Classical Greece - World History

Classical Greece - World History
Posted on 28-12-2022

Classical Greece ( 700 ) Greece emerges from its dark ages.

Historians take the establishment of the Olympic Games as the start date of the "Hellenic Period" in which Greece reached its maximum splendor. But the revival of Greece was, naturally, a gradual process, and it is from the 7th century that the recovery became really palpable. Among the heterogeneity of the Greek polis, there were two that called special attention. On the one hand, the bellicose Sparta, which had shown its tenacity and strength in the long war of twenty years against Messenia. In extreme contrast to it was Athens.

Athens was a pioneer in a process that little by little would affect most of the polis: the decadence of the monarchy. In a small and austere city, a king was not much different from other nobles nor could he accumulate much authority. This facilitated experimentation with alternative forms of government. Athens had been without a king for a long time. According to the latest tradition, their last king was Clodro,who at the time of the Dorian invasions fought to keep Athens free. An oracle predicted that he would defeat the army whose king died first, so Clodro decided to give his life so that Athens would continue to be Ionian. The Athenians decided that such a good king could not have a successor, since none would be equal to him. Thereafter Athens was ruled by an Archon, (which in Greek means something like "president"). At first the position was for life and passed from father to son from the descendants of Clodro (that is, the archon was a king), but later a term of ten years was stipulated for the archonate, as well as that he did not have what to necessarily pass from father to son, but to be kept within the nobility. Obviously the story of the origin of the archonate is false, but the truth is that in one way or another Athens had passed to a different system of government from the usual monarchy.

While Sparta imposed its authority over the Peloponnese by the force of its hoplites, Athens achieved supremacy over Attica by exclusively political means. Slowly it was absorbing the neighboring populations, in the sense that all the inhabitants of Attica were considered Athenians even if they had not been born or lived in the city. This process of unification of Attica ended in 700, when Eleusis, a city located northwest of Attica , was incorporated .

In Eleusis, rites were practiced that in many aspects were more important than the official Greek religion, that of the gods of Olympus, which had been modeled to a large extent to suit the great lords, but contributed little to the common man. The Eleusinian Mysteries they were probably a remnant of the archaic religion of Greece. Initiates were forbidden to reveal anything about themselves on pain of death. They were related to certain agricultural gods, with the grain that dies in autumn but leaves a seed that makes it reborn in spring. At first they must have been rites to guarantee good harvests, but later their principles of death and resurrection were applied to men, so that whoever participated in the rites would die and rise again in another world. The Olympic religion, on the other hand, only offered the dead a desolate hell.

To the north of Greece there were five different regions: To the northwest was Illyria, which would remain far from contact with civilization for centuries, except for the presence of some Greek colonies on its coast. To the south of Illyria was Epirus, inhabited since the time of Homer by various Greek-speaking peoples in which only small vestiges of Greek culture are found, such as the cult of Zeus. At this time the preponderant were the Thesprotas. To the east of Illyria and Epirus was Macedonia,  Initially occupied by Thracian peoples, but some tribes that descended from Mount Pindos expelled them to the east and organized themselves into a monarchy whose first king was Perdiccas I. He built the city of Egas and made it the capital of Macedonia. To the south of Macedonia was Thessaly, a fertile and flat region that had enjoyed some notoriety in Mycenaean times. It is the only part of Greece flat enough for horses to be useful in battle. For this reason it was the cradle of good riders. Greek myths locate the legendary centaursin Thessaly, probably a memory of the first encounters of the southern Greeks with the Thessalian horsemen. According to tradition, a king named Alevas organized the territory into four confederate tetrarchies , led jointly in times of war by a single leader named Tagos. Finally, to the east of Macedonia, on the northern Aegean coast, was Thrace, a region that had already begun to host numerous Greek colonies, especially on the Chalcidian peninsula.

Meanwhile, Judah had just narrowly escaped total destruction. Sennacherib left Jerusalem whole, although Jerusalem was the only thing left whole in Judah. In 697 King Hezekiah, tired and disgraced, delegated the government to his son Manasseh.Meanwhile Sennacherib was preparing for a final attack against Babylon. He understood that the kingdom of Elam was responsible in large part for Babylon's periodic rebellions, for he had adopted as a form of defense helping all the Babylonian rebels to keep the Assyrian armies occupied. So he decided to attack Elam first, but not through Babylon, which would bring his weakened armies to reach it, but by an unexpected attack by sea. He secretly built a fleet, for which he turned to the Phoenicians and perhaps the Greeks. It is possible that this was the first contact of the Greeks with Assyria and the origin of the legends about Ninus and Semiramis. The fleet descended the Euphrates, passing by Babylon without stopping and landing at Elam. However, the Elamites responded to the unexpected attack in an equally unexpected way: they left the country a minimal defense while the bulk of their army fled to Babylon, there to join the rebels and threaten to cut off the Assyrian army.

