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0. Bronze Age Collapse

Who Were the Sea People?

This article appeared on pages 20-31 of the May/June 1995 print edition of Saudi Aramco World

Written by Eberhard Zangger

Through the epics of the Greek poet Homer, tales of an "age of heroes" have been passed down through millennia. In The Odyssey and The Iliad the poet told of an era dominated by aristocratic warlords who bore ornamented weapons and commanded well-organized, armored chariot troops. This "golden age" culminated in the legendary Trojan War, fought between Troy, located in what is now northwestern Turkey, and Mycenaean Greece.

Homer himself, however, lived four centuries after the Trojan War, in a time when the communities around the Aegean were populated by little more than farmers and shepherds. The tools of the day were not finely-wrought gold nor silver nor bronze, but crudely forged of iron. Nevertheless, Greeks of Homer's time—the eighth century BC—were surrounded by powerful reminders of a more magnificent, more prosperous past. Mighty walls, some more than seven meters (22') thick, built of boulders two meters in diameter, jutted out of the soil in some places. Every now and then, a collapsed grave would reveal treasures of gold jewelry, silver vessels, beautifully painted pottery and decorated weapons.

Since the Middle Ages, however, Homer's historical accuracy has been in question. It was not until late in the last century that archeologi-cal excavations around the Mediterranean began to show that Homer had indeed drawn, at least in part, on real events.

Today, we know that many sophisticated feudal societies ruled the lands around the eastern Mediterranean between 1700 and 1200 BC, the Late Bronze Age. The interior of Anatolia— now part of modern Turkey—was controlled by the centrally organized Hittite state, whose Great King resided in Hattusa near the Kizihrmak River (See Aramco World, September-October 1994). It was also in this era that in Egypt, the pharaohs of the New Kingdom began construction of the famous temples at Luxor, Karnak and Abu Simbel. In Greece, small yet rich and influential kingdoms made up the Mycenaean civilization, which we have named after its most famous archeological site, Mycenae. Likewise, Syria and Palestine were the home of numerous states ruled by aristocrats and lesser chieftains.

At times these states of diverse sizes and powers were allied to one another, and at other times they fought. In most, the political system was characterized by a palace administration supported by the relatively new development of writing. In nearly all, autocratic rulers oversaw professional armies and carried out the exploitation of economic opportunities at home and abroad. Most had well-developed social hierarchies in which specialized professions produced goods of extraordinary quality. This stimulated far-reaching international trade throughout the eastern Mediterranean.

Modern excavations in the eastern Mediterranean region have also provided evidence of the sudden, violent demise of these otherwise thriving civilizations of the Late Bronze Age. Within a few years—or decades, at the most—some of these nations collapsed completely, with the large and powerful Hittite state in central Anatolia disappearing most suddenly of all. From Troy in the northwest, to Ugarit on the coast of Syria, and southwest to the Nile Delta, unidentified attackers razed and burned international trade centers and port cities. After the assaults, most of the shattered cities were either abandoned or rebuilt only on an insignificant scale. All across the eastern Mediterranean, civilizations that had been shaped by aristocrats became societies of herdsmen and shepherds. When the fighting was over, entire languages and scripts had vanished.

This sudden collapse is one of the most dramatic events in the early history of the Mediterranean, and many archeological mysteries surround it. First, there is the Homeric account of the Trojan War, which would have to be placed within this time of crisis if one accepts that The Odyssey and The Iliad contain at least a kernel of historic truth. The second group of events that connects logically with this historical turning point is the invasions of the so-called "Sea People." Coming, it seems, out of nowhere and lacking any obvious motive, it was these united clans that so successfully attacked throughout the region. Despite numerous scholarly attempts to identify them, we still do not know exactly who the Sea People were, where they came from, why they attacked, and, finally, where they disappeared after their raids. Scholars are even uncertain whether the Sea People's existence was a cause or an effect of the political collapses. Were the Sea People conquerors, pirates, deserters, or refugees?

Our knowledge of the Sea People's raids rests on texts from Anatolia, Syria and Egypt. The name "Sea People" is, however, a modern expression introduced in 1881 by the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero. The Egyptian inscriptions themselves usually refer to the names of the individual attacking tribes, who are said to have come "from the midst of the sea" or "from the islands." What we are calling "Sea People" were clearly separate states or tribes who had formed a military alliance to attack the Near East and Egypt.

The reliefs depicting the attacks of the Sea People, carved on the walls of the mortuary temple of Pharaoh Ramses III in Medinat Habu, near present-day Luxor, are also the earliest known illustrations of naval battle scenes. From these walls we know—at least approximately—what the Sea People looked like, how they dressed, what kinds of weapons they used, and what kinds of ships they sailed. We even know some of their names. But to learn anything of their motives we have to examine the historical context of their raids.

According to the inscriptions, the Sea People first appeared in about 1208 BC, the fifth year of the reign of Pharaoh Merenptah. At this time, Egypt was facing attacks by Libya, its archenemy to the west, which was approaching the frontier accompanied by a number of allies described as "northerners." On the famous Victory Stela, found in 1896 at the Temple of Merenptah in Thebes, Merenptah declared he had overwhelmed the enemy, and provided a list of the allies of Libya, whom we now refer to collectively as the Sea People: Shardana, Lukka, Meshwesh, Teresh, Ekwesh and Shekelesh. Most of these tribes apparently came from the Aegean, and we do not know why they fought on the side of Libya. Nor can we be sure Merenptah's claim to have overpowered them is fully justified because, after this battle, Egypt's domestic affairs gradually degenerated nearly to the point of civil war. Possibly because Egypt was so preoccupied with its internal problems that it failed to fulfill its treaty obligations to come to Hatti's aid, it managed to survive relatively unharmed the upheavals that took place shortly thereafter all around the eastern Mediterranean.

Thirty years after Merenptah's encounter with the Sea People, around 1177 BC, Pharaoh Ramses in ordered the construction of his own mortuary temple and residence in Thebes, on whose walls architects and scribes recalled the dramatic events of the preceding decades. According to those inscriptions, the Sea People had returned, this time to attack Mediterranean shores from Anatolia, Cyprus, Syria and Palestine to Lower Egypt. The inscription reads:

As for the foreign countries, they 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. Hatti, Kizzuwatna, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alasiya were cut off. A camp was set up in one place in Amurru; they desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were advancing on Egypt while the flame was prepared before them. Their league was Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, united lands. They laid their hands upon the lands to the very circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: "Our plans will succeed!"

But Ramses and his troops defeated the invaders. When the vanquished pleaded for mercy, the pharaoh allowed them to settle on his soil:

I slew the Denyen in their isles; the Tjeker and the Peleset were made ashes. The Shardana and the Weshesh of the sea, they were made as those that exist not, taken captive at one time, brought as captives to Egypt like the sand of the shore. I settled them in strongholds bound in my name. Numerous were their classes like hundred-thousands. I taxed them all, in clothing and grain from the storehouses and granaries, each year.

Such Egyptian inscriptions, however, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Neither the scribe's intentions nor his instructions required him to report historical truth; for him, the laws of symmetry, esthetics and religion had priority over factual accuracy. Egyptian regnal accounts often begin with the state of disarray prevailing in the country until the pharaoh whose reign is being described appears to re-establish order—that was, after all, the function of kingship. Yet, the widespread destruction all around the eastern Mediterranean, and many contemporary documents from Ugarit and Hattusa reporting similar onslaughts by mysterious attackers, confirm the gist of the Medinat Habu inscriptions.

At the time of the Sea People's second raid on Egypt, most areas mentioned in the Medinat Habu inscriptions were either occupied by or allied to the Hittite kingdom in central Anatolia. Hence, the purpose of the raids may well have been to weaken the Great King of Hatti from his periphery, by attacking his allies. From royal correspondence from Ugarit and Cyprus, it appears that the combined fleets of the Sea People massed off the southwestern tip of the Anatolian peninsula, from where they first attacked the western coast of Cyprus.

Battles directly between the Sea People and Hittite troops may also have taken place on the Anatolian mainland, however, because extant clay tablets inscribed with diplomatic notes show how the Great King of Hatti had to turn to his vassals at the port city of Ugarit, in northern Syria, to demand additional troops and food.

But by then, Ugarit itself was threatened by the Sea People. Desperately seeking support in his turn, the adolescent king of Ugarit wrote to his royal colleague on Cyprus:

The enemy ships are already here. They have set fire to my towns and have done very great damage in the country.... Did you not know that all my troops were stationed in the Hittite country, and that all my ships are still stationed in Lycia and have not yet returned? The country is thus abandoned to itself.... Consider this, my father, there are seven enemy ships that have come and done very great damage. Now, if there are more enemy ships, let me know about them so that I can decide what to do.

This letter never left Ugarit. Archeologists found it there in a kiln, where it was supposed to be fired before the courier departed with it. At the peak of its economic and cultural success, and showing no signs of decay, Ugarit was wiped out and was never resettled again.

The pressure on the Great King of Hatti increased further. His scribes wrote one more text illustrating the Sea People's assaults and what turned out to be a successful Hittite counterattack:

I called up arms and soon reached the sea—I, Suppiluliuma, the Great King—and with me ships of Alasiya joined battle in the midst of the sea. I destroyed them, catching them and burning them down at sea.

Soon thereafter, however, enemy forces indeed reached the Hittite capital of Hattusa. It is doubtful that they were Sea People forces; and in fact their identity is still uncertain. There may have been internal strife in Hatti, for an inscribed bronze plate found in 1986 indicates that two members of the royal family had competed for the throne. Most scholars, however, accept that a path of destruction leads out of the northeast into Hattusa, meaning that the city was most likely destroyed by the Kashka, its neighbor and bitter enemy of several centuries' standing. The Kashka had already destroyed the Hittite capital on one occasion and forced the king to move temporarily; this time, they annihilated the 600-year-old civilization.

A similar pattern of destruction appears in most of the cities attacked by the Sea People. By targeting government buildings, palaces and temples while leaving the residential areas and countryside mostly unharmed, the attackers aimed at the control centers of the aristocratic rulership. This tactic foreshadows the strategy of today's warfare, and is one of the earliest known examples of it. Concentrating attacks on such centers, the Sea People must have realized, preserves strength and shortens the war.

After Hattusa and Ugarit, many other cities in Anatolia, Syria and Palestine fell to the invaders. The Sea People continued their sweep to the south until they met the Egyptian army.

This generally accepted outline of the Sea People's incursions leaves many of its most significant questions unanswered. We still do not know either the origins or the motives of the Sea People. It is also hard to understand why they did not attempt to permanently subdue the countries they overwhelmed. Finally, virtually nothing is known about the fate of the Sea People themselves following these crisis years.

Now that there is a wealth of highly specific information in hand from numerous excavations and text sources relevant to those years, scholars have become more and more inclined to think that the time has come to begin solving some of these riddles. Although a search for a unifying explanation began some time ago, and academic conferences abound on the crisis years, the Sea People, and the Trojan War, there has still been little progress toward a plausible explanation for this watershed in history. Some archeologists suggested that the Sea People may have been invaders from central Europe. Others saw them as scattered soldiers who turned to piracy, or who had become refugees. For a long time, researchers sought to explain the transformations around 1200 BC by invoking natural disasters such as earthquakes or climatic shifts, but earthquakes on such a broad geographic scale are unheard of, and no field evidence has indicated significant climatic change. Currently, very few—if any—archeologists would consider the Sea People to have been identified.

I stumbled on these problems, mostly by accident, in an unlikely place. In the spring of 1990, I was writing up the conclusions of my dissertation research, which had involved several years of investigation in the Mycenaean heartland, searching out clues to determine what the landscape of the Bronze Age had been. The work had little to do with the Sea People.

Studying numerous earth cores taken by hand augers and power drills, I had discovered that parts of the lower town of Tiryns, one of the Greek citadels from the era of the Trojan War, had been buried under several meters of mud deposited by a flash flood that had occurred around 1200 BC. This catastrophe coincided with an earthquake, for which evidence was found in the archeological record of the Tiryns citadel. Both of these events occurred shortly after 1200 BC, precisely at the time when the Mycenaean civilization suddenly collapsed.

When summarizing these conclusions, I remembered that earthquakes, floods, and the demise of a brilliant culture are also mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus  and Critias . When I turned to reread these, I noticed that the philosopher's story may well represent yet another account—thus far unrecognized—of the events of the crisis years. Plato describes two prehistoric civilizations that possessed bronze weapons, chariots and writing, and he describes how a devastating war broke out between them. Those facts, and numerous additional elements of the account, have much in common with the Trojan War: Plato mentions a navy of 1200 ships; Homer, adding up the vessels of the united Greek army, reached a total of 1186 ships. Both Plato and Homer described the opposing armies as consisting of many allies. Both also allude to severe internal problems in the Greek camp, and both relate how the attacking Greek contingents, in the end, overwhelmed the defenders.

If applied to the Trojan War, however, Plato's account would attribute far more political, economic and military power to Troy and its allies in western Anatolia than anyone has yet credited them with. Yet, if Troy is understood to be an equal opponent of the united Greek army, then the traditional, Homeric account of the Trojan War becomes far more plausible. According to Homer, it took 100,000 Mycenaean soldiers a decade of siege to subdue Troy, a city that has thus far been believed to have been the size of a modern athletic field.

An even more novel idea that emerged from this reading of Plato's account, however, was that it may have been Troy and its allies that in fact triggered the conflicts at the end of the Bronze Age. Plato's source, an Egyptian priest, says:

So this host, being all gathered together, once made an attempt to enslave by one single onslaught both your country [Greece] and ours [Egypt], and the whole of the territory within the Straits.

