History of Greece/Mycenaean Civilization

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Greek History -- Introduction -- Contributors -- Bibliography
01. Minoans · 02. Mycenaeans · 03. Dark Ages · 04. Classical Greece
05. Hellenistic Greece · 06. Roman Greece · 07. Byzantine Empire
08. Ottoman Greece · 09. Independent Greece 10. Modern Greece

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The location of many of the places mentioned in Homer's Iliad.

The Mycenaean civilization refers to a Bronze Age civilization on mainland Greece, inhabiting the area from around 1600-1100 BCE. The name "Mycenaean" refers to the city of Mycenae, which was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann beginning in 1876. Schliemann is also well-known for discovering and excavating the city of Troy in Asia Minor, which was at the time believed to be fictional. Mycenaean Greece is the period in which the Iliad and Odyssey are set.

History[edit | edit source]

Mycenaean civilization originated and evolved from the society and culture of the Early and Middle Bronze Age in mainland Greece under influences from Minoan Crete.[1][2] These Bronze Age Greeks establish themselves as political units sometime around 1600. The Mycenaeans quite possibly lived under Minoan dominance until around 1400, when they conquered Crete.

Conflicts with Minoans[edit | edit source]

The Mycenaeans are often cited as one of the contributing factors to the rapid decline of Minoan civilization. The Minoans lived on the Aegean island of Crete and had a naval influence that likely subjugated the Mycenaeans. Around the year 1600 BCE, it is believed that a volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini near Crete devastated the Minoans. The resulting weakness is thought to have allowed the Mycenaeans to overthrow the Minoans and replace them as the dominant culture of the region.

The Iliad[edit | edit source]

The gold mask discovered by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae. Schliemann proposed that this was the death mask of King Agamemnon from the Iliad.

The Classical poet called Homer wrote the Iliad and Odyssey in the 8th or 7th century BCE, long after the Mycenaeans had vanished as a recognizable civilization. Because of this centuries-long gap in time, most scholars agree that Homer's epics cannot be viewed as accurate accounts of Mycenaean culture. It has been verified, however, that many of the places referred to in the Iliad and Odyssey were actual Mycenaean sites, including Troy.

Decline and collapse[edit | edit source]

Scholars today still do not know the exact reason as to why the Mycenaean civilization collapsed but there are several theories. A common theory used to be that the Dorians invaded the Mycenaeans, however this theory is not believed anymore due to the fact that archeologists have found absolutely no evidence of Dorians in the area. This was mostly a mythical theory which the Greeks came up with. Another theory is the invasion by the "sea people" which was written about many times throughout history by different cultures but this theory also has problems to it because the "sea people" were not a united people; they were from many different places. Other theories that are more plausible include: economic collapse, climate change (drought), or internal uprisings. There may not just be one theory to explain the collapse but it could be a combination of these theories. The aftermath of the collapse allowed the written Mycenaean language (Linear B) to be forgotten (possibly due to a decrease in writing as literature was only used for administrative purposes for the Mycenaeans and a decrease in trade/the manufacturing of supplies meant that nothing needed to be written down anymore), forcing the Greeks to reinvent their writing system centuries later during the Greek Revival period (Late Dark Age). The Greek Revival period also brought a new style of pottery called "sub-Mycenaean pottery" (it was called this because it was very similar to Mycenaean pottery but the craftsmanship was not as good) and later on "geometric pottery" which included geometric designs and was very well-crafted.

Culture[edit | edit source]

Religion[edit | edit source]

Not a great deal is known about the Mycenaean religion. It has been observed, however, that it was influenced to some degree by that of the Minoans. Many of the Mycenaean gods are recognizable to us as the well-known Classical gods, such as Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Ares, Athena, Dionysus, and Hermes. Notable absences are Apollo, Aphrodite, and Hades.

Art[edit | edit source]

Fresco of a Mycenaean woman.

Mycenaean artwork was influenced, like nearly all other aspects of their civilization, by the Minoans. Pottery, statues, and paintings make up the majority of Mycenaean art. Mycenaeans developed advanced bronze-working techniques, creating swords, shields, and suits of armor.

Architecture[edit | edit source]

In contrast to the Minoans, the Mycenaean leaders built fortresses — enormous walled structures that contained a megaron like the Minoan palace, but were primarily fortifications for defense. The walls of these structures often stood forty or fifty feet high, and were composed of enormous blocks of stone weighing two to three tons, fitted together without mortar. Fortresses at Tiryns and at Mycenae are considered the best examples of these military structures.

The south gate of Gla, in Boeotia.

Unlike the Minoans, the Mycenaeans are not known to have built many religious shrines. A sacrificial site on Mount Lykaon sacred to Zeus in the Classical period has recently been found to pre-date Mycenaean occupation of the Greek peninsula or the Peloponnese, but no substantial structures of a religious nature have been identified at Mycenaean sites. Such buildings may have been incorporated into the palace-fortresses, but they are not specifically identified as such.

A Mycenaean common house has been located and identified. Dating from late in the Mycenaean period, it consists of a long, narrow building of posts with wattle-and-daub curtain walls and likely a thatched roof. One end of the house held an entry porch, while the opposite end was rounded and held the likely sleeping quarters. The interior was divided into two rooms, the aforementioned sleeping area farthest from the entrance, and a living area that contained a rudimentary hearth and a food-preparation area. The presence of sheep feces and wool fibers in the porch area suggest that the front entrance was used as a pen for holding animals.

Language[edit | edit source]

The language spoken by the Mycenaean was an ancestor of modern Greek as shown on the Linear C tablet (the Minoan script from the Linear A tablet). Linear B was deciphered in the early 1950's, and proved to be an ancient form of the modern Greek language. This orthography resembled modern Japanese, in that it was syllabic instead of alphabetic. This form of writing, however, was forgotten during the Dark Ages, leading the Greeks of the classical era to develop a system of writing from the Phoenician model, allowing the alphabetic system to come into use.

Economy[edit | edit source]

A substantial number of Linear B texts, deal with matters of economic concern — inventories of possessions and lists of goods being brought to and from the palaces or sent out from the palaces. One of the most famous, used in the process of cracking Linear B as a language, lists provisions for the coast guard: apparently the so-called "Palace of Nestor" mounted a seaward watch on the approaches to its landfall, and paid the watchers in food and goods. These records suggest that the palaces were the principal economic engines of the era. They took in raw materials into workshops, where trained artisans produced finished goods, that would then be exchanged with other palaces for the best products of their local regions.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Dickinson, Oliver (1977). The Origins of Mycenaean Civilization. Götenberg: Paul Aströms Förlag.
  2. Dickinson, Oliver (December 1999). Invasion, Migration and the Shaft Graves. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 43 (1). pp. 97–107. doi:10.1111/j.2041-5370.1999.tb00480.x.

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