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Sunday, September 14, 2008


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This began with a discussion of Velikovsky, and all of that is relevant as background: and no, it's not another defense of Velikovsky. 

Go read that first.  Be sure to read to the end, including the discussions by astronomer David Morrison. Then come back here.




At some point I will do a short introductory essay; the important point is that sometime in the Bronze Ages, a thriving civilization with writing and the ability to build large walled cities and the beginnings of a market economy -- there were traders who were not merely raiders -- collapsed so thoroughly that it became legendary. The walls of Tiryns were so large and imposing that the people who lived in the region thought they were built by giants: by the Cyclopes, and they were called Cyclopean Walls by people who probably counted the actual builders among their ancestors.

Writing was lost and had to be reinvented. Much technology was lost.

It is a time that bequeaths us many legends, from the Trojan War to the legends of the House of Atreus, and Pelops, and Theseus, and Minos, Achilles and Odysseus, Talos and the stone god who rose from the sea, Jason and the Argonauts, all of which seem to reflect real events, embellished, of course, but real all the same. It was a time when the Maryannu and the Battle Ax people roamed the land, and the Peoples of the Sea invaded Egypt and came to Palestine where, as Philistines, they gave the region its name and passed into history as giants whose champion was a bronze armored hero named Goliath.

In the Bible it is an age in which there was no king in Israel, and each man did as he thought right in his own heart. And so it was through the world.

But that Dark Age came after a rich civilization with writing and commerce and technology: what killed that civilization? Theories run from barbarian invasions (the return of the Dorians) to earthquakes, to astronomical disasters, to volcanoes. It may have been all of these. If the issue is settled once and for all, that has happened very recently indeed: it certainly was no more than speculation last year...

One note: a Dark Age is not just a period in which people no longer know how to do things. The real key is that people no longer remember that certain things can be done at all. As an example, the 5th Century AD (Dark Age) peasant in France who reaped perhaps 3 bushels for each bushel he sowed was entirely unaware that peasants in Roman times had reaped up to 10 bushels for each bushel sowed, this on the same land and with less work. The 5th Century peasant did not try for much higher yields because the very knowledge that you could do that had been lost.

In the First Dark Age the very notion of writing was gone, and just about all of the bureaucratic techniques that made the earlier prosperity was not even legend; it was just lost.

Herewith some comments and discussions.

Additional May 2002 by Isildur

Harry Erwin, June 2002

The Velikovsky discussion stimulated a mild discussion of the First Dark Age: the period after the invention of Mycenaean writing (Linear B, clay tablets, syllabic characters). There were several centuries in which writing was lost, most palace organization was lost, and history fell into legend and myth. Some of the legends are clearly based on real incidents but no one knows which were which.  Was the Stone God rising from the sea an eruption on Santorini? And so forth.

Jerry, I wonder if Somtow's suggestion, in The Shattered Horse, is right. He makes a case for the Trojan War causing the Dark Age.

The idea is that for ten years, the Greek Kings, who knew how to administer the palace economies, were away at war; less skilled subordinates were left in charge, who didn't understand the importance of maintenance and upkeep. Also, most of the surplus food, equipment and manpower was shipped off to the war, leaving too little behind to do much more than just "muddle through." Then, of course, when the war ended, many of the soldiers wanted to enjoy their loot rather than work. This could have lead to a crash, and depression. When you consider how few people there were with the skills needed to rebuild the economy, it's easy to imagine a depression bringing the entire culture down.

I really don't know if the above has any merit, but it's certainly an interesting speculation. --- Joe Zeff 

The Guy With the Sideburns If you can't play with words, what good are they? http://home.earthlink.net/~sidebrnz 

It it the nature of bureaucracy to endure without the king. Claudius invented a kind of civil service so that the Roman Imperial system could endure even when there was no emperor, or the emperor was an idiot. It doubt that absence of the king and much of the army would have produced universal collapse (although perhaps there is a suggestion in the stories of the return of Ulysses?).

I think there was more to it than just that. But it is interesting that the walls of Mycenae and Tiryns were thought to be "cyclopean" meaning built by the Cyclops since they were clearly beyond the capability of humans. On the other hand we know that Pylos was razed by invaders coming by ship from the north.

And the collapse was pretty wide spread across the East Mediterranean, not just in Greece and Macedonia.

The palace economies in bronze age Crete lacked a market system and so had no way of assessing the real cost of the goods they produced or bought. Apparently, they specialized in cloth-making for export to Egypt and the Near East. Their imports were apparently elite goods, which they traded locally for food and other basic staples. This system had a lot in common with the MIT Beer Game, which is known to be chaotic due to the lack of a feedback mechanism.

