Helladic period

Helladic period
Period Bronze Age Europe
Dates c. 3200 BC – c. 1050 BC
Major sites Thebes, Tiryns
Preceded by Neolithic Greece
Followed by Greek Dark Ages
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Helladic is a modern archaeological term meant to identify a sequence of periods characterizing the culture of mainland ancient Greece during the Bronze Age. The term is commonly used in archaeology and art history. It was intended to complement two parallel terms, "Cycladic", identifying approximately the same sequence with reference to the Aegean Bronze Age, and "Minoan", with reference to the civilization of Crete.

The scheme applies primarily to pottery and is a relative dating system. The pottery at any given site typically can be ordered into "Early", "Middle" and "Late" on the basis of style and technique. The total time window allowed for the site is then divided into these periods proportionately. As it turns out, there is a correspondence between "Early" over all Greece, etc. Also, some "absolute dates", or dates obtained by non-comparative methods, can be used to date the periods and are preferable whenever they can be obtained. However, the relative structure was devised before the age of carbon-dating (most of the excavations were performed then as well). Typically, only relative dates are obtainable and form a structure for the characterization of Greek prehistory. Objects are generally dated by the pottery of the site found in associative contexts. Other objects can be arranged into early, middle and late as well, but pottery is used as a marker.

Helladic society and culture have antecedents in the Neolithic period in Greece with many innovations being developed and manifesting during the second and third phases of the Early Helladic period (2650–2050/2000 BC) such as bronze metallurgy, monumental architecture and fortifications, a hierarchical social organization, and vigorous contacts with other areas of the Aegean. These innovations would undergo further changes during the Middle Helladic period (2000/1900–1650 BC), marked by the spread of Minyan ware, and the Late Helladic period (1650–1050 BC), which was the time when Mycenaean Greece flourished.


The three terms "Helladic", "Cycladic", and "Minoan" refer to location of origin. Thus "Middle Minoan" objects might be found in the Cyclades, but they are not on that account Middle Cycladic. The scheme tends to be less applicable in areas on the periphery of the Aegean, such as the Levant. Pottery there might imitate Helladic or Minoan cultural models and yet be locally manufactured.


Stirrup vase with octopus decor, Rhodes, Late Helladic III C1, ca. 1200–1100 BC (Louvre).

The "Early", "Middle" and "Late" scheme can be applied at different levels. Rather than use such cumbersome terms as "Early Early", archaeologists by convention use I, II, III for the second level, A, B, C for the third level, 1, 2, 3 for the fourth level and A, B, C for the fifth. Not all levels are present at every site. If additional levels are required, another "Early", "Middle" or "Late" can be appended. The Helladic period is subdivided as:

Period Approximate Date
Early Helladic I 3200/3100–2650 BC[1]
Early Helladic II 2650–2200/2150 BC[2]
Early Helladic III 2200/2150–2050/2000 BC[3]
Middle Helladic 2000/1900–1550 BC[3][4]
Late Helladic I 1650–1500 BC
Late Helladic II 1500–1400 BC
Late Helladic III 1400–1050 BC

Settlements of the Helladic period

These are the estimated populations of hamlets, villages, and towns of the Helladic period over time. Note that there are several problems with estimating the sizes of individual settlements, and the highest estimates for a given settlements, in a given period, may be several times the lowest.

Table 1: 3700–2600 BCE
City/Settlement 3700 BCE 3400 BCE 3100 BCE 2800 BCE 2600 BCE
Agios Dimitrios[5] 120–180 120–180
Askitario[5] 90–135 90–135
Eutresis[5] 1,600–2,400 1,600–2,400
Lerna[5] 200–700 200–700
Manika[5][6][7] 6,000–15,000 6,000–15,000
Raphina[5] 600–900 600–900
Thebes[5] 4,000–6,000 4,000–6,000
Tiryns[5] 1,180–1,770 1,180–1,770
Map of Greece showing major sites that were occupied in the Helladic period (clickable map).

Early Helladic (EH)

Further information: Aegean civilization and Proto-Greek

The Early Helladic period (or EH) of Bronze Age Greece is generally characterized by the Neolithic agricultural population importing bronze and copper, as well as using rudimentary bronze-working techniques first developed in Anatolia with which they had cultural contacts.[8] The EH period corresponds in time to the Old Kingdom in Egypt. Important EH sites are clustered on the Aegean shores of the mainland in Boeotia and Argolid (Manika, Lerna, Pefkakia, Thebes, Tiryns) or coastal islands such as Aegina (Kolonna) and Euboea (Lefkandi) and are marked by pottery showing influences from western Anatolia and the introduction of the fast-spinning version of the potter's wheel. The large "longhouse" called a megaron is introduced in EH II. The infiltration of Anatolian cultural models (i.e. "Lefkandi I") was not accompanied by widespread site destruction.

