Culture in the Classical Greek World

Religion and Festivals

As in most societies until very recent times, in classical Greece religion was ‘embedded’: that is, it was not something separate, an optional extra for those who liked that sort of thing, but was integrated with every aspect of the society’s life (cf. pp. 188–9, on religion and the Athenian empire). But this does not mean that the Greeks had no concept of a difference between sacred and secular: for instance, sacred business was a separate category given priority in the business of states’ assemblies (see Ath. Pol. 43. vi and, e.g., IG ii2 103 = R&O 33. 36–8).

Greek religion was polytheistic. Their religion was said to be something which the Greeks had in common (Hdt. VIII. 144. ii), but it was subject to local variations, as what were believed to be in a sense the same deities had particular manifestations, particular stories and particular observances in different places. To go no further than the acropolis of Athens in the late fifth century (cf. ill. 7), the Parthenon was a temple of Athena Polias, guardian of the city, and housed Pheidias’ gold and ivory statue of her (cf. pp. 67–8), though it was an unusual temple, with no priests or observances directly associated with it; the Erechtheum was a temple of various divinities including Athena Polias, and it housed the ancient cult statue of her which was given a new robe at the festival of the Great Panathenaea; between these two and the Propylaea stood the statue of Athena Promachos, who ‘fights in front’; and outside the Propylaea was the temple of Athena Nike, goddess of victory, who had her own priestess (cf. pp. 68–9, 128–9). There was no finite list of deities, in a particular place or overall: Athens responded to its plague by establishing a sanctuary of Heracles Alexikakos and by importing the cult of Asclepius from Epidaurus (p. 129). Some sanctuaries and the observances associated with them attracted people from all over Greece, notably those of Zeus at Olympia, Apollo at Delphi, Poseidon at the Isthmus of Corinth and Zeus at Nemea; Athens tried to give the cult of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis a similar appeal, and a decree of perhaps c.435 commands the member states of the Delian League and invites other states to send firstfruits of their corn to Eleusis (M&L 73 = IG i3 78 ~ Fornara 140. 14–36). Other sanctuaries appealed not to all Greeks but to a group among them: for instance, that of Apollo on Delos to the Ionians (cf. pp. 20–1).

Typically, religion involves holding certain beliefs (one would not be religious unless one believed that one or more gods exist and have certain expectations), behaving in certain ways (with regard to the worship of the gods and more generally) and achieving a good spiritual state in consequence of one’s beliefs and behaviour. Belief did matter in Greece (Socrates was condemned for not observing the gods whom the city observed but introducing new divinities: pp. 304–5), but there were no sacred texts or bodies of doctrine comparable to those of today’s monotheistic religions. Nor was a good spiritual state of prime importance, though cults such as the Eleusinian Mysteries offered their initiates something which could be understood in that way. What was most important, in the household and in the community, was maintaining a good relationship with the gods, by participating in the right observances in the right ways and on the right occasions: a religious person was one who did this frequently, and who was open to the influence of the gods in taking seriously oracles and omens as signs of their wishes; and it was an affront to religion and religious people when Alcibiades and others engaged in mock celebrations of the Eleusinian Mysteries (cf. pp. 165–7).

The gods did not issue direct commands to individuals or communities, but various phenomena (such as eclipses, earthquakes, nights of birds) could be interpreted as omens indicating their wishes, and oracles disclosed their wishes (sometimes in a riddling way which enabled unfavourable consequences to be blamed on misinterpretation rather than on bad advice) to individuals or communities who consulted them - often by asking whether it would be better for them to do A or B (for a fourth-century consultation of Delphi by the Athenian state see IG ii2 204 = R&O 58. 23–54, part translated Harding 78. A; for an irregular consultation see p. 340).

Sanctuaries, or rather the gods associated with them, owned property: land which might be leased out for farming or left uncultivated (cf. again IG ii2 204); objects needed for the performance of rituals or dedicated by individuals or communities; money derived (for instance) from rents, the sale of firstfruits, or the images given to Athena from the tribute of the Delian League (p. 51). Because religion was an element in the state’s life, the state could concern itself with every aspect of it: fixing the calendar of observances (cf. pp. 296–7), arranging for the building of temples, the leasing of sacred lands and the storing of sacred treasures (and on occasion borrowing sacred funds for secular purposes: pp. 97–100), and for the appointment of priests and other functionaries. There were some taboos attached to particular positions, but in general the holders of religious appointments were not set apart from the other members of the community. Meetings of such bodies as a state’s assembly began with a rite of purification (Ar. Eccl. 128–9), and a prayer for a successful outcome and curse on people behaving in ways not conducive to that (Ar. Thesm. 295–311, 331–51).

