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History of Ancient Greece. Archaic period. (General overview)

Early Greece

The turn of the III-II millennium BC is the most important stage in the history of Europe. It is then that societies divided into classes arise in the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula and on the adjacent islands.

Around 2500 BC, large metallurgical centers were established on many islands of the Aegean Sea and on the mainland. Significant progress is observed in the ceramic industry, where the potter’s wheel was used. Thanks to the development of navigation, contacts between different regions are being strengthened, and technical and cultural innovations are spreading. Equally tangible was the progress in agriculture associated with the creation of a new multicultural type (the so-called Mediterranean triad), which is based on the cultivation of cereals, primarily barley, grapes and olives. The proximity of the ancient civilizations of the Near East also had a great influence on the development of this region.

Painted vessel from the Old Palace in Festus. Around the XIX-XVIII centuries BC.

Painted vessel from the Old Palace in Festus. Around the XIX-XVIII centuries BC.

The initial stages of the formation of class society and the state in this region have not yet been sufficiently studied, and this is mainly due to the fact that researchers have relatively few sources at their disposal. Archaeological materials related to this period can not illuminate the political history, the nature of social relations, and the oldest writing system that appeared in Crete (the so-called linear letter A) has not yet been deciphered. Later, the Greeks of the Balkan Peninsula adapted this letter to their language (the so-called linear letter B). It was only deciphered in 1953 by the English scientists M. Ventris and J. R. R. Tolkien. Chadwick. But all texts are documents of economic reporting, and therefore the amount of information reported by them is limited. Certain information about the society of the second millennium BC was preserved by the famous Greek poems “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey”, as well as some myths. However, it is difficult to interpret these sources historically, since the reality in them is artistically transformed, ideas and realities of different times are fused together, and it is extremely difficult to isolate what undoubtedly belongs to the second millennium BC.

According to some researchers, it is quite possible that the first centers of statehood appear on the Balkan Peninsula in the middle of the III millennium BC. But the process of establishing a class society and statehood in the southern part of the Balkan region was interrupted by the invasion of tribes from the north. Around the XXII century BC. e. there were actually Greek tribes who called themselves Achaeans or Danae. The old, pre-Greek population, whose ethnicity is not established, was partially displaced or destroyed by the newcomers, partially assimilated. The conquerors were at a lower level of development, and this fact affected a certain difference in the fate of the two parts of the region: the mainland and the island of Crete. Crete was not affected by this process and therefore for several centuries represented the zone of the most rapid socio-economic, political and cultural progress.

Fresco from the Palace of Knossos. Around the XV century BC.

Fresco from the Palace of Knossos. Around the XV century BC.

Minoan Civilization

The Bronze Age civilization that originated in Crete is usually called Minoan. This name was given to it by the English archaeologist a. Evans, who first discovered the monuments of this civilization during the excavations of the palace in Knossos. Greek mythological tradition considered Knossos to be the residence of King Minos, the powerful ruler of Crete and many other islands of the Aegean. Here, Queen Pasiphae gave birth to a Minotaur (half-human, half-wolf), for whom Daedalus built a labyrinth in Knossos.

In the second half of the III — beginning of the II millennium BC, apparently, all the land suitable for agriculture — the leading branch of the economy of Crete-was developed. An important role, in all probability, was played by cattle breeding. Significant progress was observed in the craft. The growth of labor productivity, the creation of excess product led to the fact that part of it could be used in intercommunal exchange. For Crete, this was of particular importance, since the island lay at the crossroads of ancient sea routes.

Rhyton in the form of a bull's head from the Small Palace in Knossos. XVI century BC.

Rhyton in the form of a bull’s head from the Small Palace in Knossos. XVI century BC.

At the turn of the third and second millennium BC, the first states appeared in Crete. In the beginning, there were four of them with centers-palaces in Knossos, Festus, Mallia, Kato-Zakro. It is the appearance of palaces that testifies to the class character of society and the development of statehood.

The era of the “palace civilization” in Crete spans approximately 600 years: from 2000 to 1400 BC.Around 1700 BC, the palaces were destroyed. According to some scientists, this was caused by natural disasters (most likely, a grand earthquake), while others see it as the result of social conflicts, a consequence of the struggle of the masses. However, the disaster that broke out briefly delayed development. Soon, in place of the destroyed palaces, new ones appeared, surpassing the old ones in monumentality and luxury.

We know a little more about the era of the “new palaces”. Well-researched, for example, the four palaces mentioned above, a number of settlements, necropolises. The best studied is the Knossos palace excavated by A. Evans — a grandiose structure on a common platform (about 1 ha). Although only one floor has survived to our time, it is quite clear that the building was two-and possibly three-story. The palace had an excellent water supply and sewerage system, terracotta baths in special rooms, well-thought-out ventilation and lighting. Many household items are made at a high artistic level, some of them are made of precious metals. The walls of the palace were decorated with magnificent paintings that reproduced the surrounding nature or scenes from the life of its inhabitants. Most of the basement floor was occupied by storerooms, which stored wine, olive oil, grain, local handicrafts, as well as goods from distant countries. The palace also housed craft workshops, where jewelers, potters, and vase painters worked.

Statue of the goddess with snakes from the Palace of Knossos. XVII century BC.

Statue of the goddess with snakes from the Palace of Knossos. XVII century BC.

The question of the social and political organization of Cretan society is solved by scientists in different ways, but based on the available data, it can be assumed that the basis of the economic life of the state was the palace economy. The Cretan society of the heyday was probably a theocracy: in one person, the functions of the king and the high priest were combined. Slaves had already appeared, but their numbers remained small.

