Introduction to the Historical Overview in Perseus

The Historical Overview provides a brief summary of the history of ancient Greece from approximately 1200 B.C., the period when Mycenaean civilization perished, to 323 B.C., the death of Alexander the Great. These limits were chosen to complement the emphasis of the Greek texts included in this version of Perseus, most of which fall between Homer and Aristotle. The epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer were composed in the eighth century B.C., but their stories belong to the much earlier period of the Trojan War, which has often been dated to the years not long after 1200. Whether there ever was an actual Trojan War and, if so, when it took place, are questions still debated, as is the question of how much reliable historical information the Homeric epics may provide on this early period. The historical overview begins where it does in the hope that users of Perseus will find this background helpful in studying later Greek civilization, namely that of the Greek city-state (polis ). The polis began to emerge as a new form of social and political organization in the eighth century B.C., and the emphasis of the Overview is on the history of the polis, particularly during the fifth century (the so-called Golden Age of Athens, the largest and best documented of Greek city-states). The overview ends where it does because 323 has traditionally been identified as the end of the Classical period in ancient Greek history. After this date the monarchies founded by Alexander's successors tended to overshadow or even dominate the city-states in international politics. The significance of 323 as a turning point in Greek history is in fact just as problematic on several grounds as is the history of the Trojan War, but at least ending the Overview at this conventional date allows the survey to conclude roughly in the period of the life of the fourth-century philosopher and polymath Aristotle (died 322), who tutored the young Alexander for a while.

There can be no such thing as an authoritative history of ancient Greece, not least because the surviving evidence is often so thin. Many interpretations expressed in the Overview obviously would not win universal assent, but not all such points of potential controversy can be marked in a survey that is meant to be brief. Users of Perseus should regard the Overview as a source intended to provide a series of jumping-off points for learning through discovery in the many other resources of Perseus.

NB: Users of Perseus are reminded that the Overview is under separate copyright and that use of the Overview is governed by the regulations pertaining to copyrighted material as well as by the terms of the Perseus licensing agreement.

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  • Cross-references to this page (1):
    • Lisa M. Cerrato, Robert F. Chavez, Perseus Classics Collection: An Overview, 1
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