A.2. Democratisation of Greek society during the Archaic Era?


  • Mait Kõiv University of Tartu, Tallinn University




Ancient Greek history, politics, archaic era


The purpose of this paper is to ask critical questions about the widespread conception of the universal democratisation of the Greek society during the archaic and classical periods, leading from the Dark Age monarchies via archaic aristocracies to the establishment of the classical Greek democracy. The concept is based on the opinion of Aristotle, and on the combination of the evidence from the Homeric epics, the poems of Hesiod, archaic poetry and what is known about the late archaic and classical Greek city states, mostly on the example of Athens. Crucial for it are the assumptions that Homeric epics predate the Hesiodic poems and the lyric poetry, and that they give a reliable depiction of the poet's contemporary society, which allows to consider the 'Homeric kingship' as a normal social phenomenon of the Dark Age and to view everything known from the other sources as a result of further development. If we question these assumptions about Homeric epics, neither of which can be considered as certain, the whole conception will be seriously weakened. The other evidence we have - the half-legendary stories about the archaic era and the information we possess about the archaic legislation - does not depict any clear trend in the social development. It is therefore asked in this paper, if it would not be more reasonable to view the Dark Age and archaic communities as preserving a social balance between the nobility and the commoners by giving the initiative to the elite, but still preserving the participation of the fighting commoners in the governmental affairs. In such case there would be no reason to assume a general development from monarchies to aristocracies and from aristocracies to the more democratic forms of government during this period.


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