Mycenae (Greek: Μυκῆναι Mykēnai or Μυκήνη Mykēnē) is
an archaeological site near
Mikines in Greece, located about 90
kilometres (56 miles) southwest of Athens, in the north-eastern
Argos is 11 kilometres (7 miles) to the south; Corinth,
48 kilometres (30 miles) to the north. From the hill on which the
palace was located, one can see across the
Argolid to the Saronic
In the second millennium BC,
Mycenae was one of the major centres of
Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of
Greece and parts of southwest Anatolia. The period of Greek
history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in
reference to Mycenae. At its peak in 1350 BC, the citadel and lower
town had a population of 30,000 and an area of 32 hectares.
The first correct identification of
Mycenae in modern literature was
during a survey conducted by Francesco Grimani, commissioned by the
Provveditore Generale of the
Kingdom of the Morea
Kingdom of the Morea in 1700, who used
Pausanias's description of the
Lion Gate to identify the ruins of
2.1 Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age
2.2 Late Bronze Age
2.2.1 Late Helladic I (LHI)
2.2.2 Late Helladic II (LHII)
2.2.3 Late Helladic III (LHIII)
2.4 Archaic and Classical Periods
2.5 Revival and Abandonment
3 Political organization
Mycenae in Greek mythology and legends
5.1 Perseid dynasty
5.2 Atreid dynasty
5.3 Atreids in Asia Minor
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
A view of the citadel.
Although the citadel was built by Greeks, the name Mukanai is thought
not to be Greek but rather one of the many pre-Greek place names
inherited by the immigrant Greeks.
Legend has it that the name was connected to the Greek word mycēs
(μύκης, "mushroom"). Thus, Pausanias ascribes the name to the
legendary founder Perseus, who was said to have named it either after
the cap (mykēs) of the sheath of his sword, or after a mushroom he
had plucked on the site.
The earliest written form of the name is Mykēnē (Μυκήνη),
which is found in Homer. The reconstructed Mycenaean Greek name of
the site is Mukānai, which has the form of a plural like Athênai.
The change of ā to ē in more recent versions of the name is the
result of a well-known sound change in later Attic-Ionic.
The Tomb of
Aegisthus outside the walls of the citadel.
Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age
Mycenae, an acropolis site, was continuously inhabited from the Early
Neolithic (EN) down through the Early Helladic (EH) and Middle
Helladic (MH) periods; EN Rainbow Ware constitutes the earliest
ceramic evidence discovered so far. Pottery material spanning the
entire EHI through EHIII period was discovered in 1877–1878 by
Stamatakis at a low depth in the sixth shaft grave in Grave Circle A;
further EH and MH material was found beneath the walls and floors of
the palace, on the summit of the acropolis, and outside the Lion Gate
in the area of the ancient cemetery. An EH–MH settlement was
discovered near a fresh-water well on top of the Kalkani hill
southwest of the acropolis. The first burials in pits or cist
graves manifest in the MH period (circa 1800–1700 BC) on the west
slope of the acropolis, which was at least partially enclosed by the
earliest circuit wall.
Late Bronze Age
View from the acropolis, or high city.
During the Bronze Age, the pattern of settlement at
Mycenae was a
fortified hill surrounded by hamlets and estates, in contrast to the
dense urbanity on the coast (cf. Argos). Since
Mycenae was the capital of a state that ruled, or dominated, much of
the eastern Mediterranean world, the rulers must have placed their
stronghold in this less populated and more remote region for its
defensive value. Since there are few documents on site with datable
contents (such as an Egyptian scarab) and since no dendrochronology
has yet been performed upon the remains here, the events are listed
here according to
Helladic period material culture.
Late Helladic I (LHI)
Outside the partial circuit wall, Grave Circle B, named for its
enclosing wall, contained ten cist graves in Middle Helladic style and
several shaft graves, sunk more deeply, with interments resting in
cists. Richer grave goods mark the burials as possibly regal. Mounds
over the top contained broken drinking vessels and bones from a
repast, testifying to a more than ordinary farewell. Stelae
surmounted the mounds.
A walled enclosure, Grave Circle A, included six more shaft graves,
with nine female, eight male, and two juvenile interments. Grave goods
were more costly than in Circle B. The presence of engraved and inlaid
swords and daggers, with spear points and arrowheads, leave little
doubt that warrior chieftains and their families were buried here.
Some art objects obtained from the graves are the Silver Siege Rhyton,
the Mask of Agamemnon, the Cup of Nestor, and weapons both votive and
Museum replicas of Mycenaean swords and cups.
Late Helladic II (LHII)
Alan Wace divided the nine tholos tombs of
Mycenae into three groups
of three, each based on architecture. His earliest – the Cyclopean
Tomb, Epano Phournos, and the Tomb of
Aegisthus – are dated to
Burial in tholoi is seen as replacing burial in shaft graves. The care
taken to preserve the shaft graves testifies that they were by then
part of the royal heritage, the tombs of the ancestral heroes. Being
more visible, the tholoi all had been plundered either in antiquity,
or in later historic times.
