Collections: Ancient Greek and Phoenician Colonization

Davis senatum consuluit a.d. III Idus Octobris apud aedem Patreontis; de colonis Graecis et Punicis verba fecit1

This week we’re taking a brief look, by ACOUP Senate request, at Greek and Phoenician colonization in the ancient Mediterranean. In particular, the focus requested was on the relationship of these colonies with both the locals and their home cities, as well as the reasons why they were sent and how such expeditions were organized. The is both a very big topic – the Greeks and Phoenicians established a lot of colonies, primarily during the Archaic period (c. 800-480 B.C.) – and each colony is naturally its own creature. It is also a topic with frustrating lacunae, occurring just early enough that we mostly do not have first-hand accounts of the foundation of these colonies, which are often already shrouded in myth and legend by the time we hear about them. And we have even less information about Phoenician colonies and colonization than that, leading to significant debates as to what kind of settlements they were and what they were for.

So this will be a fairly surface level primer of a large, complicated and in some respects significantly uncertain topic! This is a topic that sits largely outside of my period and so I can’t claim to set out a full bibliography for it, but a few points for further reading: A.J. Graham’s chapter in the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 3.3 (second edition) on “The colonial expansion of Greece,” originally published in 1982, remains a pretty useful one-stop-shop overview of what we know of Greek colonization, though individual sites vary substantially. For more detail, J. Boardman, The Greeks Overseas (1964, 4th ed. 1999) has been the older standard reference, now largely supplanted by G.R. Tsetskhladze, Greek colonisation: an account of Greek colonies and other settlements overseas, 2 vols (2006 and 2008). I also leaned on quite a few of the chapters in The Phoenicians in Spain: An Archaeological Review of the Eighth-Sixth Centuries B.C.E. (2002), ed. and trans. M.R. Bierling and S. Gitin. On Carthage in particular, D. Hoyos, The Carthaginians (2010) is an excellent starting point. Likewise M.E. Aubet, The Phoenicians and the West, trans. M. Turton (2001). I do not doubt I am already out of date here to some degree when it comes to the Phoenicians and Phoenician colonization, which has been a swift-moving field for some time, but hopefully this overview has not erred overmuch.

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Via Wikipedia, a decent-if-not-perfect map of Greek and Phoenician colonization. It is worth noting when looking at this map that the Etruscan were organized into states, but not united, while the Thracians, Dacians and Illyrians were non-state peoples at this time.

Who is Sending Out Colonies in the Ancient Mediterranean?

We should start with a basic understanding of who we are talking about here, where they are coming from and the areas they are settling in. First we have our Greeks, who I am sure that most of our readers are generally familiar with. They don’t call themselves Greeks – it is the Romans who do (Latin: graeci); by the classical period they call themselves Hellenes (Έλληνες), a term that appears in the Iliad but once (Homer prefers Ἀχαιοί and Δαναοί, ‘Achaeans’ and ‘Danaans’). That’s relevant because a lot of the apparent awareness of the Greeks (or more correctly, the Hellenes) as a distinct group, united by language and culture against other groups, belongs to late Archaic and early Classical and the phenomenon we’re going to look at begins during the Greek Dark Age (1100-800) and crests in the Archaic (800-480).

Greek settlement in the late Bronze Age (c. 1500-1100) was focused on the Greek mainland, though we have Greek (‘Mycenean’) settlements on the Aegean islands (and Crete) and footholds on the west coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Over the Dark Age – a period where our evidence is very poor indeed, so we cannot see very clearly – the area of Greek-speaking settlement in the Aegean expands and Greek settlements along that West coast of Asia Minor expand dramatically. Our ancient sources preserve legends about how these Greeks (particularly the Ionians, inhabiting the central part of that coastal strip) got there, having been supposedly expelled from Achaia on the northern side of the Peloponnese, but it’s unclear how seriously we should take those legends. But the key point here is that the outward motion of Greeks from mainland Greece proper begins quite early (c. 1100) and is initially local and probably not as organized as the subsequent second phase beginning in the 8th century, which is going to be our focus here.

Our other group are the Phoenicians. They did not call themselves that either; it derives from the Greeks who called them Phoinices (φοίνικες), which like the Roman Poeni may have had its roots in Egyptian fnḫw or perhaps Israelite Ponim.2 In any case, the word is old, as it appears in Linear B tablets dating to the Mycenean period (that 1500-1100 period). The Phoenicians themselves, if asked to call themselves something, would more likely have said Canaans, Kn’nm, though much like the Greeks tended to be Athenians, Spartans, Thebans and so on first, the Phoenicians tended to be Sidonians, Tyrians and so on first. They spoke a Semitic language which we call Phoenician (closely related to Biblical Hebrew) and they invented the alphabet to represent it; this alphabet was copied by the Greeks to represent their language, who were in turn copied by the Romans to represent their language, whose alphabet in turn was adopted by subsequent Europeans to represent their languages – which is the alphabet which I am writing with to you now.

Via Wikipedia, a map of the core Phoenician territory in the Levant, though it is necessary to note that not all of these cities were prominent at the same time (Ugarit is destroyed in 1185 BC, for instance, and not reinhabited).

Since at least the late bronze age, they lived in a series of city states on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean in Phoenicia in the Levant in what today would mostly be Lebanon. During the late bronze age, this was the great field of contested influence between the Hittite, (Middle) Assyrian and (New Kingdom) Egyptian Empires. The Late Bronze Age Collapse removed those external influences, leading to a quick recovery from the collapse and then efflorescence in the region. They had many cities, but the most important by this point are Sidon and Tyre; by the 9th century, Tyre emerged as chief over Sidon and may at times have controlled it directly, but this was short lived as the whole region came under the control of the (Neo)Assyrian Empire in 858. The Assyrians demanded heavy tribute (which may contribute to colonization, discussed below) but only vassalized rather than annexed Tyre, Byblos and Sidon, the three largest Phoenician cities.

Both the Greeks and the Phoenicians have one thing in common at the start, which is that these are societies oriented towards the sea. Their initial area of settlement is coastal and both groups were significant sea-faring societies even during the late Bronze Age and remained so by the Archaic period. Both regions, while not resource poor (Phoenicia was famous for its timber, Lebanese cedar), are not resource rich either, particularly in agricultural resources. Compared to the fertility of Mesopotamia, Egypt or even Italy, these were drier, more marginal places, which may go some distance to explaining why both societies ended up oriented towards the sea: it was there and they could use the opportunities.

Why Send Out Colonies?

That brings us to the factors which might lead communities, be they Greek of Phoenician, into sending out colonial expeditions. Here, as with most of the discussion, our evidence is primarily Greek because we have relatively little – not none, but little – in the way of written evidence from the Phoenicians in this period. Consequently, a lot of the study of Phoenician colonies involves taking the mental models suggested by written Greek sources (sometimes describing Greek colonies, sometimes Phoenician ones) and looking at the archaeological evidence for Phoenician settlement to try to see which of these models it fits and how well. That is an admittedly imperfect approach, but all the evidence really permits.

In practice, we can divide ancient colonial settlements into two rough groups by cause and purpose, though it is worth noting that the separation is imperfect and a colonial settlement of one kind might well end up morphing into the other over time. In practice we have trade posts and larger agricultural settlements motivated by land scarcity. We sometimes distinguish the two types by calling the former an emporion (Greek: ἐμπόριον, lit: ‘market’) and the latter an apoikia (Greek: ἀποικία). Both Greeks and Phoenicians found both kinds of settlements, though the Greeks seem to found more apoikia and the Phoenicians more trading settlements, respectively.

Trading post colonies, or emporia, were obviously valuable to facilitate trade and in many cases must have been founded with the permission of the local rulers or population. The most famous Greek example of this sort is the sole Greek colony in Egypt, Naucratis, but there were others, some of which, like modern Empúries, Spain literally named Emporion in their own day. In some cases, these settlements seem to have been, as one might expect, the collection point for trade, much like later European ‘factories,’ though these trading posts as with later European ‘factories’ might often be simply the first fingers of a broader imperial venture. In addition, other posts might be founded to provide way-stations and ports for trade; this seems to have been a particular Phoenician strategy we see described by Thucydides in Sicily and evidenced in the archaeology in Spain where the Phoenicians would plant small settlements on promontories or small islands just off the coast.

Thucydides’ description (6.2.6) of the pattern of Phoenician settlement on Sicily is of particular interest, “There were also Phoenicians all around Sicily, occupying promontories upon the sea and little adjacent islands for trade with the [native] Sicels. However, when many Greeks arrived by sea, they [the Phoenicians] abandoned most of these and settled in Motye, Soleis and Panormus, near the Elymi, trusting in the alliance with the Elymi and because they make the smallest sea-voyage between Carthage and Sicily.” Here we see what begins as a series of trading posts eventually converts to large-scale settlement, which Thucydides attributes to security pressure provided by Greek settlement in the eastern part of the island, though in any case much of the western part of the island ends up under Phoenician (read: Carthaginian) control, leaving the Sicels mostly penned up in the uplands of the interior.