The apogee of the Minoan civilization falls on the XVI-first half of the XV century BC. At the beginning of this period, the whole of Crete is united under the rule of the Knossos lords. Greek legend considers King Minos the first “lord of the sea” — he built a large fleet, destroyed piracy and established his rule in the Aegean Sea. At the end of the XV century BC, Crete was hit by a catastrophe that dealt a fatal blow to the Minoan civilization. Apparently, it was caused by a huge volcanic eruption on the island of Tira. Most of the settlements and palaces were destroyed. Taking advantage of this, the Achaeans invaded the island from the Balkans. From the advanced center of the Mediterranean, Crete becomes a province of Achaean Greece.

Achaean Civilization

The heyday of the civilization of Achaean Greece comes in the XV-XIII centuries BC. e. The center of this civilization was, obviously, Argolis. Expanding, it then covered the entire Peloponnese, Central Greece (Attica, Boeotia, Phocis), a significant part of Northern Greece (Thessaly), as well as many islands of the Aegean Sea.

As in Crete, palaces played an important role in the life of society. The most significant of them are found in Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Athens, Thebes, Orchomenus, and Iolcus. But the Achaean palaces are very different from the Cretan ones: they are all powerful citadels. The most impressive example is the citadel of Tiryns, whose walls are made of huge blocks of limestone, sometimes reaching 12 tons in weight. The thickness of the walls exceeded 4.5 m, and the height only in the preserved part — 7.5 m.

A young man with fish. A mural from the island of Tyre. XVI century BC.

A young man with fish. A mural from the island of Tyre. XVI century BC.

Like the Cretan palaces, the Achaean palaces have the same layout, but they are characterized by a clear symmetry. The best studied by archaeologists is the Pylos Palace. It was two-storeyed and consisted of several dozen rooms: ceremonial, sacred, chambers of the king and queen, their households: warehouses where grain, wine, olive oil, household items were stored; utility rooms. An important part of the palace was the arsenal with a supply of weapons. The palace had an established water supply and sewerage system. The walls of many rooms were decorated with murals, often with battle scenes.

Of exceptional importance for the history of the second millennium BC are the results of excavations begun by Greek archaeologists in 1967 on the island of Tyre — the southernmost of the Cycladic Islands. Under a layer of volcanic ash, the remains of a city that died in a volcanic eruption were found here. Excavations revealed cobbled streets, large buildings, from which the second and even third floors with stairs leading to them have been preserved. The paintings on the walls of the buildings are striking: blue monkeys, stylized antelopes, two struggling boys, one of them wearing a special glove. Against the background of red, yellow and green rocks covered with grass and moss, red lilies on yellow stems and swallows flying above them. Apparently, this is how the artist painted the picture of the arrival of spring, and the painting gives an opportunity to judge what this blooming island looked like before it was struck by disaster. The houses in which the Tyrenians of that time lived and on which ships they sailed can be judged from another painting, which obviously depicts a panorama of the city and the sea with many ships.

Achaean economy

Boxing children. A mural from the island of Tyre. XVI century BC.

Boxing children. A mural from the island of Tyre. XVI century BC.

The basis of the economic structure of Achaean society was the palace economy, which included large craft workshops-for processing agricultural products, spinning and sewing, metallurgical and metalworking, manufacturing tools and weapons. The palace economy also controlled the main types of handicraft activities throughout the territory, metalworking was under particularly strict control.

The owner of the land, as follows from the documents of the Pylos archive, was the palace. All land was divided into two categories: privately owned and communal. The lowest level of society was made up of slaves, but there were relatively few of them, and they belonged mainly to the palace. Slaves differed in their position, and there was no clear boundary between slaves and freemen. An important social group consisted of formally free community members. They had their own plots of land, a house, and a farm, but they were economically and politically dependent on the palace. The ruling stratum included, first of all, a developed bureaucratic apparatus — central and local. At the head of the state was the king (“vanaka”), who had political and sacred functions.

Political developments

The political history of Achaean Greece is poorly known. Some scholars write about a single Achaean power under the hegemony of Mycenae. However, it is more correct to assume that each palace is the center of an independent state, between which military conflicts often arose. This, however, did not exclude the possibility of a temporary unification of the Achaean kingdoms. Apparently, this was the case during the campaign to Troy, the events of which formed the basis of the” Iliad “and”Odyssey”. It is possible that the Trojan War is one of the episodes of a broad colonization movement that began in the second half of the second millennium BC. Achaean settlements appeared on the western and southern coasts of Asia Minor, the islands of Rhodes and Cyprus were actively settled, and Achaean trading posts were opened in Sicily and Southern Italy. The Achaeans participated in that powerful onslaught on the coastal countries of the Front East, which is usually called the movement of the “sea peoples”.

Golden funerary mask from Mycenae. XVI century BC.

Golden funerary mask from Mycenae. XVI century BC.

In the XIII century BC, the prosperous Achaean states began to feel the approach of terrible events. In many places, new fortifications are being built and old ones are being repaired. According to archaeological excavations, the disaster broke out at the very end of the XIII century BC. Almost all the palaces and most of the settlements were destroyed. The agony of the Achaean civilization lasted for about a hundred years, and at the end of the XII century BC, the last Achaean palace in Iolca perished. The population was partially destroyed, partially entrenched in poorly habitable areas, and even emigrated from the country altogether.

Scientists have long been looking for the reasons for these fatal events in the history of Greece. There are a number of hypotheses that explain the destruction of the Achaean civilization. The most convincing, in our opinion, is the following. At the end of the XIII century BC, northern peoples, including the Dorian Greeks, as well as other tribes, moved to Greece. Mass migration, however, did not occur at that time, and only later did the Dorians gradually begin to penetrate the devastated territory. The old Achaean population survived only in some areas, such as Attica. Driven out of Greece, the Achaeans spread eastward, occupying the islands of the Aegean Sea, the western coast of Asia Minor, and Cyprus.

