Dark Age of Greece


By Vern Crisler


Copyright 2005


Rough Draft


1.  Was There A Gap in Greek History?


The answer would appear to be yes, given that such authorities as V. Desborough or A. M. Snodgrass adopt titles for their books such as The Greek Dark Ages, or The Dark Age of Greece, respectively.  Some scholars deny that the so-called Greek dark age was really all that dark, but most would regard it as a long gap in Greek history.  Gilbert Murray’s views are representative:


“…[T]here lies between the prehistoric palaces of Crete, Troy, or Mycenae, and the civilization which we know as Greek, a Dark Age covering at least several centuries.  It is in this Dark Age that we must really look for the beginnings of Greece.  In literature and in archaeology alike we are met with the same gap.  There is a far-off island of knowledge, or apparent knowledge; then darkness; then the beginnings of continuous history.” (The Rise of the Greek Epic, p. 27.)


Academic scholars who deny the existence of this “gap” often point to signs of continuity between the earlier Mycenaean culture and the later Archaic culture, and wonder how such continuity could be possible if the Greek “dark ages” were all that dark.  Non-academic scholars, such as Velikovsky, Courville, James, Rohl, et al., deny the existence, or at least the length, of a Greek dark age.  They think the existence of a gap in Greek history is due to a faulty chronology.  Since most cultures in or near the Mediterranean are dated by relation to Greek chronology, an artificial gap in Greek chronology will automatically create an artificial gap in all the other cultures dependent on Greek correlations.  Courville describes the problem:


“The necessity for assuming such an improbable gap in Greek history should have served as an adequate basis for suspecting that there was something grossly and radically wrong with a chronology of the ancient world that had demanded recognition of any such blank.  The accumulating evidence for a similar gap in the histories and occupation of so many other areas for approximately the same period should have been recognized as an adequate basis for initiating a critical scrutiny of the validity of the premises that had led to such a structure.” (EP, 2:272.) 


Indeed, some time after Courville wrote these words in 1971, the CoD group initiated a thorough and critical scrutiny of the validity of the dark age theory as currently understood by conventional chronology, and published a book about it called, Centuries of Darkness.  We will have more to say about Centuries, but for now we would recommend it as one of the best discussions of the subject.


2.  The Concept of a Dark Age


There is a question as to what extent “dark ages” are even possible in history.  Once private or public literacy has been introduced into a civilization, is it still appropriate to speak of the possibility of a “dark age” arising?  Some might think this a silly question and would point to the “dark age” that occurred in Medieval Europe, a period of darkness that supposedly descended upon the world after the decline of the Roman Empire circa 400 A.D., and was only finally lifted by Galileo.  By the twentieth century, however, most scholars had abandoned this notion.  For instance, as early as 1923 Charles Singer had limited the “dark age” to about five-hundred years, from 400- to 900 A.D.  (From Magic to Science, p. 66.)  In 1968 Walther Kirchner could reduce the “dark ages” to about 200 years, and run it from about 550 to 750 A.D.—and also use ironic quotes around the term “dark ages.”  (Middle Ages, pp. 42; 45.)  Moreover, he restricts the term “dark age” to Western Europe, since it can hardly apply to the Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe.  In 1969, Norman Cantor published his revised book Medieval History without even listing the term “dark age” in the subject index.  Instead, Cantor refers to the fifth to the eighth centuries as, “The Age of the Barbarian Invasions,” “Justinian and Mohammed,” and “The Advance of Ecclesiastical Leadership.”  In his book, Inventing the Middle Ages, 1991, Cantor again failed to reference the term in the index—and perhaps the absence in both cases was intentional.


We would agree with many of these modern historians that there really wasn’t any long “dark age” in Western Europe.  The notion of a European dark age is really just an exaggeration, much of it based on hostility toward Medieval religion and ways of thinking.  Unfortunately, this hostility leads to a strong belief that history is a mere blank for much of the Middle Ages and was a period of great darkness for humanity.  It is possible that some of these dark age notions are due to the fact that most people (at least in America) do not study the Middle Ages in high school or college.  It is likely for that reason that it is only a blank in the minds of most people, not necessarily a blank in history.  It is just a period with which we are generally unfamiliar.


Nevertheless, while most Medievalists eschew talk of dark ages in European history, there are those who think otherwise, that a long dark age in Europe was an objective fact.  For instance, William Manchester takes a strongly negative view of the Middle Ages.  In his book, A World Lit Only By Fire [1992], Manchester can scarcely restrain his hostility to the medieval period.  He describes it as a “…dense, overarching, suffocating medieval night…” (p. 95).  Moreover, “Very little is clear about that dim era.  Intellectual life had vanished from Europe” (p. 3).  Indeed, “The Dark Ages were stark in every dimension” (p. 5).  Additionally, “Soldiers of Christ swung their swords freely” (p. 7), and so on.  Manchester, as he points out in his author’s note to the book, was reacting to Henry Taylor’s romanticized view of the Middle Ages (The Mediaeval Mind, 1911).  In fairness to Taylor, however, he makes it clear that he is only concentrating on what was good about the Middle Ages, not on what was bad.  Manchester apparently felt he had to do the opposite—concentrate on the bad to the exclusion of the good.


Given his hostility to the Middle Ages, it is hard to decide whether Manchester is reporting real history or making it up for dramatic purposes.  For instance, at one point he says,


“Medieval men were rarely aware of which century they were living in” (p. 22).


The minds of medieval men cannot be read by modern men, so it’s unlikely Manchester can provide any grounds for this claim (other than perhaps a lack of hand-watches or desk-calendars among medieval people).  Aside from the fact that medieval men were intensely interested in the passage of time—witness Easter tables, chronologies of world history, automata of various kinds including clocks, etc.,¾the sort of creative history indulged in by Manchester is very misguided.  At the least, if one is going to recreate the medieval period via exaggeration one should increase the plausibility of the re-creation by copious use of responsible footnotes—which are entirely lacking in Manchester’s book.  Oddly enough, most of the corruption, persecution, mindlessness, disease, and death that Manchester so smugly catalogues were not part of the despised Middle Ages but instead occurred during his beloved Renaissance period!  (Ibid., pp. 34ff.)


Manchester runs his “dark age” from A.D. 400 to A.D. 1000, closer to Singer than to Kirchner or Cantor.  In point of fact, however, the only real “dark period” in Western Europe—where we have little to go on in terms of historical knowledge—occurred in the latter part of the fifth century and beginning of the sixth century A.D.  This is the age of the legendary King Arthur (perhaps British king Vortigern).  According to Michael Wood, this time was the “darkest, the least documented, in British history” (In Search of the Dark Ages, p. 37).  He points out however that:


“By the time of St. Germanus’ second visit in 447 the island was still holding out against the Saxons, if the author of the saint’s biography is to be believed: writing in the 480s (which was precisely the supposed period of the Arthurian wars) he speaks of Britain as essentially Roman in administration and orthodox in worship, and most remarkably, ‘a very wealthy island.’”  (Ibid., p. 42.)


Even though this period is a relatively dark period in terms of our knowledge of what happened in England, its history was told a generation later by the British cleric Gildas, who wrote around 540 A.D—i.e., only a few years after the close of the Arthurian period.  (Wood, In Search., p. 43; see also, Leslie Alcock’s, Arthur’s Britain, for a survey of all the chronographic resources available for this area.)  Interestingly enough, Gildas also described the previous century as a time of prosperity, though a terrible plague and Anglo-Saxon revolts must have caused great hardship.  In the 490s, the British defeated the Anglo-Saxons at Badon Hill, and according to Gildas, achieved forty years of peace.  (In Search, pp. 45; 51.)


3.  The Origin of the European Dark Age Concept


If the west-European “dark age” was not nearly as dark as an older generation of scholars once thought, where did the term “dark age” come from?  In actuality, the concept of a “dark age” was invented in the 14th century A.D. by the Renaissance scholar Petrarch.  He was enamored of the “classics” of Roman civilization and regarded any literature that came after the fall of Rome as worthless (though he was an admirer of St. Augustine).  Like Hesiod—who called his own time an age of iron to contrast it with the age of heroes—Petrarch thought of himself as living in a similar dark age.  Those Latinists who followed Petrarch regarded the period between the Roman age and their age as a “middle” age—a several-hundred year period of literary darkness.  Later, Enlightenment philosophes joined in and expanded the “darkness” concept beyond literature to include history (cf., Manchester as modern representatives of this viewpoint).


Norman Cantor calls attention to the renewed interest in the Middle Ages in the present day, even beyond the walls of universities.  (Inventing the Middle Ages, p 17.)  Undoubtedly, this is due in no small part to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles and medieval essays.   (Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies will certainly increase this interest.)  Cantor speaks of Lewis and Tolkien’s influence as “incalculable” (Inventing, p. 208), but there are other reasons for this renewed interest.  Cantor refers to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, as one reason—a Sherlock Holmes type detective story set in the Middle Ages, about Aristotle’s supposed lost book on comedy.  He also mentions Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror written in 1978, and numerous Hollywood films in production about events of the Middle Ages.


But the credit for helping to correct misguided views of the Middle Ages goes back even farther, to the historians of the nineteenth century.  Cantor says,


“We owe to the historians, poets, and artists of the romantic era of the early nineteenth century the alteration of the image of a ‘Middle Age’ of barbarism, ignorance, and superstition that allegedly constituted an age of persistent decline between the twin peaks of classical Rome and the Italian Renaissance at the end of the fifteenth century.  This was the negative view of medieval culture that had been invented by the fifteenth-century Renaissance Italian humanists themselves as the historical theory to accompany and give narrative depth to their claim that they were engaged in the salutary postmedieval revival of ancient learning and classical Latinity.” (Inventing the Middle Ages, p. 28.)