We see a similar network of Phoenician trading posts in southern Spain.3 The most obvious thing to trade for in Spain was metals, particularly silver, and we know that the Phoenicians were doing this in some quantity, probably employing local laborers in the mining of silver and other metals and then exporting them. That said, these footholds too become tools of conquest in the late third century when Carthage, having lost Sicily, seeks (under the Barcids) to establish a territorial empire in Spain. But more on Carthage’s unique position in a moment.

At the same time, some Phoenician settlement was clearly of the land-control and mass resettlement variety and here the most obvious case is what the Romans call ‘Africa’ which today is Tunisia, Libya and parts of Algeria, particularly along the coast. Carthage ends up as the largest of these settlements, but hardly the only one. Dexter Hoyos4 lists Hadrumentum, Hippacra, Lepcis Magna, Lixus and Utica in North Africa, Gades, Malaca, Sexi and Abdera in Spain, plus further larger settlements on Sardinia and the already mentioned colonies on Sicily, plus “probably Panormus and Solous.” Staggeringly, Tyre seems to have been the origin point or ‘parent city’ for basically all of these foundations (though note below).

The reasons to send out such settlements varied a bit. Land scarcity was a major factor – the population of Greece was expanding from lows in the Greek Dark Age as we reach the Archaic and its clear this put a lot of pressure on some emerging poleis; one way to relieve that pressure was to ‘export’ the landless poor. At the same time, political pressures could lead to colonization too: the weaker or losing party in polis stasis might opt, instead of sticking around to get crushed, to bail out to a new colonial foundation overseas (or be exiled to one). At the same time, it seems notable that while Greece is urbanizing in this period, Greek farmland isn’t particularly good – the rivers aren’t large enough to do large scale Near Eastern style irrigation agriculture and the rainfall is fairly low, even compared to much of the rest of the Mediterranean. So in many cases, the new colonies will have boasted much better opportunities than their home cities, especially the most marginal lands in the latter. This is certainly the case with new poleis on the Black Sea or on Sicily (like Syracuse) sitting on some of the best farmland available at the time. Whatever the cause, most Greek apoikia were founded as an official act of the parent city (though ‘private’ expeditions were not unknown).

We’re less well informed about the impetus for Phoenician settlement, though we might imagine similar driving forces: recovery from the Late Bronze Age Collapse producing a population boom, the expanding empires of the iron age (especially Assyria) leaving the Phoenicians penned in and looking for less well defended resources (and eventually needing to find sources of wealth for tribute).

In either case, it’s clear that these sorts of colonial foundations were intentional and organized enterprises. Once again, we have more evidence in the Greek case, where it is clear that sites were selected in advance (with oracles traditionally sought to approve the site). Volunteers were solicited from the parent city and in some cases other poleis in Greece on the promise that participants in the first wave would receive citizen status and land in the new colony; subsequent waves of ‘reinforcements’ might be drawn in with promises of citizenship and smaller but still significant plots of land. In an environment where social mobility was extremely low and opportunities to accumulate that kind of wealth few, the deal would have been an attractive one for many.

Forming a Greek Colony

Its worth briefly describing the whole notional process for founding an ancient Greek colony; I wish I could do the same with the Phoenician colonies, but what sources we have are mostly relating legends that give us little to go on in terms of practical details. By contrast, the Greeks are still sending out colonies as they are writing their histories, so we get some fairly reliable narratives of the process.

Most Greek colonies began as public acts by an existing polis, either one in mainland Greece or an earlier colony overseas. That initial city might vote on a decree laying out the terms of the new colony, like the choice of oikistes (we’ll talk about him in a second), the recruitment of colonists and the status of colonists in both the old city and the new. The decree might then by solemnized with oath-taking.

The next crucial step was the selection of the leader of the expedition, called the oikistes (‘founder,’ but note that oik– root from oikos). Oikistes seem often to have been high-status and notable people in the parent-city. Their first job was to obtain divine approval, usually through beseeching oracles; the Oracle at Delphi was the common choice. This was effectively a mandatory step, at least by the classical period. The oracle might be consulted both in terms of if a venture should be launched, but also if a specific site was suitable.

The next step was to recruit settlers and here there seems rarely to have been much problem in finding volunteers, though in some cases conscription was required. That said, initial colonial expeditions seem in the sources to have been fairly small, a few hundred or perhaps a thousand individuals. Once colonies were established, they expanded rapidly, however and that makes a lot of sense – the initial foundation was the hard part, but once that was done, you could imagine many Greeks responding to calls for further settlers with the promise of land to a colony that was already up and running successfully. Debate as to where the women for these colonies would come from remains substantial; we have some references to colonies where intermarriage with the locals – either peaceful or violent – occurred, but also quite a bit of reason to think this did not happen in all cases. My understanding is that the archaeological evidence varies, site-to-site, in terms of how much integration between local population appears to have occurred.

Via Wikipedia, a Phoenician coin, minted by Sidon in 351/0 showing what may be a penteconter, an early oared multi-purpose warship with fifty oars, which would have been the standard warship used for much of Greek and Phoenician colonization.

The site was chosen by the oikistes, who also named it. Greek colonies tend to pick defensible, coastal locations as do Phoenician colonists: access to the sea, a good defensive position against potentially hostile locals and access to drinking water all seem to have been key factors to site selection. The construction of defensive walls seems to have been a very early project at most colonies and space would also need to be set aside in initial site-planning for religious sanctuaries. Early houses would go up next and where we can see these archaeologically they tend to be pretty simple, square or rectangular single-roomed, single-floored structures. The other thing happening at this stage will have been land division, probably managed by the oikistes, who divided the arable land into allotments (kleroi) for each settler.

Via Wikipedia, the Temple of Hera at Paestum, a Greek colony in Campania; this temple was built c. 450 BC.

The oikistes generally seems to have remained the leader of the community until his death, at which point he became a hero – by which we mean a mortal who receives religious devotion – and was worshiped with rituals and sacrifices as a founding semi-diety who might still look out for his colony.

Relations with the Parent City and the Locals

The notional relationship between the colony and the parent city seems to have differed in concept between the Phoenicians (as much as we can tell) and the Greeks. Of course, in both cases some of the basic factors matter: these colonies are often quite far away from the parent city, making direct control difficult. Unlike later Roman coloniae, they’re not being founded in a geographic context the parent city already controls. They can also become roughly as large (and in the cases of cities like Syracuse and Carthage, much larger) than the parent city. So the odds of the parent city retaining control were never particularly high regardless. That said, this is a case where ideology might matter.

For the Greeks, every new colony was a new polis and in the Greek concept, poleis were independent by nature. A polis ought to have both eleutheria (ἐλευθερία, ‘freedom,’ in this context really meaning having an independent foreign policy) and autonomia (αὐτονομία, ‘their own laws,’ in this context meaning internal self-government). So newly created poleis were, almost definitionally, independent from their parent city straight away. Students of ancient history will recognize this immediately from Thucydides, whose history of the Peloponnesian War opens with a dispute that turns into a war between Epidamnos and its parent city Corcyra and its parent city Corinth.

That said, Greek colonies were expected to have a ‘special relationship’ with the parent city. Sometimes there was a permanent right for members of either the colony or the parent city to migrate to the other and obtain citizen rights, for instance. There would also be religious connections between the two cities, with citizens of the parent city enjoying some privileges at religious rituals (such as eating first after a sacrifice). Decrees and diplomatic statements from colonies often stress their kinship with the parent city, the motif of the graves of their ancestors being there (note Thuc. 1.26.3) and colonies seem, when in trouble, to have appealed to the parent city for help first (and parent cities, to go by Thucydides, seem to have been especially annoyed if another polis intervened instead).

By contrast, Phoenician colonies seem to have begun as at least notional dependencies of the parent city, which in nearly all cases was Tyre. But by the time Carthage was founded (between 800 and 750 BC), Tyre – which had come to dominate the Phoenician homeland in what is today Lebanon – was already under pressure from the expanding (Neo)Assyrian Empire. Consequently the 700s and 600s saw Tyrian power decline, while its Phoenician colonies expanded. Carthage, blessed with a particularly fortunate founding site, expanded rapidly, supported old colonies and planted new ones in North Africa. By the 500s, Carthage is exerting control over much of North Africa and eventually imposing tribune on both Phoenician and native Libyan settlements along it. By 510, Carthage is the overlord of the Phoenician settlements on Sardinia and Sicily as well; it’s less clear by what point Carthage controlled the Phoenician settlements in Spain (though surely no later than the third century).

