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Title: The historians' history of the world in twenty-five volumes, volume 03

Greece to the Peloponnesian War

Editor: Henry Smith Williams

Release date: July 24, 2017 [eBook #55195]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by David Edwards and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
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Transcriber’s Note: As a result of editorial shortcomings in the original, some reference letters in the text don’t have matching entries in the reference-lists, and vice versa.









A comprehensive narrative of the rise and development of nations
as recorded by over two thousand of the great writers of
all ages: edited, with the assistance of a distinguished
board of advisers and contributors,


(decorative, publisher’s mark) PRIUS PLACENDUM QUAM DOCENDUM


The Outlook Company
New York

The History Association



Copyright, 1904,

All rights reserved.

Press of J. J. Little & Co.
New York, U. S. A.


Contributors, and Editorial Revisers.




Introductory Essay. The Scope and Development of Greek History. By Dr. Eduard Meyer 1
Greek History in Outline 13
Land and People 26
The land, 26. The name, 32. The origin of the Greeks, 33. Early conditions and movements, 36.
The Mycenæan Age (ca. 1600-1000 B.C.) 40
Mycenæan civilisation, 40. The problem of Mycenæan chronology, 52. The testimony of art, 54. The problem of the Mycenæan race, 56.
The Heroic Age (1400-1200 B.C.) 66
The value of the myths, 67. The exploits of Perseus, 68. The labours of Hercules, 69. The feats of Theseus, 71. The Seven against Thebes, 72. The Argonauts, 73. The Trojan War, 76. The town of Troy, 78. Paris and Helen, 79. The siege of Troy, 80. Agamemnon’s sad home-coming, 81. Character and spirit of the Heroic Age, 82. Geographical knowledge, 86. Navigation and astronomy, 88. Commerce and the arts, 89. The graphic arts, 91. The art of war, 92. Treatment of orphans, criminals, and slaves, 94. Manners and customs, 97.
The Transition to Secure History (ca. 1200-800 B.C.) 99
[x]Beloch’s view of the conventional primitive history, 99.
The Dorians (ca. 1100-1000 B.C.) 109
The migration in the view of Curtius, 115. Messenia, 117. Argos, 118. Arcadia, 121. Dorians in Crete, 124.
Sparta and Lycurgus (ca. 885 B.C.) 128
Plutarch’s account of Lycurgus, 129. The institutions of Lycurgus, 131. Regulations regarding marriage and the conduct of women, 133. The rearing of children, 135. The famed Laconic discourse; Spartan discipline, 136. The senate; burial customs; home-staying; the ambuscade, 138. Lycurgus’ subterfuge to perpetuate his laws, 140. Effects of Lycurgus’ system, 141.
The Messenian Wars of Sparta (ca. 764-580 B.C.) 143
First Messenian War, 144. The futile sacrifice of the daughter of Aristodemus, 146. The hero Aristomenes and the Second Messenian War, 147. The poet Tyrtæus, 149.
The Ionians (ca. 650-630 B.C.) 152
Origin and early history of Athens, 154. King Ægeus, 155. Theseus, 158. Rise of popular liberty, 162. Draco, the lawgiver, 164.
Some Characteristic Institutions (884-590 B.C.) 167
The oracle at Delphi, 170. National festivals, 170. The Olympian games, 172. Character of the games, 173. Monarchies and oligarchies, 175. Tyrannies, 177. Democracies, 179.
The Smaller Cities and States 181
Arcadia, Ellis, and Achaia, 181. Argos, Ægina, and Epidaurus, 182. Sicyon and Megara, 184. Bœotia, Locris, Phocis, and Eubœa, 187. Thessaly, 189. Corinth under Periander, 191.
Crete and the Colonies 194
[xi]Beloch’s account of Greek colonisation, 198.
Solon the Lawgiver (ca. 638-558 B.C.) 207
The life and laws of Solon according to Plutarch, 209. The law concerning debts, 213. Class legislation, 215. Miscellaneous laws; the rights of women, 216. Results of Solon’s legislation, 217. Solon’s journey and return; Pisistratus, 219. A modern view of Solonian laws and constitution, 220.
Pisistratus the Tyrant (550-527 B.C.) 222
The virtues of Pisistratus’ rule, 226.
Democracy Established at Athens (514-490 B.C.) 231
Clisthenes, the reformer, 236. Ostracism, 245. The democracy established, 251. Trouble with Thebes, 252.
The First Foreign Invasion (506-490 B.C.) 261
The origin of animosity, 262. The Ionic revolt, 264. War with Ægina, 267. The first invasion, 268. Battle of Marathon, 272. On the courage of the Greeks, 277. If Darius had invaded Greece earlier, 279.
Miltiades and the Alleged Fickleness of Republics (489 B.C.) 280
The Plans of Xerxes (485-480 B.C.) 285
Xerxes bridges the Hellespont, 295. How the host marched, 297. The size of Xerxes’ army, 301.
Proceedings in Greece from Marathon to Thermopylæ (489-480 B.C.) 305
Themistocles and Aristides, 306. Congress at Corinth, 308. The vale of Tempe, 313. Xerxes reviews his host, 314.
Thermopylæ (480 B.C.) 320
The famous story as told by Herodotus, 320. Leonidas and his allies, 321. Xerxes assails the pass, 323. The treachery of Ephialtes, 323. The final assault, 325. Discrepant [xii]accounts of the death of Leonidas, 327. After Thermopylæ, 327.
The Battles of Artemisium and Salamis (480 B.C.) 330
Battle of Artemisium, 331. Athens abandoned, 334. The fleet at Salamis, 337. Xerxes at Delphi, 338. Athens taken, 339. Xerxes inspects his fleet, 340. Schemes of Themistocles, 342. Battle of Salamis, 345. The retreat of Xerxes, 348. The spoils of victory, 351. Syracusan victory over Carthage, 352.
From Salamis to Mycale (479 B.C.) 353
Mardonius makes overtures to Athens, 354. Mardonius moves on Athens, 356. Athens appeals to Sparta, 357. Mardonius destroys Athens and withdraws, 358. A preliminary skirmish, 360. Preparations for the battle of Platæa, 362. Battle of Platæa, 366. Mardonius falls and the day is won, 370. After the battle, 371. The Greeks attack Thebes, 373. The flight of the Persian remnant, 374. Contemporary affairs in Ionia, 374. Battle of Mycale, 376. After Mycale, 377. A review of results, 379. A glance forward, 379.
The Aftermath of the War (478-468 B.C.) 382
Athens rebuilds her walls, 382. The new Athens, 384. The misconduct of Pausanias, 386. Athens takes the leadership, 388. The confederacy of Delos, 389. The treason of Pausanias, 391. Political changes at Athens, 394. The downfall of Themistocles, 396.
The Growth of the Athenian Empire (479-462 B.C.) 402
The victories of Cimon, 408. Mitford’s view of the period, 409.
The Rise of Pericles (462-440 B.C.) 416
The Areopagus, 420. Cimon exiled, 423. The war with Corinth, 424. The Long Walls, 425. Cimon recalled, 427. The Five-Years’ Truce, 430. The confederacy becomes an empire, 431. Commencement of decline, 432. The greatness of Pericles, 435. A Greek federation planned, 436.
Athens at War (440-432 B.C.) 438
The Samian War, 438. The war with Corcyra, 439. The war with Potidæa and [xiii]Macedonia, 444.
Imperial Athens under Pericles (460-430 B.C.) 448
Judicial reforms of Pericles, 454. Rhetors and sophists, 459. Phidias accused, 461. Aspasia at the bar, 462. Anaxagoras also assailed, 463.
Manners and Customs of the Age of Pericles (460-410 B.C.) 465
Cost of living and wages, 465. Schools, teachers, and books, 472. The position of a wife in Athens, 473.
Art of the Periclean Age (460-410 B.C.) 477
Architecture, 477. Sculpture, 483. Painting, music, etc., 487. The artists of the other cities of Hellas, 490.
Greek Literature 492
Oratory and lyric poetry, 492. Tragedy, 497. Comedy, 504. The glory of Athens, 505.
The Outbreak of the Peloponnesian War (432-431 B.C.) 508
Our sources, 508. The origin of the war, 510. Preparations for the conflict, 517. The surprise of Platæa, 522. Pericles’ reconcentration policy, 526. The first year’s ravage, 527.
The Plague; and the Death of Pericles (431-429 B.C.) 535
The oration of Pericles, 535. Thucydides’ account of the plague, 539. Last public speech of Pericles, 545. The end and glory of Pericles, 548. Wilhelm Oncken’s estimate of Pericles, 551.
The Second and Third Years of the Peloponnesian War (429-428 B.C.) 554
The Spartans and Thebans attack Platæa, 556. Part of the Platæans escape; the [xiv]rest capitulate, 557. Naval and other combats, 560.
The Fourth to the Tenth Years—and Peace (428-421 B.C.) 566
The revolt of Mytilene, 566. Thucydides’ account of the revolt of Corcyra, 570. Demosthenes and Sphacteria, 575. Further Athenian successes, 579. A check to Athens; Brasidas becomes aggressive, 580. The banishment of Thucydides, 581. A truce declared; two treaties of peace, 582.
The Rise of Alcibiades (450-416 B.C.) 584
The Sicilian Expedition (481-413 B.C.) 591
Sicilian history, 591. The mutilation of the Hermæ, 596. The fleet sails, 599. Alcibiades takes flight, 601. Nicias tries strategy, 602. Spartan aid, 604. Alcibiades against Athens, 605. Athenian reinforcements, 606. Athenian disaster, 608. Thucydides’ famous account of the final disasters, 610. Demosthenes surrenders his detachment, 613. Nicias parleys, fights, and surrenders, 614. The fate of the captives, 615.
Close of the Peloponnesian War (425-404 B.C.) 617
Athens after the Sicilian débâcle, 617. Alcibiades again to the fore, 620. The overthrow of the democracy; the Four Hundred, 624. The revolt from the Four Hundred, 627. The triumphs of Alcibiades, 630. Alcibiades in disfavour again, 633. Conon wins at Arginusæ, 634. The trial of the generals, 636. Battle of Ægospotami, 638. The fall of Athens, 640. A review of the war, 642. Grote’s estimate of the Athenian Empire, 644.
Brief Reference-List of Authorities by Chapters 647





















Copyright, 1904,

All rights reserved




Written Specially for the Present Work


Professor of Ancient History in the University of Berlin

The history of Greek civilisation forms the centre of the history of antiquity. In the East, advanced civilisations with settled states had existed for thousands of years; and as the populations of Western Asia and of Egypt gradually came into closer political relations, these civilisations, in spite of all local differences in customs, religion, and habits of thought, gradually grew together into a uniform sphere of culture. This development reached its culmination in the rise of the great Persian universal monarchy, the “kingdom of the lands,” i.e. “of the world.” But from the very beginning these oriental civilisations are so completely dominated by the effort to maintain what has been won that all progress beyond this point is prevented. And although we can distinguish an individual, active, and progressive intellectual movement among many nations,—as in Egypt, among the Iranians and Indians, while among the Babylonians and Phœnicians nothing of the sort is thus far known,—nevertheless the forces that represent tradition are in the end everywhere victorious over it and force it to bow to their yoke. Hence, all oriental civilisations culminate in the creation of a theological system which governs all the relations and the whole field of thought of man, and is everywhere recognised as having existed from all eternity and as being inviolable to all future time.

With the cessation of political life and the establishment of the universal monarchy, the nationality and the distinctive civilisation of the separate districts are restricted to religion, which has become theology. The development of oriental civilisation then subsides in the competition of these religions and the unavoidable coalescence consequent thereupon. This is true even of that nation which experienced the richest intellectual development, and did the most important work of all oriental peoples—the Israelites. When the great political storms from which the universal monarchy arose have spent their rage, Israel, the nation, has developed into Judaism; and under the Persian rule and with the help of the kingdom it organises itself as a church which seeks to put an end to all free individual movement, upon which the greatness of ancient Israel rests.


It was just the same with the ruling nation, the Persians, however vigorous their entrance into history under Cyrus. The Persian kingdom is, indeed, a civilised state, but the civilisations that it includes lack the highest that a civilisation can offer: an energetic, independent life, a combination of the firm institutions and permanent attainments of the past with the free, progressive, and creative movement of individuality. So the East, after the Persian period, was unable of its own force to create anything new. It stagnated, and, had it not received new elements from without, had it been left permanently to itself, would perhaps in the course of centuries have altered its external form again and again, but would hardly have produced anything new or have progressed a step beyond what had already been attained.

But when Cyrus and Darius founded the Persian kingdom, the East no longer stood alone. The nations and kingdoms of the East came into communication with the coast of the Mediterranean very early—not later than the beginning of the second millennium B.C.; and under their influence, about 1500 B.C., a civilisation arose among the Greeks bordering the Ægean. We call it the Mycenæan, and in spite of its formal dependence upon the East it could, in the field of art (where alone we have an exact knowledge of it), take an independent and equal place beside the great civilisations of the East.

How Greek civilisation continued to advance from step to step for many centuries in the field of politics and society as well as in that of the intellect; how it spread simultaneously over all the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean, from Massalia on the coast of the Ligurians and Cumæ in the land of the Oscans to the Crimea and the eastern coast of the Black Sea, and in the south as far as Cyprus and Cilicia; how Greek culture at the same time took root in much more remote districts, especially in Asia Minor; and how under its influence an energetic civilisation arose among the tribes of Italy, cannot be depicted here.

When the Persian kingdom was founded the Hellenes had developed from a group of linguistically related tribes into a nation possessing a completely independent culture whose equal the world had never yet seen, a culture whose mainspring was that very political and intellectual freedom of the individual which was completely lacking in the East.

Hence its character was purely human, its aim the complete and harmonious development of man; and if for that very reason it always strove to be moderate and to adapt itself to the moral and cosmical forces that govern human life, nevertheless it could accomplish this only in free subordination, by absorbing the moral commandment into its own will. Therefore it did not permit the opposing theological tendencies to gain control, strong as was their development in considerable districts of Greece in the sixth century. At that very period, on the other hand, it was stretching out to grasp the apples on the tree of knowledge; in the most advanced regions of Hellas science and philosophy were opposing theology. National as it was, this culture lacked but one thing: the political unity of the nation, the co-ordination of all its powers in the vigorous organism of a great state.

The instinct of freedom itself, upon which the greatness of this civilisation rested, favoured by the geographical conformation of the Greek soil, had caused a constantly increasing political disunion, which saw in the complete and unlimited autonomy of every individual community, even of the tiniest of the hundreds of city states into which Hellas was divided, the highest ideal of liberty, the only fit existence for a Hellene. And, internally,[3] every one of these dwarf states was eaten by the canker of political and social contrasts which could not be permanently suppressed by any attempt to introduce a just political order founded upon a codified law and a written constitution—whether the ideal were the rule of the “best,” the rule of the whole, i.e. of the actual masses, or that of a mixed constitution. The smaller the city and its territory, the more apt were these attempts to become bloody revolutions. Lively as was the public spirit, clearly as the justice of the demand for subordination to law was recognised, every individual and every party interpreted it according to its own conception and its own judgment, and at all times there were not a few who were ready to seize for themselves all that the moment offered.

To be sure, manifold and successful attempts to found a greater political power were brought about by the advancing growth of industry and culture, as well as by the development of the citizen army of hoplites, which had a firm tactical structure and was well schooled in the art of war. In the Peloponnesus Sparta brought the whole south under the rule of its citizens and not only effected the union of almost the whole peninsula into a league, but established its right, as the first military power of Hellas, to leadership in all common affairs.

In middle Greece, Thebes succeeded in uniting Bœotia into a federal state, while its neighbour Athens, which had maintained the unity of the Attic district since the beginning of history, began to annex the neighbouring districts of Megara, Bœotia, and Eubœa, and laid the foundation of a colonial power, as Corinth had formerly done. In the north the Thessalians acquired leadership over all surrounding tribes. In the west, in Sicily, usurpers had founded larger monarchical unified states, especially in Syracuse and Agrigentum.

But all these combinations were after all only of very limited extent and by no means firmly united; on the contrary, the weaker communities felt even the loosest kind of federation, to say nothing of dependence, as an oppressive fetter which impaired the ideal of the individual destiny of the autonomous state, and which at least one party,—generally the one that happened to be out of power,—felt justified in bursting at the first opportunity.

However, as things lay, the nation found itself forced, with this sort of constitution, to take up the struggle for its political independence. The Greeks of Asia Minor, formerly subjects of the kings of Sardis, had become subjects of the Persian kingdom under Cyrus; the free Hellenes had the most varied relations with the latter, and more than once gave him occasion to intervene in their affairs. The Persian kingdom, which under Darius no longer attempted conquests that were not necessary for the maintenance of its own existence, took no advantage of these provocations until the revolt of the Greeks of Asia Minor, supported by Athens, made war inevitable.

After the first attempt had failed Xerxes repeated it on the greatest scale. Against the Hellenic nation, whose alien character was everywhere a hindrance in its path, the Orient arose in the east and the west for a decisive struggle; the Phœnician city of Carthage, the great sea power of the west, was in alliance with the Persian kingdom. Only the minority of the Hellenes joined in the defence; in the west the princes of Syracuse and Agrigentum, in the east Sparta and the Peloponnesian league, Athens, the cities of Eubœa and a few smaller powers. But in both fields of operation the Hellenes won a complete victory; the Carthaginians were defeated on the Himera, in the east Themistocles broke the base of the Persian position by destroying their sea power with the Athenian fleet that he had created, and[4] on the battle-field of Platæa the Persian land forces were defeated by the superiority of the Greek armies of hoplites.

Thus the Hellenes had won the leading position in the world. For the moment there was no other power that could oppose them by land or sea; the Asiatic king never again ventured an attack on Greece. Her absolute military superiority was founded upon the national character, the energetic public spirit, the voluntary subordination to law and discipline and the capacity for conceiving and realising great political ideas. The Hellenes could gain and assert permanently the ascendency over the entire Mediterranean world, and impress upon it for all time the stamp of their nationality, provided only that they were united and saw the way to gather together all their resources into a single firmly knit great power.

But the Greeks were not able to meet this first and most urgent demand; though the days of particularism were irrevocably past, the idea which was so inseparably bound up with the very nature of Hellenism still exerted a powerful influence. As the individual communities were no longer able to maintain an independent existence, they gathered about the two powers that had gained the leadership, and each of which was striving for supremacy: the patriarchal military state of Sparta and the new progressive great power of Athens.

With the victory over the East it had been decided that the individuality of Hellenic culture, the intellectual liberty which gives free play to all vigorous powers in both material and intellectual life, had asserted itself; the future lay only along this way. Mighty was the advance that in all fields carried Greece along with gigantic strides; after only a few decades the time before the Persian wars seemed like a remote and long past antiquity.

But mighty as were the advancing strides of the nation in trade and industry, in wealth and all the luxury of civilisation, in art and science, all these attainments finally became factors of political disintegration. They furthered the unlimited development of individualism, which in custom and law and political life recognises no other rule than its own ego and its claims. The ideal world of the time of the sophists and the politics of an Alcibiades and a Lysander are the results of this development.

Athens perceived the political tasks that were set for the Hellenic people and ventured an attempt to perform them. They could be accomplished only by admitting the new ideas into the programme of democracy, by the foundation and extension of sea power, by an aggressive policy which aimed more and more at the subjection of the Greek world under the hegemony of one city. In consequence all opposing elements were forced under the banner of Sparta, which adopted the programme of conservatism and particularism, in order to strengthen its resistance, and restrict and, if possible, overcome its rival.

The conflict was inevitable, though both sides were reluctant to enter upon it; twenty years after the battle of Salamis it broke out. The fact that Athens was trying at the same time to continue the war against Persia and wrest Cyprus and Egypt from it gave her opponents the advantage; she had far overestimated her strength. After a struggle of eleven years (460-449 B.C.) Athens found herself compelled to make peace with Persia and free the Greek mainland, only retaining absolute control over the sea.

Under the rule of Pericles she consolidated her power, and the ideals that lived in her were embodied in splendid creations. She proved herself equal,[5] in spite of all internal instability and crises, to a second attack of her Greek opponents (431-421 B.C.). But it again became evident that the radical democracy, which was now at the helm, had no grasp of the realities of the political situation; for the second time it stretched out its hand for the hegemony over all Hellas, in unnatural alliance with Alcibiades, the conscienceless, ambitious man who was aiming at the crown of Athens and Hellas.

Mighty indeed was the plan to subdue the Western world, Sicily first of all; then with doubled power first to crush the opponents at home and then gain the supremacy over the whole Mediterranean world. But what a united Hellas might have accomplished was far beyond the resources of Athens, even if the democrats had not overthrown their dangerous ally at the first opportunity, and thus lamed the undertaking at the outset.

The catastrophe of the Athenians before Syracuse (413 B.C.) is the turning-point of Greek history. All the opponents of Athens united, and the Persian king, who saw that the hour had come to regain his former power without a struggle, made an alliance with them. Only through his subsidies was it possible for Sparta and her allies to reduce Athens—until she lay prostrate. And the gain fell to Persia alone, however feeble the kingdom had meanwhile become internally. Sparta, after overthrowing the despotism of Lysander, made an honest attempt to reorganise the Greek world after the conservative programme, and to fulfil the task laid upon the nation in the contest with Persia. But she only furnished her opponents at home, and particularism, which now immediately turned against its former ally, an occasion for a fresh uprising, which Sparta could master only by forming a new alliance with Persia. After the peace of 386 the king of Asia utters the decisive word even in the affairs of the Greek mother-country.

Here dissolution is going rapidly forward. Every power that has once more for a short time possessed some importance in Greece succumbs to it in turn; first Sparta, then Thebes and Athens. The attempts to establish permanent and assured conditions by local unions in small districts, as in Chalcidice under Olynthus, in Bœotia and Arcadia, were never able to hold out more than a short time. It was useless to look longer for the fulfilment of the national destiny. Feeble as the Persian kingdom was internally, every revolt against it, to say nothing of an attempt to make conquests and acquire a new field of colonisation in Asia,—the programme that Isocrates repeatedly urged upon the nation,—was made impossible by internal strife. Prosperity was ruined, the energy of the nation was exhausted in the wild feuds of brigands, the most desolate conditions prevailed in all communities. Greek history ends in chaos, in a hopeless struggle of all against all.

In this same period, to be sure, the positive, constructive criticism of Socrates and his school rose in opposition to the negative tendencies of sophistry; and made the attempt to put an end to the political misery, to create by a proper education the true citizen who looks only to the common welfare in place of the ignorant citizen of the existing states, who was governed only by self-interest. These efforts resulted in the development of science and the preservation for all future time of the highest achievements of the intellectual life of Hellas, but they could not produce an internal transformation of men and states, whose earthly life does not lie within the sphere of the problems of theoretical perception, but in that of the problems of will and power. So at the same time that Greek culture has reached the highest point of its development, prepared to become the culture of the world, the Greek nation is condemned to complete impotence.


For the development in the West, different as was its course, led to no other result. In the fifth century Greece controlled almost all Sicily except the western point, the whole south of Italy up to Tarentum, Elea and Posidonia and the coast of Campania. Nowhere was an enemy to be seen that might have become dangerous. The Carthaginians were repulsed, and the power of the Etruscans, who in the sixth century had striven for the hegemony in Italy, decayed, partly from internal weakness, partly in consequence of the revolt of their subjects, especially the Romans and the Sabines. The Cumæans under Aristodemus with the Sabines as their allies defeated Aruns, the son of Porsena of Clusium, at Aricia about 500 B.C., and in the year 474 the Etruscan sea power suffered defeat at Cumæ from the fleet of Hiero of Syracuse.

The cities of western Greece stood then as if founded for all eternity; they were adorned with splendid buildings, the gayest and most luxurious life developed in their streets; and they had leisure enough, after the Greek manner, to dissipate their energies, which were not claimed by external enemies, in internal strife and in struggles for the hegemony. Only the bold attempts which Phocæa made in the sixth century to turn the western basin of the Mediterranean likewise into a Greek sea, to get a firm footing in Corsica and southern Spain, had succumbed to the resistance of the Carthaginians, who were in alliance with the Etruscans. Only in the north, on the coast of Liguria from the Alps to the Pyrenees, Massalia maintained its independence. Southern Spain, Gades, and the coast of the land of Tarshish (Tartessus) were occupied by the Carthaginians about the middle of the fifth century; and the Greeks and all foreign mariners in general were cut off from the navigation of the ocean, as well as from the coasts of North Africa and Sardinia.

In the fourth century the political situation is totally changed in both east and west. The Greeks are reduced to the defensive and lose one position after the other. A few years after the destruction of the Athenian expedition the Carthaginians stretched out their hands for Sicily; in the years 409 and 406 they take and destroy Selinus, Himera, and Agrigentum; in the wars of the following years every other Greek city of the island except Syracuse was temporarily occupied and plundered by them.

In Italy after the middle of the fifth century a new people made their entrance into history, the Sabellian (Oscan) mountain tribes. From the valleys of the Abruzzi and the Samnitic Apennines they pressed forward towards the rich plains of the coast, and the land of civilisation with its inhabitants succumbed to them almost everywhere. To be sure, the Sabines under Rome defended themselves against the Æquians and Volscians, and so did the Apulians in the east against the Frentanians and Pentrians of Samnium. But the Etruscans of Capua and Nola and the Greeks of Cumæ were overcome (438 and 421 B.C.) by the Sabellian Campanians, and Naples alone in this district was able to preserve its independence. In the south the Lucanians advanced farther and farther, took Posidonia (Pæstum) in 400 B.C., Pyxus, Laos, and harassed the Greek cities of the east coast and the south.

From between these hostile powers, the Carthaginians and the Sabellians, an energetic ruler, Dionysius of Syracuse (405-367 B.C.), once more rescued Hellenism. In great battles, with heavy losses to be sure, and only by the employment of the military power of the Oscans, of Campanian mercenary troops and of the Lucanians, he succeeded in setting up once more a powerful Greek kingdom, including two-thirds of Sicily, the south of Italy as far as[7] Crotona and Terina; he held Carthage in restraint, scourged the Etruscans in the western sea, and at the same time occupied a number of important points on the Adriatic, Lissus and Pharos in Illyria, several Apulian towns, Ancona, and Hadria at the mouth of the Po in Italy. Dionysius had covered his rear by a close alliance with Sparta, which not only insured him against any republican uprising, but made possible an uninterrupted recruiting of mercenaries from the Peloponnesus. In return Dionysius supported the Spartans in carrying through the Kings’ Peace and against their enemies elsewhere.

The kingdom of Dionysius seemed to rest on a firm and permanent foundation. Had it continued to exist the whole course of the world’s history would have been different; Hellenism could have maintained its position in the West, which might even have received again a Greek impress instead of becoming Italic and Roman.

But the kingdom of Dionysius was in the most direct opposition to all that Greek political theory demanded; it was a despotic state which made the free self-government of communities an empty form in the capital Syracuse, and in the subject territories, for the most part, simply abolished the city-state, the polis. The necessity of a strong government that would protect Hellenism in the West against its external enemies was indeed recognised by the discerning, but internally it seemed possible to relax and to effect a more ideal political formation.

Under the successor of the old despot, Dionysius II, Plato’s pupil, Dion, and Plato himself, made an attempt at reform, first with the ruler’s support, and then in opposition to him. The result was, that the west Grecian kingdom was shattered (357-353 B.C.), while the establishment of the ideal state was not successful; instead anarchy appeared again, and the struggle of all against all. Only the enemies of the nation gained. In Sicily, to be sure, Timoleon (345-337) was able to establish a certain degree of order; he overthrew the tyrants, repulsed the Carthaginians, restored the cities and gave them a modified democratic constitution. But the federation of these republics had no permanence. On the death of Timoleon the internal and external strife began anew, and the final verdict was uttered by the governor of the Carthaginian province.

In Italy, on the other hand, the majority of the Greek cities were conquered by the Lucanians or the newly risen Bruttians. On the west coast only Naples and Elea were left, in the south Rhegium; in the east Locri, Crotona, and Thurii had great difficulty in defending themselves against the Bruttians. Tarentum alone (upon which Heraclea and Metapontum were dependent) possessed a considerable power, owing to its incomparable situation on a sea-girt peninsula and to the trade and wealth which furnished it the means again and again to enlist Greek chieftains and mercenaries in its service for the struggle against its enemies.

It was as Plato wrote to the Syracusans in the year 352 B.C. If matters go on in this way, no end can be foreseen “until the whole population, supporters of tyrants and democrats, alike, has been destroyed, the Greek language has disappeared from Sicily and the island fallen under the power and rule of the Phœnicians or Oscans” (Epist. 8, 353 e). In a century the prophecy was fulfilled. But its range extends a great deal farther than Plato dreamed; it is the fate not only of the western Greeks, but of the whole Hellenic nation, that he foretells here.

The Greek states were not equal to the task of maintaining the position of their nation as a world-power and gaining control of the world for their[8] civilisation. When they had completely failed, a half-Greek neighbouring people, the Macedonians, attempted to carry out this mission. The impotence of the Greek world gave King Philip (359-336) the opportunity, which he seized with the greatest skill and energy, of establishing a strong Macedonian kingdom, including all Thrace as far as the Danube, extending on the west to the Ionian Sea, and finally, on the basis of a general peace, of uniting the Hellenic world of the mother-country in a firm league under Macedonian hegemony (337 B.C.).

Philip adopted the national programme of the Hellenes proposed by Isocrates and began war in Asia against the Persians (336 B.C.). His youthful son Alexander then carried it out on a far greater scale than his father had ever intended. His aim was to subdue the whole known world, the οικουμένη, simultaneously to Macedonian rule and Hellenic civilisation. Moreover, as the descendant of Hercules and Achilles, as king of Macedonia and leader of the Hellenic league, imbued by education with Hellenic culture, the triumphs of which he had enthusiastically absorbed, he felt himself called as none other to this work. Darius III, after the victory of Issus (November 333 B.C.), offered him the surrender of Western Asia as far as the Euphrates; and the interests of his native state and also,—we must not fail to note,—the true interests of Hellenic culture would have been far better served by such self-restraint than by the ways that Alexander followed.

But he would go farther, out into the immeasurable; the attraction to the infinite, to the comprehension and mastery of the universe, both intellectual and material, that lies in the nature of the yet inchoate uniform world-culture, finds its most vivid expression in its champion. When, indeed, he would advance farther and farther, from the Punjab to the Ganges and to the ends of the world, his instrument, his army, failed him; he had to turn back. But the Persian kingdom, Asia as far as the Indus, he conquered, brought permanently under Macedonian rule, and laid the foundation for its Hellenisation. With this, however, only the smaller portion of his mission was fulfilled. The East everywhere offered further tasks which had in part been undertaken by the Persian kingdom at the height of its power under Darius I—the exploration of Arabia, of the Indian Ocean, and of the Caspian Sea, the subjugation of the predatory nomads of the great steppe that extends from the Danube through southern Russia and Turania as far as the Jaxartes.

It was of far more importance that Hellenism had a task in the West like that in the East; to save the Greeks of Italy and Sicily, to overcome the Carthaginians and the tribes of Italy, to turn the whole Mediterranean into a Greek sea, was just as urgently necessary as the conquest of Western Asia. It was the aim that Alcibiades had set himself and on which Athens had gone to wreck.

In the same years in which the Macedonian king was conquering the Persians, his brother-in-law, Alexander of Epirus, at the request of Tarentum, had devoted himself to this task. After some success at the beginning he had been overcome by the Lucanians and Bruttians and the opposition of Hellenic particularism (334-331 B.C.).

Now the Macedonian king made preparations to take up this work also and thus complete his conquest of the world. That the resources of Macedonia were inadequate for this purpose was perfectly clear to him. Since he had rejected the proposals of Darius he had employed the conquered Asiatics in the government of his empire, and above all had endeavoured to form an auxiliary force to his army out of the people that had previously[9] ruled Asia. In his naïve overvaluation of education, due to the Socratic belief in the omnipotence of the intellect, he thought he could make Macedonians out of the young Persians. But as ruler of the world he must no longer bear the fetters which the usage of his people and the terms of the Hellenic league put upon him. He must stand above all men and peoples, his will must be law to them, like the commandment of the gods. The march to Ammon (331 B.C.), which at the time enjoyed the highest regard in the Greek world, inaugurated this departure. This elevation of the kingship to divinity was not an outgrowth of oriental views, although it resembles them, but of political necessity and of the loftiest ideas of Greek culture—of the teaching of Greek philosophy, common to all Socratic schools, of the unlimited sovereignty of the true sage, whose judgment no commandment can fetter; he is no other than the true king.

Henceforth this view is inseparable from the idea of kingship among all occidental nations down to our own times. It returns in the absolute monarchy that Cæsar wished to found at Rome and which then gradually develops out of the principate of Augustus, until Diocletian and Constantine bring it to perfection; it returns, only apparently modified by Christian views, in the absolute monarchy of modern times, in kingship by the grace of God as well as in the universal monarchy of Napoleon, and in the divine foundation of the autocracy of the Czar.

But Alexander was not able to bring his state to completion. In the midst of his plans, in the full vigour of youth, just as a boundless future seemed to lie before him, he was carried off by death at Babylon, on the thirteenth of June, 323 B.C., in the thirty-third year of his age.

With the death of Alexander his plans were buried. He left no heir who could have held the empire together; his generals fought for the spoils. The result of the mighty struggles of the period of the Diadochi, which covers almost fifty years (323-277 B.C.), is, that the Macedonian empire is divided into three great powers; the kingdom of the Lagidæ, who from the seaport of Alexandria on the extreme western border of Egypt control the eastern Mediterranean with all its coasts, and the valley of the Nile; the kingdom of the Seleucidæ, who strive in continual wars to hold Asia together; and the kingdom of the Antigonidæ, who obtained possession of Macedonia, depopulated by the conquest of the world and again by the fearful Celtic invasion (280), and who, when they wish to assert themselves as a great power, must attempt to acquire an ascendency in some form or other over Greece and the Ægean Sea.

Of these three powers the kingdom of the Lagidæ is most firmly welded together, being in full possession of all the resources that trade and sea power, money and politics, afford. To re-establish the universal monarchy was never its aim, even when circumstances seemed to tempt to it. But as long as strong rulers wear the crown it always stands on the offensive against the other two; it harasses them continually, hinders them at every step from consolidating, wrests from the Seleucidæ almost all the coast towns of Palestine and Phœnicia as far as Thrace, temporarily gains control of the islands of the Ægean, and supports every hostile movement that is made in Greece against Macedonia. The Greek mother-country is thus continually forced anew into the struggle, the play of intrigue between the court of Alexandria and the Macedonian state never gives it an opportunity to become settled. All revolts of the Greek world received the support of Alexandria; the uprising of Athens and Sparta in the war of Chremonides (264), the attempt of Aratus to give the Peloponnesus an independent[10] organisation by means of the Achæan league (beginning in 252), and finally the uprising of Sparta under Cleomenes. The aim of giving the Greek world an independent form was never attained; finally, when at the end of the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes (221) the kingdom of the Lagidæ withdraws and lets Cleomenes fall, the peninsula comes anew under the supremacy of the Macedonians, whom Aratus the “liberator” had himself brought back to the citadel of Corinth. But neither can the Macedonian king attain the full power that Philip and Alexander had possessed a century earlier; in particular, its resources are insufficient, even in alliance with the Achæans, to overthrow the warlike, piratical Ætolian state, which is constantly increasing in power. So Greece never gets out of these hopeless conditions; on the contrary, indeed, through the emigration of the population to the Asiatic colonies, through the decay of a vigorous peasant population which began as early as in the fourth century, through the economic decline of commerce and industry caused by the shifting of the centre of gravity to the east, its situation becomes more and more wretched and the population constantly diminishes. It can never attain peace of itself, but only through an energetic and ruthlessly despotic foreign rule.

In the East, on the contrary, an active and hopeful life developed. The great kings of the Lagidæan kingdom, the first three Ptolemies, fully appreciated the importance of intellectual life to the position of their kingdom in the world. All that Greek culture offered they tried to attract to Alexandria, and they managed to win for their capital the leading position in literature and science. But in other respects the kingdom of the Lagidæ is by no means the state in which the life of the new time reaches its full development. However much, in opposition to the Greek world, in conflict with Macedonia, they coquette with the Hellenic idea of liberty, within their own jurisdiction they cannot endure the independence and the free constitution of the Greek polis, and their subjects are by no means initiated into the new world-culture, but are kept in complete subjugation, sharply distinguished from the ruling classes, the Macedonians and Greeks, to whom also no freedom of political movement whatever is granted.[1]

The development in Asia follows a very different course. Here, through the activity of the great founders of cities, Antigonus, Lysimachus, Seleucus I, and Antiochus I, one Greek city arises after another, from the Hellespont through Asia Minor, Syria, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Media, as far as Bactria and India; and from them grow the great centres of culture, full of independent life, by which the Asiatic population is introduced to the modern world-civilisation and becomes Hellenised. Antigonus deliberately supported the independence of the cities within the great organic body of the kingdom, thus following on the lines of the Hellenic league under Philip and Alexander. By the pressure of political necessity and the fact that they could maintain their power only by winning the attachment and fidelity of their subjects, the Seleucidæ were forced into the same ways. And side by[11] side with the great kingdom the political struggle creates a great number of powers of the second rank, in part pure Greek communities, like Rhodes, Chios, Cyzicus, Byzantium, Heraclea, in part newly formed states of Greek origin, like the kingdom of Pergamus and later the Bactrian kingdom, in part fragments of the old Persian kingdom, like Bithynia, Pontus, Cappadocia, Armenia, Atropatene, and not much later the Parthian kingdom. Among these states the eastern retain their oriental character, while the western are forced to pass more and more into the culture of Hellenism.

Destructive as were the effects of the continual wars, and especially of the raids of the Celtic hordes in Asia Minor, nevertheless there pulsates here a fresh, progressive life, to which the future seems to belong. To be sure, there is no lack of counter disturbance; beneath the surface of Hellenism, the native population that is absorbed into the Greek life everywhere preserves its own character, not through active resistance, but through the passivity of its nature. When the orientals become Hellenised, Hellenism itself begins at the same time to take on an oriental impress.

But in this there lies no danger as yet. Hellenism everywhere retains the upper hand and seems to come nearer and nearer to the goal of its mission for the world. In all fields of intellectual life the cultured classes have undisputed control and can look down with absolute contempt on the currents that move the masses far beneath them; the exponents of philosophical enlightenment may imagine they have completely dominated them. When the great ideas upon which Hellenism is based have been created by the classical period and new ones can no longer be placed beside them, the new time sets to work to perfect what it has inherited. The third century is the culmination of ancient science.

However, this whole civilisation lacks one thing, and that is a state of natural growth. Of all the states that developed out of Alexander’s empire, the kingdom of the Antigonidæ in Macedonia was the only one that had a national basis; and therefore, in spite of the scantiness of its resources, it was also the most capable of resistance of them all. All others, on the contrary, were purely artificial political combinations, lacking that innate necessity vital to the full power of a state. They might have been altogether different, or they might not have been at all. The separation of state and nationality, which is the result of the development of the ancient East, exists in them also; they are not supported by the population, which, by the contingencies of political development, is for the moment included in them, and their subjects, so far as the individual man or community is not bound to them by personal advantage, have no further interest in their existence. To be sure, had they maintained their existence for centuries, the power of custom might have sufficed to give them a firmer constitution, such as many later similar political formations have acquired and such as the Austrian monarchy possesses to-day; and as a matter of fact we find the loyalty of subjects to the reigning dynasty already quite strongly developed in the kingdom of the Seleucidæ. But a national state can never arise on the basis of a universal, denationalised civilisation, and the unity is consequently only political, based only upon the dynasty and its political successes. Therefore, except in Macedonia, none of these states can, even in the struggle for existence, set in motion the full national force supplied by internal unity.

The resources at the command of the Macedonio-Hellenic states were consumed in the struggle with one another; nothing was left for the great task that was set them in the West. The remains of Greek nationality, still[12] maintaining their existence here, looked in vain for a deliverer to come from the East. An attempt made by the Spartan prince Cleonymus, in response to the appeal of Tarentum, to take up the struggle in Italy against the Lucanians and Romans, failed miserably through the incapacity of its leader (303-302 B.C.). In Sicily, to be sure, the gifted general and statesman Agathocles (317-289) had once more established, amid streams of blood, and by mighty and ruthless battles against both internal enemies and rivals and against Carthage, a strong Greek kingdom that reached even to Italy and the Ionian Sea. But he was never able to attain the position taken by Dionysius, and at his death his kingdom goes to pieces. At this point also the rôle of the Sicilian Greeks in the history of the world is played out; they disappear from the number of independent powers capable of maintaining themselves by their own resources.


[1] It is altogether wrong to regard the kingdom of the Lagidæ as the typical state of Hellenism. Through the mass of material that the Egyptian papyri afford a further shifting in its favour is threatened, which must certainly lead to a very incorrect conception of the whole of antiquity. It is frequently quite overlooked that we have to do here only with documents from a province of the kingdom of the Lagidæ (later of Rome) which had a quite peculiar constitution, and that these documents therefore show by no means typical, but in every respect exceptional, conditions. The investigators who have made this material accessible deserve great gratitude, but it must never be overlooked that even a small fragment of similar documents from Asia would have infinitely greater value for the interpretation of the whole history of antiquity and specially that of Hellenism.


Greek City Seals



It is unnecessary in the summary of a country whose chief events are so accurately dated and so fully understood as in the case of Greece, to amplify the chronology. A synoptical view of these events will, however, prove useful. Questions of origins and of earliest history are obscure here as elsewhere. As to the earliest dates, it may be well to quote the dictum of Prof. Flinders Petrie, who, after commenting on the discovery in Greece, of pottery marked with the names of early Egyptian kings, states that “the grand age of prehistoric Greece, which can well compare with the art of classical Greece, began about 1600 B.C., was at its highest point about 1400 B.C. and became decadent about 1200 B.C., before its overthrow by the Dorian invasion.” The earlier phase of civilisation in the Ægean may therefore date from the third millennium B.C.

2000-1000. Later phase of civilisation in the Ægean (the Mycenæan Age). The Achæans and other Greeks spread themselves over Greece. Ionians settle in Asia Minor. The Pelopidæ reign at Mycenæ. Agamemnon, king of Mycenæ, commands the Greek forces at Troy. 1184. Fall of Troy (traditional date). 1124. First migration. Northern warriors drive out the population of Thessaly and occupy the country, causing many Achæans to migrate to the Peloponnesus. 1104. Dorian invasion. The Peloponnesus gradually brought under the Dorian sway. Dorian colonies sent out to Crete, Rhodes, and Asia Minor. Argos head of a Dorian hexapolis. 885. Lycurgus said to have given laws to Sparta. About this time (perhaps much earlier) Phœnician alphabet imported into Greece. 776. The first Olympic year. 750. First Messenian war.


683. Athens ruled by nine archons. 632. Attempt of Cylon to make himself supreme at Athens. 621. Draconian code drawn up. 611. Anaximander of Miletus, the constructor of the first map, born. End of seventh century. Second Messenian war. Spartans conquer the country. The Ephors win almost all the kingly power. Cypselus and his son Periander tyrants of Corinth. 600. The poets Alcæus and Sappho flourish at Lesbos. 594-593. Solon archon at Athens. 590-589. Sacred war of the Amphictyonic league against Crissa. Clisthenes tyrant of Sicyon. 585. Pythian games reorganised. Date of first Pythiad. 570. Pisistratus polemarch at Athens. Athenians conquer Salamis and Nisæa. 561. Pisistratus makes himself[14] supreme in Athens. He is twice exiled. 559-556. Miltiades tyrant of the Thracian Chersonesus. 556. Chilon’s reforms in Sparta. 549-548. Mycenæ and Tiryns go over to Sparta.


540. Pisistratus tyrant of Athens. 530. Pythagoras goes to Croton. 527. Pisistratus dies and is succeeded by his sons, Hippias and Hipparchus. Homeric poems collected. 514. Hipparchus slain by Harmodius and Aristogiton. 510. A Spartan army under Cleomenes blockades Hippias and forces him to quit Athens.


Clisthenes and Isagoras contend for the chief power in Athens. 507. Isagoras calls in Cleomenes who invades Attica. The Athenians overcome the Spartans, and Clisthenes, who had left Athens, returns. Clisthenes reforms the Athenian democracy. 506. Spartans, Bœotians, and Chalcidians allied against Athens. The Athenians allied with Platæa. Chalcidian territory annexed by Athens. Nearly the whole Peloponnesus forms a league under the hegemony of Sparta. Rivalry between Athens and Ægina. 504. The Athenians refuse to restore Hippias on the Persian demand. 498. Athens and Eretria send ships to aid the Milesians against the Persians. 496. Sophocles born at Athens. 494. Naval battle off Lade, the decisive struggle of the Ionian war, won by the Persians. Battle of Sepeia. The Spartans defeat the Argives. 493. Themistocles, archon at Athens, fortifies the Piræus.


492. Quarrel between the Spartan kings. King Demaratus flees to the Persian court, and King Cleomenes seizes hostages from Ægina. Thrace and Macedonia subdued by the Persians. 490. The Persians subdue Naxos and other islands, and destroy Eretria before landing in Attica. Battle of Marathon; the Greeks under Miltiades defeat the Persians, the latter losing six thousand men; the Persian fleet sets sail for Asia. 489. Miltiades’ expedition against Paros. Miltiades tried, and fined. His death. 487. War between Athens and Ægina. Themistocles begins to equip an Athenian fleet. 483. Aristides ostracised. 481. Xerxes musters an army to invade Greece. Greek congress at Corinth. 480. Xerxes at the Hellespont. The northern Greeks submit to Xerxes. The Greek army is defeated at the pass of Thermopylæ and Leonidas, the Spartan king, is slain. Battle of Artemisium. The Greek fleet retreats. Athens being evacuated, Xerxes occupies it. Battle of Salamis and complete victory of the Greeks. Retreat of Xerxes. The Greeks fail to follow up their victory. 479. Mardonius invades Bœotia; occupies Athens. Retreat of Mardonius. Battle of Platæa. Mardonius defeated and slain. Retreat of the Persian army. Battle of Mycale and defeat of the Persian fleet.


478. Athenians under Xanthippus capture Sestus in the Chersonesus. Confederacy of Delos. 477. Athenian walls rebuilt. Piræus fortified. Themistocles’ law providing for the annual increase of the navy. Pausanias[15] conquers Byzantium. He enters into treacherous relations with the Persians. 476. The Spartans endeavour to reorganise the Amphictyonic league. Their attempts defeated by Themistocles. 474. The poet Pindar flourishes. 473. Scyros conquered by the Athenian, Cimon. Argos defeated by the Spartans at the battle of Tegea. 472. Themistocles ostracised. Persæ of Æschylus performed. 471. The Arcadian league against Sparta crushed at the battle of Dipæa. 470-469. Naxos secedes from the confederacy of Delos, and is compelled to return. 470. Socrates born. 468. Cimon defeats the Persians at the Eurymedon. Argos recovers Tiryns. 465-463. Thasos revolts and is reduced by the fleet under Cimon. 464. Sparta stirred by terrible earthquake and a revolt of the helots. The Third Messenian war. 463-462. Cimon persuades Athens to send help to the Spartans, but the latter refuse the assistance. They are afraid of Athens’ revolutionary spirit. This incident puts an end to Cimon’s Laconian policy. It is the triumph of Ephialtes and his party.


463-461. Triumph of democracy at Athens under Ephialtes and Pericles. The Areopagus deprived of its powers. Cimon protests against the changes effected in his absence. He is ostracised, and Athens forms a connection with Argos, which captures and destroys Mycenæ. 460-459. Megara secedes from the Peloponnesian league to Athens. A fleet, sent by Athens to aid the Egyptian revolt against Persia, captures Memphis. 459. Ithome captured by the Spartans. 459-458. Athens at war with the northern states of the Peloponnesus. Athenian victories of Halieis, Cecryphalea, and Ægina. 458. Long walls of Athens completed. 457. Spartan expedition to Bœotia. Victory of Tanagra over the Athenians. Truce between Athens and Sparta. Battle of Œnophyta and conquest of Bœotia by the Athenians. The Phocians and Locrians make alliance with Athens. 456. Ægina surrenders to the Athenians. 454. Greek contingent in Egypt capitulates to the Persians; the Athenian fleet destroyed at the mouth of the Nile. 454-453. Treasury of the confederacy of Delos transferred from the island to Athens. 453. Pericles besieges Sicyon and Œniadæ without success. Achaia passes under the Athenian dominion. 452-451. Five years’ truce between Athens and the Peloponnesus. 450-449. Cimon leads an expedition against Cyprus. Death of Cimon. The fleet on its way home wins the battle of Salamis in Cyprus. 448. Peace of Callias concluded with Persia. Sacred war. The Phocians withdraw from the Athenian alliance. 447. Bœotia lost to Athens by the battle of Coronea. 447-446. Revolt of Eubœa and Megara from the Delian confederacy. Eubœa is subdued and annexed. Pericles plants colonies in the Thracian Chersonesus, Eubœa, Naxos, etc. 446-445. Thirty Years’ Peace between Athens and Sparta. 444. Aristophanes born. 442. Thucydides opposes Pericles; is ostracised, leaving Pericles without a rival in Athens, where he governs for fifteen years with absolute power. Sophocles’ Antigone produced. 440-439. Pericles subdues Samos. Corcyræans defeat Corinthians in a sea-fight. 433. Corcyra concludes alliance with Athens. Battle of Sybota between Corcyra and Corinth. King Perdiccas of Macedonia incites the revolt of Chalcidice against Athens. 432. “Megarian decree,” passed at Athens, excludes Megarians from all Athenian markets. Battle of Potidæa. Athenians defeat the Corinthians.



431. Sparta decides on war with Athens on the grounds of her having broken the Thirty Years’ Peace. Peloponnesian War. First period called the “Attic War.” Platæa surprised by Thebans. Thebans taken and executed in spite of a promise for their release. King Archidamus of Sparta invades Attica. The population crowd into Athens. Athens annexes Ægina. The fleet takes several important places. 430. The plague in Athens. Trial of Pericles for misappropriation of public money. Potidæa taken by the Athenians and the inhabitants expelled. 429. Archidamus besieges Platæa. Phormion, the Athenian, wins the victory of Naupactus. Death of Pericles. Rivalry between contending parties under Nicias and Cleon. 428. Archidamus invades Attica. Mytilene revolts and is blockaded by the Athenians. 427. Fourth invasion of Attica by the Spartans. Surrender of Mytilene. The Mytilenæan ringleaders executed. Surrender of Platæa to the Peloponnesians. Oligarchs in Corcyra conspire to overthrow the democrats. Civil war and naval engagement. Terrible slaughter. Athenian expedition to Sicily under Laches. Birth of Plato. 426. Athenians under Demosthenes defeated in Ætolia. Battle of Olpæ. Peloponnesians and Ambracians defeated by Demosthenes. Purification of Delos by the Athenians. The Delian festival revived under Athenian superintendence. 425. Athens increases the amount of tribute to be paid by the confederacy. The episode of Pylos, leading, after a long struggle, to the capture of Lacedæmonian forces in Sphacteria. 424. Defeat of Hippocrates at Delium. Thucydides, the historian, banished for not succouring Amphipolis in time. Brasidas takes towns of Chalcidice. 423. Truce between Athens and Sparta. Scione in Chalcidice revolts to Sparta and an Athenian expedition under Cleon is sent against it, notwithstanding the truce. 422. Battle of Amphipolis won by Brasidas, but both he and Cleon are slain. 421. Peace of Nicias ends the first period of the Peloponnesian War. Mutual restoration of conquests. Scione is taken and all the male inhabitants put to death. 420. Second period of the Peloponnesian War. Alcibiades becomes the chief opponent of Nicias. Expedition against Epidaurus. 418. Nicias recovers his power in Athens. The Spartans invade Argolis. Athenians take Orchomenus, but are defeated by the Spartans. Battle of Mantinea. Hyperbolus attempts to obtain the ostracism of Nicias. The decree is passed against himself, being the last instance of ostracism. Argive oligarchy overthrows the democratic government. A counter revolution restores the democrats. Athens concludes alliance with Argos. 416. Melos conquered by the Athenians. The Sicilian city of Segesta appeals to Athens for help against Selinus. Nicias opposes the sending of assistance, but is overruled and sent with Alcibiades in command of a Sicilian expedition. 415. Mysterious mutilation of the Hermæ statues regarded as an evil omen. Alcibiades accused of a plot. His trial postponed. The expedition sails. Fall of Alcibiades; his escape. 414. Siege of Syracuse. The Spartan Gylippus arrives with ships. 413. Nicias appeals for help to Athens and a second expedition is voted. Syracusans worsted in a sea battle. Syracusans capture an Athenian treasure fleet, and win a battle in the harbour of Syracuse. Arrival of the second Athenian expedition and its total defeat. The Athenians retreat by land. The rear guard is forced to surrender and the relics of the main body are captured after the defeat of the Asinarus. Tribute of the confederacy abolished and replaced by an import and export duty. 412. Third period of the Peloponnesian War, called the Decelean or Ionian War. The[17] allies of Athens take advantage of her misfortunes to revolt. Sparta makes a treaty with Persia. Athens wins several naval successes. 411. “Revolution of the Four Hundred.” The fleet and army at Samos place themselves under the leadership of Alcibiades. Spartans defeat the Athenian fleet at Eretria. Fall of the Four Hundred and partial restoration of Athenian democracy. Battle of Cynossema won by the Athenians. Alcibiades defeats the Peloponnesians at Abydos. 410. Battle of Cyzicus won by Alcibiades. Complete restoration of Athenian democracy. 408. Alcibiades conquers Byzantium. 407. Cyrus, viceroy of Sardis, furnishes the Spartan Lysander with money to raise the pay of the Spartan navy. Lysander begins to set up the oligarchical government of the decarchies in the cities conquered by him. Battle of Notium. Athenians defeated. Alcibiades’ downfall. 406. Battle of Arginusæ. Peloponnesians defeated by the Athenians. The victorious generals are blamed for not rescuing their wounded, and are illegally condemned and executed. The Spartans make overtures for peace, which are rejected. 405. Battle of Ægospotami. Most of the Athenian ships are taken and all the prisoners are put to death. The Athenian empire passes to Sparta. Lysander subdues the Hellespont and Thrace, and lays siege to Athens. 404. Surrender of Athens.


Return to Athens of exiles of the oligarchical party. Athens under the Thirty. Thrasybulus and other exiles gain Phyle. Theramenes opposes the violent rule of the Thirty and is put to death. 403. Battle of Munychia. Thrasybulus defeats the army of the Thirty. Death of Critias. The Thirty are deposed and replaced by the Ten. The Spartans under Lysander come to the aid of the Ten, but the intervention of the Spartan king, Pausanias, brings about the restoration of the Attic democracy. 401. Cyrus’ campaign and the battle of Cunaxa. Retreat of the Ten Thousand Greeks under Xenophon. 400. Spartan invasion of the Persian dominions. 399. Spartans under Dercyllidas occupy the Troad. Elis conquered and dismembered by the Spartans. Socrates put to death for denying the Athenian gods. 398. Agesilaus becomes king of Sparta. 397. Cinadon’s conspiracy. 396. Agesilaus invades Phrygia. 395. Agesilaus wins the victory of Sardis. Revolt of Rhodes. The Spartans invade Bœotia and are repelled with the assistance of the Athenians. Thebes, Athens, Argos, and Corinth allied against Sparta. 394. Agesilaus returns from Asia Minor. Battle of Nemea won by the Spartans. Battle of Cnidus. The Persian fleet under Conon destroys the Spartan fleet. Agesilaus wins the battle of Coronea and retreats from Bœotia. 393. Pharnabazus destroys the Spartan dominion in the eastern Ægean, and supplies Conon with funds to restore the long walls of Athens. Beginning of the “Corinthian War.” 392. Federation of Corinth and Argos. Fighting between the Spartans and the allies on the Isthmus of Corinth. Both sides send embassies to the Persians. 391. The Spartans begin fresh wars in Asia. 389. Successes of Thrasybulus in the northern Ægean. 388. Spartans dispute the supremacy of Athens on the Hellespont and are defeated at Cremaste. 387. Peace of Antalcidas between Persia and Sparta. Athens is compelled to accede. 386. Dissolution of the union of Corinth and Argos. Sparta compels the Mantineans to break down their city walls and separate into small villages. 384-382. The city of Olynthus, having united the Chalcidian towns under her hegemony[18] and increased her territory at the expense of Macedonia, makes alliance with Athens and Thebes. Sparta sends help to the towns which refuse to join. 384. Aristotle born. 382. Spartans seize the citadel of Thebes. 380. Panegyric of Isocrates, a plea for Greek unity. 381-379. Sparta forces Phlius to submit to her dictation. 379. Chalcidian league compelled by Sparta to dissolve. The power of Sparta at its height. Rising of Thebes under Pelopidas against Sparta. Sphodrias, the Spartan, invades Athenian territory. The Spartans decline to punish the aggression.

RISE OF THEBES (378-359 B.C.)

378. Athens makes alliance with Thebes. 378-377. Formation by the Athenians of a new maritime confederacy. 378-376. Three unsuccessful Spartan expeditions into Bœotia. 376. Great maritime victory of the Athenian Chabrias at Naxos. Successes of Timotheus of Athens in the Ionian Sea. 374. Brief peace between Sparta and Athens. 374-373. Corcyra unsuccessfully invested by the Spartans. 371. Peace of Callias, guaranteeing the independence of each individual Greek city. Thebes not included in the Peace. Jason of Pheræ, despot of Thessaly. Battle of Leuctra. Epaminondas of Thebes defeats the Spartans. Revolutionary outbreaks in Peloponnesus. 370. Arcadian union and restoration of Mantinea. Foundation of Megalopolis. Epaminondas and Pelopidas invade Laconia. 369. Messene restored by the Thebans as a menace to Sparta. Alliance between Sparta and Athens. The Thebans conquer Sicyon. Pelopidas sent to deliver the Thessalian cities from the rivals, Alexander of Macedon and Alexander of Pheræ. 368. The Spartans win the “tearless victory” of Midea over the Arcadians. Death of Alexander II of Macedon. Succession of his brother Perdiccas secured by Athenian intervention. Pelopidas captured by Alexander of Pheræ. 367. Epaminondas rescues him. Pelopidas obtains a Persian decree settling disputed questions in Peloponnesus. The decree disregarded in Greece. 366. The Thebans conquer Achaia, but fail to keep it. Athens makes alliance with Arcadia. 365. Athenians conquer and colonise Samos, and acquire Sestus and Crithote. Perdiccas III of Macedon assassinates the regent. Timotheus takes Potidæa and Torone for Athens. Elis invaded by the Arcadians. 364. Creation of a Bœotian navy encourages the allies of Athens to revolt. Battle of Cynoscephalæ. Alexander of Pheræ, defeated by the Bœotians and their Thessalian allies. Pelopidas falls in the battle. Orchomenus destroyed by the Thebans. Elis invaded by the Arcadians. Spartan operations fail. Battle in the Altis during the Olympic games. The Arcadians appropriate the sacred Olympian treasure. Praxiteles, the sculptor, flourished. 362. Unsuccessful attack on Sparta by Epaminondas. Battle of Mantinea and death of Epaminondas. 361. Agesilaus of Sparta goes to Egypt as a leader of mercenaries. Battle of Peparethus. Alexander of Pheræ defeats the Athenian fleet. He attacks the Piræus. 360. The Thracian Chersonesus lost to Athens.


359. Death of Perdiccas III of Macedon. Philip seizes the government as guardian for his nephew, Amyntas. 358. Brilliant victories of Philip over the Pæonians and Illyrians. 357. Thracian Chersonesus and Eubœa[19] recovered by Athens. Philip takes Amphipolis. Revolt of Athenian allies, Chios, Cos, and Rhodes. 356. Battle of Embata lost by the Athenians. Philip founds Philippi, takes Pydna and Potidæa, defeats the Illyrians and sets to work to organise his kingdom on a military basis. Birth of Alexander the Great. 355. Peace between Athens and her revolted allies. The Athenians abandon their schemes of a naval empire. Outbreak of the “Sacred war” against the Phocians who had seized the Delphic temple. 354. Battle of Neon. The Phocians defeated. Demosthenes begins his political activity. Phocian successes under Onomarchus. 353. Methone taken by Philip of Macedon. Philip and the Thessalian league opposed to Onomarchus and the tyrants of Pheræ. Onomarchus drives Philip from Thessaly. Philip crushes the Phocians in Magnesia and makes himself master of Thessaly. Phocis saved from him by help from Athens. 352. War in the Peloponnesus. Spartan schemes of aggression frustrated. Thrace subdued by Philip. 351. Demosthenes delivers his First Philippic. 349. Philip begins war against Olynthus which makes alliance with Athens. Athenian attempt to recover Eubœa fails. 348. Philip destroys Olynthus and the Chalcidian towns. 347. Death of Plato. 346. Peace of Philocrates between Philip and Athens. Phocis subdued by Philip. Philip presides at the Pythian games. Philip becomes archon of Thessaly. Demosthenes accuses Æschines of accepting bribes from Philip. 344. Demosthenes delivers The Second Philippic. 343. Megara, Chalcis, Ambracia, Acarnania, Achaia, and Corcyra ally themselves with Athens. 342-341. Philip annexes Thrace. He founds Philippopolis. 341. Demosthenes’ Third Philippic. 340. Diplomatic breach between Athens and Philip. 339. Perinthus and Byzantium unsuccessfully besieged by Philip. Philip’s campaign on the Danube. 338. The Amphictyonic league declares a “holy war” against Amphissa, and requests the aid of Philip. Philip destroys Amphissa and conquers Naupactus. Philip occupies Elatea. Athens makes alliance with Thebes. Battle of Chæronea. Philip defeats the Athenians and Thebans. The hegemony of Greece passes to Macedon. Philip invades the Peloponnesus which, with the exception of Sparta, acknowledges his supremacy. Philip establishes a Greek confederacy under the Macedonian hegemony. Lycurgus appointed to control the public revenues in Athens. 336. Attalus and Parmenion open the Macedonian war in Æolis.


Murder of Philip and succession of Alexander the Great. Alexander compels the Hellenes to recognise his hegemony. 335. Alexander conducts a successful campaign on the Danube and defeats the Illyrians at Pelium. Thebes revolts against him and is destroyed. 334. Alexander sets out for Asia. Battle of the Granicus. Alexander defeats the Persians. Lydia, Miletus, Caria, Halicarnassus, Lycia, Pamphylia, and Pisidia subdued. 333. Alexander goes to Gordium and cuts the Gordian knot. Death of his chief opponent, the Persian general, Memnon. Submission of Paphlagonia and Cilicia. Battle of Issus. Alexander puts the army of Darius to flight. Sidon and Byblos submit. 332. Tyre besieged and taken. He slaughters the inhabitants and marches southward, storming Gaza. Egypt conquered. He founds Alexandria. 331. Battle of Arbela and defeat of the Great King. Babylon opens its gates to Alexander. He enters Susa. The Spartans rise and are defeated at Megalopolis. 330. Alexander occupies[20] Persepolis. Alexander in Ecbatana, in Parthia, and on the Caspian. Philotas is accused of conspiring against Alexander’s life and is executed. His father, the general Parmenion, put to death on suspicion. Judicial contest between Demosthenes and Æschines ends in the latter’s quitting Athens. Part of Gedrosia (Beluchistan) submits to Alexander. 329. Arachosia conquered. 328. Alexander conquers Bactria and Sogdiana. 327. Alexander quells the rebellion of Sogdiana and Bactria. Clitus killed by Alexander at a banquet. Alexander marries the Sogdian Roxane. Callisthenes, the historian, is put to death under pretext of complicity in the conspiracy of the pages to assassinate Alexander. Beginning of the Indian war. 326. Alexander in the Punjab; he crosses the Indus, and is victorious at the Hydaspes. At the Hyphasis the army refuses to advance further. Alexander builds a fleet and sails to the mouth of the Indus. 325. Conquest of the Lower Punjab. March through Gedrosia (Mekran in Beluchistan) and Carmania. Nearchus makes a voyage of discovery in the Indian Ocean. 324. Alexander in Susa. He punishes treasonable conduct of officials during his absence. Alexander’s veterans discharged at Opis. Harpalus deposits at Athens the money stolen from Alexander. The trial respecting misappropriation of this money ends in Demosthenes being forced to quit Athens. Alexander’s last campaign against the Kossæans. 323. Alexander returns to Babylon and reorganises his army for the conquest of Arabia. Death of Alexander.


323. At Alexander’s death his young half-brother, Philip Arrhidæus, succeeded to his empire, while there are expectations of a posthumous heir by Roxane. The young Alexander is born. Perdiccas is made regent over the Asiatic dominions, while Antipater and Craterus take the joint regency of the West. The Greeks, with Athens at their head, attempt to throw off the Macedonian yoke as soon as Alexander is dead, and the Lamian war breaks out (323-322). But one by one the states yield to Antipater and Craterus. The direct government of the dominions in Europe, Africa, and Western Asia is divided among Alexander’s generals. Thirty-four shared in the allotment; the most important are: Ptolemy Lagus, in Egypt and Cyrenaica; Antigonus, in Phrygia, Pamphylia, and Lycia; Eumenes, the secretary of Alexander, in Paphlagonia and Cappadocia; Cassander, in Caria; Leonnatus, in Hellespontine Phrygia; Menander, in Lydia; and Lysimachus, in Thrace and the Euxine districts. Perdiccas aims to marry Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra, as a means of becoming absolute master of the empire. The other generals league themselves against him, and (321) Perdiccas is murdered by his soldiers while proceeding against Ptolemy. Antipater replaces him as regent, and redivides the empire; Seleucus is given Babylonia to rule over. Antipater dies 319, and the son Cassander and Polysperchon become regents. In 317 and 316, Cassander conquers Greece and Macedonia. Antigonus, with the help of Cassander, attacks and defeats Eumenes, who is betrayed by his own forces in 316. Antigonus now has ambitions to control the whole empire, and in 315 the terrible war of the Diadochi, between him and the other generals, begins. Antigonus and his son, Demetrius Poliorcetes, call themselves kings. Seleucus, Lysimachus, Cassander, and others do the same. Demetrius seizes Athens in 307. At the end of the struggle every member of Alexander’s family is dead, the majority put to death. In 301, at the battle of Ipsus, Antigonus falls, and Demetrius takes to flight. Cassander dies 296, and the succession is[21] contested by his two sons, Philip IV and Antipater. Demetrius takes the opportunity of this quarrel to seize the European dominions. He prepares to invade Asia, and the other successors of the empire, together with King Pyrrhus of Epirus, league against him. In 287 Pyrrhus invades Macedonia, and Demetrius’ army deserts him. Pyrrhus is welcomed as king, and he gives Lysimachus the eastern part of Macedonia to rule over. Demetrius renews the struggle with Pyrrhus, and at his death, in 283, his son, Antigonus Gonatas, carries it on. In 282 Lysimachus is attacked by Seleucus Nicator, and is defeated and killed on the plain of Corus in 281. Ptolemy Ceraunus murders Seleucus, and seizes the European kingdom of Lysimachus. In 280 Pyrrhus goes to Tarentum to make war on the Romans.


The Achæan towns of Patræ, Dyme, Tritæa, and Pharæ expel their Macedonian garrisons and join in a confederacy. 279. The Celts descend on the Balkan countries and on Macedonia. Death of Ptolemy Ceraunus. 278. Celts under Brennus approach Greece. Struggle between Celts and Hellenes round Thermopylæ. Brennus defeated at Delphi. Celts driven back. Ætolian Confederacy becomes the most important representative of Greek independence. 277. Antigonus king of Macedonia. He founds the dynasty of the Antigonids. Pyrrhus conquers Sicily. 276. The Achæan town Ægium expels its garrison and joins Patræ, etc., in the Achæan Confederacy. 274. Pyrrhus returns to Epirus. 273. Pyrrhus expels Antigonus from Macedon. 272. Pyrrhus besieges Sparta, which successfully resists him. He turns against Argos, where he is killed. Antigonus recovers his supremacy in Greece. The Greek cities fight for their independence. 265. The Macedonians defeat the Egyptian fleet at Cos. Antigonus recovers his position in the Peloponnesus. 263. Chremonidean war. 263-262. Antigonus takes Athens. End of the independent political importance of Athens. 255. The Long Walls of Athens broken down. 249. Aratus frees Sicyon from its tyrant Nicocles, and brings the town over to the Achæan League. 245. Aratus becomes president of the Achæan League. Agis IV becomes king of Sparta and attempts to introduce reforms. 242. Aratus conquers Corinth. Megara, Trœzen, and Epidaurus join the Achæans. 241. Agis IV executed. 239. Demetrius, king of Macedon. Alliance between the Achæans and Ætolians. 238-5. Extinction of the Epirote Æacids; federative republic in Epirus. 235. Cleomenes III, king of Sparta. 234. Lydiades abdicates from his tyranny and brings Megalopolis over to the Achæan League. 231. Illyrian corsairs ravage the western coasts of Greece and defy the Achæan and Ætolian fleets. 229. The greater part of Argolis included in the Achæan League. Antigonus Doson, regent of Macedon. Athens frees herself from the Macedonian dominion. The Romans defeat the Illyrian corsairs. 228. Athens makes alliance with Rome. The Achæan League at the height of its power. 227. Beginning of the Spartan war against the Achæan League. 226. Cleomenes III effects fundamental reforms in Sparta. 224. Battle at Dyme. Cleomenes defeats the Achæan League. 223. Aratus calls in the aid of Macedon. Egypt deserts the Achæans and becomes the ally of Sparta. Achæans, Bœotians, Phocians, Thessalians, Epirotes, and Acarnanians form, under the leadership of Macedon, an alliance against Sparta. 222. Battle of Sellasia. Defeat of the Spartans. Antigonus Doson restores the Spartan oligarchy. 220. Philip V[22] king of Macedon. War of Philip and his Greek allies, including the Achæan League, against the Ætolians supported by Sparta. 219. Lycurgus (last king of Sparta). 217. Peace of Naupactus. The destructive war against the Ætolians ended in dread of a Carthaginian invasion. Philip V becomes protector of all the Hellenes.


216. Philip concludes an alliance with Hannibal and provokes the first Macedonian war with Rome. 214. Battle near the mouth of the Aous. The Romans surprise Philip and defeat him. Ætolians, Eleans, Messenians, and Illyrians accept Roman protection. 213. Aratus poisoned at Philip’s instigation. 211. Sparta goes over to Rome. Savage wars of the Grecian cities against one another. 208. Philopœmen becomes general of the Achæan League, and revives its military power. 205. Philip makes peace with Rome, ceding the country of the Parthenians and several Illyrian districts to Rome. Philip carries on war in Rhodes, Thrace, and Mysia, and sends auxiliaries to Carthage. 200. Second Macedonian war declared by Rome. Romans under Sulpicius invade Macedonia. 199. Romans kept inactive by mutiny in the army. 198. Defeat of Philip by Flamininus. Achæans and Spartans join the Romans. 197. Battle of Cynoscephalæ and destruction of the Macedonian phalanx. Philip accepts humiliating terms and renounces his supremacy over the Greeks. 194. Flamininus returns to Rome. The Ætolians, dissatisfied, pillage Sparta, which joins the Achæan League. Antiochus III of Syria comes to the aid of the Ætolians. 191. Battle of Thermopylæ. Antiochus defeated by the Romans. 190. Battle of Magnesia. Romans defeat Antiochus. Submission of the Ætolians. 183. Messene revolts from the Achæan League. 179. Callicrates succeeds Philopœmen as general of the Achæan League. Death of Philip V and accession of Perseus, who conciliates the Greeks, and makes alliances with Syria, Rhodes, etc. 169. Attempted assassination of Eumenes of Pergamum on his return from Rome. 168. Third Macedonian war declared by the Romans. Romans are unsuccessful at first, but the battle of Pydna is won by Paulus Æmilius, the Macedonians losing twenty thousand men. Flight and subsequent surrender of Perseus. 150. Death of Callicrates. 152. Andriscus lays claim to the throne of Macedon. 148. Andriscus defeated at Pydna and taken to Rome. 146. Macedon made a Roman province. Romans support Sparta in her attempt to withdraw from the Achæan League. Corinthians take up arms, and are joined by the Bœotians and by Chalcis. Battle of Scarphe and victory of the Romans under Metellus. Corinth is taken by Mummius; its art treasures are sent to Rome, and the city delivered up to pillage. Achæan and Bœotian leagues dissolved.


In 323 Ptolemy I, son of Lagus, receives the government of Egypt and Cyrenaica in the division of Alexander’s Empire. He rules at Alexandria. In 321 he allies himself with Antipater against the ambitious Perdiccas. He joins the alliance against Antigonus in 315. 306. He assumes the title of king. 304. He assists the Rhodians to repel Demetrius, and wins the surname of Soter (Saviour). 285. He abdicates in favour of his son, Ptolemy[23] (II) Philadelphus, and dies two years later. Ptolemy II reigns almost in undisturbed peace. About 266 he annexes Phœnicia and Cœle-Syria. He is famous as a great patron of commerce, science, literature, and art, and raises the Alexandrian Museum and Library to importance. On his death in 247, his son, Ptolemy (III) Euergetes, reunites Cyrenaica, of which his father’s half-brother, Magas, had declared himself king on the death of Ptolemy I. In 245 he invades Syria, to avenge his sister Berenice, the wife of Antiochus II, slain by Laodice. He also marches to and captures Babylon, but is recalled to Egypt by a revolt in 243. In 222 he is succeeded by his son, Ptolemy (IV) Philopator. In 217 this king defeats Antiochus the Great at Raphia, recovering Phœnicia and Cœle-Syria, which has been wrested from him. Ptolemy (V) Epiphanes began his reign in 205 or 204. Antiochus the Great invades Egypt, and the Romans intervene. Ptolemy marries Cleopatra, daughter of Antiochus. He dies by poison in 181. His son, Ptolemy (VI) Philometor, succeeds, with Cleopatra as regent until her death in 174. Then the ministers make war on Antiochus Epiphanes, who captures Ptolemy in 170. The king’s brother, Ptolemy (VII) Euergetes or Physcon, then proclaims himself king, and reigns jointly with his brother after the latter’s release. In 164 Ptolemy VII expels Ptolemy VI, but is compelled to recall him at the demand of Rome. Ptolemy VII returns to Cyrenaica, which he holds as a separate kingdom until his brother’s death, 146, when he returns to Egypt, slays the legitimate heir, and rules as sole king. The people of Alexandria expel him in 130, but he manages to get back in 127. Dies 117. His son, Ptolemy (VIII) Philometor or Lathyrus, shares the throne with his mother, Cleopatra III. In 107 his mother expels him, and puts her favourite son, Ptolemy (IX) Alexander, on the throne. Ptolemy VIII keeps his power in Cyprus, and on his mother’s death the Egyptians recall him and banish his brother. The wars with the Seleucid princes are kept up. Berenice III, the daughter of Ptolemy VIII, succeeds him in 81. Her stepson, Ptolemy X or Alexander II, son of Ptolemy Alexander, comes from Rome as Sulla’s candidate, and marries her. The queen is at once murdered, by her husband’s order, and the people put him to death, 80. The legitimate line is now extinct. An illegitimate son of Ptolemy Lathyrus, Ptolemy (XI) Neus Dionysus or Auletes, takes Egypt; and a younger brother, Cyprus. Weary of taxation, the Alexandrians expel Auletes in 58, but the Romans restore him in 55. His son, Ptolemy XII, and his daughter, Cleopatra, succeed him in joint reign in 51. In 48 Ptolemy expels his sister, who flees to Syria, and attempts to recover Egypt by force of arms. Cæsar effects her restoration in 48, and the civil war with Pompey results. Ptolemy is defeated on the Nile, and drowned. Cleopatra’s career after this belongs to Roman history, q.v. Unwilling to appear in Octavian’s triumph after Actium, she kills herself in some unknown way, 30 B.C.


Seleucus (I) Nicator receives the satrapy of Babylon from Antipater. He founds his kingdom in 312. He extends his conquests into Central Asia and India, assuming the title of king about 306. He takes part against Antigonus in the battle of Ipsus, 301. After this a part of Asia Minor is added to his dominions, and the Syrian kingdom is formed. He defeats Lysimachus on the plain of Corus in 281 and is assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus in 280. He is the builder of the capital cities of Seleucia and[24] Antioch. His son Antiochus (I) Soter succeeds. He gives up all claim to Macedonia on the marriage of Seleucus’ daughter, Phila, to Antigonus Gonatas. Dies 261, his son Antiochus (II) Theos succeeding. In this reign the kingdom is greatly weakened by the revolt of Parthia and Bactria, leading to the establishment of the Parthian empire by Arsaces about 250. He also involves himself in a ruinous war with Ptolemy Philadelphus, concluding with the peace of 250. He is killed, 246, and succeeded by his son Seleucus (II) Callinicus who wars with the Parthians and Egyptians until his death in 226. Seleucus (III) Ceraunus after a short reign of three years is succeeded by his brother Antiochus (III) the Great, the most famous of the Seleucidæ. 223. Alexander and Molon the rebellious brothers of the king are subdued. Antiochus goes to war with Ptolemy Philopator and is beaten at Raphia, 217, losing Cœle-Syria and Phœnicia. 214. Achæus the governor of Asia Minor rebels, and is defeated and killed. 212. Antiochus begins an attempt to regain Parthia and Bactria, but in 205 is compelled to acknowledge their independence. Continued warfare with Egypt. Phœnicia and Cœle-Syria regained by battle of Paneas in 198, but these territories are given back to Egypt when Ptolemy Epiphanes marries Cleopatra, daughter of Antiochus. 196. The Thracian Chersonesus taken from Macedonia. 192-189. War with the Romans, who demand restoration of the Thracian and Egyptian provinces. 190. Battle of Magnesia; great defeat of Antiochus by the Romans. 187. Antiochus killed by his subjects as he attempts to rob the temple of Elymais to pay the Romans. His son Seleucus (IV) Philopator succeeds. Before his death, in 175, Seleucus satisfies the Roman claims. His successor is his brother Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes. Armenia, lost by Antiochus III, is reconquered, also Phœnicia and Cœle-Syria, 171-168. Antiochus attempts to stamp out the Jewish religion, giving rise to the Maccabæan rebellion in 167. Antiochus (V) Eupator succeeds his father in 164. Lysias is regent, as the king is only nine years old. A peace with the Jews is concluded and then Antiochus is killed, 162, by Demetrius (I) Soter, son of Seleucus Philopator, who seizes the throne. The Maccabæans hold their own against this king. Alexander Balas, a pretended son of Antiochus Epiphanes, organises an insurrection. He invades Syria, and Demetrius is killed, 150, in battle. Alexander Balas usurps the throne. Demetrius (II) Nicator, son of Demetrius I, contests the throne but not with much success. Balas wars with Ptolemy Philopator and is killed, 145. A war of succession begins between Demetrius Nicator and Balas’ young son Antiochus VI. The latter is supported by the Jews. Antiochus VI is slain by Tryphon, the general of Alexander Balas, in 142. Tryphon rules until 139, when he is put to death by Antiochus (VII) Sidetes. Meanwhile one faction recognises Demetrius Nicator as king. He marries Cleopatra, an Egyptian princess, goes to war with the Parthians, is captured, and Antiochus Sidetes takes his place for ten years. Sidetes wages war with the Parthians, and is killed in battle, 128. Demetrius Nicator now resumes his rule, but owing to his misgovernment is assassinated at the instigation of Cleopatra, in 125. The eldest son, Seleucus V, is put to death the same year by Cleopatra, and the second son, Antiochus (VII) Grypus, takes the throne. He expels Alexander Zabina, a usurper. Civil war breaks out between Antiochus and his half-brother, Antiochus (IX) Cyzicenus, who in 112 compels a division of the kingdom, taking Phœnicia and Cœle-Syria as his share. Antiochus VIII is assassinated, 96. Antiochus IX is killed in 95 by Seleucus (VI) Epiphanes, son of Grypus, who rules only one year. Antiochus (X) Eusebes, son of Antiochus IX, follows. His claims are contested by the sons of Grypus,[25] Philip, Demetrius (III) Eucærus, and Antiochus (XI) Epiphanes. The latter is drowned fleeing from Eusebes and the other two rule over the whole of Syria. In 88 Demetrius is captured by the Parthians and another brother Antiochus (XII) Dionysius, shares the rule with Philip. He is killed in a war with the Arabians. Civil strife has now reached such a state that the Syrians invite Tigranes of Armenia to put an end to it. He conquers Syria in 83, and rules it until 69, when, after his defeat by Lucullus, Antiochus (XIII) Asiaticus, son of Antiochus Eusebes, regains the throne. He is deposed, 65, by Pompey, and Syria becomes a Roman province.


The government of the Greek colonies in Sicily is originally oligarchical, but the rule soon gets into the hands of despots or tyrants, who hold uncontrolled power. 570-554. Phalaris, tyrant of Agrigentum or Acrargas, brings that city to be the most powerful in the island. About 500, Cleander obtains possession of Gela. His brother Hippocrates succeeds, and is followed by Gelo, who makes himself master of Syracuse. 488. Theron is tyrant of Agrigentum, and, 481, expels Terillus from Himera. Terillus appeals to the Carthaginians who besiege Himera, 480. Gelo aids Theron and defeats Hamilcar. 478. Gelo succeeded by his brother Hiero I, an oppressive ruler. 472. Thrasydæus succeeds Theron in Agrigentum, but is expelled by Hiero. 467. Thrasybulus succeeds Hiero, but is driven from Sicily by the people, 466. The fall of Thrasybulus is the signal for great internal dissensions, settled, 461, by a congress, which restores peace and prosperity for half a century, interrupted only by a quickly suppressed revolt of the Sicels in 451. 409. Hannibal, grandson of Hamilcar, attempts the conquest of Sicily. 405. Dionysius attains to despotic power in Syracuse. 383. After constant war the limits of Greek and Carthaginian power in Sicily are fixed. 367. Dion succeeds Dionysius; after an oppressive rule he is murdered, 353. A period of confusion follows. The younger Dionysius and Hicetas hold power against each other. The latter calls in the Carthaginians, and Timoleon comes from Corinth, defeats Hicetas, and restores Greek liberty in 343. Democratic government is also reinstated in other parts of Sicily. 340. Defeat of Hasdrubal and Hamilcar at the Crimisus puts an end to all fear from Carthage. 317. Agathocles establishes a despotism in Syracuse. His reign is oppressive and disastrous for Sicily. 310. Defeat of Agathocles by Hamilcar at Ecnomus. Agathocles goes to Africa to carry on the war; meanwhile Hamilcar gets possession of a large part of Sicily. Agathocles makes peace with Carthage, and perpetrates a fearful massacre of his opponents. 289. Death of Agathocles. Hicetas becomes tyrant of Syracuse. Agrigentum, under Phintias, attains to great power. The Carthaginians now begin to be predominant in the island. 278. Pyrrhus lands in Sicily to aid the Greeks, but returns to Italy, 276. Hiero II is chosen general by the Syracusans. He fights the Mamertines. 270. Hiero assumes title of king. He allies with Carthage to expel the Mamertines. The Romans espouse the latter’s cause, and the First Punic War is begun, 264. 263. Hiero makes peace with Rome. 241. Battle off the Ægetan Islands. The whole island, except the territory of Hiero, becomes a Roman province. 215. Hieronymus, grandson and successor of Hiero, breaks the treaty with Rome in the Second Punic War, and is assassinated. Marcellus is sent to Syracuse. 212. Syracuse falls into his hands. 210. Agrigentum captured. Roman conquest completed.




The character of every people is more or less closely connected with that of its land. The station which the Greeks filled among nations, the part which they acted, and the works which they accomplished, depended in a great measure on the position which they occupied on the face of the globe. The manner and degree in which the nature of the country affected the bodily and mental frame, and the social institutions of its inhabitants, may not be so easily determined; but its physical aspect is certainly not less important in a historical point of view, than it is striking and interesting in itself. An attentive survey of the geographical site of Greece, of its general divisions, and of the most prominent points on its surface, is an indispensable preparation for the study of its history. In the following sketch nothing more will be attempted, than to guide the reader’s eye over an accurate map of the country, and to direct his attention to some of those indelible features, which have survived all the revolutions by which it has been desolated.


The land which its sons called Hellas, and for which we have adopted the Roman name Greece,[2] lies on the southeast verge of Europe, and in length extends no further than from the thirty-sixth to the fortieth degree of latitude. It is distinguished among European countries by the same character which distinguishes Europe itself from the other continents—the great range of its coast compared with the extent of its surface; so that while in the latter respect it is considerably less than Portugal, in the former it exceeds the whole Pyrenean peninsula. The great eastern limb which projects from the main trunk of the continent of Europe grows more and more finely articulated as it advances towards the south, and terminates in the peninsula of Peloponnesus, the smaller half of Greece, which bears some resemblance to an outspread palm. Its southern extremity is at a nearly equal distance from the two neighbouring continents: it fronts one of the most beautiful and fertile regions of Africa, and is separated from the nearest point of Asia by the southern outlet of the Ægean Sea—the sea, by the Greeks familiarly called their own, which, after being contracted into a narrow stream by the approach of the opposite shores at the Hellespont,[27] suddenly finds its liberty in an ample basin as they recede towards the east and the west, and at length, escaping between Cape Malea and Crete, confounds its waters with the broader main of the Mediterranean. Over that part of this sea which washes the coast of Greece, a chain of islands, beginning from the southern headland of Attica, Cape Sunium, first girds Delos with an irregular belt, the Cyclades, and then, in a waving line, links itself to a scattered group (the Sporades) which borders the Asiatic coast. Southward of these the interval between the two continents is broken by the larger islands Crete and Rhodes. The sea which divides Greece from Italy is contracted, between the Iapygian peninsula and the coast of Epirus, into a channel only thirty geographical miles in breadth; and the Italian coast may be seen not only from the mountains of Corcyra, but from the low headland of the Ceraunian hills.

Thus on two sides Greece is bounded by a narrow sea; but towards the north its limits were never precisely defined. The word Hellas did not convey to the Greeks the notion of a certain geographical surface, determined by natural or conventional boundaries: it denoted the country of the Hellenes, and was variously applied according to the different views entertained of the people which was entitled to that name. The original Hellas was included in the territory of a little tribe in the south of Thessaly. When these Hellenes had imparted their name to other tribes, with which they were allied by a community of language and manners, Hellas might properly be said to extend as far as these national features prevailed. On the east, Greece was commonly held to terminate with Mount Homole at the mouth of the Peneus; the more scrupulous, however, excluded even Thessaly from the honour of the Hellenic name, while Strabo,f with consistent laxity, admitted Macedonia. But from Ambracia to the mouth of the Peneus, when these were taken as the extreme northern points, it was still impossible to draw a precise line of demarcation; for the same reason which justified the exclusion of Epirus applied, perhaps much more forcibly, to the mountaineers in the interior of Ætolia, whose barbarous origin, or utter degeneracy, was proved by their savage manners, and a language which Thucydidesg describes as unintelligible. When the Ætolians bade the last Philip withdraw from Hellas, the Macedonian king could justly retort, by asking where they would fix its boundaries, and by reminding them that of their own body a very small part was within the pale from which they wished to exclude him.

The northern part of Greece is traversed in its whole length by a range of mountains, the Greek Apennines. This ridge first takes the name of Pindus, where it intersects the northern boundary of Greece, at a point where an ancient route still affords the least difficult passage from Epirus into Thessaly. From Pindus two huge arms stretch towards the eastern sea, and enclose the vale of Thessaly, the largest and richest plain in Greece: on the north the Cambunian hills, after making a bend towards the south, terminate in the loftier heights of Olympus, which are scarcely ever entirely free from snow; the opposite and lower chain of Othrys parting, with its eastern extremity, the Malian from the Pagasæan Gulf, sinks gently towards the coast. A fourth rampart, which runs parallel to Pindus, is formed by the range which includes the celebrated heights of Pelion and Ossa; the first a broad and nearly even ridge, the other towering into a steep conical peak, the neighbour and rival of Olympus, with which, in the songs of the country, it is said to dispute the pre-eminence in the depth and duration of its snows. The mountain barrier with which Thessaly is thus encompassed is broken only at the northeast corner, by a deep and narrow cleft, which[28] parts Ossa from Olympus: the defile so renowned in poetry as the vale, in history as the pass, of Tempe. The imagination of the ancient poets and declaimers delighted to dwell on the natural beauties of this romantic glen, and on the sanctity of the site, from which Apollo had transplanted his laurel to Delphi.

From other points of view, the same spot no less forcibly claims the attention of the historian. It is the only pass through which an army can invade Thessaly from the north, without scaling the high and rugged ridges of its northern frontier. The whole glen is something less than five miles long, and opens gradually to the east into a spacious plain, stretching to the shore of the Thermaic Gulf. On each side the rocks rise precipitously from the bed of the Peneus, and in some places only leave room between them for the stream; and the road, which at the narrowest point is cut in the rock, might in the opinion of the ancients be defended by ten men against a host.

On the eastern side of the ridge which stretches from Tempe to the Gulf of Pagasæ, a narrow strip of land, called Magnesia, is intercepted between the mountains and the sea, broken by lofty headlands and the beds of torrents, and exposed without a harbour to the fury of the northeast gales.

South of this gulf the coast is again deeply indented by that of Malis, into which the Sperchius, rising from Mount Tymphrestus, a continuation of Pindus, winds through a long narrow vale, which, though considered as a part of Thessaly, forms a separate region, widely distinguished from the rest by its physical features. It is intercepted between Othrys and Œta, a huge rugged pile, which, stretching from Pindus to the sea at Thermopylæ, forms the inner barrier of Greece, as the Cambunian range is the outer, to which it corresponds in direction, and is nearly equal in height. To the south of Thessaly and between it and Bœotia lie the countries of Doris and Phocis. Doris is small and obscure, but interesting as the foster-mother of a race of conquerors who became the masters of Greece. Phocis is somewhat larger than Doris, and separates it from Bœotia.

The peculiar conformation of the principal Bœotian valleys, the barriers opposed to the escape of the streams, and the consequent accumulation of the rich deposits brought down from the surrounding mountains, may be considered as a main cause of the extraordinary fertility of the land. The vale of the Cephissus especially, with its periodical inundations, exhibits a resemblance, on a small scale, to the banks of the Nile—a resemblance which some of the ancients observed in the peculiar character of its vegetation. The profusion in which the ordinary gifts of nature were spread over the face of Bœotia, the abundant returns of its grain, the richness of its pastures, the materials of luxury furnished by its woods and waters, are chiefly remarkable, in a historical point of view, from the unfavourable effect they produced on the character of the race, which finally established itself in this envied territory. It was this cause, more than the dampness and thickness of their atmosphere, that depressed the intellectual and moral energies of the Bœotians, and justified the ridicule which their temperate and witty neighbours so freely poured on their proverbial failing.

