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This article is about the ancient Greek city. For the hamlet in New York, see Mycenae, New York.
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A clay tablet with writing in Linear B from Mycenae.

Mycenae (ancient Greek: Μυκῆναι, IPA, /myˈkɛːnai/, in modern Greek: Μυκήνες, /miˈkinɛs/, U.S. English: /maɪˈsini/; see also List of traditional Greek place names), is an archaeological site in Greece, located about 90km south-west of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. Argos is 6 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.

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The Lion Gate at Mycenae
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The so-called "Tomb of Aegisthus" outside the walls of the citadel


[edit] Name

The reconstructed Mycenaean Greek name of the place is Mukanai (long a), which has the form of a plural, like Athanai. The change of a to e is a development of later Attic-Ionic.

Although the citadel was built by Greeks, the name is not thought to be Greek, but is rather one of the many pre-Greek place names inherited by the immigrant Hellenes. John Chadwick said:

"Names such as ... Mukanai ... are certainly derived from one or more unknown languages, previously spoken in Greece."

The pre-Greek language remains unknown, but there is no evidence to rule out a member of the Indo-European superfamily. (See Pelasgian, Minyans)

[edit] Prehistory

[edit] Neolithic

Only scattered sherds from disturbed debris have been found datable to this period, prior to about 3500 BC. The site was inhabited but the stratigraphy has been destroyed by later construction.

[edit] Early Bronze Age

Scattered shards have been found from this period, 2100 BC to 1700 BC.

[edit] 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."

[edit] Late Bronze Age

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View from the acropolis, or "high city".

The settlement pattern at Mycenae during the Bronze Age was a fortified hill surrounded by hamlets and estates. Missing is the dense urbanity present on the coast (such as at 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 (like an Egyptian scarab) and since no dendrochronology has yet been performed upon the remains here, the events are here listed according to Helladic period material culture.

[edit] 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 four 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 8 male, 9 female and two child 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.

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Myceanean swords and cups.

[edit] 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 had all been plundered either in antiquity or in later historic times.

[edit] 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 Cyclops. Within these walls, parts of which can still be seen, monumental palaces were built. The palace (what is left of it) 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 one wall. Frescos adorned the plaster walls and floor.

In the Temple at the citadel, a scarab of Queen Tiye of Egypt - 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 Cyclopean and then to move the scarab here.

The entrance of the so-called "Tomb of Clytemnestra" out side the Citadel at Mycenae, a good example of the architectural type known as the tholos

The room was accessed from a courtyard with a columned portico. At Mycenae a grand staircase led from a terrace below to the courtyard on the acropolis. One can easily imagine Clytemnestra rolling out the proverbial red carpet upon it, but there is no evidence beyond the stories of poets and playwrights where she might have rolled it, or whether she really did.

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. The largest, it was discovered by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Since it had long ago been looted of its contents, he did not realise it was a tomb and called it the Treasury of Atreus.

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, which have a tolerance. The sequence of construction of imperial Mycenae is approximately as follows. At the beginning of LHIIIB, around 1300 or so, the Cyclopean wall was extended to the south slope to include grave circle A. The main entrance through the circuit wall was made grand by the best known feature of Mycenae, Lion Gate, through which passed a stepped ramp leading past circle A and up to the palace. It went past some houses considered to workshops now: the House of Shields, the House of the Oil Merchant, the House of the Sphinxes and the West House. An undecorated postern gate was also constructed through the north wall.

Somewhat later, at the LHIIIB:1/2 border, around 1250 or so, another renovation project was undertaken. The wall was extended again on the west side, with a sally port and also a secret passage through and under the wall, of corbelled 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. The Treasury of Atreus was constructed at about this time.

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 were already 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.

[edit] Decline

By 1200 BC the power of Mycenae was declining; during the 12th century, Mycenaean dominance collapsed.