The ultimate act of worship was the sacrifice: the libation of a few drops of wine, the offering of specially prepared foodstuffs, above all the offering of slaughtered animals, occasionally ‘holocaust’, burned whole so that all went to the deity, more often in ways which provided meat and skins for human beings. An elaborate sacrifice would be the culmination of a procession from a remote starting-point to the altar (see, for instance, IG ii2 334 = R&O 81. B on the procession and sacrifices at the Panathenaea).

But there was far more to a major festival than a procession and a sacrifice. We have seen that at the Great Panathenaea (the enhanced festival celebrated every four years) the ancient statue of Athena was presented with a new robe, brought on a boat-like cart in the procession. The night before that procession a pannychis, an all-night ceremony of singing and dancing, was held on the acropolis. The Eleusinian Mysteries were preceded by the taking of the ‘holy things’ from Eleusis to Athens, a ceremony of purification in the sea, and a procession from Athens back to Eleusis (cf. pp. 176–7). The Anthesteria, an Athenian festival held in early spring, began with the pithoigia, when the previous summer’s new wine was tasted, and continued with a sacred marriage between the wife of the basileus and Dionysus, and the choes, a drinking contest (many festivals were linked to the theme of fertility, in farming and in human procreation). Notoriously, many festivals in many places included events of a kind which in our world are not associated with religious festivals: competitions in athletics and in various kinds of musical and poetic performance, including in Athens drama.

There was a tendency for male gods to have male priests and for goddesses to have priestesses, but most festivals were celebrated by people of both sexes. A few, however, were not: for instance, in Athens the Thesmophoria, a fertility festival held in the winter, was for women only. Most festivals were not restricted to citizens of the state in which they were held: in Athens metics and other foreigners were included in the procession at the Panathenaea, and metics were included at the Great Dionysia (Poll. III. 55, Anecd. Bekk. i. 242. 3–6).

One other activity associated with religion was healing: commonly sufferers would go to a sanctuary, spend the night there and hope to depart cured in the morning (Ar. Plut. 627–747 gives a comic account; IG w. i2 121 = R&O 102 is one of a series of fourth-century stelai at the sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus giving brief accounts of individual afflictions and cures).


At the beginning of our period non-Athenian lyric poets were active from whom some work has survived: Pindar, of Cynoscephalae in Boeotia; Simonides and his nephew Bacchylides, of Iulis on Ceos. Owing to the accidents of preservation, we know Pindar and Bacchylides particularly for their victory odes for athletes successful in the great games, and Simonides for his epigrams, but all three wrote poems for different kinds of contexts, for individual and state patrons in a variety of places (including Sicily and Cyrene, which in this respect were parts of the one Greek world). Pindar and Bacchylides died c.450, Simonides probably slightly earlier. A recent addition to our repertoire is a poem by Simonides which already, soon after the events, compared the Persian Wars with the Trojan War (P. Oxy. xxii 2327 + lix 3965 = frs. 1–22 West2).

However, in the fifth century Athens became and in the fourth century it remained the chief cultural centre of the Greek world, and most of the literature surviving from these two centuries was written by Athenians, or by non-Athenians in Athens (in Pericles’ funeral speech Athens is described as ‘an education to Greece’: Thuc. II. 41. i). For the remainder of our period the best-known form of verse literature is drama, written for performance at festivals of Dionysus in Athens. The three tragedians who came to be recognised as supreme (and whose texts were edited in the fourth century: p. 380) were: Aeschylus, active from the 470’s to the 450’s, treating grand themes in grand language; Sophocles, active from the 460’s to his death in 406, and most often successful in the competitions; Euripides, active from the 450’s to his death in 407/6, and more ‘modern’ in his language, his greater inclusion of ordinary people and his greater tendency to represent the justice of the gods as questionable. Some early tragedies, including Aeschylus’Persians, were on themes from recent history, but most took their subjects from the legendary past (cf. p. 44). ‘Old’ comedy, which nourished from the middle of the fifth century to the beginning of the fourth, was bawdy, irreverent in its treatment of religion and fantastic in its plots, and was much concerned with current issues and current individuals: the only writer of it from whom whole plays survive is Aristophanes, active from the 420’s to the 380’s (cf. pp. 124–5). The fourth century, to the end of our period, is the era of ‘middle’ comedy: hard to define, since we have no complete plays apart from the two latest by Aristophanes (Ecclesiazusae and Plutus), but certainly not integrating the chorus into the plays as old comedy did, apparently more restrained in its bawdiness, and in its plots sometimes pointing forwards to new comedy. ‘New’ comedy, at its best from the late fourth to the mid third century but continuing beyond then, has not been preserved in the western manuscript tradition, and used to be known principally from Latin adaptations by Plautus and Terence, but in the past century papyri have given us a growing body of work by Menander, active from the mid 320’s to the late 290’s (and in fact in his own time not the most successful writer). His plots are set in the contemporary world, but focus on domestic matters (such as foundling babies, kidnapped daughters and lovers’ misunderstandings) rather than public issues and public figures; the engaged chorus and much of the bawdiness have gone.

