Monarchies, or governments run by kings or queens, were common in Greece between the 1600s and 1100s B.C., a period of Greek history called the Mycenaean age. Later, most Greek city- states* became democracies or oligarchies*, although sometimes they were ruled by tyrants*. By the 400s B.C., most Greeks knew about kingship only from myths or as a form of government common among barbarian* peoples. After the reign of Alexander the Great, monarchy reemerged as the dominant form of government in the Greek world.
Greek monarchies faded after the Mycenaean age as nobles challenged the one-man rule of kings. The nobles who replaced the kings were, in turn, challenged by the lower classes, and many aristocracies* were overthrown by tyrants. The strong-armed tactics of tyrants and the unlawful manner in which they came to power caused deep resentment. Lack of support from their subjects only made tyrants even more oppressive. By the 400s B.C., most Greek city-states had deposed* their tyrants, replacing them with more democratic governments. Athens is probably the best-known example of a Greek city-state that successfully made the transition to democracy.
Even after most of the tyrants were gone, monarchies continued to rule in such places as Sparta, Sicily, Macedonia, and the Cimmerian Bosporus. Sparta was the only city-state on the mainland that kept its monarchy throughout the classical* period. Two generals from old Spartan families ruled the city-state jointly as kings. Most city-states in Sicily, which the Greeks had colonized early in its history, never achieved enough stability to become democratic. The Sicilian cities of Gela, Akragas, and Syracuse were all under the rule of tyrants. On the fringe of the Greek world was the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus. The kingdom was located on land on both sides of the straits that connect the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The state was formed in the 480s B.C. by a prominent Greek family that had organized other Greek settlers for protection against their Scythian neighbors.
Although the monarchs of Macedonia claimed to be descended from Greeks, most Greeks ridiculed them, especially their language. In the 400s and 300s B.C., Macedonian kings organized a national army, modernized the kingdom, and brought Greek artists to their capital of Pella. King Philip II strengthened and enriched the kingdom. He defeated the Greek forces in battle and gained control of Greece. Philip’s title in Macedonia was king, but in other regions he conquered his title differed. He became the hegemon (leader) of the Panhellenic Congress of Greece, he assumed the title of pharaoh in Egypt, and he took the imperial* title when he conquered Persia. Philip’s son, Alexander the Great (designated Alexander III of Macedon), conquered the Persian Empire and extended Macedonian power to India.
* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory
A ruler in Asia Minor, Mausolus extended his rule over Greek coastal cities in the mid- 300s B.C. During this time, monarchy had reemerged as the dominant form of Greek government after a long period of displacement by democracies, oligarchies, and occasional tyrannies in the various city-states.
Wars between Alexander’s generals followed his death in 323 B.C., and dynasties* were established in the lands that Alexander had conquered. In Egypt, the Ptolemaic dynasty ruled until the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C., when the kingdom was annexed* by the Roman Empire. The Seleucid dynasty, which was based in Syria and Mesopotamia, controlled an empire that was larger and more loosely organized. This dynasty fell to the Romans as well, who divided the kingdom into provinces*. Monarchies were also established in Asia Minor and in northern Afghanistan. The monarchies that existed earlier in Syracuse, Macedonia, and the Cimmerian Bosporus continued. Unlike the monarchies in Asia Minor that became Roman provinces, the kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus survived as a monarchy controlled by Rome until the 300s B.C. (See also Democracy, Greek; Government, Greek; Greece, History of; Mycenae; Tyrants, Greek.)
* oligarchy rule by a few people
* tyrant absolute ruler
* barbarian referring to people from outside the cultures of Greece and Rome, who were viewed as uncivilized
* aristocracy rule by the nobility or privileged upper class
* depose to remove from high office
* classical in Greek history, refers to the period of great political and cultural achievement from about 500 B.C. to 323 B.C.
* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire
* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group
* annex to add a territory to an existing state
* province overseas area controlled by Rome