however temporary it tended to be was mandatory for citizens. The big exception, of course, was Sparta, where it was illegal for a citizen male to be anything except a soldier.
  • Land of One City: Independent city-states, of a variety of administrative types, were dominant.
  • Loverand Beloved: Very much encouraged in the Ancient Greek society.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: In Ancient Greek tradition the symbol of martial pride was not the sword as in many cultures (Greek swords were sidearms which came in two flavors: leaf-bladed xiphoses, and falcata-like kopides from which the Nepalese kukri is descended), but their gigantic shields or "hoplons" made for phalanx fighting. For instance when measuring the depth of a phalanx (customarily eight deep but once in a while beefed up by a general who wanted to try something new), they would talk of how many shields deep it was.
  • Mighty Glacier: Hoplites' phalanxes heavy armor and shields in tight formation with spears extended dominated their battlefields for years... until skirmisher tactics with ranged weapons made sure to stay away from the formation that necessarily had to move slowly to keep properly close together enforced a more combined-arms approach in warfare. Rome's development of a faster, more flexible formation equipped with short swords that could get inside the spears' guard sealed the phalanx's fate.
  • Opposing Combat Philosophies: Athens ruled the sea. Sparta ruled the land. Everyone else got out of the way.
  • The Philosopher: Ancient Greece, or, to be more precise, the Greek cities in Asia Minor is where western philosophy first appeared.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Spartans to their fellow Greeks. From a modern perspective, any Ancient Greek would come across as especially war-focused and war-obsessed. All the Mycenaen Greeks were militant, warrior kingdoms, as evidenced by their epics.
  • The Queen's Latin: Or rather the Queen's Greek or the Queen's Demotic. Like their Roman counterparts, the Greeks will typically be given English accents and it's often rare to hear them speak in their period-appropriate accent or use any other accent outside of a few works that take place here.
  • Ramming Always Works: At least it did for Athenians and Rhodians, both of whom were really good at shiphandling. Corinthians, Syracuseans, and others were less obsessed with rams.
  • Slave Galley: Subverted. Nobody put slaves on an oar if they could help it, that was a development of the Renaissance. If a navy was pressed so hard that it stooped to using slaves, it would purchase and manumit them. The reality is that the Athenian navy's sailors were well paid and heavily invested in the development, spread, and defense of the Athenian Empire and its democracy, and they actively bought in the idea that an expanded navy in new islands would allow them to build colonies and spread its ideas further.
  • The Spartan Way: The Spartans are, of course, the Trope Namer. The fact that the majority of Greek soldiers were citizen-hoplites (i.e. farmers who fought in off-season and had to pay for their bronze) while Sparta enslaved the helotes to do the farming for free while the elite could devote themselves entirely to warfare and being full time soldiers, makes this less impressive than it sounds.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Inverted for the Spartans; a classic saying had a Spartan woman contrast another woman's fine weaving with her excellent sons — that is what a woman should produce.
  • A Thicket of Spears: The Greeks are quite famous for their use of the phalanx in land battles, blocks of hoplites with a bronze shield in one hand and a spear in the other. The Macedonians under Philip and Alexander improved on it by creating the sarissa, a pike with a shaft eighteen feet long. Alexander's successors weren't as brilliant as he, however, and the phalanx ended up being obsoleted by the more flexible Roman maniple, which mixed spearmen with swordsmen.
  • Training from Hell: Spartans did it for their citizens to let them give name to The Spartan Way.
  • Uriah Gambit: There are a few nasty stories about commanders of a coalition army putting the hoplites from an ally he thought might be an enemy in the next round directly opposite the enemy's best troops.

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Works produced by Ancient Greeks:

  • Laocoön and His Sons by a trio of sculptors from the Isle of Rhodes. It depicts the titular characters being bitten and strangled by snakes sent by the gods.
  • Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch. It's not certain whether she is a representation of Venus but is called that because of how she flaunts her sexual appeal.




