The scholarly world without any further deliberation decided not to bring the Mycenaean Age down to the first millennium, but this decision did not eliminate the disturbing facts. At the same time another one-man battle was being carried on at the other end of the front. Greek antiquities, commonly regarded as belonging to the eighth and seventh centuries, were declared by a dissenting authority to date from the second millennium, to have been contemporaneous with the Mycenaean Age, and even to have partly preceded it.

According to the accepted view the Mycenaean ware came to an end in the second millennium, and the Dorian invasion subsequently brought a “primitive” art, a pottery with incised designs; later a pattern of painted geometric designs developed, reaching its full expression by the late eighth century. Thereafter new motifs were brought into Greek art—griffins, sphinxes and other oriental figures; this is the period of the orientalization of the art of Greece in the seventh century.

This scheme was accepted; and today, with only slight variations, it is the credo of archaeological art.

According to Dörpfeld in the second millennium two or three different cultures met in Greece.1

Dörpfeld insisted that the geometric ware ascribed to the first millennium was actually contemporaneous with, and even antecedent to, the Mycenaean art of the second millennium, and that the “primitive” pottery was also of the second millennium.

The archaeological evidence for the contemporaneity of the geometric and Mycenaean ware and of all other products of these two cultures, and even of the partial precedence of the geometric ware, was the basic issue for Dörpfeld, who spent a lifetime digging in Greece. Observing that the Mycenaean Age is contemporaneous with the period of the Eighteenth dynasty, and that the geometric ware is contemporaneous with the Mycenaean ware, he referred the geometric ware also to the second millennium.2

This aroused much wrath.

A. Furtwängler, who during the excavations of Olympia in the western Peloponnesus, under the direction of Curtius, was the first to attach importance to bits of pottery, and who spent over a quarter of a century classifying small finds, bronzes, ceramics and other products of art, and devised the system of their development, disagreed on all points.

Dörpfeld chose to prove his thesis on the excavations of Olympia, on which he and Furtwaengler had both worked since the eighties of the last century. In those early days Curtius, one of the excavators of Olympia, was strongly impressed by proofs of the great antiquity of the bronzes and pottery discovered under the Heraion (temple of Hera) at Olympia; he was inclined to date the temple in the twelfth or thirteenth century and the bronzes and pottery found beneath it to a still earlier period, and this view is reflected in the monumental volumes containing the report of the excavation.3

At that time Furtwängler was also inclined to disregard the chronological value of occasional younger objects found there.4

New excavations under the Heraion were undertaken by Dörpfeld for the special purpose of establishing that the finds, as well as the original Heraion, date from the second millennium.5 But the excavated bronzes and pottery strengthened each side still more in its convictions. Each of the two scholars brought a mass of material to prove his own point—Dörpfeld, that the geometric ware, which he had himself found together with the Mycenaean at such sites as Troy and Tiryns6 was contemporaneous with the Mycenaean ware and therefore belongs to the second millennium; Furtwängler, that the geometric ware is a product of the first millennium, and especially of the ninth to eighth centuries, and is therefore separated from the Mycenaean by einer ungeheueren Kluft (a tremendous chasm).7

Who but an ignoramus, argued Furtwängler, would place in the second millennium the geometric vases found in the necropolis near the Dipylon Gate at Athens?8 Were there not found, he asked, in this same necropolis, porcelain lions of Egyptian manufacture dating from the Twenty-sixth, the Saitic, Dynasty of Psammetichus and Necho?9

Were not also a great number of iron tools found beneath the Heraion in Olympia? The Mycenaean Age is the Late Bronze Age; the Geometric Age that of iron. It is true, claimed Furtwängler, that a few iron objects have been found in the Mycenaean tombs—but they only show that iron was very precious at the time these tombs were built.

Both sides linked the question of the date of the origin of the Homeric epic to the question at hand. Most scholars claimed that the epics originated in the eighth century. But, according to the dissident Dörpfeld, they originated five or six centuries earlier, in the Mycenaean Age, which is also the Geometric Age.

