|Map of Aegean showing city states:|
Image from Historical Atlas
Archilochus, writing around 650BC, quoted in Plutarch Life of Theseus: written about 120AD
This period begins to see more sources appear. Titus Livius gives some insights into the early Rome at the time, although we will examine the history of Italy in more detail in another post. Pausanias and other later sources give chronological details about timelines in Greece. Do bear in mind that writers such as Pausanias and Strabo are writing geography rather than history and so are more interested in telling the legends of various places than fitting timelines exactly. Later chronicles give insights on some aspects of the period, such as the winners of the Olympic Games. We also have contemporary poets who were active around this time. Fragments of their writings have been preserved and are sometimes quoted in the works of later authors. However, we have almost no original works of these poets and only know them through quotations or paraphrases, so caution must be used here. As I have stressed in the last post about Greece, we have some sources but great caution must be used with them. And, as always, the reader should remember that all the opinions in this post are my own and should be treated with the scepticism that this statement deserves. For the general state of Greece and the rest of the world it may be useful to look at the previous post in this series to give context.
In 673 in Rome, according to tradition, Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, died. Numa had been instrumental in setting up and stabilising Rome after the heady days of Romulus and had founded much of Roman religion. He was viewed as a philosopher king by later writers such as Livy and Plutarch. There was a curious incident in 181 BC when Lucius Petillius discovered some chests with inscriptions claiming to be from the burial place of Numa. The books were taken out and Quintus Petillius, a tribune of the plebs at the time, read the books and said that they must be destroyed. The Romans trusted the word of their tribune and publicly burned the books rather than treating them with respect. It was guessed at by some that the writings would cast doubts upon certain traditions, so rather than destabilise the state the Romans chose to destroy them. Numa was remembered as wise but the Romans much preferred him as a memory.
|Later painting of Numa Pompilius|
|Later painting of Tullus Hostilius defeating the Veians|
This monarch (Tullus Hostilius) was not only unlike the last, but was actually more warlike than Romulus had been.
Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 1:22, written around 9BC
|Orientalising work of a head from this period|
On either side the soldiers urged on their champions. They reminded them that their fathers' gods, their native land, their parents, and all their countrymen, whether at home or with the army, had their eye only on their swords and their right hands.
Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 1:25, written around 9BC
|Greek pottery from the era showing |
the myth of the Centauromachy
Around the years 671 the Assyrians took Egypt from the Nubians. This would affect Greek history in that the future Egyptian monarchs would look to hire in outside mercenaries from Greece and Caria, leading to many Greeks visiting Egypt. But for now the Assyrians controlled much of the eastern Mediterranean seaboard and if the Greeks wished to trade, they would have to trade with the Assyrians.
|Vase by the Polyphemus Painter|
showing the blinding of Polyphemus
Around the year 668 the Second Messenian War, where the subjugated Messenians under the leadership of Aristomenes, revolted against their Spartan masters, ended in a Spartan victory. The story of the end of the war is worth telling. After the Messenian defeat at the Battle of the Great Foss, Aristomenes had led the Messenians in raid after raid on the Spartans who nevertheless had summoned allies and pursued a scorched earth policy against the Messenian warriors who were besieged on Mount Eira. There was a prophecy that the Messenians would fail once goats drank from a stream on the mountain so of course the Messenians rigorously stopped any goat from grazing in the vicinity. However there was a tree that was in the area that had grown so much that it dipped its branches in the water, and this was interpreted by the Messenian seer as a fulfilment of the prophecy and that their doom was nigh, but only the Messenian commanders were told of this dire news. Knowing that the fate of Messene was lost they buried sacred objects of the ancient city in a hidden place on the mountain that they hoped would one day allow their city to rise again.
