Eras and Their Highlights

Mycenaean Age

What were the Dark Ages of ancient Greece?

After the Dorians conquered the Mycenaeans in 1100 B.C., these nomadic peoples thrust Greece into a period of decline that lasted more than 300 years. The Dorians rejected the life of the great Mycenaean cities in favor of their nomadic shepherding and hunting life. A tribal people, they possessed a harsh sense of justice, and the period was marked by feuds between clans. Men typically carried weapons—now made of iron (it was the Dorians who brought the new, more durable metal from the north, ending the Bronze Age in Greece).

During this Dark Age, there is little evidence of Greek civilization; the script used by the Mycenaeans disappeared, and art, which had prospered during the Mycenaean Age, declined. Under Dorian rule numerous Mycenaean cities were abandoned, and many regions and islands seem to have been depopulated. There is no evidence of trade with other countries. Poverty had overtaken the Greeks.

As the Dorians took possession of the Greek mainland, a few Mycenaean communities survived in remote areas. Many Mycenaeans fled eastward to Athens, which became a haven for those who hoped for a return to the former civilization. Other Mycenaeans crossed the Aegean and settled on the coast of Asia Minor. Most of these refugees spoke Ionian Greek.

A lasting legacy of the Dark Ages of Greece is its mythology. As Ionian Greeks attempted to hold on to the refined civilization of the Bronze Age, they commemorated the greatness of the past in song and verse, including Greek poet Homer’s (c. 850-? B.C.) Iliad and Odyssey. These epics were combined with eighth-century poet Hesiod’s Theogony, an account of the creation of the universe and the generations of the gods, to give rise to a new Greek religion based on the god Zeus and 11 other gods who were believed to reside on Mount Olympus in northeastern Greece. The Greek gods were later adopted by the Romans and given different names.


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