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The Archaic Era (800-500 BCE)
A brief introduction to this otherwise forgotten era.

Among the accomplishments of this age are:

Colonization Numerous Greek cities sent people to establish colonies on uninhabited areas in the Black Sea, Cyprus and the south of Italy, France and Spain. One notable city established at this time was Byzantium, later Constantinople, still later, Istanbul.

Solon and the start of Democracy Faced with a revolt of the lower classes against the aristocratic classes of Athens, the city designated a respected citizen, Solon, to reform its government. His new laws (594BC) gave some institutional power and participation to lower and middle class citizens, marking the earliest steps on the road to the invention of democracy.

Philosophy, Science and Math It is this era that saw the first recorded writers on these subjects. At this point, the subjects are all so interrelated that there was no sharp distinction between science, math and philosophy.

The earliest known philosophers are three from Miletus (in modern-day coastal Turkey), Thales, Anaximander (ca. 610-546), and Anaximenes (active ca.550). Plato regarded Thales as the first philosopher. Pythagorus, (from Samos, active in Italy 530) was both philosopher, mystic and mathematician.

These writers tried to understand the origin of things, what substance underlay the entire universe and how it came to be. All cultures have reflection on the meaning of life, but, as Martin West puts it "Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation." (Greece and the Hellenistic World, Oxford History of the Classical World, John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, Oswyn Murray, p. 116).

Lyric and Elegiac Poetry The earliest recorded poets are from this era. The very earliest we know is Archilochus (from Paros, ca. 650BC) who wrote this famous fragment expressing the idea that there were other virtues than heroic death.

My shield delights some Thracian, for I dropped
the blameless gear, unwilling, in a wood
but saved my skin: what is that shield to me?
Stuff it! I'll get another just as good.

Also well known is an early woman poet, Sappho (from Lesbos, ca. 600BC). Her writing includes admiration and longing for other women, leading to accusations against her for lesbianism. Whether those accusations (all much later) are true or she was writing of platonic friendship is unknown.

The Athenian Solon (see above) was also a poet.

Fragments and individual poems are extent from a number of other poets of this era.

Homer and Hesod Homer composed his Odyssey and Iliad, and Hesod his writings on the Greek myths ca. 750-700 BC.

First Olympic Games were established 776BC.

Notable buildings Some buildings from this era that are still visible as ruins are:
Temple of Hera on Samos
Temple of Apollo at Corinth (6th cent, BC)


Last modified 8/28/04; posted 6/29/00; © 2002 John P. Nordin