GCSE Ancient History
OCR GCSE in Ancient History: J151/J051
This handbook is designed to accompany the OCR GCSE Ancient History specification for teaching from September 2009.
Unit A031: The Greeks at war 4
Unit A032: The Rise of Rome 76
Unit A033: Women in ancient politics 134
Ancient History GCSE provides an introduction to the ancient world. It gives you the opportunity to study some of the most fascinating characters in western history. These are the men and women who have helped to shape the way we see the world, and whose lives have a strong relevance to the modern world. The sources for these characters contain many interesting stories, but the task of the ancient historian is to study these stories and try to separate fact from fiction. The fact that there are limited sources requires you to think carefully about the meaning of each source, and work to a logical conclusion. This course encourages the discipline of creativity which is so essential for a historian, and which can be applied in all areas of later life.
In each unit there is a choice of options. You study one option from each unit. This book follows the way content is outlined in the specification. Each option has a section on context which explains the background understanding you will need to study the option. The option content is then split into themes, which are explained in detail. Then there is a section at the end of each option that looks at the sources that we have and considers what their aims may have been, how they relate to other sources, and how reliable they are likely to be.
Unit A031: The Greeks at war
Option 1: The Greeks defend themselves, 499–479 BC
In the early years of the Fifth century BC, the Greeks found themselves under attack from their eastern neighbours, the Persians. The Persian Empire had expanded greatly during the previous century, and the next natural step for the Persians was to move into Europe.
Much of our knowledge of this period comes from the historian and researcher Herodotus. He researched and recorded the growth of the Persian Empire, and his account – some nine books in length – comes to a grand finale with the various battles between the Greeks and the Persians. In the first century BC, the Roman Statesman and Orator Cicero called him the ‘Father of History’. Although he was not the first person to write History, he is the first known historian to look at a more than local history. His achievement was considerable, and his work stands at the beginning of the subject which we call History today.
It is important to remember when studying this period that the Greeks were not a single people: they loved their independence, and lived in relatively small city-states or poleis which were politically separate. The geography of Greece with its mountains separating the plains in which people lived encouraged different peoples to live independently. No Greek would have wanted his neighbour to tell him what to do. Equally, to spend time fighting for a neighbour city, with whom a city might have had a border dispute only months before would be surprising. Without an external threat, the Greeks lived independently in their seperate states. When, however, the organised machine of the Persian Empire threatened them, they had to think again, and consider the things which they held in common. They had to find a way of working together, which would enable them to maintain their unique way of life.
The Persians, on the other hand, had a highly organised empire. As it grew, they developed a high level of political and cultural organisation. Their roads, for example, linked distant parts of the empire in a way which would have seemed impossible to their Greek neighbours. It is difficult to assess the Persian empire, because much of the information which we possess comes from Greek sources who are often biased against the Persians or have only a partial understanding of their culture. For example, a Persian word meaning ‘subject’ (i.e. subject of a king) was translated into Greek as doulos or slave. This reflected a Greek view that the Persians were all slaves of their king. This was almost certainly not so, as the Persians had considerable respect for the customs of the countries which became part of their empire.
For the Greeks, the conflict with the Persians was a successful attempt to maintain their freedom. To what extent they would really have lost it had they been conquered must remain a mystery. It was also a defining moment in the development of Greek history. The Greek and Persian cultures went on diverging routes, and, as a result of the bravery of the Greeks in the fifth century, European history moved in a different direction, with a flourishing of culture in fifth century Athens which might otherwise have been very different.
Context: Greek relations with the Persians under Darius and Xerxes
1.1 The Expansion of the Persian Empire into Ionia
Kings of Persia
Cyrus the Great 559-530BC
Cambyses II 530-522BC
Darius I 522-486BC
Xerxes I 486-465BC
Just before 546BC Croesus, the King of Lydia, made a fateful decision. He decided to attack his neighbours, the Persians. He had consulted one of the great oracles in the Greek world – that of Delphi. The Delphic oracle, greatly respected in the ancient world as a source of wisdom, responded by telling him that if he crossed the river Halys, a great empire would fall. Croesus attacked, and lost his own empire. In a battle at Sardis he was soundly defeated.
On the throne of Persia at the time was Cyrus (559-530BC), later known as Cyrus the Great for his conquests. In 550 BC he had defeated the Median ruler Astyages, and added the Median Empire to his own Persian Kingdom, creating one empire that is also refered to as the Achaemenid Empire. This was a fateful moment: the expansion of the Persian Empire had begun in earnest.
The Greeks of this area had been under Lydian rule, but the defeat of Croesus changed all that. The Persians, under the command of Mazares and Harpagus, took under their control the Greek peoples who lived on the west coast of Asia Minor, today part of modern Turkey.