Late Helladic III (LHIII)
At a conventional date of 1350 BC, the fortifications on the
acropolis, and other surrounding hills, were rebuilt in a style known
as cyclopean because the blocks of stone used were so massive that
they were thought in later ages to be the work of the one-eyed giants
known as the Cyclopes (singular: Cyclops). Within these walls,
much of which can still be seen, successive monumental palaces were
built. The final palace, remains of which are currently visible on the
acropolis of Mycenae, dates to the start of LHIIIA:2. Earlier palaces
must have existed, but they had been cleared away or built over.
The construction of palaces at that time with a similar architecture
was general throughout southern Greece. They all featured a megaron,
or throne room, with a raised central hearth under an opening in the
roof, which was supported by four columns in a square around the
hearth. A throne was placed against the center of a wall to the side
of the hearth, allowing an unobstructed view of the ruler from the
entrance. Frescos adorned the plaster walls and floor.
Examples of tholos, outside the citadel of Mycenae: tomb of
Clytemnestra, outside view (left), Treasury of Atreus, inside view
Lion Gate (detail); two lionesses flank the central column, whose
significance is much debated.
The room was accessed from a courtyard with a columned portico. A
grand staircase led from a terrace below to the courtyard on the
In the temple built within the citadel, a scarab of Queen
Egypt, who was married to Amenhotep III, was placed in the Room of the
Idols alongside at least one statue of either LHIIIA:2 or B:1 type.
Amenhotep III's relations with m-w-k-i-n-u, *Mukana, have
corroboration from the inscription at Kom al-Hetan - but Amenhotep's
reign is thought to align with late LHIIIA:1. It is likely that
Amenhotep's herald presented the scarab to an earlier generation,
which then found the resources to rebuild the citadel as
then, to move the scarab here.
Wace’s second group of tholoi are dated between LHIIA and LHIIIB:
Kato Phournos, Panagia Tholos, and the Lion Tomb. The final group,
Group III: the Treasury of Atreus, the
Tomb of Clytemnestra
Tomb of Clytemnestra and the
Tomb of the Genii, are dated to LHIIIB by a sherd under the threshold
of the Treasury of Atreus, the largest of the nine tombs. Like the
Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenus the tomb had been looted of its
contents and its nature as funerary monument had been forgotten. The
structure bore the traditional name of "Treasury".
The pottery phases on which the relative dating scheme is based (EH,
MH, LH, etc.) do not allow very precise dating, even augmented by the
few existing C-14 dates due to the tolerance inherent in these. The
sequence of further construction at
Mycenae is approximately as
follows. In the middle of LHIIIB, around 1250 BC or so, the Cyclopean
wall was extended on the west slope to include Grave Circle A. The
main entrance through the circuit wall was made grand by the best
known feature of Mycenae, the Lion Gate, through which passed a
stepped ramp leading past circle A and up to the palace. The Lion Gate
was constructed in the form of a "Relieving Triangle" in order to
support the weight of the stones. An undecorated postern gate also was
constructed through the north wall.
One of the few groups of excavated houses in the city outside the
walls lies beyond Grave Circle B and belongs to the same period. The
House of Shields, the House of the Oil Merchant, the House of the
Sphinxes, and the West House. These may have been both residences and
Citadel Facts and Figures
Circuit length: 1105M
Preserved height: up to 12.5M
Minimum stone required: 145,215 Cu.M or 14,420 average stones (10
Time to move 1 Block using men: 2.125 days
Time to move all Blocks using men: 110.52 years
Time to move 1 Block using oxen: 0.125 days
Time to move all Blocks using oxen: 9.9 years
Based on 8-hour work day.
The largest stones including the lintels and gate jambs weighed well
over 20 tonnes; some may have been close to 100 tonnes.
Somewhat later, toward the end of LHIIIB,[when?] another extension to
the citadel was undertaken. The wall was extended again on the
northeast, with a sally port and also a secret passage through and
under the wall, of corbeled construction, leading downward by some 99
steps to a cistern carved out of rock 15 m below the surface. It was
fed by a tunnel from a spring on more distant higher ground.
Already in LHIIIA:1, Egypt knew *Mukana by name as a capital city on
the level of Thebes and Knossos. During LHIIIB, Mycenae's political,
military and economic influence likely extended as far as Crete, Pylos
in the western Peloponnese, and to
Athens and Thebes. Hellenic
settlements already were being placed on the coast of Anatolia. A
collision with the
Hittite Empire over their sometime dependency at a
then strategic location, Troy, was to be expected. In folklore, the
powerful Pelopid family ruled many Greek states, one branch of which
was the Atreid dynasty at Mycenae.
By 1200 BC, the power of
Mycenae was declining; finally, during the
12th century BC, Mycenaean dominance collapsed entirely. The eventual
Mycenae formed part of the general
Bronze Age collapse
in the Greek mainland and beyond. Within a short time around 1200 BC,
all the palace complexes of southern
Greece were burned, including
that at Mycenae. This was traditionally attributed by scholars to a
Dorian invasion of
Greeks from the north, although many historians now
doubt that this invasion caused the destruction of the Mycenaean
centres. Displaced populations escaped to former colonies of the
Anatolia and elsewhere, where they came to speak the
Emily Vermeule suggests that the disruption of commercial networks at
the end of the 13th century BC was disastrous for
Greece and this was
followed by the coming of the mysterious "Sea Peoples", who caused
chaos in the Aegean. According to Egyptian records, the "Sea
Peoples" destroyed the
Hittite Empire then attacked the 19th and the
20th dynasties of Egypt, (circa 1300–1164). They may be related with
the destruction of the Mycenaean centers (the records of
sea-attack). However at the end of LHIIIB period, the Mycenaeans
undertook an expedition against Troy, which meant that the sea was
safe with no indication of destruction in the Aegean islands.
