Second or Authentic Period of History

The second and authentic period of Greek history commences in the year 884 B.C., at the institution of the Olympic Festival, when the people had begun to emerge from their primitive barbarism. This festival, as already stated, was instituted by direction of the Delphic oracle, by Iphitus, Prince of Elis, for the patriotic purpose of assembling together, in a peaceful manner, persons from all parts of Greece. The festival was ordained to take place once every four years, in the month corresponding to our July, and to last five days, during which there was to be complete truce, or cessation from war, throughout the Grecian states. Agreeably to the ancient practice at public solemnities, the festival was celebrated by games and various feats of personal skill, and the whole order of procedure was regulated with extraordinary care. All freemen of Grecian extraction were invited to contend, provided they had been born in lawful wedlock, and had lived untainted by any infamous moral stain. No women (the priestesses of Ceres excepted) were permitted to be present. Females who violated this law were thrown from a rock. The competitors prepared themselves during ten months previous at the gymnasium at Elis. During the last thirty days, the exercises were performed with as much regularity as at the games themselves. The festival began in the evening with solemn sacrifices, and the games were commenced the next day at daybreak.

These consisted in races on horseback and on foot, in leaping, throwing the discus or quoit, wrestling, and boxing; musical and poetical contests concluded the whole. The honor of having gained a victory in the Olympic Games was very great; it extended from the victor to his country, which was proud of owning him. However rude and boisterous were some of the sports of the Olympic Festival, it is acknowledged by the best authorities that they were attended with manifold advantages to society. It is sufficient barely to mention the suspension of hostilities, which took place not only during the festival, but a considerable time both before and after it. Considered as a kind of religious ceremony, at which the whole Grecian citizens were invited, and even enjoined, to assist, it was well adapted to facilitate intercourse, to promote knowledge, to soften prejudice, and to hasten the progress of civilization and humanity.

At the first institution of the Olympic Festival, and for one or two centuries afterwards, the condition of Grecian society was primitive, and almost patriarchal, but marked by strong features of heroic dignity, and a certain depth and refinement of thought. The attire of the men was very simple, consisting only of a shirt or close jacket to the body, with a loose robe hanging clown over the naked limbs, while performers in the public games were almost naked. The arts, including agriculture, were also little advanced; few persons seemed to have thought of toiling to accumulate wealth; and each community presented, in time of peace, the picture of a large family. That portion of the people constituting the freemen lived much in public, or in the society of their equals, enjoyed common pleasures and amusements, and had daily opportunities of displaying their useful talents in the sight of their fellow-citizens. The frequent disputes between individuals occasioned litigations and trials, which furnished employment for the eloquence and ability of men in the necessary defence of their friends. The numerous games and public solemnities opened a continual source of entertainment, and habituated every man to active physical exercise, and the performance of his duties as a soldier. These were agreeable features in the condition of Grecian society; but there were also some of an opposite character. The people were of an unsettled disposition, never satisfied long with any kind of government which existed amongst them, and very much disposed to wage war against neighboring states on the most trifling pretenses.

The population of the various states was divided into three classes - namely, the citizens, the enfranchised populace, and the slaves. All political power, even in the most democratical of the Grecian communities, was possessed by the first of these classes, while in the oligarchical states, only that small portion of the citizens which constituted the nobility or aristocracy possessed any influence in the management of public affairs. The mechanical and agricultural labors necessary for the support and comfort of the whole, were chiefly performed by the inferior class of free inhabitants, who did not enjoy the privilege of citizenship, and by the slaves, who formed a considerable portion of the population of every state. These slaves were sprung from the same general or parent stock, spoke the same language, and professed the same religion, as their masters. They were in most cases the descendants of persons who had been conquered in war, but were in some instances acquired by purchase. Society being thus based on vicious principles, it is not wonderful that the Grecian states were the scene of constant civil broils.