LHIIIB ends in a universal catastrophe. Within a short time around 1250 BC, all the palaces of southern Greece were burned, including the one at Mycenae. This is traditionally attributed to a Dorian invasion of Greeks from the north, although some historians now doubt that such an invasion took place. As originally conceived, it certainly did not. No outsiders speaking Doric Greek entered Greece. Another theory postulates that some of the Mycenaean populace, who later came to speak the Doric dialect, turned on the weakened Mycenaean superstructure and razed it, settling in many regions formerly controlled by it. Displaced populations escaped to former colonies of the Mycenaeans in Anatolia and elsewhere, where they came to speak the Ionic dialect. However, no conclusive evidence has been brought forward to confirm any theory of why the Mycenaean citadel and others around it fell at this time.

In the period, LHIIIC, also termed "submycenaean", Mycenae was no longer a power. Pottery and decorative styles were changing rapidly. Craftmanship and art declined. The citadel was abandoned at the end of the 12th century, as it was no longer a stategic location, but only a remote one.

[edit] Revival and end

During the early Classical period, Mycenae was once again inhabited, though it never regained its earlier importance. Mycenaeans fought at Thermopylae and Plataea during the Persian Wars. In 462 BC, however, troops from Argos captured Mycenae and expelled the inhabitants. In Hellenistic and Roman times, the ruins at Mycenae were a tourist attraction (just as they are now). A small town grew up to serve the tourist trade. By late Roman times, however, the site had been abandoned.

[edit] Mycenae in mythology

[edit] Perseid dynasty

Legend asserts that Mycenae was founded by Perseus, grandson of king Acrisius of Argos, son of Acrisius' daughter, Danae. 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 half-brother, Megapenthes, and became king of Tiryns, Megapenthes taking Argos. From there he founded Mycenae and ruled the kingdoms jointly from Mycenae.

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 and losing 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 of king 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 hated 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. The people of Mycenae placed Eurystheus' maternal uncle, Atreus, a Pelopid, on the throne.

[edit] Atreid dynasty

The people of Mycenae had received an oracle that they should choose a new king from among the Pelopids. The two contenders were Atreus and his brother, Thyestes. The latter was chosen at first. At this moment nature intervened. The sun appeared to reverse direction and set in the east. Because the sun had reversed direction, he argued, the election of Thyestes should be reversed. Atreus became king. His first move was to pursue Thyestes and all his family, but Thyestes managed to escape Mycenae.

In legend, Atreus had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, the Atreids. Aegisthus, the son of Thyestes, killed Atreus and restored Thyestes to the throne. With the help of King Tyndareus of Sparta, the Atreids drove Thyestes again into exile. Tyndareus had two ill-starred daughters, Helen and Clytemnestra, whom Menelaus and Agamemnon married, respectively. Agamemnon inherited Mycenae and Menelaus was regent in Sparta.

Helen eloped with Paris of Troy. Agamemnon conducted a 10-year war against 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, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. Hunting goddess Artemis replaced her at the very last moment with a deer on the altar, and took Iphigenia to Tauris (See Iphigenia en Tauris by Euripides). The gods having been satisfied by such a sacrifice, the winds started blowing and the warfaring fleet departed.

Legend tells us that the long and arduous Trojan War, although nominally a Greek victory, brought anarchy, piracy and ruin. After the war, returning Agamemnon was greeted royally with a red carpet rolled out for him and then slain in his bathtub by Clytemnestra, who hated him bitterly for having sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia. Clytemnestra was aided in her crime by Aegistheus, who reigned subsequently, but Orestes, son of Agamemnon, was smuggled out to Phocis. He returned as a man to slay Clytemnestra and Aegistheus. He then fled to Sparta to evade justice, and, a matricide, 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 Peloponnesus, 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 Peloponnesus and cast lots for the dominion of them.

[edit] Atreids in Asia Minor?

There was in fact a total eclipse of the sun in the Aegean on March 5, 1223 BC, which Atreus might have twisted into a setting of the sun in the east. This date does not solve all the 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 ca. 1380, 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 Amenophis III. 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"?)<ref>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</ref>, Homeric Danaans, named, in legend, after Danae, which suggests that the Perseids were in fact in some sort of dominion.

Also in the 14th century BC the "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 "indictment of Maduwattas" precedes the correspondence between Amenhotep III and Maduwattas's successor Tarhunta-Radu. The external LHIIIA:1-era sources do, however, agree in their omission of a "great king" or other unifying structure behind Tinay/Ahhiya.

