Archaic Greece

  • ~800–500 BC


  • Homer was very important for all subsequent ancient Greek culture
    • Memorizing Homer was part of the education of any reasonably well brought up young Greek man
  • Hesiod is a major source for greek mythology
  • Heroism
    • Not some kind of moral accomplishment, but a status
    • Criterions
      • Genealogy is the first criteria, i.e., you were the son of a hero
      • Hereos tended to be tall and good-looking
      • They had military courage and a group of retainers that would follow them with unquestionable loyalty
    • It was a remarkably fragile status (zero-sum game, it was constanly being tested)
    • Arete
      • = Constantly displayed virtue excellence
    • Aristeia
      • = Being at one’s best (especially in combat)
    • Xenia
      • = Guest-friendship, hospitality towards foreigners and guests
  • Olympic games
    • First games took place in 776 BC
    • Such competitions were important for establishing civil identity
  • Poetry
    • The lyric poetry is associated with gods, especially with Apollo
    • Poetry was a public performance accompanied by music (lyric from lyra)
    • There was a pervasive sense of anxiety in poetry in this time (as things were changing fast)
    • Important poets

Polis (pl. poleis)

  • = “city-state”
    • A settled community with internal unity and independence from other communities
  • Defined by politea_ (“constitution”, “citizen body”, “citizenship) much more than place
    • Astu
      • = The urban center of a polis
      • Polis always atsu and the land around it
    • Polites (pl. politai)
      • = Citizens
      • A citizen was only a native-born, adult, free, male
      • Citizens were equal in rights
      • Foreigners (metoikos_), women and slaves were not guaranteed these citizen rights
  • Every city had a “castle” (akropolis) and a central public space (agora)
  • Autonomy was important for even the smallest of city states
    • War was often the default relationship between them


  • Probably because of land shortages
    • Greece has little arable land
  • Key terms
    • Metropolis
      • = “Mother city”
      • Colonies were independent of the mother city
    • Apoikia
      • = “Colony”
    • Oikistes
      • = “Founder”
  • People from all over the Greek world would come to Delphi to get approval to send out a community
  • The earliest colonies were in Italy

Literacy and Law

  • The greeks rediscovered literacy
    • They used alphabet borrowed from the Phoenicians
  • Nomos
    • = “law sanctioned by long usage”, “customs”
  • Eunomia
    • = “having good laws well obeyed”, “lawfulness”
  • Agathoi
    • = “good people” as they called themselves
    • A wealthy class that emerged in the dark ages
    • These people controlled the dispensation of justice, law-givers
      • They simply wrote down nomos (customs)
        • The purpose of the laws was not to elevate the character of the community, but to simply codify the customs
      • Story of every law-giver ends with either his death or departure, so that there wouldn’t be a possibility of him changing the code
    • For example Solon and Cleisthenes were famous Athenian law-givers


  • A mercantile class arose in the first half of the 7th century BC
    • Coinage was introduced in about 680 BC
      • Coins became a part of civic identity
    • Aristocratic regimes of city states were often threatened by wealthy merchants ambitious for power


  • Hoplites
    • The hoplite is a heavily armed soldier who is fighting in close formation
    • Phalanx is a rank of about 8 men
    • Battles were highly ritualized
      • Soldiers in line, they move towards each other until the othimos (pushing) begins
      • The battles could last very long time
        • After the battle, the winning side would allow the losers generally to collect their wounded and dead
          • Then they’d set up a trophy and disperse
        • Almost no involvement of civilian population
  • There were no professional armies, hoplites were essentially farmers

Important People