Ancient History & Civilisation


Archaic Greece

Preceded by the Greek Dark Age (1100-800 B.C.) and succeeded by the Classical Period (500-323 B.C.), the Greek Archaic Period lasted from 800 to 500 B.C.

The Archaic Period was the epoch that ushered in the Republics, supplanting the Monarchies. It was also the period that bore the institution of laws (Draco’s reforms in Athens), pottery and sculpture particular to Greece and the minting of the first coins. The great Panathenaeic Festival was also instituted. All these laudable developments paved the way for the emergence and the glory of the Classical Period of Greece.

Black-Figure "Pinax" (Plaque), by Gela Painter (2ndhalf 6th century BC)

During the Archaic Period the Greek language, art, architecture, society and politics underwent great changes. These evolutions manifested owing to the incrementing Greek population and commerce. As a result, this introduced the culture of colony and innovative thinking, amongst the most prevalent being Democracy.

Politics & Law

Athens’ politics underwent a succession of critical evolutions throughout the archaic period. The first of those changes, however, was rather for the worst—the laws of Draco (622 or 621 B.C.). The Athenian legislator’s codification was notorious for its severity. Aristotle stated that there wasn’t any oddity about Draco’s laws worth mentioning “except their severity in imposing heavy punishment.”

The most austere of all punishments of the time, however, was the death penalty— imposed even for trivial crimes. Plutarch narrates that “it is said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones.”  Stating the banal features of the laws, Aristotle maintains that the most important aspect was that the laws were put in writing for the general public for the first time in Athens.


The key changes that were later introduced to the political sphere were brought about by Solon (594 B.C.). An Athenian lawmaker and statesman, Solon also enjoyed writing poetry, as patriotic cant, and in the dogged support of the constitutional reforms he made. He is most recognized for reforming the code of laws established by Draco and credited for laying the grounds for the Athenian democracy. The revisions he made bestowed a fair chance to the lower classes— nevertheless, political power was only accessible to the wealthy.


Solon bas-relief in the U.S. House of Representatives chamber by Brenda Putnam

Solon tackled the consequences of disparity, but not their cause. Amongst his reformations the most distinguished was the implementation of the seisachtheia, the ‘shaking-off-of-burdens.” This ruling cancelled debts, forbade the utilization of one’s own person as a liability for loan, and summoned back those who had been sold as slaves and those who had fled to evade such fate.

The principles of weights and measures were altered. Among other advancements, the right of third party appeal was established. According to Diogenes Laertius, in 594 B.C., Solon was appointed archon or chief magistrate. He discussed with some of his friends about his planned reforms as an archon. Putting in consideration these new reforms of debt cancelation, these friends instantly took out loans and purchased some land. This new rule, Solon practiced himself; he also exempted his own friends from paying their debts.

This political and constitutional change came fast, and the era of despots that was instigated by Draco soon came to an end.

The Result of Solon’s Reform

After Solon finished his reforms, he left Athens for a decade to avoid the pressure of repealing any of his law. According to Herodotus, the nation was obliged to uphold Solon’s reform for a decade. Plutarch and the author of the Athenian Constitution (supposedly Aristotle), on the other hand, maintained that the contracted time was a hundred years. Herodotus’ account of the time-span is considered historically accurate by modern scholars for it conforms to the decade long absence of Solon from the nation.

Solon’s first trip traveling took him to Egypt. There, he visited the Pharaoh of Egypt Amasis II and wrote political poems. Plutarch states that during Solon’s stay, he met with Psenophis of Heliopolis and Sonchis of Sais, two Egyptian priests. Cyprus was his next stop; here he supervised the building of a new capital for the region’s king—the indebted king later titled the city Soloi after Solon.

The travels of Solon finally took him to the capital of Lydia, Sardis. This expedition made Solon meet with the Lydian king, Croesus, where he bestowed him an advice, which the king failed to value until it was too late. The story goes as such:

Croesus believed that he was the most blissful soul alive; Solon, however, advised him “Count no man happy until he be dead," (which meant that at any minute, there might be a turn of fortune on any one, even the happiest man on earth to make his life insufferable). Croesus understood the depth of Solon’s advice when he lost his kingdom to the Persian king, Cyrus.

