Friday, April 3, 2015

Late Bronze Age Mainland Greece: The Mycenaeans

Mycenaean male and female dress, from
The Minoans are a culture, often described as separate from the culture of mainland Aegean dwellers. This distinction is true in some sense: potters and painters used separate styles, soldiers wore different clothing, official titles had similar but divergent meanings, and their languages were historically distinct (Proto-Greek vs. non-Indo-European Minoan). But deceptively this term in an archeological sense means something entirely antithetical to the popular notion of “having a culture”. Within the study of artifacts it is a material culture, a shared set of physical items. The United States of America and Japan today share a specific material culture, the use of Honda automobiles, yet this single material-culture says nothing about any individual's self-described identities.

“It is very common to conflate material cultures and language cultures as being perfectly congruent with a distinctly defined group of people with an ethnic identity that they all consciously share, but this is often again a case of modern constructs being retrojected onto past societies where they don't really apply. Thus we often think that the only way that the physical items of a material culture like pottery or a type of sword can travel are in the hands of the same people, speaking the same language, practicing the same customs and only mating with each other, displacing the populations of the areas that they move into. But in fact, items can move through trade, customs (like tholos tombs) can move along trade routes, and languages can be adopted, very quickly, by other groups of people who see an advantage in doing so. Will archaeologists of the year 5,000 conclude that North Americans invaded China because they found Golden Arches and Nike T-Shirts there?” -oudysseos, in r/askhistorians

The vast majority of Aegeans would have identified with their immediate family, their extended family or clan, their local shrine or temple, and their city proper with its king. Some may have identified foreign cities as either present or historical friends or foes. While swaths of people had related languages, pottery types, and religious traditions, any two areas sharing those attributes likely did not share any self-described identities. Distance and frequency are better identifiers of shared personal culture. A village near a large palace-temple town which share artisanal styles are much more likely to have a shared personal culture than a village on the black sea which only share pottery styles (suggesting imports).

While it is easier to separate Minoan culture from its neighbors as it is confined mainly to an island, it is not so easy to separate Mycenaean culture from its neighbors (it becomes impossible to accurately describe the ethnic make-up of border regions). Even then, the island-confined Minoans and the Peloponnese-based Mycenaeans should not be considered primitive nations or any other inter-city self-described identity. Both the terms Minoan and Mycenaean are archeological complexes, catchall terms which describe their possessions resting at the fringes of a deeply intricate world of personal culture.

Two reenactors wearing reconstructed Mycenaean armor, the Dendra panoply (L) and the Thebes panoply (R), from the Koryvantes reenacting group

There is oblique evidence of ethnic strife, such as in Minoan/Mycenaean colonies (like Kastri where Cretan colonists brought architecture, language, and religion, usurping land from the natives). There is even the possibility that mainlanders speaking Proto-Greek and writing in Linear B displaced the native Minoan rulers of Crete in the mid 1,400s BCE, a more clear example of conquest wars against foreigners. But the vast majority of similar material finds do not express any conclusive ethnic markers. Take for example the Minoan-themed artwork outside of the Aegean – whether it was copied by locals or produced by foreigners, there is no evidence either way (unless records mention who it was). Using these terms there are only gradations of influence, both Minoan and Mycenaean culture overlap in many ways throughout the 2nd millennium BCE, eventually overlapping completely and changing entirely in the EIA (early iron age) after the turn of the 1st millennium BCE. Since both material cultures are so intricately connected, it would be difficult to describe the rise and fall of the Minoans without describing its contemporaneous sister culture on the mainland.

An illustration of the west facade at Mycenae in the 13th century BCE, done in the fresco style by Diana Wardle

A reconstruction of megaron at the Mycenaean palace at Pylos

An illustration of people at a Mycenaean palace

At the height of Minoan culture in the early to mid 2nd millennium BCE, mainland Greece simultaneously experienced a cultural renaissance. Mainland villages had been slowly adopting elements of both its numerous settled northern cultures and the omnipresent Minoan one nearby. Mycenaean palace culture was largely adopted from the Minoans after the impetus at the beginning of the MM era. Slowly more and more Cretan innovations found their way to the mainland after 2,000 BCE. Mycenaean material culture can be identified as definitively lasting between 1,650-1,050 BCE, a mainland tradition for around 600 years. These mainland Greeks are the genetically direct ancestors of classical Greek culture: they lived in the same areas, believed in similar gods, and spoke Proto-Greek. These facts are the main linkages between LBA Greek and EIA Greece, but every other aspect of their culture was transformed. After the BAC (Bronze Age Collapse) and by the flourishing of archaic era (in the 700s BCE) almost no direct aspects of its culture continued. The memory of its previous flourishing was recorded by Homer, describing it as “Mycenae, rich in gold.” (book 11, line 45).

