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The Period of Homer


1. Foundations: nature, means of production, forms of social life.

A map of the region:

"Readings in the History of Material Culture", ed. I. Bronstein, Leningrad, 1924.

Danilevsky, "History of Technology", Kharkov, 1928

"Essays in the Technology of Pre-capitalist Formations", Moscow, 1936

M. Khvostov, "The History of Greece", Moscow, 1928

"Economic History of Foreign Countries", Minsk, 1996

2. Class struggle and politics.

George Grote, "History of Ancient Greece", XIX century work

Herodotus, "History"

Thucydides, "History of Peloponnesian war"

Xenophon, "History of Greece"

Arrian, "The Campaign of Alexander"

Plutarch, "Alexander"

Diodorus, "Historical Library", book XVII (biography of Alexander)

3. Military art.

Hans Delbruck, "Military Art in the Framework of Political History", volume 1

4. Consciousness of the epoch.

Homer, "Iliad" and "Odyssey"

Hesiod, "Theogany" and "Works and Days"

Dialogues of Plato, especially "The Republic"

Hegel, "Phenomenology of Spirit: Science of Experience of Consciousness"

A. Bonnar, "Greek Civilization"

Steven Kreis' "History's Guide",

* * *

Why do I place the "bibliography" at the beginning, not the end of the work? First, this is an indication of the least amount of literature and sites that need to be "digested". So, if there is a topic in front of you that is interesting, think well before jumping in. Second, a look at the sources immediately gives you a foresight about possible conclusions. Third, the material is arranged according to categories of dialectical materialist method. These categories need to be well-developed before one jumps to application of the method to modern times. Scientific approach, i.e. study of things separately, must precede the Marxist approach, i.e. study of things in their dialectic. Fourth, notice the necessary use of "original" sources along with modern overviews in understanding a period. When using "overviews", it's best to rely upon the most authoritative.


1. Material foundations of the Greek society

1. It seems not completely true to say that a level of development of society is determined by the level of development of its productive forces. This statement should be supplemented by discussion of natural environment in which a given society functions, and which is either favorable or unfavorable to development of the productive forces. M. Khvostov states it in the following way: "At early stages of development, the human society is most of all affected by the climate and conditions of the soil". (First of all, study geography and the weather of the region concerned.)

As for Greece specifically, we find out: "Greece was in a moderate climate, and so the Greeks should have experienced all the consequences of this circumstance, i.e. they constantly had to struggle with the weather, but were not overburdened by it... It is possible to say that in cold countries, the weather is an hostile step-mother, while in warm countries it is a spoiling mother; thus for Greeks nature was an educating mother."

"The average temperature in Athens is 17 degrees Celsius, average temperature in January + 6 degrees, in July + 27 degrees. In Athens, there are an average of 45 rainy days per year."

Mountains, which are typical landscape for Greece, protected the country from the north from invasion of barbarians, and inside the country they promoted separate development of city-states.

A jagged shoreline plus a large number of islands were favorable for development of trade. Using primitive ships, it is possible to sail from one island to the next across the sea, never letting the land to disappear from view.

2. Some modern sources break up the ancient Greek history into following periods: 1) Crete - Mycenae period (XXX - XII century B.C.); 2) Homer's period (XI-IX centuries B.C.); 3) archaic period (VIII-VI centuries B.C.); 4) classical period (V-IV centuries B.C.). After this, Greece looses its independence and becomes a part of the Roman empire.

Steven Kreis divides up the Greek history as follows:

Archaic Greece 3000-1600 B.C.
Mycenaean Greece 1600-1200 B.C.
Dark Ages 1200-800 B.C.
Greek Renaissance 800-600 B.C.
Classical or Hellenic Greece 600-323 B.C.
Hellenistic Greece 323-31 B.C.

In these lectures, we divide up the Greek history into: 1) the period of Homer; 2) the period of Solon; 3) the period of Greek-Persian wars; 4) the period of Peloponnesian war; 5) period of Alexander the Great. Our division has been dictated by our interest in chief historical figures, or wars, which stand out from the gray veil of time.

3. Greeks have obtained their culture from Phoenicians, who were traders. Khvostov writes: "It is a common thing in the history of religion that gods follow the traders". (We should add: not only in history of religion, but imperialism as well.) Phoenician culture is a result of mixture of Assyrian-Babylonian and Egyptian cultures. This indicates continuity of Greek civilizations with Eastern societies that formed the first stage in development of slave-owning societies.

