It is called “Ancient Greece” to the period in the history of Hellas (a term used by the ancient Greeks to refer to their region) that ranges from the beginning of the so-called Greek Dark Ages (approximately 1150 BC) until the definitive occupation of the territory by part the Romans in 146 BC. In this article we will make you known about What type of government did Athens have/organization?
It is important to bear in mind that the influence of Greek civilization for the future of Western thought was fundamental. It is in this period and in this region, where Philosophy, Political theory, Art and Science that laid the foundations for the future of civilizations will flourish.
Chronological Division of Ancient Greece
This period of more than a thousand years can be divided into different stages to facilitate its analysis. Each era has a set of characteristics and a socio-political order that differentiates it from the others. A key element in understanding the distinction of the stages is the evolution of the Polis and the extent of its political participation.
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Dark Ages (XII-VIII BC)
This period ranges from the decomposition of the Mycenaean world (approximately 1150 BC) to the middle of the 8th century BC This phase is called “dark” due to the absence of written documents. Due to this, it has been very difficult for historians to reconstruct the economic, political and social structure of those years. It is estimated that, due to a multicausality of critical events, the Greek population suffered a drastic demographic decline. The population tended to be concentrated in closed and more basic communities.
Village life replaced the urban and palatial life characteristic of the Mycenaean era. The basic unit of society was the so-called ” Oikos “. The oikos are supplied with their own resources, so there were no big trade relations .
However, this period is not uniform. After their initial critical moment, the communities grew and developed. In fact, it is at this time that iron began to be used. The first colonization processes on the coast of Asia Minor occurred in this period. Finally, an integration between rural and urban life in the same social environment as complementary forms was also consolidated. The latter will be a key element of what will later become the Greek Polis .
Archaic Period (VIII-VI BC)
In this period the recovery of urban life is notorious. At the beginning of the 8th century BC the use of writing is recovered, now adapting to the alphabet that the Greeks have adopted from the Phoenicians . Furthermore, Greek communities develop a way of life that already contains all the elements that characterize the world of the Greek polis: openness, dynamism and political autonomy .
At first citizenship and political activity were very restricted in these initial Polis. The requirement for citizenship was owning land (until then the only form of wealth) . This led to only a few large landowners holding political power. The latter were called “Aristoi” (the best). However, new forms of wealth linked to commercial activity, in addition to a greater participation of subjects in military formations (introduction of the hoplitic system) cause the erosion of that oligarchic regime. As a result of these innovations, citizenship will be expanded .
Classical Period (V-IV BC)
This is the period of greatest apogee of the Greek poleis. Mainly highlights the evolution of the Athenian polis that will eventually consolidate a democratic political system. Despite these changes in Athens many aristocratic polei remain over the years, for example Esparta .
In general, democratic regimes were more open, tending to increase the number of citizens within the polis. Thanks to a series of reforms, the criteria of citizenship according to the origin and ownership of the land were replaced by that of domicile or residence. Thus the political equality of all citizens was achieved ⁽ ⁵ ⁾ . The political functions of the Assembly were enhanced to convert the demos (people) into the sovereign power of the new political organization.
In the classical stage the identity of the Hellenic poleis was strongly developed through the Medical Wars against the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. Strong “Leagues” or economic and military alliances will also be generated between different Poleis. A key point of the deterioration of the poleis was the “Peloponnesian War” (431-404 BC). This conflict pitted the Delian League (led by Athens) and the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta). As a consequence of these wars, many poleis became impoverished and lost their political autonomy.
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Hellenistic period (323-146 BC)
It is at this time that the Greek poleis lose their autonomy when they fall under the dominion of the Macedonian League, led by Philip II after the Battle of Queronea (338 BC). This was due to the weakening of the Hellenic world by continuous wars, agrarian crises, plagues and demographic decline . After the death of Philip II (336 BC), his son Alexander the Great led the expansion of Hellenic culture outside Hellas. Through an expansive process will be Hellenized East and the Greek culture will be introduced by the Asian continent, even reach the region of India . After the sudden death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), his empire will be divided among his generals. None of Alexander’s successors could match his leadership, and little by little the Roman civilization will grow in the West, eventually conquering and occupying the Greeks. This last event marks the end of the so-called “Ancient Greece”.
Territorial organization of ancient Greece
The Greek world is made up of cities. But not all urban ensembles had the same category. The ” village ” was a smaller urban nucleus, but with its own entity with respect to the city. The cities were made up of a group of nearby villages . A city was defined as such when it had political institutions: Assemblies, Councils, Magistracies. Now , what is a Polis? This is the system that organizes the life of the community and through which the rights and duties of citizens are regulated regardless of their rural or urban residence. The polis includes both the city and its surrounding territory where the villages are located.
