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Greek Archaic Period › Ancient History

Definition and Origins

by James Lloyd
published on 08 August 2012
Kouroi of Argos ()
The Greek Archaic Period (c. 800- 479 BCE) started from what can only be termed uncertainty, and ended with the Persians being ejected from Greece for good after the battles of Plataea and Mykale in 479 BCE.
The Archaic Period is preceded by the Greek Dark Age (c.1200- 800 BCE), a period about which little is known for sure, and followed by the Classical Period (c. 510- 323 BCE), which is one of the better documented periods of Greek history, with tragedies, comedies, histories, legal cases and more surviving in the form of literary and epigraphic sources. Each of these periods had its own distinctive cultural identity, yet despite this, there is a certain degree of flexibility with the dates given to the periods. They are modern terms that try to frame various aspects of change in Greek culture which by no means occurred either over one particular year or all together in the same year.
In the Archaic Period there were vast changes in Greek language, society, art, architecture, and politics. These changes occurred due to the increasing population of Greece and its increasing amount trade, which in turn led to colonization and a new age of intellectual ideas, the most important of which (at least to the modern Western World) was Democracy. This would then fuel, in a rather circular way, more cultural changes.



The politics of Athens underwent a series of serious changes during the archaic period, and the first change was quite possibly for the worse, with the laws of Draco, in around 622/621 BCE (the semi-legendary nature of these laws and its namesake should be noted, and secondly the semi-legendary nature of most occurrences during the first couple of hundred years of the period). As Aristotle says of Draco “there is nothing peculiar in his laws that is worthy of mention, except their severity in imposing heavy punishment” ( Politics 2.1274b).
The legacy of their infamy (loans could be made on the security of one's own person), still exists in the modern word 'draconian'. Most brutal of all however were the death penalties; Plutarch relates that “it is said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offences, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones”. Whilst Aristotle comments that there was nothing particular about the laws, what is important is that the laws, for the first time in Athens, were written down for all to see, and to read (for those who were literate).
The next major changes that came were brought about by Solon (c. 594 BCE), whose historical authenticity is more certain than Draco's due to fragments of his poetry that Plutarch relates as still existing in his time. His changes to Athenian law were the first to give the lower classes a fairer chance -- however, the positions of power were still only available to those of wealth.It was the effects of class inequality that Solon tackled, not the causes of them. The most notable change implemented by Solon was the seisachtheia, the 'shaking-off-of-burdens'. This decree cancelled debts, banned the use of one's own person as security for a loan, and recalled all of those who had been sold as slaves and those who had fled to escape such a fate.
There were also Solon's reforms of weights and measures, the right of third party appeal was introduced among other developments. In order that he might not be pressured into changing these laws, Solon left Athens for ten years (according to Herodotus ) and went to Egypt where he wrote political poems.
Map of Archaic Greece

Map of Archaic Greece

It was only after Solon that a sense of self-conscious democracy in Athens began to develop; a development that could be seen as either a social phenomenon or a political and institutional phenomenon. The changes then came thick and fast. The age of tyrants that had started with Draco would soon nearly be over, but not if the Peisistratids had anything to do with it.
The Peisistratids were a short line of Athenian tyrants that started with Peisistratos, and it should be noted that the term 'tyrant' during this period did not have the negative connotations that it has today. In fact, Peisistratos was no draconian ruler, but one who felt a certain amount of sympathy with the poorer classes of Athens. Aristotle gives a good account of the events that follow. After Pesistratos' death his sons Hippias and Hipparchus held the tyranny until an assassination plot was launched against them by Harmodias and Aristogen.
Cleisthenes came to power in the political gap that was left after the tyrannicides and is famous for introducing isonomia(equal laws) in Athens. He achieved this through various reforms which meant that less importance was given to aristocratic background. The biggest reform that Cleisthenes made was to the tribal system of Athens. Previous to his reform there had been four tribes (based on family ties), Cleisthenes changed this to ten tribes, each formed by a slightly complicated subsystem.
The tribes were formed by a collection of demes (similar to an English Parish; small localities of residence) which were themselves placed into one of thirty trittyes, ' thirds' (three per tribe); a deme would be in either one of three regions depending on its location: the coast, the city, or the inland. The trittyes therefore were an amalgamation of ten demes from each of the three regions; each tribe therefore had three trittyes in it, one composed of demes from the city, one with demes from the coast, and one of demes from inland. Further to this Athenians would no longer take their 'surname' from their father, but from their deme. This all meant that the family ties, traditions and allegiances that had caused prior political friction (and had led in some way to the Peisistraid tyrannies) had been broken up. It was also during Cleisthenes' time that many Athenian official positions began to be selected by lot. Aristotle and Herodotus cover these events in quite good detail.


