OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Greece. 1st Period: From the Dorian Migration to the Persian Wars (1100-500 b.c.). page 2


Pages: 1 <2> 3

The religious beliefs of the Greeks included auguries, or observation of the flight and song of birds, and the inspection of the disordered. or healthy state of the entrails of animals slain in sacrifice, as the means of attaining knowledge concerning the will and purpose of the gods. The use of oracles is well known. The term means both the response delivered by a deity to an inquirer, and the place where the answer was delivered. The replies, really due to the intelligence of the presiding priest or priests, were supposed to be given by a certain divine afflatus or inspiration, either through a human agent, as in the frenzies of the Pythian utterer, and the dreams of the worshipping inquirer in the temples, or by the effect of divine working on certain objects, as the rustling of the sacred oaks or bay-tree, the sound of murmuring streams, the tinkling of the bronze caldrons at Dodona. The chief oracle of Greece was that of Apollo at Delphi, which was "Panhellenic," or open to all Greece. After offering sacrifice, inquirers, crowned with bay, delivered their questions inscribed on leaden tablets, many of which have been, by the way, recently discovered. The Pythian priestess then took her seat on a tripod, a sort of three-egged stool, placed over a fissure in the ground at the centre of the temple. From this came forth an intoxicating vapour or natural gas which, breathed by the Pythia, mounted to her brain and caused her to utter wild whirling words, which the attendant priest interpreted as the oracle's answer, and handed to the inquirer written down in hexameter verse by a poet kept for the purpose. Modern scepticism suspects that the whole matter was one of imposture. The ingeniously doubtful sense of many responses made the word " oracular" proverbial. There is no doubt that the priests were men of great skill, and were possessed of information which often enabled them to furnish good advice. The answers were deemed by inquirers to be infallible, and were often dictated by sound sense, justice, and reason. In early times the Greeks of all the Hellenic world were thus made to feel that they were one nation, bound to obey one divine law. The authority of this and other oracles declined when the struggles between states, and matters of war and government, caused powerful men to bribe the priests to deliver oracles such as the interest of the moment required. The Delphic oracle became enormously rich from the costly offerings brought as fees by the envoys of despots, cities, tribes, and nations, and by wealthy individuals, and in later historic times it was repeatedly plundered by sacrilegious conquerors. The Dodona oracle, the most ancient of all, was in Epirus, in a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus. We may conclude this account of a superstitious side of Greek religion by pointing out that the more advanced minds, the best of the Greek philosophers, believed in the essential unity of deity and in the immortality of the soul.

The mutual friendliness of Greeks, due to community of race, speech, literature, religion, and festivals, was marred by political antagonism and divisions. Parties in the same state were often at daggers-drawn on political questions, and a jealous enmity existed between different states having diverse forms of republican rule. It was not until the latest period of Grecian independence, too late to preserve it from Roman power, that the principle of federal union between a number of democratic communities was brought into play. The internal history of the Grecian states is marked by acts of atrocious violence and cruelty perpetrated on fellow-citizens both by democrats and oligarchs, and the feelings of the reader are distracted between disgust and admiration. Patriotism, courage, enterprising genius, and consummate ability in war; acuteness, activity, industry, and fine taste in all the arts of peace, are contrasted with discord, violence, and rapine, bloody revolutions and proscriptions of the utmost cruelty and injustice. Sedition and domestic warfare were the scourge and disgrace of Greece. Federalism was prevented by the exclusive feeling which forbade connection by marriage, or by the possession of property, with adjacent states. The remedy sought by the wisest and best men of the Greek world was that of "hegemony," or the leadership of smaller states, under the name of allies, by a state of far superior power and resources. We shall see that the issue of this method, as regards the two chief states of Greece, was one of the most famous wars of history. The greater powers were continually striving to seduce or to force the smaller republics from allegiance to their rivals, and violent political dissensions arose in every city between the supporters of opposite interests. From these remarks, which set forth in outline a whole field of Greek history which it is impossible here to draw in detail, we must turn to the development of forms of government from the "constitutional monarchies," as they may be called, of the "Heroic Age," into the republics of the truly historical period. The extinction of the older monarchy was generally followed by a republican constitution, at first aristocratic and later, in most cases, of a democratic character. In order to fully understand matters here, we must remember that the ancient world presents us with scarcely any example of a democracy in the modern sense, The Greek democracies were composed only of the male citizens, or a majority thereof , taking part in the direction of affairs. The larger part of the slaves The progress from monarchy to the republican government was often marked by a stage in winch we find Greeks dwelling under "tyrants," meaning men, or the heirs of men who attained power in an illegal way, but did not necessarily wield that power in a cruel or oppressive manner. Of these usurpers, men ruling with power above the laws and contrary to the laws, instances occurred at Sicyon, at Corinth, Megara, and Athens. When the kingly rule at Corinth ended, the state was governed by two hundred noble families called the Bacchiadae. The city was a place of great commerce, from its position between two seas, and the meeting of roads from all parts of Greece. The population was thoroughly maritime in tastes and pursuits, and it is interesting to know that when troubles arose under the Bacchiadae, young nobles who were discontented and were thus sources of danger at home were encouraged to lead out colonies and found states in which they might take the lead. The chief of these Corinthian colonies were Corcyra, now Corfu, and Syracuse, a city we have already seen playing a great part in Sicily against Carthage. The Bacchiadae were finally overthrown by a noble named Kypselus, who reigned as "tyrant" for 30 years (655-625 b.c.), and was succeeded in power by his son Periander. This man was one of the famous "Seven Wise Men," and under him Corinth made great progress in trade and in colonisation. He lived in all the state of an Oriental potentate, and ruled like a tyrant in the modern sense for the period of 40 years. This specimen of the Greek "tyrannies" of old will suffice. They had their rise in the Ionic cities of Asia Minor, where men were familiar with the spectacle of eastern despotism, and they rendered ultimate service in many cases to the cause of freedom by breaking down, in the interest of the usurper in the first instance, the exclusive system of oligarchs who treated the common people as if they were outside the state. The "tyrants" established new and splendid religious festivals in which all citizens could share, and were liberal encouragers of poetry and art.

