A depiction of combatants in the so-called “Vase of the Warriors” of the Later Mycenean or the Sub-Mycenaean period. It seems that the fully equipped Attic/Athenian warriors and their Dorian opponents were armed like the depicted ones.
During the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, Attica was divided into several independent communities/states. Athens (whose urban limits were limited at the Acropolis in this period) was one of the strongest Attic city-states, probably ruled by a Danaan dynasty. Its key location almost in the middle of the distance from Ereneia to Sounion (extreme border towns of Attica to the northwest and southeast respectively), its relatively fertile land that surrounded it and the inaccessible site of the Acropolis, were some parameters that gave Athens an edge over the other competing communities-states for the domination of Attica, mainly over the states of Eleusis and Pallene. Athens was the final winner in the intra-Attic struggle.
It seems that in the late 16th century BC, the Danaans of Athens were overthrown by a dynasty of Lapiths (probably the House of the mythical Erichthonios) originating from Thessaly. The Lapith origin of the new dynasty is evident from the subsequent rule in Athens of the undoubtedly Lapith heroes Aegeus and Theseus, or more correctly the warrior-kings that they represent. The Lapith dynasty of Athens reached its peak during the reign of the mythical hero Theseus, probably in the 14th century, when he (or more accurately the Aegeied-Theseid kings that he represents in the myths) united the Attic warring communities into a typical Mycenaean palatial state. This unification of Attica, if not mythical, marked the establishment of the Attic/Athenian state. Apart from the strong Attic city-state of Eleusis, it is not known if in the centuries that followed, some other Attic towns managed to gain their independence from Athens for some time. It seems likely that this have happened during the Trojan War. The absence of the cities of Attica (except Athens) from the List of the Ships of the Achaeans in the Iliad, has no historical value due to a very probable subsequent Athenian intervention in the Homeric text.
The organization, equipment and tactics of the Attic/Athenian armies of the 14th century B.C. followed the Early Mycenaean palatial standards. In the 13th century, the Mycenaean art of war changed dramatically according to the new era, although some states like Pylos, Knossos and Salamis (an independent island kingdom near Attica), rather maintained their Early Mycenaean military standards. It can not be determined whether the Attics followed the Later Mycenean and Sub-Mycenaean military innovations, but this is most likely. We may assume that the Attics/Athenians had war chariots because of their palatial organization. The Attics participated in the Trojan War (rather in the mid 13th cent. BC, and not in the early 12th cent as it is usually considered) under the hero Menestheus, most probably a mythical figure.
An ivory miniature of the typical Mycenaean eight-shaped shield, which continued to be used during this period but in smaller and much smaller sizes. The contemporaneous Dipylon shield of the Geometric period and the subsequent Archaic Boeotian shields were originated from the eight-shaped shield and from some Hittite types (Athens, National Archaeological Museum).
After the Mycenaean collapse, the Attics/Athenians faced the invasion of the Northwestern Greeks, known generally as the “Dorians”. Eastern Attica was almost the only region of Southern Greece (along with Arcadia) in which the newcomers were repelled. For this reason, some archaeologists have characterized Eastern Attica as the “Ark of the whole of Greece”. The Attic population had already been considerably strengthened by the Ionian refugees from Northern Peloponnesus (driven out from there by the Dorians), who thereby consisted a part of the population.
The repulse of the Dorian invasion probably shortly after 1000 BC, is a large and widely forgotten victory of the Athenians/Attics, who had been reinforced by Ionian, Achaean, Minyan, Troezenian and other combatant refugees from the Peloponnesus and Central Greece. The Dorians who attacked Attica were coming from Corinth, Megaris, Argolid and Messenia. They occupied the Thriassion Plain (the main part of Western Attica) and destroyed Eleusis, but they were finally defeated by the Athenians. Thereby they evacuated the Thriassion and sailed to Crete, conquering gradually the island.
