Mycenaean culture

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Distribution area of ​​the Mycenaean culture in the 14th and 13th centuries BC Chr ,.

The Greek culture of the late Bronze Age ( Späthelladikum ) of the southern and central Greek mainland is called the Mycenaean culture (also Mycenaean period or Mycenaean period ), which began around 1680 BC. Chr. (According to higher dating, see below) or approx. 1600/1550 BC. BC (according to traditional chronology) to the 11th century BC . AD was. It is the first known high culture on the European mainland. The vast majority of research assumes that Mycenaean Greece is to be equated with the country Aḫḫijawa mentioned in Hittite written sources , whose Hittite name is to be connected with the Homeric name " Achaians " for the Greeks. The connection of Aḫḫijawa with the Mycenaean culture is now represented by the majority of research, but there are still individual researchers who reject this thesis. The exact location of the power center of A Machtijawa within the Aegean-Asia Minor cultural area is also unclear.


The names Mycenae and Mycenaean are modern creations that u. a. after the excavations among others Heinrich Schliemanns in the Bronze Age settlement Mycenae became common. The proper name of the early Greek population of Aegean space is unknown, although it is sometimes assumed that she had the Achaeans of Homer received (see above) . On the list of place names in the mortuary temple of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenophis III. from the 14th century BC The Greek mainland - or at least the Peloponnese - is called Tanaja / Danaja . This can be etymologically possibly with the Danaans ( Δαναοί ), a combine of three names for the Greeks in the Homeric epics. The Mycenaean period is divided into Early Mycenaean, Middle Mycenaean and Late Mycenaean, which in southern Greece corresponds to the late Helladic main phases (SH I, II and III). On the islands of the Cyclades , the Mycenaean period corresponds to the late Cycladic period within the Cycladic culture .

Early Mycenaean period

The Mycenaean culture is considered to be the first advanced civilization of mainland Europe . In contrast to the bearers of the Minoan culture on the island of Crete, whose language is unknown, the inhabitants of mainland Greece spoke an early form of Greek , as the deciphering of the Linear B script by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick in 1952 showed an Indo-European language . After a period of cultural decline in the Middle Helladic, the Mycenaean culture appeared almost suddenly from around 1680 BC. BC (according to high chronology or around 1600 BC according to traditional, see below) in the form of very richly furnished shaft graves in the Argolis , especially in Mycenae . In other areas of Greece too, the dead will soon be buried with very rich grave goods . In addition, Mycenaean ceramics appear for the first time at the beginning of the Late Helladic . It has a light ground with a dark varnish and replaces the medium Helladic matt painted ceramics and the gray Miny goods . Both Middle Helladic types of ceramics still occur in the Late Helladic period I, especially in Central Greece. First, the Mycenaean pottery reveals a very strong Minoan influence. There are contacts not only with Crete , but also with Egypt and the West, as demonstrated by early Mycenaean finds on the Aeolian Islands and on Vivara ( Gulf of Naples ). The earliest finds of Mycenaean ceramics and other goods connected with the Mycenaean culture, as well as valuable imports, appear at about the same time in Argolida and Laconia . Mycenaean ceramics and amber jewelry were also discovered in Messinia in early Mycenaean contexts.

Middle Mycenaean period

In the Middle Mycenaean period ( SH II, around 1500–1400 BC) the shaft graves were partly replaced by Tholos graves. The Mycenaean culture is now spreading to other regions of southern and central Greece, which until now has mainly followed Middle Helladic traditions, apart from limited imports of Mycenaean ceramics in the early Mycenaean period. In this phase Crete is evidently conquered by mainland Greeks, with the result that the Mycenaean culture u. a. also becomes dominant on the Cyclades, Rhodes and Miletus on the west coast of Asia Minor .

