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The Aegean Sea - Historical Era

The Historical Era
After the final disintegration of the Mycenaean world and the formation of a new reality on Greece, the wider Aegean area was once again at the epicenter of developments.  History repeats itself, and time and time again the Aegean archipelago has enjoyed a heyday when the fortunes of great powers on the shores on either side were in decline.  The enrichment of the island region with immigrants, as a result of the intense colonizing activity during the 10th century BC, set its seal on the beginning of the economic and intellectual revival of the Aegean.  

The growth of craft industries came in the wake of the widening of commercial activities, due to the extension of the trade routes and the founding of new trading posts (emporia, a?????O?).  The fertile meeting of the inhabitants of the Aegean with the Phoenicians gave birth to the first fully elaborated phonetic alphabet in the world, which was the basis of the modern European alphabets.  

The generalized economic boom in the region led, as in other centers, to an increase in population, which in many cases caused demographic problems.  In response to these, a second cycle of colonization began (8th-6th century BC), in which the Aegean islands played an important role.  Two important changes that took place in this period proved to be a watershed in the history of civilization: the gradual formation of the institution of the city-state and the cultivation and crystalization of the idea of the common origin of all the Greeks.  

New ideas took root and blossomed, mainly in the cities of Aeolis and Ionia, where the Greeks had founded new and vital hearths.  These ideas contributed decisively to the great achievements in Philosophy, Literature, and Art.  On the shores of Asia Minor and on the islands of the Aegean, the various genres of Greek Letters found their final form.  The Ionian cities of Smyrna and Chios lay claim to the paternity of Homer, whose epic poems mark the dawn of European literature.  The Cyclades, Samos, and Lesbos were home to the most important exponents of lyric poetry; Archilochos from Paros; Alkaios, Sappho, Arion and Terpander from Lesbos; Simonides and Bacchylides from Ceos.  The first documented attempts at a rational-logical interpretation of the cosmos are noted in the wider Aegean region, and it is surely no accident that almost all the Ionian philosophers were well-traveled merchants and seafarers.  Thales, Xenophanes, Anaximander, and Anaximenes were born and taught in Miletus; Pythagoras hailed from Samos, and Herakleitos was raised in Ephesus.  

In architecture, pioneering creators built some of the most splendid temples and secular buildings, laying the foundations of the European architectural tradition.  The abundance of marble, of excellent quality and easily accessible, led to the development of the great marble-sculpting workshops in the Cyclades, the islands on which the first steps had been taken in an art that glorified the Greek spirit.  

The cultural unity of the Hellenic world and the autonomy of the Greek cities were threatened for the first time in the late 6th/early 5th century BC, when many centers in the Asia Minor littoral and the East Aegean islands were enslaved by the Persians.  The invaders' expansionist policy evoked the co-ordinated and mass – with few exceptions – reaction of the Greek cities, which led in the end to the expulsion of the foe, after battles on land and sea, at Marathon, Salamis, Plataeae, and Mycale.  

The Athenians played a hegemonic role in vanquishing the Persians, and when the wars were over the center of gravity of the Hellenic world shifted to Athens.  The contribution of the Aegean region to the course of history was by no means diminished however.  The League organized by the Athenians to confront and counteract the Persian menace was in essence an Aegean force.  The overwhelming majority of the allied cities that participated in the Athenian League, at first as equals and later as vassal members, were located on the islands or coasts of the Aegean.  During the period of its zenith, the League extended from the Asia Minor littoral to Euboea (Evia), and from the Chalcidice (Chalkidiki) to Rhodes.  

A large part of the material resources, as well as the intellectual capital on which the golden age of the Athenian democracy was based, derived from the perpetually productive region of the Aegean.  Skopas, one of the most important sculptors of the 4th century BC, was a Parian; Hippodamos, the town planner who laid the foundations of this discipline, was from Miletus; Herodotus, the father of history, was born in Halicarnassus; Anaxagoras and Protagoras, great philosophers active in Athens in the 5th century BC, came from Clazomenae and Abdera, respectively.  Medical science and ethics (the Hippocratic Oath) originated in Cnidus and on Cos (Kos), home of Hippocrates. 

In Hellenistic times, the institution of the city-state, which had been the basis of the political and cultural life of the Greeks, began to lose its importance.  After the creation and crystalization of the ecumenical states, the Aegean, like every other geographically limited unit, lost its autonomous political presence, but not its distinctive cultural identity.  Some of the first large urban centers, in the modern sense of the term, developed in Asia Minor, such as Ephesus and Pergamon.  

In some phases of the Hellenistic period, the wider Aegean region was dynamic enough to support substantial political formations, such as the Koinon of Islanders, founded in 314 BC by Alexander the Great's general Antigonos the Monophthalmos (=one-eyed).  The maritime state of the Rhodians played an analogous role, attaining such a level of economic might that its fleet controlled most of the eastern Mediterranean.  On Rhodes, mistress of the seas, one of the most important laws of the sea was codified, which still regulates international shipping today.  This is the law of average, which stipulates that loss incurred by ejecting part of a ship's load in the event of danger is shared by all those with cargo on board.  

The Romans based their influence in the East on the Hellenic element.  The Aegean region, and especially the coastal cities of Asia Minor, regained their former glory, distinguishing themselves as intellectual hearths, while the important cultural centers of the Greek mainland gradually declined.  Rhodes, Cos, Ephesus, Pergamon, Smyrna, and Delos experienced a new cultural floruit.  The region's cultural influence continued unabated after the Roman conquest and the establishment of the Roman Empire.  The archaeological remains brought to light on the islands confirm the dynamic role played by the Aegean in this era.  

The sculpture workshops in Pergamon and Rhodes produced some of the masterpieces of the period, while many great names in Science, Art, and Literature are associated with the islands and the cities of Asia Minor: the philologists in the Museum of Alexandria, Zenodotos, Aristophanes, Aristarchos and Dionysios, originated from Ephesus, Byzantium, Samothrace, and Thrace, respectively.  The medical school of Cos maintained its pre-eminence.  The astronomer Aristarchos, founder of the solarcentric system, was a Samian.  Deinokrates, the architect and town planner who designed Alexandria, was a Rhodian.  Apollonios of Rhodes, Nikander of Colophon, and Epikouros of Samos were some of the most important representatives of literature and philosophy of the age.

Info thanks to The Greek Ministry for the Aegean Sea (www.ypai.gr)