Ancient Greece, part 1 – The Origins of Athens


Up to the middle of the twentieth century, students of Ancient History had always been taught that the Greeks were actually ‘Aryan’ invaders from the north who had settled in the Greek mainland around about the ninth to the eighth century BC.

Although Heinrich Schliemann had excavated the remains of the Mycenaean civilisation in the last two decades of the nineteenth century, it was widely believed that the Mycenaeans were not Greeks. This was because there were obvious links between the Mycenaean and earlier Minoan civilisations and the great middle-eastern civilisations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. In the intellectual atmosphere of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it was difficult to believe that Classical Greek civilisation had actually learned anything from ‘Oriental’ cultures.

Then, in 1952, a British architect, Michael Ventris, demonstrated that the Mycenaean language was actually an early form of Greek.

This discovery meant that the earlier understanding about the origins of the Greeks had to be re-evaluated to a large extent.

Archeological evidence shows that Athens had actually been occupied even in Mycenaean times, and most scholars accept that the Classical Athens of the fifth century BC is actually the lineal descendent of the Mycenaean Settlement.

It is generally accepted now that Classical Greece did evolve from the earlier Mycenaean civilisation. However, scholars still dispute the extent of Egyptian and Levantine influences on the formative period of Greek civilisation.

Many Classicists continue to cling to the belief that Classical Greek civilisation developed in relative isolation from the Ancient Near East.

But there is increasing archaeological evidence available for intense contact among the early civilisations in the Eastern Mediterranean region – Egypt, Greece and Anatolia and the Levant from as early as the third millennium BC.

During the Late Bronze Age (around 1550-1100 BC) there is good evidence for intense and sustained contact around the Eastern Mediterranean area.