Helladic period

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Helladic is a modern archaeological term meant to identify a sequence of periods characterizing the culture of mainland ancient Greece during the Bronze Age. The term is commonly used in archaeology and art history. It was intended to complement two parallel terms, "Cycladic", identifying approximately the same sequence with reference to the Aegean Bronze Age, and "Minoan", with reference to the civilization of Crete.

The scheme applies primarily to pottery and is a relative dating system. The pottery at any given site typically can be ordered into early, middle and late on the basis of style and technique. The total time window allowed for the site is then divided into these periods proportionately. As it turns out, there is a correspondence between "early" over all Greece, etc. Also some "absolute dates" or dates obtained by non-comparative methods can be used to date the periods.

Absolute dates are preferable whenever they can be obtained. However, the relative structure was devised before the age of carbon dating. Most of the excavation was performed then as well. Typically only relative dates are obtainable. They form a structure for the characterization of Greek prehistory. Objects are generally dated by the pottery of the site found in associative contexts. Other objects can be arranged into early, middle and late as well, but pottery is used as a marker.

The three terms "Helladic", "Cycladic", and "Minoan" refer to location of origin. Thus Middle Minoan objects might be found in the Cyclades, but they are not on that account Middle Cycladic. The scheme tends to be less applicable in areas on the periphery of the Aegean, such as the Levant. Pottery there might imitate Helladic or Minoan cultural models and yet be locally manufactured.


Stirrup vase with octopus decor, Rhodes, Late Helladic III C1, ca. 1200–1100 BC (Louvre).

The "early", "middle" and "late" scheme can be applied at different levels. Rather than use such cumbersome terms as "early early", archaeologists by convention use I, II, III for the second level, A, B, C for the third level, 1, 2, 3 for the fourth level and a, b, c for the fifth. Not all levels are present at every site. If additional levels are required, another "early", "middle" or "late" can be appended. The Helladic period is subdivided as:

Period Approximate Date
Early Helladic I 2800–2500
Early Helladic II 2500–2300
Early Helladic III 2300–2100
Middle Helladic 2100–1550
Late Helladic I 1550–1500
Late Helladic II 1500–1400
Late Helladic III 1400–1060

Early Helladic (EH)[edit]

The Early Helladic period (or EH) of Bronze Age Greece is generally characterized by the Neolithic agricultural population importing bronze and copper, as well as using rudimentary bronze-working techniques first developed in Anatolia with which they had cultural contacts.[1] The EH period corresponds in time to the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Important EH sites are clustered on the Aegean shores of the mainland in Boeotia and Argolid (Lerna, Pefkakia, Thebes, Tiryns) or coastal islands such as Aegina (Kolonna) and Euboea (Lefkandi, Manika) and are marked by pottery showing influences from western Anatolia and the introduction of the fast-spinning version of the potter's wheel. The large "longhouse" called a megaron is introduced in EH II. The infiltration of Anatolian cultural models (i.e. "Lefkandi I") was not accompanied by widespread site destruction.

Early Helladic I (EHI)[edit]

The Early Helladic I period (or EHI), also known as the "Eutresis culture", is characterized by the presence of unslipped and burnished or red slipped and burnished pottery at Korakou and other sites (metal objects, however, were extremely rare during this period).[2] In terms of ceramics and settlement patterns, there is considerable continuity between the EHI period and the preceding Final Neolithic period (or FN); changes in settlement location during the EHI period are attributed to alterations in economic practices.[2]

Early Helladic II (EHII)[edit]

The transition from Early Helladic I to the Early Helladic II period (or EHII) occurred rapidly and without disruption where multiple socio-cultural innovations were developed such as metallurgy (i.e. bronze-working), fortifications, and monumental architecture.[3] Changes in settlement during the EHII period were accompanied with alterations in agricultural practices (i.e. oxen-driven plow).[4]

Early Helladic III (EHIII)[edit]