Eubœa, that large and important island, which at a very early period attracted the Phœnicians by its copper mines, and in later times became almost indispensable to the subsistence of Athens, though it covers the whole eastern coast of Locris and Bœotia, is more closely connected with the latter of these countries. The channel of the Euripus which parts it from the mainland, between Aulis and Chalcis, is but a few paces in width, and is broken by a rocky islet, which now forms the middle pier of a bridge.


A wild and rugged, though not a lofty, range of mountains, bearing the name of Cithæron on the west, of Parnes towards the east, divides Bœotia from Attica. Lower ridges, branching off to the south, and sending out arms towards the east, mark the limits of the principal districts which compose this little country, the least proportioned in extent of any on the face of the earth to its fame and its importance in the history of mankind. The most extensive of the Attic plains, though it is by no means a uniform level, but is broken by a number of low hills, is that in which Athens itself lies at the foot of a precipitous rock, and in which, according to the Attic legend, the olive, still its most valuable production, first sprang up.

Attica is, on the whole, a meagre land, wanting the fatness of the Bœotian plains, and the freshness of the Bœotian streams. The waters of its principal river, the Cephisus, are expended in irrigating a part of the plain of Athens, and the Ilissus, though no less renowned, is a mere brook, which is sometimes swollen into a torrent. It could scarcely boast of more than two or three fertile tracts, and its principal riches lay in the heart of its mountains, in the silver of Laurium, and the marble of Pentelicus. It might also reckon among its peculiar advantages the purity of its air, the fragrance of its shrubs, and the fineness of its fruits. But in its most flourishing period its produce was never sufficient to supply the wants of its inhabitants, and their industry was constantly urged to improve their ground to the utmost. Traces are still visible of the laborious cultivation which was carried by means of artificial terraces, up the sides of their barest mountains. After all, they were compelled to look to the sea even for subsistence. Attica would have been little but for the position which it occupied, as the southeast foreland of Greece, with valleys opening on the coast, and ports inviting the commerce of Asia. From the top of its hills the eye surveys the whole circle of the islands, which form its maritime suburbs, and seem to point out its historical destination.

The isthmus connecting Attica with the Peloponnesus is not level. The roots of the Onean Mountains are continued along the eastern coast in a line of low cliffs, till they meet another range, which seems to have borne the same name, at the opposite extremity of the isthmus. This is an important feature in the face of the country: the isthmus at its narrowest part, between the inlets of Schœnus and Lechæum, is only between three and four miles broad; and along this line, hence called the Diolcus, or Draughtway, vessels were often transported from sea to sea, to avoid the delay and danger which attended the circumnavigation of the Peloponnesus. Yet it seems not to have been before the Macedonian period, that the narrowness of the intervening space suggested the project of uniting the two seas by means of a canal. It was entertained for a time by Demetrius Poliorcetes; but he is said to have been deterred by the reports of his engineers, who were persuaded that the surface of the Corinthian Gulf was so much higher than the Saronic, that a channel cut between them would be useless from the rapidity of the current, and might even endanger the safety of Ægina and the neighbouring isles. Three centuries later, the dictator Cæsar formed the same plan, and was perhaps only prevented from accomplishing it by his untimely death. The above-mentioned inequality of the ground would always render this undertaking very laborious and expensive. But the work was of a nature rather to shock than to interest genuine Greek feelings: it seems to have been viewed as an audacious Titanian effort of barbarian power; and when Nero actually began it, having opened the trench with his own hands, the belief of the country people may probably have concurred with the aversion of the[30] Prætorian workmen, to raise the rumour of howling spectres, and springs of blood, by which they are said to have been interrupted.

The face of the Peloponnesus presents outlines somewhat more intricate than those of northern Greece. At first sight the whole land appears one pile of mountains, which, toward the northwest, where it reaches its greatest height, forms a compact mass, pressing close upon the Gulf of Corinth. On the western coast it recedes farther from the sea; towards the centre is pierced more and more by little hollows; and on the south and east is broken by three great gulfs, and the valleys opening into them, which suggested to the ancients the form of a plane leaf, to illustrate that of the peninsula. On closer inspection, the highest summits of this pile, with their connecting ridges, may be observed to form an irregular ring, which separates the central region, Arcadia, from the rest.

The other great divisions of the Peloponnesus are Argolis, Laconia, Messenia, Elis, and Achaia. Argolis, when the name is taken in its largest sense, as the part of the Peloponnesus which is bounded on the land side by Arcadia, Achaia, and Laconia, comprehends several districts, which, during the period of the independence of Greece, were never united under one government, but were considered, for the purpose of description, as one region by the later geographers. It begins on the western side with the little territory of Sicyon, which, beside some inland valleys, shared with Corinth a small maritime plain, which was proverbial among the ancients for its luxuriant fertility. The dominions of Corinth, which also extended beyond the isthmus, meeting those of Megara a little south of the Scironian rocks, occupied a considerable portion of Argolis. The two cities, Sicyon and Corinth, were similarly situated—both commanding important passes into the interior of the peninsula. The lofty and precipitous rock, called the Acrocorinthus, on which stood the citadel of Corinth, though, being commanded by a neighbouring height, it is of no great value for the purposes of modern warfare, was in ancient times an impregnable fortress, and a point of the highest importance.

The plain of Argos, which is bounded on three sides by lofty mountains, but open to the sea, is, for Greece, and especially for the Peloponnesus, of considerable extent, being ten or twelve miles in length, and four or five in width. But the western side is lower than the eastern, and is watered by a number of streams, in which the upper side is singularly deficient. In very ancient times the lower level was injured by excess of moisture, as it is at this day: and hence, perhaps, Argos, which lay on the western side, notwithstanding its advantageous position, and the strength of its citadel, flourished less, for a time, than Mycenæ and Tiryns, which were situate to the east, where the plain is now barren through drought.

A long valley, running southward to the sea, and the mountains which border it on three sides, composed the territory of Laconia. It is to the middle region, the heart of Laconia, that most of the ancient epithets and descriptions relating to the general character of the country properly apply. The vale of Sparta is Homer’s “hollow Lacedæmon,” which Euripides further described as girt with mountains, rugged, and difficult of entrance for a hostile power. The epithet “hollow” fitly represents the aspect of a valley enclosed by the lofty cliffs in which the mountains here abruptly terminate on each side of the Eurotas. The character which the poet ascribes to Laconia,—that it is a country difficult of access to an enemy,—is one which most properly belongs to it, and is of great historical importance. On the northern and the eastern sides there are only two natural passes by which the plain of Sparta can be invaded.


At the northern foot of the Taygetus Mountains begins the Messenian plain, which, like the basin of the Eurotas below Sparta, is divided into two distinct districts, by a ridge which crosses nearly its whole width from the eastern side. The upper of these districts, which is separated from Arcadia by a part of the Lycæan chain, and is bounded towards the west by the ridge of Ithome, the scene of ever memorable struggles, was the plain of Stenyclarus, a tract not peculiarly rich, but very important for the protection and command of the country, as the principal passes, not only from the north, but from the east and west fall into it. The lower part of the Messenian plain, which spreads round the head of the gulf, was a region celebrated in poetry and history for its exuberant fertility; sometimes designated by the title of Macaria, or the Blessed, watered by many streams, among the rest by the clear and full Pamisus. It was, no doubt, of this delightful vale, that Euripides meant to be understood, when, contrasting Messenia with Laconia, he described the excellence of the Messenian soil as too great for words to reach.

The rich pastures on the banks of the Elean Peneus were celebrated in the earliest legends; and an ancient channel, which is still seen stretching across them to the sea, may be the same into which Hercules was believed to have turned the river, to cleanse the stable of Augeas.

When the necessary deduction has been made for the inequalities of its surface, Greece may perhaps be properly considered as a land, on the whole, not less rich than beautiful. And it probably had a better claim to this character in the days of its youthful freshness and vigour. Its productions were various as its aspect: and if other regions were more fertile in grain, and more favourable to the cultivation of the vine, few surpassed it in the growth of the olive, and of other valuable fruits. Its hills afforded abundant pastures: its waters and forests teemed with life. In the precious metals it was perhaps fortunately poor; the silver mines of Laurium were a singular exception; but the Peloponnesian Mountains, especially in Laconia and Argolis, as well as those of Eubœa, contained rich veins of iron and copper, as well as precious quarries. The marble of Pentelicus was nearly equalled in fineness by that of the isle of Paros, and that of Carystus in Eubœa. The Grecian woods still excite the admiration of travellers, as they did in the days of Pausanias,h by trees of extraordinary size. Even the hills of Attica are said to have been once clothed with forests; and the present scantiness of its streams may be owed in a great measure to the loss of the shade which once sheltered them. Herodotusi observes, that, of all countries in the world, Greece enjoyed the most happily tempered seasons. But it seems difficult to speak generally of the climate of a country, in which each district has its own, determined by an infinite variety of local circumstances. Both in northern Greece and the Peloponnesus the snow remains long on the higher ridges; and even in Attica the winters are often severe. On the other hand, the heat of the summer is tempered, in exposed situations, by the strong breezes from the northwest (the etesian winds), which prevail during that season in the Grecian seas; and it is possible that Herodotus may have had their refreshing influence chiefly in view.

Though no traces of volcanic eruptions appear to have been discovered in Greece, history is full of the effects produced there by volcanic agency; and permanent indications of its physical character were scattered over its surface, in the hot springs of Thermopylæ, Trœzen, Ædepsus, and other places. The sea between the Peloponnesus and Crete has been, down to modern times, the scene of surprising changes wrought by the same forces; and not long[32] before the Christian era, a new hill was thrown up on the coast near Trœzen, no less suddenly than the islands near Thera were raised out of the sea. Earthquakes, accompanied by the rending of mountains, the sinking of land into the sea, by temporary inundations, and other disasters, have in all ages been familiar to Greece, more especially to the Peloponnesus. And hence some attention seems to be due to the numerous legends and traditions which describe convulsions of the same kind as occurring still more frequently, and with still more important consequences, in a period preceding connected history; and which may be thought to point to a state of elemental warfare, which must have subsided before the region which was its theatre could have been fitted for the habitation of man. Such an origin we might be inclined to assign to that class of legends which related to struggles between Poseidon and other deities for the possession of several districts; as his contests with Athene (Minerva) for Athens and Trœzen; with the same goddess, or with Hera (Juno) for Argos—where he was said, according to one account, to have dried up the springs, and according to another, to have laid the plain under water; with Apollo for the isthmus of Corinth.b


It is a singular anomaly that a people who habitually called themselves Hellenes should be known to all the world beside as Greeks. This name was derived from the Graians, a small and obscure group. The Romans, chancing to come first in contact with this tribe, gave the name Greek to the whole people. In the course of time it became so fixed in the usage of other nations that it could never be shaken off. Such a change of a proper name was very unusual in antiquity. The almost invariable custom was, when it became necessary to use a proper name from a foreign language, to transcribe it as literally as might be with only such minor changes as a difference in the genius of the language made necessary. Thus the Greeks in speaking of their Persian enemies pronounced and wrote such words as “Cyrus” and “Darius” in as close imitation as possible of the native pronunciation of those names, and the Egyptians in turn, in accepting the domination of the Macedonian Ptolemies, spelled and no doubt pronounced the names of their conquerors with as little alteration as was possible in a language which made scant use of vowels. It was indeed this fact of transliteration rather than translation of foreign proper names which, as we have seen, furnished the clew to the nineteenth century scholars in their investigations of the hieroglyphics of Egypt and the cuneiform writing of Asia. Had not the engraver of the Rosetta stone spelled the word Ptolemy closely as the Greeks spelled it, Dr. Young, perhaps, never would have found the key to the interpretation of the hieroglyphics. And had not the eighty or ninety proper names of the great inscription at Behistun been interpreted by the same signs in the three different forms of writing that make up that inscription, it may well be doubted whether we should even now have any clear knowledge of the cuneiform character of the Babylonians and Assyrians. Indeed, so universal was this custom of retaining proper names in their original form that the failure of the Romans to apply to the Greeks the name which they themselves employed seems very extraordinary indeed. The custom which they thus inaugurated, however, has not been without imitators in modern times, as witness the translation “Angleterre” by which the French designate England, and the even stranger use by the same nation of the word “Allemagne”[33] to designate the land which its residents term “Deutschland” and which in English is spoken of as Germany.

Had the classical writings of Greece been more extensively read throughout Europe in the Middle Ages it is probable that the Roman name Greece would have been discarded in modern usage, and the name Hellas restored to its proper position. An effort to effect this change has indeed been made more recently by many classical scholars, and it is by no means unusual to meet the terms “Hellas” and “Hellenes” in modern books of almost every European language; but to make the substitution in the popular mind after the word Greece has been so closely linked with so wide a chain of associate ideas for so many generations would be utterly impossible, at least in our generation.


But whether known as Hellas or as Greece, the tiny peninsula designated by these names was inhabited by a people which by common consent was by far the most interesting of antiquity. It has been said that they constituted a race rather than a nation, for the most patent fact about them, to any one who gives even casual attention to their history, was that they lacked the political unity which lies at the foundation of true national existence. Yet the pride of race to a certain extent made up for this deficiency, and if the Greeks recognised no single ruler and were never bound together into a single state, they felt more keenly perhaps than any other nation that has lived at any other period of the world’s history—unless perhaps an exception be made of the modern Frenchman—the binding force of racial affinities and the full meaning of the old adage that blood is thicker than water.

All this of course implies that the Greeks were one race in the narrow sense of the term, sprung in relatively recent time from a single stock. Such was undoubtedly the fact, and the division into Ionians, Dorians, and various lesser branches, on which the historian naturally lays much stress, must be understood always as implying only a minor and later differentiation. One will hear much of the various dialects of the different Greek states, but one must not forget that these dialects represent only minor variations of speech which as compared with the fundamental unity of the language as a whole might almost be disregarded. To be a Greek was to be born of Greek parents, to the use of the Greek language as a mother tongue; for the most part, following the national custom, it was to eschew every other language and to look out upon all peoples who spoke another tongue as “barbarians”—people of an alien birth and an alien genius.

But whence came this people of the parent stock whose descendants made up the historic Greek race? No one knows. The Greeks themselves hardly dared to ask the question, and we are utterly without data for answering it if asked. Their traditions implied a migration from some unknown land to Greece, since those traditions told of a non-Hellenic people who inhabited the land before them. Yet in contradiction of this idea the Greek mind clung always to autocthony. Like most other nations, and in far greater measure than perhaps any other, the Hellenes loved their home—almost worshipped it. To be a Greek and yet to have no association with the mountains and valleys and estuaries and islands of Greece seems a contradiction of terms. True, a major part of the population at a later day lived in distant colonies as widely separated as Asia Minor and[34] Italy, but even here they thought of themselves only as more or less temporary invaders from the parent seat, and even kept up their association with it by considering all lands which Greeks colonised as a part of “Greater Greece.”

That the Greeks are of Aryan stock is of course made perfectly clear by their language. Some interesting conclusions as to the time when they branched from the parent stock are gained by philologists through observation of words which manifestly have the same root and meaning in the different Aryan languages. Thus, for example, the fact that such words as Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Son, Daughter, and the like, are clearly of the same root in Sanskrit and Greek as well as in Latin and the Germanic speech, shows that a certain relatively advanced stage of family life had been attained while the primitive Aryans still formed but a single race. Again the resemblance between the Greek and the Latin languages goes to show that the people whose descendants became Greeks and Romans clung together till a relatively late period, after the splitting up of the primitive race had begun. Yet on the other hand the differences between the Greek and the Latin prove that the two races using these languages had been separated long before either of them is ushered into history.

From which direction the parent stock of the Greeks came into the land that was to be their future abiding place has long been a moot point with scholars, and is yet undetermined. So long as the original cradle of the Aryans was held to be central Asia, it was the unavoidable conclusion that the Aryans of Europe, including the Greeks, had come originally from the East. But when the theory was introduced that the real cradle of the primitive Aryan was not Asia but northwestern Europe all certainty from a priori considerations vanished, for it seemed at least as plausible that the parent Greeks might have dropped aside from the main swarm on its eastern journey to invade Asia as that they should have oscillated back to Greece after that invasion had been established. And more recently the question is still further complicated by the “Mediterranean Race” theory, which includes the Greeks as descendants of a hypothetical stock whose cradle was neither Asia nor Europe, but equatorial Africa.a

Some of the latest accounts of Greek origin are stated by Professor Bury who says:

“It is in the lands of Thessaly and Epirus that we first dimly descry the Greeks busy at the task for which destiny had chosen them, of creating and shaping the thought and civilisation of Europe. The oak wood of Dodona in Epirus is the earliest sanctuary, whereof we have any knowledge, of their supreme god, Zeus, the dweller of the sky. Thessaly has associations which still appeal intimately to men of European birth. The first Greek settlers in Thessaly were the Achæans; and in the plain of Argos, and in the mountains which gird it about, they fashioned legends which were to sink deeply into the imagination of Europe. We know that when the Greek conquerors came down to the coast of the Ægean they found a material civilisation more advanced than their own; and it was so chanced that we know more of this civilisation than we know of the conquerors before they came under its influence.

“In Greece as in the other two great peninsulas of the Mediterranean, we find, before the invader of Aryan speech entered in and took possession, a white folk not speaking an Aryan tongue. Corresponding to the Iberians in Spain and Gaul, to the Ligurians in Italy, we find in Greece a race which was also spread over the islands of the Ægean and along the coast of Asia[35] Minor. The men of this primeval race gave to many a hill and rock the name which was to abide with it forever. Corinth and Tiryns, Parnassus and Olympus, Arne and Larissa, are names which the Greeks received from the peoples whom they dispossessed. But this Ægean race, as we may call it for want of a common name, had developed, before the coming of the Greek, a civilisation of which we have only very lately come to know. This civilisation went hand in hand with an active trade, which in the third millennium spread its influence far beyond the borders of the Ægean, as far at least as the Danube and the Nile, and received in return gifts from all quarters of the world. The Ægean peoples therefore plied a busy trade by sea, and their maritime intercourse with the African continent can be traced back to even earlier times, since at the very beginning of Egyptian history we find in Egypt obsidian, which can have come only from the Ægean isles. The most notable remains of this civilisation have been found at Troy, in the little island of Amorgos, and in the great island of Crete.

“The conquest of the Greek peninsula by the Greeks lies a long way behind recorded history, and the Greeks themselves, when they began to reflect on their own past, had completely forgotten what their remote ancestors had done ages and ages before.

“The invaders spoke an Aryan speech, but it does not follow that they all came of Aryan stock. There was, indeed, an Aryan element among them, and some of them were descendants of men of Aryan race who had originally taught them their language and brought them some Aryan institutions and Aryan deities. But the infusion of the Aryan blood was probably small; and in describing the Greeks, as well as any other of the races who speak sister tongues, we must be careful to call them men of Aryan speech, and not men of Aryan stock.c

Perhaps the very latest view of sterling authority is that of Professor William Ridgeway,d who, after marshalling a vast amount of argument and induction based upon the extant and newly discovered relics of early Grecian civilisations, sums up his theories briefly and definitely. He accepts the existence of a “Pelasgian” race, which many have scouted, and credits it with the art-work and commerce revealed at Mycenæ and elsewhere and called “Mycenæan.” This was a dark-skinned (or melanochroöus) race which “had dwelt in Greece from a remote antiquity and had at all times, in spite of conquests, remained a chief element in the population of all Greece, whilst in Arcadia and Attica it had never been subjugated.” The Mycenæan civilisation had its origin, he believes, in the mainland of Greece and spread thence outwards to the isles of the Ægean, Crete, Egypt, and north to the Euxine. This Mycenæan era differs widely from the Homeric,—as in the treatment of the dead, and in the use of metals,—and preceded the Homeric by a great distance, the Mycenæan period belonging to the Bronze Age, the Homeric to the Iron Age.

The Homeric people were not melanochroöus, but xanthochroöus (fair and blond), and were evidently a conquering race—the Achæans. These Achæans, according to Greek tradition, came from Epirus, and indeed a study of the relics and “the culture of the early Iron Age of Bosnia, Carniola, Styria, Salzburg, and upper Italy revealed armour, weapons, and ornaments exactly corresponding to those described in Homer. Moreover we found that a fair-haired race greater in stature than the melanochroöus Ægean people had there been domiciled for long ages, and that fresh bodies of tall, fair-haired people from the shores of the northern ocean continually through the ages had kept pressing down into the southern peninsulas. From this[36] it followed that the Achæans of Homer were one of these bodies of Celts, who had made their way down into Greece and had become masters of the indigenous race.”

The history of the round shield, the use of buckles and brooches, the custom of cremating the dead, and the distribution of iron in Europe, Asia, and Africa, seem to Professor Ridgeway to point still more sharply to a theory that these features of Greek civilisation previously existed in central Europe and were brought thence into Greece. A study of the dialect in which the Homeric poems are written indicates that the language and metre belonged to the earlier race, the Pelasgians, whom the Achæans conquered. The earliest Greeks spoke an Aryan or Indo-Germanic language of which the Arcadian dialect was the purest remnant, since the Achæans and Dorians never conquered Arcadia. The introduction of labialism into the Greek, Ridgeway believes to be a proof of the Celtic origin of the invaders who accepted, as conquerors usually do, the language of the conquered and yet modified it. “Labialism” is the changing of a hard consonant as “k” into a lip-consonant as “p”—as the older Greek word for horse was “hikkos,” which became “hippos.” The result, then, of Ridgeway’s erudite research is his belief that “the Achæans were a Celtic tribe who made their way into Greece,” and for this theory he asserts that “archæology, tradition, and language are all in harmony.”

The original source of this migration,—for it was rather migration than an invasion,—seems to have been in the northwest of the Balkan peninsula. Some extraordinary pressure must have been brought to bear on the Greeks by the Illyrians who may themselves have been forced out of their own homes by some unrecorded power. At the same time the people then living in Macedonia and Thrace were dispossessed and shoved into Phrygia and the regions of Troy in Asia Minor. The possession of Greece by the Greeks was doubtless very gradual and the Peloponnesus was the last to be visited, possibly by boat across the Corinthian Gulf. In some places the new-comers were doubtless compelled to fight, elsewhere they drifted in almost unnoticed and gradually asserted a sway. The new-comers imposed their speech eventually on the older people, but as usual they must have been themselves largely influenced by the older civilisation in the matter of customs and conditions.a


In the Pelasgic period we find the ancient Greeks in a primitive, but not really barbaric condition. There are settled peoples engaged in agriculture, as well as half nomadic pastoral tribes. The latter form, for a long time, a very unstable element of the population, ever ready under pressure of circumstances to leave their old homes and fight for new ones, bearing disturbance and anarchy into the civilised districts.

The life of these peasants and shepherds was very simple and patriarchal. The ox and the horse were known to them, and drew their wagons and their ploughs; the principal source of their wealth consisted in great herds of swine, sheep, and cattle. Fishermen already navigated the numerous arms of the seas that indented the land. Public life had perfectly patriarchal forms. “Kings” were to be found everywhere as ruling heads of the numerous small tribes. Religion appeared essentially as a cult of the mighty forces of nature. The deities were worshipped without temples and images, and were appealed to with prayers, with both bloody and bloodless sacrifices,—at[37] the head Zeus, the god of the sky; at his side Dione, the goddess of earth, who, however, was early replaced by the figure of Hera; Demeter, the earth mother, the patron of agriculture and of settled life; Hestia, the patron of the hearth fire and the altar fire; Hermes, the swift messenger of heaven, driver of the clouds and guardian of the herds; Poseidon, the god of the waters; and the chthonic [i.e. subterranean] divinity Aidoneus or Hades. The art of prophecy was developed early; the oracle of Dodona in Epirus was universally known.

We know not how long the ancient Greeks remained in the quiet Pelasgic conditions. But we can distinguish the causes that produced the internal movement and mighty ferment, from which the chivalrous nation of the Achæans finally came. Most important were the influences of the highly developed civilisation of the Orient upon the youthful, gifted Greek nation. The Phœnicians were the principal bearers of this influence. They had occupied many of the islands of the Ægean, and had planted colonies even on the mainland, as at Thebes and Acrocorinthus. The merchants exchanged the products of Phœnician and Babylonian industry for wool, hides, and slaves. They worked the copper mines of Cyprus and Argolis and the gold mines of Thasos and Thrace, but obtained even greater wealth from the purple shellfish of the Grecian waters.

For about a century the Phœnicians exerted a strong pressure on the coasts of Greece, and they left considerable traces in Grecian mythology and civilisation. The gifted Greeks, who in all periods of their history were quick to profit by foreign example, were deeply impressed by the superior civilisation of the Phœnicians. The activity and skill of the men of Sidon in navigation and fortification had a very permanent effect. For a long time the Greeks made the Phœnicians their masters in architecture, mining, and engineering; later they received from them the alphabet and the Babylonian system of weights and measures. The industry and the artistic skill of the Greeks also began to practice on the models brought into the land by the Sidonians.

Internal dissensions, raids of the rude pastoral tribes upon the settled peoples of the lowlands and the coast, and feuds between the nomads themselves, were, doubtless, also a powerful factor in the transition from the peaceful patriarchism of Pelasgic times to the more stirring and warlike period that followed. The necessity of protecting person and property from bold raiders by sea and land led to the erection of fortresses, massive walls of rough stones piled upon one another and held together only by the law of gravity. The best example of such “Cyclopean” remains is the well-preserved citadel of Tiryns in Argolis. Here on a hill only fifty feet high, the top of which is nine hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide, a wall without towers follows the edge of the rock. With an apparent thickness of twenty-five feet the real wall, as it appears to-day, cannot be estimated at more than fifteen feet. On each side of this run covered passages or galleries. By degrees the Greeks learned from Phœnician models to construct these fortresses better and finally to make real citadels of them. Little city communities were gradually formed at the foot of the hill, but until far into the Hellenic period the upper city, the “acropolis” remained the more important. Here were the sanctuaries and the council chamber, the residence of the king and often also the houses of the nobility.

The military nobility, the ancient Greek chivalry, also originated in pre-historic times. In the storms of the new time the patriarchal chieftains developed into powerful military princes who everywhere forced the[38] “Pelasgian” peasant to keep his sling or his sword, his lance or his javelin, always at hand. A class of lords also arose, consisting of families that supported themselves rather by the trade of arms than by the pursuit of agriculture. This new nobility, which gradually grew to great numerical strength, held a very important position down to the days of democracy.

This transition period was subsequently called by the Hellenes the Heroic Age. The myths and legends which the memory of the Greek tribes and their poets preserved of this period have a varied character. On the one hand, heroic figures are repeatedly developed from the local names or the surnames of divinities, or the mythical history of a god is transferred to a human being. On the other hand, this imaginative people loved to concentrate its historical recollections and to load the deeds and experiences of whole tribes and epochs upon one or another heroic personality, whose cycle of legends in the course of further development underwent new colourings and extensions through the mixture of fresh elements. This is the way in which the legends of Hercules and Theseus, of the Argonauts and the “Seven against Thebes” grew up. The most glorious poetical illumination is cast upon the alleged greatest deed of pre-Hellenic times, the ten years’ war waged by nearly the whole body of Achæan heroes against the Teucrian Troy or Ilion.

The warlike, chivalrous-romantic nation of poetry and legendary history at the close of the pre-Hellenic period we are accustomed to call the Achæans. It seems to us safe to accept the theory that the name Achæans means “the noble, excellent,” and belongs to the entire “hero-nation,” not to a single tribe after which the Greeks as a whole were afterwards called.

At least a few important remains of the tribal and state relations of this age passed over into the Hellenic period. The Dorians were at this time an insignificant mountain race in the mountains on the northern edge of the beautiful basin of northeastern Greece, which had not yet received the name of Thessaly, while the principal part was played there by the Lapithæ on Mount Ossa and the lower Peneus, the Bœotians in the southwest of the Peneus district, and especially the Minyæ, with one branch at Iolcus on the gulf of Pagasæ and another in the western part of the basin of the Copaïs, where they were in constant rivalry with the Cadmeans of Thebes. The Ionic race was spread over the northern coast of the Peloponnesus on the Gulf of Corinth, over a portion of the eastern coast of this peninsula on the Gulf of Saron, and over Megaris and Attica. Among the Ionic cantons Attica had already attained considerable importance. Here the so-called Theseus, or rather a family of warlike chieftains descended from the Ionic tribal hero Theseus, had succeeded in uniting the four different portions of this district.

Of greater importance than any of these in the pre-Doric period were the feudal states of the Peloponnesus. The strongest among these was the royal house of the Atridæ, upon whose glory terrible legends cast a dark and bloody shadow. From their capital at Mycenæ they ruled over the whole of Argolis; chieftains in Tiryns, in Argos and on the coast of the peninsula of Parnon acknowledged their authority. The remains of the citadel of this royal family are still preserved. The hill on which this citadel stood is surmounted by a small circular wall, and lower down is surrounded by a mighty wall which everywhere follows the edge of the cliff, and which in some places is built of rough layers of massive stones, elsewhere of carefully fitted polygonal blocks, but also for considerable stretches of rectangular blocks, in horizontal courses.


On the southwestern side is the principal gate, the famous Gate of the Lions, which takes its name from the oldest extant remains of sculpture in Greece. In the triangular gap in the wall above the lintel an enormous slab of yellow limestone is fitted; it is divided in the middle by a perpendicular column, on either side of which stands a lioness. In this acropolis Schliemann found graves with human remains, with vessels of clay, alabaster, and gold, ornaments of rock-crystal, copper, silver, gold, and ivory.

Near the Gate of the Lions begin the walls of the lower city, which stood on the ridge extending from the western declivity of the citadel to the south. In this lower city are a number of remarkable subterranean buildings, sepulchres and treasure houses of the ancient monarchs. The best preserved and largest of these is the noteworthy round building known as the “treasure house of Atreus” (also as the “grave of Agamemnon”), which is especially interesting on account of its tholos, or interior circular vault.

So in a large part of the Greek world a not inconsiderable degree of civilisation had already begun to flourish. War, to be sure, was governed, even down to the period of the highest culture, by a “martial law” that recognised no right of the vanquished, delivered conquered cities to the flames, and gave the person and the family of the captured enemy to the victor as booty. The battle itself however, was conducted according to certain mutually recognised chivalrous forms. The Greek knights, rushing into battle in their chariots, hurled their terrible javelins at the enemy, but made less use of the sword, and still less of the bow, sought single combat with a foe of equal birth, and as a rule avoided slaughtering the common soldier. The development of a class of slaves in consequence of the incessant feuds was of great influence in determining the whole future character of the later Hellenic states. On the other hand, it is worthy of note that the ancient cruelty and bloodthirsty savagery disappeared more and more, although breaking out frightfully on occasion when the heat of Greek passion burst through all restraint. But murder and even simple homicide, as they are recorded with traces of blood in the older legendary history, ceased to be daily occurrences.

Tradition shows traces of a beautiful moral idealism. The tenderest friendship, respect of the Greek youth for age, conjugal loyalty of the women, ardent love of family, and the highest degree of receptivity for the good and the noble shine forth from the traditions of the Achæans with a charm that warms the heart.

The beginnings of common religious assemblages, or Amphictyons, also appear to belong to this time. So Greek life had already a quite complex structure when a last echo of the ancient movement of peoples on the Illyrian-Greek peninsula once more produced a general upheaval in all the lands between Olympus and Malea, between the Ionian Sea and the mountains of the coast of Asia Minor, after which Greece on either side of the Ægean Sea had acquired the ethnographic physiognomy that it retained until the invasion of the Slavs and Bulgarians.e


[2] [The Latin Græcus was, however, derived from the old Greek name Γραϊκός.]




At Mycenæ in 1876 Dr. Schliemann lifted the corner of the veil which had so long enshrouded the elder age of Hellas. Year by year ever since that veil has been further withdrawn, and now we are privileged to gaze on more than the shadowy outline of a far-back age. The picture is still incomplete, but it is already possible to trace the salient features.… The name “Mycenæan” is now applied to a whole class of monuments—buildings, sepulchres, ornaments, weapons, pottery, engraved stones—which resemble more or less closely those found at Mycenæ. I think I am right when I say that archæologists are unanimous in considering them the outcome of one and the same civilisation, and the product of one and the same race.—William Ridgeway.


“Mycenæan” is a convenient epithet for a certain phase of a prehistoric civilisation, which, as a whole, is often called “Ægean.” It owes its vogue to the fame of Henry Schliemann’sc discovery at Mycenæ in 1876, but is not intended to beg the open question as to the origin or principal seat of the Bronze Age culture of the Greek lands.

The Gate of the Lions, Mycenæ

The site of Mycenæ itself was notorious for the singular and massive character of its ruins, long before Schliemann’s time. The great curtain wall and towers of the citadel, of mixed Cyclopean, polygonal, and ashlar construction, and unbroken except on the south cliff, and the main gate, crowned with a heraldic relief of lionesses, have never been hidden; and though much blocked with their own ruin, the larger dome-tombs outside the citadel have always been visible, and remarked by travellers. But since these remains were always referred vaguely to a “Heroic” or “proto-Hellenic” period, even Schliemann’s preliminary clearing of the gateway and two dome-tombs in 1876, which exposed the engaged columns of the façades, and suggested certain inferences as to external revetment and internal decoration, would not by itself have led any one to associate Mycenæ with an individual civilisation. It was his simultaneous attack on the unsearched area which was enclosed by the citadel walls, and in 1876 showed no remains above ground, that led to the recognition of a “Mycenæan civilisation.” Schliemann had published in 1868 his belief that the Heroic graves mentioned by Pausanias lay within the citadel of Mycenæ, and now he chose the deeply silted space just within the gate for his first sounding. About 10[41] feet below the surface his diggers exposed a double ring of upright slabs, once capped with cross slabs, and nearly 90 feet in diameter. Continuing downwards through earth full of sherds and other débris, whose singularity was not then recognised, the men found several sculptured limestone slabs showing subjects of war or the chase, and scroll and spiral ornament rudely treated in relief. When, after some delay, the work was resumed, some skeletons were uncovered lying loose, and at last, 30 feet from the original surface, an oblong pit-grave was found, paved with pebbles, and once roofed, which contained three female skeletons, according to Schliemann, “smothered in jewels.” A few feet to the west were presently revealed a circular altar, and beneath it another grave with five corpses, two probably female, and an even richer treasure of gold. Three more pits came to light to the northward, each adding its quota to the hoard, and then Schliemann, proclaiming that he had found Atreus and all his house, departed for Athens. But his Greek ephor, clearing out the rest of the precinct, came on yet another grave and some gold objects lying loose. Altogether there were nineteen corpses in six pits, buried, as the grave furniture showed, at different times, but all eventually included in a holy ring.

[ca. 1600-1000 B.C.]

These sepulchres were richer in gold than any found elsewhere in the world, a fact which led to an absurd attempt to establish their kinship with the later and only less golden burials of Scythians or Celts. The metal was worked up into heavy death-masks and lighter breastplates, diadems, baldrics, pendants, and armlets, often made of mere foil, and also into goblets, hairpins, engraved with combats of men and beasts, miniature balances, and an immense number of thin circular plaques and buttons with bone, clay, or wooden cores. Special mention is due to the inlays of gold and niello on bronze dagger-blades, showing spiral ornament or scenes of the chase, Egyptian in motive, but non-Egyptian in style; and to little flat models of shrine-façades analogous to those devoted to Semitic pillar-worship. The ornament on these objects displayed a highly developed spiraliform system, and advanced adaptation of organic forms, especially octopods and butterflies, to decorative uses. The shrines, certain silhouette figurines, and one cup bear moulded doves, and plant forms appear inlaid in a silver vessel. The last-named metal was much rarer than gold, and used only in a few conspicuous objects, notably a great hollow ox-head with gilded horns and frontal rosette, a roughly modelled stag, and a cup, of which only small part remains, chased with a scene of nude warriors attacking a fort. Bronze swords and daggers and many great cauldrons were found, with arrow-heads of obsidian, and also a few stone vases, beads of amber, intaglio gems, sceptre heads of crystal, certain fittings and other fragments made of porcelain and paste, and remains of carved wood. Along with this went much pottery, mostly broken by the collapse of the roofs. It begins with a dull painted ware, which we now know as late “proto-Mycenæan”; and it develops into a highly glazed fabric, decorated with spiraliform and marine schemes in lustrous paint, and showing the typical forms, false-mouthed amphoræ and long-footed vases, now known as essentially Mycenæan. The loose objects found outside the circle include the best intaglio ring from this site, admirably engraved with a cult scene, in which women clad in flounced skirts are chiefly concerned, and the worship seems to be of a sacred tree.

This treasure as a whole was admitted at once to be far too highly developed in technique and ornament, and too individual in character, to belong, as the lionesses over the gate used to be said to belong, merely to a first stage in Hellenic art. It preceded in time the classical culture of the[42] same area; but, whether foreign or native, it was allowed to represent a civilisation that was at its acme and practically incapable of further development. So the bare fact of a great prehistoric art-production, not strictly Greek, in Greece came to be accepted without much difficulty. But before describing how its true relations were unfolded thereafter, it may be mentioned that the site of Mycenæ had yet much to reveal after Schliemann left it. Ten years later the Greek Archæological Society resumed exploration there, and M. Tsountas, probing the summit of the citadel, hit upon and opened out a fragment of a palace with hearth of stucco, painted with geometric design, and walls adorned with frescoes of figure subjects, armed men, and horses. An early Doric temple was found to have been built over this palace, a circumstance which disposed forever of the later dates proposed for Mycenæan objects. Subsequently many lesser structures were cleared in the east and southwest of the citadel area, which yielded commoner vessels of domestic use, in pottery, stone, and bronze, and some more painted objects, including a remarkable fragment of stucco, which shows human ass-headed figures in procession, a tattooed head, and a plaque apparently showing the worship of an aniconic deity. From the immense variety of these domestic objects more perhaps has been learned as to the affinities of Mycenæan civilisation than from the citadel graves. Lastly, a most important discovery was made of a cemetery west of the citadel. Its tombs are mostly rock-cut chambers, approached by sloping dromoi; but there are also pits, from one of which came a remarkable ivory mirror handle of oriental design. The chamber graves were found to be rich in trinkets of gold, engraved stones, usually opaque, vases in pottery and stone, bronze mirrors and weapons, terra-cottas and carved ivory; but neither they nor the houses have yielded iron except in very small quantity, and that not fashioned into articles of utility. The presence of fibulæ and razors supplied fresh evidence as to Mycenæan fashions of dress and wearing of the hair, and a silver bowl, with male profiles inlaid in gold, proved that the upper lip was sometimes shaved. All the great dome-tombs known have been cleared, but the process has added only to our architectural knowledge. The tomb furniture had been rifled long ago. Part of the circuit of a lower town has been traced, and narrow embanked roadways conducted over streams on Cyclopean bridges lead to it from various quarters.

The abundance and magnificence of the circle treasure had been needed to rivet the attention and convince the judgment of scholars, slow to reconstruct ex pede Herculem. But there had been a good deal of evidence available previous to 1876, which, had it been collated and seriously studied, might have greatly discounted the sensation that the Citadel graves eventually made. Although it was recognised that certain tributaries, represented, e.g., in the XVIIIth Dynasty tomb of Rekh-ma-Ra at Egyptian Thebes, as bearing vases of peculiar form, were of Mediterranean race, neither their precise habitat nor the degree of their civilisation could be determined while so few actual prehistoric remains were known in the Mediterranean lands. Nor did the Mycenæan objects which were lying obscurely in museums in 1870 or thereabouts provide a sufficient test of the real basis underlying the Hellenic myths of the Argolid, the Troad, and Crete, to cause these to be taken seriously.

Even Schliemann’s first excavations at Hissarlik in the Troad did not surprise those familiar equally with Neolithic settlements and Hellenistic remains. But the “Burnt City” of the second stratum, revealed in 1873, with its fortifications and vases, and the hoard of gold, silver, and bronze[43] objects, which the discoverer connected with it (though its relation to the stratification is doubtful still), made a stir, which was destined to spread far outside the narrow circle of scholars when in 1876 Schliemann lighted on the Mycenæ graves.

Like the “letting in of water,” light at once poured in from all sides on the prehistoric period of Greece. It was established that the character of both the fabric and the decoration of the Mycenæan objects was not that of any well-known art. A wide range in space was proved by the identification of the inselsteine and the Ialysos vases with the new style, and a wide range in time by collation of the earlier Theræan and Hissarlik discoveries. A relation between objects of art described by Homer and the Mycenæan treasure was generally recognised, and a correct opinion prevailed that, while certainly posterior, the civilisation of the Iliad was reminiscent of the great Mycenæan period. Schliemann got to work again at Hissarlik in 1878, and greatly increased knowledge of the lower strata, but did not recognise the Mycenæan remains in his “Lydian” city of the sixth stratum; but by laying bare in 1884 the upper remains on the rock of Tiryns, he made a contribution to the science of domestic life in the Mycenæan period, which was amplified two years later by Tsountas’ discovery of the Mycenæ palace. From 1886 dates the finding of Mycenæan sepulchres outside the Argolid, from which, and from the continuation of Tsountas’ exploration of the buildings and lesser graves at Mycenæ, a large treasure, independent of Schliemann’s princely gift, has been gathered into the National Museum at Athens. In that year were excavated dome-tombs, most already rifled, in Attica, in Thessaly, in Cephalonia, and Laconia. In 1890 and 1893 Stæs cleared out more homely dome-tombs at Thoricus in Attica; and other graves, either rock-cut “beehives” or chambers, were found at Spata and Aphidnæ in Attica, in Ægina and Salamis, at the Heræum and Nauplia in the Argolid, near Thebes and Delphi, and lastly not far from the Thessalian Larissa.

But discovery was far from being confined to the Greek mainland and its immediate dependencies. The limits of the prehistoric area were pushed out to the central Ægean islands, all of which are singularly rich in evidence of the pre-Mycenæan period. The series of Syran built graves, containing crouching corpses, is the best and most representative that is known in the Ægean. Melos, long marked as containing early objects, but not systematically excavated until taken in hand by the British School at Athens in 1896, shows remains of all the Ægean periods.

Crete has been proved by the tombs of Anoja and Egarnos, by the excavations on the site of Knossos begun in 1878 by M. Minos Kalokairinos and resumed with startling success in 1900 by Messrs. Evans and Hogarth, and by those in the Dictæan cave and at Phæstos, Gournia, Zakro, and Palæokastro, to be prolific of remains of the prehistoric periods out of all proportion to remains of classical Hellenic culture. A map of Cyprus in the later Bronze Age now shows more than five-and-twenty settlements in and about the Mesaorea district alone, of which one, that at Enkomi, near the site of later Salamis, has yielded the richest gold treasure found outside Mycenæ. Half round the outermost circle to which Greek influence attained in the classical period remains of the same prehistoric civilisation have been happened on. M. Chantre, in 1894, picked up lustreless ware, like that of Hissarlik, in central Phrygia, and the English archæological expeditions sent subsequently into northwestern Anatolia have never failed to bring back “Ægean” specimens from the valleys of the Rhyndacus and Sangarius, and even of the Halys.


In Egypt, Mr. Petrie found painted sherds of Cretan style at Kahun in the Fayum in 1887, and farther up the Nile, at Tel-el-Amarna, chanced on bits of not less than eight hundred Ægean vases in 1889. There have now been recognised in the collections at Gizeh, Florence, London, Paris, and Bologna several Egyptian or Phœnician imitations of the Mycenæan style to set off against the many debts which the centres of Mycenæan culture owed to Egypt. Two Mycenæan vases were found at Sidon in 1885, and many fragments of Ægean, and especially Cypriote, pottery have been turned up during the recent excavation of sites in Philistia by the Palestine Fund. Southeastern Sicily has proved, ever since Orsi excavated the Sicel cemetery near Lentini in 1877, a mine of early remains, among which appear in regular succession Ægean fabrics and motives of decoration from the period of the second stratum at Hissarlik down to the latest Mycenæan. Sardinia has Mycenæan sites, e.g., at Abini near Teti, and Spain has yielded objects recognised as Mycenæan from tombs near Cadiz, and from Saragossa.

Arched Passage Way, Mycenæ

The results of three excavations will especially serve as rallying points and supply a standard of comparison. After Schliemann’s death, Dörpfeld returned to Hissarlik, and recognised in the huge remains of the sixth stratum, on the southern skirts of the citadel mound, a city of the same period as Mycenæ at its acme. Thus we can study there remains of a later stage, in one process of development superposed on earlier remains, after an intervening period. The links there missing are, however, apparent at Phylakopi in Melos, excavated systematically from 1896 to 1899. Here buildings of three main periods appear one on another. The earliest overlie in one spot a deposit of sherds of the most primitive type known in the Ægean and found in the earliest cist-graves. The second and third cities rise one out of the other without evidence of long interval. A third and more important site than either, Knossos in Crete, awaits fuller publication. Here are ruins of a great palace, mainly of two periods. Originally constructed about 2000 B.C., it was almost entirely rebuilt at the acme of the Mycenæan Age, but substructures and other remains of the earlier palace underlie the later.

Since recent researches, some of whose results are not yet published, have demonstrated that in certain localities, for instance, Cyprus, Crete, and most of the Ægean islands where Mycenæan remains were not long ago supposed to be merely sporadic, they form in fact a stratum to be expected on the site[45] of almost every ancient Ægean settlement, we may safely assume that Mycenæan civilisation was a phase in the history of all the insular and peninsular territories of the east Mediterranean basin. Into the continents on the east and south we have no reason to suppose that its influence penetrated either very widely or very strongly.

The remains that especially concern us here belong to the later period illustrated by these discoveries, and have everywhere a certain uniformity. Some common influence spread at a certain era over the Ægean area and reduced almost to identity a number of local civilisations of similar origin but diverse development. Surviving influences of these, however, combined with the constant geographical conditions to reintroduce some local differentiation into the Mycenæan products.

The Neolithic Age in the Ægean has now been abundantly illustrated from the yellow bottom clay at Knossos, and its products do not differ materially from those implements and vessels with which man has everywhere sought to satisfy his first needs. The mass of the stone tools and weapons, and the coarse hand-made and burnished pottery, might well proceed from the spontaneous invention of each locality that possessed suitable stone and clay; but the common presence of flaked blades, arrow-heads, and blunt choppers of an obsidian, native, so far as is known, to Melos only, speaks of inter-communication even at this early period between many distant localities and the city whose remains have been unearthed at Phylakopi. The wide range of the peculiar cist-grave strengthens the belief that late Stone Age culture in the Ægean was not of sporadic development, and prepares us for the universality of a certain fiddle-shaped type of stone idol. Local divergence is, however, already apparent in the relative prevalence of certain forms: for example, a shallow bowl is common in Crete, but not in the Cyclades, while the pyxis, so common in the graves of Amorgos and Melos, has left little sign of itself in Crete; and from this point the further development of civilisation in the Ægean area results in increasing differentiation. The Greek mainland has produced as yet very little of the earlier periods (the excavators of the Heræum promise additions); but the primitive remains in the rest of the area may be divided into four classes of strong family likeness, but distinct development.

The pottery supplies the best criterion, and will suffice for our end. We have no such comprehensive and certain evidence from other classes of remains. Except for the Great Treasure of Hissarlik, and the weapons in Cycladic graves, there have been found as yet hardly any metal products of the period. Of the few stone products, one class, the “island idols,” already referred to, was obviously exported widely, and supplies an ill test either of place or date. There have not been discovered sufficiently numerous structures or graves to afford a basis of classification. Fortified towns have been explored in Melos, Siphnos, and the Troad, and a few houses in Ægina and Thera; but neither unaltered houses nor tombs of undoubted primitive character have appeared in Crete as yet, nor elsewhere than in the Cyclad isles.

Above the strata, however, which contain these remains of local divergent development, there lies in all districts of the Ægean area a rich layer of deposit, whose contents show a rapid and marked advance in civilisation, are essentially uniform, and have only subsidiary characteristics due to local influence or tradition. The civilisation there represented is not of an origin foreign to the area. The germs of all its characteristic fabrics, forms, and motives of decoration exist in the underlying strata, though not equally in all districts, and the change which Mycenæan art occasions is not always equally[46] abrupt. It is most reasonable to see in these remains the result of the action of some accidental influence which greatly increased the wealth and capacity of one locality in the area, and caused it to impose its rapidly developing culture on all the rest. The measure of the reaction that took place in divers localities thereafter depended naturally on the point to which local civilisations had respectively advanced in the pre-Mycenæan period.

As to the decorative motives in vogue, there is less uniformity. The earlier Mycenæan vessels have curvilinear and generally spiraliform geometric schemes. These pass into naturalistic vegetable forms, and finally become in the finest typical vases almost exclusively marine—algæ, octopods, molluscs, shells, in many combinations. Everywhere animal, bird, and human forms are but seldom found. Man certainly appears very late, and in company with the oriental motives which characterise the Spata objects. Insects, especially butterflies, become common, and when their antennæ terminate in exquisite spirals, decorative art is at the end of its progress.

Silver Ox-head from Mycenæ

Not only in the continuous and universal commentary of painted earthenware, but in many other media, we have evidence of “Mycenæan” art, but varying in character according to the local abundance or variety of particular materials. We have reached an age when the artist had at his disposal not only terra-cotta, hard and soft stone, and wood, but much metal, gold, silver, lead, copper, bronze containing about twelve per cent. of tin alloy, as well as bone and ivory, and various compositions from soft lime plaster up to opaque glass. If it were not for the magnificent stone utensils, in the guise of lioness heads, triton shells, palm and lotus capitals, with spirals in relief, miniature shields for handles, which have come to light at Knossos, we should have supposed stone to be a material used (except architecturally) only for such rude metallic-seeming reliefs as stood over the Mycenæ gate and circle graves, or for heavy commonplace vases and lamps.

We have discovered no large free statuary in the round in any material as yet, though part of a hand at Knossos speaks to its existence; but figurines in metal, painted terra-cotta, and ivory, replacing the earlier stone idols, are fairly abundant. For these bronze is by far the commonest medium, and two types prevail; a female with bell-like or flounced divided skirt, and hair coiled or hanging in tails, and a male, nude but for a loin-cloth. The position of the hands and legs varies with the skill of the artist, as in all archaic statuary. Knossos has revealed for the first time the Mycenæan artist’s skill in painted plaster-relief (gesso duro). The life-size bull’s head from the northern entrance of the palace and fragments of human busts challenge comparison triumphantly with the finest Egyptian work. And from the same site comes the fullest assurance of a high development of fresco-painting.

Tiryns had already shown us a galloping bull on its palace wall, Mycenæ smaller figures and patterns, and Phylakopi its panel of flying-fish; but Knossos is in advance of all with its processions of richly dressed vase-carriers,[47] stiff in general pose and incorrect in outline, but admirably painted in detail and noble in type; and its yet more novel scenes of small figures, in animated act of dance or ritual or war, irresistibly suggestive of early Attic vase-painting. Precious fragments of painted transparencies in rock-crystal have also survived, and both Mycenæ and Knossos have yielded stone with traces of painted design. Moulded glass of a cloudy blue-green texture seems to belong to the later period, at which carved ivory, previously rare, though found even in pre-Mycenæan strata, becomes common. The Spata tomb in Attica alone yielded 730 pieces of the latter material, helmeted heads in profile, mirror handles and sides of coffers of orientalising design, plaques with outlines of heraldic animals, and so forth. Articles in paste and porcelain of native manufacture, though often of exotic design, have been found most commonly where Eastern influence is to be expected; for instance, at Enkomi in Cyprus. But the glassy blue composition, known to Homer as κύανος, an imitation of lapis-lazuli, was used in architectural ornament at Tiryns.

But it is in precious metals, and in the kindred technique of gem-cutting, that Mycenæan art effects its most distinctive achievements. This is, as we have said, an age of metal. That stone implements had not entirely passed out of use is attested by the obsidian arrow-heads found in the circle graves, and the flint knives and basalt axes which lay beside vases of the full “Mycenæan” style at Cozzo del Pantano in Sicily. But they are survivals, unimportant beside the objects in copper, bronze, and precious metals. Iron has been found with remains of the period only as a great rarity. Some five rings, a shield boss, and formless lumps alone represent it at Mycenæ. In the fourth circle grave occurred thirty-four vessels of nearly pure copper. Silver makes its appearance before gold, and is found moulded into bracelets and bowls, and very rarely into figurines. Gold is more plentiful. Beaten, it makes face-masks, armlets, pendants, diadems, and all kinds of small votive objects; drawn, it makes rings whose bezels are engraved with the burin; riveted, it makes cups; and overlaid as leaf on bone, clay, wood, or bronze cores, it adorns hundreds of discs, buttons, and blades.

Next to Mycenæ in wealth of this metal ranks Enkomi in Cyprus, and pretty nearly all the tombs of the later period have yielded gold, conspicuously that of Vaphio. From the town sites, e.g., Phylakopi in Melos, and Knossos, it has disappeared almost entirely. Detached from the mass of golden objects which show primitive or tentative technique, are a few of such elaborate finish and fineness of handiwork, that it is hard to credit them to the same period and the same craftsmen. The Mycenæ inlaid dagger-blades are famous examples, and the technical skill, which beat out each of the Vaphio goblets in a single unriveted plate, has never been excelled.

We are fortunate in possessing very considerable remains of all kinds of construction and structural ornament of the Mycenæan period. The great walls of Mycenæ, of Tiryns (though perhaps due to an earlier epoch), and of the sixth layer at Hissarlik, show us the simple scheme of fortification—massive walls with short returns and corner towers, but no flank defences, approached by ramps or stairs from within and furnished with one great gate and a few small sally-ports. Chambers in the thickness of the wall seem to have served for the protection of stores rather than of men. The great palaces at Knossos and Phæstos, however, are of much more complicated plan. Remains of much architectural decoration have been found in these palaces—at Mycenæ, frescoes of men and animals; at Knossos, frescoes of men, fish, and sphinxes, vegetable designs, painted reliefs, and rich[48] conventional ornament, such as an admirably carved frieze in hard limestone; at Tiryns, traces of a frieze inlaid with lapis-lazuli glass, and also frescoes. The rough inner walls, that appear now on these sites, must once have looked very different.

Certain chambers at Knossos, paved and lined with gypsum, and two in Melos, have square central piers. These seem to have had a religious significance, and are possibly shrines devoted to pillar-worship. The houses of the great dead were hardly less elaborate. The “Treasury of Atreus” had a moulded façade with engaged columns in a sort of proto-Doric order and marble facing; and there is good reason to suppose that its magnificent vault was lined within with metal ornament or hanging draperies. The construction itself of this and the other masonry domes bespeaks skill of a high order. For lesser folk beehive excavations were made in the rock, and at the latest period a return was made apparently to the tetragonal chamber; but now it has a pitched or vaulted roof, and generally a short passage of approach whose walls converge overhead towards a pointed arch but do not actually meet. The corpses are laid on the floor, neither mummified nor cremated; but in certain cases they were possibly mutilated and “scarified,” and the limbs were then enclosed in chest urns. There is evidence for this both in Crete and Sicily. But the order of burial, which first made Mycenæan civilisation known to the modern world, continues singular. Similar shaft graves, whether contained within a circle of slabs or not, have never been found again.

The latest excavation has at last established beyond all cavil that the civilisation which was capable of such splendid artistic achievement was not without a system of written communication. Thousands of clay tablets (many being evidently labels) and a few inscriptions on pottery from the palace at Knossos have confirmed Mr. A. J. Evans’ previous deduction, based on gems, masons’ and potters’ marks, and one short inscription on stone found in the Dictæan cave, that more than one script was in use in the period. Most of the Knossos tablets are written in an upright linear alphabetic or syllabic character, often with the addition of ideographs, and showing an intelligible system of decimal numeration. Since many of the same characters have been found in use as potters’ marks on sherds in Melos, which are of earlier date than the Mycenæan period, the later civilisation cannot be credited with their invention. Other clay objects found at Knossos, as well as gems from the east of Crete, show a different system more strictly pictographic. This seems native to the island, and to have survived almost to historic times; but the origin of the linear system is more doubtful. No such tablets or sealings have yet been found outside Crete, and their writing remains undeciphered. The affinities of the linear script seem to be with the Asianic systems, Cypriote and Hittite, and perhaps with later Greek. The characters are obviously not derived from the Phœnician.

This Mycenæan civilisation, as we know it from its remains, belongs to the Ægean area (i.e., roughly the Greek), and to no other area with which we are at present acquainted. It is apparently not the product of any of the elder races which developed culture in the civilised areas to the east or southeast, much as it owed to those races. It would be easy to add to the singular vase-forms, script, lustrous paint, idols, gems, types of house and tomb, and so forth, already mentioned, a long list of Mycenæan decorative schemes which, even if their remote source lies in Egypt, Babylonia, or inner Anatolia, are absolutely peculiar in their treatment. But style is conclusive. From first to last the persistent influence of a true artistic ideal differentiates[49] Mycenæan objects from the hieratic or stylised products of Egypt or Phœnicia. A constant effort to attain symmetry and decorative effect for its own sake inspires the geometric designs. Those taken from organic life show continual reference to the model and a “naturalistic grasp of the whole situation,” which resists convention and often ignores decorative propriety. The human form is fearlessly subjected to experiment, the better to attain lightness, life, and movement in its portrayal. A foreign motive is handled with a breadth and vitality which renders its new expression practically independent. The conventional bull of an Assyrian relief was referred to the image of a living bull by the Knossian artist, and made to express his emotions of fear or wrath by the Vaphio goldsmith, the Cypriote worker in ivory mirror handles, or the “island-gem” cutter.

Exterior View of the Treasury of Atreus

Since we have a continuous series of links by which the development of the characteristic Mycenæan products can be traced within the area back to very primitive forms, we can fearlessly assert that not only did the full flower of the Mycenæan civilisation proper belong to the Ægean area, but also its essential origin. That it came to have intimate relations with other contemporary civilisations, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, perhaps “Hittite,” and early began to contract a huge debt, especially to Egypt, is equally certain. Not to mention the certainly imported Nilotic objects found on Mycenæan sites, and bearing hieroglyphic inscriptions and cartouches of Pharaonic personages, the later Ægean culture is deeply indebted to the Nile for forms and decorative motives.

At what epoch did Ægean civilisation reach its full development? It is little use to ask when it arose. A terminus a quo in the Neolithic Age can be dated only less vaguely than a geological stratum. But it is known within fairly definite limits when it ceased to be a dominant civilisation. Nothing but derived products of sub-Mycenæan style falls within the full Iron Age in the Ægean. Bronze, among useful metals, accompanies almost alone the genuine Mycenæan objects, at Enkomi in Cyprus, as at Mycenæ. This fact supplies a terminus ad quem, to which a date may be assigned at least as precise as scholars assign to the Homeric lays. For these represent a civilisation spread over the same area and in process of transition from bronze to iron, and if they fall in the ninth century B.C., then the Mycenæan period proper ends a little earlier, at any rate in the West. It is possible, indeed probable, that in Asia Minor and Cyprus, where the descent of northern tribes about 1000 B.C., remembered by the Greeks as the “Dorian Invasion,” did not have any direct effect, the Mycenæan culture survived longer in something like purity, and passed by an uninterrupted process of development into the[50] Hellenic; and even in Crete, where there was certainly a cataclysm, and in the Argolid, where art was temporarily eclipsed about the tenth century, earlier influence survived and came once more to the surface when peace was restored. Persistence of artistic influence under a new order, and differences in the artistic history of different districts widely sundered, have to be taken into account. The appearance, e.g., of late Mycenæan objects in Cyprus, does not necessarily falsify the received Mycenæan dates in mainland Greece.

For the main fact, however, viz., the age of greatest florescence all over the area, a singular coincidence of testimony points to the period of the XVIIIth Pharaonic Dynasty in Egypt. To this dynasty refer all the scarabs or other objects inscribed with royal cartouches (except an alabaster lid from Knossos, bearing the name of the earlier “Shepherd King,” Khyan), as yet actually found with true Mycenæan objects, even in Cyprus. In a tomb of this period at Thebes was found a bronze patera of fine Mycenæan style. At Tel-el-Amarna, the site of a capital city which existed only in the reign of Amenhotep IV, have been unearthed by far the most numerous fragments of true “Ægean” pottery found in Egypt; and of that singular style which characterises Tel-el-Amarna art, the art of the Knossian frescoes is irresistibly suggestive. To the XVIIIth and two succeeding dynasties belong the tomb-paintings which represent vases of Ægean form; and to these same dynasties Mr. Petrie’s latest comparisons between the fabrics, forms, and decorative motives of Egypt and Mycenæ have led him. The lapse of time between the eighteenth and the tenth centuries is by no means too long, in the opinion of most competent authorities, to account for the changes which take place in Mycenæan art.

The question of race, which derives a special interest from the possibility of a family relation between the Mycenæan and the subsequent Hellenic stocks, is a controversial matter as yet. The light recently thrown on Mycenæan cult does not go far to settle the racial problem. The aniconic ritual, involving tree and pillar symbols of divinity, which prevailed at one period, also prevailed widely elsewhere than in the Ægean, and we are not sure of the divinity symbolised. Even if sure that it was the Father God, whose symbol alike in Crete and Caria is the labrys or double axe, we could not say if Caria or Crete were prior, and whether the Father be Aryan or Semitic or neither.

When it is remembered that, firstly, knowing not a word of the Mycenæan language, we are quite ignorant of its affinities; secondly, not enough Mycenæan skulls have yet been recovered to establish more than the bare fact that the race was mixed and not wholly Asiatic; and thirdly, since identity of civilisation in no sense necessarily entails identity of race, we may have to do not with one or two, but with many races—it will be conceded that it is more useful at present to attempt to narrow the issue by excluding certain claimants than to pronounce in favour of any one. The facial types represented not only on the Knossian frescoes, but by statuettes and gems, are distinctly non-Asiatic, and recall strongly the high-crowned brachycephalic type of the modern northern Albanians and Cretan hillmen. Of the elder civilised races about the Levantine area the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians may be dismissed at once. We know their art from beginning to end, and its character is not at any period the same as that of Ægean art. As for the Phœnicians, for whom on the strength of Homeric tradition a strong claim has been put forward, it cannot be said to be impossible that some objects thought to be Mycenæan are of Sidonian origin, since we know little or nothing of Sidonian art. But the presumption against this[51] Semitic people having had any serious share in Mycenæan development is strong, since facial types apart, the only scripts known to have been used in the Mycenæan area and period are in no way affiliated to the Phœnician alphabet, and neither the characteristic forms nor the characteristic style of Phœnician art, as we know it, appear in Mycenæan products. The one thing, of which recent research has assured us in this matter, is this, that the Keftiu, represented in XVIIIth Dynasty tombs at Thebes, were a “Mycenæan” folk, an island people of the northern sea. They came into intimate contact, both peaceful and warlike, with Egypt, and to them no doubt are owed the Ægean styles and products found on Nile sites. Exact parallels to their dress and products, as represented by Egyptian artists, appear in the work of Cretan artists; and it is now generally accepted that the Keftiu were “Mycenæans” of Crete at any rate, whatever other habitat they may have possessed.

As to place of origin, Central Europe or any western or northern part of the continent is out of the question. Mycenæan art is shown by various remains to have moved westwards and northwards, not vice versa. It arose within the Ægean area, in the Argolid as some, e.g., the Heræum excavators, seem to propose, or the Cyclades, or Rhodes; or, if outside, then the issue is narrowed for practical purposes to a region about which we know next to nothing as yet, northern Libya, and to Asia Minor. So far as the Mycenæan objects themselves testify, they point to a progress not from south or west, but from east. In the western localities, notably Crete and Mycenæ, we have more remains of highly developed Mycenæan civilisation, but less of its early stages than elsewhere. Nothing in the Argolid, but much in the Troad, prepares us for the Mycenæan metallurgy. The appearance of Mycenæan forms and patterns is abrupt in Crete, but graduated in other islands, especially Thera and Melos. The Cretan linear script seems to be of “Asianic” family, and to be inscribed in Melos on sherds of earlier date than its appearance at Knossos. Following Mycenæan development backwards in this manner, we seem to tend towards the Anatolian coasts of the Ægean, and especially the rich and little-known areas of Rhodes and Caria.

It does not advance seriously the solution of the racial problem to turn to Greek literary tradition. Now that we are assured of the wide range and the long continuance of the influence of Mycenæan civilisation, overlapping the rise of Hellenic art, we can hardly question that the early peoples whom the Greeks knew as Pelasgi, Minyæ, Leleges, Danai, Carians, and so forth, shared in it. But were they its authors? and who, after all, were they themselves? The Greeks believed them their own kin, but what value are we to attach to the belief of an age to which scientific ethnology and archæology were unknown? Nor is it useful to select traditions, e.g., to accept those about the Pelasgi, and to override those which connect the Achæans equally closely with Mycenæan centres. We are gradually learning that the classical Hellene was of no pure race, but the result of a blend of several racial stocks, into which those pre-existing in his land can hardly fail to have entered; and if we have been able to determine that Mycenæan art was distinguished by just that singular quality of idealism which is of the essence of the art which succeeded it in the same area (whatever be the racial connection), it can scarcely be doubted in reason that Mycenæan civilisation was in some sense the parent of the later civilisation of Hellas. In fact, now that the Mycenæan remains are no longer to be regarded as isolated phenomena on Greek soil, but are seen to be intimately connected on[52] the one hand with a large class of objects which carry the evolution of civilisation in the Ægean area itself back to the Stone Age, and on the other with the earlier products of Hellenic development, the problem is no longer purely one of antiquarian ethnology. We ask less what race was so greatly gifted, than what geographical or other circumstances will account for the persistence of a certain peculiar quality of civilisation in the Ægean area.b An eloquent summary of our Mycenæan knowledge and a lively description of life such as it may have been in Mycenæ has been drawn by Chrestos Tsountas and J. Irving Manatt in their work, The Mycenæan Age, from which we quote at length.

Sepulchral Enclosure, Mycenæ


Whether or not the authors of this distinct and stately civilisation included among their achievements a knowledge of letters, their monuments thus far address us only in the universal language of form and action. Of their speech we have yet to read the first syllable. The vase handles of Mycenæ may have some message for us, if no more than a pair of heroic names; and the nine consecutive characters from the cave of Cretan Zeus must have still more to say when we find the key. We may hope, at least, if this ancient culture ever recovers its voice, to find it not altogether unfamiliar: we need not be startled if we catch the first lisping accent of what has grown full and strong in the Achæan epic.

But for the present we have to do with a dumb age, with a race whose artistic expression amazes us all the more in the dead silence of their history. So far as we yet know from their monuments, they have recorded not one fixed point in their career, they have never even written down their name as a people.

Now, a dateless era and a nameless race—particularly in the immediate background of the stage on which we see the forces of the world’s golden age deploying—are facts to be accepted only in the last resort. The student of human culture cannot look upon the massive walls, the solemn domes, the exquisite creations of what we call Mycenæan art, without[53] asking—When? By whom? In default of direct and positive evidence, he will make the most of the indirect and probable.

We have taken a provisional and approximate date for the meridian age of Mycenæan culture—namely, from the sixteenth to the twelfth century B.C. We have also assumed that the Island culture was already somewhat advanced as far back as the earlier centuries of the second millennium before our era. This latter datum is based immediately on geological calculations: M. Fouqué, namely, has computed a date circa 2000 B.C. for the upheaval which buried Thera, and thus preserved for us the primitive monuments of Ægean civilisation. Whatever be the value of Fouqué’s combinations—and they have been vigorously, if not victoriously, assailed—we may reach a like result by another way round. The Island culture is demonstrably older than the Mycenæan—it must have attained the stage upon which we find it at Thera a century or two at least before the bloom-time came in Argolis. If, then, we can date that bloom-time, we can control within limits the geologists’ results.

Here we call in the aid of Egyptology. In Greece we find datable Egyptian products in Mycenæan deposits, and conversely in datable Egyptian deposits we find Mycenæan products.

To take the first Mycenæan finds in Egypt. In a tomb of 1100 B.C., or within fifty years of that either way, at Kahun, Flinders Petrie found along with some dozens of bodies, “a great quantity of pottery, Egyptian, Phœnician, Cypriote, and Ægean”—notably an Ægean vase with an ivy leaf and stalk on each side, which he regards as the beginning of natural design. Further, at Gurob and elsewhere, the same untiring explorer has traced the Mycenæan false-necked vase or Bügelkanne through a series of dated stages, “a chain of examples in sequence showing that the earliest geometrical pottery of Mycenæ begins about 1400 B.C., and is succeeded by the beginning of natural designs about 1100 B.C.

But long before these actual Mycenæan products came to light in Egypt, Egyptian art had told its story of relations with the Ægean folk. On the tomb-frescoes of Thebes we see pictured in four groups the tributaries of Tehutimes III (about 1500 B.C.), bringing their gifts to that great conqueror; among them, as we are told by the hieroglyphic text that runs with the painting, are “the princes of the land of Keftu [or Kefa] (Phœnicia) and of the islands in the great sea.” And the tribute in their hands includes vases of distinct Mycenæan style.

On the other hand, we find datable Egyptian products in Mycenæan deposits in Greece. From Mycenæ itself and from Ialysos in Rhodes we have scarabs bearing the cartouches of Amenhotep III and of his queen Thi; and fragments of Egyptian porcelain, also from Mycenæ, bear the cartouches of the same king, whose reign is dated to the latter half of the fifteenth century.

We have already noted the recurrence at Gurob, Kahun, and Tel-el-Amarna of the characters which were first found on the vase handles of Mycenæ; and this seemed at one time to have an important bearing on Mycenæan chronology. But in the wider view of the subject which has been opened up by Evans’ researches, this can no longer be insisted upon as an independent datum. However, the occurrence of these signs in a town demonstrably occupied by Ægean peoples at a given date has corroborative value.

While it can hardly be claimed that any or all of these facts amount to final proof, they certainly establish a strong probability that at least from the fifteenth century B.C. there was traffic between Egypt and the Mycenæan[54] world. Whatever be said for the tomb-frescoes of Tehutimes’ foreign tribute-bearers and the scarabs from Mycenæ and Rhodes, we cannot explain away Mr. Petrie’s finds in the Fayum. The revelations of Tel-Gurob can leave no doubt that the brief career of the ancient city on that spot—say from 1450 to 1200 B.C.—was contemporaneous with the bloom-time of Mycenæan civilisation.

Now most, if not all, of the “Ægean” pottery from Gurob, like that pictured in the tomb-frescoes, belongs to the later Mycenæan styles as we find them in the chamber-tombs and ruined houses—in the same deposits, in fact, with the scarabs and broken porcelain which carry the cartouches of Amenhotep and Queen Thi. The earlier period of Mycenæan art is thus shown to be anterior to the reign of Tehutimes III; and as that period cannot conceivably be limited to a few short generations, the sixteenth century is none too early for the upper limit of the Mycenæan Age. We should, perhaps, date it at least a century farther back. Thus we approximate the chronology to which M. Fouqué has been led by geological considerations; while, on the other hand, more recent inquirers are inclined to reduce by a century or two the antiquity of the convulsion in which Thera perished, and thus approximate our own datum.

For the lower limit of the Mycenæan Age we have taken the twelfth century, though certain archæologists and historians are inclined to a much more recent date—some even bringing it three or four centuries further down.

This is not only improbable on its face, but at variance with the facts. To take but one test, the Mycenæan Age hardly knew the use of iron; at Mycenæ itself it was so rare that we find it only in an occasional ornament such as a ring. No iron was found in the prehistoric settlements at Hissarlik until 1890, when Dr. Schliemann came across two lumps of the metal, one of which had possibly served as the handle of a staff. “It is therefore certain,” he says, “that iron was already known in the second or ‘burnt city’; but it was probably at that time rarer and more precious than gold.” In Egypt, on the other hand, iron was known as early as the middle of the second millennium B.C., and if the beehive and chamber-tombs at Mycenæ are to be assigned to a period as late as the ninth century, the rare occurrence of iron in them becomes quite inexplicable.

The Testimony of Art

From the seventeenth or sixteenth to the twelfth century B.C., then, we may regard as the bloom-time of Mycenæan culture, and of the race or races who wrought it out. But we need not assume that their arts perished with their political decline. Even when that gifted people succumbed to or blended with another conquering race, their art, especially in its minor phases, lived on, though under less favouring conditions. There were no more patrons like the rich and munificent princes of Tiryns and Mycenæ; and domed tombs with their wealth of decoration were no longer built. Still, certain types of architecture, definitively wrought out by the Mycenæans, became an enduring possession of Hellenic art, and so of the art of the civilised world; while from other Mycenæan types were derived new forms of equally far-reaching significance.

The correspondence of the gateways at Tiryns with the later Greek propylæa, and that of the Homeric with the prehistoric palaces, is noteworthy; so, too, is the obvious derivation of the typical form of the Greek[55] temple, consisting of vestibule and cella, from the Mycenæan magaron. That the Doric column is of the same lineage is a fact long ago recognised by the ablest authorities. In fact, the Mycenæan pillars known to us, whether in actual examples as embedded in the façades of the two beehive tombs or in art representations, as in the lion relief and certain ivory models, while varying in important details, exhibit now one, now another of the features of the Doric column. Thus, all have in common abacus, echinus, and cymatium—the last member adorned with ascending leaves just as in the earliest capitals of the Doric order. Again, the Doric fluting is anticipated in the actual pilasters of “Clytemnestra’s tomb,” and in an ivory model. And as the Doric column has no base, but rests directly on the stylobate, so the wooden pillars in the Mycenæan halls appear to rise directly from the ground in which their stone bases are almost entirely embedded.

That Mycenæan art outlasted the social régime under which it had attained its splendid bloom is sufficiently attested by the Homeric poems. Doubtless, the Achæan system, when it fell before the aggressive Dorian, must have left many an heirloom above ground, as well as those which its tombs and ruins had hidden down to our own day. And, again, the poems in their primitive strata undoubtedly reflect the older order, and offer us many a picture at first hand of a contemporary age. Thus the dove-cup of Mycenæ, or another from the same hand, may have been actually known to the poet who described old Nestor’s goblet in our eleventh Iliad; and the cyanos frieze of Tiryns may well have inspired the singer of the Phæacian tale, or at least helped out his fancy in decorating Alcinous’ palace. Still, it is in the more recent strata of the poems that we find the great transcripts of art-creations and the clearest indications of the very processes met with in the monuments. To take but one instance, there is the shield of Achilles forged at Thetis’ intercession by Hephæstus and emblazoned with a series of scenes from actual mundane life. (Iliad, XVIII. 468-613.) The subjects are at once Mycenæan and Homeric. On the central boss, for example, the Olympian smith “wrought the earth and the heavens and the sea and the unwearying sun,” very much as the Mycenæan artist sets sun, moon, and sky in the upper field of his great signet. Again, the city under siege, while “on the walls to guard it, stand their dear wives and infant children, and with these the old men,” appears to be almost a transcript of the scene which still stirs our blood as we gaze upon the beleaguered town on the silver cup. But it is less the subject than the technique that reveals artistic heredity, and when we find Homer’s Olympian craftsman employing the selfsame process in the forging of the shield which we can now see for ourselves in the inlaid swords of Mycenæ, we can hardly doubt that that process was still employed in the poet’s time.

In this sense of an aftermath of art, Mycenæan influence outlasted by centuries the overthrow of Mycenæan power; and the fact is one to be considered in establishing a chronology. We have taken as our lower limit the catastrophe in which the old order at Mycenæ and elsewhere obviously came to an end. But the old stock survived,—“scattered and peeled” though it must have been,—and carried on, if it did not teach the conqueror, their old arts. If we are to comprehend within the Mycenæan Age all the centuries through which we can trace this Mycenæan influence, then we shall bring that age down to the very dawn of historical Greece. In this view it is no misnomer to speak of the Æginetan gold find recently acquired by the British Museum as a Mycenæan treasure.


Acropolis of Mycenæ


We have seen that Mycenæan art was no exotic, transplanted full grown into Greece, but rather a native growth—influenced though it was by the earlier civilisations of the Cyclades and the East. This indigenous art, distinct and homogeneous in character, no matter whence came its germs and rudiments, must have been wrought out by a strong and gifted race. That it was of Hellenic stock we have assumed to be self-evident. But, as this premise is still in controversy, we have to inquire whether (aside from art) there are other considerations which make against the Hellenic origin of the Mycenæan peoples, and compel us to regard them as immigrants from the islands or the Orient.

In the first place, recalling the results of our discussion of domestic and sepulchral architecture, we observe that neither in the Ægean nor in Syria do we find the gable-roof which prevails at Mycenæ. Nor would the people of these warm and dry climates have occasion to winter their herds in their own huts—an ancestral custom to which we have traced the origin of the avenues to the beehive tombs.

Again, we have seen reason to refer the shaft-graves to a race or tribe other than that whose original dwelling we have recognised in the sunken hut. To this pit-burying stock we have assigned the upper-story habitations at Mycenæ. If we are right, now, in explaining this type of dwelling as a reminiscence of the pile-hut, it would follow that this stock, too, was of northern origin. The lake-dwelling habit, we know, prevailed throughout Northern Europe, an instance occurring, as we have seen, even in the Illyrian peninsula; while we have no reason to look for its origin to the Orient or the Ægean. It is indeed true that the island-folk were no strangers to the pile-dwelling, but this rather goes to show that they were colonists from the mainland.

But, apart from the evidence of the upper-story abodes, are there other indications of an element among the Mycenæan people which had once actually dwelt in lakes or marshes?

Monuments like the stone models from Melos and Amorgos have not indeed been found in the Peloponnesus, or on the mainland, but in default of such indirect testimony we have the immediate witness of actual settlements. Of the four most famous cities of the age, Mycenæ, Tiryns, Orchomenos, and Amyclæ, it is a singular fact that but one has a mountain-site, while the other three were once surrounded by marshes. The rock on which Tiryns is built, though it rises to a maximum elevation of some sixty feet above the plain, yet sinks so low on the north that the lower citadel is only a few feet[57] above the level of the sea. Now this plain, as Aristotle asserts, and as the nature of the ground still bears witness, was originally an extensive morass. The founders, therefore, must have chosen this rock for their settlement, not because it was a stronghold in itself, but because it was protected by the swamp out of which it rose.

What is true of Tiryns holds for Orchomenos as well. The original site was down in the plain until the periodic inundations of the lake forced the inhabitants to rebuild on the slopes of Mount Acontion; and Orchomenos was not the only primitive settlement in this great marsh. Tradition tells us also of Athenæ, Eleusis, Arne, Midea—cities which had long perished, and were but dimly remembered in historic times. To one of these, or to some other whose name has not come down to us, belong the remarkable remains on the Island of Goulas or Gha, which is connected with the shore by an ancient mole. During the Greek Revolution this island-fort was the refuge of the neighbouring population who found greater security there than in the mountains.

It is usually held that, when these Copaïc cities were founded, the region was in the main drained and arable, whereas afterwards, the natural outlets being choked up, the imprisoned waters flooded the plain, turned it into a lake, and so overwhelmed the towns. But, obviously, this is reversing the order of events. To have transformed the lake into a plain and kept it such would have demanded the co-operation of populous communities in the construction of costly embankments and perpetual vigilance in keeping them intact. Where were such organised forces to be found at a time anterior to the foundation of the cities themselves? Is it not more reasonable to believe that the builders of these cities—instead of finding Copaïs an arable plain, and failing to provide against its inundation—were induced by the very fact of its being a lake to establish themselves in it upon natural islands like the rock of Goulas, on artificial elevations, or even in pile-settlements? It is possible, indeed, that on some unusual rise of the waters, towns were submerged, but it is quite as probable that without any such catastrophe the inhabitants finally abandoned these of their own accord to settle in higher, healthier, and more convenient regions.

The case of Amyclæ is no exception. The prehistoric as well as the historic site is probably to be identified with that of the present village of Mahmud Bey, some five miles south of Sparta. The ground is low and wet, and in early times was undoubtedly a marsh.

In the plain of Thessaly, again, we may trace the same early order. There, where tradition (backed by the conclusions of modern science) tells us that the inflowing waters used to form stagnant lakes, we find low artificial mounds strewn with primitive potsherds. On these mounds, Lolling holds, the people pitched their settlements to secure them against overflow.

The choice of these marshy or insulated sites is all the more singular from the environment. Around Lake Copaïs, about Tiryns and Amyclæ, as well as in Thessaly, rise mountains which are nature’s own fastnesses and which would seem to invite primitive man to their shelter. The preference for these lowland or island settlements then, can only be explained in the first instance by immemorial custom, and, secondly, by consequent inexperience in military architecture. Naturally, a lake-dwelling people will be backward in learning to build stone walls strong enough to keep off a hostile force. And in default of such skill, instead of settling on the mountain slopes, they would in their migrations choose sites affording the best natural fortifications akin to their ancient environment of marsh or lake—reinforcing this on occasion by a moat, an embankment, or a pile-platform.


That the people in question once actually followed this way of living is beyond a doubt. Amyclæ shows no trace of wall, and probably never had any beyond a mere earthwork. The Cyclopean wall of Tiryns, as it now stands, does not belong to the earliest settlement, nor is it of uniform date. Adler holds that the first fortress must have been built of wood and sun-dried bricks. This construction may possibly account for those remarkable galleries whose origin and function are not yet altogether clear. The mere utility of the chambers for storage—a purpose they did unquestionably serve—hardly answers to the enormous outlay involved in contriving them. May we not, then, recognise in them a reminiscence of the primitive palisade-earthwork? In the so-called Lower Citadel of Tiryns we find no such passages, possibly because its Cyclopean wall was built at a later date. Likewise no proper galleries have yet been found at Mycenæ, and it is highly improbable that any such ever existed there. What had long been taken for a gallery in the north wall proves to be nothing but a little chamber measuring less than seven by twelve feet. Obviously, then, the gallery was not an established thing in fortress-architecture, and this fact shows that it did not originate with the builders of stone walls, but came to them as a heritage from earlier times and a more primitive art.

In fact, we find in the terramare of Italy palisade and earthwork fortifications so constructed that they may be regarded as a first stage in the development which culminates in the Tiryns galleries. The construction of the wall at Casione near Parma is thus described:[4] “Piles arranged in two parallel rows are driven in the ground with an inward slant so as to meet at the top, and this Δ-shaped gallery is then covered with earth. Along the inside of this embankment is carried a continuous series of square pens, built of beams laid one upon another, filled with earth and brushwood, and finally covered with a close-packed layer of sand and pebbles. This arrangement not only strengthens the wall but provides a level platform for its defenders.” Thus the space between these palisades would closely resemble the “arched” corridors of Tiryns, while the square pens (if covered over without being filled up) would correspond to the chambers.

These facts strengthen the inferences to which we have been led by our study of the stone models and the upper-story dwellings. And they point to the region beyond Mount Olympus as the earlier seat of this lake-dwelling contingent of the Mycenæan people as well as of their kinsmen of the earth-huts. And we have other evidence that the Mycenæan cities, at least the four of chief importance, were founded by a people who were not dependent on the sea and in whose life the pursuits of the sea were originally of little moment. Mycenæ and Orchomenos are at a considerable remove from the coast, while Amyclæ is a whole day’s journey from the nearest salt-water. Tiryns alone lies close to the sea-board; and, indeed, the waves of the Argolic Gulf must have washed yet nearer when its walls were reared. But, obviously, it was not the nearness of the sea that drew the founders to this low rock. For it is a harbourless shore that neighbours it, while a little farther down lies the secure haven of Nauplia guarded by the impregnable height of Palamedes; and it is yet to be explained why the Tirynthians, if they were a sea-faring people, did not build their city there. Again, the principal entrance to Tiryns is not on the side towards the sea, but on the east or landward side. This goes to show that even when the Cyclopean wall was built, certainly long after the first settlement, the people must have[59] been still devoted mainly to tilling the soil and tending flocks, occupations to which the fertile plain and marshy feeding grounds would invite them. So in historic times, also, the town appears to have lain to the east of the citadel, not between it and the sea.

Even if it be granted that these Mycenæan cities were settled by immigrants who came by sea, it does not follow that they were originally a sea-faring folk. The primitive Dorians were hardly a maritime people, yet Grote has shown that their conquest of the Peloponnesus was in part effected by means of a fleet which launched from the Malian Gulf; and their kinsmen, who settled in Melos, Thera, and Crete, in all probability, sailed straight from the same northern port.

The Minyæ, who founded Orchomenos, Curtius regards as pre-eminently a seafaring race; and he seeks to account for their inland settlement by assuming that they were quick to realise the wealth to be won by draining and tilling the swamp. But this is hardly tenable. Whatever our estimate of Minyan shrewdness, they must have had their experience in reclaiming swamp land yet to acquire and on this ground. It was the outcome of age-long effort in winning new fields from the waters and guarding them when won. The region invited settlement because it offered the kind of security to which they were wonted; the winning of wealth was not the motive but the fortunate result.

Again, if the Mycenæans had been from the outset a maritime race we should expect to find the ship figuring freely in their art-representations. But this is far from being the case. We have, at last, one apparent instance of the kind on a terra-cotta fragment found in the acropolis at Mycenæ in 1892. On this we seem to have a boat, with oars and rudder, and curved fore and aft like the Homeric νῆες ἀμφιέλισσαι. Below appear what we may take to be dolphins. But this unique example can hardly establish the maritime character of the Mycenæans.

Along with this unfamiliarity with ships, we have to remark also their abstinence from fish. In the remains of Tiryns and Mycenæ we have found neither a fish-hook nor a fish-bone, though we do find oysters and other shellfish such as no doubt could be had in abundance along the adjacent shores. In the primitive remains of the Italian terramare there is the same absence of anything that would suggest fishing or fish-eating; and, indeed, linguistic evidence confirms these observations. Greek and Latin have no common term for fish; and we may fairly conclude that the Græco-Italic stock before the separation were neither fishermen or fish-eaters. That they were slow to acquire a taste for fish, even after the separation, is attested not only by the negative evidence of their remains in the Argolid and on the Po but by the curious reticence of Homer. His heroes never go fishing but once and then only in the last pinch of famine—“when the bread was all spent from out the ship and hunger gnawed at their belly.”

Now that we find in Greece, five or six centuries earlier than the poems, a people in all probability hailing from the same region whence came the ancestors of the Homeric Greeks, with the same ignorance of, or contempt for, a fish diet, and building their huts on piles like the primitive Italians whose earthworks further appear to have set the copy for the Tirynthian galleries—can we doubt that this people sprung from the same root with the historic Greeks and their kinsmen of Italy? The conclusion appears so natural and so logical, that it must require very serious and solid objections to shake it. But, instead of that, our study of Mycenæan manners and institutions—both civil and religious—affords strong confirmation. In the[60] matter of dress we find the historical Greeks the heirs of the Mycenæans, and the armour of the Homeric heroes—when we get behind the epic glamour of it—differs little from what we know in the Mycenæan monuments.

While our knowledge of Mycenæan religion is vague at the best, and we must recognise in the dove-idols and dove-temples the insignia of an imported Aphrodite-cult, we have beyond a reasonable doubt also to recognise a genuine Hellenic divinity with her historical attributes clearly foreshadowed in Artemis. Again, while the Homeric Greeks themselves are not presented to us as worshippers of the dead after the custom avouched by the altar-pits of Mycenæ and Tiryns, we do find in the poems an echo at least of this cult, and among the later Hellenes it resumes the power of a living belief. So, though Homer seems to know cremation only, and this has been taken for full proof that the Mycenæans were not Greeks, the traces of embalming in the poems clearly point to an earlier custom of simple burial as we find it uniformly attested by the Mycenæan tombs. And, here, again, historical Greece reverts to the earlier way. In Greece proper, at least in Attica, the dead were not burned,—not even in the age of the Dipylon vases,—and yet the Athenians of that day were Greeks. So, among the earlier Italians, burial was the only mode of dealing with the dead, and the usage was so rooted in their habits that even after cremation was introduced some member of the body (e.g., a finger) was always cut off and buried intact. We need not repeat what we have elsewhere said of the funeral banquet, the immolation of victims, the burning of raiment—all bearing on the same conclusion and cumulating the evidence that the Greeks of Homer, and so of the historic age, are the lineal heirs of Mycenæan culture.

If the proof of descent on these lines is strong, it is strengthened yet more by all we can make out regarding the political and social organisation. That monarchy was the Mycenæan form of government is sufficiently attested by the strong castles, each taken up in large part by a single princely mansion. But “the rule of one man” is too universal in early times to be a criterion of race. Far more significant is the evidence we have for a clan-system such as we afterwards find in full bloom among the Hellenes.

The clan, as we know it in historic times, and especially in Attica, was a factor of prime importance in civil, social, and religious life. It was composed of families which claim to be, and for the most part actually were, descended from a common ancestor. These originally lived together in clan-villages—of which we have clear reminiscences in the clan-names of certain Attic demes, as Boutadai, Perithoidai, Skanbonidai. Not only did the clan form a village by itself, but it held and cultivated its land in common. It built the clan-village on the clan-estate; and as the clansmen dwelt together in life, so in death they were not divided. Each clan had its burial-place in its own little territory, and there at the tomb it kept up the worship of its dead, and especially of its hero-founder.

That the Mycenæans lived under a like clan-system, the excavation of the tombs of the lower town has shown conclusively. The town was composed of villages more or less removed from one another, each the seat of a clan. We have no means of determining whether the land was held and tilled in common, but we do know that by each village lay the common clan-cemetery—a group of eight, ten, or more tombs, obviously answering to the number of families or branches of the clan. In the construction of the tombs, and in the offerings contained, we note at once differences between different cemeteries and uniformity in the tombs of the same group. The richest cemeteries lie nearer the acropolis, as the stronger clans would naturally[61] dwell nearer the king. Thus, for its population, Mycenæ covered a large area, but its limits were not sharply defined, and the transition from the citadel centre to the open country was not abrupt. The villages were linked together by graveyards, gardens and fields, highways and squares; thus the open settlement was indeed a πόλις εὐρυάγυια—a town of broad ways.

Somewhat such must have been the aspect in primitive days of Sparta and Athens, not to mention many other famous cities. Indeed, even in historic times, as we know from the ruins, Sparta was still made up of detached villages spread over a large territory for so small a population. So, primitive Athens was composed of the central settlement on the Acropolis, with the villages encircling it from Pnyx to Lycabettus and back again. When the city was subsequently walled in, some of these villages were included in the circuit, others were left outside, while still others (as the Ceramicus) were cut in two by the wall. The same thing happened at Mycenæ; the town wall was built simply because the fortress was an insufficient shelter for the populace as times grew threatening; but it could not, and did not, take in all the villages.

Such, briefly, is the objective evidence—the palpable facts—pointing to a race connection between the Mycenæans and the Greeks of history. We have, finally, to consider the testimony of the Homeric poems. Homer avowedly sings of heroes and peoples who had flourished in Greece long before his own day. Now it may be denied that these represent the civilisation known to us as Mycenæan; but it is certainly a marvellous coincidence (as Schuchhardth observes) that “excavations invariably confirm the former power and splendour of every city which is mentioned by Homer as conspicuous for its wealth or sovereignty.”

