A fun Abridged Story of Ancient Greece!

If you’re like most people, you don’t want to read a bunch of big old stuffy history books filled with facts, dates, and names you can’t pronounce about people who have been dead for thousands of years (unless you really want to, then we can recommend some great reading). But we here at Legends of the Amun Priests love history, and think that if you saw it the way we do, you will too!

So what happened in Greece way back when to influence Legends of the Amun Priests? Well, let’s see. This is the short, short version.

The first evidence historians have really found about ancient Greece is from the island of Crete, where the Minoan civilization thrived at around 3,000 BCE! Yes, that’s almost 5,000 years ago. So what’s so important about them? Well, for one thing, they were pretty awesome at sailing and those skills landed them in some unusual places namely Egypt (which is where Egyptian influences in Greek culture came from), but primarily on the Greek peninsula mainland where they branched out and created a new settlements, one of which was named Mycene.

Unfortunately, like the mythical city of Atlantis, the Minoan civilization was doomed and was wiped out due to a natural disaster. Most historians suspect an earthquake.

However, all was not lost, as the Mycenean culture survived on the Greek mainland and prospered and expanded, creating new colonies and settlements for the next thousand years!

Then, around 1,250 BC (over a thousand years later!) war hit. A notable war in fact, you may have heard of it: The Trojan War! I’m sure we don’t need to re-tell the story of the Trojan War to you; after all, Hollywood has done a pretty good job recounting the story (I’m sure we’ve all seen Brad Pitt as the famous Achilles in ‘Troy’). But enough of that, let’s get to the big players of ancient Greece.

Sparta! You may have heard of this place before if you’ve ever watched the movie ‘300’. Although the movie is not completely accurate (no ladies, they didn’t fight bare chested in real life), we here understand creative license!

Sparta was a Greek city-state that was just like any other city until a guy named Lycurgus came around in 800 BC. He had this crazy idea that he was going to create a military state – the first of its kind in history. You see, before Lycurgus reformed Sparta, the Greek military was made up of basically part-time militia. You worked the farm Monday through Friday, and Saturday you went to train in the army (think of it as our modern day National Guard – where most of the time you work a regular job and every once in a while you train with the military). A six day a week work schedule! These part-time soldiers were called “hoplites” and did a fair enough job defending their homeland. But Lycurgus dreamed of something better for Sparta, he dreamed of a full time professional army!

So how did he accomplish this? How could his soldiers train forty hours a week and work their farmland to feed their families? Well, in around 730 BC Lycurgus took his newly trained Spartans and attacked their neighbors, the Messenians! The Spartan’s won the war and enslaved the Messenian population, forcing them to be the farmers while the Spartan men trained for more battle! After years and years of training in their agoge or “boot camp”, the new Spartan soldiers were the best in all of Greece, and rightly feared as well!

Then we have the powerful city-state of Athens! Sparta and Athens were about as yin and yang as you can get. While Sparta focused on land warfare, Athens focused on naval and sailing prowess! While Spartans trained all day for military, Athens trained its youth in more intellectual pursuits, giving birth to democracy and such great minds as Pythagoras, Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato!

For much of the time, the various city-states fought with each other until a new power emerged. In about 500 BC the great Persian Empire attacked Greece from the northeast (through modern Turkey) led by King Darius! The war raged for nearly ten years, when, in 490 BC, the Athenian army made its last stand at a place called Marathon and defeated the great Persian army. The 26.2 mile race we run, titled a “Marathon” is named after this ancient Greek battle that happened almost 2,500 years ago!

But the war didn’t really end there. Darius died and his son, Xerxes, took over the Persian Empire. Needless to say, Xerxes wasn’t so happy about losing to the Greeks, so in 482 BC, Xerxes attacked Greece through Turkey like his father.

This time, the Athenian and Spartan armies aren’t ready and Greece is terrified that they can’t scramble enough soldiers to fight the Persians. So, as depicted in the movie ‘300’, 300 Spartan’s are called to go and see if they can delay the Persian army long enough for Athens and Sparta’s troops to join forces. A detachment of 300 Spartans is sent to a place called Thermopylae (which means “Hot Gates” in Greek because of the hot springs that were there in ancient times). Although various other city states lent their soldiers to the 300 Spartan’s cause, history credits the valor of the 300 Spartan’s for making the suicide mission.

At Thermopylae, 300 Spartans fought a Persian army (estimated at 250,000 men) for three days, holding them off long enough for the rest of the Spartan and Athenian armies to join forces. Those 300 Spartans died, and even to this day, if you visit Thermopylae you will see a statute of Leonidas, the leader of those 300 Spartans with the inscription: “Go tell the Spartans, those who pass by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.”

A year later, the battles of Salamis (a navy battle between Athens vs. Persia) and Plataea (Sparta & Athens vs. Persia) occurred, sealing victory for Greece and repealing the second Persian invasion.

After the defeat of the Persians, just as happened between the US and Russia after World War II, Sparta and Athens emerged as super powers in Greece. And what happens when you put two super powers in a room together with one toy? They fight over the toy. In this case, the toy was the land itself. Like you and your friends eyeing the last piece of pepperoni pizza, both Sparta and Athens made a grab for land at the same time.

That grab for land plummeted Sparta and Athens into the Peloponnesian War, starting in 431 BC. So many people died in this war that they had to take a break because they ran out of soldiers! But the truce didn’t last long, and by 404 BC, Spartan soldiers were burning the famous Parthenon in Athens to the ground.

