Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Some African History from 4000-3000BC



The Battlefield Palette
from Naqada III Period in Egypt, c3200BC
showing defeated soldiers being eaten by beasts
This post is the first in the new series trying to describe the less-studied time periods in history. For this blog we will look at the history of the African continent from the year 4000-3000BC. In some ways this is a very difficult endeavour, as the history of one part of the continent often has almost nothing to do with other parts, but the same could be said for Europe, Asia or the Americas. Africa is more split than most though, with the Sahara creating a large natural barrier that sometimes cut the Mediterranean coast off from the lands south of the desert. But despite these difficulties we shall try our best.

African history is sometimes dismissed as being less interesting than that of other areas and it is true that it is understudied and sometimes suffers from lack of source materials. But Africa is also the birthplace of Egypt, the world’s second oldest civilisation (if not the oldest) and cannot possibly be treated as unimportant. The origins of Egyptian culture are distinctly African and considering that Africa is held to be the original birthplace of humanity and contains not only Egypt but so much more, this continent is fully deserving of historical study. My hope is that the next decades will see great strides in our understanding of African history.

Africa is long held to be the original cradle of the human race so by the year 4000BC humans had been in Africa since time immemorial. Exact dates are not expected at this point in prehistory but by 4000BC agriculture was in the Nile Valley and had spread across much of the northern belt of the rainforests in the centre of the continent.

Skull of a megatherium. These large beasts once roamed
the Saharan lands before going extinct
Around the year 3900BC a major climactic shift occurred in Northern Africa. The Neolithic Subpluvial began to end. The Neolithic Subpluvial was an epoch where nearly all of North Africa was fertile (or more strictly speaking, semi-arid) rather than desert. The lakes were vastly larger than they currently are. Megafauna roamed across the savannahs and were prey to the Neolithic hunters of the region. The Nile and other rivers in the region all carried much more water and were considerably higher than they now are today. The Last Glacial Maximum began to recede but was interrupted by the Younger Dryas period (which saw the warming planet temporarily cooled again) about 10,000BC according to current climate estimates. But the glaciers had now begun to disappear to their current proportions and this caused a change in climate that saw heavy rainfall across Africa, as the currents of the North Atlantic shifted with the changing climate.

This wet Sahara period was ended by what is known to us as the 5.9 Kiloyear Event (as in it happened roughly 5900 years before the present date). This saw the fertile and semi-arid lands of what was then the North African savannah begin to turn to desert. This desertification did not happen overnight but did seem to happen more rapidly than could be entirely attributed to climate. It is a theoretical possibility that human hunting, gathering and subsistence agriculture in the region may have contributed to the creation of a climate loop that created the largest desert known today.

Rock art from Wadi Mathendous in Libya
showing meerkats
The change did not happen overnight, or even over the course of century, but from this time onwards the Sahara would begin to expand. The people in the area would have to migrate outwards, towards the coastlands, to the shrinking grasslands around Lake Chad, to oases such as Nabta Playa, southwards towards the rain belts of central Africa or towards the Nile Valley, which was now the only major river remaining in the region. The inhabitants of the Sahara have left few remnants save for their artworks that were left in caves throughout the region. Here we can see humans interacting with extinct species and animals of the savannah, a memory of a lost landscape in the midst of desolation.

Naqada I sculpture
with lapis lazuli eyes,
evidence of trade
In Egypt, along the Nile Valley, Neolithic settlements had been in place for a long period. In Lower Egypt the Maadi culture flourished around this time. They traded with the Levant and seem to have imported some goods from that region. Even though they had copper workings, their primary tools remained stone. Their culture is not well known as many of their settlements throughout the Nile Delta have been covered by the Nile silt.

In Upper Egypt (higher along the Nile, hence in the south of the country) the Naqada I culture, also known as the Amratian culture, flourished. They traded obsidian, a hard volcanic rock used for tools, and gold, with the Nubian region further to the south. They also began to build in mud-brick, although nothing more than small settlements.

Reconstruction of a stone circle from Nabta Playa
Around this time as well, there seems to have been a civilisation building megalithic structures in Nabta Playa, an oasis in what is now the southern part of Egypt. A stone circle has been interpreted as a potential archeo-astronomical calendar that was possibly able to predict the seasons. Deep wells had also been dug here to access water during dryer periods and there are evidences of a sacrificial cult sacrificing bovines (although these may not have been domesticated). There are a number of relatively complex structures that seem in certain ways more advanced than their contemporaries on the Nile. But the drying of the land forced the abandonment of Nabta Playa over the next centuries.

Postage stamp commemorating
Bouar megaliths
In Central Africa, near Bouar in what is now the Central African Republic, there are a number of megalithic monuments that still stand today. They are clustered in this part of the region and not seen elsewhere, suggesting that the culture that built them was not widely diffused. The dates for the construction of the megaliths are somewhat confused, suggesting that they may be built around 5000-4500, and they were later reused about two millennia before our time, which confuses the dating somewhat. Nevertheless, for the millennia between 4-3000BC we can say with certainty that there was a megalithic culture, contemporary with the Neolithic and presumably having some form of agriculture. This culture has disappeared and left no other traces.

In Egypt, from c.3300BC onwards the Naqada III culture was predominant in both Upper and Lower Egypt. This period is also sometimes referred to as the Protodynastic period, as we know that there were attempts to unify the land of Egypt. This is also the point where Egypt, and by extension, Africa, enters history, as the hieroglyphic writing system was invented around this time.

Gebel-el-arak knife from Naqada III
Egypt. The designs on the hilt are
Mesopotamian c3200BC
It is unclear if the writing was independently invented. There were earlier scripts in use in Mesopotamia at the time but these were quite different from what Egyptian hieroglyphics would become. We know that the Mesopotamians had trade contacts with the Egyptians but it was probably not direct contact. My own theory is that the Egyptian writing was invented by the Egyptians themselves but only after hearing of the existence of the Mesopotamian system. This enabled their script to bypass many of the stages of development that cuneiform had to undergo to become a full-fledged writing system. We will probably never know for sure but considering how seldom writing is invented as a concept (possibly only occurring three or four times in human history) it would be strange that it would be invented nearly simultaneously and independently by two cultures already in contact with each other.

Macehead showing King Scorpion, c.3150BC
The Proto-Dynastic period, or Dynasty 0 as it is sometimes known, saw kingdoms form in Upper and Lower Egypt. In Lower Egypt kings bearing names such as Crocodile and Double Falcon reigned. In Upper Egypt there were three smaller kingdoms, Thinis, Naqada and Nekhen. Thinis was possibly ruled over by an early king called Scorpion. We’re not sure exactly how his name would have sounded but it used the same sound as the early Egyptian word for Scorpion, so he is known to history as Scorpion. It is possible that Scorpion is the first named person known to history, although there are some other contenders from Mesopotamia.