Of all the cities of Hellas, it is the now established centres of Mycenæan culture which the poet knows best and characterises with the surest hand. Mycenæ “rich in gold” is Agamemnon’s seat, and Agamemnon is lord of all Argos and many isles, and leader of the host at Troy. In Laconia, in the immediate neighbourhood of the tomb which has given us the famous Vaphio cups, is the royal seat of Menelaus, which is likened to the court of Olympian Zeus. Bœotian Orchomenos, whose wealth still speaks for itself in the Treasury of Minyas, is taken by the poet as a twin type of affluence with Egyptian Thebes, “where the treasure-houses are stored fullest.” Assuredly, no one can regard all this and many another true touch as mere coincidence. The poet knows whereof he affirms. He has exact knowledge of the greatness and bloom of certain peoples and cities at an epoch long anterior to his own, with which the poems have to do. And there is not one hint in either poem that these races and heroes were not of the poet’s own kin.

It might be assumed that there had once ruled in those cities an alien people, and that the monuments of Mycenæan culture were their legacy to us, but that the Achæans who came after them have entered into the inheritance of their fame. Such usurpations there have been in history; but the hypothesis is out of the question here. At Mycenæ, where exploration has been unusually thorough, the genuine Mycenæan Age is seen to have come to a sharp and sudden end—a catastrophe so overwhelming that we cannot conceive of any lingering bloom. Had the place passed to a people worthy to succeed to the glory of the race who reared its mighty walls and vaulted tombs, then we should look for remains of a different but not a contemptible civilisation. But, in fact, we find built directly on the ruins of[62] the Mycenæan palace mean and shabby huts which tell us how the once golden city was succeeded by a paltry village. Centuries were to pass before the Doric temple rose on the accumulated ruins of palace and hovels, and generations more before the brave little remnant returned with the laurels of Platæa and enough of the spoil (we may conjecture) to put the walls of the Atreidæ in repair.

If the structures peculiar to the Mycenæan age are the work of foreigners, what have we left for Agamemnon and his Achæans? Simply the hovels. Of the Dipylon pottery, with which it is proposed to endow them, there is none worth mentioning at Mycenæ, very little at Tiryns, hardly a trace at Amyclæ, or Orchomenos. In the Mycenæan acropolis, particularly, very few fragments of this pottery have been found, and that mainly in the huts already mentioned. Can these be the sole traces of the power and pride of the Atreidæ?

For us at least the larger problem of nationality is solved; but there is a further question. Can we determine the race or races among the Greeks known to history to whom the achievements of Mycenæan civilisation are to be ascribed? In this inquiry we may set aside the Dorians, although many scholars (especially among the Germans) still claim for them the marvellous remains of the Argolid. The Homeric poems, they say, describe a state of things subsequent to the Dorian migration into the Peloponnesus and consequent upon the revolution thereby effected. As the Dorians themselves hold sway at Mycenæ and Sparta, they must be the subjects of the poet’s song—the stately fabric of Mycenæan culture must be the work of their hands.

On the other hand, Beloch,i while accepting the Dorian theory of this civilisation, dismisses the traditional Dorian migration as a myth, and maintains that Dorian settlement in the Peloponnesus was as immemorial as the Arcadian. Just as the original advent of the Arcadians in the district which bears their name had faded out of memory and left no trace of a tradition, so the actual migration of the Dorians belonged to an immemorial past.

The first of these views which attributes the Mycenæan culture to the Dorians of the traditional migration, cannot stand the test of chronology. For tradition refers that migration to the end of the twelfth century B.C., whereas the Mycenæan people were established in the Argolid before the sixteenth, probably even before the twentieth century. While Beloch’s hypothesis is not beset with this chronological difficulty, it is otherwise quite untenable. For, as the excavations at Tiryns and Mycenæ abundantly prove, the Mycenæan civilisation perished in a great catastrophe. The palaces of both were destroyed by fire after being so thoroughly pillaged that scarcely a single bit of metal was left in the ruins. Further, they were never rebuilt; and the sumptuous halls of Mycenæ were succeeded by the shabby hovels of which we have spoken. The larger domes at Mycenæ, whose sites were known, were likewise plundered—in all probability by the same hands that fired the palace. This is evidenced by the pottery found in the hovels and before the doorways of two of the beehive tombs. A similar catastrophe appears to have cut short the career of this civilisation in the other centres where it had flourished.

How are we to account for this sudden and final overthrow otherwise than by assuming a great historic crisis, which left these mighty cities with their magnificent palaces only heaps of smoking ruins? And what other crisis can this have been than the irruption of the Dorians? And their descent into the Peloponnesus is traditionally dated at the very time which[63] other considerations have led us to fix as the lower limit of the Mycenæan Age. Had that migration never been recorded by the ancients nor attested by the state of the Peloponnesus in historic times, we should still be led to infer it from the facts now put in evidence by the archæologist’s spade.

Setting aside the Dorian claim as preposterous, we have nothing to do but follow the epic tradition. The Homeric poems consistently assume that prior to any Dorian occupation Argolis was inhabited by other peoples, and notably by Achæans whose position is so commanding that the whole body of Greeks before Troy usually go by their name. Their capital is Mycenæ, and their monarch Agamemnon, King of Men; although we find them also in Laconia under the rule of Menelaus. But the poet has other names, hardly less famous, applied now to the people of Argolis and now to the Greeks at large. One of these names (Ἀργεῖοι) is purely geographical, whether it be restricted to the narrow Argolid district or extended to the wider Argos, and has no special ethnological significance. But the other (Δαναοί) belonged to a people distinct from and, according to uniform tradition, more ancient than the Achæans. We find, then, two races in Argolis before the Dorian migration, each famous in song and story, and each so powerful that its name may stand for all the inhabitants of Greece. The Achæans occupy Mycenæ, that is to say, the northern mountain region of the district, while legend represents the Danaans as inseparably connected with Argos and the sea-board, and ascribes to them certain works of irrigation.

Gallery in the Wall around the Citadel of Tiryns

Whatever interpretation be put upon the myth, it seems clear that Argos could not feed its great cities without artificial irrigation, and this it owed to Danaus and his fifty daughters, “who were condemned perpetually to pour water in a tub full of holes,”—that is to say, into irrigation ditches which the thirsty soil kept draining dry.

Now our study of the Mycenæan remains has already constrained us to distinguish in the Argolid two strata of Mycenæan peoples, one of them originally dwelling on dry land in sunken huts, the other occupying pile settlements in lakes and swamps. And since tradition squares so remarkably with the facts in evidence, may we not venture to identify the marsh-folk with the Danaans and the landsmen with the Achæans?

But Achæans and Dorians were not alone in shaping and sharing Mycenæan culture; they had their congeners in other regions. Foremost among[64] these were the Minyan founders of Orchomenos. As lake-dwellers and hydraulic engineers they are assimilated to the Danaans, whose near kinsmen they may have been, as the primitive islanders, whose abode we have found copied in the stone vases, must have been related to them both. Tradition has, in fact, preserved an account of the colonisation of Thera by a people coming from Bœotia, although it is uncertain whether it refers to the original occupation or to a settlement subsequent to the great catastrophe.

From the Danao-Minyan stock, it would appear that the Achæans parted company at an early date and continuing for a time in a different—most probably a mountainous—country, there took on ways of living proper to such environment. Later than the Danaans, according to the consistent testimony of tradition, they came down into the Peloponnesus and by their superior vigour and prowess prevailed over the older stock.

To these two branches of the race we may refer the two classes of tombs. The beehive and chamber tombs, as we have seen, have their prototype in the sunken huts: they belong to the Achæans coming down from the colder north. The shaft-graves are proper to the Danaan marsh-men. At Tiryns we find a shaft-grave, but no beehive or chamber tomb. At Orchomenos the Treasury of Minyas stands alone in its kind against at least eight tholoi and sixty chamber-tombs at Mycenæ. Hence, wherever this type of tombs abounds we may infer that an Achæan stock had its seat, as at Pronoia, in Attica, Thessaly, and Crete. Against this it may be urged that precisely at the Achæan capital, and within its acropolis at that, we find the famous group of shaft-graves with their precious offerings, as well as humbler graves of the same type outside the circle. But this, in fact, confirms our view when we remember it was the Danaid Perseus who founded Mycenæ and that his posterity bore rule there until the sceptre passed to Achæan hands in the persons of the Pelopidæ.[5] We have noted the close correspondence of the original fortress at Mycenæ with that of Tiryns, and its subsequent enlargement. Coincident with this extension of the citadel, the new type of tomb makes its appearance in the great domes,—some of them certainly royal sepulchres,—although the grave-circle of the acropolis is but half occupied. That circle, however, ceases thenceforth to be used as a place of burial, while the humbler graves adjacent to it are abandoned and built over with dwellings. With the new type of tomb we note changes of burial customs, not to be accounted for on chronological grounds: in the beehive tombs the dead are never embalmed, nor do they wear masks, nor are they laid on pebble beds—a practice which may have owed its origin to the wet ground about Tiryns.

There is but one theory on which these facts can be fully explained. It is that of a change in the ruling race and dynasty, and it clears up the whole history of Mycenæ and the Argive Plain. The first Greek settlers occupied the marshy sea-board, where they established themselves at Tiryns and other points; later on, when they had learned to rear impregnable walls, many of them migrated to the mountains which dominated the plain and thus were founded the strongholds of Larissa, Midea, and Mycenæ.

But while the Danaans were thus making their slow march to the north the Achæans were advancing southward from Corinth—a base of great importance to them then and always, as we may infer from the network of Cyclopean highways between it and their new centre. At Mycenæ, already[65] a strong Perseid outpost, the two columns meet—when, we cannot say. But about 1500 B.C., or a little later, the Achæans had made themselves masters of the place and imposed upon it their own kings.

We have no tradition of any struggle in connection with this dynastic revolution, and it appears probable that the Achæans did not expel the older stock. On the contrary, they scrupulously respected the tombs of the Danaid dynasty—it may be, because they felt the claim of kindred blood. In manners and culture there could have been but little difference between them, for the Achæans had already entered the strong current of Mycenæan civilisation.

Indeed, we discern a reciprocal influence of the two peoples. Within certain of the Achæan tombs (as we may now term the beehives and rock chambers) we find separate shaft-graves, obviously recalling the Danaid mode of burial. On the other hand, it would appear that the typical Achæan tomb was adopted by the ruling classes among other Mycenæan peoples. Otherwise we cannot explain the existence of isolated tombs of this kind as at Amyclæ (Vaphio), Orchomenos, and Menidi—obviously the sepulchres of regal or opulent families; while the common people of these places—of non-Achæan stock—buried their dead in the ordinary oblong pits.

Achæan ascendency is so marked that the Achæan name prevails even where that stock forms but an inconsiderable element of the population. Notably this is true of Laconia, where the rare occurrence of the beehive tomb goes to show that the pre-Dorian inhabitants were mostly descended from the older stock, which we have encountered at Tiryns and at Orchomenos.d


[3] [Reprinted, by permission of the publishers, from the article “Mycenæan Civilisation,” by D. G. Hogarth, in the New Volumes of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Copyright, 1902, by The Encyclopædia Britannica Company.]

[4] Helbig,f Die Italiker in der Pœbene, p. 11; cf. Pigorinig in Atti dell’ Accad. dei Lincei, viii. 265 ff.

[5] This is not gainsaying the Phrygian extraction of the Pelopid line. “The true Phrygians were closely akin to the Greeks, quite as closely akin as the later Macedonians. We may fairly class the Pelopidæ as Achæan.” (Percy Gardner,e New Chapters of Greek History, p. 84.)

Restoration of a Mycenæan Palace




[ca. 1400-1200 B.C.]

In thinking of the mythical period with its citations of fables about gods and goddesses galore and heroes unnumbered, one is apt to become the victim of a mental mirage. One can hardly escape imagining the period in question thus veiled in mystery and peopled with half mythical and altogether mystical figures as really having been a time when men and women lived an idyllic life. As one contemplates the period he intuitively falls into a day-dream in which there dance before him light-robed artistic figures moving in arcadian bowers, tenanted by nymphs and satyrs and centaurs. But when one awakes to a practical view he recognises of course that all this is an illusion. Reason tells him that this was a mythical age, simply because the people were not sufficiently civilised to make permanent historical records. They were half barbarians, living as pastoral peoples everywhere live, striving for food against wild beasts, protecting their herds, cultivating the soil, fighting their enemies. And yet, in a sense, their life was idyllic. Heroic elements were not altogether lacking; the men were trained athletes, whose developed muscles were a joy to look upon, and no doubt the women, despite a certain coarseness, shared something of that figure. Then the people themselves believed in the gods and nymphs and satyrs and centaurs of which we dream, and so in a sense their world was peopled with them: in a sense they did dwell in Arcady. Still one cannot disguise the fact that it was an Arcady which no modern, placed under similar restrictions, would care to enter.

In that early day writing was an unknown art in Hellas, and so the people as they emerged from their time of semi-civilisation brought with them no specific tangible records of the life of that period, but only fables and traditions to take the place of sober historical records. To the people themselves these fables and traditions bore, for a long time at any rate, a stamp of veritable truth. Even the most extravagant of their narratives of gods and godlike heroes were believed as implicitly, no doubt, by the major part of the people even at a comparatively late historical period, as we to-day believe the stories of an Alexander, a Cæsar, or a Napoleon. As time went on these fables became even more intimately fixed in the minds of the people through becoming embalmed in the verses of the poet and the lines of the tragedian. Here and there, to be sure, there was a man who questioned the authenticity of these tales as recitals of fact, but we may well believe that the generality of people, even of the most cultured class, preferred throughout the entire period of antiquity to accept the myths at their face value. Not only so, but for many generations later, throughout the period sometimes spoken of as the “Age of Faith” of the western world, a somewhat similar estimate[67] was put upon the Greek myths as recited by the classical authors. Even after the growth of scepticism and the development of the scientific spirit rendered the acceptance of the myths as recitals of fact impossible, for a long time it seemed little less than a sacrilege to think of severing them altogether from the realm of fact.


That, considered as historical narratives, they had been elaborated and their bald facts distorted by the creative imagination of a marvellous people, was clearly evident. No one, for example, in recent days would be expected to believe that the hero Achilles had been plunged into the river Styx by his mother and rendered thereby invulnerable except as to the heel by which he was held. But to doubt that the hero Achilles lived and accomplished such feats as were narrated in the Iliad would seem almost a blow at the existence of the most fascinating people of antiquity. There came a time, however, in comparatively recent generations when scepticism no longer hesitated to invade the ranks of the most time-honoured and best-beloved traditions, and when a warfare of words began between a set of critics, who would wipe the whole mass of Greek myths from the pages of history, and the champions of those myths who were but little disposed to give them up. Thus scepticism found an obvious measure of support in the clear fact that the mythical narratives could not possibly be received as authentic in their entirety. Further support was given to the sceptical party a little later by the study of comparative mythology, which showed to the surprise of many scholars that the Greek myths were by no means so unique in their character as had been supposed. It was shown that in the main they are closely paralleled by myths of other nations, and a theory was developed and advocated with much plausibility that they had been developed out of a superstitious regard of the sun and moon and elements, that most of them were, in short, what came to be called solar myths, and that they had no association whatever with the deeds of human historic personages.

Looking at the subject in the broadest way it, perhaps, does not greatly matter which view, as to the status of myths, is the true one. After all, the main purport of history in all its phases has value, not for what it tells us of the deeds of individual men or the conflicts of individual nations, but for what it can reveal of the process of the evolution of civilisation. Weighed by this standard, the beautiful myths of the Greeks are of value chiefly as revealing to us the essential status of the Greek mind in the early historical period, and the stage of evolution of that mind.

The beautiful myths of Greece cannot and must not be given up, and fortunately they need not. The view which Grote and the host of his followers maintained, practically solves the problem for the historian. He may retain the legend and gain from it the fullest measure of imaginative satisfaction; he may draw from it inferences of the greatest value as to the mental status of the Greek people at the time when the legends were crystallised into their final form; he may even believe that, in the main, the legends have been built upon a substructure of historical fact, and he may leave to specialists the controversy as to the exact relations which this substructure bears to the finished whole, content to accept the decision of the greatest critical historians of Greece that this question is insoluble.

From the period of myth pure and simple when the gods and goddesses themselves roved the earth achieving miracles, taking various shapes, slaying[68] pythons, titans, and other monsters, and exercising their amorous fancies among the men and women of earth—from this period we come to the semi-historical time of the activity of the demi-gods and the men who, superior to the ordinary clay, were called Heroes.

The term “Heroic Age” has passed into general use with the historian as applying to the period of Grecian history immediately preceding and including the Trojan wars. As there are very few reliable documents at hand relating to this period—there were none at all until recently—it is clear that this age is in reality only the latter part of that mythical period to which we have just referred. Recent historians tend to treat it much more sceptically than did the historians of an earlier epoch; some are even disposed practically to ignore it. But the term has passed far too generally into use to be altogether abandoned; and, indeed, it is not desirable that it should be quite given up, for, however vague the details of the history it connotes, it is after all the shadowy record of a real epoch of history. We shall, perhaps, do best, therefore, to view it through the eyes of a distinguished historian of an earlier generation, remembering only that what is here narrated is still only half history—that is to say, history only half emerged from the realm of legend.a

The real limits of this period cannot be exactly defined; but still, so far as its traditions admit of anything like a chronological connection, its duration may be estimated at six generations, or about two hundred years.[6] The history of the heroic age is the history of the most celebrated persons belonging to this class, who, in the language of poetry, are called heroes. The term “hero” is of doubtful origin, though it was clearly a title of honour; but in the poems of Homer, it is applied not only to the chiefs, but also to their followers. In later times its use was narrowed, and in some degree altered; it was restricted to persons, whether of the Heroic or of after ages, who were believed to be endowed with a superhuman, though not a divine, nature, and who were honoured with sacred rites, and were imagined to have the power of dispensing good or evil to their worshippers; and it was gradually combined with the notion of prodigious strength and gigantic stature. Here however we have only to do with the heroes as men. The history of their age is filled with their wars, expeditions, and adventures; and this is the great mine from which the materials of the Greek poetry were almost entirely drawn. But the richer a period is in poetical materials, the more difficult it usually is to extract from it any that are fit for the use of the historian; and this is especially true in the present instance. We must content ourselves with touching on some which appear most worthy of notice, either from their celebrity, or for the light they throw on the general character of the period, or their connection, real or supposed, with subsequent historical events.


We must pass very hastily over the exploits of Bellerophon and Perseus, and we mention them only for the sake of one remark. The scene of their principal adventures is laid out of Greece, in the East. The former, whose father Glaucus is the son of Sisyphus, having chanced to stain his hands with the blood of a kinsman, flies to Argos, where he excites the jealousy of Prœtus, and is sent by him to Lycia, the country where Prœtus himself had been[69] hospitably entertained in his exile. It is in the adjacent regions of Asia that the Corinthian hero proves his valour by vanquishing ferocious tribes and terrible monsters. Perseus too has been sent over the sea by his grandfather Acrisius, and his achievements follow the same direction, but take a wider range; he is carried along the coasts of Syria to Egypt, where Herodotus heard of him from the priests, and into the unknown lands of the South. There can be no doubt that these fables owed many of their leading features to the Argive colonies which were planted at a later period in Rhodes, and on the southwest coast of Asia. But still it is not improbable that the connection implied by them between Argolis and the nearest parts of Asia may not be wholly without foundation. We proceed however to a much more celebrated name, on which we must dwell a little longer—that of Hercules.


It has been a subject of long dispute, whether Hercules was a real or a purely fictitious personage; but it seems clear that the question, according to the sense in which it is understood, may admit of two contrary answers, both equally true. When we survey the whole mass of the actions ascribed to him, we find that they fall under two classes. The one carries us back into the infancy of society, when it is engaged in its first struggles with nature for existence and security: we see him cleaving rocks, turning the course of rivers, opening or stopping the subterraneous outlets of lakes, clearing the earth of noxious animals, and, in a word, by his single arm effecting works which properly belong to the united labours of a young community. The other class exhibits a state of things comparatively settled and mature, when the first victory has been gained, and the contest is now between one tribe and another, for possession or dominion; we see him maintaining the cause of the weak against the strong, of the innocent against the oppressor, punishing wrong, and robbery, and sacrilege, subduing tyrants, exterminating his enemies, and bestowing kingdoms on his friends. It would be futile to inquire, who the person was to whom deeds of the former kind were attributed; but it is an interesting question, whether the first conception of such a being was formed in the mind of the Greeks by their own unassisted imagination, or was suggested to them by a different people.

It is sufficient to throw a single glance at the fabulous adventures called the “labours” of Hercules, to be convinced that a part of them at least belongs to the Phœnicians, and their wandering god, in whose honour they built temples in all their principal settlements along the coast of the Mediterranean. To him must be attributed all the journeys of Hercules round the shores of western Europe, which did not become known to the Greeks for many centuries after they had been explored by the Phœnician navigators. The number to which those labours are confined by the legend, is evidently an astronomical period, and thus itself points to the course of the sun which the Phœnician god represented. The event which closes the career of the Greek hero, who rises to immortality from the flames of the pile on which he lays himself, is a prominent feature in the same Eastern mythology, and may therefore be safely considered as borrowed from it. All these tales may indeed be regarded as additions made at a late period to the Greek legend, after it had sprung up independently at home. But it is at least a remarkable coincidence, that the birth of Hercules is assigned to the city of Cadmus; and the great works ascribed to him, so far as they were really[70] accomplished by human labour, may seem to correspond better with the art and industry of the Phœnicians, than with the skill and power of a less civilised race. But in whatever way the origin of the name and idea of Hercules may be explained, he appears, without any ambiguity, as a Greek hero; and here it may reasonably be asked, whether all or any part of the adventures they describe, really happened to a single person, who either properly bore the name of Hercules, or received it as a title of honour.

We must briefly mention the manner in which these adventures are linked together in the common story. Amphitryon, the reputed father of Hercules, was the son of Alcæus, who is named first among the children born to Perseus at Mycenæ. The hero’s mother, Alcmene, was the daughter of Electryon, another son of Perseus, who had succeeded to the kingdom. In his reign, the Taphians, a piratical people who inhabited the islands called Echinades, near the mouth of the Achelous, landed in Argolis, and carried off the king’s herds. While Electryon was preparing to avenge himself by invading their land, after he had committed his kingdom and his daughter to the charge of Amphitryon, a chance like that which caused the death of Acrisius stained the hands of the nephew with his uncle’s blood. Sthenelus, a third son of Perseus, laid hold of this pretext to force Amphitryon and Alcmene to quit the country, and they took refuge in Thebes: thus it happened that Hercules, though an Argive by descent, and, by his mortal parentage, legitimate heir to the throne of Mycenæ, was, as to his birthplace, a Theban. Hence Bœotia is the scene of his youthful exploits: bred up among the herdsmen of Cithæron, like Cyrus and Romulus, he delivers Thespiæ from the lion which made havoc among its cattle. He then frees Thebes from the yoke of its more powerful neighbour, Orchomenos: and here we find something which has more the look of a historical tradition, though it is no less poetical in its form. The king of Orchomenos had been killed, in the sanctuary of Poseidon at Onchestus, by a Theban. His successor, Erginus, imposes a tribute on Thebes; but Hercules mutilates his heralds when they come to exact it, and then marching against Orchomenos, slays Erginus, and forces the Minyans to pay twice the tribute which they had hitherto received. According to a Theban legend, it was on this occasion that he stopped the subterraneous outlet of the Cephisus, and thus formed the lake which covered the greater part of the plain of Orchomenos. In the meanwhile Sthenelus had been succeeded by his son Eurystheus, the destined enemy of Hercules and his race, at whose command the hero undertakes his labours. This voluntary subjection of the rightful prince to the weak and timid usurper is represented as an expiation, ordained by the Delphic oracle, for a fit of frenzy, in which Hercules had destroyed his wife and children.

This, as a poetical or religious fiction, is very happily conceived; but when we are seeking for a historical thread to connect the Bœotian legends of Hercules with those of the Peloponnesus, it must be set entirely aside; and yet it is not only the oldest form of the story, but no other has hitherto been found or devised to fill its place with a greater appearance of probability. The supposed right of Hercules to the throne of Mycenæ was, as we shall see, the ground on which the Dorians, some generations later, claimed the dominion of Peloponnesus. Yet, in any other than a poetical view, his enmity to Eurystheus is utterly inconsistent with the exploits ascribed to him in the peninsula. It is also remarkable, that while the adventures which he undertakes at the bidding of his rival are prodigious and supernatural, belonging to the first of the two classes above distinguished, he is described as during the same period engaged in expeditions which are only accidentally connected with[71] these marvellous labours, and which, if they stood alone, might be taken for traditional facts. In these he appears in the light of an independent prince, and a powerful conqueror. He leads an army against Augeas, king of Elis, and having slain him, bestows his kingdom on one of his sons, who had condemned his father’s injustice. So he invades Pylus to avenge an insult which he had received from Neleus, and puts him to death, with all his children, except Nestor, who was absent, or had escaped to Gerenia. Again he carries his conquering arms into Laconia, where he exterminates the family of the king Hippocoön, and places Tyndareus on the throne. Here, if anywhere in the legend of Hercules, we might seem to be reading an account of real events. Yet who can believe, that while he was overthrowing these hostile dynasties, and giving away sceptres, he suffered himself to be excluded from his own kingdom?

It was the fate of Hercules to be incessantly forced into dangerous and arduous enterprises; and hence every part of Greece is in its turn the scene of his achievements. Thus we have already seen him, in Thessaly, the ally of the Dorians, laying the foundation of a perpetual union between the people and his own descendants, as if he had either abandoned all hope of recovering the crown of Mycenæ, or had foreseen that his posterity would require the aid of the Dorians for that purpose. In Ætolia too he appears as a friend and a protector of the royal house, and fights its battles against the Thesprotians of Epirus. These perpetual wanderings, these successive alliances with so many different races, excite no surprise, so long as we view them in a poetical light, as issuing out of one source, the implacable hate with which Juno persecutes the son of Jove. They may also be understood as real events, if they are supposed to have been perfectly independent of each other, and connected only by being referred to one fabulous name. But when the poetical motive is rejected, it seems impossible to frame any rational scheme according to which they may be regarded as incidents in the life of one man, unless we imagine Hercules, in the purest spirit of knight-errantry, sallying forth in quest of adventures, without any definite object, or any impulse but that of disinterested benevolence. It will be safer, after rejecting those features in the legend which manifestly belong to Eastern religions, to distinguish the Theban Hercules from the Dorian, and the Peloponnesian hero. In the story of each some historical fragments have most probably been preserved, and perhaps least disfigured in the Theban and Dorian legends. In those of Peloponnesus it is difficult to say to what extent their original form may not have been distorted from political motives. If we might place any reliance on them, we should be inclined to conjecture that they contain traces of the struggles by which the kingdom of Mycenæ attained to that influence over the rest of the peninsula, which is attributed to it by Homer, and which we shall have occasion to notice when we come to speak of the Trojan war.


The name of Hercules immediately suggests that of Theseus, according to the mythical chronology his younger contemporary, and only second to him in renown. It was not without reason that Theseus was said to have given rise to the proverb, another Hercules; for not only is there a strong resemblance between them in many particular features, but it also seems clear that Theseus was to Attica what Hercules was to the rest of Greece, and that his career likewise represents the events of a period which cannot[72] have been exactly measured by any human life, and probably includes many centuries. His legend is chiefly interesting to us, so far as it may be regarded as a poetical outline of the early history of Attica [where it will be recounted in detail].

The legend of his Cretan expedition most probably preserves some genuine historical recollections. But the only fact which appears to be plainly indicated by it, is a temporary connection between Crete and Attica. Whether this intercourse was grounded solely on religion, or was the result of a partial dominion exercised by Crete over Athens, it would be useless to inquire; and still less can we pretend to determine the nature of the Athenian tribute, or that of the Cretan worship to which it related. That part of the legend which belongs to Naxos and Delos was probably introduced after these islands were occupied by the Ionians. A part is assigned in these traditions to Minos, who is represented by the general voice of antiquity as having raised Crete to a higher degree of prosperity and power than it ever reached at any subsequent period [and whom we shall also discuss later in connection with Cretan history].

Temple of Theseus, Athens


Our plan obliges us to pass over a great number of wars, expeditions, and achievements of these ages, which were highly celebrated in heroic song, not because we deem them to contain less of historical reality than others which we mention, but because they appear not to have been attended with any important or lasting consequences. We might otherwise have been induced to notice the quarrel which divided the royal house of Thebes, and led to a series of wars between Thebes and Argos, which terminated in the destruction of the former city, and the temporary expulsion of the Cadmeans, its ancient inhabitants. Hercules and Theseus undertook their adventures either alone, or with the aid of a single comrade; but in these Theban wars we find a union of seven chiefs; and such confederacies appear to have become frequent in the latter part of the heroic age. So a numerous band of heroes was combined in the enterprise, which, whatever may have been its real nature, became renowned as the chase of the Calydonian boar. Plassmanf suspects that this was in reality a military expedition against some of the savage Ætolian tribes, and that the name of one of them (the Aperantii) suggested the legend. We proceed to speak of two expeditions[73] much more celebrated, conducted like these by a league of independent chieftains, but directed, not to any part of Greece, but against distant lands; we mean the voyage of the Argonauts, and the siege of Troy, which will conclude our review of the mythical period of Grecian history.


The Argonautic expedition, when viewed in the light in which it has usually been considered, is an event which a critical historian, if he feels himself compelled to believe it, may think it his duty to notice, but which he is glad to pass rapidly over as a perplexing and unprofitable riddle. For even when the ancient legend has been pared down into a historical form, and its marvellous and poetical features have been all effaced, so that nothing is left but what may appear to belong to its pith and substance, it becomes indeed dry and meagre enough, but not much more intelligible than before. It relates an adventure, incomprehensible in its design, astonishing in its execution, connected with no conceivable cause, and with no sensible effect. The narrative, reduced to the shape in which it has often been thought worthy of a place in history, runs as follows:

In the generation before the Trojan war, Jason, a young Thessalian prince, had incurred the jealousy of his kinsman Pelias, who reigned at Iolcus. The crafty king encouraged the adventurous youth to embark in a maritime expedition full of difficulty and danger. It was to be directed to a point far beyond the most remote which Greek navigation had hitherto reached in the same quarter; to the eastern corner of the sea, so celebrated in ancient times for the ferocity of the barbarians inhabiting its coasts, that it was commonly supposed to have derived from them the name of “Axenus,” the inhospitable, before it acquired the opposite name of the “Euxine,” from the civilisation which was at length introduced by Greek settlers. Here, in the land of the Colchians, lay the goal, because this contained the prize, from which the voyage has been frequently called the adventure of the golden fleece. Jason having built a vessel of uncommon size,—in more precise terms, the first 50-oared galley his countrymen had ever launched,—and having manned it with a band of heroes, who assembled from various parts of Greece to share the glory of the enterprise, sailed to Colchis, where he not only succeeded in the principal object of his expedition, whatever this may have been, but carried off Medea, the daughter of the Colchian king, Æetes.

Though this is an artificial statement, framed to reconcile the main incidents of a wonderful story with nature and probability, it still contains many points which can scarcely be explained or believed. It carries us back to a period when navigation was in its infancy among the Greeks; yet their first essay at maritime discovery is supposed at once to have reached the extreme limit, which was long after attained by the adventurers who gradually explored the same formidable sea, and gained a footing on its coasts. The success of the undertaking however is not so surprising as the project itself; for this implies a previous knowledge of the country to be explored, which it is very difficult to account for. But the end proposed is still more mysterious; and indeed can only be explained with the aid of a conjecture. Such an explanation was attempted by some of the later writers among the ancients, who perceived that the whole story turned on the Golden Fleece, the supposed motive of the voyage, and that this feature had not a[74] sufficiently historical appearance. But the mountain torrents of Colchis were said to sweep down particles of gold, which the natives used to detain by fleeces dipped in the streams.

This report suggested a mode of translating the fable into historical language. It was conjectured that the Argonauts had been attracted by the metallic treasures of the country, and that the Golden Fleece was a poetical description of the process which they had observed, or perhaps had practised: an interpretation certainly more ingenious, or at least less absurd, than those by which Diodorus transforms the fire-breathing bulls which Jason was said to have yoked at the bidding of Æetes, into a band of Taurians, who guarded the fleece, and the sleepless dragon which watched over it, into their commander Draco; but yet not more satisfactory; for it explains a casual, immaterial circumstance, while it leaves the essential point in the legend wholly untouched. The epithet “golden,” to which it relates, is merely poetical and ornamental, and signified nothing more as to the nature of the fleece than the epithets white or purple, which were also applied to it by early poets. According to the original and genuine tradition, the fleece was a sacred relic, and its importance arose entirely out of its connection with the tragical story of Phrixus, the main feature of which is the human sacrifice which the gods had required from the house of Athamas. His son Phrixus either offered himself, or was selected through the artifices of his stepmother Ino, as the victim; but at the critical moment, as he stood before the altar, the marvellous ram was sent for his deliverance, and transported him over the sea, according to the received account, to Colchis, where Phrixus, on his arrival, sacrificed the ram to Jupiter, as the god who had favoured his escape; the fleece was nailed to an oak in the grove of Mars, where it was kept by Æetes as a sacred treasure, or palladium.

But the tradition must have had a historical foundation in some real voyages and adventures, without which it could scarcely have arisen at all, and could never have become so generally current as to be little inferior in celebrity to the tale of Troy itself. If however the fleece had no existence but in popular belief, the land where it was to be sought was a circumstance of no moment. In the earlier form of the legend, it might not have been named at all, but only have been described as the distant, the unknown, land; and after it had been named, it might have been made to vary with the gradual enlargement of geographical information. But in this case the voyage of the Argonauts can no longer be considered as an isolated adventure, for which no adequate motive is left; but must be regarded, like the expedition of the Tyrian Hercules, as representing a succession of enterprises, which may have been the employment of several generations. And this is perfectly consistent with the manner in which the adventurers are most properly described. They are Minyans; a branch of the Greek nation, whose attention was very early drawn by their situation, not perhaps without some influence from the example and intercourse of the Phœnicians, to maritime pursuits. The form which the legend assumed was probably determined by the course of their earliest naval expeditions. They were naturally attracted towards the northeast, first by the islands that lay before the entrance of the Hellespont, and then by the shores of the Propontis and its two straits. Their successive colonies, or spots signalised either by hostilities or peaceful transactions with the natives, would become the landing-places of the Argonauts. That such a colony existed at Lemnos, seems unquestionable; though it does not follow that Euneus, the son of Jason, who is described in the Iliad as reigning there during the siege of Troy, was a historical personage.


If however it should be asked, in what light the hero and heroine of the legend are to be viewed on this hypothesis, it must be answered that both are most probably purely ideal personages, connected with the religion of the people to whose poetry they belong. Jason was perhaps no other than the Samothracian god or hero Jasion, whose name was sometimes written in the same manner, the favourite of Demeter, as his namesake was of Hera, and the protector of mariners as the Thessalian hero was the chief of the Argonauts. Medea seems to have been originally another form of Hera herself, and to have descended, by a common transition, from the rank of a goddess into that of a heroine, when an epithet had been mistaken for a distinct name. We have already seen that the Corinthian tradition claimed her as belonging properly to Corinth, one of the principal seats of the Minyan race. The tragical scenes which rendered her stay there so celebrated were commemorated by religious rites, which continued to be observed until the city was destroyed by the Romans. According to the local legend, she had not murdered her children; they had been killed by the Corinthians; and the public guilt was expiated by annual sacrifices offered to Hera, in whose temple fourteen boys, chosen every twelve-month from noble families, were appointed to spend a year in all the ceremonies of solemn mourning. But we cannot here pursue this part of the subject any further. The historical side of the legend seems to exhibit an opening intercourse between the opposite shores of the Ægean. If however it was begun by the northern Greeks, it was probably not long confined to them, but was early shared by those of the Peloponnesus. It would be inconsistent with the piratical habits of the early navigators, to suppose that this intercourse was always of a friendly nature; and it may therefore not have been without a real ground, that the Argonautic expedition was sometimes represented as the occasion of the first conflict between the Greeks and Trojans. We therefore pass by a natural transition out of the mythical circle we have just been tracing, into that of the Trojan war, and the light in which we have viewed the one may serve to guide us in forming a judgment on the historical import of the other.

We have already seen in what manner Eurystheus, the son of Sthenelus, had usurped the inheritance which belonged of right to Hercules, as the legitimate representative of Perseus. Sthenelus had reserved Mycenæ and Tiryns for himself; but he had bestowed the neighbouring town of Midea on Atreus and Thyestes, the sons of Pelops, and uncles of Eurystheus. On the death of Hercules, Eurystheus pursued his orphan children from one place of refuge to another, until they found an asylum in Attica. Theseus refused to surrender them, and Eurystheus then invaded Attica in person; but his army was routed, and he himself slain by Hyllus, the eldest son of Hercules, in his flight through the isthmus. Atreus succeeded to the throne of his nephew, whose children had been all cut off in this disastrous expedition; and thus, when his sceptre descended to his son Agamemnon, it conveyed the sovereignty of an ample realm. While the house of Pelops was here enriched with the spoils of Hercules, it enjoyed the fruits of his triumphant valour in another quarter. He had bestowed Laconia on Tyndareus, the father of Helen; and when Agamemnon’s brother, Menelaus, had been preferred to all the other suitors of this beautiful princess, Tyndareus resigned his dominions to his son-in-law. In the meanwhile a flourishing state had risen up on the eastern side of the Hellespont. Its capital, Troy, had been taken by Hercules, with the assistance of Telamon, son of Æacus, but had been restored to Priam, the son of its conquered king, Laomedon,[76] who reigned there in peace and prosperity over a number of little tribes, until his son Paris, attracted to Laconia by the fame of Helen’s beauty, abused the hospitality of Menelaus by carrying off his queen in his absence. All the chiefs of Greece combined their forces, under the command of Agamemnon, to avenge this outrage, and sailed with a great armament to Troy.c Their enterprise, famous for all time as the Trojan War, stands quite by itself in interest and importance among the traditions of the Heroic Age, and demands exceptional treatment here.


Historic criticism is almost a pendulum in its motion. Nowhere has this been more vividly seen than in the attitude of prominent historians toward the Trojan War and the poetical chronicle of it known as Homer’s Iliad. Scholarly belief has passed through all imaginable grades of opinion ranging between a flat denial that there was ever such a place as Troy, such a war as the Trojan, or such a man as Homer, to an acceptance of them all with an unquestioning credulity matching that of the early Greeks.

It was textual criticism, the deadly work of the critical scalpel in the verbal form of the poems that first destroyed the good standing of the Homeric legend. It is the revivifying work of the pickaxe and shovel in the actual ground as wielded by the excavator and archæologist that have brought back the repute of Homer. A few years ago and a Gladstone arguing for the reality of a Homer and of an Homeric epic was dismissed by the professor as an old-fashioned ignoramus. To-day almost the same terms are applied to those who cling to the fashion of yesterday and claim that the Trojan War and Homer himself are myths. In the new swing of the pendulum, however, the cautious will still avoid extremes.

What has already been said about the status of Greek myth applies in the main to the Homeric poems. They are legends doubtless with some measure of historical foundation, but they cannot be accepted by the critical student of to-day as historical narratives in the narrow sense. But the Homeric poems have an interest of quite another kind which gives them a place apart among the legends of antiquity. This interest centres about the personality of the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. From the earliest historic periods of Grecian life the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey was unquestionably ascribed to a poet named Homer. If doubts ever arose in the mind of any sceptical or critical person as to the reality of Homer, such doubts were quite submerged by the popular verdict. It was not generally claimed that Homer himself had written the works ascribed to him,—it was long held, indeed, that he must have lived at a period prior to the introduction of writing into Greece,—but that the person whom tradition loved to speak of as the blind bard had invented and recited his narratives in toto, and that these, memorised by others, had been brought down through succeeding generations until they were finally given permanence in writing, were accepted as the most unequivocal of historical facts.


But in the latter half of the 18th century, these supposed historical facts began to be called in question, Wolfk leading the van and holding all scholarship in terror of his name for nearly a century. Critical students of Homer were struck with numerous anomalies in his writings that seemed to them inconsistent with the idea that the Iliad and Odyssey had been composed at one time and by one person. To cite but a single illustration, it[77] was noted that the various parts of these poems were not all written in the same dialect, and it seemed highly improbable that any one person should have employed different dialects in a single composition. Such a suggestion as this naturally led to bitter controversies—controversies which have by no means altogether subsided after the lapse of a century.a Later scholarship denies the “stratification of language” in the poems.b But the controversy did not confine itself to the mere question whether such a person as Homer had lived and written, it came presently to involve also the subject of the Homeric poems, in particular, of the Iliad.

Certain details aside, the Trojan War had been looked upon as an historical event, quite as fully credited by the modern historian as it had been by Alexander when he stopped to offer sacrifices at the site of Troy. But now the iconoclastic movement being under way there was a school of students who openly maintained that the whole recital, by whomsoever written, was nothing but a fable which the historian must utterly discard. It was even questioned whether such a place as Troy had ever existed. Such a scepticism as this seemed, naturally enough, a clear sacrilege to a large body of scholars, but for several generations no successful efforts were made to meet it with any weapons more tangible than words. Then came a champion of the historical verity of the Homeric narrative who set to work to prove his case in the most practical way. Curiously enough the man who thus championed the cause of the closet scholars and poets and visionaries was himself a practical man of affairs, no less experienced and no less successful in dealing with the affairs of an everyday business than had been the man from whom the iconoclastic movement had gained its chief support. This man was also a German, Heinrich Schliemann.l

Having amassed a fortune, the income from which was more than sufficient for all his needs, he retired from active business and devoted the remainder of his life to a self-imposed task, which had been an ambition with him all his life, the search, namely, for the site of Ancient Troy. How well he succeeded all the world knows. But in opposition to the opinions of many scholars he selected the hill of Hissarlik as the site of ancient Ilium, and his excavations there soon demonstrated that at least it had been the site not of one alone but of at least seven different cities in antiquity—one being built above the ruins of another at long intervals of time. One of these cities, the sixth from the top,—or to put it otherwise, the most ancient but one,—was, he became firmly convinced, Ilium itself.

The story of his achievements cannot be told here in detail, and it is necessary to point the warning that Dr. Schliemann’s excavations—wonderful as are their results—do not, perhaps, when critically viewed, demonstrate quite so much as might at first sight appear. There is, indeed, a high degree of probability that the city which he excavated was really the one intended in the Homeric descriptions, but it must be clear to any one who scrutinises the matter somewhat closely, that this fact goes but a little way towards substantiating the Homeric narrative as a whole. The city of Ilium may have existed without giving rise to any such series of events as that narrated in the Iliad. Dr. Schliemann himself was led to realise this fact, and to modify somewhat in later years the exact tenor of some of his more enthusiastic earlier views, yet the fact remains that the excavations at Hissarlik must be reckoned with by whoever in future discusses the status of the Homeric story.

This is not the place to enter into a statement of the multitudinous phases scepticism has taken in dealing with the Trojan legend. The story,[78] whether pure fancy, as some have thought it, or a dramatised and romantic version of actual history, is indispensable to any chronicle of Greece or of Grecian influence.a Taking Homer as a basis, it may be outlined as follows:

The Town of Troy

The origin of Dardanus, founder of the Trojan state, has been very variously related; but the testimony of Homer to the utter uncertainty of his birth and native country, delivered in the terms that he was the son of Jupiter, may seem best entitled to belief. Thus however it appears that the Greeks not unwillingly acknowledged consanguinity with the Trojans; for many, indeed most, of the Grecian heroes also claimed their descent from Jupiter. It is moreover remarkable that, among the many genealogies which Homer has transmitted, none is traced so far into antiquity as that of the royal family of Troy. Dardanus was ancestor in the sixth degree to Hector, and may thus have lived from a hundred and fifty to two hundred years before that hero. On one of the many ridges projecting from the foot of the lofty mountain of Ida in the northwestern part of Asia Minor, he founded a town, or perhaps rather a castle, which from his own name was called Dardania.

The situation commanded the narrow but highly fruitful plain, watered by the streams of Simois and Scamander, and stretching from the roots of Ida to the Hellespont northward, and the Ægean Sea westward. His son Erichthonius, who succeeded him in the sovereignty of this territory, had the reputation of being the richest man of his age. Much of his wealth seems to have been derived from a large stock of brood mares, to the number, according to the poet, of three thousand, which the fertility of his soil enabled him to maintain, and which by his care and judgment in the choice of stallions produced a breed of horses superior to any of the surrounding countries. Tros, son of Erichthonius, probably extended, or in some other way improved, the territory of Dardania; since the appellation by which it was known to posterity was derived from his name. With the riches the population of the state of course increased. Ilus, son of Tros, therefore, venturing to move his residence from the mountain, founded, on a rising ground beneath, that celebrated city called from his name Ilion [or Ilium], but more familiarly known in modern languages by the name of Troy, derived from his father.

Twice before that war which Homer has made so famous Troy is said to have been taken and plundered: and for its second capture by Hercules, in the reign of Laomedon, son of Ilus, we have Homer’s authority. The government however revived, and still advanced in power and splendour. Laomedon after his misfortune fortified the city in a manner so superior to what was common in his age that the walls of Troy were said to be a work of the gods. Under his son Priam, the Trojan state was very flourishing and of considerable extent; containing, under the name of Phrygia, the country afterwards called Troas, together with both shores of the Hellespont and the large and fertile island of Lesbos.

A frequent communication, sometimes friendly, but oftener hostile, was maintained between the eastern and western coasts of the Ægean Sea; each being an object of piracy more than of commerce to the inhabitants of the opposite country. Cattle and slaves constituting the principal riches of the times, men, women, and children, together with swine, sheep, goats, oxen, and horses, were principal objects of plunder. But scarcely was any crime[79] more common than rapes; and it seems to have been a kind of fashion, in consequence of which the leaders of piratical expeditions gratified their vanity in the highest degree when they could carry off a lady of superior rank. How usual these outrages were among the Greeks, may be gathered from the condition said to have been exacted by Tyndareus, king of Sparta, father of the celebrated Helen, from the chieftains who came to ask his daughter in marriage; he required of all, as a preliminary, to bind themselves by solemn oaths that, should she be stolen, they would assist with their utmost power to recover her. This tradition, with many other stories of Grecian rapes, on whatsoever founded, indicates with certainty the opinion of the later Greeks, among whom they were popular, concerning the manners of their ancestors. But it does not follow that the Greeks were more vicious than other people equally unhabituated to constant, vigorous, and well-regulated exertions of law and government. Equal licentiousness but a few centuries ago prevailed throughout western Europe. Hence those gloomy habitations of the ancient nobility, which excite the wonder of the traveller, particularly in the southern parts, where, in the midst of the finest countries, he often finds them in situations so very inconvenient and uncomfortable, except for what was then the one great object, security, that now the houseless peasant will scarcely go to them for shelter. From the licentiousness were derived the manners, and even the virtues, of the times; and hence knight-errantry with its whimsical consequences.

Paris and Helen

The expedition of Paris, son of Priam king of Troy, into Greece, appears to have been a marauding adventure, such as was then usual. It is said indeed that he was received very hospitably, and entertained very kindly, by Menelaus king of Sparta. But this also was consonant to the spirit of the times; for hospitality has always been the virtue of barbarous ages: it is at this day no less characteristical of the wild Arabs than their spirit of robbery; and in the Scottish highlands we know robbery and hospitality flourished together till very lately. Hospitality indeed will be generally found in different ages and countries very nearly in proportion to the need of it; that is, in proportion to the deficiency of jurisprudence, and the weakness of government. Paris concluded his visit at Sparta with carrying off Helen, wife of Menelaus, together with a considerable treasure: and whether this was effected by fraud, or as some have supposed, by open violence, it is probable enough that as Herodotus relates, it was first concerted, and afterward supported, in revenge for some similar injury done by the Greeks to the Trojans.

An outrage however so grossly injurious to one of the greatest princes of Greece, especially if attended with a breach of the rights of hospitality, might not unreasonably be urged as a cause requiring the united revenge of all the Grecian chieftains. But there were other motives to engage them in the quarrel. The hope of returning laden with the spoil of the richer provinces of Asia was a strong incentive to leaders poor at home, and bred to rapine. The authority and influence of Agamemnon, king of Argos, brother of Menelaus, were also weighty. The spirit of the age, his own temper, the extent of his power, the natural desire of exerting it on a splendid occasion, would all incite this prince eagerly to adopt his brother’s quarrel. He is besides represented by character qualified to create and command a powerful league; ambitious, active, brave, generous, humane; vain indeed and haughty, sometimes to his own injury; yet commonly repressing[80] those hurtful qualities, and watchful to cultivate popularity. Under this leader all the Grecian chieftains from the end of Peloponnesus to the end of Thessaly, together with Idomeneus from Crete, and other commanders from some of the smaller islands, assembled at Aulis, a seaport of Bœotia. The Acarnanians alone, separated from the rest of Greece by lofty mountains and a sea at that time little navigated, had no share in the expedition.

The Siege of Troy

A story acquired celebrity in aftertimes, that, the fleet being long detained at Aulis by contrary winds, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia as a propitiatory offering to obtain from the gods a safe and speedy passage to the Trojan coast. To the credit of his character however it is added that he submitted to this abominable cruelty with extreme reluctance, compelled by the clamours of the army, who were persuaded that the gods required the victim; nor were there wanting those who asserted that by a humane fraud the princess was at last saved, under favour of a report that a fawn was miraculously sent by the goddess Diana to be sacrificed in her stead. Indeed the story, though of such fame, and so warranted by early authorities, that some notice of it seemed requisite, wants, it must be confessed, wholly the best authentication for matters of that very early age; for neither Homer, though he enumerates Agamemnon’s daughters, nor Hesiod, who not only mentions the assembling of the Grecian forces under his command at Aulis, but specifies their detentions by bad weather, has left one word about so remarkable an event as this sacrifice.

The fleet at length had a prosperous voyage. It consisted of about twelve hundred open vessels, each carrying from fifty to a hundred and twenty men. The number of men in the whole armament, computed from the mean of those two numbers mentioned by Homer as the complement of different ships, would be something more than a hundred thousand; and Thucydides, whose opinion is of the highest authority, has reckoned this within the bounds of probability; though a poet, he adds, would go to the utmost of current reports. The army, landing on the Trojan coast, was immediately so superior to the enemy as to oblige them to seek shelter within the city walls: but here the operations were at a stand. The hazards to which unfortified and solitary dwellings were exposed from pirates and freebooters had driven the more peaceable of mankind to assemble in towns for mutual security. To erect lofty walls around those towns for defence was then an obvious resource, requiring little more than labour for the execution. More thought, more art, more experience were necessary for forcing the rudest fortification, if defended with vigilance and courage. But the Trojan walls were singularly strong: Agamemnon’s army could make no impression upon them. He was therefore reduced to the method most common for ages after, of turning the siege into a blockade, and patiently waiting till want of necessaries should force the enemy to quit their shelter. But neither did the policy of the times amount by many degrees to the art of subsisting so numerous an army for any length of time, nor would the revenues of Greece have been equal to it with more knowledge, nor indeed would the state of things have admitted it, scarcely with any wealth, or by any means. For in countries without commerce, the people providing for their own wants only, supplies cannot be found equal to the maintenance of a superadded army. No sooner therefore did the Trojans shut themselves within their walls than the Greeks were obliged to give their principal attention to the means of[81] subsisting their numerous forces. The common method of the times was to ravage the adjacent countries; and this was immediately put in practice. But such a resource soon destroys itself. To have therefore a more permanent and certain supply, a part of their army was sent to cultivate the vales of the Thracian Chersonesus, then abandoned by the inhabitants on account of the frequent and destructive incursions of the wild people who occupied the interior of that continent.

Large bodies being thus detached from the army, the remainder scarcely sufficed to deter the Trojans from taking the field again, and could not prevent succour and supplies from being carried into the town. Thus the siege was protracted to the enormous length of ten years. It was probably their success in marauding marches and pirating voyages that induced the Greeks to persevere so long. Achilles is said to have plundered no less than twelve maritime and eleven inland towns. Lesbos, then under the dominion of the monarch of Troy, was among his conquests; and the women of that island were apportioned to the victorious army as a part of the booty. But these circumstances alarming all neighbouring people contributed to procure numerous and powerful allies to the Trojans. Not only the Asiatic states, to a great extent eastward and southward, sent auxiliary troops, but also the European, westward, as far as the Pæonians of that country about the river Axius, which afterwards became Macedonia.

At length, in the tenth year of the war, after great exertions of valour and the slaughter of numbers on both sides, among whom were many of the highest rank, Troy yielded to its fate. Yet was it not then overcome by open force; stratagem is reported by Homer; fraud and treachery have been supposed by later writers. It was, however, taken and plundered: the venerable monarch was slain: the queen and her daughters, together with only one son remaining of a very numerous male progeny, were led into captivity. According to some, the city was totally destroyed, and the survivors of the people so dispersed that their very name was from that time lost. But the tradition supported by better authority, and in no small degree by that of Homer himself, whose words upon the occasion seem indeed scarcely doubtful, is, that Æneas and his posterity reigned over the Trojan country and people for some generations; the seat of government however being removed from Troy to Scepsis: and Xenophon has marked his respect for this tradition, ascribing the final ruin of the Trojan state and name to that following inundation of Greeks called the Æolic emigration.

Agamemnon’s Sad Home-coming

Agamemnon, we are told, triumphed over Troy; and the historical evidence to the fact is large. But the Grecian poets themselves universally acknowledge that it was a dear-bought, a mournful triumph. Few of the princes, who survived to partake of it, had any enjoyment of their hard-earned glory in their native country. None expecting that the war would detain them so long from home, had made due provision for the regular administration of their affairs during such an absence. It is indeed probable that the utmost wisdom and forethought would have been unequal to the purpose. For, in the half-formed governments of those days, the constant presence of the prince as supreme regulator was necessary towards keeping the whole from running presently into utter confusion. Seditions and revolutions accordingly remain recorded almost as numerous as the cities of Greece. Many of the princes on their return were compelled to embark[82] again with their adherents, to seek settlements in distant countries. A more tragical fate awaited Agamemnon. His queen, Clytemnestra, having given her affection to his kinsman Ægisthus, concurred in a plot against her husband, and the unfortunate monarch on his return to Argos was assassinated; those of his friends who escaped the massacre were compelled to fly with his son Orestes; and, so strong was the party which their long possession of the government had enabled the conspirators to form, the usurper obtained complete possession of the throne. Orestes found refuge at Athens; where alone among the Grecian states there seems to have been then a constitution capable of bearing both the absence and the return of the army and its commander without any essential derangement.

Such were the Trojan war and its consequences, according to the best of the unconnected and defective accounts remaining, among which those of Homer have always held the first rank. In modern times, as we have seen, the authority of the great poet as an historian has been more questioned. It is of highest importance to the history of the early ages that it should have its due weight; and it may therefore be proper to mention here some of the circumstances which principally establish its authority; others will occur hereafter. It should be observed then that in Homer’s age poets were the only historians; whence, though it does not at all follow that poets would so adhere to certain truth as not to introduce ornament, yet it necessarily follows that veracity in historical narration would make a large share of a poet’s merit in public opinion, a circumstance which the common use of written records and prose histories instantly and totally altered. The probability and the very remarkable consistency of Homer’s historical anecdotes, variously dispersed as they are among his poetical details and embellishments, form a second and powerful testimony. Indeed, the connection and the clearness of Grecian history, through the very early times of which Homer has treated, appear very extraordinary when compared with the darkness and uncertainty that begin in the instant of our losing his guidance, and continue through ages.h


In the tales of Grecian mythology a great difference is apparent between the earlier and later centuries of the heroic age. They show us a considerable progress in culture during the course of the period. The legends of Perseus, Hercules, and Theseus, or of the battle of the Lapithæ and Centauri, depict the early Greeks as a half wild race tormented by fierce animals, robbers, and tyrants. Giants, fearful snakes, and other monsters, also adventures in the nether world, often appear in these legends, and the Grecians seem to be engaged in a battle with the wildness of nature and with their own crudity. The same land appears utterly different in the legends and poems of the Trojan war and the other events of the later heroic age. In these legends the manners of the Greeks are represented as friendlier and more peaceful, and, with a few exceptions, we find no more real miracles, but everything points to a quieter time and a more orderly state of affairs.

We have a poetical, yet essentially faithful, description of these last centuries in the Iliad and Odyssey, the two oldest extant Grecian literary works. Both poems are, besides the recital of a part of the heroic legends, a true picture of the customs, the conquering spirit, and the domestic as[83] well as public life of the Greeks at the time of the Trojan war and immediately after it. The Grecians at that time do not seem to have been a very numerous people. They lived in small states, with central cities in active intercourse with one another, not differing much in their ways of life, customs, and language. They were a rustic, warlike race, who rejoiced in simple customs and led a happy existence under a friendly sky. The similarity of religion, language, and customs made the Greeks of that time, as it were, members of a great organism, holding together although divided into many tribes and states. At the end of the heroic age some of the tribes were brought even closer together by near relationship and by means of temples and feasts in common. But the link that held them all together had not as yet become a clear conviction; therefore, so far there was no joint name for the Greek nation.

Agriculture and cattle raising were the principal occupations of the people. Besides this they had few industries. Other sources of wealth were the chase, fishing, and war. The agriculture consisted of corn and wine-growing and horticulture. The ox was the draught animal, donkeys and mules were used for transport, horses were but seldom used for riding, but they drew the chariots in time of war. The herds consisted principally of cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. Slaves were used for the lower work. These were purchased from sea-robbers, obtained in victorious wars, or born in the house. They had a knowledge of navigation, although their ships generally had no decks, and were worked more by means of oars than sails. There was no commerce on a large scale; war and piracy served instead as a means of obtaining riches. Many metals were known; they used iron, the working of which was still difficult. Coinage was not used at all, or, at all events, very little. Weaving was the work of women; the best woven stuffs, however, were obtained from the Phœnicians, who were the reigning commercial people of the Grecian seas. They made various kinds of arms, which were in part of artistic workmanship, ornaments and vessels of metal, ivory, clay, and wood. The descriptions of these objects show that the taste for plastic art, that is, the representation of beautiful forms, was already awakened among them. They possessed further a knowledge of architecture; towns and villages are mentioned, also walls with towers and gates. The houses of princes were built of stone; they contained large and lofty rooms, as well as gardens and halls.

Caste was unknown to the Grecians. The people in the heroic age, to be sure, consisted of nobles and commons, but the latter took part in all public affairs of importance, and the privileges of the former did not rest upon their birth alone; an acquisition of great strength, bravery, and adroitness was also necessary—virtues which are accessible to all. The difference between the two classes was, therefore, not grounded, like the oriental establishment of caste, on superstition and deception, but on the belief that certain families possessed bodily strength and warlike abilities, and were therefore appointed by the gods as protectors of the country; that their only right to superiority over others lay in their actual greater capacity for ruling and fighting.

The system of government was aristocratic monarchy, supported by the personal feelings and co-operative opinions of all free men. The state was thus merely a warlike assembly of vigorous men, consisting of nobles and freemen, having a leader at their head. The latter was bound to follow the decisions of the nobility, and in important affairs had to ask the consent of the people.


The king was only the first of the nobility, and the only rights he possessed which were not shared by them was that of commander in battle and high priest. Therefore, if he wished to excel others as real ruler, everything depended on his personality; he had to surpass others in riches, bodily strength, bravery, discernment, and experience. The king brought the sacrifice to the gods for the totality and directed the religious ceremonies. He also sat in judgment, but mostly in company with experienced old men from the nobility, being really arbitrator and protector of the weak against the strong; for if no plaintiff appeared there was no trial at the public judgment-seat. It was the king’s duty to offer hospitality to the ambassadors of other states and to be hospitable to strangers generally. His revenues consisted only of the voluntary donations of his subjects, of a larger share in the spoils of war, and of the produce of certain lands assigned to him. The only signs of his royalty were the sceptre and the herald that went before him. He took the first place at all assemblies and feasts, and at the sacrificial repasts he received a double helping of food and drink. He was addressed in terms of veneration, but otherwise one associated with him as with any other noble, and there was no trace of the oriental forms of homage towards kings among the ancient Greeks.

The nobility was composed of men of certain families to whom especial strength and dexterity were attributed as hereditary prerogatives; they sought to keep these up by means of knightly practices and to prove them on the battle-field. As has already been said, they took part in the government of the country. The common people or free citizens of the second class were assembled on all important occasions, to give their votes for peace or war, or any other matter of importance. The assemblies of the people described in the Iliad and Odyssey show the same general participation in public affairs and that lively activity which later reached such a high development in the Grecian republics. Beside this, at that time bravery and strength showed what every man was worth, and still more than mere bodily strength, experience, eloquence, and a judicious insight into life and its circumstances brought to any one honour and importance.

In time of war the decision depended more upon the bravery of the kings and nobles than upon the fighting of the people, who arranged themselves in close masses on the battle-field. The chiefs were not trained to be generals or leaders, but rather brave and skilled fighters. Swiftness in running, strength and certainty in throw, and skill in wrestling as in the use of arms, of the lance and the sword, were the most important items. Every leader had his own chariot, with a young companion by his side to hold the reins, while he himself fought with a javelin. The fortifications of the towns consisted of a trench and a wall with towers. As yet they had no knowledge of how to conduct a siege. They knew of no implement which would serve in the taking of a town.

Music and poetry played an important part in the lives of these warlike people. These were inseparable from their meals, their feasts, and military expeditions. The lyre, the flute, and the pipe were the musical instruments in the heroic age; the trumpet was not used until the end of that time. Flute and pipe were the instruments of shepherds and peasants. The lyre, on the other hand, was played by poets and singers and even by many of the kings and nobles, and always served as the accompaniment of songs. The subjects of their songs were the deeds of living or past heroes. There were singers or bards who composed these songs and sang them while men stood round to listen and these bards were held in great esteem.


Religion and politics were closely connected; but there was no trace of a priesthood with predominant influence. The king was the director of sacrifices, the presence of a priest not being required. There already existed, to be sure, besides the ancient oracle of Dodona, the oracle of Delphi in Phocis, which became so celebrated at a later period; but neither had any great influence in the heroic age. On the other hand, there were so-called soothsayers, who were supposed to possess much wisdom and at the same time a kind of association with the gods. For this reason they were consulted, so as to foretell the results of important undertakings, and to discover the cause of general misfortunes as well as a means of removing them.

The most renowned of these men were Orpheus, who played the part of prophet in the expedition of the Argonauts; Amphiaraus, who joined the expedition of the Seven against Thebes in the same character; Tiresias, who was the prophet of the Thebans both at that time and in the war of the Epigoni; and lastly Calchas, the soothsayer of the Greeks in the Trojan war. Even these men had no influence to be compared with the oriental priesthood.

They were really only looked upon as pacifiers of the outraged godhead and as advisers; their soothsayings were not always respected, and when their prophecies were unsatisfactory they had to face the anger of those in power.


(From a Greek Statue)

The religious belief of the heroic age was the origin of the later national religion. It sprang probably from various sources. Therefore it cannot be distinguished by any special belief like that of the Indians and Egyptians. The religion of the Greeks was never a perfected system and therefore not free from contradictions, especially as oriental conceptions were introduced into it from ancient times. The Grecians of this time believed heaven, or rather the summit of the towering Mount Olympus, to be inhabited by beings, like the earth; they imagined that these beings resembled human beings in appearance and inner nature, but with the difference that they ascribed to them invisibility, greater strength, freedom from the barriers of mortality, and a powerful influence over earthly things. The life of the gods, according to the representation of the heroic age, only differed from that of men in the fact that it had a more beautiful colouring and higher pleasures. They therefore looked upon the gods as personal beings and had that form of religion known as anthropomorphism, the essential characteristic of which is the belief that the gods resemble men. But joined in an inexplicable manner with this view, was the idea that the gods were at the same time natural phenomena and powers of nature. For instance Zeus, the king and ruler in the kingdom of the gods, was also regarded as the god of the[86] atmosphere; Apollo of the sun; Poseidon the god of the sea; and the woods, wells, valleys, and hills were believed to be inhabited by divine beings called nymphs.

The king offered sacrifice for the people and every father for his house and family. The religious ceremonies consisted chiefly of sacrifices and prayers. There were but few temples, but on the other hand every town had a piece of land set apart, on which there was an altar. They did not feel bound to these holy places for the worship of the gods, but often built an altar on some spot in the open field for prayer and sacrifice. The sacrifice consisted in burning some pieces of flesh to the gods and the pouring of wine into the fire; while the rest was consumed at a general and merry feast. Even the appointed religious feast days had quite a festive colouring: they feasted, drank, joked, held tournaments, and listened while bards sang of the deeds of heroes. There was no trace to be found among the religious ceremonies of the heroic Greeks of that wild, intoxicating character which generally existed at the feasts of the oriental people.

This was how the character of the later Grecian heroic age was formed. They were a vigorous people, with warlike tastes and simple customs, living under a mild heaven. All took part in public affairs, all were free, and, in spite of a certain inequality among them, they were all connected; and divided by no great contrasts in education, the community felt no kind of oppression. The limited population of the country and the possession of slaves permitted a careless and merry way of life. Rough work was unknown to the greater part of the populace. They exercised their bodies and steeled their strength with warlike undertakings, hunting, practice with arms, and wrestling. Their mental intelligence was directed to higher things through religious customs and soothsayers, and developed rapidly by means of the merry association of the nobility, frequent consultations about public affairs, and mutual military expeditions; and, above all, by means of the poetical stories related by the bards, who put into pleasant form what all felt, and were the real teachers of a higher mental culture; and lastly by means of the elevating power of music.

The Greek, under his bright heaven, looked upon life in the kind sunlight of the upper world as a real life; but that of the lower regions seemed to him, even if he obtained the greatest honours, and reigned like Achilles “over the entire dead as king,” only a sombre picture as compared with the upper world: he loved life and did not throw it ostentatiously away, where there was no necessity. He did not look upon flying from a stronger foe as disgrace; swiftness of foot was regarded by him as a heroic merit, like cunning and a mighty arm.d


If we endeavour to ascertain the extent of Homer’s geographical knowledge, we find ourselves almost confined to Greece and the Ægean. Beyond this circle all is foreign and obscure: and the looseness with which he describes the more distant regions, especially when contrasted with his accurate delineation of those which were familiar to him, indicates that as to the others he was mostly left to depend on vague rumours, which he might mould at his pleasure. In the catalogue indeed of the Trojan auxiliaries, which probably comprises all the information which the Greeks had acquired concerning that part of the world at the time it was composed, the names of several nations in the interior of Asia Minor are enumerated. The remotest are probably[87] the Halizonians of Alyba, whose country may, as Strabo supposes, be that of the Chaldeans on the Euxine. On the southern side of the peninsula the Lycians appear as a very distant race, whose land is therefore a fit scene for fabulous adventures: on its confines are the haunts of the monstrous Chimæra, and the territory of the Amazons: farther eastward the mountains of the fierce Solymi, from which Poseidon, on his return from the Ethiopians, descries the bark of Ulysses sailing on the western sea. These Ethiopians are placed by the poet at the extremity of the earth; but as they are visited by Menelaus in the course of his wanderings, they must be supposed to reach across to the shores of the inner sea, and to border on the Phœnicians. Ulysses describes a voyage which he performed in five days, from Crete to Egypt: and the Taphians, though they inhabit the western side of Greece, are represented as engaged in piratical adventures on the coast of Phœnicia. But as to Egypt, it seems clear that the poet’s information was confined to what he had heard of a river Ægyptus, and a great city called Thebes.

On the western side of Europe, the compass of his knowledge seems to be bounded by a few points not very far distant from the coast of Greece. The northern part of the Adriatic he appears to have considered as a vast open sea. Farther westward, Sicily and the southern extremity of Italy are represented as the limits of all ordinary navigation. Beyond lies a vast sea, which spreads to the very confines of nature and space. Sicily itself, at least its more remote parts, is inhabited by various races of gigantic cannibals: whether, at the same time, any of the tribes who really preceded the Greeks in the occupation of the island were known to be settled on the eastern side, is not certain, though the Sicels and Sicania are mentioned in the Odyssey. Italy, as well as Greece, appears, according to the poet’s notions, to be bounded on the north by a formidable waste of waters.

When we proceed to inquire how the imagination of the people filled up the void of its experience, and determined the form of the unknown world, we find that the rudeness of its conceptions corresponds to the scantiness of its information. The part of the earth exposed to the beams of the sun was undoubtedly considered, not as a spherical, but as a plane surface, only varied by its heights and hollows; and, as little can it be doubted, that the form of this surface was determined by that of the visible horizon. The whole orb is girt by the ocean, not a larger sea, but a deep river, which, circulating with constant but gentle flux, separates the world of light and life from the realms of darkness, dreams, and death. No feature in the Homeric chart is more distinctly prominent than this: hence the divine artist terminates the shield of Achilles with a circular stripe, representing “the mighty strength of the river Ocean,” and all the epithets which the poet applies to it are such as belong exclusively to a river. Homer describes all the other rivers, all springs and wells, and the salt main itself, as issuing from the ocean stream, which might be supposed to feed them by subterraneous channels. Still it is very difficult to form a clear conception of this river, or to say how the poet supposed it to be bounded. Ulysses passes into it from the western sea; but whether the point at which he enters is a mouth or opening, or the two waters are only separated by an invisible line, admits of much doubt. On the farther side however is land: but a land of darkness, which the sun cannot pierce, a land of Cimmerians, the realm of Hades, inhabited by the shades of the departed, and by the family of dreams. As to the other dimensions of the earth, the poet affords us no information, and it would be difficult to decide whether a cylinder or a cone approaches nearest to the figure which he may have assigned to it: and as little does he intimate in what manner[88] he conceives it to be supported. But within it was hollowed another vast receptacle for departed spirits, perhaps the proper abode of Hades. Beneath this, and as far below the earth as heaven was above it, lay the still more murky pit of Tartarus, secured by its iron gates and brazen floor, the dungeon reserved by Jupiter for his implacable enemies.

Some of the epithets which Homer applies to the heaven, seem to imply that he considered it as a solid vault of metal. But it is not necessary to construe these epithets so literally, nor to draw any such inference from his description of Atlas, who “holds the lofty pillars which keep earth and heaven asunder.” Yet it would seem, from the manner in which the height of heaven is compared with the depth of Tartarus, that the region of light was thought to have certain bounds. The summit of the Thessalian Olympus was regarded as the highest point on the earth, and it is not always carefully distinguished from the aerian regions above. The idea of a seat of the gods,—perhaps derived from a more ancient tradition, in which it was not attached to any geographical site,—seems to be indistinctly blended in the poet’s mind with that of a real mountain. Hence Hephæstus, when hurled from the threshold of Jupiter’s palace, falls “from morn to noon, from noon to dewy eve,” before he drops on Lemnos; and Jupiter speaks of suspending the earth by a chain from the top of Olympus.


A wider compass of geographical knowledge, and more enlarged views of nature, would scarcely have been consistent with the state of navigation and commerce which the Homeric poems represent. The poet expresses the common feelings of an age when the voyages of the Greeks were mostly confined to the Ægean. The vessels of the heroes, and probably of the poet’s contemporaries, were slender half-decked boats: according to the calculation of Thucydides, who seems to suspect exaggeration, the largest contained one hundred and twenty men, the greatest number of rowers mentioned in the catalogue: but we find twenty rowers spoken of as a usual complement of a good ship. The mast was movable, and was only hoisted to take advantage of a fair wind, and at the end of a day’s voyage was again deposited in its appropriate receptacle. In the day-time, the Greek mariner commonly followed the windings of the coasts, or shot across from headland to headland, or from isle to isle: at night his vessel was usually put into port, or hauled up on the beach; for though on clear nights he might prosecute his voyage as well as by day, yet should the sky be overcast his course was inevitably lost. Engagements at sea are never mentioned by Homer, though he so frequently alludes to piratical excursions. They were probably of rare occurrence: but as they must sometimes have been inevitable, the galleys were provided with long poles for such occasions. The approach of winter put a stop to all ordinary navigation. Hesiod fixes the time for laying up the merchant ship, covering it with stones, taking out the rigging, and hanging the rudder up by the fire. According to him, the fair season lasts only fifty days: some indeed venture earlier to sea, but a prudent man will not then trust his substance to the waves.

The practical astronomy of the early Greeks consisted of a few observations on the heavenly bodies, the appearances of which were most conspicuously connected with the common occupations of life. The succession of light and darkness, the recurring phases of the moon, and the vicissitude of the[89] seasons, presented three regular periods of time, which, though all equally forced on the attention, were not all marked with equal distinctness by sensible limits. From the first, and down to the age of Solon, the Greeks seem to have measured their months in the natural way, by the interval between one appearance of the new moon and the next. Hence, their months were of unequal duration; yet they might be described in round numbers as consisting of thirty days. It was soon observed that the revolutions of the moon were far from affording an exact measure of the apparent annual revolution of the sun, and that if this were taken to be equal to twelve of the former, the seasons would pass in succession through all the months of the year. This in itself would have been no evil, and would have occasioned no disturbance in the business of life. Seen under the Greek sky, the stars were scarcely less conspicuous objects than the moon itself: some of the most striking groups were early observed and named, and served, by their risings and settings, to regulate the labours of the husbandman and the adventures of the seaman.


Commerce appears in Homer’s descriptions to be familiar enough to the Greeks of the heroic age, but not to be held in great esteem. Yet in the Odyssey we find the goddess, who assumes the person of a Taphian chief, professing that she is on her way to Temesa with a cargo of iron to be exchanged for copper: and in the Iliad, Jason’s son, the prince of Lemnos, appears to carry on an active traffic with the Greeks before Troy. He sends a number of ships freighted with wine, for which the purchasers pay, some in copper, some in iron, some in hides, some in cattle, some in slaves. Of the use of money the poet gives no hint, either in this description or elsewhere. He speaks of the precious metals only as commodities, the value of which was in all cases determined by weight. The Odyssey represents Phœnician traders as regularly frequenting the Greek ports; but as Phœnician slaves are sometimes brought to Greece, so the Phœnicians do not scruple, even where they are received as friendly merchants, to carry away Greek children into slavery.

The general impression which the Homeric pictures of society leave on the reader is, that many of the useful arts,—that is, those subservient to the animal wants or enjoyments of life,—had already reached such a stage of refinement as enabled the affluent to live, not merely in rude plenty, but in a considerable degree of luxury and splendour. The dwellings, furniture, clothing, armour, and other such property of the chiefs, are commonly described as magnificent, costly, and elegant, both as to the materials and workmanship. We are struck, not only by the apparent profusion of the precious metals and other rare and dazzling objects in the houses of the great, but by the skill and ingenuity which seem to be exerted in working them up into convenient and graceful forms. Great caution, however, is evidently necessary in drawing inferences from these descriptions as to the state of the arts in the heroic ages. The poet has treasures at his disposal which, as they cost him nothing, he may scatter with an unsparing hand. The shield made by Hephæstus for Achilles cannot be considered as a specimen of the progress of art, since it is not only the work of a god, but is fabricated on an extraordinary occasion, to excite the admiration of men. It is clear that the poet attributes a superiority to several Eastern nations, more[90] especially to the Phœnicians, not only in wealth, but in knowledge and skill, that, compared with their progress, the arts of Greece seem to be in their infancy. The description of a Phœnician vessel, which comes to a Greek island freighted with trinkets, and of the manner in which a lady of the highest rank, and her servants, handle and gaze on one of the foreign ornaments, present the image of such a commerce as Europeans carry on with the islanders of the South Sea. It looks as if articles of this kind, at least, were eagerly coveted, and that there were no means of procuring them at home.

It is possible that Homer’s pictures of the heroic style of living may be too highly coloured, but there is reason to believe that they were drawn from the life. He may have been somewhat too lavish of the precious metals; but some of the others, particularly copper, were perhaps more abundant than in later times; beside copper and iron, we find steel and tin, which the Phœnicians appear already to have brought from the west of Europe, frequently mentioned. There can be no doubt that the industry of the Greeks had long been employed on these materials. We may therefore readily believe that, even in the heroic times, the works of Greek artisans already bore the stamp of the national genius. In some important points, the truth of Homer’s descriptions has been confirmed by monuments, brought to light within our own memory, of an architecture which was most probably contemporary with the events which he celebrated. The remains of Mycenæ and other ancient cities seem sufficiently to attest the fidelity with which he has represented the general character of that magnificence which the heroic chieftains loved to display. On the other hand, the same poems afford several strong indications that, though in the age which they describe such arts were, perhaps, rapidly advancing, they cannot then have been so long familiar to the Greeks as to be very commonly practised; and that a skilful artificer was rarely found, and was consequently viewed with great admiration, and occupied a high rank in society. Thus, the craft of the carpenter appears to be exceedingly honourable. He is classed with the soothsayer, the physician, and the bard, and like them is frequently sent for from a distance. The son of a person eminent in this craft is not mixed with the crowd on the field of battle, but comes forward among the most distinguished warriors. And as in itself it seems to confer a sort of nobility, so it is practised by the most illustrious chiefs. Ulysses is represented as a very skilful carpenter. He not only builds the boat in which he leaves the island of Calypso, but in his own palace carves a singular bedstead out of the trunk of a tree, which he inlays with gold, silver, and ivory. Another chief, Epeus, was celebrated as the builder of the wooden horse in which the heroes were concealed at the taking of Troy. The goddess Athene was held to preside over this, as over all manual arts, and to favour those who excelled in it with her inspiring counsels.

The chances of war give occasion, as might be expected, for frequent allusions to the healing art. The Greek army contains two chiefs who have inherited consummate skill in this art from their father Æsculapius; and Achilles has been so well instructed in it by Chiron, that Patroclus, to whom he has imparted his knowledge, is able to supply their place. But the processes described in this and other cases show that these might often be the least danger from the treatment of the most unpractised hands. The operation of extracting a weapon from the wound, with a knife, seems not to have been considered as one which demanded peculiar skill; the science of the physician was chiefly displayed in the application of medicinal herbs, by[91] which he stanched the blood, and eased the pain. When Ulysses has been gored by a wild boar, his friends first bind up the hurt, and then use a charm for stopping the flow of blood. The healing art, such as it was, was frequently and successfully practised by the women.

We have already seen that several of the arts which originally ministered only to physical wants, had been so far refined before the time of Homer, that their productions gratified the sense of beauty, and served for ornament as well as for use. Hence our curiosity is awakened to inquire to what extent those arts, which became in later times the highest glory of Greece, in which she yet stands unrivalled, were cultivated in the same period. Unfortunately, the information which the poet affords on this subject is so scanty and obscure, as to leave room on many points for a wide difference of opinion. If we begin with his own art, of which his own poetry is the most ancient specimen extant, we find several hints of its earlier condition. It was held in the highest honour among the heroes. The bard is one of those persons whom men send for to very distant parts; his presence is welcome at every feast; it seems as if one was attached to the service of every great family, and treated with an almost religious respect; Agamemnon, when he sets out on the expedition to Troy, reposes the most important of all trusts in the bard whom he leaves at home. It would even seem as if poetry and music were thought fit to form part of a princely education; for Achilles is found amusing himself with singing, while he touches the same instrument with which the bards constantly accompany their strains. The general character of this heroic poetry is also distinctly marked; it is of the narrative kind, and its subjects are drawn from the exploits or adventures of renowned men. Each song is described as a short extemporaneous effusion, but yet seems to have been rounded into a little whole, such as to satisfy the hearer’s immediate curiosity.

The Graphic Arts

An interesting and difficult question presents itself, as to the degree in which Homer and his contemporaries were conversant with the imitative arts, and particularly with representations of the human form. We find such representations, on a small scale, frequently described. The garment woven by Helen contained a number of battle scenes; as one presented by Penelope to Ulysses was embroidered with a picture of a chase, wrought with gold threads. The shield of Achilles was divided into compartments exhibiting many complicated groups of figures: and though this was a masterpiece of Hephæstus, it would lead us to believe that the poet must have seen many less elaborate and difficult works of a like nature. But throughout the Homeric poems there occurs only one distinct allusion to a statue, as a work of human art. The robe which the Trojan queen offers to Athene in her temple, is placed by the priestess on the knees of the goddess, who was therefore represented in a sitting posture. Even this, it may be said, proves nothing as to the Greeks. They can only be admitted as additional indications that the poet was not a stranger to such objects.

To pictures, or the art of painting, properly so called, the poet makes no allusion, though he speaks of the colouring of ivory, as an art in which the Carian and Mæonian women excelled. It must, however, be considered that there is only one passage in which he expressly mentions any kind of delineation, and there in a very obscure manner, though he has described so many works which imply a previous design.c



Pavement of Southwest Ramparts of the Walls of Troy

The art of war is among the arts of necessity, which all people, the rudest equally and the most polished, must cultivate, or ruin will follow the neglect. The circumstances of Greece were in some respects peculiarly favourable to the improvement of this art. Divided into little states, the capital of each, with the greater part of the territory, generally within a day’s march of several neighbouring states which might be enemies and seldom were thoroughly to be trusted as friends, while from the establishment of slavery arose everywhere perpetual danger of a domestic foe, it was of peculiar necessity both for every individual to be a soldier, and for the community to pay unremitting attention to military affairs. Accordingly we find that so early as Homer’s time the Greeks had improved considerably upon that tumultuary warfare alone known to many barbarous nations, who yet have prided themselves in the practice of war for successive centuries. Several terms used by the poet, together with his descriptions of marches, indicate that orders of battle were in his time regularly formed in rank and file. Steadiness in the soldier, that foundation of all those powers which distinguish an army from a mob, and which to this day forms the highest praise of the best troops, we find in great perfection in the Iliad. “The Grecian phalanges,” says the poet, “marched in close order, the leaders directing each his own band. The rest were mute: insomuch that you would say in so great a multitude there was no voice. Such was the silence with which they respectfully watched for the word of command from their officers.”

Considering the deficiency of iron, the Grecian troops appear to have been very well armed both for offence and defence. Their defensive armour consisted of a helmet, a breastplate, and greaves, all of brass, and a shield, commonly of bull’s hide, but often strengthened with brass. The breastplate appears to have met the belt, which was a considerable defence to the belly and groin, and with an appendant skirt guarded also the thighs. All together covered the forepart of the soldier from the throat to the ankle; and the shield was a superadded protection for every part. The bulk of the Grecian troops were infantry thus heavily armed, and formed in close order many ranks deep. Any body formed in ranks and files, close and deep, without regard to a specific number of either ranks or files, was generally termed a phalanx. But the Locrians, under Oïlean Ajax, were all light-armed: bows were their principal weapons; and they never engaged in close fight.

Riding on horseback was yet little practised, though it appears to have been not unknown. Some centuries, however, passed before it was generally applied in Greece to military purposes; the mountainous ruggedness of the[93] country preventing any extensive use of cavalry, except among the Thessalians, whose territory was a large plain. But in the Homeric armies no chief was without his chariot, drawn generally by two, sometimes by three horses; and these chariots of war make a principal figure in Homer’s battles. Nestor, forming the army for action, composes the first line of chariots only. In the second he places that part of the infantry in which he has least confidence; and then forms a third line, or reserve, of the most approved troops. It seems extraordinary that chariots should have been so extensively used in war as we find they were in the early ages. In the wide plains of Asia, indeed, we may account for their introduction, as we may give them credit for utility: but how they should become so general among the inhabitants of rocky, mountainous Greece, how the distant Britons should arrive at that surprising perfection in the use of them which they possessed when the Roman legions first invaded this island, especially as the same mode of fighting was little if at all practised among the Gauls and Germans, is less obvious to conjecture.

The combat of the chiefs, so repeatedly described by Homer, advancing to engage singly in front of their line of battle, is apt to strike a modern reader with an appearance of absurdity perhaps much beyond the reality. Before the use of fire-arms, that practice was not uncommon when the art of war was at its greatest perfection. In Cæsar’s Commentaries we have a very particular account of an advanced combat, in which, not generals indeed, but two centurions of his army engaged. The Grecian chiefs of the heroic age, like the knights of the times of chivalry, had armour apparently very superior to that of the common soldiers; which, with the skill acquired by assiduous practice amid unbounded leisure, might enable them to obviate much of the seeming danger of such skirmishes. Nor might the effect be unimportant. Like the sharp-shooters of modern days, a few men of superior strength, activity, and skill, superior also by the excellence of their defensive armour, might prepare a victory by creating disorder in the close array of the enemy’s phalanx. They threw their weighty javelins from a distance, while none dared advance to meet them but chiefs equally well-armed with themselves: and from the soldiers in the ranks they had little to fear; because, in that close order, the dart could not be thrown with any advantage. Occasionally, indeed, we find some person of inferior name advancing to throw his javelin at a chief occupied against some other, but retreating again immediately into the ranks: a resource not disdained by the greatest heroes when danger pressed. Hector himself, having thrown his javelin ineffectually at Ajax, retires toward his phalanx, but is overtaken by a stone of enormous weight, which brings him to the ground. If from the death or wounds of chiefs, or slaughter in the foremost rank of soldiers, any confusion arose in the phalanx, the shock of the enemy’s phalanx, advancing in perfect order, must be irresistible.

Another practice common in Homer’s time is by no means equally defensible, but on the contrary marks great barbarism; that of stopping in the heat of action to strip the slain. Often this paltry passion for possessing the spoil of the enemy superseded all other, even the most important and most deeply interesting objects of battle. The poet himself was not unaware of the danger and inconveniency of the practice, and seems even to have aimed at a reformation of it. We find indeed in Homer’s warfare a remarkable mixture of barbarism with regularity. Though the art of forming an army in phalanx was known and commonly practised, yet the business of a general, in directing its operations, was lost in the passion, or we may call it fashion,[94] of the great men to signalise themselves by acts of personal courage and skill in arms. Achilles and Hector, the first heroes of the Iliad, excel only in the character of fighting soldiers: as generals and directors of the war, they are inferior to many. Excepting indeed in the single circumstance of forming the army in order of battle, so far from the general, we scarcely ever discover even the officer among Homer’s heroes. It is not till most of the principal Grecian leaders are disabled for the duty of soldiers that at length they so far take upon themselves that of officers as to endeavour to restore order among their broken phalanges.

We might, however, yet more wonder at another deficiency in Homer’s art of war, were it not still universal throughout those rich and populous countries where mankind was first civilised. Even among the Turks, who, far as they have spread over the finest part of Europe, retain pertinaciously every defect of their ancient Asiatic customs, the easy and apparently obvious precaution of posting and relieving sentries, so essential to the safety of armies, has never obtained. When, in the ill turn of the Grecian affairs, constant readiness for defence became more especially necessary, it is mentioned as an instance of soldiership in the active Diomedes, that he slept on his arms without his tent: but no kind of watch was kept; all his men were at the same time asleep around him: and the other leaders were yet less prepared against surprise. A guard indeed selected from the army was set, in the manner of a modern grand-guard or out-post; but though commanded by two officers high both in rank and reputation, yet the commander-in-chief expresses his fear that, overcome with fatigue, the whole might fall asleep and totally forget their duty. The Trojans, who at the same time, after their success, slept on the field of battle, had no guard appointed by authority, but depended wholly upon the interest which every one had in preventing a surprise; “They exhorted one another to be watchful,” says the poet. But the allies all slept; and he subjoins the reason, “For they had no children or wives at hand.” However, though Homer does not expressly blame the defect, or propose a remedy, yet he gives, in the surprise of Rhesus, an instance of the disasters to which armies are exposed by intermission of watching, that might admonish his fellow-countrymen to improve their practice.

The Greeks, and equally the Trojans and their allies, encamped with great regularity; and fortified, if in danger of an attack from a superior enemy. Indeed Homer ascribes no superiority in the art of war, or even in personal courage, to his fellow-countrymen. Even those inland Asiatics, afterwards so unwarlike, are put by him upon a level with the bravest people. Tents, like those now in use, seem to have been a late invention. The ancients, on desultory expeditions, and in marching through a country, slept with no shelter but their cloaks; as our light troops often carry none but a blanket—a practice which Bonaparte extended to his whole army, thereby providing a speedy and miserable death for thousands in his retreat from Russia. When the ancients remained long on a spot they hutted. Achilles’ tent or hut was built of fir, and thatched with reeds; and it seems to have had several apartments.h


There are two special veins of estimable sentiment, on which it may be interesting to contrast heroic and historical Greece, and which exhibit the latter as an improvement on the former, not less in the affections than in the intellect.


The law of Athens was peculiarly watchful and provident with respect both to the persons and the property of orphan minors; but the description given in the Iliad of the utter and hopeless destitution of the orphan boy, despoiled of his paternal inheritance and abandoned by all the friends of his father, whom he urgently supplicates, and who all harshly cast him off, is one of the most pathetic morsels in the whole poem. In reference again to the treatment of the dead body of an enemy, we find all the Greek chiefs who come near (not to mention the conduct of Achilles himself) piercing with their spears the corpse of the slain Hector, while some of them even pass disgusting taunts upon it. We may add, from the lost epics, the mutilation of the dead bodies of Paris and Deiphobus by the hand of Menelaus. But at the time of the Persian invasion, it was regarded as unworthy of a right-minded Greek to maltreat in any way the dead body of an enemy, even where such a deed might seem to be justified on the plea of retaliation.

The different manner of dealing with homicide presents a third test, perhaps more striking yet, of the change in Grecian feelings and manners during the three centuries preceding the Persian invasion. That which the murderer in the Homeric times had to dread, was, not public prosecution and punishment, but the personal vengeance of the kinsmen and friends of the deceased, who were stimulated by the keenest impulses of honour and obligation to avenge the deed, and were considered by the public as specially privileged to do so. To escape from this danger, he is obliged to flee the country, unless he can prevail upon the incensed kinsmen to accept of a valuable payment (we must not speak of coined money, in the days of Homer) as satisfaction for their slain comrade. They may, if they please, decline the offer, and persist in their right of revenge; but if they accept, they are bound to leave the offender unmolested, and he accordingly remains at home without further consequences. The chiefs in agora do not seem to interfere, except to insure payment of the stipulated sum.

In historical Athens, this right of private revenge was discountenanced and put out of sight, even so early as the Draconian legislation, and at last restricted to a few extreme and special cases; while the murderer came to be considered, first as having sinned against the gods, next as having deeply injured the society, and thus at once as requiring absolution and deserving punishment. On the first of these two grounds, he is interdicted from the agora and from all holy places, as well as from public functions, even while yet untried and simply a suspected person; for if this were not done, the wrath of the gods would manifest itself in bad crops and other national calamities. On the second ground, he is tried before the council of Areopagus, and if found guilty, is condemned to death, or perhaps to disfranchisement and banishment. The idea of a propitiatory payment to the relatives of the deceased has ceased altogether to be admitted: it is the protection of society which dictates, and the force of society which inflicts, a measure of punishment calculated to deter for the future.

