Ancient Civilizations 101: The Mycenaean

Foreword


We cannot be sure of how human mentality led to the development of civilizations. Until today, this remains a popular topic among historians and anthropologists, and it is a significant scholarly debate. This 101 series brings to the spotlight some of the oldest civilizations that have ever existed. Undoubtedly, modern-day culture and society owe a lot to the previous ones. Each civilization, discussed in this 101 series, contributed in many ways to: new inventions, new ideas, new cultures, new philosophies, and lifestyles. In this article, the author will examine the civilization of ancient Rome; Rome, a city built on the lowest point of the Tiber River, gradually expanded as the power of its inhabitants grew. The monarchy of the early years gave way to democracy, which was later replaced by the imperial power of Augustus. At this time, the city acquired the first outstanding monuments, while at the same time some remarkable technical structures were built, such as aqueducts, sewers, and public toilets.

Ancient Civilizations 101 So Far Is Divided Into 5 Chapters


  1. The Rise and Fall of Mayans

  2. The Mycenaeans

  3. The Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt I

  4. The Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt II

  5. The Roman Empire from Caesar to Augustus I


The Mycenaean civilization, which thrived in Aegean during the Late Bronze Age from 1650 to 1100 BC, was the basis of Homeric epics and the most important ancient Greek myths. Mycenae is celebrated by Homer as the seat of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. It is presumed that the most important heroes of Greek mythology, art, and tragic poetry (such as Odysseus, Achilles, Theseus, etc.) probably had their origin from historical figures of the Mycenaean aristocracy. The name Mycenaean derives from the site of Mycenae in the Peloponnesos, where once stood a majestic Mycenaean safeguarded palace. Today, most Greek cities proudly referred to their Mycenaean past. After all, during the Mycenaean period, the roots of the Greek language and the Greek religion were formed.


In modern archaeology, the site first gained renown through Heinrich Schliemann’s excavations in the mid-1870s. During the excavations, the archaeological team brought to light objects that luxury and the age seemed to correspond to Homer’s description of Agamemnon’s palace. The extraordinary material wealth deposited in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae around 1550 BC, attests to a powerful elite society that thrived for four centuries. During the Mycenaean period, the Greek mainland enjoyed an era of prosperity combined in such centers as Mycenae, Tiryns, Thebes, and Athens. Local workshops produced objects of pottery and bronze, as well as luxury items, such as jewelry, vases in precious metals, and glass adornments.


M. Dragatakis. (2020). The Mycenaean Civilization: The Age Of Heroes. [Photograph]. The collector.  https://www.thecollector.com/mycenean-civilization/
M. Dragatakis. (2020). The Mycenaean Civilization: The Age Of Heroes. [Photograph]. The collector. https://www.thecollector.com/mycenean-civilization/

Early Mycenaen period


The origins of the Mycenaean civilization must be traced to the Peloponnese of the 17th century BC, and specifically in the famous pit tombs of Mycenae. These hegemonic tombs stand out from anything else that existed at that time in Greece. They were spacious family tombs in contrast, to the most Middle Bronze Age tombs that had a small size and were meant for individuals. But most importantly the tombs were known for the wealth bounties that they contained. The pit tombs of Mycenae represent the end of a period of economic poverty and introversion experienced by the regions of mainland Greece during the Middle Bronze Age. They mark a new era of creative contact with the advanced civilizations of the Aegean and especially with Minoan Crete. The numerous bounties included luxury items from Crete and the Cyclades as well as weapons, metal utensils, and pottery of local production, which are rightly considered to be the first examples of the newborn Mycenaean art. These objects have such strong Minoan influences that many scholars believe that they were made by Minoan craftsmen who were in the service of Mycenaean rulers. Soon, networks of contacts and distribution of products were created in which most areas of the Peloponnese but also many areas of central Greece participated. The growing revenue caused imbalances and rivalries between emerging social groups. Those rivalries were expressed mainly in the burial field. During this early period, the "elite" did not show that interest in the construction of impressive houses or palaces. On the other hand, they were interested in the construction of monumental tombs and burial luxuries. The interest of the Mycenaeans in the posthumous reputation led to the genesis of one of the most characteristic types of Mycenaean architecture; the vaulted tomb. A stone circular building with exponential housing and side entrance, which was partially constructed in the upper part. The tomb, after the construction and the burial of the former, was covered by a mound.


