Mycenae

Summary

Mycenae (AFI: , in modern Greek Μυκήνες AFI: ), is an archaeological site in Greece, located about 90 km southwest of Athens, in the northeastern Peloponnese. Argos is 11 km to the south; Corinth, 48 km to the north. From the hill where the palace is located, one can see the Argolid to the Saronic Gulf.

In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centers of Greek civilization and a military power that dominated most of southern Greece. The period of history from about 1600 to about 1100 BCE is called Mycenaean in recognition of Mycenae”s leadership position.

The reconstructed Mycenaean name of the site is Mukānai, which is a plural vocabular form, like Athānai (Athens). The change from ā to ē is a phonetic change from Late Attic to Ionian.

Even though the citadel was built by Greeks, the name is not considered Greek, being rather one of many pre-Greek sites inherited by Hellenistic emigrants. John Chadwick maintained that names like Mukanai are certainly derived from one or more unknown languages previously spoken in Greece. The pre-Greek languages remain unknown, but there is no evidence to exclude them from the Indo-European superfamily.

Perseid Dynasty

According to Greek mythology, Mycenae is said to have been founded by Perseus, grandson of King Acrisius of Argos, by his daughter, Dânae. Having accidentally killed his grandfather, Perseus did not inherit the throne of Argos. Instead, he exchanged domains with his cousin, Megapentes, who took Argos while Perseus reigned in Tirinte, and later fortified Mycenae.

Perseus, married to Andromeda, after having several children by her, went to war with Argos, where he was killed by Megapentes. His son, Electrian, saw his succession disputed by the Taphios, sons of Proteas. The latter claimed the throne for themselves because they belonged to the Perseid line through their great-grandfather Mestor, brother of Electriion. As the latter did not abdicate to the interests of the Táfios, the latter took revenge by stealing a large part of the royal flocks, which led Eléctrion”s sons to engage in a fight that resulted in the death of all the contenders. Eléctrion then decided to go to war, entrusting his daughter Alcmena to his nephew Anfitrião, who had rescued the cattle from him. Host, however, accidentally kills his uncle and is forced to purge himself of his act by going into exile.

The throne passed to Stellenellus, the third in the dynasty and son of Perseus. He paved the way for future greatness by marrying Nicipe, a daughter of King Pelope of Elis, the most powerful state in the region at the time. With her he had a son, Eurystheus, the fourth and last king of the Perseid Dynasty. When a son of Heracles, Hilo, killed Stenelos, Eurystheus became known for his enmity towards Heracles and the violent persecution of the Heraklides, the descendants of Heracles. The latter, who were to be identified with the Dorian people, claimed the throne of Mycenae, so Eurystheus was determined to annihilate them and, as a result, they sought refuge in Athens. In the course of the war, Eurystheus was killed along with all his sons. The Perseid dynasty saw its end. The people of Mycenae then decided to put Eurystheus” maternal uncle, Atreus, a Pelopid, on the throne.

Atrid Dynasty

The people of Mycenae had been advised by an oracle to choose the new king from among someone of the Pelopids. The two suitors were Atreus and his brother, Thyestes. The latter was initially chosen. But following this choice, the sun traveled across the sky in the opposite direction, setting in the east. Atreus took advantage of this phenomenon to argue that, just as the sun”s path had been reversed, so should the election be. The argument was taken into account and Atreus became king. His first act was to chase Tiestes and his entire family – that is, his own relatives, but Tiestes managed to escape.

According to legend, Atreus had two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, the Atroids. Aegistus, son of Tiestes, killed Atreus and restored his father”s reign. With the help of King Tyndareus of Sparta, however, the Atrides managed to drive Tiestes back into exile. Tyndareus, in turn, had two daughters, Helen and Clytemnestra, who married, respectively, Menelaus and Agamemnon. The latter inherited Mycenae and Menelaus became king of Sparta.

