Greek phalanx illustration / Wikimedia Commons
An Introduction to the Hoplite Phalanx
Emerging from the “Dark Ages”, there was the emergence and the development of the polis, there is Hanson’s theory about the development of the family farm and the individuals who worked the family farm as a critical element in that story. Now, that same individual who produced the economic wherewithal that would support independent individuals, who are not nobleman, and who could conduct their lives in an autonomous way and who fought ultimately — fought their way onto governmental bodies which allowed them to participate in the key decisions, political decisions, and all other decisions in the state that served the element of their character and of their place in the world. That is the one that I want to turn to today. Their role as soldiers, fighting for the common cause — and that common cause now being not an individual goal, not a family goal, but the goal of the entire civic community, which was coming into being and I suppose would have had to come into being, in order to have this role, fighting for one’s polis.
The style of warfare that emerges in this period, apparently for the first time, is what we call the hoplite phalanx and each half of that needs to be explained. Hoplite comes from the Greek word hoplites and hoplites is built around the wordhoplon which is the name of a kind of shield that the infantrymen, and we are talking about an infantry formation here, carried. You want to get out of your head the notion of a shield that’s a little thing that you can move around with one hand, like that, real easy; that’s not what it was. It was a great round shield about three feet across and it had — let me step out here so that I can show you. Can you hear me back there? Is that all right? Imagine a round shield of the size I’ve talked about and one of the things that’s important is that at the end of the shield, the right end from my perspective has a grip on it, but in the middle of the shield, there is also a kind of a loose piece of leather thong that you can put your arm through, so that the shield is resting in part on that grip and on the grip that you hold at this end. You need to do that to be able to control the shield that’s as big as that and as heavy as that, because it is made fundamentally of a heavy wood, typically covered by leather, sometimes with some bronze, a bronze sheet across the front of it as well. That is a very heavy thing and it will weigh you down after a while. It’s going to be really hard for you to maintain that grip on that thing all through the course of a whole battle, but that shield is the key, this hoplon which gives the name to the word hoplite, or hoplites, which is hoplite.
Phalanx means that these men, each man carrying his hoplon, are lined up first of all in a line, but that line is reproduced going back, so that you end with about — typically, a phalanx would have been eight men deep, eight rows deep, and that block of soldiers, however long it is, or is made up — is called the phalanx, which means something like roller. It’s because the phalanx would have looked, if you were up on a hill somewhere watching it go by, as though something was rolling across the plain as the men went forward and looking pretty formidable, so that anything in its way would be mowed down in the normal course of events. So that is what we mean by the hoplite phalanx. It’s a core of heavily armed infantrymen in a solid block.
Okay, when did this come into effect? I’m going to start out today’s talk by giving you what has been the standard and orthodox interpretation of how the hoplite phalanx worked, which, I think, again Hanson has given us the clearest and most useful account. But as you know already, from what you’ve read, this has come into great dispute in recent years and I’ll just say a little bit about the dispute before we get through today. But what I’m giving you is the old fashioned traditional interpretation. By that view, the phalanx would have come into being somewhere between about 700 and 650 B.C., which is to say after the earliest poleis are in business, and according to this interpretation, you really have them growing up together. Nobody could be exactly sure about how this process worked. One of the big arguments that is part of this story is when did this development of new way of fighting come about; rather quickly, over a matter of a few years, or did it stretch out over quite a long time. The most extreme critics of the traditional point of view would say over centuries, that you don’t get the full-blown hoplite phalanx that I will be describing to you, even until you get the fifth century B.C. But again, let’s take it in the traditional way.
Greek hoplite costume / ArtStation
So, if you imagine this is growing up as the polis comes into being, let me describe what a hoplite was like and then try to describe what the phalanx was like and how they operated and what are some of the consequences of their coming into being. The hoplite himself is marked by, first of all, the shield and second of all, as we continue to think about his defensive capacities, he has a certain amount of armor to protect his body. He has on top of his head a helmet made of bronze, perhaps weighing about five pounds, these are approximate; they would have differed from person to person to some degree. A very important element, he would have had a breast plate made of bronze, perhaps as much as 40 pounds. He would have snapped across his shins, greaves, sort of like the shin guards that a catcher in baseball wears, also made of bronze. The shield itself, as I’ve told you is made of a heavy wood, covered by a leather or bronze sheet about three feet across, something in the neighborhood of 16 to 20 pounds worth of shield and gripped as I told you before.
So you want to think about his hoplite, when he has everything on and when the shield is in place, again let me sort of try to demonstrate this, he ought to be covered by some kind of defense from head to toe. The top is this helmet that comes up over his face and covers it pretty totally. It’s made of strong metal, it’s got very thin slits to be able to see straight ahead, covered up; everything else is covered up, a good one will cover your neck as well. It’s very hard to see very much and you can’t anywhere pretty much but straight ahead. You shouldn’t be able to hear very much either, and it mustn’t have been too delightful to breathe out of the thing, although your nose is free, but it’s covered by a nose piece. So there’s this guy with this helmet, it must weigh — I’m trying to think. I always want to — modern football helmets which are monstrous — I’m so old we used to play with leather ones without a face mask. What do they weigh? Got any football players here? I think they weigh a lot. I think they’re very heavy, indeed, but I don’t know how much they weigh. Anyway, if you imagine sort of putting on a modern football helmet, with that mask in front of you, you would begin to get an idea, only begin to get an idea of what it was like to have that bronze helmet on your head.
So there you are with that. Then you remember that you got shin guards down to your feet; you have this breastplate. Now, between your waist and your shin guard there’s some very delicate territory, and there’s no armor. That’s what your shield is for. Your shield should cover that territory. You want that shield up so that it pretty well meets your helmet, so it’s going to be at a certain distance but it will also go down to where it needs to go down here. If everything goes right your enemy won’t be able to penetrate you, but you should be aware that there are two places where you are relatively vulnerable for openers, and that is, if somebody can come in above your shield, your throat is going to be available to him, and if somebody can come in under your shield then your vulnerable area will be vulnerable indeed. So, those are places where you see people get wounded and killed, if that can be done.
One other very important thing to understand about this defensive problem and this is one of the debatable issues between the old guard and the traditional interpretation; I’m still giving you the traditional view. If you imagine that your hoplite is standing with his left foot slightly extended in front of his right, and we’ll see in a moment it pretty well has to be in order to deal with the spear that he’s grasping, and if he’s holding his shield as he must this far, then he’s got a half a shield sticking out in this direction so that he’s pretty well protected on the left side, but he’s got nothing protecting his right side. If somebody can come at him from this side, he is very vulnerable from there. Now, that’s a very important point, because why in the world would you give a shield of the kind I am describing, for a man to defend himself, if you imagine him standing by himself anywhere, if you imagine him any distance from the rest of the guys fighting alongside of him. This has been one of the major reasons for explaining the function of the phalanx as I will explain it to you.
Greek phalax / Realm of History, Creative Commons
What are you going to do about the vulnerability on this side? Well, the answer is, in the traditional view, is that he was never meant to stand by himself. A hoplite only makes sense in a phalanx. A phalanx understood in this way only makes sense if you imagine very close order. Basically, ideally, the right side of my shield is being met by the left side of the shield of the guy to my right so that we make a solid block of soldiers able to defend ourselves imperfectly, but really essentially quite well. Obviously, some of us are going to get killed, some of us are going to go down and we’ll cope with that in just a few minutes, but if you think of us as a unit we have a way of maintaining our security, our safety, so long as we remain in the proper formation that I have been describing.
Let me talk about the offensive aspect of it. The idea of going into battle is not merely to avoid being killed; the purpose is to kill the other fellow. How do you do it? The hoplite has two weapons of which the most important by far is a pike, I guess, is what we would call it. It’s a spear that you don’t throw. It’s a spear that you thrust and it’s got a bronze point, which is the business end of the weapon. Its length might be anywhere from six to eight feet in length. I said bronze, but actually the tip was usually iron, but it could be bronze as well. In addition, it had a butt made also of bronze, which could be a lethal weapon. If I strike you in a vulnerable place with a stick that has a bronze butt on it, it could well kill you. It would happen because the spear itself was made of wood and that meant you can count on it often breaking in the midst of battle, in which case, if you have one end of it or the other you can still have a point that you can use to help yourself in this scrum that it is a hoplite phalanx battle.
Although I don’t quite understand — I should say, there’s many things about how the fighting went on which we can only attempt to imagine because we just don’t have films of ancient hoplite battles, I’m sorry to say. We have people inventing them, but even the ones that are invented aren’t very helpful, because it’s awfully hard to know how they did what they did. But I think we can imagine some part of it more easily than the other. What I was going to say is that you could, at least theoretically, strike with your spear in a overhand manner or you could strike with it in an underhand manner, the only thing is I don’t know how you do that underhand when you’re in the middle of a phalanx. So, I will be talking about the overhand stroke, which I find it easier to grasp. So, let’s see if I can, again, give you some sense of what this is like. Here’s a hoplite standing like this, and when he comes into contact with the opposing army, he will presumably strike down in this way. There are other things that he can do.
His shield, in addition to being a defensive thing, is also potentially an offensive weapon. He can belt you with that shield, and if he’s stronger than you are, or better prepared or more balanced than you are, he could knock your shield out of your hand. He could knock you back and open up a space, he could knock you down, and so you should imagine that there’s at least one chance to give a guy shot with the shield, and after that you could just be using it as something to press the other fellow back and you would meanwhile be whacking away with this in the most simple picture that you can have of how the hoplite would have conducted himself. The other weapon was a short sword that he kept at his side, which presumably he would not use so long as he had a spear, which was a better weapon. But if that broke, if that wasn’t available to him, he could turn to his short sword, which was a thrusting sword, not like the Roman short sword which was double edged and slashing. You had to stick somebody with this hoplite phalanx sword.
