Mycenae is the site where a mysterious late bronze-age civilization rose from nowhere around 1900 BCE, flourished mostly in the Peloponnese peninsula, and then disappeared suddenly around 1100 BCE. Whatever little we know about the Mycenaean civilization is fascinating.
The Mycenaean were a loose confederation of city-states, each of which was ruled by a king. The center of the Mycenaean civilization was the city-state of Mycenae. According to a myth, Perseus, a son of Zeus and Danae, founded Mycenae. Mycenae was also the capital of legendary King Agamemnon, who defeated Troy. Homer refers to the Mycenaean people as Achaeans.
The Mycenaean were believed to be an Indo-European people, who migrated from the north and established settlements in Peloponnese. Although the Mycenaeans eventually conquered Minoans of Crete, they had an amicable relationship with the Minoans for a long time. Many aspects of the Mycenaean culture was influenced by the Minoans. When the Mycenaean disappeared abruptly in 1100 BCE, Greece plunged into dark ages.
The was site was discovered in 1870’s by the German businessman and amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann who was already famous for discovering the city of Troy.
The site is on a hill and the ruins are visible as you go towards the ruins.
Views from the Mycenae citadel
A massive wall known as the Cyclopean Wall surrounded the Mycenae citadel. The wall was named after the mythical giants from Asia known as Cyclopes. According to a legend, Perseus, the founder of Mycenae, employed Cyclopes to build the massive wall enclosing the citadel.
Built around 13th century BCE, the Lion Gate is the entrance to the citadel at Mycenae and part of the Cyclopean Wall that surrounds it. The sculpture on the lintel of the gate has a pillar flanked by two headless lions. It is believed that the original sculpture had the metal heads on the lions.
Grave Circle A
Grave Circle A is the site of a cemetery located inside the Mycenae citadel. The cemetery is enclosed by two rows of circular walls formed by stone slabs. When this site was excavated, six shaft graves with the bodies of 19 people, including men, women, and children were found. Each grave had a mound and stelae. Also found in the grave is a number of funerary objects, including a golden death mask, gold and silver cups, rings, buttons, bracelets, and daggers.
Grave Circle A
Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered the cemetery in the 1870’s, believed that the legendary King Agamemnon was buried there. However, the site is dated 17th or 16th century BCE, which is well before the time of King Agamemnon. Experts are not sure who was buried in this site but believe that bodies belong to high-ranking people of Mycenae, probably the royalty.
The Mycenae palace is located at the highest point on the acropolis. The ruins visible today belong to the building constructed in the 13th century BCE. Only the foundations and floor paving of some rooms have survived. The archaeological evidence suggests that the site might have had many buildings before the current one.
The palace complex had a large courtyard and a megaron (meeting hall). The megaron consisted of a portico, prodomos (anteroom or open vestibule), and main hall, whose principal space (known as domos) consisted of a circular hearth and four columns supporting the roof. See the model in the image below.
People gathered in the megaron to conduct palace business. It was destroyed, most likely by fire, in the late 13th century BCE, and was rebuilt in the 12th century.
A large underground cistern supplied water to the Mycenae citadel. The image below shows the entrance to the tunnel that led to a large underground cistern which received water collected from a natural spring through underground aqueducts.
This is the second gate of the citadel. It was built around 1250 BCE. The gate had double wooden doors with a sliding bolt to lock them. The path from the north gate led to palace megaron.
Agamemnon Tomb (Treasury of Atreus)
Located on the Panagitsa hill near the Mycenae citadel and dated between 1350 and 1330 BCE, the Agamemnon Tomb is a massive dome-like structure with an entrance similar to the Lion Gate.
The Agamemnon Tomb owes its name to its discoverer Heinrich Schliemann, who assumed that the tomb was built for King Agamemnon of the Trojan war fame. There is no evidence to suggest that it indeed belonged to him. In fact, the monument was built well before his time period.
The dome-like structure similar to the Agamemnon Tomb is known a bee-hive tomb because of its resemblance to a beehive. It is also known as the tholos tomb. The beehive tombs were prevalent in Peloponnese in the late bronze age.
This monument was referred to as Treasury of Atreus by the Greek traveler Pausanias who visited this site in the 2nd century CE.
Entrance and Passageway
It has a remarkable entrance with a long passageway and a doorway similar to the Lions Gate in design. The lintel above the door is a massive stone weighing about 120 tons. The triangular space above the lintel is empty but might have housed some sculptures.
The passageway is long with a wall on each side. The shape of most of the stones is rectangular. There are some are polygonal stones, though.
The stones were cut precisely to fit the wall perfectly despite the differences in their sizes, and it appears no mortar was used to bind them. As you can see in the image below, some of the stones on these walls are massive.
The chamber is a dome with a diameter 14.5 meters and the height 13 meters. Considering the time period in which it was built, the construction of the dome was considered a great engineering feat.
Inside the chamber of the Tomb of Agamemnon
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