Archaic Greece: Wikis


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The archaic period in Greece (800 BCE – 480 BCE) is a period of Ancient Greek history. The term originated in the 18th century and has been standard since. This term arose from the study of Greek art, where it refers to styles mainly of surface decoration and plastique, falling in time between Geometric Art and the art of Classical Greece. As it is transitional to the latter it is considered "archaic." Since the Archaic period followed the Greek Dark Ages, and saw significant advancements in political theory, and the rise of democracy, philosophy, theatre, poetry, as well as the revitalization of the written language (which had been lost during the Dark Ages), the term archaic was extended to these aspects as well.

Most recently Anthony Snodgrass embraced and extended this holistic approach suggesting that "historians extend their interests from political and military events to social and economic processes" and "classical archaeologists turn from the outstanding works of art to the totality of material products ...." The Archaic Period is thus a "rapprochement" of various threads and is not just "archaic" but is "a complete episode in its own right."[1] Michael Grant also objects to the term archaic "because it possesses the dictionary significance of 'primitive' and 'antiquated.' No such pejorative epithets are appropriate for the early Greeks, whose doings and sayings added up to one of the most creative periods in world history."[2]

Snodgrass defines the termini of the Archaic Period as a "structural revolution", meaning a sudden slope up of population and material goods that occurred with mid-point at 750 BC, and the "intellectual revolution" of classical Greece.[3] The end of archaism is conventionally defined as Xerxes' invasion of Greece in 480 BC. It should not be thought for a moment, however, that all the various threads begin and end on these dates. For example, red-figure pottery, which characterized the classical Greek period, began in the archaic. Snodgrass says: "... it must always be borne in mind that such demarcations of history ... although reasonably acceptable for the convenience of later ages, are entirely artificial categories ....[4]



Mycenaean Greece had been divided into kingdoms each containing a territory and a population distributed into both small towns and large estates owned by the nobility. The kingdom was ruled by a king claiming authority under divine right and physically established at a capital city, or polis, where he resided in a palace situated within a citadel, or acropolis ("high city") located for defense on the highest hill that could be found, preferably precipitous. During the Greek Dark Ages the palaces, kings and estates vanished, population declined, towns were abandoned or became villages situated in ruins and government devolved on minor officials and the tribal structure.

The sharp rise in population at the start of the Archaic Period brought reurbanization, settlement of new towns with re-expansion of the old centres. Margalit Finkelberg[5] has discussed the succession patterns of legendary and historical kings in pre-Classical Greece, where succession from father to son is not the norm, but where instead the new king, traditionally exiled from a royal line elsewhere, wins the right as son-in-law of the old king, legitimised through his marriage to the daughter. This pattern is immediately familiar to a reader of Greek mythology, in Pelops, Bellerophon, Melampous, Peleus, Telamon, Teukros, Andraimon, Diomedes, Menelaus, and others. In Greece, until quite a late Hellenistic date, there is an absence of the king list that is so familiar a feature everywhere in the Near East and Anatolia. If the king is succeeded by his son-in-law, Finkelberg notes (1991:305), that means the queen is succeeded by her daughter, in a culture that was on its surface relentlessly patriarchal: "That is to say, in Sparta, and obviously in other places for which kingship by marriage is attested, rather than a line of kings, we have a line of queens that runs from mother to daughter."

Towards the end of the Archaic period, the kings were driven out under the tyrants, a new form of government had evolved, the city-state, also termed the polis. The kingdoms were not restored even though in many cases offshoots of the royal families remained. Instead each major population center became autonomous and was ruled by a republican form of government. The ancient Greek term is synoikismos, from which the term synoecism "conurbation" comes from meaning the absorption of villages and the incorporation of their tribes into the substructure of the polis. The akropoleis became the locations of public buildings, typically temples.[6]

Archaic period is also characterized by the spreading of colonization of Mediterranean and Black seas coasts. The reason of this phenomenon is described by Greek authors as "stenochoria", "the lack of land". On practice there were a great number of reasons: rivalry of political groups, the need for adventures, expatriation, search of business opportunities and so on.


Archaic kouros
Orientalizing style
Black-figure style
Reconstructed colour kore statue from the archaic period of Greece

The period takes its name from what, in art history, was considered the archaic or old-fashioned style of sculpture and other works of art/craft that were characteristic of this time, as opposed to the more natural look of work made in the following Classical period (see Classical sculpture).




Sculpture in limestone and marble, terra cotta, bronze, wood and rarer metals were used to adorn temples and funerary monuments both free-standing and in relief. The themes were mythical or from daily life. Life-size statues began suddenly at about 650 BC. Three periods have been identified:[7]

  • Early Archaic, 660 BC - 580 BC.
    During the period, the major sculptural forms were the kouros and its female equivalent the kore.
  • Middle Archaic, 580 BC - 535 BC.
  • Late Archaic, 540 BC - 480 BC.


In pottery, the Archaic period sees the development of the Orientalizing style, which signals a shift from the Geometric Style of the later Dark Ages and the accumulation of influences derived from Phoenicia and Syria.

Pottery styles associated with the later part of the Archaic age are the black-figure pottery, which originated in Corinth during the 7th century BC and its successor, the red-figure style, developed by the Andokides Painter in about 530 BC.

Some notable distinctions to tell if it's from the archaic period is the Egyptian like "left foot forward," "archaic smile," and the very patterned and conventionalized hair or "helmet hair."


Important people

Epic poets
Lyric poets
Tragic poets
Comic poets

See also


  1. ^ Snodgrass, p. 13.
  2. ^ Grant, Michael (1988). The Rise of the Greeks. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. xii.  
  3. ^ Snodgrass, pp. 13, 23.
  4. ^ Snodgrass, pp. 201-202.
  5. ^ Margalit Finkelberg, "Royal Succession in Heroic Greece" The Classical Quarterly, New Series, 41.2 (1991:303-316)
  6. ^ Snodgrass, pp. 28-34.
  7. ^ Richter, pp. 47-83. The overlap of dates recognizes transitions.


  • Richter, Gisela M.A. (1963). A Handbook of Greek Art: Third Edition Newly Revised. Phaidon Publishers Inc..  
  • Snodgrass, Anthony (1980). Archaic Greece: The Age of Experiment. London Melbourne Toronto: J M Dent & Sons Ltd. ISBN 0460043882.  

Further reading

External links


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