Homeric legends hark back to the height of the Mycenaean civilization--the heroic age to the Classical Greeks. From hilltop citadels, Agamemnon and Menelaos ruled over fertile Peloponnesian valleys and traded with cities throughout the Aegean. The Mycenaeans are still remembered through tales of their epic struggle against Troy--a struggle that, though successful, may also have marked the beginning of the decline of Mycenaean centers. The ultimate destruction of these citadels ushered in the Greek Dark Age--a span of centuries through which the stories of heroes survived to become the basis of myths central to classical Greek culture.

I. Mycenaean Sites

The major Mycenaean citadels were located in the Peloponnese. A number of sites (Argos, Mycenae, and Tiryns) were located in the Argolis, the eastern area by the Bay of Argos. Other Peloponnese sites include Sparta (in Laconia, the southeastern area) and Pylos (in Messinia, on the southwestern coast. To be sure there were Mycenaean citadels beyond the Peloponnese, including Athens, and Mycenaean influence extended well beyond the mainland, e.g., to Crete and the islands and, as Homer relates, ultimately to Anatolia and Troy.

II. Archaeological History

In the late 19th century, Heinrich Schliemann, a German businessman with a deep love of the Greeks in general and Homer in particular, sought to prove the historical accuracy of the Iliad. His first major effort was to discover Troy, which he did--in northwest Anatolia. Schliemann, however, found a site with numerous levels of habitation, and initially incorrectly identified the Troy of Homer's time. Further, his methods were such that significant portions of the site were destroyed in his efforts to dig down to the Troy of the Trojan War.

Undaunted, Schliemann next sought Agamemnon's Mycenae. The Lions Gate had been uncovered in 1841 (shortly after Greek independence.) In 1874 Schliemann's excavations of the area uncovered the enormous booty of the shaft graves--which Schliemann mistook for the burial place of Homer's heroes. The graves were actually from a period about 2 centuries earlier. Christos Tsountas excavated the site from 1880 to 1902; he uncovered the palace at the summit and the secret cistern. Other excavations at Mycenae continued through the 1950s.

Controversies surrounding Schliemann's methods abound. Though he sparked much on-site investigation and began the process by which the Bronze Age civilizations of Greece have become better known, his techniques have also led to the loss of much that would have been valuable to later investigators. Whether Schliemann is to blame for such a result or whether one might have expected such losses in the period in which archaeological techniques were first being developed is still hotly debated.

Schliemann was the first to explore Tiryns, in 1876. Excavations were undertaken by Dorpfeld from 1884 and were continued by the German Archaeological Institute. Excavations at Tiryns continue.

During the early investigations of Mycenaean culture, there was much debate over the location of Pylos, Nestor's palace. Homer gives three different locations. In 1939, K. Kourouniotis discovered a site at Ano Englianos. Carl Blegen's excavations here have uncovered a major palace compound which is now recognized as Nestor's palace. Blegen is sometimes called the father of modern archaeology in Greece. His careful excavations and detailed record keeping have become models for later archaeologists.

III. Early Mainland: Stone Age through Middle Helladic

The earliest humans in Greece were Neanderthals, who wandered through the area before 70,000 BCE. The first attempts to live in Greece occurred on the relatively open, watered territory in the northeast. This area had forests as well as grazing land, though winters were cold. Human beings slowly penetrated south: hunters, then farmers appeared in central Greece and the plains areas of the Peloponnese.

The oldest village is Nea Nikomedia in Macedonia. Pottery was used here by 6200; houses had hearths. Idols have been found along with stone tools and weapons (slingshots.) The dead were buried in pits outside houses. Foods included barley, wheat, pigs, and fish.

The first village in central Greece was at Elateia around 5500. Villages appear in the Peloponnese about the same time. People settled where Paleolithic hunters were most successful: Macedonia, Thessaly, and Boeotia.

These early settlers had a lasting impact on Greek culture. Thessalian Neolithic inhabitants remained for a long period. The use of their language became widespread and influenced later arrivals. In addition, evidence of female idols and the use of caves point to worship of the earth mother--religious beliefs that extended throughout Greece and again influenced later Greek developments.

The Early Helladic (Early Bronze) Age dawned on the mainland about 2500 BCE. towns were built on low hills near the sea. Streets were graveled. Houses generally had 2 rooms arranged en bloc, with herringbone masonry for the foundations. Good mud brick was used for walls, tiles for roofs. Storage pits were used. There was a large central building. The settlers engaged in trade overseas. Carved seals were developed; potmarks (shorthand declaration of ownership) stood as thumbprints (not sounds.)