The society of legendary Greece includes, besides the chiefs, the general mass of freemen (λαοὶ), among whom stand out by special names certain professional men, such as the carpenter, the smith, the leather-dresser, the leech, the prophet, the bard, and the fisherman. We have no means of appreciating their condition. Though lots of arable land were assigned in special property to individuals, with boundaries both carefully marked and jealously watched, yet the larger proportion of surface was devoted to pasture. Cattle formed both the chief item in the substance of a wealthy man, the chief means of making payments, and the common ground of quarrels—bread and meat, in[96] large quantities, being the constant food of every one. The estates of the owners were tilled, and their cattle tended, mostly by bought slaves, but to a certain degree also by poor freemen called thetes, working for hire and for stated periods. The principal slaves, who were entrusted with the care of large herds of oxen, swine, or goats, were of necessity men worthy of confidence, their duties placing them away from their master’s immediate eye. They had other slaves subordinate to them, and appear to have been well-treated: the deep and unshaken attachment of Eumæus the swineherd and Philœtius the neatherd to the family and affairs of the absent Ulysses, is among the most interesting points in the ancient epic. Slavery was a calamity, which in that period of insecurity might befall any one: the chief who conducted a freebooting expedition, if he succeeded, brought back with him a numerous troop of slaves, as many as he could seize—if he failed, became very likely a slave himself: so that the slave was often by birth of equal dignity with his master—Eumæus was himself the son of a chief, conveyed away when a child by his nurse, and sold by Phœnician kidnappers to Laertes. A slave of this character, if he conducted himself well, might often expect to be enfranchised by his master and placed in an independent holding.

On the whole, the slavery of legendary Greece does not present itself as existing under a peculiarly harsh form, especially if we consider that all the classes of society were then very much upon a level in point of taste, sentiment, and instruction. In the absence of legal security or an effective social sanction, it is probable that the condition of a slave under an average master, may have been as good as that of the free Thete. The class of slaves whose lot appears to have been the most pitiable were the females—more numerous than the males, and performing the principal work in the interior of the house. Not only do they seem to have been more harshly treated than the males, but they were charged with the hardest and most exhausting labour which the establishment of a Greek chief required; they brought in water from the spring, and turned by hand the house-mills, which ground the large quantity of flour consumed in his family. This oppressive task was performed generally by female slaves, in historical as well as in legendary Greece. Spinning and weaving was the constant occupation of women, whether free or slave, of every rank and station; all the garments worn both by men and women were fashioned at home, and Helen as well as Penelope is expert and assiduous at the occupation. The daughters of Celeus at Eleusis go to the well with their basins for water, and Nausicaa, daughter of Alcinous, joins her female slaves in the business of washing her garments in the river. If we are obliged to point out the fierceness and insecurity of an early society, we may at the same time note with pleasure its characteristic simplicity of manners: Rebecca, Rachel, and the daughters of Jethro, in the early Mosaic narrative, as well as the wife of the native Macedonian chief (with whom the Temenid Perdiccas, ancestor of Philip and Alexander, first took service on retiring from Argos), baking her own cakes on the hearth, exhibit a parallel in this respect to the Homeric pictures.

We obtain no particulars respecting either the common freemen generally, or the particular class of them called thetes. These latter, engaged for special jobs, or at the harvest and other busy seasons of field labour, seem to have given their labour in exchange for board and clothing: they are mentioned in the same line with the slaves, and were (as has been just observed) probably on the whole little better off. The condition of a poor freeman in those days, without a lot of land of his own, going about from one temporary job to another, and having no powerful family and no social[97] authority to look up to for protection, must have been sufficiently miserable. When Eumæus indulged his expectation of being manumitted by his masters, he thought at the same time that they would give him a wife, a house, and a lot of land near to themselves; without which collateral advantages simple manumission might perhaps have been no improvement in his condition. To be thete in the service of a very poor farmer is selected by Achilles as the maximum of human hardship.b


The Trojan war gives a great shock to Greece and hurls it for the first time against Asia. Herodotus saw very well in this war, still mixed with fables, but certain in its principal events and in its issue, the first act of this long struggle between Greece and Asia, which will have for end the expedition of Alexander.

The Eastern armies are richer, the habits more slack, the spirit less active and less enterprising. Greece already lived its own life, it was conscious of itself and practised in its own centre that military and intellectual activity of which the Trojan War was the first development.

Marriage is no longer, as in the East, a sale, where the woman is considered as a thing; an exchange of presents between the two families seems to indicate a certain equality between the husband and wife. The legitimate wife, in this society where the scourge of polygamy has not passed, has a dignity and influence unknown in Greece. Penelope is the companion of Ulysses. The nobleness of her sorrow, her authority, are signs of the new destiny of women. The wife of Alcinous rules the domestic affairs. Helen herself, after her return to family life, will come and sit down, free and respected by the hearth of her spouse. Lastly, Andromache is the true companion of Hector, and seems worthy of sharing in all his fortune. But the woman is still far from being the equal of man. Favourite slaves frequently take from her her influence, and slavery, which the chances of war can bring down on the noblest, vilifies her at every instant. That tripod, given to a victor in a contest, is worth twelve oxen. We see the princes Iphitus and Ulysses, labourers and shepherds, Anchises, who is shepherd and hunter. The shield of Achilles shows us a king harvesting. Neleus gives his daughter in marriage for a flock; Andromache herself takes care of Hector’s horses; and Nausicaa, at a later and more civilised period than the Odyssey, is depicted to us washing the linen of the royal family.

The guest almost makes part of the family; it is the gods who send him, a touching and wholesome belief in that time of brigandage and of difficult communications. You are going to spurn this guest; take care! perhaps it is Jupiter himself. How many times have the gods not come thus to try mortals? Also hospitality formed a sacred link which united, in the most distant tribes, those who had received it to those who had given it. This gave rise to duties of gratitude and friendship that nothing could efface, and which kept their sway even to the encounters on the battle-field. Glaucus and Diomedes met in the midst of the conflict and exchanged weapons, which they would have a horror of staining with the blood of a guest. It is not in vain that Hercules and Theseus travelled over Greece, punishing the violators of hospitality. There were no castes in the Grecian society, but slavery from the most ancient times, with the right of life and death for sanction. War was the most ordinary cause of servitude. The enemy spared became[98] the slave of the victor; it is thus that Briseis fell to the power of Achilles. There was no town taken without slaves, and the inhabitants formed part of the booty. Hector predicted slavery for his wife and his sons, and depicts Andromache as fetching water from the fountain, and spinning wool in the house of a Greek. The carrying off of children by pirates, who made a regular trade of them, already maintained slavery; it is thus that Eumæus was sold at Ithaca. This custom of taking away children from the inhabitants of the coasts, lasted as long as the ancient world. The Greek comedy, and after it Roman comedy, made of this carrying off the most ordinary source of their intrigues. But if servitude was already rooted in Greek civilisation, it was at least then singularly softened by the simplicity of the customs, and above all by the rural and agricultural life, which brought together in common works master and slave.

Poetry was already a fashion in these rising societies, and in the middle of these hard wars the pleasures of the mind had their place. The warriors, seated in circles, listened with an eagerness, full of patience, to the interminable recitals of the ædes or singers. Competitions of music and religious poetry are already instituted in the small towns, which call the rising art to their ceremonies. These poetries were sung with the accompaniment of the lyre, and there was no king who had not his singer. Agamemnon treated his with honour, and in leaving, entrusted to him his wife and his treasures. This religious and heroic poetry preceded Homer, who found established rules and fixed types. As to the beauty of this primitive poetry, it must be judged by the immortal creations of its most illustrious representative. Certainly there were not many Homers, but he was not the only poet, and the imposing simplicity of his poetry could not be a unique fact in this age of chanted legends. Art and sciences were in infancy, but the curiosity and admiration that the poets testify for the still imperfect work of the artists, and for the fabulous tales of travellers, remind us that we see at its beginning the most industrious and the most inventive race of antiquity.i


[6] [This estimate must not be taken too literally. The “Heroic Age” is more a racial memory than a chronological epoch.]






[ca. 1200-800 B.C.]

The singers of the epic poems as well as their hearers were as yet wholly unconscious of the gap separating mythology from history. To them the Trojan War, the march of the Seven against Thebes, the wanderings of Ulysses and Menelaus, were historical realities and they believed just as firmly that Achilles, Diomedes, Agamemnon, and all the other heroes once really lived, as the Swiss until recently believed in the reality of their Tell and Winkelried. Indeed until the fourth century hardly any one in Greece dared to question the truth of these things. Even so critical a person as Thucydides is still wholly under the influence of epic tradition, so much so that he gives a statistical report of the strength of Agamemnon’s army and tries to answer the question as to how such masses of people could have been supported during the ten years’ siege of Troy.

But the world which the epic described belonged to an immeasurably distant past. The people of that time were much stronger than those “who live to-day”; the gods still used to descend upon the earth and did not consider it beneath them to generate sons with mortal women. In comparison with that great by-gone age, the present and that which oral tradition told of the immediate past seemed wholly without interest; and if the epic did occasionally seize upon historical recollections, the events were put back into the heroic age and became inseparably mingled with mythical occurrences. As to how the present had grown out of this heroic past, the poets and their contemporaries had not yet begun to ask.

The time came, however, when this question was put. People wanted to know why the Greece of historical times looked so different from Homer’s Greece; why for example Homer knows of no Thessaly; why he has Achæans instead of Dorians living in Argolis; why, according to him, descendants of Pelops instead of those of Hercules sit upon the thrones of Argos and Sparta.[100] It is the first awakening of the historical sense which finds expression in such questions. The answer, however, was already given with the question. It was clear that the Grecian tribes must have changed their abodes to a great extent after the Trojan War; Hellas must have been shaken by a real migration of peoples. But this single fact was not sufficient. People wanted to know the impelling cause of the migrations, and the particular circumstances under which they took place. The answer was not difficult for a people endowed with such a facility for speculation.

The very lack of colour in such accounts would be a sufficient proof for the fact that we are not dealing here with pure speculation, not with real tradition. Thus hardly anything more is told of the immigration of the Thessalians into the river basin of the Peneus beyond the bald fact, and that was sufficient to explain why Homer’s “Pelasgian Argos” was called Thessaly in historic times. Of course the incomers must have had a leader, consequently Thessalus, the eponymic hero of the people, was placed at their head, a point in the story which of itself is sufficient to stamp the whole narrative as a late invention. The Thessalians also must have come from somewhere; but since Homer already places the races south of Thermopylæ in the homes they actually occupied in history, and since they could not make a Grecian tribe immigrate from Thrace or Illyria, there was nothing else to do but to place the original home of the conquerors in Epirus. This was all the more plausible as the name Thessaly is really closely connected with Thessaliotis, the region about Pharsalia and Cierium on the borders of Epirus, and first spread from here to other parts of the country.

Even more characteristic perhaps is the account of the migration of the Bœotians. According to Homer, Cadmeans lived in Thebes, Minyæ in Orchomenos. Hence it followed that the Bœotians must have immigrated after the Trojan War, like the Thessalians. But a great many Thessalian names of places and religious practices occur in Bœotia. Hence nothing was more simple than to make the Bœotians immigrate from Thessaly, thus at the same time explaining what had become of the original inhabitants of Thessaly after the influx of Thessalians. To be sure this original population, as represented by the serfs (penestai) of the Thessalian nobles, presented a very different appearance; still these two views could very well be combined: one needed only to suppose that one part of the former population of the region had fallen into bondage, and that the other had emigrated. Moreover, Homer already mentions Bœotians in the region which they occupied in historic times. That made the further supposition necessary that a part of the people had already settled in Bœotia before the Trojan War; or else the opposite hypothesis was made, that the Bœotians had been driven out of Bœotia after the Trojan War by the Pelasgians and Thracians, and had returned thither after several generations. We see plainly from this example how all such suppositions were dependent on the epic poems.

The migration of the Eleans is a similar case. Elis is an old district name, consequently no Eleans can ever have existed outside of Elis. But Homer mentions the Epeans as being inhabitants of the country; consequently it was stated that the Eleans did not enter the Peloponnesus until after the Trojan War, and that they came from Ætolia, where Oxylus, the mythical ancestor of the Elean royal house, was also worshipped as a hero. According to an opposite version Ætolia was settled by emigrants from Elis; and these two views were then combined, and the Eleans were made first to move to Ætolia and then, after ten generations, to move back again. As a matter of fact the Homeric Epeans are nothing else than the inhabitants of Epea in Triphylia,[101] whose name was extended to include the inhabitants of the surrounding districts, like the name of the neighbouring Pylians, since the knowledge of the Ionic rhapsodists concerning the western part of the Peloponnesus is very scanty.

Further, since Homer knows of no Dorians in the Peloponnesus, it was clear that the peoples inhabiting Argolis and Laconia in historic times could have come in only after the Trojan War; it remained only to discover from whence. This was not difficult; there was in the middle part of Greece, between Œta and Parnassus, a small mountainous district whose inhabitants were called Dorians, quite like the Grecian colonists on the Carian coast. This is not at all remarkable, since in a widely extended linguistic territory the same local names must necessarily recur in different places, as may be seen from any topographical dictionary. Such homonyms by no means prove an especially close relationship between the inhabitants of such localities; in the formation of Greek racial tradition, however, they have played an important part.

The home of the Dorians was in this way established. People now wanted to know the reason which had led them to seek new abodes so far away. In close connection with this was the question as to how the descendants of Hercules had come to reign over Argos, Sparta, and Messene. The answer was given by the tradition of the return of the Heraclidæ. Hercules, it was related, had belonged to the royal family of Argos, but had been robbed of his rights to the throne and had died in exile; his sons, or grandsons as was stated later for chronological reasons, had made good their rights with the aid of the Dorians and had also established the claims which Hercules had to dominion over Laconia and Messenia. The regained lands were divided under the three brothers Temenus, Cresphontes, and Aristodemus, or between the twin sons of the latter, Procles and Eurysthenes. This was a tradition which could be put to admirable political use. Supported by this title, Argos could claim the hegemony over the whole of Argolis; Sparta could justify the subjection of the small cities of Laconia and Messenia. That was why this tradition, once come into existence, was quickly circulated and officially recognised.

But the mention of Messenia shows that we are here dealing with a comparatively recent stage in the growth of tradition, since this region could not be claimed as a heritage by the Heraclidæ until after the Spartan conquest between the eighth and seventh centuries.

Also the eponymi of the Spartan royal dynasties of Agis and Eurypon have no place in the tradition of the Doric migrations; a sure sign that they were first connected with Hercules artificially. And Temenus, from whom the Argive kings traced their descent, was, according to the Arcadian myth,—no doubt taken from Argos,—the son of Pelasgus, of Phegeus, or of the Argolian hero Phoroneus. It was also related that Temenus had been brought up by Hera—the goddess of the Argolian land. He was thus an old Argive hero who originally had nothing whatever to do with Hercules. Just as little was known about the Doric migration on the island of Cos at the time when the genealogy of its ruling dynasty was written, since the latter is not traced back to Temenus, but directly to Hercules through his son Thessalus. And anyway Hercules, as we have seen, is not a “Doric” divinity at all, but a Bœotian, whose cult was extended to the neighbouring countries of Bœotia, only after the colonisation of Asia Minor. The tradition concerning the return of the Heraclidæ is thus seen to have come into existence long after the immigration of the Dorians into the Peloponnesus,[102] with which it is inseparably connected. This tradition is first mentioned by Tyrtæus towards the end of the seventh century and in the epic poem Ægimios, ascribed to Hesiod, which may have been written at the same time, or a little later. That was the period when the Homeric poems became popular in European Greece; both Tyrtæus and Hesiod are wholly under their influence. Moreover it is clear that an immigration of Dorians from middle Greece into the Peloponnesus could be talked of only after the Doric name had been carried from the colonies of Asia Minor to the west coast of the Ægean Sea, which did not happen until post-Homeric times. In the same way the legend of the Thessalian migration could have grown up only after the inhabitants of the Peneus river basin had become conscious of their racial unity and had begun to designate themselves by the common name of Thessalians. This must have taken place early in the eighth or seventh centuries, since, as has already been stated, Homer is not as yet acquainted with this name, whereas the latest part of the Iliad, the catalogue of ships, mentions the eponymic hero of the people. Finally, the dependence of all these legendary migrations upon the epic poems is shown by the fact that they are connected only with regions which in Homer had a different population than in historic times. The Arcadians and Athenians, on the other hand, who already in Homer are found in the same districts they occupied in later times, considered themselves autochthonous. Thus we see that Homer had not only given the Greeks their gods, as Herodotus says, but their ancient history also. We, however, do not need to be told that traditions which did not grow up until the eighth or seventh century are entirely worthless as helping to an understanding of conditions in Greece at a time preceding the colonisation of Asia Minor.

After all this the question as to the internal evidence of the truth of these traditions is really superfluous. Even a well-invented myth is yet by no means history. Here, however, we are asked to believe the most improbable things. The Doris on the Œta is a wild mountain valley, measuring scarcely two hundred square kilometers in area, which could not have contained more than a few thousand inhabitants, since farming and grazing formed their sole means of support. In Homer’s time the eastern Locrians were still so lightly armed that they were wholly unfitted for fighting with the hoplites at close range; the Dorians who lived farther inland than these Locrians cannot have been much further advanced several centuries earlier. And a few hundreds or even thousands of such poorly armed soldiers are to have conquered the old highly civilised districts of the Peloponnesus with their numerous strongholds, and the superior armour of their inhabitants? The very idea is an absurdity. No more can we understand why the Dorians should have migrated precisely to Argolis, and Laconia, and even to Messenia—places situated so far from their home. The legend does indeed give a satisfactory answer to this question, but anyone who cannot recognise Hercules, with his sons and grandsons, as historical characters, is obliged to find some other motive for the migration of the Dorians.

In other respects, also, there is absolutely no proof to support the supposition of a migration of peoples upon the Grecian peninsula. The “Mycenæan” civilisation was not, as has been supposed, suddenly destroyed by an incursion of uncivilised tribes, but was gradually merged into the civilisation of the classic period. Even Attica, in connection with which there is no tradition of a migration, had its period of Mycenæan culture. The so-called “Doric” institutions are limited to Crete and Laconia, and in the latter country they are not older than the Spartan conquest in the eighth century;[103] hence they have nothing whatever to do with the Doric migration. In the same way the serfdom of the Thessalian peasants may very well have been the result of an economic development, like the colonia during the Roman empire or serfdom in Germany after the end of the Middle Ages. Also the differentiation of the Grecian dialects came about, as we saw, after the colonisation of Asia Minor, and hence should not be traced back to the migrations which took place within the Grecian peninsula at some time preceding this period. And, in any case, after the Dorians settled in the Peloponnesus they must have adopted the dialect of the original inhabitants of the country, who were so far superior to them in numbers and civilisation; just as no one doubts that the Thessalians did the same after their immigration into the Peneus river basin. A “religion of the Doric race,” however, exists only in the imagination of modern scholars; Hercules himself, the ancestral god of the Dorians, is of Bœotian origin. Finally, it is extremely doubtful if the Argives and Laconians were any more closely related to each other than to the other Grecian tribes—the so-called Doric Phyleans, at least, have until now been traced only in Argolis and in the Argolian colonies. But even if a closer relationship did exist between the two neighbouring tribes, it would by no means necessarily follow that the Argo-Laconian people first immigrated into the Peloponnesus at a time when the eastern part of the peninsula had already reached a comparatively high grade of civilisation. There is indeed no question but that the Peloponnesus got its Hellenic population from the north, that is directly from middle Greece; and it is very probable that, even after the Peloponnesus was already in the possession of the Greeks, tribal displacements still took place in Greece. But they occurred in so remote a period that they have left no distinguishable trace, even in tradition. If the Greeks of Asia Minor remembered only the bare fact of their immigration, how could a tradition have been maintained of tribal wanderings which took place long before this colonisation? It is an idle task to try to discover the direction of these migrations or the more particular circumstances under which they took place.

Hence it is a picture of the imagination which, since Herodotus,e has been accepted as primitive Grecian history. But the problem which gave rise to the traditions of mythical migrations still remains for us to solve—the question as to why the epics present us with a different picture of the distribution of Grecian tribes, from that found in historic times. The answer to-day will naturally be different from the one given two thousand years ago.

The epic poem designates Agamemnon’s followers, and indeed all the Greeks before Troy, as Argives, Achæans, or Danaans—terms which are used wholly synonymously even in the oldest parts of the Iliad. Now we know that not only in Homeric times, but already centuries earlier, before the colonisation of Crete and Asia Minor, Argolis was inhabited by the same people that we find there in historic times. It would not of itself be impossible to suppose that this people, who afterwards had no common tribal name, should have called themselves Achæans or Danaans, in prehistoric times, although it would be difficult to understand how this tribal name could have been lost. But as a matter of fact a tribe called Danaan never did exist. Danaus is an old Argive hero who is said to have transformed the waterless Argos into a well-watered country; his daughters, the Danaides, are water nymphs; Danæ also, the mother of the solar hero Perseus, and herself a goddess, cannot be separated from Danaus. The Danaans, accordingly, are the “people of Danaus”; they belong like him to tradition, and have been transposed from heaven to earth like the Cadmeans and Minyæ to[104] whom we shall return later on. The name Achæan, however, was applied in historic times to the inhabitants of the northern coast of the Peloponnesus and of the south of Thessaly, and it is hardly probable that it should have been more widely spread in historic times. Agamemnon seems rather, according to the oldest tradition, to have been a Thessalian prince, like Achilles, who continued to be regarded as such. At the time, however, when the epic was being formed in Ionia, the Peloponnesian Argos outshone all other parts of the Grecian peninsula, and the poets in consequence were obliged to transpose the governmental seat of the powerful ruler from Thessaly to the Peloponnesus. His Achæans of course migrated with him.

Since, now, in Homer the name Achæan includes all the Grecian tribes under Agamemnon’s command, it could no longer be used to designate the inhabitants of one single region. Consequently in the epic the name Achaia is not used for the northern coast of the Peloponnesus, but this region is simply called “coast-land,” or Ægialea. This then gave rise to the tradition—if we still call such combinations tradition—that the Achæans who were driven out of Laconia by the Dorians had settled in Ægialea and given their name to the country. Ionians were said to have lived there previously, a theory which was supported by the existence of a sanctuary of the Heliconian Poseidon on the promontory of Mycale.

Furthermore Homer mentions various peoples upon the Grecian peninsula and the surrounding islands, which in historic times no longer existed there; for example, the Abantes, who appear in the catalogue of ships as inhabitants of Eubœa, whereas in the rest of the Iliad they are not localised. It is possible that there has here been a preservation of the old tribal name of the Eubœans, which later must have been lost; but it is also just as possible, and more probable, that the Abantes had originally nothing whatever to do with Eubœa, but that they were the inhabitants of Abæ in Phocis, whose name then, for the sake of some theory, was transferred to the neighbouring island. The Caucones according to the Telemachus must have dwelt in the western part of the Peloponnesus, not far from Pylus, whereas the Iliad calls them allies of the Trojans; and in reality even in historic times Caucones are said to have been found on the Paphlagonian coast. The name was thus evidently transferred from Asia Minor to the Peloponnesus, for which the river Caucon near Dyme in Achaia may have given a reason. A comparatively late part of the Iliad tells of a war between the Curetes and the inhabitants of Calydon in Ætolia. In Hesiod, on the other hand, the Curetes are divine beings, related to the nymphs and satyrs. They appear also as beneficent dæmons in the Cretan folk-lore; they are said to have taught mankind all sorts of useful arts and also to have brought up the infant Zeus. They belong thus to mythology, not to history. They were probably located in Ætolia only because there was a mountain there called Curion; and as a matter of course it was said that they had immigrated from Crete. Since on the Ætolian coast at the foot of the Curion there was a city called Chalcis, they were further transferred to the Eubœan Chalcis.

There are also other cases in pre-Homeric times of mythical people having been transposed from heaven to earth—thus the Danaans of whom we have already spoken; furthermore, the Lapithæ, who are said to have lived in the northern part of Thessaly at the foot of Olympus and Ossa. Their close association with the centaurs leaves no doubt that they, like the latter, belong to the realm of mythology. Closely related to them are the Phlegyæ. The Iliad gives us a picture of Ares, as he advances to battle in their ranks, but leaves their dwelling-place indefinite; later authorities placed it in Thessaly[105] or in the valley of the Bœotian Cephisus. Coronis, the mother of Æsculapius, belonged to this tribe; also Ixion, who laid violent hands on Hera. Finally, the Phlegyæ are said to have burned the Delphic temple and in punishment therefor were destroyed by Apollo by lightning and an earthquake. The Minyæ also belong to this circle. They compose the crew of the ship Argo, which goes into the distant sun-land of the east to bring back from thence the Golden Fleece; the daughter of their tribal hero, Minyas, is Persephone, and no further proof is necessary to show that he himself is a god and his people mythical. Afterwards when the starting-point of the Argonauts was localised in the Pagasæan Gulf, the Minyæ also became a Thessalian race; from there, like their relatives the Phlegyæ, they were brought over to Bœotia, where Orchomenos in Homer is called “Minyean.” And since the Iliad furthermore mentions a river Minyos in the later Triphylia, the Minyæ were placed there also.

The Pelasgians play a much more important part in the conventional primitive history of Greece than the last-mentioned peoples. Throughout antiquity their name is connected with the western part of the great Thessalian plain, the “Pelasgic Argos” of Homer, the Pelasgiotis of historic times. The Iliad speaks of the Pelasgians, famed for their spears, who lived far from Troy in broad-furrowed Larissa, and probably intends thereby the Thessalian capital. Thessalian Achilles prays to the Pelasgian Zeus of Dodona before the departure of his friend Patroclus. But the Iliad as yet knows nothing of Pelasgian inhabitants of Dodona; on the contrary the catalogue of ships reckons this sacred city as belonging to the territory of the Ænianes and Perrhæbi, and it is Hesiod who first makes the temple to have been founded by Pelasgians. Elsewhere Pelasgians are mentioned by Homer only in Crete.

Otherwise the later accounts. Wherever within the circle of the Ægean Sea the name of Larissa occurs, there Pelasgians are said to have lived—in the Peloponnesian Argos, in Æolis of Asia Minor, on the island of Lesbos, on the Cayster near Ephesus. It is possibly for this reason that the Odyssey places Pelasgians in Crete, since there, also, there was a Larissæan field near Hierapytna, and Gortyn is said to have been called Larissa in ancient times. From Argos the Pelasgians also became woven into the myths of the neighbouring Arcadia, the ancestral hero of which, Lycaon, is called by Hesiod a son of Pelasgus.

Pelasgians were said to have lived once in Attica also. The wall which defended the approach to the citadel of Athens bore the name Pelargicon, and as no one knew what that meant, it was said that it had been corrupted out of Pelasgicon and that the citadel had been built by Pelasgians. These Pelasgians were then said to have been driven out by the Athenians and to have migrated to Lemnos. Why they went precisely to this place we do not know, nor why these Lemnian Pelasgians were called Tyrrhenians. Homer places the Sinties, that is a Thracian tribe, in Lemnos. Remnants of the original inhabitants of the island, who were driven out by the Athenians in about the year 500 B.C., were, a hundred years later, still living on the peninsula of Athos and on the Propontis near Placia and Scylace; they had preserved their old language, which was different from the Greek.

In consequence of this and similar traditions, the theory was brought forward in the sixth century that the Hellenes had been preceded in Greece by a Pelasgic race. Since, however, some of the Grecian tribes, as the Arcadians and Athenians, considered themselves to be autochthonous, there was nothing for it but to call the Pelasgians the ancestors of the later Hellenes,[106] and so the whole change was reduced to one of name only. This to be sure was in contradiction of the statements of Homer, who names the Pelasgians among the allies of Troy, and hence evidently considered them to be racially antagonistic to the Greeks. The genealogists and historians of antiquity never got around this contradiction, which was indeed inexplicable with the means at their command.

Moreover, even if a Pelasgian people ever had existed in the wide extent attributed to them by tradition, the Greeks of antiquity would no more have conceived of them as being a single nation, than they themselves became conscious of their national unity before the eighth century; they would have designated the several Pelasgian tribes by different names. This alone shows that we are not dealing here with real historical tradition, quite apart from the fact that there is no historical tradition from the time preceding the colonisation of Asia Minor. Here also it is a question of mere theorising, and the theories already presuppose the existence of the Iliad and Odyssey, even to their later songs, so that they cannot be older than the seventh or sixth century. Historically the Pelasgians can be traced only in Thessaly. Pelasgiotis is thus equivalent to Pelasgia, just as Thessaliotis is equivalent to Thessalia and Elimiotis to Elimea. The Pelasgiots, however, of historic times were of Grecian origin and we have not the slightest reason to suppose that the same was not true of prehistoric times. Indeed the Thessalian plain in all probability is the place in which the Hellenes first made permanent settlements.

A similar position to that of the Pelasgians is occupied by the Leleges in tradition. Homer speaks of them as inhabiting Pedasus in southern Troy and even Alcæus calls Antandrus, situated in this region, a Lelegean town. Later comers regarded the Leleges as the original inhabitants of Caria, where there was also a Pedasus; even in the Hellenistic period they were said to have formed a clan of serfs in this region, like the Heliots in Sparta. Old fortresses and tombstones, concerning the origin of which nothing was known, were ascribed to the Leleges, just as we speak of “Pelasgian” walls. It was also supposed that the whole Ionian coast and the islands near it were once inhabited by these people. It was natural to suppose a similar relationship for European Greece and here also to let a Lelegean population precede the Hellenic. Supports for this theory were found in a number of local names, such as Physcus and Larymna in Locris, Abæ in Phocis, Pedasus in Messenia, which occur in an identical or similar form in Caria. One of the two citadels of Megara was called Caria; and Zeus Carios was worshipped in various parts of Greece. Accordingly, Leleges or Carians were said to have lived in all these places. The supposition that the southern part of the Hellenic peninsula was occupied by a Carian population in a pre-Grecian period has, as we have seen, a great deal in its favour; only we should avoid trying to discover historical tradition in late suppositions, since Homer still knows nothing of all these myths and Hesiod is the first to make Locrus rule over the Leleges.

Nor does Homer know anything of Thracians outside of their historic abodes to the north of the Ægean Sea. Later tradition places them in Phocian Daulis and in Bœotia on the Helicon. The most direct cause for this was probably furnished by the race of Thracidæ, which attained a prominent position in Delphi and which had probably spread into other Phocian cities as well; another reason was the name of the Daulian king, Tereus, which had a Thracian sound, and lastly, the cult of the Muses which had a home on the Helicon, as also on Olympus in Thracian Pieria. Mysteries were[107] connected with this cult even at a comparatively early period, as is shown by the legends of Orpheus and Musæus. Hence Eumolpus, the mythical founder of the Eleusinian mysteries, was held to be a Thracian; his very name shows that he is connected with the worship of the Muses, even if he were not expressly said to be the son of Musæus. The historic value of this tradition is thus sufficiently demonstrated.

There were also traditions of immigrations from the Orient into Greece. These were based in part upon solar myths, which have given rise to similar legends among the most widely separated peoples; they also reflect the consciousness that the rudiments of a higher civilisation were brought to the Greeks from the East. In the form in which we have them, these myths are without exception late formations, which presuppose close relations between Greece and the old civilisations of Asia and Egypt. In Homer, accordingly, there is no trace of them.

Thus Pelops is said to have come from Lydia or Phrygia to the peninsula which has since borne his name. One might be tempted to regard him as the eponymic hero of the Peloponnesus; but Pelopia was also the name of a daughter of Pelias or of Niobe, and of the mother of Cycnus, a son of Ares. Pelops’ mother also is Euryanassa, a daughter of Dione; his paternal grandfather is Xanthus (the “shining one”); two of his sons are called Chrysippus and Alcathous. These names leave no doubt as to the fact that Pelops was originally a solar hero; hence also the story of his contest with Œnomaus for the possession of Hippodamia. The name Peloponnesus, which is also unknown to Homer, means accordingly “Island of the sun-god”; Helios, as is well known, had a celebrated temple at the most extreme southern point of the peninsula, on the promontory of Tænarum. Thus Pelops, originally, was not materially different from Hercules, who for the most part has crowded him out of cult and tradition; just as the genealogy of the Peloponnesian dynasties was traced back to Pelops in ancient times and to Hercules at a later period. Nevertheless Pelops has at least kept the first place in Olympia.

The tradition of the immigration of Danaus from Egypt is closely connected with the legend of the wanderings of Io, which could not have taken on its present form until after Egypt was opened up to the Hellenes, that is not before the end of the seventh century. The legend concerning the Egyptian origin of the old Attic national hero Cecrops grew up much later in the fourth or third century, and never attained general recognition.

We have already seen how Phœnix and his brother Cadmus became Phœnicians. Accordingly Phœnix’s daughter, or according to a later myth his sister, Europa, was carried off by Zeus from Phœnicia to Crete, where she gave birth to Minos. This alone makes it clear that Minos had nothing whatever to do with the Phœnicians, but is a good Grecian god, as are also Phœnix, Cadmus, Europa, his wife Pasiphaë (the “all enlightening”), his daughter Phædra (the “beaming”), and Ariadne the wife of Dionysus. Minos, also, afterwards fell to the rank of a hero; already in Homer he appears as the king of Knossos, and later the Cretans trace their laws back to him. The name Minoa occurs frequently in the islands and on the coast of the Ægean Sea; also in Crete itself, and in Amorgos, Siphnos, and on the coast of Megaris. Hence the conclusion was drawn that Minos had ruled in all these places and must therefore have been a great sea-king, whose dominion extended over the whole of the Cyclades and in fact over the whole Ægean Sea. But in Sicily there was also a Minoa, a daughter city of the Megarian colony of Selinus, and doubtless named after the small island of Minoa near the[108] Nisæan Megara. Thus the tradition arose that Minos had proceeded to Sicily and there found his death. Since Selinus was founded in the year 650 B.C., this myth cannot have come into existence before the sixth century.

At the beginning of the fifth century all these traditions were combined, and connected; on the one hand, with the myths which formed the substance of the epic poems; on the other, with the oldest historic recollections. The genealogies of the heroes as given in part by Homer and more completely by Hesiod served as a chronological basis. At the beginning were placed the Pelasgians, then the immigrations from the east, of Danaus, Pelops, Cadmus, and others. Then followed the expedition of the Argonauts, the march of the Seven against Thebes, the Trojan War, and whatever else of similar nature was related in the epics. Next came the age of the great migrations; first the incursion of the Thessalians into the plains of the Peneus, and the Bœotian migration caused thereby, then the march of the Dorians and their allies, the Eleans, into the Peloponnesus, which was followed by the colonisation of the islands and of the western coast of Asia Minor.

Thus was gained the misleading appearance of a pragmatic history of Grecian antiquity; and although even in ancient times occasional critical doubts were not wanting, this system as a whole was accepted by the Greeks as historical truth.c


[7] [Reproduced by permission from his Griechische Geschichte. The subject here treated is one on which the authorities are by no means agreed. Other views are presented in a subsequent chapter.]




Land of the lordly mien and iron frame!
Where wealth was held dishonour, Luxury’s smile
Worse than a demon’s soul-destroying wile!
Where every youth that hailed the Day-God’s beam,
Wielded the sword, and dreamt the patriot’s dream;
Where childhood lisped of war with eager soul,
And woman’s hand waved on to glory’s goal.
Nicholas Michell.

From the earliest period there were two peoples of Greece who seem, at least in the eye of later generations, to have been pre-eminent—the Dorians and the Ionians. Of the former the leaders are the Spartans; of the latter, the Athenians. In the main, so preponderant are these two cities that, viewed retrospectively, Greek history comes to seem the history of Athens and Sparta. This appears a curious anomaly when one considers that these cities were not great world emporiums like Babylon and Nineveh and Rome, but at best only moderate-sized towns. Yet they influenced humanity for all time to come; and our study of Greek history perforce resolves itself largely into the doings of the citizens of these two little communities. We shall first consider the history of the Dorians, who, though in the long run the less important of the two, were the earlier to appear prominently on the stage of history.a

The Dorians derived their origin from those districts in which the Grecian nation bordered towards the north upon numerous and dissimilar races of barbarians. As to the tribes which dwelt beyond these boundaries we are indeed wholly destitute of information; nor is there the slightest trace of any memorial or tradition that the Greeks originally came from those quarters. On these frontiers, however, the events took place which effected an entire alteration in the internal condition of the whole Grecian nation, and here were given many of those impulses, of which the effects were so long and generally experienced. The prevailing character of the events alluded to, was a perpetual pressing forward of the barbarous races, particularly of the Illyrians, into more southern districts.

To begin then by laying down a boundary line, which may be afterwards modified for the sake of greater accuracy, we shall suppose this to be the mountain ridge, which stretches from Mount Olympus to the west as far as the Acroceraunian Mountains (comprehending the Cambunian ridge and Mount Lacmon), and in the middle comes in contact with the Pindus chain, which stretches in a direction from north to south. The western part of this chain separates the farthest Grecian tribes from the great Illyrian nation, which extended back as far as the Celts in the south of Germany.


In the fashion of wearing the mantle and dressing the hair, and also in their dialect, the Macedonians bore a great resemblance to the Illyrians, whence it is evident that the Macedonians belonged to the Illyrian nation. Notwithstanding which, there can be no doubt that the Greeks were aboriginal inhabitants of this district. The plains of Emathia, the most beautiful district of the country, were occupied by the Pelasgi, who, according to Herodotus, also possessed Creston above Chalcidice, to which place they had come from Thessaliotis. Hence the Macedonian dialect was full of primitive Greek words. And that these had not been introduced by the royal family (which was Hellenic by descent or adoption of manners) is evident from the fact, that many signs of the most simple ideas (which no language ever borrows from another) were the same in both, as well as from the circumstance that these words do not appear in their Greek form, but have been modified according to a native dialect. In the Macedonian dialect there occur grammatical forms which are commonly called Æolic, together with many Arcadian and Thessalian words: and what perhaps is still more decisive, several words, which, though not to be found in the Greek, have been preserved in the Latin language. There does not appear to be any peculiar connection with the Doric dialect: hence we do not give much credit to the otherwise unsupported assertion of Herodotus, of an original identity of the Dorian and Macednian (Macedonian) nations. In other authors Macednus is called the son of Lycaon, from whom the Arcadians were descended, or Macedon is the brother of Magnes, or a son of Æolus, according to Hesiod and Hellanicus, which are merely various attempts to form a genealogical connection between this semi-barbarian race and the rest of the Greek nation.

The Thessalians as well as the Macedonians were, as it appears, an Illyrian race, who subdued a native Greek population; but in this case the body of the interlopers was smaller, while the numbers and civilisation of the aboriginal inhabitants were considerable. Hence the Thessalians resembled the Greeks more than any of the northern races with which they were connected: hence their language in particular was almost purely Grecian, and indeed bore perhaps a greater affinity to the language of the ancient epic poets than any other dialect. But the chief peculiarities of this nation with which we are acquainted were not of a Grecian character. Of this their national dress, which consisted in part of the flat and broad-brimmed hat καυσία and the mantle (which last was common to both nations, but was unknown to the Greeks of Homer’s time, and indeed long afterwards, until adopted as the costume of the equestrian order at Athens), is a sufficient example. The Thessalians moreover were beyond a doubt the first to introduce into Greece the use of cavalry. More important distinctions however than that first alleged are perhaps to be found in their impetuous and passionate character, and the low and degraded state of their mental faculties. The taste for the arts shown by the rich family of the Scopadæ proves no more that such was the disposition of the whole people, than the existence of the same qualities in Archelaus argues their prevalence in Macedonia. This is sufficient to distinguish them from the race of the Greeks, so highly endowed by nature. We are therefore induced to conjecture that this nation, which a short time before the expedition of the Heraclidæ, migrated from Thesprotia, and indeed from the territory of Ephyra (Cichyrus) into the plain of the Peneus, had originally come from Illyria. On the other hand indeed, many points of similarity in the customs of the Thessalians and Dorians might be brought forward. Thus, for example, the love for the[111] male sex (that usage peculiar to the Dorians) was also common among the Illyrians, and the objects of affection were, as at Sparta, called ἀΐται; the women also, as amongst the Dorians, were addressed by the title of ladies (δέσποιναι), a title uncommon in Greece, and expressive of the estimation in which they were held. A great freedom in the manners of the female sex was nevertheless customary among the Illyrians, who in this respect bore a nearer resemblance to the northern nations. Upon the whole, however, these migrations from the north had the effect of disseminating among the Greeks manners and institutions which were entirely unknown to their ancestors, as represented by Homer.

We will now proceed to inquire what was the extent of territory gained by the Illyrians in the west of Greece. A great part of Epirus had in early times been inhabited by Pelasgi, to which race the inhabitants of Dodona are likewise affirmed by the best authorities to have belonged, as well as the whole nation of Thesprotians; also the Chaonians at the foot of the Acroceraunian Mountains, and the Chones, Œnotri, and Peucetii on the opposite coast of Italy, are said to have been of this race. The ancient buildings, institutions, and religious worship of the Epirotes are also manifestly of Pelasgic origin. We suppose always that the Pelasgi were Greeks, and spoke the Grecian language, an opinion however in support of which we will on this occasion only adduce a few arguments. It must then be borne in mind, that all the races whose migrations took place at a late period, such as the Achæans, Ionians, Dorians, were not (the last in particular) sufficiently powerful or numerous to effect a complete change in the customs of a barbarous population; that many districts, Arcadia and Perrhæbia for instance, remained entirely Pelasgic, without being inhabited by any nation not of Grecian origin; that the most ancient names, either of Grecian places or mentioned in their traditions, belonged indeed to a different era of the dialect, but not to another language; that finally, the great similarity between the Latin and Greek can only be explained by supposing the Pelasgic language to have formed the connecting link. Now the nations of Epirus were almost reduced to a complete state of barbarism by the operation of causes, which could only have had their origin in Illyria; and in the historic age, the Ambracian Bay was the boundary of Greece. In later times more than half of Ætolia ceased to be Grecian, and without doubt adopted the manners and language of the Illyrians, from which point the Athamanes, an Epirote and Illyrian nation, pressed into the south of Thessaly. Migrations and predatory expeditions, such as the Encheleans had undertaken in the fabulous times, continued without intermission to repress and keep down the genuine population of Greece.

The Illyrians were in these ancient times also bounded on the east by the Phrygians and Thracians, as well as by the Pelasgi. The Phrygians were at this time the immediate neighbours of the Macedonians in Lebæa, by whom they were called Brygians (Βρύγες, Βρύγοι, Βρίγες); they dwelt at the foot of the snowy Bermius, where the fabulous rose-gardens of King Midas were situated, while walking in which the wise Silenus was fabled to have been taken prisoner. They also fought from this place (as the Telegonia of Eugamon related) with the Thesprotians of Epirus. At no great distance from hence were the Mygdonians, the people nearest related to the Phrygians. According to Xanthus, this nation did not migrate to Asia until after the Trojan War. But, in the first place, the Cretan traditions begin with religious ceremonies and fables, which appear from the most ancient testimonies to have been derived from Phrygians of Asia; and secondly the[112] Armenians, who were beyond a doubt of a kindred race to the Phrygians, were considered as an aboriginal nation in their own territory. It will therefore be sufficient to recognise the same race of men in Armenia, Asia Minor, and at the foot of Mount Bermius, without supposing that all the Armenians and Phrygians emigrated from the latter settlement on the Macedonian coast. The intermediate space between Illyria and Asia, a district across which numerous nations migrated in ancient times, was peopled irregularly from so many sides, that the national uniformity which seems to have once existed in those parts was speedily deranged. The most important documents respecting the connection between the Phrygian and other nations are the traces that remain of its dialect. It was well known in Plato’s time that many primitive words of the Grecian language were to be recognised with a slight alteration in the Phrygian, such as πῦρ, ὕδωρ, κύων; and the great similarity of grammatical structure which the Armenian now displays with the Greek, must be referred to this original connection. The Phrygians in Asia have, however, been without doubt intermixed with Syrians, who not only established themselves on the right bank of the Halys, but on the left also in Lycaonia, and as far as Lycia, and accordingly adopted much of the Syrian language and religion. Their enthusiastic and frantic ceremonies, however, had doubtless always formed part of their religion; these they had in common with their immediate neighbours, the Thracians: but the ancient Greeks appear to have been almost entirely unacquainted with such rites.

The Thracians, who settled in Pieria at the foot of Mount Olympus, and from thence came down to Mount Helicon, as being the originators of the worship of Bacchus and the Muses, and the fathers of Grecian poetry, are a nation of the highest importance in the history of civilisation. We cannot but suppose that they spoke a dialect very similar to the Greek, since otherwise they could not have had any considerable influence upon the latter people. They were in all probability derived originally from the country called Thrace in later times, where the Bessi, a tribe of the nation of the Satræ, at the foot of Mount Pangæum, presided over the oracle of Bacchus. Whether the whole of the populous races of Edones, Odomantes, Odrysi, Treres, etc., are to be considered as identical with the Thracians in Pieria, or whether it is not more probable that these barbarous nations received from the Greeks their general name of Thracians, with which they had been familiar from early times, are questions which we shall not attempt to determine. Into these nations, however, a large number of Pæonians subsequently penetrated, who had passed over at the time of a very ancient migration of the Teucrians together with the Mysians. To this Pæonian race the Pelagonians, on the banks of the Axius, belonged; who also advanced into Thessaly, as will be shown hereafter. Of the Teucrians, however, we know nothing excepting that, in concert with (Pelasgic) Dardanians, they founded the city of Troy—where the language in use was probably allied to the Grecian, and distinct from the Phrygian.

Now it is within the mountainous barriers above described that we must look for the origin of the nations which in the heroic mythology are always represented as possessing dominion and power, and are always contrasted with an aboriginal population. These, in our opinion, were northern branches of the Grecian nation, which had overrun and subdued the Greeks who dwelt farther south. The most ancient abode of the Hellenes proper (who in mythology are merely a small nation in Phthia) was situated, according to Aristotle, in Epirus, near Dodona, to whose god Achilles prays,[113] as being the ancient protector of his family. In all probability the Achæans, the ruling nation both of Thessaly and of the Peloponnesus in fabulous times, were of the same race and origin as the Hellenes. The Minyans, Phlegyans, Lapithæ, and Æolians of Corinth and Salmone, came originally from the districts above Pieria, on the frontiers of Macedonia, where the very ancient Orchomenus, Minya, and Salmonia or Halmopia were situated. Nor is there less obscurity with regard to the northern settlements of the Ionians; they appear, as it were, to have fallen from heaven into Attica and Ægialea; they were not, however, by any means identical with the aboriginal inhabitants of these districts, and had perhaps detached themselves from some northern, probably Achæan, race. Lastly, the Dorians are mentioned in ancient legends and poems as established in one extremity of the great mountain chain of Upper Greece, viz. at the foot of Mount Olympus: there are, however, reasons for supposing that at an earlier period they had dwelt at its other northern extremity, at the farthest limit of the Grecian nation.

We now turn our attention to the singular nation of the Hylleans (Ὑλλεῖς, Ὕλλοι), which is supposed to have dwelt in Illyria, but is in many respects connected in a remarkable manner with the Dorians. The real place of its abode can hardly be laid down; as the Hylleans are never mentioned in any historical narrative, but always in mythological legends; and they appear to have been known to the geographers only from mythological writers. Yet they are generally placed in the islands of Melita and Black-Corcyra, to the south of Liburnia. Now the name of the Hylleans agrees strikingly with that of the first and most noble tribe of the Dorians. Besides which, it is stated, that though dwelling among Illyrian races, these Hylleans were nevertheless genuine Greeks. Moreover they, as well as the Doric Hylleans, were supposed to have sprung from Hyllus, a son of Hercules, whom that hero begot upon Melite, the daughter of Ægæus: here the name Ægæus refers to a river in Corcyra, Melite to the island just mentioned. Apollo was the chief god of the Dorians; and so likewise these Hylleans were said to have concealed under the earth, as the sign of inviolable sanctity, that instrument of such importance in the religion of Apollo, a tripod. The country of the Hylleans is described as a large peninsula, and compared to the Peloponnesus: it is said to have contained fifteen cities; which however had not a more real existence, than the peninsula as large as the Peloponnesus on the Illyrian coast. How all these statements are to be understood is hard to say. It appears however that they can only be reconciled as follows: the Doric Hylleans had a tradition, that they came originally from these northern districts, which then bordered on the Illyrians, and were afterwards occupied by that people; and there still remained in those parts some members of their tribe, some other Hylleans. This notion of Greek Hylleans in the very north of Greece, who also were descended from Hercules, and also worshipped Apollo, was taken up and embellished by the poets: although it is not likely that any one had really ever seen these Hylleans and visited their country. Like the Hyperboreans, they existed merely in tradition and imagination. It is possible also that the Corcyræans, in whose island there was an “Hyllæan” harbour, may have contributed to the formation of these legends, as is shown by some circumstances pointed out above; but it cannot be supposed that the whole tradition arose from Corcyræan colonies.

Here we might conclude our remarks on this subject, did not the following question (one indeed of great importance) deserve some consideration. What relation can we suppose to have existed between the races[114] which migrated into those northern districts, and the native tribes, and what between the different races of Greece itself? All inquiries on this subject lead us back to the Pelasgi, who although not found in every part of ancient Greece (for tradition makes so wide a distinction between them and many other nations, that no confusion ever takes place), yet occur almost universally wherever early civilisation, ancient settlements, and worships of peculiar sanctity and importance existed. And in fact there is no doubt that most of the ancient religions of Greece owed their origin to this race. The Jupiter and Dione of Dodona; Jupiter and Juno of Argos; Vulcan and Minerva of Athens; Ceres and Proserpine of Eleusis; Mercury and Diana of Arcadia, together with Cadmus and the Cabiri of Thebes, cannot, if properly examined, be referred to any other origin. We must therefore attribute to that nation an excessive readiness in creating and metamorphosing objects of religious worship, so that the same fundamental conceptions were variously developed in different places, a variety which was chiefly caused by the arbitrary neglect of, or adherence to, particular parts of the same legend. In many places also we may recognise the sameness of character which pervaded the different worships of the above gods; everywhere we see manifested in symbols, names, rites, and legends, an uniform character of ideas and feelings. The religions introduced from Phrygia and Thrace, such as that of the Cretan Jupiter and Dionysus or Bacchus, may be easily distinguished by their more enthusiastic character from the native Pelasgic worship. The Phœnician and Egyptian religions lay at a great distance from the early Greeks, were almost unknown even where they existed in the immediate neighbourhood, were almost unintelligible when the Greeks attempted to learn them, and repugnant to their nature when understood. On the whole, the Pelasgic worship appears to form part of a simple elementary religion, which easily represented the various forms produced by the changes of nature in different climates and seasons, and which abounded in expressive signs for all the shades of feeling which these phenomena awakened.

On the other hand, the religion of the northern races (who as being of Hellenic descent are put in contrast with the Pelasgi) had in early times taken a more moral turn, to which their political relations had doubtless contributed. The heroic life (which is no fable of the poets), the fondness for vigorous and active exertion, the disinclination to the harmless occupations of husbandry, which is so remarkably seen in the conquering race of the Hellenes, necessarily awakened and cherished an entirely different train of religious feeling. Hence the Jupiter Hellanius of Æacus, the Jupiter Laphystius of Athamas, and, finally, the Doric Jupiter, whose son is Apollo, the prophet and warrior, are rather representations of the moral order and harmony of the universe, after the ancient method, than of the creative powers of nature. We do not however deny, that there was a time when these different views had not as yet taken a separate direction. Thus it may be shown, that the Apollo Lyceus of the Dorians conveyed nearly the same notions as the Jupiter Lycæus of the Arcadians, although the worship of either deity was developed independently of that of the other. Thus also certain ancient Arcadian and Doric usages had, in their main features, a considerable affinity. The points of resemblance in these different worships can be only perceived by comparison: tradition presents, at the very first outset, an innumerable collection of discordant forms of worship belonging to the several races, but without explaining to us how they came to be thus separated. For these different rites were not united into a whole until they[115] had been first divided; and both by the connection of worships and by the influence of poetry new combinations were introduced, which differed essentially from those of an earlier date.

The language of the ancient Grecian race (which, together with its religion, forms the most ancient record of its history) must, if we may judge from the varieties of dialect and from a comparison with the Latin language, have been very perfect in its structure, and rich and expressive in its flexions and formations; though much of this was polished off by the Greeks of later ages: in early times, distinctness and precision in marking the primitive words and the inflections being more attended to than facility of utterance. Wherever the ancient forms had been preserved, they sounded foreign and uncouth to more modern ears; and the language of later times was greatly softened, in comparison with the Latin. But the peculiarities of the pure Doric dialect are (wherever they were not owing to a faithful preservation of archaic forms) actual deviations from the original dialect, and consequently they do not occur in Latin; they bear a northern character. The use of the article, which did not exist in the Latin language or in that of epic poetry, can be ascribed to no other cause than to immigrations of new tribes, and especially to that of the Dorians. Its introduction must, nearly as in the Roman languages, be considered as the sign of a great revolution. The peculiarities of the Doric dialect must have existed before the period of the migrations; since thus only can it be explained how peculiar forms of the Doric dialect were common to Crete, Argos, and Sparta: the same is also true of the dialects which are generally considered as subdivisions of the Æolic; the only reason for the resemblance of the language of Lesbos to that of Bœotia being, that Bœotians migrated at that period to Lesbos. The peculiarities of the Ionic dialect may, on the other hand, be viewed in great part as deviations caused by the genial climate of Asia; for the language of the Attic race, to which the latter were most nearly related, could hardly have differed so widely from that of the colonies of Athens, if the latter had not been greatly changed.b


[ca. 1100 B.C.]

It is with the advance of the Dorians that the power of the mountain peoples makes its appearance from the north to take its share in the history of nations. For centuries they had lagged behind the coast and maritime races, but now they stepped in with all the greater impress of sheer natural force, and all that was transformed and reformed as a consequence of their conquering march, had a durability which lasted throughout the whole period of Greek history. This is the reason that in contradistinction to the “Heroic Age” ancient historians begin the historical period with the first deeds of the Dorians.

But, for all that, the information concerning these deeds is none the less scanty. On the contrary: as this epoch approaches, the old sources dry up, and new ones are not opened. Homer knows nothing of the march of the Heraclidæ [i.e., descendants of Heracles or Hercules]. The Achæan emigrants lived entirely in the memory of past days, and cherished it beyond the sea in the faithful memorials of song. For those who remained behind, who had to submit themselves to a strange and powerful rule, it was no time for poetry. The Dorians themselves have always been sparing in the matter of tradition; it was not their way to use many words about what they had done;[116] they had not the soaring enthusiasm of the Achæan race, and still less were they capable of spinning out their experiences at a pleasing length, in the fashion of the Ionians. Their inclination and ability were directed to practical existence, to the fulfilment of definite tasks, to earnest occupations.

Thus, then, the great incidents of the Dorian emigration were left to chance tradition, of which all but a few faint traces have been lost, and this is why our whole information on the conquest of the peninsula is as poor in names as in facts. For it was only at a later date, when the national epos itself had long died out, that an attempt was made to recover the beginnings of Peloponnesian history.

But these later poets could no longer find any fresh and living fountain of tradition; nor is theirs that pure and unrestrained delight in the images of the olden time, which constitutes the very breath of life in the Homeric poem; but there is a conscious effort to fill out the gaps in tradition, and to join the torn threads connecting the Achæan and the Dorian period. They sought to unify the legends of various places, to restore the missing links, to reconcile contradictions; and thus arose a history of the march of the Heraclidæ, in which things that had come about gradually and in the course of centuries, were related together with dogmatic brevity.

The Dorians crossed over from the mainland in successive troops, accompanied by their wives and children; they spread slowly over the country; but wherever they gained a footing the result was a complete transformation of the conditions of life by their agency. They brought with them their household and tribal institutions; they clung with tenacious obstinacy to their peculiarities of speech and custom; proud and shy, they held aloof from the other Greeks, and instead of becoming absorbed, as the Ionians did, into the older population, they impressed on the new home the character of their own race. The peninsula became Dorian.

But this transmutation came about in a very varied fashion; it did not start from one point, but had three chief centres. The legend of the Peloponnesus has expressed it in this wise: three brothers, Temenus, Aristodemus, and Cresphontes, who were of the race of Heracles [Hercules], the old rightful heir to the dominion of Argos, asserted the claims of their ancestor. They offered common sacrifices on the three altars of Zeus Patrous and cast lots among themselves for the various lordships in the country. Argos was the principal lot, and it fell to Temenus; Lacedæmon, the second, came to the children of Aristodemus, who were minors, whilst the beautiful Messenia passed, by craft, into the third brother’s possession.

This tale of the drawing of lots by the Heraclidæ, arose in the Peloponnesus after the states had assumed their peculiar constitution. It contains the reasons, derived from the old heroic past, for the erection of the three metropolitan towns; the mythical authority for the Peloponnesian claims of the Heraclidæ, and for the new state organisation. The historical kernel of the legend is that, from the very beginning, the Dorians represented, not the interests of their own race, but the interests of their leaders, who were not Dorians, but Achæans; this is why the god, under whose authority the division of the land was made, was none other than the ancient god of the race of Æacidæ. Further, the foundation of the legend lies in the fact that the Dorians, in order to gain possession of the three chief plains of the peninsula, divided, soon after their arrival into three hosts.

Each had its Heraclid as leader of the people. Each was composed of three races, the Hylleans, Dymanes, and Pamphylians. Each host was an image of the entire race. Thus the whole subsequent development of Peloponnesian[117] history depended on the manner in which the different hosts now established themselves in the new regions; on the extent to which, in the midst of the ancient people of the country and in spite of the subservience of their forces to foreign leadership, they remained faithful to themselves and their native customs; and on the method by which mutual relations were established.


[ca. 1100-1000 B.C.]

The new states were in part, also new territories, as was, for instance, Messenia. For in the Homeric Peloponnesus there is no country of this name: its eastern portion where the waters of the Pamisus connect a higher and lower plain with one another, belongs to the lordship of Menelaus, and the western half to the kingdom of the Neleïdes which has its centre on the coast. The Dorians came from the north into the upper plain, and there obtained a footing in Stenyclarus. Thence they spread farther and drove the Thessalian Neleïdes towards the sea. The high, island-like ocean citadel of old Navarino, seems to have been the last spot on the coast where the latter maintained themselves, till finally, being more and more closely pressed, they forsook the land for the sea. The island-plain of Stenyclarus now became the kernel of the newly-formed district, and could thence be called Messene—that is, the middle or inner country.

With the exception of this great supplanting of one nation by another the change was effected more peacefully than in most other quarters. At least the native legend knows nothing of forcible conquest. A certain portion of arable land and pasture was to be given up to the Dorians; the remainder was to be left to the inhabitants in undisturbed possession. The victorious visitors laid claim to no special and favoured position; the new princes were by no means regarded as foreign conquerors, but were received with friendliness by the nation as relatives of the ancient Æolian kings, and on account of the dislike to the house of the Pelopidæ. With full confidence they and their following settled among the Messenians, and evidently with the idea that under their protection the old and new inhabitants might peacefully amalgamate into one community.

But after this their relations did not develop in the same harmless manner. The Dorians believed themselves betrayed by their leaders, and in consequence of a Dorian reaction Cresphontes found himself compelled to overthrow the old order of things; to abolish equality before the law; to unite the Dorians in one close society in Stenyclarus, and to make this place the capital of the country, while the rest of Messenia was reduced to the position of a conquered district. The disturbances went on. Cresphontes himself became the victim of a bloody insurrection; his family were overthrown and no Cresphontidæ followed. Æpytus succeeded. He is by name and race an Arcadian, brought up in Arcadia whence he penetrated into Messenia, then on the verge of dissolution. He gave order and direction to the development of the country, and hence its subsequent kings are called Æpytidæ. But the whole direction henceforth taken by the history of the country is different, non-Dorian, unwarlike. The Æpytidæ are no soldier-princes, but creators of order, and founders of forms of religious worship. And these forms are not those of the Dorians, but decidedly non-Dorian, old Peloponnesian, like those of Demeter, Æsculapius, the Æsculapidæ. The high festival of the country was a mystery-service of the so-called “great deities” and unknown to the Dorian race, while at Ithome,[118] the lofty citadel of the country, which raises its commanding height between the two plains of the district, ruled the Pelasgic Zeus, whose worship was considered the distinctive mark of the Messenian people.

Scanty as are the relics preserved of the history of the Messenian country, some very important facts undoubtedly underlie them. From the first a remarkable insecurity reigned in this Dorian foundation; a deep gulf between the commander of the army and the people, which had its origin in the king’s connection with the ancient pre-Achæan population. He did not succeed in founding a dynasty, for it is only in subsequent legend, which here, as in the case of all Greek pedigrees, seeks to disguise a violent break, that Æpytus is made to be the son of Cresphontes. But the warlike Dorian nation must have become so weakened by internal conflicts, that it was not in a position to assert itself; the transformation of Messenia into a Dorian country was not carried into effect, and thus the main lines of its history were determined. For rich though the district was in natural resources, uniting as it did two of the finest watersheds with a coast stretching between two seas and well provided with harbours; yet the development of the State was from the first unfortunate. There was here no complete renewal, no powerful Hellenic revival in the district.

It was with far different success that a second host of Dorian warriors pressed down the long valley of the Eurotas, which from a narrow gorge gradually widens to the smiling plain of cornfields at the foot of Taygetus, the “Hollow Lacedæmon.” There is no Greek territory in which one plain is so decidedly the very kernel of the whole as it is here. Sunk deep between rugged mountains and severed from the surrounding country by high passes, it holds in its lap all the means of comfort and well-being. Here on the hillocks on the Eurotas above Amyclæ the Dorians pitched their camp, from which grew up the town of Sparta, the youngest city of the plain.

If the Dorian Sparta and the Achæan Amyclæ existed for centuries side by side, it is manifest that no uninterrupted state of war continued during this period. Here, no more than in Messenia, can a thorough occupation of the whole district have taken place, but the relations between the old and new inhabitants must have been arranged by agreement. Here, too, the Dorians dispersed through different places and mingled with the foreign nation.


The third state has its kernel in the plain of the Inachus, which was regarded as the portion of the first-born of the Heraclidæ. For the fame of Atrides’ might, though it was chiefly fixed at Mycenæ, also extended over the state which was founded on the ruins of the Mycenæan kingdom. The nucleus of the Dorian Argos was on the coast, where between the sandy estuary of the Inachus, and that of the copious stream of the Erasinus, a tract of firm land rises in the swampy soil. Here the Dorians had their camp and their sanctuaries; here their commander Temenus had died and had been buried before he had seen his people in secure possession of the upper plain; and after him this coast town preserved the name of Temenium. Its situation shows that the citadels and passes farther inland were maintained by the Achæans with a more steadfast resistance, so that the Dorians were for a long time compelled to content themselves with a thoroughly disadvantageous situation. For it was only by degrees that the whole strip of shore was rendered habitable, and the swampy character of the soil was, according to[119] Aristotle, the main reason why the sovereign town of the Pelopidæ was placed so far back in the upper plain. Now by the advance of the Dorian might, the high rock citadel of Larissa also became the political centre of the district, and the Pelasgian Argos at its foot, which had been the oldest place of assembly for the population, was once more the capital. It came to be the seat of the reigning family of the line of Temenus, and the starting-point for the further extension of their power.

This extension did not result from the uniform conquest of the district and the annihilation of the earlier settlements, but from the despatch of Dorian bands which established themselves at the chief points between the Ionian and Achæan populations. This was also effected in different ways, more or less violent, and radiating in two directions, on the one side towards the Corinthian, on the other towards the Saronic Sea.

Low passes lead from Argos into the Asopus Valley. Rhegnidas the Temenid led Dorian armies into the upper valley, where, under the blessing of Dionysus, flourished the old Ionian Phlius, while Phalces chose the lower vale at whose entrance, Sicyon, the ancient capital of the coast district of Ægialea, spread itself over a stately plateau. At both places a peaceful division of the soil appears to have taken place; and the same was the case in the neighbourhood of the Phliasians, at Cleonæ.

It must be confessed that it is incredible that, in this narrow and thickly populated territory, lordless acres were to be found with which to satisfy the strangers’ desire for territory, and even more so that the former land-owners willingly vacated their hereditary possessions; but the sense of the tradition is that only certain wealthy families were compelled to give place in consequence of the Dorian immigration, whilst the rest of the population continued in their former situation and were exempted from political change. The passion for emigration which had taken possession of the Ionian families throughout the north of the peninsula softened the effects of the transfer. The hope of finding fairer homes and a wider future beyond the sea, drove them to a distance. Thus Hippasus the ancestor of Pythagoras, left the narrow valley of Phlius to find in Samos a new home for him and his.

In this way it came about that good arable lands were left unoccupied in all the coast districts, so that the governments of the small states, which either retained their power or entered upon it in the place of the emigrants, were able to portion out fields and hand them over to the members of the warrior race of Dorians. For the latter were not anxious to overthrow the ancient order and to assert new principles of government, but only required a sufficiency of landed property for themselves and their belongings, together with the civil rights that belonged to it. Therefore the similarities between their worship of gods and heroes were utilised as a means of forming peaceful bonds of union. Thus it is expressly declared of Sicyon that from ancient times the Heraclidæ had ruled in this very place: therefore Phalces, when he penetrated thither with his Dorians, had allowed the ruling family to retain its offices and titles and had come to an understanding with it by peaceful agreement.

Towards the coast of the Saronic Gulf marched two hosts from Argos, under Deïphontes and Agaios, who transformed the old Ionian Epidaurus and Trœzen into Dorian towns; but from Epidaurus the march was continued to the isthmus, where, in the strong and important city of Corinth, whose citadel was the key of the whole peninsula, the series of Temenid settlements found its limit.


These settlements unquestionably form the most brilliant part of the warlike march of the Dorians through the Peloponnesus. By the energy of these Dorians and their leaders of the race of Hercules, who must have joined in these undertakings in specially large numbers, all parts of the many sections into which the country was split up were successfully occupied, and the new Argos, stretching from the island of Cythera as far as the Attic frontiers, far exceeded the bounds of the modest settlements on the Pamisus and Eurotas. For even if the leaders of the armies had not everywhere founded new states, still those existing had all become homogeneous by the acceptance of a Dorian element, which formed the military and preponderating section of the population.

This transformation had started from Argos, and consequently all these settlements stood in a filial relation to the mother city, so that we may regard Argos, Phlius, Sicyon, Trœzen, Epidaurus, and Corinth as a Dorian hexapolis forming a confederation like that in Caria.

Moreover this organisation was not an entirely new one. In Achæan times Mycenæ had formed with Heræum the centre of the country; in the Heræum Agamemnon had received the oath of fealty from his vassals. This was why the goddess Hera [Juno] is said to have preceded the Temenidæ to Sicyon, when they sought to revive the union between the towns which had become estranged from one another. Thus here also the remodelling was connected with the ancient tradition.

But now a central point for the confederacy was found in the worship of Apollo, which the Dorians had found established in Argos and had merely reconstituted, in the guise of the Delphic or Pythian god, through whose influence they had become an active people and under whose auspices they had hitherto been led. The towns sent their yearly offerings to the temple of Apollo Pythæus, which stood in Argos at the foot of the Larissa, but the mother city possessed the rights of a chief town as well as the government of the sanctuary.

In the meantime the size of Argos and the splendour of her new foundations, constituted a dangerous superiority. For the extension of power implied its division, and this was in the highest degree increased by the natural peculiarities of the Argive territory, which is more broken than any other Peloponnesian country.

In regard to the internal relations of the different states, great complications prevailed from the time that the older and younger population had mutually arranged themselves. For where the victory of the Dorians had been decided by force of arms, the old occupants had been driven from rights and possessions; an Achæo-Dorian town was formed and none were citizens save those belonging to the three tribes.

But in most cases it was otherwise. For example where, as in Phlius and Sicyon, a prosperity founded on agriculture, industrial activity, and commerce already existed; there the population did not, at least for any length of time, submit to be oppressed and thrust on one side. They remained no nameless and insignificant mass, but were recognised as forming one or several tribes, side by side with the three Dorian divisions, though not with the same rights. Where, therefore, more than three phylæ or tribes are met with; where, besides the Hylleans, Dymanes and Pamphylians, there are also mentioned “Hyrnethians” as in Argos, or “Ægialæans” (shore people) as in Sicyon, or a “Chthonophyle” (which was perhaps the tribal name of the natives in Phlius), it may be concluded that the immigrants had not left the older people entirely outside the newly-founded[121] commonwealth, but had sooner or later given them a certain recognised standing. However insignificant the latter might be, it was still the germ of important developments, and the existence of such co-tribes suffices to indicate a peculiar history for those states in which they occur.

Originally the various tribes also occupied different localities. As the diverse sections of the army had been separated in the camp, so the Pamphylians, the Dymanes and the Hylleans had their special quarters in Argos, and these long subsisted as such; when the Hyrnethians were admitted into the municipal commonwealth, they formed a fourth quarter. How long a period generally elapsed before the various elements of the population became amalgamated, is most clearly shown by the fact that places like Mycenæ continued their quiet existence as Achæan communities. Here the ancient traditions of the age of the Pelopidæ lived on undisturbed on the very spot where they had been enacted; here the anniversary of Agamemnon’s death was celebrated year after year at the place of his burial, and even during the Persian War, we see the men of Mycenæ and Tiryns, mindful of their old hero kings, as they take their part in the national quarrel against Asia.

Thus under the Dorian influence three new states were founded in the south and east of the peninsula, namely Messenia, Laconia, and Argos, which differed greatly even at the outset, and early diverged upon separate lines.


At the same time great changes were taking place on the remote west coast. The states north and south of the Alpheus with which Homer is acquainted, were overthrown and Ætolian families, who honoured Oxylus as their ancestor, founded new lordships on the territory of the Epeans and Pylæans. These foundations had no apparent connection with the marches of the Dorian armies, and it is only a legendary poem of later date which speaks of Oxylus as having stipulated for the western land as his share in reward for services rendered to the Dorians. This betrays that it was a subsequent invention, by the fact that the new settlements on the peninsula are represented in this and similar fables as a result of a great and carefully planned undertaking; a representation which stands in complete contradiction to the facts of history. And when it is further related that the Dorians were conducted by their crafty leader, not along the flat coast road but across country through Arcadia, so that they might not be roused to envy or tempted to break their compact altogether, by the sight of the tracts of land conceded to Oxylus; this is but a tale invented with the object of explaining the erection of a state in Elis independently of the Dorian immigration, and the grounds for it are to be sought in the circumstance that the whole west coast, from the straits by Rhium down to Navarino, is distinguished by easy tracts of level country, such as are scarcely found elsewhere in Greek territory.

The best cornland lies at the foot of the Erymanthus Mountains, a broad plain through which the Peneus flows and which is surrounded by vine-clad hills stretching towards the neighbouring groups of islands. At the spot where the Peneus issues from the Arcadian mountains and flows into the coast-plain there rises on the left bank a stately height which looks clear over land and island sea and on this account was called in the Middle Ages, Calascope, or Belvidere. This height was selected by the Ætolian immigrants[122] as their chief citadel; it became the royal fortress of the Oxylidæ and their following, into whose hands fell the best estates.

From here the Ætolian state, under the territorial name of Elis spread southward over the whole low country, where on the banks of the Alpheus the Epeans and Pylæans had once fought out those petty feuds of which Nestor was so fond of telling. On the decay of that maritime kingdom of the Neleidæ which was attacked on the south by the Messenian Dorians and on the north by the Epeans, Ætolian tribes pressed forward from the interior of the island; these were the Minyans who being expelled from Taygetus took possession of the mountains which run farthest in the direction of the Sicilian Sea from Arcadia. Here they settled themselves in six fortified towns, united by a common worship of Poseidon; Macistus and Lapreus, were the most distinguished. Thus between the Alpheus and the Neda, in what was afterwards the so-called Triphylia, or “country of three tribes,” a new Minyan state was formed.

Finally the nucleus of a new state was also planted in the valley of the Alpheus, where scattered families of Achæans under Agorius of Helice allied themselves with Ætolian houses, and founded the state of Pisa.

[ca. 1000 B.C.]

Thus on the western coast, partly through conquest by the northern tribes and partly by arrivals from other parts of the peninsula, three new states arose, namely Elis, Pisa, and Triphylia; and in this way the whole coast district of the Peloponnesus was gradually newly populated and partitioned out afresh. Only in the district in the heart of the peninsula, did the country remain undisturbed in its existing state.

Arcadia was regarded by the ancients as a pre-eminently Pelasgian country, and here it was thought the autochthonic condition of the aboriginal inhabitants had been longest preserved and had suffered the least disturbance. Nevertheless the native legends themselves distinctly indicate that here also immigrations took place, interrupting the uniform condition of Pelasgian life, and occasioning a fusion of races, of different character and origin. Here too there is no mistaking the epoch at which, as in all other Greek states, the historical movement began.

After Pelasgus and his sons, Arcas, as ancestor of the Arcadians, stands at the beginning of a new era in the prehistoric life of the country. But Arcadians were to be found in Phrygia and Bithynia as well as in Crete and Cyprus, and the fact that colonists from the islands and shores of the eastern sea ascended into the highlands of the Peloponnesus that they might settle there in the beautiful valleys, is manifested by many tokens. The Cretan myths about Zeus are repeated in the closest manner of the Arcadian Lycæum; Tegea and Gortys are Cretan as well as Arcadian towns, with identical forms of worship, ancient legends connect Tegea and Paphos and the Cyprian dialect, which has only very recently been learnt from the native monuments, shows a great likeness to the Arcadian. Arcadians were known as navigators both in the western and in the eastern sea, and Nauplius, the hero of the oldest Peloponnesian seaport town appears as the servant of the Tegeatic kings, to whose house Argonauts like Ancæus also belong.

There are remains of old traditions, which show that even the interior of the Peloponnesus was not so remote or isolated as is commonly supposed; that here too there were immigrations and that in consequence in the rural districts, and particularly in the fruitful ravines of the eastern side, a series of towns grew up, which, on account of the natural barriers of their frontiers, early formed isolated city domains; such as those of Pheneus, Stynphalus, Orchomenus, Cleitor and afterwards the towns of Mantinea, Alea, Caphyæ,[123] and Gortys. In the southwest portion of Arcadia, in the forest range of Lycæum, and in the valley of the Alpheus were also to be found ancient fortress towns, such as Lycosura; but these fortresses never became political centres of the districts. The mass of the people remained scattered and were only connected with the community by very slight bonds.

Thus the whole of Arcadia consisted of a numerous group of municipal and rural cantons. It was only the former which could attain historical importance, and among them especially Tegea, which lying as it did in the most fertile part of the great Arcadian plateau, must from the earliest times have assumed something of the position of a capital city. Thus it was a Tegeatic king, Echemus, the “steadfast,” who is said to have prevented the Dorians from entering the peninsula. Yet the Tegeatæ never succeeded in giving a unity to the whole island. Its natural conformation was too multi-form, too diversified, and too much cut up by high mountain ridges into numerous and sharply defined portions for it to be able to attain to a common territorial history. It was only certain forms of worship, with which customs and institutions were bound up, that were universal among the whole Arcadian people. These were, in the north country the worship of Artemis Hymnia, and in the south that of Zeus Lycæus, on the Lycæum, whose summit had been honoured as the holy mountain of Arcadia from primeval Pelasgian times.

The country was in this condition when the Pelopidæ founded their states; and so it still remained when the Dorians invaded the peninsula. A wild, impracticable mountain country, thickly populated by a sturdy people, Arcadia offered little prospect of easy success to races in search of territory, and could not detain them from their attempts on the river plains of the southern and western districts. According to the legend they were granted a free passage through the Arcadian fields. Nothing was changed except that the Arcadians were pushed farther and farther back from the sea, and therefore driven farther and farther from the advance Hellenic civilisation.

If we take a glance at the peninsula as a whole, and the political government which, in consequence of the immigration, it acquired for all time, we shall find, first, the interior persisting in its former condition unshaken, secondly, three districts, Lacedæmon, Messenia, and Argos, which had undergone a thorough metamorphosis directly due to the immigrating races; and finally the two strips of land along the north and west coasts, which had been left untouched by the Dorians, but in part were resettled by the ancient tribes whom the Dorians displaced, as was the case with Triphylia and Achæa, and in part transformed by arrivals of another kind, as happened at Elis.

Thus complicated were the results which followed the Dorian migration. They show sufficiently how little we have here to do with a transformation effected at one blow, like the result of a fortunate campaign. After the races had long wandered up and down in a varying series of territorial disputes and mutual agreements, the fate of the peninsula was gradually decided. Only when men had forgotten the tedious period of unrest and ferment, which memory can adorn with no incidents, could the reconstitution of the peninsula be regarded as a sudden turn of events by which the Peloponnesus had become Dorian.

Even in those districts which the invaders especially contended for and occupied, the transformation of the people into a Dorian population was only effected very gradually and in a very imperfect fashion. How could it[124] have been otherwise? Even the conquering hosts themselves were not of purely Dorian blood, but intermixed with people of all sorts of races. Nor was it as Dorians but as relatives of the Achæan princes that the leaders of their armies laid claim to power and rule. Thus Plato saw in the march of the Heraclids a union between Dorians and Achæans, dating from the times of the movement of the Greek peoples, and how little unity originally existed between the commander and his men is shown by a series of undoubted facts. For no sooner had the force of the warriors won a firm footing in the districts, than the interests of Heraclids and Dorians diverged and such dissensions broke out as either endangered or nullified the whole success of the colony.

The leaders sought to effect amalgamation of the old and new populations, that they might thus attain a broader foundation for their power and place themselves in a position independent of the influence of the Dorian warriors. Everywhere do we find the same phenomena, and most distinctly in Messenia. But in Laconia also, the Heraclids made themselves detested by their warriors, by trying to assimilate the non-Dorian to the Dorian people, and in Argolis we see the Heraclid Deïphontes, whose name is thoroughly Ionic, allied with Hyrnetho, who is the representative of the original population of the coast district. It is this same Deïphontes who helps to establish the throne of the Temenids in Argos, to the indignation of the other Heraclids and of the Dorians: here, therefore, their new kingdom undoubtedly rests on the support of the pre-Dorian population.

Thus the bonds between the Heraclids and the Dorians were loosened in all three countries, soon after their occupation. The political institutions were established in spite of the Dorians, and if the newly imported popular force was to have a fruitful and beneficial effect on the soil of the country, it required the art of a wise legislation to conciliate opposition and regulate the forces which threatened to destroy it. The first example of such legislation was given, as far as we know, on the island of Crete.


Dorians in considerable numbers had passed over into Crete from Argos and Laconia, and if in other cases islands and seacoast were not a soil on which the Dorian races felt at home, here it was otherwise.

Crete is rather a continent than an island. With the wealth of resources of every kind which distinguishes the country, the Cretan towns were able to preserve themselves from the restlessness belonging to the life of a seaport, and quietly to unfold the new germs of life which the Dorians brought to the island. Here, too, they came as invaders: massed in great hosts they overpowered the island people, whom no bonds of union held together. We find Dorian tribes in Cydonia, the first place in which the new arrivals from Cythera established themselves. Then Knossos, and especially Lyctus, whose Dorian people hailed from Laconia, became the chief towns of the new settlement.

The Dorians had here reached the land of an ancient civilisation, whose fertility was not yet exhausted. They found towns with definite constitutions and families well versed in the art of rule. State government and religious worship had here, under quieter conditions, retained their original connection and in especial the religion of Apollo, administered by the old priestly families, displayed its organising, civilising, and intellectual influence[125] in entirety. The Dorians brought nothing but their tempestuous courage and the strength of their spears; compared with the Cretan nobility they were the merest children in all that concerns the art of government and legislation. They demanded land and left it to others to find out the ways and means of satisfying their requirements, for the overthrow of the ancient government signified nothing to them. But that the Dorians nevertheless did not behave as reckless conquerors; that they did not overturn the ancient state and found new ones, is manifest from the mere fact that the organisation of Dorian Crete is nowhere referred to a Dorian originator.

On the contrary, Aristotle testifies that the inhabitants of the Cretan town of Lyctus, where the Dorian institutions were most completely developed, preserved the existing institutions of the country; according to unanimous tradition, there was no break, no gap between the Dorian and the pre-Dorian period; so that the name of Minos, the representative of Cretan civilisation, could be associated both with the old and the new.

Patrician houses whose rights had come down to them from the royal period, remained in possession of the government. Now as formerly it was from them that the ten chief rulers of the state, “the Kosmoi,” were taken in the different towns; from them that the senate was chosen, whose members retained their dignity for life and were answerable to none. These families held rule in the towns when the Dorians invaded them. They concluded treaties with them, which took account of the interests of both sides, they made themselves subservient to the foreign power, by assigning the immigrants a sufficient share of the land which the state had to dispose of, not without the accompanying obligation of military service and the right, as the fighting portion of the community, to a voice in all important decisions but especially when it was a question of war and peace.

The Dorians took their place as the fighting element in the state. For this reason, the boys as they grew up, were placed under state discipline; united in troops; trained according to regulation, in the public gymnasia, and schooled in the use of weapons; they were inured to hard living and prepared by warlike games for real combats. Thus, remote from all effeminate influences, the military qualities peculiar to the Dorian race were to be imparted; there was also, however, some intermixture of Cretan customs, as for instance, the use of the bow, which was previously unknown to the Dorian. The grown youths and men, even if they possessed households of their own, were expected to be sensible first of all of the fact that they were comrades in arms, and prepared to march at any moment as though in a camp. Accordingly at the men’s daily meal they sat together by troops, as they served in the army, and in the same way they slept in common dormitories. The costs were met through the state from a common chest, but this chest was supplied by each delivering the tenth part of the fruit of his possession to the fraternity to which he belonged, and this tithe was then handed over to the state chest. In return, the state undertook to support the warriors, as well as the women who had charge of the house with the children and servants, in times both of peace and war. I believe it is plain that we have here an arrangement agreed on by treaty between the older and newer members of the state.

In order, however, that the Dorian fighting element might be able to devote itself wholly to its calling, its members had to be entirely exempt from the necessity of personally cultivating their share of the soil; otherwise they would not only have been impoverished by its neglect in war-time, but in peace they would have been detained from military exercises, and the[126] equally valuable hunting excursions after the plentiful game of the Ida Mountains. Consequently the work of agriculture was imposed on a special class of men, who, by the chance of war, had fallen into the condition of servitude and were deprived of civil rights. When and how this element of serfdom was formed, is not indicated; but there were two classes of them. The one tilled those fields which had been preserved by the state as public property; these were the so-called Mnoetæ; the others, the Clarotæ dwelt on the lands which had passed by donation into the hereditary possession of the immigrants. The Dorian landowners were their masters and had the right to demand of them the fruit of the field at a fixed date, while it was their duty to see that the soil was properly improved, so that nothing might be lost to the state. Otherwise the military class lived without care, unconcerned for the maintenance of existence, and could say, as the proverbial lines of the Cretan Hybrias have it, “Here are my sword, spear and shield; my whole treasure; herewith I plough and gather the harvest.”

What they learned was the use of weapons and self-command; their art, discipline, and obedience, obedience of the younger to the older, of the soldier to his superior, of all to the state. Higher and more liberal culture appeared unnecessary and even dangerous, and we may suppose that the ruling families of Crete had intentionally laid down a one-sided and narrow education for the Dorian community, in order that they might not feel tempted to outstep their soldierly calling, and contest the guidance of the state with the native races.

Beside these however there remained on the peninsula a considerable part of the older population, whose position was entirely unaffected by the Dorian immigration; the people on the mountains and in the rural towns, who were dependent on the larger cities of the island and paid according to an ancient usage a yearly tax to their governments; and rural peasants and cattle-breeders, tradesmen, fishers, and sailors who had nothing to do with the State except willingly to submit to its ordinances, and to pursue their occupations in a peaceful fashion.

It is on the whole, an unmistakable fact that a Greek state organisation of a very remarkable character was here called into being, and formed a combination in which old and new, foreign and native, were amalgamated; an organization which Plato judged worthy to form the groundwork for the plan of his ideal state. For here we actually have the latter’s three classes: the class equipped with the wise foresight becoming the rulers of the state; the class of “guards,” in which the virtue of courage, with exclusion from a more liberal development by means of art and science, was the object to be attained; and, finally, the industrial class, the element which provided the necessaries of life, and to which a disproportionately larger amount of arbitrary freedom was permitted; it had but to provide for the physical support of itself and the community generally. The first and third classes might have formed the state by themselves, inasmuch as they sufficiently represented the mutual relations of governing and governed. Between the two the guards, or armed element, had thrust itself in, to the increase of stability and durability. On this wise it came to pass that Crete was the first country to succeed in assigning to the Dorian race a share in the ancient community, and thus for the second time the island of Minos became a typical starting-point for the Hellenic state organisation.

The later Crete is also better known to us by the effects which proceeded from it, than in its internal condition like a heavenly body the abundance of whose light is measured by its reflection on other objects. Crete became for[127] the Hellenes the cradle of a complicated civilisation. Thence sprang a series of men who founded the art of sculpture in the peculiar Hellenic form, and strewed its seeds in all Greek countries—for Dipœnus and Scyllis, the earliest masters in marble sculptures, derived their origin from Crete, the home of Dædalus. Other Cretans distinguished themselves as masters in the art of divination, and as singers and musicians who, educated in the service of Apollo, obtained such power over the human soul, that they were summoned by foreign states to interpose their aid in a disordered condition of the community and lay the foundations of a sound system of government. These Cretan masters, such as Thaletas and Epimenides, are not, however, sprung from the Dorian race any more than are the sculptors; the new shoots had sprouted from the old root of native culture, even if the admixture of various Greek races had essentially contributed to the impulse of new vital activity.

In spite of the fact that the population of Crete received such a reinforcement and that she had so well understood how to employ it to strengthen her states, none the less, after the time of Minos, she never again attained to a political influence extending over all her shores. The chief cause lies in the condition of the island which made the formation of a great state an impossibility. The territories of the various towns among which the Dorians were divided, Cydonia in the west, Knossos and Lyctus in the north and Gortys in the south of the island, held suspiciously aloof from one another, or were at open feud; thus the Dorian strength was squandered in the interests of petty towns. Added to this that the Dorians, when they immigrated across the sea, of course came only in small bands, and for the most part, unaccompanied by women, so that for this reason alone they could not retain their racial characteristics to the same extent as on the mainland. Finally, even in the seats of Dorian habitation across the sea, we sometimes find, that not all three races, but only one of them had settled in the same town; thus in Halicarnassus there were only Dymanes; in Cydonia, as it seems, only Hylleans. Thus a fresh dispersal and weakening of the Dorian strength must have supervened, and it is easy to understand why the continental settlements of the Dorians, especially those of the Peloponnesus, still remained the most important and the ones fraught with most consequence for history.

In the Peloponnesus, however, it was, once again, at a single point that a Dorian history of independent and far-reaching importance developed itself. And that point was Sparta.c

Greek Coin




What! are these stones, yon column’s broken shaft,
Where moss-crowned Ruin long hath sat and laughed,
These shattered steps, these walls that earthward bow,
All Sparta’s Royal Square can boast of now?
Nicholas Michell.
[ca. 885 B.C.]

The characteristic development of Sparta depends partly on the nature of the land and partly on the relations formed there by strange conquerors.

Sparta is a peninsular land, enclosed by an almost uninterrupted line of mountains, a hundred miles square in area, which opens itself out southwards towards the sea between two necks of land. On the west side are the steep walls of Taygetus, which before entering into the Tænarian promontory are penetrated by a pass which leads into Messenia; to the east on the coast is the chain of Parnon. Between these mountains, which enclose many cultivable valleys, the valley of the Eurotas runs from north to south and is narrow in its upper part to below the defile in which Sparta lies; south of this it extends itself in the shape of a trough into a fertile plain which again narrows itself towards the sea; there are no good ports. Therefore on all sides Sparta was not easily accessible to the enemy, or even to friends; and had produce enough for its inhabitants.

Sparta had three classes of inhabitants. They were:

(1) the Helots, those old inhabitants of the land who in consequence of their obstinate resistance were made slaves; and were not so much oppressed as hated and despised; they had to pay a “fixed and moderate rent” for the land on which they (bound to the soil) dwelt, nevertheless they were partly public and partly private slaves and could only go about in a special slave costume; the so-called crypteia[8] was a yearly campaign against them when they showed themselves refractory; it served as military exercise or manœuvres to the youthful conquerors.

(2) The Laconians stood under far more favourable relations; they were the populations of the hundred towns of the province; a portion of them were strangers who had joined the Dorians at the conquest, but, for the greater part, they were old inhabitants who early enough subjected themselves to the conquerors. They stood in the relation of subjects, and had no political rights, but were in no way oppressed; they had landed property for which they paid rent to the state; and they carried on trade and art.

(3) The Dorian conquerors, the real Spartans, dwelt in the capital, which remained an “open camp,” all the more so as they formed only a small part of the whole population and could keep the land in subjection only by arms. They were the ruling citizens, possessed the best lands[129] which were in the vicinity of the capital, and had these cultivated by slaves (helots) whilst they dedicated themselves to war and the affairs of state.

These relations certainly existed in the beginnings of the Dorian conquest, but they were only brought about by circumstances, without being regulated by law. Many errors must have arisen through this, and they seem to have given rise to the “Legislation of Lycurgus.”b

While modern criticism makes few inroads upon the accepted stories of the Spartan régime it assails the very existence of Lycurgus, the so-called creator of it. The earliest accounts of his legislation are three centuries later than the time of his alleged career. The old Spartan poet Tyrtæus does not seem to have mentioned him. Pindar credits his edicts to Ægimius the mythical ancestor of the Dorians. Hellanicus and Thucydides do not credit them to Lycurgus, and the “argument from silence” is strong against him. His name means “wolf-repeller,” and it is thought that from being originally a god of protection worshipped by the predecessors of the Dorians, he came to be accepted finally as a man and a lawgiver. But historical cities have denied the existence of other heroes of tradition only to restore them later to their old glory, and it is necessary to present here the Lycurgus of venerable story, as all the traditions of early Spartan communal life centre about his name; and their alleged ancient lawgiver becomes, therefore, one of the most important personages in Grecian history. As to his personality—accepting him for the nonce as a reality—opinions differ according to the bias of the individual historian. We shall perhaps be in best position to gain a judicious idea of the subject by first following the biography of Lycurgus by Plutarch, and afterward turning to modern investigators for an estimate of the man and his laws. Whatever our individual opinion as to the personality of the hero himself, we shall at least gain an insight into the actual customs of the Spartans; and it perhaps does not greatly matter if we are left in doubt as to the share which any single man—be his name Lycurgus or what not—had in shaping them.a

The Valley of Sparta


Of Lycurgus, the lawgiver, says Plutarch, we have nothing to relate that is certain and uncontroverted. For there are different accounts of his birth, his travels, his death, and especially of the laws and form of government[130] which he established. But least of all are the times agreed upon in which this great man lived. For some say he flourished at the same time with Iphitus, and joined with him in settling the cessation of arms during the Olympic Games. Among these is Aristotle the philosopher, who alleges for proof an Olympic quoit, on which was preserved the inscription of Lycurgus’ name. But others who, with Eratosthenes and Apollodorus, compute the time by the succession of the Spartan kings, place him much earlier than the first Olympiad. Timæus, however, supposes, that, as there were two Lycurguses in Sparta at different times, the actions of both are ascribed to one, on account of his particular renown; and that the more ancient of them lived not long after Homer: Nay, some say he had seen him. Xenophon, too, confirms the opinion of his antiquity, when he makes him contemporary with the Heraclidæ. It is true, the latest of the Lacedæmonian kings were of the lineage of the Heraclidæ; but Xenophon there seems to speak of the first and more immediate descendants of Hercules. As the history of those times is thus involved, in relating the circumstances of Lycurgus’ life, we shall endeavour to select such as are least controverted, and follow authors of the greatest credit.

