ABSTRACT

The best literary source for the political geography of the bronze age is Book 2 of the Iliad, which lists the contingents in the Greek combined expeditionary fleet. This Catalogue of Ships tells us not only how many ships were contributed by each kingdom, but which towns the men came from. It is still possible, even after nearly three thousand years, to identify two-thirds of the towns Homer listed. More significantly still, of those, all except Ithaca are known from archaeological evidence to have been important Mycenaean sites: even those which by Homer’s time had been reduced to villages, like Mycenae, or wiped off the map altogether, like Pylos.4 There are many problems in interpreting the Catalogue of Ships – it parades an absurdly large military force, for one thing – but it nevertheless sketches

As the present interglacial dawned, ten thousand years ago, Greece was deserted. It was not until after 7000 BC that farmers migrated into northern Greece from Anatolia, settling in the most fertile plains opening onto the Aegean, facing the lands they had come from. Until 3000 BC, agriculture was restricted to the most fertile floodplains. Only then, with the introduction of the plough, was it possible to advance onto steeper and stonier slopes in Thessaly and the foothills round the Plain of Argos, then, after 2000 BC, into southern Argolis and Messenia. The effect of this spread of agriculture was deforestation on a large scale. The pine forests in Messenia, in the south-west Peloponnese, were rapidly reduced. The combination of deforestation and ploughing led to accelerated soil erosion on hill slopes and accelerated rates of sedimentation in river mouths and bays. The landscape was undergoing a major transformation by 1600 BC, the time when the Mycenaean civilization was emerging.