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Greece – birth of city

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Greece - the birth of the city
Greece - the birth of the city

Unlike most civilizations of the ancient East, developing in the valleys of great rivers, the subjugation and use of which was associated with the emergence of great states, the fate of Greece, devoid of this factor, turned out differently.

Greece did not occupy such a large area as the oriental countries, because only about 80 thousand km2, of which only 25-30% was arable land. The rest of the area was mountain and wasteland, mostly pastures. The soil in Greece, not fertilized in a similar way as in the Eastern civilizations, was not very fertile. On the other hand, the following metal ores were of great importance: iron, lead and silver. The shores of Greece were also favourable, as they abounded in numerous bays and well-protected harbours, facilitating the close connection of the population with the sea. A resident of Greece felt confident at sea, he even travelled from one country to another by sea, because the mountains, sometimes descending to the sea, making it difficult to travel by land.

A further favourable factor was the climate which was so mildly influenced by the sea. Greece geographically consisted of three parts: Peloponnese, Central and Northern Greece. Central and Northern Greece was divided by mountain ranges through which the Thermopylae gorge ran. More important, however, was the division into Eastern Greece, richly fragmented, connected by a chain of islands with Asia Minor, with the shores it formed a geographic unity, and the western part, with less favourable coastlines, more mountainous.

History of Ancient Greece

Traces of civilization in Greece come from the turn of the third and second thousand. before Christ. They are related to the creation of the oldest culture in this area – the Minoan culture – the name comes from the legendary King Minos. In the third millennium, Crete was populated by newcomers from Asia Minor, who also settled on the Aegean islands and on the territory of mainland Greece. In the second half of this millennium, Crete began to transform, the family or tribal communities that previously constituted the backbone of society were broken, and a state was created in Crete, the centre of which was in Knossos. The peak period of the development of Crete falls in the first half of the second millennium. At that time, Crete maintained extensive commercial and cultural relations with Egypt and other countries of the eastern Mediterranean. Searching for valuable raw materials for their developed craft, the Cretans established closer contacts with the inhabitants of the M. Aegean islands, as well as with mainland Greece, whose culture was strongly influenced by the Cretans.

Around 1700 – 1600 BCE, Crete was devastated by an earthquake that destroyed the main palaces of the island. In the 15th century, there were signs of weakness. Greece has grown into its formidable enemy and competitor. The final battle between the Mycenae and Knossos ended in the defeat of the Cretans. The palaces of Knossos and smaller towns were looted and destroyed. They were inhabited by immigrants – probably Mycenaean Greeks, while the rest of the area was inhabited by old people.

The second important centre, next to Crete, in the Aegean area was Greece. The oldest population of Greece was related to the inhabitants of Crete. These people achieved a high level of culture and had a longer period of development behind them. Numerous urban settlements were established there, due to the danger of privateers, located some distance from the sea – Athens, Argos, Corinth. This original population was absorbed by immigrants of Indo-European origin. It is believed that the Ionians arrived around 2000 BCE, and later the Achaeans around 1700 BCE. It is also likely that the migration of these Indo-Europeans occurred at the same time, and the division into Ions and Achaeans did not occur until after settling in Greece. Mycenae came to the fore, which is why the culture of this period is called Mycenaean. At the beginning of the second millennium, newcomers used the achievements of the Minoan culture, the language of the Cretans, learned crafts and the art of sailing. Later they joined the competition, which they finally won in the 15th century. An important place in the Mycenaean culture was occupied by agriculture, crafts and trade. The range of trade was huge for those times, as it covered areas from Sicily to Egypt and Syria.

The king was at the head of the Mycenaean state. The state had an extensive system of central and local bureaucracy. Mycenaean Greece was definitely of a military nature. Huge castles testified to the war attitude of the rulers, which is also confirmed by the weapons placed in the graves. The Mycenaean Greeks used horse-drawn war chariots. The proof of the power of Mycenaean Greece was its expansion, which began around 1450. First, the Achaeans invaded Crete, whose power they broke. In turn, they extended their conquests to the islands of the Aegean and the shores of Asia Minor, the island of Rhodes and Pamphylia. They also took Cyprus, winning the rivalry with Phenicia. The turn of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries is the fall of the Mycenaean civilization. It was most likely related to the shifts of peoples who came from the depths of the Balkans to the Middle East. The Doras dealt the final blow to the Mycenaean civilization. The Dorian invasion was not a one-time process. They probably settled in Greece during a longer migration, coexisting with the Mykene, and being at a lower level of development, they led to the collapse of culture. This process ended around 1050 BCE. It did not mean a complete break with the past, cultural continuity was preserved.

The period after the fall of Mycenaean culture from around 1200 to around 750 BCE is one of the least-known periods in Greek history and is therefore often referred to as the “dark ages” period. Then the entire palace system collapsed, great states disappeared, and the economy collapsed. From the eighth century BCE, the history of Greece is divided into three periods:

  • VIII century – 480 BCE – archaic period,
  • 480-323 BCE – classical period,
  • 323 – 2nd century BCE – Hellenistic period.

The origins of the city

Only 25 to 30% of the land within Greece was agricultural land. The Greeks made an attempt to expand the area of ​​farmland by clearing forests. The effect, however, was counterproductive. The waters washed away a thin layer of the earth as it lost its root reinforcement. Hence, economic difficulties arose, as did social and political conflicts.

