The GREEK DARK AGE, also called GREEK DARK AGES, HOMERIC AGE (named
for the fabled poet,
Homer ) or GEOMETRIC PERIOD (so called after the
Geometric art of the time), is the period of Greek
history from the end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around
1100 BC to the first signs of the Greek poleis , city states, in the
9th century BC.
The archaeological evidence shows a widespread collapse of Bronze Age
civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean world at the outset of the
period, as the great palaces and cities of the Mycenaeans were
destroyed or abandoned. Around then, the Hittite civilization suffered
serious disruption and cities from
Troy to Gaza were destroyed.
Following the collapse, fewer and smaller settlements suggest famine
and depopulation. In Greece, the
Linear B writing of the Greek
language used by Mycenaean bureaucrats ceased. The decoration on Greek
pottery after about 1100 BC lacks the figurative decoration of
Mycenaean ware and is restricted to simpler, generally geometric
styles (1000–700 BC).
It was previously thought that all contact was lost between mainland
Hellenes and foreign powers during this period, yielding little
cultural progress or growth, but artifacts from excavations at
Lefkandi on the
Lelantine Plain in
Euboea show that significant
cultural and trade links with the east, particularly the
developed from c. 900 BC onwards. Additionally, evidence has emerged
of the new presence of Hellenes in sub-Mycenaean
Cyprus and on the
Syrian coast at
Al Mina .
* 1 Fall of Mycenaeans
* 2 Mediterranean warfare and
* 3 Culture
* 4 Post-Mycenaean
* 5 Society
* 7 End
* 8 New writing system
* 9 Continuity thesis
* 10 See also
* 11 References
* 12 Bibliography
FALL OF MYCENAEANS
Mycenaean civilization started to collapse from 1200 BC.
Archaeology suggests that, around 1100 BC, the palace centres and
outlying settlements of the Mycenaeans' highly organized culture began
to be abandoned or destroyed, and by 1050 BC, the recognizable
features of Mycenaean culture had disappeared, and the population had
decreased significantly. Many explanations attribute the fall of the
Mycenaean civilization and the
Bronze Age collapse
Bronze Age collapse to climatic or
environmental catastrophe, combined with an invasion by
Dorians or by
Sea Peoples , or to the widespread availability of edged weapons
of iron, but no single explanation fits the available archaeological
MEDITERRANEAN WARFARE AND SEA PEOPLES
Around this time large-scale revolts took place in several parts of
the eastern Mediterranean, and attempts to overthrow existing kingdoms
were made as a result of economic and political instability by
surrounding people, who were already plagued with famine and hardship.
Part of the Hittite kingdom was invaded and conquered by the so-called
Sea Peoples , whose origins, perhaps from different parts of the
Mediterranean such as the
Black Sea , the Aegean and Anatolian
regions, remain obscured. The 13th- and 12th-century inscriptions and
Luxor are the only sources for "Sea Peoples", a
term invented by the Egyptians themselves and recorded in boastful
accounts of Egyptian military successes. For these so-called "Sea
Peoples", there is little more evidence than these inscriptions.
The foreign countries... made a conspiracy in their islands. All at
once the lands were on the move, scattered in war. No country could
stand before their arms…. Their league was
A similar assemblage of peoples may have attempted to invade Egypt
twice, once during the reign of
Merneptah , about 1208 BC, and again
during the reign of
Ramesses III , about 1178 BC.
Geometric-style box in the shape of a barn. On display in the
Ancient Agora Museum in Athens, housed in the Stoa of Attalus. From
early geometric cremation burial of a pregnant wealthy woman, 850 BC.
With the collapse of the palatial centres, no more monumental stone
buildings were built and the practice of wall painting may have
ceased; writing in the
Linear B script ceased, vital trade links were
lost, and towns and villages were abandoned. Writing in the Linear B
script ceased particularly because the redistributive economy had
crashed, and there was no longer a need to keep records in Linear B
script. The population of Greece was reduced, and the world of
organized state armies, kings, officials, and redistributive systems
disappeared. Most of the information about the period comes from
burial sites and the grave goods contained within them.
