Cover page

Table of Contents

Praise for A History of the Archaic Greek World, ca. 1200–479 BCE, 2nd Edition

Blackwell History of the Ancient World

Title page

Copyright page

Dedication

Maps

Figures

Documents

Preface

Preface to the Second Edition

Timeline

1: The Practice of History

The Lelantine War

The Lelantine War Deconstructed

What is History?

History as Literature

Method and Theory

2: Sources, Evidence, Dates

Evaluating Sources

Dating Archaic Poets

Non-Literary Evidence

Ancient Chronography

Archaeological Dating

3: The End of the Mycenaean World and its Aftermath

Mycenaean Greece

Gauging the Historicity of the Dorian Migration

Alternative Explanations

The Loss and Recovery of Writing

Whose Dark Age?

4: Communities of Place

Defining the Polis

The Urban Aspect of the Polis: Houses, Graves, and Walls

Political and Economic Functions

Cultic Communities

Polis and Ethnos

5: New Homes Across the Seas

On the Move

The Credibility of Colonial Foundation Stories

Pots and Peoples

A Spartan Foundation? Taras, Phalanthos, and the Partheniai

Hunger or Greed?

6: The Changing Nature of Authority

Charting the Genesis of the State

Kings or “Big-Men”?

The Emergence of an Aristocracy

Laws and Institutions

The Return of the “Big-Man”

Excursus I. A Cautionary Tale: Pheidon of Argos

7: Fighting for the Fatherland

A Hoplite Revolution?

Some More Equal Than Others

Conquest, Territory, and Exploitation

Excursus II. Archaeological Gaps: Attica and Crete

8: Defining the Political Community

Looking to the End

The Role of the Dêmos and the Great Rhetra

Drawing Boundaries

Land, Labor, and the Crisis in Attica

The “Second Sex”

Excursus III. Evaluating the Spartan Mirage

9: The City of Theseus

The End of the Tyranny

The Birth of Democracy?

The Unification of Attica

Theseus: Democrat or Autocrat?

The (A)typicality of Athens

10: Making a Living

Conceptualizing Ancient Economic Activity

A Peasant Economy?

Plying the Seas

The Introduction of Coinage

Excursus IV. The Rise of Persia and the Invasions of Greece

11: Imagining Greece

“Greek” Culture: Unity and Diversity

Greeks and Others: The External Dimension

The Emergence of Panhellenism: The Internal Dimension

The Invention of the Barbarian

12: Writing the History of Archaic Greece

The First Sacred War: Fact or Fiction?

The Limits of Narrative History

Dividing up Time and Space

Abbreviations and Glossary of Literary Sources

Works Cited in the Further Reading

Guide to Electronic Resources

General Websites

Bibliographic Databases

Primary Sources Online

Archaeological Resources

Index

Praise for A History of the Archaic Greek World, ca. 1200–479 BCE, 2nd Edition

“Breaking news – the Archaic period of ancient Greece is not archaic! The updated and augmented second edition of this thematically inflected history does full justice to an experimental and brilliantly innovative era.”

Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge

“Informative and clear for the student and the interested non-specialist, this book is full of stimulating observations and questions, from which also the specialist may profit. With its second edition, Jonathan Hall offers a reliable and up-to-date survey of the major developments in society, institutions, and culture in the Greek World and its periphery from the end of the Mycenaean palace administration to the Persian Wars. By operating with a ‘long Archaic Age’, that has its roots in the Late Bronze Age, Jonathan Hall fruitfully challenges the traditional periodization of Greek history.”

Angelos Chaniotis, Institute for Advanced Study

“Further enriched in its second edition, this book offers a balanced, superbly informed, critical, and lucid discussion of all the major issues that contributed to shaping Greek society and culture in its formative period. Engaging closely with the archaeological evidence, textual sources, and modern scholarship, the author challenges many well-established views and introduces the reader to the evidence as well as the tools, approaches, and methods on which a meaningful reconstruction of the crucial developments in early Greek history can be based. Hall does not present final truths but takes us along on his exciting and sometimes frustrating road to discovery; he stimulates our thinking and helps us penetrate to a deeper level of understanding.”

Kurt Raaflaub, Brown University

Blackwell History of the Ancient World

This series provides a new narrative history of the ancient world, from the beginnings of civilization in the ancient Near East and Egypt to the fall of Constantinople. Written by experts in their fields, the books in the series offer authoritative accessible surveys for students and general readers alike.

