With the end of the Mycenaean civilization, Greece slid into a cultural abyss. There is no evidence of the existence of writing once the Bronze Age ended. The population declined as well as the food supply. Elaborate palaces and fortified cities were virtually non-existent. Many have seen this as a dark age of Greek culture. What most do not realize is that it was not as desolate as it has been portrayed.
Many Greeks began migrating to other sections of the Aegean Sea for better survival chances. Records were not kept, and monuments were not erected to give us information. Very little became known of the Greeks during this time. Yet, this period was not devoid of advancements.
Iron began to be used as trade still existed to some degree. The Dark Age did not put the Greeks inside a cultural vacuum, instead it ushered in the Iron Age. The use of bronze began to fade as the knowledge and functionality of iron took over. Warfare items became stronger as the iron became more prevalent. It was this advancement that helped Greece leap from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and protect themselves. This is amazing for a “dark” time in their history. The absence of records is more focused on by scholars than their achievements with iron.
Art changed. During the Mycenaean era, art was focused mainly on animals and people that focused on gruesome and barbaric scenes. It was during the Dark Age that a new form of art emerged which was the forerunner for much of the works of Classical Greece. Pottery did not lose its quality as one might expect in such a time, but the designs became more intricate and creative. Figures faded with geometric designs taking prominence. This Geometric design changed the course of Greek art. “Greek art had been given a false start in the Bronze Age by the dominant modes of the non-Greek Minoans. Fortunately, the new Geometric arts of Greece could respond differently and profitably to foreign inspiration.” The uniqueness of their art helped them survive the Dark Age and beyond. The Greeks were progressing.
One of the greatest contributions from the Dark Age that was valuable for Classical Greece and beyond was the polis, or city-state. As the Dark Age commenced and the population declined, the people turned to each other for help and created regions that were individual city-states unlike the individual regions in the Mycenaean culture. The people no longer had their Mycenaean kings to rule. Instead, they had each other. Coming together, they created units that formed individual governments, and religious centers, and their own version of kings called the basileus who possessed less power than the Mycenaean kings.
The beginning of democracy was taking shape. By forming a polis, the people had a network, central area to trade, worship, and a place to gather during an attack. Each polis had one city that all the area turned to for support and guidance. They were banding together to survive. As the polis developed into the Classical age, the role of the basileus continued to diminish and was replaced by ruling aristocrats and tyrants which further opened the doors to democratic thought. The people began to have a small say in matters. It would take centuries before true democracy, but the creation of the polis was a major step in that direction.