The romantics, of course, went too far in presenting the Middle Ages as an idealized period of spirituality and heroism, and this was soon replaced by Victorian views—often racist, Darwinist, and nationalistic.  While the “Victorian mind” undermined some of the more naïve views of the romantics, it replaced them with what Cantor calls, “vulgarly simple models, hastily generalized and overdetermined evolutionary schemes—that made it unsuitable for doing lasting work in interpreting the Middle Ages…” (p. 29).


While rejecting biased and ideologically-motivated misunderstandings of the Middle Ages, we do not mean to suggest that all was rosy during the Middle Ages.  Like our own day, this period had its share of poverty, depopulation, ignorance, war, disease, and death.  Moreover, the concept of sacred imperialism—i.e., the medieval church—led to great abuses, such as the later Spanish and Italian Inquisitions, and the ecclesiastical “normalization” of gross superstition, ignorance, and paganism.  It is true that much learning and invention had been lost over the years, though it saw some surprising technological developments (e.g., continued use of the water-wheel for various milling operations, the invention of the wind-mill, advances in agriculture and farming, etc.).  It was also one of the most rational ages in history—the period of Abelard, St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics—an age in which the use of reason and logic became all absorbing, in which, to paraphrase Callimachus, even the crows on the roofs cawed about the nature of suppositio.  (For the history of logic during the Middle Ages, see, W. Kneale & M. Kneale’s, The Development of Logic, and Anton Dumitriu’s, History of Logic, Vol. 2.)


Again, we are not suggesting that we would want to go back to the Middle Ages.  We would not even want to go back to the Scholastic period, the Renaissance period, the Reformation period, or even to the 1950’s, when Elvis was king.  Nor should we think that the people who lived then would be happier in our day.  That would be just as romantic and self-centered a view as the notion of our going back to their time and being happy about it.  And the reason is fairly simple:  No time is as good as the present.  That is, no time is as good as one’s own time.  In any case, what we are trying to say is that even if the Middle Ages of western Europe do not live up to our present day standards, its history was not lost, save for the relatively brief period of the Arthurian situation.


4.  Why Was There a Decline in Western Europe?


While we eschew talk of a “dark age” in Europe, there was still a long decline from Roman times to the Renaissance period.  There are many reasons for this recession but scholars are certainly right to suggest war, disease, and depopulation as leading causes.  Probably another factor was the failure—for various reasons, including the above—to develop a worldwide commercial society.  The growth of towns and commercial trading centers during the later Middle Ages was certainly a large factor in the development of a modern society.


As to why science declined during the Middle Ages, we would question the presupposition.  Medieval men, like the Romans, merely continued on with what they had inherited from the past—i.e., the worthless “natural philosophy” of the Greeks.  It is sometimes thought that the Greeks invented “science” and that this little intellectual Camelot was lost very quickly, both by the Romans and then by those who lived in the Medieval period.  Nevertheless, it is fallacious to speak of a “decline” in science after the Greek period, for the simple reason that the Greeks did not invent “science.”  To put it another way, the Greeks invented natural philosophy, not natural science—and it was the former that stood in the way of the advancement of natural science.  Ironically enough, if one wants to speak of a “dark age”—it was the Greeks who were responsible for inaugurating a “dark age” with respect to science, for natural philosophy was one of the greatest hindrances to the development of science.  Certainly much more than an offended Pope or a power-mad cardinal could hinder it during Galileo’s time.  It was only when the scientists of the modern age rejected the whole methodology of giving philosophical explanations of nature that real science could be born.   (We are not including craft and technology within the term natural science.)


However, even if we might suggest that there was something inherent in ancient Greek, Roman, or Medieval ways of thinking that prevented the advancement of science—whether Greek abstractionism, Roman slavery, or Medieval mysticism and instrumentalism—we need to be cautious.  Despite the truth in such a suggestion, we should not use it to underestimate the genius of those who advanced scientific culture after the decline of the scholastic period.  Such a suggestion would sell short the work of those thinkers of the modern period who have done so much to give us our present scientific knowledge.  In point of fact, probably the single greatest reason that earlier periods did not advance in science is simply because they did not have, inter alia, a Galileo, a Newton, a Pasteur, an Edison, or an Einstein.


In sum, the notion of a “dark age” in Europe is not something developed out of looking at actual European history, but was essentially an ideological concept, an attempt by classicists to disparage post-Roman literature.  Thus, the European “dark age” did not exist, or at least did not exist to any great length.  This pulls the rug out from under those who think “dark ages” in a literate society not only happened in the past, but may be on the verge of happening again.  We have seen that this rests upon a fallacious reading of history.  It is very difficult to justify the existence of “dark ages” in literate societies, and even harder to justify the view that they extended for any great length of time.  This would apply not only to Europe but also to ancient Greece.  (For a good introduction to the history of the Middle Ages, which does not read it in terms of a vast dark age, see Donald Matthew, Chronicles of the Middle Ages: A Survey of European History and Culture, 1989.)


In denying the existence (or extent) of a European dark age, we are not advocating the theories of Fomenko, who combines linguistic speculation along with statistical models as a method that purportedly gives us the true chronology of the Middle Ages.  Among other things he would have the Roman Empire start during the 9th century A.D!  Jim Allan, in his critique of Fomenko, calls attention to the amusing example in Shakespeare’s Henry V, where Fluellen tries to draw parallels between King Henry and Alexander the Great through strained analogies.  (Ancient Near East List archives, email dated Nov. 20, 2003).  In some ways, Fomenko’s “revisionism” is more than just crank linguistics or strained analogies.  It is in fact a return to the mindset of the old natural philosophy—e.g., the Pythagorean notion that things are numbers—a return to the use of a priori schemes of historical interpretation (including statistical models) with little regard for real evidence.


There is no book-length refutation of Fomenko, as far as I know, but it is hoped that an interested historian would present a critique of Fomenko after the style of (say) Carl O. Jonsson’s book, The Gentile Times Reconsidered.  This book provides a thorough defense of the biblical and Assyrian chronologies of the Neo-Babylonian period against the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ “Watchtower” chronology.  Unfortunately, most historians would probably consider Fomenko’s theories too bizarre to bother with, much less write a book about them the way Jonsson did with respect to Watchtower theories.  Nevertheless, a good, book-length refutation of Fomenko might provide students with an interesting introduction to the chronology and history of the Middle Ages.  I know that I never could get interested in the Neo-Babylonian period until I read Jonsson’s book, and the interest I have in Medieval chronology has been occasioned by reading both Fomenko’s criticisms of Medieval history, as well as criticisms of Fomenko.  Jason Colavito has provided a good start in evaluating the views of Fomenko in his article, “Who Lost the Middle Ages?” in the somewhat disagreeable journal, Skeptic, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2004, pp. 66ff.  It is hoped that he might expand his discussion to a broader defense of the history of the Middle Ages.


5.  The Decline of Greece


That brings us to the so-called “Dark Age of Greece”—surely unique in the annals of history (or pseudo-history).  Not only was it supposedly a time of great material poverty, but of a virtually complete depopulation of Greece and the Mediterranean islands for at least four hundred years.  Writing disappeared.  History disappeared.  Building ceased.  All, not just some, building ceased.  There was a complete loss of architecture, and some scholars even speak of the “disappearance” of the Mycenaeans.  What happened to them?  What happened to civilization in Greece, in the Mediterranean, and in Europe?  Did it just go on holiday for four hundred years between the Mycenaean civilization and the beginnings of the Archaic age leading up to the Classical Age of Greece?  It seems to have vanished without a trace.


As noted above, part of the problem is that scholars have been fooled by the Renaissance classicists and Enlightenment ideologues into thinking that dark ages in history are not only possible, but can extend for centuries.  Thus, when confronted with the yawning chasm between the end of the Mycenaean period (conventionally dated to 1200 B.C.) and the beginnings of Greek civilization in the 8th century, the notion of a dark age immediately suggested itself as a plausible explanation for the gap.  Instead of questioning the very existence of such a gap, historians were lulled into complacency by the misleading analogy of the so-called European dark age.


The Greeks knew nothing of such a gap for their own history.  Snodgrass, who supports the existence of a Greek dark age, still speaks of it as a “modern doctrine.” (The Dark Age of Greece, p. 2.)  Herodotus and Thucydides do not speak of it in their histories of Greece.  Indeed the latter believed in a “degree of continuity between heroic and Classical Greece that would be quite unacceptable to modern minds.”  (Ibid., p. 9.)  W. G. Forrest says,


“[L]ater Greeks had a clear enough picture of the Mycenaean world; they also had a coherent story of the society which grew up on the ruins of that world but they had lost completely the measure of the dark years that came between.  Mycenaean Lakedaimon vanished around 1200 [sic], Dorian Sparta was created somewhere in the tenth century (perhaps later rather than earlier for in this context genealogies may be more reliable than pots).  Of what happened in between we have no knowledge.” (A History of Sparta, p. 27.)


