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Highlights of Ancient Greek History: 650 BCE to 559 BCE

By Yona Williams    10/23/10

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Around 650 BCE, Lycurgus reorganizes Sparta, who transformed the aristocratic city into an oligarchy centered on warfare. In this article, you will learn what type of government this is, as well as meet notable figures, such as lyric poet Sappho and founder of school of philosophy, Thales.

An oligarchy is a power structure that focuses on a small slice of society identified through royalty, wealth, bloodlines, family ties, or military control. Usually, states that follow this method of government are controlled by a handful of prominent families who pass on their influence and wealth from one generation to the next.

612 BCE: The isle of Lesbos becomes the birthplace of the influential female lyric poet named Sappho.

Sappho was so influential with her words that she earned a place on the list of nine lyric poets. She earned quite a reputation for her poetry, which was known across the country. However, the majority of her work has been lost and did not survive. Only a few surviving fragments have captured a glimpse of her greatness.

594 BCE: In Athens, Solon becomes the chief magistrate.

Solon was an influential person in ancient Greek history, as he is responsible for establishing the Council of 400. He also passed many different legal reforms that were created to give more of a voice to the citizens.

Solon was revered as a lawmaker, statesman, and poet – rising to the occasion when it came time to stop the bleeding of an archaic Athens that was declining in politics, moral and the economy. In the short term, his reforms were not seen as a success, but he is often credited for playing an important role in laying down the foundations for democracy in Athens.

585 BCE: The first person to announce a rational explanation of the cosmos was Thales, founder of the school of philosophy in Miletus. Basically, he stated that all things are made of moisture.

Thales, founder of school of philosophy in Miletus, is the first to present a rational explanation of the cosmos (namely, that all things are made of moisture). Thales came before the Greek philosopher Socrates. He earned a place as one of the Seven Sages of Greece, as he impressed others with his views and accomplishments. Aristotle is known for regarding Thales as the "first philosopher in the Greek tradition."

Since he spoke of general principles and formulated hypotheses, Thales has also been called the  "Father of Science". Thales had connections to mathematics, as he used geometry to solve problems. Some of the things he dabbled in included calculating the height of pyramids and figuring out the distance of ships from the shore. Some view Thales as the "first true mathematician."

559 BCE: Cyrus the Great established the Persian Empire.

The way that Cyrus the Great ruled and handled the states that he took under his wing contributed to his numerous successes and victories. Cyrus expanded his collection of lands and eventually conquered the majority of Southwest Asia and a great deal of Central Asia, parts of Europe, and Caucasus. Cyrus built the largest empire in history. The reign of Cyrus lasted around 30 years and throughout his rule, he continued to fight and conquer other states. First, he took over the Median Empire – followed by the Lydian Empire. He next tackled the Neo-Babylonian Empire.

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