European History


The new interest group is based on Simon Jenkins book "A short introduction to Europe - from Pericles to Putin".

It is propose that the European History group meets at Quinton Methodist Church on Thursdays 10.00am-11.30am).

The group will be participatory and we will learn from each other as we discuss the various topics at each session.

Although we will generally aim to do topics in breadth, we can from time to time do a particular topic in more depth if it intrigues us,

e.g. the Silk Roads; the Golden Age of Athens;Rome in the era of Julius Caesar and his successor Octavius/Augustus; The Crusades; Renaissance Florence; The History of the Growth (and decline?) of Christianity etc.

I do hope you will think this a fascinating and worthwhile subject and will wish to join the group.

Please email or phone me to let me know if you think this could be the course for you! (stanaustin80@gmail.com - 0121 550 2150)


To give a flavour....

EUROPEAN HISTORY - A BRIEF OUTLINE TO THE ‘GOLDEN AGE’ OF ATHENS - 478-336 BCE (fifth to fourth centuries)

Some references :

Athenian Social History - OU
Which was Socrates? - OU
Humanities and the Study of Civilisation - OU
A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins
A Very Short Introduction to the Classics - by Mary Beard and John Henderson
A Very Short Introduction to Ancient Greece by Paul Cartledge



The period of the ‘Golden Age’ in Athens, is approximately 150 years (478-336 BCE). It coincided in 478 BCE with the wave of optimism which followed the military victory over the Persians in 480-479 BCE. Perhaps some of the other factors which helped to create the ‘Golden Age were : the leisure enjoyed by the citizen-aristocracy with rising standards of living, and the demands made on the individuals who wished to be politically effective by a system in which all decisions were made by a mass-assembly, all this against the ever-present likelihood of war.

To put this in some sort of context, during this period a residential university began in Athens in the fourth century, headed by Plato (447-347BCE), and was the cradle of the European mind. Plato had a brilliant student called Aristotle (384-22BCE), who later founded his own university. Simon Jenkins in his book, writes :

The Athens Academy set up by Plato in 387 ... was the cradle of the European mind ...

The achievements of the Golden Age continue to tower over all other episodes in the European narrative. I first studied it at school and it has remained a source of wonder to me ever since how this small island corner of an inland sea could have produced such an astonishing innovation and understanding of the human condition. The concept of European civilisation without Athens is impossible to conceive. (pages 15-16)


In 461 Pericles, a popular orator and statesman, presided over a third of a century of its Golden Age. He saw government as an interlocking civic and personal obligation, underpinned by an emerging rule of law. He inaugurated the design and construction of one of the most celebrated structures in the world, the Parthenon.

Socrates was an Athenian who lived from 469-399BC. Some have felt that the Athens democratic copybook was indelibly blotted by his trial and condemnation in 399BCE. He was tried and convicted on a twofold charge of not acknowledging the gods of the city and inventing his own brand-new divinities, and of corrupting the young, meaning that he had taught men to be traitors of democracy. He was sentenced to death by a self-administered draft of hemlock.

The Athens in which Socrates lived had a total population of about 350,000 - slave and free, men and women and children. From 460-360BCE this small city saw some of the greatest dramatists, outstanding historians, major writers on philosophy, great sculptors, great architects, orators of outstanding worth as well as a fascinating experiment in direct participatory democracy.

The unitary city state, polis, was the basis of Greek politics in the fifth century (we derive our word politics from the polis).


There was a common religion throughout Greece. Zeus was acknowledged as the greatest of the gods and his festival at Olympia (‘The Olympic Games’) was open to all Greeks and was a period of truce.

The oracle of Apollo at Delphi also acquired a reputation throughout Greece.

The great Bardic poems attributed to Homer - The Iliad and The Odyssey - have sometimes been called the ‘Bible of the Greeks’ - they were not, but they did help towards a single picture of religion, and were used throughout Greece as a storehouse of gathered wisdom and values to be upheld.

iN 431BCE war broke out between Athens and Sparta and her allies - it was the Peloponnesian War. The war dragged on for twenty-seven years. It broke the Greek world. Thereafter there would be no unity until it was imposed by the power of Macedon in the north.


Prior to our period of 478 BCE, in 508 BCE, there was a revolt in Athens against the aristocracy led by Cleithenes. He proposed that the male citizens should rule the city, that council membership and public offices should be chosen on a rota and chosen by lot. This form of democracy was suited to the intimacy of the polis (state). This was the dawn of participatory government

By the mid fifth century Athens was perhaps the most radical democracy the world has known.

In 431 BCE the total population of Attica (the territory controlled by Athens) was about 350,000. Of these 110,000 were slaves. Women had no political rights.

