Hellenic History - George Botsford - ebook

In the history of the Greeks the centre of interest lies, not in their peninsula, but in the coasts and islands of the Aegean sea, which collectively formed the very heart of Hellas. It was not till they had passed the zenith of their development that the interior and north of the mainland came into prominence. For their beginnings it is instructive to take note of their situation in the great cultural area which borders the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. In this area mankind first emerged from barbarism. It is a region which at the dawn of history was especially subject to immigration. We may infer, then, that from concentration, added to natural growth, and the population became too dense to find support in hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits and nuts. The productive valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates, and to a less degree the small alluvial plains at the mouths of the rivers on both Aegean coasts, invited to agriculture. From tilling the soil, however rudely, to the higher stages of civilization the way was comparatively easy.            This development was favored by the mild, sub-tropical climate. Less enervating than the equatorial heat, it yet rendered life far easier than is possible in the temperate zones. On the Mediterranean shores men need less food, clothing, and shelter. They live more in the open air in social contact with one another. Thus their struggle for existence is not all-absorbing; they have more leisure to devote to thought and to the creation of the adornments of life and more opportunity for discussion, for the interchange and clarification of ideas...

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George Botsford


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IN THE HISTORY OF THE Greeks the centre of interest lies, not in their peninsula, but in the coasts and islands of the Aegean sea, which collectively formed the very heart of Hellas. It was not till they had passed the zenith of their development that the interior and north of the mainland came into prominence. For their beginnings it is instructive to take note of their situation in the great cultural area which borders the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. In this area mankind first emerged from barbarism. It is a region which at the dawn of history was especially subject to immigration. We may infer, then, that from concentration, added to natural growth, and the population became too dense to find support in hunting, fishing and gathering wild fruits and nuts. The productive valleys of the Nile and the Euphrates, and to a less degree the small alluvial plains at the mouths of the rivers on both Aegean coasts, invited to agriculture. From tilling the soil, however rudely, to the higher stages of civilization the way was comparatively easy.

This development was favored by the mild, sub-tropical climate. Less enervating than the equatorial heat, it yet rendered life far easier than is possible in the temperate zones. On the Mediterranean shores men need less food, clothing, and shelter. They live more in the open air in social contact with one another. Thus their struggle for existence is not all-absorbing; they have more leisure to devote to thought and to the creation of the adornments of life and more opportunity for discussion, for the interchange and clarification of ideas.

Communication between the Aegean region and the Orient was easy. The ships of Crete sailed south but a short way to Libya, and thence crept along the coast to the Delta. The Aegean shores are lined with harbors well adapted to the small vessels of early time—in fact; the sea between these coasts is itself, so to speak, a great harbor opening to the Orient. These conditions brought southeastern Europe, and the adjacent Anatolian coast, into closest historical relations with the East.

Broadly, then, the Aegean region was one with the great valleys of the Nile and Euphrates; all were included in the home of the oldest civilization. Within this wide area, however, were striking contrasts of geography, hence of historical growth. The Aegean region, on the highway of migration and traffic between two continents, attracted strangers of diverse race and genius; and these immigrant peculiarities combined to make the Greeks extremely versatile. The interaction, too, of strangers upon one another, their rivalries and efforts at mutual adjustment, provided a most powerful stimulus to progress.

In Babylonia, on the other hand, this force was less operative while in Egypt it existed only at certain crises. Great political contrasts, too, arose. The necessity of regulating the waters of the Nile and Euphrates called into existence vast systems of cooperative labor enforced by an absolute king, whereas in the Aegean world the division of the country into little islands or on the main lands, diminutive plains separated by high mountain ranges, encouraged the grouping of the population in small independent communities. The conditions of life within these little states, together with the reciprocal relations among them, contributed enormously to the development of individuality and intelligence. The genius of the people in these directions was further determined by the mountainous character of their country. In this rugged environment a man could readily make a living for himself and his family in independence, by hunting birds and beasts, pasturing a few domestic animals, and tilling a small patch of ground. He had little need of neighbors, still less of kings. His courage he exercised in battle with the wild boar, the bear, leopard, and lion. Against any force likely to menace his home he could depend on his strong arm, or at the worst on flight to some hidden or guarded refuge, hence arose his fearlessness, the foundation of his character. On the sole basis of courage rested liberty to do and think; on liberty rested intelligence and individuality.

In a large degree, too, the nature of the people was determined by the products of their country. Although Greece could never compare in fertility with central Europe, England, or America, it was far more productive anciently than now. There was then a smaller area of bare rock; the soil was thicker, richer and better supplied with moisture. Yet even in earliest times it was but a lean country with its thin flesh barely covering the bones, which here and there protruded nakedly. High mountain tops were crowned with bald rocks, bordered with a fringe of alpine plants. Below the snow line grew forests of pine, fir, cedar, oaks of several kinds, beech, bay, and some wild fruits as the apple, pear, and grape. The plane and cypress are thought to l)e importations, and the chestnut, walnut, and almond do not appear till late in history. The thin woods permitted the growth of brush and grass, which pastured domestic animals. The mountaineer gave his chief attention to rearing pigs, fattening them on the abundant acorns, which afforded, too, a substantial element of the family diet.

