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.