Now, that gives you the picture of the individual; I hope you can get some sense of what the phalanx might be like, but as I try to describe how the fighting really went, I always find it necessary to ask for some audience participation, so that you can get some idea of what it might have looked like in a very, very limited way. So, I would like to ask for some volunteer hoplites. The Greeks, as far as I know, did not allow anybody to be left handed in a phalanx; think about the problem. But we don’t care; you can be a lefty. Of course, the Greeks only allowed men to fight in the phalanx, but we are much more elevated than that. So, I could ask any of you who have the courage to come forward and fight in my phalanx? Nobody? Just come forward. I think we got more room here. Okay, why don’t I have the shorter people comes toward me and the taller people go into the back. I think this will make it a little easier for us, just line up next to each other. Right behind him in perfect order; the biggest guys in the back, go ahead. Make it a third row; there’s enough for a third row. Are we all set? Back up. Make sure you’re behind somebody, directly behind somebody. How many we got up front? Four? Have we got four? So we’ll have three in the back that’ll be all right. Get right behind that guy; you got to be — boy you got to be lined up. Now, get into your hoplite stance, left foot forward.
Okay, now when you’re fighting, if you’re fortunate enough, and the Greeks were sometimes fortunate enough to fight people who were not hoplites, like when the Persians came at them they fought hoplites against non-hoplites. Boy, that’s a nice day for a hoplite. The Persian infantry did not have heavy armor, they did not have that kind of a shield, they had wicker shields; fortunately, we have vase paintings that show us Persians. For one thing they’re not dressed like civilized people in a dress, they’re wearing pants. But their shields are made of wicker and they don’t have that kind of metal body armor and all that stuff. So, you could blow through that infantry like butter. Probably never that easy but really, you’re just not going to lose, and the truth of the matter is that hoplites beat non-hoplites in all battles that are fought on flat land in battles that the Greeks fight in.
I just want to tell you about — in Herodotus, he tells the tale about how the fighting went versus the Persians, and here’s the line he says, “Once the Greeks go to war they choose the best and smoothest place to go down and have their battle on that.” That wasn’t just because they sort of had an aesthetic pleasure in nice flat fields. That’s what you need for aphalanx, because to maintain the integrity of the hoplite line, you can’t have bumps and grooves, and trees and rivers in the way; it will break things up. So, they do, in fact, seek such a field. So if you’re fighting a non-hoplite infantry crowd, you’re in great shape. But what the Greeks spent most of their time doing was fighting each other, one hoplite phalanxagainst another hoplite phalanx.
So, you have to imagine that this thing started with these guys back in their camp and the other army back in its camp, and they both have to agree that they want to have a battle, for a battle to take place, and they will have picked a place that is flat where they can do what they’re doing. Usually, the battle took place over some land that was being contested on a frontier and they would go down to that area and pick a spot and there they would go and fight with one another. So now, the two armies are lined up. Here’s an interesting question: how wide is the line going to be? Well, that’s not an answer that is entirely at the disposal of the general, because he’s got two considerations that he has to worry about. One is, he can’t afford to have his hoplite line outflanked, because if I can come around and take care of this guy from this side, he is engaged with a guy who’s right opposite him, I can just kill him no problem at all. So, he has got to at least try to be equal with the guy who’s furthest on this side, and same with the guy on the other side. So, that means he’s got to make his line unless he comes up with some clever trick, the same size as the other guy.
Well, typically the two armies aren’t identical in size. So, if you’re going to try to be the same breadth across the field that’s going to affect how deep you can be, and depth as we shall see once we get started fighting is relevant in ways that we need to work out, but if one phalanx is eight deep and the other phalanx is 12 deep, the 12 deep phalanx has an advantage. So, numbers count, but it’s not an easy one-to-one question, various issues will determine who comes out ahead. Okay, now let’s make this first battle I’m going to describe for you to be as clear cut as we can make it, and it probably never was like that. Let’s imagine my army is the same size as theirs precisely, so that the line is the same size on both sides; therefore, also the same depth. So, we’ll just do this imaginary perfect battle. As the two armies approach each other, I should make it clear, they start out walking at a certain clip. By the way, it’s critical that they should stay in formation; nobody should get ahead of anybody else. How do you do that? With rhythm and in subsequent armies later in history, they used drums to maintain that technique. The Greeks did it by the playing of a flute like or oboe like instrument that played a military tune that had you marching forward at the right pace. That was very, very important.
So you’re marching forward at that pace, but now as you get closer and closer to each other, various items begin to affect your behavior. One is, I would think, fear. In fact, I know — fear. So, what do you do, supposing, if you feel like running? Can you boys in the first row run anywhere? You got seven guys behind you; that’s not even an option and that’s a very important aspect of the phalanx. That’s not even an issue. So, if you’re afraid, what are you afraid of? Well, the other guy has got people — I should have mentioned on the sidelines, one way or another, shooting arrows at you, throwing javelins at you, things like that. You want to get through that as fast as you can, and engage with the enemy. But there’s another reason why you want to get there fast is because, well by now, I should have pointed out that we know that before you started out the battle that your general gave you a meal and he also gave you plenty of wine, so that by the time you’re in this position, you’ve had a few and there’s — I mean, there’s a science to that too as perhaps some of you know. No you don’t. College students do not have a science of this at all, they just pour the stuff down their throats with the goal of becoming drunk as fast as they can. That’s barbaric in the technical sense.
I mean, the Greeks didn’t — Plato’s Symposium, all of these guys are sitting around having a drinking party. That’s all they do all night, but they also are talking and they’re talking very well as a matter of fact, and the goal of this conversation is, or of this party rather, symposium means by the way drinking together. So they’re drinking and they’re talking, and both of these are supposed to go on at the same time. And here’s the thing; the idea is to drink as much as you can without passing out and at the end of Plato’s Symposium everybody is out, except for Socrates who looks around and says, “oh well no more conversation everybody’s asleep.” Off he goes, and we know who won that one. Why could they do that?
Well, they weren’t ignorant undergraduates, but beyond that they drank wine, not those barbarian liquids that you drink, and also they mixed that wine with water, so that it shouldn’t get them drunk too fast. Think about how the world has decayed, since those days. So anyway, it still has its alcoholic consequences, and I like to think that the trick for these guys was to get to that level of inebriation before it affects your nerves and your physical ability to act. But it’s worked on your brain to the point where you get to that sort of what I like to think of that bar room militancy, whereby if a guy says, “would you pass the peanuts,” you say, “oh yeah!” I’d like to think that’s the ideal hoplite mode. So, I think that’s working on them, they want to get at those SOBs on the other side, and they want to kill them; that’s their mood. Well, all of that is working on both sides. And so that when they come together, they come together in a trot. You have to imagine they’re moving along quicker than you would by walking, so that they will go bang and we can see what happens.
However, there’s one other variable that you want to be aware of and that is, he knows he ought to be going straight ahead like that, but he also knows that his right flank is open. Well, he would love to be fighting at the edge of the Grand Canyon, so that he doesn’t have to worry about his right flank, but he’s out there in the middle of a field. Now, he knows that first step ought to be like this, but he’s only human, so the first step is like this, and so is the guy on the other end on that side. So, in fact, as Thucydides tells us beautifully in Book V, when the two armies actually hit each other they have already made a slight turn to the right. Everybody moves to the right, these guys move to the right, those guys move to the right and they’re smacking each other at something like that angle.
Fighting Style, Casualties, Winning and Losing
From The Longest Day, a German officer has seen the American naval fleet emerge from the fog / YouTube screen capture
Okay so much for that. Now, here we go. I’m coming at this guy and what I want to do, if I can, I want to kill him. If I can’t, I want to knock him back, because what I really need to do is to get him out of the way. Let me imagine that I’ve been lucky enough to get you out of the way — you’re fighting him you can’t even look at me, but I can do that. But let’s face it. In order to kill you, I’d have to earn the privilege by knocking him back. Now, let’s imagine I’ve been very lucky and gotten to you — just get down on your knee. Imagine she’s very badly wounded or dead, but she’s out of it. Now, here’s where the ballgame can really be determined. First of all, let’s consider the man behind you. Is that you? Now, if you are standing there with your — by the way the first three rows have a chance of hitting each other. So, he’s banging away over somebody’s head at the guy on the other side, but you see this guy in front of you has just been knocked down. The blood is spurting out of her neck or her side or whatever and she’s groaning down there on the thing. What is your instinct? Get out of here! They just killed this guy in front of me and they’re coming after me.
I always think of that wonderful scene in — how many of you ever saw the Longest Day? It is about D-Day; there’s a wonderful scene where this German officer comes down; he’s in charge of the defensive arrangements there at Normandy; he’s in a bunker, and he’s reporting back to headquarters and it’s dark, and suddenly there’s enough light that he sees suddenly on the horizon is 5,000 ships, the whole damn fleet. As he calls back and he says, “they’re coming, they’re coming.” They say, “how many?” He says, “thousands of them.” They say, “in what direction?” He says, “auf mich zu direct.” That’s the way it looks to him. So that’s what his tendency is, but if he does that, it’s very bad news for his city.