No prose works earlier than the second half of the fifth century survive. From that half-century we have the first two great historians: Herodotus, active in the third quarter of the century (from Halicarnassus in Asia Minor, but Athens was among the places he visited, and he is said to have joined the Athenian colony at Thurii in southern Italy: p. 74), and Thucydides, active in the last quarter. Herodotus built on the work of now-lost predecessors such as Hecataeus of Miletus (c.500), to write an account culminating in the wars between the Greeks and Persians in 499–479, but including material of various kinds on the past (especially the second half of the sixth century) and on places and peoples featured in his account. Thucydides wrote a penetrating and rationalistic but much more narrowly focused history of the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 (of which what survives breaks off in the autumn of 411: p. 153), with material earlier than 431 (especially from 478 onwards) in book I. The writing of history continued in the fourth century and after. From Xenophon (cf. pp. 153–4, 225) the Hellenica continues the history of Greece from the end of Thucydides to 362: he was not the most penetrating of writers, but he wrote not only on history but on a wide range of subjects (including philosophy, below). Other fourth-century historians whose work has not survived but who are mentioned in this book include Theopompus of Chios, another continuator of Thucydides, and Ephorus of Cyme, whose universal history was the main source on Greece and the Aegean in the fifth century and the first half of the fourth for Diodorus Siculus in the first century BC. Behind Ephorus for the late fifth and early fourth centuries lies theHellenica Oxyrhynchia, a serious continuation of Thucydides by an unknown author, of which we have papyrus fragments (cf. pp. 154, 225–6). Another kind of history which proliferated from the late fifth century onwards was local history, including a series of histories of Athens (Atthides):the two writers of these who seem to have treated the classical period most seriously were Androtion (mid fourth century) and Philochorus (late fourth-early third century).

Our period also includes the century of the classic Attic orators, active in Athens (but not all themselves Athenians) between c.420 and c.320. Greek political institutions, particularly but not only in democratic states, gave an important role to meetings of councils, assemblies and lawcourts in which speeches were made. Expertise in public speaking was increasingly valued (from the generation of Cleon onwards Athens’ political leaders were persuasive speakers but no longer regularly office-holders: cf. p. 127); in the lawcourts litigants had to speak to their own cases, but there were men who would write speeches for clients and men who taught the arts of public speaking. Antiphon, involved in the Athenian oligarchy of 411 (p. 172), was the earliest of the orators from whom speeches have been preserved; we have a particularly large body of material from the periodc.360-320, by Demosthenes, Aeschines and others (pp. 333–4). Isocrates, who lived for nearly a hundred years from the 430’s to the 330’s, did not himself appear in public as a speaker, but, after writing some lawcourt speeches in the 390’s (including XIX. Aeginetic, our only speech for a non-Athenian setting), he concentrated on writing political pamphlets in the form of speeches and on training others (cf. p. 226). Other men wrote political pamphlets too, and one which survives is the Athenian Constitution of the Old Oligarch, an essay arguing perversely that democracy is bad in principle but successful in Athens: if correctly dated to the mid 420’s, that is the earliest surviving Athenian prose literature (pp. 122–3).

Rhetoric, the art of composing suitable speeches for different kinds of public occasions, became the essential ingredient of higher education for upper-class Greeks. Many of the sophists (below) claimed to teach it as a skill needed for success in public life; Socrates is caricatured in Aristophanes’ Clouds as a man who taught his pupils how to make the worse cause triumph over the better (p. 124). To remind us not to ignore places other than Athens, Gorgias of Leontini in Sicily served on an embassy to Athens in 427 and made a great impression with his new, carefully crafted style (p. 109); his Encomium of Helen and Defence of Palamedes survive (82 B 11 and 11a DK). From the fourth century, Rhetoric is one of the many subjects on which we have a book by Aristotle, and preserved with Aristotle’s works but probably by Anaximenes of Lampsacus is a slightly earlier handbook, the Rhetoric to Alexander. The teaching of rhetoric was influential beyond the realm of speech-making, and in historians and others it could produce an excessive emphasis on form and effect at the expense of content.


