The Archaic Age - 800-500 B.C.

After the previous 400 years of the Dark Ages, Greece entered into a new age, the Archaic. The small tribes settled down in villages, and city-states (Polis) were built around Greece, each with a similar plan.

Archaic Age - 800-500 B.C.

** The image above shows pottery from the Archaic Age 570–565 B.C.
By Deutsch: Prometheus-MalerEnglish: Prometheus PainterFrançais : Peintre de Prométhée (User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-06-01) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The highest point of a city, the acropolis, was always the center for these city-states due to the fact that they are well defended against. The main temples and treasures of the city were housed on the acropolis. The market (agora) would be situated outside the acropolis and further away would be the residential areas of the city.

There was also a sense of unification for the people of these city-states: the development of the Greek alphabet, the introduction of the Olympic games, which brought together the people of these cities and of course, the writings of Homer, which created a sense of the Mycenaean past which was felt and shared by all.

The most famous city-states at this time in Greece were Athens, Corinthe, Sparta and Thebe. Thessaly was also a powerful city-state, but because of its isolation from the others due to mountains, their power soon dimished. The city-states were autonomous, and were free to pursue their own interests as they saw them. Corinthe, one of the major cities in the Peloponesse focused its trade with the west, and founded several cities (daughter-cities) there.

Monarchic rule was abolished in favour of a form of government headed by aristrocrats. Royal households became little more than members of the upper class. When the Greeks took over the concept of money from Lydia, and the ecomony started to blossom, many Greeks not in aristocrat households soon became to accumulate wealth of their own through trade and industry.

However, this increase in wealth of ordinary people led to a demand for an increase in political power as well. Tensions soon flared up between the ruling class and traders. There were also tensions between nobility itself as each head of the household was trying to increase their own power in order to move higher up in the polis.

After several internal wars in the city-states, originating from the desire to be more powerful than others, the polis decided that demands from all sides would be heard and that the laws would be reformed and written down. In some city-states however, where these laws were yet to be written down, there were illegal attempts by tyrants to gain total power. The tyrants were usually noble men, and their enemies were actually other members of nobility.

Though the name tyrant can be misleading, these men often acted for the good of the city, and actually laid the foundations for a democratic government. Members of the lower classes were looked after and trade and industry were encouraged. It wasn’t long though before all tyrants became very unpopular, as sometimes their policies became more of a suppression.

Some of the most famous tyrants were Cypselus and his son Periander whom controlled Corinth between 657-586 B.C. and Pisistratus who ruled Athens from 560 – 556 B.C.

The Archaic Age