In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Greek Prehistory Through the Bronze Age

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Chronology
  • Survey and Regional Studies
  • Paleolithic and Mesolithic Greece
  • Neolithic Greece and Archaeological Theory in Prehistoric Archaeology
  • Early and Middle Bronze Age
  • Minoan Architecture and Settlements
  • Cycladic Art and Architecture
  • Mycenaean Architecture and Settlements
  • Peloponnese
  • Central Greece
  • Religion
  • Death
  • Wall Painting and Figural Art
  • Pottery
  • Craft Production and Technologies
  • Late Bronze Age Administration and Economy
  • Post-Bronze Age
  • Aegean Periphery and Anatolian Interface

Classics Greek Prehistory Through the Bronze Age
Brendan Burke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0338


The history of archaeology of Greece as we know it today begins with prehistoric investigations that took place in the 19th century. Early excavations by Heinrich Schliemann, Arthur Evans, and Wilhelm Dörpfeld, along with Greek colleagues like Christos Tsountas, Panagiotis Stamatakis, Valerios Stais, and Antonios Keramopoulos laid the foundation for systematic, stratigraphic excavations. Research was heavily directed by ancient Greek texts, primarily the epic poems of Homer. Efforts to find archaeological truth to the legendary tales of the ancient heroes continue to be problematic, but, to a degree, early excavations revealed a rich and fascinating period of Greece’s development. Although the archaeological discoveries of Greek prehistory date to an age centuries older than Homer, the discoveries shed light on a vast, rich archaeological history, one upon which the Homeric tales were, at least partially, based. Early discoveries of prehistoric texts, especially on Crete with scripts in Hieroglyphic Minoan, Linear A (non-Greek), and Linear B (Greek), along with the enigmatic Phaistos disc, have expanded our understanding of the history of the Greek language and Greek people.

General Overviews

For a long time the study of Greek prehistory has tended to concentrate on “Minoan” studies associated with the remains on the island of Crete; “Mycenaean” material from the Greek mainland, extending out to the islands and to the Anatolian coast; and “Cycladic” material, mostly of the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Some works, such as Dickinson 1994, Preziosi and Hitchcock 1999, and Vermeule 1972, attempt at providing a comprehensive overview, likely for undergraduate survey courses. More recently, scholars have been making synthetic works which go by various names [handbook (Cline 2010), review (Cullen 2001), companion (Shelmerdine 2008), collected essays (Galaty and Parkinson 2007, cited under Mycenaean Architecture and Settlements)] but all are multi-authored with a main editor. Often these volumes span wider ranges in chronology and geography, and cover different archaeological aspects including architecture, craft production, administrative records and provide useful summaries of major sites usually by the excavation director. For teaching purposes, and further research, the best online source is Rutter 2011.

  • Cline, Eric, ed. 2010. The Oxford handbook to the Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Comprehensive volume written by multiple authors with specific areas of focus. Sixty-six contributions cover a chronological range within the Bronze Age (3000–1000 BCE). The book is divided into four sections: Background and Definitions; Chronology and Geography; Thematic and Specific Topics; Specific Sites and Areas. The divisions work well and the volume provides the most comprehensive coverage in a single volume for the state of the field to date.

  • Cullen, Tracy, ed. 2001. Aegean prehistory: A review. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America.

    Chapters are derived from detailed syntheses originally published in the American Journal of Archaeology. Each chapter is updated and conveys the diversity of approaches to Aegean prehistory. Essential source for scholars and students.

  • Dickinson, Oliver. 1994. The Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The book is intended as a survey text and general introduction to the Aegean Bronze Age for university students. It is more detailed and archaeological than previous books on the subject but its organization is not chronological. Rather the book is organized around topics such as settlement and economy, arts and crafts, trade, religion, etc. It is helpful for diachronic investigations of these aspects of prehistoric life but it does assume some prior knowledge about the Aegean Bronze Age.

  • French, Elizabeth, and Ken Wardle, eds. 1988. Problems in Greek prehistory. Bristol, UK: Bristol Classical Press.

    An important book that synthesized many issues in Aegean studies, with particular reference to chronology, ideology and administrative records.

  • Lorimer, Hilda. 1950. Homer and the monuments. London: Macmillan.

    Archaeological objects like the boars’ tusk helmet, which are also referred to in the epic poetry of Homer, have intrigued scholars to investigate the relationship between the two worlds, one literary and the other archaeological. Lorimer’s seminal volume investigated in great detail these relationships and shows that the archaeology of Homer’s world is a complex question.

  • Preziosi, Donald, and Louise Hitchcock. 1999. Aegean art and architecture. Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This relatively small handbook provides a good introduction to the art and architecture of mainland Greece, Crete, and the Cyclades, spanning the Bronze Age (3300–1000 BCE). It is a useful text for undergraduates and employs more theoretical and critical approaches to the material record.

  • Rutter, Jeremy. 2011. Aegean Prehistoric Archaeology, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Sponsored by Dartmouth College.

    There is no better, more comprehensive online resource for bibliography and summaries of major aspects of Aegean prehistory. The page was developed over years of undergraduate teaching and provides useful lessons with links to detailed bibliography and images.

  • Shelmerdine, Cynthia, ed. 2008. The Cambridge companion to the Aegean Bronze Age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This survey of the Aegean Bronze Age covers the archaeology of Crete, Greece, and the Aegean islands and looks at the topics of trade, administration, and religion, among other themes. The number of authors is fewer than the larger surveys, such as the Oxford Handbook of the Aegean Bronze Age and the chapters are more holistic.

  • Vermeule, Emily. 1972. Greece in the Bronze Age. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    An early textbook providing a broad overview of the archaeology of mainland Greece. Very good text for courses specifically focused on the Mycenaeans and their origins. Although it is somewhat outdated from more recent discoveries, this book provides a foundation for understanding Aegean prehistory.

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