Geometric Greece: 900-700 BC

By J. N. Coldstream | Go to book overview

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I THE PASSING OF THE DARK AGES, c. 900-770 B.C.

Isolation, parochialism, illiteracy and material poverty: these are the defining characteristics of the Dark Age which still persisted throughout this long period in many parts of the Greek world. In most areas, contrasts with the prosperity of the preceding Mycenaean and the subsequent Archaic periods are still stark. Nevertheless, already at the time of the first edition, it was clear that some coastal regions of the Aegean presented shining exceptions to the general darkness-especially Euboea and Crete, and largely through their frequent intercourse with the older civilizations of the Eastern Mediterranean. In their eastward exchanges, the Euboeans took an active, the Cretans a passive, part. Recent discoveries in both islands have produced a wealth of new evidence that enhances the contrast with 'darker' areas and, indeed, calls into question whether the Euboeans and Cretans ever had to endure a true Dark Age. Much of this section, then, must be devoted to recent finds from those two islands, and a consequent reappraisal of their material record. Starting with Euboea and ending with Crete, we shall witness two different manifestations of that well-worn tag, ex oriente lux. In between, we can deal more briefly with the new discoveries from the rest of the Greek world: the mainland, the Cyclades and the Eastern Aegean.

In the following pages, this long period will be treated as a whole and not, as in the original text, chronologically subdivided into three separate chapters. Those divisions were based on phases in the development of Attic Geometric pottery which, in spite of recent advances in Euboea, still constitutes the most widely exported and hence the most influential local style, offering the clearest chronological lifeline all through this period. Even so, the headings of the original chapters-'isolation' (EG) followed by an 'awakening' (c. 850 B.C.) and then, 'consolidation' (MG)-reflect, in retrospect, a largely Athenocentric point of view, superseded by recent discoveries. Thus, Euboea proves to have experienced no isolation at all; in Crete, lively developments contemporary with the long period of Attic MG can hardly be described as 'consolidation'. In any case, especially in Euboea, the significance of recent finds will not be easily intelligible unless we also take some account of new material of the preceding PG period, in the tenth century B.C. What follows, then, is a digest covering up to two hundred years, giving special emphasis to the areas which least deserve the appellation of a Dark Age.

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