This analysis, of course, assumes that the gap in the BC time scale is real, and not just a product of faulty chronology.  Thus, for alternative chronologists, the Greeks forgot nothing simply because there was nothing to forget.  Nevertheless, the so-called “dark age” of Greece is alive and well in modern archaeological thought.  Classical archaeologist, Rhys Carpenter, speaks of this “dark age” as “the most severe cultural recession which history records or archaeology can determine.”  (Discontinuity in Greek Civilization, p. 15.)  This “dark age” affected all of civilization, not just Greece:


“No competent historian today doubts the seriousness of this major recession of civilization, a recession which spread from one end of the Mediterranean to the other at the close of the thirteenth century [sic] and lasted, with only occasional and very local remission, until the ninth century B.C.  It was a widespread collapse of prosperity and power such as would be difficult to parallel from any other place or period in man’s civilized career.  Yet no one has offered any adequate explanation for its occurrence.” (Ibid., pp. 17-18.)


This “dark age” also affected Egypt:


“Even Egypt, which had resisted the attack of the shorelanders, lost its vigour and sank into a helpless apathy that was to last for a full four hundred years [sic] before at last she roused herself in new energy and brought back  some semblance of the proud great Egypt of old days.”  (Ibid., p. 19.)


Astoundingly, Carpenter blames this so-called four hundred year dark age on, well, the weather.  In his theory, drastic climatic conditions led to famine, which “overwhelmed the Mediterranean lands.”  (Idem.)  Few scholars have seconded this opinion since there is little if any evidence to support the notion that unusual weather patterns occurred during this period.  (Desborough, The Greek Dark Ages, p. 22.)   Surely the dark age of Greece—if it occurred at all¾was more than a meteorological problem.


Snodgrass is forthright in explaining that the Greek “dark age” is firstly a matter of “the passage of time.”  (Ibid., p. 2.)  By this he means that the “dark age” occurred between the “end of the Mycenaean civilization” and the “rise of the Hellenic world.”  (Idem.)  These two periods—the Mycenaean and the later Hellenic¾are, of course, placed on the BC time scale as a result of Egyptian correlations—hence resulting in an alleged four-hundred or so year gap.  This result disturbed Classical scholar Cecil Torr so much that he refused to accept the Egyptian correlations.  Flinders Petrie, however, pointed out the correct situation with regard to Egypt:


“What has to be remembered is that we have a totally independent proof of the equal age of the Egyptian and Mykenaean examples.  Mykenaean vase types are found in Egypt with scarabs, &c., of the XVIIIth Dynasty, and conversely objects of the XVIIIth Dynasty, including a royal scarab, are found at Mykenae.”  (The Academy, June 25, 1892, p. 621; reprinted in ed. David Rohl & Martin Durkin, Memphis and Mycenae, by Cecil Torr, p. 19.)


Torr, however, maintained that the date of the Mycenaean vases and antiquities were not much removed from the purely Greek vases and antiquities of the “seventh century B.C….” (The Academy, Sept. 3, 1892, pp. 198-199; in Ibid., pp. 32-33.)  Commenting on this debate, David Rohl says,


“[N]ew [archaeological] data had suddenly introduced a new factor into the chronology of ancient Greece with the discovery, by Petrie and others, of Mycenaean pottery in a late 18th Dynasty archaeological context.  This find resulted in the pushing back of the Mycenaean age to the 16th – 12th centuries BC.  The Greek Late Bronze Age has remained fixed to these centuries ever since, requiring the insertion of a 350-400 year Dark Age between the fall of the Mycenaean culture and the rise of Archaic Greece in the 8th century BC.”  (“Editorial,” Memphis and Mycenae.)


As the CoD group point out, Petrie had found 7th century Greek material at Daphnae and 18 to 19th dynasty Mycenaean material at Gurob.  (James, et al., Centuries of Darkness, p. 15.)  Petrie found the same 18th/19th dynasty-Mycenaean correlation at other sites, as well, and said that classical scholars must thank Egyptian sources for revealing the “real standing of the antiquities of Greece.”  (Journal of Hellenic Studies, XI, Oct. 1890, p. 271; reprinted in Memphis and Mycenae, p. 1.)  However, as the CoD group comments:


“Many of the supposedly grateful classicists…spurned Petrie’s offer of help.  His Egyptian-derived dates had the extremely unwelcome result of producing an enormous void between the Mycenaean world and that of the early Greek city-states of the 8th century B.C.” (Centuries, p. 16.)


The CoD group points out that Torr was wrong to deny the Egyptian-Mycenaean correlations.  Subsequent archaeological work has amply confirmed Petrie’s original views.  (Centuries, p. 17.)  This is a good lesson for any would-be alternative chronologist.  It is never a wise idea to tell the archaeologist how to do his business.


Snodgrass says that this in-between period is “now universally accepted” and then goes on to suggest that what is debated about is not that it happened but what happened.  The debate, he suggests, is over its “cultural level.” (Memphis, p. 2.)  There is indeed, a great deal of discontinuity at the level of culture.  The characteristics of this discontinuity are listed by Snodgrass (Dark Age, p. 2):


a)  “a fall in population that is certainly detectable and may have been devastating”;

b)  “a decline in or loss of certain purely material skills”;

c)  “decline or loss in respect of some of the more elevated arts” [i.e., writing];

d)  “a fall in living-standards and perhaps in the sum of wealth”;

e)  “a general severance of contacts…with most peoples beyond the Aegean…”;

f)  “some would add a growth of acute insecurity.”


One of the reasons that earlier archaeologists held on to an overlap between the Mycenaean and “Dipylon” periods in Greek history is that to separate them would introduce an interval of time, a “discovery which gave birth to the modern notion of the dark age.”  Once this dark age was accepted, it was picked up by such Greek classicists as Gilbert Murray, and soon “had become an article of orthodox dogma.”  Snodgrass goes on to quote M. P. Nilsson, writing in 1933, who describes this interval as “the poorest and darkest epoch in all Greek history except for the Stone Age.” (Ibid., p. 21.)


Nevertheless, what is remarkable about this huge discontinuity in Greek history is the fact that there are clear evidences of continuity.  In their book, Centuries of Darkness, Peter James and his colleagues devote much attention to the continuity between the ending phase of Mycenaean civilization and the beginning phase of the archaic period of Greek history.


6.  Centuries of Darkness


Aside from calling attention to this continuity, one of the most beneficial aspects of the CoD study is that the supposed Greek dark age is traced all across the Mediterranean, into Europe, including Italy and Spain, or to any civilization whose material products have been dated in reference to Greek materials.  At the very front of the Centuries book is a diagram that tracks all the various archaeological cultures that rely on Greek material for relative dating.  These include, Montelius 3, Wessex, Urnfield, Peschiera, Apennine, Balkan Complex, Nuragic, Argaric, Pantalica North, and Borg-In-Nadur.  These materials are spread throughout Europe, connect up with Mycenaean culture, which in turn is connected to Egypt.  All archaeological roads lead to Egypt, including those of the Babylonians, Assyrians, Elamites, Hittites, Canaanites, and Nubians; and we have already noted above that Egypt was also affected by an alleged 400-year period of “helpless apathy.”


The notion of a Greek dark age is already hard enough to accept—based on our earlier criticism of the dark age concept¾but the notion that this supposed dark age affected just about the entire known world for four-hundred years or so, is good reason to suspect that something has gone wrong in the chronology of the ancient world.  As Courville says,


“The accumulating evidence for a similar gap in the histories and occupation of so many other areas for approximately the same period should have been recognized as an adequate basis for initiating a critical scrutiny of the validity of the premises that had led to such a structure.” (EP, 2:272.)


One would not expect a period of 400 years of unrelieved darkness—the poorest and darkest epoch since the Stone Age¾to maintain any of the high culture of the preceding period.  And yet the CoD group notes the following lines of continuity (Centuries, pp. 72ff.):


a)  Reappearance of ivory working, which disappeared at the end of the Late Bronze Age and reappeared against in the middle of the 9th century with similar motifs.  It is thought that the skills in ivory working were preserved in the Levant, yet “the Levant itself has an equally puzzling hiatus in its ivory-working tradition between 1175 and 850 BC [sic]…on either side of which the motifs on the ivories are remarkably similar.”  (Ibid., p. 73.)  A reference is made to Figure 11 of Centuries, p. 276, which shows the close similarity of the 9th century Tell Halaf lion figure to the lion figures on the Mycenaean ivories from Delos (especially the flame patterns on the legs).  Attention is also called to the figures from the Dipylon Gate cemetery at Athens, and which were inspired by 9th century B.C. Syrian ivories.  These Syrian ivories, however, “incorporated as a residue many of the shapes, subjects and devices of the Canaanite-Mycenaean tradition” (citing R. Barnett, the publisher of the Syrian ivories).


b)  Continuity in painted pottery motifs; Late Mycenaean pottery resembles mature Geometric pottery and “Proto-Attic” styles.  J. Benson is cited, who points to the continuity between Mycenaean and later Greek figure style and pictorial composition in general.  (Ibid., p. 74.)  Scholars have been forced to recognize “a persistent substratum of Mycenaean influence on early Greek art….”  (Idem.)  Benson had to postulate the theory that these artistic motifs survived the dark period primarily through textiles (mats, rugs, etc.) and metal ornaments.  According to the CoD group: “The theory that the motifs of painted pottery survived through a different medium has to be brought into play because no pictorial pottery is known in the period between the Myceanaean originals and their derivatives several hundred years later.”  (Idem.)


c)  Chariot continuity:  It is pointed out that no chariots have been found from the Mycenaean period or the early Iron Age in Greece.  Our knowledge of them comes from illustrations of them on Mycenaean pottery and frescoes, and on later Geometric pottery.  They are also mentioned in the Linear B tablets.  The CoD groups says: “Hilda Lorimer noted that despite this gap there was a very close similarity between the Bronze Age and Geometric vehicles.”  (Ibid., p. 75.)   On page 76 of Centuries, illustrations of a Mycenaean chariot and of a Geometric chariot are provided.  The horse in the Mycenaean example looks like a hot dog on stilts, and the Geometric horse looks like the same horse but thinner.  Joust Crouwel’s opinion is cited that the Late Geometric depictions of chariots were direct descendants of the Mycenaean chariots.  (Ibid., p. 76.)