The beginnings of what can be regarded as philosophical thought, asking questions about the cosmos and about gods and mortals in terms other than those of traditional legend, are to be found in sixth-century Asia Minor, particularly Miletus. Thales (11 DK), active at the beginning of the sixth century, and one of the Seven Wise Men of Archaic Greece, was credited with predicting an eclipse (Hdt. I. 74. ii = 11 A 5); Plato had a story of his falling into a well while gazing up at the heavens (Pl. Tht. 174 a 4–8 = 11 A 9); according to Aristotle he was the earliest cosmologist, who suggested that the earth floats on water (Arist. Metaph. A. 983 B 18–27 = 11 A 12, Gael. 293 32–234 A 6 = 11 A 14). Anaximander (12 DK) sought the origin of all things in the infinite (Arist. Phys. III. 203A 16 – B 15 = 12 A 15), and is said to have written a prose treatise On Nature (Suda A 1986 ‘images = 12 A 2) and to have compiled the first map of the world (Diog. Laert. II. 2 = 12 A 1). Anaximenes (13 DK) regarded air as the fundamental principle (Arist. Metaph. A. 984 A 5–7 = 13 A 4, Diog. Laert. II. 3 = 13 A 1). Pythagoras (14 DK), who was born in Samos but migrated to Croton in southern Italy, was particularly interested in numbers (including ‘Pythagoras’ theorem’ about the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle) and in the mathematical basis for musical pitches (Diog. Laert. VIII. 12, cf. PI. Resp. VII. 530 D 6–531 C 5, Arist. Metaph. A. 985 B22–986 A 13), and believed in the transmigration of souls (Diog. Laert. VIII. 14, cf. Arist. Anim. I. 407 B 22) and in various dietary rules (Diog. Laert. VIII. 19).

This was totally different from the traditional Greek world-view. Pythagoras is said to have seen Homer and Hesiod punished in Hades for what they said about the gods (Diog. Laert. VIII. 21); Xenophanes (21 DK), who lived in the late sixth and early fifth centuries and migrated from Colophon in Asia Minor to the west, complained that they had represented the gods as behaving in all the ways which were disgraceful for mortals (21 B 11–12), and his contemporary Heraclitus (22 DK) of Ephesus said that Homer should be expelled from the contests and flogged (Diog. Laert. IX. 1 = 22 B 42).Thales believed that ‘all things are full of gods’ (Arist. Anim. 411 A 9=11 A 22). Xenophanes rejected the traditional gods altogether: men make gods in their own image, if animals could draw they would draw animal gods, different races of men make gods resembling themselves (21 B 14–16) - whereas in fact there is one god, not resembling men, who sees all and directs all and is unmoving (21 B 23–6). Heraclitus believed that the universe is governed by logos, a rational principle (22 B 1 etc.), and complained that men pray to statues which cannot hear and cannot answer (22 B 128).

Traditional values were rejected also. For Xenophanes, winning prizes at the games did not increase the eunomie, the healthy lawful state, of the city; his wisdom was better than the strength of men and horses (21 B 2). For Heraclitus there was one divine law from which all human laws ought to be derived (22 B 114 cf. 44), but in fact rulers imposed their will and called that law (22 B 33).

Intellectuals of the mid and late fifth century tend to be referred to collectively as sophists (wise men): these were travelling teachers, by no means all of them Athenian by birth but many of them active in Athens during at least part of their careers. They developed various of the studies of the earlier philosophers, and many of them claimed in particular to teach the skills necessary for success in the world of the Greek states and especially the art of successful speech-making (cf. above). A contrast of which they were fond was that between physis, nature, what could not be other than it is, and nomos, law understood as human convention, what has been decided one way by one community but could have been decided otherwise. If the traditional gods were rejected or drastically re-imagined, a new kind of justification was needed for laws and morality - if they were justifiable at all. Protagoras (80 DK) of Abdera, in the middle of the century, maintained that we cannot know whether gods exist or what they are like (80 B 4); man is the measure of all things (80 B 1). Nevertheless, if he is fairly represented in Plato’s Protagoras, he believed that although laws are a human convention they are a good one, instituted by the city to help people live properly (PI. Prt. 326 c 6-E 1). Hippias (86 DK) of Elis, a man with a wide range of interests, in Plato’s Protagoras says that men from various places who are with him at an intellectual gathering are his kin and fellow citizens by physis though not by nomos, ‘for nomos is a tyrant over men and commits many acts of violence contrary to physis’ (337 c 7-D 3); but in Xenophon’s Memorabilia he is represented as claiming that there are some unwritten laws which are observed everywhere, and that these must have been prescribed for men by the gods (Xen. Mem. TV. iv. 19). However, there were some sophists who taught that nomos is undesirable, as a device to prevent men from living as physis would allow, such as Antiphon the Sophist (87 DK: see pp. 172, 182), who concluded that one should obey the nomoi if in danger of being caught but not otherwise (87 B 44, beginning of fr. A), Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic (PI. Resp. I. 336 B 1–354 c 3) and Callicles in Plato’s Gorgias (Grg. 481 B 6–505 c 8).

