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The Orientalizing Revolution

Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age

Walter Burkert
The splendid culture of the ancient Greeks has often been described as emerging like a miracle
from a genius of its own, owing practically nothing to its neighbors. Walter Burkert offers a
decisive argument against that distorted view, pointing toward a balanced picture of the archaic
period "in which, under the influence of the Semitic East--from writers, craftsmen, merchants,
healers--Greek culture began its unique flowering, soon to assume cultural hegemony in the

“Brilliant...[Burkert] is consistently thorough and challenging...Without denying the role

of innate talent, he shows that much of the Greek miracle grew from an openness to
influences from other cultures...[His] careful scholarship...has constructed the bridge that
he set out to build.”

—Carol G. Thomas, American Historical Review

“An elegant and academically influential work...The Orientalizing Revolution can be

enthusiastically recommended.”—Simon Hornblower, Times Literary Supplement
“Burkert’s The Orientalizing Revolution remains an outstanding, or rather the
outstanding, contribution to the question of `Near Eastern influence on Greek culture in
the Early Archaic Age.”

—Greece and Rome

“This thought provoking work is an updated translation of Burkert’s Die orientlisierende

Epoche in der griechischen Religion und Literature, 1984...It is refreshing to see a
classical scholar follow in the footsteps of eminent Near Eastern scholars such as Cyrus
Gordon and Michael Astour who have long argued for interconnections in the ancient
Mediterranean world.”

—Mark W. Chavalas, Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin




1. "Who Are Public Workers": The Migrant Craftsmen

Historical Background

Oriental Products in Greece

Writing and Literature in the Eighth Century

The Problem of Loan-Words

2. "A Seer or a Healer": Magic and Medicine

"Craftsmen of the Sacred": Mobility and Family Structure


Foundation Deposits


Spirits of the Dead and Black Magic

Substitute Sacrifice

Asclepius and Asgelatas

Ecstatic Divination

Lamashtu, Lamia, and Gorgo

3. "Or Also a Godly Singer": Akkadian and Early Greek Literature

From Atrahasis to the "Deception of Zeus"

Complaint in Heaven: Ishtar and Aphrodite

The Overpopulated Earth

Seven against Thebes

Common Style and Stance in Oriental and Greek Epic


Magic and Cosmogony




Index of Greek Words

General Index



Walter Burkert (born 2 February 1931) is a German scholar of Greek mythology and cult. An
emeritus professor of classics at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he also has taught in the
United Kingdom and the United States. He has influenced generations of students of religion
since the 1960s, combining in the modern way the findings of archaeology and epigraphy with
the work of poets, historians, and philosophers. He has published books on the balance
between lore and science among the followers of Pythagoras, and more extensively on ritual
and archaic cult survival, on the ritual killing at the heart of religion, on mystery religions, and on
the reception in the Hellenic world of Near Eastern and Persian culture, which sets Greek
religion in its wider Aegean and Near Eastern context.

● (1972) Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, Translated by Edwin L. Minar, Jr.,
Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-53918-4.
● (in German) Homo necans: Interpretationen Altgriechischer Opferriten und Mythen.
Berlin: De Gruyter. 1972. ISBN 3-11-003875-7.
○ (in Italian) Homo necans: Antropologia del Sacrificio Cruento nella Grecia Antica.
trans. Francesco Bertolini. Turin: Boringhieri. 1981. ISBN 88-339-5114-6.
○ Homo necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth.
trans. Peter Bing. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1983. ISBN 0-520-
● Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual. Berkeley: University of California
Press. 1979. ISBN 0-520-03771-5. http://books.google.com/books?
● (1985) Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-36280-2. Originally
published in 1977 in German, and translated into English by John Raffan, this has been
widely accepted as a standard work in the field.
● (1987) Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-03386-8, Based on
his Jackson Lectures at Harvard, 1982.
● The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early
Archaic Age. trans. Margaret E. Pinder. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
1992. ISBN 0-674-64363-1.
● (1996) Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions, Harvard University
Press, ISBN 0-674-17569-7.
● (1998) The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the
Early Archaic Age, Translated by Margaret Pinder, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-
● Savage Energies: Lessons of Myth and Ritual in Ancient Greece. trans. Peter Bing.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2001. ISBN 0-226-08085-4.
● (2004) Babylon, Memphis, Persepolis: Eastern Contexts of Greek Culture, Harvard
University Press, ISBN 0-674-01489-8.


Orientalizing Period

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the history of Ancient Greece the Orientalizing Period is the cultural and art historical period
informed by the art of Anatolia, Syria, Assyria, Phoenicia and Egypt, which started during the
later part of the 8th century BCE. dubious discuss It encompasses a new, Orientalizing style,
spurred by a period of increased cultural interchange in the Aegean world. The period is
characterized by a shift from the prevailing Geometric Style to a style with different sensibilities,
which were inspired by the East. The intensity of the cultural interchange during this period is
sometimes compared to that of the Late Bronze Age.

During this period, the Assyrians advanced along the Mediterranean coast, accompanied by
Greek mercenaries, who were also active in the armies of Psammeticus in Egypt. The new
groups started to compete with established Greek merchants. In other parts of the Aegean
world similar population moves occurred. Phoenicians settled in Cyprus and in western regions
of Greece, while Greeks established trading colonies at Al Mina, Syria, and in Ischia Pithecusae
off the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy. These interchanges led to a period of intensive borrowing in
which the Greeks adapted cultural features from the Semitic East into their art. Burkert 1992
128 et passim.

Massive imports of raw materials, including metals, and a new mobility among foreign craftsmen
caused new craft skills to be introduced in Greece. In The Orientalizing Revolution Near Eastern
Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age, Walter Burkert described the new
movement in Greek art as a revolution "With bronze reliefs, textiles, seals, and other products, a
whole world of eastern images was opened up which the Greeks were only too eager to adopt
and adapt in the course of an "orientalizing revolution" Burkert 1992 128 . Many Greek myths
originated in attempts to interpret and integrate foreign icons in terms of Greek cult and practice.

Some Greek myths reflect Mesopotamian literary classics. Burkert 1992, 41-88, has argued that
it was migrating seers and healers who transmitted their skills in divination and purification ritual
along with elements of their mythological wisdom. He has suggested direct literary Eastern
influence in the Homeric literature. The intense encounter during the orientalizing period also
accompanied the invention of the Greek alphabet, based on the earlier phonetic but
unpronounceable Phoenician writing, which caused a spectacular leap in literacy and literary
production, as the oral traditions of the epic began to be transcribed onto imported Egyptian
papyrus and occasionally leather.

In Attic pottery, the distinctive Orientalizing style known as "proto-Attic" was marked by floral
and animal motifs it was the first time discernibly Greek religious and mythological themes were
represented in vase painting. The bodies of men and animals were depicted in silhouette,
though their heads were drawn in outline women were drawn completely in outline. At the other
important center of this period, Corinth, the orientalizing influence started earlier, though the
tendency there was to produce smaller, highly detailed vases in the "proto-Corinthian" style that
prefigured the black-figure technique.