d)  Shield continuity:  The shield types that are depicted on the Late Geometric vases noted above are called the “Dipylon” and the “Boeotian” (pronounced bee-ocean).  They are ultimately descended from of the Bronze Age figure-of-eight shields.  (Ibid., p. 77.)  A “Dipylon” shield was found on a late Mycenaean vase from Iolkos, and figure-of-eight shields are found on beads from the Late Bronze Age.  (Idem.)  The problem is in accounting for this continuity of shield type, for how does the knowledge of their manufacture “leapfrog” over several centuries.  These centuries have virtually nothing in the way of pottery illustrations of shields, or of any actual physical remains of shield.


e)  Bronzes, ceramic models and heirlooms; continuity in tripod-cauldrons.  After the end of the LBA, they are first found again in 9th to 8th century contexts, cf. Lefkandi.  Attention is brought to Snodgrass’s statement that there is a “close resemblance of the earliest Iron Age tripods to the few known examples from the latest Bronze Age.”  (Ibid., p. 78.)  There are very few in-between tripods.  According to Amandry and Benton, there is an “almost complete lack of rich finds between the Mycenaean epoch and about 800 B.C.” (Ibid., p. 79.)  The earliest was found in Greece dated to about 900 B.C. at Lefkandi.  The CoD groups says, “The apparent absence of large bronzes during the ‘Dark Age’ has given rise to the view that the bronze industry in Greece sank into a complete recession…” (Idem.)  They provide an illustration on p. 80 of a “12-century” Cypriot tripod which was found in an 8th-century grave.  These tripods are regarded by H. Catling as “heirlooms.” to explain the gap in manufacture, but this was disputed by J. Muhly, on the (unsupported) assumption that “Dark Age” craftsmen had the skill to manufacture the tripods.  (Ibid., pp. 80-81.)   A similar gap exists with respect to Sardinian bronze tripods, dated to the 9th to 7th centuries B.C., but paralleling Italian tripods from the “12th century B.C.  (Ibid. p. 81.)


f)  The introduction of the alphabet.  Linear B fell out of use at end of LBA but the first Greek writing on a late Geometric wine jug, c. 740 B.C.  This represents a 460 year eclipse of literacy.  Remarkably, there are no inscriptions to fill the gap between the end of Linear B and the beginnings of the Greek alphabet.  (Ibid., p. 82.)  We will discuss the alphabet more fully in a later section.


g)  Palaces, fortifications, houses and temples; discontinuance of stone & brick construction at end of LBA; no new city walls until Geometric period; no temples in “dark age.”  According to the CoD group: “The architectural history of the Greek Dark Age amply demonstrates the post-Mycenaean collapse.  On the mainland south of Thessaly, as well as the Aegean islands, construction in stone and brick almost entirely ceased.”  (Ibid. p. 85.)  Apparently everything was reused.  Interestingly, it is sometimes difficult to assess the dates of these structures “due to the occurrence of both Submycenaean and Protogeometric sherds” within the structures.  (Ibid., p. 87.)  Snodgrass mentions only “one or two” places in Greece where stone-built structures might be found.  Coldstream notes that “architectural remains are either negligible or missing altogether…”  (Idem.)  The CoD groups rightly rejects any explanation for the gap that has recourse to “pastoralism” or to “perishable materials.”  Greece was rich in stone and it would have been unlikely, even in a pastoral society, for the Greeks to confine themselves to building only in mud-brick, wood, or clay structures for four hundred years.  (Idem.)


h)  The stratigraphic record:  At the end of the Late Bronze Age, pottery styles show a marked regionalism, and this makes it harder to correlate them in the stratigraphic record.  J. Rutter’s theorized that Submycenaean was not a distinct level of pottery coming after Late Helladic 3c, but was contemporary with it.  The CoD group, however, points out that subsequent research has shown that Submycenaean does indeed belong to strata above the LH3c level at Mycenae and Tiryns.  It is also beneath Protogeometric pottery at Asine.  (Ibid. pp. 89-90.)  Nevertheless, despite the succession, in other areas such as Thessaly, Submycenaean levels appear to be missing because Protogeometric evolved directly from Mycenaean.  (Ibid., p. 90.)  Near Sparta, a sanctuary to Apollo contains a mixture of Mycenaean and Protogeometric.  K. Fagerstrom points out that there repeatedly occurs “an admixture of LHIII material in what seems to be regarded as uncontaminated DA I [proto-geometric] or DA II strata.  The distinction between DA I and DA II is not a clear one….In these murky backwaters of Messenia it may well be that LHIII shapes in some cases were preserved, perhaps through centuries….” (Ibid., p. 91.)  In tombs, the two styles, Submycenaean and Protogeometric, are often mixed.  There are also examples where Geometric pottery rests directly on Mycenaean material.  This means that for the CoD group, “[T]he frequent superimposition of Geometric deposits over late Mycenaean material offers no support for the idea that the Protogeometric was of any great duration.  (Ibid., p. 92.)    In some of these cases, no evidence of silt or occupational debris can be found between the Geometric and Mycenaean levels.  On page 93 of Centuries, two lion figures are compared.  (Ibid., p. 93.)  On the one hand is the Lion Gate of Mycenae, constructed in the so-called 13th century B.C.  To its right is a facade of two lions from Arslan Tash, representing Phrygian art from the 8th to 7th century.   W. Ramsay noticed a very close similarity between the two, and very early on maintained that the Mycenaean civilization must have a low date.  (Idem.)  The CoD groups points out, however, that no one today would seriously date the Mycenaean age to the 8th and 7th centuries, as Ramsay did.  Nevertheless, it does show a great deal of continuity between the Mycenaean and Geometric ages.  (Ibid., p. 94.)


7.  Horse, Bird, & Man


The CoD group recommends the work of J. L. Benson titled, Horse, Bird, & Man: The Origins of Greek Painting [1970; hereafter HB&M], especially regarding the cases where Mycenaean material is superimposed or mixed with Geometric, especially at Delphi, Samos, and Pylos.  This means that Submycenaean and Protogeometric were probably very short periods of time.  Benson’s book, however, deserves a more thorough look, for in some ways, it illustrates the problems that archaeologists have in fitting their findings within the present structure of conventional chronology.


Tabula Rasa Theory of Greek Art:


This is the view that Protogeometric or Geometric art were primitive, novel, spontaneous art, and unaware of any previous artistic traditions.  (Horse, Bird, & Man, p. 4.)  This theory, however, goes against the assured, taken-for-granted quality of the earliest Geometric art which shows that the artist was not experimenting, but was following a canonical tradition (35).  Indeed, the Geometric artist characteristically “geometricized” the chevron of Mycenaean art (43; pr. gee-oh-MET-ri-sized).  Also, the “florals” of Mycenaean art were adopted by the Geometric artist (43):


“The Geometric artist not only adopted this [floral art], but also willingly admitted to use Mycenaean-type floral filling ornaments such as dotted rings, rosettes, and sea anemones in connection with birds…” (43; cf., 50).


Previously, historians held to the tabula rasa theory primarily due to the great time lapse between the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Geometric period.  Even A. M. Snodgrass could not accept the influence of Mycenaean chariot prototypes on
Geometric chariots, due to the conventional dating.  (Centuries, p. 75.)  These historians could not conceive of how a depopulated, almost non-existent Greek culture, could have revived the all but forgotten artistic traditions of their forefathers.  Benson says,


“A vigorous advocate of this [tabula rasa] assumption was W. Deonna, who classified the figures as ‘géométrique instinctif’ and in effect accused those who saw in them any similarities to Greek Bronze Age art as being afflicted by a ‘mirage égéen’” (HB&M, 4).


Similarly, Rhys Carpenter objects to the notion that Geometric art was influenced by Aegean traditions (4).  Benson, however, cites archaeologists who work with Geometric pottery, such as Young, Kubler, Brann, Pallottino, Charbonneaux, Webster, Snodgrass, and others.  They, “have found and recorded evidence for the continuing and recurring influence of the Mycenaean tradition…” (5).  These influences were not from “Oriental” [Near Eastern] prototypes, but were from another source, i.e., derivatives of the “major art of Aegean culture” (9).  Thus, it is wrong to speak of an Aegean mirage, when in fact it appears to be an Aegean reality.


