Monday, 4 December 2017

Greece from 700-675BC

Orientalising Greek Pottery
Also I believe that the earth is very vast, and that we who dwell in the region extending from the river Phasis to the Pillars of Heracles inhabit a small portion only about the sea, like ants or frogs about a marsh…
Plato, Phaedo, written around 360BC

In 700BC Greece was quite similar in many ways to the Greece that we are familiar with in the Classical period. There was poetry and writing. Pottery was crude but recognisably Greek. The Iliad, the Odyssey and Hesiod’s works were either composed or would soon be composed. The pantheon of gods and mythology were recognisably Greek, although we only have fragments of both from this era. The Greeks were already famous sailors and colonisers of distant lands. The Delphic Oracle had been established. The small Greek city states dotted the lands around the Aegean and Sparta had already achieved a measure of power on the land. The Olympic Games had been in place for nearly a century. This period has been termed part of the Archaic Period. Archaic is a word that sometimes implies crudity but I feel that it should instead be interpreted using one of its other connotations: Beginnings. Truly this time was an age of beginnings.

With all these similarities there were still substantial differences. Athens was still not particularly important and Eretria and Chalcis were two of the larger city-states in Greece at the time. Greek pottery and art was heavily influenced by artworks from Lydia and Asia and their sculpture was far behind the Egyptians and the Assyrians. There was little that could be said for certain about science or philosophy among the Greeks at this time. There was also no historical writing in any real sense. The Olympic Games had been in place for nearly a century but the Pythian, Isthmian and Nemean games had not yet begun. Hoplite warfare was only in its infancy. Greek architecture was still quite crude and there were none of the distinctive temples of the later ages. All the basic ingredients for later Greek greatness were there but during this time period, if we did not have the traditions of later times we would have very little to report about this region at this time.

The sources for this period are nearly all inferences from the writings of later writers. Sometimes there are sources such as Hesiod or other poets to augment this but these are terse and may be misinterpreted. There are some hints from archaeology also but we are mostly reliant on the traditions of the classical era to shed light on this period of Archaic Greece. As always, the reader must bear in mind that these are my interpretations of the information available to me and that there are almost certainly mistakes, if not through my misreading of the sources, then at least through the sparseness of the source material.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
Around this time in Attica, temples to Athena and Poseidon were dedicated at the Cape of Sunium near the city of Athens. Another sanctuary to Poseidon was set up around this time at the Isthmia near Corinth. The temple of Apollo was built on the island of Delos. Paros began to export the famous white marble that would be used in many of the temples and sculptures of antiquity. Like the marble from Carrara it was fine grained and flawlessly white, allowing an artist great scope in working it. However, we must remember that most statues and temples of the ancient world were in fact painted quite colourfully rather than being left in their unadorned form.

Sparta, Argos and Paros held the first documented musical competitions, although music theory would still not be developed for another century. Samothrace, an island in the northern Aegean, was colonised by settlers from Paros. Triremes, ships with three banks of oars, began to be adopted around this time, although this was probably invented by the Phoenicians and adapted by the Samians and Corinthians.

In art, the Analatos and Mesogaia painters of vases were active. These were painters who are nameless but who are known for their artwork. During this period most of the works were copying oriental patterns.

In politics, one of the dual kings of Sparta, Polydorus, changed the constitution of Sparta to allow the kings and Gerousia (28 older Spartan citizens that functioned rather like a Senate) to veto decisions made by the assembly of the Spartans, making Sparta more centralised.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
In medicine the first Greek school of medicine opened in Cnidus (a Greek colony on the coast of what is present day Turkey). It later became quite famous but was overshadowed by the nearby school on the island of Cos. The approach of the two schools differed, with the physicians of Cnidus focusing on the symptoms of the disease itself and the physicians of Cos trying to categorise the disease in its overall and general form. Both approaches are useful and have their place in medicine but the school of Cos is better remembered because it is associated with the great physician Hippocrates some centuries later. At this stage the Cnidian physicians were probably little more than priests with some experience in healing and the scientific basis for medicine in the western world would have to be established later.

