Bronze Tripod, Mycenae

Bronze Tripod, Mycenae

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The Mycenaean Age (c.1600&ndash1100 BCE) played a critical role in the development of Greek mythology. Generally, the mythical significance/insignificance of a place tends to correspond to that which it had at that time. For instance, in Homer, Mycenae (Mykenai), with its stock epithet &lsquorich in gold&rsquo, was extremely important.

The fact that Greek mythology and Mycenaean archaeology have to compensate for our lack of Mycenaean history makes life difficult. Yet it was with information of this sort that Mycenaean culture was first unearthed and named by Heinrich Schliemann (1822&ndash90) in the 1870s. His archaeological and personal credibility is often questioned: he romanticized, exaggerated and distorted details of his personal life, looked almost exclusively for evidence to support his belief that Homer was &lsquotrue&rsquo, and often missed or even destroyed crucial material. Yet his discoveries were astounding. He dug up the relics of a dynamically enterprising people who readily assimilated ideas from the likes of the Egyptians, Hittites and Minoans, ran with them, integrated them with their own society based on the Greek mainland, and created a scintillating and original new civilization.

Mycenae itself stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking the fine agricultural land of the Argive plain, has a good water supply, and, though it is a little distance from the sea (visible from the citadel), with the city of Tiryns in between, has access to good landing places for ships. An extensive network of paved roads and strong bridges also facilitated communication with other areas. Yet the common question, &lsquoWhere did the Mycenaeans come from?&rsquo admits of no simple answer. It used to be asserted that the peace of Early Bronze Age Greece was shattered in around 2200 BCE by invaders, possibly from Anatolia, who destroyed the indigenous settlements and replaced them with their own, but &lsquoinvasion theories&rsquo carry little weight nowadays. A picture of gradual arrival, settlement, amalgamation, dispute and conflict might be less sexy than alien invaders or hordes of marauding barbarians, but it is probably more accurate.

During the Middle Bronze Age their civilization was pretty unimpressive. Skeletons reveal a mixed racial stock, strong and muscular, but suffering from childhood malnutrition, bad teeth, arthritis and malaria. The men were 1.60&ndash1.70 m tall and lived to around 30&ndash45 years old women 1.48&ndash1.56 m with an average lifespan of 25&ndash40 years. But then, as we enter the Late Bronze Age, c.1600 BCE, we see greater prosperity, allied to contact with Egypt, Syria, Macedonia, the Black Sea, Italy and even Spain. The Mycenaean Age proper had begun (see Table 2.1, overleaf).

We can establish a reasonably well-defined relative chronology based on the stylistic development of Mycenaean pottery: thus &lsquoLate Helladic (LH) III B&rsquo denotes the pottery in use at the height of Mycenaean prosperity in the thirteenth century BCE. The absolute chronology has been fixed by cross-referencing this material to Egyptian finds, the dates of which are generally accurate to within a few years. The Carbon-14 and dendrochronology dating methods contribute further to this process, but also have a tendency to challenge and confuse it. Some scholars like to divide the chronology of the Mycenaean Late Bronze Age into:

· Formative period: LH I and LH II A (c.1575/50&ndash1450 BCE)

· Palace period: LH II B to III B2 (c.1450&ndash1200 BCE)

· Post-Palatial period, covering LH III C and &lsquosub Mycenaean&rsquo (c.1200&ndash1050/1000 BCE).

Table 2.1 Mycenaean Chronology

These people were great bureaucrats. Thousands of inscribed clay tablets have been found, fired hard in conflagrations that occurred during the Mycenaean occupation of Knossos, and also at Mycenae itself, Tiryns, Thebes, Pylos and Khania. About half the signs on the tablets are similar to the earlier Linear A, suggesting verbal communication between Minoans and Mycenaeans, and the script became known as Linear B. It was deciphered by a British architect, Michael Ventris, (assisted by John Chadwick and others), who, on 1 July 1952, announced on BBC radio that the tablets were written in a difficult and archaic form of Greek. His theory was supported by the discovery in 1953 of a tablet that had ideograms of three-legged cauldrons of which the accompanying signs read ti-ri-po-de (tripods). So many tablets have now been discovered that even the handwriting of individual scribes can be identified.

Linear B is not literature it was used to keep lists on long thin bars known as &lsquoleaf tablets&rsquo, the contents of which might be transcribed and collated on to larger, rectangular &lsquopage tablets&rsquo. The tablets show personal touches such as doodles, sketches and spelling mistakes, and the script is composed of nearly 100 different signs (see Table 2.2, overleaf), which can be summarized as:

1. Decimal-based numerals (1, 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000)

2. Pictograms, ideograms or logograms that indicate what is being counted. Sometimes they look like what they stand for, but they can be quite abstract: the head of a goat, sheep or pig, with a single line descending vertically with two short cross strokes, indicates a male creature two vertical lines indicate a female.

3. Syllabic signs that spell words. These can represent the vowels a, e, i, o and u a consonant + a vowel (pa, pe, pi, po, pu) or a consonant + semivowel + vowel (nwa, dwo, etc.). Difficulties arise because, for example, pa can also sound as pha, or ba ka as kha, or ya ra as la, as in ancient Egyptian extra vowels find their way into clusters of consonants and final consonants are missed out. So ko-no-so = Knoso(s) a-re-kutu-ru-wo = the man&rsquos name Alektryono(n) pe-ma = (s)pe(r)ma (seed) ti-ri-po = tripo(s) (tripod).

Table 2.2 Some Linear B Transcriptions

It is an inflected language in the same way as classical Greek, and there are two distinct dialects: one used by the scribes, thought to be upper-class speech the other being closer to the speech-patterns of the lower classes. Personal names come through, too: Thyestes, Alexandra, Theodora, Glaukos (Grey-eyed), Ekhinos (Sea-urchin), Poimen (Shepherd), Khalkeus (Smith). At Pylos we find Orestes, Achilles, Tros, Theseus, and Hector, which proves that Homer was using genuine Bronze Age monikers, albeit those of workaday Mycenaeans, not mighty heroes.

Shaft Graves and Tholos Tombs

The decipherment of Linear B sent twentieth-century scholars into paroxysms of delight, but this pales into insignificance at the joy experienced by their late-nineteenth-century counterparts at the finds in the &lsquoshaft graves&rsquo contained in Grave Circle A at Mycenae that were made by Heinrich Schliemann. 2 The older Grave Circle B was subsequently excavated in 1951. Both the Linear B tablets and the shaft graves prove that the presentation of the Bronze Age in the Homeric epics is often anachronistic: Homer&rsquos heroes were cremated Mycenaeans were buried. Initially this was in rectangular grave pits lined with stone slabs known as a &lsquocist graves&rsquo, but from c.1620 BCE onwards, elaborate shaft graves were dug. These comprised a rectangular shaft sunk up to 2.5 m into the rock. A layer of stones was scattered on the floor, and then a chamber, roofed over with squared timbers with copper sheet ends, was created at the base of the shaft. This was frequently large enough for several bodies plus their grave goods. The shaft was filled with earth, and the grave marked with a stele (stone slab) up to 2m high. The graves were regularly reused.

There were 26 graves enclosed by the circular stone wall of Grave Circle B, including 14 royal shaft graves. Of the 35 individuals found, 22 have been studied by osteoarchaeologists and forensic scientists: 16 were adult males aged 23&ndash55 years, with large hands and feet, and an average height of 1.71 m 4 were female averaging 1.59 m tall and 2 were children aged 2&ndash5 years. They were of mixed racial stock, led active lives, and were quite a lot bigger than the Minoans. For example, the male Zeta 59 was tall, broad-shouldered and thick-boned, with an arthritic spine, a large head, a long horsey face, and depressions in his skull inflicted by a right-handed opponent &ndash clearly he was involved in fighting. There is little sign of dental or infectious diet-related disease, although one male suffered from gallstones. Surprisingly, given that their pottery depicts marine life, they ate almost no marine foods. The electrum (a mixture of gold and silver) death mask belonging to Gamma 55 disappointingly showed very little resemblance to the face whose skull it was reconstructed from, indicating that the masks were not accurate likenesses.

Grave Circle B contained many items of gold jewellery, which has a &lsquobling&rsquo-like quality, even though much of it is artistically second-rate. The high-quality items include a gold sword hilt and some finely ornamented sword blades a gold cup and an utterly exquisite rock-crystal bowl with an exceptionally delicate duck&rsquos-head handle &ndash a real masterpiece.

However, the finds from Grave Circle B are as nothing compared to what Schliemann had already found in Grave Circle A, a group of shaft graves used by a dynasty coming to power c.1600&ndash 1500 BCE. The two Grave Circles overlap chronologically, with Circle A being used for a generation longer.

Grave Circle A, as we have it, was the product of a rebuilding programme during the thirteenth century BCE. It comprises a roughly circular, hollow parapet of limestone slabs with a formal entrance, enclosing some ordinary graves and six large shaft graves, deeper and larger than those in Circle B, and cut into the bedrock. A seventh, similar grave, stood outside the circle. The six family tombs each have several occupants, usually laid with their heads to the east and feet to the west in a chamber roofed with twigs and branches and covered with a layer of clay and slate slabs.

Each grave was marked by a west-facing sandstone stele that was either plain or sculpted, generally with battle or hunting scenes, one of which depicts a charioteer hurtling in the direction of an individual holding a sword, thought by some to represent funeral games. The remains of eight men, nine women and two children were discovered. The males are 25&ndash45 years of age, and stand 1.65&ndash1.83 m tall &ndash just half a centimetre shorter than the average modern Greek. They have a similar muscularity to the occupants of Grave Circle B, ate a mixture of meat and plants, got about 20 per cent of their protein from marine foods, and between them exhibit osteoporosis, arthritis of the spine, and a well-healed fractured vertebra.

There are those who think that Schliemann may have &lsquosexed up&rsquo some of the graves with finds from elsewhere in order to intensify interest in himself and his work, although the case against him is by no means conclusive. In a telegram dated 28 November 1876 to King George of Greece, he confidently asserted:

I have discovered the tombs which the tradition proclaimed by Pausanias indicates as the graves of Agamemnon, Cassandra, Eurymedon and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra (Agamemnon&rsquos wife) and her lover Aegisthus. 3

If they were authentic, Schliemann&rsquos finds were stunning. Five of the males had burial masks made of hammered gold sheets. One had a splendid gold breastplate decorated with spirals, and a gold mask showing an aquiline face with a beard and a moustache, which has become known as the &lsquomask of Agamemnon&rsquo, even though it was another occupant of the same grave that Schliemann believed to be the great king. That extraordinarily well-preserved body became known as the &lsquoshaft grave mummy&rsquo (even though it had not been mummified), and in a telegram to a Greek newspaper, Schliemann said: &lsquoThis corpse very much resembles the image which my imagination formed long ago of wide-ruling Agamemnon&rsquo, 4 later abbreviated to the apocryphal but catchy, &lsquoToday I gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.&rsquo

Other grave goods included elaborate necklaces, earrings, rosettes, ornaments originally attached to the funeral shrouds, a large woman&rsquos crown decorated in the repoussé technique of hammering gold (and silver) from the inside, and some plain gold sheets covering the bodies of the children who were buried with the three women in Grave III. There were ceremonial swords with hilts decorated with gold plate or discs, whilst others had ivory or marble pommels, and a dagger, the blade of which is inlaid with gold, silver and black enamel (an alloy of silver and sulphur frequently referred to as niello), shows warriors hunting lions on one side, and a lion hunting antelope on the other.

Also for ceremonial use was a rhyton (= conical ritual drinking vessel) in the form of a lion&rsquos head made of sheet gold a Minoan-influenced one with a silver bull&rsquos head with gilded horns a stag-shaped rhyton imported from the Hittite civilization and the silver &lsquosiege rhyton&rsquo, decorated with repoussé scenes of soldiers assaulting a city. Mycenaean metallurgy also encompassed the techniques of granulation (using tiny droplets of gold to decorate objects) and cloisonné (soldering a pattern of fine wire on to a base plate and setting it with inlays of stone or glass) to produce objects of astonishing delicacy.

Drinking cups of gold and silver included the so-called Cup of Nestor, which resembles in some ways, if not in size, the description of the depas amphikypellon used by Nestor in the Iliad:

It was set with golden nails, the eared handles upon it

were four, and on either side there were fashioned two doves

of gold, feeding, and there were double bases beneath it.

Another man with great effort could lift it full from the table,

but Nestor, aged as he was, lifted it without strain. 5

Imported luxury items also included amber from northern Europe ostrich eggs from North Africa ivory from Egypt or Syria Cretan stone vases and lapis lazuli from Afghanistan.

In about 1490 BCE (LH II A) the Mycenaean elite stopped using shaft graves and opted for more imposing tholos tombs (popularly known as &lsquobeehive&rsquo tombs). Nine of these have been excavated outside the citadel of Mycenae, but none have the engineering and aesthetic sophistication of the &lsquoTreasury of Atreus&rsquo, 6 built around 1410 BCE. This is approached by a 39 m long dromos (entrance passage pl. dromoi) that is lined with imposing polygonal stone walls. This leads to a doorway ornamented with half columns of Egyptian porphyry and decorated with carved zigzags, spirals and rosettes. The lintel is an enormous block of stone estimated to weigh more than 100 tonnes, but the structural stresses above it were displaced on to the mighty door jambs by a corbelled 7 relieving triangle. The triangle was concealed by a facade of red and green bands of spirals and lozenges between two smaller carved pillars. Having crossed the threshold, you enter a circular chamber 14.3 m across and 13 m high, whose slightly pointed dome is built of beautifully dressed ashlar blocks that decrease in size up to a central keystone that locks the whole structure in place. Layers of clay were applied over the dome to waterproof it, and the whole edifice was covered with earth. The body itself was probably interred in the side-chamber, which opens off the main one.

Neither the body nor any treasure survives, although extrapolation from other sites suggests an inhumation accompanied by grave goods appropriate to sex and status: jewellery, mirrors, weapons, gold cups and so on. After the funeral, the tomb entrance was closed. Drinking cups (kylikes) are regularly found smashed on the floor of the dromoi, along with the bones of sacrificial animals, and of horses (sometimes in pairs) that may have pulled the chariot carrying the deceased to the tomb. The Treasury of Atreus was undoubtedly intended to be seen as the awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece that it is. It was presumably built during the lifetime of its occupant, and while it is likely that the dromoi of humbler chamber tombs were filled in after the burial, the grandiose entranceof this very labour-intensive project does not look like it was meant to be hidden.

There are also several cemeteries around Mycenae, which comprise groups of chamber tombs housing members of the &lsquomiddle class&rsquo. The tombs are hewn from the natural rock, and contained relics of many generations, accompanied by good quality vases, clay figurines, and possibly objects of sentimental value, like one traveller&rsquos(?) Egyptian seal. The silent masses are not buried in shaft graves, tholoi or chamber tombs, and their grave goods tend to be very mundane: personal things such as tools, spindle whorls, razors and terracotta models or figurines, many of which are female in one of three shapes named after the letter of the Greek alphabet that their poses resemble &ndash phi, psi and tau (&Phi, &Psi and &Tau). Children were regularly buried with feeding bottles.

The Citadel and Settlement of Mycenae

The Mycenae citadel was a grandiose complex of buildings surrounded by some of the most impressive fortifications ever constructed. In making an approach to the ruler, you would pass through a propylon (entrance portico), a 7 m square canopied porch with a column on each side, which opened into a small open courtyard. Walking from there up the gradually sloping West Passage, you encountered the Great West Portal, in front of which was a balcony with stupendous views out across the Argive plain. From the Portal a passageway gave access to the Main Court, 11.5 × 15 m, covered in painted stucco to simulate large marble tiles.

The layout of the megaron (King&rsquos Hall) accessed from the Main Court resembles that of a Classical-era temple. First you would enter a two-columned porch (aithousa), which housed two small altars and a libation bowl. Moving through huge wooden double doors mounted on bronze pivots, you would find yourself in a vestibule (prodomos) with a floor made of painted stucco, bordered with 1 m slabs of gypsum. Another impressive doorway finally led you into the domos, or Great Hall, an imposing space, 12.96 × 11.50 m, floored like the vestibule, and walled with frescoes depicting a battle involving horses, chariots, warriors and their womenfolk. Facing you was the central round hearth (3.7macross), decorated with flames and spirals painted round its sides. Four stuccoed wooden columns around the hearth supported an upper storey, and it is assumed that the throne itself was to your right. It is an appropriate setting for a mighty ruler.

The palace also had designated areas for religious worship, accommodation, workshops for craftsmen, and facilities for storing agricultural produce. The surrounding town covered some 32 ha, and the quality of the buildings suggests affluent owners. For instance, the House of the Oil Merchant contained seven storerooms filled with oil storage and transport jars, as well as nearly forty Linear B tablets and the House of the Sphinxes contained thousands of pieces of ivory, including a plaque decorated with its eponymous sphinxes.

All the signals that the citadel of Mycenae broadcasts seem militaristic, yet it may have been fear, rather than aggression, that lurked behind these fortifications, since it was quite late in their history that the Mycenaeans started to build truly mighty fortresses. Pottery excavated in the foundations of the walls shows that the main fortifications of Mycenae began only around 1350-40 BCE, but then, around 1250 BCE, the citadel was nearly doubled in size as the walls were extended to enclose a series of religious buildings, along with Grave Circle A, which was also refurbished on a more monumental scale. The Great Ramp leading up to the citadel was added at this time, along with a new postern gate and a tower.

The great symbol of Mycenaean civilization, the Lion Gate, belongs to this phase. It is flanked on the left by the natural rock of the hill (with a facade of &lsquoconglomerate&rsquo 8 blocks), and on the right by a rectangular bastion of massive conglomerate masonry, which constricts the passageway and exposes the unshielded side of any attacker to missile fire from above. The threshold, sides and lintel of the gate each weigh more than 20 tonnes, while the wall above uses corbelling to form a relieving triangle over the lintel. The triangular space is filled by a sculpted panel of grey limestone, carved in relief with two leonine creatures facing one another, with their front legs on two altars that flank a central Minoan-looking column with an architrave above it. Dowel-holes for attaching the animals&rsquo heads suggest that they were gardant (facing outward). Animals placed like this are often regarded as apotropaic (to ward off evil), symbolizing protection, strength and stability. However, questions as to what inspired the subject-matter, where the Mycenaeans acquired the slab itself, what it actually looked like (painted? stone, wood, or metal heads?), what kind of animals (lions, as the second-century CE traveller Pausanias said? lionesses? griffins?), and what its meaning was, are fraught with controversy. None of the scholarly answers, however brilliantly argued, can be anything other than pure speculation.

