Greece Early History

By | December 31, 2021

Early period (until around 800 BC): The scene of Greek history in the broader sense is the entire area of ​​the Mediterranean world settled by the Greeks, in the narrower sense the peninsula called “Hellas” by the Greeks, “Graecia” by the Romans, the associated Greek-populated islands and the islands of the Aegean Sea. Here migrated since the late 3rd millennium BC. Indo-European tribes (Aegean migration) and mixed with the Mediterranean pre-population of the Karer, Leleg and Pelasger. They first founded the Middle Helladic culture (Helladic culture), then from around 1600 under the influence of Minoan Crete (Minoan culture) the late Helladic or Mycenaean culture (also Aegean culture).

At that time, larger territorial rulers evidently emerged with fortified centers (Mycenae, Pylos, Argos, Athens, Thebes) and a developed administration (clay tablet archives in the Greek linear script B). The early Greeks, who bore the name Achaeans (Achaeans), also spread to Crete and put an end to the Minoan culture there. The early Greeks also settled on other islands in the Aegean Sea, on Cyprus and on the west and south coasts of Asia Minor.

The Mycenaean culture found its end around 1200, probably also due to the invasion of the Sea Peoples. In the 12th century, the Dorians immigrated via Thessaly and the Gulf of Corinth (Doric migration). They settled large parts of central Greece and the Peloponnese (only remnants of the early Greeks were found in Arcadia) and also occupied the islands of Crete, Rhodes and Kos as well as the southwest of Asia Minor. At the same time, the Aeolians and the Ionians were partly driven to Asia Minor (1st Greek colonization). In the dark centuries that followed (around 1200–800 BC) the Greek people received their final form. The Greek dialects developed as well as a common religion and a common myth, which was initially passed down orally in individual songs before it was first summarized in Homer’s epics in the 8th century.

The archaic period (around 800–500 BC) was shaped by the Greek nobility, who derived their descent from gods or heroes and whose extensive property allowed them a knightly way of life. The cross-community relations of the Greek nobility led to a culturally shaped Greek national consciousness (the name »Hellenes« for all Greeks is first attested to around 700 BC) and promoted the development of Dodona, Delphi and Olympia to common Greek sanctuaries.

At the same time, among the nobility, who had politically disempowered kingship almost everywhere (except in Sparta and Cyrene), the municipal state of the polis with annual officials (prytans, archons), council (bule) and people’s assembly (ekklesia) emerged. The nobility also took the lead in the great Greek colonization that opened up almost all of the coasts of the Mediterranean and Black Sea to Greek colonization. The shifts in property that occurred in the wake of colonization and trade, as well as the training of hoplite tactics (hoplite) led since the 7th century to an intensification of the differences between the nobility and the people, which enforced the codification of the legal norms that had been handed down orally up to then: laws of Zaleukos in Lokroi (today Locri, Calabria), of Charondas in Katane (today Catania, Sicily), the Drakon and the Solon in Athens. There Solon also carried out a debt repayment in 594 and replaced the ruling pure blood aristocracy with a timocratic four-class system based on wealth differences (timocracy).

In Sparta in the 6th century, under the influence of the ephors, the privileges of the nobility were restricted in favor of the community of equals (Homoioi) who were prepared for warrior life through common upbringing and common meals. Elsewhere, the antagonism between the nobility and the people led to the appearance of tyrants who exploited social injustices to create a personal power (e.g. Peisistratos in Athens, Kleisthenes in Sikyon, Theagenes in Megara). The archaic period is characterized by the wide spread of political and cultural activities, with the East initially being the leader, spiritually and economically (oldest coins in Lydia and Ionia in the 7th century). Here the Aeolians, Ionians and Dorians had united in alliances of cities, but nevertheless fell under foreign sovereignty, first the Lydians, then 546 the Persians, who installed or promoted tyrants in the cities. The leading city was Miletus with the famous Apollo shrine at Didyma, the home of the philosophers Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes as well as the geographer Hekataios. Of the very numerous colonies of Miletus, v. a. Abydos on the Hellespont and Amisos on the Black Sea, Sinope (Sinop), Trebizond, Odessos (Varna), Olbia at the mouth of the Dnieper, Istros at the mouth of the Danube and Pantikapaion (Kerch). In addition to Miletus, Ephesus, the home of Heraclitus, particularly flourished with its world-famous Temple of Artemis.