A color reconstruction of the citadel at Mycenae in the LBA

An overview of a Mycenaean town from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

Mycenaean culture was named after one of its larger cities, Mycenae, yet this is not to imply it was the capital of an extended kingdom or the progenitor of widespread traditions. There is some evidence that it may have been the seat of a high king, as the Iliad suggests King Agamemnon of Mycenae led a coalition of Achaeans, and Hittite texts mention the King of Ahhiyawa presumably on the mainland. Each of those descriptions of Mycenaean political dominance are very convoluted and tenuous: the Iliad is entirely mythical and cannot be relied on for strict large-scale historical information, and the Hittite texts were written to supplicate the ego of the Greek ruler (Minoans claimed they owned the Cyclades to Egyptian officials). The phrase Ahhiyawa in Hittite texts may only refer to Mycenaean colonists in Anatolia (on the southern Aegean coast of Anatolia dominated by the city-state of Miletus). While Mycenae was not “first among equals”, it was still one of the larger palace-temple city states on the mainland. Even if the Hittites called Proto-Greek speakers in Anatolia and the Peloponnese “Ahhiyawa” and described them as living in a region named “Ahhiya”, it is impossible to determine details as to how far and wide this term was applied. While these demonyms are possible cognates to the classical Greek demonyms Achaean and Achaea, by the classical period those terms only referred to one of the four major tribes of Greece. This is the closest we can come to when searching for a Mycenaean autonym. Hypothetical cognates reconstructed into Proto-Greek from the Hittite are often rendered as Akhaiwoi and Akaywa, but without textual finds it is not known whether Mycenaeans even used these terms. Even within the historical linguistics community there is no unity on those reconstructions. It is interesting to note that Sumerians classified many people to their north-west (such as Mariotes, Eblaites, Ugaritics, and Canaanites) as “the Amurru”, when in reality these groups shared some cultural aspects but diverged in many other ways. We should not trust the Hittites to be any more precise in their ethnography.

A diagram of Mycenae

The architectural plan of the citadel at Mycenae

A reconstruction of the citadel at Mycenae, by

The site of the citadel today

Mycenaean culture in general possessed the same focuses as Minoan culture, urbanity and palace-temples, and long distance naval trade. Around 1,400 BCE the fine palace-driven artistry, innovation, and wealth of many Minoans began to stall, it is around this period when a novel mainland palace culture emerged: synthesizing mainland attitudes with Minoan themed frescoes and governmental structure. Mycenaean palace culture lasted around 200 years, til it collapsed around 1,200 BCE at the beginning of the long BAC. Each palace-temple was ruled by a Wanax, but other titles varied in their duties (as described in the Minoan Polity section). Mycenaean and Minoan tableture are similar as well, describing a world of objects, duties, and ownership – but never describing oral traditions or an individual's opinions. By the archaic period great poets like Homer and Sappho emerged from the native Ionic and Aeolic traditions, not from any remnant of Mycenaean culture. Linear B entirely died out during the BAC (although surviving in a mutated form on Mycenaean Cyprus) and when writing was re-popularizedin the 700s BCE it was replaced by an inventive variation of the Phoenician alphabet.

A map of Mycenaean palaces

A reconstruction of a wealthy Mycenaean woman or priestess weaving in a palace, in reality this work was done by slaves

Klytemnestra”, a figurine representing a Mycenaean priestess in the 13th century BCE from Russian Soldier Art, with design by Andrea Salimbeti

reconstruction of the Mycenaean palace of Nestor at Pylos, the centerpiece of a MH town which included a surrounding wall. The palace was two stories tall, and included: storerooms, workshops, baths, light wells, reception rooms, gardens, and sewage system. It is the best preserved Mycenaean palace extant

Practically the only survivor of the Mycenaean culture is their pantheon, being transformed into their much better known classical versions. This is not to discredit the variation in worship which did certainly occur, such as classical Apollo becoming gaining importance, whereas LBA Paieon (associated with healing) and Eileithyia (associated with childbirth) had lost widespread importance. The only glimpse into the personal religious lives of Mycenaeans in through their tablets, many groups and classes in society were expected to make public dedications to deities. With festivals organized by a specific class and possible oversight by a specific titular office. This aspect of mass worship is very similar to the sacrificial and public dedicatory requirements of classical Greek and Roman religion.