For a long time anarchy and confusion prevailed in Sparta, by which one of its kings, the father of Lycurgus, lost his life. For while he was endeavouring to part some persons who were concerned in a fray, he received a wound by a kitchen knife, of which he died, leaving the kingdom to his eldest son Polydectes.

But he, too, dying soon after, the general voice gave it for Lycurgus to ascend the throne; and he actually did so, till it appeared that his brother’s widow was pregnant. As soon as he perceived this, he declared that the kingdom belonged to her issue, provided it were male, and he kept the administration in his hands only as his guardian. This he did with the title of Prodicos, which the Lacedæmonians give to the guardians of infant kings. Soon after, the queen made him a private overture, that she would destroy her child, upon condition that he would marry her when king of Sparta. Though he detested her wickedness, he said nothing against the proposal, but pretending to approve it, charged her not to take any drugs to procure an abortion, lest she should endanger her own health or life; for he would take care that the child, as soon as born, should be destroyed. Thus he artfully drew on the woman to her full time, and, when he heard she was in labour, he sent persons to attend and watch her delivery, with orders, if it were a girl, to give it to the women, but if a boy, to bring it to him, in whatever business he might be engaged. It happened that he was at supper with the magistrates when she was delivered of a boy, and his servants, who were present, carried the child to him. When he received it, he is reported to have said to the company, “Spartans, see here your new-born king.” He then laid him down upon the chair of state, and named him Charilaus, because of the joy and admiration of his magnanimity and justice testified by all present. Thus the reign of Lycurgus lasted only eight months. But the citizens had a great veneration for him on other accounts, and there were more that paid him their attentions, and were ready to execute his commands, out of regard to his virtues, than those that obeyed him as a guardian to the King, and director of the administration. There were not, however, wanting those that envied him, and opposed his advancement, as too high for so young a man; particularly the relations and friends of the queen-mother, who seemed to have been treated with contempt. Her brother Leonidas one day boldly attacked him with virulent language, and scrupled[131] not to tell him, that he was well assured he would soon be king. Insinuations of the same kind were likewise spread by the queen-mother. Moved with this ill treatment, and fearing some dark design, he determined to get clear of all suspicion, by travelling into other countries, till his nephew should be grown up, and have a son to succeed him in the kingdom.

He set sail, therefore, and landed in Crete. There having observed the forms of government, and conversed with the most illustrious personages, he was struck with admiration of some of their laws, and resolved at his return to make use of them in Sparta. Some others he rejected. From Crete Lycurgus passed to Asia, desirous, as is said, to compare the Ionian expense and luxury with the Cretan frugality and hard diet, so as to judge what effect each had on their several manners and governments. The Egyptians likewise suppose that he visited them; and as of all their institutions he was most pleased with their distinguishing the military men from the rest of the people, he took the same method at Sparta, and, by separating from these the mechanics and artificers, he rendered the constitution more noble and more of a piece.

Returning, he immediately applied himself to alter the whole frame of the constitution; sensible that a partial change, and the introducing of some new laws, would be of no sort of advantage, he applied to the nobility, and desired them to put their hands to the work; addressing himself privately at first to his friends, and afterwards, by degrees, trying the disposition of others, and preparing them to concur in the business. When matters were ripe, he ordered thirty of the principal citizens to appear armed in the market-place by break of day, to strike terror into such as might desire to oppose him. Upon the first alarm, King Charilaus, apprehending it to be a design against his person, took refuge in the Chalcioicos [brazen temple]. But he was soon satisfied, and accepted their oath, and joined in the undertaking.

The Institutions of Lycurgus

Among the many new institutions of Lycurgus, the first and most important was that of a senate; which sharing, as Plato says, in the power of the kings, too imperious and unrestrained before, and having equal authority with them, was the means of keeping them within the bounds of moderation, and highly contributed to the preservation of the state. For before, it had been veering and unsettled, sometimes inclining to arbitrary power, and sometimes towards a pure democracy; but this establishment of a senate, an intermediate body, like ballast, kept in it a just equilibrium, and put it in a safe posture: the twenty-eight senators adhering to the kings, whenever they saw the people too encroaching, and, on the other hand, supporting the people, when the kings attempted to make themselves absolute. This, according to Aristotle, was the number of senators fixed upon, because two of the thirty associates of Lycurgus deserted the business through fear.

He had this institution so much at heart, that he obtained from Delphi an oracle in its behalf called rhetra, or the decree.

Though the government was thus tempered by Lycurgus, yet soon after it degenerated into an oligarchy, whose power was exercised with such wantonness and violence, that it wanted indeed a bridle, as Plato expresses it. This curb they found in the authority of the ephori, about one hundred and thirty years after Lycurgus.

A second and bolder political enterprise of Lycurgus, was a new division of the lands. For he found a prodigious inequality, the city over-charged[132] with many indigent persons, who had no land, and the wealth centred in the hands of a few. Determined, therefore, to root out the evils of insolence, envy, avarice, and luxury, and those distempers of a state still more inveterate and fatal, I mean poverty and riches, he persuaded them to cancel all former divisions of land, and to make new ones, in such a manner that they might be perfectly equal in their possessions and way of living. Hence, if they were ambitious of distinction they might seek it in virtue, as no other difference was left between them, but that which arises from the dishonour of base actions and the praise of good ones. His proposal was put in practice.

After this, he attempted to divide also the movables, in order to take away all appearance of inequality; but he soon perceived that they could not bear to have their goods directly taken from them, and therefore took another method, counterworking their avarice by a stratagem. First he stopped the currency of the gold and silver coin, and ordered that they should make use of iron money only: then to a great quantity and weight of this he assigned but a small value; so that to lay up ten minæ [£30 or $150] a whole room was required, and to remove it nothing less than a yoke of oxen. When this became current, many kinds of injustice ceased in Lacedæmon. Who would steal or take a bribe, who would defraud or rob, when he could not conceal the booty? Their iron coin would not pass in the rest of Greece, but was ridiculed and despised; so that the Spartans had no means of purchasing any foreign or curious wares; nor did any merchant-ship unlade in their harbours. There were not even to be found in all their country either sophists, wandering fortune-tellers, keepers of infamous houses, or dealers in gold and silver trinkets, because there was no money. Thus luxury, losing by degrees the means that cherished and supported it, died away of itself: even they who had great possessions, had no advantage from them, since they could not be displayed in public, but must lie useless, in unregarded repositories.

Desirous to complete the conquest of luxury, and exterminate the love of riches, he introduced a third institution, which was wisely enough and ingeniously contrived. This was the use of public tables, where all were to eat in common of the same meat, and such kinds of it as were appointed by law. At the same time, they were forbidden to eat at home, upon expensive couches and tables, to call in the assistance of butchers and cooks, or to fatten like voracious animals in private. For so not only their manners would be corrupted, but their bodies disordered; abandoned to all manner of sensuality and dissoluteness, they would require long sleep, warm baths, and the same indulgence as in perpetual sickness. To effect this was certainly very great; but it was greater still, to secure riches from rapine and from envy, as Theophrastus expresses it, or rather by their eating in common, and by the frugality of their table, to take from riches their very being. For what use or enjoyment of them, what peculiar display of magnificence could there be, where the poor man went to the same refreshment with the rich?

The rich, therefore (we are told), were more offended with this regulation than with any other, and, rising in a body, they loudly expressed their indignation: nay, they proceeded so far as to assault Lycurgus with stones, so that he was forced to fly from the assembly and take refuge in a temple.

The public repasts were called by the Cretans andria; but the Lacedæmonians styled them phiditia, either from their tendency to friendship and mutual benevolence, phiditia being used instead of philitia; or else from their teaching frugality and parsimony, which the word pheido signifies. But it is not at all impossible, that the first letter might by some means or[133] other be added, and so phiditia take place of editia, which barely signifies eating. There were fifteen persons to a table, or a few more or less. Each of them was obliged to bring in monthly a bushel of meal, eight gallons of wine, five pounds of cheese, two pounds and a half of figs, and a little money to buy flesh and fish. If any of them happened to offer a sacrifice of first fruits, or to kill venison, he sent a part of it to the public table: for after a sacrifice or hunting, he was at liberty to sup at home: but the rest were to appear at the usual place. For a long time this eating in common was observed with great exactness: so that when King Agis returned from a successful expedition against the Athenians, and from a desire to sup with his wife, requested to have his portion at home, the polemarchs refused to send it: nay, when, through resentment, he neglected the day following to offer the sacrifice usual on occasion of victory, they set a fine upon him. Children were also introduced at these public tables, as so many schools of sobriety. There they heard discourses concerning government, and were instructed in the most liberal breeding. There they were allowed to jest without scurrility, and were not to take it ill when the raillery was returned. For it was reckoned worthy of a Lacedæmonian to bear a jest: but if any one’s patience failed, he had only to desire them to be quiet, and they left off immediately. After they had drunk moderately, they went home without lights. Indeed, they were forbidden to walk with a light either on this or any other occasion, that they might accustom themselves to march in the darkest night boldly and resolutely. Such was the order of their public repasts.

Lycurgus left none of his laws in writing; it was ordered in one of the rhetræ that none should be written. For what he thought most conducive to the virtue and happiness of a city, was principles interwoven with the manners and breeding of the people. As for smaller matters, it was better not to reduce these to a written form and unalterable method, but to suffer them to change with the times, and to admit of additions or retrenchments at the pleasure of persons so well educated. For he resolved the whole business of legislation into the bringing up of youth. And this, as we have observed, was the reason why one of his ordinances forbade them to have any written laws.

Another ordinance levelled against magnificence and expense, directed that the ceilings of houses should be wrought with no tool but the axe, and the doors with nothing but the saw.

Regulations Regarding Marriage and the Conduct of Women

As for the education of youth, which he looked upon as the greatest and most glorious work of a lawgiver, he began with it at the very source, taking into consideration their conception and birth, by regulating the marriages. For he did not (as Aristotle says) desist from his attempt to bring the women under sober rules. They had, indeed, assumed great liberty and power on account of the frequent expeditions of their husbands, during which they were left sole mistresses at home, and so gained an undue deference and improper titles; but notwithstanding this he took all possible care of them. He ordered the virgins to exercise themselves in running, wrestling, and throwing quoits and darts; that their bodies being strong and vigorous, the children afterwards produced from them might be the same; and that, thus fortified by exercise, they might the better support the pangs of childbirth, and be delivered with safety. In order to take away the excessive tenderness and delicacy of the sex, the consequence of a recluse life, he accustomed[134] the virgins occasionally to be seen naked as well as the young men, and to dance and sing in their presence on certain festivals. There they sometimes indulged in a little raillery upon those that had misbehaved themselves, and sometimes they sung encomiums on such as deserved them, thus exciting in the young men a useful emulation and love of glory. For he who was praised for his bravery and celebrated among the virgins, went away perfectly happy: while their satirical glances thrown out in sport, were no less cutting than serious admonitions; especially as the kings and senate went with the other citizens to see all that passed. As for the virgins appearing naked, there was nothing disgraceful in it, because everything was conducted with modesty, and without one indecent word or action. Nay, it caused a simplicity of manners and an emulation for the best habit of body; their ideas, too, were naturally enlarged, while they were not excluded from their share of bravery and honour. Hence they were furnished with sentiments and language, such as Gorgo the wife of Leonidas is said to have made use of. When a woman of another country said to her, “You of Lacedæmon are the only women in the world that rule the men:” she answered, “We are the only women that bring forth men.”

These public dances and other exercises of the young maidens naked, in sight of the young men, were, moreover, incentives to marriage; and, to use Plato’s expression, drew them almost as necessarily by the attractions of love, as a geometrical conclusion follows from the premises. To encourage it still more, some marks of infamy were set upon those that continued bachelors. For they were not permitted to see these exercises of the naked virgins; and the magistrates commanded them to march naked round the market-place in the winter, and to sing a song composed against themselves, which expressed how justly they were punished for their disobedience to the laws. They were also deprived of that honour and respect which the younger people paid to the old; so that nobody found fault with what was said to Dercyllidas, though an eminent commander. It seems, when he came one day into company, a young man, instead of rising up and giving place, told him, “You have no child to give place to me, when I am old.”

In their marriages the bridegroom carried off the bride by violence; and she was never chosen in a tender age, but when she had arrived at full maturity. Then the woman that had the direction of the wedding, cut the bride’s hair close to the skin, dressed her in man’s clothes, laid her upon a mattress, and left her in the dark. The bridegroom, neither oppressed with wine nor enervated with luxury, but perfectly sober, as having always supped at the common table, went in privately, untied her girdle, and carried her to another bed. Having stayed there a short time, he modestly retired to his usual apartment, to sleep with the other young men: and observed the same conduct afterwards, spending the day with his companions, and reposing himself with them in the night, nor even visiting his bride but with great caution and apprehensions of being discovered by the rest of the family; the bride at the same time exerted all her art to contrive convenient opportunities for their private meetings. And this they did not for a short time only, but some of them even had children before they had an interview with their wives in the day-time. This kind of commerce not only exercised their temperance and chastity, but kept their bodies fruitful, and the first ardour of their love fresh and unabated; for as they were not satiated like those that are always with their wives, there still was place for unextinguished desire.

When he had thus established a proper regard to modesty and decorum with respect to marriage, he was equally studious to drive from that state[135] the vain and womanish passion of jealousy; by making it quite as reputable to have children in common with persons of merit, as to avoid all offensive freedom in their own behaviour to their wives. He laughed at those who revenge with wars and bloodshed the communication of a married woman’s favours; and allowed, that if a man in years should have a young wife, he might introduce to her some handsome and honest young man, whom he most approved of, and when she had a child of this generous race, bring it up as his own. On the other hand, he allowed, if a man of character should entertain a passion for a married woman on account of her modesty and the beauty of her children, he might treat with her husband for admission to her company, that so planting in a beauty-bearing soil, he might produce excellent children, the congenial offspring of excellent parents.

For in the first place, Lycurgus considered children, not so much the property of their parents, as of the state; and therefore he would not have them begot by ordinary persons, but by the best men in it. In the next place, he observed the vanity and absurdity of other nations, where people study to have their horses and dogs of the finest breed they can procure, either by interest or money; and yet keep their wives shut up, that they may have children by none but themselves, though they may happen to be doting, decrepit, or infirm. As if children, when sprung from a bad stock, and consequently good for nothing, were no detriment to those whom they belong to, and who have the trouble of bringing them up, nor any advantage, when well descended and of a generous disposition. These regulations tending to secure a healthy offspring, and consequently beneficial to the state, were so far from encouraging that licentiousness of the women which prevailed afterwards, that adultery was not known amongst them.

The Rearing of Children

It was not left to the father to rear what children he pleased, but he was obliged to carry the child to a place called Lesche, to be examined by the most ancient men of the tribe, who were assembled there. If it was strong and well proportioned, they gave orders for its education, and assigned it one of the nine thousand shares of land; but if it was weakly and deformed, they ordered it to be thrown into the place called Apothetæ, which is a deep cavern near the mountain Taygetus: concluding that its life could be no advantage either to itself or to the public, since nature had not given it at first any strength or goodness of constitution. For the same reason the women did not wash their new-born infants with water, but with wine, thus making some trial of their habit of body; imagining that sickly and epileptic children sink and die under the experiment, while healthy became more vigorous and hardy. Great care and art was also exerted by the nurses; for, as they never swathed the infants, their limbs had a freer turn, and their countenances a more liberal air; besides, they used them to any sort of meat, to have no terrors in the dark, nor to be afraid of being alone, and to leave all ill humour and unmanly crying. Hence people of other countries purchased Lacedæmonian nurses for their children.

The Spartan children were not in that manner, under tutors purchased or hired with money, nor were the parents at liberty to educate them as they pleased: but as soon as they were seven years old, Lycurgus ordered them to be enrolled in companies, where they were all kept under the same order and discipline, and had their exercises and recreations in common. He who showed the most conduct and courage amongst them, was made[136] captain of the company. The rest kept their eyes upon him, obeyed his orders, and bore with patience the punishment he inflicted: so that their whole education was an exercise of obedience. The old men were present at their diversions, and often suggested some occasion of dispute or quarrel, that they might observe with exactness the spirit of each, and their firmness in battle.

As for learning, they had just what was absolutely necessary. All the rest of their education was calculated to make them subject to command, to endure labour, to fight and conquer. They added, therefore, to their discipline, as they advanced in age; cutting their hair very close, making them go barefoot, and play, for the most part, quite naked. At twelve years of age, their under garment was taken away, and but one upper one a year allowed them. Hence they were necessarily dirty in their persons, and not indulged the great favour of baths and oils, except on some particular days of the year. They slept in companies, on beds made of the tops of reeds, which they gathered with their own hands, without knives, and brought from the banks of the Eurotas. In winter they were permitted to add a little thistle-down, as that seemed to have some warmth in it.

They steal, too, whatever victuals they possibly can, ingeniously contriving to do it when persons are asleep, or keep but indifferent watch. If they are discovered, they are punished not only with whipping, but with hunger. Indeed, their supper is but slender at all times, that, to fence against want, they may be forced to exercise their courage and address. This is the first intention of their spare diet: a subordinate one is, to make them grow tall. For when the animal spirits are not too much oppressed by a great quantity of food, which stretches itself out in breadth and thickness, they mount upwards by their natural lightness, and the body easily and freely shoots up in height. This also contributes to make them handsome: for thin and slender habits yield more freely to nature, which then gives a fine proportion to the limbs; whilst the heavy and gross resist her by their weight.

The boys steal with so much caution, that one of them, having conveyed a young fox under his garment, suffered the creature to tear out his bowels with his teeth and claws, choosing rather to die than to be detected. Nor does this appear incredible, if we consider what their young men can endure to this day; for we have seen many of them expire under the lash at the altar of Diana Orthia.

The Famed Laconic Discourse; Spartan Discipline

The boys were also taught to use sharp repartee, seasoned with humour, and whatever they said was to be concise and pithy. For Lycurgus, as we have observed, fixed but a small value on a considerable quantity of his iron money; but on the contrary, the worth of speech was to consist in its being comprised in a few plain words, pregnant with a great deal of sense: and he contrived that by long silence they might learn to be sententious and acute in their replies. As debauchery often causes weakness and sterility in the body, so the intemperance of the tongue makes conversation empty and insipid. King Agis, therefore, when a certain Athenian laughed at the Lacedæmonian short swords and said, “The jugglers would swallow them with ease upon the stage,” answered in his laconic way, “And yet we can reach our enemies’ hearts with them.” Indeed, to me there seems to be something in this concise manner of speaking which immediately reaches the object aimed at, and forcibly strikes the mind of the hearer.


Lycurgus himself was short and sententious in his discourse, if we may judge by some of his answers which are recorded: that, for instance, concerning the constitution. When one advised him to establish a popular government in Lacedæmon, “Go,” said he, “and first make a trial of it in thy own family.” That again, concerning sacrifices to the deity, when he was asked why he appointed them so trifling and of so little value, “That we may never be in want,” said he, “of something to offer him.” Once more, when they inquired of him, what sort of martial exercises he allowed of, he answered, “All, except those in which you stretch out your palms.” Several such like replies of his are said to be taken from the letters which he wrote to his countrymen: as to their question, “How shall we best guard against the invasion of an enemy?” “By continuing poor, and not desiring in your possessions to be one above another.” And to the question, whether they should enclose Sparta with walls, “That city is well fortified which has a wall of men instead of brick.” Whether these and some other letters ascribed to him are genuine or not, is no easy matter to determine.

Even when they indulged a vein of pleasantry, one might perceive, that they would not use one unnecessary word, nor let an expression escape them that had not some sense worth attending to. For one being asked to go and hear a person who imitated the nightingale to perfection, answered, “I have heard the nightingale herself.”

Nor were poetry and music less cultivated among them, than a concise dignity of expression. Their songs had a spirit, which could rouse the soul, and impel it in an enthusiastic manner to action. The language was plain and manly, the subject serious and moral. For they consisted chiefly of the praises of heroes that had died for Sparta, or else of expressions of detestation for such wretches as had declined the glorious opportunity, and rather chose to drag on life in misery and contempt. Nor did they forget to express an ambition for glory suitable to their respective ages.

Hippias the sophist tells us, that Lycurgus himself was a man of great personal valour, and an experienced commander. Philostephanus also ascribes to him the first division of cavalry into troops of fifty, who were drawn up in a square body. But Demetrius the Phalerean says, that he never had any military employment, and that there was the profoundest peace imaginable when he established the Constitution of Sparta. His providing for a cessation of arms during the Olympic Games is likewise a mark of the humane and peaceable man.

The discipline of the Lacedæmonians continued after they were arrived at years of maturity. For no man was at liberty to live as he pleased; the city being like one great camp, where all had their stated allowance, and knew their public charge, each man concluding that he was born, not for himself, but for his country. Hence, if they had no particular orders, they employed themselves in inspecting the boys, and teaching them something useful, or in learning of those that were older than themselves. One of the greatest privileges that Lycurgus procured his countrymen, was the enjoyment of leisure, the consequence of his forbidding them to exercise any mechanic trade. It was not worth their while to take great pains to raise a fortune, since riches there were of no account: and the helots, who tilled the ground, were answerable for the produce above-mentioned.

Lawsuits were banished from Lacedæmon with money. The Spartans knew neither riches nor poverty, but possessed an equal competency, and had a cheap and easy way of supplying their few wants. Hence, when they were not engaged in war, their time was taken up with dancing, feasting,[138] hunting, or meeting to exercise or converse. They went not to market under thirty years of age, all their necessary concerns being managed by their relations and adopters. Nor was it reckoned a credit to the old to be seen sauntering in the market-place; it was deemed more suitable for them to pass great part of the day in the schools of exercise, or places of conversation. Their discourse seldom turned upon money, or business, or trade, but upon the praise of the excellent, or the contempt of the worthless; and the last was expressed with that pleasantry and humour, which conveyed instruction and correction without seeming to intend it. Nor was Lycurgus himself immoderately severe in his manner; but, as Sosibius tells us, he dedicated a little statue to the god of laughter in each hall. He considered facetiousness as a seasoning of their hard exercise and diet, and therefore ordered it to take place on all proper occasions, in their common entertainments and parties of pleasures. Upon the whole, he taught his citizens to think nothing more disagreeable than to live by (or for) themselves.

The Senate; Burial Customs; Home-Staying; The Ambuscade

The Senate, as said before, consisted at first of those that were assistants to Lycurgus in his great enterprise. Afterwards, to fill up any vacancy that might happen, he ordered the most worthy men to be selected, of those that were full threescore years old. This was the most respectable dispute in the world, and the contest was truly glorious: for it was not who should be swiftest among the swift, or strongest of the strong, but who was the wisest and best among the good and wise. He who had the preference was to bear this mark of superior excellence through life, this great authority, which put into his hands the lives and honour of the citizens, and every other important affair. The manner of the election was this: When the people were assembled, some persons appointed for the purpose were shut up in a room near the place; where they could neither see nor be seen, and only hear the shouts of the constituents: for by them they decided this and most other affairs. Each candidate walked silently through the assembly, one after another according to lot. Those that were shut up had writing tables, in which they set down in different columns the number and loudness of the shouts, without knowing whom they were for; only they marked them as first, second, third, and so on, according to the number of the competitors. He that had the most and loudest acclamations, was declared duly elected. Then he was crowned with a garland, and went round to give thanks to the gods: a number of young men followed, striving which should extol him most, and the women celebrated his virtues in their songs, and blessed his worthy life and conduct. Each of his relations offered him a repast, and their address on the occasion was, “Sparta honours you with this collation.” When he had finished the procession, he went to the common table, and lived as before. Only two portions were set before him, one of which he carried away: and as all the women related to him attended at the gates of the public hall, he called her for whom he had the greatest esteem, and presented her with the portion, saying at the same time, “That which I received as a mark of honour, I give to you.” Then she was conducted home with great applause by the rest of the women.

Lycurgus likewise made good regulations with respect to burials. In the first place, to take away all superstition, he ordered the dead to be buried in the city, and even permitted their monuments to be erected near the temples; accustoming the youth to such sights from their infancy, that they[139] might have no uneasiness from them nor any horror for death, as if people were polluted with the touch of a dead body, or with treading upon a grave. In the next place, he suffered nothing to be buried with the corpse, except the red cloth and the olive leaves in which it was wrapped. Nor would he suffer the relations to inscribe any names upon the tombs, except of those men that fell in battle, or those women who died in some sacred office. He fixed eleven days for the time of mourning: on the twelfth they were to put an end to it, after offering sacrifice to Ceres. No part of life was left vacant and unimproved, but even with their necessary actions he interwove the praise of virtue and the contempt of vice: and he so filled the city with living examples, that it was next to impossible for persons who had these from their infancy before their eyes, not to be drawn and formed to honour.

For the same reason he would not permit all that desired to go abroad and see other countries, lest they should contract foreign manners, gain traces of a life of little discipline, and of a different form of government. He forbade strangers, too, to resort to Sparta, who could not assign a good reason for their coming; not, as Thucydides says, out of fear they should imitate the constitution of that city, and make improvements in virtue, but lest they should teach his own people some evil. For along with foreigners come new subjects of discourse; new discourse produces new opinions; and from these there necessarily spring new passions and desires, which, like discords in music, would disturb the established government. He, therefore, thought it more expedient for the city, to keep out of it corrupt customs and manners, than even to prevent the introduction of a pestilence.

Thus far, then, we can perceive no vestiges of a disregard to right and wrong, which is the fault some people find with the laws of Lycurgus, allowing them well enough calculated to produce valour, but not to promote justice. Perhaps it was the crypteia, as they called it, or ambuscade, if that was really one of this lawgiver’s institutions, as Aristotle says it was, which gave Plato so bad an impression both of Lycurgus and his laws. The governors of the youth ordered the shrewdest of them from time to time to disperse themselves in the country, provided only with daggers and some necessary provisions. In the day-time they hid themselves, and rested in the most private places they could find, but at night they sallied out into the roads, and killed all the helots they could meet with. Nay, sometimes by day, they fell upon them in the fields, and murdered the ablest and strongest of them. Thucydides relates, in his history of the Peloponnesian War, that the Spartans selected such of them as were distinguished for their courage, to the number of two thousand or more, declared them free, crowned them with garlands, and conducted them to the temples of the gods; but soon after they all disappeared; and no one could, either then or since, give account in what manner they were destroyed. Aristotle particularly says, that the ephori, as soon as they were invested in their office, declared war against the helots, that they might be massacred under pretence of law. In other respects they treated them with great inhumanity: sometimes they made them drink till they were intoxicated, and in that condition led them into the public halls, to show the young men what drunkenness was. They ordered them, too, to sing mean songs, and to dance ridiculous dances, but not to meddle with any that were genteel and graceful. Thus they tell us, that when the Thebans afterwards invaded Laconia, and took a great number of the helots prisoners, they ordered them to sing the odes of Terpander, Alcman, or Spendon the Lacedæmonian, but they excused themselves, alleging[140] that it was forbidden by their masters. Those who say, that a freeman in Sparta was most a freeman, and a slave most a slave, seem well to have considered the difference of states. But in my opinion, it was in aftertimes that these cruelties took place among the Lacedæmonians; chiefly after the great earthquake, when, as history informs us, the helots, joining the Messenians, attacked them, did infinite damage to the country, and brought the city to the greatest extremity. I can never ascribe to Lycurgus so abominable an act as that of the ambuscade. I would judge in this case by the mildness and justice which appeared in the rest of his conduct.

Lycurgus’ Subterfuge to Perpetuate His Laws

When his principal institutions had taken root in the manners of the people, and the government was come to such maturity as to be able to support and preserve itself, then, as Plato says of the Deity, that he rejoiced when he had created the world, and given it its first motion; so Lycurgus was charmed with the beauty and greatness of his political establishment, when he saw it exemplified in fact, and move on in due order. He was next desirous to make it immortal, so far as human wisdom could effect it, and to deliver it down unchanged to the latest times. For this purpose he assembled all the people, and told them, the provisions he had already made for the state were indeed sufficient for virtue and happiness, but the greatest and most important matter was still behind, which he could not disclose to them till he had consulted the oracle; that they must therefore inviolably observe his laws, without altering anything in them, till he returned from Delphi; and then he would acquaint them with the pleasure of Apollo. When they had promised to do so, he took an oath of the kings and senators, and afterwards of all the citizens, that they would abide by the present establishment till Lycurgus came back. He then took his journey to Delphi.

When he arrived there, he offered sacrifice to the gods, and consulted the oracle, whether his laws were sufficient to promote virtue, and secure the happiness of the state. Apollo answered, that the laws were excellent, and that the city which kept to the constitution he had established, would be the most glorious in the world. This oracle Lycurgus took down in writing, and sent it to Sparta. He then offered another sacrifice, and embraced his friends and his son, determined never to release his citizens from their oath, but voluntarily there to put a period to his life; while he was yet of an age when life was not a burden, when death was not desirable, and while he was not unhappy in any one circumstance. He, therefore, destroyed himself by abstaining from food, persuaded that the very death of lawgivers, should have its use, and their exit, so far from being insignificant, have its share of virtue, and be considered as a great action. To him, indeed, whose performances were so illustrious, the conclusion of life was the crown of happiness, and his death was left guardian of those invaluable blessings he had procured his countrymen through life, as they had taken an oath not to depart from his establishment till his return. Nor was he deceived in his expectations. Sparta continued superior to the rest of Greece, both in its government at home and reputation abroad, so long as it retained the institution of Lycurgus; and this it did during the space of five hundred years, and the reign of fourteen successive kings, down to Agis the son of Archidamus. As for the appointment of the ephors, it was so far from weakening the constitution, that it gave it additional vigour, and though it seemed to be established in favour of the people, it strengthened the aristocracy.c



Thus far we have followed Plutarch; now let us see what modern authority will say of the influence of Lycurgus.

The best commentary on the laws of Lycurgus is the history of Sparta; let us read it and judge the tree by its fruits.

Lycurgus, if we unite under his name all the laws mentioned, without pausing to make sure that they are rightfully attributed, had operated with rare sagacity to render Sparta immutable and its constitution immortal. But there exists an arch-enemy to the things of this world that call themselves eternal—the old man with the white beard and denuded scalp that antiquity armed with a scythe. Legislators like, no better than poets, to take him into account; they are ready enough to declare that they have erected an edifice more solid than brass. Time advances and the whole structure crumbles to the earth. Sparta braved him through several centuries, by sacrificing the liberty of her citizens whom she kept bowed under the severest discipline. She lasted long, but never truly lived. As soon as her inflexible, and in some respects immoral, constitution, established outside the usual conditions under which society exists, was shaken, her decadence was rapid and irrevocable.

Lycurgus had desired to make fixed, population, lands, and the number and fortune of citizens; as it turned out never was there a city where property changed hands more frequently, where the condition of citizens was more unstable, or their number subject to more steady diminution. He had singularly restricted individual property rights to strengthen the power of the state; and Aristotle says: “In Sparta the state is poor, the individual rich and avaricious.” He had failed to recognise the laws of nature in the education and destiny of women; and Aristotle, charging the Spartan women with immorality, with greed, and even calling into question their courage, sees in the license they allowed themselves one of the causes of Lacedæmon’s downfall.

He made the helots tremble under his rule, and finally sent them back to their masters. He prohibited long wars; but he had made war attractive by freeing the soldiers from the heavy rules laid upon the citizen, and it was by war and victory that his republic perished. He withdrew from his fellow-citizens all power of initiative, assigning to each moment of their lives its particular duty; in a word, to speak with Rousseau, who was also a master of political paradox, “His laws completely changed the nature of man to make of him a citizen.” Yet Sparta, become a revolutionary city, perished for want of men. He proscribed gold and silver that there might be no corruption, and nowhere since the Median wars, was venality so pronounced and shameless.

He banished the arts, except for the adornment of his temple of Apollo at Amyclæ; and in this he succeeded. Pausanias makes note of some fifty temples in Lacedæmonia, but not a stone of them remains. Rustic piety and not art erected them. Save for a certain taste in music, the dance, and a severe style of poetry, Sparta stands alone as a barbarian city in the middle of Greece, a spot of darkness where all else is light; she did not even know thoroughly the only art she practised, that of war; at least she always remained ignorant of certain features of it.

As Aristotle says: “Trained for war, Lacedæmonia, like a sword in its scabbard, rests in peace.” All her institutions taught her to fight, not one to live the life of the spirit. Savage and egotistical, she satisfied the pride[142] of her children, and won the praise of those who admire power and success, but what did she do for the world? A war machine perfectly fitted to destroy but incapable of production, what has she left behind her? Not an artist nor a man of genius, not even a ruin that bears her name; she is dead in every part as Thucydides predicted, while Athens, calumniated by rhetoricians of all ages, still has to show the majestic ruins of her temples, source of inspiration to modern art in two worlds, as her poets and philosophers are the source of eternal beauty.

To sum up, and this is the lesson taught by this history: rigidly as Lycurgus might decree for Sparta equality of possessions, an end contrary to natural as to social conditions, nowhere in Greece was social inequality so marked. Something of her discipline subsisted longer, and it was this strange social ordonnance that won for Lacedæmon her power and renown, striking as it did all other populations with astonishment.

The Spartans have further set a noble example of sobriety, and of contempt for passion, pain, and death. They could obey and they could die. Law was for them, according to the felicitous expression of Pindarus and of Montaigne: “Queen and Empress of the World.” Let us accord to them one more virtue which does them honour, respect for those upon whose head Time has placed the crown of whitened locks.

The aristocratic poet of Bœotia who like another Dorian, Theognis of Megara hated the masses, admired the city where reigned under a line of hereditary kings, “The wisdom of old men, and the lances of young, the choirs of the Muse and sweet harmony.” Simonides more clearly recognises the true reason of Sparta’s greatness; he called Lacedæmon “the city which tames men.” Empire over oneself usually gives empire over others, and for a long time the Spartan possessed both.d


[8] [J. B. Bury translates it as “a secret police.”]





[ca. 764 B.C.]

That there were two long contests between the Lacedæmonians and Messenians, and that in both the former were completely victorious, is a fact sufficiently attested. And if we could trust the statements in Pausanias,—our chief and almost only authority on the subject,—we should be in a situation to recount the history of both these wars in considerable detail. But unfortunately, the incidents narrated in that writer have been gathered from sources which are, even by his own admission, undeserving of credit, from Rhianus, the poet of Bene in Crete, who had composed an epic poem on Aristomenes and the Second Messenian War, about B.C. 220, and from Myron of Priene, a prose author whose date is not exactly known, but belonging to the Alexandrine age, and not earlier than the third century before the Christian era.

The poet Tyrtæus was himself engaged on the side of the Spartans in the second war, and it is from him that we learn the few indisputable facts respecting both the first and the second. If the Messenians had never been re-established in Peloponnesus, we should probably never have heard any further details respecting these early contests. That re-establishment, and the first foundation of the city called Messene on Mount Ithome, was among the capital wounds inflicted on Sparta by Epaminondas, in the year B.C. 369,—between three hundred and two hundred and fifty years after the conclusion of the Second Messenian War. The descendants of the old Messenians, who had remained for so long a period without any fixed position in Greece, were incorporated in the new city, together with various helots and miscellaneous settlers who had no claim to a similar genealogy. The gods and heroes of the Messenian race were reverentially invoked at this great ceremony, especially the great hero Aristomenes; and the site of Mount Ithome, the ardour of the newly established citizens, the hatred and apprehension of Sparta, operating as a powerful stimulus to the creation and multiplication of what are called traditions, sufficed to expand the few facts known respecting the struggles of the old Messenians into a variety of details. In almost all these stories we discover a colouring unfavourable to Sparta, contrasting forcibly with the account given by Isocrates in his discourse called Archidamus, wherein we read the view which a Spartan might take of the ancient conquests of his forefathers. But a clear proof that these Messenian stories had no real basis of tradition, is shown in the contradictory statements respecting the prime hero Aristomenes. Wesseling thinks that there were two persons named Aristomenes, one in the first and one in the second war. This inextricable confusion respecting the greatest name in Messenian antiquity, shows how little any genuine stream of tradition can here be recognised.


Pausanias states the First Messenian War as beginning in B.C. 743 and lasting till B.C. 724,—the Second, as beginning in B.C. 685 and lasting till B.C. 668. Neither of these dates rest upon any assignable positive authority; but the time assigned to the first war seems probable, that of the second is apparently too early. Tyrtæus authenticates both the duration of the first war, twenty years, and the eminent services rendered in it by the Spartan king Theopompus. He says, moreover, speaking during the second war, “the fathers of our fathers conquered Messene;” thus loosely indicating the relative dates of the two.

The Spartans (as we learn from Isocrates, whose words date from a time when the city of Messene was only a recent foundation) professed to have seized the territory, partly in revenge for the impiety of the Messenians in killing their king, the Heraclid Cresphontes, whose relative had appealed to them for aid,—partly by sentence of the Delphian oracle. Such were the causes which had induced them first to invade the country, and they had conquered it after a struggle of twenty years. The Lacedæmonian explanations, as given in Pausanias, seem for the most part to be counter-statements arranged after the time when the Messenian version, evidently the interesting and popular account, had become circulated.b

Within the limits of Messenia there was a temple of Diana Limnatis, which was alone common to the Messenians among the Dorians, and to the Lacedæmonians. The Lacedæmonians asserted, that the virgins whom they sent to the festival were violated by the Messenians; that their king, Teleclus, was slain through endeavouring to prevent the injury, and that the violated virgins slew themselves through shame.

The Messenians, however, relate this affair differently; that stratagems were raised by Teleclus against those persons of quality that came to the temple in Messene. For when the Lacedæmonians, on account of the goodness of the land desired to possess Messenia, Teleclus adorned the beardless youths after the manner of virgins, and so disposed them, that they might suddenly attack the Lacedæmonians with their daggers as they were sitting. The Messenians, however, running to their assistance, slew both Teleclus and all the beardless youths. But the Lacedæmonians, as they were conscious that this action was perpetrated by public consent, never attempted to revenge the death of their king. And such are the reports of each party, which every one believes, just as he is influenced by his attachment to each. After this event had taken place, and when one generation had passed away, a hatred commenced between the Lacedæmonians and Messenians.c


In spite of the death of Teleclus, however, the war did not actually break out until some little time after, when Alcamenes and Theopompus were kings at Sparta, and Antiochus and Androcles, sons of Pintas, kings of Messenia. The immediate cause of it was a private altercation between the Messenian Polychares (victor at the fourth Olympiad, B.C. 764) and the Spartan Euæphnus. Polychares having been grossly injured by Euæphnus, and his claim for redress having been rejected at Sparta, took revenge by aggressions upon other Lacedæmonians; the Messenians refused to give him up, though one of the two kings, Androcles, strongly insisted upon doing so, and maintained his opinion so earnestly against the opposite sense of the majority and of his brother, Antiochus, that a tumult arose, and he was slain.


[ca. 750 B.C.]

The Lacedæmonians, now resolving upon war, struck the first blow without any formal declaration, by surprising the border town of Amphea, and putting its defenders to the sword. They further overran the Messenian territory, and attacked some other towns, but without success. Euphaes, who had now succeeded his father Antiochus as king of Messenia, summoned the forces of the country and carried on the war against them with energy and boldness. For the first four years of the war, the Lacedæmonians made no progress, and even incurred the ridicule of the old men of their nation as faint-hearted warriors: in the fifth year, they made a more vigorous invasion, under their two kings, Theopompus and Polydorus, who were met by Euphaes with the full force of the Messenians. A desperate battle ensued, in which it does not seem that either side gained much advantage: nevertheless the Messenians found themselves so much enfeebled by it, that they were forced to take refuge on the fortified mountain of Ithome, and to abandon the rest of the country.b

After this battle the affairs of the Messenians were in a calamitous situation. For, in the first place, through the great sums of money which they had expended in fortifying their cities, they had no longer the means of supplying their army. In the next place, their slaves had fled to the Lacedæmonians. And lastly, a disease resembling a pestilence, though it did not infest all their country, greatly embarrassed their affairs. In consequence, therefore, of consulting about their present situation, they thought proper to abandon all those cities which had the most inland situation, and to betake themselves to the mountain Ithome. In this mountain there was a city of no great magnitude, which, they say, is mentioned by Homer in his catalogue:

“And those that in the steep Ithome dwell.”

In this city, therefore, fixing their residence, they enlarged the ancient enclosure, so that it might be sufficient to defend the whole of its inhabitants. This place was in other respects well fortified: for Ithome is not inferior to any of the mountains within the isthmus in magnitude; and besides this, is most difficult of access.

When they were settled in this mountain, they determined to send to Delphos, and consult the oracle concerning the event of the war. Tisis, therefore, the son of Alcis, was employed on this errand; a man who, in nobility of birth, was not inferior to any one, and who was particularly given to divination. This Tisis, on his return from Delphos, was attacked by a band of Lacedæmonians belonging to the guard of Amphea, but defended himself so valiantly that they were not able to take him. It is certain, however, that they did not desist from wounding him, till a voice was heard, from an invisible cause, “Dismiss the bearer of the oracle.” And Tisis, indeed, as soon as he returned to his own people, repeated the oracle to the king, and not long after died of his wounds. But Euphaes, collecting the Messenians together, recited the oracle, which was as follows: “Sacrifice a pure virgin, who is allotted a descent from the blood of the Æpytidæ, to the infernal demons, by cutting her throat in the night: but if the virgin who is led to the altar descends from any other family, let her voluntarily offer herself to be sacrificed.” Such then being the declaration of the god, immediately all the virgins descended from the Æpytidæ awaited the decision of lots: when the lot fell upon the daughter of Lyciscus, the prophet Epebolus told them that it was not proper that she should be sacrificed, because she was not the genuine daughter of Lyciscus: but that the wife of Lyciscus, in[146] consequence of her barrenness, had falsely pretended that this was her daughter.

The Futile Sacrifice of the Daughter of Aristodemus
[ca. 750-725 B.C.]

In the meantime, while the prophet was thus dissuading the people, Lyciscus privately took away the virgin and fled to Sparta. But the Messenians being greatly dejected as soon as they perceived that Lyciscus had fled, Aristodemus, a man descended from the Æpytidæ, and who was most illustrious in warlike concerns and other respects, offered his own daughter as a voluntary sacrifice. Destiny, however, no less absorbs the alacrity of mankind, than the mud of a river the pebbles which it contains. For the following circumstance became a hindrance to Aristodemus, who was then desirous of saving Messene by sacrificing his daughter: A Messenian citizen whose name is not transmitted to us happened to be in love with the daughter of Aristodemus, and was just on the point of making her his wife. This man from the first entered into a dispute with Aristodemus, asserting that the virgin was no longer in the power of her father, as she had been promised to him in marriage, but that all authority over her belonged to him as her intended husband. However, finding that this plea was ineffectual, he made use of a shameful lie in order to accomplish his purpose, and affirmed that he had lain with the girl, and that she was now with child by him. But in the end, Aristodemus was so exasperated by this lie, that he slew his daughter, and having cut open her womb, plainly evinced that she was not with child.

Upon this, Epebolus, who was present, exhorted them to sacrifice the daughter of some other person, because the daughter of Aristodemus, in consequence of having been slain by her father in a rage, could not be the sacrifice to those dæmons which the oracle commanded. In consequence of the prophet thus addressing the people, they immediately rushed forth in order to slay the suitor of the dead virgin, as he had been the means of Aristodemus becoming defiled with the blood of his offspring, and had rendered the hope of their preservation dubious. But this man was a particular friend of Euphaes; and in consequence of this, Euphaes persuaded the Messenians that the oracle was accomplished in the death of the virgin, and that they ought to be satisfied with what Aristodemus had accomplished. All the Æpytidæ, therefore, were of the opinion of Euphaes, because each was anxious to be liberated from the fear of sacrificing his daughter. In consequence of this, the advice of the king was generally received, and the assembly dissolved. And after this they turned their attentions to the sacrifices and festival of the gods.c

The war still continued, and in the thirteenth year of it another hard-fought battle took place, in which the brave Euphaes was slain, but the result was again indecisive. Aristodemus, being elected king in his place, prosecuted the war strenuously: the fifth year of his reign is signalised by a third general battle, wherein the Corinthians assist the Spartans, and the Arcadians and Sicyonians are on the side of Messenia; the victory is here decisive on the side of Aristodemus, and the Lacedæmonians are driven back into their own territory. It was now their turn to send envoys and ask advice from the Delphian oracle; and the remaining events of the war exhibit a series, partly of stratagems to fulfil the injunctions of the priestess, partly of prodigies in which the divine wrath is manifested against the Messenians. The king Aristodemus, agonised with the thought that he has slain his own daughter without saving his country, puts an end to his[147] own life. In the twentieth year of the war, the Messenians abandoned Ithome, which the Lacedæmonians razed to the ground: the rest of the country was speedily conquered, and such of the inhabitants as did not flee either to Arcadia or to Eleusis, were reduced to complete submission.

Such is the abridgement of what Pausanias gives as the narrative of the First Messenian War. Most of his details bear the evident stamp of mere late romance: and it will easily be seen that the sequence of events presents no plausible explanation of that which is really indubitable—the result. The twenty years’ war, and the final abandonment of Ithome, are attested by Tyrtæus, and beyond all doubt, as well as the harsh treatment of the conquered. “Like asses worn down by heavy burthens” (says the Spartan poet) “they were compelled to make over to their masters an entire half of the produce of their fields, and to come in the garb of woe to Sparta, themselves and their wives, as mourners at the decease of the kings and principal persons.” The revolt of their descendants, against a yoke so oppressive, goes by the name of the Second Messenian War.

The Hero Aristomenes and the Second Messenian War
[ca. 750-668 B.C.]

Had we possessed the account of the First Messenian War as given by Myron and Diodorus, it would evidently have been very different from the above, because they included Aristomenes in it, and to him the leading parts would be assigned. As the narrative now stands in Pausanias, we are not introduced to that great Messenian hero,—the Achilles of the epic of Rhianus,—until the second war, in which his gigantic proportions stand prominently forward. He is the great champion of his country in the three battles which are represented as taking place during this war: the first, with indecisive result, at Deræ; the second, a signal victory on the part of the Messenians, at the Boar’s Grave; the third, an equally signal defeat, in consequence of the traitorous flight of Aristocrates, king of the Arcadian Orchomenus, who, ostensibly embracing the alliance of the Messenians, had received bribes from Sparta. Thrice did Aristomenes sacrifice to Zeus Ithomates the sacrifice called Hecatomphonia, reserved for those who had slain with their own hands a hundred enemies in battle. At the head of a chosen band he carried his incursions more than once into the heart of the Lacedæmonian territory, surprised Amyclæ and Pharis, and even penetrated by night into the unfortified precinct of Sparta itself, where he suspended his shield, as a token of defiance, in the temple of Athene Chalciœcus. Thrice was he taken prisoner, but on two occasions marvellously escaped before he could be conveyed to Sparta.b Pausanias thus describes one of his escapes:

“Aristomenes continued to plunder the Spartan land, nor did he cease his hostilities till, happening to meet with more than half of the Lacedæmonian forces, together with both the kings, among other wounds which he received in defending himself, he was struck so violently on the head with a stone, that his eyes were covered with darkness, and he fell to the ground. The Lacedæmonians, on seeing this, rushed in a collected body upon him, and took him alive, together with fifty of his men. They likewise determined to throw all of them into the Ceadas, or a deep chasm, into which the most criminal offenders were hurled. Indeed, the other Messenians perished after this manner; but some god who had so often preserved Aristomenes, delivered him at that time from the fury of the Spartans. And some who entertain the most magnificent idea of his character, say, that an eagle flying to him bore him on its wings to the bottom of the chasm, so that he sustained no injury by the fall.


“Indeed, he had not long reached the bottom before a dæmon shewed him a passage, by which he might make his escape; for as he lay in this profound chasm wrapped in a robe, expecting nothing but death, he heard a noise on the third day, and uncovering his face (for he was now able to look through the darkness) he saw a fox touching one of the dead bodies. Considering, therefore, where the passage could be through which the beast had entered, he waited till the fox came nearer to him, and when this happened seized it with one of his hands, and with the other, as often as it turned to him, exposed his robe for the animal to seize. At length, the fox beginning to run away, he suffered himself to be drawn along by her, through places almost impervious, till he saw an opening just sufficient for the fox to pass through, and a light streaming through the hole. And the animal, indeed, as soon as she was freed from Aristomenes, betook herself to her usual place of retreat. But Aristomenes, as the opening was not large enough for him to pass through, enlarged it with his hands, and escaped safe to Ira. The fortune, indeed by which Aristomenes was taken, was wonderful, for his spirit and courage were so great, that no one could hope to take him; but his preservation at Ceadas is far more wonderful, and at the same time it is evident to all men that it did not take place without the interference of a divine power.”c

[ca. 668 B.C.]

The fortified mountain of Ira on the banks of the river Nedon, and near the Ionian Sea, had been occupied by the Messenians, after the battle in which they had been betrayed by Aristocrates the Arcadian; it was there that they had concentrated their whole force, as in the former war at Ithome, abandoning the rest of the country. Under the conduct of Aristomenes, assisted by the prophet Theoclus, they maintained this strong position for eleven years. At length, they were compelled to abandon it; but, as in the case of Ithome, the final determining circumstances are represented to have been, not any superiority of bravery or organisation on the part of the Lacedæmonians, but treacherous betrayal and stratagem, seconding the fatal decree of the gods. Unable to maintain Ira longer, Aristomenes, with his sons, and a body of his countrymen, forced his way through the assailants, and quitted the country—some of them retiring to Arcadia and Elis, and finally migrating to Rhegium. He himself passed the remainder of his days in Rhodes, where he dwelt along with his son-in-law, Damagetus, the ancestor of the noble Rhodian family, called the Diagorids, celebrated for its numerous Olympic victories.

Such are the main features of what Pausanias calls the Second Messenian War, or of what ought rather to be called the Aristomeneïs of the poet Rhianus. That after the foundation of Messene, and the recall of the exiles by Epaminondas, favour and credence was found for many tales respecting the prowess of the ancient hero whom they invoked in their libations,—tales well-calculated to interest the fancy, to vivify the patriotism, and to inflame the anti-Spartan antipathies, of the new inhabitants,—there can be little doubt. And the Messenian maidens of that day may well have sung, in their public processional sacrifices, how “Aristomenes pursued the flying Lacedæmonians down to the mid-plain of Stenyclarus, and up to the very summit of the mountain.” From such stories, traditions they ought not to be denominated, Rhianus may doubtless have borrowed; but if proof were wanting to show how completely he looked at his materials from the point of view of the poet, and not from that of the historian, we should find it in the remarkable fact noticed by Pausanias: Rhianus represented Leotychides as having been king of Sparta during the Second Messenian War; now Leotychides, as Pausanias observes, did not reign until near a century and a half afterwards, during the Persian invasion.



[ca. 668-648 B.C.]

To the great champion of Messenia, during this war, we may oppose, on the side of Sparta, another remarkable person, less striking as a character of romance, but more interesting, in many ways, to the historian—the poet Tyrtæus, a native of Aphidnæ in Attica, an inestimable ally of the Lacedæmonians during most part of this second struggle. According to a story—which however has the air partly of a boast of the later Attic orators—the Spartans, disheartened at the first successes of the Messenians, consulted the Delphian oracle, and were directed to ask for a leader from Athens.b “At the same time,” Pausanias writes, “the Lacedæmonians received an oracle from Delphos, which commanded them to make use of an Athenian for their counsellor. Hence, when by ambassadors they had informed the Athenians of the oracle, and at the same time required an Athenian as their adviser, the Athenians were by no means willing to comply: for they considered, that the Lacedæmonians could not without great danger to the Athenians take possession of the best part of Peloponnesus; and at the same time, they were unwilling to disobey the commands of the god.

View of Delphi, Seat of the Delphian Oracle

“At last they adopted the following expedient: There was at Athens a certain teacher of grammar, whose name was Tyrtæus, who appeared to possess the smallest degree of intellect, and who was lame in one of his feet. This man they sent to Sparta, who at one time instructed the principal persons in what was necessary for them to do, and at another time instructed the common people by singing elegies to them, in which the praise of valour was contained, and verses called anapæsti.”c

[ca. 660-610 B.C.]

This seems to be a colouring put upon the story by later writers, and the intervention of the Athenians in the matter in any way deserves little credit. It seems more probable that the legendary connection of the Dioscuri with Aphidnæ, celebrated at or near that time by the poet Alcman, brought about, through the Delphian oracle, the presence of the Aphidnæan poet at[150] Sparta. Respecting the lameness of Tyrtæus, we can say nothing: but that he was a schoolmaster (if we are constrained to employ an unsuitable term) is highly probable, for in that day, minstrels, who composed and sung poems, were the only persons from whom the youth received any mental training. Moreover, his sway over the youthful mind is particularly noted in the compliment paid to him, in after-days, by king Leonidas: “Tyrtæus was an adept in tickling the souls of youth.” We see enough to satisfy us that he was by birth a stranger, though he became a Spartan by the subsequent recompense of citizenship conferred upon him; that he was sent through the Delphian oracle; that he was an impressive and efficacious minstrel, and that he had, moreover, sagacity enough to employ his talents for present purposes and diverse needs; being able, not merely to reanimate the languishing courage of the baffled warrior, but also to soothe the discontents of the mutinous. That his strains, which long maintained undiminished popularity among the Spartans, contributed much to determine the ultimate issue of this war, there is no reason to doubt; nor is his name the only one to attest the susceptibility of the Spartan mind in that day towards music and poetry. The first establishment of the Carneian festival, with its musical competition, at Sparta, falls during the period assigned by Pausanias to the Second Messenian War: the Lesbian harper, Terpander, who gained the first recorded prize at this solemnity, is affirmed to have been sent for by the Spartans pursuant to a mandate from the Delphian oracle, and to have been the means of appeasing a sedition. In like manner, the Cretan Thaletas was invited thither during a pestilence, which his art, as it is pretended, contributed to heal (about 620 B.C.); and Aleman, Xenocritus, Polymnastus, and Sacadas, all foreigners by birth, found favourable reception, and acquired popularity, by their music and poetry. With the exception of Sacadas, who is a little later, all these names fall in the same century as Tyrtæus, between 660 B.C.-610 B.C. The fashion which the Spartan music continued for a long time to maintain, is ascribed chiefly to the genius of Terpander.

That the impression produced by Tyrtæus at Sparta, therefore, with his martial music, and emphatic exhortations to bravery in the field, as well as union at home, should have been very considerable, is perfectly consistent with the character both of the age and of the people; especially as he is represented to have appeared pursuant to the injunction of the Delphian oracle. From the scanty fragments remaining to us of his elegies and anapæsts, however, we can satisfy ourselves only of two facts: first, that the war was long, obstinately contested, and dangerous to Sparta as well as to the Messenians; next, that other parties in Peloponnesus took part on both sides, especially on the side of the Messenians. So frequent and harassing were the aggressions of the latter upon the Spartan territory, that a large portion of the border-land was left uncultivated: scarcity ensued, and the proprietors of the deserted farms, driven to despair, pressed for a redivision of the landed property in the state. It was in appeasing these discontents that the poem of Tyrtæus, called Eunomia, “Legal Order,” was found signally beneficial. It seems certain that a considerable portion of the Arcadians, together with the Pisatæ and the Triphylians, took part with the Messenians; there are also some statements numbering the Eleans among their allies, but this appears not probable. The state of the case rather seems to have been, that the old quarrel between the Eleans and the Pisatæ, respecting the right to preside at the Olympic games, which had already burst forth during the preceding century, in the reign of the Argeian[151] Pheidon, still continued. The Second Messenian War will thus stand as beginning somewhere about the 33rd Olympiad, or 648 B.C., between seventy and eighty years after the close of the first, and lasting, according to Pausanias, seventeen years; according to Plutarch, more than twenty years.

[ca. 660-580 B.C.]

Many of the Messenians who abandoned their country after this second conquest are said to have found shelter and sympathy among the Arcadians, who admitted them to a new home and gave them their daughters in marriage; and who, moreover, punished severely the treason of Aristocrates, king of Orchomenos, in abandoning the Messenians at the battle of the Trench.

The Second Messenian War was thus terminated by the complete subjugation of the Messenians. Such of them as remained in the country were reduced to a servitude probably not less hard than that which Tyrtæus described them as having endured between the first war and the second. In after-times, the whole territory which figures on the map as Messenia,—south of the river Nedon, and westward of the summit of Taygetus,—appears as subject to Sparta, and as forming the western portion of Laconia. Nor do we hear of any serious revolt from Sparta in this territory until a hundred and fifty years afterwards, subsequent to the Persian invasion—a revolt which Sparta, after serious efforts, succeeded in crushing. So that the territory remained in her power until her defeat at Leuctra, which led to the foundation of Messene by Epaminondas.

Imperfectly as these two Messenian wars are known to us, we may see enough to warrant us in saying that both were tedious, protracted, and painful, showing how slowly the results of war were then gathered, and adding one additional illustration to prove how much the rapid and instantaneous conquest of Laconia and Messenia by the Dorians, which the Heraclid legend sets forth, is contradicted by historical analogy.

The relations of Pisa and Elis form a suitable counterpart and sequel to those of Messenia and Sparta. Unwilling subjects themselves, the Pisatæ had lent their aid to the Messenians, and their king Pantaleon, one of the leaders of this combined force, had gained so great a temporary success, as to dispossess the Eleans of the agonothesia or administration of the games for one Olympic ceremony, in the 34th Olympiad. Though again reduced to their condition of subjects, they manifested dispositions to renew their revolt. These incidents seem to have occurred about the 50th Olympiad, or B.C. 580; and the dominion of Elis over her Periœcid territory was thus as well assured as that of Sparta. The Lacedæmonians, after the close of the Peloponnesian War had left them undisputed heads of Greece, formally upheld the independence of the Triphylian towns against Elis, and seem to have countenanced their endeavours to attach themselves to the Arcadian aggregate, which, however, was never fully accomplished. Their dependence on Elis became loose and uncertain, but was never wholly shaken off.b




Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence.

The complete change in the map of Greece at the close of the Achæan period and the origin of the ethnographic system with which the history of Hellenic times begins, were always referred by Greek tradition to a last wandering of north Grecian tribes. The customary chronology places the beginning of this shifting at 1133 or 1124 B.C., i.e., less than three generations after the so-called conquest of Troy. Recent chronological investigations, however, have made it seem probable that a period at least a hundred years later should be chosen.

The first impulse was probably given by new movements of tribes in the north. The advance of the Illyrians caused the Thessalians, a part of the Epirot tribe of the Thesproti, to withdraw across Pindus into the valley of the Peneus, which was afterwards called Thessaly. While the preservation of the Greek character in Epirus was henceforth left to the brave Molossi, the Thessalians east of Pindus fell upon the settled Greeks of the lowlands and destroyed their states. The proudest and most vigorous elements of the old population that survived the war, determined to emigrate and found a new home. Thus, the Arnæ migrated to middle Greece, destroyed the old states of Thebes and Orchomenus in the basin of the Copaïs and united this whole district, which henceforth appears in history as Bœotia, under their rule.

While the Thessalians were making preparations to subjugate the warlike tribes of the highlands about the valley of the Peneus, one of these mountain races, the Dorians, carried the mighty movement on to the extreme south of the Peloponnesus. Within twenty years, according to tradition, they had crossed the narrow strait of Rhium and begun the conquest of the Peloponnesus. They ascended the valley of the Alpheus into southern Arcadia. From here one body of them descended into the Messenian valley of the Pamisus and overwhelmed the old kingdom of the Melidæ of Pylos. The other branch invaded the principal districts of the Achæans in the east and southeast of the Peloponnesus. In open battle the rude Dorian foot-soldiers easily defeated the Achæan knights. But they could not destroy the colossal walls of the Achæan fortresses or cities, and were themselves finally forced to build fortifications from which they could watch or invest the Achæan strongholds until the opportunity was presented of storming them or forcing their capitulation. It was in such a fortified camp that the Dorian capital Sparta had its origin.


It was probably the tenacious resistance of the Achæans in Laconia that determined a large body of the Dorians to leave that district and turn to the east, where they completely subjugated Argolis and made Argos the centre of Dorian power in the eastern part of the Peloponnesus.

At the close of the Achæan period Attica was the canton which appeared to have the most settled and uniform structure. It now became a favourite refuge of migrant Greeks of many different tribes. This movement seems to have strengthened little Attica in a considerable degree, for tradition ascribes to these immigrants the successful resistance that Attica was able to make when the hordes of the conquerors finally approached her borders. But Attica was far too small and unproductive to retain the mass of fugitives as permanent settlers. So the movement was finally turned towards the islands of the Ægean and the coast of Asia Minor. According to tradition there had already been an Archæan (or Æolian) migration to Lesbos and Tenedos, from whence the Mysian coast and Troas were later colonised.

The most important Ionian colonies in the east were in the Cyclades, at Miletus, and at Ephesus. As their power continued to grow, the Ionians gradually Hellenised a broad strip of coast and in the river valleys pushed out a considerable distance to the eastward.

The Dorians also followed the movement of the other Greeks to the islands and to Asia. Their most important occupations were Crete, Rhodes, and a small portion of the southern coast of Caria, including the cities of Cnidus and Halicarnassus.

By the first half of the eighth century B.C., the Greek world had acquired the aspect which it retained for several centuries. The nation had greatly increased its territory by colonisation. But the district now called Thessaly was in possession of a race that showed little capacity to develop beyond a vigorous and pleasure-loving feudalism; and the Greeks of Epirus and the valley of the Achelous had been for several centuries shut out from the evolution into Hellenism. So apart from the newly risen power of the Bœotians, the future of Greece rested upon the two races that had been but little named in the Achæan period. The Dorians had become a great people. Argos had at first been the leading power of the Peloponnesus, both in religion and in politics. The Doric canton in the valley of the Upper Eurotas had made but slow and difficult progress, until, at the close of the ninth and beginning of the eighth century, that remarkable military and political consolidation was completed which is connected with the name of Lycurgus. This was the starting-point of a growth of Spartan power in consequence of which before the end of the eighth century the balance of Doric power was to pass from Argos to the south of the Peloponnesus.

Among the Ionians the Asiatic branch long remained the more important. The Ionian Greeks of the Ægean and of the Lydio-Carian coast, through their direct contact with the Orient, introduced to the Greek world new elements of culture of a varied character. Of a friendly and adaptable nature, they were specially fitted to be the traders and mariners of Greek nationality. Politically they became pre-eminently the democratic element of the nation, although there were powerful aristocratic groups among them. But with them the tendency appears stronger than among the other Greeks to allow full scope to personality, individual right, individual liberty, and individual activity beside, and even in opposition to the common interest.

The Asiatic Achæans appear in the historical period only under the name of Æolians. This name also came to be applied to those members of the Greek nation in Europe that could not be counted among either Dorians or Ionians.


The common name borne by the Greeks after the completion of the migrations is that of Hellenes. All the members of the various branches exhibit the Hellenic character, though only a few communities developed it in so ideal a form as the Athenians at the height of their historical greatness. A beautiful heritage of all Hellenes was their appreciation and enjoyment of art—of poetry and music as well as the plastic arts. A warm feeling not only for the beautiful, but for the ideal and the noble,—among the best elements also for right and harmoniously developed life,—and a fine taste in art and in ethical perception have never been denied the Greeks.

They were, moreover, at all periods characterised by a quick intellectual receptivity and an incomparable union of glowing fancy, brilliant intelligence, and sharp understanding. But mighty passion was coupled with all this. Party spirit and furious party hatred ran through all Greek history. The proud Greek self-assertion often degenerates into boundless presumption. Cruelty in war, even towards Greeks themselves, cunning and treachery, harsh self-interest and reckless greed are traits that mar the brilliant figure of Hellenism long before the Roman and Byzantine times.b


In that part of earth termed by the Greeks Hellas, and by the Romans Græcia, a small tract of land known by the name of Attica extends into the Ægean Sea—the southeast peninsula of Greece. In its greatest length it is about sixty, in its greatest breadth about twenty-four, geographical miles. In shape it is a rude triangle,—on two sides flows the sea—on the third, the mountain range of Parnes and Cithæron, divides the Attic from the Bœotian territory. It is intersected by frequent but not lofty hills, and compared with the rest of Greece, its soil, though propitious to the growth of the olive, is not fertile or abundant. In spite of painful and elaborate culture, the traces of which are yet visible, it never produced a sufficiency of corn to supply its population; and this, the comparative sterility of the land, may be ranked among the causes which conduced to the greatness of the people. The principal mountains of Attica are, the Cape of Sunium, Hymettus renowned for its honey, and Pentelicus for its marble; the principal streams which water the valleys are the capricious and uncertain rivulets of Cephisus and Ilissus—streams breaking into lesser brooks, deliciously pure and clear. The air is serene, the climate healthful, the seasons temperate. Along the hills yet breathe the wild thyme and the odorous plants which, everywhere prodigal in Greece, are more especially fragrant in that lucid sky—and still the atmosphere colours with peculiar and various tints the marble of the existent temples and the face of the mountain landscapes.

Even so early as the traditional appearance of Cecrops amongst the savages of Attica, the Pelasgians in Arcadia had probably advanced from the pastoral to the civil life; and this, indeed, is the date assigned by Pausanias to the foundation of that ancestral Lycosura, in whose rude remains (by the living fountain and the waving oaks of the modern Diaphorte) the antiquary yet traces the fortifications of “the first city which the sun beheld.” It is in their buildings that the Pelasgi have left the most indisputable record of their name. Their handwriting is yet upon their walls! A restless and various people—overrunning the whole of Greece, found northward in Dacia, Illyria, and the country of the Getæ, colonising the coasts of Ionia, and long the master-race of the fairest lands of Italy—they have passed[155] away amidst the revolutions of the elder earth, their ancestry and their descendants alike unknown.

The proofs upon which rest the reputed arrival of Egyptian colonisers, under Cecrops, in Attica, have been shown to be slender, the authorities for the assertion to be comparatively modern, the arguments against the probability of such an immigration in such an age, to be at least plausible and important. The traditions speak of them with gratitude as civilisers, not with hatred as conquerors. Assisting to civilise the Greeks, they then became Greeks; their posterity merged and lost amidst the native population.

Perhaps in all countries, the first step to social improvement is in the institution of marriage, and the second is the formation of cities. As Menes in Egypt, as Fohi in China, so Cecrops at Athens is said first to have reduced into sacred limits the irregular intercourse of the sexes, and reclaimed his barbarous subjects from a wandering and unprovidential life, subsisting on the spontaneous produce of no abundant soil. High above the plain, and fronting the sea, which, about three miles distant on that side, sweeps into a bay peculiarly adapted for the maritime enterprises of an earlier age, we still behold a cragged and nearly perpendicular rock. In length its superficies is about eight hundred, in breadth about four hundred, feet. Below, on either side, flow the immortal streams of the Ilissus and Cephisus. From its summit you may survey here the mountains of Hymettus, Pentelicus, and, far away, “the silver bearing Laurium”; below, the wide plain of Attica, broken by rocky hills—there, the islands of Salamis and Ægina, with the opposite shores of Argolis, rising above the waters of the Saronic Bay. On this rock the supposed Egyptian is said to have built a fortress, and founded a city; the fortress was in later times styled the Acropolis, and the place itself, when the buildings of Athens spread far and wide beneath its base, was still designated πόλις, or the City. By degrees we are told that he extended, from this impregnable castle and its adjacent plain, the limit of his realm, until it included the whole of Attica, and perhaps Bœotia. It is also related that he established eleven other towns or hamlets, and divided his people into twelve tribes, to each of which one of the towns was apportioned—a fortress against foreign invasion, and a court of justice in civil disputes.

If we may trust to the glimmering light which, resting for a moment, uncertain and confused, upon the reign of Cecrops, is swallowed up in all the darkness of fable during those of his reputed successors, it is to this apocryphal personage that we must refer the elements both of agriculture and law. He is said to have instructed the Athenians to till the land, and to watch the produce of the seasons; to have imported from Egypt the olive tree, for which the Attic soil was afterwards so celebrated, and even to have navigated to Sicily and to Africa for supplies of corn. That such advances, from a primitive and savage state, were not made in a single generation, is sufficiently clear. With more probability, Cecrops is reputed to have imposed upon the ignorance of his subjects and the license of his followers, the curb of impartial law, and to have founded a tribunal of justice (doubtless the sole one for all disputes), in which after-times imagined to trace the origin of the solemn Areopagus.c


The fortress, which Cecrops made his residence, was from his own name called Cecropia, and was peculiarly recommended to the patronage of the Egyptian goddess whom the Greeks worshipped by the name of Athene, and[156] the Latins of Minerva. Many, induced by the neighbourhood of the port, and expecting security both from the fortress and from its tutelary deity, erected their habitations around the foot of the rock; and thus arose early a considerable town, which, from the name of the goddess, was called Athenai, or, as we after the French have corrupted it, Athens.

This account of the rise of Athens, and of the origin of its government, though possibly a village and even a fortress may have existed there before Cecrops, is supported by a more general concurrence of traditional testimony, and more complete consonancy to the rest of history, than is often found for that remote age. The subsequent Attic annals are far less satisfactory. Strabo declines the endeavour to reconcile their inconsistencies; and Plutarch gives a strong picture of the uncertainties and voids which occurred to him in attempting to form a history from them. “As geographers,” he says, “in the outer parts of their maps distinguish those countries which lie beyond their knowledge with such remarks as these, All here is dry and desert sand, or marsh darkened with perpetual fog, or Scythian cold, or frozen sea; so of the earliest history we may say, All here is monstrous and tragical land, occupied only by poets and fabulists.” If such apology was reckoned necessary by Plutarch for such an account as could in his time be collected of the life of Theseus, none can now be wanting for omitting all disquisition concerning the four or seven kings, for even their number is not ascertained, who are said to have governed Attica from Cecrops to Ægeus, father of that hero. The name of Amphictyon, indeed, whose name is in the list, excites a reasonable curiosity: but as it is not in his government of Athens that he is particularly an object of history, farther mention of him may best be reserved for future opportunity.

Various, uncertain, and imperfect, then, as the accounts were which passed to posterity concerning the early Attic princes, yet the assurance of Thucydides may deserve respect, that Attica was the province of Greece in which population first became settled, and where the earliest progress was made toward civilisation. Being nearly peninsular, it lay out of the road of emigrants and wandering freebooters by land; and its rocky soil, supporting few cattle, afforded small temptation to either. The produce of tillage was of less easy removal; and the gains of commerce were secured within fortifications. Attica therefore grew populous, not only through the safety which the natives thus enjoyed, but by a confluence of strangers from other parts of Greece; for when either foreign invasion or intestine broil occasioned anywhere the necessity of emigration, Athens was the resort in highest estimation not only as a place of the most permanent security, but also as strangers of character, able by their wealth or their ingenuity to support themselves and benefit the community, were easily admitted to the privilege of citizens.

But, as population increased, the simple forms of government and jurisprudence established by Cecrops were no longer equal to their purpose. Civil wars arose; the country was invaded by sea: Erechtheus, called by later authors Erichthonius, and by the poets Son of the Earth, acquired the sovereignty, bringing, according to some not improbable reports, a second colony from Egypt.[9] Eumolpus, with a body of Thracians, about the same time established himself in Eleusis. When, a generation or two later,[157] Ægeus, contemporary with Minos, succeeded his father Pandion in the throne, the country seems to have been well peopled, but the government ill constituted and weak. Concerning this prince, however, and his immediate successor, tradition is more ample; and though abundantly mixed with fable, yet in many instances apparently more authentic than concerning any other persons of their remote age. Plutarch has thought a history of Theseus, son of Ægeus, not unfit to hold a place among his parallel lives of the great men of Greece and Rome; and his account appears warranted in many points by strong corresponding testimony from other ancient authors of various ages. The period also is so important in the annals of Attica, and the reports remaining altogether go so far to illustrate the manners and circumstances of the times, that it may be proper to allow them some scope in narration.

Ægeus, king of Athens, though an able and spirited prince, yet, in the divided and disorderly state of his country, with difficulty maintained his situation. When past the prime of life he had the misfortune to remain childless, though twice married; and a faction headed by his presumptive heirs, the numerous sons of Pallas his younger brother, gave him unceasing disturbance. Thus urged, he went to Delphi to implore information from the oracle how the blessing of children might be obtained. Receiving an answer which, like most of the oracular responses, was unintelligible, his next concern was to find some person capable of explaining to him the will of the deity thus mysteriously declared. Among the many establishments which Pelops had procured for his family throughout Peloponnesus was the small town and territory of Trœzen on the coast opposite to Athens, which he placed under the government of his son Pittheus. Ægeus applied to that prince; who was not only in his own age eminent for wisdom, but of reputation remaining even in the most flourishing period of Grecian philosophy; yet so little was he superior to the ridiculous, and often detestable superstition of his time that, in consequence of some fancied meaning in the oracle, which even the superstitious Plutarch confesses himself unable to comprehend, he introduced his own daughter Æthra to an illicit commerce with Ægeus. Perhaps it may be allowed to conjecture that the commerce was unknown to the Trœzenian prince till the consequence became evident, and that the interpretation of the oracle was an ensuing resource to obviate disgrace.

The affairs of Attica being in great confusion required the return of Ægeus. His departure from Trœzen is marked by an action which, to persons accustomed to consider modern manners only, may appear unfit to be related but in a fable, yet is so consonant to the manners of the times, and so characteristical of them, as to demand the notice of the historian. He led Æthra to a sequestered spot where was a small cavity in a rock. Depositing there a hunting-knife and a pair of sandals, he covered them with a marble fragment of enormous weight; and then addressing Æthra, “If,” said he, “the child you now bear should prove a boy, let the removal of this stone be one day the proof of his strength; when he can effect it, send him with the tokens underneath to Athens.”

Pittheus, well knowing the genius and the degree of information of his subjects and fellow-countrymen, thought it not too gross an imposition to report that his daughter was pregnant by the god Poseidon, or, as we usually call him with the Latins, Neptune, esteemed the tutelary deity of the Trœzenians. A similar expedient seems indeed to have been often successfully used to cover the disgrace which, even in those days, would otherwise attend such irregular amours in a lady of high rank, though women of[158] lower degree appear to have derived no dishonour from concubinage with their superiors. Theseus was the produce of the singular connection of Æthra with Ægeus. He is said to have been carefully educated under the inspection of his grandfather, and to have given early proofs of uncommon vigour both of body and mind. On his attaining manhood, his mother, in pursuance of the injunction of Ægeus, unfolded to him the reality of his parentage, and conducted him to the rock where his father’s tokens were deposited. He removed the stone which covered them, with a facility indicating that superior bodily strength so necessary in those days to support the pretensions of high birth; and thus encouraged she recommended to him to carry them to Ægeus at Athens. This proposal perfectly suited the temper and inclination of Theseus; but when he was farther advised to go by sea on account of the shortness and safety of the passage, piracy being about this time suppressed by the naval power of Minos, king of Crete, he positively refused.


The age of Theseus was the great era of those heroes, to whom the knights errant of the Gothic kingdoms afterwards bore a close resemblance. Hercules was his near kinsman. The actions of that extraordinary personage are reported to have been for some years the subject of universal conversation, and both an incentive and a direction to young Theseus in the road to fame. After having destroyed the most powerful and atrocious freebooters throughout Greece, Hercules, according to Plutarch, was gone into Asia; and those disturbers of civil order, whom his irresistible might and severe justice had driven to conceal themselves, took advantage of his absence to renew their violences. Being not obscure and vagabond thieves, but powerful chieftains, who openly defied law and government, the dangers to be expected from them were well known at Trœzen. Theseus however persevered in his resolution to go by land; alleging that it would be shameful, if, while Hercules was traversing earth and sea to repress the common disturbers of mankind, he should avoid those at his door, disgracing his reputed father by an ignominious flight over his own element, and carrying to his real father, for tokens, a bloodless weapon and sandals untrodden, instead of giving proofs of his high birth by actions worthy of it.

Proceeding in his journey he found every fastness occupied by men who, like many of the old barons of the Western European kingdoms, gave protection to their dependants, and disturbance to all beside within their reach, making booty of whatever they could master. His valour, however, and his good fortune procuring him the advantage in every contest carried him safe through all dangers; though he found nothing friendly till he arrived on the bank of the river Cephisus in the middle of Attica. Some people of the country meeting him there saluted him in the usual terms of friendship to strangers. Judging himself then past the perils of his journey, he requested to have the accustomed ceremony of purification from blood performed, that he might properly join in sacrifices and other religious rites. The courteous Atticans readily complied, and then entertained him at their houses. An ancient altar, said to have been erected in commemoration of this meeting, dedicated to Jupiter with the epithet of Meilichius, the friendly or kind, remained to the time of Pausanias.

When Theseus arrived at Athens, Ægeus, already approaching dotage, was governed by the Colchian princess Medea, so famous in poetry, who flying[159] from Corinth had prevailed on him to afford her protection. Theseus, as an illustrious stranger invited to a feast, on drawing his hunting-knife, as it seems was usual, to carve the meat before him, was recognised by Ægeus. The old king immediately rising embraced him, acknowledged him before the company for his son, and afterward summoning an assembly of the people presented Theseus as their prince. The fame of exploits suited, as those of Theseus, to acquire popularity in that age had already prepossessed the people in his favour; strong marks of general satisfaction followed. But the party of the sons of Pallas was powerful: their disappointment was equally great and unexpected; and no hope remaining to accomplish their wishes by other means, they withdrew from the city, collected their adherents, and returned in arms. The tide of popular inclination, however, now ran so strongly in favour of Theseus that some even of their confidants gave way to it. A design to surprise the city was discovered; part of their troops were in consequence cut off, the rest dispersed; and the faction was completely quelled.

Quiet being thus restored to Athens, Theseus was diligent to increase the popularity he had acquired. Military fame was the means to which his active spirit chiefly inclined him; but, as the state had now no enemies, he exercised his valour in the destruction of wild beasts, and, it is said, added not a little to his reputation by delivering the country from a savage bull, which had done great mischief in the neighbourhood of Marathon.

An opportunity however soon offered for Theseus to do his country more essential service, and to acquire more illustrious fame. The Athenians, in a war with Minos, king of Crete, had been reduced to purchase peace of that powerful monarch by a yearly tribute of seven youths and as many virgins. Coined money was not common till some centuries after his age; and slaves and cattle were not only the principal riches, but the most commodious and usual standards by which the value of other things was determined. A tribute of slaves therefore was perhaps the most convenient that Minos could impose; Attica maintaining few cattle, and those being less easily transported. The burden however could not but cause much uneasiness among the Athenians; so that the return of the Cretan ship at the usual time to demand the tribute excited fresh and loud murmurs against the government of Ægeus. Theseus took an extraordinary step, but perfectly suited to the heroic character which he affected, for appeasing the popular discontent. The tributary youths and virgins had been hitherto drawn by lot from the body of the people; who might however apparently send slaves, if they had or could procure them, instead of persons of their own family. But Theseus offered himself. Report went that those unfortunate victims were thrown into the famous labyrinth built by Dædalus, and there devoured by the Minotaur, a monster, half-man and half-bull. This fable was probably no invention of the poets who embellished it in more polished ages: it may have been devised at the time, and even have found credit among a people of an imagination so lively, and a judgment so uninformed, as were then the Athenians. The offer of Theseus therefore, really magnanimous, appeared an unparalleled effort of patriotic heroism.

Ancient writers, who have endeavoured to investigate truth among the intricacies of fabulous tradition, tell us that the labyrinth was a fortress where prisoners were usually kept, and that a Cretan general, its governor, named Taurus, which in Greek signifies a bull, gave rise to the fiction of the Minotaur. The better testimony from antiquity however asserts that Theseus was received by Minos more agreeably to the character of a great and generous prince than of a tyrant who gave his captives to be devoured[160] by monsters. But during this, the flourishing age of Crete, letters were, if at all known, little used in Greece. In after-times, when the Athenians bore the sway in literature, their tragedians, flattering vulgar prejudices, exhibited Minos in odious colours; and through the popularity of their ingenious works their calumnious misrepresentations, as Plutarch has observed, overbore the eulogies of the elder poets, even of Hesiod and Homer. Thus the particulars of the adventures of Theseus in Crete, and of his return to Athens, have been so disguised that even to guess at the truth is difficult. For these early ages Homer is our best guide; but he has mixed mythology with his short notice of the adventure of Theseus in Crete.

A rational interpretation nevertheless is obvious. Minos, surprised probably at the arrival of the Athenian prince among the tributary slaves, received him honourably, became partial to his merit, and after some experience of it gave him his daughter Ariadne in marriage. In the voyage toward Athens the princess being taken with sudden sickness was landed in the island of Naxos, where Bacchus was esteemed the tutelary deity; and she died there. If we add the supposition that Theseus, eager to communicate the news of his extraordinary success, or urged by public duty, proceeded on his voyage while the princess was yet living, no further foundation would be wanting for the fables which have made these names so familiar. Theseus however, according to what with most certainty may be gathered from Athenian tradition, freed his country from further payment of the ignominious and cruel tribute.

This achievement, by whatsoever means effected, was so bold in the undertaking, so complete in the success, so important and so interesting in the consequences, that it deservedly raised Theseus to the highest popularity among the Athenians. Sacrifices and processions were instituted in honour of it, and were continued while the Pagan religion had existence in Athens. The vessel in which he made his voyage was yearly sent in solemn pomp to the sacred island of Delos, where rites of thanksgiving were performed to Apollo. Through the extreme veneration in which it was held, it was so anxiously preserved that in Plato’s time it was said to be still the same vessel; though at length its frequent repairs gave occasion to the dispute, which became famous among the sophists, whether it was or was not still the same. On his father’s death the common voice supported his claim to the succession, and he showed himself not less capable of improving the state by his wisdom than of defending it by his valour.

The twelve districts into which Cecrops had divided Attica were become so many nearly independent commonwealths, with scarcely any bond of union but their acknowledgment of one chief, whose authority was not always sufficient to keep them from mutual hostilities. The inconveniences of such a constitution were great and obvious, but the remedy full of difficulty. Theseus, however, undertook it; and effected that change which laid the foundation of the following glory of Athens, while it ranks him among the most illustrious patriots that adorn the annals of mankind. Going through every district, with that judicial authority which in the early state of all monarchical governments has been attached to the kingly office, and with those powers of persuasion which he is said largely to have possessed, he put an end to civil contest. He proposed then the abolition of all the independent magistracies, councils, and courts of justice, and the substitution of one common council of legislation, and one common system of judicature. The lower people readily acceded to his measures. The rich and powerful, who shared among them the independent magistracies, were more inclined[161] to opposition. To satisfy these, therefore, he offered, with a disinterestedness of which history affords few examples, to give up much of his own power; and, appropriating to himself only the cares and dangers of royalty, to share with his people authority, honour, wealth, all that is commonly most valued in it. Few were inclined to resist so equitable and generous a proposal: the most selfish and most obstinate dared not. Theseus therefore proceeded quietly to new-model the commonwealth.[10]

The dissolution of all the independent councils and jurisdictions in the several towns and districts, and the removal of all the more important civil business to Athens, was his first measure. He wisely judged that the civil union, so happily effected, would be incomplete, or at least unstable, if he did not cement it by union in religion. He avoided however to shock rooted prejudices by any abolition of established religious ceremonies. Leaving those peculiar to each district as they stood, he instituted, or improved and laid open for all in common, one feast and sacrifice, in honour of the goddess Athene, or Minerva, for all inhabitants of Attica. This feast he called Panathenæa, the feast of all the Athenians or people of Minerva; and thenceforward apparently all the inhabitants of Attica, esteeming themselves unitedly under the particular protection of that goddess, uniformly distinguished themselves by a name formed from hers; for they were before variously called from their race, Ionians; from their country, Atticans; or from their princes, Cranaans, Cecropians, or Erechtidæ. To this scheme of union, conceived with a depth of judgment, and executed with a moderation of temper, rarely found in that age, the Athenians may well be said to owe all their after greatness. Otherwise Attica, like Bœotia and other provinces, whose circumstances will come hereafter under notice, would probably have contained several little republics, united only in name; each too weak to preserve dignity, or even to secure independency to its separate government; and possessing nothing so much in common as occasions for perpetual disagreement.

A share in the legislature, extended to all, insured civil freedom to all; and no distinction prevailed, as in other Grecian provinces, between the people of the capital and those of the inferior towns; but all were united under the Athenian name in the enjoyment of every privilege of Athenian citizens. When his improvements were completed, Theseus, according to the policy which became usual for giving authority to great innovations and all uncommon undertakings, is said to have procured a declaration of divine approbation from the prophetical shrine of Delphi.

Thus the province of Attica, containing a triangular tract of land with two sides about fifty miles long, and the third forty, was moulded into a well-united and well-regulated commonwealth, whose chief magistrate was yet hereditary, and retained the title of king. In consequence of so improved a state of things, the Athenians began the first of all the Greeks to acquire more civilised manners. Thucydides remarks that they were the first who dropped the practice, formerly general among the Greeks, of going constantly armed; and who introduced a civil dress in contradistinction to the military. This particularity, if not introduced by Theseus, appears to have been not less early, since it struck Homer, who marks the Athenians by the appellation of long-robed Ionians. If we may credit Plutarch, Theseus coined money; which was certainly rare in Greece two centuries after.


The rest of the history of Theseus affords little worthy of notice. It is composed of a number of the wildest adventures, many of them consistent enough with the character of the times, but very little so with what is related of the former part of his life. It seems indeed as if historians had inverted the order of things; giving to his riper years the extravagance of youth, after having attributed to his earliest manhood what the maturest age seldom has equalled. Whether this should be attributed altogether, or in any part, to the fancy which afterward prevailed among philosophical writers to mix mythology with history, will be rather for the dissertator than the historian to inquire. Theseus however, it may be proper to observe, is said to have lost in the end all favour and all authority among the Athenians; and though his institutions remained in vigour, to have died in exile. After him, Menestheus, a person of the royal family, acquired the sovereignty, and commanded the Athenian troops in the Trojan War.d

According to some historians, Theseus, however explained, deserves no credit for the Athenian union, since at the time this union took place, Theseus was not even a national hero but only a local and minor god worshipped about Marathon.


We may perhaps safely conclude from analogy, that, even while the power of the nobles was most absolute, a popular assembly was not unknown at Athens; and the example of Sparta may suggest a notion of the limitations which might prevent it from endangering the privileges of the ruling body. So long as the latter reserved to itself the office of making, or declaring, of interpreting, and administering the laws, as well as the ordinary functions of government, it might securely entrust many subjects to the decision of the popular voice. Its first contests were waged, not with the people, but with the kings.

Even in the reign of Theseus himself the legend exhibits the royal power as on the decline. Menestheus, a descendant of the ancient kings, is said to have engaged his brother nobles in a conspiracy against Theseus, which finally compelled him and his family to go into exile, and placed Menestheus on the throne. After the death of this usurper indeed the crown is restored to the line of Theseus for some generations. But his descendant Thymœtes is compelled to abdicate in favour of Melanthus, a stranger, who has no claim but his superior merit. After the death of Codrus, the nobles, taking advantage perhaps of the opportunity afforded by the dispute between his sons, are said to have abolished the title of king, and to have substituted for it that of archon. This change however seems to have been important, rather as it indicated the new, precarious tenure by which the royal power was held, than as it immediately affected the nature of the office. It was indeed still held for life; and Medon, the son of Codrus, transmitted it to his posterity, though it would appear that, within the house of the Medontids, the succession was determined by the choice of the nobles. It is added however, that the archon was deemed a responsible magistrate, which implies that those who elected had the power of deposing him; and consequently, though the range of his functions may not have been narrower than that of the king’s, he was more subject to control in the exercise of them. This indirect kind of sway, however, did not satisfy the more ambitious spirits; and we find them steadily, though gradually, advancing towards the accomplishment of their final object—a complete and equal participation of the sovereignty.


After twelve reigns, ending with that of Alcmæon,[11] the duration of the office was limited to ten years; and through the guilt or calamity of Hippomenes, the fourth decennial archon,[12] the house of Medon was deprived of its privilege, and the supreme magistracy was thrown open to the whole body of the nobles. This change was speedily followed by one much more important. When Tlesias, the successor of Eryxias, had completed the term which his predecessor had left unfinished, the duration of the archonship was again reduced to a single year; and at the same time its branches were severed, and distributed among nine new magistrates.

Among these, the first in rank retained the distinguishing title of The Archon, and the year was marked by his name. He represented the majesty of the state, and exercised a peculiar jurisdiction—that which had belonged to the king as the common parent of his people, the protector of families, the guardian of orphans and heiresses, and of the general rights of inheritance. For the second archon the title of king, if it had been laid aside, was revived, as the functions assigned to him were those most associated with ancient recollections. He represented the king as the high priest of his people; he regulated the celebration of the mysteries and the most solemn festivals; decided all causes which affected the interests of religion, and was charged with the care of protecting the state from the pollution it might incur through the heedlessness or impiety of individuals. The third archon bore the title of polemarch, and filled the place of the king, as the leader of his people in war, and the guardian who watched over its security in time of peace. Connected with this character of his office was the jurisdiction he possessed over strangers who had settled in Attica under the protection of the state, and over freedmen. The remaining six archons received the common title of thesmothetes, which literally signifies legislators, and was probably applied to them, as the judges who determined the great variety of causes which did not fall under the cognisance of their colleagues; because, in the absence of a written code, those who declare and interpret the laws may be properly said to make them.