The art and architecture of the Archaic Period also underwent various overhauls; the earlier geometric style was replaced with an orientalising style, which in turn was replaced by black figure pottery. Black figure pottery was first starting to be used in Corinth c. 700s BCE, but the first signed example dates to c. 570 BCE, when attic black figure pottery was in its heyday (c. 630- 480 BCE) and is of Sophilos. As this technique was further developed and explored, it gave way to Red Figure pottery, which started to develop c. 530 BCE.
Red-Figure Owl Cup

Red-Figure Owl Cup

It was also during this period that many changes and developments were made to temple building. The first phase of the Heraion at Samos was built in the mid. 8th C. BCE, yet its final, unfinished, reincarnation wasn't begun until c. 530 BCE. Many changes had occurred by then. The Heraion at Olympia, built c. 600 BCE, was the first temple to have a stone stylobate and lower wall course, but was still built with wooden columns, one of which still survived to Pausanias day. Today the remnants of this development can be seen in the varying sizes and styles of the temple's Doric stone columns since they were created by different hands in different times in order to replace wooden columns as needed.
The Corcyra Artemision (c. 580/ 70 BCE) was the first Greek temple to have a stone entablature and the Temple of Apollo (c. 580-550 BCE) at Syracuse is now known as the Cathedral of Syracuse, being the longest continually lasting single building to remain consecrated ground, in this case, since its Archaic origins. The age of tyrants can also be witnessed in one particular temple, in this case, not relating to Athens' tyrants, but to Samos', namely Polykrates (c.540- 520 BCE) who commissioned the fourth stage Heraion at Samos. Greece's developing international realtionships can be witnessesed in this was too, with King Croeus dedicating a column of the Temple of Artemis and Ephesus ; and it still bears his mark to this day.


It was during the Archaic period that the four major panhellenic games of Greece were founded. In 776 BCE the Olympic games were traditionally begun by Hercules and Pelops (and their influence can be seen in the sculptural decoration of the classical Temple of Zeus there), whilst at Delphi athletic games had taken place from c. 586 BCE, the home of the Pythian games, and the panhellenic Isthmian games were founded at Corinth c. 581 BCE. The last of the 'big four' was founded c. 573 BCE, and this was the Nemean games.
However, in the normal Archaic tradition, each of these games was surrounded by its own foundation myth, not just the Olympics. The Pythian games, which had originally been solely a games of music and dance, were supposedly founded by Apollo himself (according to Pindar), the Isthmian games (according to Pausanias) by the legendary King of Corinth, Sisyphus, and the Nemean Games after Hercules had slain the Nemean lion. But when we think of victory at the games, there is one name that jumps out, and it isn't that of a victor, but of a poet, Pindar, who was composing between c. 500- 446 BCE, writinghis Pythian odes and others in honour of the various victors at the games.
Gigantomachy of Delphi

Gigantomachy of Delphi


From Homer and Hesiod, through to Pindar and Aeschylus, the Archaic Period underwent a vast development in the field of Greek literature, and language too, with the first Greek alphabet being developed. The Greek alphabet developed out of the Phoneician alphabet, and is in itself a tribute to the increase in trade and exploration in the period that made this cultural exchange possible: the earliest Greek writing being dated to c. 750 BCE. However, despite the development of the Greek alphabet, the oral tradition of poetic composition and transmission was still the method used by Hesiod and Homer; it wasn't until c. 670 BCE and the rule of Peisistratus that a definitive version of the Iliad and Odyssey was attempted.
The end of the Archaic period also had a literature that is just as influential, less well known perhaps, but it set the stage for the later classical tragedians and comedians. 535 BCE was the year of the first dramatic festival in Athens and in 485 BCE comedy was added, and one year later Aeschylus had won his first dramatic competition in Athens, but it wasn't until 472 BCE that Aeschylus' Persians was composed.


The Persian Wars, perhaps the most influential set of events in the Archaic period, which couldn't possibly be given justice to here, started with the Ionian revolt of Greek colonies and settlements in Asia Minor from the Persian Empire which prompted Darius I ’s retaliation to invade Greece, which failed at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE. This was later avenged by the second invasion of Greece by Xerxes, who was finally expelled with the combined victories at Plataea and Mykale, though only after the equally as famous battles of Thermopylae and Salamis. Salamis was won by the fleet that Themistocles had persuaded the Athenians to build from the silver mines at Laurium, and this silver would continue to be vitally important into the Classical Period.
However, there were loses in these wars; the sacking of the Athenian acropolis and Agora, the death of Leonidas, and in the end, the freedom of the Ionic tributaries to Athens as the Delian League soon became the Athenian League. The change being that in the Archaic period there was war with Persia, in the Classical period, diplomacy.
The Archaic Period is, therefore, a highly important time period in its own right, but is also highly important in putting the events of the Classical Period into context. However, this definition only covers some of the many events and developments, and covers some of them only briefly: the Archaic Period is perhaps the richest and most complicated in Greek history.