Consequently, while Greek colonies mostly began as and remained independent (at least before most of them end up as part of the Roman Empire much later), Phoenician colonies seem mostly to have begun as dependencies of Tyre, become effectively independent due to Tyre’s decline, and then one by one were subsumed into the growing hegemony of Carthage.

The relationship of these colonies with local populations is much more complex and varied. Of course colonies founded primarily as trading posts might both benefit local populations and would mostly need to keep at least somewhat peaceful relations with them. At the same time, its clear that some colonies began with the subordination or more often violent expulsion of the local population in the region of settlement, while in others the steady inflow of migrants to a new colony created demands for land that in turn ended with violent expansion. On the flipside, Greek colonies at Naucratis and possibly on the northern coast of the Black Sea may have been dependencies of the local powers (Egypt and the Scythians respectively); we know that Carthage actually paid tribute to the Libyans in its early years before its growing power reversed those fortunes in the 500s.

That leads to a fairly common assumption that Greek colonization in particular must have been the product of a superior military system, namely the hoplite phalanx, but this assumption runs into immediate problems of dating. Our earliest evidence for hoplite arms comes in the mid-600s (with the Chigi Vase (650-640) and the poetry of Tyrtaeus (also c. 650)) and its not entirely clear if these hoplite-armed men are yet fighting in a phalanx formation.5 But Greek colonization by that point is well underway; indeed the Chigi Vase was found in Etruria (in Italy), almost certainly getting there via trade along the lanes Greek colonization was creating. So this isn’t necessarily a case of the ‘superior hoplite phalanx’ clearing the way for Greek colonies.

Instead, looking at the pattern of colonial settlements, it seems fairly clear both that military force was a major factor (colonies did fail because the locals fought back successfully in some cases) but that the key innovation might actually be the state rather than a specific form of fighting. Greek colonies, as noted, were usually created as part of a state initiative by a public act of a polis; they then appointed a single leader (the oikistes) who takes charge of the effort. There is thus a lot of central direction and organization in each venture. By contrast, the areas where Greek and Phoenician colonization are most successful are regions where the local populace was not (yet) organized into large states, but remained grouped into smaller tribes or clans. At the same time, these areas were clearly a lot less densely populated and urbanized than the regions sending out colonists. That fragmentation, combined with the lower population density, may have been what allowed Greek and Phoenician colonies to form footholds and once they started growing to have the military force, phalanx or no, to push out the local population from the valuable coastal zones.

And one indicator that this may in fact be what is happening is to look where Greek colonization failed. For instance we have Dorieus of Sparta (a Spartan prince no less, d. 510) who may win the award for being the worst oikistes in history (managing not one, but two colonial failures). He first attempts to found a colony on the Cinyps in North Africa near Lepcis; Carthage isn’t having it, allies with the local Libyan people (the Macae) and pushes him out. Later, Dorieus attempts the same trick in western Sicily around 510, and we’re told that an alliance of ‘the Phoenicians and the Segestans’ responded violently, destroying the colony and killing Dorieus. The presence of a stronger, centralized state made prohibiting further colonial settlement possible.

Meanwhile, further north, we have Etruria. Even a casual glance at a map of colonial foundations reveals the oddity: heavy Greek colonization in southern Greece and further Greek foundations north-west of Italy in what is today Provence, but nothing north of Campania but south of the Alps (Naples, then Νεάπολις, ‘New City,’ is about as close as one gets). Why? Well, that region wasn’t full of non-state peoples, but rather Etruscans, living in city-states and more than capable of fighting back effectively. Indeed, we know that in the mid-6th century, a coalition of Etruscans allied with Carthage to defeat a Greek fleet at the Battle of Alalia and force the evacuation of of a Phocaean colony at Alalia on Corsica (Hdt. 1.166). We also hear in the fifth century of fighting between the Etruscans and Syracuse, quieting down as Etruria comes under Roman control.

Meanwhile, it’s also clear that the Samnites, the Italic people living in the uplands of southern Italy, put serious pressure on Greek colonies on the coast beginning in the fifth century, eventually overrunning many of the Greek colonies in Campania (eventually setting the stage for Rome’s three Samnite Wars, 343-290 BC).

Greek and Phoenician colonization from 800 to 600 coincided with the beginnings of a massive increase in seaborne trade in the ancient Mediterranean.
Graph after Fig. 2.5 from A. Wilson, “Developments in Mediterranean shipping and maritime trade from the Hellenistic period to AD 1000” in Maritime Archaeology and Ancient Trade in the Mediterranean (2011). On the caveats to the back part of this graph, see here.

The impact of these colonies was long-lasting and significant, however. Even in areas where Greeks and Phoenicians didn’t set up colonies, like Etruria, this period coincides with clear archaeological evidence (in terms of artifacts and artwork) of increased cultural exchange. Colonial foundations also served as key nodes for the trade systems which were in this period increasingly knitting the Mediterranean together, a process of geographic integration which will culminate under the Roman Empire.

  1. “Davis on October 13, consulted the Senate in the Temple of Patreon; he made words concerning the colonies of the Greeks and Phoenicians.” This is, more or less, how the opening of a senatus consultum would read, although an actual decree of the Senate would also list the consuls of the year (Ollie and Percy are the consuls of every year here) and the senators who drafted the final text of the resolution.
  2. The former is what I’ve found in dictionary entries for etymologies, the latter is what Dexter Hoyos suggests, Carthaginians (2010), 1. I am not an expert on Semitic languages, linguistics or etymologies, so don’t ask me to decide between them.
  3. On this use of them, see M.E.A. Semmler, “Phoenician Trade in the West: Balance and Perspectives” in The Phoenicians in Spain, trans. and ed. M.R. Bierling and S. Gitin (2002)
  4. In The Carthaginians (2010)
  5. I am just going to leave this here and not get into the argument about the date of the phalanx right now.

81 thoughts on “Collections: Ancient Greek and Phoenician Colonization

  1. Fascinating. I don’t have anything substantive to say or ask this time around, but a fascinating topic.

    I will however point out a typo:

    “Heavy Greek colonization in southern Greece and further Greek foundations north-west of Greece in what is today Provence”

    I’m pretty sure “Italy” was meant instead of “Greece” in both instances.

  2. That was great. I have always been embarrassed by not really knowing who the phoenicians were. At last I can bluff with the best of them!

  3. Bret: “the Greeks and the Phoenicians have one thing in common at the start, which is that these are societies oriented towards the sea!”

    Mahan: “RESULT!”

    1. Bret lays it out in his recent appearance on Drachinifel’s channel that in this era, at least in the Mediterranean, naval strategy wasn’t built strategy. The limiting factor on establishing command of the sea was not capital but operating expenses (i.e. the rowers). This state of “fleets are expensive to keep but cheap to lose” (45:50) means that properly Mahanian, strategically decisive battles are more or less impossible; even large victories only produce operational effects.

      Also, prequel to vikings (chorus: VIKINGS!!!).

      1. To which I would append a comment that the limitation was above all logistical- no classical-era war galley had the capacity to carry more than a few days’ rations for its large crew of rowers and soldiers; this in turn means that fleets on constant patrol or blockade in the Mahanian (or Nelsonian) sense simply didn’t exist.

  4. “Over the Dark Age – a period where our evidence is very poor indeed, so we cannot see very clearly – the area of Greek-speaking settlement in the Aegean expands and Greek settlements along that West coast of Asia Minor expand dramatically.”

    For periods like this, where evidence is so sparse, how do we tell what language the inhabitants of a given settlement were speaking? Is it inference from material culture and later historical evidence, or do linguists have some sorcery they use to divine this? I ask partly because I remember being struck by the example of the Galatians (a Celtic-speaking people leaving behind Greek inscriptions) mentioned in your post on Celts.

    1. A bit of both. In this case, we’re fortunate: we have written evidence for the Greeks (Linear B) and Phoenicians in the Bronze Age and then written evidence for them in the Archaic, which tells us these are the same folks in the same place speaking the same language.

      Beyond that, we try to line up linguistic evidence (people and place names) with archaeological evidence (material culture) and historical evidence, but that can often be a very imperfect system. Note my comments on the ‘Celtic’ world a few posts back for an example of this.

  5. Can we have a rundown some time on non-state peoples vs proto-states vs city states vs other kinds of ancient states? And the dynamics of how groups of people transitioned from one to another.
    I assume the general dynamic is that bigger, more organised groups are able to throw around bigger armies but that you have to convince more stakeholders that being a small fish in your big pond is better than being a big fish in a small one. I’m sure there are a lot of things i’m missing though.

  6. It is very nice to learn a bit about the Phoenicians as well! When it comes to how native peoples were treated, I wonder how common it was for them to be a helot-like underclass as is described in some sources?

  7. I’m not sure I buy the idea that “the state” was responsible for the success of these Greek colonies. You write that these ventures “appointed a single leader (the oikistes) who takes charge of the effort. There is thus a lot of central direction and organization in each venture” but “pick one guy and put him in charge” is not a very sophisticated system of government and it seems to be an idea that lots of groups traditionally categorized as “non-state societies” manage to figure out when e.g. they have a war to fight.