Non-ancient works set in this time period:

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The Aeneid
  • Gates of Fire: an epic retelling of the infamous battle told by the perspective of a Helot.
  • The Metamorphoses
  • David Gemmell's Lion of Macedon is a retelling of Alexander the Great (or, rather, his dad).
  • The End of Sparta by Victor Davis Hanson is a novel about the deeds of the author's hero Epaminondas.
  • Terry Pratchett's Pyramids and Small Gods both feature Ephebe, an Affectionate Parody of Athens and her philosophers, while Eric (as well as the videogame Discworld Noir) touches on The Trojan War.
  • Gene Wolfe's Soldier of the Mist series tells the story of a mercenary in Xerxes' army who does something to offend the gods, and is cursed with forgetting everything that happens more than a day ago, but who can see the gods. Wolfe "translates" place names (for example, Sparta is "Rope", and they fought the "Great King" at "Hot Springs"), lending a sense of immediacy, and distancing the book from the familiarity of the trope.
  • The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley is a retelling of the Trojan War that gives the focus to the female characters.
  • Mary Renault's mature period novels.
  • Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon: Decidedly Non-Fiction.
  • Thais of Athens is set during the classical period and the onset of Hellenism.
  • Time Scout mentions Ancient Greece as the destination of a tourist gate, but only one brief scene features it and only two downtimers came through that gate.
  • Spartan is a 1988 Italian historical fiction novel about two Spartan brothers: the elder brother is a Spartan paragon, the younger brother, Talos, was crippled and deformed at birth and abandoned by the parents due to the strict laws of Sparta, who obligates parents to abandon deformed infants. The younger brother is raised by the Helots, the Slave Race of Sparta, till the day he meets his long lost brother and a rivalry sparks...
  • Alexander Trilogy: A book series about Alexander The Great.
  • Conn Iggulden's "The Gates of Athens", the first entry of his "Athenian" trilogy, which covers the Battle at Marathon and the Battle at Thermopylae.
  • Gods and Warriors is set in Archaic Greece (pre-Mycenaean).

    Live-Action TV 

    Mythology & Religion 
  • The backstory of the Arthurian Legend in Historia Regum Britanniae depicted Brutus and a group of Trojan exiles sailing from Italy to Britain to establish a new empire with New Troy (aka London) as the capital, which will set the stage for Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

  • The Twilight Histories episode “The Winged Victory” takes place in a world where Rome fell into civil war, resulting in the lose of the Greek territories. The Greek city-states formed a confederation known as Pontus. By the time of the episode, the Romans are determined to reconquer Greece. Fortunately for the Greeks (though less so for you) you have been stranded in this world and are determined to give the Greeks a fighting chance by introducing steam engines, single-shot rifles, flame throwers, and gas lighting to Greece.
    • The miniepisode “Beyond the Indus” takes place in a world where Alexander The Great continued to push into India. Upon arriving, he and his army discover dinosaurs, who have been tamed by the Indians for food and as beasts of burden.
  • Archaeostoryteller is a greek podcast entirely dedicated on covering stories (and sometimes, myths) from this time period.


    Video Games 
  • Apotheon. The game's graphic style is inspired by Ancient Greek black-figure pottery.
  • God of War: The first three games take place here.
  • The Battle of Olympus
  • Kid Icarus
  • Empire Earth covers the founding of Athens by Heracles and his priest Kalkas (here a tribal chieftain) up to Alexander the Great.
  • Age of Empires, as well as Age of Mythology; also, Rise of Nations has a tour through the "Classical Age"
  • The Civilization series when playing as Greece. This is most apparent in VI where Greece is uniquely split between the Athenian and Spartan city-states and Macedon, allowing a game to be played with nothing but Greeks.
  • The first and third games in the Hegemony Series. Hegemony: Gold covers the rise of Philip II of Macedon and the Peloponnesian War through 2 campaigns (Athenians and Spartans). Hegemony III covers the Greeks who reside in the south of what is now Italy, in the region the Romans called "Magna Graecia" ("Great Greece").
  • Total War
    • Despite the title, Rome: Total War is set in an era still very much dominated by Greek culture, and the Successor States of Alexander the Great constitute a large portion of playable factions.
    • The Wrath of Sparta expansion campaign to Total War: Rome II, which focuses on the Peloponnesian War.
  • Titan Quest
  • Zeus: Master of Olympus features most of the important city-states and events of Greek history, though it makes no attempt to disguise the presence of mythology (the Athens campaign features both the war against Persia and the centaurs). The sequel focuses on Atlantis, but still has an Allohistorical Allusion or two (the destruction of Atlantis is linked to the historical eruption of Thera, which is believed to have inspired the story in Plato's writings.
  • Assassin's Creed: Odyssey is set between 431 and 422 BCE during the Peloponnesian War between the Athens-led Delian League and the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Additionally, the prologue is set in 480 BCE during the Battle of Thermopylae between the 300 Spartans (led by King Leonidas) and the Persian Army (led by Xerxes). Elements of Ancient Greek mythology such as Medusa and Pegasus are also incorporated into the story and the "Atlantis" DLC features the titular underwater city under the control of the Isu.


    Web Videos 

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