Method, Origins, Oriental Influences, Chronology:


a. Funerary Tradition and its Symbolism: The horse was part of Mycenaean funerary practices (20).  This included burial of the horses, burial of terracotta horses, and chariot vases associated with tombs (21).  Chariot vases were also part of Geometric Greece’s funerary practices.  Horse and chariot burials indicated the noble status of the tomb occupant (22).  The later Geometric chariot friezes show warriors riding two by two, and “have their exact analogy both in the funeral procession of Patroklos (Iliad xxiii, 133 f.) and in latest Mycenaean kraters [vases] of the mainland…” (24).  Moreover, “It has, of course, been noted by Lorimer (and others) that the type of chariot in use in the Late Bronze Age reappears on the Dipylon [Geometric] vases, and she makes the inference that it had survived as a customary type even though not represented in the interim…” (24; emphasis added).  Benson continues: “As I have been intimating, much of the gap between the last appearance of Mycenaean illustrations of chariots and the Dipylon revival can, in theory at least, be bridged by ceramic evidence that the horse as such continued to be intimately connected with funerary practices” (24-25; emphasis added).  Benson refers to the “tenacity of funerary concepts” during the “gloomy shadow of the grave during the so-called Dark Ages…” (26).  At the same time he speaks of a renascence of those concepts:


“Yet I venture to say that any explanation which fails to reckon seriously with the funerary setting, the previous tradition involving chariots and the obvious revival of that specific tradition a few centuries later will not do justice to reality” (26).


b. Horses & Birds:  Benson published a picture of a Geometric amphora (26).  On the neck of the vase is a panel or framed picture of two antithetic horses facing a “swastika” type cross (plates 4 & 5; note: the swastika is a “geometrized” flower in this context).  The panel design represents the Geometric potter’s desire to systematize, organize, and structure his artistic productions.  Benson says, “The arrangement of the animals in what I would call a free antithetic panel can be nothing other than a direct Mycenaean reminiscence which may owe its specific inspiration to a prototype preserved either on pottery (perhaps even sherds?) or on textiles” (27).  Birds were also part of the Geometric artistic tradition, and suggest “specific imitations of Mycenaean prototypes…” (28).  Birds are often associated with the world of the dead.  Benson continues:


At any rate, what is abundantly clear is that birds and chariots (therefore horses) are linked in the Late Aegean pictorial repertory.  Indeed the combination of birds and horses, the former placed both on the back and under the belly of the latter in a manner startlingly like that of Geometric representations, is now attested on a vase from Mycenae itself” (29).


Reference is made to plate vii, fig. 2, which shows birds in characteristic posture with their heads twisted around looking behind them (cf., 73).


c. Man:  Benson discusses the Geometric representation of man as schematic and neutral, involving an impersonal silhouette (77).  The “time elapsed” between the end of the Late Bronze Age and the Geometric period has led some to ignore canonical predecessors and to suggest that Geometric artists invented from scratch:  “The whole of Geometric figure style and composition is offered either as a kind of miraculous accident or else as having spontaneously sprung into being…” (78).  As against this, Benson points out that the Geometric artist “started with a prototype whenever possible” and that this confirms E. W. Gombrich’s theory that pre-modern artists depend on previous artistic prototypes as blueprints for their own work rather than direct observation of their subjects (79).  In other words, in traditional societies art is born of art, not of  nature (4).


Benson speaks of the “reintroduction” of the human figure after a “fairly long hiatus” (79).  Apparently, Geometric artists saw in traditional funerary symbolism something that was vital.  The general characteristics of the human figure for the Geometric artists are the triangular torso, the narrow waist, strong legs and buttocks, bent knees, and swords attached at midriff (80).  The antecedents are Minoan and Mycenaean (84), a “recollection of a very characteristic Aegean figural formula” (85).  Interestingly, Geometric mourning scenes are dependent on Egyptian prototypes of the 19th dynasty—the time in Egypt corresponding to the Mycenaean period in Greece (91, 93).  Benson says that this should “put out of court a priori pronouncements that Greeks of the Geometric period had not the remotest conception of how their ancestors or their nearby neighbors conducted their affairs” (95).


Human figures in ship and battle scenes, sword duals, and in other poses, all reflect previous Aegean traditions, including Minoan (100, 101).  Geometric artists did not invent these artistic types but adopted traditional styles and quickly geometrized them (102).  Benson summarizes the influence of earlier Aegean and Egyptian prototypes on the later Greek figural art:


“Not only did the Geometric artist remain in touch with his own tradition and that of Egypt, but he worked quite as specifically with inherited and borrowed formulae….His creativity was exercised, then, not in inventing these modes of expression but in adapting them, bending them to his own special purposes in new syntheses….We can be even more specific.  It has emerged in instance after instance that Geometric artists acquired for themselves, two separate formulae for each pose or figural problem” (108).


d. Tradition and its Transmission:  Benson’s conclusion is that Geometric representations of horses, birds, and human beings originated from Minoan-Mycenaean traditions, and to some extent Egyptian cultural influences.  Geometric art is a “creative transformation, out of the Mycenaean ornamental repertory…” (109).  It is a “remanifestation” or “overlapping” of the art of “Late Mycenaean times” (110).  Nevertheless, the question arises as to how such continuity could have survived the “Dark Age” of Greece?  Benson’s answer is that:


“a relatively constant practice in a medium like textiles preserved the characteristic shapes and types and, perhaps, a simplified form of openwork decoration right across the centuries” (111).


In other words, Myceanaean artistic styles were preserved on things like carpets (112).  The theory that pottery art was kept alive through the “Dark Age” of Greece on perishables¾only to be revived by Geometric potters¾is frequently offered as an explanation of this odd situation.  There is supposedly cultural continuity between the Late Mycenaean period and the Geometric period, but no pottery examples are to be found in the so-called “Dark Age” between them.  Paul MacKendrick is representative of archaeologists when he says that potters went back to the,


“age-old geometric tradition, which had been kept alive by farm families in home weaving, leatherwork, wood carving, and basketry.”  (The Greek Stones Speak, p. 142.)


Benson, however, is not entirely satisfied with the perishable materials explanation and in order to explain how cultural continuity was possible, posits “direct contact” with the ceramic and glyptic tradition of the Bronze Age.  He admits that a “veil lies over the technique of transmission…” (112).  There is also the problem that none of the putative textiles of this “Dark Age” have survived (123).  Nevertheless, Benson believes Athens preserved the Myceanaean artistic tradition, and lists several instances where later Greeks could have come into contact with Mycenaean materials (113).  The list contains examples of Mycenaean objects found in Protogeometric graves or Geometric sanctuaries, and of late Greek objects found in Mycenaean chamber tombs, showing that later Greeks were aware of the Mycenaean tombs (115-118).  Also mentioned is that some buildings from later times are placed directly upon Bronze Age architecture (120).  Bronze tripods were also found in late Greek contexts, suggesting “heirlooms” (122).


The bottom line is that early Geometric art shows some sort of direct dependency on Mycenaean and Egyptian New Kingdom prototypes.  This influence requires explanation in light of the supposed “Dark Age” that separates the Late Mycenaean tradition of Greece from the mature Geometric tradition by four hundred years, and the proto-geometric tradition by at least two-hundred years.  This gap left some scholars such as Deonna with no choice but to claim that Geometric art was a purely spontaneous and primitive form of art (4).  So too Snodgrass is forced to deny cultural continuity.  Yet the evidence clearly shows canonical continuity between the end of the Late Bronze Age and the Geometric age.  The “perishable materials” theory is brought in to explain this, but as the CoD group point out:


“Theories involving the use of perishable items have always been popular explanations for the obvious gaps in the evidence for several other skills, including writing and painting on pottery….[I]t is difficult to believe that this transference between materials was anywhere near so widespread a phenomenon as current interpretations would require.  The wider this theory is applied, the harder it is to accept, and the more it looks instead like a convenient excuse for the lack of evidence.” (Centuries, pp. 316-317.)


In fine, the perishable materials theory seems ad hoc, and does not really work with ceramics, for that is precisely the medium in which the potter registers his artistic repertory.  In terms of conventional chronology, no pictorial pottery is to be found in the “Dark Age.”  This is why a perishables theory is invoked.  Moreover, the fact that later Greeks were aware of some Mycenaean structures, and that there is a mixture of some Mycenaean with later Greek only shows that either (a) there has been “contamination” (or intrusion), or (b) that the distance in time between the two is perhaps not as great as conventional chronology supposes.


Our only major area of disagreement with the CoD group is their apparent inclusion of writing as not being covered by a perishable materials theory.  However, most writing is meant to be recorded on perishable materials, just as it is today, so we think that writing using the alphabet was kept alive through papyrus or parchment-type material, or through leather, or some other perishable medium.


8.  Writing, Oral Tradition, & Alphabet in an Age of Darkness


a.  Before the invention of the alphabet, most languages were expressed in a logo-syllabic or syllabic form.  The main difference between an alphabet and a syllabic script is that the latter uses symbols to express a combination of consonants and vowels.  In an alphabet, however, symbols are used for isolated consonants and isolated vowels.  To illustrate this, we can create a purely hypothetical example of a syllabic script by correlating consonant-vowel combinations with our English numbers, e.g., 1-10:


1 = ba

2 = be

3 = bi

4 = bo

5 = bu

6 = ca

7 = ce

8 = ci

9 = co

10 = cu


If we wanted to write an imaginary word such as “baco” we would combine the symbols 1 and 9, i.e., 1 9.  If we wanted to write the imaginary word “cubuco” we would write it as “10 5 9.”  Of course, the ancient inventors of syllabic scripts did not use our numbering system for their writing symbols.  For instance, the Hebrew aleph (À) represents an ox, and derives from an earlier Hebrew script.  This early script is ultimately related to the “Phoenician” script.  Similarly our English letter “A” also represents an ox and is related to the same “Phoenician” script.  If you tilt your head sideways and look at the center line of the aleph as the head of the ox, you can see the outer two marks as something like horns.  Similarly, the English letter “A” can simply be turned upside down () to show the horns (with the triangle representing the face of the ox).  Interestingly, the aleph and the upside down A are readily available symbols today since the aleph is used in Cantorian set-theory, and the upside down A is used as a quantifier in mathematical logic.


If we continued on with our script to include all consonant-vowel combinations, we would end up with at least 80 or more symbols for all of the sounds needed to write a language in syllabic script.  In the ancient world, one of the most famous syllabic scripts is the Linear B script of Mycenaean Greece.  This script contains around 87 signs, and was deciphered in the twentieth century by Michael Ventris, a World War II code breaker.  To the surprise of many, this script was used to represent the Greek language.

