VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
Home - Ancient States

Most Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

Least Viewed

Jewish History From The Babylonian Captivity To The Birth Of Christ

The Antediluvian World

The Hebrew Race From Abraham To The Sale Of Joseph

The Civil Wars Between Caesar And Pompey

Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Rome In Its Infancy Under Kings

The Conquest Of Canaan To The Establishment Of The Kingdom Of David

The Grecian States And Colonies To The Persian Wars

We come now to consider those States which grew into importance about the
middle of the eighth century before Christ, at the close of the legendary

The most important of these was Sparta, which was the leading
State. We have seen how it was conquered by Dorians, under Heraclic
princes. Its first great historic name was Lycurgus, whom some historians,
however, regard as a mythical personage.

Sparta was in a state of anarchy in consequence of the Dorian
conquest, a contest between the kings, aiming at absolute power, and the
people, desirous of democratic liberty. At this juncture the king,
Polydectes, died, leaving Lycurgus, his brother, guardian of the realm,
and of the infant heir to the throne. The future lawgiver then set out on
his travels, visiting the other States of Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, and
other countries, and returned to Sparta about the period of the first
Olympiad, B.C. 776, with a rich store of wisdom and knowledge. The State
was full of disorders, but he instituted great reforms, aided by the
authority of the Delphic oracle, and a strong party of influential men.
His great object was to convert the citizens of Sparta into warriors
united by the strongest bonds, and trained to the severest discipline,
governed by an oligarchy under the form of the ancient monarchy. In other
words, his object was to secure the ascendency of the small body of Dorian
invaders that had conquered Laconia.

The descendants of these invaders, the Spartans, alone possessed
the citizenship, and were equal in political rights. They were the
proprietors of the soil, which was tilled by Helots. The Spartans
disdained any occupation but war and government. They lived within their
city, which was a fortified camp, and ate in common at public tables, and
on the simplest fare. Every virtue and energy were concentrated on
self-discipline and sacrifice, in order to fan the fires of heroism and
self-devotion. They were a sort of stoics--hard, severe, proud, despotic,
and overbearing. They cared nothing for literature, or art, or philosophy.
Even eloquence was disdained, and the only poetry or music they cultivated
were religions hymns and heroic war songs. Commerce was forbidden by the
constitution, and all the luxuries to which it leads. Only iron was
allowed for money, and the precious metals were prohibited. Every
exercise, every motive, every law, contributed to make the Spartans
soldiers, and nothing but soldiers. Their discipline was the severest
known to the ancients. Their habits of life were austere and rigid. They
were trained to suffer any hardship without complaint.

Besides these Spartan citizens were the Perioeci--remnants of the
old Achaean population, but mixed with an inferior class of Dorians. They
had no political power, but possessed personal freedom. They were landed
proprietors, and engaged in commerce and manufactures.

Below this class were the Helots--pure Greeks, but reduced to
dependence by conquest. They were bound to the soil, like serfs, but dwelt
with their families on the farms they tilled. They were not bought and
sold as slaves. They were the body servants of the Spartan citizens, and
were regarded as the property of the State. They were treated with great
haughtiness and injustice by their masters, which bred at last an intense

All political power was in the hands of the citizen warriors, only
about nine thousand in number in the time of Lycurgus. From them emanated
all delegated authority, except that of kings. This assembly, or
ecclesia, of Spartans over thirty years of age, met at stated intervals
to decide on all important matters submitted to them, but they had no
right of amendment--only a simple approval or rejection.

The body to which the people, it would seem, delegated considerable
power, was the Senate, composed of thirty members, not under sixty years
of age, and elected for life. They were a deliberative body, and judges in
all capital charges against Spartans. They were not chosen for noble birth
or property qualifications, but for merit and wisdom.

At the head of the State, at least nominally, were two kings, who
were numbered with the thirty senators. They had scarcely more power than
the Roman consuls; they commanded the armies, and offered the public
sacrifices, and were revered as the descendants of Hercules.