Early Helladic I (EHI)

The Early Helladic I period (or EHI), also known as the "Eutresis culture", is characterized by the presence of unslipped and burnished or red slipped and burnished pottery at Korakou and other sites (metal objects, however, were extremely rare during this period).[9] In terms of ceramics and settlement patterns, there is considerable continuity between the EHI period and the preceding Final Neolithic period (or FN); changes in settlement location during the EHI period are attributed to alterations in economic practices.[9]

Early Helladic II (EHII)

The transition from Early Helladic I to the Early Helladic II period (or EHII) occurred rapidly and without disruption where multiple socio-cultural innovations were developed such as metallurgy (i.e. bronze-working), a hierarchical social organization, and monumental architecture and fortifications.[10] Changes in settlement during the EHII period were accompanied with alterations in agricultural practices (i.e. oxen-driven plow).[11]

Early Helladic III (EHIII)

Remains of a building from Olympia, Greece Early Helladic III 2150–2000 BC.

The Early Helladic II period came to an end at Lerna with the destruction of the "House of Tiles", a corridor house.[12] The nature of the destruction of EHII sites was at first attributed to an invasion of Greeks and/or Indo-Europeans during the Early Helladic III period (or EHIII);[13] however, this is no longer maintained given the lack of uniformity in the destruction of EHII sites and the presence of EHII–EHIII/MH continuity in settlements such as Lithares, Phlius, Manika, etc.[14] Furthermore, the presence of "new/intrusive" cultural elements such as apsidal houses, terracotta anchors, shaft-hole hammer-axes, ritual tumuli, and intramural burials precede the EHIII period in Greece and are in actuality attributed to indigenous developments (i.e. terracotta anchors from Boeotia; ritual tumuli from Ayia Sophia in Neolithic Thessaly), as well as continuous contacts during the EHII–MH period between mainland Greece and various areas such as western Asia Minor, the Cyclades, Albania, and Dalmatia.[15] Changes in climate also appear to have contributed to the significant cultural transformations that occurred in Greece between the EHII period and the EHIII period (ca. 2200 BCE).[16]

Middle Helladic (MH)

Further information: Minyans and Minyan ware

In Greece, the Middle Helladic period (or MH) was a period of cultural retrogression, which first manifested in the preceding EHIII period.[3][4] The MH period is characterized by the wide-scale emergence of Minyan ware, which may be directly related to the people whom ancient Greek historians called Minyans; a group of monochrome burnished pottery from Middle Helladic sites was conventionally dubbed "Minyan" ware by Troy's discoverer Heinrich Schliemann.

Gray Minyan ware was first identified as the pottery introduced by a Middle Bronze Age migration;[17] the theory, however, is outdated as excavations at Lerna in the 1950s revealed the development of pottery styles to have been continuous (i.e. the fine gray burnished pottery of the EHIII Tiryns culture was the direct progenitor of Minyan ware).[18] In general, painted pottery decors are rectilinear and abstract until Middle Helladic III, when Cycladic and Minoan influences inspired a variety of curvilinear and even representational motifs.

The Middle Helladic period corresponds in time to the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Settlements draw more closely together and tend to be sited on hilltops. Middle Helladic sites are located throughout the Peloponnese and central Greece (including sites in the interior of Aetolia such as Thermon) as far north as the Spercheios River valley. Malthi in Messenia and Lerna V are the only Middle Helladic sites to have been thoroughly excavated.

Late Helladic (LH)

Further information: Mycenaean Greece

The Late Helladic period (or LH) is the time when Mycenaean Greece flourished, under new influences from Minoan Crete and the Cyclades. Those who made LH pottery sometimes inscribed their work with a syllabic script, Linear B, which has been deciphered as Greek. LH is divided into LHI, LHII, and LHIII; of which LHI and LHII overlap Late Minoan ware and LHIII overtakes it. LHIII is further subdivided into LHIIIA, LHIIIB, and LHIIIC. The table below provides the approximate dates of the Late Helladic phases (LH) on the Greek mainland.