Late Mycenaean period

Mycenaean fresco
Mycenaean boar tooth helmet

The first two phases of the late Mycenaean period ( SH IIIA and SH IIIB; approx. 1400–1200 BC) represent the high point of the Mycenaean culture. While in the early and middle Mycenaean period there were richly furnished graves near larger ones in many places , mostly fortified settlements, which suggest many local princes / kings, are from about 1400 BC. Some settlements are strongly expanded and develop into supraregional centers, while the previous “princely seats” in the region are apparently losing importance, and some necropolises are even no longer used. This development has so far been observed in Attica, Argolis, Messenia and Boeotia, where powerful palace centers arose (e.g. Mycenae, the palace of Nestor near Pylos , Thebes , Athens ). In other regions, which are mostly counted as part of the so-called "periphery" of the Mycenaean world, such as western Achaia , Elis or western central Greece, probably also Thessaly , there was apparently still an abundance of smaller centers without a palace center being formed.

Whether the Mycenaean states were autonomous or whether they belonged to a superordinate large Mycenaean empire whose capital was Mycenae or possibly Thebes is still unclear. Hittite documents from the late 15th to the late 13th century often mention a country Aḫḫijawa (in the earliest source Aḫḫija ), which, according to the meanwhile prevailing opinion, is equated with a Mycenaean empire whose capital from Asia Minor could only be reached by sea and probably on the Greek mainland. Aḫḫijawa ruled until the third quarter of the 13th century BC. Areas in western Asia Minor, including the city of Millawanda (most likely Miletus , which was a Mycenaean city and did not reveal strong Hittite influences until the end of the 13th century). Also the fact that the king Aḫḫijaws was addressed as a “brother” (as in the Tawagalawa letter ), which only happened with rulers whom the Hittite great king regarded as equal, is often interpreted as meaning that at least a larger Mycenaean empire existed at that time , which presumably exercised the hegemony over some smaller dominions.

The material legacy of the late Mycenaean culture shows in the 14th and 13th centuries BC A great uniformity, regional differences are, e.g. B. in painted ceramics and in other areas of Mycenaean art, hardly to be seen. One therefore speaks of the "palace style". Only at the end of the 13th century BC Chr. Seem gradually to develop regional styles. Simultaneously or a little earlier, at least during the second half of the 13th century BC. BC, a number of centers were heavily fortified, or existing fortifications were greatly expanded, which suggests uncertain times. According to clay tablets in Linear B , a syllabary that was developed from the Cretan script (see Linear A ) , it seems at least around 1200 BC. To have given several independent "states" (for example Pylos , Thebes , Athens and Mycenae ) on the Greek mainland . It is generally assumed that these "states" were organized in a monarchical manner, but doubts have recently been expressed about this position. For example, the ancient historian Tassilo Schmitt published the thesis in 2009 that wa-na-ka was not, as is usually assumed, the title of a Mycenaean monarch, but rather the name of a deity.

Eastern Mediterranean around 1230/20 BC Chr.

Mycenaean goods were exported to many parts of the Mediterranean . In addition to intensive trade contacts with many regions of the eastern Mediterranean, it appears from around 1400 BC. BC trade with the West was also intensified. Many ceramic finds or Mycenaean influences in the east and south of Sicily (e.g. Thapsos and Cannatello ), Apulia (especially at Scoglio del Tonno , in Roca Vecchia and Punta Meliso ( Santa Maria di Leuca )), on the coast of Calabria , bear witness to this . (e.g. Punta di Zambrone ), Sardinia (e.g. surroundings of the Nuraghe Antigori ), Tunisia, southern Spain (Llanete de los Moros ( province of Cordoba ) and La Cuesta del Negro ( province of Granada )) and the northern Adriatic region (e.g. B. Monkodonja in Istria or Frattesina in the Po Valley ). Finds of Italian origin in Greece also testify to more intensive contacts in the 14th-12th centuries. Century BC To the west. Mycenaean goods also spread far north. In the fortified settlement of Bresto, near Banja ( Bulgaria ), an almost complete Mycenaean clay pot from the 13th century was discovered.

