Special Sub-Topic: Mycenae's Greatest Hits
|Who was the most famous legendary king of Mycenae, also the leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War?|
Agamemnon. After managing to make it back from Troy alive, he was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra in the bathtub. So of course in modern Mikines you can find the hotel: "Klytemnestra Rooms with Bath." I'm not kidding. Really!
|Mycenae was THE major center during the _______ period of Greek history? |
Mycenaean. The Mycenaean civilization lasted from, let's say, 2000-1100 BC. This would be significantly before Classical Greece, the Golden Age of Athens, and all that. If there really was a Trojan War, it would have happened during Mycenaean times.
|The most famous structure at Mycenae is undoubtedly the "Lion Gate." But we only have the bodies of the lions, not the heads. They really could have been something else. Which one of these other creatures COULDN'T they have been?|
Sirens. Yep, the archaeologists could have been "lion" to us all along. Some have suggested that griffins, with their long and skinny eagle heads, would have fit the space better. Whatever the heads were, they seem to have been carved out of a different material and then attached with dowels-- you can still see the dowel holes. By the way, this is the only piece of monumental sculpture that we have from the Mycenaeans.
|Immediately past the Lion Gate, we come to Grave Circle A. What very famous artifact was found in one of the shaft graves there?|
Mask of Agamemnon. When Schliemann discovered a gold mask covering the face of one of the skeletons in the graves, he immediately cabled the King of Greece to tell him that he had "looked upon the face of Agamemnon." Sadly, he hadn't-- the shaft graves are a couple hundred years too early-- and the mask he saw was not the mask now described as the Mask of Agamemnon. It was the one that bears a passing resemblance to the Pillsbury Dough-boy. No wonder he changed the story later.
|On top of the citadel is the palace. Being archaeologists, we have to give it a fancy name. What would that be?|
Megaron. A megaron consists of a large room with a central hearth and large red columns in the four corners. Unluckily for us, the megaron at Mycenae was built on a terrace overhanging a steep gorge. Several hundred years of erosion later, part of the megaron fell off the citadel and into the gorge. I should also mention that there are no guardrails to keep you from going the way of the megaron.
|The walls enclosing the citadel at Mycenae are truly enormous. In fact, the later Greeks who saw the size of the individual stones used this word to describe the walls, thinking that only mythical giants could have moved the stones.|
Cyclopian. The walls are several meters thick. The individual stones can be a meter by a meter and a half or more. Over time parts of the walls had fallen down, and so the modern reconstruction crews got to experience just how difficult the stones were to move!
|The "Treasury" of Atreus -- what was it, really?|
Tholos tomb. The Greek travel guide writer Pausanias records the name of the structure as the Treasury of Atreus. Now that we have found an unplundered tholos, we can be sure that it was used as a tomb (the word "tholos" only refers to the beehive shape.) A single tholos held the burials of multiple generations of the same family. When it came time to bury someone else, they would open up the tholos and sweep aside the previous burials to add the newly deceased. Apparently it was important to respect the remains as long as there was flesh on the bones. The burn marks on the ceiling of the Treasury of Atreus came from modern shepherds who used to use the structure to keep their sheep warm in winter.
|What was the approximate population of the entire town of Mycenae during the Bronze Age?|
10,000. "Greater Mycenae" included a thriving settlement extending down the slopes of the hill as well as the citadel proper. By contrast, the modern town of Mikines has a population of approximately 300.
|Mycenae had a life after Mycenaean times. During the Classical period, Mycenae was conquered by Corinth, which razed it to the ground. Some years later, the Corinthians decided that the location could be useful, and rebuilt it as what?|
A retirement colony for army veterans. Soldiers who reached the ripe old age of 35 were allowed to retire, and were given a piece of land to farm around Mycenae. Mycenae was also home at one point to a temple to Ares. The modern town of Mikines is just down the hill from the ancient site.
|Who gets credit for "discovering" Mycenae?|
Heinrich Schliemann. Actually, everyone knew it was Mycenae when Schliemann began excavations, and the Lion Gate was even exposed. Schliemann conducted excavations for a little while, but Christos Tsountas really gave the site its final form, excavating most of the citadel. Dr. Spiros Iakovides is the current Director of Excavations at Mycenae.
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