Another theory has drought as the primary cause behind the Mycenaean
decline, but there is no climatological evidence to support this.
Manolis Andronikos claimed that internal conflicts involving social
revolutions were the sole cause behind the destruction of Mycenaean
sites, but this is contradicted by the fact that all the Mycenaean
Greece were destroyed almost simultaneously.
George E. Mylonas noticed that after 1200 BC, some attempt was made
for recovery in Mycenae. He believes that in the
Argolid there was
internal fighting, and this was followed by the Dorian invasion. It
seems that the
Dorians moved southward gradually in small clans, until
they managed to establish themselves.
Amos Nur argues that earthquakes played a major role in the
Mycenae and many other cities at the end of the Bronze
Age. However, no conclusive evidence has been brought forward to
confirm any theory of why the Mycenaean citadel and others throughout
Greece fell almost simultaneously at this time.
Whatever the cause, by the LHIIIC period (whose latest phase is also
Mycenae was no longer a major power. Pottery
and decorative styles were changing rapidly with craftsmanship and
fine art undergoing a decline. Although settlements were significantly
reduced in size, the citadel remained occupied but never regained its
Archaic and Classical Periods
A temple dedicated to
Hera was built on the summit of the Mycenaean
citadel during the Archaic Period. A Mycenaean contingent fought at
Plataea during the Persian Wars. In 468 BC, however,
Argos captured Mycenae, expelled the inhabitants and razed
Revival and Abandonment
Mycenae was briefly reoccupied in the
Hellenistic period, when it
could boast a theatre (located over the Tomb of Clytemnestra). The
site was subsequently abandoned, and by the Roman period in
ruins had become a tourist attraction. The ancient travel writer
Pausanias, for example, visited the site and briefly described the
prominent fortifications and the Lion Gate, still visible in his
It appears that the Mycenaean state was ruled by kings identified by
the title 𐀷𐀙𐀏, wa-na-ka ("wanax') in the Linear B
Knossos and Pylos. In the
Homeric poems, the word form
is anax (ἄναξ), often translated in English as "lord". Some
inscriptions with a list of offerings indicate that the king was
probably divine, but the term "for the king" is usually accompanied by
another name. It is doubtful that the wanax was responsible for
religious matters, but probably his title indicates that his right to
rule was given by the god. The term 𐀣𐀯𐀩𐀄, qa-si-re-u
(cf. βασιλεύς, "basileús"), which was later used in Greece
for "king", was apparently used for the "chief" of any group of
people, or for a provincial official. (
Homer mentions many basilees in
The land possessed by the king is usually called 𐀳𐀕𐀜,
te-me-no (τέμενος, "témenos"), a word that survived in
Greece (the temenos placed by
Hephaestus on the shield of
Achilles is called "royal"). Other important landowners were the
𐀨𐀷𐀐𐀲, ra-wa-ke-ta ("lāwāgetas"), the leader of the
people, and the 𐀳𐀩𐀲, te-re-ta ("telestai"), the officials.
Lawagetas is placed next to the king and he could be the leader of the
army, but this is not confirmed by the inscriptions. Leonard
Robert Palmer suggests that the "telestai were the men of telos- the
fief holders". The 𐀁𐀤𐀲, e-qe-ta (equetai, "companions" or
"followers") were a group of nobles (aristocrats), who followed the
king in peace and war. There is also at least one instance of a
Enkhelyawon at Pylos, who appears titleless in the written
record but whom modern scholars regard as being probably a king.
From the existing evidence, it seems that the kingdom was further
subdivided into sixteen districts. The 𐀒𐀩𐀮, ko-re-te was the
"governor of the district" and the 𐀡𐀫𐀒𐀩𐀮,
po-ro-ko-re-te was the "deputy". It is possible that the real names
were koreter and prokoreter. The 𐀅𐀗𐀒𐀫, da-mo-ko-ro
(damokoros) was an official appointment but his duties are not very
clear. The communal land was held at the hands of 𐀅𐀗, da-mo
(literally, "people", cf. δῆμος, dễmos), or "plot holders". It
seems that "damo" was a collective body of men, representing the local
district. It is suggested that qa-si-re-u had a council of elders,
a 𐀐𐀫𐀯𐀊, ke-ro-si-ja, (later "γερουσία", gerousia),
but Palmer believes that it was an organization of "bronze
For a more comprehensive list, see List of Mycenaean deities.
Much of the Mycenaean religion survived into classical
Greece in their
pantheon of Greek deities, but it is not known to what extent Greek
religious belief is Mycenaean, nor how much is a product of the Greek
Dark Ages or later.