In parallel with the changes taking place in the agricultural economy, the importance of cities located mainly in the eastern part of Greece, especially Athens, Megara, and Sparta, increased. As a result of these transformations, Greece was divided into the western part, inhabited by numerous tribes, and the eastern part, in which the basic cell of Greek life – the city – polis, began to form.

The origins of the city date back to archaic Greece. The earliest cities developed in Asia Minor, where other factors than in Greece proper played a role in their formation. An important role here was played by the desire to protect oneself against hostile people from the hinterland. In Greece, the cities were initially agricultural in nature. In the eighth century, it became the centre of political life, as it was easier to manage the entire country from one centre. In order to create a strong urban centre, a part of the rural population was often relocated to cities.

The Greek polis was a sovereign community of citizens who ruled themselves without creating state structures separate from society and acting on behalf of that society. The basic decisions were made by the Congregation of all the men who made up such a community. The community appointed officials for a fixed period and then changed them. So the power circulated in a certain group of people who were once listeners and sometimes gave orders. The most important institution of the policies was the Citizens’ Assembly. The Council, consisting of a limited number of members, played an important role. Its purpose was, above all, to form motions or opinions to the Congregation. The lack of power structures separate from society fostered the formation of a strong sense of responsibility for what was happening in the community. The community of citizens was a closed group, people entered it only by birth, admitting people from outside was very rare. Foreigners were allowed to live in the city but were not citizens. Women did not take part in the life of the policies. The community of citizens was also the community from a religious point of view. As a whole, she worshipped certain gods and organized holidays.
The process of the formation of polis did not occur simultaneously for all Greeks.

Great colonization

The eighth century is a time of disasters affecting the Greek economy. There were also sharp conflicts. Lack of food in the face of a growing number of inhabitants, the desire to get arable land to ensure a prosperous existence, the desire to get rich, initiated a process called great colonization.

Directions of colonization

  • south Italia and Sicily. The colonization movement started there first. The first colony was Ischia (Pithekussai) founded by Chalcis and Eretria before 770. Then Kyme was established on the mainland. The colonies established in southern Italy gained the name of great Greece. For the Greeks of the old world, it was a rich land where people lived well and comfortably. The colonization of Sicily began in the mid-eighth century BCE. The lands were conquered by the Greeks by force. Only the Phoenician trading posts in the west showed no hostility towards the Greeks. The polis of Great Greece and Sicily had significant surpluses of food, especially grain, which began to be shipped to Greece proper. Two colonies were established on the eastern Adriatic coast – Apolonia and Epidamnos, where there were silver mines. In the north, at the mouth of the Po, Adria and Spina arose.
  • East – towards the coasts of Syria, Phenicia, Palestine and Egypt. There could be no question of establishing policies here, because the existing state structures, strongly controlling the territories under their control, prevented this from happening. Settlements were established, obtaining from the local rulers a special status, thanks to which they had the protection of people and interests, as well as trade privileges. Such settlements were to be Al-mina nad Orontesem and Tell Sukas. There was only one such settlement in Egypt: Naukratis on the Nile. Rather, it was a commercial port.
  • Far West. In the 7th century, the Greeks began their expeditions to the western waters of the Mediterranean, and in the 6th century they took over the trading posts of the Phoenicians. Ok. In 600, they founded Massalia, and a little later Alalia in Corsica, from where they began to practice piracy on a large scale. They reached Spain farthest, where they founded Emporion in the north. (tin was mined, silver was copper).
  • The Aegean Sea and Propontis. These were areas that were very attractive to the Greeks. They were overgrown with high-tree forests, which provided the raw material for the construction of the fleet. Tar was purchased there to seal the hulls. Good soil and a mild climate favoured the development of agriculture. It all contributed to the emergence of a dense network of cities. The oldest colony was Kyzykos
  • The Black Sea. The earliest that the Greeks became interested in the Anatolian shores, establishing around 770 BCE Sinope. The first colonies on the western and northern shores of the Black Sea arise in the 7th century. Most founded by Miletus. The surplus grain that these colonies had at their disposal was exported to Greece to become Greece’s granary from June onwards.

Around 580 BCE, the colonization trend weakened, although many new settlements were established throughout the 6th century. The Greeks encountered the resistance of Carthage, defending access to the coasts of Africa, Spain, and the western shores of Sicily. In central Italy, they had to reckon with the presence of the Etruscans. In Greece itself, artisanal production increased, which made it possible to purchase food from outside. Establishing colonies contributed to a significant increase in trade, and the Greek world clearly enriched itself. The development of trade exchange created the necessary conditions for the flourishing of cities with a rapidly growing population. They could not develop without the supply of food from the “colonial” areas. The development of trade made it possible to get rich quickly. Settlements established outside of Greece proper accelerated the development of the peoples among which they arose. Colonization contributed to changes in the way of thinking, expanding the geographical horizon of the Hellenes, establishing contacts with various peoples of different customs.

Cities and their colonies

  • Milet – over 100 settlements in the Black Sea area
  • Megara – Byzantium, Chalcedon, Heraklea
  • Corinth – Korkyra, Syracuse
  • Chalkis – Kyme
  • Sparta – Taranto
  • Achaea – Sybaris and Croton
  • Phocaea – Massalia, Majnake (today Malaga)
Author: Edward Kryściak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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