The Lelantine War was still ongoing and would still be ongoing at the end of this time period. It does seem unlikely to me that two small cities located about twenty miles apart could fight for over fifty years with all of Greece involved unless the war had turned into something more like a ritualised vendetta, with long periods of peace and occasional almost scripted combats. The later sources saying there were agreements to exclude archery seem to support this ritual theory of combat. The war will be ongoing throughout this time period but there isn’t much we can say about it so we should just remember that during this time Eretria and Chalcis, on the island of Euboea, were fighting for the twenty miles of grassland between their towns.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
Now in general these cities were in accord with one another, and when differences arose concerning the Lelantine Plain they did not so completely break off relations as to wage their wars in all respects according to the will of each, but they came to an agreement as to the conditions under which they were to conduct the fight. This fact, among others, is disclosed by a certain pillar in the Amarynthium, which forbids the use of long distance missiles.
Strabo: Geography 10:1

In the year 700 Atheradas of Sparta won the stadion foot race in the Olympic Games. It is a little unusual that we can tell who won certain athletic trophies but have little exact knowledge of anything else from this time period. But it is a nice way to remember human achievement from the bygone years.

In 696 Pantacles of Athens won the stadion foot race in the Olympic Games.

In 694 Sennacherib launched his seaborne expedition against the Chaldean exiles in Elam and used Greek and Phoenician sailors to build and crew his fleet. It is hard to imagine the brutality of Sennacherib’s campaigns occurring at the same time as the Greeks running footraces and fighting for decades over the same small patch of grassland. But the Assyrians were contemporary with the Greeks and the Assyrians doubtless influenced the Greeks, albeit in subtle ways.

In 692 Pantacles of Athens would repeat his feat and not only win the stadion race but also the diaulos race. The stadion race was a 180m sprint and was the oldest and most prestigious race of the games. Nearly all the winners of the stadion races in antiquity are known. The diaulos race (meaning “doublepipe”) was a longer race, around 400m.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
In 688 the city of Gela in Sicily was founded by Greek settlers from Rhodes and Crete. They were led by Antiphemus of Rhodes and Entimus of Crete. Antiphemus’ brother Lacius supposedly founded the city of Phaselis to the east. A legend told over a thousand years later says that the two brothers went to the oracle of Delphi, who told the brothers to go in different directions, east and west. Antiphemus supposedly laughed out loud at the oracle’s advice so his city in Sicily was named Gela when he eventually did found his city and the prediction had come true, from the Greek verb “to laugh”. While this is a nice story it is probably not true.

Also in 688 boxing was added to the Olympic Games. Onomastus of Smyrna was the victor of the first boxing match there. Everything about Onomastus is a bit suspicious. He apparently not only won the first match but he also wrote the rules of the sport. While this could well be innocent, it is hard not to suspect that this might have favoured Onomastus. Even his name is a little fishy, as it literally means, “having a name”. But we shouldn’t poke too much fun at this shadowy boxer.

Boxing was almost certainly more ancient than this, with Minoan and Mycenaean frescoes showing ancient boxers and legends about Theseus having invented a form of it. Boxing is even mentioned in the Iliad as part of the funeral games of Patroclus. The boxing of the Greeks was brutal, with heavy strips of ox-hide wrapping the hands. This would not soften the blow to the opponent but allowed the boxer to hit harder and with more weight. The rules didn’t rule out much. There were no bells, time-limits, rounds or rings. Wrestling and eye-gouging were not allowed but there don’t seem to have been rules against kicking. The harshest rule of all was that there were no weight classes, meaning that boxing must have really just have been heavy weight boxing, unless a lighter man was particularly brave. If Onomastus of Smyrna really did write the rules I think we can safely surmise he was a heavy man.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
At the twenty-third Festival they restored the prizes for boxing, and the victor was Onomastus of Smyrna, which already was a part of Ionia.
Pausanias: Guide to Greece 5:8

In 685 Greek history became rather more serious and the Second Messenian War began. Or at least we think it did. It may have been decades later but these are the dates that tradition has handed down to us. The war has been dated from 685 to 668 but it is quite possible that in fact the war started in 668. In that case all the dates should be shifted downwards. I honestly believe that the war was later, as the sources fit better then, but there are arguments for both sides.

The Messenians had been enslaved by the Spartans after the First Messenian War ended in 724. But Messene had been an independent city state with its own proud traditions and they chafed at being treated as a permanent slave underclass.

The revolt was quickly led by Aristomenes. Aristomenes was a true figure of legend and it’s hard to know what to believe about the man, who seems to have been larger than life. He refused the title of king and was merely the commander in chief of the rebel Messenian helots.

Of the young men who had grown up in Messenia the best and most numerous were round Andania, and among them was Aristomenes, who to this day is worshipped as a hero among the Messenians. ...
When all their preparations were made for the war, the readiness of their allies exceeding expectation for now the hatred which the Argives and Arcadians felt for the Lacedaemonians had blazed up openly.