Moses I. Finley detected only few authentic
Mycenaean beliefs in the 8th-century
Homeric world, but Nilsson
suggested that the Mycenean religion was the mother of the Greek
religion. Through oral tradition,
Homer transferred the beliefs
during the Dark Ages, but he kept in memory the confederacy of the
Greeks under the powerful king of Mycenae. when gods walked along
friendly with men, and the "Heroic Age" when great heroes dominated
the scene. The belief in gods as embodiments of power, the heroic
outlook inherited from a distant past together with the local chthonic
cults, were later fitted into the frame of the city-states.
From the history traced by Nilsson and Guthrie, the Mycenaean pantheon
consisted of Minoan deities, but also of gods and goddesses who appear
under different names with similar functions in East and West.
Many of these names appearing in the
Linear B inscriptions can be
found later in classical
Greece like Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena,
Eileithyia and Dionysos, but the etymology is the only
evidence of the cults.
There are several reasonable guesses that can be made, however. It
seems that originally the Mycenaeans, like many Indo-Europeans,
considered divine any object that inherited an internal power (anima).
Certain religious beliefs were mixed with the beliefs of the local
populations as it appears in the old cults of isolated Arcadia, which
survived up to classical Greece. In these cults,
usually as a horse, representing the river spirit of the underworld as
it usually happens in northern-European folklore. The precursor
Persephone are closely related with the
springs and the animals, and especially with
was the first nymph. Mycenaean religion was almost certainly
polytheistic, and the Mycenaeans were actively syncretistic, adding
foreign deities to their pantheon of deities with considerable ease.
The Mycenaeans probably entered
Greece with a pantheon of deities
headed by some ruling sky-deity, which linguists speculate might have
been called *Dyeus in early Indo-European. In Greek, this deity would
Zeus or Dias in ancient Greek). Among the
Hindus, this sky-deity becomes "Dyaus Pita". In Latin he becomes "deus
pater" or Jupiter; we still encounter this word in the etymologies of
the words "deity" and "divine".
Later in some cults,
Zeus is united with the Aegean Great Goddess, who
is represented by
Hera in a "holy wedding" (hieros gamos). At some
point in their cultural history, the Mycenaeans adopted some Minoan
goddesses like Aphaea, Britomartis,
Diktynna and associated them with
their sky-god. Many of them were absorbed by more powerful
divinities, and some like the vegetation goddesses
Ariadne and Helen
survived in Greek folklore together with the cult of the "divine
child", who was probably the precursor of Dionysos.
Hera survived and were tutelary goddesses, the guardians of the
palaces and the cities. In general, later Greek religion distinguishes
between two types of deities: the Olympian, or sky deities (including
Zeus), which are now commonly known in some form or another; and, the
chthonic deities, or deities of the earth.
Walter Burkert warns: "To
what extent one can and must differentiate between Minoan and
Mycenaean religion is a question which has not yet found a conclusive
answer." He suggests that useful parallels will be found in the
relations between Etruscan and Archaic Greek culture and religion, or
between Roman and
The pantheon also included deities representing the powers of nature
and wildlife, who appear with similar functions in the Mediterranean
region. The "Mistress of the Animals" (Potnia Theron), later
called Artemis, may be identified as the Minoan goddess
Poseidon is the lord of the sea, and
therefore of storms and earthquakes, (the "Earth shaker" in Linear B
tablets). He may have functioned as a pre-Hellenic chthonic Zeus, the
lord or spouse of the Earth goddess.
Athena whose task was to
protect the olive-trees is a civic Artemis. The powers of animal
nature fostered a belief in nymphs whose existence was bound to the
trees and the waters, and in gods with human forms and the heads or
tails of animals who stood for primitive bodily instincts. In Arcadia
were depicted animal-headed gods, indicating that in the remote past
the gods were conceived as animals and birds, in a surrounding of
animal-headed daemons. Later the gods were revealed in human forms
with an animal as a companion or symbol. Some of the old gods survived
in the cult of
Dionysos (Satyrs) and Pan (the goat-god).
The Mycenaeans adopted probably from the east a priest-king system and
the belief of a ruling deity in the hands of a theocratic society. At
the end of the second millennium BC, when the Mycenaean palaces
collapsed, it seems that Greek thought was gradually released from the
idea that each man was a servant to the gods, and sought a "moral
purpose". It is possible that this procedure started before the end of
the Mycenaean age, but the idea is almost absent or vague in the
Homeric poems, where the interference of the gods is not related to
the rightness or wrongness of men's actions. Later,
Hesiod uses a
lot of eastern material in his cosmology and in the genealogical trees
of the gods, and he introduces the idea of the existence of
something else behind the gods, which was more powerful than they.
