Chronology Overview

The Chronology and Terminology of Aegean Prehistory

Stone Age

A. The Single Site of Franchthi Cave – The dates below are uncalibrated; that is, they indicate radiocarbon, not calendar years. All are expressed in years “before present” [b.p.] rather than B.C.; the “present” is by convention arbitrarily anchored at 1950 A.D.

B. Mainland Greece in General (including Thessaly, central Greece, and the Peloponnese – the dates to the left are calibrated, true calendar years.

Bronze Age

See also the chart headed “Relative Chronology of the Aegean” on pp. 13-14 with dates indicated in calendar years, as well as the charts in: Hood, APG (1978) 15; O. Dickinson, The Aegean Bronze Age (1994) 19; S. W. Manning, The Absolute Chronology of the Aegean Early Bronze Age (1995) 217; and AJA 97(1993) 756 Table 2, 101(1997) 540 Table 1. Note the following abbreviations:

  • EBA = Early Bronze Age
  • MBA = Middle Bronze Age
  • LBA = Late Bronze Age

Crete

The Bronze Age culture is termed “Minoan” after the legendary king Minos.

  • The EBA is referred to as the Early Minoan (abbreviated EM) period and is subdivided into EM I, II, and III.
  • The MBA is termed the Middle Minoan (abbreviated MM) period and is subdivided into MM IA, IB, IIA-B (only at the palaces of Knossos, Phaistos, and Mallia), IIIA, and IIIB.
  • The LBA is called the Late Minoan (abbreviated LM) period and is subdivided into LM IA, IB, II, IIIA1-2, IIIB, and IIIC.

The following Subminoan period is the earliest phase of the Iron Age. The Minoan “palaces” were first built at the beginning of MM IB; all of them except that at Knossos were destroyed and abandoned in LM IB; the “palace” at Knossos suffers at least two additional destructions in early LM IIIA2 and LM IIIB before finally going out of use.

An alternative framework for Minoan chronology is based on major changes in social organization connected with the building, rebuilding, and abandonment of the major architectural complexes at Knossos, Phaistos, Mallia, and Zakro which are invariably referred to as “palaces”:

  • Pre-palatial EM I – MM IA (ca. 3100/3000-1925/1900 B.C.)
  • Protopalatial (or Old Palace) MM IB – MM IIB (ca. 1925/1900-1750/1720 B.C.)
  • Neopalatial (or New Palace) MM IIIA – LM IB (ca. 1750/1720-1490/1470 B.C.)
  • Post-palatial LM IIIA-C (ca. 1490/1470-1075/1050 B.C.)

Note that the terms “Neopalatial” and “Post-palatial” do not apply to Knossos during the periods in question, since the palace at Knossos appears to have continued to function as an administrative center at least as late as the middle of the 13th century B.C.

The Cyclades

The Bronze Age cultures within the central and western Aegean islands are termed “Cycladic”.

  • The EBA is referred to as the Early Cycladic (abbreviated EC) period and is subdivided chronologically into I, II, and III.
    • To EC I is assigned the Grotta-Pelos culture (sometimes called the Pelos-Lakkoudes culture);
    • to EC II belongs the Keros-Syros culture;
    • the Kastri Group is assigned either to the early part of the EC III phase (EC IIIA, following Barber and MacGillivray) or to the later part of the EC II period (EC IIB, following Rutter);
    • the subsequent Phylakopi I culture is then put either late in the EC III period (EC IIIB, following Barber and MacGillivray) or early in the MBA, at the beginning of the Middle Cycladic sequence (MC I, following Rutter).