The Early Helladic II period came to an end at Lerna with the destruction of the "House of Tiles", a corridor house.[5] The nature of the destruction of EHII sites was at first attributed to an invasion of Greeks and/or Indo-Europeans during the Early Helladic III period (or EHIII);[6] however, this is no longer maintained given the lack of uniformity in the destruction of EHII sites and the presence of EHII–EHIII/MH continuity in settlements such as Lithares, Phlius, Manika, etc.[7] Furthermore, the presence of "new/intrusive" cultural elements such as apsidal houses, terracotta anchors, shaft-hole hammer-axes, ritual tumuli, and intramural burials precede the EHIII period in Greece and are in actuality attributed to indigenous developments (i.e. terracotta anchors from Boeotia; ritual tumuli from Ayia Sophia in Neolithic Thessaly), as well as continuous contacts during the EHII–MH period between mainland Greece and various areas such as western Asia Minor, the Cyclades, Albania, and Dalmatia.[8] Changes in climate also appear to have contributed to the significant cultural transformations that occurred in Greece between the EHII period and the EHIII period (ca. 2200 BCE).[9]

Middle Helladic (MH)[edit]

In Greece, the Middle Helladic period (or MH) begins with the wide-scale emergence of Minyan ware, which may be directly related to the people whom ancient Greek historians called Minyans; a group of monochrome burnished pottery from Middle Helladic sites was conventionally dubbed "Minyan" ware by Troy's discoverer Heinrich Schliemann.

Gray Minyan ware was first identified as the pottery introduced by a Middle Bronze Age migration;[10] the theory, however, is outdated as excavations at Lerna in the 1950's revealed the development of pottery styles to have been continuous (i.e. the fine gray burnished pottery of the EHIII Tiryns culture was the direct progenitor of Minyan ware).[11] In general, painted pottery decors are rectilinear and abstract until Middle Helladic III, when Cycladic and Minoan influences inspired a variety of curvilinear and even representational motifs.

The Middle Helladic period corresponds in time to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Settlements draw more closely together and tend to be sited on hilltops. Middle Helladic sites are located throughout the Peloponnese and central Greece (including sites in the interior of Aetolia such as Thermon) as far north as the Spercheios River valley. Malthi in Messenia and Lerna V are the only Middle Helladic sites to have been thoroughly excavated.

Late Helladic (LH)[edit]

The Late Helladic period (or LH) is the time when Mycenaean Greece flourished, under new influences from Minoan Crete and the Cyclades. Those who made LH pottery sometimes inscribed their work with a syllabic script, Linear B, which has been deciphered as Greek. LH is divided into I, II, and III; of which I and II overlap Late Minoan ware and III overtakes it. LH III is further subdivided into IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC. The table below provides the approximate dates of the Late Helladic phases (LH) on the Greek mainland.

Period Approximate Date
LHI 1550–1500
LHIIA 1500–1450
LHIIB 1450–1400
LHIIIA1 1400–1350
LHIIIA2 1350–1300
LHIIIB1 1300–1230
LHIIIB2 1230–1190
LHIIIC (Early) 1190–1130
LHIIIC (Middle) 1130–1090
LHIIIC (Late) 1090–1060
Sub-Mycenean 1060–1000
Protogeometric 1000

Late Helladic I (LHI)[edit]

The LHI pottery is known from the fill of the Shaft Graves of Lerna and the settlements of Voroulia and Nichoria (Messenia), Ayios Stephanos, (Laconia) and Korakou. Furumark divided the LH in phases A and B, but Furumark's LHIB has been reassigned to LHIIA by Oliver Dickinson. Some recent C-14 dates from the Tsoungiza site north of Mycenae indicate LHI there was dated to between 1675/1650 and 1600/1550 BCE, which is earlier than the assigned pottery dates by about 100 years. The Thera eruption also occurred during LHI (and LCI and LMIA), variously dated within the 1650–1625 BCE span.

Not found at Thera, but extant in late LHI from Messenia, and therefore likely commencing after the eruption, is a material culture known as "Peloponnesian LHI".[12] This is characterised by "tall funnel-like Keftiu cups of Type III"; "small closed shapes such as squat jugs decorated with hatched loops ('rackets') or simplified spirals"; "dark-on-light lustrous-painted motifs", which "include small neat types of simple linked spiral such as varieties of hook-spiral or wave-spiral (with or without small dots in the field), forms of the hatched loop and double-axe, and accessorial rows of small dots and single or double wavy lines"; also, the "ripple pattern" on "Keftiu" cups. These local innovations continued into the LHIIA styles throughout the mainland.

