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The Dark Age Of Greece History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

The term (Greek Dark Ages) conjures up thoughts of doom and gloom, but that may not necessarily be totally correct. Over the passed 3110 years, it would appear that there have been many Dark Ages, recessions, and periods of social economic change, with similarities to 1100-750 BC. Two caparisons that come to mind are 1. The worldwide expansion-migration of the Irish as a result of the potato famine of 1845-1852; and 2. The refugee influx to Australia and the United States of Vietnamese after the Vietnam War. Famine, overpopulation, war, natural disasters, and the search for ones utopia (Land Hunger), all contribute to population upheavals.

Did the 1200 BC Dorian invasion-migration directly contribute to so called Greek Dark Ages? a topic that is still vigorously debated. Should we attribute the phrase Dark Ages to the ancient Greek poets, who used this phrase in their prose in an attempt to explain five centuries without any recorded history? Was the timeframe 1100-750 BC indeed dark, merely shadowed, or was it a period of transition and enlightenment?

The Collapse of the Mycenaean World:

The collapse of the Mycenaean world marked the beginning of a period of (Uncertainty) and change in the Aegean. Πολλές δεξιότητες φαίνεται ότι χάθηκαν, ανάμεσά τους η γραφή, η ζωγραφική, η λιθοτεχνία και η μνημειακή αρχιτεκτονική, ενώ σημειώθηκαν ριζικές αλλαγές και στον τομέα των ταφικών εθίμων με την εμφάνιση της καύσης των νεκρών. Many skills seem to have been lost including writing, painting, stone art, and monumental architecture. Αρχαιολογικά ευρήματα και φιλολογικές μαρτυρίες τοποθετούν στους πρώτους αιώνες της περιόδου αυτής μετακινήσεις πληθυσμιακών ομάδων, ανάμεσά τους και την περίφημη «ÎºÎ¬Î¸Î¿Î´Î¿ των Δωριέων» , στην κεντρική Ελλάδα και την Πελοπόννησο.Archaeological evidence presents an overall picture of this period, particularly during 1100 BC and partly into 1000Ï€.Î. (δηλαδή κατά τη λεγόμενη “Προγεωμετρική περίοδο”), είναι μια εικόνα ένδειας, με λιγοστές εμπορικές επαφές και καλλιτεχνική έκφραση που περιορίζεται στο επίπεδο της αυστηρά γεωμετρικής διακόσμησης των αγγείων, της ειδωλοπλαστικής σε πηλό και της κατασκευής μικρών χάλκινων ειδωλίων και σπανιότερα χρυσών κοσμημάτων. BC (The Protogeometric Period), as a period of limited commercial trade opportunities (Murray O. 1993: Chapters 3-10).


Iron was introduced probably at first for farm implements such as the plough; initial attempts at smelting and casting produced iron that was too soft for weapons therefore, bronze remained in favour. However, iron implements and weapons grew in popularity as iron ore was in abundance, and its strength gradually improved from smelting and casting refinements. Whereas, copper supplies became hard to acquire due to the limited trade opportunities (Murray O. 1993: chapters 3-10).

Dorian Invasion / Migration:

Since ancient times Greek Mythology attributes the Mycenaean collapse to the Dorian invasion and the return of the Herakleidae, this myth spoke of the displaced ancestors of Hercules who joined the Dorians to invade Peloponnese and destroy the Mycenaean centres. The Dorians of the Peloponnese and the later colonies were separated into three sub-tribes: Dymanes, Hylleis, and Pamphyloi. The Dymanes were acknowledged as the oldest original Dorian sub-tribe, the Hylleis were believed to have descended from Hyllos, the son of Heracles, and were also historically aligned with (The Kings of Sparta), which Dorian royalty claimed to have descended from. Nothing much is known about the Pamphyloi, only the fact that their name literally means (Mix of all tribes).

The views of (Modern History, Science, and Archaeology) scholars on the authenticity of the Dorian invasion, and its relationship to the Mycenaean collapse, range from a total dismissal of the concept of invasion, to its recognition as a historical fact. In general, a majority of Modern History, Science, and Archaeology scholars are inclined to adopt intermediate positions agreeing that the Mycenaean collapse was not an acute process, having both internal and external causes. On the authenticity of the Dorian invasion, most scholars now acknowledge that migration did occurred however; it was a substantial mix between Doric and Pre-Doric populations, which became the Dorians of the Peloponnese and their colonies.