The final phase of fortification, which began around 1200 BCE, extended the walls to protect access to a secret underground cistern, fed via an aqueduct from a nearby spring, and added sally-ports to allow authorized personnel to enter or exit the citadel discreetly. There are also ten or so &lsquoblockhouses&rsquo in the Mycenae area, which could be signal stations, sometimes (fancifully) interpreted as the beacons of Aeschylus&rsquo Agamemnon. 9

Who or what the Mycenaeans were afraid of is not entirely clear. Siege engines were not widely used, so any defensive purposes would have been adequately served by smaller walls. Part of their function must have been simply a display of invincibility. Mycenae&rsquos walls, on average, are 7.5 m thick and more than 8 m high, although they are not as massive as those at nearby Tiryns, which were the first to be described as &lsquocyclopean&rsquo. The myth related that Proitos, the founder of Tiryns, had his citadel built by the Cyclopes, who also built the citadel at Mycenae in the next generation, 10 and later Greeks believed that suchmassive well-shaped blocks could only be the work of mythical monsters. In reality, the Mycenaeans constructed them of an inner and outer skin with a rubble filling, using hammers and a pendulum saw, which was one of the most technologically advanced devices of its day. The average cyclopean block could have been drawn on a sledge by fourteen oxen, before being rolled down from above or raised into position from below with the aid of earth ramps, but the Linear B tablets tell us nothing about the timescale, the labour force, or its working schedules.

Society, Economy and Religion

Mycenaean society was highly structured, based on a hierarchy of meticulous administrators who were at least as important as the aristocrats (although there may have been some overlap). What is odd, though, is the almost total anonymity of the kings. At the top was the wa-na-ka (wanax), the &lsquoking&rsquo, who sometimes presided over religious rituals second in power and status was the ra-wa-ke-ta (lawagetas), &lsquothe leader of the people&rsquo and each local area had its qa-si-re-u (basileus), &lsquochieftain&rsquo. Priests and priestesses (i-je-ro-wo-ko) also had high status, as did the aristocratic e-qe-ta (hequetai), the &lsquofollowers&rsquo of the wanax (king). An extensive bureaucracy of scribes and officials ran the palace and local areas, and beneath them came the free citizens, who had their own organization and spokesmen, and owned land. At the bottom of the pile were the slaves (do-we-ro (male) or do-we-ra (female), giving us dowelos, which in Classical Greek was doulos = &lsquoslave&rsquo).

Mycenae&rsquos epithet &lsquoRich in Gold&rsquo begs the question: where did it come from? Not from Mycenae: it came from Nubia, Egypt, Macedonia or the island of Thasos, and was probably paid for by a healthy agricultural economy that in turn sustained the activities of craftsmen, soldiers, sailors and rulers, who are characterized by an Odysseus-like resourcefulness.

Barley and wheat were the staple crops. Workers&rsquo rations were distributed by the kotyle (= cup of 0.6 litres): three per day of barley half as much of wheat (which has a higher nutritional value). Emmer wheat can be roasted and mixed with nuts to make portable snacks barley is good in soups and stews, or as the basis for beer and some slave women were given figs as well as grain. Forensic archaeological analysis of the interiors of their cooking vessels gives fascinating results: at Thebes they were eating pork, cereals, pulses and honey at Midea the archaeologists who found cereal and oil on a &lsquogriddle tray&rsquo wondered whether or not this was to prevent pancakes from sticking and evidence from the House of the Sphinxes and the Granary at Mycenae suggested porridge made of bitter vetch (which requires pre-boiling to remove its toxicity), lentils, grass peas, wheat, barley and broad beans. Mycenaeans cooked using olive or safflower oil, used a wide variety of native herbs, and also ate almonds, pears, cherries, plums, wild strawberries, carob, walnuts, chestnuts and pistachios.

Olives and vines were particularly important: you can grow them on relatively poor ground despite limited rainfall cereals can be cultivated between olive trees, allowing the maximization of manpower. All three crops are hoed, harvested and tended at different times of the year and they are storable as oil, fruits or wine. Olive oil was exported, and provided an essential ingredient for the manufacture of perfumed oil and ointment. The Linear B tablets give us the other ingredients:

Axotas gave to Thyestes [tu-we-a] the perfume maker the following ingredients to make perfume: coriander [ko-ri-a2-da-na] seeds 576 litres cypress [ku-pa-ro2] seeds 576 litres 157 16 units fruit 240 litres wine 576 litres honey 58 litres wool 6 kilograms wine 58 litres. 11

References to flax workers also suggest the production of linseed oil and linen, and the textile industry was a key element in the economy of the Mycenaean kingdoms, with about 200 women recorded as making cloth at Pylos.

Substantial herds of oxen are implied by the Linear B tablets, and rather charmingly plough oxen were called things such as Dapple, Dusky, Noisy and Whitefoot. However, sheep and goats comprised the majority of the livestock (75 per cent of the animal bones from Mycenae are from sheep and goats, and a series of tablets from Knossos lists nearly 100,000 sheep), supplemented by small herds of pigs. These animals produced milk and cheese, wool and cloth, meat and leather.

Hunting and fishing were also part of the picture. Bronze fishhooks, lead weights and fish bones have all been found. Mycenaean aristocrats loved to hunt with hounds (kunagetai = &lsquohunter&rsquo, literally &lsquodog-leader&rsquo), and a fantastically lively fresco from Tiryns depicts hunters accompanied by spotted hounds, wearing red collars and surrounding a boar, which is being speared. Hare, duck, goose, partridge, fox, deer and even turtles were hunted for food and/or fur, while lions were hunted for sport. Horse bones are relatively infrequent, although the tablets do list horses in the context of military equipment, with white horses being particularly popular. Horse rearing may have been a major generator of wealth, especially in what Homer calls &lsquohorse-pasturing&rsquo Argos.

Mycenaeans exploited sources of copper, silver and lead, and became key players in the Mediterranean metals trade. Lead was used as weights for fishing nets to keep the hems of women&rsquos clothing in place and also used for mending pottery, showing that ceramics had quite a high value. Copper and bronze were used for jugs, braziers, cauldrons, frying pans, lamps, tweezers, pins, saws, drill bits, pruning knives, horses&rsquo bits, octopus spears, scale pans and so on. The Linear B tablets from Pylos mention nearly 300 bronze smiths, so clearly this was a major facet of the economy.

The wreck of a merchant ship, Ulu Burun, which sank near Kas off the Turkish coast in c.1315 BCE revealed even more: 354 copper ingots (more than ten tonnes in weight), one tonne of tin ingots, terebinth resin found in Canaanite jars, turquoise and cobalt-blue glass ingots, and large quantities of Cypriot pottery. There were also some ebony logs, ostrich eggs, seals and a scarab from Egypt bearing the name of Nefertiti, elephant and hippopotamus ivory, faience and tin vessels, a gold cup and a gold and bronze Egyptian statuette. Various bronze tools, cylinder seals, oil lamps, wooden writing boards and fishing tackle probably belonged to the crew, and two Mycenaean swords, two seals, spearheads, and amber and glass beads suggest that two high-ranking Mycenaeans were aboard.

This extraordinary range of items from Egypt, the Aegean, Cyprus, Syro-Palestine, Mesopotamia and the Baltic points to a trade in both luxury goods and essential raw materials, in exchange for which the Mycenaeans offered olive oil, aromatic oils, &lsquochariot kraters&rsquo decorated with scenes of horses, chariots, bulls and other animals, textiles, slaves and possibly the services of mercenary soldiers. They capitalized on the fall of Knossos in c.1425 BCE, and by the thirteenthth century BCE they had gained control of the eastern trade routes, and forged well-developed political links with Egypt and the Levant: an inscription found in Kom el Hatan may document an official diplomatic mission by emissaries of the pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390&ndash1352 BCE), which visited, among other places, Phaistos, Mycenae, Thebes or Kato Zakro, Nauplion, Kythera, Troy and Knossos. Faience plaques with the cartouche of the same pharaoh were found at Mycenae.

Trying to discover what the Mycenaeans believed in, who their gods were, and how they worshipped them is fraught with difficulty. We know that they held processions, gathered at shrines, performed rituals, danced, made offerings and sacrifices, and perhaps induced religious hysteria with alcohol and opium, but we have no religious texts, myths or hymns to give us access to the beliefs themselves, and archaeologists have not for certain identified any true Mycenaean temple.

One name for a goddess (or goddesses) that appears quite often is Potnia, although usually qualified by epithets that make it hard to tell whether we are dealing with different goddesses or different facets of the same goddess. On one tablet she is called a-ta-na po-ti-ni-ja (Athana Potnia), &lsquoMistress Athena&rsquo, which appears in Homer, but in later Greek the fertility goddesses Demeter and Persephone were called &lsquothe Potniai&rsquo, and it may be that the Mycenaean Potnia was an Earth Mother goddess. The tablet also gives us the names of three other familiar Greek deities: e-nu-wa-ri-jo is Enualios, an alternative name for Ares pa-ja-wo resembles Paieon, an alternative name for Apollo and po-se-da(o), Poseidon. Dionysos has also been tentatively identified, which would represent a serious challenge to the received wisdom that the Dionysos cult only began in Greece after the end of the Dark Age.

On the citadel of Mycenae is a Cult Centre, which is made up of several shrines on three levels. The Room with the Fresco is accessed via an ante-room, which contains a bath for ritual washing, an oval hearth, a bench-shaped altar with traces of ash, and a substantial altar painted with Minoan-style &lsquohorns of consecration&rsquo and a socket that may have held a double axe. A fresco behind it shows a female worshipper/priestess/goddess with bunches of wheat and a griffin, while above them are two larger robed females facing each other (warrior goddesses?), one carrying a large sword and the other holding a spear/staff in salutation. Between them, two small male figures (worshippers?) appear to float in the air. Other rooms in the complex contained platforms, tables or altars (it is hard to tell these apart), bench altars, bowls, &lsquoidols&rsquo and beads of glass paste, carnelian, amber, rock crystal and lapis lazuli. There was also a &lsquoprocessional way&rsquo. But this is all we know: the finds are the only clues as to what happened in the rooms.

The Linear B tablets, however, refer to ceremonies such as the Spreading of the Couch, which is a common spring fertility ritual throughout the Near East, and to di-pi-si-je-wi-jo, probably the Festival for the Dead (dipsioi = the &lsquoThirsty Ones&rsquo, a euphemism for the dead), rather like the Classical Athenian All Souls Day, which concluded the Anthesteria festival, where the new wine was broached. The Spreading of the Couch was the second part of the Anthesteria, and the first part, theOpening of the Jars, may have an equivalent in the tablet entry, &lsquonew wine&rsquo: this major Classical Athenian festival may go back at least to 1200 BCE.

Gold, wool, perfumed oil, barley, figs, flour, wine, olive oil and honey were acceptable offerings to the Mycenaean divinities, and so were cows, pigs, goats, sheep and wild boar. A painted stone larnax from Aghia Triada, dating from the period of Mycenaean rule in Crete, depicts men carrying two animals and what seems to be a model boat towards a standing figure in front of a small building with a &lsquohorned&rsquo decoration on its roof and a tree beside it women bring buckets there are double axes with birds perching on them, and a basket of fruit or bread musicians perform two women ride in a horse-drawn chariot others in elaborate headdresses are drawn in a chariot by winged griffins a spotted ox is trussed up on an altar, with blood pouring out of its throat, while two goats await a similar fate. That much is clear, but the meaning and context is elusive.

The nature of the religious experience has been inferred from the &lsquoGreat Goddess&rsquo ring, which depicts a female (goddess? priestess?) seated under a tree, giving or receiving a bunch of poppy heads. Also present are two small females, a woman in a flounced skirt holding a bunch of lilies and other flowers, an upright double axe (which in Minoan Crete symbolized the Great Goddess), a weird figure-of-eight shield with a head, legs, arms and a sword, the Sun and Moon, and six animal heads. Quite what is going on in this possibly opium-fuelled scenario is utterly baffling.

More controversial still is a recent suggestion that human sacrifice may have occurred on occasion. A large tablet from Pylos, belonging to the last days before its destruction, could be listing offerings that included people:

At Pylos, he consecrates (or sacrifices) at Sphagianes and he brings gifts and leads the po-re-na (= sacrificial victims?): to Potnia one
Gold cup, one woman &hellip

To Iphimedeia one Gold dish, to Dia one Gold dish, one woman

To Hermes Areias one Gold cup, one man &hellip

To Zeus one Gold dish, one man to Hera one Gold dish, one woman. 12

The interpretation depends partly on reading the otherwise unknown word po-re-na as &lsquosacrificial victims&rsquo, since the deities are offered a gold vessel and a man or woman (women to goddesses men to gods). This could merely be a reference to offering slaves to the deity as servants, or indeed simply to figurines, but those who want to see something more bloodthirsty cite the use of &lsquoleads&rsquo rather than &lsquocarries&rsquo as evidence for a genuine human sacrifice, perpetrated in a last desperate attempt to ward off the destruction of Pylos.

War, Peace, Art, Food, Alcohol and Drugs

If the Mycenaeans have acquired a reputation as great warriors, it is partly on the basis of their military hardware. One of the most interesting finds is the &lsquoDendra panoply&rsquo, the earliest surviving complete suit of metal armour from Europe. This comprises a full corselet whose hammered bronze breast and back plates were hinged together on one side and custom-made to fit the wearer &ndash a fairly narrow-shouldered man about 1.68 m tall. Three-part shoulder pieces were fitted to the body a high collar protected his neck and a skirt of three overlapping bronze plates covered his lower body. The suit was leather-lined and held together with rawhide thongs. It affords a high level of protection and flexibility to a warrior wielding a sword or a thrusting spear, and vividly brings to life both the Linear B ideograms of body armour and Homer&rsquos description of Hector as &lsquocovered with bronze all over&rsquo.

The armour was accompanied by a pair of greaves, a wrist protector, and a Homeric-looking boar&rsquos tusk helmet with metal ear guards attached to a padded leather cap:

and on the outer side the white teeth

of a tusk-shining boar were close sewn one after another

with craftsmanship and skill. 13

Although an oddity for Homer, this seems to have been the helmet of choice for the Mycenaean warrior elite: the boar&rsquos tusk segments work like the ceramic plates in modern bullet-proof vests, but an adult wild boar is an exceedingly dangerous animal, and you need around fifty pairs of tusks to make one helmet. Hunting a helmet&rsquos-worth of boars indicates considerable martial prowess. The defensive armoury was completed by either a big rectangular &lsquotower shield&rsquo of raw ox hide stitched on to a wicker framework, so-called after the one that Aias wields in the Iliad, 14 which is as big as a wall, or a large &lsquofigure of eight&rsquo type. So when Homer&rsquos Agamemnon wields two spears and a round shield, he is using (anachronistically) gear from the eighth century BCE.

When on the offensive, a Mycenaean fighter might use a 70 cm or more long rapier-like sword for cut-and-thrust fighting, until, in the second half of the fourteenth century BCE, a shorter blade with a double cutting edge used for slashing was introduced. Short daggers, sometimes superbly ornamented, were also used. Bronze-pointed heavy thrusting spears were essential items, too, and there is ample evidence for the use of the bow, with arrows tipped with flint, obsidian and bronze. Hundreds of two-horse chariots, whose cars had four-spoked wheels and a hide-covered wicker-framed body, are itemized on the Linear B tablets, along with the availability of spare parts. This is somewhat surprising, given that they are very unsuited to the Greek terrain: they were possibly deployed more as prestige transport for kings or nobles than as shock-troops on the battlefield. All this weaponry was extremely costly, so only a small number of warriors could have been heavily armed. Nevertheless, Mycenaean warriors may have hiredthemselves out as mercenaries to foreign powers such as Egypt.

Naval forces were also deployed: at Pylos more than 600 rowers are listed on a group of tablets, which may record preparations for a naval operation big enough to man between 12 and 20 ships, although nowhere near the 90 that Nestor of Pylos led to Troy in Homer.

One glib comparison often made between the Minoans and the Mycenaeans is that the Minoans were a group of artistically gifted peaceniks, whereas the Mycenaeans were a bunch of warmongering philistines. This is simply not true. It is clear, for instance, that there was plenty of music to provide a soundtrack to Mycenaean life, played on seven-stringed lyres, or on the more professional four-or seven-stringed phorminx, which may have been the instrument of choice of bards to accompany their songs. The main wind instrument was the aulos, made from two tubes of cane, metal, wood, ivory or bone, each with either a single saxophone-type reed or a double reed like an oboe. For percussion, a sistrum gave tambourine-style effects.

There was a large-scale Mycenaean textile industry manufacturing clothing from sheep and goat wool, linen, and also some silk. Fabrics, which were treated with oil to give them a slight lustre, were patterned and colourful, with dyes being extracted from animal, vegetable and mineral sources: saffron or onion skins create yellow indigo makes blue the murex shellfish gives purple, etc. The basic form of Mycenaean dress was a long tunic, belted at the waist, sometimes covered by a knitted shawl, but the most elaborate female outfit worked a look which channelled Minoan fashions. Coming on trend in c.1550 BCE, it comprised an underskirt that doesn&rsquot always show, a tiered wraparound skirt tied with a cord belt at the waist, and a tight short-sleeved bodice or bolero made of several pieces of material, decorated with intricately woven braid, and fastened under the bosom. It was drawn back to expose the breasts, but sewn together below to give a bit of uplift. Necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hairpins and ankle bracelets completed the ensemble. Males sometimes wore simple short-sleeved tunics, or pleated kilts, often with chequered braid on the fringe round the hem, and with a linen loincloth as underwear. Men of status are sometimes depicted wearing a long patterned or flounced ankle-lengthtunic. People might go barefoot, or wear leather boots.

Hairstyle seems to have been influenced by age, occupation and/or social status, as well as personal taste. Young boys and girls are depicted shaven-headed, with a ponytail and a characteristic lock of hair above the forehead. Around puberty, their hair might be allowed to grow short and curly with the forelock and ponytail, or be kept partly shaven with several uncut locks. On reaching puberty they were allowed to have a single lock, and grow their hair. Homer described the Greeks at Troy as long-haired, but mature Mycenaean males exhibit a variety of hair lengths, and appear both clean-shaven or with beards and optional moustaches.

