Ancient Greek Mycenae lasted from somewhere1750 BC to 1100 BC and was known as a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece. It was established by the Indo-European people migrating from the Eurasia steppe lands and was greatly influenced by the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete and the Mesopotamia civilization to establish a bronze age civilization.
They were the first advanced civilization in the Greek lands. They made great achievements in art, architecture, urban planning, etc. Their language was written in a Linear B script which was said to be the earliest form of the Greek language. Even their religion is said to be the earliest form of the ancient Greek religion
The word Mycenae has been taken from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, situated in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are the other important Mycenaean sites.
The last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, it is the historical setting of much ancient Greek literature and myth, including the epics of Homer.
Mycenaean Sites in Greece
The Mycenaean civilization flourished during the period roughly between 1600 BC when Helladic culture in mainland Greece was renovated under influences from Minoan Crete, and 1100 BC, when it perished with the collapse of Bronze-Age civilization in the eastern Mediterranean.
The major Mycenaean cities were Mycenae and Tiryns in Argolis, Pylos in Messenia, Athens in Attica, Thebes and Orchomenus in Boeotia, andIolkos in Thessaly. In Crete, the Mycenaeans occupied Knossos.
Ancient Greek Mycenae settlement sites also appeared in Epirus, Macedonia, on islands in the Aegean Sea, on the coast of Asia Minor, the Levant, Cyprus, and Italy. Mycenaean civilization was dominated by a warrior aristocracy.
Around 1400 BC, the Ancient Greek Mycenae extended their control to Crete, the center of the Minoan civilization, and adopted a form of the Minoan script called Linear A to write their early form of Greek in Linear B.
The Ancient Greek Mycenae sites consisted of different types of residences. The smallest are rectangular in shape and measure between 5 and 20 meters on a side. These houses belonged to the lowest classes. They could have one or several rooms; the latter of which become more widespread in the subsequent period.
The more developed levels were larger residences, measuring about 20 to 35 meters on a side, consisting of many rooms and central courtyards. Their layout resembled that of a palace. It is, however, not clear that these, in fact, were the residences of the Mycenaean aristocrats as some experts believed that they were palace annexes, being situated next to them.
Mycenaean Palace and Government
The ancient Greek Mycenaean society was believed to have been divided into two groups: firstly the freemen, who were the king’s entourage, and who conducted administrative duties at the palace, and secondly the people, who lived at the community level. The latter were watched over by royal agents and were obliged to perform duties for and pay taxes to the palace. Among those who involved in the palace, setting belonged from the well to do high officials who lived in the vast residences found in proximity to Mycenaean palaces.
But there were some others who tied were because of their work to the palace though not necessarily better off than the members of the community like the craftsmen, farmers, merchants, etc to name a few. The lowermost rung of the social ladder consisted of the slaves.
The Mycenaean civilization was divided into several large kingdoms which were controlled and administered from a palace and these were also known as the palatial states. These kingdoms were headed by a Wanax, which has been interpreted as a king by some or an aristocrat by others. He was the territorial head who performed military as well as religious functions.
These kingdoms were subdivided into provinces which were again administered from palaces, and headed by aristocrats who were appointed by the kings. They were almost independent in their roles. All the land was controlled by these aristocrats and people were tied to their land. They worked their lands and paid in kind.
These palaces and territories were headed by a warrior elite who had almost monopolized warfare. They alone had the economic capacity to buy high-quality armour and highly advanced chariots which dominated the warfare of this time.
The economic organization of the Mycenaean kingdoms was a bipartite one in which the first group worked in the orbit of the palace, while another was self-employed. This also reflected their above-mentioned societal structure. But nothing prevented a person working for the palace from running his own business.
The economy was supervised by scribes, who made note of incoming and outgoing products, assigned work, and were in charge of the distribution of rations. The territory of the Ancient Greek Mycenae kingdoms of Pylos and Knossos consisted of two parts: the palace land, and the communal land.
The palace lands are those attested in the texts. The palace lands were attested in the texts in some part was granted as a prerequisite to members of the palace administration. These lands might be worked by slaves or by free men to whom the land had been leased.
