On March 14, a very busy day for us, we visited Mycenae after our visit to Corinth.
Mycenae was the capital city of the powerful ruling dynasty that governed most of the Eastern Mediterranean for 500 years during The Late Bronze Age. Indeed, Mycenae was so influential from 1600 B.C. to 1100 B.C. that those five centuries are often referred to as The Mycenaean Period.
Unique for the age, the royal city of Mycenae was situated neither upon water nor upon a well-traveled trade route. Instead, the city was erected amidst rugged terrain in the mountainous interior of The Peloponnese. It is believed that the city was intentionally founded upon a site ideal for defense against foreign invasion.
Most of the ruins to be seen in Mycenae today are remnants of structures built between 1350 B.C. and 1200 B.C., the peak years of Mycenaean civilization.
One enters the city proper (The Citadel) through the Lion’s Gate, erected circa 1250 B.C.
The Lion’s Gate is reached only after an arduous climb up a steep, rocky, winding road built during The Late Bronze Age. The road was constructed so as to make attempted invasions of the royal city exceedingly difficult.
While city walls and foundations of the royal palace are still visible, the most important Mycenae monuments visible today are grave circles (funerary enclosures used for the burials of non-notables) and royal tombs (the monumental graves of Mycenae’s rulers and aristocrats).
The photograph below shows one of Mycenae’s two large grave circles.
It is unknown how many persons were buried in each of the grave circles. While the remains of dozens of persons have been uncovered in both grave circles, it is likely that the grave circles represented a symbolic place to pay tribute to the dead rather than a final resting place (the common practice in Mycenaean civilization was to incinerate, not to bury, the dead).
Important personages were not buried in grave circles. Important personages were, instead, granted individual burial monuments.
Mycenae buried its nobles in beehive tombs (large, circular burial chambers with high vaulted roofs). The tombs featured solemn, even dramatic, entranceways lined with stone.
The tombs, vandalized only a few generations after they were first erected, were richly adorned when new. The dead, laid to rest in sitting positions, were buried with gold masks, tiaras, jeweled armor and weapons, and other luxuries befitting their exalted statuses.
The largest and most famous tomb of Mycenae is today known as The Treasury Of Atreus. Historians speculate that it may have served as the tomb of Agamemnon, although there is no direct evidence to support such a claim.
The photograph below shows the entrance to The Treasury Of Atreus.
The photograph below shows the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus, illuminated with its single source of natural light.
By 1100 B.C., Mycenae was abandoned, a victim of earthquakes, fires and waves of destruction by foreign invaders. The abandonment of the city was coincident with the sudden collapse of Mycenaean civilization, a collapse that attended the end of The Late Bronze Age.
The swift demise of Mycenaean civilization resulted in a great and lasting Dark Age for the entire Eastern Mediterranean, a Dark Age whose long-term effects vastly exceeded the effects of the Dark Age that was to follow the collapse of The Roman Empire sixteen centuries later.
Trade and commerce came to a halt. Literacy disappeared (as did entire languages). Ruinous declines in population occurred. Flourishing city-states with sophisticated political structures ceased to exist almost overnight, replaced by scattered and thinly-populated villages that lacked significant contact with the outside world. Mycenaean culture, known for art and architecture, advanced naval vessels and land weaponry, and high-technology coinage and communication and record-keeping systems, was wiped from the face of the earth in a near-instant.
Greece was not to begin to recover from this particular Dark Age for 400 years.
The highly-developed civilizations of Anatolia in present-day Turkey were to take even longer to rebound, not to emerge from this Dark Age for over 1000 years.
Addendum Of 14 August 2010: The photograph of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus, which I found on a Greek travel website and which may be viewed elsewhere on the worldwide web, was taken in 2009 by Mr. Richard Buck of Oxford, United Kingdom. Mr. Buck’s photograph is by far the finest photograph I have encountered of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus. The original photograph may be viewed, in ultra-high resolution, on Mr. Buck’s Flickr page, which may be found [link disabled, pursuant to Blogger request, on 8 September 2010] .
Addendum Of 28 August 2010: The very same photograph of the interior of The Treasury Of Atreus also appears in a 2003 disc of photographs distributed by the U.S. arm of The Tourist Authority Of Greece and mailed to prospective U.S. travelers in response to requests for information about the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. The photograph was clearly taken by a professional photographer during a period in which the historic attraction was closed to the public—there are no tourists milling about, inside or out, and no tourist shadows, and no modern torches illuminating the interior of the dark cavern, all of which are in conspicuous evidence during visitor hours. In the booklet accompanying the 2003 photo disc, the photographs contained on the disc are credited to: S. Adrianou, G. Efstathiou, D. Karvelas, A. Michelis, B. Ostroff and C. Thiamis.
Addendum Of 8 September 2010:
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