Ancient Greece's Contribution to American Culture

By: Melissa, Rosanna, and Kristina

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Although Ancient Greece was in a time period very long ago, that glorious empire left behind a culture that influenced the United States of America hundreds of years later.

Ancient Greece 750 B.C.................................................................................United States of America 2006

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The word "politics" comes from the Greek word, polis, which means city-state. "Democracy" is also a word derived from the Greek word, Demokratia, meaning "people-power." Although Amerca is a Constitutional Republic , one can see the many influences that Greek democracy placed on American government.

I. A History of Democacy

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Greece was not always a democracy. Before Greece became a democracy, Greece, in Athens, was a tyrannical government. However, tyranny seemed to be a an unstable government. Dictator after dictator tried to rule Athens without much success. During that time, a law-maker, Draco, wrote down laws set for the Athenians; the laws were harsh and upset the citizens. In 594 B.C., a popular representative of the Athenian city-state, Solon, was elected by the people to overthrow a the previous tyrannical government. He government and update Draco's harsh laws. Solon helped organize a peaceful government where an "assembly" of citizens were encouraged to debate amongst each other and form opinions in the government. It was not until Cleisthenes, Cleisthenes (pictured at the right), who is also known as the "Father of Democracy," in 508 B.C., established a strong democratic government. He allowed more and more citizens to take part in the Assembly, and he also granted the Assembly to make laws. Cleisthenes also created the Council of the Five Hundred.

II. Greek's Democratic Influence on American Government

Freedom of Speech and Assembly- In Greek democracy, the citizens were allowed and encouraged to speak freely of their opinions. Because of the democratic government where all citizens were treated as equals, citizens had the right to free speech. Also, the assembly of citizens could get together to talk of political things without being persecuted. In America, the freedom of speech and the freedom to peaceful assembly is the First Ammendment of the Constitution. Citizens in America are like the Greek citizens, entitled to free speech and assembly.
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Elections and Voting-
In ancient Greece, those of the assembly elected their leaders. Every middle class and even lower classes, if they were male, had the chance to vote for their leaders. Greeks had a ballot and voted by writing down their choices for leader- similar to the present-day American voting system In America, citizens, male or female of any race, as long as he or she is a citizen, have the right to vote. Americans greatly value the right to vote; they value their right to choose their leaders, just as the Greeks did.

Justice and Laws-
Influential leaders, Draco and Solon, wrote and reformed laws of Athens. Although some of the laws were harsh, a few laws are familiar to Americans. In Athens, many minor crimes were paid for with money. Similarly in America, if you break laws such as speeding on the highway or illegal parking, you pay for it with money. Killing somebody in Greece, however, was punishable by execution. In America, for extreme cases, death is a legal punishment in most states. Also, the ancient Greeks created a court of law where those who were prosecuted or wanted to prosecute someone could come and receive justice. The Greeks appointed judges and officials to take part in the court, however, these judges and officials were "amateurs." They also had a jury who voted "guilty" or "not guilty" during the trials. This court system is such like America’s today in that the American courts hold trials in a court with a judge and jury, however, the American court system is much stronger than that of ancient Greece’s.


The Greeks made coins out of gold, silver, and bronze. They were used to identify who issued them. The Greeks traded with their own colonies and other places such as Spain and India. Sometimes the maker of the coin was allowed to sign his name on the coin, just like artists do on their pieces of work today. The Greeks made many colonies all along the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Therefore, they gained access to many new states that they could trade with. The Greeks traded with their own colonies and other places such as Spain and India. Some things the Greeks traded were olive oil and wine in exchange for items such as meat, timber, and wool.

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The Greeks were sailors, fishermen, and mercenaries. Some Greeks were also pirates, but they were also fishermen or traders. Many fishermen traded their fish as well as ate them.

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In Greek religion, there were many gods who helped them with their everyday tasks. Homer wrote a book about a man’s struggle with the gods and his return home called The Iliad (shown on the left) and The Odyssey . These two books are very widely read in America now for entertainment purposes and not for religious purposes but they still continue to help many historians. The Iliad proved to be nearly true for fact purposes about the Trojan War. The book helped historians to provide information about the Trojans that were not known before.

external image portrait_sc.jpg The goddess Nike (shown on the left) was the goddess of victory. She is usually shown with lyre to be played after victory and with a sash or crown. Her name is also the influence for one of America’s most important manufacturers of sports merchandising and clothing: Nike, Inc. The company has grossed over 15 billion dollars worth of merchandising. The shoe shown below is one of the products by the Nike company
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The Greeks offered many gifts, called votives, to the gods they worshipped. Some examples of votives are lamps, figurines, and armor. Today, Christians give offerings to God in the form of dedication or tithes. The Greeks also offered sacrifices of animals or crops. These sacrifices were burned on altars. In the Bible times, people would also offer sacrifices to God. To please gods or goddesses, the Greeks would often hold competitions such as racing or boxing. The Greeks first held the Olympic games as a festival to honor Zeus, but today the games are held every four years. Today, people also run in marathons, which were first run in Greece.