This move must have provoked the anger of Sennacherib. Until then, Assyria had been relatively respectful of Babylonia. Undoubtedly, the city had a cultural tradition that impressed the Assyrians. Although Assyria undoubtedly surpassed Babylon in military might, both Assyrians and Babylonians recognized Babylon's cultural superiority, but now Sennacherib was no longer willing to acknowledge anything. In 689 he forced his way into Babylonia, razed its canals, tore down the dikes, filled the ditches with the mud of the houses he had brought down by diverting the Euphrates, even destroyed the temples, and carried off the statue of Marduk himself to Assyria.

In 687 Hezekiah died and his son Manasseh took the throne. His policy was one of total submission to Assyria. He promptly paid tribute, encouraged the worship of the Assyrian gods, and opposed the worship of Yahweh, whose supporters continued to advocate rebellion against the Assyrian yoke. Naturally, this made him the target of all sorts of disqualifications in the Bible. Despite this, Manasseh's reign was a period of peace for Judah.

The same year that Hezekiah died, a new kingdom arose in Asia Minor. It was the kingdom of Lydia. The Lydians were a tribe that had been under Phrygian rule and who fought alongside them against the Cimmerians. Now they had found a capable general named Gyges, who founded the new kingdom and continued the fight against the invading nomads.

In 685 Duke Huan became the lord of the Chinese state of Qi. Around this time new barbarian peoples threatened China: the Man and I tribes to the south and the Jung and Ti to the north. They were semi-nomadic peoples who shared the fundamental traits of Chinese culture, so "barbarians" must be understood simply as "foreigners".

Meanwhile, Greek settlers reached the Bosphorus Strait and founded a city on the Asian coast which they called Chalcedonia, after the copper mines that were nearby. That same year, the oppression that Sparta inflicted on Messenia became so unbearable that the Messenians rose up in arms again, led by Aristomenes, thus beginning the Second Messenian War. Soon after, Athens slightly modified its system of government. in 683the archon ceased to be the absolute ruler. The city came to be governed by nine men elected annually from among the nobles. One of them was the archon, who gave its name to the year, but there was also the polemarch, who governed the army, another served as high priest, and thus the tasks of government were distributed among the nine. In addition, the Areopagus arose , a council of nobles that acted as the supreme court.

In 681 Huan, the lord of Qi, negotiated an alliance with Song, Lu, and other peripheral Chinese states, to which new members gradually joined, concerned about barbarian incursions.

Meanwhile, the Assyrian king Sennacherib was assassinated in a conspiracy organized by his two eldest sons. We don't know the details, but something must have gone wrong, for both of them were forced to flee to Urartu, where they raised an army. Another son of the murdered king claimed the throne and gained the backing of the nobility. His name was Asarhaddon, and he had no difficulty defeating his brothers. His politics were radically different from those of his predecessors. He began the rebuilding of Babylon, a task that took years. He made a peace agreement with Elam, which promised not to foment any more rebellions in Babylon. With Judah he had no problems, since Manasseh did not fail to pay the agreed tribute. in 679He had to direct a campaign against the Cimmerians, who under pressure from the Scythians returned to penetrate Urartu. Asarhaddon defeated them, but at the same time he tried to reach an agreement with them, which was sealed, as usual, incorporating one of his princesses into his harem.

The Assyrian king took measures so that his own succession would not endanger Assyrian power, as had happened with previous successions. He had two grown children and was not willing to go through betrayals or assassination attempts that could end in civil war. He chose his youngest son as his successor and forced all the nobility to swear allegiance to him as the future king. He named his eldest son viceroy of Babylon.

Finally it was Egypt's turn to face Assyria. The current king was Taharka, the one who had led the Egyptian army against Sennacherib while besieging Jerusalem. Assyria was aware of the thousand intrigues that Egypt had hatched in recent years, and now it was ready to call them to account. In 675 Asarhaddón sent an expedition to Egypt that, against all odds, Taharka knew how to reject.

In 673 the tradition says that the second king of Rome, the Sabine Numa Pompilius, died. His successor was Tullus Hostilius. Until then Rome occupied three hills: the Palatine, Capitoline and Quirinal mountains. The new king extended it to Mount Caelius , building his own palace there. The king's power was not absolute, but was advised by the Senate, an assembly of one hundred elders, representatives of the various clans that made up the city.

In 671 Asarhaddon was able to send back to Egypt a larger and better equipped army than the previous one. He took Memphis and the Delta, while Taharka was forced back south. In 669 Babylon was completely rebuilt and restored to its splendor.