All human life is present on the frescoes that adorned the walls of Mycenaean buildings: processional scenes &lsquotrophy paintings&rsquo to impress visitors or to symbolize victory in battle pictures of bull leaping horses and grooms with chariots friezes of dogs and stag hunting riddling sphinxes and enigmatic cult scenes. However, the Mycenaeans seem to have been less interested in large-scale sculpture (the stelai from the Grave Circles, and the Lion Gate being notable exceptions), and there is relatively little sculpture in the round (although a stuccoed and painted female head, which has a strange rosette motif on the chin and each cheek is quite striking). Some fairly good-quality ivory work appears on the handles of weapons and mirrors, combs and cylindrical boxes, and as inlays on furniture, and there is also an exquisitely carved group depicting two women and a small child. On an even smaller scale, beads and seal-stones were made from gold, rock crystal, carnelian, agate, sardonyx, steatite and amethyst, or imported amber and lapis lazuli. Faience production techniques (firing a coloured glaze on to the surface of an unvitrified soft core) were probably picked up from Egypt, and true glass (often described &lsquoglass paste&rsquo) was moulded by Mycenaean artisans into beads and inlays.

Mycenaean ceramic ware was wheel-made and became so standardized that changes in fashion are easily discerned by the expert eye, allowing the establishment of an accurately dated sequence of developing shapes and motifs. There were kraters (mixing bowls) for preparing wine, jugs for pouring it, and extremely elegant cups with shallow delicate-handled bowls on top of high slender stems for drinking it. Storage containers ranged from pithoi, often more than 1.5 m high, to narrow-necked amphorae or &lsquostirrup-jars&rsquo &ndash closed vases with a false mouth, and a separate spout beside it for pouring. This pottery was &lsquopainted&rsquo with an iron-rich clay slip that turned into a glossy red or black during the firing. The decoration tended to be built up in parallel horizontal zones, and recurrent motifs, many of which show Minoan influence, including double axes, leaves, spirals, stylized flowers and shells, and vertical lines and zigzags. By c.1450 BCE the distinctly Mycenaean &lsquoPalace Style&rsquo appeared, which recycled motifs from the Cretan Floral and Marine styles, but became so stylized that by the thirteenth century BCE the origin of the motifs was often unrecognizable. The &lsquooctopus test&rsquo to distinguish between the vibrant octopi of the Marine Style and their practically abstract Palace Style counterparts is a good, if crude, way of identifying these styles. Pictorial decoration was not common and the most famous example is the Warrior Vase from the citadel at Mycenae, showing eleven almost Disneyesque warriors marching off to war.

The Mycenaeans were not averse to getting intoxicated, and the importation of resinated wine in Canaanite jars suggests a penchant for exotic Eastern flavours. Wine with herbs such as laurel, lavender and sage was popular, and a tripod cooking pot from Chania contained resinated wine with rue, a narcotic and stimulant: heady stuff indeed. Very weird to modern taste is a mixed fermented beverage made of wine, barley beer and honey mead that may have been regularly used in cult practice, and one of the oddest occurrences of this mixture is from a vessel probably used for feeding babies.

The terebinth resin that was sometimes added to wine might also have been used in medicines. Certainly plants like Cretan dittany, coriander, saffron, cumin, figs and myrtle were all used medicinally, and a Linear B tablet from Pylos that includes the word pa-ma-ko (Greek, pharmaka = &lsquodrugs&rsquo) has a reference to e-pi-ka, (Greek, ibiskos = &lsquotree mallow&rsquo/&lsquohibiscus&rsquo), whose root is commonly used as a remedy for gastrointestinal disturbances and oral inflammations. Pins with bronze stems and crystal heads in the shape of poppy capsules have been found in both Grave Circles at Mycenae, and the production of opium latex by incising unripe poppy heads was definitely known around 1300 BCE. Raw opium is a powerful narcotic, analgesic and sedative, and may have been applied directly to wounds, or pieces of wool soaked in a solution of opium and saffron could have been used as suppositories to alleviate internal pain.

Rise and Fall

As Mycenaeans&rsquo power was moving on an upward trajectory, they were presented with an opportunity to take over the central position that Crete had enjoyed for so long, and they grabbed it. The majority of the Minoan Palaces were suddenly destroyed, along with Cretan naval supremacy, around 1425 BCE. The reason for this is unclear, although the Mycenaeans often get the blame. Yet the destruction on Crete appears to be much more comprehensive than would be needed to facilitate a political takeover: earthquake, insurrection, civil war, socio-economic collapse or some combination of these seems more likely. 15

Although the Mycenaeans did not possess an &lsquoEmpire&rsquo in any meaningful sense, they did ultimately dominate the entire southern Aegean: from here on, Mycenaean pottery, not Minoan, is found in Egypt, Syria and Cyprus, and from c.1400 BCE onwards theirfifty-oared ships were ferrying settlers to Crete, Rhodes and the Aegean coast of Anatolia. However, despite the Mycenaean presence on Crete, indigenous religious traditions there seem to have carried on much as they had before, and indeed a bull-leaping fresco at Mycenae, probably dating from a time when there were Minoan frescoes still available to copy on Crete, shows that the cultural influence was not entirely one-way.

The Palace of Minos at Knossos remained in use for at least two or three generations, and maybe for a lot longer, until it was again destroyed by fire in c.1370 BCE, c.1190 BCE or even later. There has been scholarly dispute about this, with a ferocity inversely proportional to its conclusiveness, for more than seventy-five years. One current focus of the debate concerns whether Knossos remained the principal centre of the island after c.1370, or whether Chania (ancient Kydonia) in western Crete took over. The Post-Palatial period, c.1370/?1190&ndashc.1000 BCE, takes us to the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the transition to the Classical period. Throughout the Aegean many sites were abandoned or destroyed in the LM III B pottery phase (c.1190), with the Linear B documents recording the very last year of the economic administration. There were troubles on the mainland at this time, but what form they took in Crete is uncertain, although refugees from the mainland are a likely factor.

A highly distinctive painting from this era is &lsquoLa Parisienne&rsquo, an elegant Minoan/Mycenaean lady with large eyes, curly hair, red lips and a retroussé nose, who has a knot binding her hair at the nape of her neck, which many scholars regard as &lsquosacred&rsquo, possibly an apotropaic device and/or a symbol of a Minoan goddess. Her less elite counterparts who &lsquoinhabited&rsquo the cemetery at Armenoi on Crete in the LM III period give us an indication of how precarious her life might have been: 34 per cent of the children died before reaching the age of 2, and 57 per cent before they were age 5 she could expect to live to about 28 years old, with 20&ndash25 being the most dangerous (childbearing) time. Average female height was around 1.55 m, and dental health was very problematic, involving cavities (which indicate a diet rich in carbohydrates), disruption in the formation of the enamel caused by nutritional deficiencies or infectious disease, gum infections and plaque, although a woman in Tomb 132 did practise dental hygiene to eradicate the latter. Such women also had a range of diseases to contend with, including osteomyelitis (inflamation of the bone marrow), brucellosis (transmitted to humans through bacteria in goats&rsquo milk), TB (contracted through infected cows&rsquo milk), osteoporosis, scurvy, rickets and anaemia caused by iron deficiency. Cancer was a potential risk, too. However, they probably led an active lifestyle and had a good knowledge of orthopaedic techniques, so were able to take care of injuries such as bone fractures.

The woman in Tomb 132&rsquos male counterpart could expect to live three years longer on average. There is no indication of her actual partner&rsquos cause of death, but he was aged between 35 and 50, stood 1.68mtall, and suffered from osteoarthritis in a way that suggests he put continual stress on his back and neck. His teeth were a real mess, too: he had lost twenty-three of them, and the nine that were left were absolutely riddled with cavities and showed extreme variations in their patterns of wear, indicating that he might have been using them as tools, very possibly during a lifetime spent as a weaver.

Henry Miller pertinently wrote that Mycenae &lsquowears an impenetrable air: it is grim, lovely, seductive and repellent. What happened here is beyond all conjecture.&rsquo 16 And so it is. Quite how and why the Mycenaean civilization disintegrated in the twelfth centuryBCE is still a mystery. The enormous efforts devoted to Mycenae&rsquos walls in the thirteenth century BCE were replicated at Tiryns and Athens, and Linear B tablets from the Pylos refer to 800 men being sent to the coast, perhaps to guard against seaborne aggressors. Yet much of this was to no avail. By about 1200 BCE the key political and economic centres, such as Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Thebes, Orkhomenos and Gla (although probably not Athens), had suffered destruction by fire and the sea-routes were disrupted. Archaeological chronology can have a tendency to make things look more sudden than they were: &lsquoonly fifty years&rsquo is a long time to people who routinely died aged twenty-eight, and many of the changes were gradual and cumulative. Nevertheless, many sites never recovered even a glimmer of their former significance, and there is nothing to show who or what was responsible.

One of the most commonly regurgitated theories is that of the Dorian Invasion. Yet although Greek myth talks of &lsquothe Return of the Heraklids&rsquo, in which the Dorians and the descendants of Herakles made themselves masters of the Peloponnese eighty years after the Trojan War, the ancient historical sources give no impression of any single migration of large numbers of people, and the very concept of the &lsquoreturn&rsquo of the Heraklids implies that they were not alien intruders. Furthermore, the argument that the Doric dialect was introduced to Greece by incomers after the fall of the palaces is currently countered in terms of the East Greek dialects (Attic-Ionic, Aeolic and Arcado-Cypriot) being related to that of the Palace rulers, with Doric and North West Greek being the dialect of the lower classes. An invasion significant enough to overwhelm the Mycenaeans would also have left clear-cut archaeological evidence from a very specific date and with a geographically traceable itinerary. None of this exists. In fact, the archaeology shows that Mycenaeans continued to live in the ruins of their palaces, and the whole concept of a &lsquoDorian Invasion&rsquo is now widely regarded as untenable.

So was it an &lsquoarchaeologically invisible&rsquo enemy, who only left evidence of destruction? There was a dramatic depopulation at the end of the Mycenaean period, which might suggest a diaspora rather than an influx of newcomers. The &lsquoSea Peoples&rsquo &ndash seaborne warriors of very vague identity &ndash caused havoc in the eastern Mediterranean in the late thirteenth and early twelfth centuries BCE, until Ramses III of Egypt crushed them in 1191 BCE. Pylos had worries about a threat from the sea, even though Pylos itself is a good way from the eastern Mediterranean and there is no evidence to implicate the Sea Peoples in sacking it. The Mycenaeans, however, do not seem to have felt the same unease.

Might the troubles have been internal? Greek mythology is replete with tales of domestic turmoil, notably the murder of Agamemnon at Mycenae, and the near takeover of Odysseus&rsquo realm by Penelope&rsquos suitors. But myth is not history, and again the archaeology is silent or inconclusive. It would undoubtedly be easier for, say, an oppressed substratum of society to bring down a fortress such as Mycenae or Tiryns from within rather than from without, and this would leave fewer traces, but the theory is as speculative as it is attractive, and the destructions may have resulted from different causes in different places.

Climate change is a modern preoccupation that is sometimes brought into the discussion, but pollen evidence shows no sign of extreme climatic changes, and the tablets of Pylos present a picture of prosperous arable and pastoral activity. Another environmental theory blames overexploitation of land by the palace bureaucracies, thus leaving the kingdoms trying to support a much bigger population than the land could sustain, and hence very vulnerable to even a short period of drought. But the Linear B tablets show sign of neither drought nor famine.

There is evidence for a mighty earthquake at the end of the thirteenth century, but the &lsquoapocalypse&rsquo theory of an enormous seismic event taking out Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos all at the same instant is unconvincing: Pylos is really too far from Mycenae for them both to have been destroyed like this, and, when the Minoans on Crete suffered similar tragedies, they bounced back, built more luxurious palaces, and went from strength to strength. A variant seismic theory goes for an &lsquoearthquake storm&rsquo, such as has affected Turkey in recent decades, with one earthquake triggering another along the tectonic lines and destroying the palaces piecemeal other speculation focuses on water, since seismic movements can frequently block-up springs, which to a citadel such as Mycenae would have been as catastrophic as the demolition of its walls. These are all interesting, but unproven. The temptation to look for the single &lsquosmoking gun&rsquo is always great, but the reality is probably far less dramatic: Mycenaean civilization went out with a whimper, not a bang.

Around 1100 BCE, this great Bronze Age people finally merged into what is conventionally called the Dark Age. Yet it was not entirely gloomy: the Greeks progressed from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and though the art of writing, now redundant with the demise of the bureaucracy, disappeared from the Greek world, and without writing there is no history, there was still poetry. The Irish have a saying that a writer is a failed talker, and within that illiterate context emerged the finest poetic works that Greece produced: the poems of Homer.

Notes &ndash Chapter 2

1. AP IX.101, trans. E. Morgan, in P. Jay (ed.) The Greek Anthology and Other Ancient Epigrams, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

2. Graves I&ndashV were excavated by Schliemann VI by P. Stamatakes.

3. Telegram dated 28 November 1876 to King George of Greece: H. Schliemann, Mycenae: A Narrative of Researches and Discoveries at Mycenae and Tiryns, New York: Charles Scribner&rsquos Sons, Bell & Howell Co, 1880, 380&ndash1. See also D.A. Traill,Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, Penguin: London, 1995, 162 S.P.M. Harrington, W.M. Calder III, D.A. Traill, K. Demakopoulou, and K.D.S. Lapatin. &lsquoBehind the Mask of Agamemnon&rsquo, Archaeology (July/August 1999), 52.

4. Schliemann telegram to a Greek newspaper: Tr. W.M. Calder III and D.A. Traill, eds., Myth, Scandal, and History: The Heinrich Schliemann Controversy and a First Edition of the Mycenaean Diary, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986, 234.

5. Homer, Iliad 11.632 ff., trans. R. Lattimore, The Iliad of Homer, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1951.

6. Despite its evocative name, it is not a treasury and had nothing to do with the mythical Atreus.

7. Corbelling is a technique in which each course of blocks slightly overlaps the one below in order to reduce the span still to be roofed.

8. A stone consisting of naturally cemented together pebbles, cobblestones and other sediments.

10. Pausanias 2.16.4. He was immensely impressed with the walls, which he regarded as no less marvellous than the Egyptian pyramids (9.36.3).

11. Trans. R. Castleden, The Mycenaeans, London: Routledge, 2005, 108.

14. Ibid., 7.219&ndash23, although Aias&rsquo shield also incorporates a boss, which tower shields did not have.

16. Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi, New York: New Directions, 1941, 86.

Virtual Tour of the Site of Mycenae

This is the opening screenshot of the tour. You can navigate to just the 360 panoramas by following the arrow on the ground, or you can systematically explore the site using the thumbnail map at the upper right. The tour is compatible with all browsers, phones, and iPads, as well as major virtual reality headsets.

I created a virtual tour of the famous Bronze Age citadel in Greece at Mycenae. There are 360 panoramas of famous vistas from the site, including inside the monumental tholos tomb “The Treasury of Atreus,” as well as a 360 video walk-in to the site through the famous “Lion Gate.” Using the thumbnail map of the site, the user can bring up informational panels and panoramas of its various features. It also includes slideshows of objects from the wealthy tombs in Grave Circle A and Grave Circle B. Thanks to Professor John Lee of UCSB for taking me on a tour of the site in 2019!


The Bronze Age in mainland Greece is generally termed as the "Helladic period" by modern archaeologists, after Hellas, the Greek name for Greece. This period is divided into three subperiods: The Early Helladic (EH) period (c. 2900–2000 BC) was a time of prosperity with the use of metals and a growth in technology, economy and social organization. The Middle Helladic (MH) period (c. 2000–1650 BC) faced a slower pace of development, as well as the evolution of megaron-type dwellings and cist grave burials. [2] Finally, the Late Helladic (LH) period (c. 1650–1050 BC) roughly coincides with Mycenaean Greece. [2]

The Late Helladic period is further divided into LHI and LHII, both of which coincide with the early period of Mycenaean Greece (c. 1650–1425 BC), and LHIII (c. 1425–1050 BC), the period of expansion, decline and collapse of the Mycenaean civilization. The transition period from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in Greece is known as Sub-Mycenaean (c. 1050–1000 BC). [2]

The decipherment of the Mycenaean Linear B script, a writing system adapted for the use of the (Indo-European) Greek language of the Late Bronze Age, [12] demonstrated the continuity of Greek speech from the second millennium BC into the eighth century BC when a new Phoenician-derived alphabetic script emerged. [13] Moreover, it revealed that the bearers of Mycenaean culture were ethnically connected with the populations that resided in the Greek peninsula after the end of this cultural period. [14] Lastly, the decipherment marked the advent of an Indo-European language in the Aegean region in contrast to unrelated prior languages spoken in adjoining areas. [15] Various collective terms for the inhabitants of Mycenaean Greece were used by Homer in his 8th-century BC epic the Iliad in reference to the Trojan War. [16] It, supposedly, happened in the late 13th to early 12th century BC when a coalition of small Greek states under the king of Mycenae besieged the walled city of Troy. [17]

Homer interchangeably used the ethnonyms Achaeans, Danaans, and Argives to refer to the besiegers, [16] and these names appear to have passed down from the time they were in use to the time when Homer applied them as collective terms in his Iliad. [18] There is an isolated reference to a-ka-wi-ja-de in the Linear B records in Knossos, Crete dated to c. 1400 BC, which presumably refers to a Mycenaean (Achaean) state on the Greek mainland. [19]

Egyptian records mention a T(D)-n-j or Danaya (Tanaju) land for the first time c. 1437 BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Thutmoses III (r. 1479–1425 BC). This land is geographically defined in an inscription from the reign of Amenhotep III (r. circa 1390–1352 BC), where a number of Danaya cities are mentioned, which cover the largest part of southern mainland Greece. [20] Among them, cities such as Mycenae, Nauplion, and Thebes have been identified with certainty. Danaya has been equated with the ethnonym Danaoi (Greek: Δαναοί ), the name of the mythical dynasty that ruled in the region of Argos, also used as an ethnonym for the Greek people by Homer. [20] [21]

In the official records of another Bronze Age empire, that of the Hittites in Anatolia, various references from c. 1400 BC to 1220 BC mention a country named Ahhiyawa. [22] [23] Recent scholarship, based on textual evidence, new interpretations of the Hittite inscriptions, and recent surveys of archaeological evidence about Mycenaean–Anatolian contacts during this period, concludes that the term Ahhiyawa must have been used in reference to the Mycenaean world (land of the Achaeans), or at least to a part of it. [24] [25] This term may have also had broader connotations in some texts, possibly referring to all regions settled by Mycenaeans or regions under direct Mycenaean political control. [22] Another similar ethnonym, Ekwesh, in twelfth century BC Egyptian inscriptions has been commonly identified with the Ahhiyawans. These Ekwesh were mentioned as a group of the Sea People. [26]