In the four-years Solon was gone, the old social rift re-emerged with unique complications. The procedures the government carried out had some irregularities; elected officials were reluctant to resign and essential posts were regularly left vacant. It has also been argued that people held Solon responsible for the troubles they were encountering.

Finally, Peisistratus, one of Solon’s relatives, crushed this dissentient group by force, thereby establishing tyranny without constitutional basis. Plutarch records that Solon held the Athenians responsible for the anarchy and accused them of stupidity and cowardice.

After his return to Athens, Solon became a devout opponent of Peisistratus. He, nonetheless, died in Cyprus shortly after at the age of 80 (adhering to his will, his ashes were scattered around Salamis—his birth place).

Economic Reform

Solon has been credited for specific economic reforms and they are:

·           Tradesmen from foreign nations were heartened to settle in Athens and those who did were instantly granted citizenship, if they agreed to bring their families with them.

·           Fathers were obliged to seek trading opportunities for their sons. Failure to conform to these rules resulted in the exemption of the son from taking care of the father when he is old and fragile.

·           The Athenian business was encouraged to compete through reformations of weights and measures, perhaps on the strength of prosperous standards.

·           The cultivation of olive was promoted; the export of other harvest was banned.

It is generally considered that Solon also was responsible for the reformation of the Athenian coinage. Nevertheless, according to recent studies, it was more likely for Athens to not have coinage at that time until 560 B.C., well after Solon’s reforms. Early on in the sixth century, the Athenians used silver as a form of payment.

The economic reformation Solon made prompted foreign trade. There was an increasing exportation of the Athenian black-figure pottery between 600 B.C. and 560 B.C. It is believed that the prohibition of exporting grain was a measure to relieve the poor from further predicaments and to secure their benefit.

The promulgation of cultivating olive for export, nonetheless, might have generated more adversity for the majority of Athenians so much so that there was a tremendous decline in the cultivation of land for grain. Furthermore, an olive does not produce fruit for six years.


Solon is one of the Athenian poets whose work has endures to this day. We could find Solons verses in the fragmented quotations of Demosthenes, Plutarch and many others who had employed them to support their arguments. Some of the fragments may have been erroneously accredited to him and some interpolations may have also been spotted by some experts. Solon was also one of the first citizens of Athens to reference the goddess Athena.

Most of his enduring verses illustrate him as a political activist bent on asserting personal authority and leadership. The German classicist Wilamowitz described his writing as a “versified harangue.” Plutarch, nevertheless, states that Solon initially wrote poetry for enjoyment, counting on pleasure in a rather popular fashion.

His elegiac approach is purported to have the stamps of Tyrtaeus. According to one historian, his iambic and trochaic verses were more direct and energetic than his elegies and perhaps set the stage for the iambics of Athenian drama.

The Peisistratids

The Athenian tyrants that started with Peisistratus were known as the Peisistratids. The term ‘tyrant’ didn’t contain the negative implications it has today. In truth, Peisistratus didn’t have the characteristics of a draconian ruler, as he felt sympathy towards the commoners of Athens to some extent.

Until the assassination plot of Harmodios and Aristogeiton, Hippias and Hipparchos, sons of Peisistratus, carried on with the tyranny. Cleisthenes ascended to power in the political gap that followed the tyrannicides. He is accredited for the introduction ofisonomic(equal laws) in Athens. He was able to achieve this through various reforms, which undermined the prominence of the aristocrats. The tribal system of Athens was one of the major reforms that Cleisthenes implemented.

Prior to the reforms he made, there existed four tribes which were based on family ties. Cleisthenes altered these to ten tribes, each structured by a rater intricate subsystem.

Panhellenic Games

The Panhellenic games of Greece were founded during the Archaic period. It was around 776 B.C. that Hercules and Pelops began the Olympic Games— the classical Temple of Zeus exhibits their influence. Delphi, a city also known as the home of the Pythian Games, hosted several athletic games from 586 B.C. At Corinth in 581 B.C, the Panhellenic Isthmian Games were founded and in 573 B.C. the Nemean games were originated.