Published

A History of the Hellenistic World

R. Malcolm Errington

A History of the Ancient Near East, second edition

Marc Van De Mieroop

A History of the Classical Greek World, second edition

P. J. Rhodes

A History of the Later Roman Empire, AD 284–621

Stephen Mitchell

A History of Byzantium, second edition

Timothy E. Gregory

A History of Ancient Egypt

Marc Van De Mieroop

A History of the Archaic Greek World, second edition

Jonathan M. Hall

In Preparation

A History of the Roman Republic

John Rich

A History of the Roman Empire

Michael Peachin

A History of Babylon, 2200 BC–75 AD

Paul-Alain Beaulieu

A History of Greece, ca. 1300 to 30 BC

Victor Parker

A History of the Achaemenid Persian Empire

Maria Brosius

A History of the Ancient Near East, third edition

Marc Van De Mieroop

Title page

To Gregorio

Maps

0.1 The Aegean

3.1 Migrations according to the literary tradition

3.2 Distribution of the Greek dialects

4.1 Distribution of Late Geometric burials at Athens

4.2 Distribution of Geometric burials at Argos

4.3 Plan of Unit IV-1, phase 2 at Nikhoria

5.1 Foundations in Italy, Sicily, and the West

5.2 Foundations in the Black Sea and Propontis

5.3 Plan of the zone around the Archaic agora at Megara Hyblaea in (a) the sixth and (b) the eighth centuries

7.1 The Peloponnese

II.1 Settlements in Attica

II.2 Settlements on Crete

IV.1 Xerxes' route and the Persian War of 480–79

11.1 Central Greece

Figures

1.1 The alliances that have been proposed for Eretria and Chalcis in the Lelantine War

2.1 List of months at Athens, Miletus, Rhodes, and Epidaurus (n.b. the year began in mid-summer)

2.2 Ceramic chronology for Attica and Corinthia

2.3 Argive Late Geometric pyxis

2.4 Laconian black-figure hydria

2.5 Thucydides' dates for the foundations in Sicily

3.1 Grave Circle A, Mycenae

3.2 The tribal organization of selected Dorian cities

3.3 Attic Late Geometric oinokhoe

3.4 Increases/decreases in site numbers from the twelfth to the seventh centuries

3.5 Percentages of graves with metal items at Lefkandi by cemetery and period

3.6 Average number of metal items in graves at Lefkandi by cemetery and period together with the standard deviation around the mean

4.1 Estimated sizes and population levels for eighth-century settlements

4.2 “Chiefly” dwelling at Eretria

4.3 The members of the Delphic Amphictyony

5.1 Euboean pendent semicircle skyphos

5.2 Heröon at Megara Hyblaea

5.3 Early Corinthian aryballos depicting Athena and Heracles

6.1 The twelve constituent phratriai of the phylê of the Hyrnathioi at Argos in the mid-fifth century

6.2 The diolkos on the Corinthian isthmus

I.1 The variant dates ascribed to Pheidon of Argos

I.2 Boundary stone of the enclosure of the Seven against Thebes in the Argive agora