The fragmented, localized and autonomous cultures of reduced
complexity are noted for such diversity of their material cultures in
pottery styles (conservative in Athens, eclectic at Knossos), burial
practices and settlement structures. The pottery style, Proto-
Geometric signaled the loss of previous designs that were more
complex. These newer designs were simpler, including only lines and
curves, signaling a simplified society. Generalizations about the
"Dark Age Society" are generally considered false, because the various
cultures throughout Greece cannot be grouped into a large "Dark Age
Society" category. Tholos tombs are found in early Iron Age Thessaly
Crete but not in general elsewhere, and cremation is the
dominant rite in
Attica but nearby in the
Argolid , it was inhumation
. Some former sites of Mycenaean palaces, such as
continued to be occupied; the fact that other sites experienced an
expansive "boom time" of a generation or two before they were
abandoned has been associated by James Whitley with the "big-man
social organization ", which is based on personal charisma and is
inherently unstable: he interprets
Lefkandi in this light.
Some regions in Greece, such as Attica,
Euboea and central Crete,
recovered economically from these events faster than others, but life
for the poorest Greeks would have remained relatively unchanged as it
had done for centuries. There was still farming, weaving, metalworking
and pottery but at a lower level of output and for local use in local
styles. Some technical innovations were introduced around 1050 BC with
the start of the
Proto-geometric style (1050–900 BC), such as the
superior pottery technology that included a faster potter's wheel for
superior vase shapes and the use of a compass to draw perfect circles
and semicircles for decoration. Better glazes were achieved by higher
temperature firing of clay. However, the overall trend was toward
simpler, less intricate pieces and fewer resources being devoted to
the creation of beautiful art.
The smelting of iron was learned from
Cyprus and the
Levant and was
exploited and improved upon by using local deposits of iron ore
previously ignored by the Mycenaeans: edged weapons were now within
reach of less elite warriors. Though the universal use of iron was one
shared feature among Dark Age settlements, it is still uncertain when
the forged iron weapons and armour achieved superior strength to those
that had been previously cast and hammered from bronze. From 1050,
many small local iron industries appeared, and by 900, almost all
weapons in grave goods were made of iron.
The distribution of the
Ionic Greek dialect in historic times
indicates early movement from the mainland of Greece to the Anatolian
coast to such sites as
Ephesus , and Colophon , perhaps as
early as 1000, but the contemporaneous evidence is scant. In Cyprus,
some archaeological sites begin to show identifiably Greek ceramics,
a colony of Euboean Greeks was established at
Al Mina on the Syrian
coast, and a reviving Aegean Greek network of exchange can be detected
from 10th-century Attic Proto-geometric pottery found in
Crete and at
Samos , off the coast of Asia Minor.
Finds form an early geometric
Cremation Burial of a pregnant
wealthy woman, from the N.W. of the Areopagus, about 850 BC, Ancient
Agora Museum (Athens); exhibit 14-16: broad gold finger rings; exhibit
17-19: gold finger rings; 20: pair of gold earrings with trapezoid
Cyprus was inhabited by a mix of "
Pelasgians " and
joined during this period by the first Greek settlements. Potters in
Cyprus initiated the most elegant new pottery style of the 10th and
9th centuries, the "Cypro-Phoenician" "black on red" style of small
flasks and jugs that held precious contents, probably scented oil.
Together with distinctively Greek Euboean ceramic wares, it was widely
exported and is found in Levantine sites, including Tyre and far
inland in the late 11th and 10th centuries. Cypriot metalwork was
exchanged in Crete.
It is likely that Greece during this period was divided into
independent regions organized by kinship groups and the oikoi or
households, the origins of the later poleis . Excavations of Dark Age
communities such as
Nichoria in the
Peloponnese have shown how a
Bronze Age town was abandoned in 1150 BC but then reemerged as a small
village cluster by 1075 BC. At this time there were only around forty
families living there with plenty of good farming land and grazing for
cattle. The remains of a 10th century building, including a megaron ,
on the top of the ridge have led to speculation that this was the
chieftain's house. This was a larger structure than those surrounding
it but it was still made from the same materials (mud brick and
thatched roof). It was perhaps also a place of religious significance
and of communal storage of food. High status individuals did in fact
exist in the Dark Age, but their standard of living was not
significantly higher than others of their village. Most Greeks did
not live in isolated farmsteads but in small settlements. It is likely
that, as at the dawn of the historical period two or three hundred
years later, the main economic resource for each family was the
ancestral plot of land of the oikos, the kleros or allotment; without
this a man could not marry.
The Protogeometric building and the cemetery at Toumba
Lefkandi on the island of
Euboea was a prosperous settlement in the
Late Bronze Age, possibly to be identified with old
Eretria . It
recovered quickly from the collapse of Mycenaean culture, and in 1981
excavators of a burial ground found the largest 10th-century building
yet known from Greece. Sometimes called "the heroon ", this long
narrow building, 50 metres by 10 metres, or about 150 feet by 30 feet,
contained two burial shafts. In one were placed four horses and the
other contained a cremated male buried with his iron weapons and an
inhumed woman, heavily adorned with gold jewellery. The man's bones
were placed in a bronze jar from Cyprus, with hunting scenes on the
cast rim. The woman was clad with gold coils in her hair, rings, gold
breast plates, an heirloom necklace (an elaborate Cypriot or Near
Eastern necklace made some 200–300 years before her burial) and an
ivory-handled dagger at her head. The horses appeared to have been
sacrificed, some appearing to have iron bits in their mouths. No
evidence survives to show whether the building was erected to house
the burial, or whether the "hero" or local chieftain in the grave was
cremated and then buried in his grand house; whichever is true, the
house was soon demolished and the debris used to form a roughly
circular mound over the wall stumps.
Within the next few years and down to about 820 BC, rich members of
the community were cremated and buried close to the eastern end of the
building, in much the same way as Christians might seek to be buried
close to a saint's grave; the presence of imported objects, notable
throughout more than eighty further burials, contrast with other
nearby cemeteries at
Lefkandi and attest to a lasting elite tradition.
Ancient Greek pair of terracotta boots. Early geometric period
cremation burial of a woman, 900 BC.
Ancient Agora Museum in Athens.
The archaeological record of many sites demonstrates that the
economic recovery of Greece was well advanced by the beginning of the
8th century BC. Both cemeteries such as the
Kerameikos in Athens or
Lefkandi and sanctuaries such as Olympia, recently founded
the Heraion of
Samos , first of the colossal free-standing temples,
are richly provided with offerings, including items from the Near
East, from Egypt and from Italy made of exotic materials such as amber
or ivory . Also, exports of Greek pottery demonstrate contact with the
Levant coast at such sites as
Al Mina and with the region of the
Villanovan culture to the north of Rome. The decoration of pottery
becomes more and more elaborate and includes figured scenes that
parallel the stories of Homeric Epic . Iron tools and weapons become
better in quality, while renewed Mediterranean trade must have brought
new supplies of copper and tin to make a wide range of elaborate
bronze objects, such as tripod stands like those offered as prizes in
the funeral games celebrated by
Patroclus . Other
coastal regions of Greece besides
Euboea were once again full
participants in the commercial and cultural exchanges of the eastern
and central Mediterranean, while communities developed which were
governed by an elite group of aristocrats rather than by the single
basileus or chieftain of earlier periods.
NEW WRITING SYSTEM
By the mid- to late 8th century BC, a new alphabet system was adopted
Phoenicians by a Greek with first-hand experience of it. The
Greeks adapted the Phoenician writing system, notably introducing
characters for vowel sounds and thereby creating the first truly
alphabetic (as opposed to abjad ) writing system. The new alphabet
quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean and was used to write not
only the Greek language, but also Phrygian and other languages in the
eastern Mediterranean. As Greece sent out colonies west towards Sicily
and Italy (
Cumae ), the influence of their new alphabet
extended further. The ceramic Euboean artifact inscribed with a few
lines written in the
Greek alphabet referring to "Nestor\'s cup ",
discovered in a grave at
Pithekoussae (Ischia) dates from c. 730 BC;
it seems to be the oldest written reference to the
Iliad . The
Etruscans benefited from the innovation: Old Italic variants spread
throughout Italy from the 8th century. Other variants of the alphabet
appear on the Lemnos Stele and in the alphabets of Asia Minor . The
previous Linear scripts were not completely abandoned: the Cypriot
syllabary , descended from
Linear A , remained in use on
Arcadocypriot Greek and
Eteocypriot inscriptions until the Hellenistic
Some scholars have argued against the concept of a Greek Dark Age, on
grounds that the former lack of archaeological evidence in a period
that was mute in its lack of inscriptions (thus "dark") has been shown
to be an accident of discovery rather than a fact of history.
Dark Ages in history
* ^ "The History of Greece". Hellenicfoundation.com. Retrieved
* ^ "Greek Dark Age". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved
* ^ Sandars (1978).
* ^ Edgerton and Wilson (1936), pl 46, p. 53; and J. Wilson,
"Egyptian Historical Texts" in Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts
Relating to the Old Testament (3rd ed., 1969).
* ^ The Early Greek Dark Age and Revival in the Near East.
* ^ Snodgrass 1971:360-68.
* ^ "The most striking feature of the Dark Ages is its regionalism,
its material diversity" (James Whitley, "Social Diversity in Dark Age
Greece", The Annual of the British School at Athens 86 ) p. 342,
* ^ Snodgrass 1971:140–212.
* ^ Whitley 1991.
* ^ Whitley 1991:343, notes regional differences in iron-working in
A.N. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (1971:213–95), and I.M.
Morris, "Circulation, deposition and the formation of the Greek Iron
Age," Man, n.s. 23(1989:502–19)
* ^ V. Karageorghis, Early Cyprus, 2002.
* ^ R.W.V. Catling, "Exports of Attic protogeometric pottery and
their identification by non-analytical means", Annual of the British
School at Athens 93 (1998:365-78), noted in Robin Lane Fox, Travelling
Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2008:48; Fox provides the cultural
background to his study of Euboean cultural contacts in the
Mediterranean in the 8th century.
* ^ N. Schreiber, The Cypro-Phoenician Pottery of the iron Age,
* ^ Snodgrass (1971).
* ^ Hurwitt (1985).
* ^ "Excavations at Lefkandi: Publications".
Lefkandi.classics.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-01-04.
* ^ The candidates and their opponents are noted in Fox 2008:51
* ^ M. R. Popham, P. G. Calligas, and L. H. Sackett, (eds.),
Lefkandi II: the Protogeometric Building at Toumba, Part 2. The
Excavation, Architecture and Finds, BSA Suppl. vol. 23, Oxford 1993.
* ^ Edward Bispham, Thomas Harrisom, Brian A. Sparkes, Ancient
Greece and Rome, page 89, The Edinburgh Companion, Ed 2006.
* ^ Homer,
* ^ J.N. Coldstream, Geometric Greece: 900–700 BCE 1979
* ^ O.T.P.K. Dickinson: The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age:
continuity and change between the twelfth and eighth centuries B.C.
* Chew, Sing C., World Ecological Degradation: Accumulation,
Urbanization and Deforestation 3000 BC - AD 2000, 2001, ISBN
0-7591-0031-4 Chapter 3, The second-millennium Bronze Age:
Mycenaean Greece 1700 BC – 1200 BC.
* Desborough, V.R.d'A. (1972). The Greek Dark Ages.
* Faucounau, Jean, Les Peuples de la Mer et leur histoire, Paris :
* Hurwitt, Jeffrey M., The Art and Culture of Early Greece
1100–480 BC, Cornell University Press, 1985, Chapters 1–3.
* Langdon, Susan, Art and Identity in Dark Age Greece, 1100–700
BC, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
* Latacz, J. '"Between
Homer : The so-called Dark Ages in
Greece", in: Storia, Poesia e Pensiero nel Mondo antico. Studi in
Onore di M. Gigante, Rome, 1994.
* Jan Sammer, New Light on the Dark Age of Greece (Immanuel
* Snodgrass, Anthony M. (c. 2000). The dark age of Greece : an
archaeological survey of the eleventh to the eighth centuries BC. New
York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93635-7 .
* Sandars, N.K. (c. 1978). The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the ancient
Mediterranean 1250–1150 BC. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN
* Whitley, James, Style and Society in Dark Age Greece: The Changing
Face of a Pre-literate Society, 1100–700 BC, Cambridge University
Press, 2003, Series : New Studies in Archaeology.
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