Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Engineering an Empire: Alexander the Great

The fifth century was a remarkable period in the history of Ancient Greece. During the golden ‘Age of Pericles’, a prolonged and incredibly productive burst of intellectual and architectural activity occurred.

Led by the city state of Athens, the world's first democracy, the Greeks charged to new and dazzling heights of accomplishment. Art and form combined with engineering to create some of the most incredible structures ever seen.

In Athens, Pericles masterminded the most costly and ambitious construction campaign which had ever been undertaken in the western world, creating a model city of temples, houses, market places, civic buildings and a highly innovative sanitation system. In 438 BC, the Parthenon was completed; it still stands today as an enduring symbol of Athenian democracy and innovation.

As Pericles strove to forge an Athenian empire, mistrust of his ambitions contributed to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, which ended this ‘golden age’ and destroyed the political power of Athens. Sparta then became the leading Greek power until it was overthrown by Thebes between 378 BC and 371BC. The sporadic civil war raging within Greece allowed Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, to conquer the country.
With his insatiable appetite for territorial conquest and domination, Alexander the Great created a military empire that reached as far as India. As the Athenian experiment with democracy was brought to a bloody and decisive end, his armies carried Greek culture and values far abroad; his empire became known as the ‘Hellenistic’ world.
Greece's amazing engineering achievements and ideas are still with us today. Without the violent and controversial contribution which Alexander made to Greek history, it is perfectly possible that the country’s ‘golden era’ would have been little more than a footnote in history.


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