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Trade, imports, and society in Early Greece: 1300-900 BCE

July 2013

This dissertation engages in the current debate on whether there was more continuity or more discontinuity in Greece after the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces by investigating the evidence for changes in international trade and exchange between 1300 and 900 B.C.E. While most assessments of trade in the Greek Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age have relied on impressionistic accounts based on bits and pieces of the evidence, I present a precise accounting of the material evidence for trade from before and after the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces. For the first time, my dissertation provides quantitative documentation that the number of imports in Greece declined by about half after the end of the Late Bronze Age, and that the number of imports reached a nadir precisely in what is traditionally thought to have been the darkest part of the Dark Age (the 11th century). However, I also demonstrate that the number of known imports in Greece tracks very closely with trends in population and evidence for complexity of productive systems. This covariance between import quantities, population, and economic complexity suggests that the decline in the number of imports, usually seen as evidence for the isolation of Greece during the Early Iron Age, is rather more likely to have been an epiphenomenon of an overall decline in population and economic complexity that occurred in the Early Iron Age. In addition to assessing import quantities, I produce a close reading of the imported artifacts themselves. I show that the nature of the objects that Greeks were importing changed dramatically after the Mycenaean collapse. Late Bronze Age trade goods consisted primarily of bulk materials, such as metals and foodstuffs, or administrative objects, such as seals. In the Early Iron Age, however, imported objects consisted mostly of prestige items meant for personal adornment or individual enrichment, such as metal vessels or pieces of glass jewelry. The changes observed in the archaeological evidence fit well with the textual evidence. While Linear B texts from Mycenaean Greece suggest that commodities were of great interest to the palatial states, characters in the Homeric poems, thought to give us some sense of Dark Age social systems, trade fancy metal vessels and other fine finished goods amongst themselves. Taken together, the evidence in my dissertation shows that Greece was not particularly isolated during the Early Iron Age, but that trade and the economy changed in a variety of thoroughgoing ways over the period from 1300 to 900 BCE. For Greek history, there are two major implications. First, the economic developments I observe are likely to be related to deep and broad changes in social and political realities, suggesting that historical Greece has its structural roots in the Early Iron Age rather than in the Mycenaean states of the Late Bronze Age. Second, the argument that Greek intellectual history (e.g. the invention of democracy) arose in a vacuum in the Early Iron Age is no longer tenable, since the evidence does not support a view in which Greece was ever totally cut off from the rest of the Mediterranean.