Pausanias: Guide to Greece 4.14-15

In 684 the Spartans and Messenians clashed at the Battle of Deres where the Messenians won a notable victory, or at the very least fought the Spartans to a stalemate. It was not enough to end the war however. To scare the Spartans Aristomenes launched a night raid and broke into a Spartan temple to Athena, called the Temple of Athena of the Brazen House, and placed a shield there. This was intended to terrify the Spartans into realising that nowhere was safe from the raids of the Messenians. The Spartans sent a message to the Delphic Oracle who supposedly counselled them to seek aid and leadership from Athens, presumably as their city was sacred to Athena, whose temple had been used to scare them. This is probably a later back reference to the fact that Tyrtaeus, a martial poet whose writings were glorifying the Spartan military, was said to be from Athens and said to have been involved in the war. None of this can be proven.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
It was the view of Aristomenes that any man would be ready to die in battle if he had first done deeds worthy of record, but that it was his own especial task at the very beginning of the war to prove that he had struck terror into the Lacedaemonians and that he would be more terrible to them for the future. With this purpose he came by night to Lacedaemon and fixed on the temple of Athena of the Brazen House a shield inscribed “The Gift of Aristomenes to the Goddess, taken from Spartans.”
Pausanias: Guide to Greece 4.14-17

But at least Sparta won one victory that year. Cleoptolemus of Laconia won the stadion race at Olympia that year.

In 683 the Messenians under Aristomenes defeated the Spartans and their Corinthian allies at the Battle of Boar’s Barrow.

As they fled, Aristomenes ordered another Messenian troop to undertake the pursuit. He himself attacked the enemies' line where it was firmest, and after breaking it at this point sought a new point of assault. Soon successful here, he was the more ready to assail those who stood their ground, until he threw into confusion the whole line of the Lacedaemonians themselves and of their allies. They were now running without shame and without waiting for one another, while he assailed them with a terror that seemed more than one man's fury could inspire.
Pausanias: Guide to Greece 4.14-17

In the year 682 Athens changed its dating system. Previously the Athenians had measured time by having “Archons” who gave their names to the years, like a reigning king. So, 754 would have been the second year of Alcmaeon. However, this was a fairly imprecise system, particularly for anyone outside of Athens. So the system was changed in 753 to have the archons only stay 10 years in their office. There were seven Decennial Archons before the system was changed again to only have one archon per year. So the year (their year did not quite match our own) 682-681 would have seen Creon become the first annual Eponymous Archon. It is hard to know if there was any Assyrian influence in this, as it does seem very similar to the far older limmu system in Assyria. But there is no proof that the Athenians copied the Assyrians and it may have simply been a case of convergent evolution of cultures.

In 682 another battle took place in the Messenian War. It is known as the Battle of the Great Foss or the Battle of the Great Ditch/Trench. The Messenians had recruited the Arcadians as allies but the Spartans had bribed these to simply withdraw as the battle was starting, leaving the betrayed Messenians to suffer a crushing defeat.

It was not difficult for the Lacedaemonians to surround the Messenians thus isolated, and they won without trouble the easiest of victories. Aristomenes and his men held together and tried to check the fiercest of the Lacedaemonian assaults but, being few in number, were unable to render much assistance.
Pausanias: Guide to Greece 4.14-17

Aristomenes and those who managed to escape the rout retreated to Mount Eira where they fought on as guerrillas from their mountain stronghold for the next decade. According to legend Aristomenes was captured by the Spartans and thrown into the Caeadas, a chasm on Mount Taygetus where they threw criminals to their death and supposedly abandoned deformed babies (the Apothetes where the newborn children were abandoned was likely to have been a different location). Aristomenes is supposed to have survived the fall by holding onto his shield to break his fall, a rather unlikely parachute, and then following a foxhole out of the gorge to safety. Tectonic movement has partially covered up the original chasm so we cannot search for Aristomenes’ foxhole sadly. Another tale has Aristomenes being taken prisoner by the Spartans and being set free by Archidameia, a priestess of Demeter who had fallen in love with him.