|Griffin vase from the Cyclades|
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4:20, written around 180BC
For the Messenians possessed a secret thing. If it were destroyed, Messene would be overwhelmed and lost for ever, but if it were kept, the oracles of Lycus the son of Pandion said that after lapse of time the Messenians would recover their country. Aristomenes, knowing the oracles, took it towards nightfall, and coming to the most deserted part of Ithome, buried it on the mountain, calling on Zeus who keeps Ithome and the gods who had hitherto protected the Messenians to remain guardians of the pledge, and not to put their only hope of return into the power of the Lacedaemonians.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4:20, written around 180BC
A Spartan deserter who was carrying on an affair with the wife of a herdsmen on the mountain overheard that the Messenians had abandoned their posts during a heavy rainstorm and returned to the Spartan kings to tell them that the Messenians were weak. Based on the word of the deserter the Spartans attacked with all their forces. The Messenians fought back in a desperate battle for freedom. The Messenian women took up arms alongside the men and a furious battle was fought on the slopes of the mountain in the teeth of the gale. But the Spartans had the upper hand and the weight of numbers and eventually the Messenians had to flee, abandoning their last stronghold.
|A painting by Franz Caucig showing Aristomenes being freed |
by a priestess
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4:21, written around 180BC
They tried to flee to Arcadia, where Aristocrates was king. Aristocrates had been bribed to betray them in the Battle of the Trench years earlier but the Messenians and Arcadians were unaware of his treachery. Aristomenes decided upon a sudden surprise attack upon Sparta itself, hoping to seize the city with Arcadian aid. But Aristocrates wrote a letter to the Spartans betraying the plan. His treachery was discovered by the Arcadians who stoned their king to death while Aristomenes refused to partake in the stoning but merely wept at the treachery of friends.
When this was declared to all, the Arcadians themselves stoned Aristocrates and urged the Messenians to join them. They looked to Aristomenes. But he was weeping, with his eyes fixed on the ground. So the Arcadians stoned Aristocrates to death and flung him beyond their borders without burial, and set up a tablet in the precinct of Zeus Lycaeus with the words: “Truly time hath declared justice upon an unjust king and with the help of Zeus hath easily declared the betrayer of Messene. Hard it is for a man forsworn to hide from God. Hail, king Zeus, and keep Arcadia safe.”
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4:22, written around 180BC
|Lower part of a female|
figurine from the era
Aristomenes, coming to Rhodes with his daughter, purposed to go up from there to Sardis to Ardys the son of Gyges, and to Ecbatana of the Medes to king Phraortes.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4:24, written around 180BC
If all of this sounds like epic poetry it is because it is. We have few sources for this war and they are quite late. Pausanias writes about it in his geography of Greece but his source was probably Rhianus of Crete who wrote an epic poem called the Messeniaca. So in other words, the deeds of Aristomenes should be viewed as mostly fiction, although he probably did exist. Rhianus wrote about 200BC and Pausanias wrote about 170AD. Messene was eventually re-founded in 369BC and the epic poetry about Aristomenes was probably from the myths of the returned Messenians, who needed a strong hero figure for their new state. Even if the tales about him are myths, they are myths that show that freedom is worth fighting for and that the chains that bind will not bind forever. So I have thought them worth recording here.
There is also the tomb of Aristomenes here. They say that it is not a cenotaph, but when I asked whence and in what manner they recovered the bones of Aristomenes, they said that they sent to Rhodes for them, and that it was the god of Delphi who ordered it. They also instructed me in the nature of the rites carried out at the tomb. The bull which is to be offered to the dead man is brought to the tomb and bound to the pillar which stands upon the grave. Being fierce and unused to bonds he will not stand; and if the pillar is moved by his struggles and bounds, it is a good omen to the Messenians, but if the pillar is not moved the sign portends misfortune.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 4:32, written around 180BC
|Corinthian Alabaster jar from the period|
In the same year as the end of the Second Messenian War, 668BC, the Spartans supposedly fought the Argives at Hysiae. All that is known is that Argos was victorious, possibly the last victory that Argos unaided won against Sparta. It is said that Pheidon was tyrant of Argos at the time. He had been a king of Argos, which was a mostly ceremonial position, before enlisting the support of the people to become a popular ruler unfettered by rules or the powerful aristocrats. He was a good example of the trend towards popular autocratic rulers that was occurring in Greece. With city-states being very small entities (even the larger states only numbered in the tens of thousands), it was possible for a single charismatic individual to overthrow the existing social order, usurp power and rule without the law.