On the mountain side, below the forest zone lays the drier, thinner soiled scrub-land, covered with the anemone, asphodel (hyacinth), myrtle, juniper, and other plants. There was a lack of berries, but the many flowers gave food to bees that supplied the inhabitants with their sole material sweetness. Over this zone of scrub ruled the shepherds with their herds of sheep and goats that perpetually nibbled their dry, prickly food, and furnished the more refined people of the valleys with leather, wool, milk, and meat. For the protection of their flocks and pasture rights the shepherds became war lords, each surrounded by an army of savage dogs. The winter cold drove them to encroach on the neighboring plains, where often on questions of trespass and damage they waged battle with the tillers of the soil. These plains lay either wholly surrounded by mountains or between mountain range and sea. Here the soil, none too good, produced wheat when at its best; otherwise barley, spelt, and millet. Among the vegetables were peas, beans, onions, leeks, and garlic. The fruits were apples, pears, quinces, pomegranates, figs, grapes, and chief of all, olives. The date-palm grew in southern Peloponnese and the neighboring islands. Olive oil was used for food, for anointing the body, and for burning in lamps. Flax provided oil and linen. In addition to fowls and the smaller domestic animals the farmers reared donkeys, mules, and occasionally cows. There were few horses except in Boeotia and Thessaly; and everywhere they were “the ornament of luxurious wealth,” used by the cavalry in war, and in time of peace for riding and driving, but never as beasts of burden. Summarily, the animal and vegetable products, far from affecting a surplus of riches, were too scant to support meagerly a moderately dense population. If a leisurely class was to exist and a high degree of refinement to be attained, the Greeks would have to find other sources of wealth.

Turning from farming and grazing to minerals, we discover an almost equal lack of resources. Euboea produced copper, though not nearly enough to supply the demand; and for tin, a necessary ingredient of much-used bronze, the Greeks had to depend wholly on importations. It was not till near the end of the second millennium B.C. that they began to use iron in the industries. They found it in Euboea and the island of Seriphus, and far more abundantly in the mountain range of Taygetus, Laconia. In spite of this restricted mining area the yield allowed a surplus for export. Of the two precious metals, gold must have been relatively abundant and easily obtained in the Minoan age, though we do not know where was the source of supply. In the historical period it was found in the islands of Siphnos and Thasos and the opposite Thracian coast. Doubtless, however, some of the gold used by the Greeks came from foreign lands. Silver was mined along with the gold; and in Attica Laurium produced it with lead. In building-stone alone is all Greece rich; and the best of marbles come from Mount Pentelicus in Attica and the island of Paros. In the fourth century the Athenians began to derive profit from its exportation. Last but not least in importance were the clay fields distributed over all Greece, which made possible the potter’s trade. No coal was mined, and even now within the Mediterranean basin little has been found and that of inferior quality. Wood and charcoal supplied the heat necessary for cooking and the industries. The natural economic resources, however varied, were all limited in quantity. A Greek therefore had to make the best use of his scant means, to study economy. Next to fearlessness and love of liberty, moderation was the greatest quality of the race. This principle holds not only for eating, drinking, shelter and the other material things of life, but equally for literature and the fine arts. The simple self-restraint of Hellenism, the product of a long, severe training, contrasts with the redundancy of means employed by all other European artists ancient and modern.

Another feature of Greece which bore powerfully on character is to be sought in the lack of unity between coast and interior. We have seen that the nature of the country—its division by waters and by high mountain ranges into islands and little plains—prevented the inhabitants from massing together in large social and political groups. Exploitation of the interior and the north, which formed their “back country,” would have demanded a united effort, like that which brought the North American colonies under a single government. But this region was crowded with mountains inaccessible and repellent, which forced the plain and coast people to the sea as their sphere of life -— to colonization and commerce. This course of action still further stimulated their intelligence and enterprise, but tended even more to decentralization. Whereas great continental undertakings call for unity, a single city whether Athens or Venice has found it easier unhampered by political dependence to create a great naval power and an extensive commerce.

The factors that mould character thus far considered are in whole or part economic. It is possible, however, to find in the country physical features which acted directly on the mind. First of all is the endless variety, contrasting with the monotony of Egypt, the ever changing landscapes which made for versatility. Whereas the Egyptians seem to us like so many slices from the same cheese, we find among the ancient Greeks as great differences as among civilized men of the whole world today. There was no typical Greek. The landscapes, too, are always suggestive. Beyond the nearer range is another higher, and the one still further away presents an opening through which are revealed more distant heights. Thus the imagination is tempted forth beyond its immediate .surroundings, to embark on voyages of mental exploration. The beauty it meets on the way is not sensuous, inviting to eat, drink, and sleep. Rather it is intellectual, appealing to the noblest faculties of man. These naked, jagged mountain heights, be it noticed, have no economic value. They do their part in awakening a love of beauty for its own sake, which has created for all time the absolute ideal of art. Akin is the love of truth for its own sake, that noble intellectual ideal, unmastered by thought of worldly gain, which made the Greeks the discoverers of the principles of knowledge, the creators of science and philosophy.



NEOLITHIC AGE TO 3000 B.C. Our earliest glimpse of the Aegean area reveals a people in possession of the neolithic culture; as yet they were ignorant of the metals but had learned to polish their stone implements with a view to increasing the cutting power. A good opportunity for the study of progress during the neolithic age is afforded by Cnossus, Crete. The deposits left by the people of this culture on the site of the palace there, measuring in places twenty feet in depth, were doubtless accumulating through several thousand years. During this long age we can trace the slow evolution of mankind by the fragments of pottery which still survive. In the lowest stratum they are of crude clay roughly fashioned by hand. Gradually the potter learned to purify his material, to mould it in somewhat more pleasing forms, and to fire it in an oven. Meanwhile he was making the earliest attempts at ornamentation. The first step was to scratch the surface with angular lines, whence developed the style described as geometric; the next was to fill the incisions with a white chalky substance—the beginning of vase painting. Other varieties of neolithic earthenware need not be considered here.

