A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 B.C

By George Grote; J. M. Mitchell et al. | Go to book overview
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1

EARLY ATTICA 1

IN spite of the prominence to which the Athenian State attained in later times, the history of early Attica is, if anything, more obscure than that of the other leading states of Greece. The two best sources of evidence for the period previous to the seventh century - (1) the records of Oriental monarchs who came into contact with the Greek world, (2) the lays of contemporary poets - fail us almost entirely in dealing with Attica, and practically we find ourselves confined to the data of subsequent tradition. Of this kind of record we have practically nothing that received literary shape before the fifth century, and much of this information is derived from writers who were removed in time from the events they described at least as far as are present-day historians from the Norman Conquest. Furthermore, even the earlier versions are largely based on pure conjecture, and, so far as they do seem to possess a substratum of fact, they often present it in a distorted and mutilated form, which argues a lack of proper understanding on the part of their authors. We hardly go too far in saying that Thukydidês alone of all writers on early Attic institutions had both ready access to first-hand evidence and the ability to use it to good purpose. A survey of the existing body of tradition shows that much has to be discarded as otiose or demonstrably false, while the residue for the most part requires careful sifting before it may safely be used constructively.

Besides the literary record; we have a certain amount of archæological evidence, which in some cases is of a thoroughly cogent nature. But while it is reasonable to hope that this source of knowledge will continue to increase as steadily as has been the case for the last twenty years, and may even afford us data with a conclusive bearing on important questions, yet, for the present, the testimony of the monuments does not allow us to go any great length in reconstructing the history of the country.

The utmost reserve is, therefore, called for in 1 giving any account of early Attica, and while some such exposition would seem to be required with a view

1 This chapter is entirely editorial; it is intended as an introduction on the history of Athens before Solon. For purposes of reference subsequent chapters are numbered in addition with the numbers (in square brackets) which they bear in the complete edition. - ED.

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