The Greeks Start Colonies

Food is the problem.

Too many people. Too little food. How do you solve this problem?

  • Grow more food. The Greeks cannot do that. They do not have the needed land.
  • Reduce the population. The Greeks can do that. They can have constant war and kill off enough people to solve the problem. Not a good solution. Could there be a better way to solve the problem? The Greeks think yes.

They decide to send large numbers of Greeks from Greece to other lands in the Mediterranean World. Some of these Dorians go to the Aegean Islands. There they either kill off the remaining Mycenaean residents or turn them into slaves. Many go into the Black Sea Region. Others move toward Anatolia and North Africa. The last group of Dorians moves west into southern Italy.

Remember these reasons for the Greeks creating colonies.
The pattern of trade starting with the Greek Renaissance

The colonies are technically independent of their home polis. In truth, they have close ties. The colonies send goods back to their home cities. The trade the colonies create makes Greek poleis richer. The reduced population makes it possible for independent farmers of Greek poleis to continue owning their land and farming.

Trade creates a new class of people in the cities. They are craftsmen making special products mostly for export. They are also merchants who work buying and selling products in other kingdoms. These people along with the land owning farmers make up the middle class.

The middle class is well off because of trade and a new invention: metal coins that are used as money. Money helps make trade easier. Money helps people buy what they want by making it easier to sell what they make. Money makes it possible for the middle class to purchase armor and weapons. Now the independent middle class is armed and they too serve in the army.

Greek army using the phalanx

The middle class changes the structure of the Greek army. They join the army in large numbers. They create a huge military body. With their long spears, shields, and armor the middle class hopilites are formed into a phalanx. Side to side and shield to shield on foot, they move together their long spears sticking out over their shields. They move like a giant porcupine with its quills up and out.

The phalanx means the Greeks can defeat other armies. They can seize land from other people's. They can create new colonies. And their armies in the colonies can defend these new colonies.

The phalanx is the killer military invention of its time. Made possible by the middle class foot soldier, it puts a nail in the coffin of the rich aristocratic warriors. That leads to the decline of the aristocratic class. Losing their power, means the aristocrats begin to lose political control over the poleis. The middle class is taking more and more control of the poleis.

The old polis was an aristocracy. The new poleis are becoming more and more democratic. More and more people are having a say in how the government operates. More and more people are getting the right to hold public offices. This did not happen in a day. It did not happen in a month. It took years. It was a slow but steady process.

So now we are at the beginning of the process again. The new colonies help bring more products and more money into the Greek poleis. That increases the power of the money making middle class in the poleis. It finances yet more colonies that keep the population down and bring in even more wealth

Colonization works out very well for the Greeks. It is an enriching cycle that drives the economy of Ancient Greece. It's the source of Greece's rise to power in the Mediterranean World.

Review and revise your understanding with this additional video

Created By
Robert Brady

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