Each town controlled the farmland and coastal approaches for about a 7 mile radius. There is evidence that different strains of wheat and barley were deliberately crossed. Inhabitants also grew olives, figs, grapes, peas, beans, and lentils. They herded sheep, goats, and pigs.

Two types of burial were practiced: (1) simple inhumation, with bodies dumped down a shaft and (2) stone-lined cists covered with a slab. Where mainland graves show quality gifts, a Cycladic influence is evident. Few religious figurines have been found -religious ceremonies were likely public and large-scale.

The beginning of the Middle Helladic period is marked by the immigration of the Minyans. According to Vermeule, this was the first wave of true Hellenes in Greece. There is significant debate about the origin of the Greeks. It is assumed that Greeks were on Crete around 1450, to explain Linear B, and thus that they were on the mainland significantly before that. They may have been nomads who migrated from an Indo-European homeland north of the Black Sea. Nixon speculates that the Minyans first entered Macedonia at the start of the Early Bronze Age (2500) and that they expanded to the rest of Greece by 1900, the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age. These people settled and intermingled with existing residents. The "Greeks" then represent a mix of the original Neolithic settlers (probably from Asia Minor and Syria) with the Minyans and other intrusive elements. The Minyans may represent the common and dominant factor which contributed, e.g., to the essence of the Greek language.

The Minyans used wheel-made pottery which could be of very high quality. Typical shapes included goblets, two-handled bowls, and fruitstands.
Minyan influence was eventually established throughout Greece, but this was still a period of poverty. The Minyans were not advanced when they arrived and my have learned from earlier residents. It would take centuries for an advanced civilization to emerge.

The Middle Helladic period continued the process of migration and movement; it too was an unsettled period. Towns appeared on hills slightly higher than those used in the Early Helladic period. Some communities had defensive walls, but fortifications were relatively less common than at the end of the Early Helladic period. Roads led to nearby passes or the sea. Houses were arranged chaoticly. There seem to have been close connections with Crete; the Cyclades may have provided a meeting place of the two cultures.

Houses had a rectangular main unit and an open porch, sometimes of oval form. This may have been a precursor of the Mycenaean megaron, though Hopper notes that such an arrangement may not have arisen with the Indo-European Greek speakers. Vermeule notes that small round hearths were used, but there is no evidence of great central megarons in this period. Some houses had ovens. Stone foundations were evident, and thin walls were used. Buildings were generally narrow, sometimes with three rooms in a row. Stores were kept in the back rooms. There may not have been any spacious houses.

The Dorion-Malthi provincial site, on the west coast, represented a small village with a natural spring. It had a 400 foot walled acropolis with a main gate to the north. Storerooms attached to the inner face of the walls. The village was poor but large for the era. The walls protected flocks and land, not treasures.

Burials were generally done in cist graves. These had a rectangular pebble floor with side walls and a covering slab. These appear as simple forerunners of shaft graves. Early in the period, no gifts were included. When gifts appear, they are generally poor, e.g., pots, beads, daggers. Eventually, cists were used for more than one person. Adults were generally buried outside the village boundaries. Some burials occurred under the floor; these burials were generally for children.

During the Middle Helladic period there was a slow increase in wealth and sophistication, though wealth remained largely agricultural. At the very end of the period (around 1600, just before the shaft graves), more imported pottery is evident, and there is an increase in funeral display. There is also some experimentation in grave forms. Some unusual burial tumuli have been found: low mounds held in place by stone retaining walls, with several burials inside.

By the end of the period, a certain stability seems to have emerged in the Aegean world. Settlers represented an amalgam of surviving Neolithic, non-Greek cultures of the Early Helladic period, the immigrants from the end of the Early Helladic period, the Minyan immigrants of the Middle Helladic era, plus elements from Anatolia and perhaps Crete.

IV. Mycenaean Age

A. Overview

The Mycenaean Age begins about 1550, marking the start of the Late Helladic Period. The goods discovered in the shaft graves at Mycenae indicate a significant increase in wealth and great skill in metal working and other crafts. Also standing out at Mycenae are the citadel walls--an architectural marvel that required an ability to manipulate huge boulders. To later Greeks, these were Cyclopean walls--ones only a Cyclops could have built.

Early in this period, Mycenaeans were already trading widely. Until Knossos fell, however, Mycenaeans were thwarted from dominance of the Aegean. Still, the Mycenaeans learned from the Minoans. From crafts to efficient organization, to writing, Minoan influence can be found. The wave of palace destructions on Crete around 1450 and the eventual fall of Knossos around 1375 marked the start of the most flourishing period for the Mycenaeans. Their influence pervaded the central and eastern Mediterranean. Troy was probably a serious competitor for trade, e.g., in textiles. Such conflicts may well have played a role in the Trojan War, which Hopper suggests may have begun as a result of a dispute over fishing rights--despite the more romantic Homeric cause. At any rate, the war does, as Homer relates, seem to have been a long and debilitating affair, perhaps resulting in only a Pyrrhic Mycenaean victory (around 1250.)

