Mycenae is an archaeological site, located about 90 km south-west of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. Argos is 11 km to the south; Corinth, 48 km to the north. From the hill on which the palace was located one can see across the Argolid to the Saronic Gulf.
In the second millennium BC Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to Mycenae.
Only scattered sherds from disturbed debris have been found datable to the Neolithic (prior to 3500 BC). The site was inhabited but the stratigraphy has been destroyed by later construction.
Early Bronze Age
It is believed that Mycenae was settled close to 2000 BC by Indo-Europeans who practiced farming and herding. Scattered sherds dating to 2100-1700 BC have been found, when Mycenae interacted with Minoan Crete. Other theories suggest the settling of Mycenae a thousand yours earlier.
Middle Bronze Age
The first burials in pits or cist graves began to the west of the acropolis at about 1800-1700 BC. The acropolis was enclosed at least partially by the earliest circuit wall.
Of the cist graves and the Middle Helladic Emily Vermeule said:
- “…there is nothing in the Middle Helladic world to prepare us for the furious splendor of the Shaft Graves.“
Late Bronze Age
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
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 9 female, 8 male, and two juvenile interments. Grave goods were wealthier 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 practical.
Late Helladic II
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 IIA. 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
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.
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 acropolis. In the Temple built within the citadel, a scarab of Queen Tiye of Egypt, who was married to Amenhotep III, was placed in the Room of the Idols.
Wace’s second group of tholoi are dated between IIA and IIIB: Kato Phournos, Panagia Tholos, and the Lion Tomb. The final group, Group III: the Treasury of Atreus, the Tomb of Clytemnestra and the Tomb of the Genii, are dated to IIIB 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 sequence of further construction at Mycenae is approximately as follows. Around 1250 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 workshops.
Read more about the history, the mythology and the religion of Mycenae at Wikipedia’s website
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