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by Archaeology Newsroom

Religious and political symbolism of the polis in ancient Greece

A member of a precapitalist society is a homo religiosus, his life governed by mythical and sacred prototypes. Undoubtedly, living space in ancient Greece was determined by material conditions, but cannot be seen in isolation from these prototypes. The acropolis of Dimini in the 4th millennium, consisting of concentric walls, may imply a cosmic model, this may also be the case of the palace of Knossos, due to its association with the labyrinth.

The foundation of the Mycenaean settlement of Kadmeia (Thebes) is related to the slaughter of a dragon symbolizing chaos, while the decoration of the walls of Mycenaean settlements is associated with music. In the case of Athens, from Mycenaean times down to the Archaic period, the centre of the world is spatially transferred to the” omphalos” of a town. In the same city, Cleisthenes’s reform was based on the principle of “isonomia”, closely akin to “symmetria”, a word with a semi-aesthetic meaning deriving from the cosmic order of the Pythagoreans. Symmetria is also the governing principle of the sculptural, pictorial and architectural production of the Classical period. The concept of symmetria and other cosmological notions lie behind Hippodamus’s urban grid. The same is the case with Plato’s ideal city-state in the Laws, which is based on a radial concentric pattern. Both geometry and arithmology are closely related to Plato’s cosmogony and cosmology in Timaeus, and to the description of Atlantis in Kritias.