The historical Socrates is exceptionally hard to disentangle from the caricature of him in Aristophanes’ Clouds (cf. pp. 124–5) and the different uses of him made by Xenophon and Plato. It may be that, as in the Clouds, he was at one stage interested in celestial phenomena and rhetoric. For both Xenophon and Plato he was a man who engaged in dialectical argument: Xenophon’s Socrates opposed the more radical sophists and defended a traditional understanding of virtue; Plato’s Socrates was more given to exposing the weakness of other people’s views than to expounding positive views of his own, but he seems to have identified virtue with knowledge (so that nobody would knowingly act wrongly) and to have claimed that nobody had that knowledge but he at least realised that he did not. Among the men who associated with him were several who opposed the democracy at the end of the fifth century, and that no doubt is part of the reason why he was prosecuted and condemned, formally for impiety, under the restored democracy in 399 (cf. pp. 304–5).

Effects of the new thinking can be seen in writers other than philosophers. Herodotus certainly believed in an overarching divine plan for mortals, but sometimes though not always he sat loose to the traditional view of the gods (contrast Hdt. VII. 129. iv, VIII. 129). The Trojans would not have endured a major war simply to keep a woman, so Helen cannot have been in Troy, though the Greeks believed that she was and the gods intended to punish the Trojans for her abduction by destroying the city (II. 112–20); Xerxes invaded Greece in 480 both on rational human grounds and because it was part of the divine plan that he should invade and fail (VII. 5–18). Different peoples have different institutions, and each thinks its own institutions are the best (III. 38–9).Thucydides was not a religious man: events are explained only in terms of human decisions and of tyche,chance; he stressed that the plague in Athens afflicted the religious and the irreligious alike (Thuc. II. 53. iii); almost always (but notice I. 23. iii, V 26. i-iv) he saw no supernatural significance in unusual phenomena or oracles. He did nevertheless believe in morality and lawfulness rather than unrestrained selfishness (see his comments on the plague at Athens, II. 53, and the civil war in Corcyra, III. 82–3), and I believe he returned so often to the nature of Athenian imperialism because he was torn between patriotic Athenian pride and a fear that Athens’ achievement was the result of lawlessness on the largest scale. Euripides, as we have noticed, adopted a more questioning attitude to the justice of the gods than Aeschylus and Sophocles. In the Electra a novelty in the story is that Electra has been married to an ordinary peasant, and Orestes in praising this man stresses that his goodness resides not in ancestry, wealth or military prowess but in his own physis (Eur.El. 367–82); Electra in haranguing the dead Aegisthus says that what is real and permanent is physis (El. 938–44). In the Medea, Medea asks Jason as he proposes to desert her whether he supposes that the gods of the past no longer rule and that new laws are now in force among men (Med. 492–5); and in the Bacchae, when Pentheus claims that the barbarians who celebrate Dionysus’ rites are worse than the Greeks who do not, Dionysus replies that other people’s nomoi are different and in this case better (Bacch. 481–4).

The sophists’ willingness to question everything was too alarming for an Athens which was defeated in the Peloponnesian War, and the fourth century looked once more for certainties. This helps to explain Athens’ new distinction between laws (nomoi) and decrees (cf. p. 297), by which particular decisions of the assembly on particular occasions were decrees, and laws were thought to be of higher and more extensive validity. Plato, an aristocratic Athenian related to the oligarch Critias (cf. p. 175), founded an institution at the Academy, north-west of the city centre (cf. map 3), which remained in existence until the Roman period. He wrote dialogues in which he pursued enquiries about ethics and politics, knowledge and the soul; for his involvement with Syracuse see pp. 312, 321, 324–6. Aristotle, from Stagira in Chalcidice, was in Athens as a pupil of Plato from 367 until Plato’s death in 348/7; he then left Athens, and from 342 until Philip’s death he acted as tutor of Alexander the Great (cf. pp. 416, 418–19); in 335 he returned to Athens and established his own school at the Lyceum, east of the city centre (cf. map 3). His range extended to natural science and rhetoric, as well as what we normally think of as philosophy, and in many areas he worked by generalising from a large number of observed instances. Thus to provide a foundation for his study of politics he and his school made studies of 158 constitutions (the Athenian Constitution, for which cf. p. 8, being the one work from this collection which survives). He left Athens again in 323 and died in 322.