What he has been trained to do, what he knows he needs to do is to fight forward and somehow step over her, step on her, do whatever he has to do to fill this hole. He’s got to come forward and take the danger and take the blows and close the line. Because if not — now, I am in the situation where the guy next to me has beaten you up, but I can now get her and I can step in here, and the guy behind me can do the same, and so we can create a wedge in which we are doing the killing and they are doing the falling. If enough of that happens, after awhile some sense of what’s happening up front quickly works its way to the back, and there can be a moment, and there always is a moment in a hoplite battle, where the guys in the back say, “uh-oh we have lost this battle.” So, the guys in the back turn and run, which is the only thing you can possibly do once you feel our phalanx is broken. We can’t stand against them anymore and when you start running, the only thing the guys who are left up front can do is run.
Now, think of what it’s like to run with this in your hand. Can you make much speed that way? No, and speed is what you want. And so the big issue is — this is what you must never do, but this is what you got to do if your phalanx is broken. You got to drop your shield and run. Then I’m on the winning side, and what I want to do is kill as many of these guys as I can. However, there’s this great question of how far do the Greeks pursue in a hoplite battle? Thucydides has an interesting passage in there, in which he says that the Spartans win the Battle of Mantinea and Thucydides says that the Spartans did not pursue the hoplite. The Spartans never pursue their enemies very far. It’s as though he’s explaining, giving an answer to a question that somebody asked, “why didn’t the Spartans do better in that battle?” To which there could many answers at the Battle of Mantinea, but it seems there’s a much easier answer. Basically, the Greeks couldn’t pursue very hotly with infantry. They don’t want to throw their shields away, they want to keep their shields, so guys with shields are chasing guys without shields. So, they’re not going to chase them very far.
Now, another issue that emerges in discussion of these kinds of battles is the casualties. For a long, long time the general wisdom was there were not heavy casualties in hoplite battles — people calculating on what I was just talking about. But then an old Yalie who took this course when he was very young, and later became an ancient Greek historian, took the wonderfully outlandish device of answering this question. He simply took all the battles in Greek history that we have a record of, and which we know what the casualties were like, and counted and he concluded — anybody can check because there they are — that casualties could run as high as 15% at a hoplite battle. That’s a high casualty rate and many a military unit will break if they have that many casualties. Actually, what he finds is the winning side would lose about 5% and the losing side would lose maybe as much 15%, and so you get some idea. But don’t imagine that these were anything like bloodless or easy. They were bloody, although the actual amount would vary with the circumstances.
Now, you know the battle is over in a variety of ways. One, the enemy ran away; that’s pretty good. But for the Greeks it was very important that things should be really official. There were, and there’s a lot of debate about what I’m going to say next, there were protocols of fighting that were followed. Some people want to have these to be many and for them to be very binding, others want them to be very few and not very binding, and that’s an argument one can get into. But some things seem to be indisputable, for instance, if I say we won the battle I can prove that to you most of the time. Why? Because I now occupy the land that we fought on. Therefore, I can do what they did. Take a stick, bang it into the ground, hang on that stick a captured helmet, or a captured corselet, something that represents the military equipment that the losers had that were left on the field. We hang it up; that is called a trophy. The word trophy comes from the word that means to turn, trepho, and it means that this is the place where the enemy turned and ran. We own that property now, we own their equipment, and therefore we won the battle.
Another tangible way of understanding who won the battle and who didn’t, is we winners, because we own the field, we can pick up the casualties, take care of those who can be saved, bury the ones who have been killed; we don’t have to ask anybody’s permission. Burial is very critical. If you remember from reading the Iliad and Odyssey, it is absolutely critical in the Greek religion that people be properly buried, because if they’re not, then their shade goes on forever in misery and pain. They cannot rest quietly in Hades unless their body has been properly buried; so you got to do it. The losing side must come to the winning side and they must ask permission to pick up their dead and bury them. Typically, that is granted and they can then do it, but they are of course humbling themselves by making the request and coming down under the orders of the winners and taking their dead away and being buried. So it’s very, very clear who won and who lost and that’s — I think it’s a very important point because Greek hoplite warfare, which is the characteristic warfare of the Greeks from the eighth century on into the fourth, never loses its character as a kind of a game, in which there are winners and losers, and the winners are given the prize and the losers don’t get the prize.
It’s a contest just like everything else in Greek society and there’s a tremendous amount of pride that goes into victory and a tremendous amount of shame that goes into defeat. But we said the same thing about the Homeric heroes, didn’t we? Here’s the difference; they’re not fighting for themselves, they’re not fighting for their families, and only to limited extent are they fighting for their personal glory, their kleios; they are fighting for their city, and they will be honored by their city in victory or even in defeat, if they perform very heroically, and of course, what about if they were very shameful? What about if they run away? I think I want to save the illustration of that one until we talk about Sparta. What Tyrtaeus tells us very, very specifically how bad that is; it’s bad. So, you have this tremendous continuity between the sort of the honor code that was so dominant in the Homeric world, which has now been shifted to the larger unit, which is the polis.
If you can see it, all adult males fought. I should back up; that’s not quite true. There’s an important point I didn’t make. Not everybody gets to fight in the hoplite phalanx. The town, the city, the polis does not provide the fighters with their defensive armor. They might sometime give them their weapons, but not their defensive armor. You can’t fight as a hoplite, in other words, unless you can afford to pay for your equipment and that excludes a goodly number of citizens who are too poor to fight in the phalanx. This becomes a very, very large issue because the notion that there should be a real connection between citizenship in the full sense and military performance is totally a Greek idea — I mean, the Greeks just totally accept that idea. Actually, later on at the end of the fourth century when Aristotle is writing his Politics, he makes really a very clear connection as to the style of fighting and the kind of constitution that you have.
He said very clearly, if you use cavalry as your major arm, your state will be an aristocracy. If you use hoplites, your state will be, what he calls a politea, a moderate regime. If you use a navy, your state will be a democracy in which the lower classes are dominant. So, there’s this real connection and that’s the way they really thought about it. So, what we will see as the polis is invented, moving away from aristocratic rule in the pre-polis days or in the early polis days — you will see a middling group of citizens who are, according to this interpretation, Hanson’s farmers who are also going to gain the political capacity to participate in the town councils, and who are the hoplites but it will exclude the poor, who will not have political rights. Most Greek states, just as they never moved beyond the hoplite style of fighting, never go beyond the oligarchical style of constitution which gives only hoplites political rights in the state. Okay, stay there because who knows, there are 20 million other things I might have said, but instead let me give you the opportunity to ask questions that you would like to raise, particularly if you want to ask about how they fought, as long as we have a phalanx here we might as well use it if we need too.
Question and Answer on the Hoplite Phalanx
Greek phalanx / National Endowment for the Humanities
How would they practice because weren’t they prominently farmers?
The answer is they damn near didn’t. That is, you’ve got a very key point; there was very little military training. On the other hand, you don’t need very much. Think about it, what are the skills? What are the technicalities? If I’m the general and so I say — what do I say? Charge! Now we’re engaging each other, what do I say? Fight harder men! Now we’re in trouble and I say, don’t run away! There are no techniques, there are no maneuvers, there are no — you can’t do anything and so they didn’t practice very much, except one stunning exception, the Spartans. They were not farmers as we shall see, and therefore, they spent their lives practicing warfare. It paid off; they usually won. So, the answer is basically that the ordinary Greeks did not engage in very much practice.
If they’re all fighting in this hoplite style, how do all of these great Greek military personas develop, who are famed for being such wonderful, individual soldiers, if there’s no real hand-to-hand, one-on-one?
Well, there is nobody out there that you could see. Typically, we don’t have guys like that. The guys who are famous are the generals who get credit for putting together a nice formation when it’s not the simple one I’ve just given you. Just to be a little bit more plain about that. In the famous battle of Marathon, which I will tell you about when we get there, one of its features is that because the Greeks were numerically badly inferior to the Persians, they had this problem of covering the line. So, they could have thinned out their entire phalanx, but that would have given the Persians a chance to break through anywhere and everywhere, and so what Miltiades did was to make his wings heavier, deeper and very dangerously thin in the middle. It was a gamble. The gamble was our wings will crush their wings and turn in on them from behind and from the side, and set them a running before they break through our middle. As Wellington said at Waterloo, it was a damn near thing. The Persians broke through the middle but just before that, the Athenian wings crushed the Persian wings and set them running for their ships. So, everybody says what a genius Miltiades was. Similarly, in naval battles Themistocles at Salamis comes up with a clever device. So, you see what I’m driving at; we know those guys. You never really hear of Joe Blow who killed thirty-four guys in the phalanx. There must have been some guys like that but you just don’t hear about those fellows.
What about projectiles?
These guys don’t have any projectiles. However, there are light arm troops made up of those two poor to be in the phalanx, who do use projectiles and the projectiles are arrows, javelins, or stones thrown by slings. The trouble with them is none of them has any range. Think about that for a moment. Get out of your mind Henry V, forget the Battle of Agincourt. They don’t have — those men in Lincoln green with the enormous long bows, made out of good English composite whatever, who can fire the thing thousands of yards and penetrate and kill the French nobility. How many of you have seen Henry V in the Laurence Olivier version 1945? They got this miserable modern one with the sort of Vietnam like conditions that they have out there; it’s raining all through the God-damned battle of Agincourt. Great battle, it’s got to have sunshine, blue skies, terrific — well, never mind. They had very poor bows and arrows. They didn’t have the composite bow, didn’t have power. It would have had a hard time getting through the shields and it didn’t have any distance. But they were worth something because they did this. Actually, those guys would be useful, not so much, hardly at all during the scrum of the phalanx, but should one side be retreating. That’s where they do it harm. Once you throw your shield away and you’re running, anybody who’s got a weapon can take you out, and that’s what would have happened.
Isn’t it somewhat inefficient to load it really deep, because I assume if a spear is only six feet long, what are people in the back going to be doing?
