The Three Major City-States In the Archaic Age(700-500 B. C. E. ), all of the city-states that existed in that period were different from each other. By examining three leading city-states of Greek civilization, Sparta , Corinth and Athens , the diversity of the Archaic Greece could be understood. The best way to understand this diversity is to approach these three city-states in three different aspects of societies. Examining them by politically, economically and culturally would be appropriate.
First to start with political structures of the cities, all of the city-states, like other Dark Age communities, were ruled by aristocratic clans. These three city-states had the same problems such as population growth, rapidly increasing inequalities between rich and poor people, because of this political structure but the solutions to these same problems were different in each city-state. To solve the problems, first, Corinthians created a new order to solve the problem which was called tyranny.
This system had a leader called “tyrants” who were supported and chosen by citizens to meet their demands and solve the problems within the society. Tyrants restructured taxes, construct new structures for enhancing trade in the sea and they also gave rights to their supporters. “Tyranny” was successful for some time in Corinth but as it always happened before, the great weakness of this system arised. When the tyrant of Corinth, Periander, died, new tyrant weren’t supported by the citizens so the system collapsed with it.
The system, then, turned into an oligarchic system and continued the tribal and council system established by tyrants and it was remarkably successful(CW , Ch. 2 , pg 56). On the other hand, Spartans followed a different path to solve the problems. A unique military system and a rigid social structure were the basis of the Spartans’ political organization. Sparta was ruled by a system consisted of combination of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. The state was ruled by two hereditary kings and a council of elders called “gerousia”(CW, Ch. 2, pg 58).
Gerousia’s members were elected for their entire life and the council administrated all political activity and served as a high court. Spartan society was consisted of three classes; “homoioi” (also called “equals”) the warrior, the ruling and the superior class, “helots” was the class controlled by equals and “perioeci” citizens of conquered costal cities. It was a rigid stratification system in which if one wanted to be an equal, he should have been succeeded in the state education system called “agoge”; but only a few could pass this harsh test and become an “equal”.
The third city-state Athens united the whole surrounding region of their site into a single polis. After the arise of the same problems , an aristocratic merchant named Solon was elected chief archon and restructured city’s government(CW, CH. 2, Pg. 60). At that period, Athenians who were forced to be slaves became free , due to that fact , Athenian society was consisted of free peasantry and also the social hierarchy was reorganized. The system didn’t entirely succeed but it was practical so after Solon’s death the new tyrants strengthened Solon’s idea.
As in Corinth this new system which would lead Athens becoming leader city-state in Greece later on, ended race-based social and political pattern. As in political systems , these three city-states had different types of economical structures. Because of their privileged site, Corinthians had a system based on trade in sea. By the help of colonization, markets for grain and manufactured goods such as pottery and textile. It was easy to carrying goods across the sea by using a unique passage called “isthmus”, the city-state gained its prosperity. Around 600 B. C.
E, a causeway was built across the isthmus on which ships could be hauled from the Aegean to the western Mediterranean(CW , Ch. 2 , pg 56). This causeway made Corinth even more wealthy. On the other hand, as it is known , Spartan social and political system was based on military so equals had only one duty and that was to rule and work in jobs related with military. Equals were distributed lands to make helots work for theirselves. Also, since women were able to participate in business and agriculture, women could look after economic and household affairs(CW , Ch. , pg 59). In Athenian society, economical system was based on agriculture and commerce. They built water pipes to bring mountains’ water to the agora and they built public halls and meeting places for trade and export. Also, the first international Greek currency was introduced by Athenians as the silver “owl” coin(CW , Ch. 2 , pg 60). Having different types of political and economic systems, of course, leads to diversity in culture. Corinthians were interested in pottery and textiles. While trading for grain , they traded for them too.
Women were forbidden to wear expensive clothes and jewelry and they played no role in social or economic life(CW , Ch. 2 , pg 56). Unlike in Corinthian society, women were important in Spartan society. They were involved in economic life and also they could own a land. In addition to this, girls and boys could participate in athletic competitions. Because of the fact that equals were superior in social life Spartans had a war culture. Their agoge system was unique and harsh(CW , Ch. 2 , pg 59). The tyranny in Athens, organized annual festivals which contributed to the Athenian literature.
During festivals in Athenian society, first examples of tragedies and comedies were performed(CW , Ch. 2 , pg 60). To sum up,it is obvious that there was a diversity in the Archaic Greece. Thats why the titles of the cities are different : “Wealthy” Corinth for their successful trade in the sea, “Martial” Sparta for elevating duty and patriotism above individual interest and “Democratic” Athens, for their successful political system based on democracy. Word Count:958 Berkay Erdal 13340 References • Civilization in the West 6th Edition ; by Mark Kishlansky, Patrick Geary, Patricia O’Brien; Published by Pearson Longman.