One of the common questions in the area was ‘Do you remember the day the Persians came?’ At that time they appear to have been so desperate to escape that Bias of Priene proposed at the league of Ionian states that they all move and re-found their cities in southern Italy. This did not happen, but it gives a sense of how the Greeks must have felt about losing their independence to the Persians.
Cyrus’ conquests did not end with Lydia and the Greeks of Ionia: he also conquered Babylon and Egypt. He left his successors a mighty empire.
1.2 Power within the Persian Empire
The Persian Empire seems to have had a very organised and centrally controlled system. The King himself was regarded as being almost divine in status.
Darius was the Persian king from 522-486BC. He crossed the Bosphorus twice: once to invade Scythia, now in Southern Russia, and then the second time to attack Greece. Many of his exploits are described in the Bisitun Inscription, which was written in Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian. It was cut into the cliff face of Mount Bisitun in northwest Iran. It lists the countries he ruled as Persia, Elam, Babylonia, Assyria, Arabia, Egypt, Ionia, Lydia, Media, Armenia, Cappadocia, Parthia, Drangiana, Aria, Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Gandara, Scythia, Sattagydia, Arachosia and Maka.
Under King Darius (522-486BC), the Persian Empire became far more organised. Herodotus tells us that he set up twenty provincial governorships or satrapies; governors were appointed, and then each nation within the empire assessed for taxes. The King also seems to have had a system to ensure that he knew what was going on throughout the empire: a number of Greek authors (Herodotus and Aristophanes) mention the ‘King’s Eye’: which seems to have been the name for senior officials. The Greeks thought the these officials would report whatever happened back to the king, and anything out of line would be punished.
Herodotus (I.131-140) gives us some information about Persian customs. He notes that the Persians are particularly willing to adopt customs from other cultures. Other details include the following: boys’ education lasts from 5 until 20, and they were taught three things: to ride, to use a bow and to speak the truth; they regard telling lies as more disgraceful than anything else, and next to that owing money; even the king is not allowed to put a man to death for a single offence.
Herodotus describes the nature of Persian society and the power and position of the king.
When they meet one another in the streets, one would recognise whether these people were of the same rank as they met one another in the following way. For, before speaking they kiss each other on the lips if neither is inferior; they kiss on the cheeks, if there is a small difference, and, if one is much less noble than the other, he falls to the ground and prostrates himself before the other. Of all people, they honour those who are closest to them after their own people, then second in line they honour those who are next furthest away…
Read Herodotus 1.134.
(a) What does Herodotus 1.134 tell us about Persian Society and its values?
(b) What do you think a Greek would have thought of this custom? Explain your answer.
The inscriptional evidence gives us a sense of the official view of the Persian king: he was appointed by the single god Ahura Mazda, and ruled with his authority. A key inscription comes from Naqs-e Rustam, where four Persian kings were buried some 6 km from Persepolis. It reads as follows:
Darius the king says: ‘When Ahura Mazda saw this earth in commotion, he thereafter bestowed it upon me, he made me king. I am king. By the favour of Ahura Mazda I subdued it; they did what I said, as was my desire. If now you should think “How many are the countries which Darius the king held?”, look at the sculptures of those who bear the throne, then you will know. Then it will become known to you: the spear of a Persian man has gone far. Then shall it become known to you: a Persian man has given battle far indeed from Persia.’
Darius the king says: ‘That which has been done, all that I did by the will of Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda brought me aid, until I had done the work. May Ahura Mazda protect me from harm, and my royal house, and this land. This I pray of Ahura Mazda, this may Ahura Mazda give me.
‘O man, that which is the command of Ahura Mazda, let it not seem repugnant to you. Do not leave the right path, do not rise in rebellion!’
(First insciption from Naqs-e Rustam, Lactor 16, p.42-3)
1. What does this tell us about the position of the King in the Persian Empire? Refer to at least two details and explain what you think they tell us.
2. Do you think that this is a reliable source on how the Persian King was seen by his people? Think about the official view and the view of ordinary people.
3. Given what you know about the Greeks, in what ways do you think this helps to explain why the Greeks were so keen to fight against the Persians and avoid becoming part of their empire?
1.3 The Ionian Revolt
The Greek world was not limited to the area which we call Greece today. Many Greek people lived on the east coast of Asia Minor – what is today Turkey. These people were known as the Ionians: they had ethnic and cultural links with the Athenians, who were regarded as their mother city. In the Seventh and Sixth Centuries BC, many larger states had sent out small groups of leading citizens to found new cities and create colonies around the Mediterranean. Some of the cities in Ionia claimed that they were related to the Athenians in this way, whilst others appear to have been from a different cultural background. Nevertheless, these cities had a fairly close connection with the Athenians and other mainland Greeks – they were very much part of the Greek world.
