Iron and thus politically for the Athenians, which
Iron Age Hoplite Warfare brings about the First Democratic Societies in Archaic Age Greece, Following the Role of Monarchy, Feudalism and the Aristocracy
As per the coverage in our course, in the Persian War, a Greek force from Athens set out to meet the invading Persian army at Marathon, and set them running. They were outnumbered by the Persians two to one, and the Persian army had been the biggest force the Greeks had ever seen. The majority of the killing took place while the Persians were hastily retreating to their ships. With only 192 dead, the Greeks reduced the Persian force by 7,000 men; however, the remaining 13,000 soldiers were still a sizable threat if they should sail down and enter Athens proper, and so the Greek army hastily moved back to their city.
The question of how they did this feat might be explained by the Greek theme that any Greek warrior could take on ten barbarians, but for our purposes the interesting question is why their involvement with what they were fighting for was able to give them the push to oust the invading empire. I surmise that the involvement in the state militarily and thus politically for the Athenians, which amounted to the beginning of democracy as we know it. As it is suggested by the book title, The Roots of the Western Tradition dig deep down into the ancient civilizations. Greece is a unique, important and telling civilization to study for it reveals the beginning of systems in which we live that are still evolving.
These Greeks had all voted together in assembly, and although assured by Persia that they could not meet the threat, they did not submit to a takeover. All the men who voted for war against Persia, an empire which frightened most other Greek Polis’, including Sparta, from sending military aid to Athens, were the very men who would don their Hoplite armor, clash together shield to shield to form phalanxes, and defeat the Persians at Marathon. These men were motivated by their own interests and what they had to protect: their prospering Polis of Athens, and their financial and political gains that came from fighting for it. The Greeks enjoyed a sharing of power, which in their view, was the antithesis of the monarch style powers held by the Absolute Leaders of the Great Empires developing in the Near East. The Persian King was seen as being an ultimate master, and it was perceived that all of his subjects were essentially slave. This may not have been true to that extent, but certainly many men in the 20,000 force beaten at Marathon were not ethnically Persian peoples, and in many cases were people already conquered by the expanding empire. There is a clear difference between the motivations and wills of the soldiers that faced each other at Marathon.
Until their great clashes with Persia, Greece had not fought with another great empire. Greece was just enough distance from the Ancient Empires arising in the Nile area and the Near East to have a very unique relationship with these monumental civilizations: they remained out of conflict with them, while engaging in the trade of goods, and just as importantly, engaging in cultural trade, whereby the Greeks were able to modify and use the developments of other ancient societies to their own advantage. Before these cultural links fostered the growth of civilization in Greece, the Greek language and identity had first come via the original Mycenaean Greeks, who had sacked Minoan culture, centered on Crete, and “learned much from the Minoans; their culture differed from that of Crete chiefly in its emphasis on fortificationsThey adapted the Minoan script (Linear A) to their own very different language. The result was Linear B, which used a Minoan syllabary to express Greek words.” (Hollister, 74)
The arts learned in Mycenaean Greece from surrounding empires and cultures continued, though mostly not through violent conflict, as was the case with the Mycenaean devastation of Minoan civilization. Some would say the Greeks perfected these arts: from metal and weapon making, to the use of the Phoenician’s system of alphabet and language, to the craft of writing, the Greeks perfected what other nearby early cultures were creating, by interacting and borrowing from them.
This made Greece into the very unique, modernizing place it was as the Mycenaean period crumbled due to Barbarian peoples sacking the numerous city state kingdoms; Greece was soon plunged into a three hundred year Dark Age. “Clearly, at some time during the Dark Ages the great landowning families the Old Aristocracy had stripped the kings of their power The Council or Officialsoccasionally summoned an assembly of the people’ (demos), all men.who probably made up the army and ask them to ratify some decision. Clearly the ordinary member of the assembly could hardly say no’ to anything that the Best People might propose.” (Burn, 12) Out of gatherings of Dark and then Archaic Age oikos would rise a strong military and political leader, who was reliable for the defense of the community, the fear of Barbarian sackings being very real in this time period. As Greece was lifting out of the Dark Age and into the Archaic, these Paramount Chiefs, or Big Basileus (the terms Wanax and Korete were gone, leaving Basileus to signify, basically, a king), were becoming wealthier more and more, as Greece was getting far wealthier than it had ever been during the time of Odysseus.
The Big Basileus’ engaged in a process known as synocism, a process of unification. The city state of Athens developed as the center of a unified Attica through peaceful means, while in Sparta synocism came about through a military process; in both cases, “local Basileus’ were either killed off or incorporated into a new city state” (lecture, 2/2/05) The nobility of the early Archaic age, known as the Agathoi, did not wish to see the Paramount Chief gain too much power through the accumulation of vast wealth, and thus they did everything possible to limit his powers, so that he could not become an absolute monarch. They accomplished this by dividing up the remaining powers of the king, such as leading the military, and acting as Chief Judge.
The aristocracy clearly ran things at this time, for although they restricted each other from gaining too much power by limiting offices to one year terms, it was only the nobles who could participate in this system. There were those in the Mesoi who in fact had more money than many nobles, and yet they did not have a political voice. Aristocratic control reigned Supreme for the first centuries of the Archaic Age.