Later Greeks looked back on the Mycenaean era as a golden age of heroes. The Greek myths present a picture of strife, movement, and adventure. Legends associate heroes with separate sites: Agamemnon at Mycenae, Herakles at Tiryns, Theseus at Athens, Oedipus at Thebes, Jason at Iolkos, Nestor at Pylos, and of course, Odysseus at Ithaca. The tholos (beehive) tombs, with their huge inner chambers and walled entryways, were royal burial vaults worthy of heroes.

Much legend surrounds the expedition against Troy and its aftermath, the stories of the return of the heroes (nostoi). The expedition was viewed as an association of Greek states in a great enterprise against a foreign city. The mythological justification, to recover Helen, wife of Menelaos, King of Sparta, who had eloped with Paris, son of Priam, King of Troy, though romantic, has led scholars to consider what other reasons might have been involved. There are also questions about how the Greeks were able to unite--Were the Mycenaeans ruled by a single king or did a confederation emerge as a result of an emergency? As with the Minoans, there is evidence that a single city, here Mycenae, may have had some primacy. But other citadels likely had significant autonomy in their territories.

During the height of the culture, major palaces were established. These were often enclosed within massive defensive walls that protected not only the palace but the towns surrounding them. These complexes represent the Mycenaean citadels. Extensive trade relations brought the Mycenaeans into contact with other Mediterranean civilizations. The Mycenaeans became important sources of food stuffs as well as finished products. Linear B script, perhaps developed on Crete for the Mycenaeans, was used primarily for recording lists of transactions and stores. Mycenaean art and crafts also flourished during the period. Mycenaean pottery early on showed influence from Crete but slowly developed designs based on geometric patterns; standards were often high. Impressive metalwork has been discovered, from burial masks to decorated swords and daggers. Of course, the architecture, from the palaces to the citadel walls to the tholos tombs, remains imposing.

Mycenaean civilization was past its zenith by the middle of the 13th century. The palace at Thebes was destroyed about 1300. Around the same time, Mycenae suffered incursions; houses outside the citadel were destroyed as a result of violence and were not rebuilt. Fortifications were strengthened and the secret cistern was built underground outside the walls. Similar access to springs was constructed at Tiryns and Athens, though Athens's spring was within the walls. Despite these efforts, disasters quickly followed the defeat of Troy. Pylos, Tiryns, and Mycenae all fell.

With 12th century dispersions of populations, Mycenae was reoccupied and regained some strength, but it exerted less control over territories and produced goods of poorer quality. No Linear B tablets have been discovered from this period. Around 1120, however, new disasters occurred. Iolkos, the capital of Thessaly was destroyed, as were Miletus and Mycenae. According to Hopper, there is some indication that eastern Attica and the Aegean were relatively unaffected by these disruptions. This may explain why Athens held out against the destruction.

The causes of the fall of Mycenaean civilization are still unclear. The traditional explanation of an invasion of Dorians, other Greek speakers, is now generally discounted. The Dorians themselves may have entered Greece slowly, and not until the early iron age. This migration is no longer described as an invasion. The Dorians probably were not the cause of the destructions but simply took advantage of an already enervated Mycenaean culture. Raids by other peoples may have been responsible for the fall of the citadels. This was a period of mass migrations in the eastern Mediterranean. The "Peoples of the Sea" overran the Hittite Empire and were barely repulsed by the Egyptians. The Mycenaeans may not have been immune from such upheavals. Internecine wars among the Mycenaeans themselves may have been a major factor.

B. Citadels, Palaces, Houses

At major Mycenaean sites, palaces, which followed a similar design, were constructed. The nucleus of Mycenaean palaces was a columned porch leading to a main room (a megaron). This was a square room with a fixed round hearth in the center and four large wooden columns around the hearth. The room had a raised roof with the columns supporting a chimney, a clerestory arrangement. The room also had a throne on one side. The second floor of the palaces housed women's quarters. The first floor included various storerooms, open-air courts, archive rooms, and pantries. The lower courses of the palaces were constructed of stone blocks; mud brick and bonding timbers covered with plaster served the higher walls. The Myceneans developed a construction technique known as corbelling, where each successive row of stones in a wall is laid a bit farther out from the lower course, thus causing the open space to narrow. When applied to two parallel walls, an angled roof resembling an arch is formed; when applied to a circular wall, a beehive shape can be formed, as in the tholos tombs described below.