Neolithic life. From material found at Cnossus and in deposits of the same age elsewhere we learn that the people of the time used stone axes, hammers, and knives besides many utensils of bone and horn. Undoubtedly their chief material for weapons and implements was wood, all of which however has perished. At first they clothed themselves in skins, and this material continued down into historical Greece in the dress of the country folk; but before the end of the age the chiefs and their families were in a position to array themselves in woven garments, a waist-cloth for men and a skirt for women. In earlier times they lived in round, rarely oval, huts of wattle daubed with clay; only in course of centuries and in favorable conditions did the abode become a rectangle divided into several rooms and protected with walls of small rough stones. In their light boats they rowed freely from isle to isle to exchange their simple wares. The occurrence of a similar style of pottery, not only over the Aegean isles but as far distant as Cyprus and Egypt, proves the existence of commerce throughout this extended area. It is the connection with Egypt, whose chronology in broad outline is known even for this remote time, which enables us to fix the date for the close of the neolithic age at about 3000.

Minoan Age (3000-1200) The bronze (or more strictly, copper bronze) age which developed from the neolithic, is now widely known as Minoan, after Minos, a legendary king, or perhaps a god, of Crete. Dr. Evans, the explorer of Cnossus, divides the Minoan age into three periods Early, Middle, and Late. In the present volume the term Mycenaean will be treated as equivalent to “Late Minoan.”

Early Minoan (Copper) Age (3000-2200) In the beginning of the Early Minoan age the potter invented a black glaze for washing his wares. On the lustrous surface thus produced he painted wide bands in white, or rarely, red. Sometimes he left to the surface its natural buff, whereon he placed black-glaze stripes. These elements of art continued down to historical Greece. Gradually the molding and painting attained freedom and variety. As the pointed instrument yielded to the brush, zigzags naturally developed into curvilinear and simple spiral designs. Here, too, appears the first evidence of the potter’s wheel slowly followed the effort to express the forms of living things all in geometric style. The human body was represented by two triangles, the points coming together at the girdle. The legs and arms were little more than lines. Equally crude are the statuettes, presumably idols, of the same age. In the carving of stone vessels, however, the artist reached perfection.

Melos A leading centre of culture in this period was the island of Melos. Here were quarries of obsidian, a hard, volcanic rock, which splits readily into thin blades, and was therefore especially serviceable for knives, razors and all sharp-bladed or sharp pointed instruments. By exporting wares of the kind in great quantities to neighboring lands the Melians grew relatively prosperous. Hence they were able to make progress in the comforts of life. Next after them followed the inhabitants of the neighboring Cyclades, and in fact their influence was felt from the coast of Argolis, Greece, to Troy in Asia Minor.

Dwellings and tombs In this period the rectangular house became larger, more substantial, and better furnished. Many a chieftain must have had his palace, but the one at Troy is best known to us. This site had been occupied in the transition to the Bronze Age, and the settlement of which we now speak is the second. The essential element of the palace is a great hall (megaron) with a central hearth. From this room we pass through a door into a vestibule formed by the projecting walls, and from there into a large open court. This type of dwelling originated in central Europe. The same plan is afterward found on a more complex scale in the palace at Tiryns. In exposed places from the beginning of the age men were wont to fortify their settlements with rude walls of uncut stones, whereas other cities, like those of Crete, remained unprotected.

Copper, pictographs The great innovation of the age was the introduction of copper, most probably from Egypt and Cyprus. It was used for tools and weapons. Silver and gold became known in the same period. Copper was followed at an interval of centuries by bronze. For a long time, however, stone maintained its place in the useful arts. Equally important was the adoption of a system of picture writing, pictographs. They are found in Crete on seals of ivory, stone, and other material in the form of cylinders, buttons, and prisms. Their near resemblance to Egyptian types proves an intercourse between these two countries in the age of their production. Other wares were exchanged in this period, and Egyptian records mention the Aegean folk by name. It is this commerce which enables us to set the closing date of the Early Minoan age at about 2200.

Area of the culture In this period the Aegean civilization extended from the Cyclades to Troy and Cyprus and in the opposite direction to the coasts of Greece. There were many local varieties of culture. Although early in the age Troy and the Cyclades had the lead, Trojan progress was checked by the destruction of the city, whereas the islands continued their advance. In Crete the eastern towns were the most progressive. Meanwhile the Aegean folk were carrying their products to Egypt, as stated above, and in other directions to the valley of the Danube and to Sicily and southern Italy.

Middle Minoan (First Bronze) Age (2200-1600) Toward the close of the third millennium B.C. central Crete came decidedly to the front. This change marks the beginning of the Middle Minoan period. The chief seats of culture were Cnossus and Phaestus. Near Phaestus the modern village of Hagia Triada marks a third important site. The east was occupied by lesser cities, whereas in the west of the island no remains of the age have as yet been unearthed.

The Minoan civilization now entered upon its most brilliant period. The invention of the wheel enabled the potter to develop his trade into a fine art. The most beautiful specimens are of the Kamares type — so-named after the cave on Mount Ida, where they were first discovered. The clay, reduced to the utmost purity, was moulded in artistic forms. In the egg-shell thinness of their walls they may be compared with the best Haviland china of today. The painted designs on them are in various shades of white, orange, crimson, and yellow, developing from the two main color classes of the preceding age. The aim was not the representation of nature but the creation of a brilliant harmony of colors. In time, however, the polychrome ornamentation gave way to the simpler principles of the earlier age, while there developed a close imitation of natural objects. Equally naturalistic are the patterns in faience for which the close of the Middle Minoan period is famous.’

Palaces, Writing Early in the age the kings of Cnossus and Phaestus built great palaces. After two or three centuries they were destroyed or fell to ruin, whereupon the kings proceeded to erect new dwellings on a grander scale. The interior walls they decorated with frescoes from human life and nature. Within the Cnossian palace the art of writing reached a high stage of development. From the original pictographs arose a linear script, in which some characters are doubtless ideographs, denoting things rather than sounds or groups of sounds, whereas others seem to represent syllables. Royal archives of clay tablets indicate its use for governmental business. The old system of writing continued by the side of the new. In the deposits which close the age the excavator of Phaestus found a clay disk covered on both sides with pictographs, evidently stamped on the clay while still soft, and representing therefore the first-known printing with movable types. As the characters are quite different from the Minoan, the disk evidently came from some outlying region, perhaps Asia Minor.

