In Mycenean times Sicily had a prosperous civilization that carried on a busy commerce with the Helladic city-state of mainland Greece and the Minoan empire of Crete. This civilization disappears from view about the same time that the chief Mycenean centers were destroyed, and five centuries of darkness are said to descend on the island.1 Not till the beginning of the seventh century is the gloom dispelled by the arrival of the first Greek colonists.

The earliest of the Greek settlements was at Gela on the southern coast, founded by migrants from Crete and Rhodes at a date fixed by the ancient chronographers as -689. Tradition also claimed that Gela’s founder was Antiphemos, one of the Greek heroes returning from Troy: and Virgil has Aeneas, the Trojan hero, sail along the southern coast of the island and admire flourishing Gela and two other Greek settlements which by all accounts did not come into existence till the beginning of the seventh century.2 Besides furnishing further proof our dating of the Trojan War, these traditions are especially important in linking the Greek colonization of Sicily with the closed of the Mycenean age, and help explain the many survivals of Mycenean culture in the Greek colonies of seventh century Sicily.

A little to the north of Agrigento, somewhat west of Gela on Sicily’s southern coast, are found tholos tombs of the Mycenean type.3 Inside of one of the tombs were found gold bowls and seal rings manufactured in a style that derives from Mycenean gold work.4 Yet neither the tombs nor the objects found inside them can be dated before the end of the eighth century. It is a puzzle how “splendid gold rings” with incised animal figures, so reminiscent of Mycenean objects and having nothing in common with contemporary Greek prototypes could have been manufactured by Greek colonists in the seventh century if “a real Dark Age”5 of five hundred years’ duration did in fact separate them from the latest phase of the Mycenean civilization. In Sicily the time between the end of the Mycenean age and the beginning of Greek colonization is an absolute void, with a total lack of archaeological remains: even the Protogeometric and Geometric pottery which elsewhere is claimed to span the Dark Age, is absent; only late Geometric ware appears with the arrival of the Greeks.6 The decorative motifs used by the Greek colonists are once more under strong Mycenean influence; a detailed comparison of the motifs in use in the seventh century with those on Mycenean ware caused much amazement among art historians, but not even a suggestion of how the motifs could have been transmitted through the Dark Ages.7 Moreover, Minoan influences were identified in the shape and decoration of pottery discovered at Gela, presenting the same problems.

All the evidence we have examined argues against a long gap between the Mycenean age in Sicily and the arrival of the Greek colonists in the seventh century. Then why is it necessary for historians to postulate a five hundred year long Dark Age between the two epochs? Of the sherds found on the island some were fragments of “exactly the same pottery as that found in Egypt in the ruins of Tell el Amarna, the capital of Pharaoh Amenophis IV [Akhnaton] (1372-1355 B.C.)” . 8 It was the erroneous timetable of Egypt which caused the historians to remove the Mycenean civilization of Sicily into the second millennium, severing its links to its Hellenic successor.


  1. L.B. Brea, Sicily Before the Greeks (New York, 1966), p. 130

  2. The Aeneid Book III, lines 671-673

  3. P. Griffo and L. von Matt, Gela: The Ancient Greeks in Sicily (Greenwich, Connecticut, 1968), p. 47; Brea, Sicily Before the Greeks p. 174.

  4. Brea, Sicily Before the Greeks p. 175; cf. G. Karl Galinsky, Aeneas, Sicily and Rome (Princeton, 1969), p. 86; E. Langlotz, Ancient Greek Sculpture of South Italy and Sicily (New York, 1965), p. 15.

  5. Brea, Sicily Before the Greeks p. 130.

  6. T.J. Dunbanin “Minos and Daidalos in Sicily,” Papers of the British School at Rome, vol. XVI. New Series, vol. III (1948), p. 9.

  7. Galinsky, Aeneas, Sicily and Rome, p. 83

  8. Langlotz, Ancient Greek Sculpture of South Italy and Sicily , p. 15.