4. "The main form of economic life during the Crete-Mycenae period centered around the palace. This was very close to analogous structures of eastern countries" ("Economic History of Foreign Countries"). The palace "performed universal functions. It was, simultaneously, an administrative and religious center, the main storage place, the workshop and trading place. In more developed societies, the same function was performed by cities". The highest development of state on the island of Crete dates to XVI-XV centuries B.C. (On the photograph: the ruins of palace of Mycenae) (Organization of economic life, Crete-Mycenae period)

5. Similar to Egypt, ancient Greece is first of all characterized by agriculture. Thus, according to Homer, when the messenger from king Agamemnon approaches Odysseus to invite the king to a war, the latter is busy working the land with the plough. In addition to agriculture, the society was relying upon livestock farming. (Main sphere of production)

The Greek society in the period XI-VII centuries B.C. was in transition from ownership of land in common by the whole tribe to private ownership. This is related to decay of clan structure of the society. Before, the land was obtained by casting lots, for temporary use, but "in this epoch the land plots obtained through casting lots became permanent property of the owners. We see that rich people are called, in 'Odyssey', 'having many lots', while the poor are called 'having no lots'. 'The lot' is inherited to the children." (Khvostov) (Relations of production in the main sphere)

6. At the basis of industry we have mines where metals were extracted. The nature of Greece was rich in metals and this fact helped its cultural development. Iron was in plenty, and on the island of Crete there was lots of copper. The copper is used to manufacture the bronze, the first metal of the Greeks. Homer talks about it in "The Iliad" of XI century B.C. After this period, in VII-VI centuries the Greeks switch to iron. The iron is used to make first of all different means of production, such as parts for the plough (which was then "high technology"), and also the weapons. (Secondary sphere of production)

Khvostov says: "The artisans in Homer are called 'demiurges', i.e. 'working among the people'. In addition to artisans, to this category also belonged the prophets, the singers and the public announcers... Homer's aristocratic society looks with respect upon outstanding craftsmen. We see that such craftsmen have their own lineage, and Hephaestus himself is a smith. Priests and doctors, who were also seen as 'demiurges', belonged to the nobility". We should note that Egyptian tradition is felt here, according to which labor is something noble and worthy of gods; the souls of the dead were seen as working the plough. (Relations of production in the secondary sphere)

The craftsmen sold the products of the labor immediately to the users, and not to traders, i.e. in Homer's time the trader-middleman still did not appear. Lone single traders were seen as selfish, and people treated them disdainfully, e.g. the Phoenicians. The tools of the trade and raw materials were in the hands of the artisans. Usually, they worked in their homes, although sometimes they were invited to the house of the client, where they worked with the materials of the client. (The sphere of exchange)

7. Basic transportation of the epoch is the trireme, which is a vessel with three rows of oars, supplemented with a sail. Trireme represented a substantial progress in shipbuilding of the times, and first started to be used (according to Thucydides) just before the Greek-Persian war. Military advantage of these Greek ships was proved in many battles against Persian vessels.

As a means of long-distance communication, Greeks continue to use "fire telegraph", which has appeared at the stage of barbarism, and was used by North American Indians at the time they first encountered the Europeans. Thus Greeks sent news from Troy to the mainland with the help of "fire telegraph", which has numerous "transmitting stations" on many islands in the area. (Means of transportation and exchange)

8. In Homer' time, the clan as a production unit has already disappeared. "But the clan continues to exist as a group of people who are united by their descent from a common ancestor" (Khvostov). Instead of the clan, the basic production unit of society becomes a family, within which, in some cases, the traces of matriarchy and polygamy still can be visible. Monogamous family is the new type of production entity, i.e. a unit within which a common ownership of things exists. It is the common ownership of the things, common way of life, common worries about production and reproduction of life that unites members of the family. Before that, production was managed by the clan. In the modern capitalist society, it seems family is disintegrating to the level of a single parent (i.e. most often the mother), or a single person. (Economy in the period of Homer).

9. The main trait of the slave-owning society is the labor of the slaves. Ancient authors thought about how to increase the productivity of slave's labor, how to make him interested in results of his work. Aristotle writes in his "Economics": "Slaves who are busy with the more noble pursuit more attention should be given, while slaves who are busy with menial labor should be fed a plenty... it is just and useful to make freedom an ultimate reward for a slave; slaves want to work when there is a reward for the work and when there is a definite time period appointed for it". One would not say the same thing of modern workers. When a soldier in the former Soviet army is told to build something "from this fence to the dinner time", he is not interested in his work. For a modern man to become interested in work, s/he should see that work not as negation of himself, but as a realization (for example, as mothers often look at their children).

Slavery, on the one hand, can educate the slave, lift his/her consciousness. Hegel says in "Phenomenology" that a slave works a raw material and thereby shapes it. At the same time, s/he shapes his/her own consciousness. The process of "shaping" something is thus always both objective and subjective. On the other hand, slavery doesn't allow for development of society beyond a certain point. Physical labor, when seen as slave's province, is made contemptible by society in general. A. Bonnar writes: "In the second century A.D. Plutarch makes a significant statement that no young man from a good family would want to become (sculptors) Phidias or Polyclitus, as these masters would be looked down by the society, as physical laborers".