As in Classical times these gods were the object of state religion, not private practice; we don't know to what extent private individuals would have been involved in their cult in Mycenaean times.” - Rosemary85.

A bronze figurine of a "Horned God" from Enkomi, Mycenaean Cyprus

Cyclopean Masonry

Another lone survivor of Mycenaean culture are their giant stone fortifications and bridges. Mycenaean cities were huge, often involving large scale construction projects in addition to large palace-temples. One such marvel is the large dam at Tiryns, large enough to divert the river. At Mycenae, a large underground reservoir was built which is both architecturally impressive and carved straight out of rock. At Kopais in Boeotia a subterranean drainage system was installed which helped to reclaim land for use, large projects such as these are the epitome of Mycenaean planning and skill. Even in the ancient world of the classical period Mycenaeans were known for their “cyclopean” masonry, typified by limestone boulders fitted without mortar (with small limestone rocks filling gaps). These stone were only slightly worked, not even being cut to fit cohesively. This style of architecture can be considered another indicator of Mycenaean material presence, and such architecture is found across the Aegean world showing a wide spread of Mycenaean culture. While on Crete there were only a few palace-temples (in the OT period), on the mainland powerful city states flourished. Cyclopean citadels are found at: Mycenae, Pylos, Tiryns, Argos, Krisa (in Phocis), Athens, and Gla (in Boeotia). Smaller cyclopean masonry is also found at Midea (in Argolis). New citadels are still being discovered, in 2009 the remains of a Mycenaean palace was found near modern Xirokambi in Laconia. Another piece of modern Mycenaean heritage is the fired terracotta roof tile, which were used at Gla and Midea.

Arkadiko bridge, built between 1,300-1,190 BCE near the modern road from Tiryns to Epidauros, it is 72 feet long, 18.4 feet wide at the base, and 13 feet high. The roadway is 8 feet and 2 inches wide, being designed for chariots. It is still used today

The main sally port at the north east extension of the fortifications at Mycenae

The cyclopean East Galleries at Tiryns

Entrances to the underground water reservoirs at Tiryns

The term cyclopean comes from a classical Greek popular myth that cyclopes built the walls at Mycenae and Tiryns. Pliny's Natural History attributes to Aristotle the belief that cyclopes invented masonry towers.

There still remain, however, parts of the city wall [of Mycenae], including the gate, upon which stand lions. These, too, are said to be the work of the Cyclopes, who made for Proteus the wall at Tiryns. Going on from come to the ruins of Tiryns...the wall, which is only part of the ruins still remaining, is a work of the Cyclopes made of unwrought stones, each stone being so big that a pair of mules could not move the smallest from its place to the slightest degree. Long ago small stones were so inserted that each of them binds the large blocks firmly together.” - Pausanias

The Lion Tomb at Mycenae, built around 1,350 BCE (ashlar masonry)

The main gate at Tiryns, seen from the inside (ashlar masonry)

The megalithic walls at Mycenae near the Lion Gate (ashlar masonry)

A tree dwarfed by the ashlar walls of Mycenae, near the Lion Gate

Cyclopean masonry is also found at Mycenaean colonies, such as at Larnaca on Cyprus, and in eastern Sicily. It is interesting to note that other cultures in the Mediterranean independently invented cyclopean masonry, such as the Nuraghe on Sardinia and the Talaiotic culture on Menorca and Mallorca. While the classical Greeks did not distinguish between uncut and ashlar masonry, modern observers do. The modern term “cyclopean masonry” has been defined as the use of uncut stones in opposition to ashlar masonry which is cut. Cyclopean masonry is certainly the most common architectural style in Mycenaean fortifications, bridges, and reservoirs, although ashlar masonry was still used albeit uncommonly and only around gateways (as seen in the Lion Gate from around 1,250 BCE). Architecturally Mycenaean towns and their palaces differed slightly in contrast to their Minoan forebears, mainland towns had large walls and the palace was centered around a unique room called the megaron. This was for all intents and purposes a throne room, usually centered around a circular hearth and four columns. The presence of walls and the centralized throne room point to societal changes in Mycenaean culture, authority was centralized and given a room from which to operate. This room was not in some external royal chambers adjacent to the megalithic urban heart, but was the centerpiece of the palace-temple. For the Mycenaeans it came to be more of a palace and less of a temple.

