Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
Chapter 9: The Greeks in a wider world (800-600 BC)
The Orientalizing Revolution
For the Greeks, the east offered a lure – one that still dazzled Alexander and his
men when they sacked the great cities of Persia four centuries later.
o Contact with the east was supported by Greece‟s position; the country is
naturally focused towards the east.
In the 19 century there was some reluctance to consider that the Greeks might
have owed any of their heritage to the east. But, the German scholar Poulsen
recognized the eastern influence on Greek art as far back as 1912.
Oswyn Murray first used the term „The Orientalizing Period‟ in 1980 to describe
not just a revolution in art but also a development in Greek society as a whole.
->„Orientalizing‟ was the result of a complex and varied set of relationships
between the Greeks and the peoples of the east, which spread over centuries.
Egypt was an important influence on Greek architecture and sculpture. Some
influences came as the result of eastern craftsmen who came to the west as refuges,
others from goods, which were taken west by traders and copied by local craftsmen.
In Egypt the kings had created and enforced a recognizable palace style. In Greece,
with no single dominant state, each area could develop its own response to the east,
and it took time to for a more uniform Greek culture to emerge from what was
The relationship between the Greeks and the Orient is made more complex because
neither Greek nor Orient culture was a stable entity - there were many Near Eastern
The most important immediate influence on the Greeks were the Phoenicians, a
people the Greeks viewed with a mixture of awe and suspicion, „famous as seamen,
tricksteth, bringing tens of thousands of trinkets in their ships,‟ as Homer put it.
By the 9 century they were well established in their cities along the Levantine coast
and begun to reach out into the Mediterranean.
Their first recorded colony at Kition on the southeast coast of Cyprus was founded in
the late 9 century.
They were more confident and mature than the Greeks.
Carthage – their most important overseas colony on the coast of North Africa in 814.
Large numbers of trading posts were established on the southern coast of Spain in the
They were expert shipbuilders.
o The pentekonter (the fifty-oar warship), and the trireme were Phoenician in
It was traders from the island of Euboea, and its successor, the city of Eretria, and
Chalcis who seem to have made the first tentative steps at mingling with the
Phoenicians and infiltrating the east. Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
By 825 the Euboeans appear to have had a foothold at al-Mina on the Orontes River,
a trading post where Greek influence survives alongside that of Phoenicians,
Cypriots, and possibly other traders.
Al-Mina offered the shortest caravan route to Mesopotamia via the towns of northern
o It was possibly here where the Greeks first picked up the Phoenician alphabet.
Traders may have also brought back to Greece the example of the walled city
although the concept of the citizen who participates fully in city life is unknown in
From the 9 century onwards, the Phoenicians and other peoples of the Near East
were increasingly under pressure from the expanding power of Assyria.
Assyrians stood on the shore of the Mediterranean for the first time in 877.
Al-Mina was overrun by about 720.
Sidon, one of the major Phoenician cities, was totally destroyed in 677.
In Assyrian sources there are some records of retaliatory Greek raids, possibly by
Greek pirates based in Cilicia.
Evidence of this contact with the east is widespread. As a result of the custom that
victors in the Olympic games dedicated cauldrons to the sanctuary, more eastern
bronze cauldrons have been found at Olympia than any other site in the eastern world.
These cauldrons, with their cast animal-head attachments, originate in Assyria or the
states of Urartu, east of Euphrates.
There are jewellery and gems, seals in Syrian and Egyptian styles, shells from the
Red Sea, and Phoenician silver bowls. The round shield of the Greek hoplite and the
horse chair crest are similar to those of the Assyrian infantry.
The later Greek portrayals of Zeus and his thunderbolt and Poseidon and his
trident appear to derive from models of warrior gods from the Syro-Hittite region
who‟re depicted brandishing weapons in their rights hands.
There are no lions in Greece, but they appear now in Greek art. The chimaera, a
composite of lion, she-goat, and serpent, is linked to Hittite representation, while
Triton, a merman, seems to come straight from Mesopotamia.
These influences are transforming the art on Greek pottery into a new exoticism-
„boars, wild goats, dogs, chicken, lions, sphinxes and griffins endlessly parade around
countless seventh-century vases,‟ in the words of Jeffrey Hurwit.
Polydaidaloi, „of many skills,‟ is how Homer describes the Phoenician makers of a
large silver bowl awarded as first prize at the funeral games of Patroclus.
The influence from the East was not confined to its art, such as the skill of writing.
The cult of Adonis, the young man, beloved by Aphrodite, who was killed by a boar
while hunting, has its origins in the annual death of a vegetation god celebrated in the
Phoenician city of Byblos. Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
Mount Kasios appears as the setting for a battle between Zeus and a hundred-headed
monster, Typhoeus. It is part of a rich mythology, seen in the works of Hesiod, which
has its roots in the east.
The idea of a foundation deposit of precious metals and stones placed under new
buildings is found in Assyria, and the Khaniale Tekke tomb in Crete of about 800 BC
appears to have had a similar deposit of gold left there by migrant Syrian goldsmiths.
The custom spread in the Greek world, and later temples at Delos and Ephesus had
With these movements came the language of trade. Goods would be contained in a
sakkos and among them might be found krokas, kannabis, and kinnamomon
The Greek unit of weight, mina, comes from the Akkadian mana.
Plinthos, a clay brick, originates in Mesopotamia, makes its way into Greek
architecture as the base of a column, and is still used in English.
The Assyrian maskanu, a booth or tent, reappears in Greek theatre as skena, the
backdrop of the stage, and hence scene.
