The Greek Polis: birth, evolution and crisis –

Ancient Greece: the archaic period. The formation of the first poleis, the concept of polis, oligarchic regimes and the multiplication of city-states via colonization.

The term Archaic Greece refers to a historical period of the history of the Ancient Greece. This period covers the three centuries before the classical Age, between 800 BC and 500 BC. It was a time of great advances in art, poetry, technology and especially in politics, with the development of the first greek city states: the poleis.

The birth of the city-state

During the call «Dark Age” in Greece –which preceded the archaic time– people lived scattered in small farming villages. As these villages grew, they began to build walls, a market (agora), and a community meeting place.

These towns established governments, in which the citizens participated. Thus, small states were configured that elaborated their own laws, formed armies and organized the collection of taxes to cover the expenses of the community. It was about City-statessince the nucleus was a city that ruled over the adjoining fields.

Each of these city-states was called cops (plural, poleis). According to the beliefs of the Greek peoples, each polis was protected by a particular god or goddess, to whom the citizens of the polis owed respect and sacrifice. the deity of Athens it was athenafor instance.

Each city ​​State Greek had its particular characteristics. The biggest, Spartacontrolled some 300 square kilometers of territory, while the smaller poleis had only a few hundred inhabitants.

It should be clarified that initially all the city-states they were independent of each other. However, we consider them as a whole as “Greek civilization” because they shared the same culture, religious beliefs, customs and a common language.

Around the seventh century BC, the Greek city-states they had already developed a number of common characteristics. They all had an economy based on agriculture and not trade, which is why land was the most valuable resource in each city ​​State.

Oligarchic Regimes

Furthermore, most of them had already been overthrown by their hereditary monarchies -called basileus– instead the government was controlled by a small number of wealthy aristocrats. This type of government, where a few and very powerful people rule, is called “oligarchy” either “oligarchic regime”.

These people sought to monopolize political power, restricted access to politics for the majority of the population, preventing their participation in councils and assemblies. They also monopolized the best agricultural land, and some even claimed to be descended from the gods.

The monarchy in Ancient Greece

We know Athens as the birth of Democracy. But this innovative form of government was the result of a long historical process that began several centuries ago, during the Monarchy. Here you have a summary of the monarchy in Ancient Greece, the Aristocratic Regime and Democracy so that you know the social groups, social conflicts and government institutions of Greece in this period.

Form of GovernmentMONARCHY (Government one’s). The king rules with limitations of the Areopagus (tip)YearsThe monarchy covers the entire eighth century and the beginning of the s. VII a.CSocial groups1) EUPATRIDAS: aristocracy of the rich landownerscontrol the governmentjustice and politicstwo) DEMOS: is the people: artisans, soldiers, peasants. They are what they are not eupatrids by birth They were excluded from government and the politicsSocial conflicts1) The LAWS were not written, the eupatrids they use them to their advantage, harming the give.2) The impoverished peasants asked for loans to survive in a difficult situation (such as the loss of their harvest). If they could not pay what was owed, they became DEBT SLAVES3) Inside the DEMOS there was a group of merchants and artisans who were in a good economic position and began to claim PARTICIPATION POLITICS.Political institutionsOnly the EUPATRIDAS have the right to participate in government institutions.AREOPAYMENT. It is the main institution of Government after King. It is a council made up of landowners (EUPATRIDAS). His function is to control the king and exercise justice

Greek Colonization

The emigration it appears in the 8th and 7th centuries as a mechanism to alleviate the social tensions present in Greek society. As we have already said, the Earth It was the most important source of wealth in the city-statesbut it was also a rather limited good.

Faced with the pressure of demographic growth, a significant number of men left their poleis originating in new city states that were founded in sparsely populated areas. Between 750 BC and 600 BC, Greek colonies arose along much of the coast of the Mediterranean and also in Asia Minor and the coast of Black Sea. Some of them were located in the Iberian Peninsulaeven on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Towards the end of the 7th century BC, there were already more than 1,500 poleis that had emerged as colonies. Each of these poleis was a city ​​State independent and autonomous, although important ties were maintained with the “mother cities” or metropolis.

The crisis of the Greek polis

At the end of the classical period, around 360 BC, the city-states greek they were weak and disorganized after two centuries of warfare:

  • The Athenians first fought the Persians in the Medical Warsin the first half of the 5th century BC
  • then the Spartans fought the Athenians, during the Peloponnesian War, in the second half of the 5th century BC

This situation had led to the weakening of all the governments of the greek city states. And therefore, all of this made it easier for the city-state of Macedonia -which previously had not been highlighted- the military conquest of its neighboring poleis. By the year 338 BC he had already dominated all greek poleis.

Macedonian Expansion

Under the firm rule of King Philip II, the Macedonians they began to expand their territory to the outside of their territory. They were aided by a number of advances in military technology: long-range catapults, for example, along with 5-meter-long pikes called sarissas that could be used as spears.

Another of the outstanding features of the army of Philip II was his training strategy as phalanxtotally innovative, which was considered invincible for 150 years.

The ultimate goal of king philip II the conquest of Persia, seizing the immense lands and riches of this Empire. However, he was assassinated in 336 BC before he could enjoy the spoils of his victories.

But it was his son Alexander, who took the opportunity to take charge of his father’s imperial project. The new Macedonian king led his troops through the hellespont towards Asia. From there, Alexander and his army carried out an impressive military campaign in which they conquered huge areas of western Asian, of Egypt and of indus valley

The vast empire conquered by Alexander the Great encompassed a gigantic area that included the regions of Greece, Asia Minorthe Balkans, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and reached the indus river. The capital was established in the city of Babylon.

After 13 years of reign, Alexander the Great He died in 323 BC, at the age of 33. This happened exactly in Babylon, the brand new capital, under dubious circumstances that were never clarified. He left behind an extensive empire, but little consolidated.

After his death, the army generals disputed the supremacy until finally, the Empire disintegrated into various kingdoms. From then on a new stage in history begins, which is known as the Hellenistic period.