THE HISTORY: Archaic Period
The rebirth of Hellenism, after the last invasions from the north, dates from the 8th century B.C. During the Iron Age, Greece, as a mountainous country with small, isolated valleys, had been organized into small "city-kingdoms". At the same time there was considerable cultural development marked mainly by the dissemination of the alphabet inherited from the Phoenicians, from the oral tradition of poetry with Homer, and from the Pottery with its geometric designs.
The Greeks were conscious, on a panhellenic scale, of their common descent, their common language, their common manners and customs and their common religion. The ideal of unity, however, was incompatible with the isolation of the "city-kingdoms". But the need for unbreakable bonds between them was strongly felt. The role of the oracles, with the Oracle of Delphi at the hub (to which Greeks converged from every corner of the ancient world), the amphictionies (temple leagues) and the athletic games were effective in unifying the Greeks. In 776 B.C. the Olympic games were inaugurated to honour Olympian Zeus and armistices were declared for their duration. Free Greek citizens from the Greek mainland, the islands and from the colonies, competed for the prize, which was an olive branch, the symbol of peace.
It was a period of political, economic and cultural development and a period of colonization as well, although that was an activity which differed substantially from the colonization carried out in later times by European states. There was economic development, (the appearance of the first coins at Lydia) and a flowering of culture with the poetry of Sappho and with sculpture and philosophy. In the whole of the land, political developments displayed common features. In the "city-kingdoms" the institution of monarchy began to be questioned and often, the leading citizens replaced the king by a dictaror or "tyrant". Good "tyrants" were replaced by bad "tyrants" and vice versa, while revolts and counter-revolts continued up to the 5th century.
Hellenism continued to waver between the oligarchies which wanted to hand power to their "select" candidates and the democrats who supported a broader and more radical distribution of power. Naturally, they meant a democratic regime that was limited in scope since it barred women, foreigners and slaves from participating in the exercise of such power. The 5th century in the Hellenic world was marked by the conflict between Sparta, with its "frozen" monarchic culture, and democratic Athens where parliament exercised power. Every Athenian citizen had the right to vote and to speak in parliament while for most offices, the choice was made by ballot.
At the start of the 5th century the two cities, Athens
and Sparta, had joined forces and gained victory over the Persians at Marathon
and Salamis. However, from 431 to 404 B.C. they had engaged in the exhausting
and catastrophic Peloponnesian War. Thucydides has given us a gripping account
of this conflict between Sparta and Athens.