Shaft grave era (c. 1600–1450 BC) Edit

Scholars have proposed different theories on the origins of the Mycenaeans. [1] According to one theory, Mycenaean civilization reflected the exogenous imposition of archaic Indo-Europeans from the Eurasian steppe onto the pre-Mycenaean local population. [1] An issue with this theory, however, entails the very tenuous material and cultural relationship between Aegean and northern steppe populations during the Bronze Age. [1] Another theory proposes that Mycenaean culture in Greece dates back to circa 3000 BC with Indo-European migrants entering a mainly depopulated area other hypotheses argue for a date as early as the seventh millennium BC (with the spread of agriculture) and as late as 1600 BC (with the spread of chariot technology). [1] In a 2017 genetic study conducted by Lazaridis et al., "the Minoans and Mycenaeans were genetically similar, [but] the Mycenaeans differed from Minoans in deriving additional ancestry from an ultimate source related to the hunter–gatherers of eastern Europe and Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia." [1] However, Lazaridis et al. admit that their research "does not settle th[e] debate" on Mycenaean origins. [1] Historian Bernard Sergent notes that archaeology alone is not able to solve the issue and that the majority of Hellenists believed Mycenaeans spoke a non-Indo-European Minoan language before Linear B was deciphered in 1952. [28]

Notwithstanding the above academic disputes, the mainstream consensus among modern Mycenologists is that Mycenaean civilization, exemplified in the Shaft Graves, originated and evolved from the local socio-cultural landscape of the Early and Middle Bronze Age in mainland Greece with influences from Minoan Crete. [29] [30] Towards the end of the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1600 BC), a significant increase in the population and the number of settlements occurred. [31] A number of centers of power emerged in southern mainland Greece dominated by a warrior elite society [2] [29] while the typical dwellings of that era were an early type of megaron buildings, some more complex structures are classified as forerunners of the later palaces. In a number of sites, defensive walls were also erected. [32]

Meanwhile, new types of burials and more imposing ones have been unearthed, which display a great variety of luxurious objects. [31] [33] Among the various burial types, the shaft grave became the most common form of elite burial, a feature that gave the name to the early period of Mycenaean Greece. [31] Among the Mycenaean elite, deceased men were usually laid to rest in gold masks and funerary armor, and women in gold crowns and clothes gleaming with gold ornaments. [34] The royal shaft graves next to the acropolis of Mycenae, in particular the Grave Circles A and B, signified the elevation of a native Greek-speaking royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade. [35]

During this period, the Mycenaean centers witnessed increased contact with the outside world, especially with the Cyclades and the Minoan centers on the island of Crete. [2] [31] Mycenaean presence appears to be also depicted in a fresco at Akrotiri, on Thera island, which possibly displays many warriors in boar's tusk helmets, a feature typical of Mycenaean warfare. [36] In the early 15th century BC, commerce intensified with Mycenaean pottery reaching the western coast of Asia Minor, including Miletus and Troy, Cyprus, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. [37]

At the end of the Shaft Grave era, a new and more imposing type of elite burial emerged, the tholos: large circular burial chambers with high vaulted roofs and a straight entry passage lined with stone. [38]

Koine era (c. 1450 BC–1250 BC) Edit

The eruption of Thera, which according to archaeological data occurred in c. 1500 BC, resulted in the decline of the Minoan civilization of Crete. [39] This turn of events gave the opportunity to the Mycenaeans to spread their influence throughout the Aegean. Around c. 1450 BC, they were in control of Crete itself, including Knossos, and colonized several other Aegean islands, reaching as far as Rhodes. [40] [41] Thus the Mycenaeans became the dominant power of the region, marking the beginning of the Mycenaean 'Koine' era (from Greek: Κοινή , common), a highly uniform culture that spread in mainland Greece and the Aegean. [42]

From the early 14th century BC, Mycenaean trade began to take advantage of the new commercial opportunities in the Mediterranean after the Minoan collapse. [41] The trade routes were expanded further, reaching Cyprus, Amman in the Near East, Apulia in Italy and Spain. [41] From that time period (c. 1400 BC), the palace of Knossos has yielded the earliest records of the Greek Linear B script, based on the previous Linear A of the Minoans. The use of the new script spread in mainland Greece and offers valuable insight into the administrative network of the palatial centers. However, the unearthed records are too fragmentary for a political reconstruction of Bronze Age Greece. [43]

Excavations at Miletus, southwest Asia Minor, indicate the existence of a Mycenaean settlement there already from c. 1450 BC, replacing the previous Minoan installations. [44] This site became a sizable and prosperous Mycenaean center until the 12th century BC. [45] Apart from the archaeological evidence, this is also attested in Hittite records, which indicate that Miletos (Milawata in Hittite) was the most important base for Mycenaean activity in Asia Minor. [46] Mycenaean presence also reached the adjacent sites of Iasus and Ephesus. [47]

Meanwhile, imposing palaces were built in the main Mycenaean centers of the mainland. The earliest palace structures were megaron-type buildings, such as the Menelaion in Sparta, Lakonia. [48] Palaces proper are datable from c. 1400 BC, when Cyclopean fortifications were erected at Mycenae and nearby Tiryns. [2] Additional palaces were built in Midea and Pylos in Peloponnese, Athens, Eleusis, Thebes and Orchomenos in Central Greece and Iolcos, in Thessaly, the latter being the northernmost Mycenaean center. Knossos in Crete also became a Mycenaean center, where the former Minoan complex underwent a number of adjustments, including the addition of a throne room. [49] These centers were based on a rigid network of bureaucracy where administrative competencies were classified into various sections and offices according to specialization of work and trades. At the head of this society was the king, known as wanax (Linear B: wa-na-ka) in Mycenaean Greek terms. All powers were vested in him, as the main landlord and spiritual and military leader. At the same time he was an entrepreneur and trader and was aided by a network of high officials. [50]

Involvement in Asia Minor Edit

The presence of Ahhiyawa in western Anatolia is mentioned in various Hittite accounts from c. 1400 to c. 1220 BC. [46] Ahhiyawa is generally accepted as a Hittite translation of Mycenaean Greece (Achaeans in Homeric Greek), but a precise geographical definition of the term cannot be drawn from the texts. [51] During this time, the kings of Ahhiyawa were evidently capable of dealing with their Hittite counterparts both on a diplomatic and military level. [52] Moreover, Ahhiyawan activity was to interfere in Anatolian affairs, with the support of anti-Hittite uprisings or through local vassal rulers, which the Ahhiyawan king used as agents for the extension of his influence. [53]

In c. 1400 BC, Hittite records mention the military activities of an Ahhiyawan warlord, Attarsiya, a possible Hittite way of writing the Greek name Atreus, who attacked Hittite vassals in western Anatolia. [54] Later, in c. 1315 BC, an anti-Hittite rebellion headed by Arzawa, a Hittite vassal state, received support from Ahhiyawa. [55] Meanwhile, Ahhiyawa appears to be in control of a number of islands in the Aegean, an impression also supported by archaeological evidence. [56] During the reign of the Hittite king Hattusili III (c. 1267–1237 BC), the king of Ahhiyawa is recognized as a "Great King" and of equal status with the other contemporary great Bronze Age rulers: the kings of Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria. [57] At that time, another anti-Hittite movement, led by Piyama-Radu, broke out and was supported by the king of Ahhiyawa. [58] Piyama-Radu caused major unrest in the region of Wilusa and later invaded the island of Lesbos, which then passed into Ahhiyawan control. [59]

The Hittite-Ahhiyawan confrontation in Wilusa, the Hittite name for Troy, may provide the historical foundation for the Trojan War tradition. [60] As a result of this instability, the Hittite king initiated correspondence in order to convince his Ahhiyawan counterpart to restore peace in the region. The Hittite record mentions a certain Tawagalawa, a possible Hittite translation for Greek Eteocles, as brother of the king of Ahhiyawa. [59] [61]

Collapse (c. 1250–1100 BC) Edit

Initial decline and revival Edit

In c. 1250 BC, the first wave of destruction apparently occurred in various centers of mainland Greece for reasons that cannot be identified by archaeologists. In Boeotia, Thebes was burned to the ground, around that year or slightly later. Nearby Orchomenos shared the same fate, while the Boeotian fortifications of Gla were deserted. [62] In the Peloponnese, a number of buildings surrounding the citadel of Mycenae were attacked and burned. [63]

These incidents appear to have prompted the massive strengthening and expansion of the fortifications in various sites. In some cases, arrangements were also made for the creation of subterranean passages which led to underground cisterns. Tiryns, Midea and Athens expanded their defences with new cyclopean-style walls. [64] The extension program in Mycenae almost doubled the fortified area of the citadel. To this phase of extension belongs the impressive Lion Gate, the main entrance into the Mycenaean acropolis. [64]

It appears that after this first wave of destruction a short-lived revival of Mycenaean culture followed. [65] Mycenaean Greece continues to be mentioned in international affairs, particularly in Hittite records. In c. 1220 BC, the king of Ahhiyawa is again reported to have been involved in an anti-Hittite uprising in western Anatolia. [66] Another contemporary Hittite account reports that Ahhiyawan ships should avoid Assyrian-controlled harbors, as part of a trade embargo imposed on Assyria. [67] In general, in the second half of 13th century BC, trade was in decline in the Eastern Mediterranean, most probably due to the unstable political environment there. [68]

Final collapse Edit

None of the defence measures appear to have prevented the final destruction and collapse of the Mycenaean states. A second destruction struck Mycenae in c. 1190 BC or shortly thereafter. This event marked the end of Mycenae as a major power. The site was then reoccupied, but on a smaller scale. [63] The palace of Pylos, in the southwestern Peloponnese, was destroyed in c. 1180 BC. [69] [70] The Linear B archives found there, preserved by the heat of the fire that destroyed the palace, mention hasty defence preparations due to an imminent attack without giving any detail about the attacking force. [65]

As a result of this turmoil, specific regions in mainland Greece witnessed a dramatic population decrease, especially Boeotia, Argolis and Messenia. [65] Mycenaean refugees migrated to Cyprus and the Levantine coast. [70] Nevertheless, other regions on the edge of the Mycenaean world prospered, such as the Ionian islands, the northwestern Peloponnese, parts of Attica and a number of Aegean islands. [65] The acropolis of Athens, oddly, appears to have avoided destruction. [65]

Hypotheses for the collapse Edit

The reasons for the end of the Mycenaean culture have been hotly debated among scholars. At present, there is no satisfactory explanation for the collapse of the Mycenaean palace systems. The two most common theories are population movement and internal conflict. The first attributes the destruction of Mycenaean sites to invaders. [71]

The hypothesis of a Dorian invasion, known as such in Ancient Greek tradition, that led to the end of Mycenaean Greece, is supported by sporadic archaeological evidence such as new types of burials, in particular cist graves, and the use of a new dialect of Greek, the Doric one. It appears that the Dorians moved southward gradually over a number of years and devastated the territory, until they managed to establish themselves in the Mycenaean centers. [72] A new type of ceramic also appeared, called "Barbarian Ware" because it was attributed to invaders from the north. [65] On the other hand, the collapse of Mycenaean Greece coincides with the activity of the Sea Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean. They caused widespread destruction in Anatolia and the Levant and were finally defeated by Pharaoh Ramesses III in c. 1175 BC. One of the ethnic groups that comprised these people were the Eqwesh, a name that appears to be linked with the Ahhiyawa of the Hittite inscriptions. [73]

Alternative scenarios propose that the fall of Mycenaean Greece was a result of internal disturbances which led to internecine warfare among the Mycenaean states or civil unrest in a number of states, as a result of the strict hierarchical social system and the ideology of the wanax. [74] In general, due to the obscure archaeological picture in 12th–11th century BC Greece, there is a continuing controversy among scholars over whether the impoverished societies that succeeded the Mycenaean palatial states were newcomers or populations that already resided in Mycenaean Greece. Recent archaeological findings tend to favor the latter scenario. [65] Additional theories, concerning natural factors, such as climate change, droughts or earthquakes have also been proposed. [74] Another theory considers the decline of the Mycenaean civilization as a manifestation of a common pattern for the decline of many ancient civilizations: the Minoan, the Harrapan and the Western Roman Empire the reason for the decline is migration due to overpopulation. [75] The period following the end of Mycenaean Greece, c. 1100–800 BC, is generally termed the "Greek Dark Ages". [76]

Palatial states Edit

Mycenaean palatial states, or centrally organized palace-operating polities, are recorded in ancient Greek literature and mythology (e.g., Iliad, Catalogue of Ships) and confirmed by discoveries made by modern archaeologists such as Heinrich Schliemann. Each Mycenaean kingdom was governed from the palace, which exercised control over most, if not all, industries within its realm. The palatial territory was divided into several sub-regions, each headed by its provincial center. Each province was further divided in smaller districts, the da-mo. [77] A number of palaces and fortifications appear to be part of a wider kingdom. For instance, Gla, located in the region of Boeotia, belonged to the state of nearby Orchomenos. [62] Moreover, the palace of Mycenae appeared to have ruled over a territory two to three times the size of the other palatial states in Bronze Age Greece. Its territory would have also included adjacent centers, including Tiryns and Nauplion, which could plausibly be ruled by a member of Mycenae's ruling dynasty. [78]

The unearthed Linear B texts are too fragmentary for the reconstruction of the political landscape in Mycenaean Greece and they do not support nor deny the existence of a larger Mycenaean state. [51] [79] On the other hand, contemporary Hittite and Egyptian records suggest the presence of a single state under a "Great King". [80] Alternatively, based on archaeological data, some sort of confederation among a number of palatial states appears to be possible. [51] If some kind of united political entity existed, the dominant center was probably located in Thebes or in Mycenae, with the latter state being the most probable center of power. [81]

Society and administration Edit

The Neolithic agrarian village (6000 BC) constituted the foundation of Bronze Age political culture in Greece. [82] The vast majority of the preserved Linear B records deal with administrative issues and give the impression that Mycenaean palatial administration was highly systematized, featuring thoroughly consistent language, terminology, tax calculations, and distribution logistics. [43] [77] Considering this sense of uniformity, the Pylos archive, which is the best preserved one in the Mycenaean world, is generally taken as a representative one. [43]

The state was ruled by a king, the wanax (ϝάναξ), whose role was religious and perhaps also military and judicial. [83] The wanax oversaw virtually all aspects of palatial life, from religious feasting and offerings to the distribution of goods, craftsmen and troops. [84] Under him was the lāwāgetas ("the leader of the people"), whose role appears mainly religious. His activities possibly overlap with the wanax and is usually seen as the second-in-command. [84] Both wanax and lāwāgetas were at the head of a military aristocracy known as the eqeta ("companions" or "followers"). [83] [85] The land possessed by the wanax is usually the témenos (te-me-no). There is also at least one instance of a person, Enkhelyawon, at Pylos, who appears titleless in the written record but whom modern scholars regard as probably a king. [86]

A number of local officials positioned by the wanax appear to be in charge of the districts, such as ko-re-te (koreter, '"governor"), po-ro-ko-re-te (prokoreter, "deputy") and the da-mo-ko-ro (damokoros, "one who takes care of a damos"), the latter probably being appointed to take charge of the commune. A council of elders was chaired, the ke-ro-si-ja (cf. γερουσία, gerousía). The basileus, who in later Greek society was the name of the king, refers to communal officials. [83]

In general, Mycenaean society appears to have been divided into two groups of free men: the king's entourage, who conducted administrative duties at the palace, and the people, da-mo [87] These last were watched over by royal agents and were obliged to perform duties for and pay taxes to the palace. [83] Among those who could be found in the palace were well-to-do high officials, who probably lived in the vast residences found in proximity to Mycenaean palaces, but also others, tied by their work to the palace and not necessarily better off than the members of the da-mo, such as craftsmen, farmers, and perhaps merchants. Occupying a lower rung of the social ladder were the slaves, do-e-ro, (cf. δοῦλος , doúlos). [88] These are recorded in the texts as working either for the palace or for specific deities. [83]

Organization Edit

The Mycenaean economy, given its pre-monetary nature, was focused on the redistribution of goods, commodities and labor by a central administration. The preserved Linear B records in Pylos and Knossos indicate that the palaces were closely monitoring a variety of industries and commodities, the organization of land management and the rations given to the dependent personnel. [89] [90] The Mycenaean palaces maintained extensive control of the nondomestic areas of production through careful control and acquisition and distribution in the palace industries, and the tallying of produced goods. [91] [92] For instance, the Knossos tablets record c. 80,000–100,000 sheep grazing in central Crete, and the quantity of the expected wool from these sheep and their offspring, as well as how this wool was allocated. [92] The archives of Pylos display a specialized workforce, where each worker belonged to a precise category and was assigned to a specific task in the stages of production, notably in textiles. [93]

Nevertheless, palatial control over resources appears to have been highly selective in spatial terms and in terms of how different industries were managed. [94] Thus, sectors like the production of perfumed oil and bronze materials were directly monitored from the palace, but the production of ceramics was only indirectly monitored. [95] Regional transactions between the palaces are also recorded on a few occasions. [96]

Large-scale infrastructure Edit

The palatial centers organized their workforce and resources for the construction of large scale projects in the fields of agriculture and industry. [90] The magnitude of some projects indicates that this was the result of combined efforts from multiple palatial centers. Most notable of them are the drainage system of the Kopais basin in Boeotia, the building of a large dam outside Tiryns, and the drainage of the swamp in the Nemea valley. [97] Also noticeable is the construction of harbors, such as the harbor of Pylos, that were capable of accommodating large Bronze Age era vessels like the one found at Uluburun. [97] The Mycenaean economy also featured large-scale manufacturing as testified by the extent of workshop complexes that have been discovered, the largest known to date being the recent ceramic and hydraulic installations found in Euonymeia, next to Athens, that produced tableware, textiles, sails, and ropes for export and shipbuilding. [98]

The most famous project of the Mycenaean era was the network of roads in the Peloponnese. [97] This appears to have facilitated the speedy deployment of troops—for example, the remnants of a Mycenaean road, along with what appears to have been a Mycenaean defensive wall on the Isthmus of Corinth. The Mycenaean era saw the zenith of infrastructure engineering in Greece, and this appears not to have been limited to the Argive plain. [99]

Trade Edit

Trade over vast areas of the Mediterranean was essential for the economy of Mycenaean Greece. The Mycenaean palaces imported raw materials, such as metals, ivory and glass, and exported processed commodities and objects made from these materials, in addition to local products: oil, perfume, wine, wool and pottery. [90] International trade of that time was not only conducted by palatial emissaries but also by independent merchants. [100]

