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The Loss of Writing

The depressed economic conditions in Greece after the fall of Mycenaean civilization present a dramatic example of the desperately reduced circumstances of life which so many people in the Mediterranean and Near Eastern world had to endure during the worst years of the Dark Age. Mycenaean society collapsed because the complex economic system was destroyed on which its prosperity had depended. The most startling indication of the severe conditions of life in the early Dark Age is that the Greeks apparently lost their knowledge of writing when Mycenaean civilization was destroyed, although it has recently been suggested that the loss was not total. In any case, the loss of the common use of a technology as vital as writing is explicable because the linear B script used by the Mycenaeans was difficult to master and probably known only by a restricted group of specialists, the scribes who worked in the palaces keeping records. They employed writing only for recording the flow of goods into the palaces and then out again for redistribution. When the redistributive economy of Mycenaean Greece was destroyed, there was no longer a place for scribes or a need for writing. The oral transmission of the traditions of the past allowed Greek culture to survive this loss by continuing its stories and legends as valuable possessions passed on from generation to generation.

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