1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > Greek History: The Prehistoric Period, Down to the Close of the Great Migrations

(Part 3)



I: The Prehistoric Period, Down to the Close of the Great Migrations

" Ancient Hellas," says Aristotle, " is the country about Dodona and the Achelous, .... for the Selloi lived there, and the people then called the Graikoi, but now the Hellenes" (Meteor., i. 14). The name Graikoi probably meant the " old " or " honourable " folk (Curtius, Etym., 130). The Italians may have enlarged the application of this name, which they found on the eastern side of the Ionian Gulf. The moderns have followed the Romans in giving it to the whole people who, from very early times, have always called themselves Hellenes. Primitive The evidence of language tells something as to the point Indo- of civilization which had been reached by the ancestors of crrilUa™ Ind°"European nations before the Hellenes parted from turn.' tn6 common stock in Central Asia. They had words for " father," " mother," " brother," " sister," " son," " daugh-ter," and also for certain affinities by marriage, as " father-in-law," " brother-in-law," " daughter-in-law." They lived in houses ; they wore clothes made of wool or skins; as arms they had the sword and the bow; they had flocks and herds, goats and clogs ; they drove, if they did not ride, horses. They were a pastoral rather than an agri-cultural people. They knew how to work gold, silver, and copper; they could count up to a hundred; they reckoned time by the lunar month; they spoke of the sky as the Ileaven-fatlier. The first great migration from the common home was that which carried the ancestors of the Teutonic, Slavonic, and Lithuanian tribes into north-western Europe. The next was that which carried the ancestors of Greeks, Italians, and Celts into southern and south-western Europe.
Language indicates that there must have been a period during which the forefathers of Greeks and Italians, after the Celts had parted from them, lived together as one people. Again, the Greek language, unique in its characteristic development, tells that the Hellenes, after the Italians had left them, must have long remained an undivided people. But to us this primitive Hellenic unity is prehistoric. We first know the Hellenes as a race divided into Hellenes, two great branches, each with well-marked characteristics of its own,—Dorians and Ionians ; while those who have been less affected by the special causes which produced these divergences from an earlier common type are regarded as forming a third branch, and are called collectively JEolians. Further, we hear of a people distinguished indeed from the Hellenes, yet apparently felt (as by Thucydides) to be not wholly alien from them,—a people represented as having been before them in Greece proper, on the coasts, and in the islands of the iEgean,— the Pelasgians. In Pelas-some Homeric passages, and those among the oldest, the Siaus-name Pelasgoi denotes a tribe of Achaean or iEolian Greeks living in Thessaly (Iliad, ii. 681 ; xvi. 233). In other poetical texts of later date, and repeatedly in Hero-dotus, Pelasgoi is a general designation for people of whom the Greeks knew little definitely, except that they had preceded the Hellenic dwellers in the land. In this second and vague use, " Pelasgian" is virtually equivalent to " prehistoric."
The highlands of Phrygia have the best claim to be Earliest regarded as the point of departure for the distinctively Hellenic Hellenic migrations. In these fertile regions of north- ™0^ja" western Asia Minor, the Hellenes, after the Italians had left them, may have lived, first as a part of the Phrygian nation, and afterwards as a separate people. From these First seats a great wave of migration seems to have carried over epoch, the Hellespont into Europe a population which diffused itself through Greece and the Peloponnesus, as well as over the coasts and islands of the archipelago. In after ages, when the kinship, though perhaps dimly suspected, was no longer recognized, the Hellenes called these earlier occu-pants of the land Pelasgians. It has been conjectured that in Pelasgos we have combined the roots of -rripav and et/ii (_qa). The name would then mean " the further-goer," " the emigrant." It would thus be appropriate as the name given by the Hellenes, who had remained behind in Phry-gia, to the kinsmen who had passed over into Europe before them.
The second epoch of migration from the Phrygian high- Second lands appears to have been one by which single Hellenic eP°cJi. tribes, with special gifts and qualities, were carried forth to become the quickeners of historic life among inert masses of population, among those " Pelasgians" who had long been content to follow the calm routine of husbandmen or herdsmen. The ancestors of the Ionians went down to the coasts of Asia Minor, and became the founders of a race whose distinctive powers found scope in maritime enter-prise and in commerce. The ancestors of the Dorians passed into the highlands of Northern Greece, and there developed the type of hardy mountaineer which united the robust vigour of hunter and warrior with a firm loyalty to ancestral traditions in religion and in civil government.
Of these two branches,—the Ionian and the Dorian,— the Ionian was that which most actively influenced the early development of Greece. But the Ionians themselves Phoeni' derived the first impulses of their progress from a foreign cians-source. Those Canaanites or "lowdanders" of Syria, whom we call by the Greek name of Phoenicians, inhabited the long narrow strip of territory between Lebanon and the sea. Phoenicia, called " Keft " by the Egyptians, had at a remote period contributed Semitic settlers to the Delta or " Isle of Caphtor; " and it would appear from the evidence of the Egyptian monuments that the Kefa, or Phoenicians, were a great commercial people as early as the 16th century B.C. Cyprus, visible from the heights of Lebanon, was the first stage of the Phoenician advance into the. Western waters ; and to the last there was in Cyprus a Semitic element side by side with the Indo-European. From Cyprus the Phoenician navigators proceeded to the southern

