Does Herodotus Offer Adequate Explanations for Colonisation in the Greek Archaic Period

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Does Herodotus offer adequate explanations for Greek colonisation in the archaic period?

Herodotus gives all ancient historians invaluable insights into colonisation in the archaic period, despite having his well known limitations. We must overall regard his work ‘The Histories’ as an equal to archaeological evidence and Thucydides’ work when it comes to studying colonisation in this period. Before I begin this essay, however, I must first quickly define two crucial terms. The term ‘colonisation’ (as we mean it during the during the archaic period) has for some reason been debated at great length by ancient historians, who seem determined to remove it as far away from the imperial meaning of the word as possible. I don’t see why, as both have glaring similarities and only minute differences. They both involve one kind of people moving in significant numbers to a new place (where either a different kind of people or no people were present) and establishing their way of life in said location. The only real differences being the literal translation of the word in Greek meaning ‘home away from home’ or ‘trading place’ and the imperial meaning of the word leaning more towards the subjugation of the local inhabitants rather than the replacement of them (which was more common in archaic Greece). The second term is ‘Archaic Period’ which in this essay will be defined as the period from 800 to 478BC.

To examine in detail Herodotus’ explanations for colonisation during this period I will examine to what extent he informs us on: land-hunger, trading considerations, drought[1]and I will also comment on his references to the Delphic oracle. I have picked these areas to judge Herodotus on, because they are the most regularly agreed upon reasons for colonisation occurring and therefore his comments on these areas have the potential to be most informative to us, as A. Graham eloquently sums up with ‘though a very large number of extant authors provide some piece of information relevant to the history of Greek colonisation only a few are of overriding influence… their [Herodotus and Thucydides] importance lies in their relatively early date, although they belong to a period after the Archaic colonising movement, they are nearer to it than our other substantial sources’[2]. It is for this paramount reason that Herodotus’ comments on these subjects are so crucial to our study of colonisation. In scrutinizing Herodotus’ comments in this field I will look some of the examples that he uses, namely: Chalkedon, Sigeion, Egypt, Olbia and of course Cyrene. So through looking at the four main reasons for colonisation and cross-referencing it with the examples stated I will fully evaluate whether or not Herodotus is an adequate source to look to regarding the archaic colonisation period. It must also be mentioned at this point that ‘political factors’ would have also been a strong factor to consider, however, would take up the word count fully all by itself, so will be left for a another time.

Land–hunger refers to one of the push factors that are widely believed to have caused many Greeks to leave their original homes in search of more land and in particular, more fertile land. We see this especially in the case of mainland Greece and the Peloponnese where there were less fertile plains and more arid and mountainous terrain Although Herodotus never explicitly tells us that this was a major cause for colonisation, we can infer from some of his writing that this would have been a factor. Herodotus enlightens us to the existence of a colony on the coast of the black seathat ‘have sanctuaries dedicated to the Greek gods and … whose language is a mixture of Scythian and Greek’[3]. Now this alone does not specifically tell us that the Greeks moved to this area because it was particularly fertile or that their home region was lacking in enough land, but when you continue to read on and see that it was the Megarians who colonised Chalkedon[4]...
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