The governance of cities was one of the topics with which philosophers concerned themselves. Probably the first distinction drawn by the Greeks was between constitutional government and the arbitrary rule of a tyrant: this is what Herodotus was alluding to when he contrasted isegorie(‘equality of speech’) with tyranny in Athens or wrote of the Persian Mardonius’ replacing tyrannies in Asia Minor with ‘democracies’ in 492 (Hdt. V. 78, VI. 43. iii). The word demokratia was probably coined in Athens in the 460’s (cf. p. 45), and the words aristokratia and oligarchia not long afterwards for regimes which were not democratic. What was to become the standard threefold division of monarchy, the rule of one, oligarchy, the rule of a few, and democracy, the rule of the people (interpreted as the whole community by supporters, as the lower class by opponents), makes its first attested appearance in an ode of Pindar perhaps to be dated 468 (Pind. Pyth. ii. 86–8, not using the technical language), and features in the debate which Herodotus insistently but implausibly attributes to the Persian Darius and his fellow-plotters in 522 (Hdt. III. 80–3, cf. VI. 43. iii). For the sophists forms of government belonged to nomos rather than physis: there was no one right form of government but each man would prefer the form conducive to his own advantage (cf. Lys. XXV Overthrowing Democracy 8); for the Old Oligarch democracy was nasty but appropriate for the Athenian demos (cf. pp. 122–3). Plato in his Republic adopted a new typology, with aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny in a descending scale (PI. Resp. VIII), but he in his Statesman (Politicus) and Aristotle in his Politics distinguished good and bad versions of the three traditional forms, the good being those which ruled according to law and in the common interest and the bad being those which did not.

The Visual Arts

The earliest monumental Greek temples, of what was to become the standard pattern, with a central room or rooms protected by columned porches or completely surrounded by a colonnade, were built in Corinth and at the Isthmus in the seventh century, and from the sixth century the great temples were normally built entirely in stone. In the Parthenon, built on the acropolis of Athens between 447/6 and 433/2 (cf. pp. 67–8, 90; and for all buildings on the acropolis see ill. 7), we see the supreme achievement of this style. By the fifth century major public buildings of other kinds were erected too: in the Athenian agora the council-house, probably at the end of the sixth century; the circular tholos for the prytaneis, probably c.460; stoas (open porticoes), such as the Stoa of the Basileus, at the end of the sixth century or after the Persian Wars; the Painted Stoa, in the second quarter of the fifth century (cf. p. 33); the Stoa of Zeus and South Stoa I, in the 420’s (cf. p. 129). The Propylaea, the grand entrance building at the west end of the acropolis, was begun in 437/6 and left unfinished in 433/2: it was intended to provide not merely a gateway but rooms on each side, and at the south-west corner the symmetry was broken to avoid trespassing on the sanctuary of Athena Nike (cf. pp. 68–9, 90). Very far from symmetrical, partly because of the ground on which it was built, was the Erechtheum, begun c.421 and after an interval completed after 409 (cf. pp. 168, 179–81), best known for the Caryatid porch on the south side, with statues of women serving as columns to support the roof (for which there were precedents at Delphi). Some of the later temples used the Ionic order rather than the Doric, but not all, and there is no evidence that those names were used as early as the fifth century, so it is unwise to see in this a political statement of the time of the Peloponnesian War (cf. p. 129). The theatre of Dionysus, south of the east end of the acropolis, was not built in monumental form until the fourth century, and the stadium outside the city walls to the east was built then too (cf. below); but the first and simplest version of the theatre-like Pnyx was constructed for the assembly some time before the Peloponnesian War (possibly in the late sixth century), and adjoining the theatre the odeum of Pericles was built in the mid fifth century (cf. p. 70). Among more utilitarian Athenian buildings were the city walls, hastily rebuilt after the Persian Wars (pp. 35–6), ship-sheds and other buildings at the Piraeus needed for the large navy (cf. pp. 36, 70), and the long walls linking the city to the Piraeus in a single fortified area (pp. 48, 70; see map 3).

The temple of Zeus at Olympia was built in the second quarter of the fifth century, and the temple of Apollo at Bassae in Arcadia in the third quarter, but in general other states in mainland Greece and around the Aegean were overshadowed by Athens in this century (cf. p. 188); however, many grand temples were built in the west. In Italy Posidonia (Paestum) was founded c.600, and has three major temples, two of the late sixth century and one of the early fifth. In Sicily, temples were built in the fifth century at Elyman Egesta; in Selinus both on the acropolis and to the east of it there are groups of temples begun in the sixth century and continued in the fifth (cf. p. 84: these cities show stylistic affinities with Athens rather than with other Sicilian cities). Likewise at Acragas there is a row of temples built in the sixth and fifth centuries - including the unorthodox temple of Zeus, unfinished when the city was sacked by the Carthaginians in 406 (pp. 82, 314), with not the normal colonnade but a screen wall incorporating half-columns and gigantic statues known as telamones. At Syracuse the fifth-century temple of Athena is remarkable for the fact that, much rebuilt, it continues in use as the Christian cathedral.