    I guess there are other ways you could operationalize “state”—use of writing in administration, size of settlements, fortification of settlements. Writing sort-of seems explanatorily useful here, at least insofar as the colonists might write a letter to their parent city asking for help if they get into trouble with the natives. But on the other two points, these colonies do not seem to have started out very big. Maybe archaeology suggests they were better-fortified?

    1. “The state” may not be solely responsible for the success of a colony, but it is almost always going to be by far the most significant factor.

      From our pedantic host’s series “How to Polis 101” these are mostly small city states with not much in the way of resources and even a big city like Tyre has a population only in tens of thousands.

      So, where do your colonists come from? For the initial settlement you need hundreds to a thousand, almost entirely able-bodied workers. That’s a big chunk of the city workforce. The non-citizens won’t be allowed to become colonists unless the polis ie state agrees. You can only import large numbers of people from outside with the agreement of the polis.

      Where do you get your ships, construction material, crop seeds? These are all expensive. There aren’t any joint stock companies for private funding. Either the state supplies these, or any individual rich enough to fund a colony is an oligarch if not the tyrant, and hence a VIP or “the state” themselves.

      Who protects your colonists against pirates or other states? If the natives start resisting violently, or another city-state decides that they’d like your emporium, who are you going to call?

      And very importantly for Greeks, you need divine approval for your colony to succeed. And in this period you appeal to the gods of *your polis*, not an abstraction. Favourable omens and divinations *are* the responsibility of the state.

      1. Where do you get your ships, construction material, crop seeds? These are all expensive. There aren’t any joint stock companies for private funding. Either the state supplies these, or any [single] individual rich enough to fund a colony

        The colonists’ reward, (promises of) land and inalienable citizenship, are the closest thing to equity shares that this era has. While the oikistes may be presumed to put in the most, for the most part, the participating colonists themselves bring their own goods, as co-investors — though this is somewhat misleading, since the most valuable thing they contribute is their labor and the risk to their lives. (Construction materials are gathered locally.)

        More broadly: my understanding is that exactly the resource bases are the point. Small as parent poleis are by modern standards, if the area targeted for settlement is organized in clans (hundreds of people?) or small tribes (thousands?), perhaps these numbers including those who aren’t working age men, then the colonist force — in the high hundreds of military-age men? — can simply be the largest single military force in the vicinity, or at least a serious contender. If they aren’t complete morons about diplomacy, they can establish themselves in the area.

        Additionally, I would assume that “between” colonization and trading missions, there was also rather a lot of amphibious raiding a.k.a. piracy (mechanistically similar to foraging in hostile territory).

      2. “For the initial settlement you need hundreds to a thousand, almost entirely able-bodied workers.”
        How many able-bodied workers not seriously attached to any dependants would you find in a Greek polis?
        Were the settlers childless newlywed couples? In normal times, how many childless newlywed couples would you find in a city in one time? Or did settlers include young families with children in tow after all? And then it was not almost entirely able-bodied workers.
        “And very importantly for Greeks, you need divine approval for your colony to succeed. And in this period you appeal to the gods of *your polis*, not an abstraction. Favourable omens and divinations *are* the responsibility of the state.”
        Your state asks for the divine approval, but it is not the gods of *your polis*. It is the oracle of Delphi, outside your polis.

        1. Aren’t the traditional early colonists unmarried men, with most of them marrying after the colony is established?

        2. If there’s a serious question of where the women came from, that would indicate a large proportion of unmarried men. Which makes a degree of sense; they’d be the people with the least in the way of roots and most incentive to seek new fortunes.

          1. That is still the pattern in long-distance migration now. Families in dire situations send out younger men, who can start earning, report back and then, once established, help the rest of the family move.

          2. The Irish sent young, unmarried women, too, but it worked the same. (The Irish were the only nationality where there were MORE women who immigrated to the United States than men.)

        3. In Plato’s Laws, the characters discuss the founding of a colony, and the advantage of drawing the population from one place, and also how colonies would be necessary to keep their population in perfect proportion.

    2. In my view it is the amount of organisation, and the number of stakeholders that is the deciding factor. In a tribal/proto-state environment most bonds between people and the government will be more or less personal. In a Greek polis, all the people (male citizens) will have a bond with the government, as they are all part of the assembly, which is the de-facto governmental body in the polis. Also, they all profit as long as they support their polis. As I see it, if in the non-polis surrounding people, when one of the leaders is killed, their followers might very well no longer be interested in pursuing a anti-polis policy, if the main reason was for that leader to profit, but not necessarily for the followers. In a polis, if a leader dies, and the will of the assembly (basically the will of the people) has not been fulfilled, they just elect a new leader, and go on with the job at hand. It is more or less the way that the Romans managed to fight, and eventually conquer, all the city-states around them, but on a much smaller scale. All the other factor, mentioned in other answers are also true, but I believe the organisational stability, continuity, and stake-holding that a polis had, as opposed to other non-polis actors in the surrounding countryside is the deciding factor in this. As Winston Churchill is supposed to have said: “There is no greater and more fearsome weapon than a democracy in righteous anger”.

    3. Tying into Clydwich’s remarks, one has to think about more than just the specific process of colony foundation, of “and this is how we get X hundred Hellenes onto boats and over there.” There’s also, and here I’m struggling with phrasing a bit, colony formation.

      As discussed in the article, the goal of any given Hellenic colony project was that the colonists desired to found their own polis. A polis (see the recent “How to Polis” series from a few months ago) typically had a fairly specific set of institutions and a well-defined constitution governing how those institutions interacted. The oikestes might be founding these institutions himself, or there might be some other ‘lawgiver,’ but what matters here is the institutions themselves. And, importantly, that these institutions generally had a lot of success at mobilizing the (admittedly limited) capacity of their citizens for labor and warfare.

      This, then, is what is meant by “the state.” Additional to any help they might get from the parent city in an emergency, the citizens of the new polis had a fairly tightly coordinated system that made it more challenging for local inhabitants to resist if they lacked state structure of their own. Just “there’s a guy and he’s in charge” was nowhere near the end of matters.

      1. “A polis (see the recent “How to Polis” series from a few months ago) typically had a fairly specific set of institutions and a well-defined constitution governing how those institutions interacted. The oikestes might be founding these institutions himself, or there might be some other ‘lawgiver,’ but what matters here is the institutions themselves. And, importantly, that these institutions generally had a lot of success at mobilizing the (admittedly limited) capacity of their citizens for labor and warfare.”
        Compare the Ten Thousand. They were not intending to found a polis, they did not end up founding any, they did not inherit a constitution from metropolis because they were from various cities without a designated metropolis, and they don´t seem to have had regular schedules for elections. Yet contrast how the Persian army responded to fall of Cyrus, and how the Greeks responded to their generals getting lured to negotiations and executed.
        Was the kind of capability to keep solidarity under challenges something the Greeks already had in 8th century BC?

        1. You’re comparing apples to plutonium.

          Looking at the events of the Anabasis, as I recall (perhaps I’m wrong)… the Greek mercenaries were hired to put Cyrus the Younger on the throne. Cyrus, personally, was a load-bearing component of the plan; you cannot put a corpse on a throne. And if Cyrus had any heirs of his own they would have been far too young to be relevant. Most of the rebels would have revolted because of promises made by Cyrus, which would now be void. They, and their homes and families, would be vulnerable to retaliation by the victors, and the only real hope they would have of preventing this now would be to negotiate favorable terms with the victorious forces of Artaxerxes(?).

          Thus, the Persian rebels did not need to be uniquely fractious to fall apart when Cyrus died. They had ample reason to lose cohesion, because they no longer had a real way to win. And every group of Persian rebels knew every other group of Persian rebels would have an incentive to surrender at the drop of a hat if they could get favorable terms from Artaxerxes for doing so.

          Conversely, the Greeks did not need to be uniquely cohesive to elect new leaders and stick together. Unlike rebels native to the Persian empire, they were foreigners who had a viable exit strategy. If they could keep cohesion, they had homes to run to, well beyond convenient Persian reach.

          I see no reason to suppose that the cohesion of the Greek mercenaries after Cunaxa, and their ability to elect new generals and retreat from Persian territory, were results of some unique “kind of capability to keep solidarity under challenges.”

          The most likely thing particularly helpful to the Greeks as Greeks in that situation (but likely not truly unique to them) is that the Greeks would have been accustomed to routinely electing new commanders and other leadership figures, making it somewhat psychologically easier for them to adapt to the need to find a new leader and choose one.

    4. I think the biggest advantage states have over non-state societies, even if the state is not particularly sophisticated, is reducible to somewhat more straightforward administration and the implications of that.