That’s a big argument that nobody has a good answer for. The traditional answer is that these guys actually did press up against the rows in front of them and that this provided a momentum that gave the front line an advantage in beating the enemy facing them. You can see all kinds of troubles. Why didn’t the guys in the middle get crushed? I don’t have any very good answers for that and yet it is one part of the traditional explanation is this, and it’s a very important one and much debated, that at a critical time in the battle one technique would be one side would give one great big shove. The word in Greek is othismos, and if that was successful as it might be, it could knock down the lines of the front guys and get the other side running. There’s ancient evidence, there’s an ancient source for that, that says that’s what happened and that’s one of the things that we have to deal with. The critics of this point of view would say that’s impossible and inconceivable.
Another possible explanation of the significance of depth is, remember, our poor victim here. If you multiply her, then you want to have as much depth to fill in behind to close that hole as you can, so that that would make your phalanx more sturdy, because you could take more casualties without breaking, that seems reasonable to me. But again, I can’t imagine how these guys fought in these circumstances. I really can’t see it. I mean, it’s a pity we can’t kill people in experiments deliberately anymore, because we need to see how this works, but I can’t do it. But I do think that that makes a reasonable amount of sense.
How did they determine when two armies would charge each other?
Well, what happens is one army is invading the land of the other. So, it’s — In a way, it decided when the fighting is going to take place up to a point. Namely, it’s going to happen this summer, because we’re coming and it’s going to happen this week; it’s going to happen tomorrow, if you don’t run away. So, now, the defenders have to do it, in a perfect situation, I am marching towards their corn crop, grain crop, at the time just before the grain is going to be harvested. If we cut down that grain you don’t eat this winter. You get in front of the grain, when we say. So, that would be the classic way of determining how it works. It’s never — it probably wasn’t quite that easy but the invading side goes for something that the other side will have to defend and that determines when the fighting takes place.
How long would most of these battles last?
It’s hard to say. Hard to imagine anybody doing this for more than a couple of hours. So that would be my guess, but nobody knows for sure. But I think if you can imagine, up to a couple of hours would be about right. That’s worth mentioning, how long is a war? A couple of hours, because typically there’s just one battle; one side beats the other and that’s the war for now. Until we get, of course, this is early days, until we get to the Peloponnesian War when things change radically in fighting in general, but this is your standard.
How do they decide who went in front and who went in the back?
They would have decided on the basis of what was most effective and you would not want old guys. By the way, how old are the people out there is a good question. Typically, the youngest guys are twenty, and typically the oldest guys are 45, but everybody was liable to military service in these states until they were about 60. So, you can imagine in certain circumstances there would be guys that old back there, but fundamentally it’s between 20 and 45. Okay, I would have thought that the front row would exclude the older people. You want tough guys up front; you don’t want your front line being broken. So, the guys up front are going — the younger you are, chances are you’re going to be more physically strong than older guys. Probably, though, you wouldn’t want to have the very youngest guys up front, because another thing you want is experience. People who have seen this before, done it before, lived through it, and now you can count on them not to run away, better than you can on a fresh recruit who’s never done this before. So, I would have thought — so you see I’m speculating to a certain degree, but I would have thought you would have guys 25 to 35 in the front couple or three lines, and then behind them younger men and then maybe the older men at the very back, or maybe because you wanted to be sure that that last row didn’t turn and run away too fast, you might have some who were not quite so old at the very back, but it’s all a question of what’s effective and why; that would be my thinking about that.
Would the winner of the war slaughter the enemy that would fall behind or would they give them back?
It would vary. They could capture them. There’s a reason to capture them. You could demand ransom for them. So, there would be some inclination to capture men rather than to kill them. On the other hand, guys who were engaged in a fight of the kind we must imagine get very angry; these guys killed a buddy next to you. So, there would have been a certain amount of just furious killing going on, but I don’t think that would have been the way you planned the game. You kill enough guys to achieve your goal and if you’re still rational you take the rest prisoner. I think would be the way to go.
What would stop an opposing army from flanking you?
If they could, they would. But the difficulty is, if you take your left flank and move it out here so you can flank this guy, one of two things has to happen to your army. Either you open a nice hole between yourself and the rest of your army, in which case somebody’s going to get very badly killed and you’re going to be on the run very soon, or you have to somehow communicate to the rest of the army, “everybody come over this way,” which will still leave that flank open to being flanked by the other side. That’s what prevents that from happening, we just don’t see that going on.
Was it just the Greek sense of honor and propriety that kept them from doing more creative sneak attack?
It used to be thought before people were very careful — we know that they do every terrible thing in the world in the Peloponnesian War. Whatever the rules were before, they’re off when we get into the Peloponnesian War. There’s just no dirty trick that anybody fails to do if it can. But they surely must have done it before too. When you’re serious, any way to win will do, but mostly you could make a virtue of a necessity. The kind of battle I’ve been describing to you, a nice flat field, two armies coming at each other, there’s not much you can do in the way of trickery, and so you can take a high tone and say, anybody who fights any other way is a no good coward. In fact, we have some claim, and a Roman writer later on, that there was a treaty back in the eighth century B.C. between a couple of states in Euboea, that said they would never use missiles of any kind, because that was cowardly. The only legitimate fighting is man against man, shield against shield, chest against chest, everybody else is a pussy. So, I think that became — and whatever the reality was, that story was always being told, that’s the way for a man to fight; anything other than that is open to suspicion.
Closing Remarks and Critiques of Orthodox Interpretation
Marble bust of Xenophon / Kgl. Museum, Berlin
Just a few more little details. Remember, the two sides are opposite each other in the field, probably in the morning. Each side conducts sacrifices in which they ask the gods for assistance in the battle, sometimes they hope that there will be a favorable omen suggesting they’re going to win. They have breakfast, they drink, and they advance typically to a battle song called the paeon which we have, what they sang. I don’t have the tune but I have the words. Does that sound like a good thing to march into battle? Sounds good to me, I like that. Then would come the battle. I talked to you about the pursuit, the aftermath. There’s just one more thing you need to know about this phalanxmode of fighting. When the phalanx fought against any other infantry formation the phalanx wins; from the time we first hear of Greeks fighting non-Greeks, when the Greeks have the phalanx, I think I’m right in saying they never lose a battle.
Finally they do in the, I think it’s the second century B.C., when King Phillip of Macedon has his phalanx fighting against the Roman legion and the legion wins, but believe me, it was no easy thing for the legion to win even in that battle. There was nothing automatic about that. So great was the military success of the phalanx that the King of Persia who was always getting into wars and hiring troops — whenever the kings could they hired Greek hoplites to fight for them. When prince Cyrus seeks to overthrow his brother right after the Peloponnesian War he signs up 10,000 veterans of the Peloponnesian War from the Peloponnesus, because with 10,000 Greek hoplites, he believes that he can conquer the Persian Empire and make himself king, even though the numbers are fabulous. And those Greeks marched 1,500 miles into the center of the Persian Empire, down into Babylonia, fight the army of the Persian king, defeat the army of the Persian king, but unfortunately the prince who led them down there is killed in the battle, making the victory rather pointless, because the whole idea was to make him king. So then you have Xenophon writing his Anabasis, The March Back, telling the story of how those 1,500 — those 10,000 Greeks rather got back home.
Just a word for the other side of the argument, I want to read you a quotation from Hans Van Wees, who is the leading critic of the traditional orthodox explanation I just gave you. Here’s one, “It is clear that the emergence of the hoplite was only the beginning of a lengthy process which certainly lasted more than a century, and may have lasted more than two centuries, leading to the creation of a close ordered hoplites only phalanx. The classical hoplite formation then was not the long lived military institution of scholarly tradition, but merely one phase in a history of almost four centuries of slow change towards ever denser and more cohesive heavy infantry formations.” I’ll read you one more of his statements, “Those who favor an early date for the emergence of the hoplite phalanx rely on one argument above all, the new type of shield adopted in the late eighth century, unlike its predecessors, could be used effectively only in an extremely close and rigid formation. Double grip shields thus presupposed or imposed an extremely dense formation. The tacit assumption is that hoplites stood frontally opposed to their enemies like wrestlers, rather than sideways on, like fencers, holding their shields parallel to their bodies, but artistic representations show that this is not how hoplites fought.”
I would say that the crux, the kernel of the critique, a lot of things you can argue about — The kernel of the critique lies in this assertion which derives its force from an interpretation of pictures on pottery. You can see I’m not too friendly to that interpretation, but it is being taken very, very seriously. So seriously, you fortunate Yalies, that they will be here on April 9 and 10 of 2008, an international conference on the subject of the hoplite phalanx and the emergence of the city state. It will be a classic Greek agonal confrontation, because among the other stars who are going to be engaged, Curtis Easton will be one of them, the main event will be a one-on-one between Victor Davis Hanson and Hans Van Wees. You’re all very welcome to come on that occasion. See you next time.
The Rise of the Greek Colony
Ruins of ancient Greek colony of Pithaecusa / Wikimedia Commons
We have been looking at the question of the rise of the polis and the various significant elements that were part of the making of the polis, and of course I’ve emphasized the notion of this new class of people, the farmer hoplite citizen, as being the critical element in shaping the polis and for my money that’s what the polis is about to start with and then it develops characteristics consistent with that, and some that challenge that over the centuries. But now, imagine that we are living in the early years of a polis sometime in the eighth century B.C. Again, I want to emphasize these things that I’ve been describing don’t happen in every place at the same time and they don’t even happen every place in the same way, but over a stretch of time the concepts and the kind of characteristics I’ve been describing appear to spread all over the place. But one of the ways in which we can date the time when the poliscame into being has to do with the Greek traditions about the establishment of colonies throughout the Mediterranean inhabited by Greeks, and the reason that they are a clue is because every time we see a colony, learn anything at all about it, it appears to exist in the form of a polis, which powerfully suggests that that was the typical characteristic style of life that had already been established for Greeks before they sent out the colonies. So, that’s the chronological significance of it.