The archaeological data seem to indicate that the Cretan palaces became increasingly specialized over time, to the point that almost everyone was involved in sheep-herding or cloth-making. The speculation is that they overproduced the demand for their goods, which then collapsed, and they went with it. The archaeological data also show that the bronze age palaces in Greece took over the Cretan role about a generation later, and began specializing in turn...

There's also data on a similar system involving bronze in the Western Mediterranean about 1800 BC. The foundries were in Spain and expanded to the point that they had to be producing enough bronze to saturate the demand in that area. Apparently demand collapsed and the foundries closed permanently.

Note also that palace economies, being dependent on tribute and redistribution, lacked large surpluses. The thing about market-based economies is that they allow the rulers of the market-place to levy a sales tax to fund defense and site development. The sales tax is more or less willingly paid (unlike tribute) as a part of the cost of doing business. Without a large surplus, a palace economy was always vulnerable to an unfriendly takeover. Even market-based economies had problems with this (Constantinople, Wessex after Alfred), but palace economies could not afford much of anything in the way of a standing defense force.

My point is that palace economies could easily expand to the point that they saturated demand or became prime targets for the next raider to come around the cape.

-- --- Harry Erwin, PhD, Computational Neuroscientist (modeling bat behavior), Senior SW Analyst and Security Engineer, and Adjunct Professor of Computer Science, GMU. CV and papers available at: <http://mason.gmu.edu/~herwin/CV.htm>

All true, but in my judgment insufficient to explain the absolute collapse all over the Basin, to the point where writing became a myth, legend replaced history, and the art of Cyclopean walls was so thoroughly lost that people believed the walls they saw were beyond the capabilities of mortal men.

We know that Crete was badly mauled by the explosion of Thera, which cost them two major naval bases, Thera itself and Zakros. We have the legend of Talos the bronze giant who defended Crete from invaders, and who might well have been a mercenary force of bronze armored Dorians or others of large stature and warlike temperament, but the way he was killed in legend is interesting.

I've walked through all the major ruins on Crete, and none of them ever had walls or anything like walls; unlike the fortresses on the Greek mainland.  One comes off muttering Tiryns is a fortress, Mycenae is the home of warrior kings, but the Palace of Minos is the seat of an Empire.

In Greek legend Crete collapsed as a result of a raid by Theseus, who had been educated by Minos. If the Cretan Navy were gone, this wouldn't be any great trick.  But the Minoan civilization was too widespread, and too thriving, to have collapsed as the result of market forces. Not all at once like that. And indeed, it's pretty clear that earthquakes and volcanism did the Minoans in. All this was earlier than the Trojan War.

I think you will find something similar to have assisted in the destruction of the later Mycenaean civilization that ruled after the Trojan War..

From: Stephen M. St. Onge saintonge@hotmail.com

Subject: Dark Ages and Artificial Intelligence

Dear Jerry:

The letters from Zeff and Erwin are intriguing, but I don't buy them either.

As far as Somtow's suggestion goes: First, I don't believe the Trojan War lasted ten years. I think that was just put in to indicate 'a long time.'

In any case: if the Greek economies could support the soldiers, with the Kings absent, then why when the war ends and they come home is there a collapse? Soldiers don't want to work? Well, they weren't working before. Kings' subordinates didn't do as well as the Kings? Hey, the Kings are back.

Historically, there have been depressions in modern economies at the end of major wars, but that's because the economy has to stop making so many armaments, has to re-absorb lots of returned soldiers, etc. Was there anything like this in the ancient Mediterranean? I don't think we know enough to comment.

The same question to Erwin's suggestion: do we know enough to speculate? About the alleged specialization -- what little I know of ancient economies says at least 80% of the population MUST have been engaged in food production. If correct, how could the specialization take place?

Natural disaster of some kind sounds more plausible to me. Really widespread crop failure, caused by Thera exploding, might lower the carrying capacity below that required to keep the Palace people fed. The attempt to maintain the Palace's standard of living puts people into a downward spiral, the barbarians move in as the Mediterranean people weaken, the few with technological knowledge die ...

Aside from the astronomical disasters a la Velikovsky, disease is a possibility here. Epidemics can't flourish very well in small communities. Everyone gets sick, and either dies or becomes immune. In a large community, circa 1 million, by the time everyone in the old generation who was going to get the disease has, there's a fresh crop of bodies to infect. The fall of the Roman Empire may have been due to smallpox or measles reducing the population around Commodus's time below that required to support the Emperors and Caesers (On all this, see Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill).

About AI: all these attempts to model the human mind in computers remind me of the pre-WWII attempts to model it as a telephone switchboard: that is, poetic metaphor disguised as science. I can't help but think there's something fundamental missing here, just as with the First Dark Age.