But this victory was short lived for Sparta. Sparta quickly found out that its eyes were bigger than its stomach. After all, comparatively Sparta was a small town which now controlled a vast empire spanning nearly all of Greece. It was too much for the tired soldiers too handle. They had just got out of nearly 100 years of straight war and their soldiers (and the soldiers’ wives) were tired and forces depleted. No one was really happy with “Spartan law” being implemented throughout Greece and revolts and resistance occurred, culminating in several rebellions that lasted for another 60 years. After 160 years of war, Sparta was too tired to fight, and ended up losing to a city-state called Thebes. Amazingly, this was the first loss for Sparta’s perfect military record on land.

But again, all was not lost as a new power was rising to the north, in a land called Macedonia. Now, so you understand something, Greeks liked to throw around the term “barbarian” as an insult. Which really wasn’t like a caveman as you and I would think about it, but to Greeks it meant all non-educated people who weren’t Greek. So pretty much, if you weren’t Greek, you were a barbarian! In 359 BC these Macedonian’s were led by King Phillip, who didn’t speak the same kind of Greek as Athens and Sparta, so they were considered, subordinate and barbarian. But Sparta and Athens didn’t know how smart King Phillip was. King Phillip knew he would never be accepted by Athens and Sparta as a legitimate ruler of Greece even though he invaded south of Greece, and took over Sparta and Athens.

But what you may not know is King Phillip had a son, who you probably have heard of: Alexander! And King Phillip put all of his money to good use in educating Alexander and giving him private lessons in language, philosophy, science, and military tactics from the famous Aristotle! And in 336 BC, just 20 years after Macedon conquered Greece, King Phillip was assassinated and Alexander took control of the Greek Empire.

Fearing a rebellion by the southern Greek city-states, Alexander acted quickly, announcing a campaign to invade Persia (which is now modern day Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, UAE, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, and Uzbekistan). He led a propaganda campaign in Greece soliciting troops from Athens, Sparta, and all other Greeks. Alexander called the campaign a ‘revenge’ campaign for the previous two Persian invasions of Greece under King Darius and Xerxes. Thousands flocked to Alexander’s side, wanting to get revenge on the Persians. What followed was one of the greatest military campaigns in history. Alexander conquered most of the Persian Empire and even named a city after himself (Alexandria in Egypt). They don’t call him Alexander the Great for nothing!

But, like all great stories, tragedy strikes too soon, and Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, at just 33 years old.

So then what happened? Well, back then there were no such things as “trusts” and “wills”. Those things didn’t come about until the Roman Empire (so try and get out of paying your trust and estate planning attorney by saying he’s just copying the work of ancient Roman lawyers!). Alexander also had no children that could take his place as king. So his empire was torn apart by his generals’ greed, each claiming land that Alexander conquered for themselves. The army broke up, siding with their favorite generals, and Greece was left crippled by the early death of Alexander the Great.

From there, 100 years of war happened, all fighting between Alexander’s generals’ children, leaving the empire so weak it was ripe to be conquered; and conquered it was.

A new power emerged in the west, a little known province called Rome based in modern day Italy. In 214 BC, as Rome grew, it slowly invaded and conquered Greece, adopting many of its customs, religious practices, and military tactics.

This is where I will end on the ancient history of Greece because once Rome took over, the rest, shall we say is history!

But why do I care about this? And why should you? After all, it’s been so long now that it seems like these are just stories, myths themselves. Well, I don’t know why you care, but I can tell you why I care. I see history as a big chain linked together by key events to get us to where we are today. As I sit on my computer, typing away, I marvel at what a unique set of circumstances occurred to get me to this computer, so I could write this book, so you could read and enjoy this book and others. Even the professions we have today, computer programmers, carpenters, lawyers, accountants, politicians, teachers, I ask myself, why is our life the way it is? To answer that, I must look back to what happened yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.

It is without question that the United States of America was an English colony in the 1500-1700’s, until we declared our independence. But if you look closely enough, you’ll see a pattern emerge. England itself was a colony of what country? You guessed it, Rome! Until they did what? Yes, you guessed it, broke off and declared their independence! So without England, there would be no United States of America. Without Rome, there would be no England. And we know Rome conquered Greece, borrowing much of its sciences, laws, military tactics, even religion! So without Greece, there would be no Rome! I just imagine that if one thing was changed in ancient Greece, it would undoubtedly have an effect to the way you and I live today. A battle lost that was supposed to be won? Solon and Pericles (the true founders of democracy) dying of a disease before they had the ability to introduce the concept of democracy to Athens? What if Athens and Sparta lost at Plataea and Greece was conquered by the Persian Empire? Would Rome have happened the way it did? Would England? Would there even be a United States of America? We’ll never know.

So I say, let’s honor that history! Let’s pay respect for those that came before us and paved the way for us to enjoy the luxuries we have today. Without Greece and Egypt, who knows where we’d be? And be careful, history does repeat itself. You may find yourself repeating the same mistakes of yesterday.

What I do know though, is by studying history you’ll find that you can actually change it. If you’re unhappy with where you are today, reflect a moment on your thoughts yesterday and how yesterday’s thoughts affected your decisions and actions; then the day before, the day before that, and so on, until you find the answer to why you are where you are. Once you find that answer, you’ll also find that you now have the ability to break the cycle of repeating history. That’s called learning. Once you decide to make that change, you have the unique opportunity to write your own history. So I challenge you to examine your history, and be the author of your own life.