Gold Mask of Agamemnon, Late Helladic 16th century BC.
Period Approximate Date
LHI 1650–1550 BC
LHIIA 1550–1450 BC
LHIIB 1450–1400 BC
LHIIIA1 1400–1350 BC
LHIIIA2 1350–1300 BC
LHIIIB1 1300–1230 BC
LHIIIB2 1230–1190 BC
LHIIIC (Early) 1190–1130 BC
LHIIIC (Middle) 1130–1090 BC
LHIIIC (Late) 1090–1060 BC
Sub-Mycenean 1060–1000 BC
Proto-Geometric 1000 BC

Late Helladic I (LHI)

Mycenaean armour, 1400 BC.

The LHI pottery is known from the fill of the Shaft Graves of Lerna and the settlements of Voroulia and Nichoria (Messenia), Ayios Stephanos, (Laconia) and Korakou. Furumark divided the LH in phases A and B, but Furumark's LHIB has been reassigned to LHIIA by Oliver Dickinson. Some recent C-14 dates from the Tsoungiza site north of Mycenae indicate LHI there was dated to between 1675/1650 and 1600/1550 BCE, which is earlier than the assigned pottery dates by about 100 years. The Thera eruption also occurred during LHI (and LCI and LMIA), variously dated within the 1650–1625 BCE span.

Not found at Thera, but extant in late LHI from Messenia, and therefore likely commencing after the eruption, is a material culture known as "Peloponnesian LHI".[19] This is characterised by "tall funnel-like Keftiu cups of Type III"; "small closed shapes such as squat jugs decorated with hatched loops ('rackets') or simplified spirals"; "dark-on-light lustrous-painted motifs", which "include small neat types of simple linked spiral such as varieties of hook-spiral or wave-spiral (with or without small dots in the field), forms of the hatched loop and double-axe, and accessorial rows of small dots and single or double wavy lines"; also, the "ripple pattern" on "Keftiu" cups. These local innovations continued into the LHIIA styles throughout the mainland.

Late Helladic II (LHII)

The description of the LHIIA is mainly based on the material from Kourakou East Alley. Domestic and Palatial shapes are distinguished. There are strong links between LHIIA and LMIB. LHIIB began before the end of LMIB, and sees a lessening of Cretan influences. Pure LHIIB assemblages are rare and originate from Tiryns, Asine and Korakou. C-14 dates from Tsoungiza indicate LHII was dated to between 1600/1550 and 1435/1405 BCE, the start of which is earlier than the assigned pottery date by about 100 years, but the end of which nearly corresponds to the pottery phase. In Egypt, both periods of LHII correspond with the beginning of its "Imperial" period, from Hatshepsut to Tuthmosis III (r. 1479–1425 BCE).

Late Helladic III (LHIII)

Ivory head, Late Helladic 1250–1180 BC.

LHIII and LMIII are contemporary. Toward LMIIIB, non-Helladic ware from the Aegean ceases to be homogeneous; insofar as LMIIIB differs from Helladic, it should at most be considered a "sub-Minoan" variant of LHIIIB.

The uniform and widely spread LHIIIA:1 pottery was originally defined by the material from the Ramp house at Mycenae, the palace at Thebes (now dated to LHIIIA:2 or LHIIIB by most researchers) and Triada at Rhodes. There is material from Asine, Athens (wells), Sparta (Menelaion), Nichoria and the 'Atreus Bothros', rubbish sealed under the Dromos of the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae as well. C-14 dates from Tsoungiza indicate LHIIIA:1 should be more nearly 1435/1406 to 1390/1370 BCE, slightly earlier than the pottery phase, but by less than 50 years. LHIIIA:1 ware has also been found in Maşat Höyük in Hittite Anatolia.[20]

The LHIIIA:2 pottery marks a Mycenaean expansion covering most of the Eastern Mediterranean. There are many new shapes. The motifs of the painted pottery continue from LHIIIA:1 but show a great deal of standardization. In Egypt, the Amarna site contains LHIIIA:1 ware during the reign of Amenhotep III and LHIIIA:2 ware during that of his son Akhenaten; it also has the barest beginnings of LHIIIB. LHIIIA:2 ware is in the Uluburun shipwreck, which sank in the 14th century BCE. Again, Tsoungiza dates are earlier, 1390/1370 to 1360/1325 BCE; but LHIIIA:2 ware also exists in a burn layer of Miletus which likely occurred early in the reign of Mursili II and therefore some years prior to Mursili's eclipse in 1312 BCE. The transition period between IIIA and IIIB begins after 1320 BCE, but not long after (Cemal Pulak thinks before 1295 BCE).