coasts of Asia Minor, where Phoenician colonists gradually blended with the natives, until the entire seaboard had become in a great measure subject to Phoenician influences. Thus the Solymi, settled in Lycia, were akin to the Canaan-ites ; and the Carians, originally kinsmen of the Greeks, were strongly affected by Phoenician contact. It was at Miletus especially that the Ionian Greeks came into com-mercial intercourse with the Phoenicians. Unlike the dwellers on the southern seaboard of Asia Minor, they showed no tendency to merge their nationality in that of the Syrian strangers. But they learned from them much that concerned the art of navigation, as, for instance, the use of the round-built merchant vessels called -yaCAot, and probably also a system of weights and measures, as well as the rudiments of some useful arts. The Phoenicians had been first drawn to the coasts of Greece in quest of the purple-fish which was found in abundance off the coasts of the Peloponnesus and of Boeotia; other attractions were furnished by the plentiful timber for shipbuilding which the Greek forests supplied, and by veins of silver, iron, and copper ore.

Two Two periods of Phoenician influence on early Greece
periods may De distinguished: first, a period during which they of Phoe- were brought into intercourse with the Greeks merely by
lllCltin 111" v v
fluence. traffic in occasional voyages ; secondly, a period of Phoeni-cian trading settlements in the islands or on the coasts of the Greek seas, when their influence became more penetra-ting and thorough. It was probably early in this second period,—perhaps about the end of the 9th century B.C.,— that the Phoenician alphabet became diffused through Greece. This alphabet was itself derived from the alpha-bet of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, which was brought into Phoenicia by the Phoenician settlers in the Delta. It was imported into Greece, probably, by the Aramaeo-Phoenicians of the Gulf of Antioch,—not by the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon,—and seems to have superseded, in Asia Minor and the islands, a syllabary of some seventy characters, which continued to be used in Cyprus down to a late time. The direct Phoenician influence on Greece lasted to about 600 B.C. Commerce and navigation were the provinces in which the Phoenician influence, strictly so called, was most felt by the Greeks. In art and science, in everything that concerned the higher culture, the Phoenicians seem to have been little more than carriers from East to West of Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian ideas. Influence The legends of European Greece speak clearly of foreign of Asiatic elements in civilization and in religious worship which came European'm ^rom 'ne East. But they do not constrain us to suppose Hellas.' that those who brought in these new elements were always, or as a rule, strangers to the people among whom they brought them. On the contrary the myths constantly say, or imply, that the new comers were akin to the people among whom they came ; as the sons of iEgyptus are first cousins to the daughters of Danaus ; as Cadmus and Pelops, though nominally of foreign origin, are thoroughly national heroes and founders. Hence it appears reasonable to con-clude that the East by which European Hellas was most directly and vitally influenced was not the Semitic but the Hellenic East; that the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, after having themselves been in intercourse with Phoenicia and Egypt, were the chief agents in diffusing the new ideas among their kinsmen on the western side of the iEgean. Asiatic Greeks, who had settled among Egyptians in the Delta, or who had lived amid Phoenician colonies in Asia Minor, would easily be confounded, in popular rumour, with Egyptians or Phoenicians. The Asiatic Greeks, as pioneers of civilization in European Greece, appear some-times under the name of Carians,—when they are little more than teachers of certain improvements in the art of war, and have a decidedly foreign character,—sometimes as
Leleges, who are associated especially with Lycia, Miletus, and the Troad, and who, as compared with the " Carians," are the representatives of a more advanced civilization. In the east the seafaring Ionians gave their name to the whole Greek people, as in the Hebrew Scriptures the Greeks are " the sons of Javan,"—the Uinim of the Egyptians, the Iauna of the Persians. It does not appear that the European Greeks of early days used "Ionian" in this way as a collective name for the Asiatic Greeks. But such names as lasion, lason, Iasian Argos point to a sense that the civilization which came from Asia Minor was connected with Ionia. At a later time the Greeks forgot the Ionians and Phoenicians who had brought an Eastern civilization to the western side of the iEgean. Vividly impressed by the great antiquity of this civilization itself, especially in Egypt, they preferred to suppose that they had derived it directly from the source.
