The Developement of the Greek City States
The development of the Greek city-state can attribute itself
to many aspects. The gradual evolution of the political systems, the growth
of trade, and the roles of resident aliens, women and slaves brought the Grecian
area out of the dark ages and on it’s way to becoming one of the most
admired and imitated cultures of the ancient world. During the Archaic period
(800-500 B.C.) the communities on the Greek mainland moved from being cluster
and sometimes nomadic tribes to defensive units called polis or city-states.
Thought the city-states were independent of eachother they did not fail to interact
with and teach eachother.
In the beginning of the seventh century B.C., the city-states were ruled by hereditary monarchs called basileus. During the 800's, however, these kings were frequently overthrown. One form of government that replaced them were oligarchies, A body of the wealthiest citizens. These ruling bodies were often afforded the same privileges as a king, but divided amongst a sometimes very large group. The rise of the wealthy to political power also coincided with the wide gap between the very rich landowners and the destitute independent farmers.
The basileus were also overthrown by tyrants who held on to their power only with strong military backing and were easily overthrown themselves. Kings did retain some of their power as symbolic or religious leaders but were second to the powerful oligarchies.
"By the sixth century, the experiments began to settle around two alternatives. The tyrannies never died out, by oligarchy became the settled norm of the Greek city-states. Several of these oligarchies, however, were replaced by a second alternative that originates sometimes in the sixth century: democracy." These democracies were more true to the actual definition of "rule by the people" than any democracy in existence today. It was run by the free, male citizens of the city-state and was not representative. Not all people were involved in it as they are today. Women, slaves and foreigners were all excluded from this democracy.
During the same time, the mysterious population boom lead to the colonization of much of the Aegean Sea, modern day Italian mainland, Sicily and other places along the Mediterranean coasts. Miletus alone founded around eighty colonies, thus significantly contributing to Magna Graicia or Great Greece. The needs of the new settlements stimulated the growth of industrial and commercial classes and transformed many city-states from simple agrarian societies into bustling mercantile centers. This new wealth in the middle class helped in their rise to power along side the aristocracy. The commerce and trade made the independent city-states wealthy and powerful. There was the most cultural and positive interaction amongst the city-states themselves at this time than in any other period in Greek history.
Two of the city-states that did not participate in colonization were Athens and Sparta. These two city-states, while coming from similar monarchial origins, developed into vastly different oriented powerful city-states. Sparta doubled its kings to form a stable dual monarchy that was joined by 28 high ranking nobles of the uppermost class. These twenty-eight men were all retired soldiers, meaning that they were all over the age of sixty. Next inline to this council was the assembly of the Spartan male citizens, or the democracy.
This body elected the council of 28 and approved or vetoed the council proposals. Above all these bodies and also the kings was the ephorate, or the council of five. This small group essentially controlled the entire city-state having veto power over all of the other groups, were incharge of the military and the education system as well as the infant selection system. The Spartans were divided up into three groups; the Spartiate, the perioeci, and the helots. The Spartiate were the highest class of people who were in the army and served on the governing boards. These were natural born citizens who could trace their roots back to the original inhabitants of Sparta and were the only class who had the full benefits of the political and legal systems. The "middle class" was the perioeci, foreigners who served as the buffer between the Spartiates and the lowest class, the helots. The helots were the conquered serfs that worked the Spartan-owned fields.
Towards the other side of the political spectrum from Sparta was Athens, the true democracy. Under the tyrant Solon, the Athenian people were split up into four classes of political participation. The two wealthiest classes were able to serve on the Areopagus. The third class was elected to the group of 400, which was organized according to the four tribes that made up the Athenian people. Each of these tribes each elected 100 members from its third class to serve as the checks and balance to the Areopagus council. The fourth and poorest class participated in an assembly, which voted on affairs brought to it by the council of four hundred. This low class assembly also elected magistrates as well as participating in a judicial court that eventually took some cases out of the hands of the wealthy Areopagus.
Although the woman of this age did not hold an equal status to males, citizen women of Sparta did achieve more freedom than their counterparts in Athens. Early on, in Sparta, girls received the same education, beginning at age seven, as the boys. This schooling lasted until the age of thirteen when the boys entered the military and the women prepared themselves for early marriage and motherhood. Unlike Spartan women, the Athenian women were under male rule from birth to death. Their father's passed them on to their husbands and after that they were either returned to their fathers or to the closest surviving male relative. Spartan women managed their houses while their husbands served in the military while Athenian woman had the furthest room from the street and did not meet other male citizens outside the home. The helots freed up the time for the Spartan women to manage the household, whereas there were no communal 'slaves' for the Athenian woman. The number of children were more limited in the Spartan society, with infanticide being a state activity to bring about strong and mostly male Spartan citizens and soldiers. On the other hand, Athenian women were mere status symbols who were required to provide an heir and to continue the bloodline, which led to a high rate of incest among the population. Athenian women were also were much younger than their husbands, by as much as 5 years or more. This lead to the men having courtesan relations to fill the intellectual void in their marriages. These courtesans were called hetairai, the most famous being Aspasia, companion and inspiration to the great leader, Pericles.
By the Classical period, Athens ruled the Deilan league and had fought off the Persian invasion that threatened their democratic and lavish way of life. Their cities were beautified and their treasuries were full. The arts, philosophy and politics were flourishing and Classic Greece would ever serve as an inspiration to future civilizations. The mighty polis had come a million miles from its humble beginnings as a simple farming community.
Hollister, Warren C. Roots of the Western Tradition. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1996
"The Athenian Empire." The Knossos Geodetic System. Home Page. 2000. http://www.ancientgr.com/archaeonia/history/classical/athens.htm
"Ancient Greece: Athens." World Civilizations. Home Page. Washington State University.