Here are common graves of the Argives who conquered the Lacedaemonians in battle at Hysiae.1 This fight took place, I discovered, when Peisistratus was archon at Athens, in the fourth year of the twenty-seventh Olympiad, in which the Athenian, Eurybotus, won the foot-race. On coming down to a lower level you reach the ruins of Hysiae, which once was a city in Argolis, and here it is that they say the Lacedaemonians suffered their reverse.
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2:24, written around 180BC
The Greek word tyrannos described these rulers and originally had few negative connotations but soon the excesses of these men led to tyrant becoming a word of ill omen. The word itself may not even be Greek and may be of Lydian extraction. Gyges of Lydia, as a usurper of the throne ruling at this time, might have been seen as a tyrant and was referenced by the Greek poets.
|Later painting by Jean-Leon Gerome showing |
the legend of Candaules, his queen and Gyges
Archilochus, writing around 650, referenced in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, written around 330BC
So the Argives led by Pheidon II defeated the Spartans in what was probably a full hoplite battle. The continuing Lelantine War and the Messenian Wars saw the Greeks move from unorganised skirmishing to full hoplite battles, determined by heavily armed infantry pushing at each other with spears until one side broke their formation, threw down their heavy shields and ran. Some have spoken of the Battle of Hysiae as the first proper hoplite battle and assumed that Pheidon invented hoplite warfare. Others have questioned whether the battle ever took place. Others have speculated that the dates of the Second Messenian War are wrong and that a Spartan defeat by the Argives triggered the Second Messenian War. Pausanias records that the war ended in 668 but if it instead began in 668 it would end in 651 instead. This is quite plausible as the poet Tyrtaeus is associated with the war and he seems to have been active in the 640’s rather than the 660’s.
So let each man bite his lip and abide firm-set astride upon the ground, covering with the belly of his broad buckler thighs and legs below and breast and shoulders above; let him brandish the massy spear in his right hand, let him wave the dire crest upon his head; let him learn how to fight by doing doughty deeds, and not stand shield in hand beyond the missiles. Nay, let each man close the foe, and with his own long spear, or else with his sword, wound and take an enemy, and setting foot beside foot, resting shield against shield, crest beside crest, helm beside helm, fight his man breast to breast with sword or long spear in hand.
Tyrtaeus, writing around 650BC, quoted in Stobaeus’ Anthology, written around 400AD
|Pottery jar from Thera from this period|
Such a man is good in war; he quickly turneth the savage hosts of the enemy, and stemmeth the wave of battle with a will; moreover he that falleth in the van and loseth dear life to the glory of his city and his countrymen and his father, with many a frontwise wound through breast and breastplate and through bossy shield, he is bewailed alike by young and old, and lamented with sore regret by all the city. His grave and his children are conspicuous among men, and his children's and his line after them; nor ever doth his name and good fame perish,…
Tyrtaeus, writing around 650BC, quoted in Stobaeus’ Anthology, written around 400AD
We know almost nothing of the man save the traditions around him and what can be gleaned of his work. It was assumed he came from Athens to fulfil a prophecy that an Athenian would lead Sparta to victory. He is said to have been lame and possibly mad and that he was sent to the Spartans by Athens as an insult. Instead of being useless he is supposed to have composed lyric poetry to stir the martial spirit of the Spartans, bind up their differences and lead them to victory. All of this is later conjecture. We have no complete works of Tyrtaeus and he may simply have been a later Spartan writer who composed poetry about the wars. Regardless of Tyrtaeus’ dates and the influence of his poetry in the formation of Spartan warrior culture he was a poet who was active in this century.
|Small terracotta heads from Crete|
Tyrtaeus, writing around 650BC, from a 3rd Century BC papyrus
From myth, war and poetry we turn to sport. Chionis of Laconia won the stadion foot race in 668 beginning a phenomenal winning streak that would become almost mythical itself. But we shall speak more of Chionis later. Philombrotus the Lacedaemonian won the pentathlon for the third Olympiad in a row, finishing a twelve year winning streak and gaining yet more laurels for Sparta. Between the Olympics, the Battle of Hysiae and the end of the Second Messenian War, 668 was an eventful year.
|Greek vase from the period showing|
the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur
Hence the saying that Apollo, when the men who founded Byzantium at a time subsequent to the founding of Chalcedon by the Megarians consulted the oracle, ordered them to “make their settlement opposite the blind,” thus calling the Chalcedonians “blind”, because, although they sailed the regions in question at an earlier time, they failed to take possession of the country on the far side, with all its wealth, and chose the poorer country.