The appearance of new elements in religious worship is Religion, one great mark of the period during which Greece in Europe was still being changed by influences, Greek or foreign, from the East. The worship which the fathers of the Hellenes had brought with them from the common home in Asia was the worship of the " Heaven-father," the unseen father who dwells in aether, whose temple is the sky, and whose altar is most fitly raised on the mountain top, as the ancient shrine of the Arcadian Zeus was the grove on the summit of Mount Lycaeus. This is the " Pelasgian Zeus, dwelling afar," to whom the Homeric Achilles prays. But as the uuited Hellenic race parted into tribes, so to the first simple worship of the Heaven-father was added a variety of local cults. And as mariners from other lands began to visit the coasts, they brought in their own gods with them. Thus Melcarth, the city-god of Tyre, is re-cognized in Melicertes as worshipped at the isthmus of Corinth. In one Greek form of the worship of Heracles, Astarte—the goddess of the Phoenician sailors—becomes Aphrodite, who springs from the sea. The myth of Adonis, the worship of the Achaean Demeter, are other examples. There are, again, other divinities who came to European Greece, not directly from the non-Hellenic East, but as deities already at home among the Ionians. Such was Poseidon, and, above all, Apollo, whose coming is every-where a promise of light and joy.
Little precise knowledge of the earliest kingdoms and The states can be extracted from the legends as they have come eal'ly down to us, but some general inferences are warranted. states-The tradition that Minos cleared the archipelago of pirates Crete, and established a wide maritime dominion, that he was the first to sacrifice to the Charites, and that Daedalus wrought for him, may be taken at least as indicating that Crete played a prominent part in the early history of Greek culture, and that there was a time when Cretan kings were strong enough to protect commerce in the iEgean waters. Again, though Gordius and Midas have Phrygia, passed into the region of fable, there are reasonable grounds for the belief that the ancient kings of Phrygia once exercised dominion over Asia Minor. The Lydians, in Lydia. whose origin Semitic and Aryan elements appear to have been mingled, have a twofold interest in this dawn of Hellenic history. First, they represent the earliest kingdom in Asia Minor of which anything is certainly known. Secondly, they are on land what the Phoenicians are on the sea,— carriers or mediators between the Greeks and the East. In the north-west corner of Asia Minor, a branch of Troy, the Dardani—whose ancestor is described as worshipping the Pelasgian Zeus—founded the kingdom of the Troas, the land of Troy. It has been remarked that the double names of the Trojan heroes,—Alexander, Paris,—Hector, Darius,—point to the twofold relationship of the Trojans, on the one side to Hellas, on the other to Asia. In

The European Greece we find the race known as the Minyaa, Minyaa. whose early glories are linked with the story of " Jason and the Argonauts" moving southward from the shores of the Gulf of Pagasae into the valley of Lake Copais, and found-ing the Boeotian Orchomenus. The early greatness of Thebes. Thebes is associated with the name of Cadmus, the king-priest who introduces the art of writing, who builds the citadel, who founds a system of artificial irrigation. The Achaean princes, whose chivalrous spirit is expressed in the Pelidae in Homeric Achilles, rule in the fertile valley of the Thessalian Thessaly. phthiotis. In the Peloponnesus the Pelopidae at Mycenae Pelopidae reign over Achaeans ; and Agamemnon is said to rule, not at My- 0nly "all Argos," but " many islands." The principle on cense- which such legends as that of Agamemnon's sovereignty may best be estimated has been well stated by Mr Freeman :—
"The legend of Charlemagne, amidst infinite perversions, pre-serves a certain groundwork of real history ; I should expect to find in the legend of Agamemnon a similar groundwork of real history. There is, of course, the all-important difference that we can test the one story, and that we cannot test the other, by the certain evidence of contemporary documents. This gives us certainty in one case, while we cannot get beyond high probability in the other. . . . Later Grecian history would never lead us to believe that there had been once a single dynasty reigning, if not as sovereigns, at least as suzerains, over a large portion of insular and peninsular Greece. So later mediaeval history would never lead us to believe that there had once been a Latin orTeutonic emperor, whose dominions stretched from the Eider to the Ebro. But we know that the Carolingian legend is thus far confirmed by history; there is, therefore, no a priori objection to the analogous features of the Pelopid legend. The truth is that the idea of such an extensive dominion would not have occurred to a later romancer, unless some real history or tradi-tion had suggested it to him. So, again, without some such ground-work of history or tradition, no one would have fixed upon Mykene", a place utterly insignificant in later history, as the capital of this extensive empire. The romances have transferred the capital of Karl from Aachen to Paris ; had it really been Paris, no one would have transferred it to Aachen. . . . Whether Agamemnon be a real man or not, the combination of internal and external evidence leads us to set down the Pelopid dynasty at MykSne as an estab-lished fact."
in Greece proper.