In an alphabet, the consonants are kept separate from the vowels.  In order to symbolize the above sounds, “baco” and “cubuco” we don’t need 10 symbols; we only need the two consonants, and the relevant vowels¾b, c, a, o, u.  Normally, the consonant sounds are more than two, and the total number of symbols for a functional alphabet, including both consonants and vowels, would be around 22, 24, or 30, or some other number close to our English 26.  That is quite a bit lower than the 80 or so symbols needed for a functioning syllabic script, and the simplicity and practicality of an alphabetic script becomes quite obvious by comparison.  The alphabet greatly simplifies the method for symbolizing a spoken language.


b.  Transmission:  The Greeks learned of the alphabet from the Phoenicians.  The person generally credited with introducing the alphabet to the Greeks was the Phoenician named Kadmos.  (Herodotus, 5:58-61.)  Barry B. Powell argues that the transmission from Phoenician to Greek had to be the work of one man.  (Homer and the Origin of the Greek Alphabet [1991], p. 10.  This is the theory of “monogenesis” of the Greek alphabet, and is widely accepted due to the unique features that can be traced between each language.


c.  The Oral Tradition


Today, many critics of the Bible point to a mismatch between the biblical narratives and archaeology as a reason for denying the historicity of the narratives.  (See, Finkelstein & Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 2001, p. 3; hereafter, TBU.)  Indeed, to the extent that critics recognize any truth to the history of Abraham, Moses, or David & Solomon, it amounts to little more than a cynical reconstruction of the narratives based on the critic’s philosophical predilections.  (For an overview, see Provan, Long, & Longman’s, A Biblical History of Israel, 2003.)  This understanding of the biblical narratives sees them as constructed very late in Israel’s history, around the 7th century or even later in the Babylonian exile or in Hellenic times.  (TBU, pp. 13; 23.)  During the 19th century, critics did not appeal to archaeology but started out with philosophical assumptions divorced from anything as merely lapidary as archaeological discovery.  They claimed that the Bible was a collection of myths and legends handed down by way of oral tradition:


“Of the legendary character of the pre-Mosaic narrators, the time of which they treat is a sufficient proof.  It was a time prior to all [Israelite] knowledge of writing…a time when in civilised countries writing was only beginning to be used for the most important matters of State.”  (Hermann Schultz, Old Testament Theology, 1898, pp. 25, 26.)


The Bible was not the only historical narrative to receive such naive critical treatment.  A similar attitude was maintained regarding Homer’s writings:


“As to the difficulty of conceiving how Homer could acquire, retain, and communicate, all he knew, without the aid of Letters; it is, I own, very striking….But the oral traditions of a learned and enlightened age will greatly mislead us, if from them we form our judgement on those of a period, when History had no other resource.”  (Robert Wood, Essay on the Original Genius of Homer, 1775, pp. 259-260.)


The most influential Homeric critic was Friedrich Wolf (1759-1824) who claimed that the Homeric stories were only written down at the time of the so-called “Peisistratean Recension” during the 6th century B.C., which is long after the time of Homer.  John Scott says:


“The main argument advanced by Wolf for doubting the unity of the Iliad rested on the assumption that writing was unknown at the time the Iliad originated, or so little known that it could not be used for literary purposes, and without writing Wolf regarded it as impossible that a poem of such bulk as the Iliad should either have been composed or preserved.” (The Unity of Homer, pp. 43-44.)


The Iliad in this view was compiled from a mass of folk poetry and independent stories, with final editing done under Peisistratus.  Earlier, Isaac Casaubon, writing in 1583, had emphasized the view that the Greeks were illiterate, and that oral transmission was the only way they passed their stories down through the centuries.  Even as late as 1959, Denys Page reaffirmed the old argument that the Greeks were illiterate.  Page noted that the “catalogue of ships” described in the Iliad was really a Mycenaean muster list, and since the Greeks did not write, their poets must have invented a unique category of poetry.  He says,


“The further question, how this lengthy and detailed list of places survived through the Dark Ages, is easily answered: there is no scrap of evidence, and no reason whatever to assume, that the art of writing was practised in Greece between the end of the Mycenaean era and the 8th century B.C.  There is only one alternative,¾that the Catalogue survived by word of mouth; and that means through the oral tradition of Epic poetry.”  (History and the Homeric Iliad, pp. 122-123.) 


Here we are asked to accept the notion of what might be described as “catalogue poetry.”  This would be a distinct class of poetry devoted to recitations of a Mycenaean muster list over a four-hundred year period of literary darkness.  In our opinion, it is really the elephant in the room for the theory of an oral tradition.  Why would any poet spend his time memorizing and reciting a muster list?  Even the modern Homeric separatist Rhys Carpenter could not stomach such a theory, and eventually had to fall on his intellectual sword by denying that the catalogue of ships was a Mycenaean document.  In his opinion, the catalogue reflected the “situation in early archaic classical times when Pheidon had extended his rule over Argos….”  (Folk Tale, Fiction and Saga in the Homeric Epics, p. 178.)  Carpenter even resurrected Wolf’s old theory that the “oral tradition” survived until “the Iliad was reduced to writing in sixth-century Athens….”  (Ibid., p. 179.)  The quality of Carpenter’s thought on these matters can be put in perspective when we note that he also rejected the identification of Troy with the site of Hisarlik.


Despite the constant appeal to an oral tradition, it is quite difficult to provide any proof for even the existence of such an Homeric or biblical oral tradition.  It is really a mere assumption of the so-called “higher critics” of the Bible and Homer.  Accordingly, if there is no evidence, why ascribe the stories of the Bible and Homer to oral tradition?  After all, the lack of writing samples from earlier times is the basis for the critics’ claim that biblical writers, or Homer, could not have known writing.  So if absence of evidence is regarded as evidence of absence in the case of writing, why would it not also undermine the notion of an oral tradition whose existence is also devoid of evidence?  The positivistic argument of the critics cuts both ways.  Moreover, the idea of an oral tradition is problematic in itself, for it would require that each generation passed on a large accumulation of spoken material (such as the Bible and the Iliad and Odyssey) to succeeding generations.  Would this not involve a nearly impossible memory load?  We are not speaking of Milman Parry’s implausible theory of oral composition, but rather to the 19th century version of memorized oral tradition.  (Cf., A. Parry, The Making of Homeric Verse, 1971 for Parry’s theory.)  So again, why appeal to an oral tradition if there is no evidence to prove its existence?


There are actually two answers that can be gleaned from the writings of destructive biblical and Homeric critics.  During the 19th century, Hegelian developmental and evolutionary schemes of history were fashionable, and the ancient world was conceived of as a movement of primitivism to modern civilization.  From this perspective, the Hebrews were regarded as primitive.  As Schultz said,


“Now wandering herdsmen have invariably an instinctive dislike to writing.  In fact, at the present day, it is considered a disgrace [sic] among many Bedouin tribes in the peninsula of Sinai to be able to write.  It is therefore impossible that such men could hand down their family histories, in themselves quite unimportant, in any other way than orally, to wit, in legends.  And even when writing had come into use, in the time, that is, between Moses and David, it would be but sparingly used, and much that happened to the people must still have been handed down simply as legend.” (Old Testament Theology, p. 25, 26.)


Here it can be seen that the underlying presupposition of destructive critical analysis is the developmental viewpoint.  Writing is too high an attainment for the “wandering herdsmen” of Israel, and it was “impossible” for such uncultured tribes to pass on their histories except by oral tradition.  This can only be accepted if it is already assumed that the Hebrews were originally a primitive people who gradually developed over time, and who adopted writing in their more civilized period (e.g., the time of the monarchy or after). 


On the other hand, when it comes to Homeric criticism, the poetry of the Iliad and Odyssey is ascribed to oral tradition not so much based on a developmental claim, but rather based on the theory that writing was not in existence, or in general use, among the Greeks at the time that Homer originated his poems.  It should be noted that this theory, like many higher critical theories, is of an a priori nature.  The general form of the critical argument is:


“The Bible or Homer’s description of ‘x’ could not have happened at time t (as the Bible or Homer says) because x did not exist at time t; therefore, the Bible and Homer are untrue as to their historical statements.”


In answering this type of argument, defenders of the Bible and Homer appear on the defensive.  Indeed, this type of claim is very difficult to disprove since it is an argument from silence—a very difficult argument to overcome despite its logical weakness.

Thus we have two different reasons for concocting an oral tradition as the basis for both the Bible and Homer.  One is an alleged Hebrew primitivism, and the second is the alleged absence of Greek writing during Homer’s time.  Neither of these reasons can stand up to critical scrutiny.  The 19th century critics could not have been more wrong about the ancient world, for the ancient world was a great deal more civilized than the Hegelian developmentalists recognized.  Moreover, the technology of writing turned out to be of greater antiquity than any of the biblical and Homeric critics would have thought possible:


“Contrary to the contentions of Wellhausen, who maintained, against archaeological evidence already available in his day, that writing did not appear among the Hebrews until the early monarchy, they had the means of producing written records at their disposal from very early times.”  (R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1969, p. 201.)


Far from writing beginning in the 7th century, or the 10th century, it actually begins long before those times.  Egyptian writing should have already warned the critics that writing was well established in the ancient world.  The discovery of Mesopotamian cuneiform showed that this particular script antedated even the Egyptian, going back as far as the late Uruk period.  Cuneiform was used to represent Sumerian as well as other languages, such as Accadian (which is a Semitic language), then developed into the script used by the Babylonian and Assyrian empires.  Surprisingly, cuneiform did not go out of use until 75 years after the birth of Christ.  (See, Andrew Robinson, The Story of Writing, 1995, p. 71; also Cyrus Gordon, Forgotten Scripts, 1968, pp. 55ff.)