In almost every sphere, the Greeks ended up transforming what they had learned for
their own ends.
Greek art, literature, religion, and mythology may contain eastern influences, but
ultimately they are Greek.
The alphabet is borrowed and then transformed with the use of vowels into something
infinitely more flexible.
Homer may have absorbed elements of epic style from Mesopotamia, but the Iliad
and the Odyssey stand as works of literature in their own right set in a Greek world.
(Similar map to the one found in the textbook.) Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
The Western Settlements
By the 8 century, the Euboeans were looking to the West. They had either to make a
land crossing over the Isthmus of Corinth before setting out along the Gulf of Corinth
or brave the dangerous coast of the southern Peloponnese.
o On either routh there was an open crossing to the Italian coast.
By the end of the 9 century, Phoenicians may have been settled on Sardinia. There
are hints of a Phoenician presence in southern Italy. The Euboeans followed later in
search of metals. Sardinia appears to have been the richest source.
The Euboeans formed a settlement at Pithekoussai to trade with the peoples of the
Italian mainland. It seems to have been on full operation by 750 BC.
The settlement at Pithekoussai was predominately Greek but there is also evidence
that Phoenician and other eastern traders helped make up the population.
Pithekoussai echoes the Phoenician Gadir (modern Cadiz) in that was close to
important resources yet isolated enough to be secure. Its main focus was the metal
ores of central Italy.
The Greeks were face to face with the Etruscans who formed a loose confederation
of states in the area north of Rome. The traditional view of the Greek impact on the
Etruscans is stated by John Boardman, who contrasts the two cultures:
“The Greeks adapted and assimilated until they produced a material culture which
was wholly Greek, despite the superficial inspiration that the east provided.
Etruscans accepted all they were offered without discrimination. They copied
Greeks with little understanding of the forms and subjects which served as
In recent years, this view has been challenged with emphasis placed on the way that
Etruscan society used Greek potters, so-called Perizoma Group – who adapted their
wares for the Etruscan market.
The Greeks began to travel for other reason when their population and wealth grew,
predominately to find new homes for their surplus populations.
There is a distinction between the Greek emporia (trading posts), and the apoikiai
Trading cities such as al0Mina and Naucratis in Egypt were emporia because they
were in areas where the Greeks had no political independence and could do little but
Pithekoussai is somewhere in between, a settlement under Greek control, openly
trading but also earning a living from the provision of skills to foreign communities.
725 BC, soon after Pithekoussai‟s foundation, a breakaway settlement was founded at
Cumae on the Italian coast - inhabited predominately by settlers whose origin was
the Euboean city of Chalcis.
For Cumae, it had its own land, safe beach, and its acropolis, which, were all
important. This was a safe ideal state, with a good harbor or sheltered beach
and land to support its inhabitants. Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
The goal of a mass of migrants from Greece who during 730-580 BC spread across
the Mediterranean, the migration only coming to an end when the best sites had been
The final result was to establish a Greek presence in the Mediterranean from the
Black Sea in the northeast to the coast of modern France and Spain in the west.
The catalyst is assumed to be the population increase in mainland Greece and to a
lesser extent in the Greek cities of Asia Minor.
Many colonies were on trading routes, exploited their local resources, and exchanged
goods with the native peoples.
The Greek custom, as the history of 19 and 20 century France – where there is a
similar (Napoleonic) system, has shown the custom breeds a mass of peasantry living
in small lots that only provide a surplus in exceptional years.
The peasants are inevitably tough, hard working, deeply conservative, and
understandably cynical about the possibilities of any improvement in their lot.
o One of the reasons why they made such good soldiers.
With an increase in population, their best alternative was to settle overseas, and they
were ideally suited to the task of taking new land.
Later Greek sources talk of the apoikiai, homes from home, as if they were normally
set up by a mother city. Whether the earliest settlements were part of such an
organized process is uncertain.
In the 8 century, the polis was scarcely developed in much of Greece and migration
may have taken place in a much more haphazard way, perhaps as a result of conflict
Later, a polis often did take responsibility for organizing a colonial expedition,
sometimes forcibly sending out excess population.
A typical colonizing group would have been 100-200 young men. Sometimes, as in
the case of Thera, each family with more than one son was ordered to provide one of
them for the colony.
Once the colonists arrived they would maintain links with their home city, often
importing its pottery exclusively and maintaining cults and customs from home.
The foundation oath of the Theran settlement gave any citizen of Thera who later
joined the colony an automatic right to citizenship of the colony and access to un-
However, overseas colonies quickly asserted their independence.
Rituals of colonization were well developed. The colonizing city would provide a
leader (usually of aristocratic status). His first task was to approach the oracle at
Delphi where Apollo gave guidance on the sites to choose. Once armed with
instructions, the colonists would take with them „the sacred fire‟ of their home city.
These oracles may be foundation myths, which were developed later to rationalize the
choice of site. The final choice would‟ve been made on purely practical grounds of
survival. Egypt, Greece and Rome: Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean
The leader would mark out the limits of the new city, set out sacred areas for its
temples, and divide up land. The descendants of those who had come with him would
often continue as the ruling classes of the city, preserving their status against
The first Greek colonies were in the West, and in the 8 century they were still
overwhelmingly the creations of the Euboeans.
Naxos was the first landfall in Sicily for ships rounding the toe of Italy.
The Chalcidian colonized it about 734.
All of these are Chalcidian colonies:
The Corinthians settled the finest Sicilian site of all, Syracuse, in about 733 BC.
It had the best harbor on the island, a permanent source of fresh wa