The ages of Greece

I want to clear up all the different terms used for Greek historical periods, because I use them from time to time. Some are so vague as to be almost useless, some are quite precise, and unfortunately they're often used interchangably.

Ancient Greece is a vague term meaning almost any time from the stone age to the fall of the Roman Empire. People tend to misuse it as a synonym for the combined Archaic + Classical periods. I'm a serial offender. Sorry.

Now for the rest in chronological order:

Minoan Civilization is pre-Greek but is usually lumped in, because Greek cultural memory begins with the Minoans. Think Palace of Knossos, Minos, Labyrinth, Minotaur (my publisher!) and interesting dresses for the ladies. Women's fashion declined sadly when Minoan civilization fell. The Minoans lived in the Bronze Age to about 1500BC (your mileage may vary on these dates).

Mykenaean Civilisation is the beginning of the Greeks. The transition from Minoan to Mykenaean culture looks almost seamless from our distance. Mykenai, Argos, Thebes and Athens are all well-established cities. (They were before too, but now they're serious cities.) The Minoans and Mykenaeans were really quite advanced peoples. It also appears to have been a relatively peaceful time with lots of trade. About 1600BC to 1200BC.

The Dark Ages. No, not the Dark Ages we know, but one which came long before. There's been more than one period when civilization fell. A tribe of Greeks called the Dorians invaded from the north and messed things up big time. All learning and civilization was lost. The next 400 years were awful to live in, but this is also the Age of Heroes.

Homer's stories take place in the Dark Ages. Homer himself probably lived during the transition from the Dark Ages to the Archaic Period.

Archaic Period. The Greeks and their neighbours drag themselves out of the Dark Ages. They rebuild civilization, recover what was lost and go on to add much more. The invention of writing and money, massive advances in realistic art and architecture. The birth of philosophy. The Constitution of Solon begins the drive to democracy. In terms of cultural advance it was very much like the Renaissance. 800BC to 480BC. At last the dates become solid. The Archaic Period ends precisely on the Persian Wars. Nicolaos was born in 480BC.

Periclean Athens. Athens puts the culture pedal to the floor and you can't see them for the dust. Everything the Archaic Period was building towards explodes into 50 glorious years. Also called The Golden Age. Western civilization is founded. Somehow, at least 12 world-class geniuses were born at the same time into a place the size of a small modern town plus surrounds. When people say Ancient Greece, it's usually Periclean Athens they're thinking of. Periclean Athens is really just a subset of and the beginning of the Classical Period.

Classical Period. Stretches from the Persian Wars to the amazing victories of Alexander. Athens blunders around after the death of Pericles in 429BC and eventually loses its empire, but Athens' position as the School of Greece goes on. This is very much the time of Plato and Aristotle. Toward the end, a military genius called Philip of Macedon does the seemingly impossible by uniting the Greek city states. Philip would be remembered today as the greatest commander Greece ever produced, if he hadn't produced a son called Alexander.

Alexandrian Age. Like Pericles, he defined his time. He took over from Philip in 336BC and proceeded to conquer the entire known world. In 13 years.

Hellenistic Period. Begins with the death of Alexander in 323BC, and ends with the death of Hypatia in 415AD. These 738 years cover almost the entire period of Roman world rule. It's called Hellenistic because Greek learning and culture dominated even though Greece was reduced to a backwater. The Library of Alexandria was built early in the Hellenistic period. Hypatia lived at the peak of ancient learning. After her death, human knowledge begins to slip away. No one will equal her learning until the Renaissance is well underway, 1000 years later. The Ages of Greece are over.

So my stories are all set firmly inside the Golden Age. Nico's birth date has been carefully arranged so we can see all the excitement.

26 comments:

Matthew Delman said...

Twelve world-class geniuses born within the same town at roughly the same time.

Can you say "right place at the right time?"

Gary Corby said...

Yep. I've wondered, quite a lot, whether there was something about the culture that brought out the best in talented people. Maybe you could reproduce what happened almost anywhere, if you created the right environment?

Then again, maybe it was luck.

Loretta Ross said...

I'm having flashbacks to my last few weeks in college *coughmumblemumblecough* years ago! About a month before graduation the university suddenly decided that every department had to give their graduating seniors a comprehensive test. Art and Archaeology announced that they were just going to use the grad school entry exam.

I totally freaked! I'd done my first two years at a private women's college and hadn't even taken half the classes we were being tested over. It was going to be an identify-the-slides test so I wrote up about 300 index cards with descriptions on one side and name/date/provenance on the other and carried them everywhere. (Our friend the snake goddess was in there, I'm sure.)