The dispute was waged with ungehörigen persönlichen Beleidigungen (outrageous personal slander);10 and a quarter century after one of the disputants (Furtwängler) was resting in his grave the other, (Dörpfeld), then an octogenarian, filled two volumes with arguments. They vilified each other on their deathbeds, and their pupils participated in the quarrel. In the end the followers of Dörpfeld, the dissident scholar, deserted him and went over to the camp of his detractors.

But by that time he had already been completely discredited, and his obstinacy made him a target for further attacks by the younger generation of scholars properly trained in the science of archaeology, who are able at a glance to tell the exact age and provenance of a sherd. They have no doubt whatsoever that the Mycenaean Age came to a close ca. -1100 and that the real Geometric Age belongs to the ninth and eighth centuries, and for a long time now the issue has not been open to dispute.

But this does not mean that the facts ceased to perplex. According to E. A. Gardner, “fragments of geometrical vases . . . have been found on various sites in Greece together with late examples of Mycenaean pottery.”11

When then did the Mycenaean Age end, ca. -1100 or ca. -700?

In this dispute between the two scholars, both were guided by the chronology of the Egyptologists, according to which the Eighteenth Dynasty ended in the fourteenth century, the Nineteenth came to a close before ca. -1200, and the Twenty-sixth Dynasty belongs to the seventh and early part of the sixth centuries. In their application of these undisputed facts to the past of Greece, both disputant scholars agreed that the Mycenaean Age belongs to the second millennium.

The Geometric Age did not follow the Mycenaean Age, but was of the same time or even earlier, argued one scholar (Dörpfeld), and was he wrong? The Geometric Age belongs to the first millennium, argued the other scholar (Furtwaengler), and was he wrong? Wrong was their common borrowing of dates for the Mycenaean Age from the Egyptologists.

In view of the fact that later generations of archaeologists followed Furtwaengler and not Dörpfeld, it is worthwhile to reproduce the assessment of the latter as an archaeologist by one who knew him and his work, herself a great figure in classical studies built on Mycenaean and Classical archaeology, H. L. Lorimer, author of Homer and the Monuments (1950). In her Preface to that book Lorimer writes:

I wish to record the debt which in common with all Homeric archaeologists I owe to a great figure, forgotten to-day in some quarters and in others the object of an ill-informed contempt. To Wilhelm Dörpfeld, the co-adjutor of Schliemann in his later years and long associated with the German Aracheological Institute in Athens, scholars owe not only the basic elucidation of the sites of Tiryns and Troy which ensured their further fruitful exploration, but the establishment of rigidly scientific standards in the business of excavation, an innovation which has preserved for us untold treasures all over the Aegean area. That in later years he became the exponent of many wild theories is true but irrelevant and does not diminish our debt. In his own realm his work, as those testify who have had access to the daily records of his digs, was as nearly impeccable as anything human can be. . .
This is an evaluation of Dörpfeld as an archaeologist from the hand of a scholar who did not follow the lonely scholar on his “wild theories.” The archaeological work that brought him to his theories regarding the sequence of pottery styles was impeccable; and his theories were wild mainly because he did not make the final step and free Greek archaeology and chronology from the erroneous Egyptian timetable. The contemporaneity of the Mycenaean and early Geometric wares, if true, contains the clue to the removal of the last argument for the preservation of the Dark Ages between the Mycenaean and Greek periods of history.



  1. W. Dörpfeld, Homers Odyssee, die Wiederherstellung des ursprünglichen Epos (Munich, 1925), vol. I, pp. 304ff.

  2. “This geometrical style is very old; it existed before and next to the Mycenaean art, nor was it replaced by it.” W. Dörpfeld, Alt-Olympia (Berlin, 1935) vol. I, p. 12.

  3. Olympia, Die Ergebnisse der von dem deutschen Reich veranstalteten Ausgrabungen, ed., E. Curtius and F. Adler, 10 vols. (Berlin, 1890-97).