Map of the citadel at Mycenae with the megaron, or throne room, highlighted

Reconstruction of the area around the megaron at Mycenae

Reconstruction of the megaron, from Khan Academy

An aerial view of the megaron, by

Reconstruction of the megaron, by

The megaron of Mycenae today

The Lion Gate

The most recognizable aspect of Mycenaean masonry is itself not cyclopean. This structure is a gate, built as the main entrance to Mycenae around 1,250 BCE in the northwest side of the citadel. This structure is the sole surviving remnant of Mycenaean monumental sculpture, and the oldest remaining monumental sculpture in Greece. A visitor to the grand city would walk up a part-natural part-engineered ramp leading up to the Lion Gate. At the Gate itself, entrance to the city was blocked by a double door. Staring up at the lion figures (their heads originally faced toward the viewer) must have been a frightening object to behold. Sadly the heads were made separately and of a different material, and have since fallen off and been lost. Between the two lions is a column (resembling Minoan versions) which sits on top of two side-by-side table like platforms, possibly an altar. While surely the symbolic details of such a piece of art are lost to us now, a fierce warrior culture desiring to represent itself as a lion is an obvious choice.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae, made around 1,250 BCE, with glorious lighting

Approach to the Lion Gate from the north

On the left: the Mycenaean column as seen at the Lion Gate. In the center: A Minoan column as seen at the Temple-Palace at Knossos. On the right: A later Greek column during the CP. The Mycenaean column more closely resembles the Knossian one as they both grow wider as they get taller, a design contrast to later Greek fashion

A reconstruction of the Lion Gate at Hattusha (the Hittite capital), built earlier between 1,343-1,200 BCE. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Later empires continued to built lion-flanked gates. This is one of the two lion statues which flanked the entrance to temple of Ishtar at Nimrud, the capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. It was built after their recovery from the BAC, in 883-859 BCE by King Ashurnasirpal II, and shows the continuity of near eastern regal symbolism. Its extreme detail and realism far outpaces the earlier Mycenaean and Hittite statues, and its 5th leg allows it to be seen walking from the side and standing from the front

The creation of the Lion Gate happened around the same time as another interesting architectural transition occurred at Mycenae. The ruler of the city around this time (1,250 BCE) not only built the Lion Gate, but also built the grand royal tomb now called the Treasury of Atreus. Besides these two megalithic construction projects, the ruler also redesigned the citadel, building a wall which included the royalty's ancestral burial grounds within the inner complex. These burial grounds were renewed, with an altar being built and many of the very old grave stones (stele) being refurbished. While the Lion Gate is a beautiful example of Mycenaean craftsmanship, it is one part of a vast project which one (or more) rulers of Mycenae took in the mid 13th century BCE in an effort to revitalize the town, and to solidify their power. In this way, Mycenaean rulers were more similar to their Egyptian counterparts than their Minoan progenitors. A Greek or Egyptian ruler could not only build one megalithic structure, only renovate one tomb: but built in accordance with the power they desired to have. With walls built and grave sites refurbished certainly the ruler/s of this period had fulfilled the requirements of a Mycenaean king.

The Lion Gate

A stereoscopic photograph of the Lion Gate from 1897

The rulers and populace of Mycenae did not have very much time to enjoy these novel additions to their cultural hegemony, it would only be about 50 years until the beginning of the BAC (around 1,200 BCE). After 1,200 BCE the palace culture of mainland Greece and Crete declined. Through this decline power structures shifted, disrupting the interconnected network of international trade which had grown throughout the bronze age. While international trade still occurred, it was not longer being funneled through a palace and recorded by a scribe. Even as instability increased during the BAC, Mycenaeans continued megalithic projects.

