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Old May 6th, 2011, 05:37 PM   #1

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The cities of Ancient Greece


Hellas was a world of cities. So this topic is for forumers to talk about the cities of Ancient Greece.

Ancient Greek civilization was a civilization of a distinctively urban character, as the majority of the ancient Greek lived in cities and towns (according to Hansen 2006, the total walled area of all Greek cities totalled 500 square kilometers, that was nearly 40 times the walled area of late Imperial Rome*, enough to house about 60-70% of the population of ancient Greece). The average Greek city was small though, as there were 1,000-1,100 Greek cities spread over the Mediterranean in the late 4th century BCE, at the time of Alexander the Great. There were other city state cultures in world history, like the Italian city states of the Renaissance and the Phoenician city states, but none of reached the same scale as the Greeks, at over 1,000 independent cities.

As result of their distinctive urban character, the Greeks didn't called their states Cities, instead of Countries, a word derived from Countryside. The word country was adopted because historically the majority of the population of states lived in the countryside. Since the majority of Greek always lived in cities and each city was an independent political community, citizens called their "country" city.

Priene was a typical Greek poleis, at 6,000 inhabitants, 4,000 lived in the city center and 2,000 lived in the countryside, according to modern archaeological surveys, it was of typical size. Hansen (2006) estimated that the 1,000-1,100 Greek cities housed 8-10 million inhabitants, the average would be 7,000-10,000, but huge cities like Athens, Syracuse and Sparta pulled the average from the median. While small compared to country-states, these 3 city states had populations in the order of hundreds of thousands living inside their borders, dozens of times bigger than other city states.

Priene:
Click the image to open in full size.
Priene city block:
Click the image to open in full size.

The largest and oldest Greek cities weren't planned, as result their houses were closely packed and not so comfortable. As Greece became richer with time, and houses grew bigger, cities also adapted and cities started to be build according to planned rules. We can even notice that cities had an older unplanned part with smaller houses and higher density and a newer planned part with houses arranged in blocks of standard size. The two best excavated cities of Ancient Greece were Priene and Olynthus. In Priene city blocks contained 8 houses, each house had 207 square meters at base. In Olynthus city blocks contained 10 houses and each house had 296 square meters at base. The houses in Priene were smaller partly because the rough hilly terrain.

Athens was a an unplanned city, as result Athenian houses were smaller, averaging 150 square meters, and were uglier. Athenian houses:
Click the image to open in full size.
Athens:
Click the image to open in full size.

Explaining urbanization:

So, about 60-70% of the Greeks lived in towns and cities, 30% if we count only the bigger towns (over 5,000, therefore Priene doesn't count as urban), while in Medieval Europe 5% of the population resided in towns, rising to 9% in the 16th century while in Tang Dynasty China it is estimated that 4,7% of the population resided in towns. Even in England, only in the early 19th century that over 30% of the population became urban and only in 1860 that 60% of the population was urban. Usually agricultural societies had rates of urbanization below 10%, usually hovering around 3-6%, like Tang China and Medieval Europe.

How the Greeks managed to reach such high levels of urbanization in relation to other agricultural societies? For 3 main reasons:

1 - Large scale food imports. The Greeks, particularly Athens, imported huge quantities of food from other mediterranean regions. It was generally estimated that one third of all food consumed in Classical Greece proper was imported. While Athens imported about 66% to 75% of their food. Large scale food imports allowed people to work on other activities, usually manufacturing. Athens paid for their food imports with manufactured products, as it was estimated by Takeshi Amemiya that over 50% of Athens GDP came from industrial activity. Trade was a vital component of the economy of the Greek cities, as evidenced by the size of Athens' port (walled area was bigger than the city itself, also note that the port was build later than the city so it was a planned city):

Click the image to open in full size.
The ancient greek economy was perhaps transcending the constrains usually imposed by the pre industrial ceiling, though the intensive use of sea trade.

2 - Urban farmers: Many farmers lived inside city walls. They had their house inside the city and walked a few miles every day to work on their fields. Many excavated houses show that it was common for people to work on the field and to have a workshop at home, making money when out of season for farming.