Macehead of Narmer, c.3100BC
The role of kings would grow, as their already elaborate tombs would be expanded. Warfare was a feature of life. While weapons could in theory be made of copper, it is probable that at this stage the warriors probably used stone weapons. Around the year 3100BC a king or tribal chieftain in Thinis would conquer Naqada in Upper Egypt before conquering Lower Egypt. Nekhen would later join the kingdom by either conquest or peaceful assimilation. This king was Narmer and he founded what can be justifiably said to be the first kingdom or state in the world.

Later Egyptian writers would credit the unification of Egypt to a king they called Menes, but this was probably just another name for Narmer, or one of the other Proto-Dynastic kings who was involved in the unification of Egypt. One interesting remnant of this time was the crowns that would be worn by the later Pharaohs. Upper Egyptian rulers wore a tall white crown, while Lower Egyptian rulers wore a low red crown. These were united by Narmer and his descendants into a single crown known as the Double Crown of Egypt.

Palette of Narmer, showing the
king wearing the white crown of
Upper Egypt and smiting a foe
c.3100BC
Narmer’s descendants would form what is known as the First Dynasty of Egypt. They continued solidifying the kingdom and were probably worshipped as gods by their subjects. Two generations after Narmer the Egyptian kings were already trying to expand their empire with expeditions into the Sinai. They were buried with great state in a cemetery near Abydos. When they died large numbers of their subjects were sacrificed and placed in their tombs to accompany the dead ruler to the afterlife. This practice was discontinued by the Second Dynasty and those who followed after. Instead of human sacrifices they would leave little statues of human workers, known as ushabtis to follow their master to the afterlife. This connection between early rulers and human sacrifices seems to have also occurred in Mesopotamia and China, as well as in the Americas and the fact that so many of these early cultures practiced human sacrifice should sober us when praising the birth of civilisation.

While Egypt was being unified under Narmer, the civilisation of Egypt was being paralleled in Nubia. This was a region to the south of Egypt, further upstream along the River Nile. From about 3800-3100BC the region had what was known as the A Group culture. While it does not appear that a fully-fledged kingdom emerged here at this point, their grave goods and the artefacts that remain seem to have been culturally very similar to the Egyptian developments and we know that the two regions traded with one another.

Rock art of Laas Geel
Around the Horn of Africa region we have some beautiful cave paintings from around 3000BC in the Laas Geel caves near the present-day city of Hargeisa in Somaliland. Later writings would refer to a wealthy kingdom in this region but this was probably only developed in the following centuries.

I have not mentioned anything so far from the southern part of the vast continent of Africa. The reason for this is that there is not much to say. We know that the area was inhabited with hunter-gatherers who possibly resembled the San peoples in South Africa today and almost certainly spoke different languages to the ones spoken today. These hunter-gatherers, living either in rainforests or arid lands, lacked the resources to erect substantial monuments or leave many material remains. There are cave paintings from the region but they are hard to date, as many of them are much more recent. As agriculture became more significant in the north and west of Africa the pastoralists and farmers would expand southwards, but around 3000BC hunter-gathering was probably the most sensible method of survival in these regions. So, while acknowledging that the area was inhabited, there is sadly not much that we can say with certainty about it at this time.

King Den of Egypt striking an Asian foe, c.3000BC
There is one thing that I have omitted that I would like to clarify before continuing. If one checks online about South African early history there will be a lot of articles about stone circles, which are supposedly aeons old. However, if you research these further you find that these theories and dates are almost all from a single source, a non-archaeologist by the name of Michael Tellinger, who claims that these circles are archeo-astronomical in nature and that they are hundreds of thousands years old. This is almost certainly false. These circles certainly exist but they are probably built within the last millennia by the peoples in the region. Michael Tellinger speaks of aliens and all sorts of other nonsense mostly lifted from the works of Erich von Daniken. It is sad that he is taken so seriously while there are so many other parts of African history that are worth exploring and learning more about.

So, after traversing the thousand years between 4000-3000BC in Africa we have seen the rebirth of the world’s largest desert with associated mass migrations and extinctions of those who fled it. We have looked at what is possibly the world’s oldest ancient astronomical megalithic site as well as the foundation of the world’s first real state known to history, the invention of the world’s second-oldest script and possibly the first names known to history.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

A new type of blog post coming soon

Poulnabrone Dolmen
We’ve covered a lot of history over the years. In particular we’ve looked at the civilisations of the Ancient Middle East and Greece in great detail. The blog posts on these will continue next year in full detail and I have already began to prepare for these. But there is something that has been weighing on my mind.

To some extent this blog is beginning to constitute a minor history of the world. It definitely has errors and flaws but I have enjoyed writing it. Chinese and Indian civilisations have been mentioned in earlier blog posts, as have the South American and Mesoamerican civilisations. The earlier blog posts are considerably less detailed than perhaps they should be. Possibly I may revise them at some stage but I am more worried about other omissions.

Slieve Gullion Passage Tomb
I love writing about ancient history but there is a tendency for historians to focus on their pet areas. I personally love Mesopotamian history so I often gravitate to writing about that. But in writing about the so-called Greek Dark Ages I have noticed how few resources there are. Writers will speak of the fall of the Mycenaean civilisation, mention a few facts about Archaic Pottery and a dark age and then boom, we’ve skipped straight to Homer. A few more sentences, or maybe even a page, mentioning Hesiod, Sparta, tyrants and maybe Sappho and Thales and boom, we’ve reached the Battle of Marathon, happily skipping over centuries of development. This is troubling. All of history is important, not just the few centuries that historians like writing about.

To properly understand a historical civilisation we need to know something about why they arose and who came before them, in the same way we study those civilisations to understand ourselves. So, I will spend some time over the next few years interrupting my normal blogs to give context to what is happening all over the world from the years 4000-500BC.

I will break these up into sections for better understanding. So, the first blog will probably be about what is happening in Africa or Europe for the years 4000-3000BC. This will hopefully keep things manageable.
Silbury Hill

I make no claims to be an expert on these areas or anything even close to it. I have never studied history as a discipline properly at a college level but I do have a degree in Greek and Roman Civilisation and have studied Biblical and Mesopotamian history as an amateur since I was a small child. So, while not an expert I can at least talk with some confidence about these time periods. But Stone Age Japan or Central Asia in the Bronze Age are just not things that I know. There is honestly no one in the world qualified as a full expert in the prehistory of the entire world, so this is a humbling and daunting task. So, this will be a challenging experiment. But it will be an interesting challenge and hopefully a fun one.

