Socrates wasn’t from a noble family and hence he probably received a basic Greek education and learned his father’s craft at a young age. He served in the armored infantry as a part of mandatory service and participated in three military campaigns at Peloponnesian War, where he saved the life of Alcibiades, a popular Athenian general. Socrates was known for his courage in battle and fearlessness, a trait that stayed with him throughout his life. It is believed Socrates worked as mason for many years before he devoted his life to philosophy.
Socrates believed that philosophy should achieve practical results for the greater well-being of society. Ultimate wisdom comes from knowing oneself. The more a person knows, the greater his or her ability to reason and make choices that will bring true happiness. Socrates believed that this translated into politics with the best form of government being neither a tyranny nor a democracy. Instead, government worked best when ruled by individuals who had the greatest ability, knowledge, and virtue and possessed a complete understanding of themselves.
Humiliating defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War triggered Athenians to cling to past glories, notions of wealth, and a fixation with physical beauty. Socrates attacked these values with his insistent emphasis on the greater importance of the mind. While many Athenians admired Socrates’s challenges to Greek conventional wisdom and the humorous way he went about it, an equal number grew angry and felt he threatened their way of life and uncertain future.
On this day in 399 BC the philosopher Socrates stood before a jury of 500 of his fellow Athenians accused of “refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state” and of “corrupting the youth.”. The jury was not swayed by Socrates’s defense and convicted him by a vote of 280 to 221. He made things worse during the deliberation over his punishment. Athenian law allowed a convicted citizen to propose an alternative punishment to the one called for by the prosecution and the jury would decide. Instead of proposing he be exiled, Socrates suggested he be honored by the city for his contribution to their enlightenment and be paid for his services. The jury was not amused and sentenced him to death by drinking a mixture of poison hemlock.
Fifteen centuries after the death of Christ, the Catholic Church had grown to become the most influential organization in Western Europe. A theology professor and Augustinian monk at the University of Wittenberg, Martin Luther, was disillusionised with the abuses of the 16th century Roman Catholic Church. In Luther’s era, indulgences were being sold by the Church to raise money for refurbishing the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. However Luther firmly believed that salvation is by faith alone. He shifted the course of Christianity with a letter, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in Latin, to Archbishop Albert of Mainz on October 31, 1517. The accompanying questions would go on to be known as The Ninety-Five Theses, the seminal document in the Protestant Reformation that fractured the continent along religious lines. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses brought to light serious issues regarding the nature of belief in Christ. Much of his writing amounts to theological questions about specific practices that seemed to ignore or even counteract the Bible. Fueled by the printing press and a translation into common German by his friends early in 1518, Luther’s ideas had soon made it to towns all over Europe. At the same time, Ulrich Zwingli began attacking the rituals associated with mass from his pulpit in Switzerland.
In early January 1521, Luther was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Condemned as a heretic and declared a criminal on May 25th, the court decided to ban Luther’s writings and officially absolved anyone who might kill him of any guilt. Frederick III of Saxony, a friendly leader of the province near the center of the Holy Roman Empire provided protection to Luther. Hiding the monk away in Wartburg Castle, Frederick allowed Luther to continue writing — and the wanted man produced a series of forceful attacks on the practices of the Catholic Church and translated the Bible’s New Testament from its original Greek into German. When he returned to Wittenberg in March 1522, Luther was at the head of a rebellion — alongside John Calvin and Zwingli — that would take centuries to solve and cost countless lives in civil wars and persecution throughout the continent.
The battle of Marathon is one of history’s most famous military engagements. It is also one of the earliest recorded battles. The battle is considered a defining moment in the development of European culture. In September of 490 BC a Persian armada of 600 ships disgorged an invasion force of approximately 20,000 infantry and cavalry on Greek soil just north of Athens. Their mission was to crush the Greek states in retaliation for their support of their Ionian cousins who had revolted against Persian rule.
Undaunted by the numerical superiority of the invaders, Athens mobilized 10,000 hoplite warriors to defend their territory. The two armies met on the Plain of Marathon twenty-six miles north of Athens. The flat battlefield surrounded by hills and sea was ideal for the Persian cavalry. Surveying the advantage that the terrain and size of their force gave to the Persians, the Greek generals hesitated.
One of the Greek generals – Miltiades – made a passionate plea for boldness and convinced his fellow generals to attack the Persians. ‘With you it rests, Callimachus, either to bring Athens to slavery, or, by securing her freedom, to be remembered by all future generations. If Athenians bow their necks beneath the yoke of the Persians, the woes which they will have to suffer…are already determined. If, on the other hand, they fight and overcome, Athens may rise to be the very first city in Greece.’ Miltiades ordered the Greek hoplites to form a line equal in length to that of the Persians. Then – in an act that his enemy believed to be complete madness – he ordered his Greek warriors to attack the Persian line at a dead run. In the ensuing melee, the middle of the Greek line weakened and gave way, but the flanks were able to engulf and slaughter the trapped Persians. An estimated 6,400 Persians were slaughtered while only 192 Greeks were killed.
The remaining Persians escaped on their ships and made an attempt to attack what they thought was an undefended Athens. However, the Greek warriors made a forced march back to Athens and arrived in time to thwart the Persians.
Supposedly, a messenger (Pheidippides) ran about 25 miles, from Marathon to Athens, to announce the defeat of the Persians. At the end of the march he died of exhaustion. This event is probably the inspiration for Marathon race.