Turning to the history of Sparta, meaning "sown-land," "cornfields," after the Dorian conquest of Peloponnesus, we find the Spartans, so called from their capital city, settled in Laconia in the course of the nth century b.c. The population of this territory was divided into three classes. The Dorian conquerors, or Spartiatse, "true Spartans," dwelt in the fertile part of the territory, the valley of the Eurotas, and the lowlands stretching to the sea. The Lacedaemonians or Periaeci ("the dwellers-around") were descendants of the conquered Achaeans, enjoying personal freedom and tilling their own ancestral farms, paying taxes on their landed and other property, bound to military service, and having no political rights. They could not intermarry with the Spartiatse. The Helots, a term supposed to mean "prisoners of war," were ill-treated serfs bound to the soil, which they tilled for the benefit of their Spartan masters, paying a fixed portion of the harvest. As slaves of the state, which could alone set them free, they also toiled on the public works and served in war, fighting as light troops, each Spartan, armour-clad, being attended on a campaign by several Helots. They were kept in a degraded condition, being annually whipped to keep them in mind of their servile state, obliged to wear a special dress, and made to drink themselves into intoxication as a warning to the Spartan youth. Dangerous increase of their numbers is said to have been dealt with by periodical massacre and by assassination of the strongest men. The number of the Perioeci has been reckoned at about four times that of the Spartiate, or aristocratic class, who had no share in tilling the soil, or in any handicraft or trade, and the Helots may have been two or three times as numerous as the Perioeci. It is clear that the Spartans proper, the dominant class, lived like a garrison in an enemy's country. They did not form a tenth part of the whole number of inhabitants. The Perioeci regarded them with no favour, and the Helots with the most bitter hatred. This fact has the most direct bearing on the institutions of the country. The Spartiatas had to be, and they were, a military caste, an army ever on duty. It was the maintenance of this strong and vigilant position that was aimed at by the famous institutions of Lycurgus, a real personage living in the 9th century, of whom we know nothing beyond his political work. This work was very remarkable in its own character as a highly artificial system; in its acceptance by the ruling class for whom it was designed; and in its enduring success, its vitality for many generations. The form of government was the of an aristocratic republic, with two hereditary presidents called kings, who were judges, high-priests, and generals in war. They belonged to two branches of the original royal line, claiming descent from the demigod Heracles. The kings presided in a Council of 28 elders, all at least 60 years of age, elected for life. It was their business to discuss matters to be laid before the general assembly, which consisted of all Spartiatss over 30 years of age. This body could not initiate legislation, and accepted or rejected measures without debate. The Council of Elders or Senate had also jurisdiction over capital crimes. At a time two centimes or more later San Lycurgus, the five Ephors, or Inspectors, gamed a great increase of power and the authority of the kings became a mere shadow The Ephors had then a large control over the actions of every individual, including the kings, and over legislate diplomatic, and military affairs. By the legislation of Lycurgus, every Spartan and Lacedaemonian family received an hereditary landed estate which could not be sold. The number of the Spartan families at this time is given as about 9,000, of the Perioeci or Lacedaemonian families as about 30,000.

