Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The Dark Age was necessary to produce Classical Greece as we know it. The Mycenaean civilization would not have brought about all that we obtained from Classical Greece despite their achievements. It was their achievements that were the very obstacles that needed to be removed for the rise of Archaic and Classic Greece to occur.
The king was the center of religious, economic, political, and social life in that environment. There would not have been the chance for democracy to be born under such circumstances. There would not have been a polis created to be the launching point to democracy. The king was in charge and directed Mycenaean life: religiously, economically, and politically. For democracy to develop, the people had to create the polis together and have a say in how it was developed and governed. The ruling Mycenaeans would not have allowed that to happen. No kingship desires to be removed from the throne. The fall of the Mycenaeans removed the obstacle of kingships and opened the door for the people to step up and become a participant in how their lives flowed. Having a say would now become possible even if limited. This would also have hindered philosophy as it stemmed from free thought and democratic ideals.
The militaristic nature of the Mycenaeans was another characteristic that would have hindered the development of Classical Greece’s cultural advancements and the ability for individual thought. A perfect example of how suppressive such a society could be is found in Sparta, which rose up in power during the Archaic and Classical eras. Sparta took the military might from the Bronze Age and perfected it to a very high degree of excellence. Sparta strived for “stability and conformity and emphasized order.” Their soldiers were a force to be reckoned with and death was better than defeat. The Spartan military law forbade “them to flee from battle, and no matter how many men they are fighting, it orders them to remain in their rank and either prevail or perish.” The people of Sparta never sought new ideas, art, literature, philosophy, or culture of any kind. The state discouraged it as they focused on military skill and strength. Democracy, philosophy, drama, and poetry would never have developed in such a culture. The Mycenaeans did produce art, but combined with their type of government, these cultural advances would have taken slower to develop or not have happened at all. Culture and military focus would be hard pressed to survive together.
The time of the Dark Ages was a time for the Greek civilization to start over and create fresh fertile ground for new ideas to grow. By removing the grandeur of the palaces, the military actions, and the control of the king, the remaining population was able to focus on banding together to survive. They learned to work together without having to answer to extreme hierarchy. There were still some with money and power that generated respect as discovered at the archeological site of Lefkandi, but these were rare and diminished as time went on. Power shifted to assemblies, counsils, and eventually to the people. New ideas were germinating that would eventually produce democratic ideals. New ideas for art were forming and creating a unique type that would lead to the art and architecture that Classical Greece is known for today. The Dark Age might have been dormant, but it was not inactive. Like the winter that comes to allow seeds to prepare for a beautiful and bountiful spring, the Dark Age gave the people a chance to prepare to take the world by storm. Greece had to start over for even greater achievements.
If there had not been a Dark Age, the chances of a Classical Greece would be slim to none. The focus tends to be on the might and majesty of the Mycenaean civilization and not on how all of it would actually be the obstacles to the splendor of the Classical Greece era. Though Mycenaeans were influential throughout the Mediterranean, had magnificent palaces, produced beautiful art, and commanded a military that was something to behold, by that very nature they could not have produced democracy or philosophy to the degree that Classical Greece gave the world. Their own achievements would be holding them back. Enjoying success can be blinding to the next step.
The Dark Age was not dark at all. In fact, this age was one of the most active as it was recovering from a sudden shift in culture, government, and society overall. It was preparing for a magnificent civilization that would inspire leaders for the next several thousand years. From the Dark Age, Greece brought forth the use of iron which would change warfare completely as well as trade and daily life. New art forms developed to support Greek trade. The polis was created which would be the seed form which democracy and philosophy would grow. Greece had to go through the Dark Age before Classical Greece could arise. This period is a bright moment in Greek history that has been too often misunderstand and underestimated and kept in the dark.