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Greeks' Contribution to the Development of Civilization in the West

Ancient Greek enclaves needed to be organized and competitive. The many tribes and city-states that dotted the ancient Greek peninsula had many cultural features in common. However, though sharing similar social structures, a common language and a relatively universal religion, these groupings of Greek societies were nonetheless often at odds with one another. In a harsh land, competitiveness flourished as scarcity reigned.

Another contributing factor, according to Garland, may have been the sea. He explains that because the Greeks were compelled to trade by sea (owing to a lack of natural resources as well as to the mountain ranges to the north), "the Greeks came to develop a flexible response to the outside world whereas landlocked states were, by contrast, inherently conservative and backward" (22). Such a distinction may, it seems, be applied to the evolution of the dramatically different, yet dominant, city-states of the Classical Greek period: seafaring Athens and landlocked Sparta (see fig. 2, below).

Upon successfully defending the 'gean peninsula from Persian invasion in a remarkable (for the ancient Greeks) display of unity and cohesion, the city-states of ancient Greece entered into what is known as the Classical Period. This period, beginning in roughly 480 B.C., witnessed the prominence of Athens and Sparta, perhaps the two most famously adversarial nations in the history of the world. The ancient Greek polis, exemplified in each of these two states, represented a unified body of individuals "among whom purely individual interests or family matters had been superseded by a larger, common concern" (Griffeth & Thomas 43); the polis was, in the case of Sparta and Athens independent and autonomous, and focused upon retaining that freedom and autonomy at all costs. Thus, military might and economic stability were paramount concerns. Slavery in the polis was common, and most economies were driven largely by slav...

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