8th Century BC to 146 BC
GreeceAncient Greece period in Greek history lasting from around 800 BC to its subjection to the Roman Empire in 146 BC.
In the 8th century BC, Greece began to emerge from the Dark Ages which followed the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. Literacy had been lost and the Mycenaean script was forgotten, but the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet, modifying it to create the Greek alphabet. Objects inscribed with Phoenician writing may have been available in Greece from the 9th century BC, but the earliest evidence of Greek writing comes from graffiti on Greek pottery from the mid-8th century.
Rapidly increasing population in the 8th and 7th centuries BC had resulted in the emigration of many Greeks to form colonies in Magna Graecia (Southern Italy and Sicily), Asia Minor, and further afield. The emigration effectively ceased in the 6th century BC by which time the Greek world had, culturally and linguistically, become much larger than the area of present-day Greece. Greek colonies were not politically controlled by their founding cities, although they often retained religious and commercial links with them.
The Lelantine War (c. 710 – c. 650 BC) is the earliest documented war of the ancient Greek period. It was fought between the important poleis (city-states) of Chalcis and Eretria over the fertile Lelantine plain of Euboea. Both cities seem to have suffered a decline as a result of the long war, though Chalcis was the nominal victor.
In Sparta, the Messenian Wars resulted in the conquest of Messenia and the enserfment of the Messenians, beginning in the latter half of the 8th century BC. This was an unprecedented act in ancient Greece, which led to a social revolution in which the subjugated population of helots farmed and labored for Sparta, whilst every Spartan male citizen became a soldier of the Spartan Army permanently in arms. Rich and poor citizens alike were obliged to live and train as soldiers, equality which defused social conflict. These reforms, attributed to Lycurgus of Sparta, were probably complete by 650 BC.
This seems to have introduced tension to many city-states, as their aristocratic regimes were threatened by the new wealth of merchants ambitious for political power. From 650 BC onwards, the aristocracies had to fight to maintain themselves against populist tyrants. A growing population and a shortage of land also seem to have created internal strife between rich and poor in many city-states.
By the 6th century BC, several cities had emerged as dominant in Greek affairs: Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes. Each of them had brought the surrounding rural areas and smaller towns under their control, and Athens and Corinth had become major maritime and mercantile powers as well.
Athens suffered a land and agrarian crisis in the late 7th century BC, again resulting in civil strife. The Archon (chief magistrate) Draco made severe reforms to the law code in 621 BC (hence "draconian"), but these failed to quell the conflict. Eventually, the moderate reforms of Solon (594 BC), improving the lot of the poor but firmly entrenching the aristocracy in power, gave Athens some stability.
In the second half of the 6th century BC, Athens fell under the tyranny of Peisistratos followed by his sons Hippias and Hipparchos. However, in 510 BC, at the instigation of the Athenian aristocrat Cleisthenes, the Spartan king Cleomenes I helped the Athenians overthrow the tyranny. Sparta and Athens promptly turned on each other, at which point Cleomenes I installed Isagoras as a pro-Spartan archon. Eager to secure Athens' independence from Spartan control, Cleisthenes proposed a political revolution: that all citizens share power, regardless of status, making Athens a "democracy". The democratic enthusiasm of the Athenians swept out Isagoras and threw back the Spartan-led invasion to restore him. The advent of democracy cured many of the social ills of Athens and ushered in the Golden Age.
In 499 BC, the Ionian city-states under Persian rule rebelled against their Persian-supported tyrant rulers. Supported by troops sent from Athens and Eretria, they advanced as far as Sardis and burnt the city before being driven back by a Persian counterattack. The revolt continued until 494 BC, when the rebelling Ionians were defeated.
Darius did not forget that Athens had assisted the Ionian revolt, and in 490 he assembled an armada to retaliate. Though heavily outnumbered, the Athenians—supported by their Plataean allies—defeated the Persian hordes at the Battle of Marathon, and the Persian fleet turned tail.
In 480 BC, the first major battle of the invasion was fought at Thermopylae, where a small rearguard of Greeks, led by three hundred Spartans, held a crucial pass guarding the heart of Greece for several days. As a result, Phocis, Boeotia, and Attica were under Persian control.