Shortly after these events, Helen fled her husband”s home with Paris of Troy. Agamemnon then led a 10-year war against Troy in order to get it back for his brother. Due to the lack of wind, the warship where it was supposed to follow Troy was practically not leaving the harbor, which led them to call an oracle to clarify what was happening. The oracle clarifies that when Agamemnon killed a deer in a sacred forest and bragged about being the best hunter, he displeased Artemis and as punishment Agamemnon should sacrifice his eldest daughter Iphigenia on her altar. Clytemnestra is tricked into bringing her daughter with the promise that she would marry Achilles. Upon discovering the plot Iphigenia, faced with the revolt of the army, agrees to sacrifice herself. The goddess of the hunt, Artemis, replaces her on the altar at the last moment with a doe, taking Iphigenia to Thaurida to be her high priestess. The deities having been satisfied with such a sacrifice, the winds began to blow again and the fleet set sail for Troy.

Legend also tells that the long and arduous Trojan War, even though it was nominally a victory for the Greeks, brought with it anarchy, piracy, and ruin to the peoples involved. Even before the Greek fleet left for Troy, the conflict caused divisions among the gods themselves, bringing with it curses and acts of revenge around the Greek heroes. After the war, Agamemnon, on his return, was received with full honors, and then killed in the bath by Clytemnestra, who hated him from the time he had ordered the sacrifice of her daughter, Iphigenia, although she was later saved. Clytemnestra was helped in her crime by Aegistus, who then reigned, but Agamemnon”s son Orestes managed to escape to Phocida, from where he returned as an adult to murder Aegistus and Clytemnestra. He then fled to Athens to escape justice for his matricide, going through a phase of madness. Meanwhile, the throne of Mycenae passed to Aletes, son of Aegistus, but not for long. Upon regaining his sanity, Orestes returned to Mycenae and killed him, regaining the throne.

Orestes then built one of the largest states in the Peloponnese, but died from the bite of a snake in Arcadia. His son, Tisamene, the last of the Atreid dynasty, was killed by the Heraclids on his return to the Peloponnese. These claimed the right of the Perseids to inherit the various kingdoms of the Peloponnese and to draw lots for their rule. Whatever the historical realities reflected in these stories, the Atrides were firmly established by the time near the end of the Heroic Age, with the arrival of the Dorians. There are no established stories about any royal house in Mycenae after the Atrides, which may reflect the fact that not much more than fifty to sixty years will have passed since the fall of Troy VII (which would have inspired the Homeric Troy) and the fall of Mycenae.

The Atrides in Asia Minor

In fact, there was a total eclipse of the sun in the Aegean Sea on March 5, 1223 BC, which could have led the Atreus to interpret it as the natural reversal of the sun”s course, as having set to the east, according to legend. This date does not solve all the puzzles raised by the mythological narrative.

A later date is related to the Trojan War, which might in that case actually be related to Troy VII. The Perseids were said to have been in power around 1340, at which time dates the base of a statue of Kom el-Heitan in Egypt, in memory of the itinerary of an Egyptian embassy to the Aegean Sea in the time of Amenophis III. Accepting that M-w-k-i-n-u, one of the cities visited, corresponded to Mycenae, this is a rare document mentioning the city, belonging to the “Tanaja,” identified with the Dânaeans mentioned by Homer, whose name would come from Dânae, mother of Perseus, suggesting that the Perseids had some form of dominion over the Aegean region.

Also in the 14th century BC there are reports of trouble caused by the Ahhiya to various kings of the Hittite Empire. Ahhiyawa or Ahhiya, terms that occur a few times in several Hittite tablets throughout this century, would probably correspond to Achaiwia, a reconstructed form of Mycenaean Greek for Achaia. The Hittites did not use the term Danaja, as did the Egyptians, although the first reference to the Ahhiya in the “Sins of Madduwatta” precedes the correspondence between Amenophis III and one of Madduwatta”s successors at Arzaua, Tarunta-Radu. The external sources corresponding to Late Heladic IIIA:1 agree, however, on the omission of any great king or any other unifying structure other than Tanaja

For example, in “The Sins of Madduwatta,” Attarissiya, the “man of Ahhiya” (i.e. his ruler), attacks Madduwatta and repels him from his territory. The latter obtains refuge and military aid from the great Hittite king Tudalia. After the latter”s death and during the reign of his son, Arnuwanda, Madduwatta allies with Attarissiya and, together with another ruler, attacks Alaxia, i.e. Cyprus.

This is the only documentary occurrence of anyone named Attarissia. Attempts to relate the name to Atreus have not been supported by the scientific community, nor is there any evidence of any Pelopida named Atreus by this time.