The persons of most importance were the ephors, chosen annually by
the people, who exercised the chief executive power, and without
responsibility. They could even arrest kings, and bring them to trial
before the Senate. Two of the five ephors accompanied the king in war, and
were a check on his authority.

It would thus seem that the government of Sparta was a republic of
an aristocratic type. There were no others nobler than citizens, but these
citizens composed but a small part of the population. They were Spartans--a
handful of conquerors, in the midst of hostile people--a body of lords
among slaves and subjects. They sympathized with law and order, and
detested the democratical turbulence of Athens. They were trained, by
their military education, to subordination, obedience, and self-sacrifice.
They, as citizens or as soldiers, existed only for the State, and to the
State every thing was subordinate. In our times, the State is made for the
people; in Sparta, the people for the State. This generated an intense
patriotism and self-denial. It also permitted a greater interference of
the State in personal matters than would now be tolerated in any despotism
in Europe. It made the citizens submissive to a division of property,
which if not a perfect community of goods, was fatal to all private
fortunes. But the property which the citizens thus shared was virtually
created by the Helots, who alone tilled the ground. The wealth of nations
is in the earth, and it is its cultivation which is the ordinary source of
property. The State, not individual masters, owned the Helots; and they
toiled for the citizens. In the modern sense of liberty, there was very
little in Sparta, except that which was possessed by the aristocratic
citizens--the conquerors of the country--men, whose very occupation was war
and government, and whose very amusement were those which fostered warlike
habits. The Roman citizens did not disdain husbandry, nor the Puritan
settlers of New England, but the Spartan citizens despised both this and
all trade and manufacture. Never was a haughtier class of men than these
Spartan soldiers. They exceeded in pride the feudal chieftain.

Such an exclusive body of citizens, however, jealous of their
political privileges, constantly declined in numbers, so that, in the time
of Aristotle, there were only one thousand Spartan citizens; and this
decline continued in spite of all the laws by which the citizens were
compelled to marry, and those customs, so abhorrent to our Christian
notions, which permitted the invasion of marital rights for the sake of
healthy children.

As it was to war that the best energies of the Spartans were
directed, so their armies were the admiration of the ancient world for
discipline and effectiveness. They were the first who reduced war to a
science. The general type of their military organization was the phalanx,
a body of troops in close array, armed with a long spear and short sword.
The strength of an army was in the heavy armed infantry; and this body was
composed almost entirely of citizens, with a small mixture of Perioeci.
From the age of twenty to sixty, every Spartan was liable to military
service; and all the citizens formed an army, whether congregated at
Sparta, or absent on foreign service.

Such, in general, were the social, civil, and military institutions of
Sparta, and not peculiar to her alone, but to all the Dorians, even in
Crete; from which we infer that it was not Lycurgus who shaped them, but
that they existed independent of his authority. He may have re-established
the old regulations, and gave his aid to preserve the State from
corruption and decay. And when we remember that the constitution which he
re-established resisted both the usurpations of tyrants and the advances
of democracy, by which other States were revolutionized, we can not
sufficiently admire the wisdom which so early animated the Dorian

The Spartans became masters of the country after a long struggle,
and it was henceforth called Laconia. The more obstinate Achaeans became
Helots. After the conquest, the first memorable event in Spartan history
was the reduction of Messenia, for which it took two great wars.

Messenia has already been mentioned as the southwestern part of the
Peloponnesus, and resembling Laconia in its general aspects. The river
Parnisus flows through its entire length, as Eurotas does in Laconia,
forming fertile valleys and plains, and producing various kinds of cereals
and fruits, even as it now produces oil, silk, figs, wheat, maize, cotton,
wine, and honey. The area of Messenia is one thousand one hundred and
ninety-two square miles, not so large as one of our counties. The early
inhabitants had been conquered by the Dorians, and it was against the
descendants of these conquerors that the Spartans made war. The murder of
a Spartan king, Teleclus, at a temple on the confines of Laconia and
Messenia, where sacrifices were offered in common, gave occasion for the
first war, which lasted nineteen years, B.C. 743. Other States were
involved in the quarrel--Corinth on the side of Sparta, and Sicyon and
Arcadia on the part of the Messenians. The Spartans having the superiority
in the field, the Messenians retreated to their stronghold of Ithome,
where they defended themselves fifteen years. But at last they were
compelled to abandon it, and the fortress was razed to the ground. The
conquered were reduced to the condition of Helots--compelled to cultivate
the land and pay half of its produce to their new masters. The Spartan
citizens became the absolute owners of the whole soil of Messenia.