These successive encroachments on the royal prerogatives, and the final triumph of the nobles, are almost the only events that fill the meagre annals of Attica for several centuries. Here, as elsewhere, a wonderful stillness suddenly follows the varied stir of enterprise and adventure, and the throng of interesting characters, that present themselves to our view in the heroic age. Life seems no longer to offer anything for poetry to celebrate, or for history to record. Are we to consider this long period of apparent tranquillity, as one of public happiness, of pure and simple manners, of general harmony and content, which has only been rendered obscure by the absence of the crimes and the calamities which usually leave the deepest traces in the page of history? We should willingly believe this, if it were not that, so far as the veil is withdrawn which conceals the occurrences of this period from our sight, it affords us glimpses of a very different state of things. In the list of the magistrates who held the undivided sovereignty of the state, the only name with which any events are connected is that of Hippomenes, the last archon of the line of Codrus. It was made memorable by the shame of his daughter, and by the extraordinary punishment which he inflicted on her and her paramour. Tradition long continued to point out as accursed[164] ground the place where she was shut up to perish from hunger, or from the fury of a wild horse, the companion of her confinement. The nobles, glad perhaps to seize an opportunity so favourable to their views, deposed Hippomenes, and razed his house to the ground.

This story would seem indeed to indicate the austerity, as well as the hardness, of the ancient manners: but on the other hand we are informed, that the father had been urged to this excess of rigour by the reproach that had fallen upon his family from the effeminacy and dissoluteness of its members. Without however drawing any inference from this isolated story, we may proceed to observe, that the accounts transmitted to us of the legislation of Draco, the next epoch when a gleam of light breaks through the obscurity of the Attic history, do not lead us to suppose that the people had enjoyed any extraordinary measure of happiness under the aristocratical government, or that their manners were peculiarly innocent and mild.


[ca. 650-600 B.C.]

The immediate occasion which led to Draco’s legislation is not recorded, and even the motives which induced him to impress it with that character of severity to which it owes its chief celebrity, are not clearly ascertained. We know however that he was the author of the first written laws of Athens: and as this measure tended to limit the authority of the nobles, to which a customary law, of which they were the sole expounders, opposed a much feebler check, we may reasonably conclude that the innovation did not proceed from their wish, but was extorted from them by the growing discontent of the people. On the other hand, Draco undoubtedly framed his code as much as possible in conformity to the spirit and the interests of the ruling class, to which he himself belonged; and hence we may fairly infer that the extreme rigour of its penal enactments was designed to overawe and repress the popular movement which had produced it.

Aristotle observes that Draco made no change in the constitution; and that there was nothing remarkable in his laws, except the severity of the penalties by which they were enforced. It must however be remembered that the substitution of law for custom, of a written code for a fluctuating and flexible tradition, was itself a step of great importance; and we also learn that he introduced some changes in the administration of criminal justice, by transferring causes of murder, or of accidental homicide, from the cognisance of the archons to the magistrates called ephetes; though it was not clear whether he instituted, or only modified or enlarged, their jurisdiction. Demades was thought to have described the character of his laws very happily, when he said that they were written not in ink, but in blood. He himself is reported to have justified their severity, by observing that the least offences deserved death, and that he could devise no greater punishment for the worst. This sounds like the language of a man who proceeded on higher grounds than those of expediency, and who felt himself bound by his own convictions to disregard the opinions of his contemporaries. Yet it is difficult to believe, that Draco can have been led by any principles of abstract justice, to confound all gradations of guilt, or, as has been conjectured with somewhat greater probability, that, viewing them under a religious rather than a political aspect, he conceived that in every case alike they drew down the anger of the gods, which could only be appeased by the blood of the criminal.


It seems much easier to understand how the ruling class, which adopted his enactments, might imagine that such a code was likely to be a convenient instrument in their hands, for striking terror into their subjects, and stifling the rising spirit of discontent, which their cupidity and oppression had provoked. We are however unable to form a well-grounded judgment on the degree in which equity may have been violated by his indiscriminate vigour; for though we read that he enacted the same capital punishment for petty thefts as for sacrilege and murder, still as there were some offences for which he provided a milder sentence, he must have framed a kind of scale, the wisdom and justice of which we have no means of estimating.

[ca. 630 B.C.]

The danger which threatened the nobles at length showed itself from a side on which they probably deemed themselves most secure. Twelve years after Draco’s legislation, a conspiracy was formed by one of their own number for overthrowing the government. Cylon, the author of this plot, was eminent both in birth and riches. His reputation, and still more his confidence in his own fortune, had been greatly raised by a victory at the Olympic games; and he had further increased the lustre and influence of his family by an alliance with Theagenes, the tyrant of Megara, whose daughter he married. This extraordinary prosperity elated his presumption, and inflamed his ambition with hopes of a greatness, which could only be attained by a dangerous enterprise. He conceived the design of becoming master of Athens. He could reckon on the cordial assistance of his father-in-law, who, independently of their affinity, was deeply interested in establishing at Athens a form of government similar to that which he himself had founded at Megara; and he had also, by his personal influence, insured the support of numerous friends and adherents. Yet it is probable that he would not have relied on these resources, and that his scheme would never have suggested itself to his mind, if the general disaffection of the people toward their rulers, the impatience produced by the evils for which Draco had provided so inadequate a remedy, and by the irritating nature of the remedy itself, and the ordinary signs of an approaching change, the need of which began to be universally felt, had not appeared to favour his aims.

At this period scarcely any great enterprise was undertaken in Greece without the sanction of an oracle; yet we cannot but feel some surprise, when we are informed by Thucydides, that Cylon consulted the Delphic god on the means by which he might overthrow the government of his country, and still more at the answer he is said to have received: that he must seize the citadel of Athens during the principal festival of Zeus. Cylon naturally interpreted the oracle to mean the Olympic games, the scene of his glory; and Thucydides thinks it worth observing, that the great Attic festival in honour of the same god occurred at a different season. At the time however which appeared to be prescribed by his infallible counsellor, Cylon proceeded to carry his plan into effect. With the aid of a body of troops furnished by Theagenes, and of his partisans, he made himself master of the citadel. Cylon and his friends soon found themselves besieged by the forces which the government called in from all parts of the country. When the provisions were all spent, and some had died of hunger, the remainder abandoned the defence of the walls, and took refuge in the temple of Athene.

The archon Megacles and his colleagues, seeing them reduced to the last extremity of weakness, began to be alarmed lest the sanctuary should be profaned by their death. To avoid this danger, they induced them to surrender on condition that their lives should be spared. Thucydides simply[166] relates that the archons broke their promise, and put their prisoners to death when they had quitted their asylum, and that some were even killed at the altars of the “dread goddesses,” as the Eumenides, or Furies, were called, to which they had fled in the tumult. Plutarch adds a feature to the story, which seems too characteristic of the age to be considered as a later invention. More effectually to insure their safety, the suppliants, before they descended from the citadel, fastened a line to the statue of Minerva, and held it in their hands, as they passed through the midst of their enemies. But the line chancing to break as they were passing by the sanctuary of the Eumenides, Megacles, with the approbation of his colleagues, declared that they were no longer under the safeguard of the goddess, who had thus visibly rejected their supplication, and immediately proceeded to arrest them. His words were the signal of a general massacre, from which even the awful sanctity of the neighbouring altars did not screen the fugitives: none escaped but those who found means of imploring female compassion.

If the conduct of the principal actors in this bloody scene had been marked only by treachery and cruelty, it would never have exposed them to punishment, perhaps not even to reproach. But they had been guilty of a flagrant violation of religion; and Megacles and his whole house were viewed with horror, as men polluted with the stain of sacrilege. All public disasters and calamities were henceforth construed into signs of the divine displeasure: and the surviving partisans of Cylon did not fail to urge that the gods would never be appeased until vengeance should have been taken on the offenders. Yet if this had been the only question which agitated the public mind, it might have been hushed without producing any important consequences. But it was only one ingredient in the ferment which the conflict of parties, the grievances of the many, and the ambition of the few, now carried to a height that called for some extraordinary remedy. Hence Cylon’s conspiracy and its issue exercised an influence on the history of Athens, which has rendered it forever memorable, as the event which led the way to the legislation of Solon.e


[9] [According to some, the name Erechtheus was imported into “history” from the legend of the contest between Minerva (Athena) and Neptune (Poseidon Erechtheus) for the Acropolis. Erechtheus, though defeated, was permitted to remain; later he was thought of as a hero, and finally given a place along with Cecrops (the imaginary ancestor of the Cecropes) in the list of kings.]

[10] Payne Knight has supposed Theseus a merely fabulous personage, because he is not mentioned in any passage of Homer’s poems, excepting one which he has reckoned not genuine. It seems bold to oppose such negative testimony to the positive of Thucydides and Cicero.

[11] The successors of Medon were Acastus, Archippus, Thersippus, Phorbas, Megacles, Diognetus, Pherecles, Ariphron, Thespieus, Agamestor, Æschylus, Alcmæon (Ol. VII, 1. B.C. 752).

[12] His predecessors were Charops, Æsimedes, Clidicus; he was succeeded by Leocrates, Apsander, and Eryxias. Creon, the first annual archon, enters upon his office B.C. 684.

Greek Seals


Greek Seals


Perpetual warfare, pushed to the last extremity of hostile rage, would in no long time have consumed or ruined the little tribes whose territories occupied only a few adjacent valleys, always open to invasion: the necessity of mutual forbearance for general safety would naturally suggest the prudence of entering into friendly associations, without any ulterior views, either of aggrandisement, or of protection against a common enemy. Such an association, formed among independent neighbouring tribes for the regulation of their mutual intercourse, and thus distinguished on the one hand from confederations for purposes offensive or defensive, and on the other, from the continued friendly relations subsisting among independent members of the same race, is the one properly described by the Greek term amphictyony.

This Greek word, which we shall be obliged to borrow, has been supposed by some ancient and modern writers to have been derived from the name of Amphictyon, the son of Deucalion, who is said to have founded the most celebrated of the Amphictyonic associations, that which is always to be understood under the title of the Amphictyonic Confederacy. There can, however, be scarcely any reasonable doubt that this Amphictyon is a merely fictitious person, invented to account for the institution attributed to him, the author of which, if it was the work of any individual, was probably no better known than those of the other amphictyonies, which did not happen to become so famous.

The term “amphictyony,” which has probably been adapted to the legend, and would be more properly written “amphictiony,” denotes a body referred to a local centre of union, and in itself does not imply any national affinity: and, in fact, the associations bearing this name include several tribes, which were but very remotely connected together by descent. But the local centre of union appears to have been always a religious one—a common sanctuary, the scene of periodical meetings for the celebration of a common worship. It is probable that many amphictyonies once existed in Greece, all trace of which has been lost: and even with regard to those which happen to have been rescued from total oblivion, our information is for the most part extremely defective.

Of all such institutions the most celebrated and important was the one known, without any other local distinction, as the Amphictyonic League or council. This last appellation refers to the fact that the affairs of the whole Amphictyonic body were transacted by a congress, composed of deputies sent by the several states according to rules established from time immemorial. One peculiar feature of this congress was, that its meetings were held at two different places. There were two regularly convened[168] every year; one in the spring, at Delphi, the other in the autumn, near the little town of Anthela, within the pass of Thermopylæ, at a temple of Demeter.

The confederate tribes are variously enumerated by different authors. A comparison of their lists enables us to ascertain the greater part of the names, and to form a probable conjecture as to the rest; but it also leads us to conclude that some changes took place at a remote period in the constitution of the council, as to which tradition is silent. The most authentic list of the Amphictyonic tribes contains the following names: Thessalians, Bœotians, Dorians, Ionians, Perrhæbians, Magnetes, Locrians, Œtæans or Enianians, Phthiots or Achæans of Phthia, Malians or Melians, and Phocians. The orator Æschines, who furnishes this list, shows, by mentioning the number twelve, that one name is wanting. The other lists supply two names to fill up the vacant place; the Dolopes, and the Delphians. It seems not improbable that the former were finally supplanted by the Delphians, who appear to have been a distinct race from the Phocians.

The mere inspection of this list is sufficient to prove at once the high antiquity of the institution and the imperfection of our knowledge with regard to its early history. It is clear that the Dorians must have become members of the Amphictyonic body before the conquest, which divided them into several states, each incomparably more powerful than most of the petty northern tribes, which possessed an equal number of votes in the council. It may however be doubted, whether they were among the original members, and did not rather take the place of one of the tribes which they had dislodged from their seats in the neighbourhood of Delphi, perhaps the Dryopes.

On the other hand the Thessalians were probably not received into the league, before they made their appearance in Thessaly, which is commonly believed to have taken place only twenty years before the Dorian invasion of the Peloponnesus. It is therefore highly probable that they were admitted in the room of some other tribe, which had lost its independence through the convulsions of this eventful period.

The constitution of the council rested on the supposition, once perhaps not very inconsistent with the fact, of a perfect equality among the tribes represented by it. Each tribe, however feeble, had two votes in the deliberation of the congress: none, however powerful, had more. The order in which the right of sending representatives to the council was exercised by the various states included in one Amphictyonic tribe was perhaps regulated by private agreement; but, unless one state usurped the whole right of its tribe, it is manifest that a petty tribe, which formed but one community, had greatly the advantage over Sparta, or Argos, which could only be represented in their turn, the more rarely in proportion to the magnitude of the tribe to which they belonged. Besides the council which held its sessions either in the temple, or in some adjacent building, there was an Amphictyonic assembly, which met in the open air, and was composed of persons residing in the place where the congress was held, and of the numerous strangers who were drawn to it by curiosity, business, or devotion.


It is evident that a constitution such as we have described could not have been suffered to last, if it had been supposed that any important political interests depended on the decision of the council. But, in fact, it was not commonly viewed as a national congress for such purposes; its ordinary functions were chiefly, if not altogether, connected with religion, and it was only by accident that it was ever made subservient to political ends. The original objects, or at least the essential character, of the institution, seem to[169] be faithfully expressed in the terms of the oath, preserved by Æschines, which bound the members of the league to refrain from utterly destroying any Amphictyonic city, and from cutting off its supply of water, even in war, and to defend the sanctuary and the treasures of the Delphic god from sacrilege. In this ancient and half-symbolical form we perceive two main functions assigned to the council; to guard the temple, and to restrain the violence of hostility among Amphictyonic states. There is no intimation of any confederacy against foreign enemies, except for the protection of the temple; nor of any right of interposing between members of the league, unless where one threatens the existence of another.

A review of the history of the council shows that it was almost powerless for good, except perhaps as a passive instrument, and that it was only active for purposes which were either unimportant or pernicious. In the great national struggles it lent no strength to the common cause; but it now and then threw a shade of sanctity over plans of ambition or revenge. It sometimes assumed a jurisdiction uncertain in its limits, over its members; but it seldom had the power of executing its sentences, and commonly committed them to the party most interested in exacting the penalty. Thus it punished the Dolopes of Scyros for piracy, by the hands of the Athenians, who coveted their island. But its most legitimate sphere of action lay in cases where the honour and safety of the Delphic sanctuary were concerned; and in these it might safely reckon on general co-operation from all the Greeks. Thus it could act with dignity and energy in a case where a procession, passing through the territory of Megara towards Delphi, was insulted by some Megarians, and could not obtain redress from the government; the Amphictyonic tribunal punished the offenders with death or banishment.

[590 B.C.]

A much more celebrated and important instance of a similar intervention, was that which gave occasion to the war above alluded to, which is commonly called the Crissæan, or the First Sacred War. Crissa appears to be the same town which is sometimes named Cirrha. Situate on that part of the Corinthian Gulf which was called from it the Gulf of Crissa, it commanded a harbour, much frequented by pilgrims from the West, who came to Delphi by sea, and was also mistress of a fruitful tract, called the Cirrhæan Plain. It is possible that there may have been real ground for the charge which was brought against the Crissæans, of extortion and violence used towards the strangers who landed at their port, or passed through their territory: one ancient author, who however wrote nearly three centuries later, assigned as the immediate occasion of the war an outrage committed on some female pilgrims as they were returning from the oracle. It is however at least equally probable, that their neighbours of Delphi had long cast a jealous and a wishful eye on the customs by which Crissa was enriched, and considered all that was there exacted from the pilgrims as taken from the Delphic god, who might otherwise have received it as an offering.

A complaint, however founded, was in the end preferred against Crissa before the Amphictyons, who decreed a war against the refractory city. They called in the aid of the Thessalians, who sent a body of forces under Eurylochus; and their cause was also actively espoused by Clisthenes, tyrant of Sicyon: and, according to the Athenian tradition, Solon assisted them with important advice. They consulted the offended god, who enjoined, as the condition of success in the war, that they should cause the sea to beat upon his domain. In compliance with this oracle, at the suggestion of Solon, they vowed to dedicate the Crissæans and their territory to the god, by enslaving them, and making their land a waste forever. If the prospect of[170] such signal vengeance animated the assailants, the besieged were no doubt goaded to a more obstinate defence by the threat of extermination. The war is said to have lasted ten years, and at length to have been brought to a close by a stratagem, which we could wish not to have found imputed to Solon. He is reported to have poisoned the waters of the Plistus, from which the city was supplied, and thus to have reduced the garrison to a state in which they were easily overpowered. When the town had fallen, the vow of the conquerors was literally fulfilled. Crissa was razed to the ground, its harbour choked up, its fruitful plain turned into a wilderness. This triumph was commemorated by the institution of gymnastic games, called the Pythian, in the room of a more ancient and simple festival. The Amphictyons, who celebrated the new games with the spoils of Crissa, were appointed perpetual presidents.


[589-585 B.C.]

As the Delphic oracle was the object to which the principal duties of the Amphictyons related, it might have been imagined to have been under their control, and thus to have afforded them an engine by which they might, at least secretly, exert a very powerful influence over the affairs of Greece. But though this engine was not unfrequently wielded for political purposes, it appears not to have been under the management of the council, but of the leading citizens of Delphi, who had opportunity of constant and more efficacious access to the persons employed in revealing the supposed will of the god. In early times the oracle was often consulted, not merely for the sake of learning the unknown future, but for advice and direction, which, as it was implicitly followed, really determined the destiny of those who received it. The power conferred by such an instrument was unbounded; and it appears, on the whole, not to have been ill applied: but the honour of its beneficial effects must be ascribed almost entirely to the wisdom and patriotism of the ruling Delphians or of the foreigners who concerted with them in the use of the sacred machinery. But the authority of the oracle itself was gradually weakened, partly by the progress of new opinions, and partly by the abuse which was too frequently made of it. The organ of the prophetic god was a woman, of an age more open to bribery than to any other kind of seduction;[13] and, even before the Persian wars, several instances occurred in which she had notoriously sold her answers. The credulity of individuals might notwithstanding be little shaken: but a few such disclosures would be sufficient to deprive the oracle of the greater part of its political influence.


The character of a national institution, which the Amphictyonic council affected, but never really acquired, more truly belonged to the public festivals, which, though celebrated within certain districts, were not peculiar to any tribe, but were open to all who could prove their Hellenic blood.b

Greek Dancing Girl

(After Hope)

From very early times, it had been customary among the Greeks to hold numerous meetings for purposes of festivity and social amusement. A foot-race, a wrestling match, or some other rude trial of bodily strength and[171] activity, formed originally the principal entertainment, which seems to have been very similar in character to our country wakes. The almost ceaseless warfare among the little Grecian states gave especial value to military exercises, which were accordingly ordinary in those games. The connection of these games with the warlike character may have occasioned their introduction at funerals in honour of the dead; a custom which, we learn from Homer, was in his time ancient. But all the violence of the early ages was unable to repress that elegance of imagination which seems congenial to Greece. Very anciently a contention for a prize in poetry and music was a favourite entertainment of the Grecian people; and when connected, as it often was, with some ceremony of religion, drew together large assemblies of both sexes. A festival of this kind in the little island of Delos, at which Homer assisted, brought a numerous concourse from different parts by sea: and Hesiod informs us of a splendid meeting for the celebration of various games at Chalcis in Eubœa, where himself obtained the prize for poetry and song. The contest in music and poetry seems early to have been particularly connected with the worship of Apollo. When this was carried from the islands of the Ægean to Delphi, a prize for poetry was instituted; and thence appear to have arisen the Pythian games. But Homer shows that games, in which athletic exercises and music and dancing were alternately introduced, made a common amusement of the courts of princes; and before his time the manner of conducting them was so far reduced to a system that public judges of the games were of the established magistracy. Thus improved, the games greatly resembled the tilts and tournaments of the ages of chivalry. Only men of high rank presumed to engage in them; but a large concourse of all orders attended as spectators; and to keep regularity among these was perhaps the most necessary office of the judges. But the most solemn meetings, drawing together people of distinguished rank and character, often from distant parts, were at the funerals of eminent men. The paramount sovereigns of the Peloponnesus did not disdain to attend these, which were celebrated with every circumstance of magnificence and splendour that the age could afford. The funeral of Patroclus, described in the Iliad, may be considered as an example of what the poet could imagine in its kind most complete. The games, in which prizes were there contended for, were the chariot-race, the foot-race, boxing, wrestling, throwing the quoit and the javelin, shooting with the bow, and fencing with the spear. And in times when none could be rich or powerful but the strong and active, the expert at martial exercises, all those trials of skill appear to have been esteemed equally becoming men of the highest rank; though it may seem, from the prizes offered and the persons contending at the funeral of Patroclus, the poet himself saw, in the game of the cestus, some incongruity with exalted characters.


[ca. 884 B.C.]

Traditions are preserved of games celebrated in Elis, upon several great occasions, in very early times, with more than ordinary pomp, by assemblies of chiefs from different parts of Greece. Homer mentions such at Elis under King Augeas, contemporary with Hercules, and grandfather of one of the chiefs who commanded the Elean troops in the Trojan War; and again at Buprasium in Elis, for the funeral of Amarynceus, while Nestor was yet in the vigour of youth. But it does not at all appear from Homer that in his time, or ever before him, any periodical festival was established like that which afterward became so famous under the title of the Olympiad or the Olympian contest, or, as our writers, translating the Latin phrase, have commonly termed it, the Olympian Games. On the contrary, every mention of such games, in his extant works, shows them to have been only occasional solemnities; and Strabo has remarked that they were distinguished by a characteristical difference from the Olympian. In these the honour derived from receiving publicly a crown or chaplet, formed of a branch of oleaster, was the only reward of the victor; but in Homer’s games the prizes, not merely honorary, were intrinsically valuable, and the value was often very considerable.

After Homer’s age, through the long troubles ensuing from the Dorian conquest, and the great change made in the population of the country, the customs and institutions of the Peloponnesians were so altered that even memory of the ancient games was nearly lost.


In this season of turbulence and returning barbarism, Iphitus, a descendant, probably grandson, of Oxylus (though so deficient were the means of transmitting information to posterity that we have no assurance even of his father’s name), succeeded to the throne of Elis. This prince was of a genius that might have produced a more brilliant character in a more enlightened age, but which was perhaps more beneficial to mankind in the rough times in which he lived. Active and enterprising, but not by inclination a warrior, he was anxious to find a remedy for the disorderly situation of his country. He sent a solemn embassy to Delphi to supplicate information from the deity of the place, “How the anger of the gods, which threatened total destruction to the Peloponnesus through endless hostilities among its people, might be averted.” He received for answer, what himself, as a judicious critic has observed, had probably suggested, “That the Olympic festival must be restored; for the neglect of that solemnity had brought on the Greeks the indignation of the god Jupiter, to whom it was dedicated, and of the hero Hercules, by whom it had been instituted: and that a cessation of arms must therefore immediately be proclaimed for all cities desirous of partaking in it.” This response of the god was promulgated throughout Greece; and Iphitus, in obedience to it, caused the armistice to be proclaimed. But the other Peloponnesians, full of respect for the authority of the oracle, yet uneasy at the ascendancy thus assumed by the Eleans, sent a common deputation to Delphi, to inquire concerning the authenticity of the divine mandate reported to them. The Pythoness however, seldom averse to authorise the schemes of kings and legislators, adhered to her former answer and commanded the Peloponnesians “to submit to the direction and authority of the Eleans, in ordering and establishing the ancient laws and customs of their forefathers.”


Supported thus by the oracle, and encouraged by the ready acquiescence of all the Peloponnesians, Iphitus proceeded to model his institution. Jupiter, the chief of the gods, being now the acknowledged patron of the plan, and the prince himself, under Apollo, the promulgator of his will, it was ordained that a festival should be held at the temple of Jupiter at Olympia, near the town of Pisa in Elis, open to the whole Greek nation; and that it should be repeated at the termination of every fourth year: that this festival should consist in solemn sacrifices to Jupiter and Hercules, and in games celebrated to their honour; and as wars might often prevent not only individuals, but whole states, from partaking in the benefits with which the gods would reward those who properly shared in the solemnity, it was ordained under the same authority, that an armistice should take place throughout Greece for some time before the commencement of the festival, and continue for some time after its conclusion. For his own people, the Eleans, Iphitus procured an advantage never perhaps enjoyed in equal extent by any other people. A tradition was current that the Heraclidæ, on appointing Oxylus at the same time to the throne of Elis and to the guardianship of the temple of Olympian Jupiter, had consecrated all Elis to the god under sanction of an oath, and denounced the severest curses, not only on any who should invade it, but also on all who should not defend it against invaders. Iphitus procured universal acquiescence to the authority of this tradition; and the deference of the Grecian people towards it, during many ages, is not among the least remarkable circumstances of Grecian history. A reputation of sacredness became attached to the whole Elean people as the hereditary priesthood of Jupiter, and a pointed difference in character and pursuits arose between them and the other Greeks. Little disposed to ambition, and regardless even of the pleasures of a town-life, their general turn was to rural business and rural amusements. Elsewhere the country was left to hinds and herdsmen, who were mostly slaves; men of property, for security as well as for pursuits of ambition and pleasure, resided in fortified towns. But the towns of Elis, Elis itself the capital, remained unfortified. In republican governments however civil contention would arise. Within a narrow territory the implication of domestic party-politics with foreign interests could not be entirely obviated; and thus foreign wars would ensue. But to the time of Polybius, who saw the liberty of Greece expire, the Eleans maintained their general character, and in a great degree their ancient privileges; whence they were then the wealthiest people of the Peloponnesus, and yet the richest of them mostly resided upon their estates, and many, as that historian avers, without ever visiting Elis.

Character of the Games

At the Olympian festival, as established by Iphitus, the foot-race, distinguished by the name of stadion, is said to have been the only game exhibited; whether the various other exercises familiar in Homer’s age had fallen into oblivion, or the barbarism and poverty, superinduced by the violent and lasting troubles which followed the return of the Heraclidæ, forbade those of greater splendour.

Afterwards, as the growing importance of the meeting occasioned inquiry concerning what had been practised of old, or excited invention concerning what might be advantageously added new, the games were multiplied. The diaulos, a more complicated foot-race, was added at the fourteenth Olympiad; wrestling, and the pentathlon or game of five exercises, at the eighteenth; boxing at the twenty-third; the chariot-race was not restored till the twenty-fifth,[174] of course not till a hundred years after the institution of the festival; the pancration and the horse-race were added in the thirty-third.

So much Pausanias has asserted; apparently from the Olympian register, which on other occasions he has quoted. Originally the sacrifices, processions, and various religious ceremonies apparently formed the principal pageantry of the meeting. Afterwards perhaps the games became the greater inducement for the extraordinary resort of company to Olympia; though the religious ceremonies continued still to increase in magnificence as the festival gained importance. The temple, like that of Delphi, became an advantageous repository for treasure. A mart or fair was a natural consequence of a periodical assembly of multitudes in one place; and whatever required extensive publicity, whatever was important for all the scattered members of the Greek nation to know, would be most readily communicated, and most solemnly, by proclamation at the Olympian festival. Hence treaties by mutual agreement were often proclaimed at Olympia; and sometimes columns were erected there at the joint expense of the contracting parties, with the treaties engraved.

Thus the Olympian meeting to a not inconsiderable degree supplied the want of a common capital for the Greek nation; and, with a success far beyond what the worthy founder’s imagination, urged by his warmest wishes, could reach, contributed to the advancement of arts, particularly of the fine arts, of commerce, of science, of civilised manners, of liberal sentiments, and of friendly communication among all the Grecian people. Such was the common feeling of these various advantages, it became established as a divine law that, whatever wars were going forward among the republics, there should be a truce, not only during the festival, but also for some days before and after; so that persons from all parts of Greece might safely attend it.

The advantages and gratifications in which the whole nation thus became interested, and the particular benefits accruing to the Eleans, excited attempts to establish or improve other similar meetings in different parts of Greece. Three of these, the Delphian, Isthmian, and Nemean, though they never equalled the celebrity and splendour of the Olympian, acquired considerable fame and importance. Each was consecrated to a different deity. In the Delphic, next in consideration to the Olympic, Apollo was honoured; the Delphian people were esteemed his ministers; the Amphictyonic council were the allowed protectors and regulators of the institution. The Isthmian had its name from the Corinthian Isthmus, near the middle of which, overlooking the scene of the solemnity, stood a temple of the god Neptune, venerated by the Corinthian people, administrators of the ceremonies, as their patron.

At the Nemean, sacred to Juno, the Argives (who esteemed her the tutelary deity of their state) presided. All these meetings, like the Olympian, were, in war as in peace, open to all Grecian people; the faith of gods as well as of men being considered as plighted for protection of all, under certain rules, going to, staying at, and returning from them. All were also, like the Olympian, held at intervals of four years; so that, taking their years in turn, it was provided that in every summer, in the midst of the military season, there should be a respite of those hostilities among the republics which were otherwise so continually desolating Greece; and though this beneficial regulation was under some pretences occasionally overborne by powerful states, yet the sequel of history shows it to have been of very advantageous efficacy.c



The enterprises of the heroic age, as we see from the example of the Trojan War itself, often led to the extinction, or expulsion, of a royal family, or of its principal members; and no principle appears to have been generally recognised which rendered it necessary, in such cases, to fill a vacant throne or to establish a new dynasty, while every such calamity inevitably weakened the authority of the kings, and made them more dependent on the nobles, who, as an order, were not affected by any disasters to individuals. But the great convulsions which attended the Thessalian, Bœotian, and Dorian migrations, contributed still more effectually to the same end. In most parts of Greece they destroyed or dislodged the line of the ancient kings, who, when they were able to seek new seats, left behind them the treasures and the strongholds which formed the main supports of their power: and, though the conquerors were generally accustomed to a kingly government, it must commonly have lost something of its vigour when transplanted to a new country, where it was subject to new conditions, and where the prince was constantly reminded, by new dangers, of the obligations which he owed to his companions in arms. Yet, even this must be considered rather as the occasion which led to the abolition of the heroic monarchy, than as the cause: that undoubtedly lay much deeper, and is to be sought in the character of the people—in that same energy and versatility which prevented it from ever stiffening, even in its infancy, in the mould of oriental institutions, and from stopping short, in any career which it had once opened, before it had passed through every stage.

It seems to have been seldom, if ever, that royalty was abolished by a sudden and violent revolution; the title often long survived the substance, and this was extinguished only by slow successive steps. These consisted in dividing it among several persons, in destroying its inheritable quality, and making it elective, first in one family, then in more; first for life, then for a certain term; in separating its functions, and distributing them into several hands. In the course of these changes it became more and more responsible to the nobles, and frequently, at a very early stage, the name itself was exchanged for one simply equivalent to ruler, or chief magistrate. The form of government which thus ensued might, with equal propriety, be termed either aristocracy or oligarchy, but, in the use of the terms to which these correspond, the Greek political writers made a distinction, which may at first sight appear more arbitrary than it really is. They taught—not a very recondite truth—that the three forms of government, that of one, that of a few, and that of the many, are all alike right and good, so long as they are rightly administered, with a view, that is, to the welfare of the state, and not to the interest of an individual or of a particular class. But, when any of the three loses sight of its legitimate object, it degenerates into a vicious species, which requires to be marked by a peculiar name. Thus a monarchy, in which selfish aims predominate becomes a tyranny. The government of a few, conducted on like principles, is properly called an oligarchy. But to constitute an aristocracy, it is not sufficient that the ruling few should be animated by a desire to promote the public good: they must also be distinguished by a certain character; for aristocracy signifies the rule of the best men.

More distinctly to understand the peculiar nature of the Greek oligarchies, it is necessary to consider the variety of circumstances under which they arose. By the migrations which took place in the century following the[176] Trojan War, most parts of Greece were occupied by a new race of conquerors. Everywhere their first object was to secure a large portion of the conquered land; but the footing on which they placed themselves, with regard to the ancient inhabitants, was not everywhere the same; it varied according to the temper of the invaders, or of their chiefs, to their relative strength, means, and opportunities. In Sparta, and in most of the Dorian states, the invaders shunned all intermixture with the conquered, and deprived them, if not of personal freedom, of all political rights. But elsewhere, as in Elis, and probably in Bœotia, no such distinction appears to have been made; the old and the new people gradually melted into one.

An oligarchy, in the sense which we have assigned to the word, could only exist where there was an inferior body which felt itself aggrieved by being excluded from the political rights which were reserved to the privileged few. Such a feeling of discontent might be roused by the rapacity or insolence of the dominant order, as we shall find to have happened at Athens, and as was the case at Mytilene, where some members of the ruling house of the Penthilids went about with clubs, committing outrages like those which Nero practised for a short time in the streets of Rome. But, without any such provocation, disaffection might arise from the cause which we shall see producing a revolution at Corinth, where the aristocracy was originally established on a basis too narrow to be durable: as Aristotle relates of the Basilids at Erythræ, that, though they exercised their power well, they could not retain it, because the people would no longer endure that it should be lodged in so few hands. In general however it was a gradual, inevitable change in the relative position of the higher and lower orders, which converted the aristocracy into an oligarchical faction, and awakened an opposition which usually ended in its overthrow.

The precautions which were used by the ruling class, when it began to perceive its danger, were of various kinds, and it was more frequently found necessary to widen the oligarchy itself, by the admission of new families, and to change the principle of its constitution by substituting wealth for birth as the qualification of its members. The form of government in which the possession of a certain amount of property was the condition of all, or at least of the highest, political privileges, was sometimes called a timocracy, and its character varied according to the standard adopted. When this was high, and especially if it was fixed in the produce of land, the constitution differed little in effect from the aristocratical oligarchy, except as it opened a prospect to those who were excluded of raising themselves to a higher rank. But, when the standard was placed within reach of the middling class, the form of government was commonly termed a polity, and was considered as one of the best tempered and most durable modifications of democracy. The first stage however often afforded the means of an easy transition to the second, or might be reduced to it by a change in the value of the standard.

Another expedient, which seems to have been tried not unfrequently in early times, for preserving or restoring tranquillity, was to invest an individual with absolute power, under a peculiar title, which soon became obsolete: that of æsymnete. At Cumæ indeed, and in other cities, this was the title of an ordinary magistracy, probably of that which succeeded the hereditary monarchy; but, when applied to an extraordinary office, it was equivalent to the title of protector or dictator. It did not indicate any disposition to revive the heroic royalty, but only the need which was felt, either by the commonalty of protection against the nobles, or by all parties of a temporary compromise, which induced the adverse factions to acquiesce in a neutral government.[177] The office was conferred sometimes for life, sometimes only for a limited term, or for the accomplishment of a specific object, as the sage Pittacus was chosen by universal consent at Mytilene, when the city was threatened by a band of exiles, headed by the poet Alcæus and his brother Antimenidas [about 612 B.C.].


The fall of an oligarchy was sometimes accelerated by accidental and inevitable disasters, as by a protracted war, which at once exhausted its wealth and reduced its numbers, or by the loss of a battle, in which the flower of its youth might sometimes be cut off at one blow, and leave it to the mercy of its subjects; a case of which we shall find a signal instance in the history of Argos. But much more frequently the revolutions which overthrew the oligarchical governments arose out of the imprudence or misconduct, or the internal dissensions, of the ruling body, or out of the ambition of some of its members. The commonalty, even when really superior in strength, could not, all at once, shake off the awe with which it was impressed by ages of subjection. It needed a leader to animate, unite, and direct it.

Such was the origin of most of the governments which the Greeks described by the term “tyranny”—a term to which a notion has been attached, in modern languages, which did not enter into its original definition. A tyranny, in the Greek sense of the word, was the irresponsible dominion of a single person, not founded on hereditary right, like the monarchies of the heroic ages and of many barbarian nations; nor on a free election, like that of a dictator or æsymnete; but on force. It did not change its character when transmitted through several generations, nor was any other name invented to describe it when power which had been acquired by violence was used for the public good; though Aristotle makes it an element in the definition of tyranny, that it is exercised for selfish ends. But, according to the ordinary Greek notions, and the usage of the Greek historians, a mild and beneficent tyranny is an expression which involves no contradiction. On the other hand, a government, legitimate in its origin, might be converted into a tyranny, by an illegal forcible extension of its powers, or of its duration; and we are informed by Aristotle that this was frequently the case in early times, before the regal title was abolished, or while the chief magistrate, who succeeded under a different name to the functions of royalty, was still invested with prerogatives dangerous to liberty. Such was the basis on which one of the ancient tyrants, most infamous for his cruelty, Phalaris of Agrigentum [or Acragas], established his despotism.

But most of the tyrannies which sprang up before the Persian wars owed their existence to the cause above described, and derived their peculiar character from the occasion which gave them birth. It was usually by a mixture of violence and artifice that the demagogue accomplished his ends. A hackneyed stratagem, which however seems always to have been successful, was, to feign that his life was threatened, or had even been attacked by the fury of the nobles, and on this pretext to procure a guard for his person from the people. This band, though composed of citizens, he found it easy to attach to his interests, and with its aid made the first step towards absolute power by seizing the citadel: an act which might be considered as a formal assumption of the tyranny, and as declaring a resolution to maintain it by force. But in other respects the more politic tyrants set an example which Augustus might have studied with advantage. Like him, they as[178] carefully avoided the ostentation of power as they guarded its substance. They suffered the ancient forms of the government to remain in apparent vigour, and even in real operation, so far as they did not come into conflict with their own authority. They assumed no title, and were not distinguished from private citizens by any ensigns of superior rank. But they did not the less keep a jealous eye on all whom wealth, or character, or influence might render dangerous rivals; and commonly either forced them into exile or removed them by the stroke of an assassin. They exerted still greater vigilance in suppressing every kind of combination which might cover the germ of a conspiracy. The lowest class of the commonalty they restrained from license, and provided with employment. For this purpose, no less than to gratify their taste or display their magnificence, they frequently adorned their cities with costly buildings, which required years of labour from numerous hands: and, where this expedient did not suffice, they scrupled not to force a part of the population to quit the capital, and seek subsistence in rural occupations. On the same ground they were not reluctant to engage in wars, which afforded them opportunities of relieving themselves, in a less invidious manner, both from troublesome friends and from dangerous foes, as well as of strengthening and extending their dominion by conquest.

Such was the ordinary policy of the best tyrants; and by these arts they were frequently able to reign in peace, and to transmit their power to their children. But the maxims and character of the tyranny generally underwent a change under their successors, and scarcely an instance was known of a tyrannical dynasty that lasted beyond the third generation. But, even where the tyrant did not make himself universally odious, or provoke the vengeance of individuals by his wantonness or cruelty, he was constantly threatened by dangers, both from within and from without, which it required the utmost vigour and prudence to avert. The party which his usurpation had supplanted, though depressed, was still powerful, more exasperated than humbled by its defeat, and ever ready to take advantage of any opportunity of overthrowing him, either by private conspiracy, or by affecting to make common cause with the lower classes, or by calling in foreign aid. And in Greece itself such aid was always at hand: the tyrants indeed were partially leagued together for mutual support. But Sparta threw all her might into the opposite scale. She not only dreaded the contagion of an example which might endanger her own institutions, but was glad to extend her influence by taking an active part in revolutions, which would cause the states restored, by her intervention, to their old government to look up to her with gratitude and dependence as their natural protectress. And accordingly Thucydides ascribes the overthrow of most of the tyrannies which flourished in Greece before the Persian War to the exertions of Sparta.

The immediate effect produced by the fall of the tyrants depended on the hands by which it was accomplished. Where it was the work of Sparta, she would aim at introducing a constitution most in conformity to her own. But the example of Athens will show, that she was sometimes instrumental in promoting the triumph of principles more adverse to her views than those of the tyranny itself. When, however, the struggle which had been interrupted by the temporary usurpation was revived, the parties were no longer in exactly the same posture as at its outset. In general the commonalty was found to have gained, in strength and spirit, even more than the oligarchy had lost; and the prevalent leaning of the ensuing period was on the side of democracy. Indeed the decisive step was that by which the oligarchy[179] of wealth was substituted for the oligarchy of birth. This opened the door for all the subsequent innovations, by which the scale of the timocracy was gradually lowered, until it was wholly abolished.


The term “democracy” is used by Aristotle sometimes in a larger sense, so as to include several forms of government, which, notwithstanding their common character, were distinguished from each other by peculiar features; at other times in a narrower, to denote a form essentially vicious, which stands in the same relation to the happy temperament to which he gives the name of polity, as oligarchy to aristocracy, or tyranny to royalty. We shall not confine ourselves to the technical language of his system, but will endeavour to define the notion of democracy, as the word was commonly understood by the Greeks, so as to separate the essence of the thing from the various accidents which have sometimes been confounded with it by writers who have treated Greek history as a vehicle for conveying their views on questions of modern politics, which never arose in the Greek republics.

It must not be forgotten, that the body to which the terms oligarchy and democracy refer formed a comparatively small part of the population in most Greek states, since it did not include either slaves or resident free foreigners. The sovereign power resided wholly in the native freemen; and whether it was exercised by a part or by all of them, was the question which determined the nature of the government. When the barrier had been thrown down, by which all political rights were made the inheritance of certain families,—since every freeman, even when actually excluded from them by the want of sufficient property, was by law capable of acquiring them,—democracy might be said to have begun. It was advancing, as the legal condition of their enjoyment was brought within the reach of a more numerous class; but it could not be considered as complete, so long as any freeman was debarred from them by poverty. Since, however, the sovereignty included several attributes which might be separated, the character of the constitution depended on the way in which these were distributed. It was considered as partaking more of democracy than of oligarchy, when the most important of them were shared by all freemen without distinction, though a part was still appropriated to a number limited either by birth or fortune. Thus where the legislative, or, as it was anciently termed, the deliberative, branch of the sovereignty was lodged in an assembly open to every freeman, and where no other qualification than free birth was required for judicial functions, and for the election of magistrates, there the government was called democratical, though the highest offices of the state might be reserved to a privileged class. But a finished democracy, that which fully satisfied the Greek notion, was one in which every attribute of sovereignty might be shared, without respect to rank or property, by every freeman.

More than this was not implied in democracy; and little less than this was required, according to the views of the philosophers, to constitute the character of a citizen, which, in the opinion of Aristotle, could not exist without a voice in the legislative assembly, and such a share in the administration of justice as was necessary to secure the responsibility of the magistrates. But this equality of rights left room for a great diversity in the modes of exercising them, which determined the real nature of a democratical constitution. There were, indeed, certain rights, those which Aristotle[180] considers as essential to a citizen, which, according to the received Greek notions, could, in a democracy, only be exercised in person. The thought of delegating them to accountable representatives seems never to have occurred either to practical or speculative statesmen, except in the formation of confederacies, which rendered such an expedient necessary.

But the principle of legal equality, which was the basis of democracy, was gradually construed in a manner which inverted the wholesome order of nature, and led to a long train of pernicious consequences. The administration of the commonwealth came to be regarded, not as a service, in which all were interested, but for which some might be qualified better than others, but as a property, in which each was entitled to an equal share. The practical application of this view was the introduction of an expedient for levelling, as far as possible, the inequality of nature, by enabling the poorest to devote his time, without loss, or even with profit, to public affairs. This was done by giving him wages for his attendance on all occasions of exercising his franchise; and, as the sum which could be afforded for this purpose was necessarily small, it attracted precisely the persons whose presence was least desirable.

A further application of the same principle was, as much as possible, to increase the number, and abridge the duration and authority of public offices, and to transfer their power to the people in a mass. On the same ground, chance was substituted for election in the creation of all magistrates, whose duties did not actually demand either the security of a large fortune or peculiar abilities and experience. In proportion as the popular assembly, or large portions detached from it for the exercise of judicial functions, drew all the branches of the sovereignty more and more into their sphere, the character of their proceedings became more and more subject to the influence of the lower class of the citizens, which constituted a permanent majority. And thus the democracy, instead of the equality which was its supposed basis, in fact established the ascendancy of a faction, which, although greatly preponderant in numbers, no more represented the whole state than the oligarchy itself; and which, though not equally liable to fall into the mechanism of a vicious system, was more prone to yield to the impulse of the moment, more easily misled by blind or treacherous guides, and might thus, as frequently, though not so deliberately and methodically, trample, not only on law and custom, but on justice and humanity. This disease of a democracy was sometimes designated by the term “ochlocracy,” or the dominion of the rabble.

A democracy thus corrupted exhibited many features of a tyranny. It was jealous of all who were eminently distinguished by birth, fortune, or reputation; it encouraged flatterers and sycophants; was insatiable in its demands on the property of the rich, and readily listened to charges which exposed them to death or confiscation. The class which suffered such oppression, commonly ill satisfied with the principle of the constitution itself, was inflamed with the most furious animosity by the mode in which it was applied, and regarded the great mass of its fellow-citizens as its mortal enemies.b


[13] The Pythia had once been a maiden, chosen in the flower of youth; but this practice having been attended with inconvenient consequences, women were appointed who had passed the age of fifty, but still wore the dress of virgins. Diodorus, xvi, 26.


Ruins of the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, Arcadia


Aristotle’s survey of the Greek forms of government was founded on a vast store of information which he had collected on the history and constitution of more than a hundred and fifty states, in the mother country and the colonies, and which he had consigned to a great work now unfortunately lost. Our knowledge of the internal conditions and vicissitudes of almost all these states is very scanty and fragmentary: but some of the main facts concerning them, which have been saved from oblivion, will serve to throw light on several parts of the ensuing history.


We have scarcely anything to say, during this period, of the state of parties, or even the forms of government, in Arcadia, Elis, and Achaia. If Arcadia was ever subject to a single king, which seems to be intimated by some accounts of its early history, it was probably only, as in Thessaly, by an occasional election, or a temporary usurpation. The title of king however appears not to have been everywhere abolished down to a much later time, as we find a hint that it was retained at Orchomenos even in the fifth century before our era. That the republican constitutions were long aristocratical can scarcely be doubted, as the two principal Arcadian cities, Tegea and Mantinea, were at first only the chief among several small hamlets, which were at length united in one capital. This, whenever it happened, was a step towards the subversion of aristocratical privileges; and it was no doubt with this view that the five Mantinean villages were incorporated by the Argives, as Strabo mentions without assigning the date of the event. But it is not probable that Argos thus interfered before her own institutions had undergone a like change, which, as we shall see, did not take place before a later period than our history has yet reached. Whether the union of the nine villages, which included Tegea as their chief, was effected earlier or later, does not appear. But, after she had once acknowledged the supremacy of Sparta, Tegea was sheltered by Spartan influence from popular innovations, and was always the less inclined to adopt them when they prevailed at[182] Mantinea: for as the position of the two Arcadian neighbours tended to connect the one with Sparta, and the other with Argos, so it supplied occasion for interminable feuds between them. But, in general, the history of the western states of Arcadia is wrapt in deep obscurity, which was only broken, in the fourth century B.C., by the foundation of a new Arcadian capital.

In Elis the monarchical form of government continued for some generations in the line of Oxylus, but appears to have ceased there earlier than at Pisa, which, at the time when it was conquered and destroyed by the Eleans, was ruled by chiefs, who were probably legitimate kings. Immediately after the conquest, in the fiftieth Olympiad, the dignity of hellanodicæ, which had been held by the kings of Elis, or shared by them with those of Pisa, was assigned to two Elean officers by lot, a proof that royalty was then extinct. The constitution by which it was replaced seems to have been rigidly aristocratical, perhaps no other than the narrow oligarchy described by Aristotle,—who observes that the whole number of citizens exercising any political functions was small—confined, perhaps to the six hundred mentioned by Thucydides; and that the senate, originally composed of ninety members, who held their office for life, and filled up vacancies at their pleasure, had been gradually reduced to a very few. Elis, the capital, remained in a condition like that of the above-mentioned Arcadian towns until the Persian War, when the inhabitants of many villages were collected in its precincts. This was probably attended by other changes of a democratical nature—perhaps by the limitation which one Phormis is said to have effected in the power of the senate—and henceforth the number of the hellanodicæ corresponded to that of the tribes or regions into which the Elean territory was divided; so that, whenever any of these regions was lost by the chance of war, the number of the hellanodicæ was proportionately reduced. So too the matrons who presided at the games in honour of Hera, in which the Elean virgins contended at Olympia, were chosen in equal number from each of the tribes.

In Achaia, the royal dignity was transmitted in the line of Tisamenus down to Ogyges, whose sons, affecting despotic power, were deposed, and the government was changed to a democracy, which is said to have possessed a high reputation. From Pausanias it would rather seem as if the title of king had been held by a number of petty chiefs at once. If so, the revolution must have had its origin in causes more general than those assigned to it by Polybius. It was probably accelerated by the number of Achæan emigrants who sought refuge in Achaia from other parts of the Peloponnesus, and who soon crowded the country, till it was relieved by its Italian colonies. What Polybius and Strabo term a democracy may however have been a polity, or a very liberal and well-tempered form of oligarchy. Of its details we know nothing; nor are we informed in what relation the twelve principal Achaian towns—a division adopted from the Ionians—stood to the hamlets, of which each had seven or eight in its territory, like those of Tegea and Mantinea. As little are we able to describe the constitution of the confederacy in which the twelve states were now united.


More light has been thrown by ancient authors on the history of the states in the northeast quarter of Peloponnesus, those of Argolis in the largest sense of the word. At Argos itself, regal government subsisted[183] down to the Persian wars, although the line of the Heraclid princes appears to have become extinct toward the middle of the preceding century. Pausanias remarks, that, from a very early period, the Argives were led by their peculiarly independent spirit to limit the prerogatives of their kings so narrowly as to leave them little more than the name. We cannot however place much reliance on such a general reflection of a late writer. But we have seen that Phidon, who, about the year 750 B.C., extended the power of Argos farther than any of his predecessors, also stretched the royal authority so much beyond its legitimate bounds, that he is sometimes called a tyrant, though he was rightful heir of Temenus. After his death, as his conquests appear to have been speedily lost, so it is probable that his successors were unable to maintain the ascendancy which he had gained over his Dorian subjects, and the royal dignity may henceforth have been, as Pausanias describes it, little more than a title. Hence, too, on the failure of the ancient line, about B.C. 560, Ægon, though of a different family, may have met with the less opposition in mounting the throne. The substance of power rested with the Dorian freemen: in what manner it was distributed among them we can only conjecture from analogy. Their lands were cultivated by a class of serfs, corresponding to the Spartan helots, who served in war as light-armed troops, whence they derived their peculiar name, “gymnesii.” They were also sovereigns of a few towns, the inhabitants of which, like the Laconians subject to Sparta, though personally free, were excluded from all share in their political privileges. The events which put an end to this state of things, and produced an entire change in the form of government at Argos, will be hereafter related.

Among the states of the Argolic acte, Epidaurus deserves notice, not so much for the few facts which are known of its internal history, as on account of its relation to Ægina. This island, destined to take no inconsiderable part in the affairs of Greece, was long subject to Epidaurus, which was so jealous of her sovereignty as to compel the Æginetans to resort to her tribunals for the trial of their causes. It seems to have been as a dependency of Epidaurus that Ægina fell under the dominion of the Argive Phidon. After recovering her own independence, Epidaurus still continued mistress of the island. Whether she had any subjects on the main land standing on the same footing, we are not expressly informed. But here likewise the ruling class was supported by the services of a population of bondsmen, distinguished by a peculiar name (conipodes, the dusty-footed), designating indeed their rural occupations, but certainly expressive of contempt. Towards the end of the seventh century B.C., and the beginning of the next, Epidaurus was subject to a ruler named Procles, who is styled a tyrant, and was allied with Periander the tyrant of Corinth. But nothing is known as to the origin and nature of his usurpation. He incurred the resentment of his son-in-law Periander, who made himself master of Procles and of Epidaurus. It was perhaps this event which afforded Ægina an opportunity of shaking off the Epidaurian yoke. But, had it been otherwise, the old relation between the two states could not have subsisted much longer. Ægina was rapidly outgrowing the mother country, was engaged in a flourishing commerce, strong in an enterprising and industrious population, enriched and adorned by the arts of peace, and skilled in those of war. The separation which soon after took place was embittered by mutual resentment; and the Æginetans, whose navy soon became the most powerful in Greece, retaliated on Epidaurus for the degradation they had suffered by a series of insults. But the same causes to which they owed their national[184] independence seem to have deprived the class which had been hitherto predominant in Ægina of its political privileges. The island was torn by the opposite claims and interests arising out of the old and the new order of things, and became the scene of a bloody struggle.


The history of Sicyon presents a series of revolutions, in many points resembling those of Corinth. At what time, or in whose person, royalty was there extinguished, and what form of government succeeded it, we are not expressly informed; but, as we know that there was a class of bondsmen at Sicyon, answering to the helots, and distinguished by peculiar names, derived from their rustic dress or occupation, there can be little doubt that other parts of the Dorian system were also introduced there, and subsisted until a fortunate adventurer, named Orthagoras, or Andreas, overthrew the old aristocracy, and founded a dynasty, which lasted a century: the longest period, Aristotle observes, of a Greek tyranny. Orthagoras is said to have risen from a very low station—that of a cook—and was, therefore, probably indebted for his elevation to the commonalty. The long duration of his dynasty is ascribed by Aristotle to the mildness and moderation with which he and his descendants exercised their power, submitting to the laws and taking pains to secure the good will of the people.

His successor, Myron, having gained a victory in the Olympic chariot-race in the thirty-third Olympiad, erected a treasury at Olympia, which was remarkable for its material, brass of Tartessus, which had not long been introduced into Greece; for its architecture, in which the Doric and Ionic orders were combined; and for its inscription, in which the name of Myron was coupled with that of the people of Sicyon. It may be collected, from an expression of Aristotle’s, that, though Myron was succeeded, either immediately or after a short interval, by his grandson Clisthenes, son of Aristonymus, this transmission of the tyranny did not take place without interruption or impediment; and, if this arose from the Dorian nobles, it would explain some points in which the government of Clisthenes differed from that of his predecessors.

He seems to have been the most able and enterprising prince of his house, and to have conducted many wars, beside that in which we have seen him engaged on the side of the Amphictyons, with skill and success: he was of a munificent temper, and displayed his love of splendour and of the arts both in the national games and in his native city, where, out of the spoils of Crissa, he built a colonnade, which long retained the name of the Clisthenean. The magnificence with which he entertained the suitors who came from all parts of Greece, and even from foreign lands, to vie with one another, after the ancient fashion, in manly exercises, for his daughter’s hand, was long so celebrated, that Herodotus gives a list of the competitors. It proves how much his alliance was coveted by the most distinguished families; and it is particularly remarkable, that one of the suitors was a son of Phidon, king of Argos, whom Herodotus seems to have confounded with the more ancient tyrant of the same name. Still Clisthenes appears not to have departed from the maxims by which his predecessors had regulated their government with regard to the commonalty, but, in the midst of his royal state, to have carefully preserved the appearance, at least, of equity and respect for the laws. On the other hand, towards his Dorian subjects he displayed a spirit[185] of hostility which seems to have been peculiar to himself, and to have been excited by some personal provocation. It was probably connected with a war in which he was engaged with Argos, and it impelled him to various political and religious innovations, the real nature of which can now be but very imperfectly understood.

One of the most celebrated was the change which he made in the names of the Dorian tribes, for which he substituted others, derived from the lowest kinds of domestic animals; while a fourth tribe, to which he himself belonged, was distinguished by the majestic title of the archelai (the princely). Herodotus supposes that he only meant to insult the Dorians; and we could sooner adopt this opinion than believe, with a modern author, that he took so strange a method of directing their attention to rural pursuits. But Herodotus adds, that the new names were retained for sixty years after the death of Clisthenes and the fall of his dynasty, when those of the Dorian tribes were restored, and, in the room of the fourth, a new one was created, called from a son of the Argive hero, Adrastus, the Ægialeans. When the Dorians resumed their old division, the commonalty was thrown into the single tribe (called not from the hero, but from the land), the Ægialeans.

We do not know how this dynasty ended, and can only pronounce it probable that it was overthrown at about the same time with that of the Cypselids (B.C. 580), by the intervention of Sparta, which must have been more alarmed and provoked by the innovations of Clisthenes than by the tyranny of Periander. It would seem, from the history of the tribes, that the Dorians recovered their predominance; but gradually, and not so completely as to deprive the commonalty of all share in political rights.

On the other side of the isthmus, the little state of Megara passed through vicissitudes similar to those of Corinth and Sicyon, but attended with more violent struggles. Before the Dorian conquest royalty is said to have been abolished there after the last king, Hyperion, son of Agamemnon, had fallen by the hand of an enemy, whom he had provoked by insolence and wrong: and a Megarian legend seems to indicate that the elective magistrates, who took the place of the kings, bore the title of æsymnetes. The Dorians of Corinth kept those of Megara, for a time, in the same kind of subjection to which Ægina was reduced by Epidaurus; and the Megarian peasantry were compelled to solemnise the obsequies of every Bacchiad with marks of respect, such as were exacted from the subjects of Sparta on the death of the king. This yoke however was cast off at an early period; and Argos assisted the Megarians in recovering their independence. Henceforth it is probable Megara assumed a more decided superiority over the hamlets of her territory, which had once been her rivals; and she must have made rapid progress in population and in power, as is proved by her flourishing colonies in the east and west, and by the wars which she carried on in defence of them. One of her most illustrious citizens, Orsippus, who, in the fifteenth Olympiad, set the example of dropping all incumbrances of dress in the Olympic foot-race, also conducted her arms with brilliant success against her neighbours—probably the Corinthians—and enlarged her territory to the utmost extent of her claims. But the government still remained in the hands of the great Dorian land-owners, who, when freed from the dominion of Corinth, became sovereigns at home; and they appear not to have administered it mildly or wisely. For they were not only deprived of their power by an insurrection of the commonalty, as at Corinth and Sicyon, but were evidently the objects of a bitter enmity, which cannot have been wholly unprovoked.


Theagenes, a bold and ambitious man, who put himself at the head of the popular cause, is said to have won the confidence of the people by an attack on the property of the wealthy citizens, whose cattle he destroyed in their pastures. The animosity provoked by such an outrage, which was probably not a solitary one, rendered it necessary to invest the demagogue with supreme authority. Theagenes, who assumed the tyranny about 620 B.C., followed the example of the other usurpers of his time. He adorned his city with splendid and useful buildings, and no doubt in other ways cherished industry and the arts, while he made them contribute to the lustre of his reign. He allied himself to one of the most eminent families of Athens, and aided his son-in-law, Cylon, in his enterprise, which, if it had succeeded, would have lent increased stability to his own power.

The victories which deprived the Athenians of Salamis, and made them at last despair of recovering it, were probably gained by Theagenes. Yet he was at length expelled from Megara; whether through the discontent of the commonalty, or by the efforts of the aristocratical party, which may have been encouraged by the failure of Cylon’s plot, we are not distinctly informed. Only it is said that, after his overthrow, a more moderate and peaceful spirit prevailed for a short time, until some turbulent leaders, who apparently wished to tread in his steps, but wanted his ability or his fortune, instigated the populace to new outrages against the wealthy, who were forced to throw open their houses, and to set luxurious entertainments before the rabble, or were exposed to personal insult and violence. But a much harder blow was aimed at their property by a measure called the palintocia,—which carried the principles of Solon’s seisachtheia to an iniquitous excess,—by which creditors were required to refund the interest which they had received from their debtors.

This transaction at the same time discloses one, at least, of the causes which had exasperated the commonalty against the nobles, who probably had exacted their debts no less harshly than the Athenian Eupatrids. But, in this period of anarchy, neither justice nor religion was held sacred: even temples were plundered; and a company of pilgrims, passing through the territory of Megara, on their way to Delphi, was grossly insulted; many lives even were lost, and the Amphictyonic council was compelled to interpose, to procure the punishment of the ringleaders. It is unquestionably of this period that Aristotle speaks, when he says that the Megarian demagogues procured the banishment of many of the notable citizens for the sake of confiscating their estates; and he adds, that these outrages and disorders ruined the democracy, for the exiles became so strong a body, that they were able to reinstate themselves by force, and to establish a very narrow oligarchy, including those only who had taken an active part in the revolution. Unfortunately we have no means of ascertaining the dates of these events, though the last-mentioned reaction cannot have taken place very long after 600 B.C.

During the following century, our information on the state of Megara is chiefly collected from the writings of the Megarian poet, Theognis, which however are interesting not so much for the historical facts contained in them, as for the light they throw on the character and feelings of the parties which divided his native city and so many others. Theognis appears to have been born about the fifty-fifth Olympiad, not long before the death of Solon; and to have lived down to the beginning of the Persian wars. He left some poems, of which considerable fragments remain, filled with moral and political maxims and reflections. We gather from them, that the oligarchy,[187] which followed the period of anarchy, had been unable to keep its ground; and that a new revolution had taken place, by which the poet, with others of the aristocratical party, had been stript of his fortune and driven into exile. But his complaints betray a fact which throws some doubt on the purity of his patriotism, and abates our sympathy for his misfortunes.


The peculiar circumstances under which Bœotia was conquered, by a people who had quitted their native land to avoid slavery or subjection, would be sufficient to account for the fact that royalty was very early abolished there. It may indeed be doubted whether the chief named Xanthus, who is called king, sometimes of the Bœotians, sometimes of the Thebans, and who was slain by the Attic king Melanthus, was anything more than a temporary leader. The most sacred functions of the Theban kings seem to have been transferred to a magistrate, who bore the title of archon, and, like the archon-king at Athens, was invested rather with a priestly than a civil character.

From the death of Xanthus, down to about 500 B.C., the constitution of Thebes continued rigidly aristocratical, having probably been guarded from innovation as well by the inland position of the city as by the jealousy of the rulers; and the first change, of which we have any account, was one which threw the government into still fewer hands. But, about the thirteenth Olympiad, it seems as if discontent had arisen, among the members of the ruling caste itself, from the inequality in the division of property, which had perhaps been increased by lapse of time, until some of them were reduced to indigence. Not long after that Olympiad, Philolaus, one of the Corinthian Bacchiads, having been led by a private occurrence to take up his residence at Thebes, was invited to frame a new code of laws; and one of the main objects of his institutions was to prevent the accumulation of estates, and to fix forever the number of those into which the Theban territory, or at least the part of it occupied by the nobles, was divided. He too was perhaps the author of the law which excluded every Theban from public offices who had exercised any trade within the space of ten years. It is probable enough that his code also embraced regulations for the education of the higher class of citizens; and it may have been he who, with the view, as Plutarch supposes, of softening the harshness of the Bœotian character, or to counterbalance an excessive fondness for gymnastic exercises, to which the Thebans were prone, made music an essential part of the instruction of youth.

Our information on the other Bœotian towns is still scantier as to their internal condition; but we may safely presume that it did not differ very widely from that of Thebes, especially as we happen to know that at Thespiæ every kind of industrious occupation was deemed degrading to a freeman: an indication of aristocratical rigour which undoubtedly belongs to this period, and may be taken as a sample of the spirit prevailing in Bœotia. The Bœotian states were united in a confederacy which was represented by a congress of deputies, who met at the festival of the Pambœotia, in the temple of the Itonian Athene, near Coronea, more perhaps for religious than for political purposes. There were also other national councils, which deliberated on peace and war, and were perhaps of nearly equal antiquity, though they were first mentioned at a later period, when there were four of them.[188] It does not appear how they were constituted, or whether with reference to as many divisions of the country, of which we have no other trace. The chief magistrates of the league, called Bœotarchs, presided in these councils, and commanded the national forces. They were, in later times at least, elected annually, and rigidly restricted to their term of office.

As to the institutions of the Locrian tribes in Greece, very little is known, and they never took a prominent part in Greek history. Down to a late period the use of slaves was almost wholly unknown among them, as well as among the Phocians. This fact, which indicates a people of simple habits, strangers to luxury and commerce, and attached to ancient usages, may lead us to the further conclusion that their institutions were mostly aristocratical; and this conclusion is confirmed by all that we hear of them. Opus is celebrated, in the fifth century B.C., as a seat of law and order by Pindar.

Mt. Parnassus, in Phocis

Equally scanty is our information as to the general condition of the Phocians. Their land, though neither extensive nor fertile, was divided among between twenty and thirty little commonwealths, which were united like the Achæans and the Bœotians, and sent deputies at stated times to a congress which was held in a large building, called the Phocicum, on the road between Daulis and Delphi. But Delphi, though lying in Phocis, disclaimed all connection with the rest of the nation. Its government, as was to be expected under its peculiar circumstances, was strictly aristocratical, and was in the hands of the same families which had the management of the temple, on which the prosperity of the city and the subsistence of a great part of the inhabitants depended. In early times the chief magistrate bore the title of king, afterwards that of prytanis. But a council of five, who were dignified with a title marking their sanctity, and were chosen from families which traced their origin—possibly through Dorus—to Deucalion, and held their offices for life, conducted the affairs of the oracle.

In Eubœa an aristocracy or oligarchy of wealthy land-owners, who, from the cavalry which they maintained, were called hippobotæ, long prevailed in the two principal cities, Chalcis and Eretria. The great number of colonies which Chalcis sent out, and which attests its early importance, was probably the result of an oligarchical policy. Its constitution appears to have been, in proper terms, a timocracy: a certain amount of property was requisite for a share in the government. Eretria, once similarly governed, seems not to have been at all inferior in strength. She was[189] mistress of several islands, among the rest of Andros, Tenos, and Ceos; and, in the days of her prosperity, could exhibit 600 horsemen, 3000 heavy-armed infantry, and 60 chariots in a sacred procession. Chalcis and Eretria were long rivals, and a tract called the Lelantian plain, which contained valuable copper mines, afforded constant occasion for hostilities. These hostilities were distinguished from the ordinary wars between neighbouring cities by two peculiar features—the singular mode in which they were conducted, and the general interest which they excited throughout Greece. They were regulated, at least in early times, by a compact between the belligerents, which was recorded by a monument in a temple, to abstain from the use of missile weapons. But, while this agreement suggests the idea of a feud like those which we have seen carried on, in an equally mild spirit, between the Megarian townships, we learn with surprise from Thucydides that the war between Eretria and Chalcis divided the whole nation, and that all the Greek states took part with one or the other of the rivals.

It has been suspected that the cause which drew this universal attention to an object apparently of very slight moment was, that the quarrel turned upon political principles; that the oligarchy at Eretria had very early given way to democracy, while that of Chalcis, threatened by this new danger, engaged many states to espouse its cause. We are informed indeed that the Eretrian oligarchy was overthrown by a person named Diagoras, of whom we also hear that he died at Corinth while on his way to Sparta, and that he was honoured with a statue by his countrymen. It is also certain that the oligarchy at Chalcis, though more than once interrupted by a tyranny, was standing till within a few years of the Persian wars. But we do not know when Diagoras lived, and, without stronger evidence, it is difficult to believe that the revolution which he effected took place before the fall of the Athenian aristocracy, an epoch which appears to be too late for the war mentioned by Thucydides.


Thessaly seems, for some time after the conquest, to have been governed by kings of the race of Hercules, who however may have been only chiefs invested with a permanent military command, which ceased when it was no longer required by the state of the country. Under one of these princes, named Aleuas, it was divided into the four districts, Thessaliotis, Pelasgiotis, Pthiotis, and Hestiæotis. And, as this division was retained to the latest period of its political existence, we may conclude that it was not a merely nominal one, but that each district was united in itself, as well as distinct from the rest. As the four Bœotian councils seem to imply that a like division existed in Bœotia, so we may reasonably conjecture that each of the Thessalian districts regulated its internal affairs by some kind of provincial council. But all that we know with certainty is, that the principal cities exercised a dominion over several smaller towns, and that they were themselves the seat of noble families, sprung from the line of the ancient kings, which were generally able to draw the government of the whole nation into their hands. Thus Larissa was subject to the great house of the Aleuadæ, who were considered as descendants of the ancient Aleuas; Crannon and Pharsalus to the Scopadæ and the Creondæ, who were branches of the same stock. The vast estates of these nobles were[190] cultivated, and their countless flocks and herds fed, by their serfs, the Penests, who at their call were ready to follow them into the field on foot or on horseback. They maintained a princely state, drew poets and artists to their courts, and shone in the public games of Greece by their wealth and liberality.

We are not anywhere informed whether there were any institutions which provided for the union of the four districts, and afforded regular opportunities for consultation on their common interests. But, as often as an occasion appeared to require it, the great families were able to bring about the election of a chief magistrate, always of course taken from their own body, whose proper title was that of tagus, but who is sometimes called a king. We know little of the nature of his authority, except that it was probably rather military than civil; nor of its constitutional extent, which perhaps was never precisely ascertained, and depended on the personal character and the circumstances of the individual.

The population of Thessaly, beside the penests, whose condition was nearly that of the Laconian helots, included a large class of free subjects, in the districts not immediately occupied by the Thessalian invaders, who paid a certain tribute for their lands, but, though not admitted to the rights of citizens, preserved their personal liberty unmolested. But above this class stood a third, of the common Thessalians, who, though they could not boast, like the Aleuadæ and the Scopadæ, of a heroic descent, and had therefore received a much smaller portion of the conquered land, still, as the partners of their conquest, might think themselves entitled to some share in the administration of public affairs. Contests seem early to have arisen between this commonalty and the ruling families, and at Larissa the aristocracy of the Aleuadæ was tempered by some institutions of a popular tendency. We do not know indeed to what period Aristotle refers, when he speaks of certain magistrates at Larissa who bore the title of guardians of the freemen, and exercised a superintendence over the admission of citizens, but were themselves elected by the whole body of the people, out of the privileged order, and hence were led to pay their court to the multitude in a manner which proved dangerous to the interests of the oligarchy. It seems not improbable that the election of a tagus, like that of a dictator at Rome, was sometimes used as an expedient for keeping the commonalty under. But the power of the oligarchs was also shaken by intestine feuds; and, under the government of the Aleuadæ, such was the state of parties at Larissa, that, by common agreement, the city was committed to the care of an officer, who was chosen, perhaps from the commonalty, to mediate between the opposite factions; but, being entrusted with a body of troops, made himself master of both. This event took place two generations before the Persian War; but the usurpation appears to have been transitory, and not to have left any durable traces, while the factions of Larissa continue to appear from time to time throughout the whole course of Grecian history.

The western states of Greece are, during this period, shrouded in so complete obscurity, that we cannot pretend to give any account of their condition. With respect to the Ætolians indeed it is uncertain how far they are entitled to the name of Greeks. The Acarnanians, as soon as they begin to take a part in the affairs of Greece, distinguish themselves as a finer and more civilised people; and it is probable that the Corinthian colonies on the Ambracian Gulf may have exerted a beneficial influence on their social progress.b



In the Isthmus of Corinth there is a pillar with a double inscription. On the side facing Peloponnesus is written “Here is Peloponnesus and not Ionia.” On the opposite side, which faced the territory of Megaris, was written, “This is not Peloponnesus but Ionia.” Between the hostile worlds of the Dorians and Ionians, Corinth was as between two stools. Originally, however, the Corinthians favoured the Dorians because they had been conquered by them when Peloponnesus was subjugated under the Heraclids. Corinth took the side of Lacedæmon in the internal quarrels of Greece.

The aristocratic genius of the Dorians without abolishing the ancient royalty, subordinated Corinth. One of the Heraclids was called king. He commanded the army and presided over the debates of this military aristocracy. Later, the oligarchy made this not very powerful king disappear, and kept for itself all the rights of sovereignty. This was at the time of the descendants of Bacchis, the Heraclid.

The Bacchiadæ numbered over two hundred, amongst them being other families with whom they were connected and who governed Corinth together. Each year, one of them, elected by his fellows, exercised under the name Prytanis, a power very much resembling royalty. One day this annual authority fell into the hands of an ambitious man Cypselus, who was not satisfied with his power, and became master, not only of the people but of his equals. This tyranny was followed by that of Periander, son of Cypselus. Periander’s first acts were popular, but a sad occurrence weighed upon his brain and made him cruel. This was found out in Corinth, and from that time Periander, thinking he had nothing more to hope for, gave way to all the bad traits of his character. He banished the most powerful citizens. He killed his wife, Melissa, by a kick in the stomach and then wishing by way of atonement to give her a splendid funeral, he assembled all the women of Corinth in Juno’s Temple, where his guards stripped them of their jewels and clothes which were burnt in honour of Melissa.

However, Periander kept down luxury. He forbade the citizens to keep many slaves, he ordered land-owners to live on their estates in order to cultivate them, he allowed no one to spend more than his income, and he established no new taxes. Last of all, he increased the Corinthian navy and he conceived the idea of piercing the isthmus. These acts were worthy of a statesman. He wrote and composed over two thousand verses with morals. He praised democratic government and said that he himself was a tyrant because he thought it too dangerous to give up being so. He recommended moderation in happiness and that friendship should not change with fortune.

Man’s heart is large enough to have good as well as bad qualities. Besides, to have supreme power over equals was a double spur exciting good as well as bad actions. If the intoxication of power inflamed the senses and passions of the usurper, and defiance had to be met by cruelty, it was in Periander’s interest to give his town all the advantages of good government. Also, as he was clever, he knew how to conciliate the people. Force is always admired and worshipped when it comes from the highest, and protects and spares the weak.

After Periander, who died in his bed, Corinth had an aristocratic government and knew no more the tyranny of a single ruler. The people had an assembly but the direction of the important affairs of state was in the hands of a senate. The aristocracy of Corinth which was rich and prudent in governing, watched with jealous care over maintaining its power and it is[192] due to the energy of one of its number that Corinth escaped from a new tyranny.

Of an illustrious family, Timophanes had become the idol of the people. His audacity, his prowess in warfare, his familiarity with the humblest citizens delighted the multitude and seemed to invite him to take the reins of government into his hands. But Timophanes had near him a severe judge in his brother. This brother, though loving him very much and having for a long time screened or excused his faults, ended by killing him in order that Corinth should not be reduced to servitude. The verses Virgil dedicated to the first of the Brutuses might be applied to Timoleon.

This republican fratricide had the misfortune of being cursed by his mother. He lived twenty years, not in repentance but in solitude, and we shall find him again at Syracuse. Corinth had not only founded that celebrated city in Sicily, she had founded other colonies besides, amongst them Corcyra, with which she was a long time at war, accusing the inhabitants of not paying the respect due to a capital. “Our other colonies love and respect us whilst the Corcyreans are arrogant and unjust, to such a point that they have seized Epidamnus, which belongs to us and which they intend to keep.” These were the complaints Corinth made through her deputies, at Athens, against her colonies. However, in spite of the complaints, the Athenians received the alliance of Epidamnus, which had a powerful navy, and which, in their eyes, had the great advantage of being situated on the way to Italy and Sicily.

This determination not to help Corinth, irritated the Corinthians, whose Dorian origin already made them Athens’ natural enemy, and was one of the decisive causes of the Peloponnesian War. It was at the instigation of Corinth that the Peloponnesians held a kind of congress at Sparta, in which they denounced the ambition and audacity of the Athenians who were born, they said, never to have rest and never to allow anybody else to have any.

Before Athens shone by her eloquence, poetry, and art, Corinth was the centre of Hellenic trade and was the sojourn of pleasure. All the merchandise of Europe and of Asia was imported on payment of duty, and all foreigners flocked there more than they did to any other town of Greece. People came from everywhere, from Egypt as well as from Sicily; but Corinth was a town essentially for rich men—it was the town of Venus. The courtesans were honoured. They had the privilege of offering the public vows to Venus, when the goddess was appealed to in a case of great danger. They it was who asked her to grant the salvation of Greece when that country was invaded by Xerxes. When private people had their prayers granted by the goddess they showed their gratitude by offering her a number of courtesans for her temple. All the countries which traded with Corinth provided these charming priestesses.

At Sparta the glory of women was their patriotism, at Athens their intellect, and at Corinth their beauty. Laïs was the queen of the courtesans and received homage from the most important and serious personages of Greece, from philosophers as well as from politicians. She was in reality a Sicilian, captured when a child by the Athenians and sold to Corinth. But the Corinthians idolised her, and always swore she was born amongst them.

Riches and pleasure! It was to the interest of the Corinthians not to get rid of these women, in order to enjoy life, and this was in itself a guarantee against the rule of a demagogue in the city of Periander and of Timoleon. Pindar can say with great truth in one of his Olympics, “Harmony and good legislation are found in Corinth, also justice and peace.[193] The daughters of the prudent Themis dispense happiness to mankind and watch over their cities.”

This prosperity had a tragic ending. When the Romans triumphed over the Achæan League, Corinth perished miserably. Such lamentable ruin was like the last day of Ilium. Everything condemned the town before the Roman tribunals: its admirable position, the key to the whole of Greece; its riches and works of art, which were placed in the Capitol at Rome.c

Ruins of a Tower of Tithorea, in Phocis

(Near Mt. Parnassus)




Crete was an island, which, from its position, should have dominated over the whole of Greece, as it had for its neighbours the coasts of the Peloponnesus and of Asia. The Cretans were remarkable amongst the Hellenic nations for their institutions, which bore a singular physiognomy. Diodorus describes all the legends relating to the Greek divinities of whom Crete boasted to be the cradle; he then adds that during the generations succeeding the birth of the gods, many heroes lived in the island, the most illustrious of whom were Minos, Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon. These heroes are not truly historic, and an exact place cannot be given to their genius and passions, but at any rate they indicate deeds and customs which have left strong impressions on the lives of men. Antiquity believed that Crete, even from the most ancient period, had good laws which were imitated by many of the peoples of Greece, and above all by the Lacedæmonians.

Before teaching Greece, Crete, for a short time, dominated over her. The Cretans, who were an insular and warlike nation made up chiefly of Pelasgians and Dorians, at an epoch made great by the name of Minos, had a navy with which they were able to take possession of the greater number of the islands belonging to Greece. They also reigned over part of the coast of Asia Minor. They were the guardians of the sea, suppressed the Athenian pirates and made them pay tribute. These pirates had their revenge according to the fable of the Minotaur. The Cretans pushed on as far as Sicily, and it was there, so goes the legend, that Minos was killed by the daughters of King Cocalus, who suffocated their father’s guest in a bath. A few generations later, Crete sent a fleet of eighty vessels against Priam, a new proof of maritime greatness. About the time when the Odyssey was written, this is how Greece imagined the island of Minos: “In the middle of the vast ocean is glorious Crete, a fertile island, where countless men live; there are eighty-six towns,[14] which have each a different language; they are inhabited by the Achæans, the autochthonous Cretans, high-minded heroes, the Cydonians, the Dorians, who are divided into three tribes, and the divine Pelasgi. In the midst of all these people is the beautiful town of Knossos, where Minos reigned, and every nine years had an audience with Jupiter.” Thus is the divine or religious type of legislator formed in the mind of the[195] Greeks and with the double help of time and poetry the name of Minos becomes great.

Crete was as little spared from the revolutions which Thucydides foretold would be one of the results of the Trojan War, as the peculiar state of her soil and customs warranted. The inhabitants, living in a mountainous and divided country, were separated into many cantons, jealous of one another’s independence. In Crete, as in Switzerland, nature prepared republics. For a long time royal power succeeded in preventing the germs of discord from bursting forth; this was in the time of Minos, of Rhadamanthus, and of Sarpedon, when the Cretans were conquerors and masters of the sea and possessed of a legislation inspired by the first of all the gods. Later, everything which had helped to make a sovereign authority gave way, the towns of Crete quarrelled internally and with one another for individual government. This spirit of independence was doubtless encouraged by the presence of the Greeks, who, on their return from Troy, founded colonies on the island. Little by little, royal power, weakened by the absence of the chiefs, who had joined the princes of the Peloponnesus in order to attack Asia, disappeared.

Through what shocks, compromises or transitions, Crete passed from government by kings, to an aristocratic federation, with Knossos, Gortyna, Cydonia, and Lyctus at the head, we know not. All we know is that several generations after the Trojan War the new government had entirely taken the place of the old, though still invoked in the sacred name of Minos. The Cretans thus began the great practice we so often find in ancient days, that of placing the young generations under the protection and genius of the ancients. Man, even with a long line of centuries behind him, is a weak creature, and when he separates from the ancients he adds to his nothingness.

In representing Crete with a federal and aristocratic government, these words must not be taken in their full meaning. It was not the entire establishment of a nation, but attempts at peace and order frequently interrupted by revolutions. This point has often escaped modern writers, especially Montesquieu.

Crete was a fertile chaos, from which Sparta took various principles. But Crete itself could not benefit from them. The reason for the outbreaks was the rivalry between the different towns. When one of them conquered the other, the result was despotism; when they strove one against the other without either getting a decisive advantage, the result was anarchy.

At the head of each town were ten magistrates called cosmes (or cosmoi), taking their name from order itself, and from the necessity of seeing it carried out, for in every town there was always an incorrigible inclination for plotting. The cosmes, who were the forerunners of the Spartan ephori, were chosen, not from all the citizens, but from a small number of families. As they succeeded royal authority they had its powers, they commanded the troops, concluded treaties, and ruled over people and things alike, with an arbitrary power. The Cretan customs were a strange contrast to this despotism, which was the unmistakable remains of sovereignty. When by their conduct the cosmes offended some of their colleagues, they were driven away. When they chose they could also abdicate. Law did not rule, but the will of man, which is not a sure rule. The Cretans had the habit, when they reached the highest point in their quarrels, of returning to a provisional monarchy, in order to facilitate war between them. They lived in the midst of periodical disputes which prevented them from ever forming a great nation.


When the cosmes came to the end of their term of office, which lasted a year, they took a place in the assembly or senate formed of the old men of the city. This was always the custom in antiquity, as in all youthful nations. Thus, experience in life is called in to help govern. The old men who had been cosmes, or had been destined to be so, exercised an irresponsible and life-long authority, deciding all things, not according to written laws but according to their opinions. The decisions of the cosmes and senators were presented to a general assembly where all the citizens met; the assembly only confirmed by vote what was proposed. There were no discussions, a mute acquiescence was alone allowed. The senators and cosmes were the chiefs of that army which had warriors and labourers as body and force. This division into soldiers and labourers was common to the Egyptians and Cretans, according to Aristotle, who traces it back, for the former, to Sesostris and for the latter to Minos, and the ancient discipline, adds Alexander’s tutor, remained especially strong amongst the peasants. Like all ancient nations, the Cretans had slaves, those serving in the country were called chrysonetes and those in the towns amphamiotes. Their usual name was clarotes, because they were divided equally by lot, as they were prisoners of war. At Cydonia, one of the towns of Crete, the slaves had festivals during which they were free and powerful, and could even fight the citizens. Servitude has always provoked orgies.

All the instincts of civilisation began to develop in Crete with great energy. The Cretans did not like inaction, they liked hunting, wrestling, and every kind of exercise. They lived in common and divided the fruits of the earth. These customs and habits were at the bottom of Cretan institutions. The legislators confirmed these customs in certain cases and in others trained or suppressed them. The laws, called the laws of Minos, were never written down, and changed in the course of years.

Let us enter into Lyctus, a town of Crete, and see the everyday life of the people. Each person gave up the tenth of his productions or possessions to help support the society of which he was a member. These contributions were divided amongst all the families of the city by the magistrates. The citizens were divided into little societies; the care of the meals being in the hands of one of the women who directed the work of three or four of the public slaves, each of whom had a water-carrier. In each city there were two public edifices; one devoted to the serving of meals, the other to the shelter of foreigners and strangers. In the building for the meals were two tables, called hospitable tables, where strangers sat. The other tables were for the use of the citizens. An equal portion was given to each, except to the young people, who had only half a portion of meat and touched no other food. A pitcher of wine and water was on each table, from which everybody drank; after the meal another pitcher was placed on the table. The children had one pitcher in which the wine was measured, the old people and men had unlimited wine. The women who presided at the meals chose the choicest pieces for those who had distinguished themselves by their valour or their prudence. After the repast, public affairs were discussed, then great actions were related and those who had been courageous were praised and set up as models to the young.

Warfare was the object of all the institutions. On this point Plato and Aristotle agree. Clinias the Cretan, one of Plato’s interrogators, wished everything to be arranged for warfare; he took trouble to have it understood that without supremacy in battle, riches and culture in art will be of no use, since all the treasures of the defeated pass into the hands of the[197] conqueror. Aristotle remarked that in Crete as in Sparta, and among the Scythians, Persians, Thracians, and Celts, everything led up to warfare—education, laws, customs. In Crete, the men were soldiers living under the same discipline, eating the same food, sharing perils and pleasure, and always ready to march or to fight. They were respected only when they were hardy, vigorous, agile, and quick. Prudence and repose were for old age.

As soon as the children could read, they were taught poems in which the laws were explained, and the elements of music. They were very strictly treated, with a severity which was never changed, no matter what the season. Clothed in rough clothes, they ate on the ground, helping one another and waiting upon the men. When they became older, they formed part of different companies, each one being presided over by a youth chosen from the highest or most powerful families. These young chiefs led the companies out hunting and racing; they had an almost parental authority over their companions and punished the disobedient. On certain days the companies fought against each other; to the sound of the flute and lyre, they attacked each other with their hands or weapons. This drilled them in the art of warfare. The Cretan towns, like other Grecian cities, had public buildings and gymnasiums for corporal exercises, gymnasiums for the mind were added later.

There was a time when the disputes between the different towns were judged by a kind of federal arbitration, but it is doubtful whether the decisions of this tribunal were respected. However, after some civil wars between the towns, arrangements were made, and we find some curious remains in the principal clauses of a treaty between two towns, Hierapolis and Priansus. Each had rights of isopolity and of marriage, of acquiring possessions in each other’s territory, and of having an equal share in all things, divine and human. Those who wanted to reside in the other town could do so and could buy and sell there, lend or borrow money and make any kind of contract according to the laws of both.

Thus without unity and always at war with one another, the Cretans never left their island and took no part in the general affairs of Greece. They refused to enter into the league formed against Darius, giving the excuse that their assisting Menelaus had cost them misfortune, and recalling the conduct of the Greeks who had not hastened to avenge the death of Minos. These were pretexts, but the real cause was the feebleness of the Cretans, too weak and too few to take part in any great enterprise, a weakness which kept Crete always isolated, obscure and selfish. Polybius was indignant at Crete being compared to Lacedæmonia; he compared the equality of wealth and contempt of riches which reigned at Sparta to the avarice of the Cretans who were quite unscrupulous as to their means of becoming rich.

With the exception of the fact that the cosmes were elected yearly, we believe Polybius is wrong in esteeming Crete a democratic state. Power was in the hands of the senate, which was a regular oligarchy. As for the natural faults of the Cretans, which their government rather encouraged than corrected, time succeeded only in making them increase, and it is not astonishing that, at the time that Polybius wrote, they deserved the severe opinion of the historian. It would be unjust not to state with what disfavour the Greeks looked upon them. This insular race that helped no one and was ready to accept the pay of any nation, was hated by the Greeks. The Cretans were called treacherous liars, and it was proverbial that it was permitted to “cretise” with a Cretan.


Crete was renowned for two causes; it was looked upon first as the cradle of the gods, then as the nest of sea-robbers and mercenaries. After having shone at the beginning of Greek civilisation, its development was interrupted before its time. Anarchy unnerved it. The bad reputation of the Cretans at Athens was also due to the jealousy of the Athenians who could never forgive Crete a short supremacy on the sea. When the poets wished to please the Athenians they abused Minos and the Cretans. Nothing is more dangerous to good fame with posterity than to have for enemy a witty nation.b


The scene of Grecian primitive history is practically limited to the countries bordering the Ægean Sea. But in the period which gave rise to the great epic poems the geographical horizon had already begun to expand. In one of the later songs of the Iliad, Egyptian Thebes is mentioned; the songs relating the wanderings of Ulysses speak of the Cimmerians, the original inhabitants of the north coast of the Pontus, and the clear summer nights of the north, of which the Greeks could learn only on this coast. The Telemachus speaks of Libya, beside Egypt, and the latest songs of the Odyssey show an acquaintance with the Siculi and the land of the Sicani. No tradition has preserved the names of the bold explorers who first ventured out into the open sea which phantasy had peopled with all kinds of monsters and fabulous beings, and which, in reality, concealed countless terrors and dangers. Their deeds however lived on in the songs relating the expedition of the Argo and the home-coming of the heroes from Troy.

The settler soon followed the explorer. The need of land had once in a dim antiquity led the Hellenes to the islands of the Ægean Sea and to the western coast of Asia Minor; these regions were now occupied, and whoever found his home too narrow was obliged to seek out more distant lands. Commercial interests played no part in these migrations at first, because there was no industry in Greece to furnish articles for export. People were in search of fertile districts; whether or not good harbours were close at hand was wholly a question of secondary importance. The division of farm lands was consequently the first business of the new settlers; at the beginning of the fifth century the ancient citizens of Syracuse already style themselves “land owners” (γαμόροι). Herein lies the fundamental difference between Grecian and Phœnician colonisation. Every Phœnician settlement was primarily a commercial establishment, which under favourable circumstances might develop into an agricultural colony; the Grecian settlements were originally agricultural colonies out of which, however, in the course of time extensive commercial centres were developed.

The oldest colonial foundations of this time were like those unorganised expeditions which once poured out upon the islands and the shores of Asia Minor. Such were the settlements of the Achæans and Locrians in southern Italy. As the Greeks, however, were continually being forced out to more distant coasts, their colonisation had to take on a different character. The navigation of the islandless sea in the west, or even the journey to Libya and the stormy Pontus, necessitated a degree of seamanship greater than that possessed by the inhabitants of the agricultural coast districts of the Grecian peninsula, from among whom the settlers of the lands across the sea had until then gone forth. Hence Africa, Bœotia, and Argolis ceased to take an independent part in the colonisation movement. In their place arose cities,[199] hardly or not at all mentioned by Homer, which by their advantageous location had come to be centres of navigation; Chalcis and Eretria on the Euripus, the strait which furnishes the most convenient connection between southern Greece and Thessaly; Megara and Corinth on the isthmus, where the two seas which wash the shores of Greece come within a few miles of each other; Rhodes, Lesbos, and other islands of the Ægean Sea; finally the Ionian coast towns, especially Miletus. Not that all the colonists, who went out from here to seek new homes on distant shores were actually at home in these cities. On the contrary, these cities were only gathering places whither streamed the emigrants from the surrounding regions—all those who found no chance to advance in their old homes or who were driven abroad by love of adventure or by dissatisfaction with political conditions. But the cities, from which the colonising expeditions went out, organised the undertaking; they provided leaders and ships and their institutions served as models for the colonies.

Once founded, however, the colonies were, as a rule, wholly independent of the mother-city. The relation between them was like that between a father and his grown son in Grecian law. The citizen of the mother-city was always respected in the colony; and the colony, on the other hand, could always count on finding support with the mother-city in case of a difficult crisis. That the colony, moreover, remained in especially active intercourse with its mother-city lay in the nature of this colonial relationship; and in the course of time the colonies became the surest supports for the commerce of the mother-city and the best markets for the productions of its industrial activity.