In any case, sure is interesting.

Best, St. Onge

One day I will do a whole book on the First Dark Age. I am about 20 years out of date -- make that nearly 30 -- but I spent time in Greece, on Thera and Crete and in digs near Pylos as well as in museums, and I know a good bit about what was known then. If you go to Tiryns you cannot help being impressed by those walls; how could the art of building them be so thoroughly lost?

Dear Sir,

I have a faint recollection of reading somewhere that the first dark age was basically an economic depression which was caused by the loss (to Med basin cultures) of their supply of tin with which to make bronze, and that it took approx. 400 years for folks to develop iron-based technology to the point at which it could produce affordable replacements for the wide variety of bronze tools on which the previous high level of trade and civilization had largely been based. I regret that the source of this recollection eludes me. An inquiry to an expert on bronze age material sources and trade routes might be the quickest way to determine the plausibility of this notion. It seems to me that the only significant sources of bronze-age tin were Wales and some similarly remote location to east or south-east of the Med basin. I speculate that perhaps the long distance trade was disrupted by a climate shift, perhaps as a result of the Thera detonation.

Best regards,


Certainly there were tin problems, and "where did they get the tin?" is sill a difficult question. I understand there were some neutron activation studies to determine where the tin for some known and datable bronze artifact came from, but I don't recall seeing the results.

And from Joat Simeon (AKA Dteve Stirling) on the First Dark Age:

Fascinating subject.

It's interesting that the collapse of the Bronze Age high civilizations tended to be most extreme at the edges.

The Hittites went under, but that was the only one of the "Great Kingdoms" (the realms whose rulers addressed each other as "brother") that actually disappeared as a national-ethnic group.

In the core area of civilization, between Egypt and Mesopotamia, there was a substantial survival of literacy, cities, and trade -- Egypt and Mesopotamia kept their cultural continuity, and continued to use the same language, writing systems, pantheons of gods, and so forth.

There was a substantial contraction, a "Time of Troubles", even there, though. Cities burned throughout the Levant and Syria; new peoples (the Sea Peoples) settled; and the desert nomads began penetrating deeply into the cultivated lands. The early history of the post-collapse Assyrian Empire is a never-ending struggle against the Aramanaeans, for instance.

Where things really hit rock-bottom was the Aegean and Anatolia, where civilization was a secondary outgrowth. They lost even the memory of literacy, for the most part; in Homer, the only mention of it is a plot element which requires it (a message reading "please execute bearer") and from the description ('baleful signs') you can tell that the poet and his audience have only a vague idea of the existence of writing.

There are genuine Mycenaean survivals in Homer; use of bronze, the types of armor and shields, mention of settlements that had existed in the Bronze Age but which were deserted in Homer's time. Even the language preserves Mycenaean elements, like "annax", which was "wannax" in Bronze Age Greece, before initial "w" dropped out of the language. "Basileus", the standard Classical Greek word for "king", used in Homer alongside 'annax, just meant "boss" or "supervisor" in Mycenaean times. (And it was "gwasileus"; Mycenaean Greek hadn't yet transformed the old Indo-European initial *gw- sound into "b". Hence Mycenaeans said "guous" for "ox", not "bos".)

However, there's no mention in Homer of the actual social structure of the Mycenaean world, which we know from the Linear B texts was a highly organized, bureaucratic setup with extensive records and tight regulation of the economy by the agents of the Wannax.

Homer's Mycenae is a loosely-knit decentralized feudalism, much more like the Archaic-era Greek world he lived in, full of merchant-pirate-landowners, where it isn't unusual to find a "king" making his own bedstead or out pushing a plow alongside his farm-servants, and where a "queen" weaves with her maids.

At that, there was _some_ continuity in Greece proper. North Greek immigrants at a far lower level of civilization than the Mycenaeans came in, but areas of Achaean speech remained; and everyone kept worshipping Zeus (the local version of "Sky Father") and Hera and Apollo and Athena and so forth.

In Anatolia, the Hittites disappeared completely, even as an ethnic group. Some sub-Hittite kingdoms survived in what had been colonies of the Hittite Empire, in north Syria. However, the Hittite language (which they themselves called "Neshite") vanished, and the area in the bend of the Halys River that had been the core of the kingdom re-emerged into history speaking a different language completely, and inhabited by peoples who probably came from the Balkans in the volkerwanderung at the end of the Bronze Age.

The analogy with the Second Dark Age would be the fate of Britain, where "Romanitas" disappeared completely; but that was unusual in the post-Roman period. The First Dark Age lost a much larger fringe to outright re-barbarization.

