Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

ARCHAIC GREECE
(c. 700-500 BC)

The seventh and sixth centuries belong to the period called the Archaic Age (c. 750-490 BC). During those two hundred years the pace of change and development accelerated rapidly, continuing and surpassing the progress made in the eighth century as Greece emerged from its Dark Age. Once rather neglected by historians as being merely the prelude to the glorious and tragic fifth and fourth centuries--the Classical period--the Archaic period is seen now as the decisive formative time of the intellectual, cultural, and political achievements of Greece's "Golden Age."

The city-state form of government, which came into being with the demographic and economic changes of the eighth century, grew to maturity during the seventh and sixth. A steady movement of overseas colonization, starting in the later eighth century and continuing into the sixth, spread the Greek language and culture across the lands of the Mediterranean and Black seas. Trade, helped by colonization, dispersed Greek goods far beyond the limits known to the Bronze Age traders. Literature and art flourished; new genres of artistic and intellectual expression were invented. The great Panhellenic shrines, festivals, and oracles grew in importance, further nourishing the ideal of the cultural unity of all Greeks even as the Greek world expanded to far distant shores. Within the Greek city-states, new ideas began to form, two of which would shape the history of the western world: a rational view of the universe, which eliminated supernatural causes for natural events and replaced them with scientific explanations, and the concept of democratic government, in which all members were equal under the laws and the laws were made by the people directly by majority rule.

The Archaic period also had its dark side. Wars of one demos against another became much more frequent, and warfare itself became much more lethal. Worse, civil strife within a demos became commonplace. The leaders, with their armed followers, continually quarreled and fought amongst themselves. Widening economic inequality caused much human misery and produced serious tensions between the few rich and the many poor, which occasionally erupted in actual class

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