The problem of slave character of labor makes its impression on science as the latter "develops only in so much as it is useful to the people, as it makes them more independent vis-à-vis forces of nature and frees them from social oppression... Science, investigations and discoveries which do not serve humanity, its search after freedom and development, such science soon loses the right perspective and wilts away". Greek science, which has not had the stimulus to inventing machines, "has fallen into deep slumber... has closed itself in abstract wanderings" (A. Bonnar). (Principal form of productive labor)

10. In general, we can characterize the Greek production mode as "natural", i.e. where all things necessary are produced in households (as is still the case, to some extent, in villages in the less developed regions of the world). Slaves, "family" members, produce all that is necessary for the household. For example, Penelope (in the "Odyssey") watches over the women who are weaving, and she herself makes the fabric. At the same time, commodity production is only starting, as the slaves and artisans produce some of their products for the market. This was a totally new mode of life for the times. For example, Plutarch writes: "Pericles organized the management of his riches in the way which appeared to him most rational and comfortable. He sold the harvest completely on the market, and then bought on the market all that was necessary, and thus regulated his budget as a whole, as well as his yearly expenditures".

11. Karl Bucher writes: "The 'domicile' represents not only the living quarters, but the whole group of producing people; those who belong to it are seen as 'domestics' - an expression which in history refers to household slaves, as they had to perform all the housework. Roman 'familia' has the same meaning, i.e. the totality of 'family', domestic slaves, etc. 'Pater familias' is the master of these slaves; he manages the entire produce produced in the household. No one in the household makes anything for self; rather, they all work for 'pater familias'; he is free in the life and death of all of its members". (Relations at home). 

2. Class struggle in the period of the Trojan war

1. The period from 1000 to 700 B.C. is the Bronze Age in Greece. Homer is our main source on the period. The Greek society is dominated by land aristocracy called "eupatridai". Encyclopedia "Encarta" has the following to say on the term: "In ancient Attica, the dēmiourgoi formed one of three classes of the population, along with the nobility (eupatridai) and the farmers (geōrgoi)". Eupatridai formed the best part of the Greek military formations.

The farmers, or better to say "the peasants" depended on the eupatridai. The peasants break up into 3 classes: 1) those who worked for themselves on their own land; 2) those who rented the land from the big landowners; 3) the farm hands.

Inside the tribes and the clans class differentiation takes place. The more wealthy clans take pride in their ancestors, and hence preserve the clan structure for a longer time. Members of the poorer clans forget about their clan relationships sooner.

2. According to A. Bonnar, the main reason for the Trojan war was the economic rivalry between the mainland Greeks and the fortress of Troy (situated on the Asia Minor). Poor development of economy leads to a rather small size of the force besieging the fortress, and to the whole undertaking taking 10 years. Thucydides writes that the expedition of Agamemnon was of a small size "not so much from lack of manpower but from lack of money. Lack of food provisions has forced them to decrease the size to the level where they expected that they could live on the soil on which they fought... they cultivated the soil of Khersones and went on marauding expeditions due to lack of provisions. Because of such dissipation of forces, the Trojans could withstand the assault for ten years".

3. Consciousness in the epoch of Homer

1. The main meaning of the "Iliad" are the internal struggles in the camp of the Greeks during the siege of the Ilion (another name of Troy). At the head of one party is the king Agamemnon; at the head of another party is Achilles. Achilles refuses to go to a fight because the king takes a girl prisoner into his tent. As a result, Patroclus, the best friend of Achilles, is killed. This tragedy is not specific to the siege of Troy, but has repeated itself again and again in human history. That's why we find the story interesting.

2. The other masterpiece of Homer is the "Odyssey". It is the story of the long way home. What can be more intimate than this theme? For those who have not left their country for any period of time this is hardly understandable. Great difficulties and temptations are on the way of such a wanderer.

3. A. Bonnar writes: "The Homer's epoch coincides with a big outburst in the class struggle, perhaps the sharpest which the history has known. In this struggle the poor people, who didn't have any land, or who had very little of it, under the leadership of the traders, have attempted to take from the land aristocracy the privilege to land ownership, which the latter usurped. At the same time, the people take hold of the culture of the ruling classes, make it their own, and create their own masterpieces". If we compare Homer with other great poets - Milton of the English revolution, (Robert) Burns and the struggle of the oppressed Irish peasants, Mayakovsky and the epoch of the Russian revolution, (Vladimir) Visotsky and the stifling times of the Brezhnev era - we can say that everything great partakes of the world Revolution; everything great reflects the revolutionary sun. Everything great is a part of the Revolution, its specific manifestation at the given moment, as Hegel would say, its "spirit".

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