Late Helladic II (LHII)[edit]

The description of the LHIIA is mainly based on the material from Kourakou East Alley. Domestic and Palatial shapes are distinguished. There are strong links between LHIIA and LMIB. LHIIB began before the end of LMIB, and sees a lessening of Cretan influences. Pure LHIIB assemblages are rare and originate from Tiryns, Asine and Korakou. C-14 dates from Tsoungiza indicate LHII was dated to between 1600/1550 and 1435/1405 BCE, the start of which is earlier than the assigned pottery date by about 100 years, but the end of which nearly corresponds to the pottery phase. In Egypt, both periods of LHII correspond with the beginning of its "Imperial" period, from Hatshepsut to Tuthmosis III (r. 1479–1425 BCE).

Late Helladic III (LHIII)[edit]

LHIII and LMIII are contemporary. Toward LMIIIB, non-Helladic ware from the Aegean ceases to be homogeneous; insofar as LMIIIB differs from Helladic, it should at most be considered a "sub-Minoan" variant of LHIIIB.

The uniform and widely spread LHIIIA:1 pottery was originally defined by the material from the Ramp house at Mycenae, the palace at Thebes (now dated to LHIIIA:2 or LHIIIB by most researchers) and Triada at Rhodes. There is material from Asine, Athens (wells), Sparta (Menelaion), Nichoria and the 'Atreus Bothros', rubbish sealed under the Dromos of the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae as well. C-14 dates from Tsoungiza indicate LHIIIA:1 should be more nearly 1435/1406 to 1390/1370 BCE, slightly earlier than the pottery phase, but by less than 50 years. LHIIIA:1 ware has also been found in Maşat Höyük in Hittite Anatolia.[13]

The LHIIIA:2 pottery marks a Mycenaean expansion covering most of the Eastern Mediterranean. There are many new shapes. The motifs of the painted pottery continue from LHIIIA:1 but show a great deal of standardization. In Egypt, the Amarna site contains LHIIIA:1 ware during the reign of Amenhotep III and LHIIIA:2 ware during that of his son Akhenaten; it also has the barest beginnings of LHIIIB. LHIIIA:2 ware is in the Uluburun shipwreck, which sank in the 14th century BCE. Again, Tsoungiza dates are earlier, 1390/1370 to 1360/1325 BCE; but LHIIIA:2 ware also exists in a burn layer of Miletus which likely occurred early in Mursilis II's reign and therefore some years prior to Mursili's eclipse in 1312 BCE. The transition period between IIIA and IIIB begins after 1320 BCE, but not long after (Cemal Pulak thinks before 1295 BCE).

The definition of the LHIIIB by Furumark was mainly based on grave finds and the settlement material from Zygouries. It has been divided into two sub-phases by Elizabeth B. French, based on the finds from Mycenae and the West wall at Tiryns. LHIIIB:2 assemblages are sparse, as painted pottery is rare in tombs and many settlements of this period ended by destruction, leaving few complete pots behind.

LHIIIB pottery is associated in the Greek mainland palaces with the Linear B archives. (Linear B had been in use in Crete since Late Minoan II.) Pulak's proposed LHIIIA/B boundary would make LHIIIB contemporary in Anatolia with the resurgent Hittites following Mursili's eclipse; in Egypt with the 19th Dynasty, also known as the Ramessides; and in northern Mesopotamia with Assyria's ascendancy over Mitanni. The end of LHIIIB is associated with the destruction of Ugarit, whose ruins contain the last of that pottery. The Tsoungiza date for the end of LHIIIB is 1200/1190 BCE. The beginning of LHIIIC, therefore, is now commonly set into the reign of Queen Twosret. The LHIIIC has been divided into LHIIIC:1 and LHIIIC:2 by Furumark, based on materials from tombs in Mycenae, Asine, Kephalonia, and Rhodes. In the 1960's, the excavations of the citadel at Mycenae and of Lefkandi in Euboea yielded stratified material revealing significant regional variation in LHIIIC, especially in the later phases. Late LHIIIC pottery is found in Troy VIIa and a few pieces in Tarsus. It was also made locally in the Philistine settlements of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza.


