In the Archaic period the meaning of the word ethnos had already taken on a more general character, in such a way as to include all Hellenes. This concept developed mainly in juxtaposition with the barbarians, whom the Hellenes were now meeting more and more frequently in the lengthy and eventful operation of colonization. Amongst themselves, however, the Hellenes did not cease dividing themelves into races (phyle) according to origin - Ionians, Dorians, and Aeolians. At the same time the term ethne was also applied to groups that sometimes coincided with segments of these three and sometimes did not. The Thessalian and Boeotian ethne, for example, belonged to the Aeolians, and the Macedonians to the Dorians. The groups, who were aware of their common descent, organized themselves into Leagues, amphictionies, and loose or more formal confederations (sympoliteiae), within which the autonomy of the cities was reserved: Aetolians, Achaeans, Arcadians, Boeotians.

The beginnings of the Athenian polis are traditionally connected with the synoecism. It was Theseus who was credited by myth with taking the initiative of uniting the various villages of Attica under the political rule of Athens. According to Plutarch, Theseus abolished the specific councils of each village and founded a central bouleuterion and a prytaneum (Theseus 25). It was with this union that the festival known as Synoikia was connected: celebrated on the 16th of the month Hekatombaion (in mid-June approximately), it was probably instituted during the 8th century B.C. Both the date of synoecism and its identification with the appearance of the Athenian city-state are, for historians of the present day, controversial.

The unification of Attica was not a momentary phenomenon. Eleusis, for instance, had for some time been an independent kingdom. Its annexation to Athens is linked, as Thucydides informs us, to the legendary war of Erechtheus. Athenian rule over Salamis, which Megara disputed, had just recently been consolidated in the time of Solon. But even when the unification was complete in the geographical sense, it was not applied homogeneously in all sectors. The tetrapolis of Marathon, consisting of Marathon, Oenoe, Tricorythus and Probalinthus, retained some elements of autonomy into the Classical perod, dispatching separate state embassies (theoriae) to Delphi and to Delos.

At an early stage in her history, Athens belonged to the Amphictiony of Calaurea (on Poros). This was a - probably loose - political union, with the temple of Poseidon at Calaurea as its centre. The other members besides Athens and Poros were Hermione, Epidaurus, Prasias, Aegina, Nauplia, and Orchomenus in Boeotia.

| introduction | structures | law | values | Archaic Period

Note: Click on a picture for a brief description.