This is the powerful Fate (Moira), who in the
Homeric poems is acting
in parallel with the gods and predestinates the events. Hesiod
complies to the Greek desire of an order in the universe, and tries to
bring the gods under a rule comparable to the rule which controls the
lives of men. In Greek mythology this power is named Ananke
The Olympian Pantheon is an ordered system. The Greek divinities live
Zeus at the helm and each is concerned with a recognizable
sphere. However, certain elements in some Greek cults indicate the
survival of some older cults from a less rationalized world: old cults
of the dead, agrarian magic, exorcism of evil spirits, peculiar
sacrifices, and animal-headed gods. In the
Homeric poems, the avenging
Fate was probably originally a daemon acting in parallel with the
gods. Later, the cult of
Zagreus indicates that
life-blood of animals was needed to renew that of men. A similar
belief may be guessed from the Mycenaean Hagia Triada sarcophagus
(1400 BC), which combines features of
Minoan civilization and
Mycenaean style. It seems that the blood of a bull was used for the
regeneration of the reappearing dead. Probably most of these cults
existed in the Mycenaean period and survived by immemorial practice.
A secondary level of importance was the cult of the heroes, which
seems to have started in the Mycenaean era. These were great men of
the past who were exalted to honor after death, because of what they
had done. According to an old Minoan belief, beyond the sea there was
an island called Elysion, where the departed could have a different
but happier existence. Later, the
Greeks believed that there could
live in human form only heroes and the beloved of the gods. The souls
of the rest would drift unconsciously in the gloomy space of Hades.
Gods and men had common origins, but there was an enormous gap between
the immortal gods and mortal men. However, certain elements indicate
that the Myceneans probably believed in a future existence. Two
well-preserved bodies were found in Shaft Grave VI, and Wolfgang
Helbig believed that an embalming preceded the burial. In the
shaft graves discovered by Heinrich Schliemann, the corpses were
lightly exposed to fire in order to preserve them.
Mycenaean religion certainly involved offerings and sacrifices to the
deities, and some have speculated that their ceremonies involved human
sacrifice based on textual evidence and bones found outside tombs. In
Homeric poems, there seems to be a lingering cultural memory of
human sacrifice in King Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter,
Iphigenia; several of the stories of Trojan heroes involve tragic
human sacrifice. In the far past, even human beings might be offered
to placate inscrutable gods, especially in times of guilty fear. Later
sacrifice became a feast at which oxen were slaughtered. Men kept the
meat, and gave the gods the bones wrapped in fat.
Beyond this speculation we can go no further. Somewhere in the shades
of the centuries between the fall of the Mycenaean civilization and
the end of the Greek Dark Ages, the original Mycenaean religion
persisted and adapted until it finally emerged in the stories of human
devotion, apostasy, and divine capriciousness that exists in the two
great epic poems of Homer. It was the beginning of the religion which
Greeks considered Hellenic, and embodies a paradox. Though
the world is dominated by a divine power that the gods bestow in
different ways on men, nothing but "darkness" lay ahead and life was
sometimes frail and unsubstantial.
Mycenae in Greek mythology and legends
Perseus, from Pompeii.
Classical Greek myths assert that
Mycenae was founded by Perseus,
grandson of king
Acrisius of Argos, son of Acrisius's daughter, Danaë
and the god Zeus. Having killed his grandfather by accident, Perseus
could not, or would not, inherit the throne of Argos. Instead he
arranged an exchange of realms with his cousin, Megapenthes, and
became king of Tiryns,
Megapenthes taking Argos. After that, he
Mycenae and ruled the kingdoms jointly from there.
Perseus married Andromeda and had many sons, but in the course of
time, went to war with
Argos and was slain by Megapenthes. His son,
Electryon, became the second of the dynasty, but the succession was
disputed by the Taphians under Pterelaos, another Perseid, who
assaulted Mycenae, lost, and retreated with the cattle. The cattle
were recovered by Amphitryon, a grandson of Perseus, but he killed his
uncle by accident with a club in an unruly cattle incident and had to
go into exile.
The throne went to Sthenelus, third in the dynasty, a son of Perseus.
He set the stage for future greatness by marrying Nicippe, a daughter
Pelops of Elis, the most powerful state of the region and the
times. With her he had a son, Eurystheus, the fourth and last of the
Perseid dynasty. When a son of Heracles, Hyllus, killed Sthenelus,
Eurystheus became noted for his enmity to
Heracles and for his
ruthless persecution of the Heracleidae, the descendants of Heracles.
This is the first we hear in legend of those noted sons, who became a
symbol of the Dorians.
Heracles had been a Perseid. After his death,
Eurystheus determined to annihilate these rivals for the throne of
Mycenae, but they took refuge in Athens, and in the course of war,
Eurystheus and all his sons were killed. The Perseid dynasty came to
an end and the people of
Mycenae placed Eurystheus's maternal uncle,
Atreus, a Pelopid, on the throne.
The people of
Mycenae had received advice from an oracle that they
should choose a new king from among the Pelopids. The two contenders
Atreus and his brother, Thyestes. The latter was chosen at first.
At this moment nature intervened and the sun appeared to reverse
direction by setting in the east.
Atreus argued that because the sun
had reversed its path, the election of
Thyestes should be reversed.
The argument was heeded, and
Atreus became king. His first move was to
Thyestes and all his family - that is, his own kin - but
Thyestes managed to escape from Mycenae.
The Return of Agamemnon, Illustration from Stories from the Greek
Tragedians by Alfred Church, 1897.
Atreus had two sons,
Agamemnon and Menelaus, the Atreids.
Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes, killed
Atreus and restored
the throne. With the help of King
Tyndareus of Sparta, the Atreids
Thyestes again into exile.
Tyndareus had two ill-starred
daughters, Helen and Clytemnestra, whom
Menelaus and Agamemnon
king of Sparta.
The Murder of Agamemnon, Illustration from Stories from the Greek
Tragedians by Alfred Church, 1897.
Soon, Helen eloped with Paris of Troy.
Agamemnon conducted a 10-year
Troy to get her back for his brother. Because of lack of
wind, the warships could not sail to Troy. In order to please the gods
so that they might make the winds start to blow,
his daughter Iphigenia. According to some versions of the legend, the
Artemis replaced her at the very last moment with a
deer on the altar, and took
Euripides). The deities, having been satisfied by such a sacrifice,
made the winds blow and the Greek fleet departed.
Legend tells us that the long and arduous Trojan War, although
nominally a Greek victory, brought anarchy, piracy, and ruin; already
before the Greek fleet set sail for Troy, the conflict had divided the
gods as well, and this contributed to curses and acts of vengeance
following many of the Greek heroes. After the war, Agamemnon,
returning, was greeted royally with a red carpet rolled out for him
and then was slain in his bathtub by Clytemnestra, who hated him
bitterly for having ordered the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia
(although the life of the latter had been saved).
aided in her crime by Aegistheus, who reigned subsequently, but
Orestes, son of Agamemnon, was smuggled out to Phocis. He returned as
an adult to slay
Clytemnestra and Aegistheus. He then fled to Athens
to evade justice and a matricide, and became insane for a time.
Meanwhile, the throne of
Mycenae went to Aletes, son of Aegistheus,
but not for long. Recovering, Orestes returned to
Mycenae to kill him
and take the throne.
Orestes then built a larger state in the Peloponnese, but he died in
Arcadia from a snake bite. His son, Tisamenus, the last of the Atreid
dynasty, was killed by the
Heracleidae on their return to the
Peloponnesus. They claimed the right of the Perseids to inherit the
various kingdoms of the
Peloponnese and cast lots for the dominion of
them. Whatever the historical realities reflected in these stories,
the Atreids are firmly set in the epoch near the end of the Heroic
Age, leading up to the arrival of the Dorians. There are no
established stories of a royal house at
Mycenae later than the
Atreids, and this could reflect the fact that not much more than fifty
or sixty years seem to have separated the fall of
Troy VIIa (the
likely inspiration of
Homeric Troy) and the fall of Mycenae.
Atreids in Asia Minor
Map showing the Hittite empire and the Ahhiyawa (most probably the
On March 5, 1223 BC, there was a total eclipse of the sun in the
Atreus might have twisted into a setting of the sun in
the east. However, this date does not solve all unknowns.
A late date is implied for the Trojan War, which would, in that case,
have been against
Troy VIIa after all. The Perseids would have been in
power circa 1380 BC, the date of a statue base from Kom el-Heitan in
Egypt recording the itinerary of an Egyptian embassy to the Aegean in
the time of
Amenhotep III (r. 1391–1353 BC or 1388–1351 BC).
M-w-k-i-n-u (phonetic "Mukanuh"?) was one of the cities visited, a
rare early document of the name of Mycenae. It was one of the cities
of the tj-n3-jj ("Tinay"?), The
Danaans were named, in
myth, after Danaë, which suggests that the Perseids were in fact in
some sort of dominion.
Also in the 14th century BC, Ahhiya began to be troublesome to
numerous kings of the Hittite Empire. Ahhiyawa or Ahhiya, which occurs
a few dozen times in Hittite tablets over the century, is probably
Achaiwia, reconstructed Mycenaean Greek for Achaea. The Hittites did
not use "Danaja" as did the Egyptians, even though the first Ahhiya
reference in the "Indictment of Madduwatta" precedes the
Amenhotep III and one of Madduwatta's
subsequent successors in Arzawa, Tarhunta-Radu. The external
LHIIIA:1-era sources do, however, agree in their omission of a great
king or other unifying structure behind Ahhiya and the Tinay.
For example, in the "Indictment of Madduwatta", Attarsiya, the "ruler
of Ahhiya", attacks
Madduwatta and drives him from his land. He
obtains refuge and military assistance from the King Tudhaliya of the
Hittites. After the death of the latter and in the reign of his
Madduwatta allies with Attarissiya and they, along
with another ruler, raid Alasiya, that is, Cyprus.
This is the only known occurrence of a man named Attarissiya. Attempts
to link this name to
Atreus have not found wide support, nor is there
any evidence of a powerful Pelopid named
Atreus of those times.
During LHIIIA:2, Ahhiya, now known as Ahhiyawa, extended its influence
over Miletus, settling on the coast of Anatolia, and competed with the
Hittites for influence and control in western Anatolia. For instance,
Arzawa and through him Manapa-Tarhunta's Seha River Land.