Granted these limitations, the democracy was remarkable.

All decisions were in the hands of the Assembly. Every citizen (adult, male), had the right to attend, speak and vote. To enable the poorer citizens to attend they were paid for attendance.

Executive action lay with the Council. The members numbered 500 and were chosen by lot from the whole body of citizens. They were divided into ten groups of fifty, each acting for 35-36 days. The Presidency changed each day. Any Athenian citizen might find himself President of the Republic for one day.

All state officials (known as ‘magistrates’) were chosen by lot, on an annual basis, except for a few religious officials and for the ‘generals’. They were commanders in war and were expected also to exercise political leadership. They were elected annually by the whole citizen-body.


To conclude this all too brief account, in Classics, by Mary Beard and John Henderson, it is written on page 20 (slightly adapted) :

Rome became the world conqueror that by an extraordinary series of military victories over 300 years, brought most of the known world under its control, but nevertheless Rome was aware of its debts to Greece. The Roman poet Horace saw the paradox when he wrote to the Roman Emperor Augustus that the conquest of Greece had also been a conquest of Rome, because Roman civilisation, art and literature were all owed to Greece - “Fierce Rome” had been captured by captive Greece.

Perhaps Romans had been savage barbarians until they were civilised by the Greek conquests? I think there may be some truth in that.



Some other topics could be discussed (or discussed in more detail), e.g.

The Household and the role of Women
Work and Wealth
The Community and its Social Institutions
Religion and Politics
Homer - The Iliad and The Odyssey




A Very Short Introduction to The Roman Republic by David M Gwynn

A Very Short Introduction to The Roman Empire by Christopher Kelly

Rome : The Augustan Age- unit 1 - OU


From humble beginnings on seven hills beside the Tiber, the city of Rome grew to dominate the Meditterean world. Led by the senatorial aristocracy, Republican armies defeated Carthage and the successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great, and brought the surrounding peoples to east and west under Roman rule. Yet the triumph of the Republic was also its tragedy.

The very forces that drove the expansion of Rome, and the rewards that expansion brought led to a social, economic and political crisis which plunged the Republic into a descending spiral of civil war.

The institutions of the Republican government failed under the pressures of maintaining the Roman empire, and sole power finally passed into the hands of Augustus.

The myths of the Roman past, its literature and art, and the heroes and villains of the Republic have never ceased to stir the imagination. Its history includes moments of high drama, from the Gallic sack of Rome and Hannibal crossing the Alps to Julius Caesar on the banks of the Rubicon and the Ides of March.

Few periods of history have been more compelling than the last traumatic years of the Roman Republic. The greatest power that the world had yet known collapsed upon itself in an orgy of bloodshed.

The crises of the 2nd century undermined the Senators collective authority and witnessed the first of the line of warlords who dominated the late Republic. Marius and Sulla were succeeded by Crassus, Pompey and Caesar, who together formed the First Triumvirate. After Crassus’ death, the alliance of Pompey and Caesar dissolved into civil war, from which Caesar emerged triumphant. His murder on the Ides of March (44 BC) could not save the failing Republic.

The desperate act of Brutus and his fellow ‘Liberators’ only served to plunge Rome into another decade of civil strife. Finally, Caesar's adopted son (his great-nephew), Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra at Actium. The destruction of the Egyptian fleet in 31 BC and Antony’s suicide a year later secured Antony’s position and smeared his rivals reputation.

There was now no longer any question of civil war in defence of the Republic - simply civil wars between rival commanders, fought to establish who would command the state - Antony or Augustus.

Four years later Octavian took the name of Augustus as the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire (27BC).

Augustus had defeated or disposed of his major rivals. He emerged as the successful survivor of a civil war, and, controlling all the legions, master of the Roman world. With Egypt and its treasury at his disposal, he was also the wealthiest citizen in the empire, a fact which he turned to personal and political advantage through successive lavish disbursements to the army and people.

Under Augustus, his command of the riches and military resources of the empire enabled him to establish his family as the unchallenged rulers of the Mediterranean world.

What distinguished Augustus from Caesar and Antony was his remarkable gifts of statesmanship which now began to emerge. He succeeded in laying down a solution so successful that it gave the world a large measure of peace and stable government for the next two hundred years.


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@Speakers Organisation @SUMMER ACTIVITIES
Art Astronomy
Beading Chess
Cryptic Quizzes Discussion & Philosophy
European History Film
Folk Dancing Garden Interest
History Knitting and Crochet
Literature Music Appreciation
Origami Patchwork & Quilting
Photography Puds Galore
Science & Technology Scrabble
Strollers Ukulele