      A state that needs to do something like “build a wall around the settlement” or “raise a force of men to go on a raid” or “store some extra crops for the winter” is likely to have established procedures for doing all this. Non-state societies that lack formal structures of government beyond the level of perhaps individual families or neighborhoods will probably have to improvise these procedures as they go. This will probably result in more politicking compared to a state, whose agents are likely to have experience coordinating actions involving large numbers of people and can thus fall back on how they did this sort of thing last time when there’s a disagreement.

      The knock-on effects of this are going to be that states tend to operate bigger settlements with more and better infrastructure and bigger populations that can be more readily directed to military pursuits. Their armies will tend to be bigger, assemble faster and stay in the field for longer, and these advantages ought to be fairly consistent, even if they might not yet be all that impressive on their own.

      These differences inevitably come with trade-offs and stateless peoples will probably have some advantages of their own. They might find that their organizational structures being smaller and more numerous than a state’s creates greater scope for initiative at the small-unit level, for example, or that the lack of a single administrative center might make it harder for an opponent to locate their political center of gravity.

      But in most cases, the non-state side is likely to find that it can neither field nor control armies large enough to fight on the scale of even a relatively small and weak state, and that what forces it can field are incredibly brittle and hard to coordinate.

      1. Yeah my take is that it’s the difference between actions being dictated by processes, and actions being dictated by relationships. It’s a similar issue we’re tackling in UK healthcare at the moment. A lot of the places where it works well is due to individual people having good relationships with other individual people, and using those relationships to facilitate good practices. If those people move on, the good practice falls apart. What we’d like to do is replace those relationship-based good practices with good processes that can function whether we happen to get an excellent person in post or a mediocre one.

        The latter option provides a lot more resilience, so over time would produce more effective services.

  8. Very interesting read, a fun overview, and quite a timely one besides for me, since I’ve recently been reading Carolina López-Ruiz’s 2021 work “Phoenicians and the Making of the Mediterranean” (highly recommended), that does discuss cover many of the topics you’ve talked about above, like an entire aside on the emporion/apoikia dichotomy and how it is applied to both cultures in these ventures.

    It’s chiefly focused on the archaeological evidence, as one might expect, as is perhaps inevitable due to the dearth of Phoenician narratives.

    One point I did note actually, and I would love to have your thoughts on this, is when you mention the impetus for Phoenician settlement, and what we might imagine as the causes:

    “… recovery from the Late Bronze Age Collapse producing a population boom, the expanding empires of the iron age (especially Assyria) leaving the Phoenicians penned in and looking for less well defended resources (and eventually needing to find sources of wealth for tribute).”

    Since that struck me as very apropos given what López-Ruiz writes early on in her work (pg. 29-30):

    “[…] On the Near Eastern side, the Phoenicians’ enterprise was seen as reactive, not proactive, bound to the Assyrian Empire’s demands. In this view, the search for metals and wood was driven by external pressures, and the Phoenicians were but small states operating along the periphery of Assyria, at once victims and profiteers of imperial needs (a clear example of a center-periphery historical framework). A key 1979 article by Susan Frankenstein, “The Phoenicians in the Far West: A Function of Neo-Assyrian Imperialism,” provided the basic model for decades to come.

    The emerging archaeological picture, matched by Near Eastern written sources, reveals quite a different dynamic: the cities of the Phoenician coast, organized around the states of Arwad, Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre, emerged fairly unscathed from the Late Bronze Age international crisis, and they benefited from the vacuum of powers that ensued. Their rise to prominence in the Levant stems in part from their almost seamless continuity from the Canaanite world, as I discuss in Chapter 9. The Phoenician polities used their networks and status to become indispensable to the Assyrians, a position that forced the Neo-Assyrian Empire to allow them, especially Tyre, a greater degree of independence than that of other subjects well into the seventh century. In other words, the Phoenicians followed a perfectly programmed and organized strategy, indeed, as Aubet notes, “far removed from the traditional idea that saw the start of the Phoenicians expansion as a surge of refugees from the East improvising as they went along.” We can speak confidently of a well-organized expansion emerging from the Late Bronze Age “void,” preceding (and independent from) both the Assyrian expansion and Greek colonization. In fact it followed a “a precise strategy of (inter)action that founds its precedents/presumptions in the international policy implemented by the Phoenician cities of the Levant,” as Michele Guirguis has recently assessed. The Phoenician movement, like the Greek one, was generated from within the city-states, but with the particularly salient role of one of them, Tyre (with its colonies in turn forming secondary settlements), in contrast to the scenario of the Greek colonies, whose origins were more varied.”

    The next two paragraphs also list receptivity and the motivations of local populations the Phoenicians interaction with, and the institutional and religious bonds between such groups as a motivating factor.

    All that said, I hope this addition is welcome, and I remain curious to see what you’ve to say.

  9. How do these older colonies compare to those established in the Hellenistic East post-Alexander? I can never find anything substantial comparing them.

    1. Assuming you mean specifically royal polis foundations in the Hellenistic, I can provide a little detail.

      In brief, Hellenistic royal city foundation operated somewhat differently, in part because of the new imperial geographies dominating the Greek world. So the impetus can be royal will. A lot of them also occur via what is typically called synoikism or sympolitea, the joining of pre-existing communities, whether physically through population movements and the dissolution of old towns and cities or just politically via shared citizenships.

      A lot of the ‘big-name’ royal foundations, like the eponymous Diadochoi royal cities – Kassandreia, Lysimacheia, Seleukeia, Antigoneia etc. – were formed like this. In the case of Kassandreia, Cassander included roughly 17 different poleis in the synoikism, mostly from southern Chalkidike. Some of the new constituent groups, notably, like the Olynthians and Poteidaians, were former polis that Philip had destroyed or dissolved previously.

      Anyway, that’s not to say that the norms or culture of Greek city foundations had been discarded. The foundation narrative of, say, Seleukeia-on-the-Tigris that we have is quite clear that Seleucus is keen that his new city is founded at the right place and the right time, and involves an act of divine intervention, ensuring that these things happen, for instance.

      If you’d like a recommendation, Ryan Boehm’s 2018 work: “City and Empire in the Age of the Successors: Urbanization and Social Response in the Making of the Hellenistic Kingdoms” is an excellent book that tackles a lot of this stuff, and is my source for the above tidbit about Kassandreia.

      1. It’s not unimportant that the Macedonians may have spoken Greek and thus were technically Hellenes, but they were culturally rather different from the rest of the Hellenic world, in particular in that they were not in Aristotle’s sense “political animals:” the polis was never very significant in Macedonia, which was organized on the principle instead of the kingdom. It was these which the Diodachoi founded, and the poleis within them were always subservient constituents, not proudly independent polities.

        1. I confess, I wasn’t sure how to read this response at first. But I figure I should reply all the same.

          The first point you raise, whether or not the Macedonians may have technically fallen under the umbrella of ‘Hellene’ is not one I consider important to the original topic under discussion, which was the question regarding the founding of new colonies in the Hellenistic Kingdoms.

          And if you are suggesting – this is one of those areas where I was unsure how to read your reply – that the Diadochoi did not found new poleis in their kingdoms then that is just flat-out wrong. I’ve already named a number of them in my previous reply, but I suppose we can add cities like Thessalonike as well as the myriad Alexandrias to the list of new poleis founded at the start of the Hellenistic period. That they were named for Macedonian kings and aristocrats does not change the fact that they were founded and organised in the fashion of Greek poleis, with all that that entailed.

          If you are instead suggesting that being subservient to a king renders them ineligible in some manner, then I would still be moved to disagree with you. Certainly, the concepts and principles of Greek freedom and autonomy, ones which Dr Devereaux has detailed here and in other posts, existed in a state of tension with the hypothetically untrammeled power of the Hellenistic kings, but navigating those contradictions was a hallmark of what we see both kings and cities do in that time, and across the lifespans of those kingdoms, from Cassander refounding and restoring Thebes to Antigonos’ rhetoric of safeguarding the liberty and autonomy of the Greeks to Seleucus’ campaign of urbanisation and colonisation across Asia to the more general Hellenistic ideals of royal euergetism, or good-deeds/benefaction, in plainer terms.

          Ryan Boehm’s book, which I recommended above, does a great job discussing many of these topics, but if you would like a second referent then I might also recommend John Ma’s “Antiochos III and the Cities of Western Asia Minor”, published 2000.

          1. Well, I certainly wasn’t suggesting that Alexander and his successors didn’t found poleis! Of course they did. I was suggesting something along the lines of your following paragraph, but would suggest that much as the new Hellenistic poleis may have bridled under “national” control and resisted it where they could, at most they achieved the sort of limited sovereignty seen in, say, the Italian socii, or more recently US states since the 1930s.