There were some traces of the greatness that had been the Hittites, but as you say, only among other peoples: the Hittites themselves seem to have vanished. Yet Troy was likely a Hittite outpost, and if there is anything at all to the notion that Troy founded Rome -- and I think there was -- then the one thing that did survive was the notion of EMPIRE rather than racial kingdom.  The Hittites had this odd idea that you could have a diverse civilization with loyalty to the Emperor (who was also a racial king, but who was more than that). So apparently did the Trojans from what we can read between the lines, and certainly so did the Romans (whose foundation legends have them mixing with the Sabines very early on).  As opposed to the more Northern and Teutonic people to whom ancestry was a lot at least until the Vikings began bringing home Irish slave girls who became wives.

Good overview. I've always been tempted to put in some natural disaster in the Aegean area as contributory. H2S in the Black Sea and a severe storm?

A new letter from a reader known to me only as Isildur. When I first received this is was all one long paragraph with no capitalizations at all. I asked for editing because I thought the content interesting. I have taken the liberty to break the text into a few more paragraphs than the reader provided. I also added capitalizations and did some spelling correction, but I have tried to preserve the flavor of Lord Isildur's text, which is really quite fascinating. We now have this  :

hello, sorry for not getting this back the other day. work has gotten busy. :)

ok, here is a total revision (after now three rewritings!) of my commentary:



1. Regarding the ending of the Bronze Age in general and the causes of the Dark Age. 

2. Regarding the ending of the Minoan empire 

3. Regarding the 'sea peoples' who ravaged the Levant and Egypt 

4. Regarding the passing into myth of things like the 'cyclopean' walls' constructions

1. The numerous theories about the ending of the bronze age and the cause of the dark age which followed are with few exceptions frustratingly simplistic and almost all of them fail to take into account some very basic common sense: primarily, the observation that things tend to happen for dozens of reasons, and big things tend to happen because the conditions were 'just right' for them to, _and_ at the same time some things pushing in that general direction happened to push the right way and at the right times, and things happened. Simplistic theories abstracting it all down to simple models will always be doomed to failure and awkward fits, since it is not a reduction of history to a problem of middle school economics, or AI, or class warfare, or simple invasion, or economics, or just a volcano, or any other single thing that the proponents of the theories have as their baby to nurture regardless of the reality of it.

In reality, the ending of the Bronze Age was a complicated thing which took centuries to develop. Yes, for a variety of reasons, the Bronze Age gave rise to a very high degree of major commerce, not only for the metals but also for almost any other commodity or luxury one can think of. Over time the mercantile, political, military, social, and economic systems of the world adapted to and grew with this commerce, depended on it in large part, drove it, enjoyed it, and became difficult to separate from it, to be sure. But it is too much to say that merely an economic interruption caused the end of it all. The Hittites did not trade heavily but they disappeared the most severely, for example.

All in all, the end of the Bronze Age in the Aegean was something that took three centuries to complete. It began with the end of the hegemony of Crete over the entire Greek world, and progressed through the (in some aspects even greater) period of the 'Mycenaean' primacy (not really a hegemony or even a heavy influence so much as the biggest fish in a sea of many fish and a major trendsetter and leader of social currents and fashions) and the seeming decline of such cities over a very short time followed by destruction, fire, war, invasion, and then, silence.

2. The end of Cretan hegemony was one of those things that was an unlucky coincidence.. For probably at least 2 centuries, the mainland cities had been growing in their own strength, wealth, and prestige, and still remained under the sway of Crete. Probably not directly, but they were definitely subsidiary to Crete. Economically their ships probably sailed with the permission and probably tariff of the Cretan rule, socially their fashion and style derived from the latest and greatest on Crete, politically they were all peers as subsidiaries of Crete and existed as permanently inferior in the political scheme of the Aegean. They might antagonize each other but none of them could have (nor do they ever seem to have tried much) stood up to Crete herself.

They were in orbit around Knossos, even if they still had their own kings and even sailed their own ships and dealt with things independently. Now, within the community of these second-class states, there was certainly a constant jostling for prestige and preeminence, for wealth, for perhaps favor or attention from Crete, for imitation of the 'high society' on Crete and some of the more important islands ruled by Crete, and it is not inconceivable that there was a general acceptance in the Aegean that Crete was the 'legitimate' overlord of the whole region. Certainly that was the only arrangement the Hellenes were ever aware of until -1454. (When they arrived on the Aegean and came over from Ionia into the Peloponnesus, aioli, attic, and so on, around -2200, Crete had already been united and ruled all the Aegean and probably controlled much of the mainland, for twenty to thirty generations)