After thirty-nine years of servitude, a hero arose among the
conquered Messenians, Aristomenes, like Judas Maccabeus, or William
Wallace, who incited his countrymen to revolt. The whole of the
Peloponnesus became involved in the new war, and only Corinth became the
ally of Sparta; the remaining States of Argos, Sicyon, Arcadia, and Pisa,
sided with the Messenians. The Athenian poet, Tyrtaeus, stimulated the
Spartans by his war-songs. In the first great battle, the Spartans were
worsted; in the second, they gained a signal victory, so that the
Messenians were obliged to leave the open country and retire to the
fortress on Mount Ira. Here they maintained themselves eleven years, the
Spartans being unused to sieges, and trained only to conflict in the open
field. The fortress was finally taken by treachery, and the hero who
sought to revive the martial glories of his State fled to Rhodes. Messenia
became now, B.C. 668, a part of Laconia, and it was three hundred years
before it appeared again in history.

The Spartans, after the conquest of Messenia, turned their eyes
upon Arcadia--that land of shepherds, free and simple and brave like
themselves. The city of Tegea long withstood the arms of the Spartans, but
finally yielded to superior strength, and became a subject ally, B.C. 560.
Sparta was further increased by a part of Argos, and a great battle, B.C.
547, between the Argives and Spartans, resulted in the complete ascendency
of Sparta in the southern part of the Peloponnesus, about the time that
Cyrus overthrew the Lydian empire. The Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor invoked
their aid against the Persian power, and Sparta proudly rallied in their

Meanwhile, a great political revolution was going on in the other
States of Greece, in no condition to resist the pre-eminence of Sparta,
The patriarchal monarchies of the heroic ages had gradually been subverted
by the rising importance of the nobility, enriched by conquered lands.
Every conquest, every step to national advancement, brought the nobles
nearer to the crown, and the government passed into the hands of those
nobles who had formerly composed the council of the king. With the growing
power of nobles was a corresponding growth of the political power of the
people or citizens, in consequence of increased wealth and intelligence.
The political changes were rapid. As the nobles had usurped the power of
the kings, so the citizens usurped the power of the nobles. The
everlasting war of classes, where the people are intelligent and free, was
signally illustrated in the Grecian States, and democracy succeeded to the
oligarchy which had prostrated kings. Then, when the people had gained the
ascendency, ambitious and factious demagogues in turn, got the control,
and these adventurers, now called Tyrants, assumed arbitrary powers. Their
power was only maintained by cruelty, injustice, and unscrupulous means,
which caused them finally to be so detested that they were removed by
assassination. These natural changes, from a monarchy, primitive and just
and limited, to an oligarchy of nobles, and the gradual subversion of
their power by wealthy and enlightened citizens, and then the rise of
demagogues, who became tyrants, have been illustrated in all ages of the
world. But the rapidity of these changes in the Grecian States, with the
progress of wealth and corruption, make their history impressive on all
generations. It is these rapid and natural revolutions which give to the
political history of Greece its permanent interest and value. The age of
the Tyrants is generally fixed from B.C. 650 to B.C. 500--about one hundred
and fifty years.