Ten years later, a second invasion was launched by Darius' son Xerxes. The city-states of northern and central Greece submitted to the Persian forces without resistance, but a coalition of 31 Greek city-states, including Athens and Sparta, determined to resist the Persian invaders. At the same time, Greek Sicily was invaded by a Carthaginian force.
As the Athenian fight against the Persian empire waned, conflict grew between Athens and Sparta. Suspicious of the increasing Athenian power funded by the Delian League, Sparta offered aid to reluctant members of the League to rebel against Athenian domination. These tensions were exacerbated in 462 BC when Athens sent a force to aid Sparta in overcoming a helot revolt, but this aid was rejected by the Spartans.
The Persians were decisively defeated at sea by a primarily Athenian naval force at the Battle of Salamis, and on land in 479 at the Battle of Plataea. The alliance against Persia continued, initially led by the Spartan Pausanias but from 477 by Athens, and by 460 BC Persia had been driven out of the Aegean Islands. During this long campaign, the Delian league gradually transformed from a defensive alliance of Greek states into an Athenian empire, as Athens' growing naval power intimidated the other league states.
The first phase of the war saw a series of fruitless annual invasions of Attica by Sparta, while Athens successfully fought the Corinthian empire in northwest Greece and defended its own empire, despite a plague that killed the leading Athenian statesman Pericles. The war turned after Athenian victories led by Cleon at Pylos and Sphakteria, and Sparta sued for peace, but the Athenians rejected the proposal. The Athenian failure to regain control of Boeotia at Delium and Brasidas' successes in northern Greece in 424 BC improved Sparta's position after Sphakteria.
Soon after the Athenian defeat in Syracuse, Athens' Ionian allies began to rebel against the Delian league, while Persia began to once again involve itself in Greek affairs on the Spartan side. Initially, the Athenian position continued relatively strong, with important victories at Cyzicus in 410 BC.
The naval Battle of Arginusae took place in 406 BC during the Peloponnesian War near the city of Canae in the Arginusae islands, east of the island of Lesbos. In the battle, an Athenian fleet commanded by eight strategoi defeated a Spartan fleet under Callicratidas. The battle was precipitated by a Spartan victory which led to the Athenian fleet under Conon being blockaded at Mytilene; to relieve Conon, the Athenians assembled a scratch force composed largely of newly constructed ships manned by inexperienced crews. This inexperienced fleet was thus tactically inferior to the Spartans, but its commanders were able to circumvent this problem by employing new and unorthodox tactics, which allowed the Athenians to secure a dramatic and unexpected victory. Slaves and metics who participated in the battle were granted Athenian citizenship.
However, in 405 BC the Spartan Lysander defeated Athens in the Battle of Aegospotami, and began to blockade Athens' harbor; driven by hunger, Athens sued for peace, agreeing to surrender their fleet and join the Spartan-led Peloponnesian League.
Greece thus entered the 4th century BC under a Spartan hegemony, but it was clear from the start that this was weak. A drastically dwindling population meant Sparta was overstretched, and by 395 BC Athens, Argos, Thebes, and Corinth felt able to challenge Spartan dominance, resulting in the Corinthian War (395–387 BC). Another war of stalemates, it ended with the status quo restored, after the threat of Persian intervention on behalf of the Spartans.
The Spartan hegemony lasted another 16 years, until, when attempting to impose their will on the Thebans, the Spartans were defeated at Leuctra in 371 BC. The Theban general Epaminondas then led Theban troops into the Peloponnese, whereupon other city-states defected from the Spartan cause. The Thebans were thus able to march into Messenia and free the helot population.
Deprived of land and its serfs, Sparta declined to a second-rank power. The Theban hegemony thus established was short-lived; at the Battle of Mantinea in 362 BC, Thebes lost its key leader, Epaminondas, and much of its manpower, even though they were victorious in battle. In fact, such were the losses to all the great city-states at Mantinea that none could dominate the aftermath.
The exhaustion of the Greek heartland coincided with the rise of Macedon, led by Philip II. In twenty years, Philip had unified his kingdom, expanded it north and west at the expense of Illyrian tribes, and then conquered Thessaly and Thrace. His success stemmed from his innovative reforms to the Macedonian army. Phillip intervened repeatedly in the affairs of the southern city-states, culminating in his invasion of 338 BC.