So, if you’re a follower of this blog and you notice that the series on Near Eastern history is discontinued for a while, don’t worry, it will return. But we’ll try and explore some new times and places first. I hope that you will enjoy this dive into lesser known history as much as I will!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Greece from 625-600BC

Attic Black-Figure Pottery
This post will look at Greece and the wider Greek world from the years 625BC to 600BC. Firstly a word as to our sources. By and large, the closer we move to the present the better the sources become. Archaeology will shed some light on the period but not much. Archaeology can give information on settlement patterns and occasional destruction levels but it cannot tell the stories of the people who lived at this time. For this we are reliant on later writings from the classical world. Unlike the Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources, at least some of which are near contemporary with the events they describe, we have almost no manuscripts from this era, so most of what we hear will be mediated through the words of later writers. This is not necessarily an issue but it should be remembered.

I must reiterate that I am not a professional historian, or any other type of historian for that matter. There are certainly mistakes and errors in the sources and I may make mistakes in my interpretations of these sources. Mistakes are particularly likely to occur when dealing with years, as the years in the ancient world do not necessarily correspond exactly to our own. Even professional historians have differing opinions on the exact ordering of events at this time, so exact precision is not likely here. Also, a lot of events have only approximate dating anyway, so some historians will place an event in 620 while another might say 610 and the truth is that no one knows for sure, although some opinions are more founded than others. Also, a lot of writers and poets of the time are writing for periods of time. This it can be correct to speak of Mimnermus writing poetry around 620BC but also it is equally correct to say around 610BC.

I will quickly summarise the state of the Greek world in the year 625BC. The Cimmerian threat was receding, as the Lydian kings fought back against the horse nomads. But the rising power of the kings of Lydia would be a threat to the Greek city states in its own right and soon wars would reoccur between them. In cultural terms, poetry continued to grow in importance with Callinus and Mimnermus both writing poetry around this time. Black-Figure pottery was developing and would continue to develop. In Lydia Ardys II was king. In Sparta, Anaxander was the Agiad king and Anaxidamus or Archidamus I was the Eurypontid king. Periander was the tyrant of Corinth while Athens had resisted the attempted tyranny of Cylon and also expelled the cursed Alcmaeonidae.

Corinthian Pottery
However fair he may once have been, when the season is overpast he is neither honoured nor loved, nay, not by his own children.
Mimnermus quoted in the Stobaeus Anthology (written 400’s AD)


Around the year 625BC a poet called Mimnermus. He was from either Colophon or more likely from Smyrna. Few fragments of his work survive but we know that he wrote elegies and some small fragments survive through quotations from later classical authors. He wrote mythological compositions, preserving some mythic traditions that were not mentioned elsewhere (such as Ismene being killed by Tydeus). This is a good reminder that Greek mythology was somewhat fluid. Students of Greek or poetry will find Mimnermus very interesting but for this blog I just wanted to mention him, that his memory might not be entirely forgotten.

Between you and me let there be truth, the most righteous of all things.
Mimnermus quoted in the Stobaeus Anthology (written 400’s AD)


In the year 624 Ardys II of Lydia died and his son Sadyattes became king of Lydia. The Lydian kingdom is important for the Greek world at this time as it was the largest and most organised kingdom that was on their immediate borders. The Ionian city states on the western coast of what is today Turkey had extensive friendly and unfriendly contacts with the Lydian kingdoms. While all of the greater Greek world was culturally significant, most of the early cultural advances were from these Ionian cities.

The Olympics were held this year and Rhipsolaus of Laconia won the stadion race, with Hipposthenes of Laconia winning the wrestling. Hipposthenes had previously won the boys wrestling match in a previous Olympics and would go on to absolutely dominate wrestling in the Greek world for the next twenty years, which is an extraordinary achievement.

Euphobos Plate showing heroes in the
Trojan War fighting over the body of Euphorbos
In 621 the assembly of Athens asked a man named Draco to write laws for them. Athens was growing in size and prosperity and a lot of people were unhappy with the existing state of affairs. The wealthy people were seizing the land of the smaller farmers. The smaller farmers were going into debt and in some cases falling into slavery to try and pay off their debts. This anger led to an attempt to write a formal set of laws and Draco was appointed to carry out this task. We do not know much of Draco or of the laws that he made.

The Athenians were not very happy with the laws that were written as they were felt to be too harsh. The death penalty seems to have been used for a lot of smaller crimes and it did not stop people from being sold into slavery for their debts. Nevertheless it was a great step forward in that now Athens had laws that were erected on posts in public places. Any citizen could read the laws know his rights under them, provided he was literate. Developments like this helped foster a relatively literate culture among the Athenians. Draco was certainly not the first legislator, either in the world or even in Greece, but he was an important step in the history of European laws and politics. He was supposedly exiled by the annoyed Athenians to the neighbouring city state of Aegina, where he died. The memory of Draco, whose name is the Greek for Dragon, survives in English and other languages today. The word “draconian” means high-handed, harsh or even cruel, and thus his laws are remembered.

Jar showing Heracles fighting the Hydra
There are laws of Draco, but he legislated for an existing constitution, and there is nothing peculiar in his laws that is worthy of mention, except their severity in imposing heavy punishment.
Aristotle, Politics 2.1274b, written around 325BC

Around the year 620 Sadyattes, king of Lydia, began a ten-year war against the Greeks of Ionia that was continued even after his death. The Ionians were far from destroyed but the war seems to have gone quite favourably for Lydia. The Cimmerian threat was receding and the Lydian kingdom was growing in strength.

Also in this year the Olympics were held. Olyntheus of Laconia won the stadion race, making it his second victory in the most prestigious race, following his victory in 628. Hipposthenes of Laconia once again won the laurels for wrestling, making this his second victory in the men’s wrestling and his Olympic victory overall.

In the year 619 Sadyattes, king of Lydia, died and his son Alyattes II succeeded him. Alyattes II continued the war against the Ionian Greek cities. It was also around the time of Alyattes II that the Lydian kingdom began to mint coins. It is not clear that coinage was actually a Lydian invention and there is some evidence that the Greeks may actually have begun this practice. The Chinese states of the contemporary Spring and Autumn Period were also experimenting with coinage around this time, although their coins are rather different in shape and size from the coins in the west. The exact truth of this will probably not be determined but it is sufficient for our purposes to say that coinage began to be used around this time and that the Lydians, as the largest kingdom in the region, minted a great deal of coins.