7.1 “Corinthian” hoplite helmet dedicated by Miltiades

7.2 Line drawing of the battle frieze from the Chigi Vase

7.3 Anavysos Kouros

8.1 Korê, signed by Antenor and dedicated by the potter Nearkhos

8.2 Phrasikleia Korê

III.1 The sanctuary of Helen and Menelaus near Sparta

9.1 “Ballots” used in ostracism

10.1 “Wild Goat” oinokhoe

10.2 Silver stater with a turtle

11.1 Temple of Hera, Olympia

11.2 Delphi

Documents

4.1 Tyrtaeus fr. 10

4.2 Homer, Od. 6.262–72

4.3 Thucydides 1.10.2

4.4 Aristotle, Pol. 2.1.4–5

5.1 Thucydides 1.12.3–4

5.2 Antiochus fr. 13 and Ephorus fr. 216

6.1 Solon fr. 4

6.2 Hesiod, WD 248–51, 256–62

I.1 Herodotus 6.127.3

I.2 Ephorus fr. 115 = Strabo 8.3.33

I.3 Greek Anthology 14.73

I.4 Pausanias 2.36.4–5

7.1 Aristotle, Pol. 4.10.10

7.2 Tyrtaeus fr. 10: 1–10, 15–32

7.3 Tyrtaeus fr. 11: 1–6, 11–14, 17–38

7.4 Pausanias 4.14.4–5 = Tyrtaeus frs. 6 and 7

8.1 Plutarch, Lyc. 6

8.2 Tyrtaeus fr. 4 and (in italics) Diodorus 7.12.5–6

8.3 Herodotus 5.68

9.1 Thucydides 2.15.1–2

9.2 Homer, Il. 2.546–68

10.1 Herodotus 2.178–9

IV.1 ML 27 = Fornara 59

11.1 Thucydides 1.3.1–3

11.2 ML 7 = Fornara 24

11.3 Xenophanes fr. 2

11.4 Hesiod frs. 9, 10(a) 20–4

Preface

I had not intended to write a revisionist history of the Archaic Greek world and I hope that I have not, since that would imply that what I offer here is intended as a definitive reconstruction of early Greek history. Rather, my intention was always to introduce the reader to some of the excitement (and frustration) that accompanies the practice of history. If readers are interested simply in “what actually happened” in this formative period of Greek history, there is no shortage of good, narrative accounts to which they can turn. If, on the other hand, they are interested in venturing into the historian's laboratory, in familiarizing themselves with the evidential materials and tools of the trade and in learning to interpret those materials in ways that are meaningful in the present, then I hope that they will find this book of some value. In engaging directly with the source materials rather than obediently following the authority of a secondary work of reference, it is inevitable that some hallowed orthodoxies are going to be challenged. On the other hand, if this book equips the reader with the critical skills to challenge even the reconstructions offered here, it will have served its purpose.

For my interest in Archaic Greece and in issues of historical method, I owe a particular debt to three people: to Nicholas Purcell, who was my tutor in Ancient History at Oxford and who eloquently dispelled my delusion that history was just “one damn thing after another”; to George Forrest, whose paper on early leagues and amphictionies (posthumously published in Brock and Hodkinson 2000, 280–92) inspired my doctoral research and who was first responsible for my initiation into American academia; and to Anthony Snodgrass, who was my PhD supervisor at Cambridge and whose success in pioneering a new synthesis between ancient history and archaeology will continue to influence generations of classicists to come. I am especially grateful for the comments that have been offered by, among others, Greg Anderson, Paul Cartledge, Sara Forsdyke, John Hyland, Irad Malkin, Glenn Most, and the two anonymous readers for Blackwell, as well as by audiences at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley and, of course, the University of Chicago. For Blackwell, Al Bertrand's persistent faith in the project has provided welcome reassurance, as has the efficient and friendly professionalism of Angela Cohen and Louise Spencely. As always, my wife, Ilaria, has offered invaluable encouragement and support. This book is dedicated to my son, Gregorio – not in the expectation or hope that he too, like his father or maternal grandfather, will become a historian but rather as an insufficient recompense for all the days that were spent in the study rather than the park.

Note on spelling: Proper names that appear in the third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford and New York, 1996) are given in the Latinized forms to be found there. All other proper names are transliterated in their Greek, rather than Latin, forms.

Preface to the Second Edition

For the Second Edition, I have updated information in the chapters and the (largely Anglophone) Further Reading; added two new sections (Excursus II on “Archaeological Gaps: Attica and Crete” and the section on “‘Greek’ Culture: Unity and Diversity” in Chapter 11), as well as a Guide to Electronic Resources; and expanded somewhat the geographical coverage of the material considered. In making these revisions, I have benefited greatly from the comments of reviewers of the First Edition as well as from responses to questionnaires that were distributed by Wiley-Blackwell to instructors who have adopted the book for their classes.

There is, however, one respect in which I have remained stubbornly faithful to the intention behind the First Edition: the chapters continue to be arranged thematically rather than chronologically, even if there is a loose chronological progression from start to finish. The rationale for this is twofold. Firstly, this has always been, first and foremost, a book about historical method and a theme-based approach, focused on targeted questions, is an especially effective way of tackling methodological issues. Secondly, the nature of the evidence that is at our disposal for the Archaic period is not generally conducive to writing the sorts of straightforward narrative history that are possible for other regions and periods. The latter claim is, as one reviewer has commented, hardly novel, though even the more skeptical studies of Archaic Greece typically find it difficult to avoid adopting a continuous chronological narrative, despite the fact that the various types of evidence employed are unevenly and differentially distributed across the centuries that separate the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces from the Persian War.

In addition to the friends and colleagues acknowledged in the Preface to the First Edition, I would like to thank Gert-Jan Burgers, Lieve Donnellan, Irad Malkin, and Gocha Tsetskhladze for sharing their work and ideas with me. Finally, a special debt of gratitude is owed to Ben Thatcher, Elizabeth Saucier, Kitty Bocking, and Ian Critchley for their prompt and efficient assistance and, especially, to Haze Humbert, whose cheerful and indefatigable support and encouragement over several years have been much appreciated.