No State passed through these changes of government more signally
than Corinthia, which, with Megaris, formed the isthmus which connected
the Peloponnesus with Greece Proper. It was a small territory, covered
with the ridges and the spurs of the Geranean and and Oneian mountains,
and useless for purposes of agriculture. Its principal city was Corinth;
was favorably situated for commerce, and rapidly grew in population and
wealth. It also commanded the great roads which led from Greece Proper
through the defiles of the mountains into the Peloponnesus. It rapidly
monopolized the commerce of the AEgean Sea, and the East through the
Saronic Gulf; and through the Corinthian Gulf it commanded the trade of
the Ionian and Sicilian seas.

Corinth, by some, is supposed have been a Phoenician colony. Before
authentic history begins, it was inhabited by a mixed population of
AEolians and Ionians, the former of whom were dominant. Over them reigned
Sisyphus, according to tradition, the grandfather of Bellerophon who laid
the foundation of mercantile prosperity. The first historical king was
Aletes, B.C. 1074, the leader of Dorian invaders, who subdued the AEolians,
and incorporated them with their own citizens. The descendants of Aletes
reigned twelve generations, when the nobles converted the government into
an oligarchy, under Bacchis, who greatly increased the commercial
importance of the city. In 754, B.C., Corinth began to colonize, and
fitted out a war fleet for the protection of commerce. The oligarchy was
supplanted by Cypselus, B.C. 655, a man of the people, whose mother was of
noble birth, but rejected by her family, of the ruling house of the
Bacchiadae, on account of lameness. His son Periander reigned forty years
with cruel despotism, but made Corinth the leading commercial city of
Greece, and he subjected to her sway the colonies planted on the islands
of the Ionian Sea, one of which was Corcyra (Corfu), which gained a great
mercantile fame. It was under his reign that the poet Arion, or Lesbos,
flourished, to whom he gave his patronage. In three years after the death
of Periander, 585 B.C., the oligarchal power was restored, and Corinth
allied herself with Sparta in her schemes of aggrandizement.

The same change of government was seen in Megara, a neighboring
State, situated on the isthmus, between Corinth and Attica, and which
attained great commercial distinction. As a result of commercial opulence,
the people succeeded in overthrowing the government, an oligarchy of
Dorian conquerors, and elevating a demagogue, Theagenes, to the supreme
power, B.C. 630. He ruled tyrannically, in the name of the people, for
thirty years, but was expelled by the oligarchy, which regained power.
During his reign all kinds of popular excesses were perpetrated,
especially the confiscation of the property of the rich.

Other States are also illustrations of this change of government
from kings to oligarchies, and oligarchies to demagogues and tyrants, as
on the isle of Lesbos, where Pittacus reigned dictator, but with wisdom
and virtue--one of the seven wise men of Greece--and in Samos, where
Polycrates rivaled the fame of Periander, and adorned his capital with
beautiful buildings, and patronized literature and art. One of his friends
was Anacreon, the poet. He was murdered by the Persians, B.C. 522.

But the State which most signally illustrates the revolutions in
government was Athens.

"Where on the AEgean shore a city stands,--
Built nobly; pure the air, and light the soil:
Athena, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
And eloquence, native to famous wits."

Every thing interesting or impressive in the history of classical
antiquity clusters round this famous city, so that without Athens there
could be no Greece. Attica, the little State of which it was the capital,
formed a triangular peninsula, of about seven hundred square miles. The
country is hilly and rocky, and unfavorable to agriculture; but such was
the salubrity of the climate, and the industry of the people, all kinds of
plants and animals flourished. The history of the country, like that of
the other States, is mythical, to the period of the first Olympiad. Ogyges
has the reputation of being the first king of a people who claimed to be
indigenous, about one hundred and fifty years before the arrival of
Cecrops, who came, it is supposed, from Egypt, and founded Athens, and
taught the simple but savage natives a new religion, and the elements of
civilized life, 1556 B.C. It received its name from the goddess Neith,
introduced by him from Egypt, under the name of Athena, or Minerva. It was
also called Cecropia, from its founder. Until the time of Theseus it was a
small town, confined to the Acropolis and Mars Hill. This hero is the
great name of ancient Athenian legend, as Hercules is to Greece generally.
He cleared the roads of robbers, and formed an aristocratical
constitution, with a king, who was only the first of his nobles. But he
himself, after having given political unity, was driven away by a
conspiracy of nobles, leaving the throne to Menesthius, a descendant of
the ancient kings. This monarch reigned twenty-four years, and lost his
life at the siege of Troy. The whole period of the monarchy lies within
the mythical age. Tradition makes Codrus the last king, who was slain
during an invasion of the Dorians, B.C. 1045. Resolving to have no future
king, the Athenians substituted the office of archon, or ruler, and made
his son, Medus, the superior magistrate. This office remained hereditary
in the family of Codrus for thirteen generations. In B.C. 752, the
duration of the office was fixed for ten years. It remained in the family
of Codrus thirty-eight years longer, when it was left open for all the
nobles. In 683 B.C. nine archons were annually elected from the nobles,
the first having superior dignity.

