Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC

By J. N. Coldstream | Go to book overview

1


Isolation: The Early Ninth Century

The style of pottery after which this book is named was born in Athens around 900 B.C. In the grave groups of Athenian cemeteries, and nowhere else, we can watch the full course of the transition from the preceding Protogeometric style. The new Athenian fashion was soon followed by Attica's landward neighbours. Overseas, retarded versions of Protogeometric persisted for fifty years or more, but by the end of the ninth century every major Aegean centre was producing Geometric pottery in some way related to the Athenian archetype. The diffusion of the new style need not surprise us; for the ninth-century painted pottery of Athens is outstanding in Greece for its technical excellence, its elegance of shape, and its harmony of shape and decoration. During its Early and Middle phases it was not only the most influential and sophisticated ware of its time: because of its greater sophistication, one can also observe the development of its style more precisely than that of any other regional school. This development gives us a historical lifeline for the long and obscure period discussed in the first three chapters, on which our literary sources are virtually silent.

We must begin, then, with the Early Geometric (EG) style of Athens, which moves fairly rapidly through two distinct stages, dated approximately to the first and second quarters of the ninth century. From a few Athenian graves of outstanding interest we can get some impression of the prevailing burial rites in Attica, and of the rather narrow range of other offerings accompanying the pottery, even in the richest graves. From Attica we pass on to the neighbouring lands-the Argolid, the Corinthia, and Boeotia-where the new Athenian style had a considerable impact on the local pottery, even though the local burial customs were different. Then we travel further afield to a wide maritime area where the regional pottery remained free of Attic influence, and faithful to a local Protogeometric tradition; this area extends from Thessaly as far as the northern Cyclades, and at its centre lies the extremely important site of Lefkandi in Euboea. Thereafter, a brief glance at some of the outer fringes, especially the Dodecanese and central Crete. Finally, a few general observations on the character of this Early Geometric age: on the quality of life in Greece, on the state of maritime communications within Greek waters, and on the rare signs of any contact with the outside world.

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