I should say all of these dates that I will be giving you are some combination of Greek tradition — and the Greeks dated these colonies very specifically. That would be hard to believe, impossible to believe, I guess, if it weren’t that these dates tend to be confirmed in a general way, not in a specific way, by the archaeological discoveries that we find at the sites, the earliest places where these colonies came into being. So it’s that combination, archaeology plus Greek tradition that lies behind the date of any city. But you shouldn’t take the date that I give you, the traditional date, as being firm. It’s a general thing; it’s around that time is the best we can really say. The date that’s sort of typical for the general phenomenon of colonization coming out of the mother cities of Greece is again that date we keep talking about, 750 roughly. But in fact, the earliest date according to Greek tradition, if my memory is correct, was something like 773 where the Greeks date the foundation of what they thought was the earliest colony they ever established — a place that they called Pithaecusa, which is the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples. That’s the very first place where there is a tradition of a Greek colony having been planted. There’s no question that there was a Greek colony there and as I say the archaeological remains confirm the general time for this happening.
Now, the first question I suppose, before I get to describing what a colony was and how it worked, we want to ask the question what was it that led Greeks to sail or walk, mostly to sail very great distances from their mother cities. To leave home and to establish a new city for themselves someplace else is not to be taken for granted. In the first place, by and until the twentieth century, I guess, human beings tended to stay put. They didn’t move, unless they were driven to move. That was the natural thing to do given the character of life, which was based upon farming, if you leave you lose your farm, and based upon the difficulty of transportation. In the Greek world we know — I think I quoted something from Hesiod that confirmed it. The Greeks were, even though they went to sea plenty, they were terrified of the sea for very good reason. Their ships, their boats were not very seaworthy; storms come up in the Mediterranean very suddenly and terribly; you take your life in your hands when you travel. So then there’s the whole idea — we’ve already given you some sense that the Greeks were ancestor worshipers. I mean, they took special care of the dead and they thought that the way you buried people and so on was terribly important. So, what I’m saying is, when you leave the place you were born, you leave your ancestors as well. All of that means we need to explain why these folks do what they end up doing, and we have some hints, but of course we do not know with any certainty or any confidence.
If you ask the question why did many Italians leave their homes, especially south Italians in the late nineteenth century and come — well, go all over the world actually, to South America, Australia, but the largest numbers to the United States. Why did they do that? Well, we don’t have to do a lot of guessing. We have written evidence from the people who went and they say why they did it. We can then supplement that with all sorts of other information that we have, but we don’t have any documents from some settler explaining why he’s going where he’s going. So, we have to reason from the evidence that the establishment gives us. I suppose the most widely cited reason is simply the desire to acquire farmland. Remember, I keep emphasizing this. The vast overwhelming majority of people needed to farm land, in order to stay alive. And why should there be a shortage of farmland?
One answer, and it’s the one that is most widely believed among Greek scholars, is that the growth of population that we have mentioned in connection with the rise of the polis is still working once the polis comes into form. So what this means, if you used to have two children and now you have four, how do you provide for the extra two? Well, sometimes you divide up the land equally, but if that land continues to get smaller and smaller, it will not sustain an additional person, not to mention additional family. If you were to follow the procedure, which the Greeks did not, of primogenitor, that is, of giving the whole plot to the eldest son, but what happens to the others? So that clearly is a problem and the notion that land hunger is a key explanation, I think, is supported by the fact that wherever we find a polis, whatever other characteristics it has, and they vary, some of them are located at wonderful places on the sea for trading purposes, some of them are not, but all of them have a land supply which permits the citizens to farm successfully and thereby to make the polis succeed.
But I don’t think that’s the only answer. I think the desire for commerce would have been also — I agree with the traditional view which is that this would have been at a lesser consideration, but still very important, because we so often find that the colony is placed right at a nifty place for trade. They would have had to be damn fools to have settled there without that being in their minds, although some of the places where they settled leave us puzzled, and have left the ancients puzzled. One of my favorite examples is the colony on the south shore of the Bosporus, which is called Chalcedon. It’s right opposite Constantinople — that doesn’t exist, Istanbul. Winston Churchill never, never conceded that it was Istanbul; he called it Constantinople till the day he died. But right opposite that magnificent site, the golden horn is there. How could you possibly settle there, because they settled Chalcedon first and the tradition that the Greeks pass on is the people who settle Chalcedon were blind men, because you would have to be blind to make that choice. Well, we don’t know why they did what they did.
So nonetheless, the desire for a good commercial opportunity might well have been one of the elements that these people who were leaving their home cities sought. Then there are less — what’s the word I want? Certainly things that have nothing to do with economics really — there are politics going on in these states as there always are in any Greekpolis. There are factions that grow up for one reason or another and they come into conflict. One side wins the argument and the battle, and sometimes the ill will is so great that the losing side feels either that it has to flee for its safety, or it chooses to flee rather than to live under their opponents. So, defeated political groups might well — or individuals who were the heads of those groups might decide they have to get out of town. And now that we do have something, namely, this wave of colonization, they join that as well.
Then there are always things that we might call much less rational than that. In any group of people there is a small minority, I want to emphasize small, who just love to do risky things. They just love adventure; they’re never happy if they’re safe, and so off they go seeking adventure and seeking to make a fortune however they’re going to do it, so I think that has to be counted into the picture too, so typically I think it would have been a small part of what’s going on. So, for these reasons and probably for hundred more that I haven’t thought of, we can understand why these people go against the natural instinct of staying put and go adventuring out, seeking a new home someplace in the Mediterranean.
How Greek Colonies (or Apoikiai) Worked
Ruins of ancient Greek colony of Chersonesos / Photos by Chris Williams, Wikimedia Commons
Okay, what are these new settlements like? First thing is that they’re like each other in many important ways, although obviously with differences from place to place. But here’s how it worked — by the way, the word I have been using, colony is not a Greek word and really not appropriate for what the Greeks are up to. The Greek word for this is, apoikia, and most literally it would mean a home away, an away home and that’s what they’re making. They are establishing for themselves a household, a home someplace away from where they started, and that’s the name. Colony is a Latin word ultimately for colonia and the Roman colonies were, first of all, garrisons that they planted in land they had conquered to keep the people quiet. So, they would be alien bosses in a different territory. And then later in history, in Roman history, that was the name given to establishments, rural establishments, when the civilization was breaking down and the men who worked on those rural places really were not free men. They were the antecedents of the Serfs, which we will see later on in medieval history in Europe. So, when you see the word colonia in late Roman history, it’s talking about something very, very different from what we’re talking about. So, I use the word colony because that’s what we have for all such establishments of the kind we’re talking about. Remember that these are apoikiai from the Greek point of view.
Okay, how does an apoikia happen? Somebody in one of the old Greek cities has to decide that he wants to go out and establish a colony. He would be an individual of some eminence, because the job of doing this requires that people should accept his leadership. He will have to do the recruiting of people that come with him on the colony; he will have to do the constitutional discussion and a political discussion to gain the sanction from the mother city to allow him to do everything he knows. So, I think we should imagine that these leaders of colonies, these founders of colonies, would be probably noblemen and that they would have a position of eminence, and yet unlikely to be part of the sort of dominant faction in that city, because otherwise why would they leave? Anyway, the Greeks had a name for this individual. He was called an oikistes; he is the found of the colony.
So, now he has decided to do it and he’s gained recognition from the town council, let’s say, and he can go forward. Now, he has to have an idea. He can’t just say, I think I’d like to found a colony. What is more typical, I think, is that he thinks, I would like to take and have found a colony on the southeastern coast of Sicily. Why? Because he knows something about it; either he has somehow traveled out there himself and said, the place I’m thinking about has a wonderful harbor, it has good farmland in the neighborhood, and a critical element to making this judgment is that it is not occupied by hostile natives who will resist vigorously your landing there. Either there will be nobody there or more likely there will be not a very big population, and it’s not very tough, and they could be easily brushed aside. Those would have been some of the considerations, and so what the oikistes does when he has picked out in his own mind where he wanted to go, next he goes to Delphi.
Anybody — raise your hand if you’ve been to Delphi. When you go to Greece do the obvious, go where the tourists go and Delphi is one place not to miss. It’s halfway up Mount Parnassus and it was thought by the Greeks to be theomphalos, the navel of the universe, the center in every way. Why? Because there the god Apollo had established an oracle. There was a place in which from the earth there came — it wasn’t steam, what would it be? Gases would escape through this gap in the earth and there when things got figured out and arranged, there were priests who worshipped Apollo there and who took care of this phenomenon. They would place a young woman there who would sit as these gases came up and she would after a while begin to, I suppose in the biblical languages, she would speak in tongues, which is to say she would rattle off a lot of language which nobody could understand what she was saying. Gibberish, or so it sounded, or Greek but making no sense to anybody, and then the priest would listen to this stuff and he would say, what Apollo said through the priestess here is, and he would give the message.