The first of these archons, of whom any thing of importance is
recorded, was Draco, who governed Athens in the year 624 B.C., who
promulgated written laws, exceedingly severe, inflicting capital
punishment for slight offenses. The people grew weary of him and his laws,
and he was banished to AEgina, where he died, from a conspiracy headed by
Cylon, one of the nobles, who seized the Acropolis, B.C. 612. His
insurrection, however, failed, and he was treacherously put to death by
one of the archons, which led to the expulsion of the whole body, and a
change in the constitution.

This was effected by Solon, the Athenian sage and law-giver--himself
of the race of Codrus, whom the Athenians chose as archon, with full power
to make new laws. Intrusted with absolute power, he abstained from abusing
it--a patriot in the most exalted sense, as well as a poet and philosopher.
Urged by his friends to make himself tyrant, he replied that tyranny might
be a fair country, only there was no way out of it.

When he commenced his reforms, the nobles, or Eupatridae, were in
possession of most of the fertile land of Attica, while the poorer
citizens possessed only the sterile highlands. This created an unhappy
jealousy between the rich and poor. Besides, there was another class that
had grown rich by commerce, animated by the spirit of freedom. But their
influence tended to widen the gulf between the rich and poor. The poor got
into debt, and fell in the power of creditors, and sunk to the condition
of serfs, and many were even sold in slavery, for the laws were severe
against debtors, as in ancient Rome. Solon, like Moses in his institution
of the Year of Jubilee, set free all the estates and persons that had
fallen in the power of creditors, and ransomed such as were sold in

Having removed the chief source of enmity between the rich and
poor, he repealed the bloody laws of Draco, and commenced to remodel the
political constitution. The fundamental principles which he adopted was a
distribution of power to all citizens according to their wealth. But the
nobles were not deprived of their ascendency, only the way was opened to
all citizens to reach political distinction, especially those who were
enriched by commerce. He made an assessment of the landed property of all
the citizens, taking as the medium a standard of value which was
equivalent to a drachma of annual produce. The first class, who had no
aristocratic titles, were called Pentacosio medimni, from possessing five
hundred medimni or upward. They alone were eligible to the archonship and
other high offices, and bore the largest share of the public burdens. The
second class was called Knights, because they were bound to serve as
cavalry. They filled the inferior offices, farmed the revenue, and had the
commerce of the country in their hands.