The definition of the LHIIIB by Furumark was mainly based on grave finds and the settlement material from Zygouries. It has been divided into two sub-phases by Elizabeth B. French, based on the finds from Mycenae and the West wall at Tiryns. LHIIIB:2 assemblages are sparse, as painted pottery is rare in tombs and many settlements of this period ended by destruction, leaving few complete pots behind.

LHIIIB pottery is associated in the Greek mainland palaces with the Linear B archives. (Linear B had been in use in Crete since Late Minoan II.) Pulak's proposed LHIIIA/B boundary would make LHIIIB contemporary in Anatolia with the resurgent Hittites following Mursili's eclipse; in Egypt with the 19th Dynasty, also known as the Ramessides; and in northern Mesopotamia with Assyria's ascendancy over Mitanni. The end of LHIIIB is associated with the destruction of Ugarit, whose ruins contain the last of that pottery. The Tsoungiza date for the end of LHIIIB is 1200/1190 BCE. The beginning of LHIIIC, therefore, is now commonly set into the reign of Queen Twosret. The LHIIIC has been divided into LHIIIC:1 and LHIIIC:2 by Furumark, based on materials from tombs in Mycenae, Asine, Kephalonia, and Rhodes. In the 1960s, the excavations of the citadel at Mycenae and of Lefkandi in Euboea yielded stratified material revealing significant regional variation in LHIIIC, especially in the later phases. Late LHIIIC pottery is found in Troy VIIa and a few pieces in Tarsus. It was also made locally in the Philistine settlements of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, and Gaza.

Fortified settlements

Model of Mycenae, citadel ruins from the Late Helladic period 14th century BC.

During the Helladic period, a number of major advances were developed including fortified urban settlements with monumental buildings such as corridor houses, which may prove the existence of complex societies organized by an elite or at least achieving corporate, proto-city state form.[6][21] One of these settlements was Manika, located in Euboea, dated to the Early Helladic period II (2800–2200 BC). The settlement covered an area of 70-80 hectares, was inhabited by 6,000–15,000 people, and was one of the largest settlements of the Bronze Age in Greece.[6][22]

Remains of stairway in the proto-palace House of the Tiles, 2500–2300 BC.

Another settlement was Lerna in the Argolid region, which was perhaps the most important and wealthiest of Early Helladic sites.[23] The settlement has a monumental building known as the House of the Tiles, a "corridor house",[24] notable for several architectural features that were advanced for its time, such as its roof being covered by baked tiles, which gave the building its name.[25] The structure dates to the Early Helladic II period (2500–2300 BC) and is sometimes interpreted as the dwelling of an elite member of the community, a proto-palace, or an administrative center. Alternatively, it has also been considered to be a communal structure or the common property of the townspeople.[26] The exact functions of the building remain unknown due to a lack of small finds indicating the specific uses of the building.[26] The house had a stairway leading to a second story, and was protected by a tiled roof.[27] Debris found at the site contained thousands of terracotta tiles having fallen from the roof.[28] Although such roofs were also found in the Early Helladic site of Akovitika,[29] and later in the Mycenaean towns of Gla and Midea,[30] they only became common in Greek architecture in the 7th century BC.[31] The walls of the House of the Tiles were constructed with sun-dried bricks on stone socles.[25]

Tiryns, ruins from the Late Helladic period 14th century BC.

Other fortified settlements include Tiryns, which covered an area of 5.9 hectares sustaining 1,180–1,770 people,[22] and had a large tiled two-storeyed "round house" (or Rundbau) with a diameter of 28 m on the upper citadel. It may have served as a palace or temple or perhaps it was a communal granary.[32][33] Other sites include Ayia Irini, which covered an area of 1 hectare and had a population of perhaps up to 1,250,[34] Eutresis covering 8 hectares with an estimated population of 1,600–2,400, Thebes covering 20 hectares with a population of 4,000–6,000,[22] Lefkandi (unknown in size and population), and Kolonna (or Aegina), a densely populated settlement with impressive fortifications, monumental stone buildings and sophisticated town planning.