A Mycenaean warrior and panoply from the LBA, around 1,300-1,200 BCE. From the Koryvantes reenacting group

Around this time (1,200 BCE), the citadel at Mycenae was expanded again, adding a sally port to the north east side, and an underground cistern. The implementation of siege mitigating buildings also speaks to the worries of the rulers of this period. The level of expertise required to construct the cistern is particularly impressive. It included a secret passageway underneath a wall which led down 99 steps to the cistern, having been carved directly out of the rock. This was connected to a spring on nearby high ground by a tunnel. Certainly Mycenae needed these structures, as roving bands of Sea Peoples, foreign invaders, and other mainland city-states all vied for control. Siege defenses would not stop the decline and erasure of Mycenaean culture between 1,100-1,000 BCE.

Entrance to the underground cistern at Mycenae, made around 1,200 BCE

The postern gate at Mycenae, a secret secluded secondary gate which would have been used to launch surprise attacks on a besieging army

Mycenaean Craftsmanship

While Mycenaean society was more structured around warfare than their Minoan counterparts, they similarly made intricate and elaborate crafts. Artisans created elaborate bronze items, and delicate vessels from faience or ivory. The quality of gold items from Mycenae is astounding, featuring two large burial sites: Grave Circle A and B (GCA & GCB). Mycenaean craftsmen focused equally on artistry as Minoans had. Complex and decorated golden items ooze an aesthetic quality, which Mycenaeans certainly enjoyed. Flowers were a common motif in gold as in frescoes: thin gold leaf flowers were worn in a burial context and the rosette pattern features prominently in gold pieces. Gold necklaces involved interlocking and angular beads, which fit together coherently and look aesthetically complex.

A golden plaque in the form of a rosette from Mycenae, made around 1,500 BCE

Another golden plaque from Mycenae, made around 1,500 BCE

Two gold Mycenaean necklaces, the bottom resembling flowers

A gold ring with dark blue glass inlay, from a child burial at Thebes, early 1,300s BCE

A close up of one of the golden octopus brooches from shaft grave V at GCA, Mycenae

A curiously shaped gold Mycenaean earring

Gold was used to create beautiful death masks for Mycenaean upper nobility with some child burials given gold leaf plating over the top of their entire body similar to Han dynasty Chinese jade body suits (independently invented around 1,000 years later). Gold was used to create striking designs on metal pottery, or intricate patterns on the hilts of weapons. While the Mycenaeans made many elaborate gold pieces, by far the most interesting and complex pieces of gold art throughout the Mycenaean world are the Vaphio cups. These two golden cups were found in a tholos tomb at Vaphio, near Sparta, along with rare jewelry (gems and amethyst beads) and other items in gold, silver, bronze, iron, lead, amber, and crystal. Some have argued that these cups were made in Greece, others argue that they were made in Minoa and imported, and some even argue that one is Minoan and the other Mycenaean. The difficulty in assigning either to any material culture is a testament to their shared Aegean cultural heritage, and an interesting example of the blurring of distinctions between Mycenaean and Minoan culture at their intersections.

On the left: the “Mask of Agamemnon” by Gillieron the father around 1906. Center: A reproduction by Gillieron the father of a cup from Mycenae, also made around 1906. Right: A reproduction of a dagger from Mycenae by Gillieron the father, also around 1906

Detail from one of the Vaphio cups showing a hunter tying a rope around a bull's leg

They are bursting with frenetic energy, one depicts a hunter netting and capturing a wild bull, while another bull attacks two hunters (and a third hunter flees). The other depicts a bull mating with a cow while a hunter slyly gets a rope around one of its legs, with three grazing bulls around the rest of the cup. The scenes together give us a picture of the kinds of methods Mycenaean hunters practiced to capture wild bulls, and the often violent resistance of those animals to domesticity. Truly it gives us a window, a brief picture into the lives of the people who practiced those activities, and risked being gored as a result. Some hunters, then as today, were successful yet others fled and ran from the danger. These cups allow us to reconstruct those miniscule moments in time, some days filled with danger and others with success and cheer, all being held within the life and memory of a single individual who died over 3,000 years ago.

The images from both of the Vaphio Cups

Gold inlays in the shape of flying fish, set into a bronze dagger from the Vaphio tholos tomb near Sparta, 1,500-1,400 BCE, Mycenaean

In addition to expert gold craftsmen, Mycenaean artisans were also masters in carving various materials. Stone carving was common and popular, resulting in a few spectacular pieces which have survived. One such stone piece of art is a stone anchor, beautifully carved with a relief of an octopus and its artistry is so intricate modern researchers are unsure as to whether it was entirely functional or cultic. Ivory carving commonly portrayed realistic human figures, yet the masters of Mycenaean ivory carving truly show their skill in combs. Ivory comb carvers created not only a series of delicate and miniature tines, but extravagant and fantastical scenes in relief on the handle. As seen in the previous section of boar tusk helmets, the primary source of these helmets are from many realistic and highly detailed miniature ivory warrior figurines.