Entrance to the Cloaca Maxima from the Roman Forum
According to the traditional dating, Ancus Marcius, king of Rome, died in 617. His predecessor had been struck down by a thunderbolt and while Ancus Marcius presumably died a rather more prosaic death, he had nevertheless been quite useful for Rome. He had fortified the Janiculum Hill across the Tiber and built the first bridge across the Tiber at Rome, called the Pons Sublicius. This was presumably not a very impressive bridge but it was the first of many bridges to come. This bridge was made of wood and was sacred to the Romans. Its wooden construction allowed it to be dismantled in times of war. A prison was built near the Capitoline Hill, near to the Forum, which later came to be known as the Tullianum or the Mamertine Prison. The river regions down towards the sea were brought within the hinterland of Rome and Ostia was supposedly built at this time to function as the port of Rome. But archaeology suggests that Ostia was rather later than this. As with all the royal dates for Rome, the actual dates are more likely to be about fifty or sixty years after the traditional dates.

After Ancus Marcius had died there seems to have been a time period where the Roman people would decide who they would have as king. The executor of the will of Ancus Marcius was Etruscan called Lucius Tarquinius Priscus. He was descended from Demaratus of Corinth and had moved to Rome to make his fortune, supposedly changing his name from the Etruscan “Lucomo” to the more Latin name he now bore.

In 616 Lucius Tarquinius Priscus had persuaded the people to elect him as their new king and to pass over the sons of Ancus Marcius. It should be noted that the kings of Rome were not hereditary so this was not unusual per se, although as the guardian of the previous kings son’s it might be said that it was unusual for Lucius Tarquinius Priscus to do what he had done. He went on to be a useful king for Rome. He defended them against the Sabines and the nearby Etruscan cities. He also is supposed to have dedicated the Circus Maximus, which was a large flat area between the Palatine and the Aventine Hills. This would be later built into a fully-fledged hippodrome but probably all that was done in this period was to dedicate the ground and have wooden stands erected so people could watch the games. Most useful of all he apparently constructed the beginnings of the Cloaca Maxima, which is in some respects the oldest continually used building in Rome. This began from humble beginnings, as a series of uncovered drainage trenches but which would eventually be covered over to make full sewers, some of which are still used today. While this did not all take place immediately in 616 the dates of the Roman kings are so unclear that I mention all the deeds of Lucius Tarquinius Priscus at once.

View of the Circus Maximus from the Palatine Hill
with the Aventine Hill in the background
Then for the first time a space was marked for what is now the ‘Circus Maximus.’ Spots were allotted to the patricians and knights where they could each build for themselves stands-called ‘fori’ —from which to view the Games. These stands were raised on wooden props, branching out at the top, twelve feet high. The contests were horse-racing and boxing, the horses and boxers mostly brought from Etruria. They were at first celebrated on occasions of especial solemnity; subsequently they became an annual fixture, and were called indifferently the ‘Roman’ or the ‘Great Games.’ This king also divided the ground round the Forum into building sites; arcades and shops were put up.
Livy Ab Urbe Condita (1.31), written about 20BC


Also, in the year 616 the Olympic Games were held, with Cleondas of Thebes winning the stadion, as possibly the only Theban stadion winner in the history of the games. Hipposthenes of Laconia continued his winning streak, winning his third victory in the men’s wrestling.

In 612 Nineveh, the greatest city of the known world, fell to the Babylonians and Medes. This was noted throughout the region and was a shocking fall but the Greeks were not directly influenced by the Assyrians, compared to their trading contacts with the Lydians, Phoenicians and Egyptians. So it is hard to know how this affected the Greeks, save that they would have been aware that a great empire had fallen in Asia.

The Olympics were also held this year. Lycotas of Laconia won the Stadion Race while Hipposthenes of Laconia won his fourth victory in the men’s wrestling. This extraordinary run would continue.
Around the year 610 the war between the Lydians and the Ionians seems to have finished, but further conflicts between them would flare up periodically and the politics of the time were convoluted. In this year Psammetichus I of Egypt died and was succeeded by his son Necho II as Pharaoh. These Pharaohs of the Saite Dynasty would prove very friendly to the Greeks, who provided useful services as traders and soldiers so there would be extensive Greek contacts with Egypt at this time and later.

Greek Pottery
Not much is known to have happened in the year 609 so this is as good a time as any to mention the poet Alcman, who flourished around this time period. Alcman was a choral lyric poet who wrote in the Doric dialect of Sparta. The classical picture of Sparta at this time is of a grim place, ravaged by the Messenian Wars and ever-watchful lest such wars should occur again. This is to some extent correct but Alcman’s poetry shows a more cheerful side to Spartan life, including dancing processions with singing choruses. The many references to Lydia and Sardis led some to believe that either Alcman spent time there, or that possibly he was a Lydian slave who had been brought to Sparta. All of this is conjectured but we can say for certain that even the highly militarised state of Sparta took time for luxury and poetry in this period.

In 608 the Olympic Games were held. Cleon of Epidaurus won the Stadion race. Hipposthenes of Laconia won the men’s wrestling for the fifth time. Including his victory as a boy in the boy’s wrestling event of 632, he had won six Olympic laurel trophies and had dominated the sport for over twenty years. Hipposthenes disappears from history after this but his sporting prowess should be acknowledged.

In this year another Olympic victor disappears from history. Athens was at war with the city of Mytilene on a tiny island connected to the island of Lesbos, near the coast of Asia Minor. When the Athenians attacked, the Mytilenaen general Pittacus challenged the Athenian commander to a duel. As both armies and cities were quite small and relatively evenly matched, the Athenian general agreed. Pittacus was famed for his wisdom and Phrynon was renowned throughout the Greek world as a winner of the Stadion race at the Olympics in 636. The two men fought in single combat to determine the war but the legend states that Pittacus had placed a net under his shield which he brought out during the combat to entangle Phrynon and slay him, thus singlehandedly saving his city with his tricks.

