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In the Archaic phase of ancient Greece, the Orientalizing period is the cultural and art historical period informed by the art of Syria and Assyria, to a lesser extent[clarification needed] also Phoenicia and Egypt, which started during the later part of the 8th century BCE. It encompasses a new, Orientalizing style, spurred by a period of increased cultural interchange in the Aegean world. The period is characterized by a shift from the prevailing Geometric style to a style with different sensibilities, which were inspired by the East. The intensity of the cultural interchange during this period is sometimes compared to[according to whom?] that of the Late Bronze Age.
The seventh century BCE also saw a comparable Orientalizing phase of Etruscan art, as a rising economy encouraged Etruscan families to acquire foreign luxury products incorporating Eastern-derived motifs.
During this period, the Assyrians advanced along the Mediterranean coast, accompanied by Greek mercenaries, who were also active in the armies of Psammeticus in Egypt. The new groups started to compete with established Greek merchants. In other parts of the Aegean world similar population moves occurred. Phoenicians settled in Cyprus and in western regions of Greece, while Greeks established trading colonies at Al Mina, Syria, and in Ischia (Pithecusae) off the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. These interchanges led to a period of intensive borrowing in which the Greeks adapted cultural features from the Semitic East into their art. (Burkert 1992:128 et passim).
New materials and skills
Massive imports of raw materials, including metals, and a new mobility among foreign craftsmen caused new craft skills to be introduced in Greece. In The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, Walter Burkert described the new movement in Greek art as a revolution: "With bronze reliefs, textiles, seals, and other products, a whole world of eastern images was opened up which the Greeks were only too eager to adopt and adapt in the course of an "orientalizing revolution" (Burkert 1992:128). Many Greek myths originated in attempts to interpret and integrate foreign icons in terms of Greek cult and practice. "Oriental" motifs such as sphinxes, lions and lotuses began to be included on Greek wares.
Impact on myth and literature
Some Greek myths reflect Mesopotamian literary classics. Burkert (1992:41-88) has argued that it was migrating seers and healers who transmitted their skills in divination and purification ritual along with elements of their mythological wisdom. He has suggested direct literary Eastern influence in the Homeric literature. The intense encounter during the orientalizing period also accompanied the invention of the Greek alphabet, based on the earlier phonetic but unpronounceable Phoenician writing, which caused a spectacular leap in literacy and literary production, as the oral traditions of the epic began to be transcribed onto imported Egyptian papyrus (and occasionally leather).
The Orientalizing style in pottery
In Attic pottery, the distinctive Orientalizing style known as "proto-Attic" was marked by floral and animal motifs; it was the first time discernibly Greek religious and mythological themes were represented in vase painting. The bodies of men and animals were depicted in silhouette, though their heads were drawn in outline; women were drawn completely in outline.
At the other important center of this period, Corinth, the orientalizing influence started earlier, though the tendency there was to produce smaller, highly detailed vases in the "proto-Corinthian" style that prefigured the black-figure technique.
Cultural predominance of the East, identified archaeologically by pottery, ivory and metalwork of eastern origin found in Hellenic sites, soon gave way to thorough Hellenization of imported features in the Archaic Period that followed. In the West, Etruscan civilization passed through an Orientalizing period approximately at the same time, ca. 730-580 BCE.
From the mid-sixth century, the growth of Achaemenid power in the eastern end of the Aegean and in Asia Minor, reduced the quantity of eastern goods found in Greek sites, as the Persians began to conquer Greek cities in Ionia, along the coast of Asia Minor.
References and sources
- Payne, H., Protocorinthian Vase-Painting, 1933
- Boardman, J., Early Greek Vase Painting: 11th-6th centuries BC, 1998
- Burkert, W. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, 1992.
- Von Bothmer, Dietrich (1987). Greek vase painting. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 0870990845.
- The Orientalizing Period in the Etruscan World- University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
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