Archaic Colonization

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  • Topic: Ancient Greece, Polis, History of Greece
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  • Published : May 2, 2013
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Archaic Colonization
The Archaic Period in Greece refers to the years between around 750 and 480 B.C. The Archaic is one of five periods that Ancient Greek history can be divided into and can be known for its advancements in political theory, particularly the beginnings of democracy, as well as in culture and art. Preceded by the Dark Ages, the Greek people no longer lived in cities, after the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. Instead, they formed small tribes. Some of these tribes were settlers and agricultural, while other tribes were explorers and traveled Greece throughout the seasons. However, these small tribes began to form one of Greece’s greatest political achievements, the polis.

According to Sarah B. Pomeroy’s, “Ancient Greece”, the emergence of the polis system in Greece coincided with the beginning of an extraordinary emigration of Greeks from Aegean homeland. This migration began around the middle of the eighth century and continued over two centuries. When it ended around 500 BC, the Greek world extended from Spain in the west, to Colchis in the East, from the northern littoral of Africa in the south, and to Ukraine in the north (Pomeroy 110). Two primary reasons for this vast expansion were, the search for sources of metal to satisfy the Greek’s growing need, and the hope of acquiring the land required to live the life of a citizen in the new poleis due to opportunities for land at home decreasing.

The Greek polis served as many purposes and functions. A polis (city-state) was a unit of people who occupied a territory containing as its central assembly point. A town, which held the seat of government and was itself usually bunched around a walled acropolis, which had originally contained the whole settlement. In L.H. Jeffery’s “Archaic Greece, he adds that a polis had independence in that their government was provided by and from their own ranks, not from outside (Jeffery 39). However not all citizens had a say in the running of the city; this privilege was held by free, male citizens, excluding all women, slaves, and foreigners from democracy. This new political system required a complex set of laws in order to keep this complicated social structure organized. These advanced regulations enforced a certain amount of equality between the citizens, despite their various economic standings, which ensured an easier coexistence between the classes.

The growth of the polis forced the city-states to look abroad for places to settle. This led to a period of hectic colonization. The decision to found a colony was one of the earliest and most difficult political actions taken by a polis. The decision was ultimately one that also helped determine its future identity. The metropolis, or mother city, had to choose a site for the colony, obtain divine approval for it, make plans for the new settlement, and choose its oikistes (founder). The decision to found a colony involved the whole community and was backed by mutual authorization. Historians are able to determine this by reading a colonies foundation oath, such as the, Foundation Oath of Cyrene, Libya (Pomeroy 111).

Found in this document are the inscriptions from Cyrene containing the oath sworn by the Theraeans and the colonists of Cyrene. Such inscriptions include,

“They shall sail on equal terms; and one son shall be enrolled from each family. Those who sail shall be adults, and any free man from the Theraeans who wishes may also sail. If the colonists secure the settlement, any colonist who sails later to Libya shall have a share in the citizenship and honors… If anyone is unwilling to sail when sent by the city, let him be subject to the death penalty and let his property be confiscated” (Pomeroy 111).

This blurb of the Oath of Cyrene touches upon the strict regulations given by the polis. It also gives an example of equality the polis tried to enforce within colonies. Nevertheless, it is becoming clearer to modern historians that...
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