Let me just take a moment to tell you about this. I say this now with great confidence but ten years ago this story, which all the Greeks agreed too, agreed upon in every respect, that the temple of Apollo was built right on top of this, and underneath the floor of the temple was this little room where the gases came up, where the priestess sat, where all of this came up. Well, archaeologists investigated this carefully, and the French School of Archaeology late in the nineteenth century dug everything up and concluded this was baloney; it was a myth. There were no gases coming up from any of this stuff, and so everybody believed for the next century, and then a young man who once sat in one of the chairs — not in this room maybe, but in which you’re sitting, John Hale of the Yale Class of 1973, who is now an archaeologist at the University of Louisville. Having learned, or having agreed, let’s say, with my prejudice, that the higher naiveté must reign — and if the Greeks said it happened, you got to believe it happened, until you have to believe that it didn’t happen. And so he decided to investigate this and he took with him a fine geologist from Wesleyan just to go to the place there at Delphi and to see whether it could be true that such gases did come out, and what sort of gases they were, and what consequences they would have, and you know I wouldn’t be telling you this story if it hadn’t turned out that they discovered evidence that, in my judgment, but I don’t think really anybody doubts it anymore, that totally confirmed the Greek story. They tell you precisely what the gases were, what the characteristics of those gases were, and it squared beautifully with all details that we heard about the Delphic Oracle.
Delphi ruins (Oracle at Delphi) / Wikimedia Commons
So, you go to the oracle and what do you ask the oracle? Well now, before we go any further — in your Herodotus readings and elsewhere, you will come across many a story in which an oracle is consulted and gives an answer. Well, the most famous early on, King Croesus of Lydia, the richest man in the world, you’ve heard all about him, decides it would be a nice thing to conquer the Persian Empire, his neighbor to the east. So, he goes to — he’s a barbarian, but the barbarians came to the Delphic Oracle too, because you want to know what the gods want. So, he came and he asked. He said, “If I cross the Halys River, that’s the boundary between Lydia and Persia, what will happen?” The oracle replied, “A great empire will be destroyed,” and Croesus said, “Terrific that’s what I have in mind.” He invaded and he was clobbered, and then you read the splendid story Herodotus tells of how he was captured. He was up on a pyre, and he was going to be burned when he remembered Solon, the Greek, who had come to him and warned him about the vain glory, and he said, oh Solon, oh Solon. I guess Apollo must have then said, he’s reached wisdom and so he sent a rainstorm to put the fire out and he lived through that.
Well okay, the point is the oracle was wrong. No, of course not. We all know what was wrong with Croesus. He should have asked another question, which empire? But he didn’t think of it; other times all kinds of funny stories are told about the oracle, which would suggest that it wasn’t really a very reliable source of information, that it was filled with mythology and so on and so forth. But here is the hard headed fact. We know for sure Greeks and barbarians, and everybody came to Delphi, and when you came to Delphi and you were going to consult the oracle, it was hard, there were a lot of people, a long line, so there was a waiting issue. But also people used to bribe the priests, in order to get moved up on the front on line, and they would also give great and beautiful gifts to the temple people and to the temple, and to the priest. In other words, people spent a lot of money to consult the oracle. Now, ask yourself this, especially if you’re talking about Greeks, are they going to keep shelling out money for an oracle that gives them answers that turn out to be wrong? No.
Most of the things they asked were questions that really had a yes or no answer, and according to my thinking, there’s no way they could have been wrong very much. I think the oracle probably gained its fame for being very good precisely at answering this question. The question would have been what will happen if I go and try to settle a colony at the place which I will call Syracuse — that’s what I’ve been describing on the southeastern coast of Sicily. The answer would come and the priests would give a response that would be essentially straight. It would either say something like — I’m not going to do the words that they would have come up with, but they would have said, yeah that’s a good place to go or don’t do that, that’s a terrible mistake. Now, why would they be able to do that? Because at some point in here, Delphi really did become the navel of the universe; everybody came.
Now, you can bet when these folks came and consulted the priest and said, could you please put us down on the list, we want to consult the oracle, the priest said sure have a beer, let’s talk about your hometown, what’s going on out there. What I’m suggesting to you is that this was the best information gathering and storing device that existed in the Mediterranean world. These people knew more than anybody else about these things, and so consulting that oracle was a very rational act indeed. Okay, now suppose you are the oikistes, you’ve gotten the permission from your city to go forward, and you go to the Delphic Oracle and the Delphic Oracle says fine, by all means, go where you want to go. Next thing, you got to go home and you have to write up what amounts to a charter of foundation for the city, which lays out how things are going to work in this city — something about the governmental structure, maybe even more fundamentally how the land will be allotted, assigned, divided, and so on so that when you go to recruit settlers, everybody will know what he’s getting and will decide whether it’s a good idea for him or not.
Now, recruiting is tremendously important because you need to have a certain number of settlers to make the settlement viable. You may not run into an enormously powerful collection of natives, but you’re going to get some kind of trouble. It’s foolish for you to assume you’re not going to have any problem out there. So you need a certain number of people just for defense purposes, but beyond that you need to have a certain number of people to carry out all the functions that need to be carried out for a successful polis. So however many that is, that is what you try to recruit and you recruit typically at a time when it’s easy to get people together so you can tell them the story.
The best time would be at some great festival. There are festivals held in each city just for its own citizens and my guess is that when you could do that, when you felt that you could recruit a full colony from your fellow citizens in Corinth, let us say, that’s what you did. But it would often happen that there were not enough Corinthians who were ready to go with you on your expedition. So, you would try to take your message to one of the Pan-Hellenic festivals which were getting organized about this time. As you know, the Olympic Games are alleged to have started in 776. So, that would be a place where Greeks from all over might come and you could then try to recruit settlers for your new colony there, and then we don’t know precisely when but there were Pan-Hellenic Games near Corinth, the Isthmian Games, there were Pan-Hellenic Games at Delphi and there Pan-Hellenic Games in the northeastern Peloponnesus at a town called Nemea. So, there would always be some opportunity for you to go out and make your pitch. So now you have everything in place, you’ve recruited your settlement, you get on your ships and sail, in this case out to the west central Mediterranean, you find your way to Sicily, work your way into the harbor at Syracuse and things work out, and now we have this apoikia called Syracuse.
So, the next question I think is, what is the relationship between Syracuse which is the apoikia and Corinth, which is the metropolis, the mother city; that’s what metropolis means by the way. First thing to brush from your mind, along with the word colony as we have used it in modern times, is the notion that the city of Syracuse was sent out to be a colony, that Corinth controlled, owned the city of Syracuse which it has sent out. This is not the case — well, before the British gave Hong Kong back, Hong Kong was a crown colony, it was British territory. It was ruled by Britain and so on. No, this is not what an apoikia is. From the first, Syracuse is an independent polis, autonomous, self-governing, whatever regime it wants, etc. It is not a subject of anybody, not Corinth or anybody else. That’s not the end of the story. The question really is, so now we know that, what kind of relations did they have? I would say there are three categories that they fall into.
The most typical, the usual, everything else is an exception is that there are friendly relations between the mother city and the apoikia, but keep in mind that they are always independent, and an example is in the Peloponnesian War. Syracuse finds itself besieged by the Athenians. They go to Corinth asking the Corinthians to please help us. The Corinthians are free; they will be violating no law or sacred bond if they say, sorry we really don’t feel like doing that. It would be thought they were not behaving very well, but they would have been as I say, perfectly within every right you can imagine to do that. But the typical reaction would be that the Corinthians would help, to the extent first of all, that they could and secondly, to the extent that it was consistent with their interests. Well, in fact, the Corinthians send very little, send a couple of ships and a general, which turn out to be tremendously important, but they couldn’t have known that in advance.
From where we sit, it looks like the Corinthians were making a gesture of friendship, of solidarity, the kind of thing you would expect a mother city to do, not to ignore its apoikia when it was in trouble. So that’s all that they did. First of all, it was normal for the apoikia to turn to the mother city for help, and it was normal for the mother city to be inclined to help if they could do it. That’s normal. I think if you can imagine of the many, many, many colonies there were, that would have been the usual arrangement. Now, there are exceptions in both directions, and as it happens the cases I know best have to do with the city of Corinth. Corinth sent out a lot of colonies, which is why we know something about their arrangements. The ones I’m talking about all have to do with the Peloponnesian War which is one of the reasons why we know a little bit about it, because Thucydides tells us the details of it. Well, we know, thanks to Thucydides, that it had become normal for Corinth to send out to its colony Potidaea, located on the Chalcidic peninsula, those three fingers sticking down into the Aegean Sea from the mainland of Greece, this is a town on one of those fingers.
Coin of Potidaea / Wikimedia Commons
Potidaea every year received magistrates who governed their city from Corinth and this was not imposed, this was not by force, this was by mutual agreement. So, Corinth really had a very great deal to say about what was going on in Potidaea. So, when Potidaea got into trouble with Athens, and found itself besieged, Corinth sent a real army to go in there and fight, and I think that’s because of this very special relationship that they had. At the other end of the spectrum it’s again Corinth and they have a colony up in the northwest called Corcyra, it is the modern Island of Corfu, and this colony was clearly established earlier than 664, because that’s the first time we hear of its taking any action; it’s been around for a while, very early colony. From the earliest times, Corcyra does not get along with the mother city of Corinth. The first relationship between them is a navel battle, and thereafter we hear of them quarrelling and fighting with each other just about at least once a century right on down until we get to the Peloponnesian War when a quarrel over who’s what out in that area between Corinth and Corcyra is, I would say, the first instigating element in bringing on the Peloponnesian War.