It was at this time that we have the insights of ancient sources, written by Hesiod, who’s father dug himself out of being poor by becoming a merchant. Able to buy a piece of land, the wealth in land that was left to Hesiod and his brother, making them representative of the common man found in Greece at the time. His “Works and Days” not only shares the details of being a farmer, it also reveals the strife between classes at the time: the “bitterness felt for the bribe-swallowing nobility that was in charge of Greece” (lecture 2/2/05)
This might be seen as part of the ideological beginnings of a democracy. Colonization, along with the political power of the colony’s sphere being in the hands of colonists outside of Greece, led to more and more disdain for the Aristocracy. Many Mesoi were rich, and when they came to power, it was considered a tyranny in nature if they did indeed have no line of nobility which was a prominent necessity for holding power. The aristocrats had managed to secure political power for noble lines only, keeping power from being concentrated with one king, and until the Iron Age swept into Greece, along with the rapid availability of Iron weapons and armory, the nobility was able to keep political powers in their hands. It was the remaining factions of the Old Aristocracy who were vehemently against the movement of political power into the hands of the mass citizenry in Athens. The neighbor envies the neighbor who presses on towards wealthNow is the age of iron. Never by daytime will there be an end to hard work and pain, nor in the night to weariness, when the gods will send anxieties to trouble us. Yet here also there shall be some good things mixed with the evils do not try to practice violenceeven a noble cannot lightly carry the burden of herthat other road is the better which leads towards just dealings Justice puts a dark mist upon her and brings a curse upon all those who drive her outwhen men issue straight decisions their city flourishes, and the people blossom inside it. (Hesiod, 1-45)
Previous to the beginnings of democracy in Athens, only wealthy citizens had a say in the political matters of their Greek territory. Throughout Mycenaean Greece, the Bronze Age was producing the weapons and armory necessary to go to war. These items were very expensive, and thus the wealthy owners of such materials were the only people who not only would take the risk of battle and enjoy the plunders of it; they also had a say in the political actions of the “city state kingdom” Lecture, 1/10/05, which in Mycenaean times, was controlled by an absolute Monarch known as the Wanax. Underneath him were regional Governors called Koretes, who controlled one of a small number of parts of the city state kingdom; within these parts the Basileus, or local governors, were in charge of towns and villages.
These figures, an essential part of the Feudal system which reigned in Greece at the time, were not only responsible for extracting taxes (goods for manufacture, etc.), but also for warding off internal rebellion, as well as fighting for the King against internal attack. With these measures came the political privilege enjoyed by his subordinates; wealth was not yet marked by coinage, but the Wanax had the largest home and the most wealth in animals and land, not to mention the control of commercial goods, which brought more wealth and trade-oriented production under his wing. The Wanax and his support team could also benefit in the spoils produced by attacks on enemy territories.
The development of the Polis in Dark Age and further into Archaic Age Greece was a way of balancing the conflicts consistently raging between individuals and the state. As a way of incorporating their importance and well-being into that of the states’, some of these problems of individuality and states began to simmer down. “The Greeks males only expressed their intense individualism through the polis, not in spite of it Since no external power was much interested in Greece, the chief threatwas the violence of their own people.” (Hollister, 81) The development of the acropolis and the market place below offered security to a city state, and with this security, as we have seen above, came the rise of the hereditary aristocracy. The tensions created therein led to internal problems, first expressed and documented by Hesiod.
As Greece produced a rising population boom swinging out of the Dark Age into the Archaic, many small farmers and other lower classes did not have any livelihood to look forward to except plundering or trading by way of sea travel. Colonization became more and more prominent, and two centuries later, the Polis had spread all over the Mediterranean and Black sea regions. “This experience was profoundly significant the flourishing commerce that developedand coinagedramatically stimulated commerceA new elite of merchants and manufacturers began to elbow its way into the councils of government alongside the old noble families.” (Hollister, 85)
Plutarch describes the lives of men important to the development of Athens, including Theseus and Solon. Alongside the political developments including those by Cliesthenes, the Iron Age and mass coinage allowed for the first time for many men to be able to afford the tools of warfare. This allowed them to participate in the army, and thus demand a say, which they will get at first precisely because they are armed. This in turn leads to the Aristocracy beginning to fall apart. “By concentrating the inhabitants of Attica into a capital, Theseus transformed them into one people belonging to one city” (Plutarch, 29)
Solon, who was eventually given the power of sole Archon, set Athens up with the political beginnings of democracy, by reforming the laws of the Polis beginning in 594 BC. He made it possible for many more men to be eligible to run for political office. Enslavement due to debts was eradicated, and although the power of the general assembly was much more limited still than it would one day be, nevertheless Solon helped get many more men into the assembly. “Popular courts were established whose judges where chosen by lot a means of putting the choice into the hands of the Gods this raised to important office men who were their own masters and owed nothing to wealthy and political backersthis became a characteristic feature of Athenian democracy.” (Hollister, 93) Still, the introduction of democracy was an upset to the norm, and political fluxes occurred: democracy waned on the onset of tyrannical takeovers started up. Although the end product of Athens’s democracy was far different then what Solon envisioned with his constitution, Athens see him as the founder of their politics and original law codes. “Thereafter political developments at Athens were more radical and more fundamental than elsewhere a model of the ultimate potential PolisFirst, in the 5th century B.C. the customary democracy relied on traditional aristocratic leadership and on the use of ritual to control and define public meetingsLater, in the 4th century came political leadership and the use of law to control public meetingsand the separation of the concept of law from that of the political will of the people.” (Grant, 466)
Burn, A.R. “Greece and Rome 750BC/AD 565.” 1970 by Scott, Foresman, and Company.
Plutarch. “The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives”. 1960 Penguin Books. Ian Scott-Kilvert.
Hollister, C.W. “Roots of the Western Tradition.”
Grant, Michael. “Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Volumes I-III.” 1988 Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Hesiod translated by Richmond Lattimore. “The Works and the Days. Theogony. The Shield of Heracles.” 1978 The University of Michigan Press, Ann Harbor.