Later statue of Pittacus
When the inhabitants of Mitylene offered to Pittacus the half of the land for which he had fought in single combat, he would not accept it, but arranged to assign to every man by lot an equal part, uttering the maxim, "The equal share is more than the greater." For in measuring "the greater" in terms of fair dealing, not of profit, he judged wisely; since he reasoned that equality would be followed by fame and security, but greediness by opprobrium and fear, which would speedily have taken away from him the people's gift.
Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica 9.12, written around 40BC

Mytilene was so grateful to the wisdom of this general that they appointed him as a lawmaker for their city, although the distinction between lawmaker and tyrant is not exactly clear in this case. His laws are not well known to us but they included the provision that drunkenness was not an excuse for crimes and that crimes committed when drunk should carry twice the penalty. This was a way of curbing the aristocratic class, who were far more likely to get drunk and commit outrages against the general populace. At the same time, if the aristocrats behaved well, it wouldn’t harm them, so it was an excellent way of reforming the city. Legends say that he was a merciful man, who even pardoned the murderer of his son. Pittacus’ reputation for wisdom spread throughout the Greek world and he was known as one of the Seven Sages of Greece. These were a number of individuals who lived around this time, or shortly thereafter, who were famed for their wisdom. Few are remembered today by any but classicists but to the Classical Greeks their words and maxims would have been well known.

Proto-Corinthian Pottery
Not much can be said for the year 607, 606 or 605. This is as good a time as any to mention that Proto-Corinthian pottery was famed at this time and was considered some of the highest quality ceramic ware in Greece.

In the year 604 the Olympic Games were held. Gelon the Laconian won the stadion race. The other victors for this year are not recorded by history.

Not much happens to my knowledge for the years 603, 602 or 601 so now is as good a time as any to speak of Cleobulus and Arion, both of whom flourished around this time. Cleobulus was a citizen of the city of Lindus in Rhodes and may well have been the tyrant of that city. But this is not certain by any means. He was a poet and a traveller, who may have travelled to Egypt and spent time among the wise men of the Egyptians (this is probably a later myth). He educated his daughter Cleobulina well and she would go on to become a renowned writer herself. Not much is known of Cleobulus save that he wrote epitaphs and riddles. But despite the fact that later sources do not speak much of him, we do know that he was accounted among The Seven Sages of Greece. He flourished around the latter end of the 7th century BC so it is sufficient to make mention of him here.

The father is one, the sons twelve, and each of these has twice thirty daughters of features twain; some are white and others are black, and though they be immortal they all perish.
A riddle of Cleobulus preserved in Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers, written perhaps around 200AD? The answer is "a year"

Depiction of Arion and the Dolphin
by Albrecht Durer 1514AD
Arion also is supposed to have flourished around this time and was provided for by Periander the tyrant of Corinth. He may have been from the island of Lesbos and he was said to have been a great lyre-player and to have been instrumental in making dithyrambs, which were hymns to Dionysus the god of wine. None of his works survive to my knowledge but there is a striking legend that sees the poet being taken prisoner while at sea, playing his lyre before being thrown into the deep and then being saved from drowning by dolphins. The dolphins had gathered to hear his song and carried him to safety. At first glance, this seems like an entirely frivolous legend but dolphins are notoriously friendly and have been known to save people in contemporary times. So, it is unlikely but it is at the very edge of possibility that the story is true. However, a second glance makes it even more unlikely, as there are legends of Dionysus being captured by pirates and turning the pirates into dolphins. So if a poet who glorified a god was saved by the creatures of that god? Well, it certainly sounds like an almost certain myth but with the very faintest outer possibility that there might be a grain of truth to the story.

Later coin from Tarentum (around 500-473BC)
Possibly showing the legend of
Arion and the dolphins
Periander was despot of Corinth. During his lifetime, according to the Corinthians – and indeed the Lesbians – a very marvellous thing took place, namely the rescue of Arion of Methymna from the sea at Taenarum by a dolphin. This Arion was the finest singer to the lyre then known, and is the first recorded composer of dithyrambs, which he named and trained Corinthian choirs to perform. It seems that he spent most of his life at the court of Periander; but one day conceiving a desire to visit Italy and Sicily, he did so, and some time afterwards, having made large sums of money there, determined to return to Corinth. Accordingly he set sail from Tarentum, chartering a vessel manned by Corinthians, a people whom he thought, of all men, he could trust. But when they reached the open sea the crew conspired to secure his money by throwing him overboard . . . Putting on all his harper’s dress and grasping his lyre, he took his stand in the stern-sheets, and went through the Orthian or High-pitched Nome from beginning to end. Then he threw himself just as he was, dress and all, into the sea. The crew continued their voyage to Corinth; but meanwhile a dolphin, it seems, took Arion upon his back and carried him ashore at Taenarum . . . There is a small bronze votive-offering of Arion on the promontory of Taenarum, consisting of a man upon a dolphin’s back.
Herodotus Histories 1. 23, written around 440’s BC

In 600, Smyrna fell to the Lydians. The King of Lydia, Alyattes II, had attacked it and Smyrna was left in ruins for many years after this. The poet Mimnermus may have died in this battle. The Olympic Games were held this year and Anticrates of Epidaurus won the Stadion race. The other winners are not recorded by history.

Elsewhere the process of colonisation went on apace. The city of Massalia was founded by Greeks from the Ionian city of Phocaea. This was the first Greek settlement in what is now France and would go on to become one of the most significant western colonies. Supposedly the founding was opposed by the Carthaginians but their fleet was defeated and the Greeks founded their city in alliance with the local Ligurian tribe. Massalia would later become the main trading emporium for the Greeks in their trade with the Celts.

Later Greek temples at Paestum
The city of Poseidonia was also founded around this time on the west coast of southern Italy. This name was later changed to Paestum and later to Pesto. Sadly this is not the etymology of the food “pesto”. It was not an important city in antiquity but is known today for some of the best preserved Greek temples of the ancient world. These however would be built much later.

Not in hewn stones, nor in well-fashioned beams,
Not in the noblest of the builder's dreams,
But in courageous men of purpose great,
There is the fortress, there the living State.
The Bulwark of the State, Poem by Alcaeus

Alcaeus of Mytilene also flourished around this time. He was a contemporary of Pittacus and was quite antagonistic to him. He was a lyric poet and famed in later antiquity. He was a soldier of fortune and his brother was a mercenary for the Babylonians (possibly taking part in the siege of Askelon. Strangely, if his brother Antimenides was fighting against the Philistines, Alcaeus boasts in a poem of his slaying a giant slightly over 15 feet tall (or over 4.5 metres). Allowing for no problems in the translation and allowing for a considerable amount of poetic exaggeration it might suggest that the Philistines had a tradition of fielding large warriors in battle. Alcaeus actively participated in the political intrigue of Mytilene at the time and fell afoul of Pittacus, who apparently pardoned him. He would later be a poetic contemporary of Sappho, who was also from Mytilene.

