Agamemnon: 1400 BC


From 6000BC to around 2000 BC, Europe became home to Indo-Europeans who migrated west, creating Celts, German Italics, Greeks, Balto-Slavics Europeans. The Greeks probably migrated south into the Balkan peninsula beginning in c2200 BC, ending with the Dorians.[1] The period from 1600 BC to about 1100 BC was dominated by Mycenae Greece, King Agamemnon, and the wars with Troy as described by Homer. The history of Ancient Greece is often taken to end with the reign of Alexander the Great, (who died in 323 BC). Subsequent events are described as Hellenistic Greece.

Any history of Ancient Greece requires a cautionary note on sources. Those Greek historians and political writers whose works have survived, notably Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Demosthenes, Plato and Aristotle, were mostly either Athenian or pro-Athenian. We know far more about the history of Athens than of any other Greek city. Athenian writers, furthermore, concentrate almost wholly on political, military and diplomatic history, and ignore economic and social matters.


Indo-European Migrations


People from Anatolia migrated to Crete sometime around 6500 BC and settled in the area around Knossos. In c2400-1500 BC the Minoan civilization flourished, named for the legendary King Minos flourished. Life in Bronze Age Crete revolved around a series of palaces, scattered around the island whose design and complexity is unlike anything that preceded it in Greece. All of the Cretan palaces share a similar design with the largest one in Knossos, which had been discovered by Sir Arthur Evans, an amateur archaeologist,  in the nineteenth century. Palaces are also in Malia, Palekastro, Phaestos and Zakro, and numerous other places on the island. These palaces were the part of a  system which included a number of sanctuaries in caves, on the mountains and in houses. Though little is known about the belief system of this ancient religion, (since  no sacred texts have been discovered, so far) from the figurines and shrines it can be assumed that the Cretans, if they did not worship nature and human beauty, held it in a very high regard. The legend of the minotaur, the half-man, half-bull off-spring of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos and a bull, and other archaeological finds seem to confirm the worship of the bull as some sort of divine being or symbol. It has also been suggested that this could refer to the constellation of Taurus and perhaps the commemoration of some event that occured. It is also interesting that Zeus, the king of the Gods, is said to have arrived in Greece from Crete.

The Palaces themselves were also the centers for economic production with storehouses for grain, wool, oil, and international trade. From artifacts found in excavations we know that the Minoans had contact with some of the other ancient civilizations like the Summarians and the Egyptians. The fact that the palaces were unfortified shows a confidence in their naval power as their defense against aggression.

The island of Santorini, or Thira, was one of Crete's primary outposts. Much of this civilization we know from the ruins of Akrotiri as well as the ruined palaces in Knossos and around Crete. These were supposedly destroyed by the eruption of the volcano in Santorini at around 1600 BC which created a massive tidal wave. Some believe it was this wave which destroyed the Minoan civilzation, however advances in technology, such as carbon-dating, show that the Minoan civilization did not collapse until around 1450 BC, one hundred and fifty years after the eruption of Thira. So while the calamity may have led to a decline in the fortune of the Minoans (there was certainly plenty of damage and they did lose a trading partner) this was not what destroyed them. According to Plato it was this same wave which wrecked a Greek fleet as it was returning from conquering the Egyptians, which he learned about from Solon. This is all tied in with the theory that Santorini is ancient Atlantis, another story altogether. Besides the large population centers of Crete and Santorini there were smaller independent civilizations on the Aegean islands which were rich in minerals and precious metals.[2]

The rise of Greece

Greece began to develop after the c1150 BC decline of the dominating giant Mycenae. Without Mycenaen leadership the Greeks had become illiterate, but they used a modified Phoenician alphabet, to create a Greek alphabet. From c900 BC written records begin to appear. Greece was divided into many self-governing communities, a pattern dictated by Greek geography, where every island, valley and plain is cut off from its neighbours by the sea or mountain ranges.

Herodotus' World map: c450 BC


By 400 BC, the Greek population had mushroomed to c13m and had out-grown its arable land and had been colonising since c750 BC. To the east, the Aegean coast of Asia Minor was colonized first, followed by Cyprus and the coasts of Thrace, the Sea of Marmara and south coast of the Black Sea. Eventually Greek colonization reached as far north-east as present day Ukraine. To the west the coasts of Illyria, Sicily and southern Italy were settled by Greek colonists, followed by the south coast of France, Corsica, and even northeastern Spain. Greek colonies were also founded in Egypt and Libya. The modern cities of Syracuse, Naples, Marseille and Istanbul were Greek colonies called Syracusae, Neapolis, Massalia, and Byzantion.

