Greece: From the prehistoric period through the Mycenaean Empire (Acts 20)

The habitation of Greece dates back to the prehistoric period, with the earliest identifiable farming communities in the fertile plains of Thessaly and Macedonia, two regions in northern Greece. Between 2200 ans 2000 B.C. several waves of invaders overran the region and established settlements. It is believed that these tribes were the ethnic ancestors of the modern Greeks, although they left no evidence of any organized society.

The first great civilization in the area developed on Crete. Modern scholars refer to this culture as that of the Minoans, a name that comes from Minos, a legendary king of Crete. We don’t know what these people called themselves, since researchers have been unable as yet to decipher the script in which their language was written, known simply as Linear A.

The Minoans were highly accomplished artists, engineers, sailors and merchants (Minoan motifs appear in some Egyptian artwork). Eventually, Minoan civilization declined until it disappeared entirely by 1000 B.C. The collapse of the Minoan civilization is often attributed to a catastrophic volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Thera (modern Santorini) during the mid-second millennium B.C. (perhaps ca 1640 B.C.). Although that must have been a major trauma, the Minoans continued as a people long after that event. It was probably the pillaging of their territory by the Sea Peoples, beginning around 1200 B.C., that finally brought the Minoan age to an end. Today a traveller may visit the ruins of four grand Minoan palaces at Knossos, Phaestos, Malia and Zakros, replete with numerous famous frescoes, Jewelry and other artwork.

Around 1400 B.C. the Mycenaean Empire rose to prominence. Its capital, Mycenae, was a heavily fortified city located in the northeastern part of the Peloponnesian peninsula. Its influence spread over the mainland and many of the islands, and the Mycenaeans developed their own written language, known to archaeologists as Linear B. In 1952 Michael Ventris, a British architect, managed to decipher this language, discovering it to be a pre-alphabetic form of Greek – making the Mycenaeans the first identifiable Greek speakers. Their most famous king, Agamemnon, was said by Homer to have led a Greek military campaign in approximately 1250 B.C. against the city of Troy, located on the western coast of modern Turkey. According to Homer, rulers of the various districts of Greece were obliged to provide men and supplies for this operation. For many years scholars doubted the historicity of the Trojan War, but archaeological discoveries of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including that of the city of Troy itself, have ked most researchers to conclude that Homer’s epic was based upon actual events, even if his account was mythologized.

By 1150 B.C. the great centres of Mycenaean civilization had been destroyed. The collapse of the Mycenaean civilization is often attributed to invaders from the north, but there is little clear evidence to support this hypothesis. It is possible that the end of Mycenaean civilization came as a result of changes in military strategy and weaponry that made the older military aristocracy of Mycenae obsolete and led to the emergence of roving troops of infantry (the Sea Peoples), bent upon conquest and plunder. Regardless of the cause, the several hundred years Greece was immersed in a dark age. Settlements became isolated on account of poverty and the rugged, mountainous terrain that seperated Greece from her neighbours.

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