David Hines
Roarshocking events
By David Hines
December 3, 2011

If there is such a thing as an historical Rorschach test, the Greek dark ages would fill the bill. I speak, of course, of the ancient history (1200-800 BC), not the current Greek debt crisis. There is a tantalizing sketch, and a lack of detail. This invites insertion of what the observer wishes and expects to see.

Greece had a thriving Bronze Age civilization — called the Achaeans by those with a literary bent and Mycenaeans by those inclined to archaeology, the citadel of Mycenae being the first major dig. They fought a war against Ilium/Troy (C. 1275 BC). A generation later the civilization collapsed. A period followed during which there is a dearth of records and few artifacts. Later, the Dorians are found dominating most of Greece, with Ionians in Attica and throughout the Aegean.

The early digs took place at a time of competing European empires (1841, 1874, 1902 AD). It might seem natural, then, that the event was viewed as "the Dorian invasion." Iron-using Dorian herdsmen descended upon Greece and overwhelmed the Achaeans. Some of the Achaean citadels were ravaged by fire, which might support such a view.

There is at least one problem with this theory: where are the people? After the Achaean collapse much of Greece was depopulated for many years. If there were swarms of Dorians, there ought to be people. But they are notably absent from the archaeological record.

A modification of the invasion theory calls it "the return of the Heracleidae." In this version the invasion becomes a dynastic squabble. Legends of the older civilization come through the dark ages, passed on orally until committed to writing in later centuries. The sons of Heracles were banished. They took refuge in Athens but were pursued, and fought against Mycenae. Though the Mycenaean king was killed, they had to flee to Thessaly and were welcomed by the Dorians. They rose to be leaders there. An attempt to reclaim their patrimony failed, but a few generations later their descendants were successful.

A problem with this theory is that the Achaeans were matrilineal. Kings got their titles not from their fathers, but rather through marriage to queens. Menelaus, Odysseus, and others became kings in this manner. A claim by grandchildren of a prince would carry no weight. It would not be unprecedented if the "Heracleidae" were native Dorian chiefs who claimed descent from the demigod to legitimize their conquests. The Dorians were patrilineal; the justification would make sense to them, if not to conquered Achaeans.

But where are the people?

Drought, famine, or other natural disaster might account for the collapse without recourse to invasion. People may have dispersed, seeking greener pastures elsewhere. If this were so, the Dorians would later have moved into depopulated lands. This is a very common event throughout history, e.g., the Ostrogoths in Dalmatia; the southern Slavs in the Balkans.

Where did they go? All over, it seems. We find them in Cyprus. The Philistines were Greeks; their pottery, armor, etc. show continuity with the Greek mainland, though in their new environs they adopted a Semitic language. The population of Athens grew, suggesting that many went there, maybe setting out to colonize Aegean islands and the Anatolian coast. Roman legend says that a Bronze-age Greek city named "Pallantium" had been built on the Palatine hill. Some Greeks were assimilated by the Etruscans; one such became a king of Rome. According to the traditional Roman chronology this would have been at a much later date (616 BC), but that timeline is nowadays regarded as being condensed and unreliable.

If the people merely walked away, why the burned citadels? One explanation might be that the nobles competed among themselves for control of dwindling resources. Another: The people were tired of being taxed for a lengthy foreign war. If history holds true, the taxation was not reduced at the end of the war. Once funds have been appropriated, seldom does a government significantly reduce the collection. Some of the population may have emigrated, while others revolted against their lords.

It may never be known what really happened. The orthodox interpretation has gone through changes, and shall again. With the rise of movements such as the TEA Party and Occupy Wall Street, maybe the "revolt" theory will gain ascendancy. The recent droughts and tornadoes in the Great Plains might argue for the natural-disaster theory. Current economic woes might suggest an ancient economic collapse.

How one views a situation is likely to be colored by the tribulations of one's own times; people tend to project modern views upon previous peoples, thinking they are more knowledgeable and astute than they may really be. The careful scholar attempts to minimize such projection, but it cannot be entirely avoided.

History and pre-history are tantalizing subjects. Since we do not live in the same milieu, with the same dominant philosophies imbued in us, they shall always have a bit of the Rorschach aspect about them.

© David Hines


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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)


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