By the year 1100BC great changes had emerged in Greece and they entered the period that is known to Historians as the Dark Ages. Greece before hand had been a prosperous country and between 1400 and 1200BC it actually experienced the height of its Mycenaean power and prosperity. General trade links were strong and small kingdoms such as Tiryns and Pylos had emerged. However between 1200-1100 the palace systems that had been created collapsed understandably causing a certain amount of turmoil amongst the Greeks.
The reasons for the sudden collapse of these palace systems isn’t certain as writing was also something that was lost during the Dark Ages and thus there is no official record of what happened. Two possible explanations for the collapse, both of which have their floors, are either internal revolt or an external attack from another tribe. The internal revolt doesn’t seem that plausible for the Mycenaean’s had just reached the height of prosperity as a nation and thus there seems to be no reason for civilian unrest.
The idea of the external attack is generally more accepted amongst historians but it is still heavily argued. The consensus is that Iron Age Dorian’s invaded the Greek peninsula from the north, some where between the period 1200BC-1100BC, thus ransacking Greece and taking over the small communities. Civil war shortly followed in the attempt to establish Greek power. This idea is contested amongst historians for many find it doubtful that a small tribe like the Dorian’s would have been able to overthrow a well established community such as the Mycenaean’s.
After the collapse of the palace systems trade links the Mycenaean’s had established with Asia Minor, the Middle East and Egypt, were broken thus causing economical decline and furthering the decimation of any urbanised culture on the Greek mainland. The poor economical state of the country then caused a massive fall in population between the periods 1100-900BC. The main reason for the population decline was that many fled mainland Greece, for the islands of the Aegean, to escape the poor conditions they were now exposed to.
By the late Dark Ages however a new Greece came to light. One of the main reasons for this was the development of the “polis” which translates roughly in English as “city/city state/citizen state”. Previously before the creation of the polis was the ethnos. This was a community which had descended from a common ancestry, had no links with any other form of ethnos and had no single urban centre.
This was seen by later Greeks as a very primitive form of political organisation but historians imagine that this is presumably what Greece was like after the collapse of Mycenaean society. The ethnos provided the bases for the transition into urban organisation. and places began to adopt the form of polis. As the period in question suggests, it is very hard for historians to put an exact date on when these transformations occurred, but certainly by 730BC the poleis were well set up with temples and properly marked out land.
Even the colonies that were created during that period adopted the form of the polis. Having experienced such devastation it is perhaps surprising that within 300 years such organisation had taken place and even more so that the Greeks were managing to inflict their new ways of life on wider areas. Aristotle perhaps has an explanation for this when he described man as “a political animal” thus suggesting that there was a great urge amongst the men of this period to create a state where their political desires could be fulfilled.
Even so once the poleis had been created there was no typical form of political organisation although with a lot of things the landowners often held a lot of weight. This differs highly from earlier on in the dark ages where kings often ruled the Greek communities and thus further development was not of utmost importance because as with many monarchies it is often based around their needs. .Although the Mycenaean’s had established communities, as I have already mentioned it is important to notice how the poleis differed from the Kingdoms that the Mycenaean’s introduced.
Where as these kingdoms (mentioned above) provided safety through shelter and through the mere presence of numbers there was no typical structural formation. With the Poleis however they were based around a central grid system thus enforcing that they were very ordered which decreased the risk from hostile attack due to the very practical lay out. Further more they were designed in order that conceptually they were very grand and smart. The reason behind this was that the Greeks felt it depicted notions of Greekness. Another great difference between these two periods was colonisation.
Although we know the Mycenaean’s created there own small kingdoms and thus one could possibly argue they two colonised the difference in scale between the two is very significant. For the colonisation that took place in the 8th century transformed Greece and the whole of the Mediterranean basin. The reasons for the Greeks need to colonise were quite straight forward. The first of them being that although most poleis did hold good farming land it was in very short supply thus causing unrest amongst those who were not able to benefit from it.
The only way to solve such a problem would be to find land elsewhere. A second problem which led to colonisation was that most poleis were extremely over populated which merely runs on from the first problem to explain why there was not enough land for all those living in these certain states. The third and final reason for colonisation was the benefits of trade. If colonies could be started in areas that were rich in raw materials (such as metal) then all poleis could benefit for it could be transferred from one to the other.
If such a colony was set up then it was also necessary to set up other colonies in between the old and the new. Such colonies were known as Emporian. An example of such was Al Mina in North Syria, possibly the most important Emporian for it was on a key trading route. It would see iron go through it from Asia Minor and luxury goods from Egypt. The reason for such colonies was that obviously transport was nothing like society knows it today and therefore the transporting of materials could take weeks.
To have a friendly stop over point was essential both for the safety of those transporting but also for the safeguard from attack from those trying to steal or sabotage the materials. While it is important to understand that these colonies were self-governing, self-sufficient city states, it benefited Greece as a whole for it meant that trade was possible and thus a far richer way of life was experienced for these materials such as metal meant far more efficient tools could be made thus making tasks like harvesting easier and quicker.
Buckley quite rightly says “the eighth century was a time of remarkable economic growth” and the principle reason behind this was colonisation and the finding of new materials. Another significant event that clearly indicated that the Greeks were emerging from the dark ages was the ability to write. Although the Mycenaean’s were able to write 400 years before, this ability was completely lost, again for a reason that no one can be certain, and thus the new alphabet that came to pass was completely different to the Mycenaean’s.
By the 8th century writing had become a personal skill. What this meant was that the Greeks now had the ability to record events and the emergence of great poets whose work was not only appreciated at the time but is still studied religiously today. The Greeks based their alphabet on Semitic Phoenician writing. However rather than take it straight, the Greeks made some important adaptations which enabled the language to be used in many different ways and thus caused the emergence of Greek literature. One of the changes that they made was that of the vowel system.
Unlike the Phoenicians the Greeks had the need for long and short vowels and this needed to be expressed in their alphabet thus they created a system of writing with vowel signs which could be easily comprehended. Some of the great literature that did emerge from such an alphabet was the likes of the Iliad and the Odyssey by the poet Homer. These works served to provide a common cultural goal amongst the Greeks. It gave them a clear sense of patriotism and also influenced the way Greeks would go on to depict themselves.
An example of this was the heroic qualities that Homer so often mentioned such as authentic emotion, initiative, leadership and physical prowess. The Greeks came to believe that these were the qualities that one should strive to achieve and thus the life style that followed was grooved so that these attributes were possible to obtain. The developments of these writings certainly illustrate that by the end of the Dark ages the Greeks were certainly more culturally evolved than they were around 1200 BC.
However one must be aware that culture was not completely lost when Greece plunged into the Dark Ages. Orally the Greeks flourished and it is more than likely that there desire to expand this oral culture was the foundation of the Greek alphabet and the writings of Homer. For the Greeks rather than learning from generations before through remains and other artefacts were more intent on preserving their findings and ideas for future generations. Orally this certainly was not possible for over time things get forgotten or adapted. If written down then it was certain to remain untouched.