This passage would argue that Troy and its allies were in fact the aggressors who brought on the crisis. At the same time, the passage is reminiscent of the Sea People accounts at Medinat Habu. Thus I considered a hypothesis based on simple equivalence: The Sea People may well have been Troy and its confederated allies, and the literary tradition of the Trojan War may well reflect the Greek effort to counter those raids.

From this new perspective, I realized that archeology possesses several texts that indeed describe a coalition of Late Bronze Age states in western Anatolia that appears to have played a decisive role during the transformations around 1200 BC. Homer, for instance, lists contingents on the Trojan side in The Iliad, saying that Troy's allies came from all along the Aegean east coast between Thrace in the north and Lycia in the south. This coastal strip, including its offshore islands, coincides with the geography of what many scholars think may represent the homeland of the Sea People.

The same kind of alliance is also mentioned in several unambiguous cuneiform tablets from Hattusa. According to these documents, 22 states in western Anatolia formed a coalition against the Hittites as early as the 15th century BC. Other documents provide evidence that such a coalition was forming for a second time a few years before the Hittite state vanished. In a letter to his wife, the Great King of Hatti describes how states to the west were rallying against him, and says that it would be difficult to keep the situation under control if they succeeded. Some texts from Hattusa also show that Hatti felt increasingly threatened by one particular neighbor in the west called Ahhiyawa, a country that many scholars locate in northwestern Turkey and which thus may be Troy itself.

To take stock of the mysteries surrounding western Anatolian states at the end of the Bronze Age, we can outline today's knowledge in the table above.

Seven of the known Late Bronze Age civilizations had all of the following attributes: a geographical region or realm, a people, at least one substantial city, a script and a contemporary name. However, in each of these categories we find one isolated entry that is somehow related to western Anatolia, but is considered mysterious or inexplicable within the parameters of traditional scholarship.

There is, first of all, the problem of Troy, one of the most formidable archeological sites in the world, whose inhabitants, realm, script and language, and contemporary name—as well as its history and fate—remain obscure despite more than 120 years of excavation and research. There are also the Sea People, whose city, realm, script and language and name are unknown: They came from nowhere and then vanished. There are the many references to Assuwa, Asiya, Ahiya and Ahhiyawa, states or confederations of states in western Anatolia, which played an important role in contemporary documents from Egypt and Hattusa, but whose city or cities, people, language and script are unknown. And finally there is the Discos of Phaistos, a unique—some would also say notorious—document, discovered on Crete in 1908, whose spiral inscription, using 45 different symbols, is inscribed on a clay disc 16 centimeters (6¼") across. Although the origin and importance of this artifact are fiercely disputed, its discoverer, Italian archeologist Luigi Pernier, claimed parallels between the characters used in the Discos script and images of the Sea People from the Medinat Habu inscriptions. Indeed, the latest attempt by scholars to decipher the Discos even bears the title "The Language of the Sea People," but the city, people, realm, language and name to be associated with the Discos are all unknown.

Combining all these incomplete entries into one row in our table would produce all the attributes of a complete civilization in western Anatolia. We even possess a contemporary name for such a civilization, as "Assuwa" was the term used to describe the confederated states, of which Ahhiyawa seems to have been the most important constituent. If these deductions prove correct, archeological scholarship has overlooked an entire, and important, Bronze Age civilization.

In a practical sense, the possibility that western Anatolia hosted a civilization equal—or in some respects even superior—to those of Mycenaean Greece and Minoan Crete is quite plausible. The Aegean shore of Anatolia contains countless natural harbors and advantageous places for settlement. The interior offers an abundance of natural resources including ores, timber and water, while the coastal maritime route has been of strategic and economic importance for millennia. Despite ample evidence that it was well-inhabited during the Late Bronze Age, and despite archeological evidence from Troy and Beycesultan that indicates these Anatolian societies may well have been sophisticated enough for them to rank with Greece and Crete, the thought has simply never been entertained in archeological circles. Why not?

Two characteristics of Old World archeological research methods illuminate how this may have occurred. Building on foundations in art history and philology, today's archeology tends to concentrate on the study of architectural monuments, artifacts and documents. This tendency rests on the implicit assumption that most of the relevant aspects of any ancient culture will indeed be recorded in these remains. But the approach puts any civilization whose people built with perishable mud-brick and wood, instead of with stone, at a serious disadvantage, for the remains of their structures will not survive. Similarly, when a civilization has traded in metal, cloth, timber, grain, leather, cattle or horses, slaves and other perishable goods rather than in pottery, the evidence of that activity will not survive the centuries. And if this civilization, in addition, used papyrus, wax or leather, rather than stone or clay, to write on, then its people may become almost invisible to archeological research.

Furthermore, the art-historical emphasis in archeology tends to highlight research that deals with concrete artifacts rather than the reconstruction of past political, economic and military relations—precisely the matters in which the Late Bronze Age Anatolian states seem to have excelled. Hence, by excavating standing monuments and artifact-rich sites, European archeology itself may have contributed to a slanted picture of antiquity.

The second characteristic goes back to the birth of scientific archeology in 19th-century Europe. The founders of the discipline had absorbed the Enlightenment belief that classical Greece and Rome were superior to the cultures of modern times. Also, both 19th-century Europe and Greece of the fourth century BC were engaged in conflicts with Anatolian powers: The Ottoman Empire's interests conflicted with those of European powers in much the same way that Troy's conflicted with Mycenae and, later, Persia's with classical Greece. As the culture of antiquity was presented as the model for modern culture in Europe, the antipathies born in Greece of the fourth century BC were also readopted and reinforced. All these conflicts—contemporary and historical—caused considerable anti-Anatolian sentiment.

Early archeology, as a strictly European discipline, unavoidably took up these attitudes. Johann Winckelmann, widely considered the founder of art history, regarded the ancient Greeks as "equal to the gods," while their contemporaries abroad were "barbarians." Later, the European university system institutionalized such attitudes through the omnipresence of ancient Greek sculpture and architecture in European institutions of higher learning.

As a result, ancient Greece was, and to a considerable extent still is, considered the cradle of Western culture, despite clear indications that several of its achievements—agriculture, metallurgy and elements of sophisticated architecture—actually came to Greece from Anatolia.

If we can clear our minds of these inherited assumptions, we find that the fall of the Late Bronze Age civilizations can indeed be plausibly reconstructed.

Early in the 14th century BC, as the power of the Minoan civilization on Crete dwindled, the many small kingdoms on the Greek and Anatolian sides of the Aegean took advantage of the vacuum. The Greek Mycenaean kings adopted the system of a palace-administered society from the Minoans, and gradually took over Cretan trade routes. Troy achieved sole control of some islands in the eastern Aegean and of the important maritime trade route through the Dardanelles to the Black Sea. It also assumed many of Crete's functions in the metals trade. Thus both the Mycenaean and the Trojan civilizations reached the peak of their political and economic power between 1375 and 1250 BC.

Eventually, the equilibrium must have shifted. Perhaps because Greek vessels attempted to use the straits to the Black Sea for their own trade activities, a serious conflict arose between the two sides of the Aegean. Traditional accounts recall how a small Greek contingent was sent to punish Troy in about 1250 BC. In a surprise attack, Greek units succeeded in destroying the city at its absolute cultural peak.

This first Greek assault was not the legendary Trojan War. It did, however, mark the beginning of the decline of the Late Bronze Age cultures. The Trojans rebuilt their city, but this time, the archeological evidence makes clear, they built not with status in mind, but defense. Soon after the citadel of Troy was finished, both the Mycenaean kings in Greece and the Great King of Hatti reinforced their own citadels in similar fashion. The new fortresses followed a common plan: The protected area was expanded to provide shelter not only for the upper classes but also for members of the lower echelons of society; the walls were reinforced to withstand massive onslaughts; access to freshwater springs was included in the protected areas to assure water supply under conditions of siege; and finally, defense galleries and secret escape routes were incorporated into the structures. The similarities between the citadels at Hattusa and Mycenae are so striking that one might almost infer they had been jointly designed.

Hatti's biggest concern, however, lay to the east, at the other end of Anatolia. From its heartland in upper Mesopotamia, Assyria launched a successful attack around 1236 BC, which captured copper mines on the eastern border of Hatti. Rather than confront the militarily superior Assyrian state, Hatti determined to acquire a new source of vital copper from an easier target. The Great King managed to conquer Cyprus, one of the richest mining districts in the eastern Mediterranean. At the same time, he barred ships from western Anatolia from entering the ports of his vassals in Syria, thus interrupting trade between his rivals. This blockade was just as much an act of aggression in the 13th century BC as it would be today; war became inevitable.

The first encounters between forces from western Anatolia and those of Hatti probably took place on the mainland, but eventually western Anatolian strategists developed a plan to circumvent the stronger state by sea and attack Cyprus and Syria instead. This naval assault probably occurred around 1195 BC, and it is this that became known as the Sea People invasions.

We may never find out whether the western Anatolian Sea People actually aimed to end Hatti's hegemony over central Anatolia once and for all, or whether they were simply retaliating against Hatti's aggressions in hope of regaining their lost trade routes. In either case, though the first battles may have been indecisive, western Anatolia soon received support from Kashka, which used Hatti's preoccupation with the Sea People to march again toward the Hittite capital. They left it in ashes in about 1190 BC.

With Hatti destroyed, the western Anatolian states—the Sea People—suddenly found themselves commanding an area stretching from the Aegean to Palestine. Pushing farther into the Levant, they became involved in the kind of battles that are depicted on the walls of Medinat Habu. Egypt, weakened by its internal strife, was unable to overwhelm the enemy. Only one state remained powerful enough to fight the western Anatolian allies, which were led by Troy: Mycenaean Greece.

Although Greece itself may not have been attacked, it was clearly facing a difficult future with a neighbor as powerful as western Anatolia, and a neighbor, to boot, whom Greece had already offended sufficiently to earn unwavering enmity. After much preparation, a Greek army entered the battlefield, planning attacks on the centers of cities—the same strategy used by the western Anatolian states. With the Anatolians busy in the Levant and Egypt, Greek soldiers ravaged the western Anatolian heartland, forcing the Anatolians to pull back to defend their homes. Finally, the opposing armies gathered at the city whose fate would decide the outcome of this unprecedented war. The battles at Troy probably took place around 1186 BC, and they likely lasted a few months before the Greek attackers succeeded—again—in conquering the doomed city.

In an apocalyptic war, there are no winners. Many famous Greek aristocrats lost their lives in the fighting. Those who survived had a hard time reassuming leadership upon their return, because provincial deputies had assumed their thrones and the returning warriors were too weakened and impoverished to regain their titles. Greece and Anatolia entered an era of anarchy. With the disappearance of the palaces and the aristocracy, the fine craftsmanship, the artistry, and the knowledge of writing disappeared as well. The Odyssey, numerous legends, and even the Greek historian Thucydides all recount how the survivors of the Trojan War spread all around the central and eastern Mediterranean. The archeological evidence confirms the migrations, and names still found today—Sicilian, Sardinian, Etruscan, Philistine and Thracian—are first documented after the end of the crisis years.

Although the Sea People vanished from the political records, they left a legacy second to none in world history. In Palestine, where many clans from both Greece and western Anatolia sought refuge, the Philistine and Phoenician civilizations arose, reviving and spreading much of the inventiveness in metallurgy, seafaring, warfare and trade that had characterized fallen Troy and its allies. The civilization of Rome claimed to have originated with Aeneas of Troy. And the memory of Troy and the Trojan War stood firmly at the center of interest for Western scholars up through the Middle Ages. Today it still remains one of the central legends of the West, related by one of the most eloquent poets the world has ever known.

Geoarcheologist Eberhard Zangger holds a German master's degree and a Stanford University doctorate in geology. He works as a senior physical scientist on many archeological projects around the eastern Mediterranean and lives in Zurich. His theory on the identity of the Sea People is detailed in his recent bookEin neuer Kampf um Troia, published in Germany by Droemer Knaur.

1. Greek Dark Age

From Ancient History Encyclopedia --


By Cristian Violatti  Published on 30 January 2015

The Greek Dark Age is the interval between the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, around 1200 BC, and the Greek Archaic Period, around c. 800 BC. The Dark Age era begins with a catastrophic event: the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization, when all major Mycenaean regional centres fell out of use after suffering a combination of destruction and abandonment. Linear B script, the Mycenaean writing system, was lost shortly after c. 1200 BC; for this reason, we have no first-hand written documents of any kind for this period. Thus, our understanding of the Greek Dark Age relies largely on archaeological research.


Iron-working is the one technological innovation that stands out during this period, so the Greek Dark Age is also known as the Early Iron Age. Iron-working was an innovation that seems to have been imported into Greece, not developed there, and it possibly reached Greece through Cyprus and the Near East. Metalworking methods during the Dark Age show signs of technical deficiencies in warlike items at several sites compared to earlier Bronze Age practices.


More than a century before the Mycenaean collapse, we find evidence suggesting that there were already conflict and instability in the Aegean. During the LH IIIA-B period (see Table 1), a fortification was built at Mycenae, protecting the palace and part of the residential space; some of the houses outside the citadel were destroyed during the LH IIIB period (accidental destruction cannot be ruled out), and after this incident the fortification was extended and the water supply secured. Around this time, similar initiatives were undertaken in Athens, Tiryns, and Gla (Boeotia), and it is possible that a wall closing off the Isthmus of Corinth was built, presumably to control the only access by land to the Peloponnese. At least some of these events might be connected with the Egyptian and Hittite documents recording land and sea raiding activities around the same time.



