The Mycenaean warfare Essay
The Mycenaean warfare
“The Mycenaeans were a people preoccupied with war” How conclusively do the various types of archaeological evidence we have for the Mycenaean warfare and defence support this statement? The Mycenaean age began around 1600 BC and came to end around 1100 BC. Although this period was distinguished by its warlike aspects, I would take issue with the statement that the Mycenaeans were preoccupied by war. The first manifestations of the Mycenaean civilisation were found in the Peleponnese, especially in the north-east and the south-west.
By around 1400BC the Mycenaean civilisation had penetrated the greater part of mainland Greece and later still the civilisation seems to have expanded far beyond the main body of Greece. Excavations have revealed Mycenaean remains in southern Italy, Egypt, Sicily, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, Cyprus, and sites in Asia Minor. Evidence of Mycenaean settlements has been beyond a doubt found in Rhodes and in Melos. These settlements may have been a general expansion of the Mycenaean civilisation yet large amounts of Mycenaean imports as found at Cyprus indicate to many archaeologists that these may be trade outposts.
General expansion would make war necessary rather than a chosen pursuit as the civilisation would have to take new land whilst defending what they already had. Like all of the civilisations of the time the Mycenaean civilisation was agriculturally based, the Linear B tablets list many farmers’ crops and also the percentage to be given in tax to the king and the percentage to be given to the shrines of the area. The fact that both the palaces and the shrines received a percentage suggests to me that the civilisation was equally concerned with public life as well as war, which the palaces controlled.
Much of the crop would be used in the local area; however, the surplus would be exported through the trading points, where a complicated form of bartering was used as payment. It is hard to understand why in a society that had such an organisational system for the listing and trading of goods, particularly agricultural goods, has no record of an organised army if they were “preoccupied” with war. Although Linear B tablets record lists of men assigned to military and naval duty it seems there was no permanent specially trained force; it is more likely that every man was expected to carry a weapon and use it when called up for military duty.
One theory may be that the Mycenaean civilisation might have had a lack of human resources: since the original inhabitants who it has been argued could have been tribes of people who lived in Greece but were not citizens and were never trusted with military service. There are indeed records of many occupations including cabinet makers, perfume makers and even a physician is mentioned in the tablets suggesting wider career options than simply the military. Infrequently and in small numbers “Followers” are mentioned on the Knossos tablets who could have been the occupants of the warrior tombs found in the vicinity.
They probably were specially trained leaders who would organise the recruited armies in times of war rather than the liaison officers they were first thought to be. One tablet has revealed the sectors delegated to each “Follower” with the concentration of the “Followers” being in problem areas such as the Bay of Navarino in the southern area of the west coast and the coastal end of the Kiparissia river valley in the north. This indicates small battalions of recruited soldiers led by an experienced officer in areas most likely to be attacked.
Due to the general expansion of Mycenaean civilisation and the volatile times in which there were many small kingdoms around the Mycenaean borders, defence was essential in the civilisations survival. Evidence too, can be found in the defensive capabilities of the Mycenaean citadels, which on the whole were built for the possibility of attack and of sieges. All of the citadels commanded wide views: Mycenae having a view across the Plain of Argos to the sea and even Pylos has an extensive view of the coast.
These views gave the citadels early warnings of approaching forces and probably the time in which to move the people who lived around the citadel into safety behind the walls, a similar tactic to the “shanty towns” in Troy. This cannot be proved, however, as the buildings suggest that the usual occupants of the citadels would be the royal family, priests, craftsmen and occasionally guests. Most of the citadels, excluding Pylos, were heavily fortified and built on acropoleis.
The walls at Mycenae are between 5. 5m and 7.5 thick using such huge stones that the walls became known as the “Cyclopean” walls as peasants marvelled that they must have been built by giants. The walls of Tiryns are even more massive than Mycenae but quite different in style: all the outer walls being immensely thick and with chambers built into the south side. There are few entrances for most sites and the entrances that the sites do have are very well protected. At Mycenae both the Lion gate and the Postern gate have defences on three sides (see figure 1, page four) and in particular on the shield-less side of an approaching soldier making attacking the entrances very difficult.
The main entrance to Tiryns was up a long ramp under the eastern wall which exposed the attackers all the way on their unshielded sides, this main entrance led to an opening 4. 5m wide with walls 8m thick, there were two gates beyond the first making the entrance almost impenetrable. In the case of a siege fresh water was available in both Mycenae and Tiryns through underground cisterns suggesting that sieges took place quite often at this time and the Mycenaeans wished to prepare themselves for them.
Attacks could be launched from a citadel under siege implied by the sally port in Mycenae from which it would be relatively easy for small bands of men to slip in and out without being noticed. All in all the highly defended citadels suggest the Mycenaeans feared being attacked, making the overall culture at the time seem quite warlike and volatile; the Mycenaeans could simply have been fitting into the trend of the area rather than beginning one.
Despite this there can be no doubt that the Mycenaeans were warlike in many respects, they are renowned for their fighting ability – many scholars believe that they probably conquered Knossos in Crete and ruled there for sometime. The coming of the Mycenaeans certainly brought a dramatic change to the Cretan society, the “warrior tombs” around Knossos yielded large amounts of weapons and armour. Documents at Knossos also recorded lists of armour and weapons, one document listed “fine linen” for a “tunic” and on the second line mentions tunic fittings (epikhitonia) and “1kg of bronze.