Based on archaeological findings in the Middle East, in particular physical artifacts, textual references, inscriptions and wall paintings, it appears that Mycenaean Greeks achieved strong commercial and cultural interaction with most of the Bronze Age people living in this region: Canaanites, Kassites, Mitanni, Assyrians, and Egyptians. [100] [101] [102] The 14th century Uluburun shipwreck, off the coast of southern Anatolia, displays the established trade routes that supplied the Mycenaeans with all the raw materials and items that the economy of Mycenaean Greece needed, such as copper and tin for the production of bronze products. [103] A chief export of the Mycenaeans was olive oil, which was a multi-purpose product. [104]

Cyprus appears to be the principal intermediary station between Mycenaean Greece and the Middle East, based on the considerable greater quantities of Mycenaean goods found there. [105] On the other hand, trade with the Hittite lands in central Anatolia appears to have been limited. [100] [106] Trade with Troy is also well attested, while Mycenaean trade routes expanded further to the Bosphorus and the shores of the Black Sea. [107] Mycenaean swords have been found as far away as Georgia in the eastern Black Sea coast. [108]

Commercial interaction was also intense with the Italian peninsula and the western Mediterranean. Mycenaean products, especially pottery, were exported to southern Italy, Sicily and the Aeolian islands. Mycenaean products also penetrated further into Sardinia, [109] [110] as well as southern Spain. [111]

Sporadic objects of Mycenaean manufacture were found in various distant locations, like in Central Europe, [112] such as in Bavaria, Germany, where an amber object inscribed with Linear B symbols has been unearthed. [113] Mycenaean bronze double axes and other objects dating from the 13th century BC have been found in Ireland and in Wessex and Cornwall in England. [114] [115]

Anthropologists have found traces of opium in Mycenaean ceramic vases. [116] The drug trade in Mycenaean Greece is traced as early as 1650-1350 BC, with opium poppies being traded in the eastern Mediterranean. [117] [118]

Temples and shrines are strangely rare in the Mycenaean archaeological sites. Monumental cultic structures are absent at all the palatial centers, with the exception of Mycenae. However, the cultic center of Mycenae seems to have been a later (13th century BC) development. [119] Small shrines have been identified in Asine, Berbati, Malthi and Pylos, [120] while a number of sacred enclosures have been located near Mycenae, Delphi and Amyclae. [121] Linear B records mention a number of sanctuaries dedicated to a variety of deities, at least in Pylos and Knossos. They also indicate that there were various religious festivities including offerings. [122] Written Mycenaean records mention various priests and priestesses who were responsible for specific shrines and temples. [123] The latter were prominent figures in society, and the role of Mycenaean women in religious festivities was also important, just as in Minoan Crete. [124]

The Mycenaean pantheon already included many divinities that were subsequently encountered in Classical Greece, [125] although it is difficult to determine whether these deities had the characteristics and responsibilities that would be attributed to them in later periods. [126] In general, the same divinities were worshipped throughout the Mycenaean palatial world. There may be some indications for local deities at various sites, in particular in Crete. The uniformity of Mycenaean religion is also reflected in archaeological evidence with the phi- and psi-figurines that have been found all over Late Bronze Age Greece. [119]

Poseidon (Linear B: Po-se-da-o) seems to have occupied a place of privilege. He was a chthonic deity, connected with earthquakes (E-ne-si-da-o-ne: Earth-shaker), but it seems that he also represented the river spirit of the underworld. [127] Paean (Pa-ja-wo) is probably the precursor of the Greek physician of the gods in Homer's Iliad. He was the personification of the magic-song which was supposed to "heal" the patient. [128] A number of divinities have been identified in the Mycenaean scripts only by their epithets used during later antiquity. For example, Qo-wi-ja ("cow-eyed") is a standard Homeric epithet of Hera. [129] Ares appeared under the name Enyalios (assuming that Enyalios is not a separate god). [130] Additional divinities that can be also found in later periods include Hephaestus, Erinya, Artemis (a-te-mi-to and a-ti-mi-te) and Dionysos (Di-wo-nu-so). [131] [132] [133] [134] Zeus also appears in the Mycenaean pantheon, but he was certainly not the chief deity. [126]

A collection of "ladies" or "mistresses", Po-ti-ni-ja (Potnia) are named in the Mycenaean scripts. As such, Athena (A-ta-na) appears in an inscription at Knossos as mistress Athena, similar to a later Homeric expression, but in the Pylos tablets she is mentioned without any accompanying word. [135] Si-to po-ti-ni-ja appears to be an agricultural goddess, possibly related to Demeter of later antiquity, [129] while in Knossos there is the "mistress of the Labyrinth". [136] The "two queens and the king" (wa-na-ssoi, wa-na-ka-te) are mentioned in Pylos. [137] [138] Goddess Pe-re-swa mentioned may be related to Persephone. [129] [135] A number of Mycenaean divinities seem to have no later equivalents, such as Marineus, Diwia and Komawenteia. [126]

Daily life Edit

By observing Mycenaean wall paintings, scholars have deduced that women during this time often wore long dresses, their hair long, and wore jewelry, most notably beads. [139] Mycenaean beads have long been an aspect of Mycenaean culture that is shrouded in a significant amount of mystery. It is not known for certain why they (men, women, and children) wore them, or why they appear to have been significant to the culture, but beads made of carnelian, lapis lazuli, etc., were known to have been worn by women on bracelets, necklaces, and buttons on cloaks, and were often buried with the deceased. [140]

In later periods of Greek history, seclusion of females from males was common in the household, though scholars have found no evidence of seclusion during Mycenaean times, and believe that males and females worked with and around each other on a regular basis. Not much is known about women's duties in the home or whether they differed from the duties of men. And though men were involved in warfare and hunting, there is no evidence that suggests women ever took part in either of the two, though whether women took part in hunting has been up for debate amongst some historians. There is evidence that, in this patriarchal society, men and women were, in some respects, viewed equally. Mycenae practiced a system of rationing food to citizens, and evidence shows that women received the same amount of rations as men. [139]

If women were not officials in the cult or married to high-ranking male officers, they were likely low-ranking laborers. Linear B details specialized groups of female laborers called “workgroups.” These women labored with other women as well as their children, and usually were located close to the palace. Women who belonged to workgroups did not belong to independent households, but were managed and fed by palace scribes. All of the women in a workgroup would serve the same occupation, such as textiles. Women in workgroups are not believed to have been able to acquire land holdings or have had economic independence of any kind, and are believed by some to have been slaves, though there are some conflicting debates among scholars concerning this. Though scholars are unsure if ordinary women could obtain land and exert economic power, there is evidence that women could obtain positions of power, such as the title of priestess, which allowed them to have land holdings, have elite connections, and high social status. Mycenaean society is believed to have been largely patriarchal, but women could exert social and economic power through titles and positions of power, like that of a priestess, though religion was not the only place that a woman could gain social authority. [143] Women with special talents or skills, such as being a skilled midwife or craftswomen, could gain social authority in their villages, but are not believed to have been able to receive land holdings. Elite women (those who were married to male elites) were afforded benefits fitting their high social standing, but even the wife of elites could not own land and had no economic independence. [144] Some scholars believe that Knossos was probably more equal in relation to gender than Pylos, though the evidence for this is little and is highly disputed. [145]

Religion Edit

Men and women alike were involved in cult activity. Some women could be elevated to becoming legally independent by becoming priestesses, which appears to be hereditary through both the male and female line. No woman in Mycenae is believed to have been able to “own” land at this time, but priestesses were women who could legally procure land. Through the cult, land was "leased" to them, rather than given to them in ownership. Along with land holding benefits, priestesses often had ties with the upper-class elites, and were usually wealthy themselves. [143] Only a small number of women could become priestesses in Mycenae, but there were other cultic titles that women could aspire to obtain, such as that of Key-bearer. Key-bearers appear to be women who had authority over the sacred treasury of a particular deity, and were able to dispense it in times of need. Though scholars do not have enough evidence to suggest that all Key-bearers could own land and had high status, there is a written record in Linear B of a Key-bearer with elite ties who owned land, so it is possible that they had similar benefits to priestesses. Other religious roles filled by women were the three types of sacred slaves: slave of the God, slave of the Priestess, and slave of the Key-bearer. Though not as grand a title as that of Priestess of Key-Bearer, the sacred slaves were allotted certain benefits fitting their positions in the cult. One other documented position women filled in the cult was called ki-ri-te-wi-ja. Though documented, scholars are not certain exactly what the duties of this role entailed, or what type of women would have filled it. What they do know, however, is that these religious roles afforded the women who occupied them a certain amount of economic autonomy. [144]

Palaces Edit

The palatial structures at Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos were erected on the summits of hills or rocky outcrops, dominating the immediate surroundings. [146] The best preserved are found in Pylos and Tiryns, while Mycenae and the Menelaion are only partially preserved. In Central Greece, Thebes and Orchomenos have been only partially exposed. On the other hand, the palace built at the acropolis of Athens has been almost completely destroyed. A substantial building at Dimini in Thessaly, possibly ancient Iolcos, [147] is believed by a number of archaeologists to be a palace. [146] A Mycenaean palace has been also unearthed in Laconia, near the modern village of Xirokambi. [148]

The palatial structures of mainland Greece share a number of common features. [149] The focal point of the socio-political aspect of a Mycenaean palace was the megaron, the throne room. [146] It was laid out around a circular hearth surrounded by four columns. The throne was generally found on the right-hand side upon entering the room, while the interior of the megaron was lavishly decorated, flaunting images designed intentionally to demonstrate the political and religious power of the ruler. [150] Access to the megaron was provided through a court, which was reached from a propylon. [149] The iconography of the palatial chambers is remarkably uniform throughout Greece. For instance, in Pylos and Tiryns the paintings are focused on marine motifs, providing depictions of octopodes, fish and dolphins. [151] Around the megaron a group of courtyards each opened upon several rooms of different dimensions, such as storerooms and workshops, as well as reception halls and living quarters. [149] In general Mycenaean palaces have yielded a wealth of artifacts and fragmentary frescoes. [149]

Additional common features are shared by the palaces of Pylos, Mycenae and Tiryns [149] a large court with colonnades lies directly in front of the central megaron, [152] while a second, but smaller, megaron is also found inside these structures. [149] The staircases in the palace of Pylos indicate that the palaces had two stories. [153] The private quarters of the members of the royal family were presumably located on the second floor. [154]

Fortifications Edit

The construction of defensive structures was closely linked to the establishment of the palaces in mainland Greece. The principal Mycenaean centers were well-fortified and usually situated on an elevated terrain, like on the acropolis of Athens, Tiryns and Mycenae or on coastal plains, in the case of Gla. [155] Mycenaean Greeks in general appreciated the symbolism of war as expressed in defensive architecture, reflected by the visual impressiveness of their fortifications. [155]

Cyclopean is the term normally applied to the masonry characteristics of Mycenaean fortification systems and describes walls built of large, unworked boulders more than 8 m (26 ft) thick and weighing several metric tonnes. [156] They were roughly fitted together without the use of mortar or clay to bind them, though smaller hunks of limestone fill the interstices. Their placement formed a polygonal pattern giving the curtain wall an irregular but imposing appearance. At the top it would have been wide enough for a walkway with a narrow protective parapet on the outer edge and with hoop-like crenellations. [157] The term Cyclopean was derived by the latter Greeks of the Classical era who believed that only the mythical giants, the Cyclopes, could have constructed such megalithic structures. [155] On the other hand, cut stone masonry is used only in and around gateways. Another typical feature of Mycenaean megalithic construction was the use of a relieving triangle above a lintel block—an opening, often triangular, designed to reduce the weight over the lintel. The space was filled with some lighter stone. [157]

Cyclopean fortifications were typical of Mycenaean walls, especially at the citadels of Mycenae, Tiryns, Argos, Crisa and Athens, while smaller boulders are found in Midea and large limestone slabs are found at Gla. [157] In the Mycenaean settlements found in Epirus and Cyprus, Cyclopean-style walls are also present, [158] [159] as well as in western Anatolia. [160] Besides the citadels, isolated forts were also erected on various strategic locations. The fortification systems also incorporated technical refinements such as secret cisterns, galleries, sally ports and projecting bastions for the protection of gateways. [155] On the other hand, the palace of Pylos, although a major center of power, paradoxically appears to have been left without any defensive walls. [161]

Other architectural features Edit

Mycenaean domestic architecture originates mainly from earlier Middle Helladic traditions (c. 2000–1650 BC) both in shape, as well as in location of settlement. The observed uniformity in domestic architecture came probably as a result of a shared past among the communities of the Greek mainland rather than as a consequence of cultural expansion of the Mycenaean Koine. [48] Moreover, varying sizes of mudbricks were used in the construction of buildings. [149]

Contrary to popular belief, some Mycenaean representative buildings already featured roofs made of fired tiles, as in Gla and Midea. [162]

The military nature of the Mycenaean Greeks is evident from the numerous weapons unearthed, the use of warrior and combat representations in contemporary art, and the preserved Greek Linear B records. [163] [164] The Mycenaeans invested in the development of military infrastructure, with military production and logistics being supervised directly from the palatial centers. [164] [165] According to the Linear B records in the palace of Pylos, every rural community (the damos) was obliged to supply a certain number of men who had to serve in the army. Similar service was also performed by the aristocracy. [166]

Mycenaean armies were initially based on heavy infantry, equipped with spears, large shields and in some occasion armor. [167] Later in the 13th century BC, Mycenaean warfare underwent major changes both in tactics and weaponry and armed units became more uniform and flexible, while weapons became smaller and lighter. [164] The spear remained the main weapon among Mycenaean warriors, while the sword played a secondary role in combat. [168] Other offensive weapons used were bows, maces, axes, slings and javelins. [168] [169] The precise role and contribution of chariots on the battlefield is a matter of dispute due to the lack of sufficient evidence. [170] It appears that chariots were initially used as fighting vehicles during the 16th to 14th centuries BC, while later, in the 13th century BC, their role was limited to battlefield transport. [171]

The boar's tusk helmet was the most identifiable piece of Mycenaean armor in use from the beginning to the collapse of Mycenaean culture. It is also known from several depictions in contemporary art in Greece and the Mediterranean. [172] [173] A representative piece of Mycenaean armor is the Dendra panoply (c. 1450–1400 BC) which consisted of a cuirass of a complete set of armor made up of several elements of bronze. [174] In general, most features of the later hoplite panoply of classical Greek antiquity, were already known to Mycenaean Greece. [175] "Figure-of-eight" shields were the most common type of Mycenaean shields. [176] During the Late Mycenaean period, smaller types of shields were adopted, either of completely circular shape, or almost circular with a part cut out from their lower edge. [177]

Most of the finest Mycenaean art comes under the immediate suspicion of either being Minoan art actually imported from Crete, or produced on the mainland by Cretan or Cretan-trained artists. This is less true of pottery, although the (very untypical) Mycenaean palace amphora with octopus (NAMA 6725) clearly derives directly from the Minoan "Marine Style", and it ceases to be the case after about 1350 BC. Some works appear to have subjects adjusted to warlike Mycenaean tastes, although the distinctively Minoan subject of bull-leaping also appears. The production of luxury art for, and probably often in, the Minoan palaces was already a well-established tradition when Mycenaean elites became customers, and was perhaps more integrated into Minoan religion and culture than it ever became in Mycenaean Greece. [178]

Metalwork Edit

Several important pieces in gold and other metals come from the Gold grave goods at Grave Circles A and B at Mycenae, including the Mask of Agamemnon, Silver Siege Rhyton, Bulls-head rhyton, and gold Nestor's Cup. The Theseus Ring, found in Athens, is one of the finest of a number of gold signet rings with tiny multi-figure scenes of high quality, many from the princely Grave Circles A and B at Mycenae. These tend to be regarded as Cretan, as do the carved gemstones also found in elite graves. Though they collected them, the Mycenaean elite did not apparently use Minoan seals for authenticating anything, but treated them as ornaments, at least one prince wearing a collection around his wrists, like modern charm bracelets. Sinclair Hood believed that at the time of the Vaphio burial (c. 1500-1450) "it was broadly speaking possible to classify the finer seals as being of Cretan, the more crudely engraved of mainland manufacture", but that "this criterion no longer applies after the mainland conquest of Crete c. 1450". [179]

Vessels Edit

During the Late Mycenaean period (1400–1200 BC), Mycenaean vessels/pottery exhibited similarities spanning a significant area of the Eastern Mediterranean (i.e., from the Levant to Sicily) and possibly reflecting a form of economic and political union centered at Mycenae. [180] However, the Minoan pottery of Crete during this time remained distinct indicating a degree of autonomy on the island. [180] The Mycenaean Greeks produced in large quantities a variety of diversely-styled vessels such as stirrup jars, large bowls, alabastron, krater and stemmed cups (or kylikes) resembling champagne glasses. [180]

Stirrup jars (Linear B: ka-ra-re-u, khlareus "oil vessel"), specifically, were first invented on the island of Crete during the 16th century BC and used widely by the Mycenaeans from 1400 BC onward for transporting and storing wine and oil the jars were usually pear-shaped or globular. As for stemmed cups (or kylikes), they evolved from Ephyraean goblets and a large quantity was discovered at a site called the "Potter's Shop" located in Zygouries. Mycenaean drinking vessels such as the stemmed cups contained single decorative motifs such as a shell, an octopus or a flower painted on the side facing away from the drinker. [180] The Mycenaean Greeks also painted entire scenes (called "Pictorial Style") on their vessels depicting warriors, chariots, horses and deities reminiscent of events described in Homer's Iliad. [181] Other items developed by the Mycenaeans include clay lamps, [182] as well as metallic vessels such as bronze tripod cauldrons (or basins). [183] A few examples of vessels in faience and ivory are also known. [184]

Figures and figurines Edit

The Mycenaean period has not yielded sculpture of any great size. The statuary of the period consists for the most part of small terracotta figurines found at almost every Mycenaean site in mainland Greece—in tombs, in settlement debris, and occasionally in cult contexts (Tiryns, Agios Konstantinos on Methana). The majority of these figurines are female and anthropomorphic or zoomorphic. The female figurines can be subdivided into three groups which were popular at different periods, as Psi and phi type figurines, the Tau-type. The earliest are the Phi-type, which look like the Greek letter phi and their arms give the upper body of the figurine a rounded shape. The Psi-type looks like the letter Greek psi: these have outstretched upraised arms. The latest (12th century BC) are the Tau-type: these figurines look like the Greek letter tau with folded(?) arms at right angles to the body. Most figurines wear a large 'polos' hat. [185] They are painted with stripes or zigzags in the same manner as the contemporary pottery and presumably made by the same potters. Their purpose is uncertain, but they may have served as both votive objects and toys: some are found in children's graves but the vast majority of fragments are from domestic rubbish deposits. [186]

The presence of many of these figurines on sites where worship took place in the Archaic and Classical periods (approximately 200 below the sanctuary of Athena at Delphi, others at the temple of Aphaea on Aegina, at the sanctuary of Apollo Maleatas above Epidauros and at Amyclae near Sparta), suggests both that many were indeed religious in nature, perhaps as votives, but also that later places of worship may well have first been used in the Mycenaean period. [187]

Larger male, female or bovine terracotta wheelmade figures are much rarer. An important group was found in the Temple at Mycenae together with coiled clay snakes, [188] while others have been found at Tiryns and in the East and West Shrines at Phylakopi on the island of Melos. [189]

Frescoes Edit

The painting of the Mycenaean age was much influenced by that of Minoan painting, and was probably at least initially by Cretan painters. Their style gradually drifts away from that of Crete, and in late periods greatly reduces in quality. Fragments of wall paintings have been found in or around the palaces (Pylos, Mycenae, Tiryns) and in domestic contexts (Zygouries). [190] [191] The largest complete wall painting depicting three female figures, probably goddesses, was found in the so-called "cult center" at Mycenae. [192] Various subjects are represented: hunting, bull leaping (tauromachy), battle scenes, processions, etc. Some scenes may be part of mythological narratives, but if so their meaning eludes us. Other frescoes include geometric or stylised motifs, also used on painted pottery (see above).