In any case, by the mid 15th century, I think the mainland had become a much more important part of the picture in terms of political military, and economic development, in terms of population, and in terms of them starting to feel a little constrained in their orbit. There is still no real evidence that there was open conflict between Crete and the mainland cities on a large scale, but certainly they competed more fiercely with one another as the only avenue for consolidation and empire-building available. When by chance the eruption of Thira wrought its havoc on Crete and the fleets of the Cretans, it didn't take long for the mainlanders to jump into their ships and sail to the islands to claim the remnants. The rebuilding of the palace at Knossos by Mycenaean's looks like a textbook case of a society in orbit of a bigger more 'advanced' one, having so fully internalized the supremacy of the other power, that even if it managed to overpower it militarily, will set itself up in imitation and continuation of that more advanced one, seek to preserve and enforce the civilization it just conquered, and style itself as the protector and heir of the old rulers' society.

The Mycenaean's, being arguably the most important of the mainland cities and probably the wealthiest and most powerful, certainly did manage to at least reestablish some order in Crete and for a while tried to restore the status quo, with Crete at the center of the Aegean world, but they don't seem to have managed it in the long term.

Some reasons for this are probably that first off, they were _not_ themselves Crete. They were just another city in orbit around Crete, not the center itself, even if they were one of the bigger and stronger of the client states. I don't think the social acceptance of a Cretan empire ruled by Mycenaean kings really made it. I think the legitimacy of the ascendancy of Knossos, the legitimacy of the Minus, which seemed so successful that they didn't fortify their cities, was forever lost when the Mycenaean's struck out to try their luck and ruling the whole system themselves in the place of the Minus. Part of this was because of the difference, even just conceptually, between just another city in the Minoan sphere of influence, and the Minoan home island itself, with its cities. None of the mainland cities would abide the domination of another mainland city, but all of them together could (and did) abide (even if sometimes they might have begrudged paying tribute to Knossos) the domination of Crete. (Part of this is that Crete was bigger than any other city-state by a far margin, and Crete had been unified so early).

I also think that part of their failure to keep the Cretan machine humming smoothly was because of more subtle collapse of some of the forces which had kept that most unique empire together. The Minoan rule had consolidated Crete itself under its hegemony at that point 15 centuries before, and had even before its unification of the island been engaging in long distance trade and building ships and managing complicated organized things. Over long centuries, power structures, social structures, human networkings, grew and interwove and evolved and somehow they got to a point where the Minus could keep everything running, where things had reached a kind of balance and achieved a kind of stability. This was the result of a long slow growth and thousands of small trial and error lessons, none of which were probably noticed as the slow perfection of their way of doing things. In any case, much of this intricate socio-economic-politic tapestry was maintained and actively threaded by the 'important people' of their society, be they merchants, captains, landowners, diplomats, royal families, what have you, they were the movers and shakers of the Minoan world.

It is also very likely that these would be most directly targeted for replacement by their Mycenaean counterparts after the Mycenaean's managed to conquer Crete. Certainly when there are important or capable people in your own home city, why would you favor the ones from the other island if you can help it? I think the Mycenaean's inadvertently broke apart the slowly evolved mechanisms , made out of people primarily, which helped bind the Cretan system together. After being cut loose, not only indirectly by the elimination of the skilled administrative organism, but also by many of the other cities, no longer feeling particularly inhibited (and certainly Mycenae was in no position to fight them all at once), carved it up into bits and each took what it could for its own. The Mycenaean palace at Knossos was destroyed and not rebuilt probably because this never managed to root itself very well on Crete. As sophisticated as the mainland towns had been, they were clients to the more sophisticated empire on Crete and they couldn't mask this entirely. Ultimately they remained small city states and a city state does not scale into an empire.

Nonetheless, despite this decline, the Bronze Age continued on, things got arguably more advanced and more wealthy, and the Greek world continued to prosper, though now bereft of the unifying power of the hegemon in Knossos. they probably continued drifting along similar paths after losing the center they orbited, for a long long time. The Trojan war itself might be one example of attempts to still act like they were part of a bigger entity, by forming a coalition to achieve what Crete would probably have done single handedly. It isn't like the kings of the cities were sitting there thinking about it explicitly, it is just how this sort of thing tends to happen, unconsciously and sometimes entirely unlooked for. In any case, by that time, the first probes of the durians were already reaching south, and we already hear some hints of things falling on hard times. I don't think that tin supplies themselves would have failed- there were three major sources of tin at the time that I know of, one in the mountains of northern Iran, one near Belgrade on the Danube, and one near Cornwall on Britain. The last two of these were known to the Greeks, the deposits on the Danube having been worked by the Cretan empire and the deposits on Britain probably having been discovered later (circa 1600-1550, from what I've read), and judging by the hints I've read were worked by Mycenaean's or more generally one of the mainland cities. (I doubt they would have cooperated on such a venture). In any case the tin mines on Britain were pretty small compared to the other two, but they were unique and probably played some part in the rise (and increased boldness) of the mainland cities and their ultimate venture in eating the Cretan empire. An independent source of the all important tin, in the Bronze Age, was the maker of superpowers. Well, not the only thing necessary, and certainly superpowers existed without it, but certainly I consider this to be one more support for the great power and wealth of the Minoans.