Shortly after 1200 BC BC (at the end of SH III B2) many Mycenaean settlements, especially the palace centers, are destroyed. The exact causes and processes of these upheavals are still unclear. The previously held theory that a massive, violent immigration of the Dorians was responsible for the destruction (see Doric migration ) is now excluded from research. Because in phase SH III C the Mycenaean culture continues - albeit at a lower level. The tradition continues uninterrupted, especially in Mycenaean ceramics, and not all larger settlements were destroyed. In addition, there are no clear indications for a large number of immigrants for this period. At the same time, the Hittite empire collapses in Asia Minor, a few years earlier the Hittite great king Šuppiluliuma II waged naval battles against the "enemies of Alašijaa " (Cyprus). Important cities and trading centers in Syria are destroyed (e.g. Ugarit between 1194 and 1186 BC) and finally Egypt under Ramses III. (around 1178 BC) Fend off attacks by foreign peoples who are referred to in modern research as " sea ​​peoples " and who, according to Egyptian sources, previously devastated many regions in the eastern Mediterranean. An at least indirect connection between the decisive events in Mycenaean Greece and the upheavals in the eastern Mediterranean is conceivable. According to recent theories, it would be possible that the destruction in the Orient (failure of trading partners) led to a scarcity of resources in the Aegean region and could then have led to distribution struggles and internal wars. Pylos, however, appears to have been destroyed by external enemies from the sea, according to the linear B tables. Research is currently dominated by the assumption that a number of mutually reinforcing internal and external factors, including an earthquake, led to the extensive collapse in the 12th century.

In the course of phase SH III C, too, there were repeated destruction on the mainland. Sometimes settlements are created in inhospitable but well-protected places. Most of the palace centers, such as Tiryns and Mycenae , also remain settled. Presumably a new class of aristocrats lived in the palaces. Written finds from that period have not yet come to light, apart from the linear B mark on a single vessel, found at Miletus , which is dated to this phase. Therefore, many ancient historians and archaeologists believe that the written form began with the destruction of the centers around 1190 BC. Was lost. The importance of phase SH III C has only been apparent for a few decades. Vase paintings from this period have now been found that depict large ships. Sea trade or undertakings at sea therefore existed at that time. Some scholars are of the opinion that the phase SH III C had a major influence on the formation of part of the Greek sagas, such as the works of Homer .

Follow-up time

Between about 1075 and 1025 BC. The period SH III C goes into the sub-Mycenaean period, defined and verifiable by the appearance of Sub- Mycenaean pottery , and then into the protogeometric period . At the same time there is more and more going over to cremation . In some regions of Greece , the Sub-Mycenaean period has not yet been proven, where the late SH III C pottery seems to be followed directly by the protogeometric pottery .


Archeology was able to use ceramics to establish a more finely differentiated relative chronology for Greece, whereby different cultures existed in different regions with temporal differences. Since there are no historical records for the Aegean Bronze Age that allow an absolute chronology , it is dependent on Minoan and Mycenaean finds in the Middle East and above all Egypt, for which several different chronologies are discussed in the area of ​​the ancient oriental chronologies and also for the Egyptian Chronology different approaches for this time result in slightly different dates. The dating of the Thera eruption , which falls in the late Late Minoan Era due to the pottery found in Akrotiri , is also of great importance for Greece . The eruption was therefore traditionally carried out in the last third of the 16th century BC through synchronization with the Egyptian chronology. Dated. Since the 1980s, scientific methods have repeatedly given a much earlier date for the eruption, which is mostly in the 20s of the 17th century. So far, the contradictions could not be resolved, which has the consequence that research is divided and works with different dates ( see the section Meaning and dating in the article Minoan Eruption ; see also chronology of the Minoan culture ). The following table follows the high dating, i.e. This means that it assumes the early, scientifically determined date of the outbreak on Thera, which above all results in an earlier dating of the late Helladic I and II phases (= Early and Middle Mycenaean). Dates that follow the traditional ("lower") chronology, s. Late Helladic .

period Peloponnese &
Central Greece
Crete time Events in Greece archaeologically documented simultaneities
  Late Helladic Late Minoan v. Chr.    
SH I SM IA 1680-1600 Grave circle A in Mycenae
eruption from Santorini
Hyksos (1648-1536)
SH IIA SM IB 1600-1520 Minoan palaces in Crete  
SH IIB SM II 1520-1420 "Warrior graves" in Knossos Thutmose III. (1479-1424)
SH IIIA1 SM IIIA1 1420-1370 Knossos sole palace in Crete Thutmose IV. (1397-1388)
Amenhotep III. (1388-1351)
SH IIIA2 SM IIIA2 1370-1300 Uluburun shipwreck
older palace in Pylos
Amarna Period:
Akhenaten (1351–1334)
SH IIIB1 SM IIIB1 1300-1250 / 25   Ramses II (1279-1213)
strong earthquake causing severe damage in the Argolidae (especially Mycenae) and on Crete ( Chania )  
SH IIIB2 SM IIIB2 1250 / 25-1190 Construction of the wall on the Isthmos  
  Destruction of the palaces of Thebes, Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos Sea peoples
SH III C SM IIIC 1190-1050 / 30 sharp population decline  