Timeline

ca. 1200  Destruction of the Mycenaean palaces
ca. 1100Miletus destroyed and resettled
ca. 1075First Dark Age phase of Nikhoria
ca. 1000Construction of the Toumba building at Lefkandi
ca. 825Abandonment of cemeteries at Lefkandi
776Traditional date for the foundation of the Olympic Games
ca. 770Establishment of Al Mina and Pithecusae
ca. 750Abandonment of Nikhoria
747Diodorus' date for the establishment of Bacchiad rule at Corinth
744-724Pausanias' dates for the First Messenian War
734Thucydides' date for the foundation of Naxos
733Thucydides' date for the foundation of Syracuse. Corinthian foundation of Corcyra?
728Thucydides' date for the foundation of Megara Hyblaea
ca. 725Construction of monumental temple at Eretria
ca. 720Warrior burials at the West Gate, Eretria
706Eusebius' date for the foundation of Taras
ca. 700Zagora abandoned
688Thucydides' date for the foundation of Gela
685–668Pausanias' dates for the Second Messenian War
683Traditional date for the establishment of the archonship at Athens
677Eusebius' date for the foundation of Chalcedon
670Eusebius' date for the foundation of Byzantium
657Diodorus' date for Cypselus' tyranny at Corinth
631Eusebius' date for the foundation of Sinope
ca. 630Foundation of Cyrene and Metapontum. Traditional date of Cylon's coup at Athens. Abandonment of the cemeteries at Cnossus
628Thucydides' date for the foundation of Selinus
ca. 620Foundation of Naucratis. Traditional date for Dracon's legislation at Athens
ca. 600Foundation of Massalia
594Archonship and reforms of Solon
594–585Traditional date for the First Sacred War
582Damasias refuses to yield the archonship at Athens. Traditional date for the foundation of the Pythian Games
580Thucydides' date for the foundation of Acragas
571Eusebius' date for Phalaris' tyranny at Acragas
ca. 565Foundation of Alalia
ca. 560Pisistratus' first attempt at the tyranny in Athens. Foundation of Odessos
554Foundation of Heraclea Pontica
ca. 546Pisistratus seizes the tyranny at Athens following his victory at Pallene. Lydian Empire conquered by the Persians
528Death of Pisistratus. Accession of Hippias and Hipparchus
525Cleisthenes holds archonship in Athens
514Assassination of Hipparchus
ca. 513Unsuccessful Alcmaeonid attempt to oust Hippias from their base at Leipsydrion
511Unsuccessful Sparta expedition, under Ankhimolios, to expel Hippias from Athens
510Spartan expulsion of Hippias from Athens
508Archonship of Isagoras. A Spartan force under Cleomenes is besieged on the Athenian acropolis and forced to withdraw. Cleisthenes is recalled to Athens and enacts reforms
ca. 507An Athenian embassy offers terms of submission to the Persian king Darius
506Joint assault on Attica by the Spartans, Boeotians, and Chalcidians. Spartan invasion abandoned after desertion of the Corinthian contingent and the Spartan king Demaratus; Boeotians and Chalcidians defeated and Athenian klêroukhia established at Chalcis.
499Outbreak of Ionian revolt
498Hippocrates becomes tyrant of Gela
494Ionians defeated at Lade. Sack of Miletus
ca. 494Spartan king Cleomenes launches unsuccessful assault on Argos
ca. 491Gelon succeeds Hippocrates as tyrant of Gela
490Battle of Marathon
ca. 490Anaxilas captures Zancle and refounds it as Messene
487First ostracism held at Athens
486Xerxes succeeds Darius as Persian king
485Gelon captures Syracuse
483Discovery of new silver vein at Laurium allows the Athenians to equip themselves with a new navy
480Persian invasion of Greece, Battles of Thermopylae, Artemisium, and Salamis. Battle of Himera
479Battles of Plataea and Mykale. Expulsion of the Persians from Greece

Map 0.1 The Aegean

flast02-map-0001

1

The Practice of History

The Lelantine War

To the modern visitor the Lelantine plain might seem an unlikely setting for a conflict of epic dimensions. Flanking the southern coast of the island of Euboea, just across from the mainland regions of Attica and Boeotia, the plain is today dotted with holiday villas and summer homes as well as the odd physical remnant of the area's earlier importance for the brick-making industry, but its economy – now, as in antiquity – is dominated by the cultivation of cereals, olives, figs, and vines. The ancient cities of Chalcis and Eretria, like their modern namesakes, lay at either end of the plain, twenty-four kilometers apart. Relations between the two were initially cordial enough: according to Strabo (5.4.9), Pithecusae, on the Italian island of Ischia, was a joint foundation of Eretrians and Chalcidians, probably in the second quarter of the eighth century. But both cities had expanding populations that they needed to feed and in the final decades of the eighth century the two came to blows over possession of the plain that lay between them.