Among the most outstanding features of the polis it can be mentioned that:
- They were independent in an economic sense . Each community was in charge of producing everything necessary to provide food for its inhabitants.
- With the exception of Sparta and Athens, each cop occupied a territory of approximately 80-90 km 2 , an area in which they had to develop all religious, administrative, legislative and agricultural activities. Within these limits, generally between 3,000 to 5,000 people lived .
- Society was made up of two classes of people, those who had rights and those who did not, better known as citizens and slaves .
- They were religious , so the cult centers played an important role in their territorial organization.
- Respect for authority was promoted and, at the same time, the active contribution of citizens in what was decided for the common good.
- Each cop was independent of the other, they lived in complete freedom .
- The cops were structured in the same way. They had a wall that surrounded the entire territory they occupied to protect them, in addition, they had a square in which public, cultural and commercial movements were carried out , these spaces were known under the name of Agora. Finally, it was common to find in each of the polis a city located in the highest relief area of the territory. They were called acropolis and these cities served as a refuge in case of attack by enemies and a center of worship .
Forms of government of Ancient Greece/Athens
The forms of government that proliferated in ancient Greece can be divided into 4 main forms.
- Monarchy: It is generally assumed that the monarchical regime disappeared in the Greek world throughout the 8th century BC. Greek tradition is unanimous in attributing to a king or hero the founding of cities. In addition, many have survived the figure of the king or “basileus” but as a simple religious magistracy.
- Aristocracy: The passage from the monarchy to the Aristocracy is due to the growing power acquired by the Aristoi (most powerful families or “the best”) who owned the largest amount of land and also represented military power. Control of the government passes to these powerful families.
- Tyranny: Tyrannies arise in those polis that suffer internal social conflicts (stasis). A Tyranny is a regime of absolute power, one person and established by a Tyrant who overthrew the previous government. The tyrants used to come to the government thanks to the popular support or of the sectors harmed by the aristocratic governments.
- Democracy: It is the latest form of political organization of the Greek polis. The best known case is that of Athens, however, there were other poleis that were also democratic even before the Athenians (Miletus or Chios). In these regimes we have a greater expansion of the category of citizens and they are usually open systems. Most citizens have the possibility of exercising magistrates and there is even equality before the law (Isonomy).
Geography of ancient Greece
The territory that made up ancient Greece was called Hellas for its inhabitants, which was made up of three extensive regions, one insular and two other continental ones . Each of these territories knew how to exploit the resources it had at its disposal to develop and provide what was necessary for its inhabitants.
It was made up of a series of islands that were located around the Aegean Sea. Some of these were: Rhodes, Anatolia, Sifnos, Crete, Euboea, Lesbos and Chios . Most of these played an important role in the development of commercial activity in Greece, as they were an important communication point for maritime trade. One of the main commercial activities that these island regions managed to develop was fishing, hunting and extensive cattle ranching.
On the other hand, these islands were highly favored for the development of agricultural activity , since the existence of active volcanoes that occurred in some of them resulted in rich and productive soils. The abundance of rains also favored the production of citrus fruits, cereals, olive trees and vines .
It was made up of three large territories known as Dorida, Ionia and Eólida . Towards the coast was Dórida, which had access to the coasts and soils not suitable for agriculture. Ionia was towards the south and Eólida was limited by the south with the river Hermo, whereas towards the north it was with the Black Sea.
With the exception of the Dórida region, Ionia and Eólida developed the cultivation in the field, which made them the main producers of vegetables, vines, olives and cereals . In addition, their territories were rich in gold, which made them exploiters of this precious metal. The felling of cedars and pines also became an important activity in these regions, which in turn provided wood for the construction of ships .
European mainland Greece
This was the largest area in Hellas and was connected to the eastern axis of Europe. It was made up of the regions of Messenia, Lacónica, Argólida, Arcadia, Arcaya, Ática, Boeotia, Phocis, Epirus, Acarnania, Etolia, Macedonia and Tesalia . The relief that characterized these regions featured massifs and plains.
Among the economic activities of mainland Greece was the exploitation of resources such as gold, copper , iron and silver. However, precious metals were not the only resources in which these lands were rich, stone and clay were found in all their surroundings, so the works in marble and ceramics were a fundamental addition to the commerce of this area. .
Social organization of ancient Greece
It is not possible to speak of a single social order for the entire period of “Ancient Greece” or for all poleis.