At Pylos, the palace was basically unfortified (though Hopper notes that there was at least partial fortification through a corner tower and massive southwest wall--there are no indications of such structures at other palaces.) Some commentators (e.g., Cole and Nixon) hypothesize that Pylos may have been the first palace to fall and thus had less time to build defenses. Other sites, however, did have defensive walls, built mostly during the 13th century, not long before the wave of destruction which led to the Mycenaean collapse. These enclosed palaces and houses clustered around it. There were also lower towns: houses below the citadel.

The Lions Gate at Mycenae is built into massive fortification walls, 1,100 meters long. Similar structures were evident at Tiryns and Athens. The Mycenaeans used three types of fortification masonry:

1) cyclopean: huge, irregular stones yielding massive walls
2) ashlar: squared, neatly arranged blocks producing a formal and polished wall
3) polygonal: blocks of various polygonal shapes neatly fitted together.

The Mycenaeans were especially concerned about issues of water supply, especially given the threat of siege. At Mycenae a cistern was built at the end of the 13th century; it began within the walls and involved three flights of stairs to a reservoir; the first flight was within the walls but the last two extended underground beyond the walls. The reservoir was feed from a spring. The capacity of the cistern was increased when the lower level was flooded--there is evidence that waterproof cement was used at this level. Athens had a similar water supply, based on a spring-fed well at the north end of the acropolis. Since the well was within the walls, Athens's supply was more secure.

Houses had basement walls of dressed stone and rubble; the walls often had a wood frame, perhaps as protection against earthquakes. Above the ground story, the walls were made of mud brick; roofs were probably flat. Sometimes houses had a second story. Houses of the wealthy had a loose arrangement of rooms; they were generally self-sufficient and included kitchen, altar, and hearth. The Mycenaeans used a wide variety of furniture. The most prominent piece was a plaster bench, used for sitting and as a shelf. Elaborate footstools and tables have also been found.

In addition to the citadels, smaller Mycenaean towns have also been uncovered. Taylor speculates that tribal villages may have been settled on hills surrounding citadel sites. Mouriatada, on the west coast, seems to represent a separate country town. It was an agricultural center settled on an isolated inland hill. The local baron built a megaron on the top; private houses surrounded this on lower slopes, down to a tall circuit wall with a gate with columns. The megaron was painted simply, with poorer quality masonry and less spacious rooms than the palaces. Bathtubs have been found in the houses.

C. Political Organization

Mycenaean society seems to have been a highly organized bureaucracy. There was probably one king with higher status and others of lesser standing. Local governments were integrated with the central administration from the palaces. Agricultural activities were highly organized, as evidenced by the detailed records about produce, taxes, and shares set aside for divinities. There was a developed road system. Slavery was practiced; most seem to have been women.

The commercial organization had overseas connections, and the sea fleet was essential. From early on, sea trade was important and extended throughout much of the Mediterranean. The Mycenaeans had need for copper and tin to make bronze. They probably exported woolen textiles, pottery and surplus cereals.
The political structure (as gleaned from the extensive Linear B tablets at Pylos) seems to have included the following ranks:

Wanax: chief administrator (at Knossos, Pylos)
Lawagetas: probably a military commander (next in rank, had 1/3
the land and property of Wanax)
3 Telestai: also with estates 1/3 the size of Wanax (Pylos)
Basileus (Gausileus): minor official (baron?), several were
within the province of one Wanax
Korete: local governors (in 16 administrative districts around
Porokorete: deputies
Demos: perhaps a council of landholders.

The Mycenaeans seemed to place an emphasis on preparations for and involvement in war. Chariots are first seen on shaft grave stelae; they were important aspects of the Mycenaean military. The boar's tusk helmet, recounted in Homer, was in fact used by the Mycenaeans--though it disappeared with their fall. Other defensive weapons included the shield and greave. Offensive weapons were swords and bows.

D. Arts, Crafts, Writing

The Mycenaean Age brought forth new pottery shapes and styles, as summarized by Taylour. Just prior to this period, geometric decorations were painted on a light, matt background. The Mycenaean Age (LH 1) saw the use of lustrous red or black paint for backgrounds; patterns were less formal and more natural--an indication of influence from Crete. The alabastron, a squat vessel, was added to the repertoire. Cretan influence extended into LH 2; Palace style, florid decorations were evident. The Ephyraean Style used a stylized flower on a goblet (a short-stemmed bowl.) This shape would eventually develop into the kylix, a goblet with a smaller bowl and longer stem.