Archaeological finds and literary, reveal that there were population shifts among the Dorians of central Greece and Peloponnese, and it is probable that the population did decline, though the idea that some parts of the land became totally uninhabited is probably exaggerated (Snodgrass, A.M. 2000; Eder, B. 1998: 225-36; J.L. Fitton, 1996: 48-103; Chadwick 1973: 209-529).

The Major Settlement at Lefkandi:

Recent archaeology has revealed that there was a major settlement at Lefkandi on the west coast of Euboea during the Dark Age, (Flourishing) and reaching its height of prosperity in 900 BC. The regions of Thessaly, Boeotia, and Euboea have been shown by archaeology to have possessed a common culture, of which the Lefkandi settlement is its centre.

There is an 800 BC tomb of a hero who is buried with his horses in a heroon, and his bones are contained in a bronze jar inlayed with hunting scenes. Beside him is his inhumed consort, adorned with gold coils in her hair, rings, gold breastplates, and heirloom jewelry, (This Indicates Great Wealth and Prestige); Burial customs changed, communal tombs and cremation becoming more fashionable (M. R. Popham, E. Touloupa, and L.H. Sackett, 1985).

The Art and Culture:

Archaeologically there have been many craft, pottery, and vase finds, decorated with restricted conceptual patterns of which concentric circles were a favourite; also, figurines made of clay and bronze, these finds revealed that the Mycenaeans were gifted artisans. Artistic expression changed in 1000 BC, from the (Decadent) and somewhat laidback style of the Mycenaeans, to the Dorian geometric style. This new style spread out from Athens to southern Thessaly and the Argolis, spreading out to the islands.

This proto-geometric art, envolved into a mature Geometric art displaying numerous abstract patterns, of oblongs and squares, diamonds, crosshatched triangles and chequer-board patterns. Animal figures appeared in designs around 800 BC, and bands depicting scenes of human life and death appear about 750 BC. Rarely have archaeologists found any gold or precious gem jewellery from this period, but what has been found is of extraordinary artisanship and quality (Hurwitt, J.M.1985: Chapters 1-3).


During the Dark Age the phonetic alphabet was created, being attributed to either Cadmus or Diodorus Siculus. The Phoenicians created a script with 22 characters, a mature form of which was in use by 850 BC. An inscription (“Mesha, King of Moab who fought Ahab of Israel”) has been found using the 22 characters script. The Ionians started to use this script by 700 BC at the latest. The Greeks adapted some of the Phoenician characters to form a set of symbols for pure vowel sounds, while in Cyprus; the 200 signs of the Linear B Script were reduced to about 40 (Miller, F.P. Agnes, F. Vandome, F.A. and McBrewster, J. 2009).

Homer and Hesiod:

[p]In una società senza scrittura in cui la trasmissione della cultura è affidata all’oralità, la poesia è il principale strumento capace di educare le nuove generazioni.Any literary work that survives from the Dark Age Period is (Poetry and not History). One of the poetic works of this period is a (Hymn to Delian Apollo), ascribed to Homer 900-800 BC? A native of Chios, Ionia, who drew upon an oral tradition relating to the heroic age, which he embellished it with his own genius. His works influenced the Greek psyche of the ideal of manhood in the character of Achilles, his loyalty and friendship for Patroklos, and above all, his placing of honour above long life. Odysseus was another kind of hero, resourceful, cunning, yet indomitable. Homer was also the author of the (lliad), and according to tradition, the (Odyssey). It is agued that Homer was blind and could not write, this may well explain why he was a travelling (Oral Story-Teller), and why his works were not transcribed until well after his death (Dickinson O.T.P.K, 1986: 20-37).

Hesiod was a farmer from Askra, on the southern side of Mount Helikon in Boeotia; he lived around 750-650 BC. In his poem (Works and Days), he begins by upbraiding a lazy brother and proceeds to give a manual of good agricultural practice, which involves a combination of practical knowledge and astrology. His work also indicates that land could be bought and sold. Also in his (Works and Days), Hesiod introduces a theory of human history and the myth of (Five ages of Man), starting with the Golden Age and culminating with his own age, the Iron Age. He ascribes the Heroic age to the period between the Bronze and Iron Ages

Hesiod claims that he was inspired by the Muses to write, he employs Homeric hexameters, and writes in Ionic, which would not have been his native dialect. Hesiod is also credited with writing the poem (Theagony or the Genesis of the Gods), which attempts to provide a systematic account of the early history of the world (West, M.L. 1988).

