Skip to main content

The Geometric epoch

In the 12th century BC, the Dorian tribes from the north began to migrate to the Greek mainland, leading to armed conflicts, social upheaval and population shifts. Tribes such as the Ionians, who had settled in these regions, now largely moved to the islands and Asia Minor. The previous Mycenaean culture died out and was replaced by a new culture. The new epoch, which covers the period from around 1,100 to 700 BC, is known as the “geometric epoch” after the characteristic decoration of the clay vessels of this period with fine, geometric patterns. The main artefacts from this period are pottery; however, the gradual emergence of the use of iron (“Iron age”) represents a significant advance.

The “Dark Centuries”

The geometric epoch has also been called “Dark Centuries”, because there are comparatively few remains from this time and we know much less about it than about the previous Mycenaean epoch and the following Archaic epoch. Written sources are not preserved: The writing that was already used during the Mycenaean epoch (the syllable script “Linear B”) had got out of use again. Due to the population shifts and social changes at the beginning of the Geometrical epoch, the standard of living of the population and the cultural level decreased significantly (although according to recent results the decrease was by far not as great as previously assumed). Trade and seafaring played a lesser role than in previous centuries.

Despite the developmental “low”, the following enormous cultural upswing of the Archaic epoch was prepared in the Geometrical epoch. The Greek religion established itself, the most important religious centres and temples were founded and the first Olympic Games took place. In this time Homer’s poems were written (which probably reflect the migrations and wars of the dark centuries). The Greek city-states formed, and towards the end of the Geometric epoch the Phoenician alphabet was adopted (with changes) and a script was introduced again.

Naxos in the Geometric epoch

Contrary to earlier views, we now know that the population of the island did not decrease significantly during the Geometric epoch. The largest settlement of the island was in the area of today’s Chóra (as already in the Bronze age), having moved a little towards the hill of the Castro, obviously due to an external threat. Two of the ancient cemeteries near the Chóra continued to be used during this period, one in the south of the settlement and a large one (Aplómata) in the northeast. The other Geometric settlements of the island found so far are also located far from the coastal areas in protected places in the interior of the island (Sangrí, Mélanes, Filóti, Apíranthos…).

The curious and unique Geometric cemetery at Tsikalarió between the valley of Potamiá and the Tragaía with large stone circles remaining of a number of tumulus graves and a menhir marking the entrance to the cemetery area is the most important monument of the Geometric epoch on Naxos.

Nearly all the main sanctuaries of the island can be traced back to the Geometrical epoch (partly even to the Mycenaean epoch):

  1. The temple of Dionysus in Iria
  2. The sanctuary at the site of the later Temple of Demeter at Sangrí
  3. The sanctuary in Kamináki at the northern edge of Chóra
  4. The Sanctuary of Springs and Quarries near Flerió (Mélanes)

Geometric cemetery near Tsikalarió Naxos
At the Geometric cemetery near Tsikalarió one can see several circles of upright stones that have remained of the former tumulus graves.

The Geometric pottery

The most common artifacts of the Geometric epoch that have been preserved are ceramics. The pottery of the Geometric epoch is easily recognizable by its characteristic painting: In contrast to the predominantly figurative representations of the previous Minoan and Mycenaean as well as the following Archaic epochs and the lienar and symbolic decorations of Early Bronze Age vessels, Geometric pottery are characterized by non-figurative motifs, lines and geometric patterns. It was not until the late Geometric epoch that figures began to appear again, mainly in the form of friezes running all the way round the vessels; however, most of them are very schematic, almost like stick figures.

Geometric crater Naxos
Geometric crater with characteristic decoration of carefully drawn circles and lines

amphorae from a Geometric tomb Chóra Naxos
amphorae from a Geometric tomb in the Chóra, 9th to 8th century BC

Geometric amphorae Naxos
amphorae from tombs of the Geometric time

The pottery found on Naxos from the early Geometric epoch was mostly imported from Attica, which proves close connections between both areas. Even when more and more pottery was produced on the island itself a little later, it showed clearly an “Attic” style and often imitated the Attic pottery down to the smallest detail. In the 9th century BC, the quantity of Attic style pottery decreases somewhat. Now pottery in the Euboean style becomes more common, particularly in the late period of the Geometric epoch; also pottery in the Parian and Cretan styles appear to a lesser extent. For the 7th century two large Naxian workshops, one using Attic and the other Euboean style, can be distinguished; both, however, have specific local characteristics which make them clearly recognisable. What is particularly remarkable about the Naxian pottery of this time is the high quality not only of the materials, but also of the technique of production and painting as well as the harmonious composition.

Relationships to the closer and more distant surroundings

We know little about the role Naxos played in Greece during the Geometrical epoch. One of the few sources of information are the finds of Naxian ceramics in other areas, neighboring as well as further off. The island of Naxos exported comparatively little pottery during the Geometrical epoch, i.e. the trade in pottery played a rather minor role, although there was a significant and high-quality production for local use on the island. According to the finds connections existed to the closer islands of the Aegean, especially to Delos and Paros, but also to Amorgos, which had been settled by Naxians. On Crete, Naxian pottery was found mainly in Knossós, which must have had close relations with the island for a long time.

Isolated pieces of Naxian pottery were found also in other parts of the Mediterranean, for example on Rhodes, in Syria and in Italy; however, all these pieces appear exclusively in the company of Euboean pottery. During this period, the Euboeans owned an important merchant fleet that travelled a large part of the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean. The island of Naxos was certainly an important harbor for them, especially for ships travelling to the east. It can be assumed that the presence of Naxian pottery in small quantities even at distant sites is due to the fact that individual Naxian merchants travelled with the Euboean ships.

When reporting about the Geometrical epoch on Naxos we must not forget of course the first Greek colony on Sicily, which was founded around 750 BC by Euboean and Naxian colonists. Here, too, the Naxians played a much smaller role than the Euboeans, even though the colony was given the name “Naxos”. The direct evidence of Naxian influence in the Sicilian Naxos is rather small, and almost all pottery found there is Euboean.

Monument of the Geometric epoch: The Geometric cemetery at Tsikalario

continue: The Archaic epoch

see also:

Web site content

used literature: Παναγιώτα Κούρου-Μποζάνα, Η ναξιακή παρουσία στο την Αιγαίο και κατά κατά Μεσόγειο κατά τη γεωμετρική εποχή, in: Η Νάξος Νάξος δια μέσου των Αιώνων, Πρακτικά του Συνεδρίου Α Πανελλήνιου Συνεδρίου, Επιμέλεια: Ιωάννης Κ Κ Προμπονάς, Στέφανος Ε. Ψαρράς, Αθήνα 1994