Although c. 1200 BC is he accepted date of the destruction and abandonment of several of the major Mycenaean centres, the archaeological record does not show significant changes until at least a century or so later; that is, Mycenaean culture persisted after the destruction of the palace centres for about a century, and its cultural traits are still identifiable. The Greek Dark Age chronology does not have any single "fixed point", which means that, since literacy was lost, we do not have any historical event that could be linked to world chronology. Some scholars have proposed a date between c. 1200 BCBCBC and c. 800 BC for the Greek Dark Age. Others believe that it begins in c. 1100 BC and ends in 776 BCBCBC, the date of the ft Olympian Games (according to Hippias olis). A date between c. 1000 and 750 BCBCBC also been favoured. All these estimations would be acceptable to most scholars today.







After the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces, there is no evidence that these buildings were rebuilt; it seems clear, however, that some of these sites were reoccupied, and that in some cases there were attempts to build new structures, although no real attempt to rebuild the old palaces can be identified. At Mycenae, the uppermost terraces were abandoned, but part of the citadel was reoccupied; at Dhimini, activities at the destroyed large palatial complex were partly restored, but abandoned soon after. Some aspects of Mycenaean culture continued to exist for about a century or so after c. 1200 BC. In mainland Greece and some of the Cyclades islands, Mycenaean pottery and Mycenaean burials persisted.

In Crete, although urban life continued in some coastal towns (e.g. Palaikastro), many major Bronze Age settlements were abandoned and a new pattern emerged: the location of new sites on remote and easily defensible areas. Some of these areas were not occupied prior to 1200 BC. The site of Karphi is a good example: most of it lies over 1,000 metres above sea level. It seems unlikely that the people of Karphi freely chose to settle in a spot so difflt to access, so it is safe to assume that this choice was conditioned by a set of circumstances, probably linked to defensive and other strategic reasons. More than a hundred sites like this have been recorded in Crete alone.



By about 1100 BCBCBC,anumber of changes can be identified in the archaeological record affecting burial practices, settlements, and pottery styles. In many regions, the Mycenaean custom of burial in family vaults was suddenly replaced by a new single burial practice, while cremation was adopted in some areas. Regional variations in burial practices have been identified and also different practices coexisting within the same community.


    Attica. In Athens, inhumation in pit and cist graves was a dominant burial practice recorded in the Kerameikos cemetery prior to 1050 BCBCBC. Between 1100 and 1050 BC, similar burial practices were used in Athens and Salamis and both places show little grave evidence for wealth distinction. During the Protogeometric period, cremation became the main funerary practice, and the incinerated remains were placed inside an amphora, which was then placed inside a pit along with grave goods, filled with earth, and covered by a stone slab. Gender distinction was emphasized in Athens: weapons and large kraters were linked to men, while jewelry and amphorae were connected to women. By the late 8th century BC, inhumation became the dominant burial practice again.

    Euboea. In Lefkandi, both cremation and inhumation were practiced. Different variations existed for both: cremated remains could be placed in a cist or left on the pyre, and inhumations could take place in cist or shaft graves. In some towns, pit-inhumations were recorded under house floors. At Eretria a mix of cremation and inhumation was found in the same cemetery.

    Thessaly. Here some aspect of Mycenaean burial practices persisted, such as small tholos tombs (widely present during Mycenaean times), which continued to be built throughout the Dark Age. Several cist grave cemeteries (used largely for children in the beginning) are recorded, including multiple burials in rock-cut chamber tombs. Other practices include slab-covered pits dug in the floor of vaulted chambers (some of them containing cremated remains), cremation in cists, and pyres grouped together and covered by a communal tumulus.

    Crete. Chamber tombs remained in use in some areas (e.g. Knossos) where collective burial was the norm, but many of the chamber tombs found here were abandoned after no more than two generations. Gender and age distinction was emphasized in Knossos through grave goods, but this practice is abandoned by the 10th century BC.



The study of settlements suggests a dramatic population decline in Greece during the Dark Age. This is reflected by the reduction in the number of settlements in Greece that can be identified around 1100 BCBCBC: the amount of recorded sites and cemeteries of Greece during the LH IIIB and LH IIIC period clearly show this tendency (see figure 1). This is consistent with the figures propose by Anthony Snodgrass the number  occupied sites in Greece identified on the basis of different pottery styles:

·      c. 320 sites occupied in the 13th century BCBCBC (based on Mycenaean IIIB pottery)

·      c. 130 sites occupied in the 12th century BC (based on Mycenaean IIIC pottery)

·      c. 40 sites occupied in the 10th century BC (based on Submycenaean + Early Protogeoric pottery)


In some areas of Greece, such as Laconia and the southern Argolid, very few archaeological findings have been identified for the c. 1100-1000 period, and the few sites that were found are small compared to previous times. Vincent Desborough has estimated a sharp population decline by c.1100 "about one-tenth of what it had been little over a century ago".


Settlements during the Dark Age were generally small and scattered across the landscape, and the variety of material culture showed signs of impoverishment compared to Mycenaean times. A different picture can be seen at the site of Lefkandi (in Euboea), considered the richest site in Greece, around 1000 BCBCBC. Lefkandi has produced evidence of foreign contacts (Cyprus and the Near East) and also presents building that ranks well above any other contemporary building in Greece. As exciting as all these may sound, Lefkandi also reflects the material decline of Greece: in terms of building standards, Lefkandiwell below the level of sophistication of Mycenaean architecture. The Greek material culture in general became poorer during the Dark Ages, less innovative, and places like Lefkandi are rare exceptions rather than the rule.



Like burials, pottery styles throughout Greece during the Dark Age saw the emergence of regional variations, unlike during Mycenaean times when pottery displayed a stylistic unit. During some time after the destruction of the palaces, the pottery industry continued during the LH IIIC period, but it eventually decreaded its quality, followed by the emergence of new regional pottery styles. 

Abstract decoration dominated the Dark Age pottery styles. Figurative art, largely absent during the Greek Dark Age and fairly common during Mycenaean times, returned during the late stage of the Geometric style, including battles, chariot processions, and funerary scenes. Only a few examples of figurative art in pottery have been recorded prior to the Late Geometric style (e.g. Early Protogeometric styles in Lefkandi and Crete). 


About 1125 BCBCBC,Atticasaw the emergence of a local style known as "Submycenaean". This style has also been recorded in other regions, but it shows significant variations; in Lefkandi, for example, it displays a poorer quality when compared to Attica. In the Argolid there are differences in quality between different sites. Submycenaean style in general is below the standards of the Late Mycenaean style in terms of materials and painting quality. Late Mycenaean and Submycenaean styles coexisted until c. 1050 BCBCBC, when the Protogeometric style replaced both and also appeared in the Argolid, Corinthos, Thessaly, South & Central Cyclades, and West Asia Minor. Between 950 and 900 BC, the Protogeometric style was the most popular style in Greece, but it was absent in some regions: Elis, Laconia, Arcadia, and Samos & Chios (where there is no data available); Lesbos, Macedonia and Sicily & Italy (local wares have been recorded), and Eastern Crete (where the Subminoan style was used).


From 900 BC onwards the Geometric style gradually emerged until it replaced all earlier styles by 750 BCBCBC, except in Macedonia. Around 725 BCBCBC, the Pro-Corinthian style emerged ith, and shoy after othully figurative styles were also detected in Crete. 


Regional variation of pottery can be interpreted as a loss or reduction in the level of contact between the different groups: styles of decoration are typically borrowed and exchanged during interaction between groups. The lack of an overall unifying artistic tradition, linked to the absence of a dominant political unit in Greece, could also be a factor to consider when trying to explain these regional differences. Influences from foreign pottery styles are only recorded in rare cases (e.g. Lefkandi and Athens).



Several decades ago, scholars had a rather different view on the Greek Dark Age compared with our current understanding. The Mycenaean civilization, it was believed, fell after several waves of invasions by different groups who brought violence and chaos to the sophisticated Mycenaeans. "Dark Age" was a suitable analogy for this apocalyptic view of a complex society being torn apart by nomads entering Greece and "downgrading" it to an age of savagery. This picture was mainly supported by ancient accounts on the Dorian invaders, a Greek tribe that migrated into Greece, that was largely responsible for the Mycenaean collapse. It was believed that the Dorians

...were still in the herding and hunting stage; [...] their main reliance was upon their cattle, whose need for new pasturage kept the tribes ever on the move. [...] the hard metal of their swords and souls gave them a merciless supremacy over Achaeans and Cretans who still used bronze to kill. [...] [the Dorians] put the ruling classes to the swords, and turned the Mycenaean remnant into helot-serfs. [...] The surviving Achaeans fled [...] every man, feeling unsafe, carried arms: increasing violence disrupted agriculture and trade on land, and commerce on the seas. War flourished, poverty deepened and spread. Life became unsettled as families wandered from country to country seeking security and peace. (Durant: 62-63)


Scholars in the past took the ancient accounts of the Dorians and other invading groups at face value. Rather than having a critical view on these sources, they looked for evidence that could confirm their validity. As a result, it was proposed that some of the archaeological evidence found around 1200 BCBCBC was a reflection of these newcomers. Single burials and cremations, were seen as an "intrusive" new element in the archaeological record, usually associated with the Dorians: these were understood as new funerary practices alien to the Mycenaean world and introduced by the invading tribes. It was a"crmation" of the ancient account on invading groups.


From 1960s CE onwards, the archaeological work on the Greek Dark Age has been increasing significantly, and many of the old assumptions have been challenged. Single burials, for example, have been identified throughout the Mycenaean period at Argos.


Cremation, another "intrusive" element, has also been recorded during Mycenaean times in western Anatolia, Attica, and even in Italy. This means that we have reasons to believe that those funerary expressions that were interpreted in the past as a ‘'proof" of invading groups entering Greece might actually have an indigenous Mycenaean origin or even an origin in neighbouring regions with strong commercial links to the Mycenaean world, such as Italy. It may be the case that Dorian tribes migrated into Greece around the time of the Mycenaean collapse, and it might also be possible that they played a role in the collapse itself, but the point is that the evidence for it is far from conclusive, and it has no solid archaeological basis.



A number of scholars have raised concerns about the term "Dark Age". James Whitley has stated that the term Dark Age is a "rather loaded term". Timothy Darvill believes that the term "Dark Age" is "not very helpful" because it implies that very little is known about the period despite the fact that the archaeology has advanced our knowledge of the Greek Dark Age. Based on these and other observations, there are a few alternatives to refer to this period, such as "Early Iron Age" (based on the "Three Age" system), which can be divided in "Protogeometric" (1050 BCBCBC to 900 BC) and "Geometric" (900 BC to 700 BC) Greece.


Despite these new objections on the term "Dark Age", the overall picture suggested by archaeological data for this period fits the general features of system collapse with no identifiable central administration, population decline, and impoverishment of material culture. This is in line with the opinion of Anthony Snodgrass who holds that in Greece during the Dark Age, little was preserved from the Mycenaean culture and "that little then dwindled away to almost nothing, until some elements were artificially revived in the late "8th century BCBCBC and later’.



By 800 BC the number of settlements began to rise. This growth is recorded in mainland Greece in general, the Aegean islands, and it is also reflected in the growth of the number of Greek settlements outside Greece (Western Mediterranean and the Black Sea). The increase in the number of settlements is in line in the growing number of graves at Athens, Attica, and Argos during the 8th century BC. The same pattern has been recorded in Knossos and other cemeteries across Greece. The material culture of the8th-century-BCBCBC Greece is much varied and innoive compared with the previous centuries. Other changes recorded towards the end of the Dark Age are:recovery of literacy (Greek alphabet) after the abandonment of the Mycenaean Linear B script, increasing contacts with regions outside the Aegean, and the emergence of a new and successful form of political institution (the early poleis). These signs are consistent with a society experiencing a population increase and gaining a higher level of complexity.

This time of recovery marks the end of the Greek Dark Age and the transition into the Greek Archaic Period, a time considered a turning point or revival in Greek history.



Cristian Violatti is a freelance writer, currently studying Archaeology at the University of Leicester, England. He is a regular contributor and one of the editors of Ancient History Encyclopedia.


2. Greek Dark Age

From Baton Rouge Fencing Club --


The year 1100 B.C. or so marked the end of higher civilization in the Aegean for a long time. The succeeding period (1100-750 B.C.) is conventionally called the Dark Ages of Greece, and it is aptly named. Because writing disappeared along with Mycenaean civilization, no written evidence exists for this period. Since it was extremely poor and primitive in other respects too, even the archeological remains are quite limited. Nevertheless, the Dark Ages were formative for the later development of the Aegean.


In the first place, the region was largely isolated form the rest of the Mediterranean, a situation that differed markedly from the Bronze Age. The Mycenaeans had traded widely with the Near East. The Dark Ages have yielded few goods imported into or exported out of the Aegean at all. Trading contacts essentially ceased. This is due partly to the poverty of the Aegean and partly to conditions elsewhere. By 850, some limited trade began to reappear, but regular continuous contacts did not develop until the 700s.


This lack of contact meant that the Iron-Age Aegean peoples, unlike the Minoans and Mycenaeans, were not influenced by Near Eastern examples in creating their fundamental institutions. On the other hand, some trade did exist within various parts of the Lower Aegean itself throughout the Dark Ages. As a result, Aegean peoples came to have a distinct culture of their own, different from that of their neighbors. The culture shared certain broad similarities everywhere, but with lots of local variations.