Strabo Geography 7.6, written around 23AD
In 664 Psamtik I (or Psammetichus) came to the throne in Egypt. He would be an inquisitive and capable Pharaoh. He may have conducted quasi-scientific experiments and would certainly be a friend to the Greeks. Slightly later in his reign he was supposedly counselled to seek the help of “bronze men” to help him fight his wars. Seeing some shipwrecked Greek and Carian pirates on the shores of his lands he noticed their heavy armour and enlisted them as mercenaries, beginning a relationship between the Egyptian Pharaohs and Greek mercenaries that would span for centuries.
|Island of Amorgos|
where Semonides hailed from
Around this time the poet Semonides of Amorgos flourished. Only fragments of his work remain and a lot of the stories about him are probably associated with a later poet called Simonides of Ceos. The two names are spelled the same in the original Greek but modern scholars spell them slightly differently to avoid confusion. He was a Samian who was involved in the colonisation of Amorgos (an island in the southern Aegean). Like his contemporary Archilochus he was a great poet but could be viciously sarcastic at times. One of the longest fragments of his work is a long diatribe about how women are awful. In a culture that was only beginning to move towards the written word, the spoken word was a powerful tool and the tongue could be sharper than the sword.
In the beginning God made woman's mind apart from man's. One he made a bristly Sow; all that is in her house lies disorderly, defiled with dirt, and rolling upon the floor, and she grows fat sitting among the refuse heaps in garments as unwashed as herself. Another did God make of a knavish Vixen, a woman knowing in all things, who taketh note of all, be it bad or good; for the bad often she calls good and the good bad; and she hath now this mood and now that.
Semonides, writing around 650BC, quoted in Stobaeus’ Anthology, written around 400AD
|Later sculpture of Archilochus|
The shield I left because I must, poor blameless armour! Beside a bush, it gives joy now to some Saian, but myself I have saved. What care I for that shield? It shall go with a curse. I'll get me another just as good.
Archilochus writing around 650BC, quoted in Plutarch’s Spartan Institutions: written around AD110
He wrote a poem describing the beginnings of the Trojan War, the fragments of which were only discovered in modern times. He was revered by the Greeks but his invectives were feared, as he was reputed to have fallen in love with a woman and when her father broke his word and gave his daughter in marriage to another that Archilochus began to write poems against them. His poems were apparently so vicious that the father and his daughters (and possibly the suitor) all hung themselves. This is probably a later tale based on some scurrilous poem that is no longer preserved.
It should be noted that literature has many cases of self-hanging for grief, and this was the death, according to the old story, of the daughters of Lycambes, who could not withstand the onslaught of the satire of Archilochus.
Eustathius, On the Odyssey, written around 1190AD
|Papyrus fragment of |
poem by Archilochus
Stand and look at Archilochus, the old maker of iambic verse, whose infinite renown hath spread both to utmost East and furthest West. Sure the Muses and Delian Apollo liked him well, such taste and skill had he to bring both to the framing of the words and to the singing of them to the lyre.
Palatine Anthology, written around 600AD
In 660 Corcyra, a Corinthian colony on island now known as Corfu, defeated Corinth in a sea battle. The dates are sketchy and this may have happened in 665 instead. But it is worth remembering as this is probably the first recorded sea battle of the Greeks.
Again, the earliest sea-fight in history was between the Corinthians and Corcyraeans; this was about two hundred and sixty years ago, dating from the same time.
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1:13
Around the year 660, the city of Magnesia was attacked and destroyed by the Cimmerians. Possibly they had been fighting Gyges the Lydian previously and had moved on, or possibly were working in league with the Lydian king. However, it was a sign that the Greek colonisation of the coastlands of Asia was not to be without conflict from the more powerful tribes and kingdoms of the interior. Gyges himself had fought with the Greeks, attacking Miletus and Smyrna and taking Colophon.