The aristocrats of Euboea were renowned for their horsemanship and for their skill with the spear. Both Aristotle (Pol. 4.3.2) and Plutarch (Mor. 760e–761b) refer to cavalry engagements, but the Archaic poet Archilochus (fr. 3) implies that the warriors also fought on foot and at close quarters with swords, rather than relying upon slings and bows. Indeed, Strabo (10.1.12) claims to have seen an inscription, set up in the sanctuary of Artemis at Amarynthos (eight kilometers east of Eretria), which recorded the original decision to ban the use of long-range weapons such as slings, bows, or javelins. It was a war, then, conducted according to a chivalric code we normally attribute to medieval knights.

Those who sacrificed their lives for their cities were treated like heroes. Around 720, an anonymous Eretrian warrior was accorded funerary honors that parallel closely the Homeric description of Patroclus' funeral in the Iliad. The warrior's ashes had been wrapped in a cloth along with jewelry and a gold and serpentine scarab, then placed in a bronze cauldron, covered by a larger bronze vessel, and buried on the western perimeter of the settlement, next to the road that led to Chalcis. With the cinerary urn were buried swords and spearheads, which denoted the deceased's martial prowess, and a bronze staff or “scepter,” dating to the Late Bronze Age, whose antique status probably served to express the authority he had formerly held in his home community. Charred bones indicate that animals – including a horse, to judge from an equine tooth – were sacrificed at the site of the grave, probably on the occasion of the funeral. Over the next generation, six further cremations of adults (presumably members of the same family) were placed in an arc around the first, while slightly to the west were situated the inhumation burials of youths, arranged in two parallel rows. In both cases, the funerary rites differ from those that were then in vogue in the city's main necropolis by the sea. In the Harbor Cemetery, the corpses of infants had been stuffed into pots whereas at the West Gate they had been afforded the more dignified facility of a pit grave, accompanied by toys and miniature vases, and whereas adults in the Harbor Cemetery were also cremated, their ashes were not placed in cinerary urns nor were their burials accompanied by costly grave goods. After the last burial, ca. 680, a triangular limestone monument was constructed above the cremation burials and from the deposits of ash, carbonized wood, animal bones, drinking cups, and figurines found in the imme­diate vicinity, we can assume that ritual meals continued to take place in honor of the dead here until the fifth century.

Chalcis had its war heroes too. The poet Hesiod (WD 654–5) recounts how he had once crossed over from Boeotia to Chalcis to attend the funeral contests held in honor of “wise” Amphidamas and won a tripod for a song he had composed. Plutarch (Mor. 153f) adds that many famous poets attended these funerary games and that Amphidamas “inflicted many ills upon the Eretrians and fell in the battles for the Lelantine plain.” Elsewhere (760e–761b), he tells of horsemen from Thessaly, the great upland plain of northern-central Greece, who had been summoned by the Chalcidians, fearful of the Eretrian cavalry's superiority. Their general, Kleomakhos, was killed in the fighting and was granted the signal honor of being buried in the agora of Chalcis, his tomb marked by a tall pillar.

