The term “dark ages” may bring some negative word associations such as “fall of the civilisation” or “retrograde”. But it may also show how little we know about this historical period
Greek Dark Ages is the name for the time after the fall of Mycenaean Civilisation in 12th or 11th century BC and preceding Archaic Greece (9th or 8th century BC). There’s lack of any written sources from this epoch. Archaeological excavations are rather poor.
This period in history is also known as Homeric Age, from the name of the legendary bard Homer. It’s estimated that the fall of Troy could have happened around 1180 BC, so just at the beginning of the Homeric Age. The event described in “Iliad” is the siege of Troy (link), proceeding demolition of the city.
It’s presumed that Homer himself lived in 9th or 8th century BC, so just towards the end of the Dark Ages..
Archaeological sources show that around 1200 BC took place the fall of Mycenaean Civilisation. Beautiful palaces from the epoch were demolished and abandoned. Many cities suddenly became forsaken. Linear B script disappeared.
There are many explanations of what might have caused the fall of Mycenaean Civilisation. Historians mention the invasion of Dorians, a Greek tribe probably from Donau valley. It’s also noticed that the so-called Sea People attacked parts of the Mediterranean a number of times. They were groups of warriors of unknown origin. Some scholars claim that such sudden depopulation must have been a result of climate changes or a natural cataclysm.
However, there isn’t enough archeological proof to decide what exactly can explain the fall of Mycenaean Civilisation.
All literature is written in two languages commonly used in the Mediterranean world: Greek and Latin. Thanks to Greek and Latin literature people from subsequent ages got to know this civilization and called it "classical culture".
Archaeological excavations show that alongside with the fall of Mycenaean Civilisation, Bronze Age came to an end. The very first iron products are dated from Dark Ages. The most likely the skill of iron tooling came to today’s Greece region from Cyprus and Near East.
For this reason some people call Dark Ages - Early Iron Age.
The above example shows some sort of contact with other civilisations. But this is rather an exemption. Majority of archaeological findings are local, mainly ceramics.
One of the most interesting archaeological excavations from Greek Dark Ages are the remains of a Greek construction in Lefkandi on Euboea Island. There was discovered a grave of a rich couple, probably a royal one, coming from circa 900 BC. The things found in the tomb evidence contact with Near East.
Greek Dark Ages are also known as Geometric Period. This name comes from a style in art, to which characteristic are geometric ornaments like circles, spirals and lines. This style is called geometric, and the earlier one with simpler patterns - protogeometric.
As the Mycenaean Civilisation fell, the linear B script disappeared. There are no written sources dated from Dark Ages.
However, the first alphabetic script, in contemporary understanding, must have come from this time. The oldest finding of a Greek script comes from Italy from 8th century BC. Therefore in Greece this alphabet must have been created earlier, in Dark Ages.
Greeks used Phoenician alphabet as a base and added vowels to it. Phoenicians had only consonants. It is believed that the place of origin of the alphabet is most likely Create, Euboea or Rodos. Ancient Greeks claimed it was Thebes, a city founded by Phoenician Cadmus.
Greek Dark Ages is the time of fall for many prospering Mycenaean cities. The regions to recover the quickest were Attica, Euboea and middle Create. Also, continuous settlement in Athens and Attica has been noted.
Homeric Period is the time of formation the first Greek city-states, poleis (plural form of polis). It’s been agreed that one of the events to mark the end of Greek Dark Ages and the beginning of Archaic Period is the very first Olympic games in 776 BC. The Greek Olympics were competitions between city-states representations. So it looks like the very first poleis must have obtained some organisational structures in Dark Ages.
Very little we know about this period in Greek history. Yet it’s not a time of total retrograde, lacking of any achievements. What do you think, does Greek Dark Ages deserve its rather pejorative name?