Abraham was from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, so it is highly likely that he used cuneiform as his mode of writing.  This would also have been the writing used by Abraham’s descendents at least until the Egyptian captivity, at which point the Hebrews would likely have learned Egyptian writing.  It should be noted that the putative adoption of Egyptian symbolism during the Israelite sojourn does not require that the Israelites adopted the Egyptian language.  Undoubtedly, a few Israelites (such as Joseph and Moses) would have learned Egyptian, but most would have spoken their traditional language, the language of their forefathers.  In other words, it is likely that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob spoke an Eblaite-type Semitic (or “Habiru”) language, and their descendents would have retained the same language, even if residing in Egypt for a long stretch of time.  (On our theory, the “Habiru” were the Hebrews during the period of the Judges.)


In addition to Egyptian and cuneiform writing, the ancient world saw the development of Hittite, the oldest Indo-European language on record, which according to linguists, is related to Greek, Latin, and even English.  (Gordon, p. 86.)  The addition of the Ebla tablets in recent years has also shed a great deal of light on the ancient world, joining the Mari archives, the Amarna tablets, and other ancient records.  What these scripts and languages tell us is that writing was common in the ancient world.  We should not assume, of course, that the widespread use of writing means public literacy.  There is certainly no way of knowing how much public literacy existed in the ancient world, but it is reasonable to assume that writing was generally confined to educated men, and these would be in the main scribes, public servants, the priestly class, and perhaps even merchants and soldiers.  Not only was the technology of writing available to the educated classes of the ancient world, but there was also available a body of literature, much of which can be perused in James Breasted’s four volume Ancient Records of Egypt and James Pritchard’s two volume anthology, The Ancient Near East.


The bottom line is that there is no need for the hypothesis of an oral tradition, since writing was readily available to the cultures of the ancient world.  Not only is there no need, but we can also turn the positivistic tables on the critics and point out that there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence for an oral tradition in the ancient world.  If there was, what are the names of the transmitters?  Where did they live?  When did the oral compositions get started in the first place?  What was the date of transmission?  By appeal to an unprovable oral tradition, the critics have made it too easy for themselves. 


It has been noted that scholars are prepared to accept a perishable materials theory to account for the continuity of pottery motifs over centuries of supposed darkness.  This theory, however, makes much more sense when applied to writing.  If a perishable materials theory is acceptable to scholars as an explanation of sample-absence in the case of pottery, then a fortiori, it would seem to be an acceptable explanation in the case of writing.  It would certainly undermine the need to postulate the existence of an oral tradition.


There is then little reason to suppose that the historical accounts in the Bible or in Homer are late merely because of the alleged absence of writing, or the presumed primitivism of ancient peoples.  After the invention of the alphabet, there is even less reason to deny that ancient peoples practiced the art of writing—not only for record-keeping, but also for literary work.


d.  Mysteries of the Alphabet


The alphabet is regarded as involving mystery in that no one is quite sure who invented it or when.  Despite its mystery, the alphabet is a remarkable example of simplification and functionality.  So far scholars have traced the alphabet back from Greece to Phoenicia, then to what they refer to as “proto-Canaanite,” and further back to “proto-Sinaitic.”  Recently, alphabetic script has been traced even further back than the proto-Sinaitic.  On the other hand, some creative individuals used the alphabetic principle with a different script known as Ugaritic.


(1)  Ugaritic:  This symbol-system was believed to have originated in the fourteenth century B.C. (using conventional dating).  This is sometime after the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet was in use.  The Ugaritic system is drawn in what looks like cuneiform, but this is only a superficial resemblance.  Apparently, the inventor of the Ugaritic script did not want to use Egyptian-derived symbols, but wanted to use what looked like the old symbolism of Mesopotamia.  After the invention of writing, and of the alphabet, this script could easily be referred to as the third wonder of the linguistic world.  In a stunning example of abstract thinking, the inventor of Ugaritic realized that he could maintain the functional notion of an alphabet (with less than thirty letters) and apply the alphabetic concept in a different linguistic matrix.  There was certainly nothing primitive about this discovery; it was rather a stroke of genius.  Unfortunately, this script disappeared when Ugarit was destroyed by the Sea Peoples, conventionally dated to c. 1200 B.C. (or late 10th century for New Courville)—and thus was lost to the world for many centuries a unique contribution to abstract thought.


(2) Proto-Canaanite:  This is the alphabet used later by the Phoenicians.  It would be preferable to call it “proto-Alphabetic,” and indeed some have already started using this term.  To speak of “proto-Canaanite” makes assumptions about the correctness of conventional chronology that we cannot accept.  From the New Courville perspective, it was the Hebrews who occupied the land of Canaan during the Middle Bronze Age down to the end of the Iron Age.  Thus the inscriptions found in the Holy Land or in Lebanon on a couple dozen items—household objects, arrowheads, pottery fragments, etc.,¾could just as well be Hebrew writing.  According to David Sacks:


“The older relics all were found to the south, in southern Israel.  This may indicate that the technology of alphabet-writing spread northward up the coast during those centuries.  The latest-dated items, arrowheads from Lebanon, in the north, merge into the start of the Phoenician alphabet, both in time and place.”  (Letter Perfect, 2003, p. 33.)


While Sacks would ascribe these alphabet fragments to the Canaanites, New Courville would hold that the Israelites were the primary users of the alphabet in the Holy Land region.  Their influence spread northward to Lebanon, and hence to the Phoenicians and later to the Greeks.  We could just as well speak of this as “proto-Hebrew.”  However, the Israelites did not drive out all of the Canaanites from the land, so the possibility remains that some of the remaining Canaanites could have invented the alphabet.  It is also possible that the Egyptians themselves invented the alphabet.  Hence, while proto-Hebrew is probably closer to the truth in describing the situation in the Holy Land, a term such as “proto-Alphabetic” is neutral with respect to which ethnic group invented the alphabet—Hebrews, Canaanites, or Egyptians.


(3)  Proto-Sinaitic: This was an alphabet discovered at the mines of Serabit el Khadim, in the desert of Sinai, and for a long time this script was regarded as the prototype of the “Canaanite” alphabet.  There are about 30 symbols and at least half are derivative of Egyptian hieroglyphics from the 18th dynasty (time of Hatshepsut).  This script was first deciphered by A. H. Gardiner, and was of interest because it was conventionally dated to the 15th century B.C.—the time of the Exodus.  However, proto-Sinaitic was used to record votive offerings to the Egyptian goddess, Hathor, so it is unlikely that the Hebrews were involved in the use of this particular script.  (The Israelites were forbidden to make idols or worship other gods than the Lord.)


(4)  Wadi el-Hol script:  During the 1990’s the Egyptologist John Darnell discovered rock writing near Luxor that contained alphabetic symbols among other hieroglyphic and hieratic symbols.  David Sacks says:


“By 1998, Darnell and others had reached a couple of dramatic conclusions.  First, the two inscriptions are probably the oldest alphabetic writing yet discovered, certainly the oldest that can be dated confidently: They were carved in about 1800 B.C. [sic], give or take a century.  More important, the inscriptions can be viewed as signposts that point directly back to the alphabet’s invention.  On the basis of the Wadi el-Hol evidence, that invention is now assigned to around 2000 B.C. [sic], in Egypt—about three centuries earlier (and in a different country) than previously thought.”  (Ibid., p. 37.)


So far then, the origin of the alphabet has been traced back to 2000 B.C. on conventional dating.  This date is correlated to archaeologists with the MB2a archaeological strata, and 1800 B.C. is correlated to the transitional period MB2a/b.  On the New Courville view, the time of MB2a represents the Israelites during their first fifty or so years in the Promised Land.


e)  Gaps in the alphabetic record:


The accepted dates for the use of the alphabet pose a problem.  How was the knowledge of alphabetic writing transmitted over hundreds of years?  The available evidence suggests that there are mere islands of alphabetic writing amid an ocean of blank linguistic history.  Did later alphabetic users travel to the earlier Wadi el Hol rock carvings and learn the alphabet from scratch?  Did later “Canaanites” go down to Sinai and discern the earlier Serabit alphabetic symbols?  What about the Ahiram inscriptions?  Where did the son of Ahiram learn his alphabet?  Here we have significant gaps in the history of the alphabet.  What was the means of transmission?  How was the continuity of knowledge preserved?


As the CoD group notes, a similar problem affects the Greeks.  There is clear evidence of the use of writing in Greece prior to the so-called Dark Age.  This was the Linear B script that was deciphered by Michael Ventris and shown to represent the Greek language.  And yet, it is held that the Greeks lapsed into a state of illiteracy during the “Dark Age” of Greece and did not regain literacy until the 8th century at the earliest.  The problem is that the earliest Greek writing resembles the so-called proto-Canaanite of much earlier centuries.  Pyle McCarter argued that the “memory” of the alphabet survived through the dark period, but Joseph Naveh regarded this as impossible, and that the Greeks must have adopted the alphabet as early as the “11th” century B.C.  On the other hand, Coldstream reported the orthodox view as that the Greeks adopted the alphabet during the eighth century.  The CoD group says:


“The origin of the Greek alphabet thus provides an almost perfect paradox.  While Near Eastern experts, using paleographic arguments, are increasingly drawn to the view that the Greeks borrowed the alphabet as early as the 11th century B.C., there is still a genuine absence of datable examples from the Aegean before the 8th century.”  (James, Centuries of Darkness, p. 85.)