Meanwhile Sparta was still embroiled in the Second Messenian War, which had already lasted 17 years. Argos must have thought it was a good time to attack Sparta and he did win a battle, but he couldn't get much of it, for the following year, in 668, Sparta was finally able to defeat the Messenians. Their leader Aristomenes and a group of allies had to leave their homeland, while Messenia was prostrated once more before Sparta. They were welcomed in the city of Zancle, in Sicily, where a little later they seized power and changed their name to Messana, in honor of their land of origin.

The same year that the Second Messenian War ended, the Assyrian king Asarhaddon died, while marching to Egypt in a third campaign. As he had been arranged, he was succeeded by his youngest son, Ashurbanipal. Under his reign Nineveh reached its apogee. Its population reached 100,000 inhabitants and its commercial caravans reached India. Ashurbanipal had received a careful education, and was interested in Babylonian culture. He built an immense library in his palace in which he carefully cataloged copies of whatever interesting cuneiform tablets came into his hands. Much of the knowledge we have of Mesopotamia is due to this library.

In 667 the alliance of Chinese states that Huan had promoted became a confederation of all the outlying states led by Huan himself. The states of the confederation ceased to be considered barbarian, and were included among the kingdoms of the center, which formally recognized Cheu authority. The capital was moved to the city of Yong, further east. Huan's supremacy was due in large part to the efficiency of his prime minister Kuan Tsong,who carried out notable economic and fiscal reforms. Among other things, he introduced the use of coins to China. Despite the confederation, barbarian raids continued to occur. Some states further away allied with the barbarians and increased their power. Among them were Wu and Yue.

Meanwhile, Rome was faced with what until then was considered the greatest power in Lazio: the city of Alba Longa. The details are shrouded in legend. According to Roman historians, Rome and Alba agreed to replace a possible battle with a duel of three men against three men, with the commitment to abide by the results. The Romans chose three brothers from the Horatii family, while the Albanians chose three brothers from the Curiatii family. Two of the Horatii were killed, but the third ran and was pursued by the others. Then he stopped and fought with them one by one, as they came to him, and he killed all three of them. Alba accepted the result, but soon after took advantage of an opportunity to rebel, so that in 665 it was taken and destroyed by Rome. In short, that Rome ended in one way or another with the Albanian hegemony and invented a legend to show that their conduct was just.

In 661 Ashurbanipal led a new campaign against Egypt. This time he reached Thebes and sacked it, thus ending the dynasty of Nubian kings. They continued to reign in Nubia for another thousand years, but their civilization soon declined. Ashurbanipal appointed Neco, a prince of Lower Egypt who had been a prisoner of war for some years, viceroy of Egypt, so he knew Assyria well and knew how dangerous it was to rebel against it.

In 660 a Greek expedition founded a city on the European side of the Bosporus, opposite Chalcedon. It was called Byzantium. According to tradition, the name comes from Byzas, who was the leader of the expedition, but the Greeks were very given to inventing people who gave names to towns or cities. Chalcedon and Byzantium were in the privileged situation in which Troy had been before, since they could regulate at will the trade with the Black Sea (or the Euxinus Pontus, as the Greeks called it), which was increasingly flourishing. From this date, the shores of the Black Sea were populated with more and more Greek colonies.

Now we find ourselves with a precedent for a phenomenon that was to be common in the Greek cities of later years. When a small city, as all Greek polises were, reached a certain level of prosperity, the people could put a lot of pressure on an ineffective ruler, and some charismatic men could channel the people's dissatisfaction into power, which now (not before) meant a significant social ascent. This is how tyrants began to emerge , a word that simply designated someone who assumed power without any kind of dynastic, noble or religious backing, without the negative connotations that this word has for us today. Thus, in 655, Cypselus seized power in Corinth.

Around this time, Necho, the Assyrian-appointed governor of Egypt, died, and his son Psameticus took his place. He bought Lydian mercenaries and with their help stood up to the Assyrian garrisons stationed in Egypt. At the same time, Ashurbanipal received a request for help from the principalities of Asia Minor, which were again under attack by the Cimmerians. He decided to attend to this matter beforehand, whereupon he fought once more at the side of the Lydian king Gyges against the nomads. Between them they managed to defeat the Cimmerians, but Gyges died in the fight, in the year 652. This same year Psammeticus had definitively expelled the Assyrians from Egypt and became Psameticus I, the first king of theTwenty-sixth dynasty. He established the capital at Sais, west of the Delta. That is why his dynasty is also known as Saitic. Ashurbanipal could not take care of him because at the same time a much bigger problem arose. Elam had reverted to its old policy of intrigue and had convinced the king's brother, who ruled Babylon, to revolt, thus plunging Assyria into civil war.

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