Perhaps the most obvious illustration of this is provided by the pattern of language that took shape in the Dark Ages. In historic times, most peoples around the Aegean had the same language. We call those who spoke this language Greeks, but they called themselves (and still do) Hellenes. This common language set them apart from other peoples who did not speak it. Other peoples were called barbaroi. Originally, “barbarian” simply meant anyone who did not speak Greek. Yet, even though all Hellenes spoke Greek, they did not all speak it the same way. From place to place, minor differences existed in pronunciation (and later spelling) and even in grammar. The differences were not great enough to prevent Hellenes from understanding each other; they could talk together. Such minor linguistic variations are called dialects.


Why the dialects arose is not absolutely certain, but they most likely resulted from movements by various Greek-speaking groups in the late Bronze Age and early Dark Ages. Whether invaders ended Mycenaean civilization or not, the evidence suggests that some Mycenaeans did migrate across to Asia Minor in this period, and while others resettled the older Mycenaean communities at a much lower level of civilization after a few generations. Also, some Greek-speaking people with different dialects seem to have wandered into the Greek hearthland from elsewhere, settling there. The clearest sign of this is the distribution of dialects later on.


In the Dark Ages the ruling upper class of the Helladic times had disappeared completely along with the rest of civilization. A bit later, I will argue that there were no clearly defined, dominant political leaders in the Dark Ages, at least not at first. Moreover, the general poverty of the time had reduced everyone in society to roughly the same economic level as well. One example will serve. The rich Mycenaean chamber tombs and shaft graves had given way to meager cist graves for all classes. The wide divergence in the wealth of burials found at Mycenae never existed in Greece again until Hellenistic times. The lack of economic and political distinctions offers presumptive evidence for social equality as well.


In place of the stratified Helladic society, Dark-Age Greeks reverted to a primitive tribal organization made up of numerous groups of individuals united by kingship, or some less formal style of individual leadership, sometimes called the Big Man leadership, and by control of contiguous lands. The Big Man is an informal leader, identified by Anthropologists in some primitive cultures, who maintains his influence through gift and favor giving, and, sometimes by virtue of his leadership in warfare. At any rate, the major social unit was the oikos (-oi) or household. It was made up of persons who worked together to farm a single piece of land. In most cases, they were all members of the same family who owned the land. In a few instances where the farm was a bit larger than usual, the oikos might also include one or two slaves. But this was rare. Members of the oikios cooperated to farm the land, and to defend it and one another from outsiders. Each oikos also had its own religious observances to aid these activities. Without mutual assistance of an oikos, an individual would have difficulty in feeding or protecting himself. Thus, the paramount loyalty of individuals was to the family unit.


The family acted to protect its members from outsiders, and male family members combined both to defend their own family, lands and livestock, and, from time to time, to raid neighbors and steal livestock and women.  Decisions affecting the whole oikos were made by a council of elders, probably under the guidance and influence of the family head.

Greece in the dark ages might best be described as a frontier society. Folks to protected what was theirs and occasionally took what they could from other oikoi. Inter-familial activities were most often those of the blood feud. Because there were virtually no differences of wealth within the family, there existed a strong assumption that all males old enough to fight were equal.


Besides the oikos, more extended kinship units also existed. By the end of the Dark Ages, most Greeks came to have a genos (-e) or clan as well. A clan is a group of families that trace their relations to one, often mythical or semi-mythical, ancestor. Clans may not have existed in the early Dark Ages, but the Greeks did have tribes. The word for tribe is phyle (-ai). A tribe was made up of large numbers of persons thought to have a remote common ancestor.


Tribes probably existed in the Dark Ages, because there is good evidence that they existed in some form earlier in the Bronze Age. In later times, most Doric-speaking regions had three tribes, while Ionic-speaking ones usually, but not always, had four. These tribes often had the same names in widely separated regions and across later political divisions. This suggest that they already existed before all the movement and migration took place.


Tribal units based solely on kinship were important when the Greeks were still moving around. As they settled down and took up farming, other units based on common territorial interests arose. Families with farms in the same local area normally lived in villages for protection. The men of the village would fight together to defend it and its lands as a whole. Village families intermarried and over time, everyone came to be related to everyone else. The village became like a large family.


There is a term for the interrelated families making up the people of a village. In Doric, the term is damos; but I normally use the more common Ionic spelling and pronunciation, which is demos. Family ties to the demos, which arose because families lived and fought together gradually superseded the remoter ties to tribe. In the Dark Ages, there were literally hundreds of these tightly knit separate villages scattered throughout the Aegean. Within villages, additional local territorial subdivisions gradually emerged. Men from different sections of the village fought together in bands within the larger army. For that, they formed military clubs. Club members not only fought as a unit, they carried out religious rites to secure divine aid in war. Such clubs, which are subdivisions of the demos, are called phratriai, phratries or brotherhoods.


Since members of the demos worked together and fought together and were all related anyway, there was again a strong presumption that they should be equal socially. Yet, even in such a simple society, some inequities were bound to arise. First, for one reason or another, some individuals did not have an oikos or land of their own, and could not fulfill the military requirements of the family warrior-retainers who shared in the fighting and spoils that followed success in war. Such persons were called thetes, landless men. They cannot have been very numerous, but they did exist (Eumaius the swine herd in the Odyssey is one such), and they may be considered the least fortunate “class” during this period. Even slaves had a more secure membership within structure of the oikos  than did thetes.


Among the oikoi themselves within the village structure, some had a bit more land or better land than average. Men in these families could afford better, more expensive armor and other equipment for war. Poorer farmers had simpler weapons; perhaps some could not afford any at all. Thus, the better-equipped men with more land were more likely to become leaders of the demos in war. That helped them extend their advantage. As leaders, they got a bigger share of the spoils of war and grew richer still over time. So wealthier, more important soldiers had an edge over others in the demos, but it was a relatively slight edge. In the Dark Ages, there was much more equality than inequality in Greek society.


Like the social system, the political system of the Dark Ages preserved few traces of earlier Mycenaean practice. There is much more general agreement among scholars about that I think. At the end of the Bronze Age, large highly centralized states headed by an autocratic wanax were replaced by these hundreds of mall, independent villages. They did not have or need much government; each oikos ran its own affairs and protected its own members for the most part.


But, as we have seen, the families of the demos did fight together, and so they needed some kind of organization for war. Later Greeks called the organization that evolved an ethnos, a tribal state or tribal organization.  Each demos had a leader (or sometimes more than one). The leaders had different titles in different parts of later Greece; but one of the commonest ones, and the one I use is the title basileus. This term is often translated as “king,” but that is misleading. None of the terms used by other Indo-Europeans to designate a king is found anywhere in Greece. Greeks had no such concept at first.


Basileus is not an Indo-European word, and we do not know what it originally meant. But other terms used for early village leaders suggest that it signifies something like “chief.” The basileus led the soldiers of the demos in war; he may also have carried out some common religious rites. But that is all he did. In the beginning, most war leaders were probably elected for their military ability. By the end of the Dark Ages, however, their jobs had become hereditary in many communities.


Even in war, the chief’s authority was not absolute. To act, he needed cooperation from other leading warriors in the village. Thus, occasionally, he would call these men together to advise him about his duties. They met with him and gave their opinions in what was called a boule or council.


But when a major decision affecting the whole demos had to be made, they would have a mass meeting called an agora. Since the decision had to do with war, the agora included all those who fought—the soldiers. So, it consisted of all the adult males who could afford armor and weapons. Practically in most villages, that meant just about all the men of the demos, although some of the poorest may have been left out. The agora did not discuss and debate issues. The basileus and his advisers merely explained what they wanted to do and why. Then the soldiers shouted either approval or disapproval. The procedure was not exactly democratic; but in principle, the entire demos, or at least most of it, made the final decision.


In most important respects, the Dark Ages formed a new beginning for the inhabitants of the Aegean, a beginning largely uninfluenced by earlier or outside precedents. Many Greeks hardly progressed beyond this beginning. As late as the 300s B.C., many parts of Greece retained the tribal institutions of the ethnos, which I have described today. But the immediate future lay with those who were to use the forms of the Dark Ages to build a more advanced society.


3. Greek Dark Ages

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



Ancient Greece


c. 1100 BC – 800 BC

Preceded by

Mycenaean Greece


The Greek Dark Age or Ages and Geometric or Homeric Age (ca. 1100–800 BC)[1][2] are terms which have regularly been used to refer to the period of Greek history from the presumed Dorian invasion and end of the Mycenaean palatial civilization around 1100 BC, to the first signs of the Greek poleis 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 this time, 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 ca 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; however, artifacts from excavations at Lefkandi on the Lelantine Plain in Euboea show that significant cultural and trade links with the east, particularly the Levant coast, developed from c. 900 BC onwards, and evidence has emerged of the new presence of Hellenes in sub-Mycenaean Cyprus and on the Syrian coast at Al Mina.



         1 Fall of the Mycenaeans

            2 Mediterranean warfare and the Sea Peoples

            3 Dark Age culture

            4 Post-Mycenaean Cyprus

            5 Society

            6 Lefkandi Burial

            7 End of the Dark Age

            8 New writing system

            9 Continuity thesis

            10 See also

            11 References

            12 Bibliography


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 1050 BC, the recognizable features of Mycenaean culture had disappeared. Many explanations attribute the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and the Bronze Age collapse to climatic or environmental catastrophe combined with an invasion by Dorians[3] or by the Sea Peoples or the widespread availability of edged weapons of iron, but no single explanation fits the available archaeological evidence.


Mediterranean warfare and the 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 obscure. The thirteenth and twelfth-century inscriptions and carvings at Karnak and Luxor are the only sources for "Sea Peoples", a term invented by the Egyptians themselves and recorded in the boastful accounts of Egyptian military successes:[4]


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, Denyen and Weshesh.[5]


A similar assemblage of peoples may have attempted to invade Egypt twice, once during the reign of Merneptah about 1208 BC, and then again during the reign of Ramesses III about 1178 BC.


Dark Age culture

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. The population of Greece was reduced,[6] 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. To what extent the earliest Greek literary sources, the Homeric epics (8th–7th century) and Hesiod's Works and Days (8th–7th century), describe life in the 9th–8th centuries remains a matter of considerable debate.


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, that generalizations about a "Dark Age society" are misleading.[7] 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.[8] 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 inherently unstable: he interprets Lefkandi in this light.[9]


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 potting in this time, albeit 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, which resulted in 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.


During this time the smelting of iron was learnt from Cyprus and the Levant, exploited and improved upon, 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,[10] 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 BC 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 BC, though the contemporaneous evidence is scant. In Cyprus some archaeological sites begin to show identifiably Greek ceramics,[11] 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.[12]


Post-Mycenaean Cyprus

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[13] of small flasks and jugs which 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 communal storage of food and of religious significance. 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.[14] 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 resources for each family was the ancestral plot of land of the oikos, the kleros or allotment; without this a man could not marry.[15]


Lefkandi Burial

Lefkandi on the island of Euboea was a prosperous settlement in the Late Bronze Age,[16] possibly to be identified with old Eretria.[17] 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.[18] Sometimes called 'the heroon, this long narrow building, (50 metres by 10 metres - 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.[19] 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 c 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.


End of the Dark Age

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 Delphi or 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, while 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 which 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.[20] 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.[21]


New writing system

By the mid- to late 8th century BC a new alphabet system was adopted from the 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 Cyprus in Arcadocypriot Greek and Eteocypriot inscriptions until the Hellenistic era.


Continuity thesis[edit]

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.[22]





^ About the so-called "Dorians' Issue" cf. Francesco Perono Cacciafoco, Sulle piste dei Dori. Ipotesi a confronto tra Linguistica, Archeologia e Storia [On the Traces of the Dorians. Compared Hypotheses According to Linguistics, Archaeology, and History], Pisa University Press (Edizioni PLUS), Pisa 2009, link book.

^ 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).

^ 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).

^ Lefkandi excavation reports: bibliography

^ 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 BC 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. (2006)



·      Francesco Perono Cacciafoco, Sulle piste dei Dori. Ipotesi a confronto tra Linguistica, Archeologia e Storia [On the Traces of the Dorians. Compared Hypotheses According to Linguistics, Archaeology, and History], Pisa University Press (Edizioni PLUS), Pisa 2009, link book.

·      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: Crete and 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 : L'Harmattan, 2003.

·      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.

·      Jan Sammer, New Light on the Dark Age of Greece [1] (Immanuel Velikovsky Archive).

·      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 0-500-02085-X.

·      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.


4. The Dark Age of Greece &

the Rise of the Polis

(c.1100-750 BC)



FC18 in the Hyperflow of History.

Covered in multimedia lecture #3519.


Introduction: the Dark Age of Greece

The centuries following the fall of the Mycenaeans are mostly obscured from our view by an extreme scarcity of records. As a result, this is known as the Dark Age of Greek history. Still, there are a few things that we know about this period that saw the transition from Mycenaean to classical Greek civilization. It was a period of chaos and the movements of peoples. New tribes of Greeks, the Dorians, moved in and displaced or conquered older inhabitants. Those peoples in turn would migrate, oftentimes overseas, in search of new homes. It was also a period of illiteracy and poverty leaving us no written records or sophisticated monuments to tell us about the culture of this period.


All this led to the Greek world at this time being divided up between various Greek-speaking peoples who were distinguishable from each other by slight differences in dialect and religious practices. However, their similarities were important enough so that we can talk about the Greeks as a people. Two of these Greek peoples in particular should be mentioned: the Dorians and Ionians. The Dorians were Greek invaders who came down from the north to conquer many of the Mycenaean strongholds around 1100 B.C.E. Sometimes they completely blended in with their pre-Dorian subjects, and there was little class conflict in their city-states. In other places the Dorians did not intermarry and remained a distinct ruling class over the non-Dorian population. The most extreme cases of this were Sparta and Thessaly, where the non-Dorians were virtually enslaved and forced to work the soil for the ruling Dorians. Such situations posed a constant threat of violence within city-states.


