How Archaic Greek Colonization Developed and What Forms it Took



by Alfonso Mele
published on 21 July 2012

A lively debate has developed in recent years around the nature and development of archaic Greek colonisation. This debate tends to prove that the model based on the oecist–metropolis–date of foundation relation that has been passed on to us through the ancient tradition in fact results from a later normalisation process, which did not occur earlier than the mid-7th century. For the most ancient period, archaeological evidence would suggest a different model, made up of heterogeneous colonial contributions and settlements following each other gradually. In the light of this, the chapters of our books of history concerning Greek colonisation ought to be deleted and re-written. Colonists of different origin flow towards the earliest settlements, as is confirmed by the different origins of pottery; a consequence of this were settlements without a well-defined plan and expanding gradually, a fact which finds evidence in field studies. In the same perspective, Greek metropolitan poleis must be primitivistically conceived as communities similar to either those of the Polynesian big men or to the stateless communities of Black Africa.

It is a wave of primitivism that beats down on the way in which the archaic Greek society is perceived. Such a perception neglects the existence of Homer’s poems (and all the lost works that accompanied it), Hesiod’s poems and the whole world of which they were part; it neglects the existence of lyric poetry and what it tells us about its contemporary world. This view also seems to ignore the nature of the ancient emporia, which does not make for a mechanical identification between the origin of products and their users–think, for example of the ubiquitous spreading of Corinth ceramics and the presence of the archaic colonies of Kerkyra and Syracuse. And it also seems to forget the characteristics of the archaic poleis, developed following the two clashing models of the katà komas polis, Sparta, and of the synoecistic polis, Athens.

I am not going to examine the issue in a comprehensive way: I have already discussed this topic elsewhere. Here I will limit my analysis to a criticism of the inorganic colonisation model.

Electronic Antiquity, Volume 11, Number 1 (2007)

Written by , linked by Jan van der Crabben, published 21 July 2012. Source URL:

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