In what major ways did Greek society in the archaic period show progress from the Mycenaean period and the Dark Age which went before it?

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Lucy Benjamin

The Ancient Greeks, Q81001

Dr Roy/Dr Rich

Word Count: 2,386

In what major ways did Greek society in the archaic period show progress from the Mycenaean period and the Dark Age which went before it?

The Archaic age of Greece, occurred approximately between the years 800 and 500 BC, saw many changes and developments in Greek society. Rising from the relatively low period of history that was known as the Dark Age, the country of Greece enjoyed significant progress in all areas; economy, culture and in particularly in social and political areas. This essay will attempt to highlight the progression which occurred from the Mycenaean and Dark Age to the formation of Archaic Greece, and examine how many of these changes worked together in order to create, by the end of the period, a somewhat sophisticated society which had never been seen before in the history of Greece.

It is necessary to state that in order for one to answer the question it is perhaps obligatory to generalise to a large extent. Greece from 1500 to 500 BC was built up of many different societies and communities, each having their own pressures, values and attitudes. They progressed and regressed at different times and at various rates. When comparing the Archaic period to two other ages that we know comparatively little about and which were themselves two very different ages produces another problem. The Dark Age was not completely backwards in terms of culture but the little evidence we have, means it is very difficult to pronounce what changes Greece underwent.

Generalisations are also perhaps necessary, when using certain controversial terms and words. ‘Aristocrat’, ‘city-state’ and ‘colonisation’ are terms of convenience rather than of intended historical accuracy, such terms will be used in this essay.

There was a dramatic population rise in the Dark and Archaic ages of Greece and this led to a repopulation of large numbers of Greeks, in what can be called colonisation. Due to this mass movement, about 1500 small and isolated communities were created, thus saw the beginning of the ‘polis’ of the Archaic age. Unlike in Mycenaean times, the temple became the most vital building and in some respect overtook the palace. This, in itself, indicated a shift away from the great kings and towards religion, although it is unjust to say that religion was not important to the Mycenaeans. By 700BC, temples can be seen in all most all of the communities, although the Dark Age boasted a few cult centres of its own, they were not permanent institutions. Religion gave the communities a unity and temples were able to provide a focus for public gatherings. A common identity was able to be found through the various Gods that the colonies adopted, and thus this contributed to the unity that would ultimately lead to the sophisticated form of the ‘polis’. Colonisation inevitably lead to contact with other societies and what is particularly important in the development of Archaic Greece is the contact that occurred with the Near East. The most important consequence of this contact with the Near East was the recovery of writing.

The Phoenician alphabet was introduced into Greece around 825BC and it took many different forms over the next century. The Myceneaens used their Linear B script solely for official use, while the Dark Age Greeks were illiterate, but for the Greeks who lived in the Archaic period it was immensely important, in particularly in literature. The oral works of Homer were conveyed into writing and the Archaic period saw the beginning of the Historian.  Curiosity has been incited by the heroic age of Homer, and the new sense of identity among the early city-states increased the demand for historical knowledge. Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ may not have been historically accurate, but it did prove that the Greeks were becoming more reflective; more aware of their history. Hesiod dealt with a very different world to Homer, writing of contemporary issues and preoccupations as a farmer, as Finley says, ‘nothing could be more unlike Homeric poems in subject or outlook’. It has been said that Homer and Hesiod gave the Gods names, ‘distributed honours and spheres of operations’. Contact with the East lead to an increase in trade. Between the years of 850 and 750 BC, precious objects began to emerge from the Near East, although this was quite rare, it appeared that this had begun in the Dark Age and continued into the Archaic. It is debatable to say as to whether or not Archaic Greece basked in significant advances in trade. It appears that only a few colonies were set up for the purpose of trade, such as Al Mina, in which records suggest that the Greeks never truly understood trade in a wider context, it is possible to say that they saw various trends but merely saw them as phenomena which were remote and dealt with them as such.

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What became known as ‘orientalising’ styles spread across from the East, with such art being found in places like Corinth and Crete. The Geometric, black and white style of Dark Age pottery declined, giving way to new designs and styles. The Myceneaens were known to be skilled artists, a different style perhaps did not mean progress, but in the eyes of contemporary standards, it was a significant advance.    

There were also some signs of progress in agriculture, with iron now being used in the production of farming tools. There was also a shift from pastoral ...

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