Anyway, there does not seem to be any decrease in the amount of bronze artifacts after the Trojan War, so I doubt tin ran out. I think more likely, the Trojan War itself did not have a major impact on the status quo, but was symptomatic of a bigger trend. The world was changing. Once the breeze blows a bit, people tend to run ahead of it or at least try, even if the breeze stops blowing. The commerce that upheld the high culture of the bronze age was indeed slowing down a bit, and once it slows down a bit, men who might have sailed their ships with cargo before, and now are faced with less trade and less of a livelihood, will probably turn to piracy or looting to keep their end up, and probably worsen the dip in commerce that was already manifesting itself. Moreover, as commerce became less important, priorities in the Aegean cities probably changed, conflict between cities became fiercer, larger multicity coalitions probably became more short lived and more violent, and production and consumption of luxury items probably became less important than weapons and fortifications. Colonies in far away places would be left to fend for themselves as the home cities were faced with more fighting, and yet again the higher culture and bigger community would weaken in the face of greater problems on the doorstep.

I think the Trojan War itself was actually fought over control of the traffic going through the straits, and might hint that even then, the Greek cities needed to import foodstuffs to augment local production. It is entirely likely that while the whole thing is teetering and feeling uneasy, some very bad droughts made it all that much worse. Droughts are a reality in Greece even today, and probably were just as much then, and if a particularly bad one struck, the Greek world would certainly have done the only thing it could for survival, tried to import food from anywhere imaginable. Such times of hardship always put a strain on power structures, and in some places it seems that that strain was too great and things broke down into chaos for a while.

At the same time that all this is going on, the durians weren't idle. They were heading south after spending a long time in Epirus and Macedonia. (Near the village I hail as home, there are the very visible remains of a Dorian fortified acropolis, and there are in the memory still bits about a larger Dorian town down in the now forested valley, and I've heard that they're supposedly from about -1300) and just as the Greek cities were client states in orbit around Crete and its society, the durians I think were largely in cultural, social, and probably economic sway of the Greek cities and their civilization, on the periphery of which the durians had lived for centuries. (there were some parts in Epirus which still spoke the old Minoan/Pelasgian languages even into the beginning of the Christian era, it should be noted) With the increase in violence and the weakness of the cities, I think what was a slowly growing, light pressure by the durians to expand found an outlet and set a trend for the next generation, wherein the now somewhat tired out Greek world was swept through quickly not only by durians, but also by a lot of internal strife. Granaries being sacked, palaces being thrown into chaos by conflicts within the walls, and so on, are all very typical once the mayhem has begun.. That sort of things propagated itself until there wasn't any more fuel left to feed it, and when the smoke had cleared there really was nothing left but the ashes and rubble of the Greek world.

If the Mycenaean's weren't sophisticated enough to set themselves up on the seats of Minus and rule the Aegean as a single empire, then the durians were certainly not sophisticated enough to rule even a single city as the Mycenaean's had.. to their credit, it is most likely that things weren't on the up for the support of such a city even if the durians had tried harder to rule them. In all likelihood, the various Dorian princes who set up their thrones in the half-ruined cities they had overrun were trying very much to imitate the Greek kings they had just killed, driven off into the hills or into ships, or overthrown. Unfortunately, even if the Greek kings and the palace communities who kept their kingdoms running had survived and remained in power, they probably would have had a real run for their money trying to put things back together and maintaining their level of sophistication. By the time the durians were done, too, iron was on the scene, and all the bronze age long range commerce had lost one more of its key commodities, to further hinder any great recovery.