The Dark Ages of Greece

Lady with a necklace. A mural from Mycenae. XIII century BC.

Lady with a necklace. A mural from Mycenae. XIII century BC.

XI-IX centuries BC in the history of Greece, scientists call the dark ages. The main sources of this period are archaeological materials and the epic poems ” The Iliad “and”The Odyssey”. The poems describe the campaign of the Achaeans near Troy, the capture of the city and the return home after many adventures of one of the heroes of the Trojan War — Odysseus. Thus, the main content of the poems should reflect the life of the Achaean society at the very end of its heyday. But Homer himself, apparently, lived already in the VIII century BC. e. and many realities, life and relations of the past were poorly known. Moreover, he perceived the events of the past through the prism of his time. Finally, it is necessary to take into account the general features of the epic: hyperbolization, certain stereotypes in the stories about the heroes and their life, deliberate archaization.

During this period, the main occupation of the Greek population was still agriculture. Apparently, most of the cultivated land was occupied by cereals, gardening and winemaking played an important role; olives continued to be one of the leading crops. Cattle breeding also developed. Judging by Homer’s poems, cattle acted as the “universal equivalent”. Thus, in the Iliad, a large tripod is valued at twelve bulls, and a skilled craftswoman is valued at four bulls.

The birth of the foundations of Greek society

Important changes took place in handicraft production, primarily in metallurgy and metalworking. It is then that iron begins to be widely used. The development of this metal, the production process of which was simpler in comparison with bronze, had huge consequences. There was no need for the production cooperation of a number of families, and there were opportunities for the economic independence of the patriarchal family, centralized production, storage and distribution of iron ceased to justify itself, and the economic need for a bureaucratic apparatus characteristic of all the Achaean states disappeared.

The leading figure in the Greek economy was the free farmer. The situation was somewhat different in areas where the Dorian conquerors had subdued the local Achaean population, such as Sparta. The Dorians conquered the Eurota Valley and made the local population dependent on them.

Silver rhyton in the form of a bull's head from Mycenae. XVI century BC.

Silver rhyton in the form of a bull’s head from Mycenae. XVI century BC.

The main form of organization of the society was the polis as a special form of community. The citizens of the polis were the heads of the patriarchal families that were part of it. Each family represented an economically independent unit, which also determined their political equality. Although the nascent nobles sought to put the community under their control, the process was still far from complete. The Polis-community performed two important functions:

protection of land and population from the claims of neighbors
regulation of intra-community relations.
Only such polis as Sparta, where there was a subdued population, in this era acquired the features of primitive state formations.

Thus, by the end of the period under review, Greece was a world of hundreds of small and minute polises-communities that united peasant farmers. It was a world where the main economic unit was the patriarchal family, economically independent and almost independent, with a simple way of life, the absence of external relations, a world where the top of society had not yet sharply distinguished itself from the main mass of the population, where the exploitation of man by man was just beginning. With primitive forms of social organization, there were no forces yet capable of forcing the bulk of the producers to give up the surplus product. But this was precisely the economic potency of Greek society, which was revealed in the next historical epoch and ensured its rapid rise.

Archaic Greece

The archaic period in the history of Greece is usually called the VIII-VI centuries BC. According to some researchers, this is the time of the most intensive development of ancient society. Indeed, over the course of three centuries, many important discoveries were made that determined the nature of the technical basis of ancient society, and those socio-economic and political phenomena developed that gave ancient society a certain specificity in comparison with other slave-owning societies:

  • classic slavery;
  • money circulation and market system;
  • the main form of political organization is the polis;
  • the concept of the sovereignty of the people and the democratic form of government.

At the same time, the main ethical norms and principles of morality, aesthetic ideals, were developed, which influenced the ancient world throughout its history until the emergence of Christianity. Finally, during this period, the main phenomena of ancient culture were born:

  • philosophy and science,
  • the main genres of literature,
  • theater,
  • order architecture,
  • sports.

In order to better understand the dynamics of the development of society in the archaic period, we will give such a comparison:

Around 800 BC, the Greeks lived in a limited area of the south of the Balkan Peninsula, the islands of the Aegean Sea and the western coast of Asia Minor. Around 500 BC, they already occupy the shores of the Mediterranean from Spain to the Levant and from Africa to the Crimea.
Around 800 BC, Greece is essentially a village world, a world of self-supporting small communities. By 500 BC, Greece has a mass of small cities with local markets, monetary relations powerfully invade the economy, trade relations cover the entire Mediterranean, objects of exchange are not only luxury goods,but also everyday goods.
Around 800 BC, Greek society is a simple, primitive social structure with a predominance of the peasantry, a little different aristocracy, and a negligible number of slaves. Around 500 BC, Greece has already experienced an era of great social changes, the slave of the classical type becomes one of the main elements of the social structure, along with the peasantry there are other socio-professional groups; various forms of political organization are known: monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy, aristocratic and democratic republics.
In 800 BC, Greece still has almost no temples, theaters, stadiums. In 500 BC, Greece is a country with many beautiful public buildings, the ruins of which still delight us today. Lyrical poetry, tragedy, comedy, and natural philosophy arise and develop.