Multivariate analyses of craniometric data derived from Helladic skeletal material indicate a strong morphological homogeneity in the Bronze Age osteological record, disproving the influx of foreign populations between the Early Helladic and Middle Helladic periods; ultimately, the Bronze Age inhabitants of mainland Greece (including the Mycenaeans) represent a single and homogeneous population of Mediterranean provenance.[14]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pullen 2008, p. 20; van Andels & Runnels 1988, "The transition to the Early Bronze Age", pp. 238–240; French 1973, p. 53.
  2. ^ a b Pullen 2008, pp. 21–22.
  3. ^ Pullen 2008, pp. 24–26.
  4. ^ Pullen 2008, pp. 27–28.
  5. ^ Pullen 2008, pp. 36, 43 (Endnote #22): "A corridor house is a large, two-story building consisting of two or more large rooms flanked by narrow corridors on the sides. Some of those corridors held staircases; others were used for storage."
  6. ^ Caskey 1960, pp. 285–303.
  7. ^ Pullen 2008, p. 36; Forsén 1992, pp. 251–253.
  8. ^ Pullen 2008, p. 36; Forsén 1992, pp. 253–257.
  9. ^ Pullen 2008, p. 36.
  10. ^ Mellaart 1958, pp. 9–33.
  11. ^ Pullen 2008, p. 40; French 1973, pp. 51–57; Caskey 1960, pp. 285–303.
  12. ^ Lolos 1990, pp. 51–56.
  13. ^ Kuniholm 1998, pp. 3–4.
  14. ^ Forsén 1992, p. 247; Xirotiris 1980, p. 209; Musgrave & Evans 1981, pp. 75, 80.


  • Caskey, John L. (July–September 1960). "The Early Helladic Period in the Argolid". Hesperia (The American School of Classical Studies at Athens) 29 (3): 285–303. 
  • Forsén, Jeannette (1992). The Twilight of the Early Helladics. Partille, Sweden: Paul Aströms Förlag. ISBN 91-7081-031-1. 
  • French, D.M. (1973). "Migrations and 'Minyan' pottery in western Anatolia and the Aegean". In Crossland, R.A.; Birchall, Ann. Bronze Age Migrations in the Aegean. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes Press. pp. 51–57. 
  • Kuniholm, Peter Ian (1998). "Aegean Dendrochronology Project December 1996 Progress Report". Cornell Tree-Ring Laboratory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University): 1–7. 
  • Lolos, Y.G. (1990). "On the Late Helladic I of Akrotiri, Thera". In Hardy, D.A.; Renfrew, A.C. Thera and the Aegean World III. Volume Three: Chronology – Proceedings of the Third International Congress, Santorini, Greece, 3–9 September 1989. London: Thera Foundation. pp. 51–56. 
  • Mellaart, James (January 1958). "The End of the Early Bronze Age in Anatolia and the Aegean". American Journal of Archaeology (Archaeological Institute of America) 62 (1): 9–33. 
  • Musgrave, Jonathan H.; Evans, Suzanne P. (1981). "By Strangers Honor’d: A Statistical Study of Ancient Crania from Crete, Mainland Crete, Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt". Journal of Mediterranean Anthropology and Archaeology 1: 50–107. 
  • Pullen, Daniel (2008). "The Early Bronze Age in Greece". In Shelmerdine, Cynthia W. The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–46. ISBN 978-0-521-81444-7. 
  • van Andels, Tjeerd H.; Runnels, Curtis N. (1988). "An Essay on the 'Emergence of Civilization' in the Aegean World". Antiquity (Antiquity Publications Limited) 62 (235): 234–247. 
  • Xirotiris, Nicholas I. (Spring–Summer 1980). "The Indo-Europeans in Greece: An Anthropological Approach to the Population of Bronze Age Greece". Journal of Indo-European Studies 8 (1–2): 201–210. 

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