The third class was called Zeugitae (yokesmen), from their ability
to keep a yoke of oxen. They were small farmers, and served in the
heavy-armed infantry, and were subject to a property-tax. All those whose
incomes fell short of two hundred medimni formed the fourth class, and
served in the light-armed troops, and were exempt from property-tax, but
disqualified for public office, and yet they had a vote in popular
elections, and in the judgment passed upon archons at the expiration of
office. "The direct responsibility of all the magistrates to the popular
assembly, was the most democratic of all the institutions of Solon; and
though the government was still in the hands of the oligarchy, Solon
clearly foresaw, if he did not purposely prepare for, the preponderance of
the popular element." "To guard against hasty measures, he also instituted
the Senate of four hundred, chosen year by year, from the four Ionic
tribes, whose office was to prepare all business for the popular assembly,
and regulate its meetings. The Areopagus retained its ancient functions,
to which Solon added a general oversight over all the public institutions,
and over the private life of the citizens. He also enacted many other laws
for the administration of justice, the regulation of social life, the
encouragement of commerce, and the general prosperity of the State." His
whole legislation is marked by wisdom and patriotism, and adaptation to
the circumstances of the people who intrusted to him so much power and
dignity. The laws were, however, better than the people, and his
legislative wisdom and justice place him among the great benefactors of
mankind, for who can tell the ultimate influence of his legislation on
Rome and on other nations. The most beautiful feature was the
responsibility of the chief magistrates to the people who elected them,
and from the fact that they could subsequently be punished for bad conduct
was the greatest security against tyranny and peculation.

After having given this constitution to his countrymen, the
lawgiver took his departure from Athens, for ten years, binding the people
by a solemn oath to make no alteration in his laws. He visited Egypt,
Cyprus, and Asia Minor, and returned to Athens to find his work nearly
subverted by one of his own kinsmen. Pisistratus, of noble origin, but a
demagogue, contrived, by his arts and prodigality, to secure a guard,
which he increased, and succeeded in seizing the Acropolis, B.C. 560, and
in usurping the supreme authority--so soon are good laws perverted, so
easily are constitutions overthrown, when demagogues and usurpers are
sustained by the people. A combination of the rich and poor drove him into
exile; but their divisions and hatreds favored his return. Again he was
exiled by popular dissension, and a third time he regained his power, but
only by a battle. He sustained his usurpation by means of Thracian
mercenaries, and sent the children of all he suspected as hostages to
Naxos. He veiled his despotic power under the forms of the constitution,
and even submitted himself to the judgment of the Areopagus on the charge
of murder. He kept up his popularity by generosity and affability, by
mingling freely with the citizens, by opening to them his gardens, by
adorning the city with beautiful edifices, and by a liberal patronage of
arts and letters. He founded a public library, and collected the Homeric
poems in a single volume. He ruled beneficently, as tyrants often
have,--like Caesar, like Richelieu, like Napoleon,--identifying his own glory
with the welfare of the State. He died after a successful reign of
thirty-three years, B.C. 527, and his two sons, Hippias and Hipparchus,
succeeded him in the government, ruling, like their father, at first
wisely but despotically, cultivating art and letters and friendship of
great men. But sensual passions led to outrages which resulted in the
assassination of Hipparchus. Hippias, having punished the conspirators,
changed the spirit of the government, imposed arbitrary taxes, surrounded
himself with an armed guard, and ruled tyrannically and cruelly. After
four years of despotic government, Athens was liberated, chiefly by aid of
the Lacedaemonians, now at the highest of their power. Hippias retired to
the court of Persia, and planned and guided the attack of Darius on
Greece--a traitor of the most infamous kind, since he combined tyranny at
home with the coldest treachery to his country. His accursed family were
doomed to perpetual banishment, and never succeeded in securing a pardon.
Their power had lasted fifty years, and had been fatal to the liberties of

The Lacedaemonians did not retire until their king Cleomenes formed
a close friendship with Isagoras, the leader of the aristocratic party--and
no people were prouder of their birth than the old Athenian nobles.
Opposed to him was Cleisthenes, of the noble family of the Alcmaeonids, who
had been banished in the time of Megacles, for the murder of Cylon, who
had been treacherously enticed from the sanctuary at the altar of Athena.
Cleisthenes gained the ear of the people, and prevailed over Isagoras, and
effected another change in the constitution, by which it became still more
democratic. He remodeled the basis of citizenship, heretofore confined to
the four Ionic tribes; and divided the whole country into demes, or
parishes, each of which managed its local affairs. All freemen were
enrolled in the demes, and became members of the tribes, now ten in
number, instead of the old four Ionian tribes. He increased the members of
the senate from four to five hundred, fifty members being elected from
each tribe. To this body was committed the chief functions of executive
government. It sat in permanence, and was divided into ten sections, one
for each tribe, and each section or committee, called prytany, had the
presidency of the senate and ecclesia during its term. Each prytany of
fifty members was subdivided into committees of ten, each of which held
the presidency for seven days, and out of these a chairman was chosen by
lot every day, to preside in the senate and assembly, and to keep the keys
of the Acropolis and treasury, and public seal. Nothing shows jealousy of
power more than the brief term of office which the president exercised.