  10. An earlier wave(during the Bronze Age Collapse) of Greek colonization may have been the Philistines mentioned in the Bible. I believe a few years ago, ancient DNA samples from that period were obtained, and the earlier Philistines had clear Greek ancestry while the later ones were indistinguishable from the local Semites.

    Also some posit that one of the twelve tribes of Israel, the tribe of Dan, were originally Greek setters/Philistines who somehow became part of the still forming Hebrew nation. Dan, being phoentically close to “Danaan”, that you mentioned in the post, “Denyen”, one of the Sea Peoples, as well the tribe of Dan being associated with ships in the Song of Deborah, believed to be one of the earliest sections of the Bible. Also, Dan’s territory was directly north of the Philistines, centered around the city of Joppa(modern Tel Aviv).

      1. Is that nomenclature a politically charged issue? I am not taking any sides in the Israel-Palestine issue with my usage of terms lol.

        1. No, it’s not at all politically charged, not at the level you’re thinking of (it’s slightly charged in municipal Tel Aviv politics, which nobody cares or should care about). It’s just, Tel Aviv self-views as a new city rather than as an outgrowth of the preexisting city of Jaffa.

          1. I see, thanks! Municipal politicians generally think of themselves as more important than they actually are

  11. Is there not an example in Herodotus of a Greek Colonial Expedition failing, and sailing back to their home city. Only for the home city not to let them back in, to the extent of using force?

  12. In the spirit of unmitigated pedantry, I want to argue that the Phoenician writing system is not a true alphabet (yes, I know wikipedia calls it one) because it doesn’t represent vowels. Rather, it’s an abjad (representing only consonants). It was still revolutionary, but the Greek adaptation which introduced vowels (possibly by mistake) was also revolutionary in its way and allowed much easier adoption of the resulting system by non-Semitic languages.

    1. My experience of trying to teach Arabic pronunciation to non-Arabic speakers is that it only doesn’t represent vowels if you’re already a Arabic speaker – ‘ayn isn’t a vowel for me but is for every English speaker I know. This is a question immediately invited by the name – how can an “abjad” writing system, named for its letters, not represent vowels?

      And the Greeks found the same – aleph becomes alpha, “he” becomes eta, waw becomes iota, and so on – chances are that they didn’t know (or care) that they were mispronouncing (and vowelizing) the letters as far as a Phoenician was concerned.

      While alphabet/abjad/abiguda might be useful categorizations from the perspective of study, it’s a mistake to think of them as an increase in sophistication. There’s one big jump – hieroglyphics to phonetic writing – and then refinements on that.

      1. *Yod becomes iota, waw becomes digamma and then becomes Latin F; he becomes E (the name “epsilon” is post-Classical), het becomes eta.

        This matters, because what you say makes sense as an explanation for how ayin become O, but not for he and het. He represents a sound that existed in Ancient Greek and would be represented with either the rough breathing mark or in some dialects with eta, and yet it was borrowed as a vowel. Het, in turn, doesn’t sound like a vowel to people who are not used to Semitic, unlike ayin.

        1. I guess this only strenghtens your point, but isn’t eta a letter that only turned into representing a vowel sound in later Greek sound changes? After all, in the Latin alphabet it became the consonant H.
          I remember having a discussion with a Greek colleague about the “proper” pronounciation of Hephaestos.

      2. Hieroglyphics themselves were phonetic to a significant degree. If there was one big jump at any one point of the process, it happened before hieroglyphics became a mature writing system.

        1. ‘How can an “abjad” writing system, named for its letters, not represent vowels?’
          Well, the “a” isn’t in the list. That’s just there to make the name pronounceable. The four letter sounds it’s named for are ʔ, b, g, d (so the name doesn’t actually match the letters in question very well).

          There are essentially five types of writing systems (for spoken language) that have developed. They have, so far as anyone can tell, developed sequentially,but it’s a mistake to think of any of them as “more advanced” than any other – albeit some are undoubtedly better suited to their given language than others.

          1) logographies – the first type of script to represent actual language; each letter represents one word, insofar as this is possible. Examples include Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics and hieratics, Chinese hanzi. Over time, words can be borrowed for other, unrelated but homophone, words, on the rebus principle. Disadvantages include a very large character set, making learning resource-intensive, difficulty in conveying complex grammar, and inability to convey phonetics directly making words unpronounceable to a first-time reader.

          2) syllabic systems (abugidas) – appear to have developed out of logographies; each character represents one syllable. Examples include Linear B and pretty much all Indian scripts. Disadvantages come when syllables develop in the spoken language that don’t match syllables available in the script.

          3) consonantal systems (abjads) – each character represents a consonant; vowels may be marked with diacritics or omitted entirely. So far as I’m aware, all natural consonantal systems developed out of the Caananite script which in itself derived from Egyptian. Hebrew and Arabic are the most prominent surviving examples. Reduces the character set even further than syllabaries.

          4) true alphabets – characters represent either a vowel or a consonant, developed out of the Phoenician abjad via Greek. In principle, allows for completely phonetic spelling of words (in practice, given limited character sets, spelling is often not wholly phonetic).

          5) featural systems where words are spelled phonetically but letters are devised to themselves indicate pronunciation within their own form. Basically magic. Hangul (Korean) is the prominent real-world example; Tengwar is also one of these.

          There are some blended systems and logographies in particular (which have been around the longest) can develop phonetic elements while retaining their logographic nature, and this can get completely insane (hi, Japanese). But severing the principle of “character = word” is a big step, as is “character = sound” and in turn the idea of representing each sound independently. The steps are increasingly small (taking into account that the invention of writing in the first place is the biggest step of all!), but significant in each case in terms of overall development and can be categorised separately with some confidence.

          After all, if this was all obvious and there wasn’t really a distinction, we’d expect the “hop” to abjads and from there to alphabets to have occurred multiple times independently, when so far as we can tell it’s only happened once each (as opposed to the invention of writing itself, which occurred independently at three times, and the development of syllabaries, which seems to have occurred independently at least three times).

          1. In the spirit of pedantry, writing developed at least five times – probably more (Sumer, Egypt, China, probably Harappa, Mayan, Toltec, possibly Inca – depending on how you count qipu).

          2. “Mayan, Toltec”

            Looking at wikipedia, we don’t seem to be able to confidently say who invented writing in Mesoamerica, or if it happened more than once.

          3. Are you sure syllabaries are part of a sequence? I had the impression that they only appear in languages well-suited to them (languages with a small number of syllables), and don’t develop into anything else because other systems don’t offer much of an advantage for those languages.

          4. “In the spirit of pedantry, writing developed at least five times – probably more (Sumer, Egypt, China, probably Harappa, Mayan, Toltec, possibly Inca – depending on how you count qipu).”

            I mean independent inventions of writing, not inventions of fresh scripts. Egypt borrowed writing from Sumer, though it developed its own script. The Indus Valley script may not be actual writing, per se, and in any case it’s highly controversial whether if so it was autochthonous or inspired by Sumerian scripts (my understanding is that this topic is heavily tied up with Indian nationalism).

            With indigenous American scripts, there is an obvious problem in that we can’t really read them. The Toltec script was almost certainly inspired by, if not directly copied from, earlier Mesoamerican scripts (most obviously, Mayan, although Mayan may not have been the earliest American script), given the extent of timing and contact. I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and say that Qipu is not writing per se, as it’s impossible to tell whether it represents language at all. Much remains specualtive, though, when it comes to American scripts.

          5. Syllabaries can tend to be something of a developmental dead end, but they did emerge before abjads, and they did get used for languages that didn’t really suit them particularly well. Linear B wasn’t actually particularly good at representing Greek, for instance, but was still used for centuries. But syllabaries that don’t work with the language they’re writing tended to get shunted aside and replaced by more appropriate writing systems as they became available, so they don’t tend to see a lot of use now except where they match the language well.
            The extent to which Phoenician developed out of a syllabary rather than directly from a logography is going to be challenging to answer especially since Egyptian writing had already adopted elements of syllabic representation by the time the Semitic script was developed.

            The one admittedly imperfect modern illustration I can think of is katakana. It’s a funny one, because it’s a syllabic script used for representing foreign words, but because it represents exclusively Japanese syllables it’s pretty terrible at its only job unless those languages match the syllables of Japanese quite closely (which goes about as well as you’d expect, especially since Japanese is effectively a language isolate). But the Japanese writing system in general is, I think, exemplary only in its complexity.

          6. I like to call abjabs syllabaries for languages that didn’t care much about their vowels. This then led to alphabets when imported back to a language (Greek) that did care about vowels. So logograms -> syllabary (or related) would be the natural and repeated progression, while development of an alphabet (with its finer grained breakdown of phonemes) was a path-dependent fluke.

            Wikipedia said it’s hardly certain that Egypt borrowed the idea of writing from Sumer, especially as Egyptian writing seems to have started in Upper (southern) Egypt, further away. Could have been parallel invention as both developed agriculture into states.