According to Demosthenes, in the fifth century as opposed to the fourth Athens’ great men were content with modest houses (Dem. XXIII. Aristocrates 206–9, III. Ol. Hi. 25–6). Archaeological evidence suggests that not only in Athens but in Greece generally the rich did start to build grander houses from the middle of the fourth century. The site which tells us most about housing in classical Greece is Olynthus, rebuilt in 432 (p. 90), destroyed by Philip of Macedon in 348 (pp. 343–5) and never occupied subsequently: the more prosperous houses there typically had a courtyard entered from the street, with rooms on three sides of it and an upper storey above the principal rooms.

In the fourth century temple-building continued: in particular, at Delphi the temple of Apollo had to be rebuilt after a fire and/or earthquake in 373/2 (cf. pp. 290, 340–2 with ill. 23), and at Epidaurus the expansion of the sanctuary of Asclepius resulted in a new temple and various other buildings including a theatre. Athens built a new council-house at the end of the fifth century, and rebuilt the Pnyx at the beginning of the fourth century and again in the third quarter of the century; in the third quarter also the theatre was rebuilt in monumental form, and the stadium was built (pp. 181, 302–3, 380; and for the theatre ill. 28). At the beginning of the century modest buildings for the law-courts were erected in the north-east of the agora, but the elaborate building which replaced them is now dated not earlier than c.300. One of the most striking buildings of the fourth century, indeed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.This combination of classical and near-eastern elements, perhaps intended as Mausolus’ hero-shrine, was begun while he was ruling and finished after his death in 353/2 and his sister/wife Artemisia’s in 351/0 (cf. p. 362, and conjectural reconstruction in ill. 25).

In sculpture our period begins when the rigid archaic nude male kouroi and draped female korai, and other figures staring directly at the viewers, were giving way to more naturalistic figures in more varied poses, but still stylised rather than wholly naturalistic, and restrained rather than extravagant. Many of the most famous statues are known not from the originals but from Roman copies. The so-called Severe Style begins with the statues of the Athenian tyrannicides Harmodius and Aristogeiton, produced in 477/6 by Critius and Nesiotes to replace the originals taken by the Persians in 480 (Marm Par. FGrH 239 A 54, cf. Simonides fr. i Page, IG i3 502); another Severe statue is the bronze charioteer at Delphi (ill. 9). Later in the fifth century Pheidias of Athens worked on the acropolis in Athens and afterwards at Olympia (cf. pp. 68, 72); the diskobolos (discus-thrower) by Myron of Eleutherae was a well-known study of a figure in action; Polyclitus of Argos is known particularly for his doryphoros (spear-bearer) and his ‘canon’ of the proportions of the parts of the human body. Statues, both free-standing and used to decorate buildings, became increasingly free and confident in form, and increasingly intended to be viewed from multiple angles; and towards the end of the century there was growing use of drapery to create brilliant effects, as in the figures on the parapet surrounding Athens’ temple of Athena Nike.

From the end of the fifth century and the fourth the repertoire is increased by sculptured funerary monuments, rare during the earlier part of the fifth century. There and in other forms of sculpture the tendency is towards a greater softness than was seen in earlier work.There are four major names: Cephisodotus and his son Praxiteles of Athens, Scopas of Paros and Lysippus of Sicyon. Praxiteles was notorious for his naked statue of Aphrodite for Cnidus: previously female nudes were very rare; allegedly the people of Cos rejected this statue and demanded a draped one (Plin. H.N.XXXVI. 20–1). A bronze statue of a boy found in the sea off Marathon (ill. 16) has a similar wavy contour. Scopas worked on the Mausoleum as well as for Greek patrons, and his statues included another nude Aphrodite. Lysippus modified Polyclitus’ canon to produce slimmer, smaller-headed and more elegant figures; his apoxyomenos (athlete scraping oil off himself) seems to have been a response to the doryphoros, catching a moment of action in contrast to its more static and harmonious predecessor, and continuing the development towards statues intended to be seen from more than one angle.

Realistic as opposed to idealised portraiture is first seen on coins such as those copying the Athenian ‘owls’ which were struck by Greeks for the Persian satraps Tissaphernes (cf. ill. 14) and Pharnabazus at the end of the fifth century and the beginning of the fourth. The first great portrait sculptures which we know are the Mausolus and the less striking Artemisia from the Mausoleum (cf. ill. 26: identifications now doubted; cf. p. 362); Lysippus worked for Philip and Alexander, and is said to have been the sculptor of whom Alexander approved.