The people of Cyprus also appear to have gone through a similar bout of illiteracy.  Strangely, they adopted a script in the 8th century that was very similar to a script that had died out 400 years earlier on conventional views.  S. Casson suggested that the knowledge of their script was preserved by “bards,” i.e., an oral tradition, but the CoD group rightly rejects this view:


“Certainly bards passed on heroic tales (such as the Homeric cycle), but surely their particular fame lay in their ability to do so orally.  How could they transmit ‘a script’ without writing it down?  Had they done so, where are the examples?”  (Ibid., p. 150.)


Despite the CoD group’s apparent confusion of oral performance with oral transmission, their comments highlight the problems in the earlier alphabet.  It would be absurd to think the MB2a “Wadi el-Hol” script was passed down by means of oral tradition to the proto-Sinaitic writers.  The whole purpose of a script is for writing, not speaking.  And yet, if the transmission was by writing, why don’t we find more examples of rock writing, or more fragments of alphabetic writing on sherds or arrowheads, etc?  How can the gaps be crossed?


The answer would seem to be fairly obvious.  Most of the alphabetic writings of the ancient world were on perishable materials such as papyrus, animal skins, or parchment-like scrolls.  In the case of the Greeks, there is little reason to doubt that the historical annals of the Trojan War were available to Homer, much like the Catalogue of Ships (a Mycenaean muster list) was available to the poet.  And yet there are no samples of writing to be found in Greece for the period after the end of the Mycenaean period down to the 8th century at least.  This should occasion no surprise, however, for the scrolls or parchment-like material used to record significant events in the ancient world simply did not last very long.  That is what a “perishable” materials theory is about, i.e., the acknowledgement that decay was a fact of life in most regions of the ancient world.  It is just our sheer luck that someone decided to decorate stone walls or ceramic vessels or other items with alphabetic characters or sentences.  We are even luckier when some of these items were either fired when completed, or burned in the sack of a city, thus allowing them to be preserved.


To be sure, the evidence for Greek writing (i.e., samples of papyrus, etc.) prior to the 8th century is lacking, but the same could be said for the Holy Land, for Phoenicia, for Anatolia, for a whole host of other nations of the ancient world.  For instance, we do not have any original annals, genealogies, or other royal records from the monarchy and divided kingdom periods in Israel.  The only reason we have any knowledge of what life was like in those days was that the Jews during their history understood the dangers of relying on perishables to preserve their history, and thus copied and recopied, and even later wrote books that commented upon, and incorporated, annals and records from earlier periods in Israel’s history.


We also know that the biblical writers wrote on scrolls.  The prophet Isaiah makes reference to such writings:


“Moreover, the Lord said to me, ‘Take a large scroll, and write on it with a man’s pen.…” (Isa. 8:1).


In Jeremiah, we also read about the “roll of a book”—showing that books in the Bible were stacks of parchment rolled up into scrolls.  When Isaiah elsewhere says, “Bind up” the testimony, “seal” the message, what he is saying is to use string to keep the scroll from unraveling, and seal the scroll with wax, so that anybody who opened the scroll would break the wax seal.


Isaiah was writing in the 8th century B.C., yet we have no Israelite scrolls from that time.  It would certainly be a fallacious view that because there are no surviving scrolls from the 8th century in the Holy Land, all those who lived in Isaiah’s time were illiterate.  This could also be said for Phoenicia, yet Phoenicia offers us no samples of writing on parchment during its flourishing, even though Josephus tells us that Phoenicia’s historical annals were still extant and could be visited.


As noted, it is likely that the Hebrews began writing on papyrus when the sons of Jacob immigrated to Egypt during the days of Joseph.  The history of Jacob’s ancestors was probably transferred from cuneiform to papyrus at this time, which was also probably used to record the later events of the Exodus and Conquest, as well as the legal and liturgical revelation contained in the Pentateuch.  It is just that papyrus and parchment are not permanent, so we lack all of this original source material.  What we have are copies—and copies of copies, and so on—i.e., the Bible.


In the Bible, the word “book” (cepher) is used 23 times in Genesis through Joshua.  There are 15 references to the word “write” (kathab).  It is noteworthy that in Exodus 17:14 we have mention of a book, of the practice of writing, and of oral recitation, all in one verse:


“And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” 


We believe that what is true of Israel was also true of Greece.  It is likely they wrote their histories, annals, genealogies, etc. on papyrus, or parchment-like material, and recited poetic and historic stories to the general public.  The notion of an “oral tradition” as a substitute for writing is just an unnecessary hypothesis.


Some might think that the postulation of perishable writing material for the ancient world is just an act of faith, and that it is more likely that writing on stone or mud-brick was the normal way of writing.  However, such a claim is undermined by the example of Egypt.  It is fortunate that Egypt is a dry climate that allows for the long preservation of papyrus writing, some of it going back to the Old Kingdom.  In the case of Egypt, it can be seen that writing on stone (by hieroglyphs) was complemented by writing on papyrus.  A simplified form of cursive writing (later called hieratic) was used for rapid writing on papyrus.  Thus, there is no obvious reason why writing on stone would rule out the practice of writing on perishable materials.  The problem is that, even in the case of Egypt’s ideal environment for the preservation of writing, only a comparatively small amount has survived the ravages of time.  Christine Hobson says:


“Besides stories, other material that survived includes poetry…and love letters, as well as other kinds of letters, tax demands, trial accounts and bills of sale.  In total, although it has been estimated that only a tiny proportion of actual written material may have survived, what remains does allow us to look into the minds and lives of ordinary people.”  (The World of the Pharaohs, 1987, p. 163.)  


If only a “tiny proportion” of written material has survived in an ideal environment for preservation (such as Egypt or the Dead Sea), the chances of finding written material anywhere else is low.  But this does not require the inference that such writings did not exist—and thus the need to postulate an oral tradition as a means of preserving history or poetry over the centuries.


9.  Summary


The New Courville position is that to the extent that there was a Greek “dark age,” it was of relatively short duration (a view also held by Courville and the CoD group).  Whatever brief dark age Greece may have experienced was no doubt a result of multiple migrations in Greece after the collapse of Mycenaean civilization.  It is a mistake to appeal to the so-called European Dark Age in order to shore up the notion of a Greek dark age.  In reality, the European Dark Age was relatively brief, lasting little more than 50 to 75 years, and the history of Europe in the Middle Ages was not nearly as dark as was supposed by Petrarch or the Enlightenment philosophes.


There was a great deal of continuity between the Mycenaean and New Kingdom Egyptian art and pottery styles and the later Geometric styles despite the supposed passage of hundreds of years.  It is true that much ancient history has been lost to us, but this is not because a centuries long “dark age” settled in unawares upon previously thriving ancient cultures.  Rather, much has been lost because the writing materials of the ancient world were perishable, just as many of our own materials are.  Paper crumbles after a few years, and the same could be said for papyrus, animal skins, or clay tablets.  The only reason historians know as much as they know about Egypt, or other countries of the ancient world, is that the ancients sometimes wrote on highly imperishable stone walls (as in Egypt), or else clay tablets were baked hard by fire when cities were overrun (especially Boghazkoy, Ugarit, Ebla, Pylos, etc.).


Moreover, the absence of writing samples in no way requires the conclusion that writing was non-existent, as the example of Isaiah shows, nor requires the view that there was a real dark age in Greece lasting from Mycenaean times to the 8th century, requiring the existence of an oral tradition to keep literacy alive.


Occasionally, manuscripts are preserved—witness the Dead Sea scrolls—but unless royal annals and government records were copied and recopied or incorporated into later books (as was the Bible), the histories of many ancient peoples are forever lost.  As we have said, however, this is not a “dark age” problem.  Rather, it is a technological problem, a failure of the medium, not a failure of history.  Thus, we should be on our guard against uncritical dark age theories—i.e., the notion that a centuries long “dark age” could set in at the end of highly literate civilizations.


As noted, New Courville would date the Dorian migration to around 900 B.C. or a little later.  In so far as a “dark age” may have existed in Greece, we could not allow a length beyond about 50 or 60 years—similar to the Arthurian period in England.  It would start with the collapse of Mycenaean civilization around 910 B.C. and end about 850 B.C.  Thus, of the approximately 400 or so years assigned to the Greek “dark ages,” 350 years can be eliminated based upon a correction of conventional chronology (from 1200 to 850 B.C.)  We can eliminate quite a number of years of the period after the dark age since at least two or three generations of public literacy probably came before the Dipylon wine jug, dated to 740 B.C.  This jug was a prize at a sports competition, and writing is often used on trophies, so we are just plain fortunate to have found such a prize.  Greece undoubtedly came out of its “dark age” before 740 B.C.:


“It could be argued that Greece remained in a state of darkness until at least the middle of the eighth century, in other words until the probable time that the Greeks recovered the art of writing, until the first occasion of a more or less accurate record of certain events.  This may indeed by more correct, but there is strong and increasing evidence that at least for the Aegean the period after 900 B.C. was one of increasing progress, wealth, and expansion, suggesting that our ignorance is not due to their obscurity.”  (GDA, p. 11.)


If we were to adopt Desborough’s view, we might be able to eliminate the Greek “dark age” entirely from the New Courville view of Greek history.  However, even if there was material prosperity during the 9th century, it does not necessarily entail that writing was available to the public at large, as it would have been in the later “Dipylon” period.