While establishing the credibility of the Mycenaean
Greeks as a
historical power, these documents create as many problems as they
Similarly, a Hittite king wrote the so-called
Tawagalawa Letter to the
Great King of Ahhiyawa, concerning the depredations of the Luwiyan
adventurer Piyama-Radu. Neither of the names of the great kings are
stated; the Hittite king could be either
Muwatalli II or his brother
Hattusili III, which at least dates the letter to LHIIIB by Mycenaean
standards. But neither the
Atreus nor the
Agamemnon of legend have any
brothers named *Etewoclewes (Eteocles); this name, rather, is
associated with Thebes, which during the preceding LHIIIA period
Amenhotep III had viewed as equal to Mycenae.
A clay tablet from Mycenae, with writing in Linear B.
The first excavations at
Mycenae were carried out by Greek
archaeologist Kyriakos Psistakis in 1841 where he found and restored
the Lion Gate. In 1874,
Heinrich Schliemann excavated deep shafts
all over the acropolis without permission; in August 1876, a complete
excavation of the site by Schliemann commenced with the permission of
the Archaeological Society of
Athens (ASA) and the supervision of one
of its members, Panayiotis Stamatakis. Schliemann believed in the
historical truth of the
Homeric stories and interpreted the site
accordingly. He found the ancient shaft graves with their royal
skeletons and spectacular grave goods. Upon discovering a human skull
beneath a gold death mask in one of the tombs, he declared: "I have
gazed upon the face of Agamemnon". Christos Tsountas, another
member of the ASA, cleared a significant portion of the citadel during
his excavations of the site beginning in 1884 and ending in 1902.
Afterwards, Tsountas and the ASA gave permission to the British School
of Archaeology (BSA) to excavate; the BSA conducted excavations from
1920 to 1955 under the supervision of Alan John Bayard Wace. After
Wace died in 1957, excavation work was finished by Lord William Taylor
from 1958 to 1969, especially on the west slope of the citadel.
The ASA continued excavation work on the site with efforts led by
Ioannis Papadimitriou and Nicolas Verdelis in the late 1950s and early
1960s, as well as by George Mylonas from 1957 up until 1985. In
1985, excavation work was directed by Spyros Iakovidis who, as of
2009[update], is still overseeing the ASA's research mission in both
fieldwork and publication preparation.
Since Schliemann's day, more scientific excavations have taken place
at Mycenae, mainly by Greek archaeologists but also by the British
School at Athens. The acropolis was excavated in 1902, and the
surrounding hills have been methodically investigated by subsequent
Athens Archaeological Society is currently excavating
Mycenae Lower Town (as of 2011[update]), with support from
Dickinson College and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory.
Boar's tusk helmet
Fortification of Mycenae
Gold Grave Goods at Grave Circles A and B
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
^ Chew 2000, p. 220; Chapman 2005, p. 94: "...Thebes at 50
Mycenae at 32 hectares..."
^ Beaudouin 1880, pp. 206–210.
^ Pausanias. Description of Greece, 2.16.5.
^ Blakolmer 2010, p. 50: "Thus it is no wonder that the Lion Gate
attracted the attention of European scholars who visited this
prominent city-gate in the
Argolid - a region constituting not only a
focal point of antiquity but also the heart-land of early modern
Greece and thus presenting good preconditions for foreign travellers
and scholars in the 19th century. Mycenae's first identification by a
European traveller was by M. de Monceaux in 1669, while the first
mention of the
Lion Gate is due to the Venetian engineer Francesco
Vandeyk in 1700." [Note: The interpretation of the 1669 visit is
contradicted by Moore, Rowlands & Karadimas 2014 where de Monceaux
had not visited Mycenae, having mistakenly identified an acropolis as
Mycenae on his travels to Tiryns.]
^ Moore, Rowlands & Karadimas 2014, p. 4: "The first modern,
correct, identification of
Mycenae seems to have been made in 1700,
when the government of Venice ordered Francesco Grimani, Proveditor
General of the Armies in Morea, to register all their properties in
the Peloponnese. The record was completed under the direction of the
engineer, Francesco Vandeyk, who not only made detailed plans for each
village, but also studied and described ancient monuments. Among them
was the ancient site of
Mycenae which he was able to identify on the
basis of Pausanias' description. Vandeyk reported a monumental
entrance where a triangular relief was sculpted with two lions
disposed heraldically against a column. He noted that these lions
stepped their forepaws on two altars and, as a result, the entrance is
known today as the Lion Gate. Indeed, Pausanias' own description of
Lion Gate was so accurate that it did not leave any doubt that the
monumental acropolis, close to the modem village of Charvati, was the
site identified by the ancient author as Agamemnon's citadel."
^ Beekes 2009, p. 29 (s.v. "Ἀθήνη").
^ Chadwick 1976, p. 1. Although Chadwick states that the name
"Mycenae" is derived from a previously unknown language(s) spoken in
Greece, he admits that his supposition of a
Greek language outside of
Greece is "a hypothesis for which there is no evidence."
^ Pausanias. Description of Greece, 2.16.3
^ Homer. Iliad, 4.52, 7.180, 11.46
^ Shelton 2010, p. 58.
^ a b c Forsén 1992, "
Argolid (A:5)", pp. 51–52.
^ Velikovsky 1999, Edwin M. Schorr, "Applying the Revised Chronology:
Later Use of Grave Circles".
