Aegean Culture

FOR many centuries the name of Greece has been surrounded with a halo of glory. When we look back upon the Greeks of the fourth and fifth centuries before Christ, we find ourselves facing a people equalling the civilized nations of today in intellectual keenness and power. The earlier nations of Babylon and Egypt we regard as having been still in the childhood of the human race; but these Greeks were men.

Spiritually, they did not reach to our modern standards of life and ethics; but artistically and intellectually they were our equals. Sculptors and architects today still study and imitate the surviving Grecian works of art. Our ablest thinkers look back with admiration to the arguments of Socrates and the philosophy of Aristotle. Moreover, it was these Greeks who first of all the world seem to have evolved republican principles. They first saw how to protect the masses of men in their freedom from the tyranny of the powerful few.

Government "by the people," which is the theory and the glory of our own state, was first evolved and safeguarded and made sure in the little "city states" of ancient Greece. Hence the study of these Grecian people, of what they did and how they learned to do it, has always been one of the most fascinating chapters in the story of the past.

The last twenty years have greatly enlarged our knowledge, and almost wholly changed our views, of the early story of the Greeks. When Grote and Curtius wrote the great nineteenth-century histories of Greece, it was deliberately proposed to count Greek history as beginning with the first clearly dated Olympic games in 776 B.C.; everything before that was to be rejected as purely legendary. But today the researches of recent excavators, the studies of modern scientists, have revealed to us such a mass of facts and of suggestions as enables us to reconstruct quite clearly the Greece of fifteen hundred years before Christ and even to catch glimpses of a far earlier period. The historian who formerly began with Sparta and with Athens as the first mighty cities of Greece, now pushes these aside as belonging to the closing period of Greek life, and opens his account with the names of the cities of Knossus, Argos, and Mycenae.

Knossus, so far as we yet know, was the earliest seat of Grecian civilization. This ancient city stood not on the mainland of Greece, but on the largest of the Grecian islands, Crete, whose people have so recently been rescued fro.. Turkey and reunited with the kingdom of their own race. At Knossus excavations of the last few years reveal that there was a city of rich and splendid civilization at least as far back as 2500 B.C. Beyond that we can trace remnants of the earlier generations slowly developing from barbarism during many centuries. Twelve thousand years ago the site of Knossus was already inhabited by a race of fishermen who were what scientists call autochthonous, that is, we have no evidence of their coming from any other place; they seem to have grown up with the soil. They were of the aboriginal race which was spread over the whole Aegean region.

These earliest traceable people of the Aegean islands were a short dark-skinned folk, who continued, though with some admixture of other races, to be the chief stock of the Greeks whom we meet in historic times. These Aegean seem to have progressed toward civilization in Crete more rapidly than else-where; probably because in those days every man was the enemy of every other outside his immediate tribal circle, and the Cretans were sheltered by the ocean from the invasion of other races. Gradually in their peaceful homes they learned seamanship; they established trade relations with the earlier Egyptian dynasties; and by 2500 B.C. they had become a mighty people under a king whose name has been preserved to us by later Greek legend, as Minos.

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Read about Aegean Culture in the The Story of the Greatest Nations and the Worlds Famous Events Vol 1

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