Greek Dark Ages

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The Greek Dark Ages (ca. 1200 BC800 BC) refers to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean civilization in the 11th century BC to the rise of the first Greek city-states in the 9th century BC and the epics of Homer and earliest writings in alphabetic Greek in the 8th century BC.

Archaeology shows a collapse of civilization in the eastern Mediterranean world during this period. The great palaces and cities of the Myceneans were destroyed or abandoned. The Hittite civilisation collapsed. Cities from Troy to Gaza were destroyed. The Greek language largely ceased to be written. 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, and foreign goods have not been found at archaeological sites, suggesting minimal international trade. Contact was also lost between foreign powers during this period, yielding little cultural progress or growth of any sort.

One theory holds that the Mycenaean civilization was undermined by an ecological catastrophe. The hill top fortress, forest fauna hunting, horse-based society depicted in Homer and Hesiod was supplanted by a trading culture connected more closely to the sea. The ecological deterioration was the loss of forests through human exploitation, making the prior economic structure unsustainable. Plato mentions something of this in his theory about goats denuding the hills of flora, causing erosion which led to loss of forestation. One commentator, Massey, speculates that this sense of there having been a golden age long ago is connected with this disaster and has continued as a cultural meme in societies and cultures with roots in Classical Greece. On this reading, the collapse which resulted in the Greek Dark Ages is not due primarily to a Dorian invasion, but rather to environmental damage in the first, or a contributing, instance.

Kings ruled throughout this period until eventually they were replaced with an aristocracy, then still later, in some areas, an aristocracy within an aristocracy — an elite of the elite. Warfare shifted from a focus on cavalry to a great emphasis on infantry. Due to its cheapness of production and local availability, iron replaced bronze as the metal of choice in the manufacturing of tools and weapons. Equality grew slowly among the different classes of people, leading to the dethronement of the various kings and the rise of the family.

Families began to reconstruct their past in attempts to link their bloodlines with heroes from the Trojan War, more specifically Heracles. While most of this was legend, some were sorted by poets of the school of Hesiod. Most of these poems are lost, though, but some famous "storywriters", as they were called, were Hecataeus of Miletus and Acusilaus of Argos.

It is thought that the epics by Homer contain a certain amount of tradition preserved orally during the Dark Ages period. The historical validity of Homer's writings is vigorously disputed; see the article on Troy for a discussion.

At the end of this period of stagnation, the Greek civilization was engulfed in a renaissance that spread the Greek world as far as the Black Sea and Spain.

The rise of a new writing system

The use of the syllabary system of the Minoans, the so-called Linear scripts, fell into sharp decline in favour of a new alphabet system, adopted from the Semitic Phoenicians to write not only the Greek language, but also other languages in the Eastern Mediterranean at the time. Before this turbulent time, Myceneans were writing their Greek language in Linear B but after the Dark Ages when history was being recorded once again, we find this new alphabet, the more familiar alpha-beta-gamma. The Etruscans also benefitted from the innovation, Old Italic variants spreading throughout Italy from the 8th century. Other variants of the alphabet appear on the Lemnos Stele and in the various alphabets of Asia Minor. The previous Linear scripts were not completely abandoned however, the Cypriot syllabary, descended from Linear A, remained in use on Cyprus for Greek and Eteocypriot inscriptions until the rise of Hellenism.

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 and hardship. The Hittite kingdom was invaded and fell, by the hand of the so-called Sea Peoples, a group of peoples originating from surrounding areas around the Mediterranean. A similar assemblage of peoples may have attempted to take over Egypt twice, once during the reign of Merneptah, and then again during the reign of Ramesses III. In both attempts, however, the Egyptian defenses were successful in avoiding the same fate as the Hittites. The oral tradition of the Greeks allowed much of the history and heritage to be passed down from one generation to another.


  • Latacz, J. Between Troy and 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 [1] (Immanuel Velikovsky Archive)
  • Wilkens, Iman. (2005). Where Troy Once Stood. Groningen: Gopher Publishers.
  • Anthony M. Snodgrass (c2000) The dark age of Greece : an archaeological survey of the eleventh to the eighth centuries BC Routledge New York ISBN 0-415-93635-7 (hb) ISBN 0-415-93636-5 (pb)

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