Okay, so this gives you some idea of the range of possible relationships between colony and mother city. I just want to emphasize one more time, that the overwhelming normal situation is the first one I described, friendly relations. Why not? These guys that have gone out, let us say to Syracuse, they are your people, they have relatives back home, they have friends back home, it is natural — oh by the way, they’re accustomed to worship the gods in the same way that the Corinthians do. We do know, again, Thucydides is our source, that it was customary for colonies to send representatives back to the mother city for the religious observations that were common to them all, so that those create good feelings. They feel like their relatives, and what could be more natural. You’re out there in Sicily and you discover, of course, that you don’t have all of the things that you used to have available to you, that used to be made let us say in Corinth. As a matter of fact, in the early days, Corinth was a great center of painted pottery and was the leading producer and exporter of that. So, maybe you wanted a really fine pot of the kind you used to be able to walk to the corner and pick up at a pottery shop, but you can’t get now, so you would want to buy what the Corinthians sell.
Guess what? You’ve got great grain fields out there in Syracuse. Hard to believe today, but Sicily was one of the major granaries of the Mediterranean world at that time, tremendously fruitful, able to grow the best possible crops, very good wheat and so on. Corinth always needs that kind of stuff, so we sell you our wheat, you sell us your pottery, you sell good wine that we can’t grow yet and maybe never will be able to grow in our neighborhood, so on and so forth. So you can see why it would be very natural for all sorts of ties to unite these colony and mother city.
Mapping the Colonies
Greek colonies and territories during the Archaic Period / Wikimedia Commons
Okay, now where are these colonies? Let me give you a little run down. Before we get to that, I should say that the Greeks have already, before this period of the polis and the period of colonization which is connected with the rise of thepolis, centuries before that the Greeks had already spread out from their original settlements. Right after the collapse of the Mycenaean world it was a period of tremendous confusion and panic and fear, and so on, so that we know that people fleeing from whoever destroyed the Mycenaean world fled typically eastward into the island, among the islands of the Aegean Sea and continuing on to the coast of Asia Minor beyond them, so that by the tenth century B.C., we see Greek cities lining the coast of Asia Minor on the west, and even around on the bottom and to some degree on the north, and on the islands in the Aegean. So, there has been a Greek — what’s the word I want? There is an expansion of the Greek world already by the tenth century, and these folks are now settled down, so that some of these cities are in fact among the most important cities sending out colonies of their own.
Of these, the most famous, perhaps the most important, was Miletus, an Ionian city located on the west coast of Asia Minor, which sent many a colony into different parts of the world, particularly up towards the straits and the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara. I might point out that the way the Greeks did their immigration into Asia Minor actually had a pattern so that you can go from north to south and you will find some consistency. Here’s what I mean. The northern most settlements on that coast spoke Greek with an Aeolian dialect; the Aeolian dialect is the one that you see on the mainland in places like Boeotia for instance Thebes and so on. South of the Aeolian section of that was the region of Asia Minor inhabited chiefly by Ionians, the people on the mainland who are the main Ionians are the Athenians. Finally, if you go to the most southern part of the west coast of Asia Minor, you come to the Dorian speaking Greeks and the whole Peloponnesus, as you know, was fundamentally a Dorian speaking place. So that’s the way the world looks when the polis is invented and when colonization begins to become a big thing.
Now, let’s take a look at the world of the Mediterranean and see how Greek expansion worked. Let’s start with the Aegean Sea. Just almost all the islands in that sea are inhabited by Greeks, mostly by the Greeks that came in that first wave of immigrants earlier on, not colonized during the eighth century and afterwards. But if you go to the north shore of the Aegean Sea, into the region that the Greeks called Thrace — sorry, before I even get to Thrace, maybe even a little bit of Thessaly which is off mostly west of the Aegean Sea, a little bit but not Thrace chiefly, which is the northern shore of the Aegean Sea, lots of Greek colonies there; it’s fundamentally part of Greece. Yeah, this is not a bad time for me to remind you that in one of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates says the Greeks sit like frogs around a pond and that pond is the Aegean Sea. It’s a helpful little story to remember, because we tend to think of Greece because of its modern geography as that peninsula of which there is a sub-peninsula at the bottom, which is Peloponnesus. That was not the Greece of antiquity. If you had to pick a central focus of where the Greeks were, it would be in the Aegean Sea so that’s useful to remember.
Then as you move east along that coast, you come to the Gallipoli Peninsula, all of which is now Turkey and for the rest of what I’m going to be saying for awhile, it’ll be Turkey as well, but through the straits, the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, Bosporus, Greek cities all over on both sides. If you keep going east you hit the Black Sea. If you move northwards along the Black Sea and southwards as well, Greek cities, not in the same number, they’re fewer than they are in the places I’ve mentioned so far, but important ones. For instance, when you get up to Crimea, the chief city we call, Seastapole that comes from Greek words, it means sebastos polis, the sacred city, so named after Augustus by Greeks who lived there after the Emperor Augustus had achieved power, but it was always inhabited by Greeks.
Similarly, Odessa, the chief city of Ukraine, apart from Kiev, was a Greek city and likewise on the northern shore of Turkey there are Greek cities to be found. One that leaps to mind is — how do they pronounce it in Turkish? Is it Trebzond? But it was Trapezos — what was it called in Greek? Trapezos wasn’t it? Anyway, the Black Sea is not a Greek lake, but there are Greek cities that are spotted along the coast. Now not on the east coast, when you get to the Caucuses you are in barbarian territory. So when the mythical mission of Jason and his Argonauts go sailing out to that territory, he is out there in Tarzan country, or as far as the Greeks were concerned, it was just the wild out in that territory and remember he marries and brings home a wife, Media, and she, of course, is like no Greek woman who ever lived; she is a witch. She can perform magic and she can do monstrous things that you can’t imagine a Greek woman doing, at least the Greeks can’t imagine, so that’s not Greek territory out there.
Well, let’s get back out into the Aegean Sea and we just crossed Asia Minor. Now, if you turn the bend at the southern end of Asia Minor and begin moving east, there are some Greek cities along in there, but when you get to what is now Lebanon, Syria, the coastal places there, Palestine, there are no Greek cities there and that is because during the period we’re talking about those regions were occupied by civilized powerful people who simply would not be pushed aside, and nobody would even dream of trying to take them on and building cities that would challenge their control of that area. So there are no Greek cities as you keep coming down and pass Palestine. You reach Egypt, and of course, Egypt is one of the great empires of antiquity going back into, perhaps, certainly into the fourth millennium, possibly into the fifth, by no means as powerful as it used to be, far from it. It has been conquered by now by other peoples. If you’re talking about the year 750 or something like that it’s — I think it’s in the hands, well, it is in the hands of the Assyrians and it will ultimately fall into the hands of the Persians. So that is not territory that you can build colonies; you’ve got powerful empires to deal with.
Greek ruins at Naucratis / Wikimedia Commons
There is one exception. In the sixth century, I think it’s around — imagine around 550 or something like that, the Greeks settle a single colony in the Delta of the Nile of Egypt at a place called Naucratis, and the root of that word is ship. It is a completely different thing from the apoikia that I’ve been talking about. It is a trading post and it’s there by permission of and under the protection of the King of Egypt, and that’s because he wants — it’s handy for him to have a merchant settlement of Greeks for him to do business with. So, that’s a great exception to everything I’ve been saying. Going west, would you believe, when you get into what is now Libya, there was a very important Greek colony of Cyrene and that whole region was called Cyrenaica and it was a Greek. You can actually go, now that I realize that Libya is now open; it’s no longer a closed territory. You can see Greek and Roman temples there to prove it.
When you go west, however, it stops in the coast of North Africa — the reason being the rest of North Africa is dominated by Carthage. Carthage is a colony of Phoenician cities. Phoenicia was located where Lebanon is now, and it goes back to maybe the tenth century, maybe the ninth, and it was powerful. It tried to control not only North Africa, but the waters of the Mediterranean in the west entirely. The Carthaginians, in fact, have a powerful pied à terre in the western part of Sicily and the Greeks will have to fight the Carthaginians over the years for control of the island of Sicily. So, that’s how far east they get and in time the Carthaginians also cross over into Spain and they control some portion of the Spanish coast closest to Africa. So, there are no Greeks there. They’re shut out for the same reasons. However, once you get beyond the Carthaginians advance into Spain, there are now Greek cities on the coast of Spain and there continue to be Greek cities, not everywhere, but in a spotty way into France of which the most important and famous is the one that the Romans called Masillia, Marseille, a Greek town.
So is Nice a Greek town. Nice was Nikea, victory town and there are several others. So, they know where to go, the Riviera, places like that. Now, what about the Italian Riviera? That’s pretty nifty. Were the Greek colonies near Portofino where you could put in? No. And the reason was in the northern part of Italy, there were Etruscans, another powerful ancient people who control their own area and were not about to have anybody colonizing their territory. However, when you keep going south in Italy, past Rome, Roman tradition says the city was founded in 754 or 753? 753. So, everybody agrees about that. Certainly not before that. So, in the period we’re talking about there are no Romans that you have to worry about. So, south of Rome there is a tremendous colonizing of southern Italy. Greek cities are all over the place. So Greek was that area that when the Romans do come to dominate most of Italy and sort of move up against the southern region they refer to the whole southern portion of that peninsula as Magna Graecia, great Greece because they’re all Greeks down there. Then finally, down we go to Sicily and there you have the east coast. I would say two-thirds of the coast of the island of Sicily is filled with Greek towns. The third to the west is under Carthaginian control. The inland, the Greeks don’t move in there. The natives Sicilians inhabit that territory and the Greeks are not interested. You will find very rare of the case of a Greek city, which is founded away from the sea; they always wanted to be close to the sea for varieties of reasons.
