The Bronze Age, successor to the Stone Age, is characterized by the intensification of stock-breeding and the cultivation of cereals, pulses, olive trees and vines, as well as technological advances, and the gradual development of metallurgy through the generalized use of bronze. Contacts were extended with other regions of the Eastern Mediterranean and of Europe.
The Bronze Age is divided chronologically into the following periods, each with its own special features: Early (3200-2000 BC), Middle (2000-1700 BC) and Late (1700-1050 BC).
Boeotia appears to have played a leading role throughout this period. In the Early Bronze Age, life continued in some of the settlements of the preceding Neolithic period, and a number of new settlements were established at crucial locations in order to monitor fertile lands, passes, and routes to the natural harbours on the Corinthian and Euboean Gulfs.
The most significant settlements were at Thebes, Orchomenos, Eutresis and Lithares. Houses were usually rectangular on plan with either a stone foundation (socle) and walls of mud bricks, or with timber posts, branches and mud (pisé). Inside were large jars (pithoi) for storing foodstuffs, as well as hearths and ovens.
In Thebes, which was one of the largest settlements in Central Greece at that time, four large apsidal or vaulted houses are known to date, as well as rectangular buildings of the type called ‘corridor houses’. The latter stand out from others within the settlement and suggest the existence of social differentiation.
The storage of a large part of the agricultural production in some of these buildings, together with seals recovered from the interior of separate houses, indicate the need to protect the wealth created by organized agricultural cultivation. A typical example of the house of a wellto- do family has been preserved in the museum foundations and can be visited in section 16.
The layout of Thebes, the extent of the settlement and the large buildings with special features all bear witness to the onset of the urbanization process. Other settlements, such as at Lithares, were smaller in area, and many small settlements were satellites of larger ones.
The Middle Bronze Age began with a long period of re-alignments and preparations. Boeotia remained densely populated, its main centres being Thebes and Orchomenos, while life continued on sites such as Eutresis. However, no specific function has yet been recognized on any building, and finds from them are usually of a household nature.
Characteristic of the period are the burials in cist graves and storage jars (pithoi) inside the settlement.
Toward the end of the Middle Bronze Age an improvement is noted along with the early stage in the emergence of a powerful ruling class, according to the evidence provided by individual burials in large cist graves.
In showcases 28-35, visitors can observe the changes that have taken place since the previous period and better understand those that will follow. Initially they will see two typical Boeotian vases, a tankard with a crinkle-mouthed rim and a Minyan kylix from the Early and Middle Bronze Age respectively. An ivory female figurine of the Cycladic type, and clay vases confirm the artistic relations with the Cyclades.
The visitor can form some idea of the wealth of the Early Bronze Age from the gold jewellery that was found in a princely tomb in Thebes, while a number of seals from different sites in Boeotia testify to the level of administrative organization in these settlements (showcase 31).
Worship required specialized objects, such as the figurines of bulls in showcase 32. A unique “treasure” of bronze tools (axes and chisels), together with the vase in which they were kept (showcase 33), surprises us with their similarity to modern objects, and proves the high level of technical knowledge available to metalworkers of the Early Bronze Age. The tools were found buried under the floor of a large apsidal building, where their owner had concealed them but did not return to collect them.
Tools, weapons and jewellery from various Boeotian sites are also exhibited below. Showcase 35, apart from possibly imported vases, also contains grave gifts from a group burial of 12 people in the basement of the Museum (see section 16), and a number of vases from the Early and Middle Bronze Age.