In art, the Mycenaeans adopted even the most complex techniques of the Minoans, in almost every field painting, metalwork, jewelry, seal weaving, glass, ceramics, etc. However, they adapted the Minoan techniques and style to their aesthetics, creating a special idiom. A more strict and rigid style than the one of Crete. During the first two centuries of the Late Bronze Age Mycenaean art remained an almost exclusive privilege of the aristocracy and was mainly concerned with the production of luxury items that served the elites' need for funeral luxury. Remarkable is that the most important creations of the early Mycenaean art come mainly from rich tombs and occasionally from settlements.



Xuan Che. (2019). Μυκηναϊκός Πολιτισμός. [Photograph]. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/trans/el/1-11147/
Xuan Che. (2019). Μυκηναϊκός Πολιτισμός. [Photograph]. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/trans/el/1-11147/

Late Mycenaean Period


The Mycenaean civilization reached its peak during the 14th and 13th-century BC. It was the period when the palaces of Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, and Thebes flourished. The Mycenaean palaces were administrative centers, with warehouses for the agricultural collection, workshops for the production of luxury items, ceremonial halls, and places of worship. The Mycenaean palaces are later than the Minoan ones. However, there is no doubt that they had a similar function. In general, the Mycenaeans seem to have borrowed many elements of political organization and economic administration from the Minoans. Until the middle of the 14th-century monumental palaces, had been erected in the most important Mycenaean centers. The Mycenaean palaces were quite different from their Minoan equivalents. They were built on the tops of naturally fortified hills, were smaller in size, and had a different shape. The monumental complex was organized around the palace; a four-sided building with a porch, forecourt, and a throne room with a central fireplace.


In parallel with the palace organization, the Mycenaeans adopted other achievements of the Minoan civilization such as their script. The Mycenaeans adopt the Linear B, an evolution of Minoan Linear A. Τhe linear script Β was used from the 17th to the 13th century BC. mainly for activities such the keeping of accounting records in the palaces. It was discovered in the early 20th-century by Arthur Evans, who gave the script that specific name, as it used linear characters. A reading of the Linear B tablets, that are found in the palace archives, proved that the Mycenaeans used an early form of the Greek language. Also, the reading of Linear B proved that among the gods the Myceneans worshiped were many of the gods of the later Greek pantheon; such as Zeus, Poseidon, the Artemis, and possibly Dionysus. The Mycenaeans, in contrast to later periods, do not worship their gods in large temples, but in small sanctuaries like the Minoans. However, excavations in the Mycenae site revealed that a different tradition prevailed in this area. The difference or maybe better their peculiarity lies in the fact that the sanctuary occupies a large area in the citadel. The religious center was a complex of buildings in the SW part of the acropolis. From the religious center of Mycenae arose interesting cult and ritual findings, such as human-shaped terracotta idols.


The end of the Late Bronze Age was a chaotic period for the Aegean. Extensive destruction occurred in all Mycenaean palaces around 1200 BC. led to the decline of the Mycenaean civilization. Some traditions, mainly in the way of burial and in pottery, were preserved for another 100-150 years. However, the most important achievements, such as the scripture and the painting, were abandoned temporarily, to be rediscovered only in the 8th-century BC.




References:


C. Hemingway. (2003, October). Mycenaean Civilization. THE MET. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/myce/hd_myce.htm


M. Cartwright. (2019, October 02). Mycenaean Civilization. World History Encyclopedia. https://www.worldhistory.org/Mycenaean_Civilization/


Μουσείο Κυκλαδίτικης τέχνης. Μινωικός και Μυκηναικος Πολιτισμός. https://cycladic.gr/page/minoikos-mikinaikos-politismos


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Anna-Aikaterini Bati

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