Already before 2500–2400 BC, Kolonna experienced remarkable economic growth and had its own administrative "Corridor House", the so-called "Haus am Felsrand".[35] During the phase Aegina III 2400–2300 BC, which corresponds to the transition phase Lefkandi I-Kastri, the evidence of the economic structure and administrative and social organization of the community become more clear.[35] The "White House" (Weisses Haus; 165 square metres) constitutes the monumental community building that succeeds the "Haus am Felsrand", which had the same function.[35] Kolonna may constitute the Aegean's first state as it appears to be the earliest ranked society in the area outside Minoan Crete and perhaps a political center in the Middle Helladic period where it achieved state-level after the Minoans but before the Mycenaeans.[36]


Multivariate analyses of craniometric data derived from Helladic skeletal material indicate a strong morphological homogeneity in the Bronze Age osteological record, disproving the influx of foreign populations between the Early Helladic and Middle Helladic periods; ultimately, the Bronze Age inhabitants of mainland Greece (including the Mycenaeans) represent a single and homogeneous population of Mediterranean provenance.[37]

See also



  1. "The Bronze Age on the Greek Mainland: Early Bronze Age – Early Helladic I". Athens: Foundation of the Hellenic World. 1999–2000.
  2. "The Bronze Age on the Greek Mainland: Early Bronze Age – Early Helladic II". Athens: Foundation of the Hellenic World. 1999–2000.
  3. 1 2 3 "The Bronze Age on the Greek Mainland: Early Bronze Age – Early Helladic III". Athens: Foundation of the Hellenic World. 1999–2000.
  4. 1 2 "The Bronze Age on the Greek Mainland: Middle Bronze Age – Introduction". Athens: Foundation of the Hellenic World. 1999–2000.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 MacSweeney 2004, Table 1. Population estimates for Aegean sites in EB II, p. 57; MacSweeney dates the Early Bronze II period (or EB II) to circa 2800–2200 BC (see p. 53).
  6. 1 2 3 Sampson 1987, p. 19.
  7. http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:169578/FULLTEXT01.pdf
  8. Pullen 2008, p. 20; van Andels & Runnels 1988, "The transition to the Early Bronze Age", pp. 238–240; French 1973, p. 53.
  9. 1 2 Pullen 2008, pp. 21–22.
  10. Pullen 2008, pp. 24–26; Whittaker 2014, p. 49: "The second half of the Early Helladic period is characterized by monumental architecture and fortifications, a hierarchical social organization, widespread metallurgy and lively contacts with other parts of the Aegean."
  11. Pullen 2008, pp. 27–28.
  12. Pullen 2008, pp. 36, 43 (Endnote #22): "A corridor house is a large, two-story building consisting of two or more large rooms flanked by narrow corridors on the sides. Some of those corridors held staircases; others were used for storage."
  13. Caskey 1960, pp. 285–303.
  14. Pullen 2008, p. 36; Forsén 1992, pp. 251–253.
  15. Pullen 2008, p. 36; Forsén 1992, pp. 253–257.
  16. Pullen 2008, p. 36.
  17. Mellaart 1958, pp. 9–33.
  18. Pullen 2008, p. 40; French 1973, pp. 51–57; Caskey 1960, pp. 285–303.
  19. Lolos 1990, pp. 51–56.
  20. Kuniholm 1998, pp. 3–4.
  21. Bintliff 2012, p. 107: "Taken together, the Mainland Early Helladic Corridor Houses, Anatolian Troy, the Northeast Aegean fortified villages, and perhaps also Manika, may well evidence complex societies, either organized by an elite, or at least achieving corporate, proto-city state form."
  22. 1 2 3 MacSweeney 2004, p. 57 (Table 1. Population estimates for Aegean sites in EB II).
  23. Bryce 2006, p. 47: "Lerna in the Argolid region was probably the most important and the wealthiest of all Early Helladic II sites. Founded originally in the Neolithic period (represented by Levels I and II on the site), it was abandoned at the end of this period and was subsequently reoccupied at the beginning of Early Helldaic II (Level III)."
  24. Shaw 1987, pp. 59–79.
  25. 1 2 Overbeck 1963, p. 5.
  26. 1 2 Overbeck 1963, p. 6.
  27. Overbeck 1963, p. 5; Shaw 1987, p. 59.
  28. Caskey 1968, p. 314.
  29. Shaw 1987, p. 72.
  30. Shear 2000, pp. 133–134.
  31. Wikander 1990, p. 285.
  32. Chapman 2005, p. 92; Hornblower, Spawforth & Eidinow 2012, "Tiryns", p. 1486.
  33. Tiryns. Reconstructed Groundplan of the Circular Building (Rundbau). Early Helladic II.
  34. Weisman, Stefanie (2008). "An Analysis of the Late Bronze Age Site of Ayia Irini, Keos" (PDF). Institute of Fine Arts.
  35. 1 2 3 "The Bronze Age on the Greek Mainland: Early Bronze Age – Aegina". Athens: Foundation of the Hellenic World. 1999–2000.
  36. Chapman 2005, p. 93.
  37. Forsén 1992, p. 247; Xirotiris 1980, p. 209; Musgrave & Evans 1981, pp. 75, 80.


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