After three splendid victories over the Lacedaemonians, Aristomenes, the general of the Messenians, was disabled by wounds and captured along with many others. They were all sentenced by the Laconians to be thrown down a precipice; the rest were to be stripped, but Aristomenes was allowed to keep his armour, out of respect for his bravery. The others were killed instantly; but the broad shield of Aristomenes, which was to some extent lifted up by the air, let him gently down upon the ground. Aristomenes looked up, and saw nothing above, except inaccessible precipices; but he was too was bold in spirit, to give up all hope of safety. Examining the mountain carefully, he at last spotted a cleft, into which some foxes were entering. He broke off a bone from a dead body, and caught one of the foxes by the tail. Although he was severely bitten by the fox, he would not let go, but followed it into the cleft. After clearing away the rubbish with the bone that he held in his other hand, he escaped through the mountain, and arrived in the Messenian camp, just as his men were going out to fight again. He immediately armed himself, and led them into battle. The Laconians saw that enemy's troops were being led by Aristomenes, who was again engaging in battle, although they had just thrown him down the precipice, a punishment which no-one had ever before survived. They retreated from him, as from one who was more than human, and promptly fled from the battlefield.
Polyaenus 2:31

In rather more prosaic tales, around this time, in either 685 or 682, some Megarians settled on the eastern shore of the Bosphorus, in present day Turkey, founding the town of Chalcedon. This was viewed as a stupid site to settle, as the land across the water was deemed a far superior location. But the land across the water was settled as the city of Byzantium in 657. Because they had missed this opportunity the Chalcedonians were sometimes referred to as the City of the Blind. Byzantium would go on to have the more interesting history so the Greeks were probably right but Chalcedon has contributed to the world as well.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
In 680 chariot racing was added to the Olympic Games. The race was the tethrippon and was a four horse chariot race. This meant that there were now a number of events and the games became a two day festival. The Olympic racetrack was re-discovered in 2008 by archaeologists, a hippodrome about 780m by 320m that could be subdivided into different tracks depending on the event. Because horses and chariots were extremely rare in rocky Greece only the wealthy could afford such luxuries. Thus, with the chariot racing, the winner was held to be the owner of the chariot rather than the driver of the chariot. Later rich “athletes” would enter up to seven chariots in the event in the hopes of winning. Because one could technically “win” the Olympic chariot race without even being in Olympia it meant that it was the one Olympic prize that women (who were banned from the games) could win, and some later did. However the first winner of the tethrippon was Pagon of Thebes. Thalpis of Laconia won the stadion race, continuing the trend of Spartan victors of the footrace.

In 676 Callisthenes of Laconia won the stadion race at Olympia. Philombrotus the Lacedaemonian won the pentathlon.

In 675 Cyzicus was founded as a colony near the Sea of Marmara. There may have been an older city here previously however.

So in 675 we leave the account of the Greeks, with the Lelantine and Second Messenian Wars still ongoing, with art, music, sport and culture all continuing and growing apace. It is not a pivotal moment in history that we have looked at. The Lelantine War may not have been a real war and the Second Messenian War may not have occurred during this time frame. It is fun to laugh at the ancient Marquis of Queensbury (Onomastus) and enjoy the heroic and probably false tales about the heroic Messenian Aristomenes and to enjoy the records of the winners of the ancient Olympics. It is not a pivotal moment like the Persian or Peloponnesian Wars but it is still our history and it does no harm to remember the stories of this time instead of simply calling it the Archaic Period and skipping straight past it to the Persian Wars. Hopefully it had some interest anyway. I will leave you with some more tales of Aristomenes.

Orientalising Greek Pottery
On the day of the festival, when the Lacedaemonians make a public sacrifice to the Dioscuri, Aristomenes the Messenian and a friend mounted on two white horses, and put golden stars on their heads. As soon as night came on, they appeared at a little distance from the Lacedaemonians, who with their wives and children were celebrating the festival on the plain outside the city. The Lacedaemonians superstitiously believed that they were the Dioscuri, and indulged in drinking and revelling even more freely. Meanwhile, the two supposed deities, alighting from their horses, advanced against them with sword in hand. After leaving many of them dead on the spot, they remounted their horses, and made their escape.
Polyaenus 2:31

There the young men, intoxicated, I suppose, and without any self-control, attempted to violate the girls. When Aristomenes attempted to deter them from an action contrary to Greek usage, they paid no attention, so that he was compelled to kill the most disorderly. He released the captives for a large ransom, maidens, as when he captured them.
Pausanias: Guide to Greece 4.14-17

On another occasion, when Aristomenes the Messenian had been made prisoner by the Lacedaemonians, and was bound with cords, he went so close to a fire which was in the prison, that it burnt through the cords. Then he fell upon the guards and slew them. He proceeded secretly into Sparta, where he fixed up the guards' shields in the temple of Chalcioecus with this inscription: "Aristomenes has escaped from the Lacedaemonians unhurt." Then he returned to Messenia.
Polyaenus 2:31