Ancient Greece History


The Archaic Period in Greece refers to the years between 750 and 480 B.C., more particularly from 620 to 480 B.C. The age is defined through the development of art at this time, specifically through the style of pottery and sculpture, showing the specific characteristics that would later be developed into the more naturalistic style of the Classical period. The Archaic is one of five periods that Ancient Greek history can be divided into; it was preceded by the Dark Ages and followed by the Classical period. The Archaic period saw advancements in political theory, especially the beginnings of democracy, as well as in culture and art. The knowledge and use of written language which was lost in the Dark Ages was re-established.

The Dark Ages were as unenlightening as they may sound. They brought about the solidification of the Greeks' religion, mythology and founding history. The Greek people no longer lived in cities, after the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization (known as the "fall of the palaces"), but instead they formed small tribes. Some of these tribes were sedentary and agricultural, whereas others were nomadic and traveled Greece throughout the seasons. However these small tribes began to form one of Greece's greatest political achievements: the 'polis', meaning the city-state, which is what the word 'politics' is derived from. From around 800 B.C. trade flourished between the communities as market places were built up in the villages, and they began working together to form defensive units and fortifications.

In this way the Greek people developed to have strong city-states as their political centers. Cities on the Greek mainland, peninsula and the coast of Asia Minor had close interaction with one another, however each city still established its own unique culture and political structure. Originally they were all ruled by a 'basileus', meaning a hereditary king. However most monarchies were overthrown in the 8^th century B.C. and replaced by a variety of political arrangements. The most common of these systems was the oligarchy, meaning "ruled by a few". The oligarchs were formed from a select group of the wealthiest citizens of the state, who had most of the powers usually given to a monarch. Although these powers were dispersed amongst them, the oligarchic power was notably totalitarian. These early oligarchies, as well as the few remaining kings, were mostly overthrown by tyrants who took total control of the city. These tyrannies are generally looked on disapprovingly, however some did manage successful rules. This form of governing was always unstable, with the tyrant's power relying on their control of armies and holding the citizens in fear. Tyrannies most often began when a city was faced with a crisis, and this opportunity was seized by a political figure to take control of the city, frequently with the support of the people. Once their tyranny was established though, they lost their popularity with the citizens who saw them as illegitimately commandeering political power. Many tyrants attempted, and some succeeded to make their tyranny hereditary, and gave themselves the power of a monarch. Due to the instability of this system though, tyrants would only rule for short lengths of time before they would be replaced. Despite this, tyranny existed as a widespread political arrangement for much of Greece, Asia Minor and even reaching as far as Sicily.

Oligarchies and tyrannies ruled in this way until a new alternative emerged around the 6'th century B. C. Ancient Greek democracy, meaning "ruled by the /demos/ (people)", was unlike what we would associate with modern day democracy. The cities were not represented by governments, but actually by the citizens. However not all citizens had a say in the running of the city; this was the privilege held by the free, male citizens, excluding all women, slaves and foreigners from democracy. So, in a way, democracy began as an expanded version of the original oligarchy, with the city-state being ruled by an exclusive group of people, although the size of this group had increased dramatically. This new political system required a complex set of laws in order to keep this complicated social structure organised. These advanced legalities enforced a certain amount of equality between the citizens, despite their varying economic statuses, and ensured an easier coexistence between the classes. This laid the groundwork for the further Democratic principles that were to be developed in Athens in two hundred years time.

The growth of the /polis, /the traditional Greek city state, coupled with a relative population explosion, forced the city states to look abroad for places to settle. This led to a period of frenetic colonization. A variety of settlement began appearing across the Mediterranean, including Ionia (the coast of Asia Minor) southern Italy Sicily and North Africa. The nature of these settlements varied, from the basic trading posts that began to emerge in Italy and Sicily, such as Syracuse, and the more advanced mini city-states that broke away from the mother city, such as Cyrene in Libya and Carthage in modern Tunisia. Colonisation was significantly aided by the cultural exchange than began around 800 BC. Dialogue between the Greek states and Phoenicia, for example, broadened the horizons of both nations and encourage the exploration of the Mediterranean. By the beginning of the Classical period, these states, settlements, and trading posts numbered in the hundreds, and became part of an extensive commercial network that involved all the advanced civilizations of the time. It is important to note that colonization in the Archaic Greek period was very different to how we understand colonization today. While the cities that sent out settlers to found new settlements may have held on to some of their trading posts, such as the Athenian trading posts in the Black Sea, the majority swiftly became independent, breaking from the mother cities. A example of this is Cyrene, which was founded by settlers from the island of Thera. Yet within a century of their founding, the colony had become fully independent of the metropolis, to the point where the Therans were coming to Cyrene for help. See Book 3 in Herodotus' /The Histories/ for more on this. Thus, unlike the British Empire, where colonies were firmly under the control of the mother nation, Archaic Greek colonies were much more independent.

The current theory on colonization is more revisionist than its predecessor outlined above. This is due new sources that have become available to us, such as an Assyrian letter from the governor of Samsimuruna (close to city Sidon, today Lebanon), found in Nimrud/Kalhu (the Assyrian capital) to Assyrian king Tiglat-Pileser III (744-727 BC), that indicate an early age of colonization that was not Greek-based, as has been previously thought. Another problem that has been raised recently by scholars is the motivation behind colonization. Many now believe that the colonies set up took many years to evolve in to what we would call settlements, going through many aborted attempts and years of immigration to the colony. This rethink has come about due to archaeological finds in the Bay of Naples, at a settlement called Pithekoussai. This settlement was rebuilt around a century after its foundation, with a new street layout being apparent from the excavation. The new theory essential says that, rather than colonization being a deliberate and concerted policy of the emerging Greek city states, it was far more haphazard and scattered, and tries grant more credit to the Near Eastern civilizations of Assyria and Phoenicia. The difference between the initial trading post and the later colony is well demonstrated by the settlement at Pithekoussai, taking over a century to be developed to what we call a colony.

In the Archaic period, the growth of culture was not coherent, but fragmented across the peninsula, depending on the city-state, they developed separate cultures. Thanks to increasing international trade and relations however, culture spread across the Greek world. The key early developments in culture in the Archaic period happened in Ionia (Asia Minor), such as the islands of Miletus and Samos. The birth of Western philosophy occurred in Miletus with the philosopher and thinker Thales, and early literary output, such as the Homeric epics and the poetry of Hesiod, began in Ionia. Sculpture almost began to emerge in the Archaic period. Sculptural forms such as the /kouros, /a statue of a male youth , and its female equivalent the /kore/, originated in this period. These /kouroi/ were inspired by Egyptian sculpture of the time, following a set pattern of artistic devices, the figures were formulaic and although admirable, they were unrealistic and severe. It was development of these original statues that lead to the artistic peak of classical sculpture. Elsewhere, pottery from this period advanced the simple Geometric Style to a more Oriental style, another example of the benefits in increasing trade and international contact, thanks to accumulating influences from Phoenicia and Syria. Black figure painting of the later Archaic, and the red figure painting of the 6^th century found in Corinth and Argos, shows the development of a culture becoming more and more advanced at at ease with itself.

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