So, now I hope you have in your mind a picture of the way the Greek world had expanded by the time this wave of colonization was complete — pretty complete, sometime in the seventh century B.C. Just a word about the leading colonizers, because I think there’s something to be learned from that. One of the things you kind of speculate about, and wonder about, why did some cities send out lots of colonies, some cities send out only a few, and others none at all for quite a while. Well, if you see who does then you may have a clue. Well, here is a list of the early extensive colonizers. Miletus, I mentioned to you from Asia Minor; Corinth on the isthmus; Megara right next door to Corinth, also more or less on the isthmus. Then we turn to the island of Euboea, that long island that’s right next to the east coast of Attica, Euboea. There were two important cities in the northern part of that island. One was Calkis and the other one was Eretria and we hear about them relatively early in the eighth century, already being very important, very strong and fighting each other in a famous war that they fought. But these cities were very active in colonizing in a variety of directions. Lots of these towns sent colonists up north into the Dardanelles and so on and beyond and some of the same cities send out colonies to Sicily, so that for the real colonizing states there was no limit to where they would send people who wanted to go in those areas.
It is also interesting to notice who does not colonize at this early period and the answer is all the most famous cities of Greece in the Classical Period. Athens doesn’t send out a colony until sometime in the sixth century. Sparta starts at an early point, sends out a colony to southern Italy at some time, probably early, they sent out a colony to an island in the Aegean Sea, Melos, and then they stopped and never sent out another colony. Finally, Thebes, the greatest city in Boeotia, also does not colonize. So what can we speculate is the meaning of that? What we find is that the states who are doing most of the colonizing are located where most of the trade was going on at this point in history, and also most of the manufacturing. When I say manufacturing, you understand everything is done by hand, but you see things like shops that contain a number of slaves working for a master. In some cases, especially the later on you go, some shops that have quite a few slaves that worked to produce these things. It’s the handy craft industry but it’s an industry nonetheless. Well, these places are the ones that have the trade, the industry, and also engage in colonization. Moreover, as we will see, there will be internal trouble in the form of political quarreling, economic conflict, and finally warfare, civil wars occur in some of these cities leading to the emergence, and in the next topic I’ll turn to, of the establishment of tyrannies, as the way of resolving for a time these terribly tumultuous conditions in those cities.
All of these things are true of places like Corinth, Megara and possibly Chalcis and Eretria. So, it is easy to see that where there is that kind of conflict and trouble, there would be people who would want to flee that and to go elsewhere. It might well be that the people who won those wars, internal wars, would have been glad to send them away rather than to have these discontented people and these folks who were their enemies hanging around town and making trouble. It is only speculation, but it seems to make sense and we know we don’t hear of such troubles within Athens and Thebes, and Sparta. It also is possible, again it’s just speculation, that population pressure might well be greater in the cities that did the colonizing. They tended, in general, not to have as much farmland as the places that I have described as not being colonizers, who may not have felt the pressures of land hunger, which was so important in motivating colonization. So, that may explain why some of the states did and others did not.
Consequences of Colonization to Greek Life
Ruins at Miletus / Wikimedia Commons
Finally, what are the consequences to the Greek experience of this phenomenon of this outburst of colonization? Several things come to mind. First of all, the Greeks now live in places where they never lived before and their presence has a real impact of a different degree in every place. I would say that typically their impact was greater in the west and the north than it was in the east and the south. The reason for that was that in the east and in south, the Greeks lived among people who were more civilized than they, who were more advanced. They had very little to teach or to impose upon those people rather than vice versa. I think that I would imagine the Greeks sopping up all sorts of useful and interesting information from their neighbors in the east and the south and there’s no question about it. If you look at Greece in this period, I don’t know if I’ve used this term before, but some scholars refer to this general period we’re talking about as the Greek renaissance by analogy to the renaissance in Italy.
There’s something to it, because things happened in this period that are revolutionary in the arts, in the thinking of people, philosophy is going to be invented in Miletus probably in this sixth century B.C. Well, Miletus was on the main routes to all of the places where advanced knowledge could be found, Mesopotamia, Egypt. Anybody who looks at Greek mythology and Greek poetry, and Greek stories sees there is a powerful influence coming into Greek thought from mainly the Mesopotamian direction. Anybody who looks at the earliest Greek art for quite some time, I’m talking about sculpture and temple building, will see the influence of Egypt enormously powerfully. So, the Greeks are sopping up tremendously useful information and talent, and skills, and all sorts of things that help explain what’s going to be coming.
It is inconceivable the Greeks could have developed a civilization that they did without contact with these eastern civilizations and learned a great deal from them. Now, people — some people make an enormous jump from that and wrongly suggest that what the Greeks basically did was — well, if you want to take the most extreme statement of it, stole their civilization from the other folks. Well, if you take a look at the Greek civilization let us say in the classical period, those other cultures wouldn’t have had a clue what the Greeks were doing, so different was the Greek experience from theirs. But what is undeniably true is that the Greeks learned very important and valuable things, and adapted what they learned through their own way of life and produced something really quite new, and in many fundamental ways, not only new but the opposite of the places from which these things had come.
There was also, of course, some influence of the Greeks on the people they went to. Obviously, I started out by saying this would probably have been felt most strongly in the west and in the north, where the people, who lived there, before the Greeks came, were not civilized or were not highly civilized. They did not have great urban cultures and civilizations, long traditions of learning and so on. No, they weren’t like that, the Greeks were ahead of them and it’s evident that they borrowed stuff from the Greeks in every element of life, although it didn’t shape their lives in a potent, fundamental way. But that’s the way influence ran in that part of the world.
Of course, another tremendously important consequence of colonization was the growth of commerce, of trade for the reasons I’ve already given you, but beyond that the Greeks of course, now had access to food stuffs and other things out in where they settled, which gave them a basis for trading with the mother city, which meant there were markets for the mother city, which they hadn’t existed before. But also, the Greeks were in touch with people beyond where they settled, so they could obtain raw materials that were not available before, and also manufactured things that they might not have had access to before. All of which they would have used some for themselves and then engaged in trade with the old Greek cities. In other words, you don’t need a very great imagination to see how this would be a terrific boom to commerce. Think about it for a second, what will this be and how will this effect what’s happening in the cities, the polis?
More and more people, and again I want to remind you, never anything approaching a majority, but more and more people would be making their living in a way that was not agricultural. They would be in commerce and they would be in industry in this small sense and doing all the various things that are not farming and so you now have classes or groups of people who have interests rather different from those of the most primitive polis you could imagine. Some scholars early on in the century, moved by Marxist theories, suggested that you had a capitalist class growing up, there’s just no evidence of that; it’s just wrong. My guess is that the earliest traders of any scope were probably noblemen who also had land and estates back home, but who had the opportunity, the know-how, the connections to make it possible to make a lot of living in trade. Even so, while you don’t have a class of separate people who are just in the business of making things and making money, you do have people who are engaged in those activities and who have some interests that are different from those of the rest of their people who are only hoplites.
It is, I think, part of a conglomerate of activities you want to keep in your mind that is going on here and this is what I’m really trying to get at, socially and economically, and politically. You have to imagine, on the one hand, the hoplite revolution, which I do not shrink from saying, but it’s a very debatable term, is going on. More and more farmers are becoming independent, self-sustaining, hoplite farmers of the kind that I’ve described. You can’t expect them to continue to live in the same way as they did before, deferential to their betters, that is to say, tugging their forelocks before the aristocrats and just leaving all the decisions to the aristocrats. They’re not going to feel the same way about it, there’s going to be pressure from them for a better participation in the decisions that are made in the state. And also there will be some rich people, very rich people, rich in a different way from the way people used to be rich; rich meant the best land. Now, there will be people who will have wealth in the form of precious things and I would use the word money. I’m not going to use the word coinage because that’s very debated, and anyway there certainly weren’t any coins in Greece as early as say 750. But that doesn’t mean there was no money.
You could have weighed out precious metal, which would be money. Shekels, as in the Bible, are originally not coins; they are quantities, weights of something and come to mean weights of silver or gold. So now you have a change in fundamental economic things. Well, all of this is tied up with this colonial story I’ve been telling you. Finally, I think, it works in both directions at the same time in terms of the impact all of these changes have on the political situation. On the one hand the changes, that is (A) the rise of the hoplite class; (B) the development of lots of commerce and industry and wealth in a new kind and people who don’t fit into the old traditional society; new way has to be found to fit them in because, as I say, they don’t fit. That creates trouble. As we shall see very shortly, that trouble often takes the form of first of factional struggles within the aristocracy, which then after awhile come to involve people outside the aristocracy, which ultimately come to civil war in which certainly the people who have become the most important fighting men, the hoplites, become engaged on one side or the other or perhaps sometimes on both.
So that’s the, what you might say, is the negative side of the story. But colonization, especially, some scholars have pointed out, I think persuasively, also for some considerable time provided an answer to that problem in the form of an escape valve, where you had these people who were losers and angry and troubled, or people who had in any case were not happy with the way things were going in their mother city. Well, they didn’t have to stay and fight it out. They could go away and they did, in very considerable numbers, and so one is easily reminded of the American experience, as it has often been interpreted, in which the frontier is seen to be a tremendously valuable safety valve to the Americans, first as colonists, and then as independent people.
Americans didn’t have the kind of terrible class warfare and the terrible warfare within cities that the Europeans had experienced throughout most of their history, because really unhappy and angry people could always go west, get new places. I mean, fundamentally, Kansas is a colony in a certain Greek sense, all of these places are. So, that’s part of the story of why America had the very lucky early history that it had. So, I think we have to understand that colonization provided something analogous to that for the Greek people. So now, here we are somewhere in the seventh century, most of these places I’ve been talking about have been settled, the currents that I have been describing are flowing and the kinds of problems they have give rise to what will be felt in most of the towns and that is the proper introduction to the next topic, which I’ll discuss next year. No not — it seems like a year, but it’s next Tuesday actually.