Tradi- We now come to a phase in the development of early tional Greece which tradition represents as following, but at no migration great interya^ the age in which a Pelopid dynasty ruled at Mycenae and fought against Troy. This is the period of great displacements of population within the mainland of European Greece. The first of these migrations is that
1. Change of the people afterwards known as Thessalians. A fierce
of popu- tribe of mounted warriors, they passed from Thesprotia in
Thessaly Epirus over 'ne range of Pindus, and subdued or drove out
an .Eolic population who dwelt about Arne, in the fertile lowlands of southern Thessaly. Those of the iEolians who
2. In had not submitted to the conquerors passed southward
BoBotia. jnj;0 me ian(j thenceforth called Bceotia, where, between
Orchomenus and Thebes, they founded a new home. Their conquest of Bceotia appears to have been difficult and gradual; and even after the fall of Orchomenus and Thebes, Plataea is said to have maintained its independ-ence. The legend placed these events about 1124 B.C., or
3. In the sixty years after the fall of Troy. About twenty years
Pelopon- ^ter in the mythical chronology occurs the third and more
famous migration, known as the return of the Heraclidaa. We need not enter here into the details of the myth. It will be enough to indicate the results to which an examina-tion of the legend leads. The Dorians, migrating south-ward from the highlands of Macedonia, had established themselves at the northern foot of Parnassus, in the fertile district between that range and Gjlta, which was thenceforth called Doris. In setting out from these seats to conquer the Peloponnesus the Dorians were associated with other tribes. Among these were the Hylleans, who were believed to be of Achaean origin, and who traced their descent from the hero Hyllus, son of the Tirynthian Heracles. The Hyllean chiefs of the expedition represented themselves, accordingly, as seeking to reconquer that royal dominion of Heracles in the Peloponnesus of which his descendants had been wrongfully deprived by Eurystheus. Hence the Dorian migration itself came to be called the " Beturn of the " The re-Heraclidae." The migration had two main results :—(1) turn °f the Dorians, under leaders claiming Heraclid descent, over- *j^e"a" threw the Achaean dynasties in the Peloponnesus, and either expelled or subjugated the Achaean folk; (2) a por-tion of the Achaeans, retiring northward before the Dorian invaders in the south, drove the Ionians on the coast of the Corinthian Gulf out of the strip of territory which was thenceforth called Achaia; and these Ionians sought refuge with their kinsfolk in Attica. It is in the nature of the heroic myths to represent changes of this kind, which may have been the gradual work of generations, as effected by sudden blows. Some comparative mythologers have main-tained with much ingenuity that the " Return of the Heraclidaa" is merely one of those alternations which balance each other in the hundred forms of the solar myth. It appears more consistent with reason to believe that there was really a great southward movement of population, which resulted in the substitution of Dorian for Achaean ascend-ency in the Peloponnesus. We cannot pretend to fix either the exact time at which it commenced or the period which was required for its completion. One thing may, however, be affirmed with probability. It cannot have been done all at once, as the myth says that it was. The displacement of the Achaeans was accomplished only by degrees, and perhaps after the lapse of centuries.
The same remark applies to those three streams of Tradi-migration from European Greece to the coasts of Asia tional mi Minor, which are represented as having ensued ou the |J^!0US Dorian conquest of the Peloponnesus, and which may Qree*ce naturally be connected with the disturbance of populations proper to which the southward advance of the Dorians caused. Asia The Achaeans, driven from their old seats in the south, Minor, moved northwards ; and, reinforced by JEolic kinsmen 1. The from Bceotia and Thessaly, established themselves on the -35olic ml north-west coast of Asia Minor, where Lesbos and Cyme Sratl0n-became their strongholds. By degrees their dominion spread inland, until they had become masters of Mysia and the Troad. The iEolic migration which thus created an Asiatic iEolis was unquestionably the slow work of genera-tions. The immediate cause of the Ionic migration, 2. Tie which began later than the iEolic, appears to have been Ionic the overcrowding of Attica by the Ionians driven out of Achaia. The ^Eolic settlements had been the work of a people migrating in large masses. The Ionic colonization seems to have been effected rather by smaller numbers of warlike adventurers, sprung from the noble Ionian families of Attica and the Peloponnesus, who claimed to rule over the Ionic communities already established on the Asiatic coast. The Dorian colonists, following the southward 3. The direction of their previous conquests, settled on the south- Doric, west coast of Asia Minor. The islands of Cos and Bhodes received Dorian settlers ; and, after what was probably a long struggle, the Dorians subdued Crete.
While the populations had thus been settling clown into The the places which they were to occupy during the historical <«npmc-age of Greece, a movement had been in progress on the ' " European mainland which tended to quicken among the various tribes a sense of the unity of the race. This was the establishment of local associations among neighbouring tribes for the common worship of the same god. These associations were of a federal character : that is, while the members of the association were independent in other matters, they were subject to a common central authority in all that concerned religious worship. Such a federal