In consequence the recollection of this relationship was kept alive for a long time. But the circumstances which gave rise to the foundation of all the colonies earlier than the sixth century, remain veiled in the darkness of tradition. Historical records were as yet far removed from this period, and the dates of foundations which have been handed down to us are based wholly upon calculations according to generations or upon suppositions of even less value. Such accounts can at the most give us only approximate clews and must in each single instance be compared with other traditions. Only so much is certain that in the first half of the seventh century the settlement of the southern coast of Thrace was in full progress and the Hellenes had already established themselves upon the gulf of Tarentum.

No other field offered the Grecian colonists such favourable conditions as the coasts of Italy and Sicily, beyond the Ionic Sea. Situated in the same latitude as the mother-land, these countries have a climate very similar to that of Greece.

Intercourse between the two shores existed at an early date. Fragments of vases in the Mycenæan style have been found in Messapia, and the pre-Hellenic necropolis in eastern Sicily shows traces of a civilisation which is partially under Mycenæan influence. It even appears that in pre-historic times immigrations from the Balkan peninsula into Italy already took place by way of Otranto. At least it is related that the Chones once dwelt on the western coast of the gulf of Tarentum; and the similarity of names between these people and the Epirot Chaones, the inhabitants of the region about the Acroceraunian promontory, can hardly be accidental. Perhaps this is connected with the fact that the Italici designate the Hellenes as Græci, since the Græci are said to have been an Epirot tribe, which in historic times had wholly disappeared.

Be that as it may, the Hellenes had at all events taken possession of the eastern coast of the present Calabria, during the course of the eighth, or at[200] latest at the beginning of the seventh century. The new settlers called themselves Achæans and thought they were descended from the Achæans in the Peloponnesus. As a matter of fact their dialect is closely related to the Argolian. The Chones of Italy have since disappeared from history, and have probably been merged into one people with the Achæans.

The new home was called Italia, after a branch of the original population which disappeared at an early date, and this name was gradually extended over the whole peninsula clear to the Alps. The land offered a boundless field for Hellenic activity, and the realisation of that fact found expression in the name Greater Hellas, which arose in the colonial territory across the Ionian Sea in about the sixth century, in contrast to the crowded condition of the too thickly populated mother-land. This may have been hyperbole, but it was in a sense justified by the brilliant development of the Achæan settlements. The coasts of the gulf of Tarentum became covered with a circle of flourishing cities. In the north at the mouth of the Bradanus was Metapontum, which bore on its armour the speaking device of an ear of corn; then came Siris in the fruitful plain at the mouth of the river of the same name, which, to the poet Archilochus appeared an ideal place for a colony; further south where Crathis empties into the sea, was Sybaris, whose wealth and luxury soon became proverbial. In close rivalry with Sybaris stood Croton, situated near the promontory of Lacinium, on the top of which the new settlers founded the temple of Hera, the queen of heaven, which became the chief sanctuary for the Greeks of Italy. One column of the building is still standing, a signal for ships, and can be seen from afar over the blue waters of the Ionian Sea. Finally, far to the south at Cape Stilo was Caulonia, the last of the Achæan settlements.

The Achæans soon penetrated also into the interior and through the narrow peninsula to the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Sybaris founded here the colonies of Scidrus and Laos, and, further north, on the lower Silarus, Posidonia [afterwards Pæstum], whose temple to-day arises in solemn majesty from out its desolate surroundings, the most beautiful monument of Grecian architecture which has been preserved on the western side of the Ionian Sea. Pyxus [afterwards Buxentum], between Posidonia and Laos, is probably a colony from Siris, which was directly opposite it on the Ionian Sea, and was later closely associated with it. Croton founded Pandosia in the upper valley of the Crathis, and Terina and Scylletium (Scylacium) on the isthmus of Catanzaro where the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas approach to within a few miles of each other. The Achæans now controlled the whole region from the Bradanus and Silarus southward to the gulf of Terina and the gulf of Scylletium, an area of fifteen thousand square kilometres.

The Achæans were soon followed by the Locrians, who lived opposite them on the gulf of Corinth. They founded a new Locri, south of the Achæan settlements not far from the Zephyrian promontory. This city also soon became rich and powerful, so that its territory was extended to the west coast of the peninsula, where it established the colonies Hipponium and Medma.

In the meantime the inhabitants of eastern Greece had begun to direct their gaze to the newly discovered lands in the west—first of all the Chalcidians, the bravest men in Hellas, as they are called in an old proverb. Since the coast of the gulf of Tarentum was already occupied, they sailed further, to Sicily the land famed in fable as the home of the Cyclops and Læstrygones. These were no longer to be found there, but instead a people of Italic race, the Siceli, or the Sicani, as they were called in the western[201] part of the island, a brave and warlike people, but with no national unity so that they were unable successfully to oppose the invaders. Here, at the foot of the lofty snow pyramid of Ætna, the Chalcidians founded Naxos, their first settlement and the first Hellenic town on Sicilian soil. In gratitude to the god, Apollo Archegetes, who had brought them over the sea in safety, the settlers erected an altar. Later on, when Sicily had become an Hellenic land, all those who were setting sail to attend the festivals in the mother-land used to sacrifice at this place.

From Naxos the Chalcidians soon took possession of the surrounding region. In the south they founded Catane, Leontini, Callipolis, Eubœa; in the north, on the strait which separates Sicily from Italy, they built Zancle, the later Messana, or Messina, and opposite this on the mainland Rhegium was established. Here the wide Tyrrhenian Sea was open to the Hellenes. The precipitous western coast of the Calabria of to-day and the waterless Liparæan Islands were not indeed attractive to settlers, but on the small island Pithecusa (Ischia), off the coast of the Osci, was the most favourable spot a colonist could wish—the soil being luxuriantly fertile and at the same time secure from hostile attacks. Thus the Calcidians established themselves here at an early date, perhaps in the eighth century. Soon they ventured over to the near-lying continent, and on the steep trachyte cliff, upon the flat, wave-beaten shore of the gulf of Gæta, they founded Cumæ, so called from a place [Cyme] in the old Eubœan home-land.

Neapolis, the “new city” was colonised from here in about the year 600, while Samian fugitives settled at Dicæarchia [afterwards Puteoli], in close proximity to Cumæ (in 527). The second large island of the Neapolitan Bay, Capreæ must also have been settled by Chalcidians, since we find a Hellenic population there even in the period of the empire.

Cumæ is the most extreme westerly point of Italy which the Chalcidians, and indeed the Hellenes as a whole, ever possessed. It has always remained, as it was first established, the most advanced frontier post, and the continuous territory of Grecian colonisation in Italy ends at the Silarus. A similar position was occupied on the southern shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea by Himera, which was colonised from Messana in about the year 650, and was the only Grecian city on the northern coast of Sicily. Chalcidian colonisation in the west came to an end with this settlement.

The example given by Chalcis was soon imitated. The Corinthians in the eighth century still occupied the rich island of Corcyra and likewise turned their steps to Sicily. Since the region around Ætna and the strait was already occupied by Chalcidians, they went further south and established the colony of Syracuse upon the small island of Ortygia, in the most beautiful harbour on the eastern coast of Sicily. This colony was destined to become the metropolis of the Grecian west. The real colonising activity of Corinth, however, was directed chiefly towards the northwestern part of the Grecian peninsula. In the course of the eighth century a dense circle of Corinthian and Corintho-Corcyræan settlements grew up here: among them Chalcis and Molycrium in Ætolia at the entrance to the bay of Corinth.

Like Corinth, its neighbour city Megara began at an early date to take part in the colonisation of Sicily. A new Megara arose here, between Syracuse and the Chalcidian Leontini, professedly in the eighth century, at any rate before Syracuse had acquired much importance and had begun to found colonies of its own. Its powerful neighbours made it impossible for the city to expand towards the interior and thus the Megarians were obliged to go further west, when their territory became too cramped for them at home.[202] They founded Selinus, not far from the most western point of the island on the coast of the Libyan Sea, at about the same time that the Chalcidians laid out Himera on the opposite coast (about 650). On account of the fertility of the district the new colony soon reached a high grade of prosperity and established on its own account a number of settlements, such as Minoa, near the mouth of the Halycus (Platani) so called from the little island of like name in the old Grecian home.

Of the other states of the Grecian mother-land only Sparta took part in the settlement of the west. Inner disturbances which broke out after the conquest of Messenia are said to have caused a portion of the conquered party to leave their home. The emigrants set sail for Iapygia and established there, upon the only good harbour on the southeast coast of Italy, the colony of Tarentum (700 B.C.). Two centuries later, shortly before the Persian wars, the Spartans made an attempt to establish themselves in the west.

Sicily and Italy were too far out of the way for the Asiatic Greeks, and they consequently held almost entirely aloof from any colonising expeditions thither. Rhodes was an exception. At the beginning of the seventh century its citizens, together with the Cretans, established the colony of Gela, on the fertile depression at the mouth of the Gela, which was the first Grecian city on the south coast of Sicily. About a century later (in 580) this city colonised Agrigentum, which is situated farther to the west on a steep height commanding a broad outlook, not far from the sea. This filled the gap which had been left in the row of Grecian cities between Gela and Selinus. At about the same time Rhodians and Cnidians under the leadership of the Heraclid Pentathlus, tried to find a footing on the most extreme west point of Sicily, on the promontory of Lilybæum. But the Hellenes were here successfully opposed by the Elymi, the original inhabitants of this part of the island, and by the citizens of the neighbouring Phœnician colony of Motya. The new settlers and their Selinuntine allies were beaten; Pentathlus himself fell, and the remainder of his people were forced to take refuge on the barren Liparæan Islands, which were thus won for the Grecians.

The distant west had been opened up to Grecian commerce even before this. It is said to have been a Samian sailor, Colœus by name, who, on a journey to Egypt, being carried out of his way by a storm off the Libyan coast, was the first to reach Tartessus, the rich silver-land, lying near the Pillars of Hercules (600 B.C.) At about the same time Ionic Phocæans founded the colony of Massalia not far from the mouth of the Rhodanus. This soon became a centre for the commerce of these regions and extended its influence far into the Celtic interior. From here the Phocæans advanced along the Iberian coast to Tartessus, where they entered into friendly relations with the natives and established the colony of Mænaca, which was the most westerly point the Hellenes ever held. The Phocæans settled also on Cyrnus (Corsica). In 565 they founded Alalia on the east coast of the island. When Ionia was forced to succumb to the Persians after the fall of Sardis (545) a large portion of the citizens of Phocæa left their homes and turned to their tribal kinsmen in Alalia, which thus grew from a mere mercantile settlement into a powerful city.

These results, however, were for the most part of short duration. The Phœnicians reached the western Mediterranean at the same time with the Hellenes, perhaps somewhat earlier even. The northern coast of Libya from Syrtis Major to the Pillars of Hercules was covered with a line of their settlements, among which Carthage attained the first place in the course of time, owing to the advantage of its incomparable location. It was not long[203] before they crossed over to the islands lying opposite Africa. They occupied Melita (Malta) and Gaulos (Gozzo), and founded Motya, Panormus, and Solus in west Sicily, probably during the seventh century. Here the Greeks formed a barrier preventing their further expansion. The Phœnicians, however, could spread themselves upon Sardinia without hindrance, since the Greeks, although they may have planned to settle there, never went seriously about it. In this way a succession of Phœnician settlements grew up along the south and west coast of the island—Caralis, Nora, Sulci, Tharrus and others. The Pityusæ are said to have been colonised from Carthage in the year 654-653 B.C. The Phœnicians had already reached the silver-land of Tartessus in the eighth century. Their chief point of support in this region was Gades, situated on a small island beyond the Pillars of Hercules on the edge of the ocean.

A hostile encounter with the Hellenes could now no longer be avoided and it seems to have been the danger which threatened the Phœnicians from this side which led their scattered settlements to unite into a single state with Carthage as its centre, or at any rate materially assisted Carthage in her work of unification. Above all it was necessary to drive out the Phœnicians from their newly won position on Corsica. The Phœnicians were aided in their attempt by the Etruscans, who, as bold pirates, had long beforehand made themselves feared by the Greeks, and regarded the Phocæan settlements so near their coasts with no less anxiety than the Phœnicians themselves. The Phocæans could not withstand the attack of the two peoples, who were the most skilful navigators in the western Mediterranean. They were indeed victorious in an open sea fight, but they endured such severe losses that they were obliged to give up Alalia. They next turned to south Italy and established there the colony of Hyele, between Pyxus and Posidonia. Massalia was now isolated and thrown upon its own resources. The distant Mænaca could consequently be maintained no longer, and Carthage won undisputed possession of Tartessus. But within its narrow range of power Massalia victoriously resisted all attacks of the Phœnicians, and the final result was that a sort of dividing line was established between the two cities. Massaliot influence was preponderant north of the promontory of Artemisium (cape of Nao); Carthaginian, south of it, on the east coast of Iberia.

Cyrnus came under Etruscan influence after the withdrawal of the Phocæans. The Etruscans, it appears, had already taken possession of the fertile plain on the lower Vulturnus and had established there a number of settlements, whose centre was at Capua. They now proceeded to attack Hellenic Cumæ (presumably in 524). Here, however, the superior military skill of the Greeks won the victory, and the latter were able to defend the Latin cities, which were friendly to them, from being brought into subjection by the Etruscans. The strength of Cumæ, however, was not sufficient to keep up the unequal fight for long and it was due only to the intervention of the Syracusans that Hellenism maintained itself here until the end of the fifth century.

Nearly contemporaneously with the beginnings of colonisation in the west the Hellenes began to spread toward the north and southeast. The Chalcidians again took the first place. Opposite Eubœa a long peninsula projects from the north into the Ægean Sea, which, on account of the numerous indentations of its coast, as well as the fertility of its soil, invited settlement. A long succession of Grecian colonial towns grew up here, the most of which were founded from Chalcis; hence the name Chalcidice, which the peninsula bore in later times. The Corinthians followed the Chalcidians[204] here, just as they had done in the west. On the narrow isthmus joining the peninsula of Pallene with the main body of Chalcidice they founded the colony of Potidæa (in 600) which remained the most important city of this region until the time of the Peloponnesian War. The original Thracian population maintained itself only on the rugged slopes of Athos.

Further east, in the first half of the seventh century, the Parians took possession of the mountainous island of Thasos, which at that time was still covered with a thick primeval forest. The new settlers soon crossed over to the near-lying mainland, where they established a number of commercial stations, as Œsyma and Galepsus, which had to maintain themselves through long struggles with the warlike Thracian tribes. Opposite Thasos, on the fruitful plain between Nestus and Lake Bistonis, the Clazomenæans founded Abdera in 651, but they could not long maintain themselves against the attacks of the Thracians. Colonists from Teos, who emigrated after the conquest of Ionia by the Persians (545) and took possession of the deserted place, were more successful; Abdera now became the most important city on this whole coast and also took an active part in the intellectual life of the nation.

Lesbos and Tenedos were for a long time the most advanced posts of the Hellenic world toward the northeast. Not until the eighth century do the inhabitants of these islands appear to have succeeded in taking possession of the south of Troas, from the wooded slopes of Ida to the entrance to the Hellespont. None of the numerous settlements founded here, however, became very important. The Lesbians then went further and crossed over to the European shore of the Hellespont, where they built Sestus at the narrowest point of the strait and Alopeconnesus on the northern coast of the Thracian Chersonesus. Ænus, at the mouth of the mighty Hebrus, the principal river of Thrace, was also colonised by Mytileneans. The further expansion of the Greeks on this coast was arrested by the warlike tribes of Thrace.

The Lesbians were soon followed by the Milesians. In 670 they established Abydos, opposite Sestus, and at about the same time (675) founded Cyzicus on the isthmus connecting the mountainous peninsula of Arcotonnesus with the Asiatic mainland. Other Ionian cities also took part in the colonisation of these regions. Lampsacus was colonised from Phocæa (651); Elæus from Teos; Myrlea from Colophon; Perinthus from Samos (600).

The Milesians also advanced into the Pontus at an early date. It was due to them that this sea, which, with its inhospitable shores peopled by wild barbarians, had been the terror of Grecian mariners, became known as “the hospitable sea” (Pontos Euxinos), with which few other regions could compare in importance for Grecian commerce. Miletus is said to have founded in all no less than ninety colonies on the coasts of the Hellespont and Pontus. In 630 Milesians built Sinope not far from the mouth of the Halys, which soon grew to be the most important emporium in this region, and founded in its turn a number of colonies, as Cotyora, Trapezus, and Cerasus. The Milesians, however, turned their attention especially to the northwest and north coasts of the Pontus, which were to become the principal granaries of Greece. After the middle of the seventh century a large number of Milesian colonies grew up here. The first was Istrus south of the mouth of the Danube, said to have been founded in 656; a few years later (644) Olbia, at the mouth of the Borysthenes near its junction with the Hypanis (Bug); then in the first half of the sixth century on the east coast of Thrace, Apollonia, Odessus, and Tomis; further on Tyras at the[205] mouth of the river of like name (Dniester) and Theodosia on the south coast of the Crimea. The Hellenic settlements were especially frequent in the Cimmerian Bosporus, the highway uniting the Pontus with the sea of Mæotis. Nymphæum and the Milesian colony of Panticapæum, the later capital of the Bosporian kingdom, arose here on the western shore; opposite, on the Asiatic shore, was Phanagorea, founded from Teos. Finally, Tanais was founded at the mouth of the Don, the most northerly point ever occupied by the Greeks.

The Megarians had begun to establish themselves on the Propontis at about the same time with the Milesians. In 675 they founded Chalcedon at the entrance to the Thracian Bosporus, and seventeen years later, Byzantium, on the opposite European shore. Selymbria, neighbouring Byzantium on the west, and Astacus, at the most easterly point of the Propontis, not far from the site of the later Nicomedia, were Megarian colonies. The Megarians, however, penetrated into the Pontus itself, at a comparatively late date. Their first colony here was Heraclea, founded in association with Bœotian settlers in the year 550, in the land of the Mariandyni, about two hundred kilometres from the outlet of the Bosporus. From there Mesembria and Callatis were colonised on the east coast of Thrace, and Chersonesus, on the southern point of the Tauric peninsula, near the present Sebastopol.

All of these Grecian towns, however, remained with few exceptions isolated points in the midst of the original population of barbarians. An actual hellenising of the country as in Sicily and lower Italy was never accomplished. This was largely due to the configuration of the Pontine coast, which with the exception of the Crimea has no indentations, so that the Grecian colonies had no way to protect themselves against the attacks of the tribes from the interior. Besides, the winter climate of the regions north of the Pontus was very raw. The Greeks could not feel happy in a land where the vine and olive tree grew only in sheltered places, and only the bitterest necessity or the prospect of great commercial gain could cause them to leave their sunny home-land for such a country. Thus the Grecian cities on the Pontus never became very populous; there was not one among them to compare with Sybaris, Taras, Acragas, to say nothing of Syracuse. Condemned to a continual struggle for existence, the Greeks here had no leisure for the cultivation of higher interests. It is remarkable how poor the Pontine colonies have been in intellectual greatness. Their rôle in history has practically been confined to providing the mother-land with grain, salted fish, and other such raw products. Only once, when the rest of the nation had already fallen under foreign dominion, did they take an active part in great political events. The last battle for Grecian liberty was fought with their forces, but he who led the fight was a hellenised barbarian king.

Although the Hellenes had been able to expand on the Italian, Sicilian, and Pontine coasts with almost no hindrance, Grecian colonisation met an insurmountable obstacle in the old civilised lands on the southeastern shores of the Mediterranean, with their dense populations. In Syria the Hellenes did not attempt a settlement; they were not even able to drive the Phœnicians out of Cyprus. Indeed, when the Assyrian king Sargon conquered Syria at the end of the eighth century, the Greeks on Cyprus thought it advisable to recognise his supremacy, at least nominally, and this relation continued under his successors until Asshurbanapal. Later, after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, the island came under Egyptian rule. Sargon’s son Sennacherib (705-681) repulsed an attempt of the Greeks to settle on the[206] Cilician plain. The warlike tribes of rough Cilicia and Lycia also succeeded in keeping the Greeks at a distance from their coasts, or at least prevented their further expansion. Phaselis, founded by the Rhodians on the western shore of the gulf of Pamphylia in 700, remained the last Grecian colony in the south of Asia Minor.

The rich valley of the Nile attracted Grecian pirates at an early period, the more so as the political divisions of the country in the eighth and first half of the seventh century rendered an effective resistance impossible. The superior military ability of these pirates finally caused Psamthek, the ruler of Saïs, to hire them as mercenaries. With their aid he got the upper hand over the other sectional princes and freed Egypt from the Assyrian yoke (about 660-645). From that time forward, Greeks formed the kernel of the Egyptian army, and although the Nile valley was now closed to piracy, it was, on the other hand, open to Greek commerce. The Milesians founded a colony on the Bolbitinic mouth of the Nile, below Saïs; somewhat later a number of Greek mercantile settlements grew up at Naucratis, not far from the Canopic mouth of the Nile, to which King Aahmes granted rights of corporation. The city soon grew to be the chief commercial emporium of Egypt and in the sixth century occupied, on a small scale, a position like that of the later Alexandria. In the course of time the Greeks would without doubt have become rulers of the country, but the Persian conquest retarded their development for fully a century and put a limit to the further expansion of Hellenism.

The route from Greece to Egypt was usually by way of Crete in a southerly direction to the coast of Libya. This is the narrowest part of the eastern Mediterranean, and the stretch of open sea to be crossed measures hardly three hundred kilometers, about the same as the width of the Ægean Sea. The need soon began to be felt of having a station at the place where land was first touched again. Thus in 630 Greeks from Thera settled upon the small island of Platea, which is situated off the Libyan shore at precisely this point. After a few years the colonists felt strong enough to cross over to the mainland. At a short distance from the coast, where the high tableland of the interior slopes down to the sea, they founded the city of Cyrene. The fertility of the soil and the trade in the aromatic plant silphion, which is here indigenous and was highly prized by the Greeks, assured prosperity to the newcomers. The Libyan tribes living in the neighbourhood were subdued and an attack of the Egyptian king Apries [Uah-ab-Ra] was successfully repulsed (570). A short time later Barca was founded (550) on the heights of the plateau west of Cyrene, and Teuchira and Hesperides on the coast. Carthage prevented a further extension toward the west, and Egypt toward the east, and consequently Cerenaica remained the only district on the south coast of the Mediterranean, which was colonised by Hellenes.

Thus in the course of two centuries the Ionian Sea, the Propontis, and the Pontus had become Grecian seas, and Grecian colonies had arisen in Egypt as well as in Libya, on the west coast of Italy, and in the land of the Celts as far as distant Iberia. The nation had grown out of the narrow limits in which till then its history had been enacted. Greek influence was henceforth predominant within the entire circumference of the Mediterranean. The reaction of this on Grecian life was manifest in all its phases.c


[14] [Recent excavations have tended to confirm the existence of Crete’s boasted hundred cities.]




[594-593 B.C.]

It is on the occasion of Solon’s legislation that we obtain our first glimpse—only a glimpse, unfortunately—of the actual state of Attica and its inhabitants. It is a sad and repulsive picture, presenting to us political discord and private suffering combined.

Violent dissensions prevailed among the inhabitants of Attica, who were separated into three factions—the pedicis, or men of the plain, comprising Athens, Eleusis, and the neighbouring territory, among whom the greatest number of rich families were included; the mountaineers in the east and north of Attica, called diacrii, who were on the whole the poorest party; and the paralii in the southern portion of Attica from sea to sea, whose means and social position were intermediate between the two. Upon what particular points these intestine disputes turned we are not distinctly informed; they were not however peculiar to the period immediately preceding the archontate of Solon; they had prevailed before, and they reappear afterwards prior to the despotism of Pisistratus, the latter standing forward as the leader of the diacrii, and as champion, real or pretended, of the poorer population.

But in the time of Solon these intestine quarrels were aggravated by something much more difficult to deal with—a general mutiny of the poorer population against the rich, resulting from misery combined with oppression. The Thetes, whose condition we have already contemplated in the poems of Homer and Hesiod, are now presented to us as forming the bulk of the population of Attica—the cultivating tenants, metayers, and small proprietors of the country. They are exhibited as weighed down by debts and dependence, and driven in large numbers out of a state of freedom into slavery—the whole mass of them (we are told) being in debt to the rich, who were proprietors of the greater part of the soil. They had either borrowed money for their own necessities, or they tilled the lands of the rich as dependent tenants, paying a stipulated portion of the produce, and in this capacity they were largely in arrear.

All the calamitous effects were here seen of the old harsh law of debtor and creditor,—once prevalent in Greece, Italy, Asia, and a large portion of the world,—combined with the recognition of slavery as a legitimate status, and of the right of one man to sell himself as well as that of another man to buy him. Every debtor unable to fulfil his contract was liable to be adjudged as the slave of his creditor until he could find means either of paying or working it out; and not only he himself, but his minor sons and unmarried daughters and sisters also, whom the law gave him the power of selling. The poor man thus borrowed upon the security of his body, to translate literally the Greek phrase, and upon that of the persons in his family;[208] and so severely had these oppressive contracts been enforced, that many debtors had been reduced from freedom to slavery in Attica itself, many others had been sold for exportation, and some had only hitherto preserved their own freedom by selling their children. Moreover, a great number of the smaller properties in Attica were under mortgage, signified, according to the formality usual in the Attic law, and continued down throughout the historical times, by a stone pillar erected on the land, inscribed with the name of the lender and the amount of the loan. The proprietors of these mortgaged lands, in case of an unfavourable turn of events, had no other prospect except that of irremediable slavery for themselves and their families, either in their own native country, robbed of all its delights, or in some barbarian region where the Attic accent would never meet their ears. Some had fled the country to escape legal adjudication of their persons, and earned a miserable subsistence in foreign parts by degrading occupations. Upon several, too, this deplorable lot had fallen by unjust condemnation and corrupt judges; the conduct of the rich, in regard to money sacred and profane, in regard to matters public as well as private, being thoroughly unprincipled and rapacious.

The manifold and long-continued suffering of the poor under this system, plunged into a state of debasement not more tolerable than that of the Gallic plebs—and the injustices of the rich in whom all political power was then vested—are facts well attested by the poems of Solon himself, even in the short fragments preserved to us, and it appears that immediately preceding the time of his archonship, the evils had ripened to such a point and the determination of the mass of sufferers, to extort for themselves some mode of relief, had become so pronounced that the existing laws could no longer be enforced. According to the profound remark of Aristotle, that seditions are generated by great causes but out of small incidents, we may conceive that some recent events had occurred as immediate stimulants to the outbreak of the debtors—like those which lend so striking an interest to the early Roman annals, as the inflaming sparks of violent popular movements for which the train had long before been laid. Condemnations by the archons of insolvent debtors may have been unusually numerous, or the maltreatment of some particular debtor, once a respected freeman, in his condition of slavery, may have been brought to act vividly upon the public sympathies—like the case of the old plebeian centurion at Rome (first impoverished by the plunder of the enemy, then reduced to borrow, and lastly adjudged to his creditor as an insolvent), who claimed the protection of the people in the forum, rousing their feelings to the highest pitch by the marks of the slave-whip visible on his person. Some such incidents had probably happened, though we have no historians to recount them; moreover it is not unreasonable to imagine, that that public mental affliction which the purifier Epimenides had been invoked to appease, as it sprung in part from pestilence, so it had its cause partly in years of sterility, which must of course have aggravated the distress of the small cultivators. However this may be, such was the condition of things in 594 B.C., through mutiny of the poor freemen and Thetes, and uneasiness of the middling citizens, that the governing oligarchy, unable either to enforce their private debts or to maintain their political power, were obliged to invoke the well-known wisdom and integrity of Solon. Though his vigorous protest (which doubtless rendered him acceptable to the mass of the people) against the iniquity of the existing system, had already been proclaimed in his poems, they still hoped that he would serve as an auxiliary to help them over their difficulties, and[209] they therefore chose him, nominally as archon along with Philombrotus, but with power in substance dictatorial.b

For the life of Solon we can do no better than turn to Plutarch, keeping the very translation, by North, that Shakespeare read, but modernising the spelling.


[ca. 638-558 B.C.]

He was of the noblest and most ancient house of the city of Athens. For of his father’s side, he was descended of King Codrus: and for his mother, Heraclides Ponticus writeth, she was cousin-german unto Pisistratus’ mother. For this cause even from the beginning there was great friendship between them, partly for their kindred, and partly also for the courtesy and beauty of Pisistratus, with whom it is reported Solon on a time was in love. But Solon’s father (as Hermippus writeth) having spent his goods in liberality, and deeds of courtesy, though he might easily have been relieved at divers men’s hands with money, he was yet ashamed to take any, because he came of a house which was wont rather to give and relieve others, than to take themselves: so being yet a young man, he devised to trade merchandise. Howbeit others say, that Solon travelled countries, rather to see the world, and to learn, than to traffic, or gain. For sure he was very desirous of knowledge, as appeareth manifestly: for that being now old, he commonly used to say this verse:

“I grow old learning still.”

Also he was not covetously bent, nor loved riches too much: for he said in one place:

“Whoso hath goods, and gold enough at call,
Great herds of beasts, and flocks in many a fold;
Both horse and mule, yea, store of corn and all
That may content each man above the mould:
No richer is, for all those heaps and hoards,
Than he which hath sufficiently to feed
And clothe his corpse with such as God affords.
But if his joy and chief delight do breed,
For to behold the fair and heavenly face
Of some sweet wife, which is adorned with grace:
Or else some child, of beauty fair and bright,
Then hath he cause (indeed) of deep delight.”

And in another place also he saith:

“Indeed I do desire some wealth to have at will:
But not unless the same be got by faithful dealing still.
For sure who so desires by wickedness to thrive,
Shall find that justice from such goods will justly him deprive.”

Solon learned to be lavish in expense, to fare delicately, and to speak wantonly of pleasures in his poems, somewhat more licentiously than became the gravity of a philosopher: only because he was brought up in the trade of merchandise, wherein for that men are marvellous subject to great losses and dangers, they seek other whiles good cheer to drive these cares away, and liberty to make much of themselves. Poetry at the beginning he used but for pleasure, and when he had leisure, writing no matter of importance in his verses. Afterwards he set out many grave matters of[210] philosophy, and the most part of such things as he had devised before, in the government of a commonweal, which he did not for history or memory’s sake, but only of a pleasure to discourse: for he showeth the reasons of that he did, and in some places he exhorteth, chideth, and reproveth the Athenians. And some affirm also he went about to write his laws and ordinances in verse, and do recite his preface, which was this:

“Vouchsafe, O mighty Jove, of heaven and earth high king:
To grant good fortune to my laws and hests in everything.
And that their glory grow in such triumphant wise,
As may remain in fame for aye, which lives and never dies.”
[594-590 B.C.]

He chiefly delighted in moral philosophy, which treated of government and commonweals: as the most part of the wise men did of those times. But for natural philosophy, he was very gross and simple. So in effect there was none but Thales alone of all the seven wise men of Greece, who searched further the contemplation of things in common use among men, than he. For setting him apart, all the others got the name of wisdom, only for their understanding in matters of State and government. It is reported that they met on a day all seven together in the city of Delphes, and another time in the city of Corinth, where Periander got them together at a feast that he made to the other six.

Anacharsis being arrived at Athens, went to knock at Solon’s gate, saying that he was a stranger which came of purpose to see him, and to desire his acquaintance and friendship. Solon answered him, that it was better to seek friendship in his own country. Anacharsis replied again: “Thou then that art at home, and in thine own country, begin to show me friendship.” Then Solon wondering at his bold ready wit, entertained him very courteously: and kept him a certain time in his house, and made him very good cheer, at the self-same time wherein he was most busy in governing the commonweal, and making laws for the state thereof. Which when Anacharsis understood, he laughed at it, to see that Solon imagined with written laws, to bridle men’s covetousness and injustice. “For such laws,” said he, “do rightly resemble the spider’s cobwebs: because they take hold of little flies and gnats which fall into them, but the rich and mighty will break and run through them at their will.” Solon answered him, that men do justly keep all covenants and bargains which one makes with another, because it is to the hindrance of either party to break them: and even so, he did so temper his laws, that he made his citizens know, it was more for their profit to obey law and justice, than to break it. Nevertheless afterwards, matters proved rather according to Anacharsis’ comparison, than agreeable to the hope that Solon had conceived. Anacharsis being by hap one day in a common assembly of the people at Athens, said that he marvelled much, why in the consultations and meetings of the Grecians, wise men propounded matters, and fools did decide them.

The Athenians, having sustained a long and troublesome war against the Megarians, for the possession of the isle of Salamis, were in the end weary of it, and made proclamation straightly commanding upon pain of death, that no man should presume to prefer any more to the counsel of the city, the title or question of the possession of the isle of Salamis. Solon could not bear this open shame, and seeing the most part of the lustiest youths desirous still of war, though their tongues were tied for fear of the proclamation; he feigned himself to be out of his wits, and caused it to be given out that Solon was become a fool; and secretly he had made certain[211] lamentable verses, which he had conned without book, to sing abroad the city. So one day he ran suddenly out of his house with a garland on his head, and got him to the market-place, where the people straight swarmed like bees about him: and getting him up upon the stone where all proclamations are usually made out he singeth the elegies he had made.

This elegy is entitled Salamis, and containeth an hundred verses, which are excellently well written. And these being sung openly by Solon at that time, his friends incontinently praised them beyond measure, and especially Pisistratus: and they went about persuading the people that were present, to credit that he spake. Hereupon the matter was so handled amongst them, that by and by the proclamation was revoked, and they began to follow the wars with greater fury than before, appointing Solon to be general in the same.

But the common tale and report is, that he went by sea with Pisistratus unto the temple of Venus, surnamed Colias: where he found all the women at a solemn feast and sacrifice, which they made of custom to the goddess. He taking occasion thereby, sent from thence a trusty man of his own unto the Megarians, which then had Salamis: whom he instructed to feign himself a revolted traitor, and that he came of purpose to tell them, that if they would but go with him, they might take all the chief ladies and gentlewomen of Athens on a sudden. The Megarians easily believed him, and shipped forthwith certain soldiers to go with him. But when Solon perceived the ship under sail coming from Salamis, he commanded the women to depart, and instead of them he put lusty beardless springalls into their apparel, and gave them little short daggers to convey under their clothes, commanding them to play and dance together upon the seaside, until their enemies were landed, and their ship at anchor; and so it came to pass. For the Megarians being deceived by that they saw afar off, as soon as ever they came to the shore side did land in heaps, one in another’s neck, even for greediness, to take these women: but not a man of them escaped, for they were slain every mother’s son. This stratagem being finely handled, and to good effect, the Athenians took sea straight, and coasted over to the isle of Salamis: which they took upon the sudden, and won it without much resistance.

Others say that it was not taken after this sort: By order of the oracle, Solon one night passed over to Salamis, and did sacrifice to Periphemus, and to Cychreus, demi-gods of the country. Which done, the Athenians delivered him five hundred men, who willingly offered themselves: and the city made an accord with them: that if they took the isle of Salamis, they should bear greatest authority in the commonweal. Solon embarked his soldiers into divers fisher boats, and appointed a galliot of thirty oars to come after him, and he anchored hard by the city of Salamis, under the point which looketh towards the isle of Negropont. The Megarians which were within Salamis, having by chance heard some inkling of it, but yet knew nothing of certainty: ran presently in hurly-burly to arm them, and manned out a ship to descry what it was. But they fondly coming within danger, were taken by Solon, who clapped the Megarians under hatches fast bound, and in their rooms put aboard in their ship the choicest soldiers he had of the Athenians, commanding them to set their course direct upon the city, and to keep themselves as close out of sight as could be. And he himself with all the rest of his soldiers landed presently, and marched to encounter with the Megarians, which were come out into the field. Now whilst they were fighting together, Solon’s men whom he had sent in the Megarians’ ship entered the haven and won the town. This is certainly true, and testified[212] by that which is showed yet at this day. For to keep a memorial hereof, a ship of Athens arriveth quietly at the first, and by and by those that are in the ship make a great shout, and a man armed leaping out of the ship, runneth shouting towards the rock called Sciradion, which is as they come from the firm land: and hard by the same is the temple of Mars, which Solon built there after he had overcome the Megarians in battle, from whence he sent back again those prisoners that he had taken (which were saved from the slaughter of the battle) without any ransom paying. Nevertheless, the Megarians were sharply bent still, to recover Salamis again. Much hurt being done and suffered on both sides: both parties in the end made the Lacedæmonians judges of the quarrel.

Solon undoubtedly won great glory and honour by this exploit, yet was he much more honoured and esteemed, for the oration he made in defence of the temple of Apollo, in the city of Delphes: declaring that it was not meet to be suffered, that the Cyrrhæans should at their pleasure abuse the sanctuary of the oracle, and that they should aid the Delphians in honour and reverence of Apollo. Whereupon the counsel of the Amphictyons, being moved with his words and persuasions, proclaimed wars against the Cyrrhæans.

Now that this sedition was utterly appeased in Athens, for that the excommunicates were banished the country, the city fell again into their old troubles and dissensions about the government of the commonweal: and they were divided into so diverse parties and factions, as there were people of sundry places and territories within the country of Attica. For there were the people of the mountains, the people of the valleys, and the people of the seacoast. Those of the mountains, took the common people’s part for their lives. Those of the valley, would a few of the best citizens should carry the sway. The coastmen would that neither of them should prevail, because they would have had a mean government and mingled of them both. Furthermore, the faction between the poor and rich, proceeding of their unequality, was at that time very great. By reason whereof the city was in great danger, and it seemed there was no way to pacify or take up these controversies, unless some tyrant happened to rise, that would take upon him to rule the whole. For all the common people were so sore indebted to the rich, that either they ploughed their lands, and yielded them the sixth part of their crop (for which cause they were called hectemorii and servants), or else they borrowed money of them at usury, upon gauge of their bodies to serve it out. And if they were not able to pay them, then were they by the law delivered to their creditors, who kept them as bondsmen and slaves in their houses, or else they sent them into strange countries to be sold: and many even for very poverty were forced to sell their own children (for there was no law to forbid the contrary) or else to forsake their city and country, for the extreme cruelty and hard dealings of these abominable usurers, their creditors. Insomuch that many of the lustiest and stoutest of them, banded together in companies, and encouraged one another, not to suffer and bear any longer such extremity, but to choose them a stout and trusty captain, that might set them at liberty, and redeem those out of captivity, which were judged to be bondsmen and servants, for lack of paying of their debts at their days appointed: and so to make again a new division of all lands and tenements, and wholly to change and turn up the whole state and government.

Then the wisest men of the city, who saw Solon only neither partner with the rich in their oppression, neither partaker with the poor in their necessity: made suit to him, that it would please him to take the matter in[213] hand, and to appease and pacify all these broils and sedition. Yet Phanias Lesbian writeth, that he used a subtilty, whereby he deceived both the one and the other side, concerning the commonweal. For he secretly promised the poor to divide the lands again: and the rich also, to confirm their covenants and bargains. Howsoever it fell out, it is very certain that Solon from the beginning made it a great matter, and was very scrupulous to deal between them, fearing the covetousness of the one, and arrogancy of the other. Howbeit in the end he was chosen governor after Philombrotus, and was made reformer of the rigour of the laws, and the temperer of the state and commonweal, by consent and agreement of both parties.

The rich accepted him, because he was no beggar: the poor did also like him, because he was an honest man. They say, moreover, that one word and sentence which he spake (which at that present was rife in every man’s mouth) that equality did breed no strife: did as well please the rich and wealthy, as the poor and needy. For the one sort conceived of this word equality, that he would measure all things according to the quality of the man: and the other took it for their purpose, that he would measure all things by the number, and by the poll only. Thus the captains of both sections persuaded and prayed him, boldly to take upon him that sovereign authority, since he had the whole city now at his commandment. The neuters also of every part, when they saw it very hard to pacify these things with law and reason, were well content that the wisest, and honestest man, should alone have the royal power in his hands. But his familiar friends above all rebuked him, saying he was to be accounted no better than a beast, if for fear of the name of tyrant, he would refuse to take upon him a kingdom: which is the most just and honourable state, if one take it upon him that is an honest man.

Now, notwithstanding he had refused the kingdom, yet he waxed nothing the more remiss or soft therefor in governing, neither would he bow for fear of the great, nor yet would frame his laws to their liking, that had chosen him their reformer. For where the mischief was tolerable, he did not straight pluck it up by the roots: neither did he so change the state, as he might have done, lest if he should have attempted to turn upside down the whole government, he might afterwards have been never able to settle and establish the same again. Therefore he only altered that which he thought by reason he could persuade his citizens unto, or else by force he ought to compel them to accept, mingling as he said, sour with sweet, and force with justice. And herewith agreeth his answer that he made afterwards unto one that asked him, if he had made the best laws he could for the Athenians? “Yea, sure,” saith he, “such as they were able to receive.” And this that followeth also, they have ever since observed in the Athenian tongue: to make certain things pleasant, that be hateful, finely conveying them under colour of pleasing names. As calling taxes, contributions: garrisons, guards: prisons, houses. And all this came up first by Solon’s invention, who called clearing of debts seisachtheia: in English, discharge.

The Law Concerning Debts

For the first change and reformation he made in government was this: he ordained that all manner of debts past should be clear, and nobody should ask his debtor anything for the time passed. That no man should thenceforth lend money out to usury upon covenants for the body to be bound, if it were not repaid. Howbeit some write (as Androtion among other) that[214] the poor were contented that the interest only for usury should be moderated, without taking away the whole debt: and that Solon called this easy and gentle discharge, seisachtheia, with crying up the value of money. For he raised the pound of silver, being before but threescore and thirteen drachmas, full up to an hundred: so they which were to pay great sums of money, paid by tale as much as they ought, but with less number of pieces than the debt could have been paid when it was borrowed. And so the debtors gained much, and the creditors lost nothing. Nevertheless the greater part of them which have written the same, say, that this crying up of money, was a general discharge of all debts, conditions, and covenants upon the same: whereto the very poems themselves, which Solon wrote, do seem to agree. For he glorieth, and breaketh forth in his verses, that he had taken away all marks that separated men’s lands through the country of Attica, and that now he had set at liberty, that which before was in bondage. And that of the citizens of Athens, which for lack of payment of their debts had been condemned for slaves to their creditors, he had brought many home again out of strange countries, where they had been so long, that they had forgotten to speak their natural tongue, and others which remained at home in captivity, he had now set them all at good liberty.

But while he was in doing this, men say a thing thwarted him, that troubled him marvellously. For having framed an edict for clearing of all debts, and lacking only a little to grace it with words, and to give it some pretty preface, that otherwise was ready to be proclaimed: he opened himself somewhat to certain of his familiars whom he trusted (as Conon, Clinias, and Hipponicus) and told them how he would not meddle with lands and possessions, but would only clear and cut off all manner of debts. These men, before the proclamation came out, went presently to the money-men, and borrowed great sums of money of them, and laid it out straight upon land. So when the proclamation came out, they kept the lands they had purchased, but restored not the money they had borrowed. This foul part of theirs made Solon very ill spoken of, and wrongfully blamed: as if he had not only suffered it, but had been partaker of this wrong and injustice. Notwithstanding he cleared himself of this slanderous report, losing five talents by his own law. For it was well known that so much was due unto him, and he was the first that, following his own proclamation, did clearly release his debtors of the same. Notwithstanding, they ever after called Solon’s friends Chreocopides, cutters of debts. This law neither liked the one nor the other sort. For it greatly offended the rich, for cancelling their bonds: and it much more misliked the poor, because all lands and possessions they gaped for, were not made again common, and everybody alike rich and wealthy, as Lycurgus had made the Lacedæmonians.

But Lycurgus was the eleventh descended of the right line from Hercules, and had many years been king of Lacedæmon, where he had gotten great authority, and made himself many friends: all which things together, did greatly help him to execute that, which he wisely had imagined for the order of his commonweal. Yet also, he used more persuasion than force, a good witness thereof the loss of his eye: preferring a law before his private injury, which hath power to preserve a city long in union and concord, and to make citizens to be neither poor nor rich.

Solon could not attain to this. Howbeit he did what he could possible, with the power he had, as one seeking to win no credit with his citizens, but only by his counsel. To begin withal, he first took away all Draco’s bloody laws, saving for murder and manslaughter.


Class Legislation

Then Solon being desirous to have the chief offices of the city to remain in rich men’s hands, as already they did, and yet to mingle the authority of government in such sort, as the meaner people might bear a little sway, which they never could before: he made an estimate of the goods of every private citizen. And those which he found yearly worth five hundred bushels of corn, and other liquid fruits and upwards, he called pentacosiomedimni: as to say, five-hundred-bushel-men of revenue. And those that had three hundred bushels a year, and were able to keep a horse of service, he put in the second degree, and called them knights. They that might dispend but two hundred bushels a year, were put in the third place, and called zeugitæ. All other under those, were called thetes, as you would say, hirelings, or craftsmen living of their labour: whom he did not admit to bear any office in the city, neither were they taken as free citizens, saving they had voices in elections, and assemblies of the city, and in judgments, where the people wholly judged.

Furthermore because his laws were written somewhat obscurely, and might be diversely taken and interpreted, this did give a great deal more authority and power to the judges. For, considering all their controversies could not be ended, and judged by express law: they were driven of necessity always to run to the judges and debated their matters before them. Insomuch as the judges by this means came to be somewhat above the law: for they did even expound it as they would themselves.

Yet considering it was meet to provide for the poverty of the common sort of people: he suffered any man that would, to take upon him the defence of any poor man’s case that had the wrong. For if a man were hurt, beaten, forced, or otherwise wronged: any other man that would, might lawfully sue the offender, and prosecute law against him. And this was a wise law ordained of him, to accustom his citizens to be sorry for another’s hurt, and so to feel it, as if any part of his own body had been injured. And they say he made an answer on a time agreeable to this law. For, being asked what city he thought best governed, he answered: “That city where such as receive no wrong, do as earnestly defend wrong offered to others, as the very wrong and injury had been done unto themselves.” He erected also the council of the Areopagites, of those magistrates of the city, out of which they did yearly choose their governor: and he himself had been of that number, for that he had been governor for a year.

Wherefore perceiving now the people were grown to a stomach and haughtiness of mind because they were clear discharged of their debts: he set one up for matters of state, another council of an hundred chosen out of every tribe, whereof four hundred of them were to consult and debate of all matters, before they were propounded to the people: that when the great council of the people at large should be assembled, no matters should be put forth, unless it had been before well considered of, and digested, by the council of the four hundred. Moreover, he ordained the higher court should have the chief authority and power over all things, and chiefly to see the law executed and maintained: supposing that the commonweal being settled, and stayed with these two courts (as with two strong anchor-holds), it should be the less turmoiled and troubled, and the people also better pacified and quieted. The most part of writers hold this opinion, that it was Solon which erected the council of the Areopagites, as we have said, and it is very likely to be true, for that Draco in all his laws and ordinances made no[216] manner of mention of the Areopagites, but always speaketh to the ephetes (which were judges of life and death) when he spake of murder, or of any man’s death.

Notwithstanding, the eighth law of the thirteenth table of Solon saith thus, in these very words: All such as have been banished or detected of naughty life, before Solon made his laws, shall be restored again to their goods and good name, except those which were condemned by order of the council of the Areopagites, or by the ephetes, or by the kings in open court, for murder, and death of any man, or for aspiring to usurp tyranny. These words to the contrary seem to prove and testify, that the council of the Areopagites was, before Solon was chosen reformer of the laws. For how could offenders and wicked men be condemned by order of the council of the Areopagites before Solon, if Solon was the first that gave it authority to judge?

Miscellaneous Laws; the Rights of Women

Furthermore amongst the rest of his laws, one of them indeed was of his own device: for the like was never stablished elsewhere. And it is that law, that pronounceth him defamed, and dishonest, who in a civil uproar among the citizens, sitteth still a looker-on, and a neuter, and taketh part with neither side. Whereby his mind was as it should appear, that private men should not be only careful to put themselves and their causes in safety, nor yet should be careless for other men’s matters, or think it a virtue not to meddle with the miseries and misfortunes of their country, but from the beginning of every sedition that they should join with those that take the justest cause in hand, and rather to hazard themselves with such, than to tarry looking (without putting themselves in danger) which of the two should have the victory.

There is another law also, which at the first sight methinketh is very unhonest and fond. That if any man according to the law hath matched with a rich heir and inheritor, and of himself is impotent, and unable to do the office of a husband, she may lawfully lie with any whom she liketh, of her husband’s nearest kinsmen. Howbeit some affirm, that it is a wise made law for those, which knowing themselves unmeet to entertain wedlock, will for covetousness of lands, marry with rich heirs and possessioners, and mind to abuse poor gentlewomen under the colour of law: and will think to force and restrain nature. This also confirmeth the same, that such a new-married wife should be shut up with her husband, and eat a quince with him: and that he also which marrieth such an inheritor, should of duty see her thrice a month at the least. For although he get no children of her, yet it is an honour the husband doth to his wife, arguing that he taketh her for an honest woman, that he loveth her, and that he esteemeth of her. Besides, it taketh away many mislikings and displeasures which oftentimes happen in such cases, and keepeth love and good will waking, that it die not utterly between them.

Furthermore, he took away all jointures and dowries in other marriages, and willed that the wives should bring their husbands but three gowns only, with some other little movables of small value, and without any other thing as it were: utterly forbidding that they should buy their husbands, or that they should make merchandise of marriages, as of other trades to gain, but would that man and woman should marry together for issue, for pleasure, and for love, but in no case for money.

They greatly commend another law of Solon’s, which forbiddeth to speak ill of the dead. For it is a good and godly thing to think, that they ought[217] not to touch the dead, no more than to touch holy things; and men should take great heed to offend those that are departed out of this world; besides it is a token of wisdom and civility, to beware of immortal enemies. He commanded also in the self-same law, that no man should speak ill of the living, specially in churches, during divine service, or in council chamber of the city, nor in the theatres whilst games were a-playing: upon pain of three silver drachmæ to be paid to him that was injured, and two to the common treasury.

So he was marvellously well thought of, for the law that he made touching wills and testaments. For before, men might not lawfully make their heirs whom they would, but the goods came to the children or kindred of the testator. But he leaving it at liberty, to dispose their goods where they thought good, so they had no children of their own: did therein prefer friendship before kindred, and good will and favour before necessity and constraint, and so made every one lord and master of his own goods. Yet he did not simply and alike allow all sorts of gifts howsoever they were made: but those only which were made by men of sound memory, or by those whose wits failed them not by extreme sickness, or through drinks, medicines, poisonings, charms, or other such violence and extraordinary means, neither yet through the enticements and persuasions of women. As thinking very wisely, there was no difference at all between those that were evidently forced by constraint, and those that were compassed and wrought by subornation at length to do a thing against their will, taking fraud in this case equal with violence, and pleasure with sorrow, as passions with madness, which commonly have as much force the one as the other, to draw and drive men from reason.

He made another law also, in which he appointed women their times to go abroad into the fields, their mourning, their feasts and sacrifices, plucking from them all disorder and wilful liberty, which they used before. For he did forbid that they should carry out of the city with them above three gowns, and to take victuals with them above the value of a half-penny, neither basket nor pannier above a cubit high: and especially he did forbid them to go in the night other than in their coach, and that a torch should be carried before them. He did forbid them also at the burial of the dead, to tear and spoil themselves with blows, to make lamentations in verses, to weep at the funeral of a stranger not being their kinsman, to sacrifice an ox on the grave of the dead, to bury above three gowns with the corpse, to go to other men’s graves, but at the very time of burying the corpse.

Results of Solon’s Legislation

And perceiving that the city of Athens began to replenish daily more and more, by men’s repairing thither from all parts, and by reason of the great assured safety and liberty that they found there: and also considering how the greatest part of the realm became in manner heathy, and was very barren, and that men trafficking the seas, are not wont to bring any merchandise to those, which can give them nothing again in exchange: he began to practise that his citizens should give themselves unto crafts and occupations, and made a law, that the son should not be bound to relieve his father being old, unless he had set him in his youth to some occupation.

It was a wise part of Lycurgus (who dwelt in a city where was no resort for strangers, and had so great a territory, as could have furnished twice as many people, as Euripides saith, and moreover on all sides was environed[218] with a great number of slaves of the helots, whom it was needful to keep still in labour and work continually) to have his citizens always occupied in exercises of feats of arms, without making them to learn any other science, but discharge them of all other miserable occupations and handicrafts.

But Solon framing his laws unto things, and not things unto laws, when he saw the country of Attica so lean and barren, that it could hardly bring forth to sustain those that tilled the ground only, and therefore much more impossible to keep so great a multitude of idle people as were in Athens: thought it very requisite to set up occupations, and to give them countenance and estimation. Therefore he ordered, that the council of the Areopagites, should have full power and authority to inquire how every man lived in the city, and also to punish such as they found idle people, and did not labour. Yet to say truly, in Solon’s laws touching women, there are many absurdities, as they fall out ill-favouredly. For he maketh it lawful for any man to kill an adulterer taking him with the fact. But he that ravisheth or forcibly taketh away a free woman, is only condemned to pay a hundred silver drachmæ.

Of the fruits of the earth, he was contented they should transport and sell only oil out of the realm to strangers, but no other fruit or grain. He ordained that the governor of the city should yearly proclaim open curses against those that should do to the contrary, or else he himself making default therein, should be fined at a hundred drachmæ. This ordinance is in the first table of Solon’s laws, and therefore we may not altogether discredit those which say, they did forbid in the old time that men should carry figs out of the country of Attica, and that from hence it came that these pick-thanks, which bewray and accuse them that transported figs, were called sycophants. He made another law also against the hurt that beasts might do unto men. Wherein he ordained, that if a dog did bite any man, he that owned him should deliver to him that was bitten, his dog tied to a log of timber of four cubits long: and this was a very good device, to make men safe from dogs. But he was very straight in one law he made, that no stranger might be made denizen and free man of the city of Athens, unless he were a banished man forever out of his country, or else that he should come and dwell there with all his family, to exercise some craft or science. Notwithstanding, they say he made not this law so much to put strangers from their freedom there, as to draw them thither, assuring them by this ordinance, they might come and be free of the city: and he thought moreover, that both the one and the other would be more faithful to the commonweal of Athens.

This also was another of Solon’s laws, which he ordained for those that should feast certain days at the townhouse of the city, at other men’s cost. For he would not allow, that one man should come often to feasts there. And if any man were invited thither to the feast, and did refuse to come: he did set a fine on his head, as reproving the miserable niggardliness of the one and the presumptuous arrogancy of the other, to contemn and despise common order.

After he had made his laws, he did stablish them to continue for the space of one hundred years, and they were written in tables of wood called axones. So all the councils and magistrates together did swear, that they would keep Solon’s laws themselves, and also cause them to be observed of others thoroughly and particularly. Then every one of the thesmothetes (which were certain officers attendant on the council, and had special charge to see the laws observed) did solemnly swear in the open market-place, near the stone[219] where the proclamations are proclaimed: and every one of them both promised, and vowed openly to keep the same laws, and that if any of them did in any one point break the said ordinances, then they were content that such offender should pay to the temple of Apollo, at the city of Delphi, an image of fine gold, that should weigh as much as himself.

Now after his laws were proclaimed, there came some daily unto him, which either praised them, or misliked them: and prayed him either to take away, or to add something unto them. Many again came and asked him how he understood some sentence of his laws: and requested him to declare his meaning, and how it should be taken. Wherefore considering how it were to no purpose to refuse to do it, and again how it would get him much envy and ill will to yield thereunto: he determined (happen what would) to wind himself out of these briers, and to fly the groanings, complaints, and quarrels of his citizens. So, to convey himself awhile out of the way, he took upon him to be master of a ship in a certain voyage, and asked license for ten years of the Athenians to go beyond sea, hoping by that time the Athenians would be very well acquainted with his laws.


[590-580 B.C.]

So went he to the seas, and the first place of his arrival was in Egypt, where he remained awhile. And as for the meeting and talk betwixt him and King Crœsus, I know there are that by distance of time will prove it but a fable, and devised of pleasure: but for my part I will not reject, nor condemn so famous a history, received and approved by so many grave testimonies. Moreover it is very agreeable to Solon’s manners and nature, and also not unlike to his wisdom and magnanimity: although in all points it agreeth not with certain tables (which they call Chronicles) where they have busily noted the order and course of times which even to this day, many have curiously sought to correct.[15]

But during the time of his absence, great seditions rose at Athens amongst the inhabitants, who had gotten them several heads amongst them: as those of the valley had made Lycurgus their head. The coast-men Megacles, the son of Alcmæon. And those of the mountains, Pisistratus; with whom all artificers and craftsmen living of their handy labour were joined, which were the stoutest against the rich. So that notwithstanding the city kept Solon’s laws and ordinances, yet was there not a man but gaped for a change, and desired to see things in another state.

[580-558 B.C.]

The whole commonweal broiling thus with troubles, Solon arrived at Athens, where every man did honour and reverence him: howbeit he was no more able to speak aloud in open assembly to the people, nor to deal in matters as he had done before, because his age would not suffer him: and therefore he spake with every one of the heads of the several factions apart, trying if he could agree and reconcile them together again.

Whereupon Pisistratus seemed to be more willing than any of the rest, for he was courteous, and marvellous fair spoken, and showed himself besides very good and pitiful to the poor, and temperate also to his enemies: further, if any good quality were lacking in him, he did so finely counterfeit it, that men imagined it was more in him, than in those that naturally had it in them indeed. By this art and fine manner of his, he deceived the poor common[220] people. Howbeit Solon found him straight, and saw the mark he shot at: but yet hated him not at that time, and sought still to win him, and bring him to reason.

Shortly after Pisistratus having wounded himself, and bloodied all his body over, caused his men to carry him in his couch into the market-place, where he put the people in an uproar, and told them that they were his enemies that thus traitorously had handled and arrayed him, for that he stood with them about the governing of the commonweal: insomuch as many of them were marvellously offended, and mutinied by and by, crying out it was shamefully done. Then Solon drawing near said unto him: “O thou son of Hippocrates, thou dost ill-favouredly counterfeit the person of Homer’s Ulysses: for thou hast whipped thyself to deceive thy citizens, as he did tear and scratch himself, to deceive his enemies.” Notwithstanding this, the common people were still in uproar, being ready to take arms for Pisistratus: and there was a general council assembled, in the which one Ariston spake, that they should grant fifty men, to carry halberds and maces before Pisistratus for guard of his person.

But Solon going up into the pulpit for orations, stoutly inveighed against it. But in the end, seeing the poor people did tumult still, taking Pisistratus’ part, and that the rich fled here and there, he went his way also.

Wherefore he hied him home again, and took his weapons out of his house, and laid them before his gate in the midst of the street, saying: “For my part, I have done what I can possible, to help and defend the laws and liberties of my country.”

So from that time he betook himself unto his ease, and never after dealt any more in matters of state, or commonweal. His friends did counsel him to fly: but all they could not persuade him to it. For he kept his house, and gave himself to make verses, in which he sore reproved the Athenians’ faults. His friends hereupon did warn him to beware of such speeches, and to take heed what he said, lest if it came unto the tyrant’s ears, he might put him to death for it. And further, they asked him wherein he trusted, that he spake so boldly. He answered them, “In my age.”

Howbeit Pisistratus, after he had obtained his purpose, sending for him upon his word and faith, did honour and entertain him so well, that Solon in the end became one of his council, and approved many things which he did.

Solon lived a long time after Pisistratus had usurped the tyranny, as Heraclides Ponticus writeth. Howbeit Phanias Ephesian writeth, that he lived not above two years after.d


As a recent summing up of Solon, we may quote Professor Bury:

“He was a poet, not because he was poetically inspired, like the Parian Archilochus of an earlier, or the Lesbian Sappho of his own, generation; but because at that time every man of letters was a poet; there was no prose literature. A hundred years later Solon would have used prose as the vehicle of his thought. We are fortunate enough to possess portions of poems—political pamphlets—which he published for the purpose of guiding public opinion; and thus we have his view of the situation in his own words.

“The character of the remedial measures of Solon is imperfectly known. His title to fame as one of the great statesmen of Europe rests upon his[221] reform of the constitution. He discovered a secret of democracy, and he used his discovery to build up the constitution on democratic foundations. The Athenian commonwealth did not actually become a democracy till many years later. The radical measure of Solon, which was the very corner-stone of the Athenian democracy, was his constitution of the courts of justice. He composed the law courts out of all the citizens, including the Thetes; and as the panels of judges were enrolled by lot, the poorest burgher might have his turn. The constitution of the judicial courts out of the whole people was the secret of democracy which Solon discovered.

“It was the fate of Solon to live long enough to see the establishment of the tyranny which he dreaded. We know not what part he had taken in the troubled world of politics since his return to Athens. The story was invented that he called upon the citizens to arm themselves against the tyrant, but called in vain; and that then, laying his arms outside the threshold of his house, he cried, ‘I have aided, so far as I could, my country and the constitution, and I appeal to others to do likewise.’ Nor has the story that he refused to live under a tyranny and sought refuge with his Cyprian friend the king of Soli, any good foundation. We know only that in his later years he enjoyed the pleasures of wine and love, and that he survived but a short time the seizure of the tyranny by Pisistratus, who at least treated the old man with respect.”e


[15] [This famous story has already been given in the Appendix to the history of Western Asia, Vol. II.]





Pisistratus directed with admirable moderation the courses of the revolution he had produced. Many causes of success were combined in his favour. His enemies had been the supposed enemies of the people, and the multitude doubtless beheld the flight of the Alcmæonidæ (still odious in their eyes by the massacre of Cylon) as the defeat of a foe, while the triumph of the popular chief was recognised as the victory of the people. In all revolutions the man who has sided with the people is permitted by the people the greatest extent of license. It is easy to perceive, by the general desire which the Athenians had expressed for the elevation of Solon to the supreme authority, that the notion of regal authority was not yet hateful to them, and that they were scarcely prepared for the liberties with which they were entrusted. But although they submitted thus patiently to the ascendency of Pisistratus, it is evident that a less benevolent, or less artful tyrant would not have been equally successful. Raised above the law, that subtle genius governed only by the law; nay, he affected to consider its authority greater than his own. He assumed no title—no attribute of sovereignty. He was accused of murder, and he humbly appeared before the tribunal of the Areopagus—a proof not more of the moderation of the usurper than of the influence of public opinion. He enforced the laws of Solon, and compelled the unruly tempers of his faction to subscribe to their wholesome rigour. The one revolution did not, therefore, supplant, it confirmed, the other. “By these means,” says Herodotus, “Pisistratus mastered Athens, and yet his situation was far from secure.”

Although the heads of the more moderate party, under Megacles, had been expelled from Athens, yet the faction, equally powerful, and equally hostile, headed by Lycurgus, and embraced by the bulk of the nobles, still remained. For a time, extending perhaps to five or six years, Pisistratus retained his power; but at length, Lycurgus, uniting with the exiled Alcmæonidæ, succeeded in expelling him from the city. But the union that had led to his expulsion, ceased with that event. The contests between the lowlanders and the coastmen were only more inflamed by the defeat of the third party which had operated as a balance of power, and the broils of their several leaders were fed by personal ambition as by hereditary animosities. Megacles, therefore, unable to maintain equal ground with Lycurgus, turned his thoughts towards the enemy he had subdued, and sent proposals to Pisistratus, offering to unite their forces, and to support him in his pretensions to the tyranny, upon condition that the exiled chief should marry his daughter Cœsyra. Pisistratus readily acceded to the terms, and it was resolved by a theatrical pageant to reconcile his return to the people.b


[550-540 B.C.]

This was, according to Herodotus, “the most ridiculous project that was ever imagined.” “In the Pæanean tribe was a woman named Phya,” he says, “four cubits high, wanting three fingers, and in other respects handsome; having dressed this woman in a complete suit of armour, and placed her on a chariot, and having shown her beforehand how to assume the most becoming demeanour, they drove her to the city, having sent heralds before, who, on their arrival in the city, proclaimed what was ordered in these terms: ‘O Athenians, receive with kind wishes Pisistratus, whom Minerva herself, honouring above all men, now conducts back to her own citadel.’ They then went about proclaiming this; and a report was presently spread among the people that Minerva was bringing back Pisistratus; and the people in the city, believing this woman to be the goddess, both adored a human being, and received Pisistratus.”c

The sagacity of the Athenians was already so acute, and the artifice appeared to Herodotus so gross, that the simple Halicarnassian could scarcely credit the authenticity of this tale. But it is possible that the people viewed the procession as an ingenious allegory, to the adaptation of which they were already disposed; and that like the populace of a later and yet more civilised people, they hailed the goddess while they recognised the prostitute.[16] Be that as it may, the son of Hippocrates recovered his authority and fulfilled his treaty with Megacles by a marriage with his daughter. Between the commencement of his first tyranny and the date of his second return, there was probably an interval of twelve years. His sons were already adults. Partly from a desire not to increase his family, partly from some superstitious disinclination to the blood of the Alcmæonidæ, which the massacre of Cylon still stigmatised with contamination, Pisistratus conducted himself towards the fair Cœsyra with a chastity either unwelcome to her affection, or afflicting to her pride. The unwedded wife communicated the mortifying secret to her mother, from whose lips it soon travelled to the father. He did not view the purity of Pisistratus with charitable eyes. He thought it an affront to his own person that that of his daughter should be so tranquilly regarded. He entered into a league with his former opponents against the usurper, and so great was the danger, that Pisistratus (despite his habitual courage) betook himself hastily to flight—a strange instance of the caprice of human events, that a man could with a greater impunity subdue the freedom of his country, than affront the vanity of his wife!

Pisistratus, his sons and partisans, retired to Eretria in Eubœa: there they deliberated as to their future proceedings—should they submit to their exile, or attempt to retrieve their power? The counsels of his son Hippias, prevailed with Pisistratus; it was resolved once more to attempt the sovereignty of Athens. The neighbouring tribes assisted the exiles with forage and shelter. Many cities accorded the celebrated noble large sums of money, and the Thebans outdid the rest in pernicious liberality. A troop of Argive adventurers came from the Peloponnesus to tender to the baffled usurper the assistance of their swords, and Lygdamis, an individual of Naxos, himself ambitious of the government of his native state, increased his resources both by money and military force. At length, though after a long and tedious period of no less than eleven years, Pisistratus resolved to hazard the issue of open war. At the head of a foreign force he advanced to Marathon, and pitched his tents upon its immortal plain. Troops of the factious, or discontented, thronged from Athens to his camp, while the bulk[224] of the citizens, unaffected by such desertions, viewed his preparations with indifference. At length, when they heard that Pisistratus had broken up his encampment, and was on his march to the city, the Athenians awoke from their apathy, and collected their forces to oppose him. He continued to advance his troops, halted at the temple of Minerva, whose earthly representative had once so benignly assisted him, and pitched his tents opposite the fane. He took advantage of that time in which the Athenians, during the heat of the day, were at their entertainments, or indulging the noontide repose, still so grateful to the inhabitants of a warmer climate, to commence his attack. He soon scattered the foe, and ordered his sons to overtake them in their flight, to bid them return peaceably to their employments, and fear nothing from his vengeance. His clemency assisted the effect of his valour, and once more the son of Hippocrates became the master of the Athenian commonwealth.

[540 B.C.]

Pisistratus lost no time in strengthening himself by formidable alliances. He retained many auxiliary troops, and provided large pecuniary resources. He spared the persons of his opponents, but sent their children as hostages to Naxos, which he first reduced and consigned to the tyranny of his auxiliary, Lygdamis. Many of his inveterate enemies had perished on the field—many fled from the fear of his revenge. He was undisturbed in the renewal of his sway, and having no motive for violence, pursued the natural bent of a mild and generous disposition, ruling as one who wishes men to forget the means by which his power has been attained.

It was in harmony with this part of his character that Pisistratus refined the taste and socialised the habits of the citizens, by the erection of buildings dedicated to the public worship, or the public uses, and laid out the stately gardens of the Lyceum—(in after-times the favourite haunt of Philosophy)—by the banks of the river dedicated to Song. Pisistratus thus did more than continue the laws of Solon—he inculcated the intellectual habits which the laws were designed to create. And as in the circle of human events the faults of one man often confirm what was begun by the virtues of another, so perhaps the usurpation of Pisistratus was necessary to establish the institutions of Solon. It is clear that the great lawgiver was not appreciated at the close of his life as his personal authority had ceased to have influence, so possibly might have soon ceased the authority of his code. The citizens required repose, to examine, to feel, to estimate the blessings of his laws—that repose they possessed under Pisistratus. Amidst the tumult of fierce and equipoised factions it might be fortunate that a single individual was raised above the rest, who, having the wisdom to appreciate the institutions of Solon, had the authority to enforce them. Silently they grew up under his usurped but benignant sway, pervading, penetrating, exalting the people, and fitting them by degrees to the liberty those institutions were intended to confer. If the disorders of the republic led to the ascendency of Pisistratus so the ascendency of Pisistratus paved the way for the renewal of the republic. As Cromwell was the representative of the very sentiments he appeared to subvert—as Napoleon in his own person incorporated the principles of the revolution of France, so the tyranny of Pisistratus concentrated and embodied the elements of that democracy he rather wielded than overthrew.

At home, time and tranquillity cemented the new laws; poetry set before the emulation of the Athenians its noblest monument in the epics of Homer; and tragedy put forth its first unmellowed fruits in the rude recitations of Thespis. Pisistratus sought also to counterbalance the growing[225] passion for commerce by peculiar attention to agriculture, in which it is not unlikely that he was considerably influenced by early prepossessions, for his party had been the mountaineers attached to rural pursuits, and his adversaries the coastmen engaged in traffic. We learn from Aristotle that his policy consisted much in subjecting and humbling the Pedieis, or wealthy nobles of the lowlands. But his very affection to agriculture must have tended to strengthen an aristocracy, and his humility to the Areopagus was a proof of his desire to conciliate the least democratic of the Athenian courts. He probably, therefore, acted only against such individual chiefs as had incurred his resentment, or as menaced his power; nor can we perceive in his measures the systematic and deliberate policy, common with other Greek tyrants, to break up an aristocracy and create a middle class.

[540-527 B.C.]

Abroad, the ambition of Pisistratus, though not extensive, was successful. There was a town on the Hellespont, called Sigeum, which had long been a subject of contest between the Athenians and the Mytileneans. Some years before the legislation of Solon, the Athenian general, Phrynon, had been slain in single combat by Pittacus, one of the Seven Wise Men, who had come into the field armed like the Roman retiarius, with a net, a trident, and a dagger. This feud was terminated by the arbitration of Periander, tyrant of Corinth, who awarded Sigeum to the Athenians, which was then in their possession, by a wise and plausible decree, that each party should keep what it had got. This war was chiefly remarkable for an incident that introduces us somewhat unfavourably to the most animated of the lyric poets. Alcæus, an eminent citizen of Mytilene, and, according to ancient scandal, the unsuccessful lover of Sappho, conceived a passion for military fame: in his first engagement he seems to have discovered that his proper vocation was rather to sing of battles than to share them. He fled from the field, leaving his arms behind him, which the Athenians obtained, and suspended at Sigeum in the temple of Minerva. Although this single action, which Alcæus himself recorded, cannot be fairly held a sufficient proof of the poet’s cowardice, yet his character and patriotism are more equivocal than his genius. Of the last we have ample testimony,—though few remains save in the frigid grace of the imitations of Horace. The subsequent weakness and civil dissensions of Athens, were not favourable to the maintenance of this distant conquest—the Mytileneans regained Sigeum. Against this town Pisistratus now directed his arms—wrested it from the Mytileneans—and instead of annexing it to the republic of Athens, assigned its government to the tyranny of his natural son, Hegesistratus—a stormy dominion, which the valour of the bastard defended against repeated assaults.

But one incident, the full importance of which the reader must wait awhile to perceive, we shall in this place relate. Among the most powerful of the Athenians was a noble named Miltiades, son of Cypselus. By original descent, he was from the neighbouring island of Ægina, and of the heroic race of Æacus; but he dated the establishment of his house in Athens from no less distant a founder than the son of Ajax. Miltiades had added new lustre to his name by a victory at the Olympic Games. It was probably during the first tyranny of Pisistratus that an adventure, attended with vast results to Greece, befell this noble. His family were among the enemies of Pisistratus, and were regarded by that sagacious usurper with a jealous apprehension, which almost appears prophetic. Miltiades was, therefore, uneasy under the government of Pisistratus, and discontented with his position in Athens.


In that narrow territory which, skirting the Hellespont, was called the Chersonesus, or Peninsula, dwelt the Doloncians, a Thracian tribe. Engaged in an obstinate war with the neighbouring Absinthians, the Doloncians had sent to the oracle of Delphi to learn the result of the contest.b

The Pythian answered them, “that they should take that man with them to their country to found a colony, who after their departure from the temple should first offer them hospitality.” Accordingly the Doloncians, going by the sacred way, went through the territories of the Phocians and Bœotians, and when no one invited them, turned out of the road towards Athens. Miltiades, being seated in his own portico, and seeing the Doloncians passing by, wearing a dress not belonging to the country, and carrying javelins, called out to them; and upon their coming to him, he offered them shelter and hospitality. They having accepted his invitation, and having been entertained by him, made known to him the whole oracle, and entreated him to obey his duty. Their words persuaded Miltiades as soon as he heard them, for he was troubled with the government of Pisistratus, and desired to get out of his way. He therefore immediately set out to Delphi to consult the oracle, whether he should do that which the Doloncians requested of him. The Pythian having bid him do so, thereupon Miltiades, taking with him all such Athenians as were willing to join in the expedition, set sail with the Doloncians, and took possession of the country; and they who introduced him appointed him tyrant.c

Miltiades (probably B.C. 559) first of all fortified a great part of the isthmus, as a barrier to the attacks of the Absinthians; but shortly afterwards, in a feud with the people of Lampsacus, he was taken prisoner by the enemy. Miltiades, however, had already secured the esteem and protection of Crœsus; and the Lydian monarch remonstrated with the Lampsacenes in so formidable a tone of menace, that the Athenian obtained his release, and regained his new principality. In the meanwhile, his brother Cimon, (who was chiefly remarkable for his success at the Olympic Games,) sharing the political sentiments of his house, had been driven into exile by Pisistratus. By a transfer to the brilliant tyrant of a victory in the Olympic chariot-race, he, however, propitiated Pisistratus, and returned to Athens.

Full of years, and in the serene enjoyment of power, Pisistratus died (B.C. 527). His character may already be gathered from his actions: crafty in the pursuit of power, but magnanimous in its possession, we have only, with some qualification, to repeat the eulogium on him ascribed to his greater kinsman Solon—“That he was the best of tyrants, and without a vice save that of ambition.”b


Pisistratus was far from overturning the constitution of Athens; rather did Solon’s ordinances remain in full force under him. The reasonable and necessary progress of development in the state which lay at the root of the movement which produced Greek tyrannies, had been in every way provided for by Solon, and consequently wise and temperate tyrants might govern in accordance with the Solonian laws. Pisistratus honoured the memory of his relative, with whose ideas their former intercourse had made him familiar, and he therefore fostered and forwarded his instructions, so far as they were consistent with his own supremacy. He himself submitted to the laws, and is said to have appeared in person before the Areopagus, to justify himself against a complaint, so that on the whole his government greatly contributed[227] to accustom the Athenians to the laws. It must be confessed, however, that he raised the money which he required for the maintenance of his troops, as well as for the buildings and public festivals, by the mere right of tyranny, and by levying a tenth on the real estate of the citizens.

His new measures and dispositions also exhibited the character of a wise moderation, and were in harmony with Solon. Thus he insisted on the obligation of the commonwealth to care for those who were wounded in the wars, as well as for the families of such as had fallen in battle. He especially took upon himself the charge of public morality, the fostering of those good manners which consist in the respect of youth for age and in reverence towards sacred things. He promulgated a law against idle loitering about the streets, and, although he had himself risen to greatness in the market through the agency of the people who had come in from the country, still he regarded the increasing mass of the townsfolk with anxiety. For this reason he sought to oppose a barrier to the tendency to constitute the life of a great city, which prevailed amongst the Ionic races, and following the precedent of Periander and the Orthagoridæ, he made entry into the capital more difficult. He endeavoured to raise the peasant class, which Solon had rescued, and to encourage the taste for agriculture.

With these important dispositions, whose spirit was pre-eminently that of Hipparchus to whom the whole civilisation of the country was so much indebted, were also connected the great aqueducts which brought the drinking-water from the mountains to the capital through rocky underground conduits. That these canals might be inspected and cleaned in every part, shafts were cut through the rock at stated intervals, and thus light and air were introduced into the dark channels. On the outskirts of the town the inflowing water was collected in great rock basins, where it clarified before disseminating itself into the town and feeding the public fountains. These wonderful works have continued in a state of efficiency down to our own day.

Pisistratus governed Athens, but he bore no sovereign title, on the strength of which to lay claim to unlimited supremacy. He had, in truth, grounded his rule on force; he retained in his service a standing army, which, dependent on him alone and uncontrolled by the vote of the citizens, could be all the more crushingly opposed to any attempt at a rising, since the greater part of the citizens were unarmed, the townsfolk diminished in number, and the public interest, from political circumstances, directed partly to rural economy, partly to the new town institutions. The order of the officers of state remained unaltered, only that one of them was always in the hands of a member of Pisistratus’ family, in which he managed to suppress every sign of disunion with great skill, so that to the people the ruling house appeared united in itself and animated by but one spirit. In this sense men spoke of the government of the Pisistratidæ, and could not refuse recognition to the manifold gifts which distinguished the house.

It was a wise counsel which the old state organisers gave the tyrants, that they should bestow on their rule as much as possible the character of ancient royalty, so that the usurping origin of their power might be forgotten. Thus Pisistratus did not, like the Cypselidæ and Orthagoridæ, desire to break with the past of the state, but rather to connect himself closely with the ancient and glorious history of the country, so that after all the evil which the party government of the nobility had brought on Attica, she might be restored the blessing of a united rule. Standing superior to the parties, as a relative to the ancient royal house, he believed himself especially chosen to accomplish this end. With this view, he lived on the citadel, near[228] the altar of Zeus Herceios, the family hearth of the ancient princes of the country, watching over the turbulent citizens from the summit of the rock, which, before the building of the Propylæa, was still more inaccessible than afterwards. The very position of his dwelling must have drawn him into a close relation with the goddess of the citadel and her priesthood.

The public life of the Athenians was awakened and transformed in every direction. Athens became a new town within and without. With her new highways and military roads, her town squares, gymnasia, fountains and aqueducts, her new altars, temples and temple festivals, she stood out prominently from the crowd of Greek towns, and the Pisistratidæ neglected nothing which might contribute to lend her new importance by means of numerous alliances with the islands and shores of the Ægean Sea.

To this end, it was not enough that the Athenians ruled in Delos, Naxos, and at the Hellespont, but they must also appropriate to themselves the intellectual treasures of the further coasts where the Hellenic spirit showed itself at its best, and thus enrich their own life. For this purpose Solon had already introduced the Homeric rhapsodies into Athens, and ordained their public recitation at the festivals. Pisistratus joined in these efforts, with a full appreciation of the importance of the matter, though not with the disinterestedness of the Solonian love for art, but designedly, and for his own advantage. For he ministered at once to the fame of his ancestors and the splendour of his house.

These songs had hitherto been passed down by word of mouth, and the noblest abilities of the nation had been dedicated to the preservation of this national treasure in widely disseminated schools of bards. Nevertheless, even with the utmost power of memory, it was unavoidable that all kinds of confusion should be introduced into the tradition, that the original should be disfigured, what was authentic be lost, spurious matter creep in, and the whole, the most important collection possessed by the Hellenic people, fall to pieces. The danger became the more threatening, the higher rose the turbulence of the times, and the more the individual states deviated in special directions and the interests of modern times gained primary importance. It became, therefore, a state obligation to meet this danger, and to take in hand the task which individual ability had not succeeded in accomplishing; and the state was all the more concerned in the matter since the recital of the Homeric poems had been prescribed in the ordinances for the public festivals.

It is to the great merit of Pisistratus to have clearly recognised that nothing could create for the Athenians a greater and more lasting renown than could be achieved by assuming this task. He therefore summoned a number of learned men, and commissioned them to collect and compare the texts of the rhapsodies, to cut out what did not belong, to unite what was scattered, and fix the Homeric epos as a whole, a great record of national life, in a standard form. Thus Onomacritus the Athenian, Zopyras of Heraclea, and Orpheus of Croton worked under the superintendence of the regent; they formed a scientific commission, which had an extensive sphere of labour; for not only were the Odyssey and Iliad revised, but also that later epos, that is to say the poetic writings of the so-called “cyclic poets,” which had come into existence as a sequel supplementary to the Iliad and Odyssey, together with the whole treasure of the Ionic epos, which was united under the name of Homer, besides Hesiod and the religious poems. Pisistratus took a personal interest in the work, and even here we can trace the character of a tyranny in that alterations, omissions, and interpolations were made according to his taste or policy. Thus, for example, in the catalogue[229] of ships the Salaminians were ranged among the Athenian levies, in order to supply a traditional authority for an ancient claim of Athens.

The end and aim of the proceeding was completely attained. The most important branch of the poetic art, which had developed amongst the Hellenes, namely, the epic of the Ionic and Bœotian schools, was transplanted to Athens. Here for the first time a Hellenic philology was founded: for, in the work of collecting, the critical faculty was first awakened, since the collecting involved the distinction of genuine from spurious, ancient from modern, and, though the scientific performance as such could not bear a very close scrutiny, yet still the treasure of the Homeric poems received from the Athenians the first appreciation of its national significance, and it was now that writing was for the first time employed to secure an irreplaceable national possession against the dangers of a merely verbal tradition. The poems were not, however, by any means alienated from ordinary life, but were raised to a higher position in the festivals of the town and the education of the young. The city of Pisistratus acquired an authoritative reputation in the domain of national poetry; through him a Homer and Hesiod came into existence which could be read in the same form to the ends of the Greek world.

The collection and investigation went back beyond Homer to the most ancient sources of Hellenic theology, of which the Thracian Orpheus was regarded as the founder, and which Onomacritus now worked up into a new system of mystic wisdom, while at the same time it was utilised to give enhanced importance to the favourite cult of the dynasty, the worship of Dionysus. With it was joined the collection of oracular sayings, upon which the Pisistratidæ placed a special value, as well as the arrangement of the historical records, especially the genealogies.

Thus Athens became a centre of scientific learning and labour. If any one wished to gain a sight of any poem worthy of remembrance which had been written in the Hellenic tongue, or of anything concerning the knowledge of the gods and of ethics which had been thought out by the ancients and handed down by tradition from former times, he must journey to Athens. Here, on the citadel of Pisistratus, the whole treasure was united; here the works of the nation’s poets and wise men were collected together, carefully inscribed in rolls, well arranged, and suitably disposed.

Yet it was not enough to garner what remained from ancient times; there was also a desire to encourage living art and to have its masters in Athens, and specially those in the lyric art, which had succeeded the epic, and during the age of the tyrants was in full vigour. The lyric poets were especially qualified to enhance the brilliance of courts, and to ennoble their feasts, and were consequently summoned from one place to another. Thus the Pisistratidæ sent out their state ships to fetch Anacreon of Teos, the joyous poet and comrade of Polycrates, to Athens, and thus Simonides of Ceos and Lasus of Hermione dwelt at the tyrant’s Court of the Muses.

But quite new germs of national poetry were also unfolded under them and by their means. For they were already the fosterers of the worship of Dionysus [or Bacchus], and at the latter’s festivals were developed not only the choral dance and choral song of the Dithyrambus, which Arion had invented and Lasus further improved, but mimic representations were added to them, in which masked choruses appeared, and singers who assumed a rule opposite the choruses, spoke to the latter and conducted conversations with them. Thus an action, a drama, developed itself, and after the thing had been invented it was freed from the bacchanalian material and changed[230] in contents as in masks; the whole cycle of heroic legends was gradually drawn on for dramatic treatment, and the founder of this Dionysian play was Thespis of Icaria.

Thus the Pisistratidæ collected the after-echoes of the epic, fostered the existing art of song in its full blossom, and called forth by their patronage a new and genuinely Attic branch of national art, that drama which united both lyric and epic. Besides this the best architects, Antistates, Callicrates, Antimachides, Porinus, and sculptors were busily employed on the Olympieum and Hecatompedon, and the best experts of their time at the great hydraulic constructions. The most eminent men of all faculties learnt to know each other and interchanged their experiences. But there was also no lack of friction and mutual jealousy, and Lasus did not shrink from publicly reproaching Onomacritus, who had attempted to serve his master by means of forged oracles, with abuse of the princely confidence, and thus to bring about his banishment.

Under such conditions, where everything depended on the ambitious whims of a self-seeking ruling family, how could it fail to happen that many underhand transactions should take place? Even in the arrangement of the Orphic teachings, the traces of wilful forgery were brought home to the sycophantic Onomacritus. Nevertheless the reputation of the Pisistratidæ still remains that of extreme integrity. They clearly recognised the vocation of Athens to unite and cultivate everything that was of national importance, and within a short time and by incredible industry they attained results which have never been effaced.

To the regent himself indeed, no more than to other tyrants was granted the peaceful enjoyment of his success; he continually felt that he trod on the brink of a volcano. Every popular commotion, every aspiring family, every unwonted stroke of fortune attained by an Athenian was pain and grief to him.

This is shown by the petty and superstitious means, which this powerful man employed to quiet his mind. He allowed himself to be pleased when Athenians who had conquered at Olympia caused the name of Pisistratus to be called out instead of their own, as was done by Cimon, called Coalemos, the half-brother of Miltiades, on the occasion of his second triumph (Ol. 63; 528 B.C.), when in recognition of this loyalty he was recalled from banishment. With anxious care inquiries were ceaselessly made after sayings of the gods which might give security of a long duration for the dynasty; and since the tyrant, being himself envious and jealous, felt that he was continually beset by the malevolence of strangers, he had the image of a locust fastened to the wall of his princely citadel, to serve as a defence against the evil glance of envy. Yet in advanced years, Pisistratus might confidently expect that his son and grandson, who were both gifted with talent for rule and took part in the government under him, would remain true to his policy to preserve the dynasty to which Athens was so much indebted at home and abroad. In this hope he died at a great age, surrounded by his family. (Ol. 63, 527 B.C.). Hippias succeeded to the power of the tyranny, in accordance with his father’s will; and the brothers, as they had promised their father, stood firmly by one another. To the gentle and refined Hipparchus there was no hardship in being second; he employed his position for the exercise of the peaceful side of power.d


[16] The procession of the goddess of Reason in the first French Revolution solves the difficulty that perplexed Herodotus.




Pisistratus left three legitimate sons—Hippias, Hipparchus, and Thessalus: the general belief at Athens among the contemporaries of Thucydides was, that Hipparchus was the eldest of the three and had succeeded him; but the historian emphatically pronounces this to be a mistake, and certifies, upon his own responsibility, that Hippias was both eldest son and successor. Such an assurance from him, fortified by certain reasons in themselves not very conclusive, is sufficient ground for our belief, the more so as Herodotus countenances the same version. But we are surprised at such a degree of historical carelessness in the Athenian public, and seemingly even in Plato, about a matter both interesting and comparatively recent. In order to abate this surprise, and to explain how the name of Hipparchus came to supplant that of Hippias in the popular talk, Thucydides recounts the memorable story of Harmodius and Aristogiton.

Of these two Athenian citizens, both belonging to the ancient gens called Gephyræi, the former was a beautiful youth, attached to the latter by a mutual friendship and devoted intimacy which Grecian manners did not condemn. Hipparchus made repeated propositions to Harmodius, which were repelled, but which, on becoming known to Aristogiton, excited both his jealousy and his fears lest the disappointed suitor should employ force—fears justified by the proceedings not unusual with Grecian despots, and by the absence of all legal protection against outrage from such a quarter. Under these feelings, he began to look about, in the best way that he could, for some means of putting down the despotism. Meanwhile Hipparchus, though not entertaining any designs of violence, was so incensed at the refusal of Harmodius, that he could not be satisfied without doing something to insult or humiliate him. In order to conceal the motive from which the insult really proceeded, he offered it, not directly to Harmodius, but to his sister. He caused this young maiden to be one day summoned to take her station in a religious procession as one of the canephoræ, or basket-carriers, according to the practice usual at Athens; but when she arrived at the place where her fellow-maidens were assembled, she was dismissed with scorn as unworthy of so respectable a function, and the summons addressed to her was disavowed. An insult thus publicly offered filled Harmodius with indignation, and still further exasperated the feelings of Aristogiton: both of them, resolving at all hazards to put an end to the despotism, concerted means for aggression with a few select associates. They awaited the festival of the Great Panathenæa, wherein the body of the citizens were accustomed to march up in armed procession, with spear and shield, to the Acropolis; this being the only day on which an armed body could come together without suspicion. The conspirators appeared armed like the rest of the citizens, but carrying concealed daggers besides. Harmodius and[232] Aristogiton undertook with their own hands to kill the two Pisistratidæ, while the rest promised to stand forward immediately for their protection against the foreign mercenaries; and though the whole number of persons engaged was small, they counted upon the spontaneous sympathies of the armed bystanders in an effort to regain their liberties, so soon as the blow should once be struck. The day of the festival having arrived, Hippias, with his foreign bodyguard around him, was marshalling the armed citizens for procession, in the Ceramicus without the gates, when Harmodius and Aristogiton approached with concealed daggers to execute their purpose. On coming near, they were thunder-struck to behold one of their own fellow-conspirators talking familiarly with Hippias, who was of easy access to every man; and they immediately concluded that the plot was betrayed. Expecting to be seized, and wrought up to a state of desperation, they resolved at least not to die without having revenged themselves on Hipparchus, whom they found within the city gates near the chapel called the Leocorion, and immediately slew him. His attendant guards killed Harmodius on the spot; while Aristogiton, rescued for the moment by the surrounding crowd, was afterwards taken, and perished in the tortures applied to make him disclose his accomplices.

The news flew quickly to Hippias in the Ceramicus, who heard it earlier than the armed citizens near him, awaiting his order for the commencement of the procession. With extraordinary self-command, he took advantage of this precious instant of foreknowledge, and advanced towards them, commanding them to drop their arms for a short time, and assemble on an adjoining ground. They unsuspectingly obeyed, and he immediately directed his guards to take possession of the vacant arms. He was now undisputed master, and enabled to seize the persons of all those citizens whom he mistrusted, especially all those who had daggers about them, which it was not the practice to carry in the Panathenaic procession.