Around this time the tyrant Pheidon II of Argos standardised weights and measures and some of these were adopted in other city states as well. The later writer Ephorus says that he invented coinage as well but that is almost certainly untrue.
|Painting by Jacques Louis David showing the wooing |
of Helen by Paris
There was a time when the countless tribes of men, though wide-dispersed, oppressed the surface of the deep-bosomed earth, and Zeus saw it and had pity and in his wise heart resolved to relieve the all-nurturing earth of men by causing the great struggle of the Ilian war, that the load of death might empty the world. And so the heroes were slain in Troy, and the plan of Zeus came to pass.
Scholiast on Homer (from the Cypria), Il. i. 5
|Island of Paros where Archhilochus hailed from|
When he was a new-born babe, smiled at the men who had been sent to make away with him, and they turned away. And when again they changed their minds, they sought for him and found him not, for he had been put away in a chest by his mother. It was because of this that Cypselus constructed the building at Delphi, firmly believing that the god had at that time stopped his crying so that he might escape the notice of those who were searching for him.
Plutarch, Septem sapientium convivium 21, written about 120AD
|Weights used to aid long jumpers in the ancient Olympics|
29th Olympiad [664 B.C.] - Chionis of Laconia, stadion race. Chionis could leap a distance of 22 feet.
Eusebius’ Chronicle, written around 330AD
In 652 Cratinus of Megara won the stadion footrace, finally ending the dominance of Chionis, and Comaeus of Megara won the boxing competition. There is not much else to say of this year.
|Corinthian alabaster jar from the period|
For example, to prove that Dionysius is aiming at a tyranny, because he asks for a bodyguard, one might say that Pisistratus before him and Theagenes of Megara did the same, and when they obtained what they asked for made themselves tyrants. … All these examples are contained under the same universal proposition; that one who is aiming at a tyranny asks for a bodyguard.
Aristotle Rhetoric 1.2 written around 330BC
Around 650 the long Lelantine War finally came to a close. The two sides were fighting over the Lelantine Plain, a small plain between Chalcis and Eretria. The war had apparently gone on for over fifty years and was either fought in a ritual manner or have seen many truces and ceasefires over that time. The small town of Lefkandi in the plain was abandoned during this time, as the Eretrians must have moved away from it. While both sides apparently abstained from using javelins and arrows during the war, they did use cavalry and the Chalcidians thought that the Eretrian cavalry was better. Both sides had allies so the Chalcidians called a nobleman called Cleomachus of Pharsalus to aid them. Cleomachus was from Thessaly and brought some cavalry warriors with him. The two sides met in battle and the Thessalian cavalry prevailed, although their leader Cleomachus died. Cleomachus was homosexual and had his lover with him in the battle. When Cleomachus died he was given a hero’s funeral and it is possible that the memory of his heroism helped shape positive Greek attitudes towards homosexuality.
In the heat of the war between the Chalcidians and the Eretrians, Cleomachus went with the Thessalian force to aid the Chalcidians; at what time it was evident that the Chalcidians were the stronger in foot, but they found it a difficult thing to withstand the force of the enemies' horse. Thereupon they requested Cleomachus, being their confederate and a man signalized for his courage, to give the first onset upon the enemies' cavalry. Presently the youth whom he most entirely loved being present, he asked him whether he would stay and be a spectator of the combat.
Plutarch Amatorius 17, written around 120AD
This Chalcidian victory is supposed to have ended the war but it is not clear exactly who won. Chalcis and Eretria were by now unimportant cities among the Greek states. Other cities such as Sparta, Corinth and Miletus were now far more influential and powerful. So the long war trailed off to an end with both sides the losers.
|Greek pottery from this period|
Plutarch Amatorius 17, written around 120AD
So the twenty-five year period that we were looking at comes to a close. The Second Messenian War was over and Sparta was shaken but strong. The Lelantine War had brought ruin to its participants in exchange for fleeting glory and a footnote in the history books. There was glory in the contests of Olympia and scattered outbreaks of poetry. The founding of new cities continued, while many of the old cities began to ditch their traditional government in favour of the rule of tyrants. Such is the record of the period.