Early in LH 3, with Mycenaean civilization flourishing and in control of the Aegean, geometric patterns were emphasized again; abstract forms were common. The stirrup jar (a shape adopted from Crete) appears; these vessels occur in various sizes. As the period develops, pottery quality reached its height--as did the civilization itself. Firing yielded a buff color; luxuriant red, brown, and black paint was used. Vases were mass-produced for home and export. Various shapes were produced, including 3 handled jars, kraters (large bowls), and kylikes (singular: "kylix"). Recurring stylized decorations were common, often confined to the shoulder, with simple bands above or below. Kylikes eventually went undecorated. The "deep bowl" became popular during this period. Two common decorations were used: (1) a simple geometric pattern around the middle or (2) panel style, separate panels with geometric decoration. Toward the end of the period, two styles of decoration emerged: (1) Close Style, with every space filled with (often complicated) patterns and (2) Granary Style, with minimal decorations, sometimes a couple of wavy lines. The quality of pottery eventually deteriorated, as Mycenaean civilization crumbled.

The Mycenaeans were also skilled in numerous other arts and crafts. The stelae on the shaft graves at Mycenae provide the first evidence of stone carving. Though crude, the carvings give a strong sense of movement. No carvings have been discovered between these early examples and the massive reliefs of lions guarding the gate at Mycenae (produced in the 13th century.) Sculpture in the round generally involved small figures, often terra cotta, but some ivory and much of excellent quality.

Frescos were often found on upper rooms, floors, and around hearths. The technique seems to have been inherited from the Minoans, though the Mycenaeans used an outline technique and added the color green. Processional painting was transplanted from Crete and flourished in Mycenae.

But the content of Mycenaean frescos was significantly different. The scenes were more energetic and warlike. Scenes were confined by the geometric border. People were formalized and rather stiff (animals were less so.) Figures were generally portrayed in fixed profile; groups were repeated; landscape motifs were stiff. Fresco painting may have influenced pottery styles; Late Helladic 3 pottery decorations included human beings, animals and birds.

Mycenaean art displayed more experimentation in abstractions than in human figures. Abstractions benefitted from centuries of painted ornaments for pots; these decorations were easily transferred from one field to another. The conservatism of the painting tradition and the lack of large scale sculpture for experimentation with figure composition meant human figure portrayal was limited.

Writing is probably another area of Cretan influence. Linear B writing is now recognized as a form of Greek, but it may have been developed on Crete for the Mycenaean language. It is limited in content and quantity; about 600 words have been discovered. It was used for inventories and catalogs; much on the tablets represent proper names. There is no evidence of Linear B after the 12th century; new script was not used until the 8th century. (Nixon, in a distinctly minority opinion, contends that writing was not lost between the 12th and 8th centuries, but it was done on perishable materials so there is no surviving evidence.) Most Linear B tablets are from Knossos and Pylos. Pylos is by far the most significant source; the palace was carefully excavated so more tablets were retrieved intact. Many were found in an archive room of the palace entrance. A handful of tablets have been found at Mycenae and Thebes. The tablets recovered are generally clay and were originally meant to be temporary. The fires at the palaces, however, preserved them. In addition to confirming that the language spoken by Mycenaeans was Greek, the Linear B tablets also provide valuable evidence about the character of the economy, the names of towns under the control of a palace, the names of gods, and the character of the administrative and political structure.

E. Daily Life

For work, men wore a loin cloth and short kilt. For hunting, legs were protected by linen or metal grieves. Formal wear involved a simple tunic with short sleeves and a full short skirt. Unlike the Minoans, no codpiece was worn. The main colors were white, yellow and blue (with a contrasting band of color at the neck, sleeves, and the lower hem.) Leather or embroidered wool belts were used. Women's dress seemed to follow the Minoan style; flounced skirts were the primary dress.

The diet was similar to today's. Meats and seafoods included lamb, goat, pork, beef, and wild animals; shellfish, octopus, and murex. Vegetables included peas, lentils, vetches, beans. Other staples were figs, plums, wheat, barley gruels, bread, cheese, and milk. Olive oil was a source of wealth.

F. Religion

There were many similarities between Minoan and Mycenaean religions. Both focused on a mother goddess and a divine son (and sometimes consort.) Though the mother goddess seemed to be a composite deity for the Minoans, a separation of roles was evident for the mainland Greeks. Beginning with the Mycenaeans, we can see evidence for separate goddesses, e.g, Demeter (vegetation), Artemis (animals), and Athena (household). Early on, the Mycenaeans shared the myth that the son died at the end of each year, to be resurrected in the spring amid fertility rites. For the Mycenaeans, however, the divine son becomes Zeus and eventually overtakes the mother goddess in importance.

We can see here the basis for later Greek religious beliefs. In additions to the deities mentioned above, others such as Hera and Poseidon are also evident. The names of later Olympian gods appear on Linear B tablets--though their functions may be different in this period.

