The term Ancient, or Archaic, Greece refers to the time three centuries before the classical age, between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C.—a relatively sophisticated period in world history. Archaic Greece saw advances in art, poetry and technology, but most of all it was the age in which the polis, or city-state, was invented. The polis became the defining feature of Greek political life for hundreds of years.
The Birth of the City-State
During the so-called “Greek Dark Ages” before the Archaic period, people lived scattered throughout Greece in small farming villages. As they grew larger, these villages began to evolve. Some built walls. Most built a marketplace (an agora) and a community meeting place. They developed governments and organized their citizens according to some sort of constitution or set of laws. They raised armies and collected taxes. And every one of these city-states (known as poleis) was said to be protected by a particular god or goddess, to whom the citizens of the polis owed a great deal of reverence, respect and sacrifice. (Athens’s deity was Athena, for example; so was Sparta’s.)