During the Late Heladic LHIIIA:2, Ahhiya, already known as Ahhiyawa, extended his influence as far as Miletus, settling on the Anatolian coast, and competed with the Hittites for influence and control of Western Anatolia. For example, for Uhha-Ziti of Arzaua and, through it, for the Seha River region of Manapa-Tarhunta. Even though they establish the credibility of the Mycenaeans as a historical power, these documents raise as many problems as they solve.

Similarly, a Hittite king wrote the so-called “Letter of Tawagalawa” to the great king of the Ahhiyawa, about the damage caused by an adventurer named Piyama-Radu from Luwiyan. None of the names of these great kings is actually established, and the Hittite king may be Muwatalli II or his brother Hattusili III, which will date the letter to Late Heladic LHIIIB, by Mycenaean standards. But neither in the legend of Atreus nor in that of Agamemnon is reference made to any brothers named Etewoclewes (Aetheocles), a name which is, however, associated with Thebes which, during the preceding Late Heladic period, LHIIIA, Amenophis III considered equal to Mycenae.

In other documents, Muwatalli II (who reigned from 1296-1272 BC) signs a treaty with Alaksandu (and in another document refers to Uilussa swearing by Apaliuna (Apollo). But the Alaksandu of the treaty referred to could not, according to legend, be king of the city attacked by Agamemnon, since such an honor would belong to Priam.

Neolithic

From this period only a few pottery fragments scattered in rubble have been found and dated to before 3500 BC. The site was inhabited, but the stratigraphy was seriously compromised by later construction.

Bronze Age

During the Bronze Age, the pattern in Mycenae”s occupation of space was that of a fortified hill surrounded by small rural settlements, in contrast to the dense urbanization of the coast. Since Mycenae was the capital of a state that ruled, or dominated, much of the eastern Mediterranean world, its rulers will have placed their characteristic fortresses in more remote and less populated regions because of their defensive value. Since there are few datable documents in the sites studied (such as an Egyptian scarab, for example) and since no dendrochronological studies have been done on the remains found, the chronology of Mycenaean history is very dependent on the material culture of the Helladic Period.

It is thought that in this period, like the rest of the Greek mainland, Mycenae was occupied by non-Indo-European speaking peoples who practiced agriculture and animal husbandry from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. There is archaeological evidence of occupation of the site from 3500 to 2100, although poorly stratified, as is the case for the Neolithic period.

The acropolis of Mycenae is believed to have been fortified around 1500 BCE, due to the presence of upright tombs dating from this period.The first grave burials or cists began west of the acropolis around 1800-1700 BCE. In this period, the acropolis was already surrounded, at least partially, by the earliest series of walls. Regarding the remains of this period, Emily Vermeule went so far as to say that “there is nothing in the Middle Heladic world that prepares us for the furious splendor of vertical tombs.”

Excavated between 1952 and 1954 by Papadimitriou and Mylonas, outside the walls, the tomb circle B belongs to a 17th or 16th century BC funerary enclosure. The complex is surrounded by dry-jointed stone walls, twenty-eight meters in diameter, enclosing fourteen large vertical tombs, which were said to have been intended for members of royalty, and twelve smaller cist-shaped tombs. Some of the tombs had vertical stelae, only five remaining in the original location. The stelae of the male tombs had relief decorations, while the female tombs were marked by plain stelae. The fact that many of the tombs were found inviolate made it possible to study about thirty-five remains of men, women and children, and it can be concluded that the men, by the injuries evidenced on their bones and their muscle mass, belonged to an eminently warlike group.

The later Tumular Circle A featured an even richer estate, including electro mortuary masks, an amethyst seal depicting a male figure (Gamma tomb), and a duck-shaped rock crystal cimbe (elongated, shallow vase) in the Omicron tomb. The tomb spoil belongs to the Middle Helladic tradition, imported from Minoan Crete and the Cyclades.

