Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

2
THE "DARK AGE" OF
GREECE AND THE EIGHTH-
CENTURY "RENAISSANCE"
(c. 1150-700 BC)

The archaeological remains from the late twelfth century give the impression that a giant hand had suddenly swept away the splendid Mycenaean civilization, leaving in its wake only isolation and poverty. By 1100 BC the palace-centers were in ruins or uninhabited; so were the scores of once bustling towns and villages across the entire Greek world. The cultural losses were catastrophic and long lasting. For the next 450 years no monumental stone structures would be built in Greece. The art of writing was forgotten, and would not return until the eighth century. Supplies of bronze and other metals dwindled to a trickle, as vital trade links were broken. It would be two hundred years before Greek craftsmen again turned out objects and jewelry of gold, silver, and ivory. And the kinds of luxury goods and weapons that the Mycenaean elite had taken with them into the earth are not found in the graves of the postdestruction period. By contrast to the brilliant age that had gone before, Greece had truly descended into a dark age. Yet during those obscure centuries, a new Greece was rising, radically different from both the old Greece and the other societies of the ancient Mediterranean. The patterns of social and political integration that emerged from the shattered palace-states would set the path to a new kind of state government in Greece, the city-state (polis), which arose in the eighth century BC. The roots of the Greek city-state, considered by many to have been the cradle of western democracy and legal equality, were firmly planted in the Dark Age.

It took many years for Greece to recuperate fully from the shocks of the destructions and their aftermath. In the early part of the Dark Age, from about 1150 to about 900 BC, Greece was disturbed by sporadic incursions and movements of people. Yet it is during this period of dislocation and turbulence that evidence of

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