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Highlights of Ancient Greek History: 547 BCE to 534 BCE

By Yona Williams    10/23/10

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Around the same time that Cyrus the Great was conquering Babylon, Cyrus guided his troops into central Asia to conduct significant campaigns. With plans to move onto Egypt, Cyrus never made it, as he died while in battle – fighting the Massagetae in 530 BC. In this article, you will learn how Cyrus' legacy was carried on and about new changes in the way poets approached poetry.

Cyrus the Great's son Cambyses II succeeded him and was successful in adding Egypt, Nubia and Cyrenaica to the empire. One of the practices that Cyrus held onto that set him aside from the rest of conquerors was that he respected the customs and religions of the lands.

547 to 527 BCE: Pisistratus becomes the ruler of Athens.

Pisistratus was a tyrant of Athens from 546 to 527 BC. During his reign, Pisistratus established festivals (namely the Panathenaic Festival), constructed temples and fountains, as well as promoted growth of olives for export.

It was not the smoothest ride for Pisistratus as ruler of Athens. He was actually ousted from political office and exiled two times during his reign. On his first exile, Pisistratus made his way back to Athens in a golden chariot with a tall woman by his side, who many believed as a sign that he had the favor of the goddess Athena. During his second, Pisistratus earned the support from local cities and from the Laurion silver mines situated close to Athens. After 10 years, he came back to Athens in full force and was successful in regaining his tyranny. He stayed in power until his death in 527 BC.

534 BCE: Thespis starts a new trend in the arts by becoming the first actor to recite poetry as the characters mentioned in the poem.

Thespis came from Icaria, which is known as Dionysos in present-day Greece. Ancient Greek documents state that Thespis was the first person to appear on stage as an actor that played the character in a play – which differed from the traditional method of speaking as him or herself.  Other sources state that Thespis led the way in not only introducing the first principal actor, but also the chorus in plays.

Aristotle would write about two centuries later that Thespis also sung dithyrambs, which were songs about stories from myths that had musical refrains. Thespis was named as the person who brought to light this new style where one singer or actor performed the words of individual characters in the stories. The change in characters was signified with a variety of masks. The new style was dubbed a tragedy and Thespis was right in the middle of it. Soon after, competitions were held at the City Dionysia in Athens to find the best tragedy, which started in 534 BC. Thespis won the first competition of this kind on record.

Thespis was such a success that he was able to invent other techniques, such as the concept of theatrical tours. He would travel to different cities to perform – transporting his costumes, masks, and other props in a wagon pulled by a horse.

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