The Archaic period (800-480 BCE) was a monumental time of change for Ancient Greece – in both history and art. Poleis, city states, developed further, and enabled the Greek civilization to create a stronger identity. At the same time as these city states increased the unity of Greece as a whole, they also forced smaller cities and towns to give up their local autonomy and other freedoms, and soon those small towns began to take on the name of their capital city. There was a general increase in social complexity for example, a moveable wealth standard and more buildings were created and hereditary ties disappeared. The agora – the heart of the polis – evolved to include judicial and economic activity as well as a place for the community to gather.
From 750-550 BCE the Greeks ventured overseas in a dramatic and constant colonization movement – expanding and encountering a new world. In moving towards greater colonization, Greeks spread their language and culture across the Mediterranean. Greek communities appear very rapidly around the Aegean and tended to be independent from their mother polis, as those who joined the colonies were forced to give up citizenship in the mother-city. Also, starting in the late 7th century BCE contact increased with Egypt and the New East – leading to the Orientalizing Period with an influx of new ideas. Among these ideas was a change in artistic patterns, moving from the highly geometric designs of earlier periods and adopting floral designs along with depictions of animals.
Artistic and architectural developments were essentially efforts to solve problems. The goal of the artists, most likely, was to create a representation of the world as it seems – and their skills continued to improve throughout the period. Black figure and later red figure painting are techniques that the Greeks used in order to add more detail to their ceramics.
A separation occurred between the place of worship and the house of the ruler. Due to the increasing wealth, expensive and more durable building materials could be used to build temples – they were now made out of marble and limestone. Previously, temples had been made from mud and wood, which decompose with time, meaning the first well preserved temples were constructed in the Archaic period. The Doric and Ionic orders were created and continued to develop throughout the period.
The first Olympic games, an elite athletic display, were held in honor of Zeus and allowed the Greeks to utilize their love of the famous agon. These games came to be called Panhellenic (all Greek).
Directly translated as “beautiful and good,” the term refers to the characteristics that ideal men and women possess and permeates through all of Archaic Greece. However, the characteristics for men and women were vastly different. The ideal man was supposed to have physical beauty, grace, nobility and sex appeal, along with athletic ability, and success in warfare and the arts. Women, on the other hand, while expected to be beautiful, graceful, have sex appeal, also were ideally from a good family and had values including modesty, virtue and piety. These attributes lended themselves to certain social personas. Ideal males were considered athletes, warriors, symposiast and more. Women were either the mother or the maiden. In both cases, artists made the connection between the idealization of a person and the divine by endowing their works with an ethereal, otherworldly quality shared by their portrayals of the gods.
Kalokagathia is the aesthetic representation of the state of being beautiful and good. As it so happens, aesthetic beauty lead to moral beauty during this period. This gallery strives to show just how thoroughly intertwined the two were in Greek society.