Siddhartha Gautama was a spiritual teacher of enlightenment who acquired hundreds of followers in India and founded Buddhism. His teachings were preserved orally for centuries before they were transcribed on palm-leaf scrolls. Siddhartha may have been born c. 538 B.C. to Queen Maya and King Suddhodana of the Shakya in ancient Nepal. By the third century B.C. Buddhism appears to have spread to China.
Socrates, an Athenian contemporary of Pericles (c. 470 - 399 B.C.), is a central figure in Greek philosophy. Socrates is known for the Socratic method (elenchus), Socratic irony, and the pursuit of knowledge. Socrates is famous for saying that he knows nothing and that the unexamined life is not worth living. He is also well known for stirring up sufficient controversy to be sentenced to a death that he had to carry out by drinking a cup of hemlock. Socrates had important students, including the philosopher Plato.
First coming to prominence, in about 600 B.C., for his patriotic exhortations when the Athenians were fighting a war with Megara for possession of Salamis, Solon was elected eponymous archon in 594/3 B.C. Solon faced the daunting task of improving the condition of debt-ridden farmers, laborers forced into bondage over debt, and the middle classes who were excluded from government. He had to help the poor while not alienating the increasingly wealthy landowners and aristocracy. Because of his reform compromises and other legislation, posterity refers to him as Solon the lawgiver.
Sophocles (c. 496-406 B.C.), the second of the great tragic poets, wrote over 100 tragedies. Of these, there are fragments for more than 80, but only seven complete tragedies:
- Oedipus Tyrannus
- Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles' contributions to the field of tragedy include introducing a third actor to the drama. He is well-remembered for his tragedies about Oedipus of Freud's complex-fame.
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Thracian born, Spartacus (c. 109 B.C.-71 B.C.) was trained in a gladiator school and led a slave revolt that was ultimately doomed. Through Spartacus' military ingenuity, his men evaded Roman forces led by Clodius and then Mummius, but Crassus and Pompey got the best of him. Spartacus' army of disaffected gladiators and slaves were defeated. Their bodies were strung up on crosses along the Appian Way
Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 56 - c. 120) is considered the greatest of the ancient historians. He writes about maintaining neutrality in his writing. A student of the grammarian Quintilian, Tacitus wrote:
- De vita Iulii Agricolae 'The Life of Julius Agricola
- De origine et situ Germanorum 'The Germania'
- Dialogus de oratoribus 'Dialogue on Oratory'
- Ab excessu divi Augusti 'Annals'
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Thales was a Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher from the Ionian city of Miletus (c. 620 - c. 546 B.C.). He predicted a solar eclipse and was considered one of the 7 ancient Sages. Aristotle considered Thales the founder of natural philosophy. He developed the scientific method, theories to explain why things change, and proposed a basic underlying substance of the world. He started the field of Greek astronomy and may have introduced geometry into Greece from Egypt.
Themistocles (c. 524-459 B.C.) persuaded the Athenians to use the silver from state mines at Laurion, where new veins had been found, to finance a port at Piraeus and a fleet. He also tricked Xerxes into making errors that led to his loss of the Battle of Salamis, the turning point in the Persian Wars. A sure sign that he was a great leader and had therefore provoked envy, Themistocles was ostracized under Athens' democratic system.
Thucydides (born c. 460-455 B.C.) wrote a valuable first-hand account of the Peloponnesian War (History of the Peloponnesian Wa) and improved the way in which history was written.
Thucydides wrote his history based on information about the war from his days as an Athenian commander and interviews with people on both sides of the war. Unlike his predecessor, Herodotus, he didn't delve into the background, but laid out the facts as he saw them, chronologically. We recognize more of what we consider the historical method in Thucydides than we do in his predecessor, Herodotus.
The second of the five men in the late first to second century A.D. who are now known as the good emperors, Trajan was named optimus 'best' by the Senate. He extended the Roman Empire to its furthest extent. Hadrian of Hadrian's Wall fame succeeded him to the imperial purple.