They were also very significant in the development of Greek thought. Many leading intellectuals of the day lived in this area, and propounded their theories about the nature of the universe. One such man was Herodotus, the historian, on whom we rely for much of our information about this period. He came from Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum) and appears to have had both Greek and non-Greek blood flowing in his veins.
In 508 BC the Athenians, under the guidance of Cleisthenes, made changes to their system of government which would ultimately see their state become one of the most extreme forms of democracy that the world has seen, where every male citizen had a vote on each matter of policy. The Athenians had begun to move away from living under a tyrant, and the individual citizens were beginning to take power for themselves.
The development of democracy in Athens may have had an effect on the peoples of Ionia, who were racially related to them, and may have been in touch with them. This may have given the Ionians the idea that the time for tyranny was over, and it was now right that they should rule themselves.
There were, however, other factors at play. The Persians levied considerable taxes on the states in Ionia, which probably had a crippling effect on their economy. Equally important were the military levies from the Persian central government, which required the Ionians to produce soldiers to fight in Darius’ army. After the revolt, many were required to fight against their fellow Greeks when Darius launched the Marathon campaign. The requirement to fight for an alien king may have proved too much for them.
Whilst the people themselves may have wished to rebel for the reasons outlined above, Herodotus himself places considerable emphasis on key individuals, such as Aristagoras and Histiaeus. He describes how their personal ambition led to the rebellion.
Three Forms of Government
In Greece there were three main forms of government. These were used in different states at different times.
In the Sixth Century, many states in Greece were governed by a single ruler or tyrant. Although some tyrants were extremely harsh rulers, not all were. Polycrates of Samos, for example, and Peisistratus of Athens both greatly improved their cities. The idea of a tyrant always being evil is a more modern idea.
Democracy literally means ‘people’s power’ (demos – people; kratos – power). The people have the power. In Athens this meant that the Assembly of all male citizens over 18 had the ultimate power: they approved all decisions, and officials were either elected or chosen by lot.
A small group of usually wealthy people take political power. The mass of the people is not in power.
Herodotus 3.80-83 recounts a debate in Persia which discusses these three forms of government. This is well worth reading for a fuller understanding of these concepts.
1. Explain what is meant by each of the following:
2. Describe two possible causes of the Ionian Revolt.
Outline of the Revolt
In 499BC the inhabitants of Ionia decided to rebel; whether of their own accord or due to their leaders’ ambitions. The rebellion began on the island of Naxos, where the inhabitants decided to rise up against their oligarchic masters. The oligarchs went to the tyrant of Miletus, Aristagoras, to ask for help. Aristagoras, who saw this as an opportunity to gain power for himself, recognised the need for Persian military assistance. He asked Artaphernes, the local ruler in Sardis, for help. With the agreement of king Darius, Artaphernes sent an expedition under Megabates with 200 ships to crush Naxos. However, Megabates and Aristagoras quarrelled, and the Persian admiral warned the Naxians of the impending attack. They were therefore able to make the necessary preparations and withstand the siege for four months. This completely destroyed any prospect of Aristagoras bringing all the cities of Ionia under Persian control. His reputation with the Persian hierarchy was ruined. Caught in this difficult situation, he decided to incite a rebellion amongst the Asiatic Greeks against Persian rule. He would bring democracy to the peoples of Ionia.
Since the aim of the rebellion was apparently to establish democracies, Aristagoras began by resigning his position as tyrant of Miletus. At the same time many of the tyrants in the area took the same action. The Ionians then planned to gain help from mainland Greece, and so Aristagoras went to Sparta to seek their support, but was unsuccessful there.
He then visited Athens, and the Athenians agreed to send twenty ships. Herodotus describes these ships as the ‘beginning of troubles between Greeks and barbarians’: in his account the Athenian decision to help in this way brought Athens into conflict with Persia for the first time, and led to Darius’ desire to take vengeance on them.
Aristagoras with his own forces and those from Athens and Eretria who had agreed to help marched up to Sardis and occupied the city. Whilst they were there, a fire broke out which destroyed much of the town. The Athenians returned home at this point, but their involvement in the destruction of Sardis brought them to the attention of the king himself. Darius was not amused.
The revolt continued with further action in the south, and many of the cities threw off their Persian masters. However, when the Persians began to regain control, Aristagoras fled to Thrace. The rebellion came to an end shortly afterwards when in 494BC, the Persians laid siege to Miletus. The Greek fleet, which included some 353 ships, was nearby at Lade. A battle between the Greeks and the Persians followed, in which many of the ill-disciplined Greek states simply fled. Miletus was taken by storm, and Caria was recaptured. The rebellion was over. The Persians were back in control. They made one concession, however: they established democracies in Ionia.
Look at a map of Greece and the Ionian coast and identify: Athens, Eretria, Miletus, Thrace and Sardis. State briefly what happened in each place.
Briefly outline the Ionian revolt.
Explain two reasons why the Ionians rebelled.