For example, in the "indictment of Maduwattas" a man of the Ahhiya (not yet a "king of Ahhiyawa"), Attarissiyas by name, attacks Arzawa (the region of Ephesus). The governor, Maduwattas, obtains refuge and military assistance from the great king, Tudhaliya. After the death of the latter and in the reign of his son, Arnuwandas, Maduwattas allies with Attarissiyas and the two lead an expediton into Alasiya, or Cyprus.

This is the only known occurrence of Attarissiyas, and there is no other Atreus in Greek legend. However, the Hittite names could fit either Arnuwanda I (reg. 1410–1386), son of Tudhaliya I, or Arnuwanda III (reg. 1235–1215), son of Tudhaliya IV. There are exponents of both views, although the former view is increasingly preferred. An earlier Attarissiyas would not be our Atreus, nor is there any evidence of a powerful Pelopid named Atreus of those times.

During LHIIIA:2, the Ahhiya extended their influence over Miletus, were settling on the coast of Anatolia, and under a "King of Ahhiuwa" began suborning the various coastal states of the Hittites into revolt, for instance Uhha-Ziti's Arzawa and through him Manapa-Tarhunta's Seha River Land. The Hittites did retain control over Seha River; but further west they resorted to law, treaties and correspondence. While establishing the credibility of the Mycenaean Greeks as a historical power, these documents create as many problems as they solve.

Similarly, a Hittite king wrote the so-called Tawagalawa letter to the great king of Ahhiyawa, concerning the depradations of the Luwiyan adventurer Piyama-Radu. The name of neither great king is 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 not the Agamemnon of legend have any brothers named *Etewoclewes (Eteocles); this name is, rather, associated with Thebes, which during the preceding LHIIIA period Amenhotep III had viewed as equal to Mycenae.

Elsewhere, Muwatalli II (reg. 1296–1272) makes a treaty with Alaksandus (possibly Alexander), king of Wilusiya (Ilium); and another document has Wilusa swearing by Appaliunas (Apollo). But the Alaksandus of the treaty is too early to be king of a city assaulted by Agamemnon, and besides, Priam was king of that city.

There is no satisfactory way to reconcile the Hittite tablets with later Greek legend.

[edit] Excavation

The Palace today.
The first excavations at Mycenae were carried out by the Greek archaeologist Pittakis in 1841. He found and restored the Lion Gate. In 1874 Schliemann arrived at the site and undertook a complete excavation. 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 golden death mask in one of the tombs, he declared: "I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon".

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 excavations.

[edit] Tourism

Today Mycenae, one of the foundational sites of European civilization, is a popular tourist destination, a few hours' drive from Athens. The site has been well-preserved, and the massive ruins of the cyclopaean walls and the palaces on the acropolis still arouse the admiration of visitors, particularly when it is remembered that they were built a thousand years before the monuments of Classical Greece.

[edit] Notes


[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • John Chadwick, The Mycenaean World, Cambridge University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-521-21077-1 hardcover or ISBN 0-521-29037-6 paperback
  • Emily Vermeule, Greece in the Bronze Age, the University of Chicago Press, 1964, LC 64-23427
  • Martin P. Nilsson, The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology, 1932, reissued by the University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-01951-2 Cloth, ISBN 0-520-02163-0 Paper
  • George E. Mylonas, Mycenae's Last Century of Greatness, Sydney University Press, 1968, SBN 424-05820-3
  • Leonard R. Palmer, Mycenaeans and Minoans, 1961, 2nd ed. 1965
  • M. I. Finley, Early Greece, The Bronze and Archaic Ages, W. W. Norton & Company, 1981, ISBN 0-393-01569-6 Hard, ISBN 0-393-30051-X Paper

[edit] External links

Coordinates: 37°44′N 22°46′Eda:Mykene de:Mykene et:Mükeene es:Micenas fr:Mycènes gl:Micenas is:Mýkena it:Micene he:מיקנה la:Mycenae lt:Mikėnai mk:Микена nl:Mycene ja:ミケーネ no:Mykene nn:Mykene pl:Mykeny pt:Micenas ro:Micene ru:Микены sk:Mykény sr:Микена sv:Mykene uk:Мікени zh:迈锡尼


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