Four Mycenaean seal stones depicting priestesses and griffons, with similar artistic styles and quality as Minoan carvings

A stone anchor from the LBA period, found in the Aegean most likely of Mycenaean craftsmanship

An ivory carving of two women and a baby, from Mycenae, 1,500-1,400 BCE

An ivory comb from Mycenae, made around 1,400 BCE

A comparison of tiny carved depictions of boar tusk helmets in ivory, and a full sized boar tusk helmet, at the Mycenae museum

Mycenaean pottery (though in its later stages stilted and geometric) was while flourishing not only unique but innovative in comparison to its regional neighbors and international competitors. Mycenaean potters introduced new styles which spread across the mainland and to Crete as well. As the Mycenaean world gained cultural prominence in the 15th century BCE its pottery (and traders) began to out-compete Minoan styles. Mycenaeans expanded their collective Aegean legacy through experimentation, pottery was made using unusual shapes and intentionally difficult designs. Their resounding success in creating these strange and powerful pieces further confirms their skill. Uncommon pieces ranged from pots in the shape of large shoes, to miniature (and full size) terracotta chairs.

A Mycenaean rhyton in the shape of a shoe, from a chamber tomb from Voula, Attica, 1,400-1,300 BCE

A complex terracotta basket vase, Mycenaean, 1,400-1,300 BCE

A terracotta female figure in three-legged chair, 1,300-1,200 BCE, Mycenaean

A terracotta chair from Mycenae, 1,425-1,100 BCE

Mycenaean chariot krater, 1,400-1,300 BCE, from Maroni, Mycenaean Cyprus

One of the more common terracotta pieces found at Mycenaean sites are votive figurines. These are called phi, psi, or tau type (based on the figurine's resemblance to the Greek letter). These were very stylized depictions of people, even more so than Minoan human votive figurines. Figurines were painted with stripes and zigzags (like contemporaneous pottery), and were used as either votive offerings or child toys. Their uses are assumed to be related to their find sites, which include child graves, household middens, and in large deposits at later holy sites. Presumably their primary function was to serve as votive offerings at these sites, which is evidence of the locations' earlier cultic relevance. These sites are: the sanctuary of Athena at Delphi, the tempel of Aphaia on Aegina, the sanctuary of Apollos Maleatas at Epidauros, and at Amyklae near Sparta. These figurines were likely understood in different contexts depending on their specific use and the period.

Three terracotta Mycenaean figurines of varying styles, 1,400-1,300 BCE

Many of the these figurines wear a distinctive large polos hat. In the CP the polos was worn by a specific goddess and never by the general public, and if this tradition had continued from the LBA it would identify some of these figurines as deities. If they only represent average worshipers (as Minoan ones do) then the figurines shed light on a popular Mycenaean fashion accessory. Sadly there is no consensus as to who these figurines represent.

A bronze figurine of a woman wearing a polos crown, 650-600 BCE, made on Crete

The Spread of Mycenaean Culture

An Egyptian painted relief showing imported Mycenaean pottery

Mycenaeans became prosperous from trading, with Mycenaean goods being found in many far flung places such as: Italy, Ugarit (on the Levantine coast), on the shores of the Black Sea, and someways up the Danube. A Mycenaean sword was even found in Georgia. Certainly Mycenaeans were trading throughout the Aegean and entirely usurped the older Minoan trading periphery. Radically far flung Mycenaean objects have been found, yet often these objects court controversy. A citadel in Bernstof Bavaria which burned down around 1,300 BCE was excavated in 2000 CE, leaving archeologists with a slew of fascinating objects. A golden diadem and other baubles were found which resemble Aegean craftsmanship (although easily could have been native), more mysteriously two amber seals with carved symbols were found. These symbols are suggested by Richard Janko to be related to Linear B, and have been putatively translated as either tinwasija or tinwatija. Richard Janko believes the word refers to a town called Tinwanthos and that the seals were traded away after it was destroyed or conquered. While there is no conclusive evidence that his hypotheses are correct, the objects do show a thematic similarlity of Aegean writing and gold aesthetics. Other objects such as the 13th century BCE Pelynt dagger have been suggested as being Minoan, but these suggestions are based on stylistic similarity and not much hard evidence.

