Ancient Greece – Culture & Kingdoms

This article talks about the Ancient or Archaic Greece which basically refers to the years 700-480 B.C. This period saw various developments in the field of art, poetry and technology. It was also the time when city-state (the polis) was invented which became a defining feature of Greek politics for hundreds of years.

The Rise of City State

  • Earlier, people throughout Greece lived in small villages and practised farming.
  • As time passed, these villages began to evolve and grew larger in size.
  • Some of them were walled (had walls around them) and had their own marketplace and community meeting place.
  • Each such city had their own governments, which organised their citizens according to some sort of a constitution or set of laws. The governments raised separate armies and collected taxes from their citizens.
  • Every city-state was said to be protected by a particular god or goddess to whom the citizens owed a great deal of respect and sacrifice.
Athena- The Athenian goddess of war
Athena- The Athenian goddess of war (Source)
  • Though citizens of all the city-states had the same stock, the same speech, shared gods, customs and rituals, every Greek city-state was different.
  • Some of the largest city-states controlled about 300 square miles of area, whereas the smallest ones had just a few hundred citizens.

Changing Political Powers

  • Major changes were seen by the seventh century B.C. For example- the economy of all the city-states shifted from agriculture to trade. Also, most of them had overthrown their kings and were ruled by a small number of rich people.
  • These wealthy people had all the political power in their hands and mostly refused to let the common people be a part of the government’s councils or assemblies. They considered themselves to be the descendants of the Greek gods.
  • They also controlled some of the best farmlands in their city-state.

Colonisation

  • People changed their city-states to escape the oppression of their city’s wealthy class.
  • Sometimes, the pressure of population growth also pushed them away from their home city into different areas around Greece.
  • This allowed movement to different city-states made the Greek colonies different from other colonies where the ruler bound the people to his city-state.
  • During 750 B.C. to 600 B.C., the Greek colonies spread to different areas such as the Asia Minor, from North Africa to the coast of the Black Sea. By the end of the seventh century B.C., there were more than fifteen hundred city-state colonies.

The Cruel & Oppressive Rulers

  • As time passed and the population grew, production of craft items such as pottery, cloth, wine and metalwork took place of agriculture. Trade made some people (who didn’t belong to the already existing wealthy families) prosperous.
  • These newly emerged rich people opposed the unchecked control of the wealthy-families-turned-rulers. Sometimes, they got together and with the help of heavily armed soldiers, fought to change the oppressive oligarchies (where there is more than one ruler of a place) also called collectively as tyrants.
  • However, the rule of tyrants throughout the city-states did not last for long. With the arrival of the classical period in Greece, political reforms were initiated and a system of Ancient Greek democracy or “rule by the people” emerged.

First Known Democracy in The World

  • In the year 507 B.C., the Athenian (a native or citizen of Athens— the largest and most influential of the ancient Greek city-states) leader Cleisthenes — also known as “the father of democracy”, introduced the system of demokratia (demos- people; kratos- power) , or “the rule by the people”.
Cleisthenes- 'the father of democracy'
Cleisthenes- ‘the father of democracy’ (Source)
  • It was the first known democracy in the world.
  • This Athenian democracy could survive for only two centuries.
  • This political reform erased the political differences between the wealthy class and the common people.
  • Citizenship was also limited in the city-states.  For eg: the Athenian citizenship was limited to men and women whose parents had also been Athenian citizens
  • The voting rights though came with some restrictions. Out of all the citizens, only males who were older than 18 were a part of the demos.

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