A Gap Closed

A chronology with centuries that never occurred made necessary the introduction of “Dark Ages” between the years -1100 and -750 in many areas of the ancient world; these upper and lower figures are already pulled together on the chronological timetable, and still some 400 years are unaccounted for—thus it is spoken of the “mysterious spell of Dark Ages.”1

But when the hinges of history are fastened at correct levels the ghost centuries vanish and the chasm is shown to be imaginary.

Yet it cannot be denied that there was some interruption between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Greece and elsewhere; no smooth and evolutionary transition took place from the Mycenaean to the Ionian Age. There were great migrations in the eighth century and in the first part of the seventh. What kind of interruption, then, occurred in the entire ancient East?

In his book Discontinuity in Greek Civilization, (1966) Rhys Carpenter stands before observations made by a number of investigators in the archaeology of Greece and the Helladic islands and, after reviewing the evidence on the mainland in its various regions and on the islands, one by one, he comes to the conclusion:

“Despite the fact that there is no indication that the late Myceneans were driven out by any human intervention, they abandoned the south Aegean islands even as they deserted the central Peloponnese. For some reason and for some cause over which they had no control they found life in Greece and in the southern Aegean so unendurable that they could not remain.”2

And Carpenter asks: “What caused them to evacuate their towns and villages?” From here on he gropes in the dark and asks, was it a pestilence or a famine, was it a change of climate? and he continues: “In the seventh book of his History Herodotus recounts that Crete was so beset by famine and pestilence after the Trojan War that it became virtually uninhabited until its resettlement by later inhabitants. Could Herodotus by any chance have had access to a true tradition?”3

There is a rather vague reference to the Dorian wandering: the Dorians migrated from Thrace and, moving presumably along the Adriatic coast, crossed into the Peloponnese and occupied Sparta, becoming the progenitors of this severe and puritan tribe. In the absence of any other known cause for the cessation of the Mycenaean world, the Dorian invasion was considered as the most probable. But the Minoan civilization on Crete, which in the later stage showed much affinity with the Mycenaean, was also terminated; and the Dorian invasion was made to continue over the sea to Crete.

It was not the Dorians who dispossessed the original population of eastern and central Greece: “The Dorian Greeks,” writes Carpenter, “seem to have moved into a depopulated land.” (p. 16) “...The Dorians had nothing whatever to do with the collapse of Mycenaean civilization, since they did not enter the Peloponnese until long after the collapse had already taken place,”4 It was some natural event: “A ‘time of trouble’ was occasioned by climatic causes that brought persistent drought with its attendant famine to most mainland Greece; and it was this unbelievable condition of their native abode that forced the Mycenaeans to emigrate, ending their century-long prosperity.” But was there any specific cause for the climatic change?

Carpenter surveys the available evidence: G. Welter, in a monograph on the island of Aegina, maintains that it became uninhabited after the Mycenaean Age. V. R. d’A. Desborough holds that the island of Melos had been abandoned by its Mycenaean inhabitants. Discussing the island of Kos, Desborough “was puzzled at finding ‘no clue as to the cause of its final desertion’ in Late Mycenaean times.” There must have been some serious disaster, ‘he decides. . . ’ It can hardly be supposed that there was a complete depopulation, and yet there is no clear evidence of continuity into the Protogeometric period.’”5

Carpenter stresses here, too, “a definite instance of interruption of cultural continuity.”6

In his search for climatic changes and physical upheavals Carpenter comes to cite three cases, during the Libyan and Ethiopian dynasties in Egypt, when unseasonal and excessive flooding took place in Egypt: in the eighth century, under the Libyan king Osorkon II, the Nile rose, breaking all the dykes;7 in the days of Shabaka, the Delta was repeatedly flooded and earth was heaped against the towns to protect them;8 and in the sixth year of Taharka, “the land was like the sea.”9

But how could these instances in Egypt of the eighth and early seventh centuries help to understand what happened in Greece at the end of the Mycenaean Age if this end occurred shortly after -1200?

Carpenter goes on:

Even more spectacular, but somewhat insecure chronologically, is the inference from circumstantial evidence that the Hungarian plain, an immense tract of comparatively low-lying land in which a number of large rivers converge, must have become almost totally submerged early in the first millennium B.C. How else shall we explain the fact that the rich and active phase of the Hungarian Bronze Age known to archaeologists as Bronze IV and dated by Alberg as lasting from about 1000 to about 850 B.C. (the drought period in Greece!) met, in Alberg’s words, ‘an unexpected and sudden end... after which the country is without any discoverable sign of occupation and seems deserted’?10

The words in Carpenter’s preface to his 1966 book reveal that were he to follow Plato, quoted by him, he would have been led to the realizations familiar to readers of Worlds in Collision and Earth in Upheaval. I quote from Plato’s Timaeus in Carpenter’s translation. The speaker is an Egyptian priest and the listener is Solon, one of the Seven Wise Men of antiquity.