^ Komita 1982, pp. 59–60.
^ French 2002, p. 56.
^ An older view that it represents a goddess, now generally
discounted, is to be found in W.K.C. Guthrie, in The Cambridge Ancient
History (1975) Volume I, Part II, p. 864: "A frequent design on
engraved Cretan gems is of the type made famous by the
Lion Gate at
Mycenae, a single upright pillar, flanked by a pair of guardian
animals. Sometimes the same arrangement is preserved, but the
anthropomorphic figure of a god or goddess takes the place of a
pillar" (illustrations from Nilsson). More recent discussions of its
symbolism can be found in James C. Wright, "The Spatial Configuration
of Belief: The Archaeology of Mycenaean Religion" in S.E. Alcock and
Robin Osborne (eds.), Placing the Gods, Oxford University Press, 1996,
pp. 37–78. Here Wright suggests that the pillar represents the
palace which in turn represents the state.
^ Castleden 2005, pp. 95–96; French 2002; Luce 1975, p. 35:
Lion Gate provides further testimony to the power of the
Pelopids, for Mylonas appears to have shown conclusively that it dates
from c. 1250. With the stretch of
Cyclopean wall enclosing Grave
Circle A it represents the climax of military and monumental
^ Scarre 1999.
^ Vermeule 1960, p. 67.
^ Mylonas 1966, pp. 230–231.
^ Andronikos 1954, pp. 221–240.
^ Desborough 1975, pp. 658–677.
^ Mylonas 1966, p. 232.
^ Nur 2008, Chapter 8: Earthquake Storms and the Catastrophic End of
the Bronze Age, pp. 224–245.
^ French 2002, p. 142: "The dedications continue at the Shrine by the
Bridge into the fifth century, probably beyond the disablement of the
walls by the Argives in 468 BC."
^ French 2002, pp. 19, 146–150.
^ a b c d Chadwick 1976, pp. 70–77.
^ a b c d Mylonas 1966, pp. 206–208.
^ Chadwick 1976, pp. 71–72.
^ Finley 1954, p. 124.
^ Nilsson 1967, Volume I, p. 339.
^ Page 1976, "IV: The
Homeric Description of Mycenaean Greece", pp.
118–177 (see especially pp. 122–123).
^ a b c d Dietrich 1973, pp. 65–66.
^ Paul, Adams John (10 January 2010). "Mycenaean Divinities".
Northridge, CA: California State University. Retrieved 24 January
^ a b Nilsson 1967, Volume I, pp. 479–480.
^ Kerényi 1976, pp. 110–114; Nilsson 1967, Volume I, pp.
315–319. The child dies every year in order to be reborn. In the
Minoan myth it is abandoned by his mother, and then brought up by the
powers of nature. Similar myths are found in the cults of Hyakinthos
Ploutos (Eleusis), and in the cult
^ Burkert 1987, p. 21.
^ Hornblower, Spawforth & Eidinow 2012, "Artemis", pp. 175–176.
Poseidon is pairing with the "Two Goddesses" (
Linear B tablets. There is a theory linking his name
with elements meaning "husband" or "lord" (Greek πόσις (posis),
PIE *pótis) and another element meaning "earth" (δᾶ (da),
Doric for γῆ (gē)), producing something like lord or spouse of Da,
i.e. of the earth. His name may also be interpreted as "lord of the
PIE *potis and Sanskr. daFon: "water").
^ Walcot 1966, p. 85f.; Jeffrey 1976, p. 38; M.L. West
(Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient, 1971, p. 205) holds that such
eastern material is more likely to be lingering traces from the
Mycenaean tradition than the result of Oriental contacts in Hesiod's
^ Hesiod. Theogony, Lines 216–224: "Also she bore the Destinies and
ruthless avenging Fates, Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos, who give men
at their birth both evil and good to have, and they pursue the
transgressions of men and of gods: and these goddesses never cease
from their dread anger until they punish the sinner with a sore
^ a b Nilsson 1967, Volume I, p. 368: "Moira is not a god, because
otherwise the will of the god would be predestinated. Compare Kismet
in Muslim religion."
^ Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound, Lines 515–518.
^ Schachermeyer 1964, p. 128.
^ Schachermeyer 1964, p. 241.
^ Schachermeyer 1964, p. 141.
Elysion may be affiliated with
Eleusis, the city of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
^ Helbig 1884, p. 53; Wunderlich 1974, p. 221.
^ Wunderlich 1974, pp. 216–218, 221–222.
^ Hesiod. Theogony, Lines 535–544.
^ Pindar. Pythionikos, VIII.95–7: "Man's life is a day. What is he,
what is he not? A shadow in a dream is man, but when God sheds a
brightness, shining light is on earth and life is sweet as honey."
^ For a fuller discussion of this statue base, the names on it and the
pronunciation, Tinay, which appears related to Danaj-, see Documentary
and Archaeological Evidence of Minoan Trade.
^ a b Beckman, Bryce & Cline 2012, "Introduction", p. 5.
^ Popko 2008, pp. 121–122.
^ a b c d e f g Gagarin 2010, "Mycenae: Archaeology of Mycenae", pp.
^ Schliemann 1878.
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