Decisively defeating an allied army of Thebes and Athens at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC), he became de facto hegemon of all of Greece, except Sparta. He compelled the majority of the city-states to join the League of Corinth, allying them to him and imposing peace among them.
Orontobates and Memnon of Rhodes entrenched themselves in Halicarnassus. Alexander had sent spies to meet with dissidents inside the city, who had promised to open the gates and allow Alexander to enter. When his spies arrived, however, the dissidents were nowhere to be found. A small battle resulted, and Alexander's army managed to break through the city walls. Memnon, however, now deployed his catapults, and Alexander's army fell back. Memnon then deployed his infantry, and shortly before Alexander would have received his first (and only) defeat, his infantry managed to break through the city walls, surprising the Persian forces and killing Orontobates. Memnon, realizing the city was lost, set fire to it and withdrew with his army. A strong wind caused the fire to destroy much of the city. Alexander then committed the government of Caria to Ada; and she, in turn, formally adopted Alexander as her son, ensuring that the rule of Caria passed unconditionally to him upon her eventual death.
The Siege of Halicarnassus was undertaken in 334 BC. Alexander, who had a weak navy, was constantly being threatened by the Persian navy. It continuously attempted to provoke an engagement with Alexander, who would have none of it. Eventually, the Persian fleet sailed to Halicarnassus, in order to establish a new defense. Ada of Caria, the former queen of Halicarnassus, had been driven from her throne by her usurping brother. When he died, Darius had appointed Orontobates satrap of Caria, which included Halicarnassus in its jurisdiction. On the approach of Alexander in 334 BC, Ada, who was in possession of the fortress of Alinda, surrendered the fortress to him. Alexander and Ada appear to have formed an emotional connection.
The battle of Issus took place in November 333 BC. After Alexander's forces successfully defeated the Persians at the Battle of the Granicus, Darius took personal charge of his army, gathered a large army from the depths of the empire, and maneuvered to cut the Greek line of supply, requiring Alexander to countermarch his forces, setting the stage for the battle near the mouth of the Pinarus River and south of the village of Issus. Darius was apparently unaware that, by deciding to stage the battle on a riverbank, he was minimizing the numerical advantage his army had over Alexander's. As a result, Alexander controlled southern Asia Minor.
During the Siege of Gaza, Alexander succeeded in reaching the walls by utilizing the engines he had employed against Tyre. After three unsuccessful assaults, the stronghold was taken by storm. With Gaza taken, Alexander marched into Egypt. The Egyptians hated the Persians, in part because Persia considered Egypt as nothing more than a breadbasket. They welcomed Alexander as their king, placed him on the throne of the Pharaohs, giving him the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, and named him the incarnation of Ra and Osiris. He set in motion plans to build Alexandria, and, though future tax revenues would be channeled to him, he left Egypt under the management of Egyptians, which helped to win him their support.
The Siege of Tyre occurred in 332 BC when Alexander set out to conquer Tyre, a strategic coastal base. Tyre was the site of the only remaining Persian port that did not capitulate to Alexander. Even by this point in the war, the Persian navy still posed a major threat to Alexander. Tyre, the largest and most important city-state of Phoenicia, was located both on the Mediterranean coast as well as a nearby Island with two natural harbors on the landward side. At the time of the siege, the city held approximately 40,000 people, though the women and children were evacuated to Carthage, an ancient Phoenician colony.
The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, possibly near Erbil, and resulted in a decisive victory for the Macedonians. After the Siege of Gaza, Alexander advanced from Syria towards the heart of the Persian empire, crossing both the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers without any opposition. Darius was building up a massive army, drawing men from the far reaches of his empire, and planned to use sheer numbers to crush Alexander. Though Alexander had conquered part of the Persian empire, it was still vast in area and in manpower reserves, and Darius could recruit more men than Alexander could dream of. Also present in the Persian army, a sign that the Persians were still very powerful, were the feared war elephants. While Darius had a significant advantage in a number of soldiers, most of his troops weren't as organized as Alexander's. As Result, Alexander gained Babylon, half of Persia, and all other parts of Mesopotamia.
In the winter of 330 BC, at the Battle of the Persian Gate northeast of today's Yasuj in Iran, the Persian satrap Ariobarzanes led a last stand of the Persian forces. As a result, Alexander consolidated control of half of Persia and captures its dynastic center.