The ecclesia, or assembly of the people, was the arena for the
debate of all public measures. The archons were chosen according to the
regulations of Solon, but were stripped of their power, which was
transferred to the senate and ecclesia. The generals were elected by the
people annually, one from each tribe. They were called strategi, and had
also the direction of foreign affairs. It was as first strategus that
Pericles governed--"prime minister of the people."

In order to guard against the ascendency of tyrants--the great evil
of the ancient States, Cleisthenes devised the institution of ostracism,
by which a suspected or obnoxious citizen could be removed from the city
for ten years, though practically abridged to five. It simply involved an
exclusion from political power, without casting a stigma on the character.
It was virtually a retirement, during which his property and rights
remained intact, and attended with no disgrace. The citizens, after the
senate had decreed the vote was needful, were required to write a name in
an oyster shell, and he who had less than six thousand votes was obliged
to withdraw within ten days from the city. The wisdom of this measure is
proved in the fact that no tyrannical usurpation occurred at Athens after
that of Pisistratus. This revolution which Cleisthenes effected was purely
democratic, to which the aristocrats did not submit without a struggle.
The aristocrats called to their aid the Spartans, but without other effect
than creating that long rivalry which existed between democracy and
oligarchy in Greece, in which Sparta and Athens were the representatives.

About this time began the dominion of Athens over the islands of the AEgean
and the system of colonizing conquered States, This was the period which
immediately preceded the Persian wars, when Athens reached the climax of
political glory.

Next in importance to the States which have been briefly mentioned
was Boeotia, which contained fourteen cities, united in a confederacy, of
which Thebes took the lead. They were governed by magistrates, called
boetarchs, elected annually. In these cities aristocratic institutions
prevailed. The people were chiefly of AEolian descent, with a strong
mixture of the Dorian element, and were dull and heavy, owing, probably,
to the easy facilities of support, in consequence of the richness of the

At the west of Boeotia, Phocis, with its small territory, gained
great consideration from the possession of the Delphic oracle; but its
people thus far, of Achaean origin, played no important part in the
politics of Greece.

North of the isthmus lay the extensive plains of Thessaly, inclosed
by lofty mountains. Nature favored this State more than any other in
Greece for political pre-eminence, but inhabitants of AEolian origin were
any thing but famous. At first they were governed by kings, but
subsequently an aristocratic government prevailed. They were represented
in the Amphictyonic Council.

The history of Macedonia is obscure till the time of the Persian
wars; but its kings claimed an Heraclid origin. The Doric dialect
predominated in a rude form.

Epirus, west of Thessaly and Macedonia, was inhabited by various
tribes, under their own princes, until the kings of Molossus, claiming
descent from Achilles, founded the dynasty which was so powerful under

There is but little interest connected with the States of Greece, before
the Persian wars, except Sparta, Athens, and Corinth; and hence a very
brief notice is all that is needed.