The disintegration of old traditional relationships and the emergence of new ones

The rapid rise prepared by the previous development, the spread of iron tools, had diverse consequences for society. The increase in labor productivity in agriculture and handicrafts led to an increase in excess product. An increasing number of people were released from the agricultural sphere, which ensured the rapid growth of the craft. The separation of the agricultural and handicraft sectors of the economy led to a regular exchange between them, the emergence of a market and a universal equivalent-a minted coin. A new kind of wealth — money-begins to compete with the old-land ownership, breaking up traditional relationships.

Hero and centaur. A statuette from Olympia. Bronze. VIII century BC.

Hero and centaur. A statuette from Olympia. Bronze. VIII century BC.

As a result, there is a rapid decomposition of primitive communal relations and the formation of new forms of socio-economic and political organization of society. This process takes place in different ways in different parts of Hellas, but everywhere it leads to the brewing of social conflicts between the emerging aristocracy and the ordinary population, first of all the peasants-community members, and then other layers.

The formation of the Greek aristocracy is usually attributed by modern researchers to the VIII century BC. The aristocracy of that time is a limited group of people who are characterized by a special, mandatory way of life and a system of values. It occupied a predominant position in the sphere of public life, especially in the administration of justice, and played a leading role in war, since only noble warriors had heavy weapons, and therefore battles were essentially duels of aristocrats. The aristocracy sought to completely put the ordinary members of society under its control, to turn them into an exploited mass. According to modern researchers, the attack of the aristocracy on ordinary citizens began in the VIII century BC.e. Little is known about the details of this process, but its main results can be judged by the example of Athens, where the strengthening of the influence of the aristocracy led to the creation of a clearly formed class structure, to a gradual reduction of the free peasantry and an increase in the number of dependent people.

“The Great Greek Colonization»

This situation is closely related to such a phenomenon of great historical significance as the”great Greek colonization”. Beginning in the middle of the eighth century BC, the Greeks were forced to leave their homeland and move to other countries.

Over three centuries, they have created many colonies on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Colonization developed in three main directions:

  • western (Sicily, Southern Italy, Southern France, and even the eastern coast of Spain),
  • northern (the Thracian coast of the Aegean Sea, the area of the straits leading from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, and its coast),
  • south-east (the coast of North Africa and the Levant).

Modern researchers believe that its main incentive was the lack of land. Greece suffered both from absolute agrarian overpopulation (an increase in population due to the general economic recovery) and from relative overpopulation (a lack of land among the poorest peasants due to the concentration of land ownership in the hands of the nobility). The reasons for colonization also include the political struggle, which usually reflected the main social contradiction of the era — the struggle for land, as a result of which the defeated in the civil war were often forced to leave their homeland and move across the sea. There were also trade motives: the desire of the Greeks to control the trade routes.

Moschophor ("the bearer of the calf"). Acropolis. Athens. Around 570 BC.

Moschophor (“the bearer of the calf”). Acropolis. Athens. Around 570 BC.

The pioneers of Greek colonization were the cities of Chalcis and Eretria located on the island of Euboea – in the VIII century BC, apparently, the most advanced cities in Greece, the most important centers of metallurgical production. Later, Corinth, Megara, and the cities of Asia Minor, especially Miletus, were included in the colonization.

Colonization had a huge impact on the development of ancient Greek society, especially in the economic sphere. The inability to establish the necessary branches of craft in the new place led to the fact that very soon the colonies established the closest economic ties with the old centers of the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor. From here, both in the colonies and to the local population, neighboring with them, began to receive products of Greek craft, especially artistic, as well as some types of agricultural products (the best wines, olive oil, etc.). In return, the colonies supplied Greece with grain and other foodstuffs, as well as raw materials (timber, metal, etc.). As a result, the Greek craft received an impetus for further development, and agriculture began to acquire a commercial character. Thus, colonization muted the social conflicts in Greece, bringing out the mass of the landless population and at the same time contributing to the change of the social and economic structure of Greek society.

Changes in the socio-political situation

The aristocracy’s offensive against the rights of demos reached its climax in the seventh century BC, provoking a counter-resistance. In Greek society, a special social stratum of people appears, who have acquired, most often through craft and trade, considerable wealth, led an aristocratic lifestyle, but did not have the hereditary privileges of the nobility. “Money is held in high esteem by everyone. Wealth has mixed the breeds, ” the poet Theognidus of Megara notes bitterly. This new stratum eagerly sought to govern, thereby becoming an ally of the peasants in the struggle with the nobility. The first successes in this struggle were most often associated with the establishment of written laws that limited the arbitrariness of the aristocracy.

The so-called Dipilon head. Athens. Around 600 BC.

The so-called Dipilon head. Athens. Around 600 BC.

Resistance to the growing dominance of the nobility was facilitated by at least three circumstances. Around 675-600 BC, thanks to technological progress, there is a kind of revolution in military affairs. Heavy armor becomes available to ordinary citizens, and the aristocracy loses its advantage in the military sphere. Due to the scarcity of the country’s natural resources, the Greek aristocracy could not match the aristocracy of the East. Due to the peculiarities of historical development in Iron Age Greece, there were no economic institutions (similar to the temple farms of the East) that could be used to exploit the peasantry. Even the peasants who were dependent on the aristocrats were not economically connected with the farms of the latter. All this predetermined the fragility of the rule of the nobility in society. Finally, the force that prevented the strengthening of the position of the aristocrats was their ethics. It had an “atonal” (competitive) character: every aristocrat, in accordance with the ethical norms inherent in this stratum, sought to be the first everywhere-on the battlefield, in sports, in politics. This system of values was created by the nobility earlier and transferred to a new historical period, when it required the unity of all forces to ensure dominance. However, the aristocracy could not achieve this.

The emergence of tyranny

The aggravation of social conflicts in the VII-VI centuries BC led to the birth of tyranny in many Greek cities, i.e., the sole power of the ruler.