After the death of Spitamenes and his marriage to Roxana (Roshanak in Bactrian) to cement his relations with his new Central Asian satrapies, Alexander was finally free to turn his attention to the Indian subcontinent. Alexander invited all the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara, in the north of what is now Jhelum River, Pakistani region (Modern History) to come to him and submit to his authority. Omphis, ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Hydaspes, complied, but the chieftains of some hill clans, including the Aspasioi and Assakenoi sections of the Kambojas (known in Indian texts also as Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas), refused to submit.
After Alexander defeated the last of the Achaemenid Empire's forces in 328 BC, he began a new campaign against the various Indian kings in 327 BC. He wanted to conquer the entire known world, which in Alexander's day, ended on the eastern end of India. Greeks of Alexander's day knew nothing of China or any other lands east of India. The Siege of the Sogdian Rock, a fortress located north of Bactria in Sogdiana, occurred in 327 BC.
After gaining control of the former Achaemenid satrapy of Gandhara, including the city of Taxila, Alexander advanced into Punjab, where he engaged in the battle against the regional king Porus, whom Alexander defeated in the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC, but was so impressed by the demeanor with which the king carried himself that he allowed Porus to continue governing his own kingdom as a satrap. Although victorious, the Battle of the Hydaspes was also the most costly battle fought by the Macedonians. Now Macedonian Empire annexes large areas of the Punjab region from the Hydaspes to the Hyphasis.
East of Porus' kingdom, near the Ganges River, was the powerful Nanda Empire of Magadha and Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. According to the Greek sources, the Nanda army was five times larger than the Macedonian army. Fearing the prospects of facing the powerful Nanda Empire armies and exhausted by years of campaigning, his army mutinied at the Hyphasis River, refusing to march further east. This river thus marks the easternmost extent of Alexander's conquests.
Alexander spoke to his army and tried to persuade them to march further into India but Coenus pleaded with him to change his opinion and return, the men, he said, "longed to again see their parents, their wives, and children, their homeland". Alexander, seeing the unwillingness of his men agreed and diverted. Along the way, his army conquered the Malli clans (in modern-day Multan).
After the death of Alexander, his empire was, after quite some conflict, divided among his generals, resulting in the Ptolemaic Kingdom (Egypt and adjoining North Africa), the Seleucid Empire (the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Persia), and the Antigonid dynasty (Macedonia). In the intervening period, the poleis of Greece were able to wrest back some of their freedom, although still nominally subject to Macedon.
The city-states within Greece formed themselves into two leagues; the Achaean League (including Thebes, Corinth, and Argos) and the Aetolian League (including Sparta and Athens). For much of the period until the Roman conquest, these leagues were at war, often participating in the conflicts between the Diadochi (the successor states to Alexander's empire).
The Antigonid Kingdom became involved in a war with the Roman Republic in the late 3rd century. Although the First Macedonian War was inconclusive, the Romans, in typical fashion, continued to fight Macedon until it was completely absorbed into the Roman Republic (by 149 BC).
The Second Macedonian War (200–197 BC) was fought between Macedon, led by Philip V of Macedon, and Rome, allied with Pergamon and Rhodes. Philip was defeated and was forced to abandon all possessions in southern Greece, Thrace, and Asia Minor. During their intervention, although the Romans declared the "freedom of the Greeks" against the rule from the Macedonian kingdom, the war marked a significant stage in increasing Roman intervention in the affairs of the eastern Mediterranean, which would eventually lead to Rome's conquest of the entire region. As a result, Macedonia gives up all possessions and client states in southern Greece, Thrace, and Anatolia.
The Third Macedonian War (171–168 BC) was a war fought between the Roman Republic and King Perseus of Macedon. In 179 BC King Philip V of Macedon died and was succeeded by his ambitious son Perseus. He was anti-Roman and stirred anti-Roman feelings around Macedonia. Tensions escalated and Rome declared war on Macedon.
The Aetolian league grew wary of Roman involvement in Greece, and sided with the Seleucids in the Roman–Seleucid War; when the Romans were victorious, the league was effectively absorbed into the Republic. Although the Achaean league outlasted both the Aetolian league and Macedon, it was also soon defeated and absorbed by the Romans in 146 BC, bringing Greek independence to an end.