Overview of the Archaic Age of Ancient Greek History

Overview of the Archaic Age of Ancient Greek History

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Shortly after the Trojan War, Greece fell into a dark age about which we know little. With the return of literacy at the beginning of the 8th century, BCE came the end of the dark age and the start of what is called the Archaic Age. In addition to the literary work of the composer of the Iliad and the Odyssey (known as Homer, whether or not he actually wrote one or both), there were stories of creation told by Hesiod. Together these two great epic poets created what became the standard religious stories known and told about the ancestors of the Hellenes (Greeks). These were the gods and goddesses of Mt. Olympus.

Rise of the Polis

During the Archaic Age, previously isolated communities came into increased contact with one another. Soon the communities joined to celebrate the panhellenic (all-Greek) games. At this time, the monarchy (celebrated in the Iliad) gave way to aristocracies. In Athens, Draco wrote down what had previously been oral laws, the foundations of democracy emerged, tyrants came to power, and, as some families left the small self-sufficient farms to try their lot in an urban area, the polis (city-state) began.

Important developments and major figures connected with the rising polis in the Archaic era inclue:

  • Four Tribes of Athens
  • Solon the Law-Giver of Athens
  • Cleisthenes and the 10 Tribes
  • Olympic Games


While the city had marketplaces, business and trade were considered corrupting. Think: "Love of money is the root of all evil." An exchange was necessary to fulfill the needs for family, friends, or community. It was not simply for profit. The ideal was to live self-sufficiently on a farm. Standards for proper behavior for citizens made some tasks degrading. There were slaves to do the work that was beneath the dignity of a citizen. Despite resistance to money-making, by the end of the Archaic Age, coinage had begun, which helped promote trade.

Greek Expansion

The Archaic Age was a time of expansion. Greeks from the mainland set out to settle the Ionian coast. There they had contact with the novel ideas of native populations in Asia Minor. Certain Milesian colonists began to question the world around them, to look for a pattern in life or cosmos, thereby becoming the first philosophers.

New Art Forms

When the Greeks found (or invented) the 7-string lyre, they produced a new music to accompany it. We know some of the words they sang in the new ic mode from the fragments written by such poets as Sappho and Alcaeus, both from the island of Lesbos. At the beginning of the Archaic age, statues imitated the Egyptian, appearing rigid and immobile, but by the end of the period and the beginning of the Classical Age, statues looked human and almost lifelike.

End of the Archaic Age

Following the Archaic Age was the Classical Age. The Archaic Age ended either after the Pisistratid tyrants (Peisistratus Pisistratus and his sons) or the Persian Wars.

The Word Archaic

Archaic comes from the Greek arche = beginning (as in "In the beginning was the word… ").

Historians of the Archaic and Classical Period

  • Herodotus
  • Plutarch
  • Strabo
  • Pausanias
  • Thucydides
  • Dionorus Siculus
  • Xenophon
  • Demosthenes
  • Aeschines
  • Nepos
  • Justin