Later, the Mycenaeans, abandoning the practice of inhumations in vertical tombs, began to build huge circular graves called tolos, often built on the sides of hills. Alan Wace categorized the nine Mycenaean tolos into three groups, according to their architectural and engineering characteristics. The first group, which includes the Cyclopean Tomb, Epano Furno, and the Tomb of Egisto date from the Late Heladic IIA while the later ones date from the Late Heladic IIIB (which corresponds to the period from about 1525 BCE to 1300

At the conventional date of 1350 BC, the fortifications of the acropolis, and the other surrounding hills, were rebuilt in a style that became known as Cyclopean because of the stone blocks used, so large that it was later thought they could only have been handled by the mythical one-eyed giants known as Cyclopes. Within these walls, much of which is still visible, successive monumental palaces were built. The final palace, the remains of which can be admired today on the acropolis, date from the early LHIIIA:2 period. Earlier palaces may have existed, but they were either destroyed or served as the basis for the construction of others.

More traces have been found around the Aegean Sea, usually just the floor, of palaces built with similar architectural features, such as the existence of the megaro, or throne room, featuring a central fireplace under an opening in the ceiling, supported by four columns arranged quadrangularly around it. The throne, set against the center of the wall next to the fireplace, allowed an unobstructed view of the ruler from the entrance. The plaster walls and floor were adorned with colorful frescoes.

The best known construction of Mycenae is the Lion”s Gate, which was erected in approximately 1250 B.C. At this time, Mycenae was probably a prosperous city whose political, military, and economic power extended as far as Crete, Pilos, and even Thebes and Athens. However, by about 1200 BCE, Mycenaean power was declining; during the 12th century BCE, Mycenaean rule collapsed. Traditionally, this is attributed to an invasion by the Dorians, northern Greeks, although nowadays some historians doubt that such an invasion ever took place.

The memory of the power of Mycenae remained in the minds of the Greeks during the following centuries, known as the Dark Ages. The epic poems attributed by Greeks of later generations to Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey, preserve memories of the Mycenaean period. Homer”s poems feature King Agamemnon of Mycenae as the ultimate leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Classic Period

During the early classical period, Mycenae was inhabited again, although it never regained its former importance. Mycenaeans fought at Thermopylae and Plateia during the Median Wars. However, in 468 BC, troops from Argos captured Mycenae, sold the inhabitants into slavery, and razed the city to the ground. Argos took advantage of the moment that Sparta was busy with the Third Messenian War, after the Sparta Earthquake in 464 BC, and Mycenae could not count on this ally.

During the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the ruins of Mycenae were a tourist attraction, just as they are today. A small village sprang up to cater to the business generated by the tourists. However, the site was abandoned at the end of the Roman Empire.

The first excavations in Mycenae were conducted by the Greek archaeologist Pittakis in 1841. He found and restored the Lion”s Gate. In 1874, Schliemann arrived on the site and conducted a complete excavation. Schliemann believed in the historical truth in Homer”s poems and interpreted his findings along these lines. He found the ancient upright tombs with their royal skeletons and spectacular funerary artifacts. When he found a gold mortuary mask in one of the tombs, he exclaimed, “Behold the face of Agamemnon!”

Since Schliemann”s time, further scientific excavations have been carried out in Mycenae, mainly by Greek archaeologists but also by the British School of Athens. The acropolis was excavated in 1902, and the surrounding hills were investigated methodically by subsequent excavations.

Today, Mycenae, one of the foundation sites of European civilization, is a popular tourist destination just a few hours” drive from Athens. The site has been well preserved and the great ruins of the Cyclopean walls and palaces on the acropolis still cause visitors to marvel, particularly when it is remembered that they were erected a thousand years before the monuments of Classical Greece.

References

Sources

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  3. ^ “Mycenae, Citadel (Building)”.
  4. ^ a b c d Bury & Meiggs 1975, p. 20
  5. ^ Chew 2000, p. 220; Chapman 2005, p. 94: “…Thebes at 50 hectares, Mycenae at 32 hectares…”
  6. No ano da 78a olimpíada
  7. ^ Beekes 2009, p. 29 (s.v. “Ἀθήνη”).
  8. ^ Chadwick 1976, p. 1.
  9. ^ Shelton 2010, p. 58.
  10. ^ Pausania il Periegeta, Periegesi della Grecia..
  11. ^ Chew 2000, p. 220; Chapman 2005, p. 94: “…Thebes at 50 hectares, Mycenae at 32 hectares…”
  12. Wilhelm Gemoll: Griechisch-Deutsches Schul- und Handwörterbuch. München/Wien 1965.
  13. Petros Themelis: Mykene. Die Monumente und die Funde. Ausgabe Hannibal, Athen 1985, S. 1.
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