In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek History: Archaic to Classical Age

  • Introduction
  • Archaeological Evidence
  • Epigraphic Evidence (Inscriptions)
  • Numismatic Evidence (Coins)
  • Early Literary Evidence
  • Ancient Historians
  • Historiography
  • Lost Historians
  • Extant Historians
  • Beginnings of the Modern Historiography of Ancient Greece
  • Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Histories
  • Rise of Sparta
  • Persian Wars
  • Studies of Specific Poleis and Regions
  • Peloponnesian War (431–404)
  • Greece After the Peloponnesian War

Classics Greek History: Archaic to Classical Age
Jennifer Roberts
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0021


The accomplishments of the ancient Greeks were remarkable. Without rich natural resources and hobbled by their endemic inability to stop fighting with one another, the Greek city-states nonetheless spread their civilization from Spain in the west to Pakistan in the east. It was in Greece that democracy first took root, and it was the Greeks who gave to the West many canonical forms of sculpture and architecture. Though the Greeks were eventually conquered politically by the Romans, their culture, as the Roman poet Horace pointed out, came out victorious: “Captive Greece took Rome, her captor, captive.” Greek culture continued to flourish for centuries after the Roman conquest and influenced the civilizations of Byzantium and the Muslim world. Today the Greek presence can be read in much of the vocabulary of Western languages and seen in the public buildings of Europe and the Americas. Periodization has traditionally divided the history of ancient Greece into the Bronze Age (c. 3000–1100 BCE), the Iron Age (c. 1100–750 BCE), the Archaic Age (c. 750–479 BCE), the Classical Age (479–323 BCE), and the Hellenistic Age (323–30 BCE). Where archaeology is concerned, material remains, including inscriptions, continue to be discovered and to provide new fruit for analysis. In terms of literary texts, however, very little new evidence has come to light in recent centuries. New interpretations, therefore, are frequently the product of bringing new skills to bear on old evidence. Often these tools of analysis are adapted from fields such as anthropology, sociology, political science, and gender studies. On the whole, changing views of the Archaic Age are grounded in applying these tools to material remains, as very little that was written in this time period survives. A tremendous amount of writing, however, has survived from the Classical Age, and in total the database of Greek literary texts written down from the late 8th century BCE through the 2nd century CE contains 20 million words.

Archaeological Evidence

Archaeology is a priceless tool for understanding Greek history in all its periods, but most dramatically in the earlier centuries for which little writing survives. Hurwit 1987 introduces the reader to the material remains of the Archaic era by placing them in their intellectual context. Snodgrass 1987 is more specialized and calls on archaeologists to expand the scope of their inquiries. Holloway 1991 covers a wide chronological period. For a history of the field, see Morris 1994. Whitley 2001 offers an excellent introduction to the methodology and history of Greek archaeology.

  • Holloway, R. Ross. 1991. The archaeology of ancient Sicily. London and New York: Routledge.

    Traces Sicily's rich heritage from the Palaeolithic to the late Roman period, working with a wide variety of kinds of material evidence. Includes treatment of coinage.

  • Hurwit, Jeffrey. 1987. The art and culture of early Greece, 1100–480 B.C. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    An art historical work informed by literary scholarship, this volume seeks to place Archaic material evidence in its historical and intellectual contexts, discussing, for example, the origins of Greek narrative, epic, and artistic representation.

  • Morris, Ian, ed. 1994. Classical Greece: Ancient histories and modern archaeologies. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    In a volume that begins with a relatively rare history of the discipline, each of seven contributors offers a separate modern theoretical approach to ancient artifacts.

  • Snodgrass, Anthony M. 1987. The archaeology of ancient Greece: The present state and future scope of a discipline. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

    This smaller volume is at once an analysis of archaeology's place within the field of classical studies and an appeal for archaeologists to widen their scope to include more recent theory as well as rural Greece within their studies.

  • Whitley, James. 2001. The archaeology of ancient Greece. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An introduction to the objects, methods, and history of Greek archaeology. Preliminary chapters outline various “schools” of modern classical archaeology, including summaries of some of the most influential scholarship since the late 20th century. Numerous maps and illustrations.

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