Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Ancient Greece

Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age) (before 7000 bce)

Greece was occupied, but we know nothing about these people.

Neolithic Age (New Stone Age), (6000-3000 bce)

Archaeological remains of house foundations, pottery, stone tools, graves. Rudimentary agricultural communities.

Early Bronze Age (3000-1600 bce)

Mainland not occupied by Greeks. We know about inhabitants of Crete, named Minoans after Minos, legendary king. Minoans built elaborate palaces without defensive walls encircling. The bull was important in religious ritual, and double ax (labrys, hence labyrinth) used to sacrifice bulls. Worshipped goddess.

Indo-Europeans, originally from central Asia, beginning in 4th millennium bce, migrated in all directions, and destruction of original settlements in Greece appears around 2100 bce. First evidence of domestic horse then too, associated with Indo-Europeans. Many ancient and modern languages descended from hypothetical language. Social status determined by birth: kings and priests, warriors, food producers.

Mycenaean Age (Late Bronze Age) (1600-1200 bce)

Spectacular ruins and written documents survive. The Mycenaeans used bronze weapons, wore boar’s-tusk helmets, rode to battle in horse-drawn chariots, and amassed great wealth. Independent kings built strongholds and supervised local economies. Thebes, Athens, and Sparta became centers. Mycenaean palaces were strongly fortified. These people may have called themselves Achaeans.

1450 bce Minoan civilization was destroyed and palaces burned down. Ruins at Cnossus contained documents written on clay tablets in a nonalphabetic Greek script — Linear B — deciphered in 1952. Symbols stood for syllables in this form of writing in use from about 1450 bce to about 1180 bce (Strauss xv). Other documents in this script have turned up on the mainland (Mycenae, Thebes, etc.). Use for keeping economic accounts, not literature.

Mycenaean centers figure in myths, so probably developed at this time: Thebes for Oedipus, Mycenae for Agamemnon, Tiryns for Heracles. But tales transmitted orally.

Hebrews invading Canaan waged war with Philistines, probably Mycenaean Greeks from Crete.

[1600-1500 bce = Troy VI.]

Dark Age (1200-800 bce)

Homer’s Troy existed maybe about 1300-1184 bce, or it was the Troy destroyed about 1250 bce now called Troy VII; fire destroyed most Mycenaean palaces on the mainland. Linear B disappeared forever. It was an age of adjustments between agricultural and pastoral/warrior peoples. Greece sank into a Dark Age lasting over four hundred years. Dorians from northwest invaded and overthrew Mycenaeans? Refugees called Ionians. A time of depopulation, decentralization, poverty.

Archaic Period (800-480 bce)

Around 800 bce, someone familiar with Phoenician writing invented the Greek alphabet by making a rough indication of a vowel accompany consonant sounds. System useful for any human language. Period of revival.

Polis emerged: Greek independent city-state. Men citizens of geographical social group. Sea commerce.

Now myths are written down, with additional information from pictures on Greek vases. We have about an estimated 1% of original production, so explosion of this stuff. Oral transmission of myth like jazz music; oral poets (aoidoi) never repeat same way twice. Rhapsodes were like classical musician, recreating from a written score someone else’s invention — performed for public effectively, leaning on a staff.

Classical Period (480-323 bce)

Persian Empire threatened. 508 bce Athens emerged first democracy (rule by the people), credited with success against Persians in 490 and 480 bce. Marathon celebrates first victory.

Development of history, philosophy, drama.

Sparta vs. Athens = Peloponnesian War (431-404 bce).

Hellenistic Period (323-31 bce)

Philip II of Macedon overran Greek city-states and imposed monarchy. Son Alexander destroyed Persian Empire. His death in 323 bce started break-up of his empire, but Greek culture became “world” culture. Greek model of cities and style.

146 bce Greek minland conquered by Rome. 31 bce Alexandria fell into Roman hands at death of Cleopatra VII, last of the ruling descendants of the generals of Alexander.

Western Roman Empire crumbled in the fifth century ce, but Greek-speaking eastern counterpart lasted until 1453 ce, preserving virtually all records we have of ancient Greece.