By the 6th century BC the Greek world had become a cultural and linguistic area much larger than the geographical area of present Greece. Greek colonies were not politically controlled by their founding cities, although they often retained religious and commercial links with them. The Greeks both at home and abroad organized themselves into independent communities, and the city (polis) became the basic unit of Greek government. Much of Greek city planning remains with us today, not the least being the logical city layout in square blocks, with houses fronting on the streets the marking the city blocks.

In this period, huge economic development occurred in Greece and also her overseas colonies such as Cyme, Cyrene and Alalia which experienced a growth in commerce and manufacturing. There also was a large improvement in the living standards of the population. Some studies estimate that the average size of the Greek household, in the period from 800 BC to 300 BC, increased five times, which indicates a large increase in the average income of the population.

At its economic height, in the 4th century BC, Ancient Greece was the most advanced economy in the world. According to some economic historians, it was one of the most advanced preindustrial economies. This is demonstrated by the average daily wage of the Greek worker, it was, in terms of wheat (about 12 kg), more than 3 times the average daily wage of the Romano-Egyptian worker during the roman period (about 3.75 kg).

The original Greek cities were city-state monarchies and powerful landowners fought wars over land and replaced kings as necesary. In c680 BC, money appeared and a mercantile class introduced class conflict into the larger cities. From 650 BC onwards, the aristocracies had to fight not to be overthrown and replaced by populist leaders called tyrants (turannoi), a word which did not necessarily have the modern meaning of oppressive dictators.

By the 6th century BC several cities had emerged as dominant in Greek affairs: Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. Each of them had brought the surrounding rural areas and smaller towns under their control, and Athens and Corinth had become major maritime and mercantile powers as well. Athens and Sparta developed a rivalry that dominated Greek politics for generations.

In Sparta, the landed aristocracy retained their power, and the constitution of Lycurgus (about 650 BC) entrenched their power and gave Sparta a permanent militarist regime under a dual monarchy. Sparta dominated the other cities of the Peloponnese, with the sole exceptions of Argus and Achaia.

In Athens, by contrast, the monarchy was abolished in 683 BC, and reforms of Solon established a moderate system of aristocratic government. The aristocrats were followed by the tyranny of Pisistratus and his sons, who made the city a great naval and commercial power. When the Pisistratids were overthrown, Cleisthenes established the world's first democracy (500 BC), with power being held by an assembly of all the male citizens. But it must be remembered that only a minority of the male inhabitants were citizens, excluding slaves, freedmen and non-Athenians.

The Persian War

In Ionia the Greek cities, including Miletus, and Halicarnassus, were dominated by the Persian Empire in c550 BC. In 499 BC the Ionian Greeks rebelled, and a Greek coalition led by Athens went to their aid. In 490 BC, the Persian king, Darius I, Darius I having suppressed the Ionian cities, sent a fleet to punish the Greeks. The Persians landed in Attica, but were defeated at the Battle of Marathon by a Greek army led by the Athenian general Miltiades. Ten years later Darius' successor, Xerxes I, sent an army by land. After being delayed by the Spartan King Leónidas at Thermopylae, Xerxes advanced into Attica, where he captured and burned Athens. But the Athenians had evacuated the city by sea, and under Themistocles they defeated the Persian fleet at the Battle of Salamis. In c479 BC, the Greeks, led by the Spartan Pausanius, defeated the Persian army at Plataea.

The Athenian fleet then turned to chasing the Persians out of the Aegean Sea, and in 478 BC they captured Byzantium. In the course of doing so Athens enrolled all the island states and some mainland allies into an alliance, called the Delian League because its treasury was kept on the sacred island of Delos. The Spartans, although they had taken part in the war, withdrew into isolation after it, allowing Athens to establish unchallenged naval and commercial power.

Dominance of Athens

The Persian Wars ushered in a century of Athenian dominance of Greek affairs. Athens was the unchallenged master of the sea, and also the leading commercial power, although Corinth remained a serious rival. The leading statesman of this time was Pericles, who used the tribute paid by the members of the Delian League to build the Parthenon and other great monuments of classical Athens. By the mid 5th century the League had become an Athenian Empire, symbolized by the transfer of the League's treasury from Delos to the Parthenon in 454 BC.