The Dark Age City-State (Poleis):

Generally, the regions of Greece were not unified, the exceptions being Attica under Athens and Laconia under Sparta. Each region was divided into city-states or (Poleis). For example, there were twelve city-states in Achaia, and up to thirty in Phokis. In Boeotia, there were fourteen cities each with a population of around 10,000 inhabitants. They formed themselves into a loose federation, but this did not prevent them from occasionally fighting wars among themselves.

Greece 1100-750 BC was more forested than present day, and had the reputation for being (Thin Soiled) however; the plains were fertile and did not deserve this description. Inhabitants were forced to farm (Marginal Land) due in part to the pressures of population expansion, but more so because the (Best People), or aristoi owned the richer and more fertile land in the plains closer to city walls.

The less-well-off people, who farmed the more remote marginal land, were not always able to return to the city every night subsequently, they became know as (Perioikoi) or (Dwellers Roundabout). Every fertile plain contained at least one city, being fortified by walls, towers, and placed in a good defensive position close to water; citadels were often sited on mountain spurs.

The Greek city-state polis was a community made of (Adult Male Citizens); women and children linked to these males were citizens without political rights, as were non-citizens such as slaves and resident foreigners. All of these occupied a region with a defined or undefined constitution (Snodgrass, A.M. 2000; Thomas C.G. and Conant, C. 1999: 12-14; Dickinson, O.T.P.K. 1994: Chapters 1-3).

City’s would have a market place (Agora) and a place of assembly, which was often also the agora, where there used to be a palace, there now usually stood a temple dedicated to the city’s patron deity. The citizens were bound together by a sense of community, and as a whole, autonomous.

There would be frequent wars arising over border disputes or cattle raids, chariots, and horses conveyed armed men quickly to borderlands in order to meet a raid. The strength of the citadels made it very difficult for one city to conduct a successful siege against another and the time and expense involved being prohibitive. Distances between cities were also not easily covered, so even small and relatively weak city-states could survive.

Kingship disappeared in most cities by 700 BC; the Mycenaean kingships were sustained by trade, without this, kings lacked the means to maintain retainers. In most cities, the government took the form of a Council of the (Aristoi), which would appoint executive officers, originally for life, but later on for shorter period usually of one year.

Because the aristoi were much better situated, the gap between rich and poor in these communities widened. The landed aristocracy had more power and prestige within the city-state than the trader did.

It is important to distinguish a colony (Apoikia) from a trading station (Emporion). A colony was founded from the beginning as a separate state with a separate government, laws, and constitution; a trading post was a commercial venture under the control of the parent city (Snodgrass, A.M. 2000; Thomas C.G. and Conant, C. 1999: 12-14; Dickinson, O.T.P.K. 1994: Chapters 1-3).

Colonization during the Dark Age:

In the past scholars were divided over their interpretations of why there was a period of increased colonization, was it a desire for more land or increased trade opportunities that were the determining factor. The opinion that it was the desire for land that was the push behind the increased colonization is now favored, one author who supports this is.

It is a fact, that the Greeks themselves endorse this opinion of (Land Hunger) as the cause of the increased colonization, instance; Thucydides states unequivocally that, “Those who had insufficient land, made expeditions against the islands and subdued them”, (Thucydides 1.15.1). Citadels from which the colonial expansion spread were predominantly coastal towns with insufficient agricultural land, or were incapable of expanding within its boundaries for some reason; they include Achaea, Corinth, Chalcis, Eretria, Megara, Miletus, and Phocaea.

The economy during 800 BC Archaic Greece (Flourished), one side effect of this was a population explosion during the second half of 800 BC, limited fertile land was available, and the tradition of dividing land equally between brothers caused problems. Referring again to Hesiod’s Works and Days, in the epilog, he raises the issue of (Land Hunger); Hesiod complains about the division of land between himself and his brother, accusing him of receiving a larger portion by bribing the aristocratic magistrates (Buckley 2010: 35-45; Murray O. 1993: Chapters 3-10).

In his writings, Solon’s also deals with the social problems caused by inadequate arable land. Another reason for the foundation of a new colony would have been the reduction of political tension inside the ruling aristocracy, as a colony would select a foundeer (Oikistes) selected from one of the best aristocratic families thereby, removing from the capital city a prospective rival elder.