Large-scale painting existed in classical Greece, but none has survived: hints of what has been lost can be derived from vase paintings, particularly on funerary lekythoi with black painting on a white slip, and from Macedonian tombs, particularly at Aegeae (Vergina, where the paintings have been preserved by being buried after completion: cf. pp. 335, 360–1). Tomb paintings of our period have been found also in Etruria and in Lycia. Paintings in buildings were usually done not directly on the walls but on wooden panels. In Athens the Painted Stoa, in the second quarter of the fifth century, had pictures of recent history and the legendary past: a (puzzling) battle of Oenoe between the Athenians and the Spartans, a battle between the Athenians under Theseus and the Amazons, the Greeks at Troy after the capture of the city, and the battle of Marathon (Paus. I. 15. ii-iv). In the Stoa of Zeus, built in the 420’s, there were paintings of the twelve Olympian gods, of Theseus with Demokratia and Demos, and of the battle of Mantinea of 362 (Paus. I. 3. iii-iv): the twelve Olympians may be earlier, but the battle of Mantinea requires a date about the middle of the fourth century, and that would suit Theseus, Demokratia and Demos too (cf. p. 380). As for artists, Cimon of Cleonae (c.500) is said to have invented katagrapha, three-quarter views (Plin. H.N. XXXV. 56); Polygnotus of Thasos and Micon of Athens, in the second quarter of the fifth century, used different groundlines and groupings of figures within a picture, to indicate position (there were paintings by Polygnotus in Athens and also at Delphi: Paus. I. 18. i, X. 25–31). About the same time Agatharchus of Samos seems to have begun scene-painting for the theatre at Athens, with some attempt at perspective and a treatise on the subject (Vitr. De arch. VII. praef. 11). There is a story that the Athenian Alcibiades, in the second half of the fifth century, imprisoned Agatharchus in his house until he had decorated it (Plut. Ale. 16. v). At the end of the fifth century Apollodorus of Athens, and after him Zeuxis of Heraclea, were famous for their skiagraphia, use of light and shade (Zeuxis’ grapes were said to have been so realistic that they deceived birds), while Parrhasius of Ephesus worked more with lines. Apelles of Colophon, the most highly regarded of all, was court painter to Alexander the Great. The fourth-century tombs at Aegeae have frescoes painted directly on the walls, with skilful composition, drawing (including perspective) and use of colour.

Ill. 16 Bronze boy found in the sea off Marathon. Hirmer Verlag, Munich


By the beginning of our period Athens had become overwhelmingly predominant in the production of fine pottery, and the red-figure style (with the background black, and black lines used to give details on the otherwise unpainted figures) had for most purposes superseded the black-figure style (with painted figures against an unpainted background). In vase-painting as in sculpture the fifth century saw increasing naturalness in the depiction of human beings and animals and in the variety of their poses; white-groundlekythoi, as we noticed above, seem to have been painted in the manner of wall-paintings. Modern connoisseurs tend not to like the products of the late fifth century and the fourth, where the use of varying ground lines to indicate position, and of white paint and gilding, often produced a gaudy effect. Outside Athens the main area where painted pottery was produced was the west, where work echoing the Athenian red-figure style was produced in the second half of the fifth century, and other styles were developed in the fourth, including scenes inspired by the theatre. Pottery decorated in these ways went out of fashion around the end of the fourth century.


There are chapters relevant to every section of this chapter in Boardman et al. (eds.), The Oxford History of the Classical World, and in Kinzl (ed.),A Companion to the Classical Greek World.

On Greek religion and its social setting see Bruit Zaidman and Schmitt Pantel, Religion in the Ancient Greek City; Easterling and Muir (eds.), Greek Religion and Society. For two different kinds of exploration see Parker, Athenian Religion: A History; and hisPolytheism and Society at Athens.Also on Athens see Parke, Festivals of the Athenians; and on oracles see Parke, Greek Oracles.

On Greek literature the standard handbook in English is Easterling and Knox (eds.), The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, i. Greek Literature. See also on drama Sommerstein (ed.), Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis; Pelling (ed.), Greek Tragedy and the Historian; MacDowell,Aristophanes and Athens; and on drama and politics the works cited in the notes to chapters 4 and 11. On historians see Marincola (ed.), A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography. On orators and rhetoric see Kennedy, A New History of Classical Rhetoric; and his The Art of Persuasion in Greece; Worthington (ed.), A Companion to Greek Rhetoric; and his Persuasion: Greek Rhetoric in Action.

On philosophy in general see Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy; Sedley (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Greek and Roman Philosophy. On the early philosophers see also Hussey, The Presocratics; testimonia and fragments are collected in DK and translated by Freeman, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, and there is a selection with translation and discussion by Kirk, Raven and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers. On Plato see Benson (ed.), A Companion to Plato; Kraut (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato. On Aristotle see Anagnostopoulos (ed.), A Companion to Aristotle; Barnes (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle.

On the visual arts the standard recent treatments in English are Robertson, A History of Greek Art; A Shorter History of Greek Art; see also Boardman, Greek Art. For buildings in Athens see Travlos, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens; Camp, The Archaeology of Athens. On sculpture see Richter, Sculpture and Sculptors of the Greeks; Stewart, Greek Sculpture: An Exploration. On vase painting see Cook, Greek Painted Pottery.

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