3. On this note, it is appropriate to briefly point out one of my ideas about the 'sea peoples' who at this time were so destructive on the eastern Mediterranean. To me, it seems very likely that these people were a combination of Cretan (and general Minoan) seamen, captains, magnates, and otherwise important people (in Greek the word 'arxontes' nicely sums up the essence of this meaning :) and later on their counterparts of the post-Minoan Greek world, going down into their ships and sailing away because there was nothing left for them at home but war, famine, or destruction. I think that many of the displaced Cretan upper crust, and much of their seafaring forces, who survived the volcanic destruction, probably realized that once it was clear the Mycenaean's were taking over their island and mainland kings were supplanting their power structures throughout the Aegean world, they were not going to be tolerated or have any place in the scheme of things. I think a sufficient number of those who had the means to picked up and fled, going mostly east but also maybe west or south. The foundation of the philistine pentapolis might also date to this era.. one notes that the original name of Gaza was Minoa.. In any case, I think the more desperate wave of seaborne refugees were those Greeks who were seeking a way out of what was likely a quadruple blow of declining commerce and increasing piracy, famine, of sharp increase in internal conflict in the Greek world, and finally Dorian invasions (note the destruction of Pylos and its anxious days before the end), would have grabbed what they could and left, some maybe to find succor for their cities, some maybe leaving and not intending to return. I would think more likely for most of the time of the attacks of the sea peoples that the former would be the case, with Greek cities, strapped for food, for metals, for means of conducting warfare, would have sent out their ships to take what they could from wherever they could. Plundering the Levantine and Egyptian coasts might have staved off the end for maybe a generation.

A final quick comment on the ending of the Bronze Age also will concern the scarcity of wood. Not only was the seafaring trade dependent on timber, but so much of the rest of everything was too. The Aegean world is barren of trees to this day because of bronze-age deforestation. The Greeks had to sail further and further for wood, going out into the euxine sea and to Lebanon and Italy, up into Anatolia and so on, because of a lack of timber at home. The same issue is discussed by Greek historians in the classical period, for example the lamentation (I don't remember now who wrote it) about the terrible erosion of the plain of Attica following its almost complete deforestation to build the navies during the Peloponnesians wars and the wars against the Persians.. As this problem became more acute, one of the basic resources on which the bronze age world, certainly the Greek part of it, depended, which was by then largely an import, as it has remained ever since, was getting harder and harder to acquire.. On the same note, the Greek settlements on Cyprus, established by Minoans in their heyday, had been smelting copper in large quantities for centuries now.

Towards -1200, copper production on the island almost grinds to a halt, largely I think because of an almost complete deforestation of the island and subsequent lack of fuel to feed the smelting furnaces. I have seen some accounts that the annual fuel consumption on Cyprus, in the form of wood, required the felling of about 4 square miles of forest.. given that it would be growing back over time, but not quite keeping up with the rate at which they were being cleared, it is very plausible that one of the biggest sources of copper for the Greek world ceased production around the time of the Trojan War. Some parallels to this from the iron age are the silver mines at Laurion, which still bear silver today but were abandoned in the fourth century bc because the cost of importing charcoal and wood to fuel the furnaces finally exceeded the value of the silver extracted, and also an iron mine on the coast near Rome which was for quite some time fed by imported fuel from Sardinia and finally the ores from which were shipped to Sardinia for smelting as fuel became so scarce, and finally was shut down.

4. Finally, a brief comment on the passing into myth of things like the building of the 'cyclopean' walls.

I think that before the Dorian invasion, while the skill to build such walls was largely already lost, the knowledge of who built them was quite current. After all, it seems very plausible that the descendants of the men who raised such walls would have been proud to recall that their forefathers (with some embellishment to the stories, over time, of course :) had built them. It is obvious that the tall tales about Cyclopes and giants and such having built them only arose in the dark ages, as the stabilizing factor on historical memory provided by more organized states and structures was removed. When these folks in the 900s or 1000s BC were looking at these huge walls, not only was the skill to build on that scale long gone from those regions, (partly because there was no further need of such fortifications for many centuries past), but also they had only the legends and the story-telling of the common folk, to go on. While the continuity of kings was broken, the continuity of farmers and herders and simpler folk was not. Another issue is that even before the Dorian invasion, it is likely that the skill to build such things was not commonly available: the building of such constructions involves a good bit of engineering and planning, especially for them to be as sturdy as they are.

This is not very 'visible' once they are built, and it is something that requires at least one or two people to spend quite a bit of time learning, either from someone else or by their own experience, what to do and what not to do. Given that such walls were not constantly being built, it is probable that in the beginning of the construction there was a lot of learning on the part of the foremen and the engineers.

Once you build a wall like this, you never have to build it again. The proof of this is that 3500 years later they're still there. Once the walls are built, then, this engineering skill is most likely going to disappear again. Even in the middle of the 15th century, I'd posit that in many cities, the skill to build on that scale was not present, though because of a certain level of sophistication in society, it was more latent and more likely to be developed when needed again.

By the time of the Trojan War, even the newest of these walls was quite old. By the time the bards were singing about them and men were explaining to their grandsons how those huge walls that some Dorian prince now lived in, with cracked walls and crumbling ramparts, the youngest such walls had stood in the sun for 2 or 3 centuries and in some cities for five or six centuries. Part of the legends must have been also the idea in the minds of the mostly rural populations that such a huge building would certainly be of no use to men: surely nobody had had any need of such a big building in hundreds of years, and none had been attempted that we know of.