Mycenaean culture and history are researched by ancient historians , classical archaeologists and prehistorians , and more recently the scientific discipline of mycenaeology has also been discussed. This subject is between the classical archeology , the pre- and early history and ancient history and also includes the study of the Mycenaean language and literacy , with the participation of some classical scholars and Indo-European scholars participate.


  • Hans-Günter Buchholz : Aegean Bronze Age . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1987, ISBN 3-534-07028-3 .
  • Rodney Castleden: Mycenaeans . Routledge, London 2005, ISBN 0-415-36336-5 .
  • John Chadwick : The Mycenaean world . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1976, ISBN 0-521-29037-6 , (German: Die Mykenische Welt . Reclam, Stuttgart 1979, ISBN 3-15-010282-0 ).
  • Eric H. Cline: Contact and trade or Colonization? Egypt and the Aegean in the 14th – 13th centuries BC In: Minos. Revista de Filología Egea 25, 1990, pp. 7-36, (online) .
  • Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy (Ed.): The new linear B-texts from Thebes. Your illuminating value for the Mycenaean language and culture. Files from the international research colloquium at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, 5. – 6. December 2002 . Verlag der Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-7001-3640-4 , ( Austrian Academy of Sciences, Memoranda , Philosophical-Historical Class 338, ISSN  0029-8824 ), ( Publications of the Mycenaean Commission 23), ( Mykenische Studien 19), content .
  • Birgitta Eder : Reflections on the political geography of the Mycenaean world, or: Arguments for the supraregional importance of Mykenes in the Late Bronze Age Aegean in: Geographia Antiqua XVIII, 2009, pp. 5–46. - online
  • Josef Fischer: Mycenaean palaces. Arts and Culture. Philipp von Zabern, Darmstadt 2016, ISBN 978-3-8053-4963-5 .
  • Alfred Heubeck : From the world of the early Greek linear tables. A short introduction to the fundamentals, tasks and results of mycenology. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1966, ( Study books on Classical Studies 12).
  • Stefan Hiller , Oswald Panagl : The early Greek texts from the Mycenaean period. 2nd revised edition. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft , Darmstadt 1986, ISBN 3-534-06820-3 ( income from research 49 ISSN  0174-0695 ).
  • James Thomas Hooker : Mycenaean Greece. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London / Boston 1976, ISBN 0-7100-8379-3 .
  • Spyros Meletzis, Helen Papadakis: Corinth. Mycenae. Tiryns. Nauplia. 2nd Edition. Schnell & Steiner, Munich 1978, ISBN 3-7954-0589-0 , ( Large Art Guide 69/70).
  • Massimiliano Marazzi: The Mycenaeans in the Western Mediterranean (17th - 13th c. BC). In: Nicolas Chr. Stampolidis (ed.): Sea Roues. From Sidon to Huelva. Interconnections in the Medeterranean 16th - 6th c. BC. Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens 2003, pp. 108-115.
  • Tassilo Schmitt : No king in the palace. Heterodox reflections on the political and social order in the Mycenaean period. In: Historische Zeitschrift 288, 2009, ISSN  0018-2613 , pp. 281 ff.
  • Louise Schofield : Mycenae: History and Myth. Zabern-Verlag, Darmstadt 2009, ISBN 978-3-8053-3943-8