These Peloponnesian Dorians destroyed Eleusis, a tradition which is confirmed by archaeology. The Thriassion Plain (the territory of Eleusis) remained uninhabited for a long time while its inhabitants fled to Eastern Attica. Eastern Attica had become the stronghold of resistance to the Dorians and before their arrival it was the “Ark of all Greece”, being almost the only safe ground in the Greek mainland amid the upheavals brought about by the political and economic collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean world (12th c. BC). Western Attica was evacuated because geostrategically it can not be effectively protected against enemies marching from the west (the Dorians in this case) due to its geomorphology. The only defensible line is the one that runs Mount Parnes and Mount Aegaleos, as it is proved by the subsequent construction by the Classical Athenians of a defensive fortification near modern Daphni. When the Attics and the refugees (Ionians, Achaeans, Troezenians etc.) who had taken refuge in Attica, defeated the Dorian intruders, the Eleusinians returned to Thriassion while most of the refugees were forwarded to the Aegean islands and to Asia Minor (refounding cities like Miletus). Eleusis regained its independence from Athens, apparently because of the Athenian distress. Eleusis remained independent until the 7th century BC, when it was permanently incorporated in the Athenian state (with the exception of a short period during the Classical Period, being again independent). The Dorian invasion in Attica is reflected in the traditional story of the Athenian King Kodros who sacrificed himself in order to save the fatherland.
A recent reenactment of the famous battle of Marathon (490 BC) by the Historical Association Ancient Hoplitikon (photo by Malcolm Brabant). However the other major Athenian/Attic victory, the “Other Marathon” 500 years earlier, in 1000 BC, remains forgotten.
The importance of the repulsion of the Dorian invasion is as important for the History of Athens, as the Athenian victory at Marathon (490 BC), because it permanently staved off the possibility for Attica to become a Doric region. The political, social, economic, cultural and technological development of an hypothetical Dorian Athens would probably be very different from the historic one, with obvious momentous consequences for World History (especially for World culture, technology and politics). A Doric Athens would have probably been developed to a city of limited importance in the fringe of the Doric world, living in the shadow of the powerful Dorian city-states of Argos, Sparta, Corinth and Thebes (the Thebans were not Dorians but they were close relatives of them). The establishment of more than one, two or more Doric states in Attica is also very probable, because of the historic parallels of the Argolid, Laconia and Boeotia. Thus Athens would be even more weakened. It is most likely that the hypothetical Dorian conquerors of Eleusis, Pallene, Marathon, Brauron, Sounion and maybe a few other cities, would be independent from Doric Athens. An important difference between the two great Athenian victories of 1000 BC and 490 BC (with an interval of five centuries) was that the Dorian invaders at Thriassion were Greeks, while the invaders at Marathon were Asians. In the Classical period, the Dorians developed a remarkable culture, but rather inferior comparing to the Classical Athenian culture in the view of the grand majority of the modern researchers and historians. However, my opinion on this inferiority is different, but that’s another issue with which I will deal in a future article.
The decisive importance of the Athenian victory over the Dorians, not only for Greek but for World History, is rather obvious. This is truly an “other Marathon” five centuries before the famous battle of Marathon, but this time in Western Attica. Yet (to my surprise) this decisive victory remains forgotten and passes almost unnoticed even in modern Greece.
Considering the Athenian/Attic army of the general Geometric period (11th-8th century BC.) that in the Early Geometric achieved the victory over the Dorians, the Athenian warriors of this era followed the contemporaneous Greek standards, using Later Mycenaean bell-type cuirasses, Kegelhelms and proto-corinthian helmets, etc. The shields were usually of the small-sized eight-shaped type, the usual circular type covered with ox-leather, the Herzsprung types (mainly for noblemen), the new Dipylon type, etc. The swords and the spears belonged to a variety of Geometric types. The war chariot was no longer a weapon of real combat, but mainly a means of transport for noblemen. Almost the same arms, armor, chariots and tactics were used by the Dorians.