Mycenae lies about 90 kilometres south-west of Athens. From around 1600BC-1100BC Mycenae was a highly wealthy and influential city, dominating much of southern Greece. The Mycenaean Era was named in reference to the city.
THE DISCOVERY OF MYCENAE
It was Heinrich Schliemann who first completely excavated the city of Mycenae. The controversial archaeologist was searching for evidence that Agamemnon, the king who led the Greeks to fight Troy in the Trojan War. Schliemann was determined to prove that the Trojan War was a real event; in fact his career was based around his desire for this. After failing to find any definitive evidence in his search for Troy, he turned to Mycenae. In 1841 another archaeologist had found and restored the Lion Gate that marks the entrance to the city of Mycenae, but Schliemann was the first to systematically excavate the entire site. He believed that the Homeric tales described actual historical events and used his discoveries at Mycenae to back this up.
DISOVERIES MADE AT THE SITE
Discovered in Grave Circle A by Schliemann’s team, a dagger shows the militaristic values of the Mycenaean’s. From the weapons buried with most of the bodies found, we can deduct that the Mycenaean’s were not a peaceful people. They revelled in fighting, as shown by the violent motifs on their stelae and decorative weapons. Most graves featured full sets of weapons, both real and decorative.
We can assume that life for the men of Mycenae would have had a heavy focus on fighting , with men of higher status being shown as brave fighters. This is also shown through the architecture of the city, particularly the Cyclopean walls. These huge walls show a need for a defensive attitude, which demonstrates the Mycenaean’s military attitude. On this dagger there is a depiction of a lion hunt, which shows that the Mycenaean’s hunted for sport. This further reflects the aggressive principles of the city.
Double axe and bull motifs show a Minoan influence in Mycenaean culture. Within the graves in Grave Circle A there were many objects that had been made in Mycenae but in Minoan style. This reflects an appreciation for Minoan design and an obvious link through trade and travel between Minoan Crete and Mycenae. Later the former would be conquered by the latter. In Mycenae there would have been trading of goods from Minoan Crete and an admiration of the techniques, since they were implemented in wares produced within Mycenae. The graves themselves also shed light upon burial practises and status in Mycenae.
The graves themselves are shaft graves, 4 metres deep with the dead placed in a cist at the bottom along with many decadent grave goods. The Grave would sometimes be marked with a stone Stele at ground level. These stelae would be used to depict things like chariot scenes, showing the heroic nature of the deceased buried below. The grave goods showed the status of the deceased, with gold and weapons showing a higher status. This shows that burial was not only a valued practise, but also reflected status and worth, depending on what you were buried with.
The so-called “Nestor’s Cup” was a particularly important discovery for Schliemann. His team recovered the vessel from Shaft Grave IV and Schliemann identified it as the “Cup of Nestor” as written about in the Illiad. However the cup differs from Homer’s description in number of handles, the design of the birds, and size. It also is from the wrong time to have been used in the Trojan War according to some critics. However, this didn’t discourage Schliemann from his firm belief in the Homeric tales. This is one of the many discoveries Schliemann made that he believed contributed to proving that the tales detail historical events.
Within a shaft grave V Schliemann discovered a skeleton with a gold mask covering his face- a face which he believed was that of the legendary Agamemnon. However, in recent years critics have developed more and more arguments to the effect that the mask may be a hoax. William Calder gives the following reasons for his sceptical nature towards Schliemann’s find: The features of the mask are inconsistent with the other masks found; Schliemann had considered making fakes of the gold he found at Troy to give forgeries to give to the government; contemporaries of Schliemann allege that he planted artefacts to later “discover” them; the excavations at both Mycenae and Troy had been closed just a few days after the discovery of the gold, suggesting that he was expecting to find these treasures and nothing else; excavations were closed for 2 days shortly before Schliemann found the mask, what could Schliemann have been doing; Sophia allegedly has a relative in Athens that was a goldsmith;
No other Mycenaean grave has anywhere near what was discovered in shaft grave V; Schliemann had claimed he had excavated other finds elsewhere, when it was later revealed that he had bought them. David Traill suggests that perhaps the Agamemnon mask wasn’t manufactured, but found from a later tomb. Both of his appeals for a scientific examination of the mask have been denied by the Greek authorities. In response to Calder and Traill many argue that their claims are unfounded and lack any scholarly backing, and have their own arguments in response. They insist that Schliemann was carefully monitored by Greek authorities throughout his excavation, which both Calder and Triall admit to in their own publishing.
Kenneth Lapatin explains that the days where Calder alleged Schliemann had time to get a mask made, were before any masks had been found yet. Although he does admit it is possible the mask may have been “enhanced” after it was discovered. Both sides of the debate present both personal opinions and insinuations mixed in with actual fact. Considering the dishonest nature of Schliemann it is easy to believe he planted the mask.
But when considering the work at Mycenae alone, there is no undoubtable evidence to suggest that he was dishonest about that particular find, only rumour and hearsay. From the collections of circumstantial suggestions put forward by Triall and Calder, their theories become increasingly believable. However, some parts of their arguments seem reminiscent of conspiracy theories, so perhaps it’s best to take the mask as an important –if disputed- archaeological find, but not proving the existence of Agamemnon.
http://library.thinkquest.org/25245/archaeology/mycenae.html http://www.ancient-wisdom.co.uk/greecemycenae.htmhttp://mycenae-excavations.org/about.html http://www.historywiz.com/agamemnon.htm
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