3 - High levels of productivity in agriculture: Ancient Greek agriculture reached very high levels of productivity. The heavy use of manure, the spacial division of crops, where grain, olives and grapes were cultivated in the relatively best soil and traded using the mediterranean sea as a transportation system, and the extensive use of metal tools enabled agricultural productivity to reach levels only again equaled in the 19th century in dry farming.

These 3 factors enabled the population to migrate to the cities instead of living on farmsteads or agricultural villages, which enabled many people to become poets, philosophers, sculptors and cool artsy stuff like that.

*However, the total population of all Greek cities didn't reach anywhere near 40 times the population of late Imperial Rome, as the population density of the Greek cities was much lower, as the Greeks lived in spacious houses while imperial Romans lived in crowded apartment buildings 4-5 stories high. The population of all Greek cities probably totaled around 5 million people, less if you exclude the small towns of less than 5,000 inhabitants.

References:

books

Amazon.com: Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State (9780199208500): Mogens Herman Hansen: Books
Amazon.com: Polis: An Introduction to the Ancient Greek City-State (9780199208500): Mogens Herman Hansen: Books


Amazon.com: The Shotgun Method: The Demography of the Ancient Greek City-State Culture (MISSOURI BIOGRAPHY SERIES) (9780826216670): Mogens Herman Hansen: Books
Amazon.com: The Shotgun Method: The Demography of the Ancient Greek City-State Culture (MISSOURI BIOGRAPHY SERIES) (9780826216670): Mogens Herman Hansen: Books


Amazon.com: The Ancient Economy: Evidence and Models (Social Science History) (9780804757553): J.G. Manning, Ian Morris: Books
Amazon.com: The Ancient Economy: Evidence and Models (Social Science History) (9780804757553): J.G. Manning, Ian Morris: Books


Amazon.com: Economy and Economics of Ancient Greece (Routledge Explorations in Economic History) (9780415701549): Takeshi Amemiya: Books
Amazon.com: Economy and Economics of Ancient Greece (Routledge Explorations in Economic History) (9780415701549): Takeshi Amemiya: Books


papers/monographs

http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/ober/051001.pdf

ianmorris.org/docs/social-development.pdf (read pages 43-46 on Greece)

Last edited by Guaporense; May 6th, 2011 at 05:54 PM.
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Old May 6th, 2011, 06:28 PM   #2

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The city of Olynthus


Olynthus is the most excavated Ancient Greek site. Thousands of square meters were excavated reveling hundreds of houses. The city was destroyed by Macedon in 348 BCE, as result it reveals an accurate picture of classical Greece like Pompeii does for Roman Italy.

Olynthus was a small Greek city state that was also the head of the Chalkidian league, a small league of about 30 cities. Later Macedon destroyed this league under Philip II.

The excavated site:
Click the image to open in full size.

Closer view of an excavated block:

Click the image to open in full size.

Reconstruction of city block:

Click the image to open in full size.

Reconstruction of Olynthus:
Click the image to open in full size.

One can see the older unplanned part of the city packed together in small houses and tiny streets and the newer planned part of the city, with their standard city blocks of spacious 300 square meter houses. Greek classical cities had house sizes of about the same size, as the rich didn't spent much on luxurious housing, as it was considered immoral in the egalitarian and democratic culture of classical Greece to live like a barbarian king . Anyway the average house with two floors probably had about 400 square meters of roofed space plus a courtyard, more space than that is only for show anyway.

Olynthus Mosaic (well, it was claimed by a news site to be from 4th century Olynthus, but it looks like to be Hellenistic/Roman):
Click the image to open in full size.

Economic activities at excavated houses of Olynthus: http://www.stoa.org/hopper-images/20...02.01.0066.jpg

Source:

Amazon.com: Household and City Organization at Olynthus (9780300084955): Prof. Nicholas Cahill, Nicholas Cahill: Books
Amazon.com: Household and City Organization at Olynthus (9780300084955): Prof. Nicholas Cahill, Nicholas Cahill: Books

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Old May 7th, 2011, 03:13 AM   #3

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Thanks for all this info! I was not aware of the fact that so many people in ancient greece lived in cities.
In fact, I thought that most greeks were involved in agriculture, and to have to "walk a few miles every day"... seems to me a very good deterrent to go to the city.