Day of the test I asked another student if she'd studied enough. She gave me this look and said, "why? We don't have to pass this, they're just evaluating the professors."

Incidentally, one of my index card descriptions was "looks like Tony Randall". Can you identify it? (hint: it's a statue)

David J. West said...

Why'd ya have to go bagging on the Dorian's? SPARTA!

Gary Corby said...

Hi Loretta, yes, that post does somewhat resemble a lecture. Stop me if I start pontificating.

I'd gladly have a go at your question, but who is Tony Randall and what does he look like?

Gary Corby said...

Hey David, can I help it if your favourite tribe wanders about destroying civilization? It was the Dorians what done it.

And yes, the Dorians then settled in the Peloponnesian isthmus, and founded Sparta in particular.

RWMG said...

I'd always understood the Hellenistic Age ended with the death of Cleopatra VII of Egypt in 31 BC, as the last ruler of Alexander's successor states, to be followed by the Roman Age.

Gary Corby said...

Actually Robert, you're dead right. I cheated.

I've usually seen Cleopatra's death in 31BC given for the end, and also the Roman conquest of Greece in 146BC.

The conquest of Greece IMHO is irrelevant, because the point of the Hellenistic period is cultural dominance, not geopolitical.

I blew out the Hellenistic period deliberately to get in the entire useful life of the Library of Alexandria. In my biased view, Greek culture was still dominant.

Thanks for pointing it out, because if anyone's reading this post for their homework, you want to go with Robert's date, not mine.

RWMG said...

But is the death of Hypatia really a useful date for the end of the Library. It is not clear that the library really was still a going concern at that time.

Loretta Ross said...

I didn't mean you were lecturing! I think it's the snake goddess who inspired my flashbacks. ;)

Sorry, I thought even in Australia you'd have heard of Tony Randall. He was an icon in the American entertainment industry. There's a bio of him here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_Randall

Scroll down to a younger picture of him which looks like the statue in question.

Gary Corby said...

I expect there was book loss by then, but people were still publishing - Hypatia's Dad, for example - and there were still classes, or Bishop Synesius of Cyrene could not have been her pupil.

To me it's more significant than the death of Cleopatra, which was geopolitics in business as usual.

Hypatia was the last of the Hellene greats. Her murder made it official that the old pagan system was gone.

I freely confess this isn't historical orthodoxy, but if I was going to write a novel about the fall of Hellenism, this is the moment I'd choose.

Gary Corby said...

Alright Loretta, here's my best guess. Tony Randall looks like...

Octavian?

RWMG said...

Have you seen the film?

Gary Corby said...

No, I haven't! I don't think it's released yet in Australia. Very annoying.

Loretta Ross said...

Actually, I was thinking L'Arringatore. http://giornale.regione.marche.it/archivio/num0301/foto19cg.jpg

Funny, the resemblance isn't as strong as I remember. :-/ I can see Octavian, too. Though he looks more like Bing Crosby to me. *G*

RWMG said...

Nor have I. I'll probably have to wait and get it on DVD.

Gary Corby said...

Maybe Tony Randall is descended from both of them?

Robert, I'll probably have to get it on DVD too. And they wonder why piracy is rampant. Sheesh.

Yamile said...

I love reading your posts and the comments. I feel like a kindergartener trying to follow a conversation by the seven graders. I catch a few familiar names and phrases and nod at the rest. Fascinating!
By the way Gary, when's your book coming out? I'm compiling a list of 2010 debut authors whose books I want to read, and of course I wanted to include your book.

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Yamile! The book's out in Fall, so between September and December. St Martin's knows what books they're publishing in that period and some time fairly soon (I hope) they'll decide the order of the releases. Then I can be more precise.

Yamile said...

I'll add it to my list!

RWMG said...

I would start a major rant about downloadable items such as audiobooks and music which are only available in certain places (which do not include Indonesia) but it's bad for my blood pressure.

Gary Corby said...

I know what you mean Robert. A proxy server in the US is looking like a good idea.

RWMG said...

I think they're catching on to that. My last attempt was rejected based on my credit card details.

Peter Rozovsky said...

You might like to know that Colin Dexter mentioned Aristotle at least twice yesterday during his interview and his speech at Crimefest -- that's Colin Dexter, crime novelist and former teacher of classics.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

Gary Corby said...

Hi Peter!

Wish I was over at that conference with you. Sounds like huge fun.

I didn't know he'd taught classics, but I'm not surprised. Morse is amazingly clever with words.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Gary, Colin Dexter several time read or quoted from letters in his CrimeFest presentations. When he read postscript material, for postscript, he invariably read postscriptum.
==============
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com