Archaic Greece (800-480 BC)

Archaic Greece spanned the period from c. 800 BC to the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC.

(c) University of Oregon

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The Archaic Period saw a huge increase in population and significant urbanisation, which led to the creation of the polis. However, the polis did not become the dominant form of socio-political organisation in the Archaic Period, with the north and west of the country not adapting to this model until the Classical Period

It was a period when the Greeks began to set out across the Mediterranean, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea not only for trade but also to found colonies. These Greek colonies were dependent on their mother-city at the beginning but soon became independent city-states. They reached from Massilia in the West to Trapezus in the East. In the West, Sicily and southern Italy were some of the largest recipients of Greek colonisers. So many Greek settlements were founded in southern Italy that it was known in antiquity as Magna Graecia.

Areas settled by the Greeks by the close of the Archaic Period.

The development of the polis as a socio-political structure and the increase in population created a need for a new form of political organisation. In Athens, the earliest institutions of democracy were implemented under Solon in 594 BC and the reforms of Cleisthenes at the end of the Archaic Period brought in Athenian democracy as it was during the Classical Period. In Sparta, the reforms of Lycurgus were introduced during this period, the region of Messenia was brought under Spartan control, the helots were subjugated and the Peloponnesian League was founded, which made Sparta a dominant power in Greece.

The period also saw developments in economics, international relations, warfare and culture. It laid the groundwork for the Classical Period, both politically and culturally. This was the time when the Greek alphabet was developed, the earliest surviving Greek literature was composed, monumental sculpture and red-figure pottery began to appear and the phalanx and the hoplite became the core of the city-state’s army.

Attic Red-Figure Amphora, c. 530 BC, depicting Hoplites with Athena and Hermes. The Louvre. (c) Jastrow.

During the mid-6th c. BC, the Persian Empire subjugated the Ionian Greek cities on the west coast of Turkey, which led to the Ionian Revolt in 499 BC. Athens and other Greek cities sent aid to the Ionians. In 490 BC, Darius I, having suppressed the Ionian cities, sent a Persian fleet to punish the Greeks. They landed in Attica intending to take Athens but were defeated at the Battle of Marathon by the Greeks under the Athenian general Miltiades. In 480 BC, Xerxes, Darius’ son and successor, would try another invasion of Greece.

A Map of the Greco-Persian Wars. (c) Bibi Saint-Pol.

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