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                            THE GREEK WORLD IN THE 6th CENTURY B.C. 
Aegisthus Nike and Poseidon

During the Dark Age, for all its lack of dramatic activity, the population of Greece must have increased, with unfortunate consequences. Greece was relatively poor in agricultural resources, and by about 750 the population threatened to outgrow the local capacity to feed it. The problem of limited resources grew more and more acute: the struggle for survival caused social and economic conflict as people turned on each other. They solved this problem through foreign

colonization. In effect, the mainland Greeks of the eighth and seventh centuries, instead of importing foodstuffs, exported their excess population.


They colonized vigorously from about 750 to 600 and by the end of this period had spread over an enormous area, stretching from the northern, western, and southern shores of the Black Sea through Western Asia Minor and Greece proper, including the Aegean islands, to much of Sicily and southern Italy, then continuing west along both shores of the Mediterranean to Cyrene in Libya, to Marseilles, and to Spanish coastal sites. Wherever they went, the Greeks settled on the edge of the sea, never in the hinterland. Among their colonies are some of the great ports of modern Europe: Byzantium (today Istanbul), Naples, and Syracuse.
A colony became a wholly independent state, although the mother city might well expect some courtesies such as offerings during a religious festival. A classic quarrel arose, in the 430s B.C., between Corinth and one of her colonies on the island of Corcyra. Corinth complained that the colony did not show her enough respect, and ultimately the clash became one of the causes of the great Peloponnesian War.
This overseas expansion through colonization led to a revival of trade. The colonies supplied needed raw materials to the mainland Greeks, who in turn furnished them with manufactured goods. Trade brought prosperity to many of the Greeks cities and, even more important, the intangible benefits of contact with other peoples and other ideas.

One of these intangible—and incalculable— benefits was the alphabet. By about 750 the Greeks began to trade with the Phoenicians, who were using a Semitic script called the alphabet (from the first two characters, aleph, which seems to mean "ox," and beth, "house"). The Greeks adapted this script to their own language. At some later time poets used the alphabet to preserve and improve texts of the Homeric poems, which had begun as oral literature.
Two versions of the alphabet developed. A Western version made its way to Cumae, a Greek town in Italy, and then to the Etruscans. They in turn passed it on to the Romans, who developed it into the alphabet that is now prevalent throughout the Western world and is being used more and more in such recently literate regions as Africa. Much later, many letters of the alphabet were used in an Eastern version, the Cyrillic form, the script for Russian and other Slavic languages. Thus large regions of the world use one or another derivative of the Phoenician alphabet in the form that the Greeks gave it.







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