Web links

Commons : Mycenaean Greece  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Gustav Adolf Lehmann : The 'political-historical' relations of the Aegean world of the 15th – 13th centuries. Jhs. v. About the Middle East and Egypt: some references. In: Joachim Latacz (Ed.): Two hundred years of Homer research. Review and Outlook (= Colloquium Rauricum. Volume 2). Teubner, Stuttgart a. a. 1991, ISBN 978-3-519-07412-0 , pp. 107ff. Lehmann considers the possibility that both Danaer (Tanaja) and Achaeans (Aḫḫijawa) are based on Mycenaean names, which were not originally used synonymously, but referred to Mycenaeans in different regions / empires.
  2. ^ First publication of their results in John Chadwick, Michael Ventris: Evidence for Greek Dialect in the Mycenaean Archives . In: The Journal of Hellenic Studies 73, 1953, 84-103.
  3. Penelope A. Mountjoy : Mycenaean Pottery - An Introduction. , Oxford 1993 (2nd edition 2001). ISBN 978-0-947816-36-0 , p. 5; 9ff.
  4. Birgitta Eder : Considerations on the political geography of the Mycenaean world, or: Arguments for the supraregional importance of Mycenae in the Late Bronze Age Aegean. in: Geographia Antiqua 18, 2009, pp. 9, 31-33.
  5. ^ Gary M. Beckman, Trevor Bryce, Eric H. Cline : The Ahhiyawa Texts. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta (GA) 2011, p. 3 f.
  6. For the first time, a connection between Ahhijawa and early Greeks was made by Emil O. Forrer : Prehomeric Greeks in the cuneiform texts of Boghazköi. Communications from the German Orient Society in Berlin 63, 1924, pp. 1–24, especially pp. 9–15. represented online
  7. ^ Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier : Greece and Asia Minor in the late Bronze Age. The historical background of the Homeric epics. In: Michael Meier-Brügger (Ed.): Homer, interpreted by a large lexicon. Files from the Hamburg Colloquium from 6.-8. October 2010 at the end of the lexicon of the early Greek epic (= treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. New series volume 21). De Gruyter, 2012, p. 166 f.
  8. Tassilo Schmitt: No king in the palace. Heterodox reflections on the political and social order in the Mycenaean period. In: Historical magazine . Vol. 288, No. 2, 2009, pp. 281-346, doi : 10.1524 / hzhz.2009.0012 .
  9. A Mycenaean jug allegedly from Le Kram near Carthage , but the exact location is uncertain and the circumstances of the find can no longer be reconstructed, see Gert Jan van Wijngaarden : Use and Appreciation of Mycenaean Pottery in the Levant, Cyprus and Italy (1600-1200 BC). Amsterdam University Press, 2002 p. 16 note 50.
  10. Christian Podzuweit : Comments on Mycenaean ceramics from Llanete de los Moros, Montoro, Prov. Cordoba. Praehistorische Zeitschrift 65, 1990, pp. 53-58.
  11. Martin de La Cruz, Lucena Martin: The Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean during the second millenium BC. An archeology made of absence. Journal of Iberian Archeology 4, 2002, p. 155 f.
  12. On Mycenaean finds in southern Italy, on Sicily and the Aeolian Islands as well as ceramics and swords (presumably) of Italian origin, see in detail: Reinhard Jung: ΧΡΟΝΟΛΟΓΙΑ COMPARATA. Comparative chronology of southern Greece and southern Italy from approx. 1700/1600 to 1000 BCE Vienna 2006. ISBN 978-3-7001-3729-0 . Fundamental to Mycenaean pottery in Italy: Lord William Taylour: Mycenaean Pottery in Italy and adjacent areas. Cambridge 1958
  13. ^ Mycenaean pottery in Bulgaria found on the website of the University of Munich
  14. There are indications of a lack of raw materials in Pylos, at the Menelaion and in Tiryns according to Karl-Wilhelm Welwei : Greek History. From the beginnings to the beginning of Hellenism. Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2011, p. 39
  15. Sigrid Deger Jalkotzy: Mycenaean forms of rule without palaces and the Greek polis. In: Aegaeum. Annales d'archéologie égéenne de l'Université de Liège Volume 12 , 1995, pp. 375f.
  16. Penelope A. Mountjoy : Mycenaean Pottery. An Introduction. , Oxford University School of Archeology, 2nd ed. 2001 (1st edition 1993), ISBN 0-947816-36-4 , p. 4 Table 1 gives 1225 v. For the transition from SH IIIB1 to B2.