The usual form of burial during this period was inhumation (burial in the earth, covered by dirt and stones). [193] The earliest Mycenaean burials were mostly in individual graves in the form of a pit or a stone-lined cist and offerings were limited to pottery and occasional items of jewellery. [194] Groups of pit or cist graves containing elite members of the community were sometimes covered by a tumulus (mound) in the manner established since the Middle Helladic. [195] It has been argued that this form dates back to the Kurgan culture [196] however, Mycenaean burials are in actuality an indigenous development of mainland Greece with the Shaft Graves housing native rulers. [197] Pit and cist graves remained in use for single burials throughout the Mycenaean period alongside more elaborate family graves. [198] The shaft graves at Mycenae within Grave Circles A and B belonging to the same period represent an alternative manner of grouping elite burials. Next to the deceased were found full sets of weapons, ornate staffs as well as gold and silver cups and other valuable objects which point to their social rank. [199]

Beginning also in the Late Helladic period are to be seen communal tombs of rectangular form. Nevertheless, it is difficult to establish whether the different forms of burial represent a social hierarchization, as was formerly thought, with the "tholos" being the tombs of the elite rulers, the individual tombs those of the leisure class, and the communal tombs those of the people. Cremations increased in number over the course of the period, becoming quite numerous in the last phase of the Mycenaean era. [200] The tholos was introduced during the early 15th century as the new and more imposing form of elite burial. [201] The most impressive tombs of the Mycenaean era are the monumental royal tombs of Mycenae, undoubtedly intended for the royal family of the city. The most famous is the Treasury of Atreus, a tholos. A total of nine of such tholos tombs are found in the region of Mycenae, while six of them belong to a single period (Late Helladic IIa, c. 1400–1300 BC). [202] It has been argued that different dynasties or factions may have competed through conspicuous burial. [203]

With respect to Mycenaean cuisine, skewer trays were discovered in Gla, Mycenae, and Pylos. [204] The so called "souvlaki trays" (or portable grills) used by the Mycenaean Greeks were rectangular ceramic pans that sat underneath skewers of meat. [204] It is not clear whether these trays would have been placed directly over a fire or if the pans would have held hot coals like a portable barbecue pit. [204] [205]

In circa 1600 BC, the Mycenaean Greeks borrowed from the Minoan civilization its syllabic writing system (i.e., Linear A) and developed their own syllabic script known as Linear B. [206] The Linear B script was utilized by the Mycenaean palaces in Greece for administrative purposes where economic transactions were recorded on clay tablets and some pottery in the Mycenaean dialect of the Greek language. [206] The Linear B tablets were first discovered in Crete by English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans c. 1900 and later deciphered by English architect and cryptographer Michael Ventris in 1952. [207] [208] Ventris's discovery of an archaic Greek dialect in the Linear B tablets demonstrated that Mycenaean Greek was "the oldest known Greek dialect, elements of which survived in Homer’s language as a result of a long oral tradition of epic poetry." [206] The written records of every Mycenaean region were similar but the scribes sometimes used words that were probably part of their local dialect. The existence of a common language is probably explained by their shared bureaucratic system and writing script. [209]

In the 8th century BC, after the end of the so-called Greek Dark Ages, Greece emerged with a network of myths and legends, the greatest of all being that of the Trojan Epic Cycle. [210] In general, the Greeks of classical antiquity idealized the Mycenaean period as a glorious period of heroes, closeness of the gods and material wealth. [211] The legends of Homer's Epics were especially and generally accepted as part of the Greek past and it was not until the 19th century that scholars began to question Homer's historicity. [210] At this time, German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann undertook the first modern archaeological excavations in Greece at the site of Mycenae in 1876. [212] Thus, Schliemann set out to prove the historical accuracy of the Iliad by identifying the places described by Homer. [210]

As part of the Mycenaean heritage that survived, the names of the gods and goddesses of Mycenaean Greece became major figures of the Olympian Pantheon of later antiquity. [213] Moreover, the language of the Mycenaeans offers the first written evidence of Greek, [214] while a significant part of the Mycenaean vocabulary can also be found in modern English. [215]

The Mycenaean Greeks were also pioneers in the field of engineering, launching large-scale projects unmatched in Europe until the Roman period, such as fortifications, bridges, culverts, aqueducts, dams and roads suitable for wheeled traffic. They also made several architectural innovations, such as the relieving triangle. [216] They were also responsible for transmitting a wide range of arts and crafts, especially of Minoan origin. The Mycenaean civilization was in general more advanced compared to the Late Bronze Age cultures of the rest of Europe. [217] Several Mycenaean attributes and achievements were borrowed or held in high regard in later periods, so it would be no exaggeration to consider Mycenaean Greece as a cradle of civilization. [216]

In their archaeogenetics study, Lazaridis et al. (2017) concluded that the Mycenaean Greeks were genetically closely related with the Minoans, and that both are closely related, but not identical, to modern Greek populations. [218] The same study also stated that at least three-quarters of the DNA of both the Mycenaeans and the Minoans came from the first Neolithic-era farmers that lived in Western Anatolia and the Aegean Sea (Mycenaeans

84–85%) while most of the remainder came from ancient populations related to the Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers and Neolithic Iran (Mycenaeans

14–15%). [218] Unlike the Minoans, the Mycenaeans had also inherited "

4-16% ancestry from a 'northern' ultimate source related to the hunter-gatherers of Eastern Europe and [Upper Palaeolithic] Siberia, introduced via a proximal source related to either the inhabitants of either the Eurasian steppe or Armenia." [218] [219] Among the Mycenaeans, one male sample was found to belong to Y-DNA J2a1 and mtDNA X2, while three female samples to mtDNA X2, X2d and H respectively. [218]

This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization

They had been digging for days, shaded from the Greek sun by a square of green tarpaulin slung between olive trees. The archaeologists used picks to break the cream-colored clay, baked as hard as rock, until what began as a cluster of stones just visible in the dirt became four walls in a neat rectangle, sinking down into the earth. Little more than the occasional animal bone, however, came from the soil itself. On the morning of May 28, 2015, the sun gave way to an unseasonable drizzle. The pair digging that day, Flint Dibble and Alison Fields, waited for the rain to clear, then stepped down into their meter-deep hole and got to work. Dibble looked at Fields. “It’s got to be soon,” he said.

From This Story

The season had not started well. The archaeologists were part of a group of close to three dozen researchers digging near the ancient Palace of Nestor, on a hilltop near Pylos on the southwest coast of Greece. The palace was built in the Bronze Age by the Mycenaeans—the heroes described in Homer’s epic poems—and was first excavated in the 1930s. The dig’s leaders, Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio, had hoped to excavate in a currant field just downslope from the palace, but Greek bureaucracy and a lawyers’ strike kept them from obtaining the necessary permits. So they settled, disappointed, on a neighboring olive grove. They cleared the land of weeds and snakes and selected a few spots to investigate, including three stones that appeared to form a corner. As the trench around the stones sank deeper, the researchers allowed themselves to grow eager: The shaft’s dimensions, two meters by one meter, suggested a grave, and Mycenaean burials are famous for their breathtakingly rich contents, able to reveal volumes about the culture that produced them. Still, there was no proof that this structure was even ancient, the archaeologists reminded themselves, and it might simply be a small cellar or shed.

Dibble was clearing earth from around a large stone slab when his pick hit something hard and the monotony of the clay was broken by a vivid flash of green: bronze.

The pair immediately put down their picks, and after placing an excited call to Davis and Stocker they began to carefully sweep up the soil and dust. They knew they were standing atop something substantial, but even then they did not imagine just how rich the discovery would turn out to be.“It was amazing,” says Stocker, a small woman in her 50s with dangling earrings and blue-gray eyes. “People had been walking across this field for three-and-a-half-thousand years.”

Over the next six months, the archaeologists uncovered bronze basins, weapons and armor, but also a tumble of even more precious items, including gold and silver cups hundreds of beads made of carnelian, amethyst, amber and gold more than 50 stone seals intricately carved with goddesses, lions and bulls and four stunning gold rings. This was indeed an ancient grave, among the most spectacular archaeological discoveries in Greece in more than half a century—and the researchers were the first to open it since the day it was filled in.

“It’s incredible luck,” says John Bennet, director of the British School at Athens. “The fact that it hadn’t been discovered before now is astonishing.” The spectacular find of priceless treasures made headlines around the globe, but what really intrigues scholars, says Stocker, is the “bigger world picture.” The very first organized Greek society belonged to the Mycenaeans, whose kingdoms exploded out of nowhere on the Greek mainland around 1600 B.C. Although they disappeared equally dramatically a few hundred years later, giving way to several centuries known as the Greek Dark Ages, before the rise of “classical” Greece, the Mycenaeans sowed the seeds of our common traditions, including art and architecture, language, philosophy and literature, even democracy and religion. “This was a crucial time in the development of what would become Western civilization,” Stocker says.

Yet remarkably little is known of the beginnings of Mycenaean culture. The Pylos grave, with its wealth of undisturbed burial objects and, at its bottom, a largely intact skeleton, offers a nearly unprecedented window into this time—and what it reveals is calling into question our most basic ideas about the roots of Western civilization.

Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, discovered the warrior's grave. (Andrew Spear)

In The Iliad, Homer tells of how Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, led a fleet of a thousand ships to besiege the city of Troy. Classical Greeks (and Romans, who traced their heritage to the Trojan hero Aeneas) accepted the stories in The Iliad and The Odyssey as a part of their national histories, but in later centuries scholars insisted that the epic battles fought between the Trojan and Mycenaean kingdoms were nothing more than myth and romantic fantasy. Before the eighth century B.C., archaeologists argued, societies on the Greek mainland were scattered and disorganized.

At the end of the 19th century, a German-born businessman named Heinrich Schliemann was determined to prove otherwise. He used clues in Homer’s epic poems to locate the remains of Troy, buried in a hillside at Hissarlik in Turkey. He then turned his attention to the Greek mainland, hoping to find the palace of Agamemnon. Near the ruins of the great walls at Mycenae, in the Argolid Peninsula, Schliemann found a circle of graves containing the remains of 19 men, women and children, all dripping with gold and other riches. He hadn’t found Agamemnon—the graves, nearly 3,500 years old, dated to several centuries before the battles of Troy—but he had unearthed a great, lost civilization, which he called the Mycenaean, after the sovereign city of the powerful mythic king.

Homer describes other palaces, too, notably that of King Nestor, at Pylos. The Iliad says Nestor contributed 90 ships to Agamemnon’s fleet, second only to the great leader himself. Schliemann searched in vain for Nestor’s palace in modern Pylos, a sleepy coastal town in the southwest Peloponnese, there was no hint of ancient architecture, unlike at Mycenae. But in the 1920s, a landowner noticed old stone blocks near the summit of a hill near Pylos, and Konstantinos Kourouniotis, director of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, invited his friend and collaborator Carl Blegen, of the University of Cincinnati, to investigate.

Blegen began excavations in April 1939. On his very first day, he uncovered a hoard of clay tablets, filled with an unreadable script known as Linear B, which had also been found on Crete, the largest of the Aegean islands. He had dug straight into the archive room of King Nestor’s palace. After World War II, Blegen went on to discover a grid of rooms and courtyards that rivals Mycenae in size and is now the best-preserved Bronze Age palace on the Greek mainland, not to mention a significant tourist attraction.

Today, Blegen’s work at Pylos is continued by Stocker and Davis (his official title is the Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek archaeology). Davis walks with me to the hilltop, and we pause to enjoy the gorgeous view of olive groves and cypress trees rolling down to a jewel-blue sea. Davis has white-blond hair, freckles and a dry sense of humor, and he is steeped in the history of the place: Alongside Stocker, he has been working in this area for 25 years. As we look out to sea, he points out the island of Sphacteria, where the Athenians beat the Spartans during a fifth-century B.C. battle of the Peloponnesian War.

Behind us, Nestor’s palace is surrounded by flowering oleander trees and is covered with an impressive new metal roof, completed just in time for the site’s reopening to the public in June 2016 after a three-year, multimillion-euro restoration. The roof’s graceful white curves protect the ruins from the elements, while a raised walkway allows visitors to admire the floor plan. The stone walls of the palace now rise just a meter from the ground, but it was originally a vast two-story complex, built around 1450 B.C., that covered more than 15,000 square feet and was visible for miles. Visitors would have passed through an open courtyard into a large throne room, Davis explains, with a central hearth for offerings and decorated with elaborately painted scenes including lions, griffins and a bard playing a lyre.

The Linear B tablets found by Blegen, deciphered in the 1950s, revealed that the palace was an administrative center that supported more than 50,000 people in an area covering all of modern-day Messenia in western Greece. Davis points out storerooms and pantries in which thousands of unused ceramic wine cups were found, as well as workshops for the production of leather and perfumed oils.

Echoes of Homer are everywhere. In The Odyssey, when Odysseus’ son Telemachus visits Pylos, he finds the inhabitants on the shore sacrificing bulls to the god Poseidon, before traveling to the palace to receive a bath from one of Nestor’s daughters. Tablets and animal bones that Blegen found in the archives room recall a feast in which 11 cattle were sacrificed to Poseidon, while on the other side of the building is a perfectly preserved terra-cotta bathtub, its interior painted with a repeating spiral motif.

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The palace was destroyed in a fire around 1200 B.C., part of a wave of destruction that brought down the entire Mycenaean society, which in a few hundred years had developed distinctive art and architecture, its own writing system, a powerful military and trading routes that stretched across the known world. Scholars argue about what brought about the culture’s collapse, but drought, famine and invasion may all have played a role.

Davis and Stocker are interested not in the ruination of the palace, however, but in its beginnings. For several hundred years before the palace was built, the region was dominated by the Minoans, whose sophisticated civilization arose on Crete, with skilled artisans and craftsmen who traded widely in the Aegean, Mediterranean and beyond. By contrast, the people of mainland Greece, a few hundred miles to the north across the Kythera Strait, lived simple lives in small settlements of mud-brick houses, quite unlike the impressive administrative centers and well-populated Cretan villages at Phaistos and Knossos, the latter home to a maze-like palace complex of over a thousand interlocking rooms. “With no sign of wealth, art or sophisticated architecture, mainland Greece must have been a pretty depressing place to live,” says Davis. “Then, everything changes.”

Around 1600 B.C., the mainlanders began leaving almost unimaginable treasures in tombs—“a sudden splash of brilliance,” in the words of Louise Schofield, the archaeologist and former British Museum curator, describing the jewelry, weapons and golden death masks discovered by Schliemann in the graves at Mycenae. The mainland population swelled settlements grew in size, number and apparent wealth, with ruling elites becoming more cosmopolitan, exemplified by the diverse riches they buried with their dead. At Pylos, a huge, beehive-shaped stone tomb known as a tholos was constructed, connected to mansion houses on the hilltop by a ceremonial road that led through a gateway in a surrounding fortification wall. Although thieves looted the tholos long before it was rediscovered in modern times, from what was left behind—seal stones, miniature gold owls, amethyst beads—it appears to have been stuffed with valuables to rival those at Mycenae.

This era, extending until the construction of palaces at Pylos, Mycenae and elsewhere, is known to scholars as the “shaft grave period” (after the graves that Schliemann discovered). Cynthia Shelmerdine, a classicist and renowned scholar of Mycenaean society at the University of Texas at Austin, describes this period as “the moment the door opens.” It is, she says, “the start of elites coming together to form something beyond just a minor chiefdom, the very beginning of what leads to the palatial civilization only a hundred years later.” From this first awakening, “it really takes a very short time for them to leap into full statehood and become great kings on a par with the Hittite emperor. It was a remarkable thing to happen.”

Yet partly as a result of the building of the palaces themselves, atop the razed mansions of early Mycenaeans, very little is known of the people and culture that gave birth to them. You can’t just tear up the plaster floors to see what’s underneath, Davis explains. The tholos itself went out of use around the time the palace was built. Whoever the first leaders here were, Davis and Stocker had assumed, they were buried in this plundered tomb. Until, less than a hundred yards from the tholos, the researchers found the warrior grave.

(5W Infographics) A bronze sword with a gold-coated hilt was among 1,500 items buried with Pylos’ “griffin warrior.” (Jon Krause) Aerial view of the warrior's grave (University of Cincinnati) The later site of 14th-century B.C. Nestor’s Palace (Myrto Papadopoulos) The tholos tomb at Pylos (Myrto Papadopoulos) Today known as Voidokilia, the omega-shaped cove at “sandy Pylos” is where Homer recounted that Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, was welcomed by Nestor while searching for his father. (Myrto Papadopoulos) Bull sacrifice was practiced by the Mycenaeans at Pylos, as recounted in The Odyssey. The autumn olive harvest is an ancient ritual that survives today. (Myrto Papadopoulos)

Davis and Stocker disagree on where they were when they received Dibble’s call from the dig site. Stocker remembers they were at the team’s workshop. Davis thinks they were at the local museum. Dibble recalls that they were in line at the bank. Whichever it was, they rushed to the site and, Stocker says, “basically never left.”

That first splash of green became an ocean, filled with layer after layer of bronze, reminiscent of Schliemann’s magnificent finds. “It was surreal,” says Dibble. “I felt like I was in the 19th century.”