The social system established by Lycurgus was of a truly extraordinary character. For the Spartiatae, the land became a drill-ground from the cradle to the grave. Under this relentless discipline all weakly and deformed children were put to death. At the age of seven, the boys were taken from their mothers and trained to arms by state-officials. The hardships endured by the youth have made "Spartan discipline" proverbial. Music and poetry of a warlike character, including the songs of an Ionian bard named Tyrtoeus, were the only things taught beyond gymnastics and endurance. Modern Sybarites have said that it is no wonder Spartans were always ready to die for their country, because such a life could not have been worth living. Manhood brought no relief. The married men, as well as the single, were drilled every day; they messed together, on the coarsest food, at a public table, and slept in barracks. The women were trained in gymnastics, and became as hardy as the men, loving bravery and endurance, hating cowardice and softness of character, and ever ready to give their sons to death in their country's cause. The end in view was attained. The Spartans became the first soldiers in the old Greek world, and they have left not a building or work of art worth seeing, not a line of prose or verse worth reading. They were made into tools of the state, patriotic and warlike machines. The withering moral influence of the system, of the hateful restraints imposed upon and endured by men who boasted of being free amongst a host of slaves, had its natural effect. The whole history of Sparta shows only four eminent men - Brasidas, Gylippus, Lysander, Agesilaus - not one of whom attained eminence within bis country's jurisdiction. This oligarchical republic, as it really Was, purchased for the government a prolongation of its existence by the sacrifice of happiness at home and dignity abroad. The Spartans, domineering, arrogant, rapacious, and corrupt, cringed to the powerful, and trampled on the weak. They betrayed their allies at every turn. With complacent infamy they never showed either gratitude or resentment. They bartered, for advantages confined to themselves, the interest, the freedom, and the lives of those who had done them the most faithful service. They took bribes from Persia, the standing foe of Greece. With mean jealousy of merit even in their own ranks, they regarded a citizen who served them well as their deadliest foe. The ascetic training which was a constant struggle against nature and reason, the vain attempt to extirpate natural appetites and passions, only repressed external symptoms, and left the instincts common to mankind, debarred from their natural objects, to prey on the disordered mind and body. Hence it was that distinguished men of Sparta, in spite of every external restraint, often displayed a kind of madness in their public conduct. The institutions of Lycurgus, a man who never considered that governments were made for men, and not men for governments, aimed at and effected a lifeless equality instead of free movement, but they did secure for Sparta a stability of rule denied to all other states. Their conservative spirit did, at any rate, keep Sparta from internal revolution, and the military training enabled her, for a lengthy period, to overcome all Greek and "barbarian" forces on the field of battle.

The first historical achievements of Spartan arms were those of the two Messenian wars waged 743-723 and 679-668 b.c. These struggles, of a desperate character, carried on by Dorians against Dorians, involved nearly the whole Peloponnesus. The Messenians were aided by the people of Arcadia, Argos, and Sicyon, who feared for their own independence. The Spartans had Corinth and Elis as allies. It was in the latter of these contests that the Spartans, when even their spirit was failing, were encouraged by the heart-stirring songs of Tyrtseus, the Ionian poet. The hero of the first war, on the Messenian side, was king Aristodemus, who slew himself at last when all resistance was hopeless. The end of that struggle came with the storming of Ithome, a strong fortress on a mountain of the same name, and afterwards the citadel of the town of Messene. Messenia then became tributary to Sparta, and forfeited some of her territory. In the second war, Aristomenes, the Messenian champion, endured a siege for 11 years in the mountain-fortress of Eira, from which the hero, with his sons and some of his followers, at last cut their way out and escaped abroad. The conquest of Messenia made Sparta the leading power among Dorian states. The best of the land came into Spartan hands. Many of the people fled to Sicily, and colonised Zancle, afterwards called Messana. The others were reduced to the condition of Helots, and Messenia vanishes from history for three centuries. Masters of Peloponnesus, in its southern half, from sea to sea, the Spartans then turned their arms against Tegea and Argos. The Tegeans at first defeated the Spartan troops, and made some of the prisoners till the land in the chains brought from Sparta for Tegean limbs. The end was that Tegea became Sparta's faithful ally, acknowledging her headship in southern Greece, while Tegean troops, in recognition of the brave resistance made, formed the left wing of the allied army. The Argives were driven from their southern territory, and the leading position of Sparta was confirmed.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 <2> 3

Pictures for Greece. 1st Period: From the Dorian Migration to the Persian Wars (1100-500 b.c.). page 2

Map. Ancient Greece and Colonies
Map. Ancient Greece and Colonies >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About