Greek History


Hellas vs Troy etc.
  • The Troyan War
  • The Dorian Invasion
  • Relocation of the Tribes
  • The Homeric Society
  • The Political Situation

  • Troy and the Troyan war.
    According to Greek literature, primarly the Iliad written by Homer, formed a large coalition of Acheans under the leadership of king Agamemnon an expedition against Troy. After ten long years the Greeks would have finally managed to take and destroy Troy. A lot has been said about this expedition, but it is certain that it has much truth in it, and that men as Agamemnon and Achilles lead the expedition.
      Achilles playing a boardgame
      with Ajax during the war.


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    In 1184 the traditional date for the destruction of Troy, which was described in the Iliad by Homer, was worked out by Greek writers. It was set on 1220 BC. In 1873 AC the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found the remains of a city in the vicinity of the Turkish city Hissarlik. Soon rumours were going around that it was Troy. He had discovered Troy, but not the legendary one as he had dug right through it and found Troy II. His methods were certainly not very subtle.

    The different storeys of the city were each labelled from I to VII. Troy I was thus the oldest city, and the lowest layer. The most spectacular things were found in Troy II, but this could not have been the Troy of king Priam as it was destroyed in 2200, in a time when Acheans did not even exist yet. The citadel reached its peak during Troy VI, around 1800, but this one was destroyed in 1300 by an earthquake. Troy VIIa was in comparison to Troy VI a puny and poor city. It was destroyed by humans around 1250.

    If epic tragedy goes back on an historical event, which is mostly the case although it is normally covered in literary imagination, than only Troy VIIa can be the Troy as described in the Iliad of Homer. Objections to this theory are that Troy VIIa certainly does not fit the descriptions of the Iliad. However, like said above was there a lot of imagination in epic tragedies. Another objection is that the time of the fall of Troy is so close to the end of the Mycean civilisation, that you can wonder if the Acheans were capable of raising such an enormous expedition at the end of their era. Still, it is commonly accepted that Troy VIIa is the legendary Troy.
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    The Dorian invasion.
    With the Dorian invasion between 1100 and 950 BC, which is referred to as "the return of the sons of Heracles" in mythology, ended the bronze age and the dark ages of Hellas. The invaders spoke just like the Acheans Greek, but in a different dialect. In the middle and late Helladic period they probably lived in the north and northwest, at the edge of Mycenaean civilisation. The invaders were from several different tribes, but we will call this invasion the Dorian invasion as the Dorian tribes were the most important in the course of history.

    The Dorian invasion was not an organised attack from one nation on the other one. Both sides had some form of organisation, but mostly only in a very loose form. What made the Dorians decide to move downwards is impossible to say. This whole immigration of nations is covered in a thick fog. Archaeological nothing was found, we only know of it because we could trace it in a linguistic way.

    The Hellas of the 11th and 12th century BC had gone very much downhill. The script, one of the cornerstones of civilisation was lost, and all once mighty cities were destroyed. The "second coming of the Greeks" gave a new impulse to culture in Hellas: people learned the art of iron-working, cremation started to replace burial, pottery was decorated with geometrical figures, and iron started to replace bronze as the main raw material for the construction of tools and weaponry.
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    Relocation of the tribes.
    With the coming of the Dorians the pattern for the future was set in Hellas. For the rest of the classic history the Greeks were divided into four groups, not only by the dialect which they spoke, but also by the area in which they were living. While several tribes were driven through Hellas they, and with them a part of the invading Dorian tribes, realised that Hellas was not big enough for all of them, so they moved overseas.

    The "return of the sons of Heracles" completly changed Greece in a cultural and geographic manner.

    Immigrating Greeks met on Cyprus the Phoenician tradesmen who attempted to control the whole Mediterranean with their trade. From them the Greek learned something invaluable: the alphabet. The Phoenician alphabet, which resembled the Hebrew alphabet of the old Scripture, was changed by the Greeks until it fitted their needs.

