chapter  4
32 Pages

Athens and Attica

Around 770 B.C. Athens enters a new phase of prosperity and artistic ferment, which also saw the final passing of the Dark Ages. After the obscurity and stagnation of the previous period, there are several signs that the emergence came quite suddenly. In the Levant, we have already noted (p. 93) a burst of Athenian activity towards the end of MG II, and that is also the time when the circulation of Athenian pottery within the Aegean reaches its highest point before the sixth century.1 Commercial energy abroad was matched by expansion and affluence at home. Like most other regions, Attica affords evidence of a rapidly rising population. In the countryside, there are many sites on the coast and in the Mesogeia plain where the earliest post-Mycenaean finds are Late Geometric (p. 133, fig. 43). In Athens itself, it appears from a count of wells within the Agora area2 that the population increased threefold in the course of the eighth century, and a similar impression is conveyed by a sharp rise in the aggregate of graves. The further expansion of the polis is indicated by the first use of three new cemeteries, all in outlying areas (fig. 44): one in the modern suburb of Kallithea, the second near the later Kynosarges Gymnasium, and the third well outside the later Dipylon Gate, by the present Odos Peiraios. The Kynosarges graves offer a wealth of gold jewellery, not seen in Athens since the mid-ninth century. From the Odos Peiraios cemetery the finds appear to have been no less rich; yet its chief distinction lies in a superb group of monumental vases which stood over the burials. Current fashion required that these monuments should forsake the large linear compositions of earlier times, and in their stead carry ambitious scenes of mourning, seafaring, and battle. To meet this new challenge, a first-rate artist was at hand; after the name often given to the cemetery since its discovery in 1871, he is known as the Dipylon Master. To him belongs the credit of inventing the rich Late Geometric style of Athens; and, in the long history of Attic figured vase-painting, his is the first hand which can be recognized by a consistent and personal manner of drawing.