Friday, September 11, 2009

The Iron Age in Greece

It is believed that iron production originated in the Caucasus or Anatolia (Western Turkey) around 1300 and then spread westward until it reached Europe in 800.

Greece was processing iron around the year 1100 B.C, based on excavations from that period iron debris along with bronze. The Greeks. like other civilizations in the ancient world, used bronze as the hard metal of choice after 3000 B.C. Manufactured by making an alloy of 90% copper and 10% tin and heating it to 1000 degrees, bronze was in high demand throughout the western world after it replaced the much softer copper.

Iron, more plentiful than copper, would not replace bronze until ancient blacksmiths learned how to make fires hotter than the 1400 degrees required to melt iron. Heating iron ore to its melting point in the presence of carbon (coal) draws oxygen out of the ore leaving wrought iron which can be hammered into a desired shape.

The supply demand economics of bronze and iron provide an interesting part of the story, as we observe capitalism in the ancient Aegean. There were enormous quantities of copper in Cyprus, but the amount of tin available to the smelters varied from time to time. Shortages of tin and its impact on the manufacture of bronze prompted gangs of bronze pirates to steal the metal for re-sale. The variation in prices and supply help drive efforts to make the production of iron more practical.

Once the techniques of producing iron were perfected, the metal began to move toward dominance. The adoption of iron for a wide variety of applications took place over centuries, so one should not view these “Age” transitions as immediate. Iron was used for weapons initially before other applications were brought into use. Bronze has some characteristics that are superior to iron (strength, resistance to rust) which allowed it to continue as an important alloy. Even today, bronze is superior to all other alloys for certain applications.

1 comment:

400 BC said...

Keeping your caveat in mind, when do we start seeing iron weapons in Greece? What are the oldest ones we know about?