This class explores Athens during the "Golden Age" of the 5th century BCE, when the polis was at the apex of its wealth and power. The scope of the course is broad, as we shall consider the political and military events of the era alongside its cultural, social and artistic developments.
We begin with the Persian Wars (480-479 BCE), when the Greek mainland was invaded by Persian kings. Athens proved pivotal in defending Greece as a whole, later using this prestige to build its Empire. The Empire, in turn, threatened Athens' rival state, Sparta, which plunged Greece into the Peloponnesian War (431-404) at the close of the century. Although the 5th century is mired in warfare, the age also saw the rise of democracy, the birth of history writing (esp. Herodotus and Thucydides), and the height of Greek theater. It is during the 5th century that some of Greece's most famous playwrights--Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes--were all active in Athens, making the polis the cultural center of the Greek world. Moreover, some of Athens' most lasting artistic and architectural monuments, such as the Parthenon, were also creations of this "Golden Age."
In this class, we shall ask how Athens' political predominance contributed to the formation and spread of democracy, and how its Empire influenced its artistic products. Lastly, we shall ask how it happens that Athens entered the Peloponnesian War as the strongest power in Greece, only to lose to Sparta in the end.
The class will be based on primary source ancient histories and documents read in translation. Beyond texts, we shall also consider other historical evidence in the forms of art, archaeology, and numismatics. In the first half of the semester, there will be three short response papers (3 pp. each) that will teach the mechanics of critical reading and writing in history. In the second half of the semester, each student will produce a research paper on a topic of his/her choice (10 pp.). The final paper will be written in stages so as to emphasize the process of research and revision. There will be no formal tests, but there will be two short quizzes (20 min.) to test factual knowledge. Active, informed seminar participation will be emphasized and will make up 20% of the final grade.