Late Mycenaean Age

Prosperous kingdoms, with palaces, citadels and elaborate burial tombs arose in mainland Greece, especially during the last 200 years of this period. In Mycenae (whose Lion Gate is pictured above), the city from which the age derives its name, Heinrich Schliemann found the Agamemnon mask on this issue’s cover. The Mycenaeans are known for their hammered gold and silver, bronze casting, fine painted vases, ivory carving and frescoes (resembling those in Minoan Crete). Their form of writing, Linear B, was adapted from Minoan script (Linear A, still undeciphered) to make administrative records in their own language, Greek.

Dark Age

The large Mycenaean citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns were destroyed around 1120. The fall of Mycenaean civilization was part of a large-scale disruption throughout the eastern Mediterannean and Near East; Hittite civilization collapsed, for example, and the Canaanite city of Ugarit was destroyed. Very little is known about Dark Age Greece. No examples of Greek writing survive from this period, prompting some (but not all) scholars to conclude that writing was lost—only to be rediscovered through contact with Semites in the Archaic Age.

Archaic Age

Greek city-states began to appear, along with the earliest Greek colonies in Italy and the first Greek alphabetic writing. Most scholars date the writing down of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to the first 50 years of the Archaic Age; the poet Hesiod wrote his Works and Days around 700. The mathematician Pythagoras (above) established a Greek religious order in southern Italy in 530.

Classical Age

In 462–461, Pericles brought democratic reforms to Athens, setting the stage for one of the most luminous periods in human history. Aeschylus’ Oresteia, a trilogy that begins with the murder of the Mycenaean king Agamemnon on his return from Troy, was produced in 458. The sculptor Phidias, in 432, completed the friezes that adorn the Parthenon (above). In 399, Socrates was tried and condemned to death. Aristotle founded his school in Athens, the Lyceum, in 335. Alexander the Great, after leading his army as far as India, died in 323.