Such is the memorable narrative of Harmodius and Aristogiton, peculiarly valuable inasmuch as it all comes from Thucydides. To possess great power, to be above legal restraint, to inspire extraordinary fear, is a privilege so much coveted by the giants among mankind, that we may well take notice of those cases in which it brings misfortune even upon themselves. The fear inspired by Hipparchus—of designs which he did not really entertain, but was likely to entertain, and competent to execute without hindrance—was here the grand cause of his destruction.

[514-510 B.C.]

The conspiracy here detailed happened in 514 B.C., during the thirteenth year of the reign of Hippias, which lasted four years longer, until 510 B.C. And these last four years, in the belief of the Athenian public, counted for his whole reign; nay, many of them made the still greater historical mistake of eliding these last four years altogether, and of supposing that the conspiracy of Harmodius and Aristogiton had deposed the Pisistratid government and liberated Athens. Both poets and philosophers shared this faith, which is distinctly put forth in the beautiful and popular scolion or song on the subject: the two friends are there celebrated as the authors of liberty at Athens—“they slew the despot and gave to Athens equal laws.” So inestimable a present was alone sufficient to enshrine in the minds of the subsequent democracy those who had sold their lives to purchase it: and we must further recollect that the intimate connection between the two, so repugnant to the modern reader, was regarded at Athens with sympathy, so that the story took hold of the Athenian mind by the vein of romance conjointly with that of patriotism. Harmodius and[233] Aristogiton were afterwards commemorated both as the winners and as the protomartyrs of Athenian liberty. Statues were erected in their honour shortly after the final expulsion of the Pisistratidæ; immunity from taxes and public burdens was granted to the descendants of their families; and the speaker who proposed the abolition of such immunities, at a time when the number had been abusively multiplied, made his only special exception in favour of this respected lineage. And since the name of Hipparchus was universally notorious as the person slain, we discover how it was that he came to be considered by an uncritical public as the predominant member of the Pisistratid family,—the eldest son and successor of Pisistratus, the reigning despot,—to the comparative neglect of Hippias. The same public probably cherished many other anecdotes, not the less eagerly believed because they could not be authenticated, respecting this eventful period.

Whatever may have been the moderation of Hippias before, indignation at the death of his brother and fear for his own safety, now induced him to drop it altogether. It is attested both by Thucydides and Herodotus, and admits of no doubt, that his power was now employed harshly and cruelly—that he put to death a considerable number of citizens. We find also a statement, noway improbable in itself, and affirmed both in Pausanias and in Plutarch,—inferior authorities, yet still in this case sufficiently credible,—that he caused Leæna, the mistress of Aristogiton, to be tortured to death, in order to extort from her a knowledge of the secrets and accomplices of the latter. But as he could not but be sensible that this system of terrorism was full of peril to himself, so he looked out for shelter and support in case of being expelled from Athens; and with this view he sought to connect himself with Darius, king of Persia—a connection full of consequences to be hereafter developed. Æantides, son of Hippoclus the despot of Lampsacus on the Hellespont, stood high at this time in the favour of the Persian monarch, which induced Hippias to give him his daughter Archedice in marriage; no small honour to the Lampsacene, in the estimation of Thucydides. To explain how Hippias came to fix upon this town, however, it is necessary to say a few words on the foreign policy of the Pisistratidæ.

[537-515 B.C.]

The expedition of Miltiades to the Chersonesus, as described in the previous chapter, must have occurred early after the first usurpation of Pisistratus, since even his imprisonment by the Lampsacenes happened before the ruin of Crœsus (546 B.C.). But it was not till much later,—probably during the third and most powerful period of Pisistratus,—that the latter undertook his expedition against Sigeum in the Troad. This place appears to have fallen into the hands of the Mytileneans: Pisistratus retook it, and placed there his illegitimate son Hegesistratus as despot. The Mytileneans may have been enfeebled at this time (somewhere between 537-527 B.C.), not only by the strides of Persian conquest on the mainland, but also by the ruinous defeat which they suffered from Polycrates and the Samians. Hegesistratus maintained the place against various hostile attempts, throughout all the reign of Hippias, so that the Athenian possessions in those regions comprehended at this period both the Chersonesus and Sigeum. To the former of the two, Hippias sent out Miltiades, nephew of the first œcist, as governor, after the death of his brother Stesagoras. The new governor found much discontent in the peninsula, but succeeded in subduing it by entrapping and imprisoning the principal men in each town. He further took into his pay a regiment of five hundred mercenaries, and married Hegesipyle, daughter of the Thracian king Olorus. It appears to have been about 515 B.C. that this second Miltiades went out to the Chersonesus. He seems to have been[234] obliged to quit it for a time, after the Scythian expedition of Darius, in consequence of having incurred the hostility of the Persians; but he was there from the beginning of the Ionic revolt until about 493 B.C., or two or three years before the battle of Marathon, on which occasion we shall find him acting-commander of the Athenian army.

Both the Chersonesus and Sigeum, though Athenian possessions, were, however, now tributary and dependent on Persia. And it was to this quarter that Hippias, during his last years of alarm, looked for support in the event of being expelled from Athens: he calculated upon Sigeum as a shelter, and upon Æantides, as well as Darius, as an ally. Neither the one nor the other failed him.

The same circumstances which alarmed Hippias, and rendered his dominion in Attica at once more oppressive and more odious, tended of course to raise the hopes of his enemies, the Athenian exiles, with the powerful Alcmæonidæ at their head. Believing the favourable moment to be come, they even ventured upon an invasion of Attica, and occupied a post called Leipsydrion in the mountain range of Parnes, which separates Attica from Bœotia. But their schemes altogether failed: Hippias defeated and drove them out of the country. His dominion now seemed confirmed, for the Lacedæmonians were on terms of intimate friendship with him; and Amyntas, king of Macedon, as well as the Thessalians were his allies. Yet the exiles whom he had beaten in the open field succeeded in an unexpected manœuvre, which, favoured by circumstances, proved his ruin.

[548-514 B.C.]

By an accident which had occurred in the year 548 B.C., the Delphian Temple was set on fire and burnt. To repair this grave loss was an object of solicitude to all Greece; but the outlay required was exceedingly heavy, and it appears to have been long before the money could be collected. The Amphictyons decreed that one-fourth of the cost should be borne by the Delphians themselves, who found themselves so heavily taxed by this assessment, that they sent envoys throughout all Greece to collect subscriptions in aid, and received, among other donations, from the Greek settlers in Egypt twenty minæ, besides a large present of alum from the Egyptian king Amasis [Aahmes II]: their munificent benefactor Crœsus fell a victim to the Persians in 546 B.C., so that his treasure was no longer open to them. The total sum required was three hundred talents, equal probably to about £115,000 sterling [or $575,000],—a prodigious amount to be collected from the dispersed Grecian cities, who acknowledged no common sovereign authority, and among whom the proportion reasonable to ask from each was so difficult to determine with satisfaction to all parties. At length, however, the money was collected, and the Amphictyons were in a situation to make a contract for the building of the temple. The Alcmæonidæ, who had been in exile ever since the third and final acquisition of power by Pisistratus, took the contract; and in executing it, they not only performed the work in the best manner, but even went much beyond the terms stipulated; employing Parian marble for the frontage, where the material prescribed to them was coarse stone. As was before remarked in the case of Pisistratus when he was in banishment, we are surprised to find exiles whose property had been confiscated so amply furnished with money—unless we are to suppose that Clisthenes the Alcmæonid, grandson of the Sicyonian Clisthenes, inherited through his mother wealth independent of Attica, and deposited it in the temple of the Samian Hera.

[514-510 B.C.]

To the Delphians, especially, the rebuilding of their temple on so superior a scale was the most essential of all services, and their gratitude towards the[235] Alcmæonidæ was proportionally great. Partly through such a feeling, partly through pecuniary presents, Clisthenes was thus enabled to work the oracle for political purposes, and to call forth the powerful arm of Sparta against Hippias. Whenever any Spartan presented himself to consult the oracle, either on private or public business, the answer of the priestess was always in one strain, “Athens must be liberated.” The constant repetition of this mandate at length extorted from the piety of the Lacedæmonians a reluctant compliance. Reverence for the god overcame their strong feeling of friendship towards the Pisistratidæ, and Anchimolius son of Aster was despatched by sea to Athens, at the head of a Spartan force, to expel them. On landing at Phalerum, however, he found them already forewarned and prepared, as well as farther strengthened by one thousand horse specially demanded from their allies in Thessaly. Upon the plain of Phalerum, this latter force was found peculiarly effective, so that the division of Anchimolius was driven back to their ships with great loss and he himself slain. The defeated armament had probably been small, and its repulse only provoked the Lacedæmonians to send a larger, under the command of their king Cleomenes in person, who on this occasion marched into Attica by land. On reaching the plain of Athens, he was assailed by the Thessalian horse, but repelled them in so gallant a style, that they at once rode off and returned to their native country; abandoning their allies with a faithlessness not unfrequent in the Thessalian character. Cleomenes marched on to Athens without further resistance, and found himself, together with the Alcmæonids and the malcontent Athenians generally, in possession of the town. At that time there was no fortification except around the Acropolis, into which Hippias retired with his mercenaries and the citizens most faithful to him; having taken care to provision it well beforehand, so that it was not less secure against famine than against assault. He might have defied the besieging force, which was noway prepared for a long blockade; but, not altogether confiding in his position, he tried to send his children by stealth out of the country; and in this proceeding the children were taken prisoners. To procure their restoration, Hippias consented to all that was demanded of him, and withdrew from Attica to Sigeum in the Troad within the space of five days.

Thus fell the Pisistratid dynasty in 510 B.C., fifty years after the first usurpation of its founder. It was put down through the aid of foreigners, and those foreigners, too, wishing well to it in their hearts, though hostile from a mistaken feeling of divine injunction. Yet both the circumstances of its fall, and the course of events which followed, conspire to show that it possessed few attached friends in the country, and that the expulsion of Hippias was welcomed unanimously by the vast majority of Athenians. His family and chief partisans would accompany him into exile,—probably as a matter of course, without requiring any formal sentence of condemnation; and an altar was erected in the Acropolis, with a column hard by, commemorating both the past iniquity of the dethroned dynasty, and the names of all its members.

[510-507 B.C.]

With Hippias disappeared the mercenary Thracian garrison, upon which he and his father before him had leaned for defence as well as for enforcement of authority; and Cleomenes with his Lacedæmonian forces retired also, after staying only long enough to establish a personal friendship, productive subsequently of important consequences, between the Spartan king and the Athenian Isagoras. The Athenians were thus left to themselves, without any foreign interference to constrain them in their political arrangements.


It has been mentioned that the Pisistratidæ had for the most part respected the forms of the Solonian Constitution: the nine archons, and the probouleutic or preconsidering Senate of Four Hundred (both annually changed), still continued to subsist, together with occasional meetings of the people—or rather of such portion of the people as was comprised in the gentes, phratries, and four Ionic tribes. The timocratic classification of Solon (or quadruple scale of income and admeasurement of political franchises according to it) also continued to subsist—but all within the tether and subservient to the purposes of the ruling family, who always kept one of their number as real master, among the chief administrators, and always retained possession of the Acropolis as well as of the mercenary force.

That overawing pressure being now removed by the expulsion of Hippias, the enslaved forms became at once endued with freedom and reality. There appeared again what Attica had not known for thirty years, declared political parties, and pronounced opposition between two men as leaders,—on one side, Isagoras, son of Tisander, a person of illustrious descent,—on the other, Clisthenes the Alcmæonid, not less illustrious, and possessing at this moment a claim on the gratitude of his countrymen as the most persevering as well as the most effective foe of the dethroned despots. In what manner such opposition was carried on we are not told. It would seem to have been not altogether pacific; but at any rate, Clisthenes had the worst of it, and in consequence of this defeat, says the historian, “he took into partnership the people, who had been before excluded from everything.” His partnership with the people gave birth to the Athenian democracy: it was a real and important revolution.


[507 B.C.]

The political franchise, or the character of an Athenian citizen, both before and since Solon, had been confined to the primitive four Ionic tribes, each of which was an aggregate of so many close corporations or quasi-families—the gentes and the phratries. None of the residents in Attica, therefore, except those included in some gens or phratry, had any part in the political franchise. Such non-privileged residents were probably at all times numerous, and became more and more so by means of fresh settlers: moreover, they tended most to multiply in Athens and Piræus, where emigrants would commonly establish themselves. Clisthenes broke down the existing wall of privilege, and imparted the political franchise to the excluded mass. But this could not be done by enrolling them in new gentes or phratries, created in addition to the old; for the gentile tie was founded upon old faith and feeling, which, in the existing state of the Greek mind, could not be suddenly conjured up as a bond of union for comparative strangers: it could only be done by disconnecting the franchise altogether from the Ionic tribes as well as from the gentes which constituted them, and by redistributing the population into new tribes with a character and purpose exclusively political. Accordingly, Clisthenes abolished the four Ionic tribes, and created in their place ten new tribes founded upon a different principle, independent of the gentes and phratries. Each of his new tribes comprised a certain number of demes or cantons, with the enrolled proprietors and residents in each of them. The demes taken altogether included the entire surface of Attica, so that the Clisthenean Constitution admitted to the political franchise all the free native Athenians; and not merely these, but[237] also many metics, and even some of the superior order of slaves. Putting out of sight the general body of slaves, and regarding only the free inhabitants, it was in point of fact a scheme approaching to universal suffrage, both political and judicial.

The slight and cursory manner in which Herodotus announces this memorable revolution tends to make us overlook its real importance. He dwells chiefly on the alteration in the number and names of the tribes: Clisthenes, he says, despised the Ionians so much, that he would not tolerate the continuance in Attica of the four tribes which prevailed in the Ionic cities, deriving their names from the four sons of Ion—just as his grandfather, the Sicyonian Clisthenes, hating the Dorians, had degraded and nicknamed the three Dorian tribes at Sicyon. Such is the representation of Herodotus, who seems himself to have entertained some contempt for the Ionians, and therefore to have suspected a similar feeling where it had no real existence. But the scope of Clisthenes was something far more extensive: he abolished the four ancient tribes, not because they were Ionic, but because they had become incommensurate with the existing condition of the Attic people, and because such abolition procured both for himself and for his political scheme new as well as hearty allies.

As soon as Hippias was expelled, the senate and the public assembly regained their efficiency. But had they been continued on the old footing, including none except members of the four tribes, these tribes would have been reinvested with a privilege which in reality they had so long lost, that its revival would have seemed an odious novelty, and the remaining population would probably not have submitted to it. If, in addition, we consider the political excitement of the moment, the restoration of one body of men from exile, and the departure of another body into exile, the outpouring of long-suppressed hatred, partly against these very forms, by the corruption of which the despot had reigned, we shall see that prudence as well as patriotism dictated the adoption of an enlarged scheme of government. Clisthenes had learned some wisdom during his long exile; and as he probably continued, for some time after the introduction of his new constitution, to be the chief adviser of his countrymen, we may consider their extraordinary success as a testimony to his prudence and skill not less than to their courage and unanimity. For, necessary as the change had become, it was not the less a shock to ancient Attic ideas. It radically altered the very idea of a tribe, which now became an aggregation of demes, not of gentes; and it thus broke up those associations, religious, social, and political, between the whole and the parts of the old system, which operated powerfully on the mind of every old-fashioned Athenian. The patricians at Rome, who composed the gentes and curiæ, and the plebs, who had no part in these corporations, formed for a long time two separate and opposing factions in the same city, each with its own separate organisation. It was only by slow degrees that the plebs gained ground.

So too in the Italian and German cities of the Middle Ages, the patrician families refused to part with their own separate political identity, when the guilds grew up by the side of them; even though forced to renounce a portion of their power, they continued to be a separate fraternity, and would not submit to be regimented anew, under an altered category and denomination, along with the traders who had grown into wealth and importance. But the reform of Clisthenes effected this change all at once, both as to the name and as to the reality. In some cases, indeed, that which had been the name of a gens was retained as the name of a deme, but even then the[238] old gentiles were ranked indiscriminately among the remaining demots; and the Athenian people, politically considered, thus became one homogeneous whole, distributed for convenience into parts, numerically, locally, and politically equal. It is, however, to be remembered, that while the four Ionic tribes were abolished, the gentes and phratries which compose them were left untouched, and continued to subsist as family and religious associations, though carrying with them no political privilege.

The ten newly created tribes, arranged in an established order of precedence, were called: Erechtheis, Ægeis, Pandionis, Leontis, Acamantis, Œneis, Cecropis, Hippothoöntis, Æantis, Antiochis—names borrowed chiefly from the respected heroes of Attic legend. This number remained unaltered until the year 305 B.C., when it was increased to twelve by the addition of two new tribes, Antigonias and Demetrias, afterwards designated anew by the names of Ptolemais and Attalis. The mere names of these last two, borrowed from living kings and not from legendary heroes, betray the change from freedom to subservience at Athens. Each tribe comprised a certain number of demes—cantons, parishes, or townships—in Attica. But the total number of these demes is not distinctly ascertained.

There is another point, however, which is at once more certain, and more important to notice. The demes which Clisthenes assigned to each tribe were in no case all adjacent to each other; and therefore, the tribe, as a whole, did not correspond with any continuous portion of the territory, nor could it have any peculiar local interest, separate from the entire community. Such systematic avoidance of the factions arising out of neighbourhood will appear to have been more especially necessary, when we recollect that the quarrels of the Paralii, the Diacrii, the Pedieis, during the preceding century, had all been generated from local feud, though doubtless artfully fomented by individual ambition. Moreover, it was only by this same precaution that the local predominance of the city, and the formation of a city-interest distinct from that of the country, was obviated; which could hardly have failed to arise had the city by itself constituted either one deme or one tribe. Clisthenes distributed the city (or found it already distributed) into several demes, and those demes among several tribes; while Piræus and Phalerum, each constituting a separate deme, were also assigned to different tribes; so that there were no local advantages either to bestow predominance, or to create a struggle for predominance, of one tribe over the rest. Each deme had its own local interests to watch over; but the tribe was a mere aggregate of demes for political, military, and religious purposes, with no separate hopes or fears apart from the whole state. Each tribe had a chapel, sacred rites and festivals, and a common fund for such meetings, in honour of its eponymous hero, administered by members of its own choice; and the statues of all the ten eponymous heroes, fraternal patrons of the democracy, were planted in the most conspicuous part of the agora of Athens. In the future working of the Athenian government we shall trace no symptom of disquieting local factions—a capital amendment compared with the disputes of the preceding century, and traceable, in part, to the absence of border-relations between demes of the same tribe.

The deme now became the primitive constituent element of the commonwealth, both as to persons and as to property. It had its own demarch, its register of enrolled citizens, its collective property, its public meetings and religious ceremonies, its taxes levied and administered by itself. The register of qualified citizens was kept by the demarch, and the inscription of new citizens took place at the assembly of the demots, whose legitimate[239] sons were enrolled on attaining the age of eighteen, and their adopted sons at any time when presented and sworn to by the adopting citizen. The citizenship could only be granted by a public vote of the people, but wealthy non-freemen were enabled sometimes to evade this law and purchase admission upon the register of some poor deme, probably by means of a fictitious adoption. At the meetings of the demots, the register was called over, and it sometimes happened that some names were expunged—in which case the party thus disfranchised had an appeal to the popular judicature. So great was the local administrative power, however, of these demes, that they are described as the substitute, under the Clisthenean system, for the naucraries under the Solonian and anti-Solonian. The trittyes and naucraries, though nominally preserved, and the latter (as some affirm) augmented in number from forty-eight to fifty, appear henceforward as of little public importance.

Clisthenes preserved, but at the same time modified and expanded, all the main features of Solon’s political constitution; the public assembly, or ecclesia,—the preconsidering senate, composed of members from all the tribes,—and the habit of annual election, as well as annual responsibility of magistrates, by and to the ecclesia. The full value must now have been felt of possessing such pre-existing institutions to build upon, at a moment of perplexity and dissension. But the Clisthenean ecclesia acquired new strength, and almost a new character, from the great increase of the number of citizens qualified to attend it; while the annually changed senate, instead of being composed of four hundred members taken in equal proportion from each of the old four tribes, was enlarged to five hundred, taken equally from each of the new ten tribes. It now comes before us, under the name of Senate of Five Hundred, as an active and indispensable body throughout the whole Athenian democracy: and the practice now seems to have begun (though the period of commencement cannot be decisively proved), of determining the names of the senators by lot. Both the senate thus constituted, and the public assembly, were far more popular and vigorous than they had been under the original arrangement of Solon.

The new constitution of the tribes, as it led to a change in the annual senate, so it transformed, no less directly, the military arrangements of the state, both as to soldiers and as to officers. The citizens called upon to serve in arms were now marshalled according to tribes—each tribe having its own taxiarchs as officers for the hoplites, and its own phylarch at the head of the horsemen. Moreover, there were now created for the first time ten strategi, or generals, one from each tribe; and two hipparchs, for the supreme command of the horsemen. Under the prior Athenian constitution it appears that the command of the military force had been vested in the third archon, or polemarch, no strategi then existing; and even after the latter had been created, under the Clisthenean constitution, the polemarch still retained a joint right of command along with them—as we are told at the battle of Marathon, where Callimachus the polemarch not only enjoyed an equal vote in the council of war along with the ten strategi, but even occupied the post of honour on the right wing. The ten generals, annually changed, are thus (like the ten tribes) a fruit of the Clisthenean constitution, which was at the same time powerfully strengthened and protected by such remodelling of the military force. The functions of the generals becoming more extensive as the democracy advanced, they seem to have acquired gradually not merely the direction of military and naval affairs, but also that of the foreign relations of the city generally,—while the nine archons,[240] including the polemarch, were by degrees lowered down from that full executive and judicial competence which they had once enjoyed, to the simple ministry of police and preparatory justice. Encroached upon by the strategi on one side, they were also restricted in efficiency by the rise of the popular dicasteries or numerous jury-courts, on the other. We may be very sure that these popular dicasteries had not been permitted to meet or to act under the despotism of the Pisistratidæ, and that the judicial business of the city must then have been conducted partly by the senate of Areopagus, partly by the archons; perhaps with a nominal responsibility of the latter at the end of their year of office to an acquiescent ecclesia. And if we even assume it to be true, as some writers contend, that the habit of direct popular judicature, over and above this annual trial of responsibility, had been partially introduced by Solon, it must have been discontinued during the long coercion exercised by the supervening dynasty. But the outburst of popular spirit, which lent force to Clisthenes, doubtless carried the people into direct action as jurors in the aggregate heliæa, not less than as voters in the ecclesia; and the change was thus begun which contributed to degrade the archons from their primitive character as judges, into the lower function of preliminary examiners and presidents of a jury. Such convocation of numerous juries, beginning first with the aggregate body of sworn citizens above thirty years of age, and subsequently dividing them into separate bodies or panels, for trying particular causes, became gradually more frequent and more systematised: until at length, in the time of Pericles, it was made to carry a small pay, and stood out as one of the most prominent features of Athenian life.

The financial affairs of the city underwent at this epoch as complete a change as the military: in fact, the appointment of magistrates and officers by tens, one from each tribe, seems to have become the ordinary practice. From this time forward, the senate of Five Hundred steps far beyond its original duty of preparing matters for the discussion of the ecclesia: it embraces, besides, a large circle of administrative and general superintendence, which hardly admits of any definition. Its sittings become constant, with the exception of special holidays, and the year is distributed into ten portions called prytanies—the fifty senators of each tribe taking by turns the duty of constant attendance during one prytany, and receiving during that time the title of the Prytanes: the order of precedence among the tribes in these duties was annually determined by lot.

During those later times known to us through the great orators, the ecclesia, or formal assembly of the citizens, was convoked four times regularly during each prytany, or oftener if necessity required—usually by the senate, though the strategi had also the power of convoking it by their own authority. How often the ancient ecclesia had been convoked during the interval between Solon and Pisistratus, we cannot exactly say—probably but seldom during the year. But under the Pisistratidæ, its convocation had dwindled down into an inoperative formality; and the re-establishment of it by Clisthenes, not merely with plenary determining powers, but also under full notice and preparation of matters beforehand, together with the best securities for orderly procedure, was in itself a revolution impressive to the mind of every Athenian citizen. To render the ecclesia efficient, it was indispensable that its meetings should be both frequent and free. Men thus became trained to the duty both of speakers and hearers, and each man, while he felt that he exercised his share of influence on the decision, identified his own safety and happiness with the vote of the majority, and became familiarised[241] with the notion of a sovereign authority which he neither could nor ought to resist. This is an idea new to the Athenian bosom; and with it came the feelings sanctifying free speech and equal law—words which no Athenian citizen ever afterwards heard unmoved: together with that sentiment of the entire commonwealth as one and indivisible, which always overruled, though it did not supplant, the local and cantonal specialties. It is not too much to say that these patriotic and ennobling impulses were a new product in the Athenian mind, to which nothing analogous occurs even in the time of Solon. They were kindled in part doubtless by the strong reaction against the Pisistratidæ, but still more by the fact that the opposing leader, Clisthenes, turned that transitory feeling to the best possible account, and gave to it a vigorous perpetuity, as well as a well-defined positive object, by the popular elements conspicuous in his constitution. His name makes less figure in history than we should expect, because he passed for the mere renovator of Solon’s scheme of government after it had been overthrown by Pisistratus. Probably he himself professed this object, since it would facilitate the success of his propositions: and if we confine ourselves to the letter of the case, the fact is in a great measure true, since the annual senate and the ecclesia are both Solonian—but both of them under his reform were clothed in totally new circumstances, and swelled into gigantic proportions. How vigorous was the burst of Athenian enthusiasm, altering instantaneously the position of Athens among the powers of Greece, we shall hear presently.

But it was not only the people formally installed in their ecclesia, who received from Clisthenes the real attributes of sovereignty; it was by him also that the people were first called into direct action as dicasts, or jurors. This custom may be said, in a certain limited sense, to have begun in the time of Solon, since that lawgiver invested the popular assembly with the power of pronouncing the judgment of accountability upon the archons after their year of office. Here, again, the building, afterwards so spacious and stately, was erected on a Solonian foundation, though it was not itself Solonian. That the popular dicasteries, in the elaborate forms in which they existed from Pericles downward, were introduced all at once by Clisthenes, it is impossible to believe; yet the steps by which they were gradually wrought out are not distinctly discoverable. It would rather seem, that at first only the aggregate body of citizens above thirty years of age exercised judicial functions, being specially convoked and sworn to try persons accused of public crimes, and when so employed bearing the name of the heliæa, or heliasts; private offences and disputes between man and man being still determined by individual magistrates in the city, and a considerable judicial power still residing in the senate of Areopagus. There is reason to believe that this was the state of things established by Clisthenes, and which afterwards came to be altered by the greater extent of judicial duty gradually accruing to the heliasts, so that it was necessary to subdivide the collective heliæa. According to the subdivision, as practised in the times best known, six thousand citizens above thirty years of age were annually selected by lot out of the whole number, six hundred from each of the ten tribes: five thousand of these citizens were arranged in ten panels or decuries of five hundred each, the remaining one thousand being reserved to fill up vacancies in case of death or absence among the former. The whole six thousand took a prescribed oath, couched in very striking words, and every man received a ticket inscribed with his own name as well as with a letter designating his decury. When there were causes or crimes ripe for trial, the thesmothets or six inferior archons, determined by lot, first, which decuries should sit, according to the number[242] wanted—next, in which court, or under the presidency of what magistrate, the decury B or E should sit, so that it could not be known beforehand in what cause each would be judge. Each of these decuries sitting in judicature was called the heliæa, a name which belongs properly to the collective assembly of the people; this collective assembly having been itself the original judicature. We conceive that the practice of distributing this collective assembly, or heliæa, into sections of jurors for judicial duty, may have begun under one form or another soon after the reform of Clisthenes, since the direct interference of the people in public affairs tended more and more to increase. But it could only have been matured by degrees into that constant and systematic service which the pay of Pericles called forth at last in completeness. Under the last mentioned system the judicial competence of the archons was annulled, and the third archon, or polemarch, withdrawn from all military functions. Still, this had not been yet done at the time of the battle of Marathon, in which Callimachus the polemarch not only commanded along with the strategi, but enjoyed a sort of pre-eminence over them: nor had it been done during the year after the battle of Marathon, in which Aristides was archon—for the magisterial decisions of Aristides formed one of the principal foundations of his honourable surname, the Just.

With this question, as to the comparative extent of judicial power vested by Clisthenes in the popular dicastery and the archons, are in reality connected two others in Athenian constitutional law; relating, first, to the admissibility of all citizens for the post of archon—next, to the choosing of archons by lot. It is well known that, in the time of Pericles, the archons, and various other individual functionaries, had come to be chosen by lot—moreover, all citizens were legally admissible, and might give in their names to be drawn for by lot, subject to what was called the docimasy, or legal examination into their status of citizen, and into various moral and religious qualifications, before they took office; while at the same time the function of the archon had become nothing higher than preliminary examination of parties and witnesses for the dicastery, and presidence over it when afterwards assembled, together with the power of imposing by authority a fine of small amount upon inferior offenders.

Now all these three political arrangements hang essentially together. The great value of the lot, according to Grecian democratical ideas, was that it equalised the chance of office between rich and poor. But so long as the poor citizens were legally inadmissible, choice by lot could have no recommendation either to the rich or to the poor; in fact, it would be less democratical than election by the general mass of citizens, because the poor citizen would under the latter system enjoy an important right of interference by means of his suffrage, though he could not be elected himself. Again, choice by lot could never under any circumstances be applied to those posts where special competence, and a certain measure of attributes possessed only by a few, could not be dispensed with without obvious peril; nor was it ever applied, throughout the whole history of democratical Athens, to the strategi, or generals, who were always elected by show of hands of the assembled citizens. Accordingly, we may regard it as certain that, at the time when the archons first came to be chosen by lot, the superior and responsible duties once attached to that office had been, or were in course of being, detached from it, and transferred either to the popular dicasts or to the ten elected strategi: so that there remained to these archons only a routine of police and administration, important indeed to the state, yet such as could be executed by any citizen of average probity, diligence, and capacity. At least[243] there was no obvious absurdity in thinking so; and the docimasy excluded from the office men of notoriously discreditable life, even after they might have drawn the successful lot. Pericles, though chosen strategus, year after year successively, was never archon; and it may even be doubted whether men of first-rate talents and ambition often gave in their names for the office. To those of smaller aspirations it was doubtless a source of importance, but it imposed troublesome labour, gave no pay, and entailed a certain degree of peril upon any archon who might have given offence to powerful men, when he came to pass through the trial of accountability which followed immediately upon his year of office. There was little to make the office acceptable either to very poor men, or to very rich and ambitious men; and between the middling persons who gave in their names, any one might be taken without great practical mischief, always assuming the two guarantees of the docimasy before, and accountability after, office. This was the conclusion—in our opinion a mistaken conclusion, and such as would find no favour at present—to which the democrats of Athens were conducted by their strenuous desire to equalise the chances of office for rich and poor. But their sentiment seems to have been satisfied by a partial enforcement of the lot to the choice of some offices,—especially the archons, as the primitive chief magistrates of the state,—without applying it to all, or to the most responsible and difficult. Nor would they have applied it to the archons, if it had been indispensably necessary that these magistrates should retain their original very serious duty of judging disputes and condemning offenders.

Now in regard to the eligibility of all Athenians indiscriminately to the office of archon, we find a clear and positive testimony as to the time when it was first introduced. Plutarch tells us that the oligarchical, but high-principled Aristides, was himself the proposer of this constitutional change—shortly after the battle of Platæa, with the consequent expulsion of the Persians from Greece, and the return of the refugee Athenians to their ruined city. Seldom has it happened in the history of mankind, that rich and poor have been so completely equalised as among the population of Athens in that memorable expatriation and heroic struggle. Nor are we at all surprised to hear that the mass of citizens, coming back with freshly kindled patriotism as well as with the consciousness that their country had only been recovered by the equal efforts of all, would no longer submit to be legally disqualified from any office of state. It was on this occasion that the constitution was first made really “common” to all, and that the archons, strategi, and all functionaries, first began to be chosen from all Athenians without any difference of legal eligibility. No mention is made of the lot in this important statement of Plutarch, which appears in every way worthy of credit, and which teaches us that, down to the invasion of Xerxes not only had the exclusive principle of the Solonian law of qualification continued in force (whereby the first three classes on the census were alone admitted to all individual offices, and the fourth or thetic class excluded), but also the archons had hitherto been elected by the citizens—not taken by lot.

Now for financial purposes, the quadruple census of Solon was retained long after this period, even beyond the Peloponnesian War and the oligarchy of Thirty. But we thus learn that Clisthenes in his constitution retained it for political purposes also, in part at least: he recognised the exclusion of the great mass of the citizens from all individual offices—such as the archon, the strategus, etc. In his time, probably, no complaints were raised on the subject. His constitution gave to the collective bodies—senate, ecclesia,[244] and heliæa, or dicastery—a degree of power and importance such as they had never before known or imagined: and we may well suppose that the Athenian people of that day had no objection even to the proclaimed system and theory of being exclusively governed by men of wealth and station as individual magistrates—especially since many of the newly enfranchised citizens had been previously metics and slaves. Indeed, it is to be added that, even under the full democracy of later Athens, though the people had then become passionately attached to the theory of equal admissibility of all citizens to office, yet, in practice, poor men seldom obtained offices which were elected by the general vote, as will appear more fully in the course of this history.[17]

The choice of the strategi remained ever afterwards upon the footing on which Aristides thus placed it. But the present is not the time to enter into the modifications which Athens underwent during the generation after the battle of Platæa. They have been here briefly noticed for the purpose of reasoning back, in the absence of direct evidence, to Athens as it stood in the generation before that memorable battle, after the reform of Clisthenes. His reform, though highly democratical, stopped short of the mature democracy which prevailed from Pericles to Demosthenes, in three ways especially, among various others; and it is therefore sometimes considered by the later writers as an aristocratical constitution: (1) It still recognised the archons as judges to a considerable extent, and the third archon, or polemarch, as joint military commander along with the strategi. (2) It retained them as elected annually by the body of citizens, not as chosen by lot. (3) It still excluded the fourth class of the Solonian census from all individual office, the archonship among the rest. The Solonian law of exclusion, however, though retained in principle, was mitigated in practice thus far—that whereas Solon had rendered none but members of the highest class on the census (the pentakosiomedimni) eligible to the archonship, Clisthenes opened that dignity to all the first three classes, shutting out only the fourth. That he did this may be inferred from the fact that Aristides, assuredly not a rich man, became archon.

We are also inclined to believe that the senate of Five Hundred, as constituted by Clisthenes, was taken, not by election, but by lot, from the ten tribes, and that every citizen became eligible to it. Election for this purpose—that is, the privilege of annually electing a batch of fifty senators, all at once, by each tribe—would probably be thought more troublesome than valuable; nor do we hear of separate meetings of each tribe for purposes of election. Moreover, the office of senator was a collective, not an individual office; the shock, therefore, to the feelings of semi-democratised Athens, from the unpleasant idea of a poor man sitting among the fifty prytanes, would be less than if they conceived him as polemarch at the head of the right wing of the army, or as an archon administering justice.

A further difference between the constitution of Solon and that of Clisthenes is to be found in the position of the senate of Areopagus. Under the former, that senate had been the principal body in the state, and he had even enlarged its powers; under the latter, it must have been treated[245] at first as an enemy, and kept down. For as it was composed only of all the past archons, and as, during the preceding thirty years, every archon had been a creature of the Pisistratidæ, the Areopagites collectively must have been both hostile and odious to Clisthenes and his partisans, perhaps a fraction of its members might even retire into exile with Hippias. Its influence must have been sensibly lessened by the change of party, until it came to be gradually filled by fresh archons springing from the bosom of the Clisthenean constitution. But during this important interval, the new-modelled senate of Five Hundred, and the popular assembly, stepped into that ascendency which they never afterwards lost. From the time of Clisthenes forward, the Areopagites cease to be the chief and prominent power in the state: yet they are still considerable; and when the second fill of the democratical tide took place, after the battle of Platæa, they became the focus of that which was then considered as the party of oligarchical resistance. We have already remarked that the archons, during the intermediate time (about 509-477 B.C.), were all elected by the ecclesia, not chosen by lot, and that the fourth (or poorest and most numerous) class on the census were by law then ineligible; while election at Athens, even when every citizen without exception was an elector and eligible, had a natural tendency to fall upon men of wealth and station. We thus see how it happened that the past archons, when united in the Senate of Areopagus, infused into that body the sympathies, prejudices, and interests of the richer classes. It was this which brought them into conflict with the more democratical party headed by Pericles and Ephialtes, in times when portions of the Clisthenean constitution had come to be discredited as too much imbued with oligarchy.

One other remarkable institution, distinctly ascribed to Clisthenes, yet remains to be noticed—the Ostracism. It is hardly too much to say that, without this protective process, none of the other institutions would have reached maturity.


By the ostracism, a citizen was banished without special accusation, trial, or defence, for a term of ten years—subsequently diminished to five. His property was not taken away, nor his reputation tainted; so that the penalty consisted solely in the banishment from his native city to some other Greek city. As to reputation, the ostracism was a compliment rather than otherwise; and so it was vividly felt to be, when, about ninety years after Clisthenes, the conspiracy between Nicias and Alcibiades fixed it upon Hyperbolus. The two former had both recommended the taking of an ostracising vote, each hoping to cause the banishment of the other; but before the day arrived, they accommodated the difference. To fire off the safety-gun of the republic against a person so little dangerous as Hyperbolus, was denounced as the prostitution of a great political ceremony: “It was not against such men as him,” said the comic writer, Plato, “that the oyster-shell (or potsherd) was intended to be used.” The process of ostracism was carried into effect by writing upon a shell, or potsherd, the name of the person whom a citizen thought it prudent for a time to banish; which shell, when deposited in the proper vessel, counted for a vote towards the sentence.

We have already observed that all the governments of the Grecian cities, when we compare them with that idea which a modern reader is apt to conceive of the measure of force belonging to a government, were essentially weak, the good as well as the bad—the democratical, the oligarchical, and[246] the despotic. The force in the hands of any government, to cope with conspirators or mutineers, was extremely small, with the single exception of a despot surrounded by his mercenary troop; so that no tolerably sustained conspiracy or usurper could be put down except by the direct aid of the people in support of the government; which amounted to a dissolution, for the time, of constitutional authority, and was pregnant with reactionary consequences such as no man could foresee. To prevent powerful men from attempting usurpation was, therefore, of the greatest possible moment; and a despot or an oligarchy might exercise preventive means at pleasure, much sharper than the ostracism, such as the assassination of Cimon, as directed by the Pisistratidæ. At the very least, they might send away any one, from whom they apprehended attack or danger, without incurring even so much as the imputation of severity. But in a democracy, where arbitrary action of the magistrate was the thing of all others most dreaded, and where fixed laws, with trial and defence as preliminaries to punishment, were conceived by the ordinary citizen as the guarantees of his personal security and as the pride of his social condition—the creation of such an exceptional power presented serious difficulty. If we transport ourselves to the times of Clisthenes, immediately after the expulsion of the Pisistratidæ, when the working of the democratical machinery was as yet untried, we shall find this difficulty at its maximum; but we shall also find the necessity of vesting such a power somewhere absolutely imperative. For the great Athenian nobles had yet to learn the lesson of respect for any constitution; their past history had exhibited continual struggles between the armed factions of Megacles, Lycurgus, and Pisistratus, put down after a time by the superior force and alliances of the latter. And though Clisthenes, the son of Megacles, might be firmly disposed to renounce the example of his father, and to act as the faithful citizen of a fixed constitution—he would know but too well that the sons of his father’s companions and rivals would follow out ambitious purposes without any regard to the limits imposed by law, if ever they acquired sufficient partisans to present a fair prospect of success. Moreover, when any two candidates for power, with such reckless dispositions, came into a bitter personal rivalry, the motives to each of them, arising as well out of fear as out of ambition, to put down his opponent at any cost to the constitution, might well become irresistible, unless some impartial and discerning interference could arrest the strife in time. “If the Athenians were wise (Aristides is reported to have said, in the height and peril of his parliamentary struggle with Themistocles), they would cast both Themistocles and me into the barathrum.” And whoever reads the sad narrative of the Corcyræan sedition, in the third book of Thucydides, together with the reflections of the historian upon it, will trace the gradual exasperation of these party feuds, beginning even under democratical forms, until at length they break down the barriers of public as well as of private morality.

Against this chance of internal assailants Clisthenes had to protect the democratical constitution—first, by throwing impediments in their way and rendering it difficult for them to procure the requisite support; next, by eliminating them before any violent projects were ripe for execution. To do either the one or the other, it was necessary to provide such a constitution as would not only conciliate the good will, but kindle the passionate attachment of the mass of citizens, insomuch that not even any considerable minority should be deliberately inclined to alter it by force. It was necessary to create in the multitude, and through them to force upon the leading ambitious men, that rare and difficult sentiment which we may term a[247] constitutional morality; a paramount reverence for the forms of the constitution, enforcing obedience to the authorities acting under and within those forms, yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control, and unrestrained censure of those very authorities as to all their public acts—combined too with a perfect confidence in the bosom of every citizen, amidst the bitterness of party contest, that the forms of the constitution will be not less sacred in the eyes of his opponents than in his own. This coexistence of freedom and self-imposed restraint—of obedience to authority with unmeasured censure of the persons exercising it—may be found in the aristocracy of England (since about 1688) as well as in the democracy of the American United States: and because we are familiar with it, we are apt to suppose it a natural sentiment; though there seem to be few sentiments more difficult to establish and diffuse among a community, judging by the experience of history. We may see how imperfectly it exists at this day in the Swiss cantons; and the many violences of the first French Revolution illustrate, among various other lessons, the fatal effects arising from its absence, even among a people high in the scale of intelligence. Yet the diffusion of such constitutional morality, not merely among the majority of any community, but throughout the whole, is the indispensable condition of a government at once free and peaceable; since even any powerful and obstinate minority may render the working of free institutions impracticable, without being strong enough to conquer ascendency for themselves. Nothing less than unanimity, or so overwhelming a majority as to be tantamount to unanimity, on the cardinal point of respecting constitutional forms, even by those who do not wholly approve of them, can render the excitement of political passion bloodless, and yet expose all the authorities in the state to the full license of pacific criticism.

At the epoch of Clisthenes, which by a remarkable coincidence is the same as that of the regifugium at Rome, such constitutional morality, if it existed anywhere else, had certainly no place at Athens; and the first creation of it in any particular society must be esteemed an interesting historical fact. By the spirit of his reforms,—equal, popular, and comprehensive, far beyond the previous experience of Athenians,—he secured the hearty attachment of the body of citizens; but from the first generation of leading men, under the nascent democracy, and with such precedents as they had to look back upon, no self-imposed limits to ambition could be expected: and the problem required was to eliminate beforehand any one about to transgress these limits, so as to escape the necessity of putting him down afterwards, with all that bloodshed and reaction, in the midst of which the free working of the constitution would be suspended at least, if not irrevocably extinguished. To acquire such influence as would render him dangerous under democratical forms, a man must stand in evidence before the public, so as to afford some reasonable means of judging of his character and purposes; and the security which Clisthenes provided was, to call in the positive judgment of the citizens respecting his future promise purely and simply, so that they might not remain too long neutral between two formidable political rivals—pursuant in a certain way to the Solonian proclamation against neutrality in a sedition, as we have already remarked in a former chapter. He incorporated in the constitution itself the principle of privilegium (to employ the Roman phrase, which signifies, not a peculiar favour granted to any one, but a peculiar inconvenience imposed), yet only under circumstances solemn and well defined, with full notice and discussion beforehand, and by the positive secret vote of a large proportion of the citizens. “No law shall be made[248] against any single citizen, without the same being made against all Athenian citizens; unless it shall so seem good to six thousand citizens voting secretly.” Such was that general principle of the constitution, under which the ostracism was a particular case. Before the vote of ostracism could be taken, a case was to be made out in the senate and the public assembly to justify it. In the sixth prytany of the year, these two bodies debated and determined whether the state of the republic was menacing enough to call for such an exceptional measure. If they decided in the affirmative, a day was named, the agora was railed round, with ten entrances left for the citizens of each tribe, and ten separate casks or vessels for depositing the suffrages, which consisted of a shell, or a potsherd, with the name of the person written on it whom each citizen designed to banish. At the end of the day, the number of votes was summed up, and if six thousand votes were found to have been given against any one person, that person was ostracised; if not, the ceremony ended in nothing. Ten days were allowed to him for settling his affairs, after which he was required to depart from Attica for ten years, but retained his property, and suffered no other penalty.

It was not the maxim at Athens to escape the errors of the people, by calling in the different errors, and the sinister interest besides, of an extra-popular or privileged few; nor was any third course open, since the principles of representative government were not understood, nor indeed conveniently applicable to very small communities. Beyond the judgment of the people—so the Athenians felt—there was no appeal; and their grand study was to surround the delivery of that judgment with the best securities for rectitude and the best preservatives against haste, passion, or private corruption. Whatever measure of good government could not be obtained in that way, could not, in their opinion, be obtained at all. We shall illustrate the Athenian proceedings on this head more fully when we come to speak of the working of their mature democracy: meanwhile, in respect to this grand protection of the nascent democracy,—the vote of ostracism,—it will be found that the securities devised by Clisthenes, for making the sentence effectual against the really dangerous man, and against no one else, display not less foresight than patriotism. The main object was, to render the voting an expression of deliberate public feeling, as distinguished from mere factious antipathy: the large minimum of votes required, one-fourth of the entire citizen population, went far to insure this effect, the more so, since each vote, taken as it was in a secret manner, counted unequivocally for the expression of a genuine and independent sentiment, and could neither be coerced nor bought. Then again, Clisthenes did not permit the process of ostracising to be opened against any one citizen exclusively. If opened at all, every one without exception was exposed to the sentence; so that the friends of Themistocles could not invoke it against Aristides, nor those of the latter against the former, without exposing their own leader to the same chance of exile. It was not likely to be invoked at all, therefore, until exasperation had proceeded so far as to render both parties insensible to this chance—the precise index of that growing internecine hostility, which the ostracism prevented from coming to a head. Nor could it even then be ratified, unless a case was shown to convince the more neutral portion of the senate and the ecclesia: moreover, after all, the ecclesia did not itself ostracise, but a future day was named, and the whole body of the citizens were solemnly invited to vote. It was in this way that security was taken not only for making the ostracism effectual in protecting the constitution, but to hinder it from being employed for any other purpose. And we[249] must recollect that it exercised its tutelary influence, not merely on those occasions when it was actually employed, but by the mere knowledge that it might be employed, and by the restraining effect which that knowledge produced on the conduct of the great men. Again, the ostracism, though essentially of an exceptional nature, was yet an exception sanctified and limited by the constitution itself; so that the citizen, in giving his ostracising vote, did not in any way depart from the constitution or lose his reverence for it. The issue placed before him—“Is there any man whom you think vitally dangerous to the State? if so, whom?”—though vague, was yet raised directly and legally. Had there been no ostracism, it might probably have been raised both indirectly and illegally, on the occasion of some special imputed crime of a suspected political leader, when accused before a court of justice.

Care was taken to divest the ostracism of all painful consequence except what was inseparable from exile; and this is not one of the least proofs of the wisdom with which it was devised. Most certainly, it never deprived the public of candidates for political influence: and when we consider the small amount of individual evil which it inflicted,—evil too diminished, in the cases of Cimon and Aristides, by a reactionary sentiment which augmented their subsequent popularity after return,—two remarks will be quite sufficient to offer in the way of justification. First, it completely produced its intended effect; for the democracy grew up from infancy to manhood without a single attempt to overthrow it by force—a result, upon which no reflecting contemporary of Clisthenes could have ventured to calculate. Next, through such tranquil working of the democratical forms, a constitutional morality quite sufficiently complete was produced among the leading Athenians, to enable the people after a certain time to dispense with that exceptional security which the ostracism offered. To the nascent democracy, it was absolutely indispensable; to the growing yet militant democracy, it was salutary; but the full-grown democracy both could and did stand without it. The ostracism passed upon Hyperbolus, about ninety years after Clisthenes, was the last occasion of its employment. And even this can hardly be considered as a serious instance: it was a trick concerted between two distinguished Athenians (Nicias and Alcibiades), to turn to their own political account a process already coming to be antiquated. Nor would such a manœuvre have been possible, if the contemporary Athenian citizens had been penetrated with the same serious feeling of the value of ostracism as a safeguard of democracy, as had been once entertained by their fathers and grandfathers. Between Clisthenes and Hyperbolus, we hear of about ten different persons as having been banished by ostracism. First of all, Hipparchus of the deme Cholargus, the son of Charmus, a relative of the recently expelled Pisistratid despots; then Aristides, Themistocles, Cimon, and Thucydides son of Melesias, all of them renowned political leaders; also Alcibiades and Megacles (the paternal and maternal grandfathers of the distinguished Alcibiades), and Callias, belonging to another eminent family at Athens; lastly, Damon, the preceptor of Pericles in poetry and music, and eminent for his acquisitions in philosophy. In this last case comes out the vulgar side of humanity, aristocratical as well as democratical; for with both, the process of philosophy and the persons of philosophers are wont to be alike unpopular. Even Clisthenes himself is said to be ostracised under his own law, and Xanthippus; but both upon authority too weak to trust. Miltiades was not ostracised at all, but tried and punished for misconduct in his command.


We should hardly have said so much about this memorable and peculiar institution of Clisthenes, if the erroneous accusations against the Athenian democracy—of envy, injustice, and ill-treatment of their superior men, had not been greatly founded upon it, and if such criticisms had not passed from ancient times to modern with little examination. In monarchical governments, a pretender to the throne, numbering a certain amount of supporters, is, as a matter of course, excluded from the country. No man treats this as any extravagant injustice, yet it is the parallel of the ostracism, with a stronger case in favour of the latter, inasmuch as the change from one regal dynasty to another does not of necessity overthrow all the collateral institutions and securities of the country. Plutarch has affirmed that the ostracism arose from the envy and jealousy inherent in a democracy, and not from justifiable fears—an observation often repeated, yet not the less demonstrably untrue. Not merely because ostracism so worked as often to increase the influence of that political leader whose rival it removed, but still more, because, if the fact had been as Plutarch says, this institution would have continued as long as the democracy; whereas it finished with the banishment of Hyperbolus, at a period when the government was more decisively democratical than it had been in the time of Clisthenes.

It was, in truth, a product altogether of fear and insecurity, on the part both of the democracy and its best friends—fear perfectly well-grounded, and only appearing needless because the precautions taken prevented attack. So soon as the diffusion of a constitutional morality had placed the mass of the citizens above all serious fear of an aggressive usurper the ostracism was discontinued. And doubtless the feeling, that it might safely be dispensed with, must have been strengthened by the long ascendancy of Pericles, by the spectacle of the greatest statesman whom Athens ever produced, acting steadily within the limits of the constitution; as well as by the ill-success of his two opponents, Cimon and Thucydides,—aided by numerous partisans and by the great comic writers, at a period when comedy was a power in the state such as it has never been before or since,—in their attempts to get him ostracised. They succeeded in fanning up the ordinary antipathy of the citizens towards philosophers, so far as to procure the ostracism of his friend and teacher Damon: but Pericles himself, to repeat the complaint of his bitter enemy, the comic poet Cratinus, “was out of the reach of the oyster-shell.” If Pericles was not conceived to be dangerous to the constitution, none of his successors were at all likely to be so regarded. Damon and Hyperbolus were the two last persons ostracised: both of them were cases, and the only cases, of an unequivocal abuse of the institution, because, whatever the grounds of displeasure against them may have been, it is impossible to conceive either of them as menacing to the state—whereas all the other known sufferers were men of such position and power, that the six or eight thousand citizens who inscribed each name on the shell, or at least a large proportion of them, may well have done so under the most conscientious belief that they were guarding the constitution against real danger. Such a change in the character of the persons ostracised plainly evinces that the ostracism had become dissevered from that genuine patriotic prudence which originally rendered it both legitimate and popular. It had served for two generations an inestimable tutelary purpose,—it lived to be twice dishonoured,—and then passed, by universal acquiescence, into matter of history.


A process analogous to the ostracism subsisted at Argos, at Syracuse, and in some other Grecian democracies. Aristotle states that it was abused for[251] factious purposes: and at Syracuse, where it was introduced after the expulsion of the Gelonian dynasty, Diodorus affirms that it was so unjustly and profusely applied, as to deter persons of wealth and station from taking any part in public affairs; for which reason it was speedily discontinued. We have no particulars to enable us to appreciate this general statement. But we cannot safely infer that because the ostracism worked on the whole well at Athens, it must necessarily have worked well in other states—the more so, as we do not know whether it was surrounded with the same precautionary formalities, nor whether it even required the same large minimum of votes to make it effective. This latter guarantee, so valuable in regard to an institution essentially easy to abuse, is not noticed by Diodorus in his brief account of the petalism—so the process was denominated at Syracuse.


Such was the first Athenian democracy, engendered as well by the reaction against Hippias and his dynasty as by the memorable partnership, whether spontaneous or compulsory, between Clisthenes and the unfranchised multitude. It is to be distinguished, both from the mitigated oligarchy established by Solon before, and from the full-grown and symmetrical democracy which prevailed afterwards from the beginning of the Peloponnesian War towards the close of the career of Pericles. It was, indeed, a striking revolution, impressed upon the citizen not less by the sentiments to which it appealed than by the visible change which it made in political and social life. He saw himself marshalled in the ranks of hoplites, alongside of new companions in arms; he was enrolled in a new register, and his property in a new schedule, in his deme and by his demarch, an officer before unknown; he found the year distributed afresh, for all legal purposes, into ten parts bearing the name of prytanies, each marked by a solemn and free-spoken ecclesia, at which he had a right to be present; that ecclesia was convoked and presided by senators called prytanes, members of a senate novel both as to number and distribution; his political duties were now performed as member of a tribe, designated by a name not before pronounced in common Attic life, connected with one of ten heroes whose statues he now for the first time saw in the agora, and associating him with fellow-tribesmen from all parts of Attica. All these and many others were sensible novelties, felt in the daily proceedings of the citizen. But the great novelty of all was the authentic recognition of the ten new tribes as a sovereign demos, or people, apart from all specialties of phratric or gentile origin, with free speech and equal law; retaining no distinction except the four classes of the Solonian property-schedule with their gradations of eligibility. To a considerable proportion of citizens this great novelty was still further endeared by the fact that it had raised them out of the degraded position of metics and slaves; and to the large majority of all the citizens, it furnished a splendid political idea, profoundly impressive to the Greek mind, capable of calling forth the most ardent attachment as well as the most devoted sense of active obligation and obedience. We have now to see how their newly-created patriotism manifested itself.

Clisthenes and his new constitution carried with them so completely the popular favour, that Isagoras had no other way of opposing it except by calling in the interference of Cleomenes and the Lacedæmonians. Cleomenes listened the more readily to this call, as he was reported to have been[252] on an intimate footing with the wife of Isagoras. He prepared to come to Athens; but his first aim was to deprive the democracy of its great leader Clisthenes, who, as belonging to the Alcmæonid family, was supposed to be tainted with the inherited sin of his great-grandfather Megacles, the destroyer of the usurper Cylon. Cleomenes sent a herald to Athens, demanding the expulsion “of the accursed,”—so this family were called by their enemies, and so they continued to be called eighty years afterwards, when the same manœuvre was practised by the Lacedæmonians of that day against Pericles. This requisition had been recommended by Isagoras, and was so well-timed that Clisthenes, not venturing to disobey it, retired voluntarily, so that Cleomenes, though arriving at Athens only with a small force, found himself master of the city. At the instigation of Isagoras, he sent into exile seven hundred families, selected from the chief partisans of Clisthenes: his next attempt was to dissolve the new senate of Five Hundred and place the whole government in the hands of three hundred adherents of the chief whose cause he espoused. But now was seen the spirit infused into the people by their new constitution. At the time of the first usurpation of Pisistratus, the senate of that day had not only not resisted, but even lent themselves to the scheme. But the new senate of Clisthenes resolutely refused to submit to dissolution, and the citizens manifested themselves in a way at once so hostile and so determined, that Cleomenes and Isagoras were altogether baffled. They were compelled to retire into the Acropolis and stand upon the defensive; and this symptom of weakness was the signal for a general rising of the Athenians, who besieged the Spartan king on the holy rock. He had evidently come without any expectation of finding, or any means of overpowering, resistance; for at the end of two days his provisions were exhausted, and he was forced to capitulate. He and his Lacedæmonians, as well as Isagoras, were allowed to retire to Sparta; but the Athenians of the party captured along with him were imprisoned, condemned, and executed by the people.

Clisthenes, with the seven hundred exiled families, was immediately recalled, and his new constitution materially strengthened by this first success. Yet the prospect of renewed Spartan attack was sufficiently serious to induce him to send envoys to Artaphernes, the Persian satrap at Sardis, soliciting the admission of Athens into the Persian alliance: he probably feared the intrigues of the expelled Hippias in the same quarter. Artaphernes, having first informed himself who the Athenians were, and where they dwelt, replied that, if they chose to send earth and water to the king of Persia, they might be received as allies, but upon no other condition. Such were the feelings of alarm under which the envoys had quitted Athens, that they went the length of promising this unqualified token of submission. But their countrymen, on their return, disavowed them with scorn and indignation.


It was at this time that the first connection began between Athens and the little Bœotian town of Platæa, situated on the northern slope of the range of Cithæron, between that mountain and the river Asopus, on the road from Athens to Thebes; and it is upon this first occasion that we become acquainted with the Bœotians and their polities. The Bœotian federation has already been briefly described, as composed of some twelve or thirteen autonomous towns under the headship of Thebes, which was, or professed to have[253] been, their mother-city. Platæa had been, so the Thebans affirmed, their latest foundation; it was ill-used by them, and discontented with the alliance. Accordingly, as Cleomenes was on his way back from Athens, the Platæans took the opportunity of addressing themselves to him, craved the protection of Sparta against Thebes, and surrendered their town and territory without reserve. The Spartan king, having no motive to undertake a trust which promised nothing but trouble, advised them to solicit the protection of Athens, as nearer and more accessible for them in case of need. He foresaw that this would embroil the Athenians with Bœotia; and such anticipation was in fact his chief motive for giving the advice, which the Platæans followed.

[506 B.C.]

Selecting an occasion of public sacrifice at Athens, they despatched thither envoys, who sat down as suppliants at the altar, surrendered their town to Athens, and implored protection against Thebes. Such an appeal was not to be resisted, and protection was promised; it was soon needed, for the Thebans invaded the Platæan territory, and an Athenian force marched to defend it. Battle was about to be joined, when the Corinthians interposed with their mediation, which was accepted by both parties. They decided altogether in favour of Platæa, pronouncing that the Thebans had no right to employ force against any seceding member of the Bœotian federation. But the Thebans, finding the decision against them, refused to abide by it, and, attacking the Athenians on their return, sustained a complete defeat: the latter avenged this breach of faith by joining to Platæa the portion of Theban territory south of the Asopus, and making that river the limit between the two. By such success, however, the Athenians gained nothing, except the enmity of Bœotia, as Cleomenes had foreseen. Their alliance with Platæa, long continued, and presenting in the course of this history several incidents touching to our sympathies, will be found, if we except one splendid occasion, productive only of burden to the one party, yet insufficient as a protection to the other.

Meanwhile Cleomenes had returned to Sparta full of resentment against the Athenians, and resolved on punishing them, as well as on establishing his friend Isagoras as despot over them. Having been taught, however, by humiliating experience, that this was no easy achievement, he would not make the attempt, without having assembled a considerable force; he summoned allies from all the various states of the Peloponnesus, yet without venturing to inform them what he was about to undertake. He at the same time concerted measures with the Bœotians, and with the Chalcidians of Eubœa, for a simultaneous invasion of Attica on all sides. It appears that he had greater confidence in their hostile dispositions towards Athens than in those of the Peloponnesians; he was not afraid to acquaint them with his design, and probably the Bœotians were incensed with the recent interference of Athens in the affair of Platæa. As soon as these preparations were completed, the two kings of Sparta, Cleomenes and Demaratus, put themselves at the head of the united Peloponnesian force, marched into Attica, and advanced as far as Eleusis on the way to Athens. But when the allies came to know the purpose for which they were to be employed, a spirit of dissatisfaction manifested itself among them. They had no unfriendly sentiment towards Athens; and the Corinthians especially, favourably disposed rather than otherwise towards that city, resolved to proceed no further, withdrew their contingent from the camp, and returned home. At the same time, king Demaratus, either sharing in the general dissatisfaction, or moved by some grudge against his colleague which had not before manifested itself,[254] renounced the undertaking also. And these two examples, operating upon the pre-existing sentiment of the allies generally, caused the whole camp to break up and return home without striking a blow.

We may here remark that this is the first instance known in which Sparta appears in act as recognised head of an obligatory Peloponnesian alliance, summoning contingents from the cities to be placed under the command of her king. Her headship, previously recognised in theory, passes now into act, but in an unsatisfactory manner, so as to prove the necessity of precaution and concert beforehand, which will be found not long wanting.

Pursuant to the scheme concerted, the Bœotians and Chalcidians attacked Attica at the same time that Cleomenes entered it. The former seized Œnoe and Hysiæ, the frontier demes of Attica on the side towards Platæa, while the latter assailed the northeastern frontier, which faces Eubœa. Invaded on three sides, the Athenians were in serious danger, and were compelled to concentrate all their forces at Eleusis against Cleomenes, leaving the Bœotians and Chalcidians unopposed. But the unexpected breaking up of the invading army from the Peloponnesus proved their rescue, and enabled them to turn the whole of their attention to the other frontier. They marched into Bœotia to the strait called Euripus, which separates it from Eubœa, intending to prevent the junction of the Bœotians and Chalcidians, and to attack the latter first apart. But the arrival of the Bœotians caused an alteration of their scheme; they attacked the Bœotians first, and gained a victory of the most complete character, killing a large number, and capturing seven hundred prisoners. On the very same day they crossed over to Eubœa, attacked the Chalcidians, and gained another victory so decisive that it at once terminated the war. Many Chalcidians were taken, as well as Bœotians, and conveyed in chains to Athens, where after a certain detention they were at last ransomed for two minæ per man; and the tenth of the sum thus raised was employed in the fabrication of a chariot and four horses in bronze, which was placed in the Acropolis to commemorate the victory. Herodotus saw this trophy when he was at Athens. He saw too, what was a still more speaking trophy, the actual chains in which the prisoners had been fettered, exhibiting in their appearance the damage undergone when the Acropolis was burnt by Xerxes: an inscription of four lines described the offerings and recorded the victory out of which they had sprung.

Another consequence of some moment arose out of this victory. The Athenians planted a body of four thousand of their citizens as cleruchs (lot-holders) or settlers upon the lands of the wealthy Chalcidian oligarchy called the hippobotæ—proprietors probably in the fertile plain of Lelantum, between Chalcis and Eretria. This is a system which we shall find hereafter extensively followed out by the Athenians in the days of their power; partly with the view of providing for their poorer citizens, partly to serve as garrison among a population either hostile or of doubtful fidelity. These Attic cleruchs (we can find no other name by which to speak of them) did not lose their birthright as Athenian citizens: they were not colonists in the Grecian sense, and they are known by a totally different name, but they corresponded very nearly to the colonies formally planted out on the conquered lands by Rome. The increase of the poorer population was always more or less painfully felt in every Grecian city. For though the aggregate population never seems to have increased very fast, yet the multiplication of children in poor families caused the subdivision of the smaller lots of land, until at last they became insufficient for a maintenance;[255] and the persons thus impoverished found it difficult to obtain subsistence in other ways, more especially as the labour for the richer classes was so much performed by imported slaves. The numerous cleruchies sent out by Athens, of which this to Eubœa was the first, arose in a great measure out of the multiplication of the poorer population, which her extended power was employed in providing for. Her subsequent proceedings with a view to the same object will not be always found so justifiable as this now before us, which grew naturally, according to the ideas of the time, out of her success against the Chalcidians.

[498-491 B.C.]

The war between Athens, however, and Thebes with her Bœotian allies, still continued, to the great and repeated disadvantage of the latter, until at length the Thebans in despair sent to ask advice of the Delphian oracle, and were directed to “solicit aid from those nearest to them.” “How (they replied) are we to obey? Our nearest neighbours, of Tanagra, Coronea, and Thespiæ, are now, and have been from the beginning, lending us all the aid in their power.” An ingenious Theban, however, coming to the relief of his perplexed fellow-citizens, dived into the depths of legend and brought up a happy meaning. “Those nearest to us (he said) are the inhabitants of Ægina: for Thebe (the eponym of Thebes) and Ægina (the eponym of that island) were both sisters, daughters of Asopus: let us send to crave assistance from the Æginetans.” If his subtle interpretation (founded upon their descent from the same legendary progenitors) did not at once convince all who heard it, at least no one had any better to suggest; and envoys were at once sent to the Æginetans, who, in reply to a petition founded on legendary claims, sent to the help of the Thebans a reinforcement of legendary, but venerated, auxiliaries—the Æacid heroes. We are left to suppose that their effigies are here meant. It was in vain, however, that the glory and the supposed presence of the Æacids, Telamon and Peleus, were introduced into the Theban camp. Victory still continued on the side of Athens; and the discouraged Thebans again sent to Ægina, restoring the heroes, and praying for aid of a character more human and positive. Their request was granted, and the Æginetans commenced war against Athens without even the decent preliminary of a herald and declaration.

This remarkable embassy first brings us into acquaintance with the Dorians of Ægina,—oligarchical, wealthy, commercial, and powerful at sea, even in the earliest days; more analogous to Corinth than to any of the other cities called Dorian. The hostility which they now began without provocation against Athens,—repressed by Sparta at the critical moment of the battle of Marathon, and hushed for a while by the common dangers of the Persian invasion under Xerxes; then again breaking out,—was appeased only with the conquest of the island about twenty years after that event, and with the expulsion and destruction of its inhabitants some years later. There had been indeed, according to Herodotus, a feud of great antiquity between Athens and Ægina, of which he gives the account in a singular narrative, blending together religion, politics, exposition of ancient customs, etc.; but at the time when the Thebans solicited aid from Ægina, the latter was at peace with Athens. The Æginetans employed their fleet, powerful for that day, in ravaging Phalerum and the maritime demes of Attica; nor had the Athenians as yet any fleet to resist them. It is probable that the desired effect was produced, of diverting a portion of the Athenian force from the war against Bœotia, and thus partially relieving Thebes. But the war of Athens against both of them continued for a considerable time, though we have no information respecting its details.


Meanwhile the attention of Athens was called off from these combined enemies by a more menacing cloud, which threatened to burst upon her from the side of Sparta. Cleomenes and his countrymen, full of resentment at the late inglorious desertion of Eleusis, were yet more incensed by the discovery, which appears to have been then recently made, that the injunctions of the Delphian priestess for the expulsion of Hippias from Athens had been fraudulently procured. Moreover, Cleomenes, when shut up in the Acropolis of Athens with Isagoras, had found there various prophecies previously treasured up by the Pisistratidæ, many of which foreshadowed events highly disastrous to Sparta. And while the recent brilliant manifestations of courage, and repeated victories, on the part of Athens, seemed to indicate that such prophecies might perhaps be realised, Sparta had to reproach herself, that, from the foolish and mischievous conduct of Cleomenes, she had undone the effect of her previous aid against the Pisistratidæ, and thus lost that return of gratitude which the Athenians would otherwise have testified. Under such impressions, the Spartan authorities took the remarkable step of sending for Hippias from his residence at Sigeum to the Peloponnesus, and of summoning deputies from all their allies to meet him at Sparta.

The convocation thus summoned deserves notice as the commencement of a new era in Grecian politics. The previous expedition of Cleomenes against Attica presents to us the first known example of Spartan headship passing from theory into act: that expedition miscarried because the allies, though willing to follow, would not follow blindly, nor be made the instruments of executing purposes repugnant to their feelings. Sparta had now learned the necessity, in order to insure their hearty concurrence, of letting them know what she contemplated, so as to ascertain at least that she had no decided opposition to apprehend. Here, then, is the third stage in the spontaneous movement of Greece towards a systematic conjunction, however imperfect, of its many autonomous units. First we have Spartan headship suggested in theory, from a concourse of circumstances which attract to her the admiration of all Greece,—power, unrivalled training, undisturbed antiquity, etc.; next, the theory passes into act, yet rude and shapeless; lastly, the act becomes clothed with formalities, and preceded by discussion and determination. The first convocation of the allies at Sparta, for the purpose of having a common object submitted to their consideration, may well be regarded as an important event in Grecian political history. The proceedings at the convocation are no less important, as an indication of the way in which the Greeks of that day felt and acted, and must be borne in mind as a contrast with times hereafter to be described.

Hippias having been presented to the assembled allies, the Spartans expressed their sorrow for having dethroned him, their resentment and alarm at the new born insolence of Athens, already tasted by her immediate neighbours, and menacing to every state represented in the convocation, and their anxiety to restore Hippias, not less as a reparation for past wrong, than as a means, through his rule, of keeping Athens low and dependent. But the proposition, though emanating from Sparta, was listened to by the allies with one common sentiment of repugnance. They had no sympathy for Hippias, no dislike, still less any fear, of Athens, and a profound detestation of the character of a despot. The spirit which had animated the armed contingents at Eleusis now reappeared among the deputies at Sparta, and the Corinthians again took the initiative. Their deputy Sosicles protested against the project in the fiercest and most indignant strain: no language can be stronger than that of the long harangue which Herodotus puts[257] into his mouth, wherein the bitter recollections prevalent at Corinth respecting Cypselus and Periander are poured forth. “Surely, heaven and earth are about to change places,—the fish are coming to dwell on dry land, and mankind going to inhabit the sea,—when you, Spartans, propose to subvert the popular governments, and to set up in the cities that wicked and bloody thing called a Despot. First try what it is, for yourselves at Sparta, and then force it upon others if you can: you have not tasted its calamities as we have, and you take very good care to keep it away from yourselves. We adjure you, by the common gods of Hellas,—plant not despots in her cities: if you persist in a scheme so wicked, know that the Corinthians will not second you.”

This animated appeal was received with a shout of approbation and sympathy on the part of the allies. All with one accord united with Sosicles in adjuring the Lacedæmonians “not to revolutionise any Hellenic city.” No one listened to Hippias when he replied, warning the Corinthians that the time would come, when they, more than any one else, would dread and abhor the Athenian democracy, and wish the Pisistratidæ back again. He knew well, says Herodotus, that this would be, for he was better acquainted with the prophecies than any man. But no one then believed him, and he was forced to take his departure back to Sigeum: the Spartans not venturing to espouse his cause against the determined sentiment of the allies.

That determined sentiment deserves notice, because it marks the present period of the Hellenic mind; fifty years later it will be found materially altered. Aversion to single-headed rule, and bitter recollection of men like Cypselus and Periander are now the chords which thrill in an assembly of Grecian deputies: the idea of a revolution, implying thereby a great and comprehensive change, of which the party using the word disapproves, consists in substituting a permanent One in place of those periodical magistrates and assemblies which were the common attribute of oligarchy and democracy: the antithesis between these last two is as yet in the background, nor does there prevail either fear of Athens or hatred of the Athenian democracy. But when we turn to the period immediately before the Peloponnesian War, we find the order of precedence between these two sentiments reversed. The anti-monarchical feeling has not perished, but has been overlaid by other and more recent political antipathies,—the antithesis between democracy and oligarchy having become, not indeed the only sentiment, but the uppermost sentiment, in the minds of Grecian politicians generally, and the soul of active party movement. Moreover, a hatred of the most deadly character has grown up against Athens and her democracy, especially in the grandsons of those very Corinthians who now stand forward as her sympathising friends. The remarkable change of feeling here mentioned is nowhere so strikingly exhibited as when we contrast the address of the Corinthian Sosicles, just narrated, with the speech of the Corinthian envoys at Sparta, immediately antecedent to the Peloponnesian War, as given to us in Thucydides. It will hereafter be fully explained by the intermediate events, by the growth of Athenian power, and by the still more miraculous development of Athenian energy.

[494-490 B.C.]

Such development, the fruit of the fresh-planted democracy as well as the seed for its sustentation and aggrandisement, continued progressive during the whole period just adverted to. But the first unexpected burst of it, under the Clisthenean constitution, and after the expulsion of Hippias, is described by Herodotus in terms too emphatic to be omitted. After narrating the successive victories of the Athenians over both Bœotians and[258] Chalcidians, that historian proceeds: “Thus did the Athenians grow in strength. And we may find proof, not merely in this instance but everywhere else, how valuable a thing freedom is: since even the Athenians, while under a despot, were not superior in war to any of their surrounding neighbours, but, so soon as they got rid of their despots, became by far the first of all. These things show that while kept down by one man, they were slack and timid, like men working for a master; but when they were liberated, every single man became eager in exertions for his own benefit.” The same comparison reappears a short time afterwards, where he tells us, that “the Athenians when free, felt themselves a match for Sparta; but while kept down by any man under a despotism, were feeble and apt for submission.”

Stronger expressions cannot be found to depict the rapid improvement wrought in the Athenian people by their new democracy. Of course this did not arise merely from suspension of previous cruelties, or better laws, or better administration. These, indeed, were essential conditions, but the active transforming cause here was the principle and system of which such amendments formed the detail: the grand and new idea of the sovereign people, composed of free and equal citizens,—or liberty and equality, to use words which so profoundly moved the French nation half a century ago. It was this comprehensive political idea which acted with electric effect upon the Athenians, creating within them a host of sentiments, motives, sympathies, and capacities to which they had before been strangers. Democracy in Grecian antiquity possessed the privilege, not only of kindling an earnest and unanimous attachment to the constitution in the bosoms of the citizens, but also of creating an energy of public and private action, such as could never be obtained under an oligarchy, where the utmost that could be hoped for was a passive acquiescence and obedience. Mr. Burke has remarked that the mass of the people are generally very indifferent about theories of government; but such indifference—although improvements in the practical working of all governments tend to foster it—is hardly to be expected among any people who exhibit decided mental activity and spirit on other matters; and the reverse was unquestionably true, in the year 500 B.C., among the communities of ancient Greece. Theories of government were there anything but a dead letter; they were connected with emotions of the strongest as well as of the most opposite character. The theory of a permanent ruling One, for example, was universally odious: that of a ruling Few, though acquiesced in, was never positively attractive, unless either where it was associated with the maintenance of peculiar education and habits, as at Sparta, or where it presented itself as the only antithesis to democracy, the latter having by peculiar circumstances become an object of terror. But the theory of democracy was pre-eminently seductive; creating in the mass of the citizens an intense positive attachment, and disposing them to voluntary action and suffering on its behalf, such as no coercion on the part of other governments could extort.

Herodotus, in his comparison of the three sorts of government, puts in the front rank of the advantages of democracy, “its most splendid name and promise,”—its power of enlisting the hearts of the citizens in support of their constitution, and of providing for all a common bond of union and fraternity. This is what even democracy did not always do: but it was what no other government in Greece could do: a reason alone sufficient to stamp it as the best government, and presenting the greatest chance of beneficent results, for a Grecian community. Among the Athenian citizens, certainly, it produced a strength and unanimity of positive political sentiment, such as[259] has rarely been seen in the history of mankind, which excites our surprise and admiration the more when we compare it with the apathy which had preceded,—and which is even applied as the natural state of the public mind in Solon’s famous proclamation against neutrality in a sedition. Because democracy happens to be unpalatable to some modern readers, they have been accustomed to look upon the sentiment here described only in its least honourable manifestations,—in the caricatures of Aristophanes, or in the empty commonplaces of rhetorical declaimers. But it is not in this way that the force, the earnestness, or the binding value of democratical sentiment at Athens is to be measured. We must listen to it as it comes from the lips of Pericles, while he is strenuously enforcing upon the people those active duties for which it both implanted the stimulus and supplied the courage; or from the oligarchical Nicias in the harbour of Syracuse, when he is endeavouring to revive the courage of his despairing troops for one last death-struggle, and when he appeals to their democratical patriotism as to the only flame yet alive and burning even in that moment of agony. From the time of Clisthenes downward, the creation of this new mighty impulse makes an entire revolution in the Athenian character. And if the change still stood out in so prominent a manner before the eyes of Herodotus, much more must it have been felt by the contemporaries among whom it occurred.

The attachment of an Athenian citizen to his democratical constitution comprised two distinct veins of sentiment: first, his rights, protection, and advantages derived from it; next, his obligations of exertion and sacrifice towards it and with reference to it. Neither of these two veins of sentiment was ever wholly absent; but according as the one or the other was present at different times in varying proportions, the patriotism of the citizen was a very different feeling. That which Herodotus remarks is, the extraordinary efforts of heart and hand which the Athenians suddenly displayed,—the efficacy of the active sentiment throughout the bulk of the citizens; and we shall observe even more memorable evidences of the same phenomenon in tracing down the history from Clisthenes to the end of the Peloponnesian War: we shall trace a series of events and motives eminently calculated to stimulate that self-imposed labour and discipline which the early democracy had first called forth. But when we advance farther down, from the restoration of the democracy after the Thirty Tyrants to the time of Demosthenes, we venture upon this brief anticipation, in the conviction that one period of Grecian history can be thoroughly understood only by contrasting it with another,—we shall find a sensible change in Athenian patriotism. The active sentiment of obligation is comparatively inoperative, the citizen, it is true, has a keen sense of the value of the democracy as protecting him and insuring to him valuable rights, and he is, moreover, willing to perform his ordinary sphere of legal duties towards it; but he looks upon it as a thing established, and capable of maintaining itself in a due measure of foreign ascendency, without any such personal efforts as those which his forefathers cheerfully imposed upon themselves. The orations of Demosthenes contain melancholy proofs of such altered tone of patriotism,—of that languor, paralysis, and waiting for others to act, which preceded the catastrophe of Chæronea, notwithstanding an unabated attachment to the democracy as a source of protection and good government. That same preternatural activity which the allies of Sparta, at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, both denounced and admired in the Athenians, is noted by the orator as now belonging to their enemy Philip.


Such variations in the scale of national energy pervade history, modern as well as ancient, but in regard to Grecian history, especially, they can never be overlooked. For a certain measure, not only of positive political attachment, but also of active self-devotion, military readiness, and personal effort, was the indispensable condition of maintaining Hellenic autonomy, either in Athens or elsewhere; and became so more than ever when the Macedonians were once organised under an enterprising and semi-Hellenised prince. The democracy was the first creative cause of that astonishing personal and many-sided energy which marked the Athenian character, for a century downwards from Clisthenes.

That the same ultra-Hellenic activity did not longer continue, is referable to other causes, which will be hereafter in part explained. No system of government, even supposing it to be very much better and more faultless than the Athenian democracy, can ever pretend to accomplish its legitimate end apart from the personal character of the people, or to supersede the necessity of individual virtue and vigour.

During the half-century immediately preceding the battle of Chæronea, the Athenians had lost that remarkable energy which distinguished them during the first century of their democracy, and had fallen much more nearly to a level with the other Greeks, in common with whom they were obliged to yield to the pressure of a foreign enemy. We here briefly notice their last period of languor, in contrast with the first burst of democratical fervour under Clisthenes, now opening—a feeling which will be found, as we proceed, to continue for a longer period than could have been reasonably anticipated, but which was too high-strung to become a perpetual and inherent attribute of any community.b


[17] So in the Italian republics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the nobles long continued to possess the exclusive right of being elected to the consulate and the great offices of state, even after those offices had come to be elected by the people: the habitual misrule and oppression of the nobles gradually put an end to this right, and even created in many towns a resolution positively to exclude them. At Milan, towards the end of the twelfth century, the twelve consuls, with the Podestat, possessed all the powers of government: these consuls were nominated by one hundred electors chosen by and among the people.

Theatre of Phocis




Where’er we tread ’tis haunted, holy ground;
No earth of thine is lost in vulgar mould,
But one vast realm of wonder spreads around,
And all the muse’s tales seem truly told,
Till the sense aches with gazing to behold
The scenes our earliest dreams have dwelt upon;
Each hill and dale, each deepening glen and wold,
Defies the power which crushed thy temples gone:
Age shakes Athena’s tower, but spares gray Marathon.

Curtius in the well-known passage which begins his celebrated history asks where is the division between Asia and Europe, pointing out that the islands of the Ægean Sea are practically stepping-stones between Asia Minor and Greece, and that from one point of view the intervening bits of water are rather connecting links than a severing barrier. This claim has much to support it in the view of a maritime people; yet from another point of view a very tangible barrier does exist between the two continents. The Persians, as is well known, having their native seat far inland had a standing dread of water. For them the Ægean Sea was unquestionably a barrier, not a bridge. It would probably have been long before they attempted to cross this barrier had not the initiative been taken from the other side. But while it was far from Asia to Europe, it was not far, in the point of view of the sea-faring Greek, from Europe to Asia. To him the sea was a bridge.

No one knows how early the Greeks themselves crossed the various “bridges” of the Ægean and began to make settlements in Asia Minor, but it is known that in a very early day these settlements on the eastern shore had come to play a most important part in Grecian life. It is supposed that in the early day the inhabitants of Asia Minor welcomed the Greek colonist who became valuable to them as a manufacturer, and, in particular, as a trader.

It was long before there seemed anything menacing in the growth of these scattered colonies, and, before the powers of Asia Minor had aroused to a right understanding of the political import of the colonisation that had gone on under their eyes, the whole coast had come practically under the control of these peaceful invaders from the West. Then indeed the Lydians, in particular, were aroused to a realisation of what they had permitted, and sought to make amends by subjecting the colonies that had hitherto been their own masters. The attempt was first made on a large scale by Crœsus, but, before he had completed the task, he was himself overthrown by Cyrus, and the standing broil with the Greek colonies of the coast was one of the perquisites of war which Crœsus handed over to the Persians.


Cyrus himself seems to have thought the Greeks of small importance, as he left a subordinate to dispose of them, while he turned his personal attention to the more powerful Babylonians, but the Greeks were supported by the memory of some generations of freedom, and they did not prove the contemptible foe that they seemed. Cities once conquered were prone to revolt, and the indomitable spirit of the Greeks on this western border of the Persian territory proved a standing source of annoyance. At last Darius determined to put an end to the Grecians once for all, and it was his general who for the first time led a Persian host across the Hellespont and into the precincts of Greece itself. The repulse of this host by the Athenians on the field of Marathon was an event which the Greeks of a later time never tired of celebrating, and which has taken its place in later history as one of the half-dozen great decisive battles of the world. Subjected to a critical view this battle of Marathon, as we shall have occasion to see presently, was not quite so decisive an event as the Athenians were disposed to think it. Still it turned the Persian horde back from Greece for a decade. Then under Xerxes came that stupendous half-organised army that has been the wonder of all after-times; and the glorious events of Thermopylæ, Salamis, Platæa, and Mycale in rapid succession added to the glory of Greek prowess and saved the life of Greece as a nation—saved it from an outer foe that it might die by its own hand. The events of this memorable epoch are among the most important in all Grecian history, and we must view them in detail, drawing largely for our knowledge of them on the great original source, Herodotus, but noting also the impression which they have made upon many generations of historians of other times and other lands.a


Herodotus, born 484, in the midst of the Median wars, wondered at this great conflict between the Greek and barbarian worlds and sought its causes in times more remote than the Trojan war, even in the mythological period.

[506 B.C.]

“The most learned of the Persians,” he says, “assert that the Phœnicians were the original exciters of contention. This nation migrated from the borders of the Red Sea to the place of their present settlement, and soon distinguished themselves by their long and enterprising voyages. They exported to Argos, among other places, the produce of Egypt and Assyria. Argos, at that period, was the most famous of all those states which are now comprehended under the general appellation of Greece. On their arrival here, the Phœnicians exposed their merchandise to sale; after remaining about six days, and when they had almost disposed of their different articles of commerce, the king’s daughter, whom both nations agree in calling Io, came among a great number of other women, to visit them at their station. Whilst these females, standing near the stern of the vessel, amused themselves with bargaining for such things as attracted their curiosity, the Phœnicians, in conjunction, made an attempt to seize their persons. The greater part of them escaped, but Io, with many others, remained a captive. They carried them on board, and directed their course for Egypt.

“The relation of the Greeks differs essentially; but this, according to the Persians, was the cause of Io’s arrival in Egypt, and the first act of violence which was committed. In process of time, certain Grecians, concerning whose country writers disagree, but who were really of Crete, are reported to have touched at Tyre, and to have carried away Europa, the daughter of the[263] prince. Thus far the Greeks had only retaliated; but they were certainly guilty of the second provocation. They made a voyage in a vessel of war to Æa, a city of Colchis, near the river Phasis; and, after having accomplished the more immediate object of their expedition, they forcibly carried off the king’s daughter, Medea. The king of Colchis despatched a herald to demand satisfaction for the affront, and the restitution of the princess; but the Greeks replied, that they should make no reparation in the present instance, as the violence formerly offered to Io still remained unexpiated.

“In the age which followed, Alexander [Paris], the son of Priam, encouraged by the memory of these events, determined on obtaining a wife from Greece, by means of similar violence; fully persuaded that this, like former wrongs, would never be avenged.

“Upon the loss of Helen, the Greeks at first employed messengers to demand her person, as well as a compensation for the affront. All the satisfaction they received was reproach for the injury which had been offered to Medea; and they were further asked, how, under circumstances entirely alike, they could reasonably require what they themselves had denied.

“Hitherto the animosity betwixt the two nations extended no farther than to acts of private violence. But at this period, the Greeks certainly laid the foundation of subsequent contention; who, before the Persians invaded Europe, doubtless made military incursions into Asia. The Persians appear to be of opinion, that they who offer violence to women must be insensible to the impressions of justice, but that such provocations are as much beneath revenge, as the women themselves are undeserving of regard: it being obvious, that all females thus circumstanced must have been more or less accessary to the fact. They asserted also, that although women had been forcibly carried away from Asia, they had never resented the affront. The Greeks, on the contrary, to avenge the rape of a Lacedæmonian woman, had assembled a mighty fleet, entered Asia in a hostile manner, and had totally overthrown the empire of Priam. Since which event they had always considered the Greeks as the public enemies of their nation.”

[515-499 B.C.]

Such were the causes of the animosity between Persians and Greeks as Herodotus conceived them. But the modern historian gives scant credence to these tales. In reality we do not have to go back to the abduction of Io and Helen by the Asiatics, and of Europa and Medea by the Greeks to explain this mutual hate. Equally trivial are such incidents as the flight of the physician Democedes, who deceived Darius that he might return to his native Croton; and the desire of the queen, Atossa, to include Spartan and Athenian women among her slaves. The appeals of Hippias to be reinstated in Athens, and of the Aleuadæ of Thessaly to be delivered from the enemies that oppressed them had, to be sure, a somewhat more serious influence. But the real cause was Persia’s power. This empire had at that time attained its natural limits. Being nearly surrounded by deserts, the sea, wide rivers, and high mountains, there was but one direction in which she could expand, the northwest; and on that side lay a famous country, Greece, whose independence affronted the pride of the Great King. Cyrus had conquered Asia; Cambyses a part of Africa, so Darius, not to be outdone by his predecessors, attacked Europe. The Sardian satrap, Artaphernes, had already replied to the overtures of Clisthenes by demanding that Athens should come under the rule of the Great King. Darius had reorganised his empire and restored in his provinces the order so rudely shaken by the usurpation of the Magian and the efforts of the conquered nations to regain their freedom; it was necessary moreover to furnish occupation for[264] the warlike ardour which still characterised the Persians. With this end in view he planned an important expedition. The Scythians had formerly invaded Asia; it was the recollection of that injury and the desire to subjugate Thrace which adjoined his own empire that pointed out to Darius the route he was to follow. He set out from Susa with a numerous army, crossed the Bosporus on a bridge of boats constructed by the Samian, Mandrocles, and entered Europe bringing seven or eight hundred thousand men in his train, among whom were some Asiatic Greeks commanded by the tyrants of the various cities. He traversed Thrace, crossed the Danube (Ister) on a bridge of boats which he left the Greeks to guard, then penetrated well into Scythia in pursuit of an enemy whom it was impossible to seize. Darius had told the Greeks not to expect him to return after the expiration of sixty days. This time having passed without news of him, the Athenian, Miltiades, tyrant of the Chersonesus, proposed to destroy the bridge that the way into Thrace might not be left open to the Scythians whom he supposed victorious, also that the Persian army might be destroyed by them should it still exist. Histiæus of Miletus opposed this plan, representing to the chiefs, who were all tyrants of Greek cities, that they would surely be overthrown the day they lost the support of their great leader. This reasoning saved Darius, who, returning from his vain pursuit, left with Megabyzus eighty thousand men to complete the subjugation of Thrace, and also to conquer Macedonia.

Megabyzus conquered Perinthus, that part of Thrace which still resisted, Pæonia, and called upon the king of Macedonia to render him homage of earth and water. Amyntas accorded this, and Megabyzus was able to report to his master that the Persian empire at last adjoined Greece in Europe. With this the expedition came to an end. Histiæus’ services were rewarded by the gift of a vast territory on the banks of the Strymon. The site had been well chosen, near the gold and silver mines of Mount Pangæ, at the foot of hills rich in building woods and near the mouth of a river that offered an excellent port on the Ægean Sea. Myrcinus, founded there by Histiæus, would soon have attained the growth and prosperity that were to signalise Amphipolis later on the same spot, had not Megabyzus, in alarm, warned the king of the necessity of preventing this Greek from carrying out the plans he meditated. Histiæus was summoned to Sardis on pretext of being needed for an important consultation, and once there, Darius told him simply that he could not do without his friendship and advice. Histiæus was obliged to accept these gilded chains.


[499-494 B.C.]

Several years had passed in unbroken peace when a trivial matter and an obscure man threw all in disorder again. Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades, was powerful at that time, ruling over several islands, possessing a considerable navy and able to place in the field eight thousand hoplites. Unfortunately, like every other Grecian state, Naxos was divided into two factions, the popular and the aristocratic. This latter destroyed itself by an unpardonable crime, similar to that of which Lucretia was victim about the same time in Rome. Sent into exile, they proposed to Aristagoras, Histiæus’ son-in-law and, in his absence, tyrant of Miletus, to take them back to their island. He acceded readily, beholding in fancy the Cyclades, possibly also Eubœa as already under his dominion. But unable to accomplish such an enterprise without help, he succeeded in interesting the satrap of Sardis,[265] Artaphernes, who placed at his disposal a fleet of two hundred ships commanded by Megabates. This Persian rebelled at being under the orders of a Greek and to avenge a slight received in a quarrel that broke out between them, sent information to the Naxians. The success of the expedition depended on secrecy; this once destroyed, it was bound to fail. Aristagoras held to the project four months, spending his own treasure as well as that given him for the enterprise by the king. He feared being obliged to make good this loss, and decided that revolt offered a preferable alternative, in which choice he was aided by the secret instigations of Histiæus. The army he had led before Naxos was still united, and forming part of it were all the tyrants of the cities on the Asiatic coast. These he seized and sent back to their respecti