Metallurgy in Greece
Mining activities in Greece were a reality already in Prehistoric times. As a matter of fact, the extraction and exploitation of minerals came to be a major contribution to the birth and the flourishing of some of the most amazing civilizations this area has known. It is no less of a fact, however, that whatever information available on prehistoric times – essentially between the year 2.500 and the year 1.125 B.C. – are at best rudimental. Whatever the case, the existence of gold had, already towards the end of Prehistoric times, been recorded, especially in regions of north Greece (Macedonia, Thrace, Thassos) both in the forms of integral pieces and in the form of alluvial deposits, so much as for researchers to associate gold with the opening of the first, organized mines in the Hellenic area. Although gold was already widely used during the Minoan and Mycenaean times, the origins of this precious material at the time remains unknown.
If anything, it is certain that gold was also imported from other areas, mostly in Asia Minor and Egypt, which is quite understandable, given the intensity of trading activities and commercial exchanges in the area, activities brought to admirable highs at the times of the Hellenic Civilization. Apart from gold, other valuable minerals such as silver, copper, lead and iron were also located and extracted in various areas throughout Continental Greece and the Greek Islands. In the centuries that followed (1.125 BC through to 800 BC) working with minerals – already developed during the Minoan times – flourished to a level such as to boost the demand for such materials as gold, silver and copper, to unprecedented highs. It is worth noting that gold is a material repeatedly mentioned in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. The dawn of the 8th Century BC saw the creation and development of several mining centers in such areas as the ranges of Rodopi and Paggaeon, Lavrion, the islands of Thassos, Kythnos, Serifos, Sifnos ea. During that time, the island of Cyprus was already active in the production of copper and silver in considerable quantities. Among the numerous mining and metallurgy centers in the Hellenic area of the time, it is Lavrion that, according to the unanimous conclusion of practically all researchers of the time, held the leading position, both in terms of the intensity and the duration of relevant activities and in terms of the surprisingly advanced, for the time, mining and metallurgical practices developed and applied in this area, all along the many years of presence in this domain. Such conclusion is also further corroborated through the valuable and often spectacular findings unearthed by archaeologists delving into the era and the area.
As a matter of fact, practices and techniques developed by ancient Greeks within the context of their mining and metallurgical activities have earned general admiration. Throughout the period between the 7th and the 1st Century BC, the mines at Lavrion are estimated to have yielded at least 3.500 tons of silver and 1.400.000 tons of lead. Production in such materials reached its peak during Classical Times – the very era dominated by such prominent figures as Themistocles and Pericles.
That the intensification of silver production at Lavrion contributed to Themistocle's launching of the project of building enough trireme vessels for the Athenian fleet to beat the Persian naval forces at Salamis, in the year 480 BC – opening the way for the establishment of the Athenian predominance and Pericles' Golden Era – is a fact generally admitted by historians. Mining activities at Lavrion are believed to have come to a stop some time in late 1st Century BC. By then, however, and more specifically in mid 4th Century BC, King Philip the Second, of Macedonia, had launched an intensive exploitation of gold and silver mines already active in the mountain range of Paggaeon, thereby triggering the creation of an Empire and essentially paving the way for his son and heir Alexander the Great to embark on his famous Eastern Campaigns (334 - 323 BC).
The influence that mining and metallurgical activities have had, on the development of a great civilization as well as their contribution to the consolidation of the power and aura of ancient Greece can, among other, be reflected on the many feats of Pericles' Golden Era, the wealth of Athens and later that of Pella as well as on the reverberation of Greece as a universal symbol of spiritual and material predominance. The secret behind the feats of ancient Greek miners and metallurgists was indeed the power of their intellect, expressed and manifested through their commitment to a relentless, admirable and inspired pursuit of their destiny.