    The Dorians, together with the north-western Greeks settled down mostly in the areas at the Corinthian gulf and in the northwest of the Peloponesse. Furthermore the Dorians moved to the south and east of the Peloponesse, in the area of Megara at the Sardonic gulf, on the island Aegina in that same gulf, on the southern islands of the Aegean sea (Crete, Rhodes, and Kos), and in the southwest corner of Asia Minor.

    The central mountains of the Peloponesse, Arcadia, did not get any new inhabitants. That is why the Arcadian dialect, together with the Greek dialect of Cyprus, is the closest to the original Mycenaean dialect.

    Ionic Greek was spoken in Attica and Euboea, both areas where no invasion took place. However, because of the increasing population in Hellas because of the Dorian invasion many Ionic Greeks decided to move overseas nevertheless. They settled down on the islands in the centre of the Aegean sea, and on the central coasts of Asia Minor, which is known as Ionia since then. This process is known as the Ionic migration of nations, but this is not really correct as they did leave a motherland behind unlike the Dorians.

    In Thessaly the original inhabitants, the Aeolians, became subjected to the invaders and many fled to northern Asia Minor (Smyrna, Cyme and Lesbos). The northern coast of Asia Minor is since then known as Aeolia. In Beotia on the other hand the invaders melted together with the original inhabitants.

    Around 950 every tribe had settled down in its own territory. They co-existed besides eachother, but never formed a nation... they even almost never felt as one nation. There would always be a strong contrast between the different groups, especially between the Ionians and the Dorians. The Ionians arrived in Hellas around 1600 and mixed with the original inhabitants while the Dorians arrived 500 years later and enslaved them, without learning anything from their culture. The Dorians valued their system of tribes and remained isolated as Sparta would show later on, while the Ionians valued art, science and individualism which were the cornerstones of Athens.
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    The Homeric society.
    As we know script was only used during the Mycenaean civilisation for accountancy, and during the Dorian invasion there had not been any script at all. That is why all we know of these periods are from excavations, and from text that was written down in a later period. Homer, who wrote the Iliad and Odyssey, is one of those persons who wrote about these periods in Greek history.

    We do not know who Homer might have been, what his real name was, or which poems were written by him. However, we do know that the oldest book of Europe is written by him, the book which is read by mankind for more than 2600 years already: the Iliad and Odyssey. People have admired this book since it was written in the ninth or eight century BC, no other book can claim this. Other civilisations that had left behind a book have often increased the importance of their book by giving it a religious significance. Nobody ever read Homer because he feared a God, nobody ever abused a line from this book to judge another person, and still... people read Homer.

    The stories which are written down by Homer, had already been told from father to son for generations so you can ask yourself how accurate they are. Homer was at the end of a long line of troubadours who probably already travelled through Hellas at the beginning of the Mycenaean civilisation. Many aspects have been probably twisted in some way, and many events which happened in different periods happen beside eachother in his stories. But we do not have much other choice than using his works, which have been written as literature instead of history, in the reconstruction of the Greek history. Generally seen the society which he describes in his epic is different from and the Mycenaean one, and the one during the eight century BC, so we could assume that he describes society during the 9th and 10th centuries.
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    The political situation.
    Homer described a world which was ruled by the nobles, who seemed to be competing eachother all the time. Each noble, or basileus in Greek, was at the head of a house (oikos) which future was dependent on prestige, performance, wealth and the connection of the basileus. The basileus was on the other hand dependant on the prestige of his house. Inside the house the power of the basileus was unlimited. For the connections between the nobles a primes inter pares, or "first among equals", was assigned, but his position could be questioned at any moment and he had to prove himself all the time.

    There was a national assembly, but it only acted in a passive way. A formal constitution did not exist, as did written laws. The only clear social distinction was the one between the nobility and the rest. Among the nobility, and the others itself there was hardly any distinction. They knew the difference between slaves and free people, but the slaves were often better off as they were protected by a house.
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