These games were, however, imbued with mythical sentiments and not just the Olympics. According to Pindar, the Pythian Games, which had initially been only a game of dance and music, were purportedly founded by Apollo; the Isthmian Games, according to Pausanias, by the King of Corinth, Sisyphus; and the Nemean Games, after the Nemean lion was slain by Hercules.

Art & Architecture

There were major advances in the realm of art and architecture during this period. Orientalizing style supplanted the earlier geometric style; it was in turn replaced by black figure pottery. Black figure pottery was initially started to be employed in Corinth, in the 700s B.C., historians, however, argue that it dates back to 570 B.C.; and its successor, the Red Figure style, developed in about 530 B.C.


Amphora warriors, by Bibi Saint-Pol, (2007-06-01)

During this period a plethora of advances were made to the building of temples. The primary stage of the Heraion at Samos was constructed in the middle of the 8th century B.C.; it was only until 530 B.C. that its final, incomplete, reincarnation began.

550px-Dionysos_Mainades_Cdm_Paris_222 (1).jpg

Dionysos Mainades, by Bibi Saint-Pol (2007-10-27)

The Lelantine War

The Lelantine War was a vicious battle that occurred in Euboea in the Archaic Period. The conflict was between Chalcis and Eretria—ancient Greek states. It was the earliest Greek war (after the mythical Trojan War) that had any claim to be considered “general,” in a sense that it engaged distant allies on each side.

"The war between Chalcis and Eretria was the one in which most cities belonging to the rest of Greece were divided up into alliances with one side or the other."

According to tradition, the ground to this war, which was around 710-650 B.C., was the fight for Lelantine Plain in Euboea.

As the ports of Euboea, both Chalcis and Eretria claimed the rights to the Lelantine Plain. Although Eretria is situated outside the land, it had historical claims to it. One probable reason for this would be that Eretria was originally the harbor of a mother town located further east. That town was situated at the entrance of the Lelas, near modern Lefkandi. Lefkandi underwent very difficult destructions in 825 B.C., after which the influx of its population moved to Eretria.

The Origin of the War

For a large period of time, this fertile land had been employed for agricultural purposes— mainly for vine cultivation. Due to the scarcity of fertile land in Greece, wars for agriculturally alluring landscape were not unusual, especially during the Archaic period, an example would be the war between Megara and Athens. It is amorphous though, why Chalcis and Eretria abruptly engaged in a dispute over the Lelantine Plain after being in harmony on its long term use.

Natural disasters could also be held accountable for causing the war. In the late 8th century B.C., Euboea, Attica, and other adjacent islands underwent severe drought; and as a result, Eritrean settlements on Andros was deserted. The drought and the following famine may have led both Eretria and Chalcis to claim rights to the Lelantine Plain.

The war between Chalcis and Eretria is usually dated to 710 B.C. Though both cities possessed large fleets, the war was waged on land. The majority of the combatants then were perhaps not heavily armed swordsmen, since the war preceded the advent of hoplite warfare. According to another source, the war mainly involved cavalry engagements.

The battle primarily involved the two cities and their territories. During the war, Eretria comprised a quarter of the islands of Euboea and the nearby Cyclades (Kea, Tenos and Andros). Accounts regarding the extent of the conflict and the amount of allies are contentious. There are direct mentions of a triad of participants: Samos as well as Thessaly (on that of Chalcis) and Miletus (on the side of Eretria).

The mother town of Eretria, at Lefkandi around 700 B.C., was finally destroyed (most probably by Chalcis), cutting Eretria’s link to the Lelantine Plain. Around this time, Miletus, Eretria’s ally, raided the town of Karystos, aspiring to be the central power in the eastern region of Aegean. The war endured till the middle of the 7th century B.C. and Chalcis ended up being the nominal victor.

The era also saw the advance of the Greek alphabet through Phoenicia, which may be indicative of the importance of trade developments.

The aftermath of the war on the defeated Eretria and the assumed victor Chalcis was severe – the warring parties lost their former political and economic prominence.

Eretria supported Miletus during the Ionian Revolt, as a way to repay Miletus for helping it in the Lelantine war.

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