association was called an amphictyony, that is, a league of neighbours. The most important of such leagues was the Delphic amphictyony, of which the object was to conserve the worship of Apollo at Delphi. This league arose in Thessaly, where the conquerors who had come in from Epirus sought to establish themselves more firmly by embracing the cult of Apollo. It was afterwards extended through the southern districts until it included most of the tribes dwelling about (Eta and Parnassus. The members of the Delphic amphictyony gave a new meaning and value to the federal compact by applying it to enforce certain obligations of humanity in war. They took an oath that they would not raze each other's towns, nor, during a siege, cut off the supply of water. It was in con-nexion with- the Delphic amphictyony that the name Hellene appears to have been first distinctly recognized as the national name. The earliest collective name of the race, in Greek tradition, had been Graikoi. The members of the Delphic amphictyony chose as their federal name that of Hellenes,—a name of sacred associations, if we may connect it with that of the Selloi or Helloi, the priests of the Pelasgian Zeus at Dodona,—in the region which, according to Aristotle, was the most ancient Hellas. The circumstances wdiich gave currency to Hellene as a common appellative have left a reminiscence in the myth that Hellen was nearly related to Amphictyon.
The Homeric poems may be regarded by the student of history as great pictures of political and social life, illustrating the whole variety of Greek experience down to the close of that age which saw the tides of iEolic, Ionic, and Doric migration flow from the west to the east of the ^Egean. It is a distinct question how far recoverable his-torical fact is embedded in their text, or how far trustworthy inferences may be drawn from them in regard to a supposed series of events. But at least the legends of the Achaean princes and warriors are there, as they came through iEolic minstrels to the poets of Ionia; and, various as may be the ages and sources of the interwoven materials, the total result may be taken as a portraiture, true in its main lines, of the age from which these legends had come down. In the political life described by the Homeric poems the king rules by divine and hereditary right. But he is not, like_ an Eastern monarch, even practically despotic; he is bound, first, by themistes, the traditional customs of his people ; next, he must consult the boule, the council of nobles and elders ; and, lastly, his proposals require to be ratified by the agora, or popular assembly. The social life is the counterpart of this. It is a patriarchal life, in which the head of the family stands to his dependants in a relation like that of the king to his subjects. It is, within the family pale, eminently humane ; and the absence of a charity which should include all mankind is in some measure compensated by the principle and practice of hos-pitality. The position of free-born women is high,—higher than in the historical ages ; and polygamy is unknown among Greeks. Many of the pictures of manners, especially in the Odyssey, have the refinement of a noble simplicity in thought and feeling, and of a genuine courtesy which is peculiarly Hellenic. The useful arts are still in an early stage. The use of the principal metals is known, but not, apparently, the art of smelting or soldering them. Money is not mentioned, oxen being the usual measure of value ; and there is no certain allusion to the art of writing.

Read the rest of this article:
Greece - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries