- Greek Dark Ages
The Dark Ages (ca. 1150 BC–800 BC) refers to
Greek historyfrom the presumed Dorian invasionand end of the Mycenaean civilizationin the 11th century BC, to the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC.The archaeological evidence shows a collapse of civilization in the eastern Mediterranean world during this period, as the great palaces and cities of the Myceneans were destroyed or abandoned. Around this time, the Hittite civilization collapsed and cities from Troyto Gazawere destroyed. The writing of Greek languageappears to cease. Greek Dark Age pottery has simple geometric designs and lacks the figurative decoration of Mycenean ware. The Greeks of the Dark Age lived in fewer and smaller settlements, suggesting famine and depopulation. It was previously thought that contact was lost between foreign powers during this period yielding little cultural progress or growth; however, artifacts from excavations at Lefkandion the Lelantine Plain in Euboeasuggest that there was significant culture and trade links with the east, particularly Asia Minor.
Fall of the Mycenaeans
From around 1200 BC, the palace centres and outlying settlements of the Mycenaeans' highly organized culture began to be abandoned or destroyed and by 1100 BC, the kingdoms and elaborate systems of the Mycenaean culture were gone. The Eastern Mediterranean region collapsed taking the Hittite Empire with it. Many explanations attribute the fall of the Mycenaean civilization to environmental catastrophe combined with a Dorian invasion. Whatever the reason, there was an irrevocable systems collapse which resulted in the complete failure of two civilizations in the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Dark Age culture
In the Dark Ages after the collapse of the palace cultures, there were no more monumental stone buildings, writing ceased, vital trade links were lost, and towns and villages were abandoned. The population of Greece fell and the world of organized state armies, kings, officials, and redistributive systems disappeared.
Some regions in Greece recovered from this faster than others and places such as Athens had continued occupation without interruption. Life for the poorest Greeks would have remained relatively unchanged from previous centuries. There was still farming, weaving, metalwork and pottery in this time, albeit at a lower level of output.
There were some technical innovations over this time such as the superior pottery technology, which resulted in a faster potters wheel for superior vase shapes and the use of a compass to draw perfect Geometric shapes. Better glazes were achieved by higher temperature firing of clay. This improved pottery style was called Protogeometric (1050-900 BC). However, the overall trend was toward simpler, less intricate pieces and fewer resources being devoted to the creation of beautiful art.
One ironic benefit of this relatively bleak period is that, during this time, as copper and tin trade links were lost, out of necessity the smelting of iron was exploited and improved upon, using local deposits of iron ore previously ignored by the Mycenaeans, which led to the forging of iron weapons and armor that were superior in strength to those that had been previously cast from bronze. From 1050 BC many small local iron industries appeared and by 900 almost all grave goods weapons are iron.
From 1050 onwards, there was movement from the mainland of Greece to the Anatolian coast. Miletus, Ephesus, and Colophon were settled although populations still remained low.
Dark Age society
Greece in this time was divided into independent regions known as demos. A demos contained the main town and outlying settlements, each lucky to have twenty citizens. The title of a war leader in this time was basileus; such a leader was not quite a king, but held a position of power with a limitation of his powers over others.
Excavations of Dark Age villages such as Nichoria in the Peloponnesus have shown how a Bronze Age town was abandoned in 1150 but then returned as a small village cluster by 1075. 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 has led to speculation that this was the chieftain’s house. Possibly a place of communal storing of food and religious significance, this was a larger structure than those surrounding it but it is still made from the same materials (mud brick and thatched roof). 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. [Snodgrass (1971).]
Most Greeks did not live in isolated farmsteads but in small settlements. The communities were egalitarian: everyone was equally and commonly poor. Law was customary and most disputes were resolved by the village chieftain (basileus) or a simple council of elders. Murder was a private affair with settlement through material compensation or exile.
The main economic resources for families was the household's (oikos) ancestral plot of land, the kleros or allotment; without this a man could not marry. [Hurwitt (1985).]
Lefkandi on the Island of Euboea was a wealthy settlement in the Bronze Age. It recovered quickly from the collapse of the palace culture and in 1981 excavators of a burial ground found the largest known Dark Age building. Called ar heroon, this narrow building (150 feet by 30 feet) contained two burial shafts. In one were placed two horses and the other contained a cremated male and an inhumed woman. The cremated man was placed in a bronze jar from Cyprus, with a picture of an armored man on the front. The woman was clad with gold coils in her hair, rings, breast plates, an ancient Near Eastern elaborate necklace dated at least 600 years before her burial and an ivory handled dagger at her head. Four horses appeared to have been sacrificed, some appearing to have iron bits in their mouths.
Lefkandi shows that Protogeometric Greece or the latter stages of the Dark Ages were not uniformly impoverished or isolated as was once thought.
New writing system
syllabaryof the Mycenaean Linear Bscript was replaced with a new alphabet system, adopted from the Phoenicians. The Greeks adapted the Phoenician alphabet, notably introducing scripts for vowel sounds and creating the first truly alphabetic (as opposed to syllabic) writing system. The adapted alphabet quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean and was used to write not only the Greek language, but also other languages in the Eastern Mediterranean. As Greece sent out colonies west towards Sicily and Italy, the influence of their new alphabet extended further. 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 Cyprusin Greek and Eteocypriotinscriptions until the Hellenistic era.
Mediterranean warfare and the Sea Peoples
It is around this time that large-scale revolts took place and attempts to overthrow existing kingdoms by surrounding people who were already plagued with famine, hardships but most likely as a result of economic and political instability occurring in whole of the Mediterranean. The Hittite kingdom was invaded and conquered by the so-called
Sea Peoples, a group of peoples originating from surrounding areas around the Mediterranean, such as the Black Sea, the Aegean and Anatolian regions. A similar assemblage of peoples may have attempted to invade Egypt twice, once during the reign of Merneptahabout 1224 BC, and then again during the reign of Ramesses IIIabout 1186 BC. War monuments were built by the Egyptians for each conflict. The 13th and 12th c inscriptions and carvings at Karnak and Luxor are the only sources for Sea Peoples, a term invented by the Egyptians themselves. [Sandars (1978).]
"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
Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyenand Weshesh." [Edgerton and Wilson (1936), pl 46, p.53; and Wilson, J. 'Egyptian Historical Texts' in Pritchard (1969).]
Bronze Age collapse
Dark Ages in history
*Jean Faucounau, "Les Peuples de la Mer et leur histoire", L'Harmattan, Paris 2003.
*Latacz, J. "Between
Troyand Homer. The so-called Dark Ages in Greece", in: Storia, Poesia e Pensiero nel Mondo antico. Studi in Onore di M. Gigante, Rome, 1994.
**Hurwitt, Jeffrey M 1985. The Art and Culture of Early Greece 1100-480B.C. Cornell University Press. Chapters 1-3
*Jan Sammer, "New Light on the Dark Age of Greece" [http://www.varchive.org/nldag/index.htm] (
*cite book | first= Anthony M. | last= Snodgrass | authorlink= | coauthors= | year= c2000 | title= The dark age of Greece : an archaeological survey of the eleventh to the eighth centuries BC | edition= | publisher= Routledge | location= New York | id= ISBN 0-415-93635-7 (hb) ISBN 0-415-93636-5 (pb)
*cite book | first=N.K. | last= Sandars | year= c1978 | title= The Sea Peoples: Warriors of the ancient Mediterranean 1250-1150 BC| publisher= Thames and Hudson| location= London | id= ISBN 0-500-02085-X
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