Essay: Urban Life and Social

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Urban Life and Social Condition in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is distinguished through its predominantly urban character, as the majority of people lived in cities and towns. Even with the fact that most cities and towns were relatively small (there were approximately one thousand cities spread across the Mediterranean coast), the ancient Greeks were particularly supportive with regard to urban establishments. The ancient Greek society was very complex and individuals could engage in a series of professions depending on their personal interests. Social status was especially important in determining attitudes that each individual would employ toward others. The Greek idea of the polis was strongly connected with the way that the ancient Greeks perceived society and by looking at example like Sparta and Athens one can observe how individuals were inclined to act in accordance with ideas imposed by their communities as a whole.

By looking at the archaic period one is likely to gain a more complex understanding of the development of the ancient Greek society and urban life. "The civilization of classical Greece may be more striking and better known, and hence attract greater attention, yet it cannot be conceived without the period which preceded it." (Austin & Vidal-Naquet 49) The archaic period introduced significant innovation in a series of fields and it is safe to say that it cemented the ancient Greek society into the world as a whole. This era played an important role in shaping thinking that is still present in the contemporary society.

The idea of the polis represented a major concept in Ancient Greece, as it became the atmosphere where Greek civilization thrived for several centuries. It would be difficult to determine the exact moment when this concept started to receive wide recognition, as many simply considered that it put across a system of beliefs that worked together in designing the perfect city. The fact that it did not experience the same type of progress across the Greek world as it evolved further complicates matters and makes it difficult to understand exactly where and when it started. "The most secure proof of the beginnings of the polis is provided by the so-called 'colonizing movement' which began towards the middle of the eight-century." (Austin & Vidal-Naquet 50)

The development of the ancient Greek urban environment was not simply a chaotic drifting of peoples in the territory, as it was an organized movement. Large cities were in charge of this respective movement and smaller communities thus reproduced behaviors seen in mother cities. Most urban settlements were built near the sea, but very little of them were actually built right onto the sea. Urban establishments built on the coast were typically military or commercial harbors.

Hippodamus of Miletus was one of the leading individuals of Ancient Greece when considering the strategies he devised with the purpose of planning a city. He devised an image of the ideal city as a community containing ten thousand free men and approximately forty thousand women, children, and slaves. He reached this idea consequent to studying the structure of some of Greece's greatest cities and to observing how they worked in particular circumstances (Aristotle).

In order to gain a more complex understanding of how Hippodamus shaped the Greek urban environment, one would have to consider the city of Priene and the way it was organized. The inhabitance is located near Miletus, on the Ionian coast, and its streets were constructed with the purpose of dividing hillsides into blocks. These blocks were later meant to provide individuals with the opportunity to build houses that would fit the overall plan of the city. The center of the city represented the principal point of interest and it contained important buildings. It was comprised out of several public buildings and the agora, the most significant structure in Priene. "The agora stretched the length of six city blocks and was flanked on its southern side by the Temple of Zeus." (Urban Planning)

Hippodamus' design of a rational grid plan was adopted in numerous cities in Ancient Greece. It was functional and in areas such as Priene it became obvious that it was especially beneficial for people in cities. The rocky land and the hills in Priene did not prevent the Hippodamian plan from achieving its purpose and it actually provided individuals in the area with the opportunity to exploit almost every inch of terrain. Navigation through the city was made easier as a consequence of the rational plan employed by its architects (Urban Planning).

In spite of the fact that Priene's architects have had the experience and resources needed to build a city that was almost perfect, older Greek cities were less functional on account of how they were built over several decades and even centuries and of how they contained several styles of architectural design. Most houses in these areas were packed more closely and were less comfortable in comparison to the ones in Priene. Cities like Priene were built in times when Greece had already accumulated significant amounts of resources and people could afford to invest in Urban Planning before actually going through with building a city.In spite of its size, Athens was unplanned and this is reflected by how most of its houses were small and unappealing when regarding things from an architectural point-of-view.

The idea of polis dominated thinking in Ancient Greece and this term was apparently one of the most common words during the period. The majority of free male adults were obsessed with the idea of being members of political communities and they thus concentrated on being present in urban environments. "And it was in the urban centre, the city in its narrower political sense, that collective self-government found decisive expression." (Cartledge 3)

Greek cities played an important role in shaping attitudes in Ancient Greece, as individuals came together there and worked with the purpose of devising strategies meant to improve their society. The Greek community was largely divided between free people and slaves, with women being largely considered less important in comparison with men. In spite of the fact that the ancient Greeks were particularly civilized, they were especially supportive toward the concept of slaves and toward women as being inferior to men. Women were typically expected to listen to their fathers until they married and they were then required to listen to their husbands. Furthermore, while men had access to higher education (depending on their wealth), women rarely had access to education, as they received most of their tutoring from their mothers in the household.

The ancient Greek society provided men with a wide range of opportunities, and, depending on their social status and wealth, they could engage in practically any activity they liked. Male children in ancient Greece had access to education to a minimum level, even if their families did not have the financial resources to fund this respective type of education.

When considering thinking in Ancient Greece, philosophers largely dominated the way that people understood life in general and the masses would often be inclined to express attitudes that were in accordance with ideas expressed by great thinkers. Notable philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle changed much about the way that simple things were perceived and introduced complex thinking with the purpose of assisting individuals in acknowledging the great mysteries of the world.

The ancient Greeks believed that satisfaction was largely related to employing positive attitudes toward the mind and the body. By maintaining a balance between these two concepts an individual would presumably experience great joy and would embark on a journey toward improvement.

What is surprising about Ancient Greece is the fact that two of its largest cities were very different from each-other. Spartans were more concerned about military skills and women there were provided with education in warfare in order to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Urban Life and Social.  (2014, January 4).  Retrieved June 20, 2019, from

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"Urban Life and Social."  4 January 2014.  Web.  20 June 2019. <>.

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"Urban Life and Social."  January 4, 2014.  Accessed June 20, 2019.