  4. A. Furtwaengler, “Das Alter des Heraion und das Alter des Heiligtums von Olympia,” Sitzungsberichte der Philosophisch-Philologischen Klasse der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1906, reprinted in Kleine Schriften (Munich, 1912).

  5. [Dörpfeld distinguished three consecutive temples—the existing Heraion, built at the beginning of the ninth century, the original temple which, on the evidence of Pausanias (V.16.1) he dated to -1096, and an intermediate structure, which in his view was never completed. Today scholars find no basis for positing this intermediate temple and, furthermore, on the basis of the geometric pottery found beneath the first temple, discount the “erroneous tradition” (H. E. Searls and W. B. Dinsmoor, “The Date of the Olympia Heraeum,” American Journal of Archaeology 49 [1945] p. 73) of Pausanias which originally led Dörpfeld to his early dating of it. The Elean tradition recorded by Pausanias has the Olympia Heraion built “about eight years after Oxylus came to the throne of Elis.” (V.16.1) Elsewhere (V.3.6) he puts Oxylus two generations after the Trojan War. The tradition is “erroneous” only if the Trojan War is placed in the thirteenth or early twelfth centuries. If it was in fact fought in the late eighth, the tradition then would accord well with the findings of the archaeologists who place the first temple ca. -650 (A. Mallwitz, Olympia und seine Bauten [Munich, 1972] pp. 85-88; H.-V. Herrman, Olympia, Heiligtum und Wettkampfstaette [Munich, 1972] pp. 93-94; E. Kunze, “Zur Geschichte und zu den Denkmälern Olympias” in 100 Jahre deutsche Ausgrabung in Olympia [Munich, 1972] p. 11).]

  6. See below, section “A Palace and a Temple at Tiryns.” Only small quantities of Mycenaean ware were found at Olympia, and none beneath the Heraion.

  7. [Quite early on, Furtwängler had become convinced that none of the bronzes found at Olympia could be dated before the eighth century (“Bronzefunde aus Olympia,” Abhandlungen Berl. Akad., 1879, IV; Kleine Schriften, Munich, 1912, I, pp. 339-421). In 1880 more bronzes were discovered in the black stratum beneath the floor of the Heraion (Olympia, vol. IV), and they seemingly confirmed a late eighth century date; this meant that the temple had to be somewhat more recent. Furtwängler later admitted that the evidence of several small finds, indicating a much more recent date of construction of the temple, had been rejected by him at the time because it diverged too radically from accepted views. In 1906 he published his influential study of the objects newly dug up from beneath the floor of the Heraion (“Das Alter des Heraion und das Alter des Heiligtums von Olympia,” Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-philologischen Klasse der koeniglich bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften) in which he concluded that the Heraion and the pottery associated with it belong in the latter part of the seventh century.]

  8. [The Dipylon period, so named after the funeral vessels first discovered near the Dipylon Gate at Athens by the Greek Archaeological Society in 1873-74, was dated originally to the tenth or ninth centuries B.C. According to Schliemann, Dipylon ware was at one time “commonly held to be the most ancient pottery in Greece . . . When it was recognized that the Mycenaean pottery was of a higher antiquity, it was also found that the Dipylon graves must belong to a later time. . .” Tiryns (London, 1886) p. 87. Of course, Mycenaean pottery was “recognized” as being “of a higher antiquity” largely because of synchronisms with Egypt.]

  9. [The two porcelain lions were found in tombs excavated in 1891 near the Dipylon Gate, together with “vases of characteristic Dipylon ware,” according to E. A. Gardner, Ancient Athens (London, 1902) p. 157. However, cf. Ramses II and his Time (1978) in which monuments now attributed to the Twenty-sixth Dynasty are redated for the most part to the subsequent period of Persian domination.]

  10. Dörpfeld, Alt-Olympia, vol. I, p. 12.

  11. E. A. Gardner, Ancient Athens (New York, 1902) pp. 157-58.