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Contact with Eastern Mediterranean Civilizations

The participation of Greeks in international trade and in colonization increased their contact with the peoples of Anatolia, Egypt, and the Near East. They admired and envied these older civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean for their wealth, such as the gold of the Phrygian kingdom of Midas1, and their cultural accomplishments, such as the lively pictures of animals on Near Eastern ceramics, the magnificent temples of Egypt, and the alphabets of the Phoenician cities. During the early Dark Age, Greek artists had stopped portraying people or other living creatures in their designs. The pictures they saw on pottery imported from the Near East in the late Dark Age and early Archaic Age influenced them to begin once again to depict figures in their paintings on pots. The style of Near Eastern reliefs and free-standing sculptures also inspired creative imitation in Greek art of the period. When the improving economy of the later Archaic Age allowed Greeks to revive monumental architecture in stone, temples for the worship of the gods emulating Egyptian architectural designs represented the most prominent examples of this new trend in erecting large, expensive buildings. The Greeks began to mint coins in the sixth century B.C., a technology they learned from the Lydians, who invented coinage in the seventh century2. Long after this innovation, however, much economic exchange continued to be made through barter, especially in the Near East. Highly monetized economies took centuries to develop.

Knowledge of writing was the most dramatic contribution of the ancient Near East to Greece as it emerged from its Dark Age. The Greeks probably originally learned the alphabet from the Phoenicians3 to use it for record keeping in business and trade, as the Phoenicians did so well, but they soon started to employ it to record literature such as Homeric poetry. Since the ability to read and write remained unnecessary for most purposes in the predominately agricultural economy of archaic Greece and there were no schools, few people at first learned the new technology of letters.

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