The war was no purely local affair. According to Thucydides (1.15), the entire Greek world was divided in alliance with one or other of the two protagonists in a collective effort that would not be seen again until the great wars of the fifth century (Figure 1.1). Herodotus (5.99) mentions a war between Eretria and Chalcis in which Miletus, the most important Ionian foundation on the coast of Asia Minor, had taken the side of Eretria and Miletos' island neighbor, Samos, that of Chalcis. Other allies can only be assigned to sides on evidence that is more circumstantial. Given that Corinthian settlers are supposed to have expelled Eretrians from Corcyra (the modern island of Corfu) in 733 (Plutarch, Mor. 293b), that Megarian colonists are said to have been driven out of Sicilian Leontini by Chalcidians five years later (Thucydides 6.4), and that the hostility between Corinth and its neighbor, Megara, was proverbial, one can assume that Megara was allied with Eretria and Corinth with Chalcis. Thessaly, as we have seen, came to the aid of Chalcis, which might suggest that Thessaly's neighbor and enemy, Boeotia, was on the side of Eretria, along with the island of Aegina, which claimed a special relationship with Boeotia (Herodotus 5.80) and had itself engaged in hostilities with Samos (3.59). The Peloponnesian city of Argos, an ally of Aegina (5.86) and an enemy of Corinth, probably sided with Eretria while Argos' enemy Sparta, which had been assisted by Samos during the Messenian War (3.47), would have favored Chalcis, as would Aegina's enemy Athens. Since Mytilene on the island of Lesbos contested control of the Hellespontine city of Sigeum with Athens (5.95), it is unlikely to have fought alongside Athens on the side of Chalcis, and Miletus' ancient alliance with the island of Chios against the Ionian city of Erythrae (1.18) may allow us to assign Chios to the Eretrian contingent and Erythrae to the Chalcidian. Finally, it is to be expected that “colonial” foundations would have taken the side of their mother-cities: thus Chalcis is likely to have been supported by her own colonies in the west (Naxos, Catana, Leontini, and Zancle on Sicily, Rhegium and Cumae on the Italian mainland), as well as by the Corinthian colonies of Corcyra and Syracuse and the Spartan colonies of Melos, Thera, Taras, and Cyrene.

Figure 1.1 The alliances that have been proposed for Eretria and Chalcis in the Lelantine War

c1-fig-0001

History does not record the outcome of the conflict. It is possible that hostilities continued intermittently for some considerable time because Archilochus (fr. 3), conventionally assigned to the middle of the seventh century, appears to imply a resumption of combat in his own day while verses attributed to the Megarian poet Theognis (891–4) protest that “the fine vineyards of Lelanton are being shorn” and assign the blame to the descendants of Cypselus, who seized power at Corinth around the middle of the seventh century. There are, however, hints that Eretria fared worse than Chalcis. Firstly, the site of Lefkandi, which is situated on the coast between Chalcis and Eretria and had been a flourishing and wealthy community in the eleventh and tenth centuries, appears to have been destroyed around 700. Strabo (9.2.6) makes a distinction between an Old Eretria and a Modern Eretria, and given that Lefkandi begins to go into decline ca. 825 – that is, at about the same time that Eretria develops as a center of settlement – it has been argued that Lefkandi had been Old Eretria and that it was a casualty of Chalcidian action towards the end of the eighth century. Secondly, the cooperation between Eretria and Chalcis in overseas ventures came to an abrupt end in the last third of the eighth century. The Chalcidians who had settled Pithecusae are said to have transferred to the Italian mainland where they founded Cumae (Livy 8.22.6), but for the remainder of the century it is Chalcis rather than Eretria that continues to play a pivotal role in such western ventures. A Delphic oracle (Palatine Anthology 14.73), perhaps dating to the seventh century, lavishes praise on “the men who drink the water of holy Arethousa” (a spring near Chalcis) and the land that Athens confiscated from Chalcis in 506 bce lay in the Lelantine plain (Aelian, HM 6.1).

The foregoing sketch would appear to offer an impressive demonstration of how historians can assemble fragments of evidence from various literary authors and combine them with the findings of archaeologists to draw a vivid picture of past events – no mean achievement for a period in which literacy was still in its infancy and for which contemporary documentation is practically nonexistent. Unfortunately, this whole reconstruction is probably little more than a modern historian's fantasy, cobbled together from isolated pieces of information that, both singly and in combination, command little confidence.

The Lelantine War Deconstructed

To begin with, the authors whose notices are culled to generate this composite picture span a period of some nine centuries – roughly the same amount of time as from the Battle of Hastings to the present day. The poems of Hesiod, Archilochus, and Theognis probably date to the seventh century (though see below); Herodotus and Thucydides were writing in the later fifth century, Aristotle in the middle of the fourth, Livy towards the end of the first century, Strabo around the turn of the Common Era, Plutarch at the turn of the second century ce, and Aelian at the beginning of the third (see the Glossary of Literary Sources). The testimony of late authors is less weighty if they are merely deriving their information from that of the earlier authors we possess rather than from an independent tradition. While it is unlikely that Thucydides was reckless enough to base his belief in the universal “Panhellenic” nature of the war on Herodotus' notice that Miletus had once fought with Eretria against Chalcis and Samos, Plutarch's description of the poetic contests at the funeral of Amphidamas stands a good chance of representing an elaboration on the testimony of Hesiod, who never actually mentions the Lelantine War.

