The formation of city-states
The decline of the ancient Mycenaean civilization (12th-11th century) was gradual. The artistic evolution can be followed, in broad outline, in the passage through some intermediate phases (submiceneo, protogeometric) up to the so-called geometric style, characteristic of 9th-8th century ceramics. BC Political history, on the other hand, is difficult to reconstruct: it seems that the country was divided into numerous small states governed by monarchies, on the type of those represented in Homeric poems. A council (➔ gerusia) of nobles assisted the sovereign, while the people had no importance; the free population was subdivided into peoples, rows, phratries. Citizens’ organizations (pòleis) began to develop in the 8th-7th century. BC: the Greeks, who previously lived in dispersed villages, gathered in urban groups protected by walls.
A second colonizing movement also began (colonies on the coasts of the Black Sea, Cyrenaica, southern Italy, Sicily, Gaul and Spain; fig. 2), while profound political upheavals took place in the motherland: the monarchies decayed or disappeared. altogether (except in peripheral areas: Macedonia, Epirus and, for different reasons, Sparta) and the aristocracy took its place. The first unitary organizations were also formed, sacral but with a political character (the amphictyons; ➔ Amphition), then the territorial states deriving either from the federal union of various cantons (Thessaly), or from the dominance of a city over a territory (Athens in Attica, Sparta in Laconia, Argos in Argolis, etc.). The process was long and only at the end of the 6th century. BC Greece found a certain political-territorial stability, compromised, however, within the various city-states, by social struggles between the aristocracies that came to power and the city forces which, acquiring importance with the exercise of navigation, trade and crafts, claimed participation in political life and the codification of the laws hitherto administered by the nobles according to the law customary. This led, after long disputes, to the written drafting of the laws, but also to continuous struggles between nobles and non-nobles, which were mostly resolved with the violent assertion of a tyrant.
During the 6th century. the tyrannies, victims of the same popular forces they had favored, had disappeared almost everywhere and in the various Greek city-states either more or less restricted oligarchic regimes (based on landowners), or, but still rare, democratic ones prevailed. At the end of the century in the arts, in literature, in civil and political progress, in the conquests of thought, the Greeks were at the forefront of all Mediterranean peoples. The struggles against the Persians (499-478 BC), which seemed to threaten this flowering, ended with the triumph of the Greeks.
Pòleis fighting for hegemony
After the victory over the Persians in Salamis (480 BC) discord broke out between the major Greek states of the time, Athens and Sparta, already forerunners in the struggle for freedom. Athens, at the head of an imposing maritime league, founded for the continuation of the war against the Persians, gradually transformed this organism into an empire: Sparta, hegemon of the major terrestrial league of the time, the Peloponnesian one, feared losing the position of primacy it had had during the war. The divisions between Athens and Sparta were also based on political reasons: Athens was democratic and a proponent of democratic ordering in the federated cities; Sparta was a conservative state, a model for the oligarchs of all Greece. After a long period of tension, which lasted about fifty years (pentecontetia) from the end of the Persian wars in 478, the disastrous Peloponnesian war (431-404) took place. The protagonists were Sparta and Athens with their respective leagues, but almost all the Greek states took part in it in opposite fields; the conflict involved incalculable destruction and human losses. Also thanks to the favor of Persia, Sparta managed to prevail over its rival; but the struggle for dominance was immediately rekindled. The Spartan hegemony was long opposed by a close coalition between Argos, Corinth, Thebes and the soon resurrected Athens: the conclusion was given by the peace of Antalcida (386), dictated by the king of Persia to the Greeks, in which the autonomy of all the Greek cities of the motherland and the return of the Greek cities of Asia under Persian rule was sanctioned.
Sparta exercised supremacy for some time; he destroyed the Halkidiki league of Olinto (382), imposed his own garrison in Thebes, and attempted to occupy Piraeus, the port of Athens. Soon Thebes got rid of the Spartan garrison, while Athens reconstituted its own naval league (377). During a new peace congress (371) held in Sparta there was the definitive break between Sparta and Thebes: in the battle of Leuctra, the Thebans had the upper hand and established a decade of hegemony on Greece Pelopidas. After the battle of Mantinea (362) between Thebans on the one hand and Athenians and Spartans on the other, the dissolution of the hegemony of Thebes began, while Athens saw the defection of the members of its second naval league and Sparta tended to withdraw from the struggle for hegemony. The flare-up in 356 of the so-called third sacred war, in which almost all the Greeks participated, further weakened Greece’s resilience.