The Parthenon


The wealth of Athens attracted talented people from all over Greece, and also created a wealthy leisure class who became patrons of the arts. The Athenian state also sponsored learning and the arts, particularly architecture. Athens became the centre of Greek literature, philosophy (see Greek philosophy) and the arts (see Greek theatre). Some of the greatest figures of Western cultural and intellectual history lived in Athens during this period: the dramatists Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Sophocles, the philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates, the historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon, the poet Simonides and the sculptor Pheidias.

The other Greek states at first accepted Athenian leadership in the continuing war against the Persians, but after the fall of the conservative politician Cimon in 461 BC, Athens became an increasingly open imperialist power. After the Greek victory at the Battle of the Eurymedon in 466 BC, the Persians were no longer a threat, and some states, such as Naxos, tried to secede from the League, but were forced to submit. The new Athenian leaders, Pericles and Ephialtes, let relations between Athens and Sparta deteriorate, and in 458 BC war broke out. After some years of inconclusive war a 30-year peace was signed between the Delian League and the Peloponnesian League (Sparta and her allies). This coincided with the last battle between the Greeks and the Persians, a sea battle off Salamis in Cyprus, followed by the Peace of Callias (450 BC) between the Greeks and Persians.

The Peloponnesian War

Greece: c435 BC


In 431 BC war broke out again between Athens and Sparta and its allies. The immediate causes of the Peloponnesian War vary from account to account. However, three causes are fairly consistent among the ancient historians, namely Thucydides and Plutarch. Prior to the war, Corinth and one of its colonies, Corcyra (modern-day Corfu), got into a dispute in which Athens intervened. Soon after, Corinth and Athens argued over control of Potidaea (near modern-day Nea Potidaia), eventually leading to an Athenian siege of Potidaea. Finally, Athens issued a series of economic decrees known as the "Megarian Decrees" that placed economic sanctions on the Megarian people. Athens was accused by the Peloponnesian allies of violating the Thirty Years Peace through all of the aforementioned actions, and Sparta formally declared war on Athens.

It should be noted that many historians consider these simply to be the immediate causes of the war. They would argue that the underlying cause was the growing resentment of Sparta and its allies at the dominance of Athens over Greek affairs. The war lasted 27 years, partly because Athens (a naval power) and Sparta (a land-based military power) found it difficult to come to grips with each other.

Sparta's initial strategy was to invade Attica, but the Athenians were able to retreat behind their walls. An outbreak of plague in the city during the siege caused heavy losses, including Pericles. At the same time the Athenian fleet landed troops in the Peloponnese, winning battles at Naupactus (429 BC) and Pylos (425 BC). But these tactics could bring neither side a decisive victory. After several years of inconclusive campaigning, the moderate Athenian leader Nicias concluded the Peace of Nicias (421 BC).

In 418 BC, however, hostility between Sparta and the Athenian ally Argos led to a resumption of fighting. At Mantinea Sparta defeated the combined armies of Athens and her allies. The resumption of fighting brought the war party, led by Alcibiades, back to power in Athens. In 415 BC Alcibiades persuaded the Athenian Assembly to launch a major expedition against Syracuse, a Peloponnesian ally in Sicily. Though Nicias was a skeptic about the Sicilian Expedition, he was appointed along with Alcibiades to lead the expedition. Due to accusations against him, Alcibiades fled to Sparta where he persuaded Sparta to send aid to Syracuse. As a result, the expedition was a complete disaster and the whole expeditionary force was lost. Nicias was executed by his captors.

Sparta had now built a fleet (with the help of the Persians) to challenge Athenian naval supremacy, and had found a brilliant military leader in Lysander, who seized the strategic initiative by occupying the Hellespont, the source of Athens' grain imports. Threatened with starvation, Athens sent its last remaining fleet to confront Lysander, who decisively defeated them at Aegospotami (405 BC). The loss of her fleet threatened Athens with bankruptcy. In 404 BC Athens sued for peace, and Sparta dictated a predictably stern settlement: Athens lost her city walls, her fleet, and all of her overseas possessions. Lysander abolished the democracy and appointed a council of thirty to govern Athens in its place.