Late Minoan (Mycenaean) Age (1600-1200) In the beginning of the late Minoan age Cretan civilization, having achieved its utmost, began to stagnate; it no longer created new forms but merely repeated stereotyped conventions. For a time, however, we find a political advance. Cnossus and Phaestus still flourished while other cities declined and disappeared. It would perhaps accord best with the facts to suppose that the king of Cnossus now ruled the whole island and made use of Phaestus as a secondary capital.

The Cnossian palace attained to the acme of its grandeur about 1500. To this period belong most of the mural frescoes still preserved. In vase ornamentation the characteristic development was the “palace” style, which sacrificed the natural to a desire for decorative unity. The age attained great skill in bronze work and in inlaying metals with other substances. In writing, linear script superseded the pictographs, and a new and improved linear style developed from the old.

Throughout the Early and Middle Minoan ages the Greek peninsula lagged far behind the Aegean isles in culture. During nearly all this time Thessaly and Boeotia remained neolithic and farther south the peninsula made but little progress beyond this condition. A great change came with the beginning of the Late Minoan time; in fact this age had not advanced far when the leadership in culture shifted to Troy and still more to Greece, where Tiryns, Mycenae, and Orchomenus were entering upon an era of artistic and political splendor.

Life in Crete and Mycenae (2000-1400) The abundance of material that has reached us from the Middle Minoan and early Mycenaean ages affords a clear and comprehensive view of the life of those times. The dominant racial type was a long skull, oval face, brown complexion, black hair, and short stature — the physique of the south Italian or Sicilian of today. These people were thin and wiry with “wasp-waists,” lively in action, dependent on agility rather than bulk, a keenly competitive folk gifted with a delicate aesthetic taste and an intuitive mind.

Dress Usually a man wore simply a cloth fastened at the girdle and covering the hips. Sometimes this dress was so modified as to form short trousers. With a close-fitting belt he accentuated the smallness of his waist. The priestly and holiday attire was an ample cloak which reached from neck to ankles. The Cretan’s black hair fell over his shoulders in long curls; his face was beardless, whereas at Mycenae it was fashionable to allow the free growth of whiskers. The woman wore a low bodice and a bell-shaped skirt abundantly adorned with ruffles or flounces. Favorite colors were yellow, purple, and blue. Her black hair she dressed elaborately in twists and curls, while the whiteness of her face she intensified by artificial means. She either left the head bare or surmounted it with a hat, some of whose designs closely resemble those of today. In addition to these essentials of dress, she profusely adorned herself with jewels of gold and precious stones. Altogether her attire was extremely conventional and modish; her pictures in ancient art find their counterpart in modern fashion plates. The foot-gear of both sexes was elaborated with embroidery and delicate colored bindings.

Dwellings Like the feminine garb of the age, the private dwellings of the wealthy were surprisingly modern. They were built on no fixed plan, but followed the necessities of the site and the taste of the owner. They were of stone, wood, or brick and their windows seem to have been protected by oiled and tinted parchment. Some were three or four stories high and comprised a multitude of rooms. The owners furnished them comfortably and developed cooking to a high degree of perfection.

Palace Naturally the palace was incomparably larger and more magnificent than the richest private dwelling. The residence of the king of Cnossus occupied more than five acres and stood at least four stories high. Its irregularity of plan may be due to additions and modifications by successive rulers. The essential feature of any large Cretan dwelling, private or royal, is the grouping of rooms about a court. The Cnossian palace comprised an immense central court, smaller courts, long corridors, a theatric space, audience rooms, sanctuaries, an industrial quarter, and “a system of drainage not equaled in Europe between that day and the nineteenth century.” We may notice more particularly the room in which the throne of gypsum stands against the wall and is flanked on both sides with long benches of the same material. Here in the midst of his noble councilors sat the king on the “oldest throne in Europe,” presumably to receive embassies and to transact business with his subjects. The industrial quarter swarmed with artists and artisans, whose labors extended over a wide range of activities, from the preparation and storage of wine and olive oil in huge earthenware jars to the finest gold work and elaborate mural frescoes. One chamber, fitted up with benches and “a seat for the master,” is thought to be a school room, in which the young learned to mould clay into little tablets, and inscribe them with linear writing. Elsewhere were the archives in which these tablets were stored by the thousands. Although the script has not yet been deciphered, the inscriptions thus far discovered seem to be accounts of stores and of receipts and dues. A larger tablet from the Dictaean cave has the appearance of a list of offerings. If the Cretans possessed a literature of songs, epics, and chronicles, as is not unlikely, it must have been written on perishable material, for nothing of the kind has been discovered. It is known, however, that they had the decimal notation and perhaps as many as four systems of weights, including the two most used in historical Greece. By dropping a definite weight of silver or gold upon a striated surface they took the first step in the coinage of these metals. Bronze ingots, too, of definite weight were stamped that they might serve as currency.

Workmen and their products Many laborers busied themselves with tilling the soil and with rearing cattle, sheep, goats, and swine. They ground their barley or wheat in querns or crushed it in stone mortars still preserved. Among their fruits were the fig and the olive, whose oil entered into the preparation of food. Trades were specialized as in the Orient. Among the craftsmen were potters, brick makers, and carpenters, whose bronze saws, axes, files, and other tools resemble in pattern those of today. Naturally in an age of bronze the workers in that metal filled a large place. Stone, while still serving the lesser arts, had become the essential of architecture and throughout all history wood has furnished a convenient material for building and for a great variety of furniture. Among the most remarkable of skilled industries was the cutting and engraving of precious stones which included practically all known to the moderns, excepting the diamond. On these gems the engraver skillfully wrought varied scenes from nature and human life. The highest development of art is found in the work of the goldsmith, an achievement of the painstaking experience of centuries. This metal was then more common than silver. Among his products were beads adorned with scenes in intaglio and rings with similarly decorated bezels used as seals. He could inlay gold, as well as ivory and other material, on bodies of different substance, so as to produce a polychrome effect. He wrought bracelets, diverse artistic patterns in repousse on thin plate, and graceful drinking cups. Famed for beauty are the two gold cups from a beehive tomb at Vaphio, Laconia. The scenes which adorn them are bold, spirited, and lifelike.