The Life of Crates of Thebes in Diogenes Laertius › Who Was

Ancient Civilizations

by Joshua J. Mark
published on 08 August 2014
Crates of Thebes (c. 360-280 BCE) was one of the most important Cynic philosophers of ancient Greece. He was born to a wealthy family in Thebes but gave away his inheritance after realizing the futility of material possessions and the shallow values espoused by society. After renouncing his personal wealth, he moved to Athens where he studied philosophy with Diogenes of Sinope (c. 404-323 BCE), the famous Cynic philosopher. Following Diogenes, Crates lived on the streets of Athens, owned nothing, and lived his philosophy very publicly. He believed one should strive to be free in all things and master oneself and one's own problems before worrying about others and their perceived problems. He was known to never drink wine or any intoxicant, but only water, and to eat only what was necessary to live, but never to excess. In summer he wore a winter cloak to teach himself to bear adversity in the body, and in winter, only rags for the same reason.
Crates of Thebes

Crates of Thebes

His most famous student was Zeno of Citium (c. 336-265 BCE), who founded the Stoic School of philosophy, which would later have a profound impact on the culture of Rome and later cultures and civilizations by emphasizing endurance, non-violence, the primacy of reason, and the pleasure to be found in living simply.
The 3rd century CE writer Diogenes Laertius, who wrote on the lives of many Greek philosophers, also wrote on Crates. He claims that Crates was known as "the door opener" because he would regularly walk into people's houses to give them counsel, uninvited, and then leave when the situation was resolved. He was a physically unattractive man but had such a good spirit and was always so cheerful that the people of Athens welcomed him into their homes. In fact, besides "the door opener" he was also known as "the good spirit" and would help anyone in need, even if they did not realize at the time that they needed his help. He died on the streets of Athens, an old man, and his philosophical school may have then been run by his wife Hipparchia. His example of living his beliefs fully, and his teachings, would influence countless generations after him through the works of Zeno of Citium.
The following passages come from Diogenes Laertius' work, The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. The translation is by CD Yonge.
I. CRATES was a Theban by birth, and the son of Ascondus. He also was one of the eminent disciples of the Cynic. But Hippobotus asserts that he was not a pupil of Diogenes, but of Bryson the Achaean.
II. There are the following sportive lines of his quoted:
The waves surround vain Peres' fruitful soil,
And fertile acres crown the sea-born isle;
Land which no parasite e'er dares invade,
Or lewd seducer of a hapless maid;
It bears figs, bread, thyme, garlic's savoury charms,
Gifts which ne'er tempt men to detested arms,
They'd rather fight for gold than glory's dreams.
There is also an account-book of his much spoken of, which is drawn up in such terms as these:
Put down the cook for minas half a score,
Put down the doctor for a drachma more:
Five talents to the flatterer; some smoke
To the adviser, an obol and a cloak
For the philosopher; for the willing nymph,
A talent...
He was also nicknamed Door-opener, because he used to enter every house and give the inmates advice. These lines, too, are his:
All this I learnt and pondered in my mind,
Drawing deep wisdom from the Muses kind,
But all the rest is vanity.
There is a line, too, which tells us that he gained from philosophy:-
A peck of lupins, and to care for nobody.
This, too, is attributed to him:
Hunger checks love; and should it not, time does.
If both should fail you, then a halter choose.
III. He flourished about the hundred and thirteenth Olympiad.
IV. Antisthenes, in his Successions, says that he, having once, in a certain tragedy, seen Telephus holding a date basket, and in a miserable plight in other respects, betook himself to the Cynic philosophy; and having turned his patrimony into money (for he was of illustrious extraction), he collected three hundred talents by that means, and divided them among the citizens. And after that he devoted himself to philosophy with such eagerness, that even
Philemon the comic poet mentions him. Accordingly he says:
And in the summer he'd a shaggy gown,
To inure himself to hardship: in the winter
He wore mere rags.
But Diocles says that it was Diogenes who persuaded him to discard all his estate and his flocks, and to throw his money into the sea; and he says further, that the house of Crates was destroyed by Alexander, and that of Hipparchia under Philip. And he would very frequently drive away with his staff those of his relations who came after him, and endeavoured to dissuade him from his design; and he remained immoveable.
