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Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic

Archaic period

(776–479). The conventional date for the beginning of the historical period of Greece is 776, the date of the first Olympic Games on the reckoning of Hippias (2). This may be about right for the event in question; but the early 8th cent. was innovatory in several other ways. Iron began to be worked with new sophistication; the alphabet was taken over from Phoenicia; and colonies began to be sent out in a more organized way (see colonization, greek), esp. from Euboea, which between 750 and 730 colonized Cumae and Pithecusae in the west and was involved in Al Mina in the east. The 8th cent. was also the age of polis formation and political synoecism, perhaps themselves a result, in part, of the colonizing movement, but also of the rise of religious leagues or amphictionies. The emergence of the polis was marked by the placing of sanctuaries, often dedicated to Hera, at the edge of polis territory. Some of these developments, not just writing, but perhaps even the idea of the self‐determining community, may actually be Phoenician in inspiration. But whatever the truth about Semitic primacy, early Greek society soon acquired distinctive features and institutions, most of which continued to be important in classical times and later. Among these were athletics and religiously based athletic events like the Olympic Games; the gymnasium, which provided training for both athletics and its elder brother, warfare; the symposium, at which aristocratic values were inculcated; and homosexuality, which was related to the three phenomena just mentioned. Some other characteristic features of Greek society are more easily paralleled elsewhere, e.g. ritualized friendship; but institutionalized proxeny, which developed out of it, was specifically Greek.

All this contributed to such shared Greek consciousness as there was (see ethnicity; nationalism), but the chief way in which early Greek states interacted was through warfare, a paradoxical activity in that in Greece at most periods it was conducted according to shared custom (see war, rules of), but at the same time war is, obviously, an assertion of separateness. Equally the four great panhellenic (‘all‐Greek’, see panhellenism) sanctuaries, Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia (see isthmian games), Nemea, were a symbol of what Greeks had in common, but they were also a focus for interstate competition (see delphi), and constituting an alternative to war; indeed struggles for influence at sanctuaries sometimes developed into wars proper, see sacred wars. And sanctuaries were the repositories of tithes or tenth‐parts of the booty which was a reason for and result of warfare; this booty was often turned into dedications (see votives).

The first war which can be called in any sense general was the 8th‐cent. Lelantine War fought by Chalcis and Eretria for control of the plain between them; but each side had allies from further away. Commercial and economic prosperity on the one hand, and individual ambition on the other, combined on Thucydides' view to produce tyranny. Colonization and trade were certainly connected, and the combination meant that Greece was exposed to luxuries on a new scale. But the chief modern explanation for tyranny is military. Hoplite warfare involved a partial repudiation of individual aristocratic fighting methods, corresponding to that political repudiation of control by hereditary aristocracies which was the essence of tyranny. The first tyrannies, of Pheidon at Argos and Cypselus at Corinth, are best put at mid‐7th cent., when hoplites appear.


Subjects: Classical studies

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