The gold diadem and other objects from Bernstof, Bavaria, sealed in the ruins of its LBA citadel in a fire around 1,300 BCE

One of the two amber seals from Bernstof which have writing similar to Linear B

Mycenaean settlements are found at many places throughout Greece. On the periphery of Mycenaean culture it is often difficult to determine which villages have trade posts and which are entirely colonies, this periphery extends from Sicily, southern Italy, Epirus, Macedonia, and throughout the Aegean islands and parts of the Anatolian coast. There were certainly colonies where we find Mycenaean cultural dominance as well as cyclopean architecture, such as on Cyprus (especially at Larnaca) and on the east coast of Sicily. There also may have been colonies in the Levant (although these were more likely trade posts). The central external territory of the Mycenaean cultural sphere was Miletus, on the Anatolian coast.

A map of Mycenaean colonies in Anatolia, from Andrea Salimbeti's “Trojan War”

An LBA Mycenaean Cypriote necklace, made between 1,550-1,050 BCE

A gold pendant, Cyprus, 1,400-1,050 BCE

A bronze tripod made in Mycenaean Cyprus between 1,250-1,050 BCE

An elaborate bronze wheeled vessel holder from Cyprus, made between 1,225-1,100 BCE, while it is unknown what purpose this object had it most likely held a bowl in a religious context. As Minoan master craftsmen went to Akrotiri to create its unique style, Mycenaean masters went to their colony of Cyprus and created objects such objects

A gold funerary pendant representing a pomegranate, 1,400-1,300 BCE, from Cyprus

As the power of Minoan Crete waned, Mycenaean culture flourished and possibly conquered the island. From around 1,400 onward Mycenaean culture rapidly overwhelms local Minoan styles as well as the imposition of a new elite who spoke Proto-Greek and wrote in Linear B. Due to these pieces of information, it is likely that Crete was invaded around this time. That being said, it is always important to remember that the spread of material culture does not imply political control but only trading and artistic hegemony.

A Minoan noble wearing the “Prince of the Lillies” hat (on the left) fighting a Mycenaean noble wearing the helmet seen on a Hittite shard in Bogazkoy, as a priestess looks on

The Iliad also references the Greeks as being led by King Agamemnon of Mycenae to destroy Troy (presumed to have happened at sometime in the 13th century BCE). Although this story is highly mythological, Hittite texts speak louder than myths. They show us a world filled with political infighting and loose alliances throughout the region. There was constant warfare and political instability in western Anatolia at the time. Luwian states were vassals to their larger neighbor the Hittites, yet they often rebelled or were conquered by local upstart kings. The Ahhiyawa centered around Miletus were often connected to events in the region, and had a series of alliances and marriages with other Proto-Greek speaking rulers in Greece. While the Trojan war may not have happened precisely as it is described in by Homer, the Mycenaeans were heavily involved in the political world surrounding them.

A reconstructed map of 13th century BCE Greece from the Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad, showing the areas where each named hero came from. While some cities mentioned in the Iliad were no longer extant when Homer was writing, many cities still existed, and in the writing of the Iliad their mythological legacy and historical actions were combined and conflatedIt is more accurate to describe this map as a picture of Homeric (early 8th century BCE) Greece with late Mycenaean influences

Another reconstructed map of 13th century BCE Greece from the Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad, showing the number of ships from each city state

The Trojan War depicts the powerful and independent Trojans leading their allies against the Greeks. This political picture of Wilusa (the Hittite name for Troy) is not supported by the evidence in Hittite records. The Hittites conquered the region generally around 1,400 BCE (give or take 50 years), and from then on it was within the Hittite sphere of influence. While some powerful regions kept a semblance of independence after Hittite conquest, the glaring omission of Trojan foreign rule in the Homeric epics is a stark reminder of its ahistoricity. By the early 13th century BCE Wilusa was a “soldier servant” to the Hittite Empire, a vassal state required to send military troops on campaign. In the famous battle of Qadesh in 1,274 BCE between the Hittites and the Egyptians, Wilusa is recorded as sending troops and chariots to support their Hittite King.