During the dark period it is possible to speak of the order based on the oikos (house-lineage). We have a very rudimentary social structure there. The condition of a subject was not the possession or not of personal freedom, but his situation with respect to the oikos. Consequently, it is said that the inferior situation is not that of a slave, but that of “thes”, the free man who owns nothing and whose well-being is not guaranteed. At the top of that order we find the basileus or chiefs . The slave condition is variable, we have two groups: the slavescurrents that are only to execute what they are ordered, and then there is a group of privileged people who enjoy the trust of their masters, participating in the management of the oikos. The latter seem to rank higher than that of certain free men. Then there are the “demiurges” , who constitute all those people who carry out a specific activity but who are outside the framework of the oikos (doctors, architects, craftsmen, etc).
With the emergence of the polis, a new pyramid-like social structure was configured. The polis presents a clear social stratification with groups differentiated between: the condition of subject (free and slaves), of the economic system (owners and producers), privilege (nobles and masses) and, of course, of the polis (citizens and non-citizens). citizens).
The polis is usually identified with a system based on the radical differentiation between citizens and slaves. However, in Greek slavery it is necessary to distinguish different degrees or forms of dependency. The unfree peasants temporarily enslaved by contracted debts were not the same as the productive slaves who exploited the mines. In the same sense, non-slave dependency situations were very frequent, for example the Helots of Sparta would be between an intermediate situation of slavery and freedom.
Education in ancient Greece
Education in this period of history was aimed mainly at the male sex . The women were taught the basics, such as reading and writing, in addition to acquiring a superficial knowledge of arithmetic to apply to housework . On the other hand, males were taught to expand their artistic and literary abilities . They not only learned to read and write, but also to sing and to have an affinity with the musical instruments of the time, such as the flute and the lyre.
On the other hand, education was mostly private, so only those who were wealthy had access to it. When the young man had already passed primary education, he was taught about sports, music and arithmetic with the aim of making him a model citizen.
In private schools, each student was assigned a paidagogo. These were slaves who were entrusted with the task of accompanying young people during their study hours. Depending on his age, he was taught to play sports such as javelin and discus throwing, running, or wrestling. They were also instructed in more complex disciplines such as art, music, science or culture . This educational cycle ended at age 18, after which time the young man received training in the army for a maximum of two years. In addition to this, there were famous schools such as the Platonic academy, the peripatetic school or the lyceum in which teachers of philosophy such as Plato and Aristotle worked.
The religion of ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks were practitioners of polytheism . They worshiped divine beings or heroes who possessed supernatural characteristics that could be invoked at a specific time, as their help was needed. These gods, in turn, enjoyed immortal life, which is why myths related to their existence were created. Among the most important deities of ancient Greece can be named:
- Zeus : He was considered the one who dominated the other gods, being the father of these and of human beings.
- Poseidon : God of the sea.
- Athena : Deity to whom peace was attributed.
- Persephone : Queen of the underworld.
- Aphrodite : Goddess of love and beauty.
- Dionysus : God of wine.
- Ares : God of war.
- Hebe : Goddess of youth.
- Hera : Goddess of fidelity and marriage.
- Apollo : God of art and sports.
- Hephaestus : God of fire.
- Hades : God of the underworld.
The habits of worship by the Greeks for these deities included sacrifices, offerings, and prayers. On the other hand, when a citizen obtained a concession from one of his gods, he was called an oracle, as he had responded favorably to a matter of a personal nature.
Philosophy of ancient Greece
Philosophy in Ancient Greece went through different stages. First of all we have a Pre-Socratic philosophy . Men like Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes inaugurated a new model of reflection on nature, far removed from the old myths that considered every daily event as the will of the gods. According to these philosophers, men, divinity and the world form a unified, homogeneous universe and everything on the same plane. These philosophers will have a fundamental interest in detecting the Arkhé (origin) of existence. To answer this question, some suggest that the origin of everything comes from water, while others will say that it will be fire ( Heraclitus ).
However, thanks to the works of different legislators during the 6th and 5th centuries BC , citizens gained greater participation in political affairs. As a result of this, reflections on issues relating to man, his conduct and the State take on greater importance. It is at this point that a Philosophy arises not centered on nature, but centered on Man (Anthropological Philosophy). Its main figures were Socrates , Plato and Aristotle .
Finally in the Hellenistic period, the loss of autonomy of the poleis influenced philosophical thought. During this period, a type of Philosophy more linked to a subject lacking civic participation will flourish. It is in these years where the Stoics, Cynics and Epicureans stood out in the current of Greek thought