Still, ¿how come so many greeks lived in cities? The data above points out a few factors that allowed it but not the reasons that moved them to do so. ¿Was it just the tough life of the farmer? ¿The entertainments of the city? ¿The wish to participate in the assembly?
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Old May 7th, 2011, 03:26 AM   #4

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Very interesting posts Guaporense. What I always thought was that ancient Greece was such an ubranized society because of the lack of good agricultural land in Greece which doesn't have, for example, many large fertile plains. I always undestood that this is one of the factors behind the Greeks pre-occupation with the sea. It was an outlet from the relative poverty of their land. This gography could also perhaps explain the political organization in city-states. The lack of many rural communities led to the concentration of power in the cities and a lack of interest in expanding their borders to include rural areas. What do you think of that explanation? I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Incidentally Wellcome wlundgren. Bienvenida and Happy Postings!
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Old May 7th, 2011, 04:11 AM   #5

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This thread is fantastic. Absolutely wonderful.
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Old May 7th, 2011, 04:28 AM   #6

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Very nice thread!

This is a very useful book, An inventory of archaic and classical poleis , Mogens Herman Hansen,Thomas Heine Nielsen .


And generally the bibliography by
Click to View Search Results for Hansen Hansen
and by Gocha R. Tsetskhladze( http://books.google.com/books?id=Mwpyc-QmhnwC&printsec=frontcover&hl=el&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false )
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Old May 7th, 2011, 11:37 AM   #7

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Great thread , Guaporense. Very detailed and interesting.

May I also recommend: The ancient city. Life in classical Athens and Rome, by Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge, Oxford University Press 1998. This book is full of great illustrations and gives a vivid and realistic picture of the daily lives of the citizens in poleis like the ones you have shown us.
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Old May 7th, 2011, 06:07 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Davidius View Post
Great thread , Guaporense. Very detailed and interesting.

May I also recommend: The ancient city. Life in classical Athens and Rome, by Peter Connolly and Hazel Dodge, Oxford University Press 1998. This book is full of great illustrations and gives a vivid and realistic picture of the daily lives of the citizens in poleis like the ones you have shown us.
Yes, I have that book, some illustrations there are the same as here, such as the pictures of Athens and her port.

Amazon.com: The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome (9780195215823): Peter Connolly, Hazel Dodge: Books
Amazon.com: The Ancient City: Life in Classical Athens and Rome (9780195215823): Peter Connolly, Hazel Dodge: Books


Last edited by Guaporense; May 7th, 2011 at 06:13 PM.
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Old May 7th, 2011, 06:27 PM   #9

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Walled areas of Greek cities:

Almost every city in Hellas had walled areas. We know only of 4 cases of poleis attested to be without walls, while we know the walls of 230 poleis. Of the four cases 3 are of island poleis, whose defenses were the Aegean sea itself. The fourth case is Sparta, but Sparta didn't need walls, the other cities that needed walls to protect themselves from Sparta.

Click the image to open in full size.

It was based on the total walled areas of know poleis and the database of poleis that Hansen estimated the population of Ancient Greece. For the record, the walled area of the know walled perimeters of the 230 cities is 160 square kilometers, more than 12 times the walled area of Late Imperial Rome.
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Old May 8th, 2011, 12:12 AM   #10

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Thanks Anothroskon! Although, despite my avatar, I am a guy!

Btw, I like your explanation. In fact, I remember reading that greeks had to use every piece of land available to them, even if the soil was poor.
Theres an anecdote told by Aristotle that I heard to prof Donal Kagan. It went more or less like this: One day, Pisistratus (an athenian tyrant who imposed taxes of course ;-) was walking around the countryside, and he saw a farmer struggling in his land. And he asked him very politely and nicely: "Hey! Hello! What do you grow here?" since they were in a mointainous area. The farmer answered: "Rocks! Here I only grow rocks!! And that tyrant Pisistratus, he can take his share!"

About Sparta, spartan themselves said that their walls were their shields and their spears. Very macho men indeed, although they forgot to say that their city had a very favourable landscape for defense.
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