Greek Society

During different time periods of ancient Greece, one can see that in different time periods and differrent city-states, society often differed.

Minoan and Mycenaean Society
The Minoans lived on the island of Crete. The Myceneans had a king, and under the king were many scribes who kept detailed records of their history. They traded with the Egyptians and Asia Minor. They were the first to build a plumbing system in their houses. They also made sports such as boxing and bull-jumping. Both men and women participated in these sports. They had a large amount of wealthy which led them to making elaborate forms of arts and architecture. They valued pleasure over things such as religion and warfare. They spread out their wealth pretty evenly, so there was no one too much poorer than another person. Most of the Minoans lived in large houses. Although they were wealthy, they did not have a strong army. After their city was weakened by an earthquake, they were conquered by the Myceneans.
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The Myceneans had a monarch called a wanax, who collected all the wealth of the city in one place. The king valued war a lot, so the Mycenean’s main values were warfare and hunting. They had think walls and a strong army. They also invaded many cities. One of the most known cities they invaded was the wealthy city of Troy. The Myceneans traded items such as animal skins and olives with the Minoans. They also traded with Asia Minor and Egypt for things such as jewelry. They Myceneans buried their dead in expensive tombs called tholos, which looked like a monument. A short while after conquering Troy, the Myceneans suddenly disappeared from history.

Athenian Society
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The Athenians had many slaves. However, most of the slaves were treated very well. The small amount of slaves that were not treated well worked in silver mines in Athens. The men ruled the city, while the women remained invisible and unheard. The women rarely went outside, and when they did, they covered their face with a veil. Most of the time, the women took care of the house. The only time the women were allowed to go outside was to perform religious duties. They were not allowed to vote or have outside jobs. The men did all the public jobs, including acting in plays as a woman. The Athenian men went to school, but the women were tutored at home. The women learned things such as spinning and cooking. They also learned some facts about religion and mythology. The women married in their teens to a man much older than her. However, not all the women remained inside the house. A small group of wealthy women were able to walk about outside freely. Most of the time, these women did not come from Athens, and they were highly skilled in things such as music and dancing. These women were called hetaeras.

Spartan Society
The Spartans had a hard life. Only the babies that seemed to be strong and healthy were allowed to live. The boys only stayed with their mothers for 7 years, then they were sent off to live in packs to be raised to be tough and strong. The children went barefoot so they would learn to be quick, and they were forced to withstand the weather because they only had one set of clothing. They were taught to steal to survive, and also to be cunning. If they were caught, they were beaten because they weren’t clever enough to get away with stealing. The girls on the other hand, played sports such as wrestling and racing so they would become strong. The Spartans believed that a strong mother would produce strong babies. The women ran the city while the men served in the army.

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Spartan Army

Other Information
The women took care of the house and did the jobs such as cleaning and cooking. They also took care of the children. Then men did all the outside jobs, such as farming and trading. Only the sons of noble families were sent to school. Besides getting an education, men 18 years old trained in a gymnasium for 2 years to become physically fit.

Thoughts and Learning

Alphabet and Language
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Greek language was derived from the Phoenician alphabet where one sound stands for one symbol. Greek inspired many languages such as Latin, Etruscan, and eventually the English language. Some of our words hold roots and prefixes that come straight from the Greek alphabet (chart shown on right). For example, the word "microscope," has the Greek prefix, "micro" in it, which means "small." Another example would be "thermometer," derived from the Greek prefix, "thermo," meaning heat.
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Literature and Drama

The Greeks influenced the Americans greatly through their thoughts and learning. Drama was a major part of Greek life. Most plays were either tragedies or comedies. One of the most popular plays was Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. Since women were not allowed to act in plays, men played the women roles as well.

Geometry and Physics

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external image 888154806 Many subjects students now study in school were discovered in Greece. The first geometry book was written by a man named Euclid. Archimedes was a great physicist who studied things such as pulleys and levers. He also created Physics which is used everyday in many aspects of life.
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Many Greek philosophies have stuck through many centuries and helped to be building blocks for many other ideas. Democritus jump started the discovery of atoms (pictured at the right). Though he did not have all the answers, he was able to encourage people to start looking into breaking things down. From Democritus, America has made many new discoveries including the ability to destroy atoms.