Archaeological records support the theory that there was a substantial (Increase) in the population in Greece during 800 BC. For example, a statistical analysis of datable graves in Attica indicates that the number of graves during the ninth century BC was relatively static, whereas during the period 800-700 BC the number increases six fold. It is likely that the population of Attica increased by four times during the first half of the 8th Century, and double again in the second half. During 800 BC the Euboean confederation appears to have fragmented, this may be the cause of their colonizing activity. Whilst this evidence is not conclusive, combined with other sources it strongly suggests that the population of Attica, and indeed the whole of Greece, (Dramatically) increased at this time.

The foundation of Zancle (Messina) 730 BC can best be explained by the strategic need to control the straits of Messina and to trade with the Etruscans. The foundation of Olbia on the northern shore of the Black Sea, Messalia (Modern Marseilles), and northeast Spain around the same time, 645 BC, was probably also motivated by trade in grain, tin and silver (Buckley 2010: 35-45; Murray O. 1993: Chapters 3-10).


Thucydides states, “The war between Chalcis and Eretria was the one in which most cities belonging to the rest of Greece were divided up into alliances with one side or the other,” (Thucydides 413 BC). Thucydides is referring to the Lelantine War in Sicily 730 BC, which began as a border dispute over the Lelantine Plains, Samos and Miletos joined the two sides as allies respectively. It is likely that Lefkandi was the site of Eretria, and at the conclusion of the war Lefkandi-Eretria was defeated and abandoned. It was during this war in 733 BC that the Corinthians took (Corcyra, Corfu) from the Eretrians and founded Syracuse in Sicily.

It is possible that this war also contributed to the wave of emigration that took place in the late 8th Century BC, with settlers moving from the mainland, Ionia, and the islands. The Euboeans subsequently established colonies on the north-west coast of the Aegean (Buckley 2010: 35-45; Murray O. 1993: Chapters 3-10).

According to tradition, the Olympic Games were established in 776 BC. The site of Olympian in Elis was originally sacred to the Great Goddess, who was subsequently identified with Hera. Hippias of Elis calculated the date of 776 BC later by working backwards from the records of victors at the games, but one cannot say with certainty that he got the calculation right

(Graham, A.J. 2001).

Summery and Conclusion:

The phrase (Dark Ages) alludes to a culture lost, devoid of its social institutions, and without written word, or art. The Greek, Roman and British Dark Ages, have produced substantial archaeological evidence in support of both sides of the Dark Age debate.

The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations left (Remarkable) archaeological evidence behind, evidently these civilizations were far-reaching, vibrant, and resilient. There are instances of record keeping however, the existing language is complex and has not yet been decipher by archaeologists, so we cannot conclude whether it is written language or record keeping. We cannot be conclusive to how closely related to the ancient Greeks, Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations were, most introductions to Greek world courses in Colleges and Universities commonly associate the three cultures.

When compared, 1100-750 BC would indeed have looked (Darker) in the (Greek) world, then it had done during the Kingship of the Minoan or Mycenaean. The decline and eventual collapse of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations would undoubtedly make the following five hundred years (Appear) like a Dark Age. Beyond this comparison, we must also consider the archaeological evidence; this shows that areas, which may have been proto-Greek, then later Greek regions, experienced political conflicts as well as agricultural difficulties; this has unfortunately resulted in few remaining buildings or cities for archaeologists to investigate.

The dating of Homer and Hesiod to the Dark Ages by most scholars, suggests they lived within a culture of roaming oral storytellers, passing down the thoughts, ledgens and history of the ancestors. Along side this evidence of a creative oral tradition, thoughts and stories were transcribed as images upon monuments, weapons, shields and vases, which validates that art as well as traditions remained (Important), even though strong economic and political centers had faded.

Over the five centuries, political and philosophical groundwork was laid and the city-state/polis developed, culminating in the foundation of what we now commonly refer to as (Greek Civilization at its Height). Greece arose from the ashes after 500 years of social economic instability just like the legendary (Phoenix), to became a mighty civilization that went on to influence most of (Western Civilization). Conversely, one feels that we should not view this period as one of (Darkness), with little recorded history, we should view it as a period of (Enlightened Transition), into the (Golden Ages) that were to follow.

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