The foundation of the city
The absence of remains of the so-called "Dark Ages" (11th-10th centuries BC) that followed the Mycenean Period suggests that the site of Eretria was abandoned, though it remains to be determined whether this abandonment was total or only partial. In the 9th century BC, the presence of tombs and pottery point toward a small-scale occupation of the site, since no contemporary settlement has been discovered up to this point. Natural factors -the presence of marshy areas and a watercourse whose bed fluctuated- explain in part why the place was not more densely inhabited earlier.
The birth of the city
The first incontestable signs of a settlement appear in the course of the first half of the 8th century. The increasing number of structures indicate rapid population growth. Since Lefkandi was declining at the same period, a transfer of inhabitants from one site to the other cannot be excluded.
At that time, Eretria did not have an organized urban framework, the settlement pattern being governed instead by topographical constraints. It extended from the coast to the foot of the acropolis, although in a discontinuous manner, consisting of distinct units that probably reflected a division of space according to family groups.
The location of the tombs within the city completes this picture: they are scattered in small groups that, in the absence of a true common necropolis in Eretria, may represent burial sites peculiar to each family group. Paradigmatic of this pattern is the small cemetery of the Heroon west of the city, where several individuals are buried around a particularly magnificent tomb (the Heroon), probably belonging to a community leader.
After this individual was buried and surrounded by some of his close relatives, the area was not expanded to include more tombs, but was marked off by a large isosceles triangle made of stone slabs, indicating its importance. Later on, certain activities -which have been interpreted as a form of ancestor cult- were carried out. The community was apparently no longer entirely dominated by an elite, but rather honored one of the last representatives of the elite. A move toward a "civic" society, that of the polis can be discerned.
The first places of worship
This evolution is also evident in the Sanctuary of Apollo Daphnephoros, where a first group of structures appears before 750 BC. Thousands of vases, an indication of the inhabitants' affluence and of their practice of banqueting, as well as traces of bronze craftsmanship were found in that area. Elements of religion are also present, but the position they occupy remains difficult to determine. In a second stage of construction, the erection of a large apsidal building closely connected with an altar defines a context suitable for the completion of a ritual. If it was to Apollo, the polis-divinity, that sacrifices were made on this altar, we can infer the existence of a cult connected with the emergence of the city as early as the end of the Geometric Period.
At that time, another place of worship appears near the Sanctuary of Apollo. An accumulation of votive offerings and ritual pottery indicates, once again, a religious practice concerning a whole community. This is an exceptional case: it allows us to recreate a ritual involving women, and reveals the existence in Eretria of numerous imports not only from the Aegean basin, Cyprus, and the Near East, but also from the West.
Eretria between East and West
The place occupied by the city within the Mediterranean world is a key element for understanding Eretria's future. We know that Eretria was active in the establishment of commercial relationships with the East during the first stages of Greek colonization of the North (Chalkidike) and the West. Objects of Aegean, oriental, and Egyptian provenance found in the city show that Eretria was connected with several exchange systems. They also testify to the circulation of techniques and ideas: an oriental influence is manifest in certain motifs of Eretrian Geometric pottery, and it might also have had an effect on the goldsmith's trade. In addition, alphabetic script makes an early appearance in Eretria, in the form of graffiti on pottery. The city surely constitutes one of the centers from which this important innovation spread into the Greek world.
In the second half of the 8th century, Eretria evolved rapidly. As it grew, the community experimented with new forms of social organization and established new places of worship. Some of its members explored the West and then settled there. Eretria maintained commercial contacts with the East and showed itself open to foreign ideas and techniques.
The final decades of the 8th century BC, during which Eretria underwent rapid expansion, are essential for understanding the city's destiny.