Depiction of Alcaeus and Sappho
circa 470BC
From the end of the world thou hast just returned,
And an ivory-hilted sword hast thou earned,
A sword which is all overlaid with gold,
A magnificent prize for thy labours bold,
Which by Babylon's men was given to thee;
For thou from their troubles thine allies didst free.
Thou slew a royal warrior, a man,
To be five ells tall lacking only a span.
To Antimenides, Poem by Alcaeus

Also around this approximate date the Eleusinian Mysteries began to be formally brought into Athenian life. These were an ancient set of rituals involving processions to nearby Eleusis. There those who were to be initiated into the secrets would fast and be shown secrets that would supposedly change their lives. In exchange they would be sworn to secrecy about what exactly the rituals involved. To this day we are not sure exactly what was done, said or shown at these mysteries. But we have a fair idea, mostly because later Christian writers had no such scruples about revealing the secrets. The rites were connected to Demeter and Persephone, goddesses who were associated with both the harvest and the underworld. There were dances and libations to the dead and possibly hallucinogenic drugs involved. These rites predated this period but only seem to have been formalised in this era. They would continue until 392AD when the Arian Christian Goths destroyed the sanctuary. But the secrecy that was enjoined on the initiates means that the full details of the Mysteries will always remain a mystery.

Attic vase showing the slaying of Nessos
the Centaur, created by the Nessos Painter
Thus the period ends, with more colonisation and founding of Greek cities across the wider Mediterranean world. Lucius Tarquinius Priscus was the supposed king of Rome. Alyattes II was the very real king of Lydia and threatening the Ionian city states, while also being instrumental in the development of coined money. The Seven Sages of Greece were beginning to be active and poets such as Alcman, Arion, Cleobulus and Alcaeus made a name for themselves throughout the Greek world. Heroic feats of sport continued to be enacted every four years at the Olympic Games and the Delphic Oracle made her pronouncements and decided the fate of colonies and thrones. Here is where we will leave the Greeks for now.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Greece from 650-625BC

Papyrus fragment of
poem by Archilochus
Thou should entrust all things to the Gods; often they raise upright those that be laid low on the black earth through misfortunes, and often they overthrow men and lay them on their backs though they stand firm enough; then comes much trouble, and a man wanders in need of food and distraught in mind.
Archilochus quoted in the Stobaeus Anthology (written 400’s AD)

This post will look at Greece and the wider Greek world from the years 650BC to 625BC. Firstly a word as to our sources. By and large, the closer we move to the present the better the sources become. Archaeology will shed some light on the period but not much. Archaeology can give information on settlement patterns and occasional destruction levels but it cannot tell the stories of the people who lived at this time. For this we are reliant on later writings from the classical world. Unlike the Mesopotamian and Egyptian sources, at least some of which are near contemporary with the events they describe, we have almost no manuscripts from this era, so most of what we hear will be mediated through the words of later writers. This is not necessarily an issue but it should be remembered.

I must reiterate that I am not a professional historian, or any other type of historian for that matter. There are certainly mistakes and errors in the sources and I may make mistakes in my interpretations of these sources. Mistakes are particularly likely to occur when dealing with years, as the years in the ancient world do not necessarily correspond exactly to our own. Even professional historians have differing opinions on the exact ordering of events at this time, so exact precision is not likely here. Also, a lot of events have only approximate dating anyway, so some historians will place an event in 640 while another might say 630 and the truth is no one knows. Also, a lot of writers and poets of the time are writing for periods of time. This it can be correct to speak of Archilochus writing poetry around 660BC but also it is equally correct to say around 648BC.

Later sculpture of Archilochos
I shall begin with a brief summary of what is happening elsewhere in the world during these years.  In China, the Zhou Dynasty was fading into obscurity as the rising feudal lords began to struggle for power. King Xiang of Zhou was the nominal ruler but was so powerless that he had to be replaced on the throne by one of his dukes after he had been expelled from it. India was in the Later Vedic Period and the states such as Kuru, Panchala, Kosala and Videha were flourishing along the Ganges Plain. These states would later form what are known as the Mahajanapadas. In the Near East, Ashurbanipal was king of Assyria. Ashurbanipal's kingdom was locked in a vicious struggle with the Babylonian uprising led by Ashurbanipal's brother, Shamash-shuma-ukin. Lydia was ruled by Gyges, who had previously sworn allegiance to the Assyrians but who was now in revolt and facing the Cimmerian steppe tribes. Egypt was led by Pharaoh Psammetichus I (or Psamtik I) who had manoeuvred the Assyrians out of his country. There were many other developments elsewhere but they will hopefully be covered in later blogs. This should give an overview of some happenings elsewhere at least.

I find that this period of Greek history is rather poorly treated by historians. So many histories make a brief mention of the Greek Dark Ages before giving a cursory mention to Homer and Hesiod, maybe a brief nod to some of the developments in Athens and Sparta and then dive straight into the Persian Wars. It is as if the Greeks of Marathon sprung into being fully-fledged, like the fully grown and fully armoured Athena springing to life from the cloven head of Zeus. This is not the case and the classical Greeks owed much of their culture to developments in the Dark Ages or Archaic periods. I think the real reason why this period is so seldom studied is that it has no overarching storyline to it. Each state or city has its business and a chronology of the period can devolve into disconnected stories without a narrative. Bearing this in mind, I will try and describe the period as accurately, but also as engagingly, as I can.

Clay toy from Attica 7th century BC
In Greece at the time Eurycrates was the Agiad king of Sparta and either Anaxandridas I or Zeuxidamus was the Eurypontid king of Sparta. Pheidon II was the tyrant of Argos. Myron was tyrant of the Sicilian city of Syracuse. Cypselus was tyrant of Corinth. Thebes and Athens were controlled by aristocracies, probably. The Second Messenian War had possibly finished by this time but, possibly not. The Lelantine War was finishing. Colonisation of Sicily, southern Italy and northern Turkey continued around this time. In Asia Minor, the Ionian cities had conflicts with the newly established Mermnad Dynasty of Gyges and there were also threats from the Cimmerian nomads. The Ionian League had been organised in previous decades to allow the city states of the western coast of present-day Turkey to combine against these threats but the city states still fought each other occasionally. Such was the state of the Greek world at the beginning of this twenty-five year period.

Around 650 BC the Lelantine War drew to a close, as described in the previous blog on Greece. It had been fought for over five decades by Chalcis and Eretria on the island of Eubeoa and was won by Chalcis? Or maybe it was won by Eretria? No one is really sure. But the two sides had fought themselves to insignificance. Cleomachus of Thessaly had won glory for himself by fighting on the Chalcidian side but not much else changed as a result of the war.

