The word “archaic” derives from the Greek word archaios, which means “old” and refers to the period in ancient Greek history before the classical period. The archaic period is generally considered to have lasted from the beginning of the 8th century BC until the beginning of the 5th century BC, with the foundation of the Olympic Games in 776 BC and the Second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC forming notional starting and ending dates. The archaic period was long considered to have been less important and historically interesting than the classical period and was studied primarily as a precursor to it. More recently, however, archaic Greece has come to be studied for its own achievements. With this reassessment of the significance of the archaic period, some scholars have objected to the term “archaic” because of its connotations in English of being primitive and outdated. No term which has been suggested to replace it has gained widespread currency, however, and the term is still in use.
Much evidence about the Classical period of ancient Greece comes from written histories, such as Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. By contrast, no such evidence survives from the archaic period. Surviving contemporary written accounts of life in the period are in the form of poetry. Other written sources from the archaic period include epigraphical evidence, including parts of law codes, inscriptions on votive offerings and epigrams inscribed on tombs. However, none of that evidence is in the quantity for which it survives from the classical period. What is lacking in written evidence, however, is made up for in the rich archaeological evidence from the archaic Greek world. Indeed, although much knowledge of Classical Greek art comes from later Roman copies, all surviving archaic Greek art is original.
Other sources for the archaic period are the traditions recorded by later Greek writers such as Herodotus. However, those traditions are not part of any form of history that would be recognised today. Those transmitted by Herodotus were recorded whether or not he believed them to be accurate. Indeed, Herodotus did not even record any dates before 480 BC.