Warfare In war the rank and file was without defensive armor and carried the sling and bow. In the latter art the Cretans were especially strong, as we infer from the magazine of bronze arrowheads in the Cnossian palace; in fact throughout ancient history they kept the lead in archery. A warrior of the better class protected himself with a huge shield which reached from neck to ankles. It was made of leather stretched on a wooden frame, in form a semi-cylinder or an oval with notched sides. A helmet and greaves completed the defensive armor, whereas he assailed his foe with a short dagger, a sword for thrusting, and a lance, the metal parts of bronze. Unable to carry far the great weight of his shield, he rode to battle in a two wheeled chariot drawn by a pair of horses. With him as charioteer rode his squire, who sometimes carried a sword. Using his chariot merely for conveyance, the warrior descended in battle to engage in close combat with his foe. Not only have many weapons survived, but also pictures of military life. We see warriors engaged in hand to hand combat, while fragments of a silver vase present a living view of a siege. On the large piece illustrated in the text we see outside the walls slingers and bowmen in action. Behind them stand two men probably elders, like those described by Hesiod on the Shield of Heracles: –

“To the blessed gods

Their hands uplifted for their fighting sons

On the tower above excited women shrink.”

Smaller fragments show fallen warriors outstretched, others carrying the dead, and others hurling lances.

City Walls The Cretan cities were unwalled. As a defense against strangers they had their navy, and like the later Spartans they must have reposed confidence in their bulwarks of brave warriors. In more exposed positions, however, as at Troy, men were accustomed from the beginning of the Minoan age to protect their settlements with walls. Gradually the crude wall of unshaped stones was superseded by massive masonry such as we find at Tiryns. There the defenses are of huge, slightly dressed stones arranged roughly in layers and held together by mortar. The interstices are filled with smaller stones. This is the so-called Cyclopean masonry. Originally the Tirynthian wall must have risen to a height of sixty feet, the upper part of brick. In the present ruins, on the south and southeast, are two great galleries, covered by a pointed arch, formed by the gradual overlapping of successive layers of stone. This mode of forming arches and domes is characteristic of the age. Connected with the southeast gallery is a series of chambers. Undoubtedly in these well protected spaces provisions and war material were stored against a siege. At Mycenae we find more advanced masonry. In one kind, termed ashlar, the stones are cut in oblong shape and arranged in horizontal layers. Still more developed is the polygonal style, composed of large many-faced stones so carefully fitted as to leave no space for rubble. The cruder forms continued by the side of the more highly developed.

Religion: deities The chief deity was a nature power, the mother of all living things, Rhea in Crete, Cybele in Asia Minor. As patroness of field and mountain she stands conspicuous on a lofty rock between her two attendant lions. In her relations with civilized life she arms herself with the double-axe to battle for her city, or in times of quiet presides over multifarious social and political functions. Her son, the youthful Zeus, a god who is born and ultimately dies, likewise wields the battle axe, or when duly invoked by the young men — curetes — in martial dance, vouchsafes full jars, fleecy flocks, prosperous sea-borne ships and goodly law. Another great deity was possibly Minos, worshipped in the form of a bull. Among the deities of less prominence we recognize Aphrodite, a nude or lightly clad idol, her hands brought together on her breast, sometimes accompanied by doves, and Artemis, deity of wood and animals, of hunting and fishing. The serpent attributes of another goddess connect her with the earth or underworld, with the spirits of the tomb or of the house. Throughout the age were fashioned small images of these gods and of others whose character eludes our study. In addition to divinities in human form they adored or venerated as sacred symbols, trees, pillars, the cross, the double axe, and various other objects. They built no temples, but conducted their worship in the open air, in caves, or in chapels within their dwellings.

Worship of the dead Another aspect of religion was the worship of the dead which included the customs of burial. A type of inhumation is represented in the circular cemetery on the Acropolis of Mycenae. The six graves found here were the burial place of a long dynasty, which used it for all the members of their family, men, women, and children. Each contained several bodies. In death they were elegantly appareled and loaded with jewels and gold ornaments. With them further were buried articles of toilet, cooking utensils and table furniture, tools, military equipment—in brief everything civilized men and women needed in daily life. A gold mask found in one tomb undoubtedly imitated the face of the living. They covered the grave with stone slabs and mounded it over, reopening it for new burials. To the dead they offered sacrifices of wild and domestic animals, probably also of human beings, as the scattered bones of men and animals suggest. Evidently the Minoans believed that the spirits of the dead lived in the tombs and enjoyed these sacrifices and this rich equipment. In submitting to such expensive services the living must have been actuated not only by respect for the dead, but by a superstitious dread of ghosts, who when neglected forsook their abode to do mischief to their kinsfolk.