Agricultural production in these kingdoms cultivated the traditional “Mediterranean trilogy” including grains in which majorly wheat and barley were sown along with olives as well as grapes. Olive orchards were planted for the production of olive oil. Olive oil was not only used for cooking but also as body oil and in perfumes.
Grapes were also cultivated, and several varieties of wine were produced. Besides these, flax was grown for linen clothing and sesame for its oil, and trees were planted, such as the fig. Livestock consisted primarily of sheep and goats while horses were kept chiefly for the pulling of chariots in battle.
Cows and pigs were less common.Industrially, the textile industry was one of the chief sectors of the Mycenaean economy. The palace of Pylos employed around 550 textile workers while at Knossos there were around 900. Fifteen different textile specialties have been identified. Next, to wool, flax was the most popularly used fiber.
The metallurgical industry also found a place at Pylos, where 400 workers were employed. It is known from the sources that metal was distributed to them on which the laborers carried out the required work which was on an average, 3.5 kilograms of bronze per Smith.
But how much they were paid in return is however not known. The industry of perfumery was popular too. Ancient Tablets describe the production of perfumed oil. Some areas of undertakings were diverted for the purpose of exporting such goods. Commerce remains curiously absent from the written sources.
The religious element, however, is difficult to identify in Mycenaean civilization, especially as regards archaeological sites, as it is problematic to pick out a place of worship with certainty. The ancient texts list few of the offerings that give names of gods as recipients of goods which do not reveal anything about religious practices, and there is no surviving literature about the same.
The main Mycenaean towns were well fortified. The town was believed to have been situated on an acropolis as in Athens or Tiryns, against a large hill as in Mycenae, or on the coastal plain, like Gala or Pylos. Apart from the citadels, there were also a couple of isolated forts that undoubtedly served to militarily control territory.
Life in Mycenae
Life was not easy in Mycenaean Greece, especially for common people. They had no political rights as it was monopolized by the aristocrats and even the main form of wealth in those times, the land was controlled by the palaces. The men and the women together worked the land to get payment in kind.
Although it was a patriarchal society, women enjoyed much equal status to what was seen in later Greek society. It is even suspected that the men and the women took part in hunting together as sometimes farming wasn’t enough in many cases.
Looking after children was still the job of the women while men spent a lot of time-fighting wars. They did not receive any payment for fighting but it was a compulsory measure on the instruction of the aristocrats.
The aristocrats on the other hand spent their time practising for battle, as fighting was the best way to earn social prestige and also the administration of the territories. The scribal or the other staff in the palaces also gathered great power and were engaged in enforcing the orders of the aristocrats.
Decline of Mycenae
Around 1100 BC, the Mycenaean civilization collapsed. Numerous cities were sacked, and the region entered what historians describe as a dark age for its lack of inscriptions, with some Mycenaeans fleeing to Cyprus as well as other Greek islands and coastal parts of Anatolia.
The decline of the Mycenaean civilization has been a mystery for a long time in which historians have been greatly divided on the reasons for its decline. It was a part of the bronze age civilizations like the Egyptian civilization, Indus valley civilization, and Mesopotamian civilization which declined almost at the same time. The most common consensus now is that they were destroyed by not only one but by several factors.
Firstly there is the mystery of the sea people who are said to be the tribe of people who attacked the Mycenaeans from the sea suddenly. They were superior fighters and the Mycenaeans were no match for them. Many pieces of evidence of burnt or deserted villages have been found with signs of battle.
These sea people are also suspected to be the Dorians who invaded the Greek lands from the northern lands and were the establishers of the later Greek civilization.
But it is highly unlikely that such a prosperous civilization which was no stranger to warfare was decimated by the invasion of foreigners in such a quick time.
Researchers have shown that this period was also a period of natural disasters. The average temperature had risen leading to droughts and epidemics in the area. This also can explain the migration from the upper regions of Europe in search of agricultural lands. There was also an increased frequency of volcanic eruptions leading to great destruction. All these natural factors mixed with the invasions destroyed the economy of Mycenaean Greece.
This led to their ultimate decline around 1100 BC and the start of the Dark Age which saw an overall decline in civilization and literacy all over Greece. The palace bureaucracies decline giving rise to smaller chiefdoms and a fall in population.