” It has been argued that the bronze could have been a unit of exchange but it is more likely that the document is refering to a reinforced tunic. The same amount of bronze is used, as “tunic fittings” could have been a cape or overcoat to protect the soldiers’ upper arms and the shoulders. An even more detailed, incomplete series of documents describes armour in more detail: body armour, a helmet (korus) with four helmet accessories, two cheek pieces, two shoulder pieces, and an unknown number of further accessories.
The helmet accessories could have been metal reinforcing plates over a leather or felt base. The accessories (o-pa-wo-ta) were probably plates of metal that were hung on to a tunic to protect the soldier, yet the arrangement of the plates is debatable with many scholars over the world disagreeing with each other. The crude ideogram from Pylos of a head-dress and corslet offers no clue to the arrangement, with there being too few plates for scale armour.
We know that they did have leg and lower arm guards such as the Dendra armour, the leg guards were probably linen as shown in late Mycenaean art, but a few bronze ones have been found possibly to be worn over the linen ones. As John Chadwick states “the Mycenaean warrior, however well armed, is incomplete without means of locomotion. ” It is probably the case that the larger part of the army moved on foot; many, we presume, travelled to the battlefield in chariots such as the one depicted in a fresco at Pylos (see figure 2, page five).
Chariots can also be read of in many tablets and seen on numerous vase paintings yet due to their impressionistic style or the damage that time has inflicted it is hard to deduce what they actually looked like. The chariots had four-spoked wheels, a fixed axle and were probably very lightweight built out of wood and wickerwork. A fresco at Hagia Triada in Crete points towards there being hide-covered bodies. Two horses probably pulled them, unlike the chariots depicted in the frescoes, as we know from the remains of horses that they were very small breeds.
Whether or not the chariots were used actually used in battle, due to the rough terrain and the implications of the Iliad many scholars believe that the chariots were actually used as taxis to the battlefield. Yet it is hard to believe that only soon after the chariot Battle of Kadesh in 1285 BC that no-one was using chariots in battle, the Mycenaeans’ neighbours, the Hittite certainly used the chariots in battle. One inventory found in armoury of Knossos lists 340 chariot bodies and 1,000 pairs of wheels, this ratio of 3:1 suggests they were intended for more strenuous duties such as fighting.
A fresco in Pylos shows two youths attacking a group of men with short swords or daggers, the distinction seems as difficult to understand wen it comes to the tablets as the ideogram could show either a sword or a dagger. The word pa-ka-na could be the Homeric word phasgana but there is evidence that the word may also be a confusion of the original Mycenaean meaning. One of the main reasons for war and expansion may have been the need to secure the Mycenaeans’ supply of metal brought to Greece through sea-borne trade.
Interruptions in the trade routes could have had a detrimental effect on the Mycenaean civilisation; it has been argued that the Greeks may have attacked Troy due to the equally strong civilisations’ control on the trade routes. The Mycenaeans’ chief metal was bronze, as they did not have the technological skill to extract and make good iron. Bronze is an alloy made from copper and tin, with the copper coming from Cyprus, the source of the tin is debatable as it could have come from Spain, what is now Czechoslovakia or even Britain.
Chadwick argues that the Mycenaeans may have even had small amounts of tin in the land, this I doubt as such a source would surly been mentioned in the tablets. Where ever the metals came from to make the Bronze it was very valuable and the tablets suggest tightly controlled by the palaces who assigned the metal to specific craftsmen and weighed the goods produced. Although bronze was used for making weapons it also had other uses such as to make vessels and perhaps have been used to make various tools.
It has been argued that the Mycenaeans had to expand due to the certain lack of these resources, which were used to make most tools and weaponry. The Mycenaeans imported much of these metals probably in return for large amounts of surplus crops. The Mycenaean civilisation came to an end around 1100BC in a series of disasters and fires, one of the first places to be destroyed was Pylos invaded by an unknown adversary. Writing skills disappeared, only to be rediscovered by the Greek hundreds of years later who adapted the Phoenicians techniques.
Foreign trade on a large scale also halted and the population became segregated, splitting into small rural settlements rather than the cities they once inhabited. This decay of a once great society took place over an extended time period starting with the destruction of a few cities in 1250BC and has been blamed on Dorian invasions, climate changes or internal struggles. There is no evidence that proves any of these arguments but it is obvious that the volatile times in which the Mycenaeans lived in finally destroyed the civilisation.
My main argument against the opinion that the Mycenaeans were “preoccupied with war” is that they did bring structure into the areas in which they inhabited. Although they were obviously a warlike culture they had strong systems when it came to trade, religion, craft and administration proved most finally by the fact these structures collapsed when the Mycenaean civilisation ended.
Bibliography “The Mycenaeans” by Lord William Taylour “The Mycenaean civilisation” by John Chadwick http. //www. lfc. edu/academics/greece/BrzMyc. html http://www. portergaud. edu/cmcarver/myce. html.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 4 September 2017
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