. . . All this, though told in mythic guise, is true, inasmuch as a deviation of the celestial bodies moving past the earth does, at long intervals, cause destruction of earthly things through burning heat. . .

So this is the reason why among us here oldest traditions still prevail and whenever anything great or glorious or otherwise noteworthy occurs, it is written down and preserved in our temples; whereas among you and other nations that chance to be but recently endowed with the art of writing and civilized needs, at stated turn of years there has recurred like a plague brought down upon you a celestial current, leaving only an unlettered and uncivilized remnant; wherefore you have to begin all over again, like children, without knowledge of what has taken place in older times either in our land or in yours. . . .11

As set forth at great length in Worlds in Collision, part II, the world in the eighth and seventh centuries before the present era was going through a series of natural catastrophes, with frightening apparitions in the sky, disturbances in the position and direction of the terrestrial axis, drastic changes in climate, and subsequent mass movements of populations. The Cimmerians descended from Russia into Asia Minor and engulfed the Phrygian kingdom. Dorians presumably reached Crete, Latins were pushed from their homeland into Italy by newly arrived tribes—these were only a few of the migrating hordes that then moved in many directions all around the globe. The Minoan civilization of Crete did not succumb to the Dorians; it succumbed to the ravages of nature, and if the Dorians reached the devastated island, it was only because in desperation they looked for any room to move into, and there was nobody able or willing to defend the island from invaders.

Digging on Crete Arthur Evans arrived at the conclusion that each of the various stages of civilization on the island had come to its end in enormous natural paroxysms until the last of the stages found its end in the overturned palaces and cities, not to be rebuilt again.12

The interruptions in the flow of Minoan civilization had baffled Evans until the day when he experienced an earthquake on Crete. Now he understood the nature of the agent of the destruction that he observed in the ruins of the palaces: the agent was not an enemy reaching the island; and from that moment Evans filled his volumes on Knossos (The Palace of Minos) with the evidence of seismic catastrophes that terminated the great ages of Minoan civilization.13

Spyridon Marinatos detected a devastation ascribed by him to an overwhelming wave coming from the north and sweeping over the mountainous island and carrying also ashes of volcanic eruptions.14 “A normal earthquake, however, is wholy insufficient to explain so great a disaster.”15

That climate changed, and repeatedly so, between the eighth and seventh centuries is well documented, and since the works of the Scandinavian scientists A. Blytt, R. Sernander16 and others, and also of H. Gams and R. Nordhagen17 of Germany, no effort needs to be spent to prove the point anew. The change was global, as the work of Helmut de Terra in Mexico18 and the inquiry of C. E. P. Brooks and F. E. Zeuner19 amply document. Of the changes in nature many eloquent descriptions were left by their contemporaries, by Assyrian annalists and Hebrew prophets, and also in many other documents of the literate peoples of the world.

Migrations were the consequences of destruction of domiciles, subsequent plagues, and of changes in climate that made agricultural experience dependent on former climates inapplicable. The climate in Europe that changed in the eighth century to dry and warm changed soon again to wet and cold.20 This double change is documented equally well in the New World (Helmut de Terra).21

The upheavals of nature continued through the major part of the eighth century and climaxed in the last great cosmic disturbance which I was able to date on March 23rd, -687.22

The Mycenaean age came to its end in the catastrophic events of the eighth and seventh centuries—thus there were no Dark Ages between the Mycenaean Age and the Greek or Ionian Age. Whether the catastrophic changes that accompanied and followed these upheavals were by themselves enough to cause the end of the Mycenaean Age, or whether the migrations and invasions contributed, the great Mycenaean age came to its close not before the eighth century was over. There were no dark ages in between.

Certain changes did take place between the end of the Mycenaean and the beginning of the Ionian ages—but they are better understood not by assuming four or five hundred intervening dark years, but by the very fact of dislocations created by catastrophes. Cities with their palaces crumbled; surviving populations migrated and were partly replaced by new settlers—in the case of Greece by the Dorian invaders, the returning Heraclid Greeks who at an earlier date had migrated northward.

These upheavals of nature were responsible for the break in continuity that is found in Greece, in Asia Minor and in many other places. There was a disruption in occupation of lands and a discontinuity in civilizations. But there were no Dark Ages and the four centuries inserted between the Mycenaean and Greek periods are unreal. Thus we have the explanation of the fact that so much in common is found in the late Mycenaean and early Greek ages, and also an explanation of the fact that no literary relics and scarcely any archaeological ones are found from the four or five centuries of the presumed Dark Ages, and yet that, on the other hand, there was some break in continuity.