Beehive tombs Later kings of vastly greater power built in the lower city their dome-shaped “beehive” tombs. The masonry is ashlar; the stones are smoothed and fitted together with nice precision. The entire structure is underground, approached from the side of the hill by a long horizontal passage. The largest building of this class at Mycenae has been popularly known as the “Treasury of Atreus,” more recently as the “Tomb of Atreus,” father of Agamemnon. Its corridor of approach is a hundred and fifteen feet in length, the dome forty-eight feet high and the same in diameter. The kings who erected these immense, lasting structures, like the Egyptian pyramid builders, must have wielded enormous power, to command the necessary labor; they must have cherished, too, a vast conception of their own importance and a hope of immortality dependent on the preservation of the body with its splendid furnishings of useful and luxurious objects. Similar tombs, though generally smaller, exist in various parts of Greece and in Crete. Those at Mycenae were plundered in ancient times, but elsewhere have been found in them remains of the dead and of rich offerings, whose character places this class of tombs immediately subsequent to those of the Mycenaean citadel.

Character of the Religion Briefly it may be said that the Minoan religion was an exceedingly complex system, which involved the worship of gods and of disembodied spirits; elaborate rituals performed by a specialized priesthood; the wearing of amulets suggestive of charms and magic; bloody sacrifices with their concomitant ideas of guilt and its purification; mysteries, divination, and oracles. It was a weird religion, well calculated as an instrument in the hands of a sacerdotal aristocracy for holding the masses in check through supernatural terrors.

Boxing, “Bull-leaping” Among the ancients recreations connected closely with religion. The combative instinct of the Minoans is seen in their love of pugilism. Boxers wore the cestus, and assailed their opponents with hands and feet. Far more dangerous and exciting, however, was “bull-leaping.” The trick of the toreador seems to have been to meet the charging beast face to face, seize his horns and turning a somersault over his back, leap to the ground in the rear. Girls and youths, appropriately costumed, took part in the perilous sport, vividly pictured on the Cnossian palace walls. The gay lords and ladies must have witnessed many a bloody scene, in brutality comparable with the gladiatorial shows at Rome or with the bull-baiting of modern Spain. Doubtless these toreadors were forced to their dangerous vocation. Many may have been exacted as tribute from subject states. The myth that Athens had every nine years to send seven youths and seven girls to be devoured by the Minotaur may accordingly contain this kernel of truth; and Theseus, who killed the monster, may have been in fact the liberator of his country.

Chess, music and dancing From the excitement of this sport we may turn to watch the king playing with his court favorite a game resembling chess or checkers on an elaborate board still preserved; or we may imagine an audience of courtiers listening to the musicians. We see a man playing a double pipe, another with a seven-stringed lyre in hand. The tradition therefore which represents Crete as the teacher of music to Hellas is true. To the accompaniment of such music twinkle the dancers’ feet. The long crimped tresses of the dancing girl float out in air as she whirls around in the orchestra of the palace theatre, where “Daedalus once wrought a dancing-place for Ariadne of the lovely tresses.”

In our review of Minoan life we have caught glimpses of a society clearly differentiated into poor and rich, commons and nobles, subjects and rulers; labor specialized into diverse crafts; among the wealthy a love of peaceful ease, luxury and beauty, coupled with a passion for brutal shows; and a religion uniting cheerful with gloomy features. The social organization evidently reveals the antecedents of the Dorian system. The field laborers were serfs or serf like dependents, as were the helots of later time. Many towns were politically subject to Cnossus, like the later period of Lacedaemon. There remained a class of nobles who possessed wealth and lived independently in private dwellings. The priest-king, however, or perhaps we should say god-king, aimed to concentrate life within his stupendous palace, to engage as many as possible of the inhabitants in the service of the state, and to measure out food to them at public tables. Thus the artist and artisan class were brought into the palace. An effort was made also to create a military caste dependent on the state and equipped from the palace arsenal. It was a unique experiment in despotic socialism. But the system, devised by the king and his favorites, robbed the citizens of individuality and personal freedom; it compelled the masses to toil for the few, who exhausted the resources of the nation in art and extravagant luxury. The militarism of the Late Minoan kings added to the waste. The archive records, though we cannot read them, point to a complex bureaucracy, like that of Egypt, which crushed the people by its weight, robbed them of the fruits of their toil, hence finally of their interest in life. Thus in various ways government and civilization, by sapping the energy of the governed, in Crete and later on the Greek mainland engendered internal decay. The artist lost his inventive power; stagnation was inevitably followed by slow deterioration in every activity of life.

Ethnology It need not be supposed that in the long period extending from the early neolithic age to the end of the Middle Minoan era the population of the Aegean world remained the same. Uninterrupted development is not in itself evidence of continuity of race; and on the other hand there may be changes of civilization which do not involve the substitution of one people for another. As to the language of this early time there are only the slightest indications. Pre-Hellenic place names in Greece have their kin on the islands and in Asia Minor. This circumstance points to the diffusion of a single language by migration from East to West or the reverse. This tongue is certainly not Indo-European, but seems to be related to the Carian and Lycian. In the extensive Aegean area there was room for more than one form of speech; and from time to time new peoples and tongues were introduced by immigration.

The original home and early wanderings of the Indo-Europeans need not be considered in this volume; and in treating of their arrival in Greece we can only deal in probabilities. The opening of the Late Minoan era, 1600, as we may reasonably believe, saw them in possession of all or nearly all Greece. The process of migration and settlement, however, continually modified their racial character. In fact history knows no people of unmixed blood. Doubtless the Indo-Europeans in their common home were of various stocks. Their several tribes, as they journeyed gradually to their respective historical countries, absorbed all manner of alien peoples on the way, as usually happens with wandering hordes. Few if any who came into Greece were unmixed descendants of those who had left the Indo-European homeland. Then the newcomers in Greece began to blend with the natives, and were continually joined by many strangers from the islands, from Asia Minor, from Crete and elsewhere. The mingling of these diverse stocks through centuries ultimately produced the Greek race. Although many place names remained undisturbed, the language of the Northerners, rich in myths, strong, flexible, and highly capable of artistic treatment, prevailed.