The Mycenaeans used relatively few temples--there are more found on Crete than on the mainland. There are no clear centers of cave or mountain worship on the mainland. The hearth in the center of the throne room (megaron) of palaces may have had religious significance; the Mycenaeans, unlike the Minoans, made animal sacrifice and burning a significant part of religious activity. Altars have also been found elsewhere in the palaces. Vermeule notes, "Religion was apparently interwoven with daily routine, at least in the token of sharing a meal with divinity through sacrifice and libation at the heart of the palace. . . . Ceremonies must have been simple and natural, carried out with little physical apparatus." (P. 282.)

G. Burial Customs

Through the Middle Helladic period, cist graves were used. The shaft graves that mark the start of the Mycenaean Age may have developed from these. Shaft graves were generally three to four meters deep with a layer of pebbles at the bottom. The sides were lined with low rubble walls with ledges for a wooden roof. Once the roof was in place, the pit was filled in with earth. Sometimes a slab marked the spot. Graves were sometimes for a single person; in other cases a shaft grave would serve for a family. Often elaborate funeral goods were included. Gold masks were placed on some bodies; silver masks were prominent.

At Mycenae, Grave Circle B included 24 tombs in 4 shaft graves; it is earlier by a bit than Grave Circle A--probably at the very end of the Middle Helladic period. Grave Circle A dates from the very beginning of the Late Helladic (Mycenaean) Age. It includes 6 shaft graves, with the last burial dated about 1500. This was Schliemann's original find; the gold death mask here he mistakenly described as the face of Agamemnon. The use of shaft graves continued to about 1400 (the end of Late Helladic 3.)

Tholos (beehive) tombs succeeded shaft graves at Mycenae. Nine have been discovered there, dating from 1500 to 1250. This type of tomb is evident elsewhere as early as the beginning of the 16th century. The practice continued in parts of Greece to the end of the Mycenaean era. They became the standard method of burial for the ruling class on the mainland. They were the first lavish architectural structures--power was expressed in burial tombs before palaces.

During the period, there was steady advance in construction techniques. The first tholos tombs used small, undressed stones. Later, enormous blocks were used and shaped: corbelled masonry in decreasing circles with a capstone at the top. Some tombs included a side chamber. The tombs were built into the sides of hills. The vault had a doorway with a walkway (dromos). A mound was placed over the tomb. Grave pits were dug in the ground for earlier burials. Some bodies were placed in jars (as were a few at Pylos.) The first burial was the most impressive. The dead were placed on a bier with funeral offerings; the tomb was closed, and a funeral feast with sacrifices was held. Later burials were less impressive (due in part to the problem of dealing with existing remains.) The entryway was sealed with stones after each burial.

Chamber tombs were also evident in the Mycenaean period. Some were smaller versions of tholos tombs. They were excavated on hillsides. They were carved out of soft rock, often with chambers. The tombs were used for generations. The open corridor was filled in after a burial and reopened for each succeeding burial. These tombs represented the burial tradition for the middle class and replaced the earlier cist tombs. Unlike the tholos tombs, chamber tombs had no masonry except to wall up the door and to reinforce the rock structure. These were family burial vaults; bodied were interred fully clothed. Early occupants were put in pits. Ceremonies were held in the dromos; there was not enough room in the chamber.

In each of these tombs, the bones of earlier burials were treated callously. This seems to be a result of Mycenaean belief that the soul attached to the body only as long as flesh and bone stayed together. When the flesh was gone, the soul left this world, and the bones could be treated with impunity.

There is some evidence now that cremation was practiced, though rarely, during the Mycenaean period. Previously scholars considered cremation to be a post-Mycenaean tradition--one that Homer transferred from his time to the heroic age he portrayed.

V. Epilogue

The Greeks themselves connected the destruction of Mycenaean centers with an invasion of the Dorians (a new wave of Greek immigrants.) In Greek legends, the Dorians are described as the descendants of Heracles; thus the "invasion" is referred to as the Return of the Heraclidae. Heracles's son, Hyllos, was defeated and slain in a battle with Atreus, son of Pelops and then ruler at Mycenae, and the Heraclidae were forbidden by the Delphic oracle to return to Greece for 100 years.

Modern scholars now dispute this account--the chronology, for one thing, does not work. But the myth of the Dorian invasion played a major role in later Greek consciousness. Athens, for example, viewed itself as the only center to have held out against the Dorians and thus to have been a staging point for Ionian (pre-Dorian Greek) migration to Asia Minor. The traditional division of Dorians (e.g., Sparta) and Ionians (e.g., Athens) resulted in long-standing tensions that would ultimately play a role in the debilitating Peloponnesian War.

VI. Site Information


In antiquity, Lerna was a marshy area watered by the Pontinos River and springs. According to myth, the second labor of Heracles was to kill the nine-headed Lernan hydra.