            I think there’s enough time between Sumerian and Chinese writing that you couldn’t rule out a trickle of inspiration. So really we should say writing was invented between 2 (Old World, New World) and 5+ times (Sumer, Egypt, Harappa, China, Mesoamerica).

          7. While it’s certainly the received wisdom, I don’t think it’s fair to describe abjads as not representing or being concerned with vowels. Already in many of the earliest abjads like Ugaritic cuneiform we’re seeing matres lectionis, and the recognition of the vowel-approximate correspondence in diphthong representation. Also, most of those Bronze Age Semitic languages only had three monophthong qualities, so accounting for length, there are only six possible syllables for e.g. to be if you’re marking diphthongs, and eight if you’re not, not all of which are actually words and likely only one of which makes sense in context; contrasted with e.g. modern General American’s 14 possibilities (ignoring r-colored nuclei on the principle they’d be instead of ).

            Also also, the most common elements in a text will always be syntactic ones, like English’s -s plural, always written the same way despite its varying phonetic realization (voiced vs. unvoiced). With so few vowels, in most cases in an abjad a syntactic morpheme’s consonant is sufficient to also mark its vowel.

            To sum up, abjads do care about vowel representation, even before 1000 BCE; but the restricted vowel sets of the languages they represented when they were created meant they could get by with approximates, matres lectionis, and context.

          8. Would you consider the Easter Island “script” to be an independent invention of writing as well? I know there’s debate both about whether rongorongo is an actual script as well as when it originated, and as you note with respect to Mesoamerica, any ability to “read” the script, if that’s wht it was, has been lost.

          9. “contrasted with e.g. modern General American’s 14 possibilities (ignoring r-colored nuclei on the principle they’d be instead of ).”

            How many vowels does English as a whole have (i.e. if you include all the possible vowels in all the possible dialects* and add them together)? I think i tried to count them up in all the dialects I know of and got to about 20 or so, but I might be missing some. Of course any individual dialect, e.g. General American, isn’t going to have all of them.

            *only counting first language speakers- so like Jamaican English would count but people in India would not.

          10. “But syllabaries that don’t work with the language they’re writing tended to get shunted aside and replaced by more appropriate writing systems as they became available, so they don’t tend to see a lot of use now except where they match the language well.”

            Abugidas of Indic origin seem to be really common all over South and Southeast Asia right now, used for at least five different language families (maybe a sixth depending if any Indonesian languages still use them). But, they were even more widely used in the past (including for languages like Javanese and briefly, apparently, for Uyghur and Mongolian), so I guess that might be an example of your point about how they get dropped if they don’t match the sounds of the language very well.

        2. I think every mature logographic system uses the rebus principle, allowing for some phonetic writing. That is a big jump in capability to represent arbitrary speech, yes.

          But for societal purposes, a big jump happens when you _stop_ using the logographic stuff and just use the phonetic system. That makes literacy way easier to acquire, no longer the preserve of elites or of very intensive education. It’s also a jump that never seems to happen ‘in place’, probably due to the self-interest of elites who are invested in a difficult writing system; instead, full syllabaries or abjabs and such arise on the edges of literate society: slaves (Canaanite graffiti in Egyptian mines in Sinai), women (hiragana in Japan, similar system in China), foreigners copying the simplest part of your writing system (Phoenician city-states).

          The last is what gives you new societies with literacy based entirely around a phonetic system, where even a child can soon start sounding out books.

          A partial exception is hangul, invented by a Korean king (maybe with inspiration from knowing about the Latin alphabet, at least the timing allows it.) But despite royal support, the elites strongly resisted using it for centuries, until the pressures of colonialism and modernization.

          A syllabary may not be more ‘sophisticated’ than logographic+rebus, but it’s a lot more practical for mass literacy.

  13. Besides the Greek colonization, Phoenician colonization also went on post-Alexander.
    Kart Hadašt of Spain, founded by Kart Hadašt of Africa. Founder Hamilcar the Fair in 227 BC.
    How much is known about that founding?

  14. I find this argument about the success of Greek colonization being more so about statehood than military super interesting, and am inclined at least theoretically to agree (I know very little about this specific topic, just in terms of my general thoughts on human behavior and social systems). I read Graeber’s Dawn of Everything a while back, which I realize is like a trigger word to some people and now they won’t internalize anything else I have to say lol, but in any case, as much as I appreciated his insights and arguments against the linear inevitability of statehood, I felt like there were some critical issues that he was almost deliberately not addressing, that relate to this idea. I believe we should aspire towards some kind of “post-state” civilization, but also, the phenomenon you describe here is exactly the kind of thing that anyone who aspires towards a post-state civilization must be willing to confront.

  15. I find myself wondering if anyone has written a comparative history of Greek, Phoenician, and (millennia later) European overseas colonies. Have there been any similar systems elsewhere?

    1. – Vikings (assuming they count as distinct from the post-gunpowder European colonization).
      – Arabs were sailing both down the East coast of Africa, as well as across the Indian Ocean (transplanting Islam to Indonesia).
      – If it counts, then the largest example is maritime Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, etc.), where ~1500-1000 BC the Austronesians (older term: “Malays”) took over the lowlands from the Melanesians (“Papuans”). However, this should probably count as an example of the spreading of farming, not the spreading of states.
      – Speculation time: obvious inevitable Caribbean, theoretically possible Great Lakes. The Mayans and their neighbors had enough state formation to do it, just not the seafaring orientation. (Had there been a chain of islands “connecting” the Yucatán to Cuba, it would have happened centuries before the Europeans arrived.) Given several more centuries for agriculture and states to spread (particularly around the northern coast of the Gulf), it would have happened. (Meanwhile, the eponymous Caribs were raiding and colonizing for perhaps two centuries before Europeans, but they probably don’t count because they didn’t have enough state formation, and kept distances short.) The Great Lakes are sort of the minimum possible size for a “statehood gradient”, and it would probably have taken on the order of a millennium extra for state formation to reach their shores.

  16. >Our earliest evidence for hoplite arms comes in the mid-600s (with the Chigi Vase (650-640) and the poetry of Tyrtaeus (also c. 650)) and its not entirely clear if these hoplite-armed men are yet fighting in a phalanx formation.5

    In a previous post you’ve said something to the effect of “Often students ask me what happens when infantry break formation and fight in a big dumb movie melee. The answer is, if you break formation you die.” Did Greeks prior to the phalanx, indeed, fight in a big dumb melee or just in a different sort of formation?

    1. “The answer is, if you break formation you die.” Did Greeks prior to the phalanx, indeed, fight in a big dumb melee or just in a different sort of formation?”

      Read the Illiad. Note that the champions were there… but there was the battle line behind the champions. And the second line was loose enough that the first line soldiers could pass through to retreat behind the protection of second line when wounded, tired or frightened.

      It seems that the later phalanx had peltast skirmishers too… but in the later phalanx, the skirmishers had lighter weapons and seem to have been poorer, less prestigious soldiers. In the Illiad, it appears that the skirmishers had equal or better weapons compared to the common soldiers who stayed back in the second line – they were the strongest, best trained soldiers who could skirmish while carrying armour, and they were the richest, acting as officers for the second line behind them.

      But formation is mainly good in face of another formation. You cannot ravage the land in formation. So what advantages did hoplites have in face of skirmishers?

      1. This is not a difficult question. The big answer is “likely ability to win a clash of arms at any given single point of contact.” A block of formation troops has a good chance of plowing through skirmishers to seize a critical point.

        Foot skirmishers still have to march as an army, often passing through chokepoints. They must base their operations in a camp if they are to be effective.

        If a tightly concentrated and heavily protected mass of several hundred hoplites smashes through to the skirmisher’s camp, they lose a lot of the assets that made it sustainable for them to stay on campaign (food, camp followers, et cetera). If the hoplites smash through to seize the narrow mountain pass on the far side of the valley and cut the skirmishers off from retreat, they may quickly see their morale collapse.

        At which point either the skirmishers have to shatter as a military force to get away or fight a losing battle. Neither is a winning proposition.

        1. “Foot skirmishers still have to march as an army, often passing through chokepoints. They must base their operations in a camp if they are to be effective.

          If a tightly concentrated and heavily protected mass of several hundred hoplites smashes through to the skirmisher’s camp, they lose a lot of the assets that made it sustainable for them to stay on campaign (food, camp followers, et cetera). ”

          The classic counterexample is the Aetolian campaign of 426 BC.

          “Demosthenes advanced to the town of Aegitium, which he took easily, but he would go no further. The inhabitants of Aegitium retreated to the hills around the town, where they joined the main Aetolian army, and soon Demosthenes’ force came under assault from the surrounding high ground.