But the Grecian colonies are of more importance. They were numerous
in the islands of the AEgean Sea, in Epirus, and in Asia Minor, and even
extended into Italy, Sicily, and Gaul. They were said to be planted as
early as the Trojan war by the heroes who lived to return--by Agamemnon on
the coast of Asia; by the sons of Theseus in Thrace; by Ialmenus on the
Euxine; by Diomed and others in Italy. But colonization, to any extent,
did not take place until the AEolians invaded Boeotia, and the Dorians, the
Peloponnesus. The Achaeans, driven from their homes by the Dorians, sought
new seats in the East, under chieftains who claimed descent from Agamemnon
and other heroes who went to the siege of Troy. They settled, first, on
the Isle of Lesbos, where they founded six cities. Others made settlements
on the mainland, from the Hermes to Mount Ida. But the greatest migration
was made by the Ionians, who, dislodged by Achaeans, went first to Attica,
and thence to the Cyclades and the coasts of Asia, afterward called Ionia.
Twelve independent States were gradually formed of divers elements, and
assumed the Ionian name. Among those twelve cities, or States, were
Sarnos, Chios, Miletus, Ephesus, Colophon, and Phocaea. The purest Ionian
blood was found at Miletus, the seat of Neleus. These cities were probably
inhabited by other races before the Ionians came. To these another was
subsequently added--Smyrna, which still retains its ancient name. The
southwest corner of the Asiatic peninsula, about the same time, was
colonized by a body of Dorians, accompanied by conquered Achaeans, the
chief seat of which was Halicarnassus. Crete, Rhodes, Cos, and Cnidus,
were colonized also by the same people; but Rhodes is the parent of the
Greek colonies on the south coast of Asia Minor. A century afterward,
Cyprus was founded, and then Sicily was colonized, and then the south of
Italy. They were successively colonized by different Grecian tribes,
Achaean or AEolian, Dorian, and Ionian. But all the colonists had to contend
with races previously established, Iberians, Phoenicians, Sicanians; and
Sicels. Among the Greek cities in Sicily, Syracuse, founded by Dorians,
was the most important, and became, in turn, the founder of other cities.
Sybaris and Croton, in the south of Italy, were of Achaean origin. The
Greeks even penetrated to the northern part of Africa, and founded Cyrene;
while, on the Euxine, along the north coast of Asia Minor, Cyzicus and
Sinope arose. These migrations were generally undertaken with the
approbation and encouragement of the mother States. There was no colonial
jealousy, and no dependence. The colonists, straitened for room at home,
carried the benedictions of their fathers, and were emancipated from their
control. Sometimes the colony became more powerful than the parent State,
but both colonies and parent States were bound together by strong ties of
religion, language, customs, and interests. The colonists uniformly became
conquerors where they settled, but ever retained their connection with the
mother country. And they grew more rapidly than the States from which they
came, and their institutions were more democratic. The Asiatic colonies
especially, made great advances in civilization by their contact with the
East. Music, poetry, and art were cultivated with great enthusiasm. The
Ionians took the lead, and their principal city, Miletus, is said to have
planted no less than eighty colonies. The greatness of Ephesus was of a
later date, owing, in part, to the splendid temple of Artemis, to which
Asiatics as well as Greeks made contributions. One of the most remarkable
of the Greek colonies was Cyrene, on the coast of Africa, which was of
peculiar beauty, and was famous for eight hundred years.

So the Greeks, although they occupied a small territory, yet, by
their numerous colonies in all those parts watered by the Mediterranean,
formed, if not politically, at least socially, a powerful empire, and
exercised a vast influence on the civilized world. From Cyprus to
Marseilles--from the Crimea to Cyrene, numerous States spoke the same
language, and practiced the same rites, which were observed in Athens and
Sparta. Hence the great extent of country in Asia and Europe to which the
Greek language was familiar, and still more the arts which made Athens the
centre of a new civilization. Some of the most noted philosophers and
artists of antiquity were born in these colonies. The power of Hellas was
not a centralized empire, like Persia, or even Rome, but a domain in the
heart and mind of the world. It was Hellas which worked out, in its
various States and colonies, great problems of government, as well as
social life. Hellas was the parent of arts, of poetry, of philosophy, and
of all aesthetic culture--the pattern of new forms of life, and new modes of
cultivation. It is this Grecian civilization which appeared in full
development as early as five hundred years before the Christian era, which
we now propose, in a short chapter, to present--the era which immediately
preceded the Persian wars.

Next: Grecian Civilization Before The Persian Wars

Previous: The Legends Of Ancient Greece

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 2165