The rich Smyrna was already around 600 BC. Destroyed by the Lydians. The Ionian Phokaia became very wealthy through trade with Spain and founded the colony of Massalia (Marseille) on the coast of Gaul around 600. Of the islands, Chios was considered the birthplace of Homer, Lesbos gained fame through Alkaios, Sappho and Pittakos, Samos through its tyrant Polycrates. In the motherland next to Thessaly, where the noble Aleuads ruled in Larisa, the Scopades in Krannon and the Echekratids in Pharsalus, v. a. Thebes, the home of Pindar to name, which gained hegemony over Boeotia in the 6th century. The ore-rich trading town of Chalkis on Evia founded numerous colonies in the west, such as Kyme (Cumae) and Rhegion (today Reggio di Calabria) in southern Italy and Zankle (Messina), Katane, Naxos and Leontinoi in Sicily. Corinth, which gained great power under the tyrants Kypselus and Periander (around 620-550 BC), also had numerous colonies, for example on the Adriatic. Leukas, Ambrakia (Arta) and Apollonia, also the island of Korkyra (Corfu), in Sicily Syracuse and on the Chalkidike Potidaia. Under his tyrant Pheidon Argos also gained greater power at times. In southern Italy, Sybaris held a hegemonic position until his fall (510 BC).

Sparta and Athens held a special position. The Spartans were finally able to win Messenia in the 7th century and thus had the largest land area of ​​a Greek polis (about 8,400 km 2, two fifths of the Peloponnese). In the 6th century they also achieved hegemony in the Peloponnese through the establishment of the Peloponnesian League. The Spartan government was in the hands of the small stratum of full Spartan citizens (originally around 10,000) on whom the citizens of the laconic country towns, the Periöks (around 50,000), were politically dependent. V. a. the serf helots (about 150,000). The population pressure in Sparta, which made the conquest of Messenia possible, eased as early as the 6th century. Since full citizenship was tied to a certain land ownership (Kleros, Doric Klaros), the fear of property sharing led to a decrease in the number of children. War losses and the consequences of the severe earthquake of 464 BC The number of full citizens decreased further, so that in the 4th century measures against the decline in the birth rate were taken in vain. In order to maintain their master position, the Spartans isolated themselves more and more from the outside world. The lively cultural life of the 7th and early 6th centuries (the poets Terpandros, Alkman, Tyrtaios and Stesichoros worked in Sparta at that time) gave way since the middle of the 6th century to an intensification of pre-military training in youth education and community life, which made Sparta a single army camp (according to Plato).

With Attica, Athens possessed the second largest territory of a Greek polis (together with Salamis 2,650 km 2; the territories of the other Greek states as a rule did not even reach 1,000 km 2). After Solon’s archon, the size of the Attic territory favored the formation of regional groups under the leadership of individual nobles. Finally, around 560, Peisistratos was able to establish a tyranny, which he asserted after being expelled twice and in 527 bequeathed to his sons Hippias and Hipparchus (Hipparchus). After the elimination of Hipparchus by the murderers Harmodios and Aristogeiton 514 and the expulsion of Hippias 510, Kleisthenes 508/507 carried out a reorganization of the state, which allowed all rural communities (Demen) of Attica to send their representatives directly to the newly created Council of Five Hundred. The ten new Attic phyls, which were newly established in place of the four old gentilian phyls, one third each from the area around Athens, the coastal and inland areas, eliminated the regional differences and became the basis of the new military order, with Athens becoming the strongest power Central Greece made.

Greece Early History