The researchers celebrated the next day with a lunch of gourounopoulo (roast suckling pig) from the local farmer’s market, eaten under the olive trees. For Davis and Stocker, the challenge of the find soon set in. “Everything was interlocked, crushed with everything else,” says Davis. “We never imagined that we might find anything more than a few potsherds that could be put together with glue. Suddenly, we were faced with this huge mess.” The collaborators began working 15-hour shifts, hoping to clear the site as quickly as possible. But after two weeks, everyone was exhausted. “It became clear that we couldn’t continue at that pace, and we weren’t going to finish,” Stocker says. “There was too much stuff.”

About a week in, Davis was excavating behind the stone slab. “I’ve found gold,” he said calmly. Stocker thought he was teasing, but he turned around with a golden bead in his palm. It was the first in a flood of small, precious items: beads a tiny gold birdcage pendant intricately carved gold rings and several gold and silver cups. “Then things changed,” says Stocker. Aware of the high risk of looting, she organized round-the-clock security, and, apart from the Ministry of Culture and the site’s head guard, the archaeologists agreed to tell no one about the more valuable finds. They excavated in pairs, always with one person on watch, ready to cover precious items if someone approached.

The largest ring discovered was made of multiple finely soldered gold sheets. (University of Cincinnati)

And yet it was impossible not to feel elated, too. “There were days when 150 beads were coming out—gold, amethyst, carnelian,” says Davis. “There were days when there was one seal stone after another, with beautiful images. It was like, Oh my god, what will come next?!” Beyond the pure thrill of uncovering such exquisite items, the researchers knew that the complex finds represented an unprecedented opportunity to piece together this moment in history, promising insights into everything from religious iconography to local manufacturing techniques. The discovery of a golden cup, as lovely as the day it was made, proved an emotional moment. “How could you not be moved?” says Stocker. “It’s the passion of looking at a beautiful piece of art or listening to a piece of music. There’s a human element. If you forget that, it becomes an exercise in removing things from the ground.”

In late June 2015, the scheduled end to their season came and went, and a skeleton began to emerge—a man in his early 30s, his skull flattened and broken and a silver bowl on his chest. The researchers nicknamed him the “griffin warrior” after a griffin-decorated ivory plaque they found between his legs. Stocker got used to working alongside him in that cramped space, day after day in the blazing summer sun. “I felt really close to this guy, whoever he was,” she says. “This was a person and these were his things. I talked to him: ‘Mr. Griffin, help me to be careful.’”

In August, Stocker ended up in the local medical clinic with heatstroke. In September, she was rewarded with a gold-and-agate necklace that the archaeologists had spent four months trying to liberate from the earth. The warrior’s skull and pelvis were among the last items to be removed, lifted out in large blocks of soil. By November, the grave was finally empty. Every gram of soil had been dissolved in water and passed through a sieve, and the three-dimensional location of every last bead photographed and recorded.

Seven months later, Stocker sails through a low, green metal door into the basement of the archaeological museum in the small town of Chora, a few minutes’ drive from the palace. Inside, the room is packed with white tables, wooden drawers, and countless shelves of skulls and pots: the results of decades of excavations in this region.

Still the organizational force behind the Pylos project, Stocker looks after not just the human members of the team but a troupe of adopted animals, including the mascot, a sleek gray cat named Nestor, which she rescued from the middle of the road when he was 4 weeks old. “He was teeny,” she recalls. “One day he blew off the table.”

She’s also in charge of conservation. Around her, plastic boxes of all sizes are piled high, full of artifacts from the warrior’s grave. She opens box after box to show their contents—one holds hundreds of individually labeled plastic bags, each containing a single bead. Another yields seal stones carved with intricate designs: three reclining bulls a griffin with outstretched wings. “I still can’t believe I’m actually touching them,” she says. “Most people only see things like this through glass in a museum.”

There are delicate ivory combs, thin bands of bronze (the remains of the warrior’s armor) and boar tusks likely from his helmet. From separate wrappings of acid-free paper she reveals a bronze dagger, a knife with a large, square blade (perhaps used for sacrifices) and a great bronze sword, its hilt decorated with thousands of minute fragments of gold. “It’s truly amazing, and in bad shape,” she says. “It’s one of our highest priorities.”

There are more than 1,500 objects in all, and although the most precious items aren’t here (they are under lock-and-key elsewhere), the scale of the task she faces to preserve and publish these objects is nearly overwhelming. She surveys the room: a life’s work mapped out before her.

“The way they dug this grave is just remarkable,” says Thomas Brogan, the director of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete. “I think the sky’s the limit in terms of what we are going to learn.”

Fragments of Ancient Life

From jewelry to gilded weapons, a sampling of the buried artifacts researchers are using to fill in the details about the social currents in Greece at the time the griffin warrior lived

By 5W Infographics Research by Virginia Mohler

Like any momentous archaeological find, the griffin warrior’s grave has two stories to tell. One is the individual story of this man—who he was, when he lived, what role he played in local events. The other story is broader—what he tells us about the larger world and the crucial shifts in power taking place at that moment in history.

Analyses of the skeleton show that this 30-something dignitary stood around five-and-a-half feet, tall for a man of his time. Combs found in the grave imply that he had long hair. And a recent computerized facial reconstruction based on the warrior’s skull, created by Lynne Schepartz and Tobias Houlton, physical anthropologists at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, shows a broad, determined face with close-set eyes and a prominent jaw. Davis and Stocker are also planning DNA tests and isotope analyses that they hope will provide information about his ethnic and geographic origins.

At first, the researchers struggled to precisely date his burial. Soil layers are usually dated based on the shifting styles of ceramics this grave held no pottery at all. But excavations of the grave’s surrounding soil in the summer of 2016 turned up pottery sherds that point to an archaeological period roughly corresponding to 1500-1450 B.C. So the warrior lived at the very end of the shaft grave period, just before construction of the Mycenaean palaces, including Nestor’s.

Davis and Stocker believe that the tholos tomb at Pylos was still in use at this time. If the warrior was in fact an important figure, perhaps even a leader, why was he buried in a separate shaft grave, and not in the tholos? Stocker wonders whether digging the shaft grave may say something about the manner of the warrior’s death—that it was unexpected—and proved a quicker option than deconstructing and rebuilding the entrance to the tholos. Bennet, on the other hand, speculates that contrasting burial practices in such close proximity may represent separate local family groups vying for supremacy. “It’s part of a power play,” he says. “We have people competing with each other for display.” To him, competition to amass exotic materials and knowledge may have been what drove the social development of Mycenaean ruling elites.

Within a few years of the warrior’s burial, the tholos went out of use, the gateway in the fortification wall closed, and every building on the hilltop was destroyed to make way for the new palace. On Crete, Minoan palaces across the island burned along with many villas and towns, although precisely why they did remains unknown. Only the main center of Knossos was restored for posterity, but with its art, architecture and even tombs adopting a more mainland style. Its scribes switched from Linear A to Linear B, using the alphabet to write not the language of the Minoans, but Mycenaean Greek. It’s a crucial transition that archaeologists are desperate to understand, says Brogan. “What brings about the collapse of the Minoans, and at the same time what causes the emergence of the Mycenaean palace civilization?”

The distinctions between the two societies are clear enough, quite apart from the fundamental difference in their languages. The Mycenaeans organized their towns with free-standing houses rather than the conglomerated shared buildings seen on Crete, for example. But the relationship between the peoples has long been a contentious subject. In 1900, just 24 years after Schliemann announced he’d found Homer’s heroes at Mycenae, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered the Minoan civilization (named for Crete’s mythic King Minos) when he unearthed Knossos. Evans and subsequent scholars argued that the Minoans, and not the Mycenaean mainlanders, were the “first” Greeks—“the first link in the European chain,” according to the historian Will Durant. Schliemann’s graves, the thinking went, belonged to wealthy rulers of Minoan colonies established on the mainland.

In 1950, however, scholars finally deciphered Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos and showed the writing to be the earliest known form of Greek. Opinion now swung the other way: The Mycenaeans were reinstated as the first Greeks, and Minoan objects found in mainland graves were reinterpreted as status symbols stolen or imported from the island. “It’s like the Romans copying Greek statues and carting them off from Greece to put in their villas,” says Shelmerdine.

And this has been the scholarly consensus ever since: The Mycenaeans, now thought to have sacked Knossos at around the time they built their mainland palaces and established their language and administrative system on Crete, were the true ancestors of Europe.

The griffin warrior’s grave at Pylos offers a radical new perspective on the relationship between the two societies and thus on Europe’s cultural origins. As in previously discovered shaft graves, the objects themselves are a cross-cultural mix. For instance, the boar tusk helmet is typically Mycenaean, but the gold rings, which are rich with Minoan religious imagery and are on their own a hugely significant find for scholars, says Davis, reflect artifacts previously found on Crete.

Unlike ancient graves at Mycenae and elsewhere, however, which held artifacts from different individuals and time periods, the Pylos grave is an undisturbed single burial. Everything in it belonged to one person, and archaeologists can see precisely how the grave goods were positioned.

Significantly, weapons had been placed on the left side of the warrior’s body while rings and seal stones were on the right, suggesting that they were arranged with intent, not simply thrown in. The representational artwork featured on the rings also had direct connections to actual buried objects. “One of the gold rings has a goddess standing on top of a mountain with a staff that seems to be crowned by a horned bull’s head,” says Davis. “We found a bull’s head staff in the grave.” Another ring shows a goddess sitting on a throne, looking at herself in the mirror. “We have a mirror.” Davis and Stocker do not believe that all this is a coincidence. “We think that objects were chosen to interact with the iconography of the rings.”

Horns, which symbolize authority, appear on this bronze bull’s head and three gold rings. (University of Cincinnati)

In their view, the arrangement of objects in the grave provides the first real evidence that the mainland elite were experts in Minoan ideas and customs, who understood very well the symbolic meaning of the products they acquired. “The grave shows these are not just knuckle-scraping, Neanderthal Mycenaeans who were completely bowled over by the very existence of Minoan culture,” says Bennet. “They know what these objects are.”

New discoveries made by Davis and Stocker just this past summer provide more striking evidence that the two cultures had more in common than scholars have realized. Among the finds are remnants from what are likely the oldest wall paintings ever found on the Greek mainland. The fragments, which measure between roughly one and eight centimeters across and may date as far back as the 17th century B.C., were found beneath the ruins of Nestor’s Palace. The researchers speculate that the paintings once covered the walls of mansion houses on the site before the palace was built. Presumably, the griffin warrior lived in one of those mansions.

Moreover, small sections of pieced-together fragments indicate that many of the paintings were Minoan in character, showing nature scenes, flowering papyri and at least one miniature flying duck, according to Emily Egan, an expert in eastern Mediterranean art at the University of Maryland at College Park who worked on the excavations and is helping to interpret the finds. That suggests, she says, a “very strong connection with Crete.”

Together, the grave goods and the wall paintings present a remarkable case that the first wave of Mycenaean elite embraced Minoan culture, from its religious symbols to its domestic décor. “At the very beginning, the people who are going to become the Mycenaean kings, the Homeric kings, are sophisticated, powerful, rich and aware of something beyond the world that they are emerging from,” says Shelmerdine.

This has led Davis and Stocker to favor the idea that the two cultures became entwined at a very early stage. It’s a conclusion that fits recent suggestions that regime change on Crete around the time the mainland palaces went up, which traditionally corresponds to the decline of Minoan civilization, may not have resulted from the aggressive invasion that historians have assumed. The later period on Knossos might represent something more like “an EU in the Aegean,” says Bennet, of the British School at Athens. Minoans and Mycenaean Greeks would surely have spoken each other’s languages, may have intermarried and likely adopted and refashioned one another’s customs. And they may not have seen themselves with the rigid identities we moderns have tended to impose on them.

In other words, it isn’t the Mycenaeans or the Minoans to whom we can trace our cultural heritage since 1450 B.C., but rather a blending of the two.

The fruits of that intermingling may have shaped the culture of classical Greece and beyond. In Greek mythology, for example, the legendary birthplace of Zeus is said to be a cave in the Dicte mountains on Crete, which may derive from a story about a local deity worshiped at Knossos. And several scholars have argued that the very notion of a Mycenaean king, known as a wanax, was inherited from Crete. Whereas the Near East featured autocratic kings—the Egyptian pharaoh, for example, whose supposed divine nature set him apart from earthly citizens—the wanax, says Davis, was the “highest-ranking member of a ranked society,” and different regions were served by different leaders. It’s possible, Davis proposes, that the transfer to Greek culture of this more diffuse, egalitarian model of authority was of fundamental importance for the development of representative government in Athens a thousand years later. “Way back in the Bronze Age,” he says, “maybe we’re already seeing the seeds of a system which ultimately allows for the emergence of democracies.”

The revelation is compelling for anyone with an interest in how great civilizations are born—and what makes them “great.” And with rising nationalism and xenophobia in parts of Europe and the United States, Davis and others suggest that the grave contains a more urgent lesson. Greek culture, Davis says, “is not something that has been genetically transmitted from generation to generation since the dawn of time.” From the very earliest moments of Western civilization, he says, Mycenaeans “were capable of embracing many different traditions.”

“I think we should all care about that,” says Shelmerdine. “It resonates today, when you have factions that want to throw everybody out [of their countries]. I don’t think the Mycenaeans would have gotten anywhere if they hadn’t been able to reach beyond their shores.”

About Jo Marchant

Jo Marchant is an award-winning science journalist and former editor at New Scientist and Nature. She is the author of The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars and The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy.

Homer says that when the Greek soldiers came back from the Trojan War they found that Greece was in very bad shape, with a lot of robbers and crime. There may be some truth in this, because archaeology shows that around 1200BC most of the Greek palaces were destroyed, including the one at Mycenae.

We don’t know why this happened, but many people think that there was a general economic depression in the other countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia around this time, especially in Egypt and in the Hittite kingdom. A lot of people seem to have fallen on hard times. Maybe the Greeks found themselves out of work.


Legend has it that Mycenae was founded by Perseus himself.

Mycenae was the center of power in the Late Bronze age (1600 – 1100 BCE) and reached its zenith around 1300 – 1100 BCE.

At the time, other major kingdoms in mainland Greece included, Athens, Sparta, Orchomenos, Pylos, Knossos, Thebes, Gla, and the nearby Tyrins.

With its military and economic power, Mycenae dominated mainland Greece first, before overwhelming the more ancient Minoan civilization in Crete and the Aegean islands.

The artifacts unearthed at Mycenae show extensive commercial exchange with the entire Mediterranean, Asia Minor, the Levant, and Egypt.

Mycenaeans traded mainly oil and ceramics, while they imported tin and ivory. With the imported raw material they manufactured weapons which they exported in turn.

With their powerful army and navy, they also engaged in mercenary wars and piracy.

A plethora of Linear B tablets found in excavations indicate that Mycenaeans had a robust bureaucracy that supported a complex hierarchical society.

These Linear B tablets prove that the Mycenaeans were “Greek” beyond doubt.

The end of Mycenae coincided with the abrupt end of all the other Mycenaean centers (with the exception of Athens) in the middle of the 11th century BCE.

We don’t know what caused this sudden decline of such powerful civilization, but several theories have emerged. One blames the Dorian tribes that seem to have migrated south from northern Greece, while another theory points to internal strife and social upheaval.

Naturally, the Sea People, a mysterious group that ravaged the Mediterranean sea ports at that time, have been associated with the Mycenaeans. Some scholars believe that Sea People did the destruction, while others think the Mycenaeans became the “Sea People” after they were displaced from mainland Greece.

Bronze Tripod, Mycenae - History

The Mycenaeans are named after the city-state of Mycenae, a palace city and one of the most powerful of the Mycenaean city-states. The Mycenaean civilization was located on the Greek mainland, mostly on the Peloponnese, the southern peninsula of Greece. The Mycenaeans are the first Greeks, in other words, they were the first people to speak the Greek language.

The Mycenaean civilization thrived between 1650 and 1200 BC. The Mycenaeans were influenced by the earlier Minoan civilization, located on the island of Crete. This influence is seen in Mycenaean palaces, clothing, frescoes, and their writing system, called Linear B.

Linear B

Linear B tablets were first found on the island of Crete, the writing was similar to the Minoan Linear A. Arthur Evans credited the writing system to the Minoans. A young schoolboy named Michael Ventris saw the Linear B tablets while touring the British Museum. Young Ventris was fascinated by the script, and when Arthur Evans told the class that the script had not been deciphered, young Ventris asked Evans to repeat what he had just said. Hearing these words a second time, Ventris decided that day, that he would be the one to decipher this ancient script.

Ventris became an architect, but never lost his passion for Linear B. Ventris could speak many different languages fluently, and could pick up a new language quickly. In 1939, Carl Blegen, an American archaeologist, found several tablets of Linear B on the Greek mainland in the Mycenaean ruins of Pylos. Assuming that the language of Linear B was Greek, Ventris made a break through in the early 1950s with the help of others working on the script, including American archaeologist, Alice Kober. This made Arthur Evans angry, because he was certain it was a Minoan script (Evans died in 1941, however he was unhappy with any theory, up until then, that Linear B was anything but Minoan writing). The Mycenaeans used Linear B to keep records of their trading and economy, unfortunately, the writing was not used to tell stories or show feelings.

How the later Greeks felt about the Mycenaeans

The later Greeks told stories about the Mycenaeans who preceded them, like the poet Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In the eyes of the later Greeks, the Mycenaeans were larger than life. One reason for this belief comes from the ruins of the Mycenaean city-states. The walls around these palaces are massive, made from blocks of stone weighing several tons and carried to the mountain-top settlements. The later Greeks called these walls cyclopean walls, named after the one-eyed giant race, because the later Greeks felt only giants could move the stones. A walled mountain or hilltop settlement is called a citadel.

Heinrich Schliemann, discoverer of the Mycenaean Civilization

Like the Minoans, the Mycenaeans were a civilization lost to the modern world. No evidence of the Mycenaeans (whom Homer called the Achaeans) or the city of Troy, also talked about in the Iliad, was to be found. However, in the 1800's, a German amateur archaeologist, by the name of Heinrich Schliemann, was convinced that the Trojans and Achaeans actually existed. He was fascinated by the Iliad with his copy in hand, along with his wife, Schliemann set out to find ancient Troy. Based on a description in the Homer's Iliad, Schliemann found a hill in modern Turkey that fit this description of the location of Troy. Amazingly, as Schliemann dug, ancient Troy was revealed. Feeling he was on a roll, Schliemann then went to Greece in 1876, where he uncovered artifacts of lost civilization of the Mycenaeans at Mycenae, high in the mountains. The Mycenaean palaces proved the wealth of the kings who ruled them. The Palaces included a large meeting hall, called a Megaron, and kings were buried in deep shaft graves along with their riches. Later tombs, called tholos, or beehive tombs, were built with massive stones and covered with earth.