Spartan and Theban dominance

The end of the Peloponnesian War left Sparta the master of Greece, but the narrow outlook of the Spartan warrior elite did not suit them to this role. Within a few years the democratic party regained power in Athens and other cities. In 395 BC the Spartan rulers removed Lysander from office, and Sparta lost her naval supremacy. Athens, Argos, Thebes, and Corinth, the latter two formerly Spartan allies, challenged Spartan dominance in the Corinthian War, which ended inconclusively in 387 BC. That same year Sparta shocked Greek opinion by concluding the Treaty of Antalcidas with Persia, by which they surrendered the Greek cities of Ionia and Cyprus; thus they reversed a hundred years of Greek victories against Persia. Sparta then tried to further weaken the power of Thebes, which led to a war where Thebes formed an alliance with the old enemy, Athens.

Then the Theban generals Epaminondas and Pelopidas won a decisive victory at Leuctra (371 BC). The result of this battle was the end of Spartan supremacy and the establishment of Theban dominance, but Athens herself recovered much of her former power because the supremacy of Thebes was short-lived. With the death of Epaminondas at Mantinea (362 BC) the city lost its greatest leader, and his successors blundered into an ineffectual ten-year war with Phocis. In 346 BC the Thebans appealed to Philip II of Macedon to help them against the Phocians, thus drawing Macedon into Greek affairs for the first time.

Greek Mercenaries

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 BC.

The Anabasis is his story of the march to Persia to aid Cyrus, who enlisted Greek help to try and take the throne from Artaxerxes, and the ensuing return of the Greeks, in which Xenophon played a leading role. This occurred between 401 B.C. and March 399 BC.[3]

Xenophon's Retreat Route: 401-400 BC


Since the Greeks dominated their world for centuries it was no coincidence that Greek soldiers became prized mercenaries. The Greeks had gained considerable experience in the fighting inferred above and surplus soldiers have routinely sold their skills. Notable in this experience was the Greek army hired by the Persian Prince Cyrus, son of Darius II Ochus, Shah of Persia, Pharaoh Egypt. Darius died in 404 BC and left his Persian empire to his elder son Arses, who took the name Artaxerxes II. Cyrus had been sent to administer Ionia at the city of Sardis, but when his father was dying Cyrus hurried to Babylon to learn that his elder brother would be king. In that era younger princes did not have a long life expectancy.

Palace intrigues being common, Cyrus was arrested and only just escaped. Cyrus returned to Ionia and raised his mainly Greek army to help seize the Babylonian throne. In 401 BC the 13,000-man Greek contingent left on their adventure and 12,000 arrived in te area south-west of Baghdad in August 401 BC. Of the Greeks, 10,500 were heavy infantry hoplites.

The brothers fought at the Battle of Cunaxa in August and the Greeks won! Sadly, Cyrus was killed and so the mercenary Greeks lost their employer . Since the warrior Greeks were hardly welcome in Babylonia, they began to retreat. En route out of Persia they were harried by a Persian army. After a month many of the survivng Greek generals were invited by the Persian Satrap Tissaphernes to a meeting to coordinate their exodus. Those generals and several accompanying junior officers were all killed. The army then had to elect new generals and retreat through enemy territory with a enemy army still at their heels. The story of their successful march by the 8,000 survivors up to the Black Sea (the Greeks then called it the Euxine) and then along the coast back home is quite heroic.[4]

An Athenian Greek adventurer called Xenophon had travelled with the army, and being educated, he was among the new generals elected. The new geneals agreed to command the retreat of the still-intact army and get it home to Greece. Xenophon wrote a memoire history (called Anabasis ) of the remarkable 3,000 km adventure that brought 5,000 of those men home. This adventure stirred men's emotions and Alexander III of Macedon took care to mark where his fellow Greeks had been before him and where he had surpassed their adventures.

John Lee has written an equally remarkable book analysing that Greek army and detailing how the soldiers operated, lived, fought, and survived. His analysis brings context and life into the account. The analysis s helpful as it reveals details of both the armis of the time and implies much about he later successes of the Romans and others. [5]


1          Adapted from Grahame Clark, World Prehistory, In New Perspective, pp. 151-197; and History of Greece at,; and Andrzej Borzyskowski, The Slavic Ethnogenesis: Identifying the Slavic Stock and Origins of the Slavs: at,

2          Matt Barrett, Bronze and Iron Age Greece at,

3         From the Preamble to the Translation by HG Dakyns, of Anabasis, by Xenophon at, Project Gutenberg Etext,

4          John Lee, A Greek Army on the March, p.84.

5           Ibid. For details and map of Xenophon's march, see Anabasis (Xenophon) at,

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