          Moving with relative ease over the rough terrain, the Aetolian javelin throwers were able to fling their weapons and retreat easily before the heavily encumbered Athenian hoplites could reach them; without the Locrians, Demosthenes could rely only on a contingent of archers to keep the Aetolian skirmishers at bay. Even with the archers defending them, the Athenians were receiving the worst of the struggle; when the captain of the archers was killed, his men scattered, and the rest of the army shortly followed them. A bloodbath ensued. Demosthenes’ co-commander Procles was killed, as was his Messenian guide. Leaderless troops of fleeing soldiers raced into exit-less dry canyons or became lost on the battlefield, while the fast moving Aetolians cut them down; the largest escaping contingent became lost in a forest, which was then set on fire around them. 120 of the 300 Athenians who had marched with Demosthenes were killed;”

          The capture of Aegitium did not make Aetolian peltasts ineffective. Whatever happened to food and families in the city – easily evacuated?

          On the other hand, it must not have been happening all the time in central Greece, or else Athenians, Corinthians et cetera would not have bothered to adopt hoplite tactics in the first place.

          1. No military system, anytime, anywhere, is 100% guaranteed to win.

            Skirmishing forces rely on not having to stand and fight, being a loose dispersed force that hangs around the edges of the enemy to take shots when they can. An enemy force relying on cohesion and close formation, such as a Greek phalanx or Roman legion, can only win if there’s something that the skirmishers absolutely cannot leave behind.

            Horse archers on the steppes are particularly good at skirmishing because their possessions are flocks and wagons, easily moved.

            Hill and mountain people aren’t quite so mobile, but they do tend to have more flocks, rely more on hunting and gathering, and have a smaller population that’s more widely dispersed over terrain that is difficult to travel through, especially for large formations. I will guess, without having done any research, that Aetolia had lots of hills and no major cities, that Aegitium was much smaller than the average Greek polis. Happy to be corrected.

            On the other hand the Athenian force is just 300 plus some allies? So, small force has a bad day. It happens.

      2. Unfortunately, although a good way to start a bar fight is to offer an opinion as to when the Iliad was written, what is certain is that it was long, long after the Mycenean era and is probably just as anachronistic as medieval depictions of Classical warfare.

        1. It may not have been an accurate depiction of Mycenean era warfare, but it was probably at least a pretty good depiction of early Dark Age warfare

  17. The book Rise of the Greeks, by Michael Grant gives a readable and fairly comprehensive account of Greek colony formation during the archaic age. Grant was a reputable scholar as well as prolific writer of history books for educated non scholars. His books are still available 2nd hand and, in some libraries, where the librarians have not yet gotten around to discarding them. There is also a quite detailed account of Greek colony formation in one of the volumes of a four book Folio Society edition about classical Greek history.

    An interesting postscript to the Battle of Alalia: some of the Phocaean refugees settled in the Phocaean colony Massilia, others built a new city on the south west coast of Italy, called Elea, which became home to an important school of philosophy. It was said that Parmenides gave Elea its’ constitution (or laws). I do wish some classical scholar would write a history of Phocaea and its’ colonies.

  18. My guess would be that whether the colonists took an “expulsion/annihilation” attitude towards the locals probably depended on how many women they imported from the polis sending the colonists, and whether the children of colonist men and local women (either voluntarily intermarried or enslaved) could count as full citizens in the polis. When the colonizers are mostly men, you tend to see more intermarriage with the locals in colonization waves.

    1. Well, local women were not inconsistent with an “expulsion/annihilation” model; frequently (e.g. the Vikings (drink!) the locals would be exterminated/driven out/sold as slaves- except for fertile women, who became sex slaves/concubines/involuntary wives.

  19. I clearly remember reading a novel about a Greek colonization where things started OK but they ended up in a conflict with the locals and eventually defeated them using hoplite armour and tactics.

    But I can’t remember the name or author! I thought it was Tom Holt but it doesn’t show up on his bibliography. Does anyone else remember this?

  20. I would be most interested in a future description of Phoenician trading contacts in the Cornwall/Devon region. Some of my ancestors come from that region, and I’ve only heard snippets of the tin mining and trade that drew them out of the Mediterranean and through the Bay of Biscay to Cornwall (in the broader sense: the name Devon is apparently derived from a Celtic word, Englished.)

    Another topic of interest is the relationship of the Phoenicians and the northern Hebrew kingdom of Israel, which apparently acted as a hinterland/backstop for the Phoenicians until it was destroyed by the Assyrians; plus of course the relationship of the Phoenicians and the later Sephardic communities of Spain. (I suspect there is a link.)

    And the third; the trade posts/border guard stations of the Roman Empire in the Rhine Valley, the north-west border of the Roman Empire until its collapse, and any putative relationship between them and the later rich cities of the Rhine Valley.

    1. “I would be most interested in a future description of Phoenician trading contacts in the Cornwall/Devon region. Some of my ancestors come from that region, and I’ve only heard snippets of the tin mining and trade that drew them out of the Mediterranean and through the Bay of Biscay to Cornwall”

      Despite a lot of speculations, no hard evidence – and absence of archaeological evidence looks more like evidence of absence.
      Phoenician colonies were at Cadiz and Huelva. In 8th…7th century BC, there were also Phoenician colonies in Portugal, trading apparently with tin mines of Northwest Spain… but these were abandoned or taken over by natives in 6th century BC. The reason seems to have been, not that tin trade stopped but that it was redirected to improved routes overland.
      So, Cornwall sold tin, but the tin routes probably went overland across Gaul to Massalia.
      Could someone provide a map, like century by century distribution of tin composition across Eurasia – how many % Cornish tin, how many % Galician tin, how many % Uzbek tin was used in, say, Tarquinii, Carthage or Babylon each half-century?

      “And the third; the trade posts/border guard stations of the Roman Empire in the Rhine Valley, the north-west border of the Roman Empire until its collapse, and any putative relationship between them and the later rich cities of the Rhine Valley.”

      This actually ties to an old blog post here.

      Because these castles actually were about the stuff Brett is condemning – “city, town or castle set out all alone in the middle of empty spaces.”

      About but not exactly. Many of the fictional works exaggerate them by omitting what lay behind the empty spaces.
      For hard evidence, see Tacitus, Annals:
      XIII, 54: …The Frisians​ accordingly moved their population to the Rhine bank; the able-bodied men by way of the forests and swamps, those not of military age by the Lakes. Here they settled in the clearings reserved for the use of the troops, the instigators being Verritus and Malorix, who exercised over the tribe such kingship as exists in Germany. They had already fixed their abodes and sown the fields, and were tilling the soil as if they had been born on it, when Dubius Avitus, — who had taken over the province from Paulinus, — by threatening them with the Roman arms unless they withdrew to their old district or obtained the grant of a new site from the emperor, forced Verritus and Malorix to undertake the task of presenting the petition. [Description of the visit to Rome] instructed the Frisians to leave the district. As they ignored the order, compulsion was applied by the unexpected despatch of a body of auxiliary horse, which captured or killed the more obstinate of those who resisted.
      55: The same ground was then seized by the Ampsivarii… “Why should such an extent of clear ground lie waste, merely that on some distant day the flocks and herds of the soldiers could be brought over to it? By all means let them keep reservations for cattle in the midst of starving men, but not to the extent of choosing a desert and a solitude for neighbours in preference to friendly nations! Once on a time those fields had been held by the Chamavi; then by the Tubantes, and later by the Usipi. ”

      Calgacus said the same – Romans make desert and call it peace. Note what Boiocalus says: “merely that on some distant day the flocks and herds of the soldiers could be brought over to it? By all means let them keep reservations for cattle in the midst of starving men,”. Sounds like an implication that most of the time the soldiers did not even keep herds in desert.

      Now in 1st century BC, the left bank of Rhine was not actually desert – much of the people forced to leave the right bank desert were moved to left bank. But considering the numbers of defenders… Luguvallium of Hadrian´s Wall was not fed by Dumfriesshire (that was artificial desert), but the wealth of Cumberland did not suffice to fund Hadrian´s Wall either. There indeed were fields that fed Hadrian´s Wall, and villas, and slave huts or barracks and tenant huts… but they were not in front of Wall in Dumfriesshire, nor right behind in Cumberland, nor even in British Home Counties (Britain was subsidized through Roman era) but in Gaul.
      In case of lower Rhine, actually in 4th century AD, for several decades, the Romans forcibly evacuated the people of immediate left bank to deeper in Gaul – proven by archaeology! But they did not then evacuate the limes castles… making these castles precisely castles in the middle of desert.
      But what the fantasy lonely cities in desert omit is the logistics – road or river route, convoys or ships regularly bringing supplies from the base area, the people back in the distant villages and maybe towns organizing the consignments to border fortresses, and the relationship between the border fortress and people back in mainland who subsidize it.
      Also, as for specialization to middle republic, making deserts was not an innovation of Empire. Middle Republic made deserts of Liguria, Carthage, Corinth. Carthage and Corinth were cities, but Liguria was countryside.

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