The Ionians were pre-Dorian inhabitants who avoided conquest by the Dorians, either by fighting them off or by migrating. The region of Attica, centered around Athens, was one main pocket of resistance to Dorian conquest, as seen in the myth of the Athenian king, Codrus, who sacrificed himself in battle to ensure Athens' safety against a Dorian invasion. Many Ionians either chose to migrate overseas or were forced to do so by invaders. Most of them settled in the Cycladic Islands or on the western coast of Asia Minor, which became known as Ionia from the large number of Ionian Greeks there.


The birth of the Polis

The chaos and Greece's mountainous terrain forced people to huddle under the protection of a defensible hill known as an acropolis. By 800 B.C.E., these fortified centers had produced more security and settled conditions that triggered two important developments vital to the emergence of Greek culture. First, the more settled conditions plus the fact that Greece was by the sea and had few resources led to a revival of trade and contact with the older cultures to the East. For example, the Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet and added vowels to it, so literacy returned to Greece. Also, Egyptian influence can be seen in Greek architecture and sculpture. Here too we see the Greeks would add their own innovations, giving their pillars more slender and graceful lines, and creating more lifelike statues than the stiff formal Egyptian models they had to copy. These influences would lead to and be the partial basis of classical Greek civilization .


Also, the settled conditions along with Greece's poor soils and hilly and dry conditions led to a new type of agriculture and farmer at this time. Instead of the overly centralized agriculture of the Mycenaean period and the under-worked aristocratic estates of the earlier Dark Age, farmers started developing less desirable lands, which the nobles probably did not even want. Rather than raising just grain crops or grazing livestock, they developed a mixed agriculture of grains, orchards, and vineyards that was better adapted to the varied conditions of their lands and climate. The intensive labor such farms required bred very independent farmers who would be largely responsible for the emergence of democracy in the Greek polis.


The revival of trade and development of small independent farms also combined to allow the settlements to grow into towns and cities (poleis) that spread out beyond the confines of their original acropolises. Later, in some cities, notably Athens, the acropolis would become a place to build temples to the gods while also serving as a reminder of earlier more turbulent times. In order to understand the Greeks, one must understand what this most distinctive of all Greek institutions, the polis (city-state), meant to them.


The word polis means city, but it was much more than that to the Greek citizen. It was the central focus of his political, cultural, religious, and social life. Much of this was because the Greek climate was ideal for people to spend most of their time outdoors. Therefore, they interacted with one another much more than we do and became more tightly knit as a community. Since poleis were so isolated from each other by mountains, they became largely self sufficient and self-conscious communities. Greeks generally saw their poleis as complete in themselves, not needing to unite with other Greek poleis for more security or fulfillment. We can see three main qualities that were typical of major and minor poleis alike.


1.    The polis was an independent political unit with its own foreign policy, coinage, patron deity, and even calendar. For example, the tiny island of Ceos off the coast of Attica, had four independent city-states, each claiming the right to carry on its own business and wage war as it saw fit-- all this on an island no more than ten miles in length!


2.    The polis was on a small scale. This is obvious from the example of Ceos. But consider a major city-state such as Corinth, which controlled an area of only some 320 square miles, considerably smaller than an average county in one of our states. Athens, by far the most influential of the city-states on our own culture, controlled an area only about the size of Rhode Island. Yet it is to Athens that we look for the birth of such things as our drama, philosophy, architecture, history, and democracy.


3.    The polis was personal in nature. This follows logically from its small size. Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato thought that a polis should be small enough for every citizen to know every other citizen. If it got any bigger, it would get too impersonal and not work for the individual citizen's benefit. Even in Athens, the most populous Greek city-state, some citizens could pay their taxes in very personal ways, such as by equipping and maintaining a warship for a year or by producing a dramatic play for the yearly festival dedicated to Dionysus. This tended to breed a healthy competition where citizens would strive to make their plays or warships the best ones possible, thus benefiting the polis as a whole.


The polis' small and personal nature bred an intense loyalty in its citizens that had both its good and bad points. On the plus side, it did inspire members of the community to work hard for the civic welfare. The incredible accomplishments of Athens in the fifth century B.C.E. are the most outstanding example of what this civic pride could accomplish.


On the negative side, the polis' narrow loyalties led to intense rivalries and chronic warfare between neighboring city-states. These wars could be long, bitter, and costly. Sparta and Argos were almost always in a state of war with each other or armed truce waiting for war. The Peloponnesian War between Sparta and Athens lasted 27 years, destroying Athens' empire and golden age. Sometimes city-states would be entirely destroyed in these wars, such as happened to Plataea and Sybaris. In addition, there was often civil strife within the city-state as well: between rich and poor, Dorians and non-Dorians, and citizens and non-citizens. This internal turmoil could be every bit as vicious and bloody as fighting between city-states. Ultimately, the Greeks sealed their own doom by wasting energy and resources in their own petty squabbles while other larger powers were waiting in the wings for the right moment to strike.


However, there were several factors that gave the Greeks a common identity and some degree of unity. First of all, the Greeks spoke a common language that largely gave them a common way of looking at things. The Greeks generally divided the world into those who spoke Greek and those who did not. Those who did not speak Greek were called barbarians, since, to the Greeks, they senselessly babbled ("bar-bar-bar").


Religion also gave the Greeks a common identity. Athletic contests in honor of the gods especially emphasized the Greeks' unity as a people. The most famous of these were the Olympic Games held every four years in honor of Zeus. During these games a truce was called between all Greek city-states, allowing Greeks to travel in peace to the games, even through the territory of hostile states. The modern Olympic Games, even though they are no more successful than the ancient games in putting an end to war, still serve as a symbol of peace in a less than peaceful world.


Finally, several city-states might combine into leagues. These leagues might be purely for the purpose of celebrating religious rites or kinship common to their cities. A good example was the Delphic Amphictyony, a league of twelve cities formed to promote and protect the Oracle of Delphi. Some leagues were for political and defensive purposes. The Peloponnesian League under Sparta and the Delian League under Athens were for such a purpose and together claimed the loyalties of most of the city-states in Greece and Ionia. This was good for preventing war between individual city-states. But it backfired when Sparta and Athens went to war in 431 B.C.E. and dragged most of the Greek world into the most tragic and destructive struggle in ancient Greek history.


By 750 B.C.E., the Greek world had largely taken shape as a collection of city-states, often at war with one another, but also feeling certain common ties of language, religion, and customs. At this point, there was nothing remarkable about the Greeks, but forces were at work that would transform Greece into the home of democracy and the birthplace of Western Civilization.


5. Lefkandia



The significance of a find like Lefkandi can only be understood in the context of its historical placement. One has to consider the events and cultures before and after its time to interpret the find itself. Lefkandi belongs to the Dark Age of Greece, so we will begin by looking at what we know of this dark period, and of the relatively well-known ages flanking it.


Lefkandi is considered an anomaly in Greek history not only because of the many foreign elements it reveals and incorporates, but because it shows remarkable wealth and organization at a time thought to be devoid of both. The remains unearthed at Lefkandi are dated around the 10th century BCBC, in the midst of the Dark Age of Greece. Placed between the 12th and 8th centuries BCBCBC, the Dark Age is an essentially blank time between two flourishing eras--theMycenaeand the Ionian (also called Helladic and Hellenic). It is termed "dark" because of the extremely scant and patchy erial evidence it left behind, and its complete lack of any written record.



Setting the Stage: Pre-Dark Age Greece:


Preceding the Dark Age were the highly organized and sophisticated palace cultures of the Minoans and Mycenaeans in southern Greece. The "palaces" of Minoan culture on Crete were really large community centers that supported a people rich in communication, trade, and material wealth. The huge Minoan palaces housed impressive works of art and craftsmanship and stored food for thousands of citizens, all evidence of a highly organized civilization. We also know from palace excavations that they engaged in overseas trade and had their own writing system (Linear A, at this point untranslated). Minoan culture appears to have ended in the mid 15th century BCBCBC.


The Mycenaean civilization that followed on Mainland Greece was no less impressive. It is thought to have either conquered or gradually overrun the Minoan culture, and absorbed some of its elements. Centered similarly around palaces--theirs more on the order of fortresses--the Mycenaeans also had their own written language (Linear B, a forerunner of Classical Greek). They too created great works of art and engaged in vigorous overseas trade, leaving evidence of Egyptian and Oriental influences in their ruins. The Mycenaean palaces were destroyed by unknown forces (some suggest natural disasters, some foreign invasion) in the late 13th century BC.


What followed was not another age of cultural achievement, but several hundred years of economic, political, and social depression that left almost no imprint on history. Little to no artifacts, ruins, or other traces remain, so this period is termed the Dark Age.


Following the Dark Age, which drew to a close in the 8th century BC, the Ionian culture rose in Greece. It, like the Mycenaean cult, featured written language, monumental buildings, urban centers, and complex social structure. The Ionian gradually developed into the Classical Greek period in the 5th century BCBCBC, which closed with Alexander of Macedon's conquests in the Mediterranean and the Near East.





The Dark Age--c. 1200-750 BC:


Based on the profound lack of archeological remains from the period, scholars have drawn some conclusions about the state of society following the Mycenaean age. It is believed that after the collapse of the palaces, the people were for some reason unable to reorganize themselves. They fell into migrating, and settled in small groups that never collected to form a city or widespread culture. Trade, art, architecture, and other practices of organized civilization were virtually abandoned, and writing completely disappeared.


This is why Lefkandi was so unexpected, from an historical point of view. While it has not yielded any writing in its ruins, it has turned up evidence of wealth, social organization, and trade with other areas of the Mediterranean, all at levels presumed impossible in the Dark Age.




Most material remains from the Dark Age demonstrate primarily localized cultures. Pottery decoration, one of the main measures of social contact and exchange, was done in many styles, but none were spread over a very large area. For example, pottery from western Attica did not appear outside of western Attica. The distinct styles also did not evolve much from century to century. Since cultures in contact via trade typically borrow and exchange decorational styles, it is assumed there was not much interaction between groups.


At Lefkandi, however, pottery has been discovered that shows influences from Cyprus in both potting style and decoration (such pottery was also found at Athens). The new styles, unseen before the 11th century in Greece, are very similar to those from Cyprus categorized as Cypriot IIIB. This would indicate that the people of Lefkandi and Athens had not lost contact with outsiders, and overseas ones at that. Contact was probably through trade, and perhaps through migrations.




No writing--from tablets, pottery, paintings, mosaics, or any other source--has been recovered from Dark Age Greece. The absence of writing in any form at all seems to indicate that there was no need for writing. The primary uses for writing in the preceding centuries had been record keeping in storerooms and for political purposes. Dark Age Greeks, then, could not have had any storerooms large enough, or political systems broad enough, to need keeping track of in writing. Small-scale, local economies are the only models that would not have required such records.




Another characteristic prominent in Helladic and Hellenic times and missing from the Dark Ages was monumental architecture. The palaces built by the Minoans and Mycenaeans were gigantic stone constructions that provided storage, shelter, and/or protection for thousands of people. The colossal temples, monuments, public places and other architectural feats of the Classical Greeks are even better known to us. No such buildings exist from the intervening Dark years; there were evidently no constructions sturdy enough to survive. The absence of ambitious architecture would logically go hand in hand with an absence of political or religious power structures large enough to merit such monuments. This supports the notion that settlements were small and self-contained.


At Lefkandi, however, the best-known find is a huge 10th century building--precisely what Greece at that time was thought to lack. Similar structures were found at Thebes and Pefkakia, and assigned to the same time period. The house-like structure at Lefkandi measures 47 meters by 10 meters, and is made from wood, mud bricks, and stone. It houses the graves of a man and a woman. The building bears little resemblance to the grand architecture of the Helladic or Hellenic ages, but its existence does suggest that someone possessed enough wealth, skill, and resources to execute a project of fairly ambitious proportions. These communities must have been sufficiently developed to support a person or group of people with enough concentrated wealth and enough labor at their disposal to devote to an expensive burial.



Burial Findings:

Artifacts excavated from the multiple graves at Lefkandi (explained in greater detail elsewhere in this site) also speak not only of wealth but also of wide trade connections throughout the Mediterranean. Graves made later than the two in the large building contain pottery from Athens, jewelry and metal from the Near East, and signs of contact with northern Greece and Macedonia. There is also jewelry that may be of local workmanship, and if so, the skill involved is unusually high for the period.


Prior to this discovery, Dark Age Greeks were thought to have been nearly completely isolated from contact outside their local communities. From the stylistic isolation of pottery and the lack of evidence for trade in and between other parts of Greece, it was assumed that anything requiring more than rudimentary social organization was lost to society. Lefkandi nearly reverses this view, forcing archeologists to rethink their assumptions about Greece in the Dark Age.


Lefkandi challenges most long-held notions about what was going on in Greece between the Mycenaean and Ionian cultures. From a view that excluded much of any sophistication or cultural advancement, we are brought to see that in one area of Greece at least, people were trading, building, and creating at levels far beyond the scope of the primitive and nomadic peoples previously imagined.



The Dark Age is Introduced:

The concept of a Dark Age in GreeceÕs past was not initially based on archeological evidence from Greece itself. The idea was actually proposed in the late 1800s by Egyptologists. Most all ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures have relative chronologies, but no absolute dates, so archeologists have relied on correlations with Egypt--the one empire for which we do have absolute dates--for dating those cultures. They look for places where the Egyptian culture overlaps with another culture, and align the chronologies accordingly. (An example is pottery from the height of Mycenaean culture found in a precisely dated Egyptian city, showing that both existed simultaneously.)