Later ruins from Himera in Sicily
649 is the traditional date of the foundation of Himera. Himera was a Greek city midway along the northern coast of Sicily and was quite close to the Phoenician settlements being created by the Carthaginians of North Africa. The Greeks and Carthaginians would later clash over this site. But it showed that Greek colonisation was now beginning to clash with Phoenician colonisation. Presumably the original inhabitants of the lands colonised were not thrilled with either set of colonisers.

In the year 648 some people believe the Second Messenian War started. This has been dealt with in a previous post. The dates of this war are very open to speculation but we have spoken of it previously so I will not write about it twice. In the Olympic Games that year the pankration was added to the games. This was a kind of wrestling but allowed boxing as well and, like Greek boxing, was quite a vicious sport that only disallowed biting and eye-gouging. In this Olympic Games Gyges, or possibly Gylis, of Laconia won the stadion race. Myron, the tyrant of the Sicilian city of Syracuse won the chariot race, meaning that he owned the team, not that he raced himself. Crauxidas the Crannonian won the equestrian race. Lygdamis of Syracuse won the newly instituted Pancratium contest and was supposedly a giant of man. It is unusual that the Gyges and Lygdamis were both Olympic winners this year, as they were the Greek names of the Lydian and Cimmerian rulers at that time. Perhaps there was substantial Asian influence on Greece at the time or perhaps there is major confusion in the sources.

At these games, a pancratium contest was added, and the winner was Lygdamis of Syracuse. Lygdamis was massive; he measured out the stadion with his feet, in only six hundred paces.
Eusebius’ Chronicle, written around 330AD

Image from NASA showing eclipse path in 648BC
During this year there was an eclipse and it is probable that this is the eclipse mentioned by Archilochus and possibly referred to by the slightly later Mimnermus. If so, this makes the solar eclipse of on the 6th of April 648 BC the first astronomical observation of European civilisation. Some writers think that this may be referring to another eclipse in 660 however. The Greek record of the eclipse was hardly a scientific observation, as Archilochus merely writes a poem suggesting that all the world is in flux and that before people know it, dolphins will start coming onto the land, so not strictly scientific. But it is an observation of sorts nonetheless.

There is nothing in the world unexpected, nothing to be sworn impossible nor yet marvellous, now that Zeus the Father of the Olympians hath made night of noon by hiding the light of the shining Sun so that sore fear came upon mankind. Henceforth is anything whatsoever to be believed or expected. 
Let not one of you marvel, nay, though he see the beasts of the field exchange pasture with the dolphins of the deep, and the roaring waves of the sea become dearer than the land to such as loved the hill.
Archilochus quoted in Aristotle Rhetoric 95-97 written around 330BC

Solar Eclipse
In 645 Archilochus possibly died, fighting for his home island of Paros against the neighbouring island of Naxos. His killer, Calondas was reviled for slaying poet, even though it was a fair death in battle, and was later rebuked by the oracle at Delphi. Around this time, Gyges of Lydia died and his country was attacked once again by the Cimmerian barbarians. These also attacked the Greek cities of the coast and the Ephesian poet Callinus, seeing the unexpected taking of the Lydian capital Sardis, exhorted his countrymen to make their stand against the barbarian invaders and fight. A few fragments of his poetry are all that remain to us.

Purpose ye to sit in peace though the land is full of war? … And let every man cast his javelin once more as he dies. For 'tis an honourable thing and a glorious to a man to fight the foe for land and children and wedded wife; and death shall befall only when the Fates ordain it.
Callinus quoted in the Stobaeus Anthology (written 400’s AD)

In 644 the Olympic Games were held but by the small city of Pisa rather than the traditional game organisers from the small city of Elea. The Stadion race was won by Stomas of Athens.

Greek Pottery from c.640BC
In 642 Tullus Hostilius is supposed to have died, struck down by the lightning of Jupiter after having made an error in rites that were supposed to placate the angry gods. After an interrex was appointed to govern the time between the kings, the Romans made Ancus Marcius their king. Ancus Marcius was in some ways a compromise between the previous kings, pious Numa and warlike Tullus. He tried to carry out the sacred rites while at the same time waging war against the neighbouring Latin tribes. Around this time Demaratus of Corinth is supposed to have migrated to Rome and married into the Roman aristocracy, bringing some measures of Greek culture with him. All of the traditions that I have mentioned are preserved from much later sources and, as mentioned in the previous blog, many historians believe that the period of the kings was slightly later, so that all the items I am describing may more likely be placed around fifty or sixty years later. But these are the traditional dates given by Livy so I will follow them here.

Greek Pottery from c.640BC
Tradition records that the king, whilst examining the commentaries of Numa, found there a description of certain secret sacrificial rites paid to Jupiter Elicius: he withdrew into privacy whilst occupied with these rites, but their performance was marred by omissions or mistakes. Not only was no sign from heaven vouchsafed to him, but the anger of Jupiter was roused by the false worship rendered to him, and he burnt up the king and his house by a stroke of lightning.
Livy Ab Urbe Condita (1.31)

In 640 The Olympic Games were held once more, with Sphaerus the Laconian winning the Stadion race and Cylon of Athens winning the longer Diaulos race. We shall hear more of Cylon soon. I am not sure if the Pisans still held control of the Olympic Games or if the Eleans had taken back control at this point. In cultural affairs, around this time Peisander of Camirus, a city in Rhodes, wrote an epic poem about the labours of Heracles, fixing their number at twelve and enshrining the story and image of the ultimate Greek hero firmly in the consciousness of the Greeks. Sadly, the epic does not survive. Around this time we have the record of the earliest Greek explorer, albeit kind of accidentally. Colaeus of Samos was supposedly blown off course around this time and was the first Greek that we know of to pass the Straits of Gibraltar (known to the Greeks as the Pillars of Heracles) and travel the Atlantic Ocean. He did not go very far, merely as far as the city of Tartessos and he brought a large cargo of metal back to the city of Phocaea, where they dedicated a tenth of their huge profits to the gods in thanks for their safe travels. It is important to mention that these lands were very much occupied at the time and the Greeks were also following in the footsteps of the Phoenicians in trading with these lands.

Figurine of Astarte from Tartessos in south-western
Spain. Possibly Phoenician in origin
They then put out to sea from the island and would have sailed to Egypt, but an easterly wind drove them from their course, and did not abate until they had passed through the Pillars of Heracles and came providentially to Tartessus.
Herodotus Histories: 4:152, written around 440BC

In 636 the Olympic Games were held and the stadion was won by Phrynon of Athens, who would later go on to be an Athenian general. Alternatively, someone with the same name would later go on to become an Athenian general.