At the opening of the Late Minoan era, 1600, Thessaly and Boeotia, still neolithic, were held by the Aeolians; Attica, Euboea, and the east coast of Peloponnesus by the Old lonians; central and southern Peloponnese by the Arcadians, an offshoot of the Aeolian group. West of the Aeolians was an area occupied either at that time or somewhat later by a people described simply as the Northwestern Greeks. All these racial names, however, properly apply, neither to the northern immigrants nor to the natives, but to the ultimate blend of the two races, and are here used anticipatively for convenience. The immigrants from the North were evidently a minority of the population; but superior virility gave their leaders a dominant place in their respective districts. It was not simply the mainland that began in this way to fall under Indo-European control. Evidently individual adventurers, with their attendants, crossed to the islands, where by cleverness and personal superiority they attained to a place in the ruling classes and mingled their speech with that of the natives. Owing to such long-continued migratory disturbances the peninsula had made but little progress in civilization, though appreciably more in the South than in the North. Before the close of the Middle Minoan age, however, as the movements in Greece temporarily subsided, civilization began to develop there with surprising rapidity.

On favorable sites along the coast at a varying distance from the shore, as at Tiryns and Mycenae, at Athens and Orchomenus, at Vaphio (Laconia) and Old Pylos (Messenia) Hellenic chieftains built their fortress cities. In these mainland settlements the most powerful civilizing influence was commerce with Crete; and yet we may well believe that throngs of Minoan architects and artisans came to seek emplo3′ment in the new and stirring centers of political power. The king’s abode, however, was not a copy of the Cnossian palace, but a development from a simpler European type like that found in the second settlement at Troy. Its essential characteristic was a great hall with a central hearth, features unknown to contemporary Crete. To win his many Minoan subjects and to centralize his power, the Hellenic king adopted the native religion, including the deification of the deceased sovereign and the building of a gigantic tomb for himself. The mighty walls around his city were a protection from the barbarous tribes that assailed him, and still more from the Cretan king.

Hardly had the sovereign of Cnossus united all Crete under his sway than he began to extend his dominion to the more distant Aegean islands. Though he gained no foothold in Asia Minor, he threatened the coasts of Peloponnese and probably made temporary conquests in Attica. With the political advance of Greece, however, his power receded. The kings of the Hellenic peninsula were gradually colonizing the islands. First sailed forth great piratical armadas, doubtless made up from several maritime kingdoms. In the fifteenth century Melos was taken by one of these armaments, and its palace sacked and burned. In the new settlement which followed, the palace was of the hall type and the culture in general was continental rather than Cretan. Evidently a colony from Greece established itself in the midst of the native population. About 1400 Cnossus experienced the same fate. The palace had attained to its utmost size and magnificence; but the mind of the race was stagnant. Court society, never more brilliant in appearance or more luxurious, was held in the thraldom of fashion; in brief, the whole life of Crete was fossilizing, like that of contemporary Egypt. These conditions were suddenly brought to an end by the destruction of the palace. The blackened walls, the charred ends of beams, the almost complete absence of gold and bronze seem to proclaim the sack and burning of the city. As the same thing happened at Phaestus, at Hagia Triada, and elsewhere in Crete, we may infer that the catastrophe was due to no accident or dynastic revolution or uprising of the masses. We can explain the event best by supposing it to have been the work of raiders, who swept over the wealthy cities of the island in their career of plunder. It may well be that the fleets of coast cities were joined in this enterprise by squadrons of barbarians from the interior of Europe, for desolating the fairest habitations thus far created by man. Succeeding to this devastation, a colony like that on Melos introduced mainland culture amid the devitalized native population. The extreme poverty of the settlement is evidence that others must have enjoyed the movable wealth of the former city.

From the beginning of the late Minoan age disturbances in the Aegean Sea had turned the commercial enterprise of Crete in other directions. Minoans of this age, accordingly, planted colonies in the islands off the west coast of Greece, in southern Italy, and in Sicily. Through these settlements and through commerce the Minoan system of life gained a foothold in all these regions. After the destruction of Cnossus a remnant of the population colonized Spain, while others found homes at Miletus and in Cyprus. A century afterward Greek and Minoan tribes, migrating by sea and land, extended their piracies to the East-Mediterranean waters and coasts. Early in the thirteenth century they joined the Libyans in ravaging the Egyptian Delta. A few generations later the Peleset moved from the Minoan area through Asia Minor into Syria “with their families in curious, heavy two-wheeled ox-carts, and by sea in a fleet that skirted the Syrian coast.” Occupying a strip of shore country south of Phoenicia, they became known to history under the name of Philistines. Although far superior to the Asiatics in civilization, they adopted the Semitic language; and it was from them most probably that the Phoenicians derived the elements of their alphabet.

These extensive migrations may be traced in part to a movement of European tribes southward into Thrace and the Balkan Peninsula. One of these tribes, the Phrygians, crossed the Hellespont, and occupying the central part of western Asia Minor, dislodged some of the natives of that region, who necessarily had recourse to migrations. Under the same southward pressure Northwestern Hellenes filtered into other parts of Greece. Some crossed into Thessaly and Boeotia, yet not in sufficient numbers to overwhelm the Aeolian dialect of these two countries. It remained purer in the former than in the latter. Meanwhile other emigrants from the Northwest were crossing into Peloponnese, where, too, they mingled with the earlier inhabitants. Thus arose Achaean whose language was akin to that north of the Corinthian Gulf, and of more distantly related speech, the Dorians of Argolis and Laconia. From Argolis the Dorian dialect passed to Corinth and Megara and from Laconia to Messenia. The dialect of Elis likewise points to a migration from across the Gulf. This movement of population from the Northwest, represented in story as the “Dorian migration,” affected nearly the whole of the Greek peninsula. The people of Attica, however, had no tradition of a tribal migration into their country; they knew only of a peaceful infiltration of families, many of whom became noble. Arcadia, too, remained untouched. Its people had once extended over the coast region to the south; and in the Late Minoan age many went off as colonists to Cyprus. Those who remained in Laconia were merged in the Dorian race, whereas the people of the interior highlands, under the name of Arcadians, maintained their original language and their racial character. Having adopted but little of the higher Minoan culture, they had little to lose by its downfall.



