Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Dark Ages

The Dark Ages

The grim picture of Athens provided by the archaeological evidence suggests that recovery during the Dark Ages was slow and gradual. As few architectural remains survive, almost all our information comes from wells and graves. Other than a few bronzes and, later, some iron tools and weapons, pottery is the main survival from these difficult centuries (1100–750  B . C .). The pots are decorated in a distinctive style, with painted geometric designs. There is no contemporary written evidence, either literary or documentary, to supplement the archaeological record.

The numbers of wells and graves increase from the tenth to the eighth century, suggesting a steadily rising population. The graves seem to reflect a social structure similar to that found later in the Archaic period (750–500  B . C .), when there was an aristocracy based on ownership of property. The highest propertied class were the pentakosiomedimnoi, those whose land produced 500 medimnoi (about 730 bushels) of grain a year. A grave found in the Agora dating to the ninth century contained the cremated remains of an Athenian lady buried with a lovely set of gold earrings and other jewelry. Among the grave goods was an unusual box of clay with miniature representations of five granaries on the lid, almost certainly a reference to her high status as a member of the pentakosiomedimnoi.

The second propertied class was the hippeis (knights); as the name suggests, these were people wealthy enough to own horses. A ninth-century grave, identifiable as that of a warrior by the iron sword wrapped around the man’s burial urn, also contained the iron bridle bits for his horse. Graves of other members of the hippeis can perhaps be identified by 
16. Burial urn and grave gifts from the tomb of a rich Athenian woman, ca. 85 b.c.; the pyxis with five granaries appears in the left foreground.

pyxides (cosmetics boxes) with small clay horses serving as the handles for their lids. Huge vases, up to 2 meters tall and decorated with geometric ornament and friezes of highly stylized human figures, birds, horses, and deer, were used to mark important graves. Often they depict funerary scenes, with groups of mourners gathered around the bier. Extensive cemeteries from this period (known from the pottery as Geometric) have been excavated in several areas of Athens and at many sites in Attica: Merenda and Anavyssos (finds displayed in the Brauron Museum), Marathon (Marathon Museum), and Eleusis (Eleusis Museum) are among the most extensive.

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