The major Mycenaean city-states included Mycenae, home of the legendary King Agamemnon from the Iliad, Tiryns, the home of Heracles (Hercules) from Greek mythology, and Pylos, the home of old King Nestor from the Iliad. Pylos, located close to the sea, was the only city-state that did not have cyclopean walls, therefore, it was not a citadel like Mycenae and Tyrins. Since Greece is mountainous, the best form of transportation is by the sea. The Mycenaeans were seafaring people, all of the city-states were close to the sea, but far enough way that, should the city be attacked, the inhabitants would have time to react.

The Mycenaeans were bellicose by nature, attacking others, especially by sea, and fighting among themselves. Though they all spoke Greek, and worshipped the same gods, the Mycenaeans were separated into independent city-states, each with its own king. The Mycenaeans made weapons and armor from Bronze, giving this age its name: The Bronze Age. The Mycenaeans often settled battles between city-states by one-on-one combat, with each city-state taxiing their champion to battle by chariot.

The Iliad and the Odyssey

The Iliad tells about the attack on the citadel of Troy, in Asia Minor, by the Achaeans (Greeks). It is very possible that the Mycenaeans were these Greeks. The story tells of Helen, queen of the Mycenaean city-state of Sparta, who is kidnapped and brought to Troy by the Trojan prince, Paris. The Greek city-states reacted by sending a large fleet to attack Troy in an attempt to bring Helen back home. Being a citadel, Troy was very difficult to attack, and the war lingered on for ten years. Finally, Odysseus, a Greek and the King of Ithaca, devised a trick by leaving a large wooden horse behind as the Achaeans pretended to sail away in defeat. The Trojans, thinking the horse was a gift from the defeated Greeks, moved the horse into the city. After a celebration, Odysseus and others Greeks, hiding in the horse, opened the gates for the other Achaeans to enter. The Achaeans razed the city of Troy and Helen was returned to Sparta.

Some of the gods, having picked sides in this conflict, felt that Odysseus had cheated in victory. Odysseus set sail for Ithaca, but a trip that should have taken a few weeks ended up taking ten years, as the gods created obstacles in his path. All the while, his faithful wife, Penelope, waited patiently for his return. This part of the story is called the Odyssey, an odyssey is a word now used for any long and difficult journey.

Fall of the Mycenaeans

Around 1200 BC, we have evidence that the Mycenaeans increased the size of the walls around their cities. Something was threatening the civilization. Perhaps there was increased fighting among the Mycenaean cities, or perhaps there was a foreign invasion from the north of Greece. Maybe the long war with Troy took its toll on the civilization. Whatever the reason, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed around 1100 BC. There is evidence that the great palace cities were burned by those who replaced the Mycenaeans.

The Dark Ages (from the fall of the Mycenaeans to the first use of the Greek alphabet)

After the fall of the Mycenaeans, Greece went into a Dark Age. A Dark Age is a time when there are no historical records (writing) and also a time of fear, uncertainty, and violence. Those who replaced the Mycenaeans are called the Dorians, Greeks from the north who, as the story goes, were the sons of Heracles (whom the Romans called Hercules). These sons of Heracles had been driven out of the Mycenaean world, but vowed to return some day.

The Dorians used iron weapons, and Mycenaean bronze, though more beautiful and artful, was no match for Dorian iron. Iron replaced bronze during the Dark Age. The Dorians had no need for the Mycenaean palaces and burned them down.

The Dorians were now the masters of Greece. It was a simpler time, and a time without written history. Many Mycenaeans fled from the Dorians across the Aegean Sea to Asia Minor. Surprisingly one Mycenaean city, called Athens, was unaffected by the Dorian invasion. People in Athens carried on many Mycenaean traditions. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, the Phoenicians had developed the world's first alphabet.

We will learn more about Athens and the effect of the Phoenician alphabet on the Greek world in the next chapter.

The Lion Gate entrance of Mycenae creates a backdrop as a champion is taxied to battle by chariot. Upon returning from Troy, King Agamemnon is murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. This murder was pay back because Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia, so the gods would grant winds to the sails of the Greek boats leaving Aulis in Greece for Troy.

Drone video captures the glory of Mycenae, the enigmatic stronghold of the Bronze Age ‘Greeks’

The fortified late Bronze Age settlement of Mycenae in the Argolid plain , which gives its name to the Mycenaean civilization, is an enigma of history. Dated from circa 1600 BC, the stronghold was inhabited for around five centuries and possibly reached its peak at circa 1350 BC, when the population crossed 30,000 people. This apical stage of the Mycenaean state is represented by the numerous fascinating finds at the Mycenae site, including one of the first specimens of the decipherable Greek language – known as the Linear B script, and the renowned Mask of Agamemnon – a tangible item that fueled the reveries related to Homer’s epic works. Such cultural attributes are complemented by the magnificent architectural accomplishments of these Bronze Age inhabitants, ranging from the palatial megaron to the iconic Lion’s Gate.

Reconstruction of Mycenae

Most these incredible elements are presented in the drone captured video below, courtesy of Up YouTube channel Drones.

Now beyond the scope of just Mycenae, the Mycenaeans had various strongholds spread across Greece and even Crete. To that end, we have decided to include some excerpts from one of our previous articles – 10 Incredible Things You Should Know About The Mycenaean Civilization And Its Armies, to shed light on these enigmatic ‘precursors’ to Classical Greeks.

1) The Mysterious Mycenaeans –

Mycenaean as a term was probably as much ‘mysterious’ to ancient authors as the civilization is puzzling to modern scholars. In fact, Classical authors were not even aware of any singular Mycenaean faction – and given their Greek traditions, such writers often attributed the specific geographically-limited tribes as their ancestors, like the Achaeans and the Argives. Now of course, the greatest example of Classical Greeks being inspired by their ‘ancestors’ comes from the epic poetry of Homer in Iliad and Odyssey . And while the popular historical sentiment hints at how Homer was actually talking about the Mycenaeans, much of the Trojan War is set in a date that only tentatively corresponds to Mycenaeans. To that end, rather than a historical exposition of how Mycenaeans fought and behaved, the Iliad should be viewed more as a compilation of folkloric traditions that were passed down through generations from around 9th-8th century BC (three centuries after the passing of the Mycenaeans).

Now, of course, given such ‘folkloric’ credentials, it doesn’t mean that Homeric works are completely devoid of actual historical scenarios. But alongside the oral traditions, many of the storytellers also invented their own mythical stuff that was ultimately added on to the epic works. And in an odd twist of fate, it was the romanticism of Homer’s literary achievements that ultimately drew archaeologists to the previously ‘unknown’ Mycenaeans. That is because, in the late 19th century, it was Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman, who wanted to prove to the world the actual existence of the Trojan War heroes. He came upon an ancient Bronze Age tomb near the Mycenae site filled with a myriad of grave goods, including gold, silver, ivory and ceramic artifacts (including the famed golden ‘ Mask of Agamemnon ‘). Though initially thought to be the royal tomb of Agamemnon, it was later assessed to be the burial complex of a dynasty that existed about 250 years before the supposed Trojan War (of 13th century BC). Thus a forgotten Greek civilization came to ‘life’ in the archaeological realm, and they were known as the Mycenaeans (derived from the very same Mycenae site, in Argolid).

2) Inspired by Islanders?

Oddly enough, while the Mycenaeans themselves can be considered as ‘Greeks’, as judged by their decipherable Linear B script, the early phase of the civilization in itself (mostly based in mainland Greece) was markedly inspired by the distant Minoans hailing from the island of Crete. To that end, the earlier Mycenaean artworks, architectural patterns, and military arms, circa 1600–1450 BC, are very much similar to the contemporary Minoan styles – so much so that many early historians presumed the southern part of ancient Greece to be a colony of Bronze Age Crete.

But that was not the case. Rather the tangible influence of the Minoans on the ‘mainland’ Mycenaeans probably came from sea-based trading and exchange of materials between the two different cultures. In that regard, it should be noted that the early Minoans used the Linear A syllabic script – which is still undecipherable and conveys a language entirely different from the Greek dialects (unlike the Linear B).

3) Reversal of Fortunes –

Mycenaean warriors marching into Crete.

Once again reverting to the twist of fate in history, by 1400 BC, the native Minoan civilization came to a halt – possibly due to cataclysmic effects of the volcanic eruption of Thera. The Mycenaeans took advantage of this chaotic period and pushed forth their ‘mainland’ culture in Crete. This reversal of influence led to the emergence of the famous Mycenaean site at Knossos, Crete. The Mycenaean ascendance was also reflected by their rising power in the proximate Aegean regions. Thus trade treaties were carved up with other regional powers, including the Hittites of Anatolia and Ancient Egypt.

The cultural and military exchanges between these Bronze Age power-centers were evident from the employment of ‘exotic’ Egyptian and Nubian mercenaries in Mycenaean armies (and vice versa). Furthermore, pertaining to an intriguing scope, at some point circa 14th century BC, the Mycenaeans may have even sent an expeditionary force to fight the Hittites allies of western Anatolia, which intriguingly (though possibly coincidentally) mirrored the events of the Trojan War.

4) The Abrupt Disappearance –

The invasion of the ‘Sea People’

Archaeological and literary pieces of evidence suggest how the Mycenaeans tried to ‘remodel’ their army by 13th century BC, with their tactics evolving to cope with flexibility and decentralized command. from the historical angle, such far-ranging alterations in the military were possibly made to deal with a newer type of threat that went beyond mass battlefield formations. Much like the Anglo-Saxon response to Viking raids, the Mycenaeans of these times preferred small batches of soldiers who were easily available to defend the coastal areas – as is evident from the Linear B tablets of the 13th century BC Pylos, another significant Mycenaean stronghold (like Mycenae). Concurrently, the late 13th century BC (and early 12th century BC) also saw the rise of fortified architecture in major Mycenaean settlements, with massive stone ramparts being constructed to protect their citadels and palaces.

In any case, after just a few years, the palace at Pylos was destroyed, circa 1180 BC. Soon after, most of the other Mycenaean sites and settlements were also destroyed – and this sudden eclipse of a thriving Bronze Age culture is still one of the puzzling mysteries of time yet to be solved by historians. Suffice it to say, there are debates in the academic world that relate to the hypothetical reasons behind this sudden ‘mass’ demise of a civilization (so much so that Greece was thrown into a dark age for almost three centuries, till 9th century BC). Some of these conjectures bring up the familiar narrative of the invading Dorians and the mysterious forays of the ‘ Sea People ‘, while others hint at climatic changes and social revolutions.

The Mycenaean Wealth – Gold Treasures Of The Mythical King

Mycenaean Gold Kantharos , drinking cup, ca. 1550-1500 BC., via Met Museum

Luxury items, such as carved gems, jewelry, vases and boxes (pyxis) in precious metals, and decorative glass ornaments produced in local workshops, along with utilitarian objects of pottery and bronze for daily use. Contact with Minoan Crete played a decisive role in the shaping and development of Mycenaean culture, especially in the arts. Commerce and sea trading expeditions circulated Mycenaean goods throughout the Mediterranean world from Spain through the Levant. Naval wreckages provide evidence primarily of vases, and their contents (oil, wine, and other commodities) were probably the chief objects of trade.

Royal Tombs around the Palace, referred to by archaeologists as Grave Circle A and B, unearthed rich burials findings of silver and gold. The tomb treasures evidence the preeminence of the Mycenaeans, especially the Treasury of Atreus , a monumental tomb outside the Palace of Mycenae. Shaft Graves also at Mycenae (1550 BC) revealed extraordinary material wealth, proof of a powerful elite society that flourished in the subsequent four centuries. The Mycenaeans formed a warlike society, bearing fundamental social differences to their precedents, the Minoans.

Most of the Mycenaean treasures are housed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens , visit the site to glimpse at the splendor of era, depicting the power and wealth of the society.

Gleaming gold’s resistance in time made it an early favorite of Mycenaean nobles. Gold was naturally the first material to be looted by tomb robbers, which explains why the characteristic tholos and chamber tombs of the period have been mostly found stripped of their treasures. Besides, in times of economic instability or in the face of some danger, gold objects and jewelry were the first to be hidden away, either to protect them from theft or to be melted down and re-use the precious metal. Such is unfortunately, the case of the famous treasures from the acropolis of Mycenae and Tiryns.

Mycenaean Mask of Agamemnon, Grave Circle A, Grave V, 16th Century BC., via National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The mask depicts the imposing face of a bearded man. It is made of a gold sheet detailed in repoussé technique, without altering the thickness of the metal. The mask covered the deceased’s face and the two holes near the ears held the mask in place with twine.

The same technique is applied in the wooden box – pyxis below, a unique item due to the wooden base that rarely survived from the Mycenaean period, but also because of the distinctive appeal of the scene depicted. The gold plates illustrate lions hunting a deer and an antelope in a background of palm-trees, spirals and bovine heads with prominent eyes that dominate the composition.

Wooden hexagonal pyxis decorated with repousse gold plates, Mycenae , Grave Circle A, Grave V, 16th Century BC., via National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The high aesthetics that characterize Mycenaean artisans are especially seen in the details, such as the combination of more than one color and decorative motifs in the same necklace, but is primarily reflected in examples of minor arts that approach perfection without alerting the untrained eye to the amount of effort required to achieve the result.

Such is the case of the bone ornaments from Grave Circle A at Mycenae covered in an extremely thin gold foil (see photo below). Damage to the gold foil on some of these allowed us to confirm that the exact same decorative motif had first been engraved into the bone, even though it was not intended to be visible. Technically, this likely facilitated the precise impression of the motif on the thin gold foil. It is certain that carving the bone took more time and demanded more skill than the engraving of the gold sheet.

Bone button with gold foil, from Mycenae , 16 th Century B.C., in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, via

The findings in the below picture are all unearthed from Shaft Grave III, known as the ‘Grave of the Women’. It contained three female and two infant interments. The women covered in gold jewelry and wore massive gold diadems , while the infants were overlaid with gold foil. The deceased clothes or shrouds embroidered with a great number of gold small round button-like medallions, and other gold cutout foils in various shapes with repousse decoration. The jewelry included large pins in silver and gold with rock crystal heads or with gold ornaments and sheathing, a necklace of amber beads, gold earrings, hair ornaments and gold seals engraved with hunting or dueling scenes. Miniature gold vessels, faience vessels and gold scales were also found.

Mycenaean Gold elliptical funeral diadems from Shaft Grave III (Grave Circle A, Mycenae), via Archaeological Museum of Mycenae

The most characteristic Mycenaean ornament is the gold relief bead, either isolated or in necklaces, as the picture below. They are formed of two sheets of gold joined together so as to give the impression of a solid piece, and imitate mainly flowers (rosettes/daisies, lilies, crocuses), fruits and sea creatures (Argonauts, shells, etc.). Complex techniques, such as casting in a mould, granulation (decoration with tiny gold spheres) and enamel (widely known today as cloisonné), gradually replaced the simpler methods of hammering (forging) and wiredrawing. Some of these techniques were imported from the East, while others, such as the loop-in-loop chain, which is found for the first time in Minoan Crete, or the relief gold bead, were developed in the Aegean. Complementing our fragmentary knowledge of the technology of the era are tools, moulds or matrices and half-finished ornaments found in graves or palatial workshops.

Gold necklace with beads of various shapes, some with granulated decoration, and lily-shaped pendant, Dendra, Argolis Tomb 10, 15th Century B.C., via National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Moreover, the “invisible” seam mainly occurring on gold necklaces, rings and earrings that are covered by fine granulation or tiny tacks (see photo above) is further indisputable evidence of the dexterity and aesthetic sense that characterizes the Mycenaean goldsmith.

Mycenaean art , regardless of the means employed, is generally ruled by standardized conventions, many of which were adopted from the Minoan world. The representational iconography, especially that including human figures is never decorative, but largely it is symbolic and “conceptual”, enlisted in the service of the palatial administrative system and the visualization of the ideological and religious beliefs of the Mycenaeans. There is no interest in subjects of everyday life, love scenes or the landmarks in the life of man, such as birth or marriage, nor in the recording of specific historical events, but merely in the representation of exceptional circumstances.

Religious and secular ceremonies, scenes of hunting or war, as well as episodes taking place in the realm of the supernatural, all these are rendered as moments in a narrative, the wider context of which sometimes eludes us, but would have been understood by the Mycenaean viewer. The people illustrated in Mycenaean art have no recognizable identity. They are perceived as individuals through their skill, their capacity, their office, or their divine nature. They have no names, but are defined by their social and ideological role, a fact that obviously reflects the Mycenaeans’ perception that the individual is defined by his or her place in society.

Tiryns Treasure, gold Signet ring , with a representation of a seated goddess receiving gifts from lion-headed daemons, 15 th c. BC., via National Archaeological Museum of Athens

The Mycenaeans were bold, adventurous traders and fierce warriors. They accomplished great feats of engineering and architecture they designed and built remarkable fortification walls, bridges, and beehive-shaped tombs . Their cities featured elaborate drainage and irrigation systems.

Palace scribes employed a new script, Linear B , to record an early Greek language. In the Mycenaean palace at Pylos, the best-preserved Linear B tablets suggest that the king stood at the head of a highly organized feudal system, probably the first European feudocratic states. For further reading on Linear B and valuable insight on Mycenaean culture and society visit the Dartmouth University website

Clay Tablet from the Mycenaean palace of Pylos , inscribed with Linear B script, in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

Linear B texts, first discovered early in the 20th century, were not published until 1952. In 1953, a Greek architect named Michael Ventris deciphered and interpreted the script as an early form of Greek. The Greek Alphabet, as we know it today, developed over the next centuries and emerged in its final form during the 8 th century BC.

Following the collapse of this civilization in the 12th century BC, Greece entered a period of relative poverty and isolation when even Linear B writing was abandoned and forgotten. During this time, stories about the grand lifestyles of the Mycenaean rulers and their heroic feats continued to be told and Homer’s rhymes became so popular and carried down through the centuries. During this late Bronze Age mainland Greece witnessed a wave of destruction and the decline of the Mycenaean cities, causing the withdrawal to more remote refuge settlements.

The next historical era from 1100 to 700 BC is commonly referred to as the Dark Age of Greece. This was a n important and pivotal milestone in the history of humankind marks the rebirth of this great Nation. The First Olympic Games took place in 776 BC. The next 600 years would witness the grandeur and splendor of Greece, where philosophy, sciences and Arts will reach an unparalleled peak.

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