Cultures > Orientalizing Period

Orientalizing Period

Background

The Orientalizing Period was the major period of Greek history following the Geometric Period. This period is named for the influence that the “Orient” or the Near East had on Greek civilization following the Late Bronze Age Collapse. As the Greeks emerged from their Dark Ages, they began to adopt stone architectural techniques and other elements of civilization from the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Carthaginians and more. In fact, the Eastern elements would especially show up in the region of Ionia on Asia Minor and the colonies they founded.

During this time there was an increased amount of Greek colonization, trade and cultural diffusion which spread from Gaul in modern day France to the coasts of North Africa to Magna Gracia on the Italian Peninsula and the island of Sicily to the shores of Asia Minor and the rim of the Black Sea. The dominant political structure for the Greeks at this time was the highly decentralized and autonomous city-states known as polis. These city-states such as Athens, Sparta, Corinth, Thebes, Argos, Miletus and Megara would often form colonies and were in constant contact with other cultures being prolific traders.

One of the easiest ways for archaeologists to understand the influences of the Near East in Greek civilization is to view the art and pottery recovered. During the Orientalizing Period there is a marked influence of motifs such as the sphinx, lions and other exotic animals that show a mix with the previous Proto-Corinthian style as well as the development of colors. On the pottery themselves there is an increased prevalence of hoplite warfare versus the previous iconography of the chariot aristocracies.

Another major way to showcase the influence of the Near East is simply to look at the famous Greek temples and structures. The use of stone was brought from Egypt to the Greeks and can be seen at structures such as the Temple of Apollo at Thermon. This structure clearly shows the transition from a mud-brick and wooden constructed building to one built out of stone. In fact, it would be during this time that the peripteral style temple would become the template model for use in the Greek world, seen at iconic structures like the Parthenon and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

One other major influence from the Near East that occurred during this time period was the development of the Greek alphabet which is derived from the Phoenician alphabet. These two groups of prolific traders through the diffusion of ideas and culture helped develop the Greek written language as we see it it today. Overall, this period shows significant economic recovery following the period of the Greek Dark Ages and allows the Greeks to rapidly burst onto the world stage with their numerous colonies. The independent city-state allowed them to be de-centralized which allowed colonies far away to operate independently of the mother if necessary. It also shows the rise of the Hoplites as a main defining feature of Greek civilization which shows their necessity to civilization in likely protecting them from invaders both foreign from the Near East and within Greece herself from other city-states.

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