Greek Iron Age: Timeline & Mythology

Instructor: Margaret Moran
In this lesson, we will discuss the Greeks during the Iron Age and their place on the timeline. We will also discuss the beliefs and myths that they followed.

Background

The Greek Iron Age also referred to as the Greek Dark Age, is a period of time between the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization around 1100 BC and the beginning of the Greek Archaic Period of 800 BC. The event that proceeded the start of the Iron Age was a catastrophic event where all the leading centers of the Mycenaean civilization were either destroyed or abandoned. The art of Linear B Script, the Mycenaean writing system, was also lost shortly before this event took place. Due to this reason, there are very few written documents or testimonials of this period in time. This is the reason that the majority of what is known from this Dark Age, or Iron age, is known through archaeological research.

The birth of this basic age in the Greek history was also the end of the Mycenaean Period, a loose system based around a warrior elite society that developed a rigidly hierarchical, political, social and economic system. They introduced several innovations in engineering, architecture and military infrastructures while also expanding trade over vast areas of the Mediterranean.

The single innovative discovery that stands out from this period is the technological knowledge of iron-working. Due to this discovery, the Greek Dark Age is also commonly referred to as the Early Iron Age.

Timeline

The Greek Iron Age, or the Greek Dark Age, does not have any single fixed point of beginning in history. Though it was preceded by the Bronze age and finally ended with the birth of the Archaic Greece Age. Due to the loss of literacy around 1100 BC, the majority of scholars widely accepted that the age began around 1200 BC and continued through until 800 BC. Although there are some people throughout the world who believe that it began around 1100 BC, and ended at the start of the first Olympian Games in 776 BC. This version was primarily supported by Hippias of Elis, a well-known Greek philosopher of the 5th century BC.

Example of Mycenaean bronze swords
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During this period in history, many of the major settlements were abandoned, except, most notably, Athens. The population declined dramatically and the populace of Greece lived in small nomadic groups. These groups moved with the needs of their livestock and left very little written history behind.

During this Dark Age period in the Greek histories, many believed that contact between mainland Hellenes and foreign powers were lost. This resulted in there being little cultural progress or growth. But excavations at Lefkandi on the Greek island of Euboea show trade links were re-established with the East, mainly the Levant coast, an area from Greece to Cyrenaica, around 900 BC.

Around the beginning of 800 BC, the number of known settlements had begun to rise. This growth was mainly based in mainland Greece, the Aegean islands, and also shows up in settlements outside Greece. This simple fact is known due to the number of graves in Athens, Attica, and Argos during the 8th century BC. Another significant indication of the birth of a new age was the adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet. This system utilized characters for vowel sounds and thereby created the first true alphabetic writing system, a system that formed the basis for the modern English alphabet of today.

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