The site indicates a number of periods of occupation, with some interruptions or disruptions, spanning the period from Neolithic to the Early Bronze (Helladic) Age. There seems to have been a break between the Neolithic settlement and the Bronze Age inhabitants. These later settlers seem to have cleaned up the site and, over a period of perhaps 200 years, during the middle and end of the Early Helladic period, developed a significant town.

Lerna III: The era of the House of Tiles: During the early years, a wall was built around the town--and rebuilt 4 times. The original version may only have been a retaining wall, but it became defensive. A hollow horseshoe tower and guardroom were added, using bricks laid in a herringbone pattern. The entire system was then expanded; the tower was replaced by a solid rectangle. This was then enlarged and made round again. It was eventually burned, along with a large central building. This building had thick mud walls and a roof made of schist plaques. Though it took time for the inhabitants to recover from this disaster, they eventually replaced the central building with the House of Tiles.

When the House of Tiles was constructed, no wall was built. The House of Tiles is, like the earlier central building, twice as long as wide. It had two stories and was built on a solid platform of stones. There were red clay benches on the outside of the long walls, protected by eaves. It had doors on all four sides. There were 2 large rooms, divided by corridors to form small rooms. The second story housed apartments. The tile roof had a gradual pitch. During this period there was evidence of contact with the Cyclades. Intricate stamped sealings were made and metal tools were found.

The House of Tiles was destroyed in a savage fire. Enemies apparently took over the town at the end of the Early Helladic period. The residents of this later period (Lerna IV) had a less developed civilization. The houses were small, with one or two rooms. There was little foreign contact. The residents left the burned down House of Tiles untouched; it remained as a high mound in the center of town.


The mythological founder of the city was Nauplios, the son of Poseidon and Amymone. Palamidos, Nauplios's son, is attributed with introducing the Greek alphabet. The Venetian fort overlooking the city is called the Palamidi.

C. MYCENAE--Link to "Quick Tour" of Mycenae

The mythological founder of Mycenae was Perseus, a son of Zeus. His dynasty ended with Eurytheus, who imposed the 12 labors on Heracles. The Heraclids later killed Eurytheus. Atreus, the son of Pelops, was chosen as ruler. Atreus, who hated his brother, Thyestes, offered him his children to eat. This led to a curse on Atreus and his heirs--a curse that was to haunt later rulers, including Agammenon.

The citadel was protected by a Cyclopean wall, built in stages. The first wall, constructed around 1430, enclosed only the summit of the hill. The second section, built early in the 13th century and including the Lion Gate, enclosed grave circle A. This wall incorporated the northern section of the original wall--the rest was destroyed. The third section was built at the end of the 13th century. This section expanded the northeast border and enclosed the entryway to the secret cistern, the stairway cut into rock down to a subterranean chamber filled from a nearby spring. The main entrance was through the Lions Gate, a relieving triangle with the oldest example of Greek monumental sculpture. The postern gate in the north was smaller but built on the same plan as the Lion Gate. A sally port was built into the northeast extension.

The palace itself is ruined and difficult to reconstruct. Besides the walls, the most important structures left at Mycenae are the tombs: the two grave circles and the beehive tombs that followed.

Grave circle A was discovered first, inside the walls, and dates from 1550-1500. There are six shafts within the circle, containing 19 burials, with 2 to 5 in each shaft. The burial goods provide evidence of a wealthy, highly skilled, and well-traveled society. Included among these goods are gold masks and crowns, diadems, inlaid daggers and swords, gold and silver vases and rings, a large silver shield, and clothing ornaments. Almost every object was decorated with abstract patterns or figured scenes. Goods from Nubia, Mesopotamia, Crete, Syria, Anatolia, and Prussia were uncovered. Despite the wealth evident in the grave goods, there is no trace of a palace to go with the period of the grave circles.

Grave circle B, discovered later, outside the walls, dates from 1650-1550. It included 25 graves, in cists and shafts. There were 14 royal tombs. These burials, from a period immediately preceding those of grave circle A, indicated much less wealth. Bronze weaponry was common; little gold was found.

Contemporary with the last burials in grave circle A, the Mycenaeans began to develop a more monumental tomb for royal burials: the tholos or beehive tombs, chambers cut into hills and then covered after burials. The tholos tombs around Mycenae can be divided into three chronological groups:

Characteristics of group 1: unlined earth dromos (entryway); undressed medium sized stone doorway; simple, flat lintel; rubble wall interior; no threshold--for example, the Tomb of Aigisthos (1500-1450), contemporary with the last burials in grave circle A
Characteristics of group 2: rubble-lined dromos; doorway and lintel of ashlar dressed conglomerate stone; still only a rubble interior wall and no threshold- for example, the Lion Tomb (14th century)
Characteristics of group 3: dromos lined with ashlar cut masonry; doorway ashlar dressed; mammoth lintel stone; triangular relieving space above lintel; threshold added; interior walls of coursed and cut masonry--for example, the Tomb of Clytemnestra, the Treasury of Atreus (circa 1250-1220), contemporary with the Lions Gate.