I do not immediately have time to comment on this other than to express my great appreciation for it. There is a very great deal to think about here. I do have a new comment by Roland Dobbins:

One interesting puzzle of the First Dark Age is the seeming phonological 'parallel evolution' of hard consonants and the 'kw' construct in the various dialects of Greek and some of the Germanic languages, as well as Latin. This implies Hellenic-Germanic cross-cultural influences between at a base level over quite some period of time.

Isildur is correct when he states that exhaustion of tin supplies didn't lead to a collapse of trade, and therefore civilization as the Mycenaeans had practiced it; rather, the general collapse of trade led to a general scarcity of tin and copper (as your erstwhile correspondent pointed out, tin was being mined and transported from as far away as Cornwall during Mycenaean times, and there was a reason for that). Necessity being the mother of invention, various of the smiths of the time began playing about more seriously with the relatively plentiful iron ore, and some of them obviously learnt enough about its properties to come out ahead of the game.

Harry Erwin continues

The discussion considers why the 'first dark age' happened. Actually, if that was only one of two or three dark ages, the answer could be be simple accident contingency. But there is evidence for other dark ages, and there is a deeper question that the archaeology community has been interested in (see Renfrew, C. and Cherry, J., ed. 1986. Peer Polity Interaction and Socio-Political Change. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge; Rader, T. 1971. The Economics of Feudalism. Gordon and Breach: New York.): why do settled cultures prior to the modern period tend to cycle between aggregation and dispersal?

The connection between the deeper question and the dark ages question is direct: dark ages reflect periods of dispersal after urban aggregation. Interestingly, there is also evidence that rural populations increase during dark ages (Hodges, R. and Whitehouse, D. 1983. Mohammed, Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe. Duckworth: London), and that there is overall depopulation during the late stages of urban aggregation (Russell. J. C. 1987. Medieval Demography. AMS Press: New York).

Trout Rader attempted to explain this by applying some algebraic topology. In Economics of Feudalism, he developed general market equilibrium models of slave and feudal economies. He assumed self-sufficient regional economies, extensive economic obligations to local elites, and free individual agriculture, limited by labor availability and the fertility of the land. He noted that the short-run interest of the elites was in maximizing the supply of elite goods, produced in "urban" workshops. The elite preference for elite goods, combined with the relative ease of collecting taxes and tribute from controlled urban areas, led to elite policies in favor of rural-to-urban migration. His use of the Poincaré-Bendixsen theorem was flawed when he attempted to prove that rural and urban populations could be expected to cycle, but his results are recoverable with some additional assumptions, and his model for the feudal economy can be extended to more general systems.

Non-linear dependence of political power on urbanization is necessary to create the dynamics seen in the archaeological record, especially the rapidity of dispersal and the collapse of urban communities. If political power is linearly dependent on urban community population, this system would produce a fixed ratio of urban to rural population. Given that assumption, as an urbanized society lost population, the elites could (and would want to) enforce an evolutionary trajectory that would eventually arrive at zero population. The historical pattern of system collapse at a non-zero regional population would not occur (Cherry and Renfrew 1986).

This has some interesting implications. If a sufficiently large forcing function is applied to this type of system (representing large-scale migrations generated by the population dynamics of neighboring polities), chaotic dynamics can be generated (Guckenheimer and Holmes 1983, sec. 2.1), with elites, urban groups, and rural groups all having a role. These dynamics would make long-term planning impossible for the elites and would disrupt social and political relationships. For instance, if a population movement reduced the size of an urban community below the urbanization threshold, the peer polity could be destroyed. This implies cooperative control over population movements should be a primary concern of elites in neighboring communities.

I did some simple modeling of the Cretan palace system and discovered that lacking an internal market, it seems to have been very difficult to manage and prone to overproduction of elite and trade goods, so destroying their value in commerce. I understand the archaeological record sees a conversion of the Cretan economy over time from Mediterranean polyculture to woolen and flaxen cloth production, eventually culminating at the time of the collapse with a landscape dominated by sheep-raising. The interesting thing is that the Mycenaean culture followed a similar pattern after they dominated the Aegean. In both cases, there is evidence for war at the end, but it is likely that a system coping with a collapse in the price of their trade and elite goods would have found it difficult to defend itself from a hostile takeover. --

--- Harry Erwin, PhD, Senior Lecturer of Computing, University of Sunderland. Computational neuroscientist modeling bat bioacoustics and behavior. <http://www.cet.sunderland.ac.uk/~cs0her/index.html>














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