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The End of Mycenaean Civilization

The power and prosperity of Mycenaean Greece were lost in a period of violent conflict1 around 1200 B.C. that encompassed not only Greece but also much of the eastern Mediterranean region of the Near East. The causes of this disaster are still obscure, but strife among the principal centers seems to have played a significant role in the undoing of Mycenaean Greece, as perhaps did also incursions by raiders from the sea. The damage done to Greek society by the dissolution of the redistributive economies of Mycenaean Greece after 1200 B.C. took centuries to repair. Only Athens seems to have escaped wholesale disaster. In fact, the later Athenians, of the fifth century B.C., prided themselves on their unique status among the peoples of classical Greece: “sprung from the soil”2 of their homeland (autochthonoi ), as they called themselves, they had not been forced to emigrate in the turmoil that engulfed the rest of Greece in the twelfth and eleventh centuries B.C.

The nature of the Athenians' boast gives some indication of the sorry fate of many other Greeks at the start of the first millennium B.C. Uprooted from their homes, they wandered abroad in search of new territory to settle. The Ionian Greeks,3 who in later times inhabited the central coast of western Anatolia, dated their emigration from the mainland to this period. Luxuries of Mycenaean civilization like fine jewelry, knives inlaid with gold, and built-in bathtubs disappeared. To an outside observer, Greek society at the end of the Mycenaean Age might have seemed destined for irreversible economic and social decline, even oblivion. This prediction would have been false.

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