At that time, the concept of “tyranny” did not yet have the negative connotation inherent in it today. The tyrants pursued an active foreign policy, created powerful armed forces, decorated and improved their cities. However, the early tyranny as a regime could not last long. The historical doom of tyranny was explained by its internal contradictions. The overthrow of the rule of the nobility and the struggle against it were impossible without the support of the masses. The peasantry, which benefited from this policy, initially supported the tyrants, but when the threat from the aristocracy weakened, they gradually came to realize the uselessness of a tyrannical regime.

One of the heads of a mythological monster. The pediment of the Hecatotmpedon on the Acropolis of Athens. Painted limestone. Around 570 BC.

One of the heads of a mythological monster. The pediment of the Hecatotmpedon on the Acropolis of Athens. Painted limestone. Around 570 BC.

Tyranny was not a stage characteristic of the life of all polis. It was most typical for those cities that had already become major trade and craft centers in the Archaic era. The process of forming a classical polis due to the relative abundance of sources is best known to us in the example of Athens.

Athens option

The history of Athens in the archaic era is the history of the formation of a democratic polis. The monopoly on political power in the period under review belonged here to the Eupatrid nobility, which gradually turned ordinary citizens into a dependent mass. This process already in the VII century BC led to outbreaks of social conflicts.

Radical changes occur at the beginning of the VI century BC, and they are associated with the reforms of Solon. The most important of these was the so-called sisakhfiya (“shaking off the burden”). As a result of this reform, the peasants, who had become essentially passive tenants of their own land because of their debts, regained their status as owners. At the same time, it was forbidden to enslave the Athenians for debt. Of great importance were the reforms that undermined the political dominance of the nobility. From now on, the scope of political rights depended not on the nobility, but on the size of the property (all citizens of the polis were divided into four property categories). In accordance with this division, the military organization of Athens was also rebuilt. A new governing body, the council (bule), was created, and the importance of the People’s Assembly increased.

Bronze figure of a horseman. VI century BC.

Bronze figure of a horseman. VI century BC.

Solon’s reforms, despite their radical nature, did not solve all the problems. The aggravation of the social struggle in Athens led in 560 BC to the establishment of the tyranny of Pisistratus and his sons, which lasted here intermittently until 510 BC. e. Pisistratus pursued an active foreign policy, strengthening the position of Athens on the sea trade routes. Craft flourished in the city, trade developed, and large-scale construction was carried out. Athens was becoming one of the largest economic centers of Hellas. Under the successors of Pisistratus, this regime fell, which again caused an aggravation of social contradictions. Shortly after 509 BC, under the leadership of Cleisthenes, a new series of reforms was carried out, which finally established the democratic system. The most important of them is the reform of the electoral law: from now on, all citizens, regardless of their property status, had equal political rights. The system of territorial division was changed, which destroyed the influence of the aristocrats on the ground.

Sparta variant

Sparta gives a different development option. Having captured Laconica and enslaved the local population, the Dorians already in the IX century BC created a state in Sparta. Born very early as a result of the conquest, it has retained many primitive features in its structure. Later, the Spartans in the course of two wars sought to conquer Messenia-the region in the west of the Peloponnese. The internal social conflict between the nobility and the ordinary citizens, which had already been brewing, broke out in Sparta during the Second Messenian War. In its main features, it resembled the conflicts that existed in other parts of Greece around the same time. The long struggle between the ordinary Spartiates and the aristocracy led to the reorganization of Spartan society. A system is being created, which at a later time was called Lycurgus, after the name of the legislator who allegedly established it. Of course, tradition simplifies the picture, because this system was not created immediately, but was formed gradually. After overcoming the internal crisis, Sparta was able to conquer Messenia and became the most powerful state in the Peloponnese and, perhaps, in all of Greece.

All the land in Laconica and Messenia was divided into equal plots — clera, which each spartiate received in temporary possession, after his death the land was returned to the state. Other measures also served to promote the full equality of the Spartiates:

  • a harsh system of education aimed at forming the ideal warrior;
  • the strictest regulation of all aspects of the life of citizens-the Spartiates lived as if they were in a military camp;p
  • rohibition to engage in agriculture, handicrafts and trade, to use gold and silver;
  • limiting contact with the outside world.
The tyrant-killers Harmodius and Aristogiton. A Roman copy from the original of the 5th century BC.

The tyrant-killers Harmodius and Aristogiton. A Roman copy from the original of the 5th century BC.

The political system was also reformed. Along with the kings, who served as military leaders, judges and priests, the council of elders (gerusia) and the people’s assembly (apella), a new governing body appeared — the college of the five ephors (overseers). The Ephorate was the supreme control body, ensuring that no one deviated from the principles of the Spartan system, which became the object of pride of the Spartiates, who believed that they had achieved the ideal of equality.

In historiography, there is a traditional view of Sparta as a militarized, militaristic state, and some authoritative experts even call it a “police” state. This definition has its own reason. The basis on which the “community of equals” was based, i.e., the collective of equal and full — fledged Spartiates, completely not engaged in productive labor, was the exploited mass of the enslaved population of Laconica and Messenia-helota. Scientists have been arguing for many years about how to determine the position of this segment of the population. Many people tend to consider Helots as state slaves. Helots owned plots of land, tools, and economic independence, but they were obliged to transfer a certain share of the crop to their owners-the Spartiates, ensuring their existence. According to the calculations of modern researchers, this share was approximately 1/6-1/4 of the crop. Deprived of all political rights, the helots belonged entirely to the state, which controlled not only their property, but also their lives. The slightest protest on the part of the Helots was severely punished.

In the Spartan polis, there was another social group — the Perieks (“living around”), descendants of the Dorians, who were not included in the citizens of Sparta. They lived in communities, had internal self-government under the supervision of Spartan officials, engaged in agriculture, crafts and trade. The Perieks were required to field military contingents. Similar social conditions and a close Spartan system are known in Crete, Argos, Thessaly, and other areas.

Archaic culture

Ethnic identity

Apollo of Piraeus. Bronze. Around 520 BC.

Apollo of Piraeus. Bronze. Around 520 BC.

Like all other spheres of life, Greek culture in the archaic era experienced rapid changes. In these centuries, the development of ethnic identity took place, the Greeks gradually began to realize themselves as a single people, different from other peoples, whom they began to call barbarians. Ethnic self-consciousness found its expression in some social institutions. According to Greek tradition, starting in 776 BC, the Olympic Games were organized, to which only Greeks were allowed.


In the archaic era, the main features of the ethics of ancient Greek society are formed. Its distinctive feature was the combination of the emerging sense of collectivism and the agonistic (competitive) principle. The formation of the polis as a special type of community, which replaced the loose associations of the” heroic ” era, also brought to life a new, polis morality-collectivist in its core, since the existence of the individual outside the framework of the polis was impossible. The military organization of the polis (the phalanx formation) also contributed to the development of this morality. The highest valor of a citizen was to defend his polis: “It is sweet to lose your life, among the valiant soldiers who fell, to a brave man in battle for the sake of his homeland” — these words of the Spartan poet Tirtheus perfectly expressed the mindset of the new era, describing the system of values that prevailed at that time. However, the new morality retained the principles of the morality of Homer’s time, with its leading principle of competition. The nature of political reforms in the polis led to the preservation of this morality, since it was not the aristocracy that was deprived of its rights, but ordinary citizenship was raised in terms of the scope of political rights to the level of the aristocracy. Because of this, the traditional ethics of the aristocracy spread among the masses, although in a modified form: the most important principle is who will best serve the polis.


Attic kouros. Mid-VI century BC.

Attic kouros. Mid-VI century BC.

Aristione stele by Aristocles. 510 BC

Aristione stele by Aristocles. 510 BC

Religion was also undergoing a certain transformation. The formation of a single Greek world, with all the local features, led to the creation of a common pantheon for all the Greeks. Evidence of this is the poem “Theogony”by Hesiod. The cosmogonic ideas of the Greeks were not fundamentally different from those of many other peoples. It was believed that initially there was Chaos, Earth (Gaia), the underworld (Tartarus) and Eros — the life principle. Gaia gave birth to the starry sky — Uranus, who became the first ruler of the world and the consort of Gaia. From Uranus and Gaia were born the second generation of gods-the Titans. The titan Kronos (god of agriculture) overthrew the power of Uranus. In turn, the children of Cronus-Hades, Poseidon, Zeus, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera – under the leadership of Zeus overthrew Cronus and seized power over the universe. Thus, the Olympian gods are the third generation of deities. The supreme deity was Zeus-the ruler of the sky, thunder and lightning. Poseidon was considered the god of moisture that irrigates the earth and the sea, Hades (Pluto) – the lord of the underworld. Zeus ‘ consort Hera was the patroness of marriage, and Hestia was the goddess of the hearth. As the patroness of agriculture, Demeter was revered, whose daughter Cora, once abducted by Hades, became his wife.

From the marriage of Zeus and Hera were born Hebe-the goddess of youth, Ares-the god of war, Hephaestus, who personified the volcanic fire hidden in the bowels of the earth, and also patronized artisans, especially blacksmiths. Among the descendants of Zeus, Apollo stood out-the god of the bright beginning in nature, often called Phoebus (Shining). According to the myths, he struck the dragon Python, and on the place where he performed his feat, and it was in Delphi, the Greeks built a temple in honor of Apollo. This god was considered the patron of the arts, a god-healer, but at the same time a deity who brought death, spreading epidemics; he later became a patron of colonization. The role of Apollo increases over time, and he begins to displace Zeus.
Apollo’s sister Artemis is the goddess of hunting and the patroness of youth. The functions of Hermes, originally the god of material wealth, then of commerce, the patron of deceivers and thieves, and finally the patron of speakers and athletes, are many-sided; Hermes also took the souls of the dead to the underworld. Dionysus (or Bacchus) was worshipped as the deity of the producing forces of nature, viticulture, and winemaking. Athena, born from the head of Zeus, was held in high esteem— the goddess of wisdom, of all rational principles, but also of war (unlike Ares, who personified reckless courage). Athena’s constant companion is the goddess of victory, Nika, and the owl is the symbol of Athena’s wisdom. Aphrodite, born from the sea foam, was worshipped as the goddess of love and beauty.
Votive tablet with a scene of sacrifice. Painting on wood. 540 BC.

Votive tablet with a scene of sacrifice. Painting on wood. 540 BC.

For the Greek religious consciousness, especially at this stage of development, the idea of the omnipotence of the deity is not characteristic, over the world of the Olympian gods reigned a faceless force — Fate (Ananka). Due to the political fragmentation and the lack of a priestly class, the Greeks did not have a single religion, and a large number of very close, but not identical, religious systems emerged. With the development of the polis worldview, ideas about the special connection of individual deities with a particular polis, of which they were the patrons, were formed. Thus, the goddess Athena is particularly closely associated with the city of Athens, Hera with Samos and Argos, Apollo and Artemis with Delos, Apollo with Delphi, Zeus with Olympia, etc.
The Greek worldview is characterized not only by polytheism, but also by the idea of the universal animateness of nature. Every natural phenomenon, every river, mountain, grove, had its own deity. From the point of view of the Greek,there was no insurmountable boundary between the world of men and the world of the gods, the intermediary link between them was the heroes. Such heroes as Hercules, for their exploits, joined the world of the gods. The gods of the Greeks were themselves anthropomorphic, they experienced human passions and could suffer like humans.