V. Demetrius, the Magnesian, relates that he deposited his money with a banker, making an agreement with him, that if his sons turned out ordinary ignorant people, he was then to restore it to them; but if they became philosophers, then he was to divide it among the people, for that they, if they were philosophers, would have no need of anything. And Eratosthenes tells us that he had by Hipparchia, whom we shall mention hereafter, a son whose name was Pasicles, and that when he grew up, he took him to a brothel kept by a female slave, and told him that that was all the marriage that his father designed for him; but that marriages which resulted in adultery were themes for tragedians, and had exile and bloodshed for their prizes; and the marriages of those who lived with courtesans were subjects for the comic poets, and often produced madness as the result of debauchery and drunkenness.
VI. He had also a brother named Pasicles, a pupil of Euclides.
VII. Favorinus, in the second book of his Commentaries, relates a witty saying of his; for he says, that once, when he was begging a favour of the master of a gymnasium, on the behalf of some acquaintance, he touched his thighs; and as he expressed his indignation at this, he said, "Why, do they not belong to you as well as your knees?" He used to say that it was impossible to find a man who had never done wrong, in the same way as there was always some worthless seed in a pomegranate. On one occasion he provoked Nicodromus, the harp-player, and received a black eye from him; so he put a plaster on his forehead and wrote upon it, "Nicodromus did this." He used to abuse prostitutes designedly, for the purpose of practising himself in enduring reproaches.When Demetrius Phalereus sent him some loaves and wine, he attacked him for his present, saying, "I wish that the fountains bore loaves;"
€style and it is notorious that he was a water drinker.
He was once reproved by the aediles of the Athenians, for wearing fine linen, and so he replied, "I will show you Theophrastus also clad in fine linen." And as they did not believe him, he took them to a barber's shop, and showed him to them as he was being shaved. At Thebes he was once scourged by the master of the Gymnasium, (though some say it was by Euthycrates, at Corinth ), and dragged out by the feet; but he did not care, and quoted the line :
I feel, O mighty chief, your matchless might,
Dragged, foot first, downward from th' ethereal height.
(a parody on Homer. Il. 1.591. Pope's Version, 760)
But Diocles says that it was by Menedemus, of Eretria, that he was dragged in this manner, for that as he was a handsome man, and supposed to be very obsequious to Asclepiades, the Phliasian, Crates touched his thighs and said, "Is Asclepiades within?" And Menedemus was very much offended, and dragged him out, as has been already said; and then Crates quoted the above-cited line.
VIII. Zeno, the Cittiaean, in his Apophthegms, says, that he once sewed up a sheep's fleece in his cloak, without thinking of it; and he was a very ugly man, and one who excited laughter when he was taking exercise. And he used to say, when he put up his hands, "Courage, Crates, as far as your eyes and the rest of your body is concerned:
IX. "For you shall see those who now ridicule you, convulsed with disease, and envying your happiness, and accusing themselves of slothfulness." One of his sayings was, "That a man ought to study philosophy up to the point of looking on generals and donkey-drivers in the same light." Another was, that those who live with flatterers, are as desolate as calves when in the company of wolves; for that neither the one nor the other are with those whom they ought to be, or their own kindred, but only with those who are plotting against them.
X. When he felt that he was dying, he made verses on himself, saying:
You're going, noble hunchback, you are going
To Pluto's realms, bent double by old age.
For he was humpbacked from age.
XI. When Alexander asked him whether he wished to see the restoration of his country, he said, "What would be the use of it? for perhaps some other Alexander would come at some future time and destroy it again.
But poverty and dear obscurity,
Are what a prudent man should think his country;
For these e'en fortune can't deprive him of.
He also said that he was:
A fellow countryman of wise Diogenes,
Whom even envy never had attacked.
Menander, in his Twin-Sister, mentions him thus:
For you will walk with me wrapped in your cloak,
As his wife used to with the Cynic Crates.
XII. He gave his daughter to his pupils, as he himself used to say -
To have and keep on trial for a month.
There is also a volume of letters of Crates extant, in which he philosophizes most excellently; and in style is very little inferior to Plato. He also wrote some tragedies, which are imbued with a very sublime spirit of philosophy, of which the following lines are a specimen:
'Tis not one town, nor one poor single house,
That is my country; but in every land
Each city and each dwelling seems to me,
A place for my reception ready made.
And he died at a great age, and was buried in Boeotia.
Author's Note: Grateful Acknowledgment to Peitho's Web site for their generous translation of Diogenes Laertius:


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