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 Sea Peoples
4 Post-Mycenaean Cyprus
8 New writing system
9 Continuity thesis
10 See also
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
Mycenaean civilization and the
Bronze Age collapse
Bronze Age collapse to climatic or
environmental catastrophe, combined with an invasion by
Dorians or by
the 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 carvings
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 Peleset, Tjeker,
Denyen and Weshesh.
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 and in
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
Argos or Knossos, 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
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 Miletus, 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 Phoenicians, 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
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
Ancient Greek pair of terracotta boots. Early geometric period
cremation burial of a woman, 900 BC.
Ancient Agora Museum
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
Achilles for 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 (Pithekoussae, 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
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
[1991:341–365]) p. 342, 344ff.
^ 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, 2003
^ Snodgrass (1971).
^ Hurwitt (1985).
^ "Excavations at Lefkandi: Publications". Lefkandi.classics.ox.ac.uk.
^ The candidates and their opponents are noted in Fox 2008:51 note 23.
^ 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, Iliad XXIII
^ 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
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.
Rohl, David "The Lords Of Avaris", Arrow Books, 2008
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.
Whitley, James, Style and Society in Dark Age Greece: The Changing
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University Press, 2003, Series : New Studies in Archaeology.
Greek Dark Ages
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