The bark in the peplos. 540 BC.

The bark in the peplos. 540 BC.

The archaic era is the time of the formation of architecture. The primacy of public, primarily sacred, architecture is indisputable. The dwellings of that time are simple and primitive, all the forces of society are turned to monumental structures, primarily temples. Among them, the temples of the patron gods of the community prevailed. The emerging sense of the unity of the civil collective found its expression in the creation of such temples, which were considered the abode of the gods. Early temples repeated the structure of the megaron II thousand BC. e. A new type of temple was born in Sparta — the oldest polis of Hellas. A characteristic feature of Greek architecture is the use of orders, i.e. a special system of construction that emphasizes the architectonics of the building, gives expressiveness to the load-bearing and load-bearing elements of the structure, revealing their function. The order building usually has a stepped base, it was placed on a series of supporting vertical pillars-columns that supported the supported parts-an entablature that reflected the structure of the beam ceiling and roof. Initially, the temples were built on the acropolis-fortified hills, ancient centers of settlements. Later, due to the general democratization of society, there are changes in the location of the temples. They are now erected in the lower city, most often on the agora, the main square that was the center of the social and business life of the polis.

The role of temples in Greek society

The temple as an institution contributed to the development of various types of art. Early on, the custom of offering gifts to the temple was established, a part of the loot captured from the enemy, weapons, offerings on the occasion of getting rid of danger, etc. were donated to him. A significant part of these gifts were works of art. An important role was played by the temples that gained all-Greek popularity, especially the temple of Apollo in Delphi. The rivalry of the first noble families, and then the polis, contributed to the fact that the best works of art were concentrated here, and the territory of the sanctuary became something like a museum.


Black-figure amphora. 540s BC

Black-figure amphora. 540s BC

In the archaic era, monumental sculpture appears — an art form previously unknown to Greece. The oldest sculptures were images roughly carved from wood, often inlaid with ivory and covered with sheets of bronze. Improvements in the technique of stone processing not only affected the architecture, but also led to the emergence of stone sculpture, and in the technique of metal processing – to the casting of sculpture from bronze. In the VII-VI centuries BC, two types of sculpture predominate: the naked male figure and the draped female figure. The birth of the statuesque type of the naked figure of a man is associated with the main trends in the development of society. The statue depicts a beautiful and valiant citizen, a winner in sports competitions, who glorified his native city. Tombstone statues and images of deities were made according to the same type. The appearance of the relief is mainly due to the custom of putting tombstones. Later reliefs in the form of complex multi-figure compositions became an indispensable part of the entablature of the temple. Statues and reliefs were usually painted.

Vase painting

Greek monumental painting is much less well known than vase painting. On the example of the latter, the main trends in the development of art are best traced: the emergence of realistic principles, the interaction of local art and influences that came from the East. In the seventh and early sixth centuries BC, Corinthian and Rhodian vases with colorful paintings of the so — called carpet style prevailed. They usually depicted plant ornaments and various animals and fantastic creatures arranged in a row. In the VI century BC. in the vase painting, the black-figure style prevails: the figures painted over with black varnish stood out sharply against the reddish background of the clay. Murals on black-figure vases often represented multi-figure compositions on mythological subjects: various episodes from the life of the Olympian gods, the exploits of Hercules, the Trojan War were popular. Less often there were scenes related to the daily life of people: the battle of hoplites, competitions of athletes, scenes of a feast, a round dance of girls, etc.
Black-figure amphora. 550s BC Greece

Black-figure amphora. 550s BC Greece

Since the individual images were made in the form of black silhouettes against the clay, they give the impression of flat. Vases made in different cities have only their own characteristics. The black-figure style reached a special flourish in Athens. Attic black-figure vases were distinguished by the elegance of their forms, high technique of production, and variety of subjects. Some vase painters signed their paintings, and thanks to this we know, for example, the name of Clytius, who painted a magnificent wine vessel (crater): the painting consists of several belts, on which multi-figure compositions are presented. Another magnificent example of the painting is kilik Exekiya. The vase-painter occupied the entire round surface of the wine bowl with a single scene: the god Dionysus reclines on a ship sailing under a white sail, vines twine near the mast, and heavy bunches hang down. Seven dolphins dive around, which, according to the myth, Dionysus turned into Tyrrhenian pirates.

Alphabetic writing and Philosophy

The greatest achievement of the Greek culture of the archaic era was the creation of alphabetic writing. By transforming the Phoenician syllabic system, the Greeks created a simple way to capture information. In order to learn to write and count, now it did not take years of hard work, there was a “democratization” of the education system, which gradually made it possible to make almost all free residents of Greece literate. Thus, knowledge was “secularized”, which was one of the reasons for the lack of a priestly class in Greece and helped to increase the spiritual potential of society as a whole.
Black-figure dinos. 510-500 BC Black-figure dinos. 510-500 BC