Nor is it likely that Thucydides invented out of thin air a tradition about widespread participation in a Lelantine War. He mentions this early war in order to justify his contention that the Peloponnesian War of 431–404 was the greatest upheaval to have ever affected the Greek world, notwithstanding the great military campaigns of the past. The Lelantine War stands in the same relationship to the Peloponnesian War as the Trojan War does to the Persian War: the former are wars among Greeks while the latter are wars between Greeks and their eastern neighbors, but in each set the more recent war is greater in scope than the former. Clearly, the rhetoric here could not have been effective unless Thucydides' readership was already familiar with a story in which Eretria and Chalcis had been joined by many allies in their war against each other. Yet the existence of a tradition that predates Thucydides does not guarantee its authenticity. It is surely not insignificant that none of our earlier literary sources implies a broader conflict. Furthermore, Thucydides compares the Lelantine War with the Trojan War and while some historians and archaeologists might be prepared to accept that a genuine Mycenaean raid on the Anatolian coast underlies the elaborated traditions about the Trojan War, few believe that the conflict was as epic or as global as myth and epic remembered. Why should the Lelantine War have been any different? In fact, the impressive roster of alliances hypothesized above is built on scattered notices about alliances and hostilities that were anything but contemporary: the Corinthian expulsion of Eretrians from Corcyra is supposed to have taken place in 733 but the alliance between Argos and Aegina dates to around 500, some seven generations later. Are we to believe that Greeks in the Archaic period were so consistent in their loyalties? And how seriously, in any case, should we take such notices? The Eretrian settlement on Corcyra is mentioned only by Plutarch and has, up to now, received absolutely no corroboration from archaeological investigations on the island.

Plutarch is also our only source for the intervention of Thessaly on the side of Chalcis. This testimony is not incompatible with Thucydides' picture of a broader conflict, but neither is it exactly an exhaustive endorsement of the grand alliances that he suggests. In fact, there is a good chance that Plutarch's information derives not from a tradition that was also known to Thucydides but from a story attached to a monument at Chalcis – namely, the column that supposedly marked the tomb of the Thessalian hero Kleomakhos in the agora. Whether or not the tomb really contained the remains of a warrior who fell in the Lelantine War is as unverifiable for us as it was for Plutarch. Monuments may create, as much as perpetuate, social memory.

Similarly, it is far from apparent that Herodotus, in his description of the alliance between Eretria and Miletus against Chalcis and Samos, has in mind the more global conflict recorded by Thucydides. The earlier alliance is mentioned in order to explain why the Eretrians joined the Athenians in providing support to the Ionians of East Greece on the occasion of the latter's revolt in 499: “they did not campaign with them out of any goodwill towards the Athenians but rather to pay back a debt owed to the Milesians, for the Milesians had earlier joined the Eretrians in waging the war against the Chalcidians, on exactly the same occasion as the Samians helped the Chalcidians against the Eretrians and Milesians” (5.99). The wording appears to leave little scope for the participation of additional combatants, but neither can we exclude the possibility that the earlier, undated alliance was invented to justify Eretrian intervention at the beginning of the fifth century. As for Aristotle, it is difficult to maintain that his reference to a cavalry war between Eretria and Chalcis is derived from Archilochus, whose mention of the use of swords clearly implies an infantry engagement. He could be following an independent source but it is more likely that he has made the inference on the basis of the names given to the elite classes at Eretria and Chalcis – the Hippeis (horsemen) and Hippobotai (horse-rearers) respectively. From there, the idea that the war had involved both cavalry and infantry could have passed to Plutarch, for whom Aristotle was often an important authority.

It might be thought that we are on firmer ground with those poets who are supposedly contemporary with the events they describe: Hesiod, Archilochus, and Theognis. Yet, here too we encounter difficulties. In most standard works of reference, Hesiod is dated to around 700, but how is this date derived? It relies in part on certain stylistic and thematic correspondences between the Hesiodic poems and the epics of Homer – though the dating of Homer and the relative chronological relationship between Homer and Hesiod are hotly contested by scholars (see pp. 23–4) – but it is also based on the assumption that Hesiod was a contemporary of the Lelantine War! Such circular reasoning cannot command much faith, especially since it is not Hesiod but Plutarch who associates Amphidamas with the Lelantine War. Archilochus is conventionally dated to the middle of the seventh century. One of his poems describes a total solar eclipse which is probably to be associated with that calculated as having occurred on April 6, 648, while one of his addressees, a certain Glaukos, son of Leptinos, is mentioned in a late seventh-century inscription found in the agora of Thasos, Archilochus' adopted home. Some literary scholars are, however, dubious that Archaic poetry can be read so autobiographically and consider such works to be the products of a cumulative synthesis of a city's poetic traditions which is continuously recreated over several generations and attached to the name of an original poet of almost heroic status. The fragmentary poems attributed to Archilochus were probably performed at the hero shrine established to the poet on his native island of Paros towards the end of the sixth century. Some elements of the oeuvre may well date back to the mid-seventh century but others could be a good deal later. This is even clearer in the case of the poetry ascribed to Theognis: the repetition of entire verses, the inclusion of couplets ascribed by other sources to poets such as Solon or Mimnermus, and the fact that some verses seem to refer to events of the seventh century while others allude to events that cannot predate the fifth century all give us reason to suspect that the Theognidea is more of a compendium of Archaic Greek poetry than the work of a single author.