The citadel of Troy, model by kuauik

Trojans assaulting Mycenaeans in a hypothetical reconstruction of the events in the Iliad

No city was safe even under the protective wing of Hattusha, especially not the strategically located Wilusa. Sitting precariously on the coast, it was a center of regional trade between the Aegean and Anatolian worlds. Even while being “ruled” by the Hittites they still imported or manufactured a large amount of Mycenaean pottery. It was on the outskirts of the Empire, positioned as Byzantium would later be, to control trade to and from the Black Sea and de facto the Danube. This made it a prime target for opportunists and risk takers, such as power seeking mercenary bands. King Manapa-Tarhunda of the Seha River Land (a nearby Hittite vassal) sent a letter to the Hittite King in the mid-13th century BCE warning his King about a powerful mercenary named Pariyamaradu (or Priyamaradu). This mercenary had conquered Wilusa and deposed the Hittite sanctioned ruler Kukkunni. King Manapa-Tarhunda of the Seha River Land says Pariyamaradu was not going to stop with Wilusa, and intended to attack and conquer Lazpas (Lesbos island) next. The Hittite King responded to his vassal's request by ordering King Manapa-Tarhunda to send an army to Wilusa himself to oust Pariyamaradu, and to reassert Hittite control. Apparently the vassal King did as he was told, but the Seha River Land army failed to recapture Wilusa or Pariyamaradu. After his vassal's failure, the Hittite King decided to take matters into his own hands and sent the Hittite army proper into Wilusa, which did successfully retake the town.

A relief showing King Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire (on the far left) making an offering to the Hittite storm god. Hattusili III is most likely the King who deposed Pariyamaradu and later wrote a letter to a Mycenaean Wanax about his brother and Pariyamaradu's unjust actions. Carved in the mid 13th century BCE

Trojan noble spearmen, from the Age of Bronze mod for Rome II

Pariyamaradu was not captured in the fighting and fled. He stayed in western Anatolia, and soon had recollected some troops and began to raid the Hittite vassal state of Lukka (in the area of classical Lycia). Pariyamaradu, now lacking a city from which to operate, conducted these raids with support from the largest Mycenaean city state on the coast...Miletus. At the time Miletus was ruled by King Tawagalawa of Milawanda (these names are in Hittite, having been transcribed into their language for their records, his Proto-Greek name is lost). The Hittite King now had two problems on his hands, and was getting desperate to finish the whole slew of trouble Pariyamaradu started. To accomplish this task the Hittite King (Hattusili III) decided pull some strings behind the backs of both Tawagalawa and Pariyamaradu: he wrote a letter to the brother of Tawagalawa, who was the Wanax of a powerful town on the mainland. In this letter he asked the mainland Wanax to rein in the actions of his brother, which would allow the Hittites to isolate Pariyamaradu. In the letter the Hittite King graciously called the mainland Wanax “King of the Ahhiyawa” and “my brother”, but this does not accurately reflect the political situation. This gracious language was used only to achieve his outright goal, manipulating Tawagalawa's brother. It is very unlikely that there was a King of the mainland Ahhiyawans, although it was certainly in the interest of the Hittite King to have the mainland Wanax believe he was!

A reconstruction of negotiations between Pariyamaradu (on the far left), Tawagalawa (wearing the lion mane), and the Hittite governor of Wilusa and ambassador to Wilusa (on the right). Design by Andrea Salimbeti and Raffaele D'Amato, drawn by Giuseppe Rava

The relationship between mainland Mycenaeans, Anatolian Mycenaeans, and the local Hittite vassal states is complex, to say the least. While the notion of modern borders suggests that there was some division between Hittites and Mycenaeans, this was not the case. Each region was intimately tied to its surrounding regions through political alliances, intermarriage, and dependent governors. While there was no Homeric King Agamemnon to lead the Greek world to war, there was a series of alliances between far flung city states based on intermarriage among the upper nobility. The Hittites knew this, and attempted to play brother against brother in order to secure the protection of their border cities.


Ancient Greek thought about the BAC by oudysseos
Linear B in Bavaria? Abstract, Richard Janko
Mycenaean overview by rosemary85
The Power of Seals in the Mycenaean World
The Trojan War, by Andrea Salimbeti

Shaft Grave 4 at GCA, Mycenae


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