Ancient Greece History

MYCENAEAN AGE (600 - 1100 BC)

Introduction:

The Mycenaean Age dates from around 1600 BC to 1100 BC, during the Bronze Age. Mycenae is an archaeological site in Greece from which the name Mycenaean Age is derived. Mycenae site is located in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece. The remains of a Mycenaean palace were found at this site, accounting for its importance. Other notable sites during the Mycenaean Age include Athens, Thebes, Pylos and Tiryns.
According to Homer, the Mycenaean civilization is dedicated to King Agamemnon who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. The palace found at Mycenae matches Homer's description of Agamemnon's residence. The amount and quality of possessions found at the graves at the site provide an insight to the affluence and prosperity of the Mycenaean civilization. Prior to the Mycenaean's ascendancy in Greece, the Minoan culture was dominant. However, the Mycenaeans defeated the Minoans, acquiring the city of Troy in the process, according to Homer's Illiad (some historians argue this is Myth rather than fact). Mycenaean culture was based around its main cities in Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Athens, Thebes, Orchomenos, and Folksier. The Mycenaeans also inhabited the ruins of Knossos on Crete, which was a major city during the Minoan era. Mycenaean and Minoan art melded, forming a cultural amalgamation that is found on Crete (figurines, sculptures and pottery). During the Mycenaean civilization the class diversification of rich and poor, higher classes and lower became more established, with extreme wealth being mostly reserved for the King, his entourage and other members of the royal circle. Like the Minoans, the Mycenaeans built grand palaces and fortified citadels, with administrative and political powers firmly under royal authority. Mycenaean society was to some extent a warrior culture and their military was ever prepared for battle, be it in defence of a city or to protect its wealth and cultural treasures.
The Mycenaeans were bold traders and maintained contact with other countries from the Mediterranean and Europe. They were excellent engineers and built outstanding bridges, tombs, residences and palaces. Their tombs known as 'beehive tombs' were circular in shape with a high roof. A single passage made of stone led to the tomb. A variety of possessions, including arms and armour, were buried with the dead, while the more affluent might also be buried with gold and jewellery. Interestingly, rather than being buried in a sleeping position, Mycenaeans were interred in a sitting position, with the richer classes sometimes being mummified.
The Mycenaeans invented there own script known as Linear B, which was an improved derivative of Linear A (a language commonly accepted as Minoan or Eteocretan).

Habitation:

The settlements of Mycenaean civilization are largely known from archaeological remains. The citadels built during the Mycenaean Age were constructed using the Cyclopean stonework style, with huge entrances made with large stones. These citadels were administrative headquarters for the rulers. At the highest peaks of the citadels the palaces of the kings were built. The basic planning of these palaces was similar to Minoan structures, with different rooms for different functions, styled accordingly. The buildings were not complex in structure and were built around a central megaron. The structural design was an earlier element of Helladic architecture.
The common people lived at the foot of the citadels in the countryside or nearby regions. These settlements were generally based at hillocks or plains where land was fertile and water was abundant. Along with plains, port and coastal sites were of equal importance from the viewpoint of economy and trade.

Society:

The difference of classes in societal structure can, to some extent, be derived from the goods that were buried in their graves. It is clear that there was a strong, ruling class and a lower group of the common people.
The political hierarchy consisted of the 'The Wanax' (or King), at the top, who was the political and religious leader. Below him were the local chiefs and controllers who looked after administrative duties. The safety of the state was the responsibility of the Lawagetas, the head of the army.
Because of this efficient hierarchy, the Mycenaean Age was economically and culturally affluent, while weapons, arms and armaments found in graves and sites confirm their society as military inclined.

Economy:

The Mycenaeans followed a bipartite system of working. There were two groups of people. One who worked in the palace for the rulers and another who were self-employed. But even those people who worked in the palace could run their own business if they wished.
The scribes overlooked economic production and transactions. They also organised the distribution of rations and allotted work.

Agriculture:

The agricultural economy was well organised and had well distributed storage centres for products and crops. The surplus was kept in palaces as a form of tax. We know this from records kept in the form of clay tablets.
Important goods produced were cereals, olive oil and wine, while herbs, spices and honey were also cultivated. Sheep and goats were grazed for their wool and milk. Goods and produce were also exported to foreign countries, especially olive oil.

Industry:

The textile industry was one of the most significant industries during the Mycenaean civilization. From the first stage of grazing the sheep, stocking the wool in the palaces to the last stage of the finished product in the form of a cloth, evrything was meticulously organized. The palace of Pylos employed around 550 textile workers while at Knossos there were 900. Wool, fibre and flax were the most important textiles.
Another important industry was the metal industry where metallurgy was practised in an advanced form. At Pylos about 400 workers were employed. At Knossos, tablets suggest, that swords and weapons were manufactured in quantity. Another interesting industry was the perfume industry. Oils of rose, sage, etc. were used to make perfumes and scents. Other skilled craftsmen included goldsmiths, ivory-carvers, stone carvers, and potters.

Religion:

Little is known about the religious practices of the Mycenaeans. Only a few texts depict the name of Gods. A popular deity was Poseidon, (at the time probably associated with earthquakes). Other important Gods included the Lady of the Labyrinth and Diwia (Sea Goddess). Other members of the pantheon of which evidence has been found include Zeus-Hera, Ares, Hermes, Athena, Artemis, Dionysus and Erinya.
There are very few temples or shrines that have been found where religious practices might have been exercised: So we can assume all rituals took place on open ground or in peak sanctuaries. Some shrines that are found have a tripartite structural design.
Minoans had a strong influence on most of the religious practices and rituals practised by the Mycenaeans.

Art:

Pottery work such as stirrup jars, pitchers, kraters and chalices were made during this era. The vessels that were exported were more intricately designed and had beautiful motifs, often depicting warriors and animals. Vessels in the shape of tripods, basins, or lamps were found in large quantities at the archaeological sites.
Terracotta statuettes included anthropomorphic figurines and sometimes zoomorphic figures, most of them being male or female. They were either single or multi-coloured and were often used as statues of worship.
Painting themes included hunting, war scenes, processions, mythology and legend. Several frescoes have also been found in palaces, while similar artictic themes were also used in pottery.
Meanwhile, a variety of materials (wood, leather and metal) were used in the manufacture of armour, shields, helmets, spears, javelins, swords, daggers and arrows..

Language:

The Linear B language that was written during the Mycenaean civilization consisted of about 200 syllabic signs and logograms. This language was an improved form of the Linear A, written during the Minoan Age. The language was used mostly in Knossos and in Pylos.
The corpus of the Mycenaean Age consists of 6000 tablets from the Early Helladic to Late Helladic. The Kafkania pebble is the oldest Mycenaean inscription dating back to the 17th century BC.

End of Civilization:

There are two theories about the end of the Mycenaean civilization. One is population movement, the second internal strife and conflict. According to the first theory the Dorians lauched a devastating attack, although this hypothesis has been questioned because the Dorians had always been present in the Greece of that time. Alternatively, it could have been the 'Sea People' who attacked the Mycenaeans. The Sea People are known to have attacked various regions in the Levant and Anatolia, so perhaps this reading of events is more credible.
The second theory suggests an internal societal conflict between the rich and poor, with the lower classes becoming impoverished towards the end of the Late Helladic period and rejecting the system under which they were governed. By end of the LH III C, the Mycenaean civilization had come to an end with the cities of Mycenae and Tirynth completely destroyed. The end of the Mycenaean civilization heralded the start of the Greek Dark Ages.

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