Egyptologists in the 1800s, who were certain that their calculations regarding Egypt's past were correct, found that to properly align the Egyptian and Greek histories, it was necessary to place several hundred years between the Mycenaean and the Hellenic cultures, an idea that had not seemed logical based on Greek archeology at the time. The archeologists were convinced, however, and it soon became widely accepted that there was a missing period in Greek history. Since no material evidence had been found to support the idea, the time was called the Dark Age. From that time very little has been discovered from the Dark Age, and the dearth of information has led archeologists to the above conclusions. Only in recent decades, with the discovery of sites like Lefkandi, have we been able to shed any light on this anonymous era.



The Dark Age in Question:


The matter of lost centuries in Greece's past is far from resolved. Numerous questions and problems arose from the separation of Mycenaean and Ionian culture with such a lengthy and culturally vacuous gap.


Language poses one problem: The Mycenaeans had a well-developed written language (Linear B), as did the Ionian and Classical Greeks, but in the intervening period there is no reason to believe any Greeks practiced writing in any form. Though the Mycenaean and Ionian writing systems differ (one uses characters, the other syllables), the language they recorded is the same, and several hundred years of illiteracy between the two seems implausible.


The so-called "Homeric Question" also remains an enigma: How can the poet called Homer, who lived in the 7th or 8th century BC, have written the amazing accounts of the Iliad and the Odyssey in sophisticated Greek prose, immediately following a period of widespread illiteracy? His subject, events surrounding the Trojan War at the end of the Bronze Age, is also surprising. Homer writes in great detail of elements such as metalworking that were exclusively part of Mycenaean culture, showing excellent knowledge of far-removed times; his accuracy of description has been verified by Mycenaean excavations. HomerÕs relationship with ancient history is perplexing at the least.


Another fact that calls the Dark Age into doubt is that no Greeks from Ionian times forward made any mention of a Dark Age in their history. The numerous poets, playwrights, historians, writers, and philosophers of Classical times said nothing about it, and made no implication that there had once been any culturally bleak time.


Other various archeological problems arose as well, such as excavations that seemed to show Mycenaean and much later Greek architecture existing without much of a gap in time between them. Mycenaean pottery and "Geometric" style pottery from the 8th century are also found together in some cases, which does not prove there no time passed between their creations, but it does make an extremely long period between seem strange.


Some historians and archeologists attempt to solve these problems by proving that the creation of a Dark Age in Greece's past was a mistake, and that the fault was on the part of the Egyptologists. One of these is the late Immanuel Velikovsky, who believed that rather than adding centuries to the Greek chronology, they should be subtracted from the Egyptian one. He researched deeply the creation of the Egyptian chronology, and found much evidence for its revision, ultimately concluding that the Egyptologists were mistaken in their placement of dates. Velikovsky's model shortens Egyptian history, eliminating the need for a Greek Dark Age. Under this view the period between the Mycenaean and Ionian cultures would have been a matter of decades rather than centuries. His extensive research and arguments are published at (his original manuscript remains unpublished). The site is itself a summary (albeit an extensive one) of Velikovsky's work, and so is not restated here. Anyone interested in arguments for reconsidering the Dark Age, or in the history of its conception, will find the site useful.


Lefkandi and its contents would fit with relative ease into a new view in which Greece did not suffer the cultural desolation of a Dark Age. Its active and fairly prosperous culture seems out of step with the Greece we imagined during this time. Until the Dark Age is better understood or eliminated, though, Lefkandi remains an oddity, and challenges traditional ideas about this little-known time in ancient Greece.


A Brief Synopsis of the Graves at Lefkandi:


An interesting and largely unexplained feature of many of the Dark Age graves at Lefkandi was the absence of both inhumed skeletal remains and cremated remains. This encouraged speculation concerning the circumstances of burial and the possibility that adverse soil chemistry had in many cases consumed human bone, burnt and unburnt. Some scientists feel that grave offerings were systematically arranged in tombs, even though there are no traces of human remains.


Other scientists feel that, whether or not human remains were originally placed in graves where no trace of them survived at the time of excavation, there is quite strong presumptive evidence that many of the offerings in these graves had not only been deliberately places where they were found, but their juxtaposition was such that they seem to echo the outline of the human forms which in life they had decked.



Discussion of the Bronze and Iron Age at Lefkandi:


The beginning of the Iron Age in the eastern Mediterranean is currently explained as a response to a bronze shortage following the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system around 1200 BC.


Around 1025 BC bronze more or less vanishes from excavated sites in central Greece, being replaced by a previously rare metal - iron. Scientists believe that the shift from bronze to iron in the archaeological record can follow two models: the "circulation" model and the "deposition" model.


The currently popular "circulation" model sees a decline in long-distance trade causing a bronze shortage and the rise of an iron-based economy. The "circulation" model provides a motive for the adoption of innovation. At the time, iron was known, but was rare. It was mainly used for decoration. In the beginning, iron could be used as a "working metal" for weapons and tools, but bronze dominated for practical implements. Slowly iron became the main "working metal" and remained so for a long time. Cyprus was the first iron-based economy in the Mediterranean.


The "deposition" model severs the link between our data and the use of metals in everyday life, raising the question of what it means to speak of the "Early Iron Age" at all. Iron reigned supreme as a prestige good and on the battlefield, but metals were apparently little used otherwise - until 700 BC or even later most tasks were probably carried out with stone, bone or wood. Compared to the Greek settlements of the fifth and fourth centuries, the Early Iron Age was almost metal-free.


Nearly all the Greek metal has come from burials, and the implicit hypothesis that grave goods are a constant cross-section of the material culture of the living is questionable. Bronze might have equally well have disappeared from the graves because it was no longer appropriate for funerals. The shift from bronze to iron is part of a larger set of changes in burial in central Greece around 1050 BC. The new funerals made a distinction within the community, between an elite of perhaps a quarter to a third of the adult population, and an inferior group.


The collapse of east Mediterranean trade by 1050 BC was a crucial event in that locally-obtained prestige goods - iron artifacts - came to play a vital role in creating and maintaining alliances and hierarchy. The dominance of iron in graves after 1050 BC is explained as an elite monopoly on iron.


Access to metals need not have been easy or equal for everyone, even if they are mined locally. If an elite could control metal-smiths and/or the ores themselves - situations common enough in the ethnographic record - they could forge a powerful weapon of exclusion. By controlling iron and making it the only metal appropriate for grave goods in formal burial, the symbol of membership of the elite, the leaders of Greek communities could solidify their powers, creating a ritual gap between themselves and those excluded from iron and the formal cemetery. Gifts of iron weapons and jewelry to less powerful households would admit them as lower order members of the elite; lower still were those households excluded entirely from the ceremonial creation of the community in formal burials. The prohibition of bronze for grave goods might represent not scarcity but the inability of the elite to monopolize it.


"Cold Iron"

Gold is for the mistress - Silver for the maid -

Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.

"Good!" said the baron, sitting in his hall,

"But Iron - Cold Iron - is the master of them all".

--Rudyard Kipling



Scientists have proposed a prestige economy, with iron monopolized by the elites and circulated as gifts among them. But why iron? It may have given the elite a decisive military advantage, although we know little about its hardness. In this case, iron would maintain the new order not only as a prestige good but also as the means of destruction guaranteeing unequal access to wealth. Retaining the core idea of the "circulation model", a decline in bronze supplies would further increase the military advantages of control over iron. It would also explain the elite's inability to monopolize bronze, if most of it were spread around in recycled Mediterranean objects rather than being concentrated in trade routes.


In the eighth century, when iron was no longer so highly ranked as bronze and was used for more everyday tasks, bronze weapons appear in poetry as symbols to mark the heroes of the Trojan War as superhumans, playing a potent role in underwriting elite authority. Iron weapons may have held a similar "historical" role in the eleventh century, setting their owners off from previous generations of bronze users, distancing the elite from the chaos of an unwelcome past and establishing a stable world order. During the Iron Age, the Macedonians thought along the lines iron:bronze::male:female, while the Athenians based their rituals on the assumption iron:bronze::elite:commoner.


We do not know how common bronze was. This is because bronze objects were for the large part, not used in burial rituals. Bronze tripods were being cast in Lefkandi between 925 BC and 900 BC. These objects were in circulation throughout the period, but are very rare in the archaeological record because they were used in situations, which provide no material residue. In Homer, tripods moved as wedding gifts, in initiation ceremonies, and between guest-friends. They were used at feasts and as a treasure to gloat over. The possible base for a giant tripod, was found in Lefkandi and is dated between 1025 BC and 950 BC. However, the archaeological record is not very authoritative.


Around the Aegean (particularly in Attica and Lefkandi), iron weapons became relatively common around 1050 BC and very few bronzes at all date between 1025 BC and 950 BC, with even intricate ornaments being made from iron. In Macedonia and Crete, iron becomes common for weapons after 1000 BC, but bronze remains the main metal for ornaments. In the western parts of Greece, iron is very rare in deposits until the ninth century, and such bronzes that occur are either heirlooms or typologically backward copies of Bronze Age objects.


When iron lost its potency as a symbol, elites turned to imports, encouraging Greek voyaging around the Aegean and providing greater incentives for Phoenician traders to come to Greece. The wealth of burials at Athens and Lefkandi escalated until 825 BC, when a balance returned, before the entire structure collapsed around 750 BC with the rise of the institutions of the polis.


Cemeteries dating between1100 BC to 825 BC have been explored in Lefkandi. A salient fact is that the period of bronze shortage at Lefkandi comes later than its supposed occurrence at Athens, In fact, bronze was always used rather sparingly at Lefkandi and if bronze objects appear numerically abundant, it must be remembered that they are all small and their total weight is relatively trivial. Bronze seems to be under-represented and iron over-represented in the Lefkandi burials. The spectacular "hero" graves of 1000 BC to 950 BC are more ambiguous. The male cremation was in a twelfth century Cypriot bronze burn, and some of the jewelry with the woman went back to 2000 BC. This seems to be more like a deliberate use of heirlooms to express the prestige of the dead than a desperate reuse of old metalwork in shortage, but any interpretation of this unique discovery is highly subjective. In the Lefkandi "heroon", bronze and iron fragments were found, probably from a door fastening. One hundred and two bronzes were studied at Lefkandi. Scientists conclude that there was a ready availability of the base metals to the metal-smiths at Lefkandi during the time span of the cemeteries.


The farther back in time one goes from the great turning point of the industrial revolution, the smaller the role played by iron. Any definition of "Iron Age" is of course relative, but to call the Aegean an iron-based economy before the sixth century would be a distortion. Iron moved around in a very restricted sphere of exchange, divorced from everyday activity, but it was that sphere which had the greatest influence in the creation of the archaeological record.


What happened at Toumba so many years ago? Who was this man buried in such heroic fashion? Was he a heroic warrior or maybe a wealthy aristocrat? So many questions surround the site at Toumba in Euboia. Scholars have a difficult time interpreting the evidence because only material artifacts were left behind, therefore, the archaeologist must deduce from clues what happened and who these people may have been. Those who once inhabited the area near Lefkandi did not leave behind a written account of their burial rituals, culture, or history.


Scholars have interpreted tombs as the centers of communal religious activity. Likewise, the tombs found at Toumba have been interpreted in this same fashion. The organic and material artifacts left behind suggest some sort of communal rituals took place inside the structure at Lefkandi. Features most likely intended for communal use are those enclosed and containing an alter--like structure, both of which are incorporated at Toumba. Additionally features, such as niches or small chambers, that are integral parts of a tomb are thought to have been used for cult practices (Dickenson, 1994). Most of these features, thought to have been used for ritual purposes, mimic formal rituals known to have taken place in later periods.


Unique to the Toumba burials is the incredible wealth left behind by these Dark Age citizens of Lefkandi. Ian Morris elucidates, "The Toumba burials are not just richer than the other 250 or so published tenth-century burials in central Greece: they are beyond all comparison (Morris, 2000)." The enormous size of the building also sets Toumba a part from other burial sites. Morris further elaborates, "No building of comparable size is known in central Greece for the next three hundred years. The Lefkandi structure covers more than twice the area of any other tenth-century building.


Popham, from the British School in Athens, projects that the Toumba mound would have required between 500 and 2000 man-days of labor to construct (Popham, 1993). Moreover, the placement of the mound a top the hill looking over the Xeropolis settlement and Lelantine plain is visually breathtaking (Morris, 2000). With such stunning majesty the question arises: who was this man and why did his death result in such a rich burial?



In ancient Greek religion heroes held a elevated position above the average mortal man. Heroes were in a class of their own, they were neither gods nor mortal man. Carla Antonaccio explains, "Ancient sources detail several interlocking varieties of heroes: divinely descended or favored, local, epic, eponymous, warriors, kings, founders of cities, healers, prophets (Antonaccio, 1995)." Heroes were commemorated for their extraordinary deeds only after their deaths, but some heroes never died they simply disappeared. In addition, in death heroes were believed to possess the supernatural power to bring disaster upon mortals in the form of plague, barrenness, and military defeat (Antonaccio, 1995). Like the gods, heroes had shrines and alters erected in their names. Not only were heroes remembered but they were feared, respected, and invoked by those still living. Morris suspects that the distinctive Greek concept of the hero took shape at the end of the eleventh century, and thus, suspects that those at Lefkandi took part in hero cult practices (Morris, 2000). However, not all scholars agree with this conjecture. Antonaccio makes a sharp distinction between hero cults and tomb cults.