Vase from Tartessus region in south-western
Spain. Possibly Phoenician in origin
In 632 The Olympic Games were again held and the stadion was won by Eurycleidas of Laconia. Polyneices of Elis would win the boys stadion race. The competition for the boys was extended with wrestling added to the list of games for them. Hipposthenes of Laconia would win this and later go on to win more Olympic glory in the men’s competitions of later years. A previous winner of the Olympic Games would become notorious during this particular Olympics.

Cylon of Athens, the winner of the diaulos race in 640, had married a daughter of Theagenes, the tyrant of the nearby city of Megara, and had supposedly received a prophecy from the Oracle at Delphi that he would be able to seize control of the city of Athens during a festival of Zeus. Bolstered by the prophecy Cylon and his followers seized the Acropolis in Athens hoping that the city would acknowledge Cylon as a ruler of the city. The attempt to install a tyrant failed however. The Athenian people fought back and besieged the followers of Cylon on the Acropolis. Eventually the besieged ran short of food and water, knowing their cause was lost, hid in the temples, with Cylon and his brother making their escape.

Greek votive figure
from 7th century BC
Having clearly lost in their coup attempt the followers of Cylon petitioned that they would surrender to the judgement of the city, on the provision that their lives were spared. This was granted to them and they exited the temple sanctuaries, where it was ritually forbidden to shed blood. They left the temples expecting to be exiled from the city. To retain the ritual protection of the temples until they were judged they seem to have tied a rope to the temple and gone to the angry citizenry still holding the rope. The Athenians reneged on their promise and murdered Cylon’s surrendering supporters. Some later traditions hold that the rope broke that carried their ritual protection and that this was a sign from the gods that they should be slain. This is not in all of the sources and later events would tend to suggest that this didn’t happen. The attempted coup, siege of the Acropolis and subsequent betrayal and executions are known as the Cylonian Affair.

The people seem to have executed Cylon’s followers on the advice of Megacles, who held the position of Eponymous Archon (the year was named after him). Megacles was a member of the powerful aristocratic family of the Alcmaeonidae and while the Athenians followed his advice in slaying the suppliants, they afterwards regretted this. The Alcmaeonidae were held to have committed a great sacrilege and to have been cursed by the gods. The entire family was banished from Athens in recognition of their sin and even the tombs of their ancestors were exhumed and placed outside the city limits. The curse of the Alcmaeonidae would return to haunt Athens for generations after, as each generation sought to return and reclaim their ancestral rights.

The Athenians who were charged with the duty of keeping guard, when they saw them at the point of death in the temple, raised them up on the understanding that no harm should be done to them, led them out and slew them. Some who as they passed by took refuge at the altars of the awful goddesses were despatched on the spot. From this deed the men who killed them were called accursed and guilty against the goddess, they and their descendants.
Thucydides 1.126, written around 400BC

Skeletal remains of (possibly) Cylon's supporters
Photo taken from here.
Archaeology provides a tantalising insight into the Cylonian Affair, with a mass grave of around eighty skeletons being discovered at Phaleron (just outside Athens). The skeletons have been dated to this time period and have their hands bound with shackles. The mass grave of these shackled prisoners suggests a mass execution and it has been plausibly suggested that these are the graves of Cylon’s followers. But there are other reasons why the state might execute prisoners and not much else of the period is known. In fact the Cylonian Affair is almost the first certain date in Athenian history. So, it is not proved, but it is an interesting possibility.

Later ruins from Selinus in Sicily
In 631, the city of Sinope was founded on the Black Sea, on the northern coast of Asia Minor, although there was probably a city in the region in times previous. The Greek settlement was founded by settlers from Miletus.

Around 630 the city of Cyrene in Libya was founded by Battus, who led a colony from the island of Thera in the Aegean. There are a number of myths and legends surrounding this first colony of the Greeks on the African continent but all that we can firmly say is that there was a Greek colony founded there around this time. Around this time the Greek city of Selinus was established on the south-western coast of Sicily, facing across the sea towards Carthage. While new cities were being founded, Trapezus, a city later known as Trebizond or Trebzon, was destroyed by the Cimmerian invaders around this time but was later rebuilt by the Greek colonists. Around this time, once again, an exact date is not possible, the Bellerophon Painter and Lion Painter were active in producing pottery in Attica. They were beginning to use the technique known as Black-Figure pottery, which would go on to be the predominant style of vase-painting for a number of decades.

Later ruins from Cyrene in Libya
Now in the time of Battus the founder of the colony, who ruled for forty years, and of his son Arcesilaus who ruled for sixteen, the inhabitants of Cyrene were no more in number than when they had first gone out to the colony.
Herodotus Histories 4.159, written around 440BC

In 628 the Olympic Games were held, with Olyntheus of Laconia winning the stadion race and Eutelidas the Lacedemonian winning the boys wrestling and boys pentathlon. There was a boys pancratium held this year but this was probably too violent even for the ancient Greeks so this was discontinued. Deutelidas of Laconia won this first and only competition. Perhaps, as it was never held again and thus his record was never broken, Deutelidas is the most successful athlete ever? Possibly not. There is not much more that can be said about this year.

In 627 Cypselus of Corinth, who had forced his way to becoming tyrant of Corinth, died. His son Periander succeeded him. While the tyrants were by their nature above the rule of law and had no clear traditions about succession, many tyrants did in fact hand over their rule to their sons.

Greek Pottery from c.640BC
In 625 the period that we are looking at draws to a close. The Cimmerian threat was receding, as the Lydian kings fought back against the horse nomads. But the rising power of the kings of Lydia would be a threat to the Greek city states in its own right and soon wars would reoccur between them. In cultural terms, poetry and pottery continued to grow in importance, with the poems of Archilochus and his contemporaries being remembered until the decline of classical civilisation. Black-Figure pottery was developing and would continue to develop. In Lydia Ardys II was king. In Sparta, Anaxander was the Agiad king and Anaxidamus or Archidamus I was the Eurypontid king. Periander was the tyrant of Corinth while Athens had resisted the attempted tyranny of Cylon and also expelled the cursed Alcmaeonidae.

The period may not have seen much happening compared to other twenty-five year periods, but it still saw what is arguably the first named European astronomical observations and exploration, as well as a coup attempt, murder and ritual curses in Athens; a city which now re-emerges into history. Such was the state of affairs in the Greek world in 625BC.