  1. M. J. Mellink, “Archaeology in Asia Minor,” Journal of American Archaeology vol 63, no. 1 (January, 1959).

  2. R. Carpenter, The Discontinuity in Greek Civilization, (Cambridge University Press, 1966), p. 58.

  3. Ibid., p. 59: Herodotus VII. 171.

  4. P. 52. [V. R. d’A. Desborough emphasizes that the abandoned sites were not occupied by any other race: “Nowhere is there any evidence of settlement by new peoples.” This fact “has very serious consequences for the traditional conception of the Dorian invasion.” See The Last Mycenaeans and Their Successors (London, 1964), pp. 251-252. Cf. idem, “History and Archaeology in the Last Century of the Mycenaean Age,” Incunabula Graeca XXV.3 (1968), pp. 1076-77; E. Vermeule, “The Decline and End of Minoan and Mycenaean Culture” in A Land Called Crete (Northampton, Mass., 1967), p. 86; A. Andrewes, The Greeks (London, 1967), p. 33.]

  5. Carpenter, Discontinuity in Greek Civilization, p. 58; Desborough, The Last Mycenaeans and Their Successors, pp. 157-58..

  6. Carpenter, loc. cit.

  7. Ibid., p. 72. [J. R. Breasted, The Ancient Records of Egypt, (Chicago, 1906), IV, Sec. 743. Cf. J. Vandier, La famine dans l’Egypte ancienne (1936), p. 123. The date of this inundation, calculated by Carpenter, is -776, the very year assigned to the first Olympiad; however, the basis of this calculation is the accepted chronology of the Libyan Dynasty, which is questionable. The description of the inundation may actually refer to a later upheaval.]

  8. Carpenter, loc. cit.; Herodotus (II. 137) describes the construction of massive earthworks during the reign of Sabacon (Shabaka); these were evidently flood control measures.

  9. Carpenter, loc. cit.; cf. the Coptos Stele of Taharka in V. Vikentiev, La haute crue du Nil et l’averse de l’an 6 du roi Taharqa (Cairo, 1930).

  10. Carpenter, Discontinuity, p. 74.

  11. Carpenter, Discontinuity, p. vii; the quoted passages are from Timaeus 22 C-D and 23 A-B; cf. Worlds in Collision, section “Phaethon.”

  12. Evans, The Palace of Minos at Knossos (1921-1935); cf. Earth in Upheaval, section “Crete.”

  13. Earth in Upheaval, section “Crete.”

  14. Marinatos, “The Volcanic Destruction of Minoan Crete,” Antiquity XIII (1939), pp. 425ff. [For a review of the extensive literature, cf. Hiller, “Die Explosion des Vulkans von Thera,” Gymnasium 82 (1975), pp 32-74. L. Pomerance has suggested that the collapse of Thera and the resulting tsunami devastated not only Crete, but the entire East Mediterranean basin at the end of the Late Helladic IIIB ceramic phase—The Final Collapse of Santorini (Thera), Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology vol. XXVI (Göteborg, 1970).]

  15. Marinatos, “The Volcanic Destruction of Minoan Crete,” p. 429.

  16. R. Sernander, “Klimaverschlechterung, Postglaziale” in Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte ed. Max Ebert, VII (1926).

  17. “Postglaziale Klimaaenderungen und Erdkrustenbewegungen in Mittel-Europa,” Mitteilungen der geographischen Gesellschaft in Muenchen, vol. XVI, no.2 (1923), pp. 13-348.

  18. Man and Mammoth in Mexico (London, 1957).

  19. Brooks, Climate through the Ages 2nd edition (New York, 1949); Zeuner, The Pleistocene Period (London, 1945).

  20. [Carpenter dated the change to a dry climate to before -1200; he posited “a northward shift of the Saharan drought zone into southern Europe,” (p. 10) with the resulting famine causing the abandonment of large areas, no longer able to sustain the large populations characteristic of late Mycenaean times. The shift was reversed, in his view, in the eighth century, with the return of a wet climate. Carpenter’s inability to explain the cause of these shifts has invalidated his thesis in the eyes of many of his colleagues—cf. H. E. Wright, “Climatic Change in Mycenaean Greece,” Antiquity 42 (1968), p. 126. For a recent review of the physical evidence for Carpenter’s thesis, see R. A. Bryson, H, H. Lamb and D. L. Donley, “Drought and the Decline of Mycenae” in Antiquity 48 (1974), pp. 46-50. Cf. P. Betancourt, “The End of the Greek Bronze Age,” Antiquity 50 (1976), pp. 40-45. Cf. also J. Camp, “A Drought in the Late Eighth Century B.C.” in Hesperia 48 (1979). The shifts in the Earth’s climatic zones, if real, would have been a direct consequence of shifts in the inclination of the terrestrial axis in the eighth and early seventh centuries, as documented in Worlds in Collision (esp. sections “Poles Uprooted” and “A Hemisphere Travels Southward” ) and in Earth in Upheaval.]

  21. Man and Mammoth in Mexico, p. 76.

  22. Worlds in Collision, section “March 23rd.”