Hero Cult

Formal hero cult worship boomed in the eighth century. A hero cult can be distinguished by its formal expression in continuous scheduled ritual action at a specific location (Antonaccio, 1998). A permanent shine would be erected in honor of the hero and his cult followers would clearly identify him on inscriptions or on offerings. The members of the hero cult would present offerings and sacrifices long after the death of the hero, sometimes extending several centuries later. Practitioners involved in the hero cult participated in several activities: public processions, sacrifice and games, and construction of a monument in the form of a alter and or naiskos. Interestingly, Antonaccio writes, "It is striking that, contrary to expectations based on copious written references to hero cult, none of these early cults was connected with actual tombs, either in the late Iron Age or in the better-known archaic and classical periods (Antonaccio, 1998)." Usually, the site at which the hero was honored was not his tomb, instead, a separate sanctuary was built.


Tomb Cult

In contrast, the tomb cult did take place at the tomb. A tomb cult, is characterized by a none permanent shrine and an anonymous figure. Furthermore, the offerings were most likely modest and given on only one occasion. The term "tomb cult" originally was used to describe occasional familial visits to tombs after burial in order to make offerings in the form of food or garlands during the classical age (Antonaccio, 1998). In comparison to the sociological definition of "cult," provided by Emile Durkheim, a tomb cult does not meet the criteria. Durkheim defines cult as: "a system of divers rites, festivals and ceremonies which all have this characteristic, that they reappear periodically (Durkheim, 1912)." The tomb cult does not "reappear periodically" instead the ritual and rites that do take place happen in a short period of time then tapper off. As we have seen a tomb cult is much different from a hero cult.


Should Toumba be Considered a Hero Cult?

So, with all this in mind how is it possible that Toumba could be considered a heroon by so many scholars? The construction of Toumba occurred around the year 1000 B.C.E. during the Protogeometric period. The excavators began calling the structure a "heroon" shortly after they began excavating. This described of the structure as the "center of hero-cult," has managed to stick ever since. Indeed, very little about the building supports this interpretation. Unquestionably, the man and woman buried at Toumba appear to have been at the zenith of their society due to the extravagant measure taken for their burial, however, talk of heroization is misleading. The excavators premature designation of "hero cult" were undoubtedly influenced by the heroes described in epic poetry. Antonaccio further illustrates: Some archaeologically based studies have continued to stress the influence of epic on attitudes and behavior. Now, however, burials at Lefkandi in Euboia, in accordance with Homeric practices have been dated to the tenth century, well before the assumed stabilization and diffusion of the epic poetry. (Antonaccio, 1995)


As we have seen there were indeed similarities between the burials at Lefkandi and those described in Homer's epic poems. However, there were also stark differences.


The structure was deliberately buried not long after the burials took place. The pottery found from within the tomb indicates its used for over fifty years, or two generations. This disrupts any notion that Toumba could have been associated with a hero cult because the ritual practices ended soon after the couple was buried. Moreover, the tumulus that covered the building became the focal point nor a cemetery and not. The cemetery surrounding Toumba continued in use for at least two centuries after the couple's death.


Antonaccio says it best when she concludes by saying: If anything, Toumba shows how Iron Age ritual could utilize the dead to structure group relations through feasting and the placement of later burials. It is not known how the burials made in the cemetery after the creation of the tumulus were related to the original pair. But the tumulus provided a focus for a burying group that ultimately included dozens of individuals, some of whom were laid to rest with similar offerings, man imported from Attika, Thessaly, Cyprus, Egypt,and the Near East. The burial offering reinforced the solidarity of the group; their close relation to the original pair has been confirmed by recent finds of another pair of horses and another double burial. All this suggest that the structure at Lefkandi was a center for tomb cult not a heroon. (Antonaccio, 1998) The evidence unearthed thus far indicates that the tumulus at Lefkandi should not be considered a heroon. Instead, the artifacts left behind seem to confirm that its status as a tomb cult. I suggest that the couple buried within the tumulus were wealthy aristocrats actively participating in trade with other communities. This would explain the numerous extravagant riches found within the tombs from various regions. In fact, some scholars have suggested that the enormous structure at Lefkandi, before becoming his tomb, may have been the hero’s home. So our hero may not have been a courageous warrior but he certainly stood out among those of his time.



·      Antonaccio Carla M. An Archaeology of Ancestors Ð Tomb Cult and Hero Cult in Early Greece.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, Maryland: 1995. 

Antonaccio Carla M. "An Archaeology of Ancestors" Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece: Cult, Performance, Politics. eds Carol Dougherty
Oxfor University Press, New York: 1995.

·      Dickson, Oliver. The Aegean Bronze Age. University of Chicago Press, Chicago: 1951. 

Durkheim, E. The Elementary Forms of Religion. Paris: F. Alcan. English Trans. 1915.

·      Lattimore, Richard. The Iliad of Homer. University of Chicago Press, Chicago:1951..

·      Morris, Ian. Archaeology as Cultural History. Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts: 2000. 

Morris, Ian. "Circulation, Deposition and the Formation of the Greek Iron Age" . Man. Vol 24, No.3 

Morris, Ian. Gift and Commodity in Archaic Greece. Man, New Series, Volume 21, Issue 1. 

Popham, M.R. , P.G Callingas, & Sackett, L.H. I.S. Lefkandi II. The British School of Archaeology at Athens, vol 23. Athens: 1993. 

Popham, M.R. & Lemos, I.S. Lefkandi III: The Toumba Cemetary : Plates. The British School of Archaeology at Athens, Athens: 1996. 

Popham, M.R. & Sackett, L.H Lefkandi II: The Protogeometric Building at Toumba. The British School of Archaeology at Athens, Athens: 1990. 

Popham, M.R. & Sackett, L.H Excavations at Lefkandi, Euboea: 1964-66. The British School of Archaeology at Athens, Athens: 1968. 

Rutter, Jeremy B. "Ceramic Change in Aegean Early Bronze Age." Occasional Paper no.5. Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles: 1979. 


Web Links

·      Take a Quicktime VR tour of the burial site at Lefkandi.

·      This site contains information of a number of Greek Archaelogical sites, on of which is the Lefkandi I and Tiryns cultures

·      A brief description of Lefkandi and the Toumba mound along with images can be found here.

·      A more in depth description of Lefkandi and the island of Euboea.




6.  Using Homeric Greek, Hesiod (ca.700 BC) summarized stories of Gods and Goddesses that had developed during the Greek Dark Age.

Theogony of Hesiod

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The Theogony (Greek: Θεογονία, Theogonía, pronounced [tʰeoɡonía], i.e. "the genealogy or birth of the gods"[1]) is a poem by Hesiod (8th – 7th century BC) describing the origins and genealogies of the Greek gods, composed circa 700 B.C. It is written in the Epic dialect of Homeric Greek.



           1 Descriptions

            2 Other cosmogonies in ancient literature

            3 First generation

            4 Second generation

            5 Third and final generation

            6 Influence on earliest Greek philosophy

            7 See also

            8 References

            9 Sources

            10 Selected translations

            11 External links



Hesiod's Theogony is a large-scale synthesis of a vast variety of local Greek traditions concerning the gods, organized as a narrative that tells how they came to be and how they established permanent control over the Cosmos. It is the first Greek mythical cosmogony. The initial state of the universe is chaos, a dark indefinite void considered a divine primordial condition from which everything else appeared. Theogonies are a part of Greek mythology which embodies the desire to articulate reality as a whole; this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first later projects of speculative theorizing.[2]


In many cultures, narratives about the origin of the Cosmos and about the gods that shaped it are a way for society to reaffirm its native cultural traditions. Specifically, theogonies tend to affirm kingship as the natural embodiment of society. What makes the Theogony of Hesiod unique is that it affirms no historical royal line. Such a gesture would have sited the Theogony in one time and one place. Rather, the Theogony affirms the kingship of the god Zeus himself over all the other gods and over the whole Cosmos.


Further, in the "Kings and Singers" passage (80–103)[3] Hesiod appropriates to himself the authority usually reserved to sacred kingship. The poet declares that it is he, where we might have expected some king instead, upon whom the Muses have bestowed the two gifts of a scepter and an authoritative voice (Hesiod, Theogony 30–3), which are the visible signs of kingship. It is not that this gesture is meant to make Hesiod a king. Rather, the point is that the authority of kingship now belongs to the poetic voice, the voice that is declaiming the Theogony.


Although it is often used as a sourcebook for Greek mythology,[4] the Theogony is both more and less than that. In formal terms it is a hymn invoking Zeus and the Muses: parallel passages between it and the much shorter Homeric Hymn to the Muses make it clear that the Theogony developed out of a tradition of hymnic preludes with which an ancient Greek rhapsode would begin his performance at poetic competitions. It is necessary to see the Theogony not as the definitive source of Greek mythology, but rather as a snapshot of a dynamic tradition that happened to crystallize when Hesiod formulated the myths he knew—and to remember that the traditions have continued evolving since that time.


The written form of the Theogony was established in the sixth century. Even some conservative editors have concluded that the Typhon episode (820–68) is an interpolation.[5]


Hesiod was probably influenced by some Near-Eastern traditions, such as the Babylonian Dynasty of Dunnum,[6] which were mixed with local traditions, but they are more likely to be lingering traces from the Mycenaean tradition than the result of oriental contacts in Hesiod's own time.


The decipherment of Hittite mythical texts, notably the Kingship in Heaven text first presented in 1946, with its castration mytheme, offers in the figure of Kumarbi an Anatolian parallel to Hesiod's Uranus-Cronus conflict.[7]


Other cosmogonies in ancient literature

In the Theogony the initial state of the universe, or the origin (arche) is Chaos, a gaping void (abyss) considered as a divine primordial condition, from which appeared everything that exists. Then came Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the cave-like space under the earth; the later-born Erebus is the darkness in this space), and Eros (representing sexual desire - the urge to reproduce - instead of the emotion of love as is the common misconception). Hesiod made an abstraction because his original chaos is something completely indefinite.[8]


By contrast, in the Orphic cosmogony the unaging Chronos produced Aether and Chaos and made a silvery egg in divine Aether. From it appeared the androgynous god Phanes, identified by the Orphics as Eros, who becomes the creator of the world.[9]


Some similar ideas appear in the Vedic and Hindu cosmologies. In the Vedic cosmology the universe is created from nothing by the great heat. Kāma (Desire) the primal seed of spirit, is the link which connected the existent with the non-existent [10] In the Hindu cosmology, in the beginning there was nothing in the universe but only darkness and the divine essence who removed the darkness and created the primordial waters. His seed produced the universal germ (Hiranyagarbha), from which everything else appeared.[11]


In the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish the universe was in a formless state and is described as a watery chaos. From it emerged two primary gods, the male Apsu and female Tiamat, and a third deity who is the maker Mummu and his power for the progression of cosmogonic births to begin.[12]


In Genesis, the world in its early state after its creation is described as "without form and void". Elohim commanded that there be light, while the spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters.[13]


Norse mythology also describes Ginnungagap as the primordial abyss from which sprang the first living creatures, including the giant Ymir whose body eventually became the world, whose blood became the seas, and so on; another version describes the origin of the world as a result of the fiery and cold parts of Hel colliding.


First generation

After the speaker declares that he has received the blessings of the Muses and thanks them for giving him inspiration, he explains that Chaos arose spontaneously. Then came Gaia (Earth), the more orderly and safe foundation that would serve as a home for the gods and mortals, and Tartarus, in the depths of the Earth, and Eros,[14] the fairest among the deathless gods. Eros serves an important role in sexual reproduction, before which children had to be produced asexually.


From Chaos came Erebus (place of darkness between the earth and the underworld) and Nyx (Night). Erebus and Nyx reproduced to make Aether (Light) and Hemera (Day). Aether and Hemera gave birth to Gaia, and from Gaia came Uranus (Sky), the Ourea (Mountains), and Pontus (Sea).


Uranus mated with Gaia to create twelve Titans: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetos, Theia, Rhea, Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys and Cronus; three cyclopes: Brontes, Steropes and Arges; and three Hecatonchires: Kottos, Briareos, and Gyges.[15]


Second generation

Uranus was disgusted with his children, the Hecatonchires, so he hid them away somewhere in Gaia. Angered by this, Gaia asked her children the Titans to punish their father. Only Cronus was willing to do so. Cronus castrated his father with a sickle from Gaia. The blood from Uranus splattered onto the earth producing Erinyes (the Furies), Giants, and Meliai. Cronus threw the severed testicles into the Sea (Thalassa), around which foam developed and transformed into the goddess of Love, Aphrodite (which is why in some myths, Aphrodite was daughter of Uranus and the goddess Thalassa).


Meanwhile, Nyx alone produced children parthenogenetically: Moros (Doom), Oneiroi (Dreams), Ker and the Keres (Destinies), Eris (Discord), Momos (Blame), Philotes (Love), Geras (Old Age), Thanatos (Death), Moirai (Fates), Nemesis (Retribution), Hesperides (Daughters of Night), Hypnos (Sleep), Oizys (Hardship), and Apate (Deceit).


From Eris, following in her mother's footsteps, came Ponos (Pain), Hysmine (Battles), the Neikea (Quarrels), the Phonoi (Murders), Lethe (Oblivion), Makhai (Fight), Pseudologos (Lies), Amphilogia (Disputes), Limos (Famine), Androktasia (Manslaughters), Ate (Ruin), Dysnomia (Anarchy and Disobedient Lawlessness), the Algea (Illness), Horkos (Oaths), and Logoi (Stories).


