The Dark Ages in Greece

The Greek Dark Ages, also known as the Geometric or Homeric Age, is a period of Greek history that lasted from the fall of the Mycenaean civilization around 1100 BC to the beginning of the Archaic Period around 800 BC.

This period of roughly three centuries is called “dark” because it was a time of economic and social collapse, from which few written records survived, hence we have less information about it.


Key elements of the Greek Dark Ages

Collapse of the Mycenaean Civilization

The end of the Mycenaean civilization marked the beginning of the Dark Ages. The reasons for this collapse are still debated among historians but could include invasion by the Dorians (a Greek-speaking tribe from the north), internal conflict, or natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Loss of Writing

One of the main reasons why this period is referred to as “dark” is the loss of writing. The Linear B script, used during the Mycenaean civilization, was lost during this time, and it wasn’t until the 8th century BC that writing re-emerged in the form of the Greek alphabet, which was adopted from the Phoenician script.

Depopulation and Movement of People

Archaeological evidence suggests that many settlements were abandoned, leading to a significant decrease in population.

This was likely due to a decline in agricultural productivity, resulting in food shortages. Some populations moved to areas with more fertile land, and others migrated eastwards to the islands of the Aegean and the coast of Asia Minor (Ionia), spreading the Greek culture and language.

Change in Burial Practices

During this period, the Mycenaean practice of burying the dead in large tholos or beehive tombs was replaced by simpler, individual inhumation burials. This change is thought to reflect a more egalitarian society with less wealth disparity.

Art and Pottery

The Dark Ages saw the emergence of Geometric Art, a style characterized by its repetitive, angular patterns. This was notably seen in pottery, which is one of the primary sources of archaeological evidence from this period. The pottery of the Dark Ages was simpler and less decorated than the previous Mycenaean pottery.

Homeric Epics

The Iliad and the Odyssey, two epic poems traditionally attributed to Homer, are thought to have been composed during the Dark Ages.

They are some of the most important sources of information we have about this period, although they mix fact and myth, and their historical accuracy is debated.

They describe a heroic age of warrior-aristocrats, which might be more reflective of Mycenaean times, but they also include elements of the society and values of the Dark Ages.

The Greek Dark Ages are considered to have ended around 800 BC, giving way to the Archaic Period, a time of renewed cultural and economic development. This eventually led to the Classical Period of ancient Greece, which is often considered the height of Greek culture and influence.