The later stages of the MC phase are best attested at Phylakopi on Melos and Ayia Irini on Keos: MC II = Phylakopi II.2 = Ayia Irini IV, MC III = Phylakopi II.3 = Ayia Irini V. The LBA is termed Late Cycladic, subdivided as usual into I, II, and III, of which I is by far the best understood by virtue of the fact that the town of Akrotiri on Thera belongs to this phase. [For a published chart tabulating all phases of the Cycladic Bronze Age presently recognized, toether with the phases of the Cretan and Mainland Greek Bronze Age with which they are contemporary, see J. A. MacGillivray and R. L. N. Barber (eds.), The Prehistoric Cyclades (Edinburgh 1984) 301. For recent general treatments, see R. L. N. Barber, The Cyclades in the Bronze Age (Iowa City 1987) and S. W. Manning, "The Emergence of Divergence: Development and Decline on Bronze Age Crete and the Cyclades," in C. Mathers and S. Stoddart (eds.), Development and Decline in the Mediterranean Bronze Age (Sheffield 1994) 221-270.]

The Greek Mainland

The Bronze Age cultures of the Mainland are described as “Helladic” after the Greeks’ own word for Greece, Hellas.

  • The EBA is termed the Early Helladic (abbreviated EH) period and is subdivided into I, II and III. As in the case of the related Kastri Group in the Cyclades, there is presently a debate going on among specialists as to what the chronological position of the “Lefkandi I” culture on the Mainland is: some view it as an early stage of EH III (e.g. MacGillivray) while others see it as a late stage of Early Helladic II (e.g. Rutter).
  • The MBA on the Mainland is described as the Middle Helladic (abbreviated MH) period, which is occasionally but not regularly subdivided into I, II, and III.
  • The Mainland LBA is called either Late Helladic (abbreviated LH) or Mycenaean and is subdivided into I, IIA, IIB, IIIA1-2, IIIB (further subdivided into 1-2 in the Argolid), and IIIC (usually subdivided into at least three and sometimes as many as five sub-phases). The latest phase of LH IIIC in certain regions of the Mainland is usually termed Submycenaean.

Western Turkey

The Bronze Age cultures of Asiatic Turkey (i.e. Asia Minor) are usually referred to as “Anatolian”, from the Greek word for the rising of the sun [anatole] and, by extension, the east (compare the Latin-based term “Orient” and the French-based “Levant”). The portion of this enormous landmass closest to the Aegean is ordinarily described as “Western Anatolia” and can itself be further subdivided into northern, central, and southern sections. The Bronze Age chronology of all of Western Anatolia has traditionally been based upon the stratification of a single site in the northern subdivision, the mound of Hissarlik that forms the core of the Classical to Hellenistic Greek city of Ilion and the Roman Imperial city of Troy. Thus the Early Bronze Age in Western Anatolia is typically broken down into EB [Early Bronze] 1-3, represented at Troy by settlements I (= late EB 1), II (= EB 2), and III-V (= EB 3). The Western Anatolian MBA [Middle Bronze Age] is not further subdivided and is represented at Troy by settlement VIa-c or VI Early. The Western Anatolian LBA [Late Bronze Age] is likewise not subdivided, and is represented at Troy by settlements VId-h (or VI Middle and Late) and VIIa-b.

Note: In general, absolute dates for the Aegean Stone and Bronze Ages are not yet very reliable and many different sets of dates are often in use for one and the same phase or period. A major debate has been raging since 1987 over the absolute date of the great volcanic explosion of the island of Thera/Santorini early in the Late Bronze Age. As a result, absolute dates within the first two-thirds of the second millennium B.C. (ca. 2000-1350 B.C.) are presently in an unusually active state of flux. It is therefore always best to describe an archaeological assemblage in terms of a relative chronological label (e.g. Early Helladic II, Late Minoan IA, etc.) rather than in terms of its supposed duration in calendar years B.C. Indeed, it is often preferable to refer to a particular assemblage by the site and level in which it was found (e.g. Troy VI, Lefkandi I, Lerna V, Ayia Irini VII, etc.), particularly in the cases of archaeological cultures whose precise chronological positions are disputed even in relative terms (e.g. the Kastri Group and Lefkandi I). [For the most recent surveys of chronology, both relative and absolute, see P. Warren and V. Hankey, Aegean Bronze Age Chronology (Bristol 1989) and, for the Early Bronze Age, S. W. Manning, The Absolute Chronology of the Aegean Early Bronze Age: Archaeology, Radiocarbon, and History (Sheffield 1995), the latter abstracted in AJA 97(1993) 756 Table 2.]

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