After Uranus's castration, Gaia married Pontus and they have a descendent line consisting of sea deities, sea nymphs, and hybrid monsters. One child of Gaia and Pontus is Nereus (Old Man of the Sea), who marries Doris, a daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and has Nereids, the fifty nymphs of the sea, one of whom is Thetis. Another child of Gaia and Pontus is Thaumas, who marries Electra, a sister of Doris, and has Iris (Rainbow) and two Harpies.


Phorcys and Ceto, two siblings, marry each other and have the Graiae, the Gorgons, Echidna, and Ophion. Medusa, one of the Gorgons, has two children with Poseidon: the winged horse Pegasus and giant Chrysaor, at the instant of her decapitation by Perseus. Chrysaor marries Callirhoe, another daughter of Oceanus, and has the three-headed Geryon.


Gaia also marries Tartarus and has Typhon, whom Echidna marries and has Orthos, Kerberos, Hydra, and Chimera. From Orthos and either Chimera or Echidna were born the Sphinx and the Nemean Lion.


In the family of the Titans, Oceanus and Tethys marry and have three thousand rivers (including the Nile and Skamandar) and three thousand Okeanid Nymphs (including Electra, Calypso, and Styx). Theia and Hyperion marry and have Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon), and Eos (Dawn). Kreios and Eurybia marry to bear Astraios, Pallas, and Perses. Eos and Astraios will later marry and have Zephyrus, Boreas, Notos, Eosphoros, Hesperos, Phosphoros and the Stars (foremost of which are Phaenon, Phaethon, Pyroeis, Stilbon, those of the Zodiac and those three acknowledged before).[clarification needed]


From Pallas and Styx (another Okeanid) came Zelus (Zeal), Nike (Victory), Cratos (Strength), and Bia (Force). Koios and Phoibe marry and have Leto, Asteria (who later marries Perses and has Hekate). Iapetos marries Klymene (an Okeanid Nymph) and had Atlas, Menoetius, Prometheus, and Epimetheus.


Third and final generation

Cronus, having taken control of the Cosmos, wanted to ensure that he maintained power. Uranus and Gaia prophesied to him that one of his children would overthrow him, so when he married Rhea, he made sure to swallow each of the children she birthed: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Zeus (in that order). However, Rhea asked Gaia and Uranus for help in saving Zeus by sending Rhea to Crete to bear Zeus and giving Cronus a huge stone to swallow thinking that it was another of Rhea's children. Gaia then took Zeus and hid him deep in a cave beneath the Aegean Mountains.

Tricked by Gaia (the Theogony does not detail how), Cronus regurgitated his other five children.[16]


Joining with Zeus, they waged a great war on the Titans for control of the Cosmos. The war lasted ten years, with the Olympian gods, Cyclopes, Prometheus and Epimetheus, the children of Klymene, on one side, and the Titans and the Giants on the other (with only Oceanos as a neutral force). Eventually Zeus released the Hundred-Handed ones to shake the earth, allowing him to gain the upper hand, and cast the fury of his thunderbolts at the Titans, throwing them into Tartarus. Zeus later battled Typhon, a son of Gaia and Tartarus, created because Gaia was angry that the Titans were defeated, and was victorious again.


Because Prometheus helped Zeus, he was not sent to Tartarus like the other Titans. However, Prometheus sought to trick Zeus. Slaughtering a cow, he took the valuable fat and meat, and sewed it inside the cow's stomach. Prometheus then took the bones and hid them with a thin layer of fat. Prometheus asked Zeus' opinion on which offering pile he found more desirable, hoping to trick the god into selecting the less desirable portion. However, Hesiod relates that Zeus saw through the trick and responded in a fury. Zeus declared that the ash tree would never hold fire, in effect denying the benefit of fire to man. In response, Prometheus sneaked into the gods' chambers and stole a glowing ember with a piece of reed. Prometheus then defies the gods and gives fire to humanity (theft of fire).


For this theft, Zeus punished Prometheus by chaining him to a cliff, where an eagle fed on his ever-regenerating liver every day. Prometheus would not be freed until Heracles, a son of Zeus, came to free him. Since man had access to fire, Zeus devised woman as a general punishment, in trade. Hephaistos and Athena built woman with exquisite detail, and she was considered beautiful by all men and gods. (It is generally agreed in academic translations that this woman was Pandora.) Hesiod writes that, despite her beauty, woman is a bane for mankind, attributing women with laziness and a waste of resources. Hesiod notes that Zeus' curse, womankind, can only bring man suffering, whether by taking a woman as his wife, or by trying to avoid marriage.


Zeus married seven wives. The first was the Oceanid Metis, whom he swallowed to avoid begetting a son who, as had happened with Cronus and Uranus, would overthrow him, as well as to absorb her wisdom so that she could advise him in the future. He would later "give birth" to Athena from his head, which would anger Hera enough for her to produce her own son parthenogenetically, Typhaon, the part snake, part dragon sea monster, or in other versions Hephaistos, god of fire and blacksmiths. The second wife was Themis, who bore the three Horae (Hours): Eunomia (Order), Dikē (Justice), Eirene (Peace); and the three Moirai (Fates): Clotho (Spinner), Lachesis (Alotter), Atropos (Unturned), as well as Tyche (Luck). Zeus then married his third wife Eurynome, who bore the three Charites (Graces): Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia.


The fourth wife was his sister, Demeter, who bore Persephone. The fifth wife of Zeus was another aunt, Mnemosyne, from whom came the nine Muses: Clio, Euterpe, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsikhore, Erato, Polymnia, Urania, and Calliope. The sixth wife was Leto, who gave birth to Apollo and Artemis. The seventh and final wife was Hera, who gave birth to Hebe, Ares, Enyo, Hephaistos, and Eileithyia. Of course, though Zeus no longer married, he still had affairs with many other women, such as Semele, mother of Dionysus; Danae, mother of Perseus; Leda, mother of Castor and Polydeuces and Helen; and Alkmene, the mother of Heracles, who married Hebe.


Poseidon married Amphitrite and produced Triton. Aphrodite, who married Hephaistos, nevertheless had an affair with Ares to have Eros (Love), Phobos (Fear), Deimos (Terror), and Harmonia (Harmony), who would later marry Cadmus to sire Ino (who with her son Melicertes would become a sea deity), Semele (mother of Dionysos), Autonoë (mother of Actaeon), Polydorus, and Agave (mother of Pentheus). Helios and Perseis begat Circe. Circe, with Poseidon, in turn begat Phaunos, god of the forest, and, with Dionysos, mothered Comos, god of revelry and festivity. After coupling with Odysseus, Circe would later give birth to Agrius, Latinus, and Telegonos.[17] Atlas' daughter Calypso would also bear Odysseus two sons, Nausithoos and Nausinous.[18]


Influence on earliest Greek philosophy

The heritage of Greek mythology already embodied the desire to articulate reality as a whole, and this universalizing impulse was fundamental for the first projects of speculative theorizing. It appears that the order of being was first imaginatively visualized before it was abstractly thought. Hesiod, impressed by necessity governing the ordering of things, discloses a definite pattern in the genesis and appearance of the gods. These ideas made something like cosmological speculation possible. The earliest rhetoric of reflection all centers about two interrelated things: the experience of wonder as a living involvement with the divine order of things; and the absolute conviction that, beyond the totality of things, reality forms a beautiful and harmonious whole.[19]


In the Theogony, the origin (arche) is Chaos, a divine primordial condition, and there are the roots and the ends of the earth, sky, sea, and Tartarus. Pherecydes of Syros (6th century BC), believed that there were three pre-existent divine principles and called the water also Chaos.[20] In the language of the archaic period (8th – 6th century BC), arche (or archai) designates the source, origin, or root of things that exist. If a thing is to be well established or founded, its arche or static point must be secure, and the most secure foundations are those provided by the gods: the indestructible, immutable, and eternal ordering of things.[21]


In ancient Greek philosophy, arche is the element or first principle of all things, a permanent nature or substance which is conserved in the generation of the rest of it. From this, all things come to be, and into it they are resolved in a final state.[22] It is the divine horizon of substance that encompasses and rules all things. Thales (7th – 6th century BC), the first Greek philosopher, claimed that the first principle of all things is water. Anaximander (6th century BC) was the first philosopher who used the term arche for that which writers from Aristotle on call the "substratum".[23] Anaximander claimed that the beginning or first principle is an endless mass (Apeiron) subject to neither age nor decay, from which all things are being born and then they are destroyed there. A fragment from Xenophanes (6th century BC) shows the transition from Chaos to Apeiron: "The upper limit of earth borders on air. The lower limit of earth reaches down to the unlimited (i.e the Apeiron)."[24]


See also

·      Gigantomachy

·      Theomachy

·      Titanomachy

·      Ancient literature



1.    ^ θεογονία. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project

^ Barry Sandwell (1996). Presocratic Philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York. ISBN 9780415101707. p. 28

^ Stoddard, Kathryn B. (2003). "The Programmatic Message of the 'Kings and Singers' Passage: Hesiod, Theogony 80-103". Transactions of the American Philological Association 133 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1353/apa.2003.0010. JSTOR 20054073.

^ Herodotus (II.53) cited it simply as an authoritative list of divine names, attributes and functions.

^ F. Solmsen, Hesiod and Aeschylus (Ithaca: Cornell Studies in Classical Philology 30) 1949:53 and note 172 with citations; "if an interpolation," Joseph Eddy Fontenrose observes (Python: a study of Delphic myth and its origins: 71, note 3), "it was made early enough."

^ Lambert, Wilfred G.; Walcot, Peter (1965). "A New Babylonian Theogony and Hesiod". Kadmos 4 (1): 64–72. doi:10.1515/kadm.1965.4.1.64.

^ Walter Burkert, The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Harvard University Press) 192, offers discussion and bibliography of related questions.

^ O.Gigon. Der Umsprung der Griechische Philosophie.Von Hesiod bis Parmenides.Bale.Stutgart.Schwabe & Co. p. 29

^ G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven and M. Schofield (2003). The Presocratic Philosophers. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521274555. p. 24

^ "Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire the primal seed and germ of Spirit, Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent." Rig Veda X.129: The Hymns of the Rig Veda, Book X, Hymn CXXIX, Verse 4, p. 575

^ Matsya Purana (2.25.30) – online: "The creation"

^ The Babylonian creation story (Enuma Elish) –online

^ The Holy Bible. King James Versiononline

^ Bulfinch's Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch Publisher: S W Tilton (1894). ASIN: B000JWAT00. p. 19.

^ The Theogony of Hesiod. Translation H. G. Evelyn White (1914) 116–163 – online

^ Theogony 492 ff.

^ Hesiod, Theogony, trans. Athanassakis 1011–1013

^ Hesiod, Theogony, trans. Athanassakis 1017–1018

^ Barry Sandywell (1996). Presocratic Philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York. p. 28, 42

^ DK B1a

^ Barry Sandwell (1996). Presocratic philosophy vol.3. Rootledge New York. ISBN 9780415101707. p.142

^ Aristotle, Metaph. Α983.b6ff

^ Hippolytus of Rome I.6.I DK B2

^ Karl Popper (1998). The World of Parmenides. Rootledge New York. ISBN 9780415173018. p. 39



·      Brown, Norman O. Introduction to Hesiod: Theogony (New York: Liberal Arts Press) 1953.

·      Bulfinch's Age of Fable or Beauties of Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch. Publisher: S W Tilton (1894), ASIN: B000JWAT00

·      Cingano, E. (2009). "The Hesiodic Corpus". In Montanari, Rengakos & Tsagalis (2009). pp. 91–130 Missing or empty |title= (help).

·      Clay, J.S. (2003). Hesiod's Cosmos. Cambridge. ISBN 0-521-82392-7.

·      Lamberton, Robert, Hesiod, New Haven : Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-04068-7. Cf. Chapter II, "The Theogony", pp. 38–104.

·      Montanari, F.; Rengakos, A.; Tsagalis, C. (2009). Brill's Companion to Hesiod. Leiden. ISBN 978-90-04-17840-3.

·      Rutherford, I. (2009). "Hesiod and the Literary Traditions of the Near East". In Montanari, Rengakos & Tsagalis (2009). pp. 9–35 Missing or empty |title= (help).

·      Tandy, David W., and Neale, Walter C. [translators], Works and Days: a translation and commentary for the social sciences, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. ISBN 0-520-20383-6

·      Verdenius, Willem Jacob, A Commentary on Hesiod Works and Days vv 1-382 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985). ISBN 90-04-07465-1


Selected translations

·      Athanassakis, Apostolos N., Theogony ; Works and days ; Shield / Hesiod ; introduction, translation, and notes, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. ISBN 0-8018-2998-4

·      Frazer, R.M. (Richard McIlwaine), The Poems of Hesiod, Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1983. ISBN 0-8061-1837-7

·      Most, Glenn, translator, Hesiod, 2 vols., Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006-07.

·      Schlegel, Catherine M., and Henry Weinfield, translators, Theogony and Works and Days, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2006


External links

·      Greek Wikisource has original text related to this article: Θεογονία

·      Works related to Theogony at Wikisource

·      Hesiod, Theogony: text in English translation.

·      Hesiod, Theogony e-text in Ancient Greek (from Perseus)

·      Hesiod, Theogony e-text in English (from Perseus)


Extant Poems


    Works and Days

    Shield of Heracles



Fragmentary Poems

    Catalogue of Women

    Megalai Ehoiai

    Wedding of Ceyx Melampodia

    Descent of Perithous

    Idaean Dactyls

    Precepts of Chiron

    Megala Erga