About 1200-750

At the time when migratory warriors were raiding the Egyptian Delta and colonizing Philistia/ the Minoan civilization was fast yielding to a more barbaric form of life. So notable was the decline that from about 1200 we may date the beginning of a new era, which was essentially a transition from Minoan to Hellenic life. The period thus defined bears close analogies with the later European “Middle Ages,” in that both were characterized, not only by invasions of less civilized peoples, but also by a vast decline and an incipient recovery of culture.


For a long period after the beginning of this era colonial expansion from the west to east across the Aegean Sea made progress. From Argolis and Laconia emigrants, first “Achaean” and afterward Dorian, made their homes in Melos and Thera, south most islands of the Cyclades. In the same order they occupied the choicest parts of Crete, which came thus to the ethnic complexion described by Homer: “There is a land called Crete in the midst of the wine-dark sea, a fair land and rich, begirt with water; and therein are men innumerable and ninety cities. And all have not the same speech, but there is a confusion of tongues: there dwell Achaeans and there too Eteo-Cretans (True Cretans) high of heart, and Cydonians there and Dorians of waving plumes and goodly Pelasgians. And among them is the mighty city Cnossus, wherein Minos rules in nine-year periods, he who had converse with great Zeus.” Beyond Crete the Dorians pushed on to Carpathos, to Rhodes, and ultimately to the coast of the mainland. Among their cities on the Anatolian shore were Cnidus and Halicarnassus, both thriving centers of industry and commerce.

The Greeks who came to Crete were attracted to the area which had experienced the highest cultural development, to Cnossus, Gortyn, Phaestus and their neighborhood. In the East the Eteo-Cretans, at Praesos, maintained their nationality and their language far down in historical times. In the West were Cydonians, regarded by Homer as non-Greek but certainly Dorian in the historical age. Because of the small number of Hellenic immigrants into this island the process of assimilation was remarkably slow.

Earlier perhaps than the Dorian colonization was the beginning of the movement from central Greece to the Cyclades mentioned in the preceding chapter. Gradually this migration continued eastward till it reached and included the narrow strip of territory on the Anatolian coast afterward known as Ionia. On the sites of neolithic villages these immigrants in the period of Minoan decadence founded small cities. To colonists from Crete were added adventurers from the Cyclades and from various parts of the Hellenic peninsula. In fact it was a motley population that came, and they made themselves more heterogeneous by mingling with the natives. “They have no right to pride themselves on purity of descent,” says Herodotus, “considering that a large part of them are Abantes from Euboea, who have no share even in the name of Ionia, and Minyans of Orchomenus have been mingled with them, and Cadmeians and Dryopians and Phocians, who seceded from their native state, and Molossians, and Pelasgians of Arcadia and Dorians of Epidaurus, and many other races have been mingled with them; and those of them who set forth from the prytaneion (town hall) of Athens and who esteem themselves the most noble by descent of the lonians, these, I say, brought no women with them to the settlement, but took Carian captive women, whose parents they slew.” “So far were the newcomers from aiming at racial purity that they not only married native wives but received Carian chieftains into their own nobility and even accepted them as kings.” In a varying degree this principle of race-mixing holds for all Greek colonies. Doubtless it was partly the composite nature of the population, as well as the lovely climate, the most favorable in the world known to Herodotus, the rich soil, the highly articulated coast adapted to commerce, and the situation on the borderland between Hellenic and Oriental civilizations which made the lonians for centuries the most brilliant and most versatile of Greeks, in the age of their glory the standard-bearers of the world’s civilization. Among their most noted cities were Phocaea, famed for her early naval power and her distant western colonies, Ephesus, where was built a great temple to Artemis, and Miletus, an illustrious centre of industry, commerce, and intellectual life.

In this new home the lonians were more aggressive and more powerful than their Hellenic neighbors. On the South, Dorian Halicarnassus and in the opposite direction Aeolic Chios and Smyrna, in time became ionized, while commercial relations with Phoenicia gave the Semites the Ionian name in the form Javan, with which to designate the entire Hellenic race.

On the Greek mainland the process of Hellenic assimilation was more rapid than elsewhere. There, apart from place names, no clear trace of a native tongue has been discovered. In considerable stretches of the eastern coast of Peloponnesus, as in Troezen and Cynuria, the Ionian dialect long maintained itself; elsewhere in Argolis the Dorian speech prevailed both in the country and in Tiryns, Mycenae, and Argos. Within the Middle Age Argos gained the mastery over her rivals and ultimately imposed her hegemony upon the peninsula that bears her name. In Laconia our earliest historical light reveals a population essentially homogeneous in culture and in language. Some Mycenaean sites, as Amyclae and Therapne, were occupied by Hellenic cities, whereas Sparta, destined to a leading place in Greek history, was a wholly new foundation.

Similarly Attica, which had contained a number of Mycenaean sites, experienced as thorough an amalgamation of Hellenic and native races, and at the same time became politically centralized in its chief city, Athens. As the south most section of Aegean coasts and islands was occupied by the Dorian race, which was essentially one though with slight local differences of blood and dialect, so the Ionian name generally applied to the section extending from Attica to the Anatolian coast. Only as the Athenians awakened to a consciousness of their own superiority, did they discard the Ionian name. In this section, too, of Aegean shores and islands, in spite of local differences in dialect and ethnic composition, the population was essentially one in language and in race, in political and religious institutions and in social customs. For a long time the mother peoples were more conservative, the colonies more progressive.