Book Review: Early Greece: The Bronze And Archaic Ages

Early Greece:  The Bronze And Archaic Ages, by M. I. Finley

This particular book is an interesting one, and it sets out a goal that is simultaneously modest and ambitious and manages to succeed with it.  That goal, of course, is to write a history of what is essentially a prehistoric period in Greece, namely the period before classical Greece came to pass, where archaeology and interpretations of palace texts from the Late Bronze Age and passages of Homer are almost all one has in the way of texts.  The author carefully and correctly notes that this book is a history but not a narrative, because properly speaking the materials for narrative history do not exist for this time and place.  Rather than filling a book with speculations about things that one cannot know based on the limitations of the material, the author does a good job at pointing out what can be known and what can be guessed and where the ignorance lies and overall manages to accomplish this worthwhile task without whining about it.  I can respect that.  If this is not a time or place where I would be likely to do very much in the way of research and writing myself, I can respect someone who does a difficult task well and without complaint.

This book is a small one at less than 150 pages long and is divided into two parts.  After figures and maps, plates, a chronological table, acknowledgements, a preface, and a note on proper names, the book begins properly with six chapters on the Bronze Age in Greece (I).  This includes an introduction (1) as well as a discussion of what it means for the coming of the Greeks (2) as well as a discussion of what can be known from the Cyclades and Cyprus (3) as well as Crete (4) concerning the Greek culture and language that could be found there, and then closes with a discussion of Mycenaean civilization (5) and the end of the Bronze age in destroyed and abandoned cities (6).  The second part of the book discusses the archaic age that followed (II), which contains chapters on the dark age (7), archaic society and aristocratic politics (8), what we can know about Sparta (9) and Athens (10) during this period as aristocracy had to be broadened out among other equals, and then closing with a discussion of the culture of archaic Greece (11) insofar as it can be known.  After this the book closes with a select English bibliography and an index.

For me at least, this book was enjoyable largely because of the wit the author took to the task of writing a history of a preshistorical age and comment on what sort of history can be known about it.  To be sure, the archaic age does include more history than the Bronze Age, and correspondingly it includes a great deal of material that can properly be considered historical when it comes to Athens and Sparta, for example, if few other regions in Greece, and even if a narrative history or a political understanding of the consolidation of power as the Archaic period progressed is beyond our understanding except in a very limited fashion.  Still, what is i n here is generally enjoyable and manages to be balanced to the extent that it can be based on available sources.  The author even manages to note that the Cyclades were important religiously despite not being political politically, something that the author views as significant.  There are a lot more significant hints here than there are outright speculations of the sort that is common in ancient history, and as far as I am concerned, significant but indirect hints are definitely to be preferred.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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