There is a concrete quality to archaeological evidence that sometimes encourages us to believe that it can provide “scientific” confirmation or refutation of inferences made on the basis of literary texts. This is, unfortunately, a little optimistic. While it is essential that historians examine both the material and the literary records, the understandable urge to associate material items with textual correlates runs the risk of committing what Anthony Snodgrass has called the “positivist fallacy” – that is, of automatically equating what is archaeologically visible with what is historically significant. We need to remember that, just as only a tiny fraction of the texts that were known in antiquity has survived to the present day, so too the evidence that is studied by archaeologists represents only a minute proportion of the totality of human behavior in the past. The recovery of such material depends upon whether it was consciously or unconsciously disposed of at a particular moment in the past, whether it has been subject to degradation over several centuries or is instead imperishable, whether it has been located and retrieved by the archaeologist, and whether it has been correctly classified and identified, let alone interpreted. The burials that were subsequently honored by the West Gate at Eretria may be those of warriors who died defending their city in the Lelantine War, but they could just as easily be associated with the thousands of episodes of Eretrian history of which we know absolutely nothing.

A more particular consideration holds in the case of Lefkandi. The assumption that settlement at the site ceased ca. 700 is based on the original excavators' observation that a house, situated on the eastern slopes of the headland, was destroyed and abandoned towards the end of the Late Geometric pottery phase; further to the west, another structure seems to have been abandoned at the same time, though there are no indications there of a destruction. But since only a tiny proportion of the settlement at Lefkandi has been excavated and since sixth-century pottery has also been reported, even if its exact context is unclear, it is entirely possible that the so-called “destruction” of the site was merely a local conflagration and that other, unexcavated parts of the settlement continued to be occupied into the seventh century. Indeed, this is precisely what preliminary results of renewed investigation at the site of Lefkandi-Xeropolis, begun in 2003, now appear to suggest. Nor is it at all certain that Lefkandi should be identified with Strabo's Old Eretria. Elsewhere (10.1.10), the geographer seems to imply that Old Eretria was simply a quarter of Modern Eretria.

Finally, even if we were to take all this evidence at face value, there is a conspicuous lack of chronological synchronisms. The first warrior burial at the West Gate of Eretria dates to ca. 720, probably around two decades before the house at Lefkandi was destroyed. Archaeological dating is never, of course, precise and it is possible that the burial (and consequently the destruction) could be ten or fifteen years earlier – around the time, say, of the alleged expulsions of Eretrians from Corcyra and of Megarians from Chalcidian Leontini. The testimony of Hesiod could fit this early date – if we accept that Amphidamas was connected with the war and suppose that Hesiod attended his funeral games very early on in his career – but there are no compelling literary grounds for precluding a lower date in the early seventh century. The testimony of Archilochus, however, drags us down to the middle of the seventh century, while the reference to the descendants of Cypselus by the author of the Theognidea takes us into the second half of the seventh century, if not the beginning of the sixth. If this was a war waged continuously over a century and a half, it is remarkable that its lengthy duration was not commented upon by ancient authors. Perhaps ancient authors confused a series of separate encounters between Eretria and Chalcis, aided occasionally by an outside ally. Or perhaps a relatively unspectacular confrontation of unknown date between the two cities was invested with more heroic dimensions and a more global outreach for the purposes of glorifying the victor. In short, we do not know when – or even whether – the Lelantine War occurred.

That sort of agnostic confession can often strike either the student who is new to history or the interested general reader as deeply unsatisfying, if not frustrating. Many come to the study of history in order to “know” the past and to deal in facts and certainties, not hypotheses and revisionist critiques. The reaction is entirely understandable but it rests, I would suggest, on a rather narrow understanding of what history is.