Embers of Advanced Civilization in Bronze Age Greece

11/24/2017 03:29 pm ET

by Dr. Evaggelos Vallianatos


Scholars are nearly unanimous Greeks developed an original civilization in the millennium before our common era.

The great early natural philosophers Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Herakleitos and Parmenides lived during the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. Anaxagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle lived in the fifth and fourth century BCE.

Aristotle invented science.

Taken together, however, these thinkers created the world we know. This is a world of reason and facts. These philosophers examined human behavior and the workings of the natural world and the cosmos: why nature does nothing in vain? why do the planets, the Sun and the Moon are spherical and move around the spherical Earth?

We call the fifth and fourth centuries BCE a golden age of Greece. This is also the period of Herodotos, father of history; Leukippos and Demokritos, inventors of the atomic theory; the dramatic poets Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes; the Parthenon, and, of course, Alexander the Great.

Aristotle tutored Alexander.

However, the ages after Alexander the Great and before Thales are clouded with doubt. When scholars describe people and events after Alexander, they usually speak of the Hellenistic (Hellenic-like) age. This wrong name distorts a great period of Greek civilization that gave us Euclid, the mathematical genius and author of “The Elements”; Aristarchos of Samos, the inventor of the heliocentric theory; Archimedes, the greatest scientist and engineer of all time; Hipparchos, the astronomer that made astronomy the mathematical science it is today.

But the confusion is even greater for the early Greek history of the Bronze Age. This era starts approximately at 3000 BCE and ends in 850 BCE. The Greeks of Crete are called Minoans but, supposedly, they were non-Greeks. Yet Homer reports that Idomeneus, son of the Cretan King Deukalion and grandson of Minos, son of Zeus and great Cretan king, led an army of Cretan Greeks in the Trojan War. Mainland Greeks are known as Mycenaeans.

Most scholars date Homer in the eighth century BCE, though his masterpieces, the Iliad and the Odyssey, date from the Bronze Age and relate stories of late thirteenth century BCE.

I love Homer. The stories he tells about the Trojan War and the return of Odysseus to Ithaca are so beautiful, detailed, credible and full of knowledge of places and heroes, and ways of life that no oral tradition could carry intact over centuries. But oral tradition does connect the Greek of Homer to the Linear B Greek baked into the clay tablets of Pylos.

Like ancient Greeks and Heinrich Schliemann, the amateur German archaeologist who discovered the ruins of Troy and Mycenae, I take the epics of Homer as early Greek history, not fiction.

Homer’s epics also include scientific and technological stories that illustrate an advanced Greek civilization of the Bronze Age, especially of the late thirteenth century BCE, the time of the Trojan War.

Stephanos Paipetis, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Patras, examined the technology in Homer and concluded, for instance, that Hephaistos, god of fire and metallurgy, built Achilles’ Shield with advanced knowledge and technology of metals and materials. In other words, Hephaistos “possessed deep knowledge of the dynamic mechanical properties of laminated composite structures.” The ships of Phaiakians that carried Odysseus from Phaiakia (Kerkyra) to Ithaca were governed by artificial intelligence.

Now we learn that a husband and wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis, unearthed in May 2015 a tiny agate seal stone with great potential of throwing more light on the civilization of Bronze Age Greece.

This thumb-size gem is engraved with a marvelous picture of a warrior who seems to come out of the Iliad of Homer, perhaps depicting Achilles killing Hector, with another dead soldier sprawled at his feet. Of course this cannot be since this warrior died centuries before the Trojan War. So the stunning reality about this gem is the detail it offers of the human body that, according to Davis, does not appear until the classical age, about a thousand years later.

This gem was part of treasure-laden tomb of a warrior who died sometime between 1500 and 1450 BCE in Pylos, southwestern Peloponnesos, Greece.

The treasure included four gold rings, precious stone beads, silver cups, ivory combs, a bronze sword and several hundred other objects. One of them was an ivory plaque with a Griffin, a mythical animal possessing a lion’s body and an eagle’s head and wings. This is why the Pylos warrior was dubbed Griffin Warrior.

Like the fantastic image of the Pylos warrior, the gold rings mirror superior craftsmanship. The goldsmith used “multiple sheets of gold.” We find similar advanced knowledge and technology in the craftsmanship of the Shield of Achilles.

Nestor was the king of Pylos during the Trojan War. He was a one of the heroes of the Achaians, Danaans or Hellenes, the names Homer used for the Greeks.

The Pylos warrior died two hundred and forty three years before Odysseus returned home to Ithaca in 1207 BCE. Nevertheless, the culture of the Griffin Warrior, captured in the tiny gem and the technology required for engraving it, informed the Greeks of the Homeric epics.

Aside from the masterpiece qualities of the art and design of the combat scene on the gem, how did the artist work on such a tiny stone? Did he have a magnifying glass? You ask the same question when you see the gear teeth and inscriptions on the Antikythera Mechanism, the computer Greeks built in the second century BCE, about twelve and a half centuries after the death of the Pylos warrior.

The exquisite art of the Griffin Warrior fits nicely into the lavish and unforgettable images painted in the Bronze Age walls of homes at Akrotiri in the Aegean island of Thera. The island had more than beautiful art. Akrotiri had two-story houses, paved streets, running water and toilets.

Add the Homer epics and Bronze Age Greece is a carrier of advanced civilization.

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