Proitos was the mythological founder of Tiryns; he built the citadel with the aid of Cyclops. His brother, Akrisios, ruled in Argos; his grandson Perseus founded Mycenae. Heracles (the son of Zeus and Akmene) was born at Tiryns. He was obliged to enter the service of King Eurystheus (his cousin) and to perform 12 labors. During the Trojan War, Tiryns and Argos were part of the kingdom of Diomedes.

The area was settled around 2500 BCE; the palace was built about 1400, on a low (85') hill over the plain of Argos. The citadel has Cyclopean walls, with some ashlar type at the palace entrance. The citadel was fortified 50 years before Mycenae. Defenses were completed in three stages and finished before 1200. The walls are 725 meters long, with a thickness ranging from 4 1/2 to 17 meters. The entrance is on the east side, up a ramp.

The acropolis is divided into lower, middle, and upper areas. The lower and middle were town areas; the upper housed the palace. There is a main gate marking the entrance to the palace area. Galleries for storage are on the east and south sides. A guarded entrance leads to a central court at the highest point. This court led to a megaron with magnificent decorations, including frescoed walls and a painted floor. Apartments were behind the megaron, and one room nearby apparently was used for bathing.


On Ano Englianos hill, the excavated palace of Nestor lasted only about 100 years. A 14th century town was burned, and new princes seem to have taken over around 1300--this may have been a case of Mycenaeans overrunning other Mycenaeans. The new palace was not in a strongly defensible position and was unfortified; it was destroyed shortly before 1200. The palace controlled the Messenian plain, which probably included about 200 towns with a total population of 50,000. The population at Pylos may have been 2500; 750 female slaves were associated with the palace.

The ground plan of the palace itself is better preserved than those at Mycenae and Tiryns. There were three main complexes associated with the palace: the official apartments, storehouses, and workshops. There were two stories, with the women's apartments on the upper story. The roof, columns, and door frames were made of wood; inner walls were plastered and painted. Clay benches were common, though there was some wooden furniture. One room near the central megaron had a terracotta bath tub.

Off the propylon, the grand entrance, was an archive room; important Linear B tablets were found here. The tablets provide some insight into the end of Pylos. There seem to have been extraordinary offerings to the gods, including human sacrifice. The tablets suggest there was a great deal of haste in preparing for attack- this reinforces theories that Pylos may have been the first Mycenaean palace to fall. A heavy levy was exacted from district governors--the kind that could only be justified under exceptional circumstances. Coast watchers seem to have been deployed. It appears that Pylos was attacked in the spring.

Compiled from:
Primary Sources

Cole, Dan, Course Notes for Ancient Greece, spring 1989.

Finley, M. I., Early Greece: The Bronze and Archaic Ages (NY: W. W. Norton, 1970).

Taylor, Lord William, The Mycenaeans, revised edition (London: Thames and Hudson, 1983).

Vermeule, Emily, Greece in the Bronze Age (Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972).

Secondary Sources

Amos, H. D. and A. G. P. Lang, These Were the Greeks (Chester Springs, PA: Dufour Editions, Inc., 1982).

Burn, A.R., The Pelican History of Greece (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1966)

Geldard, Richard G., The Traveler's Key to Ancient Greece (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).

Hafner, German, Art of Crete, Mycenae, and Greece (NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1968).

Higgins, Reynold, Minoan and Mycenaean Art (NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981).

Hopper, R. J., The Early Greeks (NY: Barnes and Noble, 1976).

Karpodini-Dimitriadi, E., The Peloponnese (Athens, GR: Ekdotike Athenon S.A., 1988).

Kitto, H.D.F., The Greeks (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1957)

Murray, Gilbert, Five Stages of Greek Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor, 1951).

Payne, Robert, The Splendour of Greece (London, ENG: Pan Books, Ltd., 1960).

Phaidon Cultural Guide, Greece (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985).

Rubens, Beaty and Oliver Taplin, An Odyssey Round Odysseus (London, ENG: BBC Books, 1989).

Taylor, Charles H. (ed.), Essays on the Odyssey (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ. Press, 1963)

Weil, Simone, The Iliad or the Poem of Force (Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill, 1945)

Woodford, Susan, Introduction to the History of Art: Greece and Rome (NY: Cambridge University Press, 1982).