Black-figure dinos. 510-500 BC Black-figure dinos. 510-500 BC

The archaic era is associated with a phenomenon of exceptional importance for European culture — the emergence of philosophy. Philosophy is a fundamentally new approach to the knowledge of the world, sharply different from the one that prevailed in the Near East and in Greece of an earlier period. The transition from religious and mythological ideas about the world to a philosophical understanding of it meant a qualitative leap in the intellectual development of mankind. The formulation and formulation of problems, the reliance on the human mind as a means of cognition, the orientation to the search for the causes of everything that happens in the world itself, and not outside it — this is what essentially distinguishes the philosophical approach to the world from the religious and mythological views.
In the modern scientific literature, there are two main views on the emergence of philosophy.
  1. According to one, the birth of philosophy is derived from the development of science; the quantitative accumulation of positive knowledge has resulted in a qualitative leap.
  2. According to another explanation, the early Greek philosophy differed in practically nothing, except the way of expression, from the stadially earlier mythological system of knowledge of the world.
  3. However, in recent years, a view has been expressed that seems to be the most correct: philosophy was born from the social experience of a citizen of the early polis.
The polis and the relations of citizens in it — this is the model by analogy with which the Greek philosophers saw the world. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that the emergence of philosophy in its earliest form — natural philosophy (i.e., philosophy, which is primarily addressed to the knowledge of the most general laws of the world) — occurs in the most advanced Asian polis. It is with them that the activities of the first philosophers — Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes-are connected. Natural-philosophical teachings about the primary elements made it possible to build a general picture of the world and explain it without resorting to the help of the gods. The philosophy that was born was spontaneously materialistic, the main thing in the work of its first representatives was the search for the material foundations of everything that exists.
lack-edged amphora. The second half of the VI century BC.

lack-edged amphora. The second half of the VI century BC.

The founder of Ionian natural philosophy, Thales, considered water in continuous motion to be such a fundamental principle. The transformations of it created and create all things, which in turn again turn into water. Thales represented the earth as a flat disk floating on the surface of the primary water. Thales was also considered the founder of mathematics, astronomy, and a number of other specific sciences. Comparing the records of successive solar eclipses, he predicted an eclipse of the sun in 597 (or 585) BC and explained it by the fact that the Moon obscured the Sun. According to Anaximander, the first principle of everything is the apeiron, an indefinite, eternal and boundless matter in constant motion. Anaximander gave the first formulation of the law of conservation of energy and created the first geometric model of the universe.
The materialism and dialectics of the Ionian natural philosophers were opposed by the Pythagoreans — followers of the teachings of Pythagoras, who created a religious and mystical community in Southern Italy. The Pythagoreans considered mathematics to be the basis of the foundations, believing that it is not quality, but quantity, not substance, but form that determines the essence of everything. Gradually, they began to identify things with numbers, depriving them of their material content. The abstract number turned into an absolute was conceived by them as the basis of the immaterial essence of the world.


Black-figure hydria. 530s BC

Black-figure hydria. 530s BC

At the beginning of the archaic era, the dominant genre of literature was the epic, inherited from the previous era. The recording of Homer’s poems, made in Athens under Pisistratus, marked the end of the” epic ” period. The epic, as a reflection of the experience of the whole society in the new conditions, had to give way to other types of literature. In this era, filled with violent social conflicts, lyrical genres are developing, reflecting the experiences of the individual. Citizenship distinguishes the poetry of Tyrteus, who inspired the Spartans in their struggle for the possession of Messenia. In his elegies, Tirthaeus praised military prowess and set forth the norms of warrior behavior. And in later times they were sung during campaigns, they were also popular outside of Sparta as a hymn to polis patriotism. The work of Theognid — the poet-aristocrat, who realized the death of the aristocratic system and suffered from it, is permeated with hatred for the lower classes and a thirst for revenge:
Firmly trample the empty-hearted people with your heel, mercilessly
With a sharp stick, if you can, with a heavy yoke, press down!
One of the first lyric poets, Archilochus, lived a life full of adversity and suffering. The son of an aristocrat and a slave, Archilochus, driven by need, went from his native Paros with the colonists to Phasos, fought with the Thracians, served as a mercenary, visited “beautiful and happy” Italy, but found no happiness anywhere:
I have my bread mixed in a sharp spear. And in the spear —
From under the Ismar wine. I drink, leaning on my spear.
The work of another great lyricist — Alcaeus — reflected the turbulent political life of that time. Along with political motives in his poems there are also drinking ones, they sound the joy of life and the sadness of love, reflections on the inevitability of death and calls to friends to rejoice in life:
The rains are raging. The great cold
It reeks of the sky. The rivers are all shackled…
Let’s get through the winter. Blazing bright
We’ll spread the fire. Give me plenty of sweet things
Pour some wine. Then under the cheek
Put a soft pillow for me.
“Sappho is violet-haired, pure, with a gentle smile!” – the poet addresses his great contemporary Sappho.
At the center of Sappho’s work was a woman suffering from love and tormented by the pangs of jealousy, or a mother who loved her children dearly. Sappho’s poetry is dominated by sad motifs, which gives it a peculiar charm:
God seems to me equal in happiness
The man who is so close-close
Sitting in front of you, your sweet-sounding voice
Listens to the voice
And a lovely laugh. I have at the same time
My heart would stop beating right away.
Anacreon called his work the poetry of beauty, love and fun. He didn’t think about politics, wars, civil strife:
It is not he who is dear to me, feasting, over a full cup of speech
Only about the lawsuits, but about the deplorable war;
Dear to me, who, the Muses and the Cyprids combine good gifts,
The rule sets itself to be more cheerful at the feast.

Anacreon’s poems, marked by the stamp of undisputed talent and charming in their form, had a huge impact on European, including Russian, poetry.

By the end of the archaic era, the birth of artistic prose, represented by the works of logographers who collected local legends, genealogies of noble families, and stories about the founding of polis, is attributed. At the same time, there is also a theatrical art, the roots of which lie in the folk rites of agricultural cults.

Black-figure amphora. 540-530 BC

Black-figure amphora. 540-530 BC

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