Hippocrates (below)
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Hippocrates was known as the father of medicine. He was one of the first people to prescribe medicine for certain illnesses. He also became very widely known for being able to recognize the symptoms of pneumonia and children’s epilepsy. In addition, Hippocrates became of the first people to believe feelings and emotions came from the brain and not the heart as originally believed. While traveling around Greece and teaching medicine, Hippocrates wrote an oath called the Oath of Medicinal Ethics. Nowadays in America, each graduating doctor is required to sign a similar oath now called the Hippocratic Oath promising not to do harm to a patient unless it is inevitable.


Herodotus was one of the first people to document the historical events of his time to help generations later on. Through Herodotus, people now can study the events and life back then. He would travel to far off places to document the events taking place and on occasion prove a myth to be wrong. Now, we have historians and many other people who follow in his footsteps and document history so it is not lost in the generations to come.

external image Pythagorean.theorem.gifPythagorus

Pythagorus, who lived in 580 B.C., came up with a formula now called The Pythagorean Theorem. This theorem which states that in a triangle: a2+b2=c2, enabled many people who lived after him to improve in architecture. Students all over the world know the Pythagorean Formula, and students can credit Pythagorus the knowledge.


In Greece, education was one of the most honored things a man could possess. They believed having a good education would make a person a better citizen and better person in the long run. In America, education is also very important and very valued. It is required of every citizen to get an education in America. Education can put a person at an advantage over a person who lack an education.

Solar System
Erathosthenes was the first person to believe the Earth was round. He was able to predict the size of the Earth within a percent of the actual size. After him, came Aristarchus who believed the solar system was a heliocentric solar system. These men were able to make great assumptions based on the technology of their time and the assumptions were all very accurate. The ideas these men came up with supplied others with information for the study of the solar system.

Arts and Crafts

General Greek Arts and Crafts

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Greek Pottery

The Greeks made oils and pottery, which are now used throughout the world. The pottery was often used as gifts or as decoration in houses. The Greeks used their pottery to illustrate certain times in stories and history. The vases are either painted on or carved on. For much of Greek pottery, next to the figures drawn, there is also the name of the figure inscribed on the piece. The largest object made is called the pithos, which was used for storage. The most popular form of vase is called the amphora, which is also mentioned in the epic poem, The Odyssey . It comes in all sorts of sizes and is used for storage purposes and decoration. It has a base of its own so it won’t have to be pressed into the land and cover its design. Some amphoras have two handles, one on either side. One popular design on the pottery is scenes of men interacting with gods or goddesses. Dancing women is also a popular design.

Greek Sculptures
Most of the Greek sculptures were made out of limstone and marble. The first sculptures were 5 –10 inches tall, and were usually sculptures of women. During the Bronze Age, most of the sculpures were made out of bronze, ivory, or clay. The images were usually of women or animals. Some sculptures were made as gifts for the gods. During the Dark Age, most sculptures were of deer and made out of bronze. The Greeks made life size stone sculptures during the Archaic times. These statues were the first to be designed with one foot in front of the other to help it to balance. During the Classical Age, some sculptures were made out of gold as well as ivory. The sculptures were made to be seen from all sides, not just from the front. At this time the sculptures on the Parthenon were made. Today, people make replicas of the Greek sculptures. Many people buy these replicas to place inside or outside their houses as a form of decoration.
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Greek Sculpture (Odysseus from The Odyssey )

Architectural Influences on American Buildings

Greeks also influenced the growth of many architectural structures in America. The White House being one of many structures which have a hint of Greece in it. The four columns standing in the front of the white house are very similar to the many columns on the Parthenon. Columns also influenced the structure of the San Francisco City Hall. Though there are three different types of columns, the Doric columns were more commonly used for the Parthenon, The White House, and city hall because of it simplistic and sophisticated look.

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White House

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San Francisco City Halll


Greeks came up and used three types of columns (shown above) in their architecture which inspired many American buildings presently. The three types of columns are called Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Doric columns are rounded at the top and puffed out in the middle. Ionic columns are long, slender, and plain. Corinthian columns are either long or rounded-out, however, these columns were, with intricately carved designs, much fancier than the Ionic or Doric columns.


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The Minoans and Cretans were the one of the first people to obtain a plumbing system- a very remarkable plumbing system indeed. Their sewage system was very like ours today. Although they had invented plumbing, only nobles and kings had the opportunity to have built-in bathrooms and toilets. In the palace, for example, the kings and queens used a bathtub (shown on the right); the dirty water was disposed of through a drain in the floor. The palace held ancient toilets also-toilets that flushed into some system in the wall of the palace. These Greek’s sewage system was noteworthy because the Greeks used sinks that were connected to drains and ventilators inside walls of a house. One Minoan king had a public bathroom built that was about sixty-five feet long.

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