Mycenaeans (1650 and 1200 B.C.), Their History and Links to the Trojans, Greeks, Egyptians and Minoans

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gold funerary mask
The Mycenaeans founded the first advanced Greek-speaking culture and were immortalized in Homer’s “ Iliad” . They absorbed Minoan culture but they were a warlike people like the Spartans. They thrived between 1650 and 1200 B.C., roughly a millennia before classical ancient Greece. The Mycenaeans made weapons and armor from bronze and used them to conquer other cultures. Their leaders were buried with masks of gold.

The people who became the Mycenaeans are believed to have entered the Greek mainland from the north around 2000 B.C.. After conquering the Minoans around 1400 B.C. they set up trading posts all over the Mediterranean and Aegean. Their culture was influenced greatly by the Minoans. It is believed they may have fought some battles with Egyptians and Hittites. The civilization collapsed soon after the Trojan War in 1200 B.C. According to Associated Press: "Mycenae flourished from the mid-14th to the 12th century B.C. and was one of Greece's most significant late bronze age centers. Its rulers are among the key figures of Greek myth, caught in a vicious cycle of parricide, incest and dynastic strife. The most famous of all, Agamemnon, led the Greek army that besieged and sacked Troy, according to Homer's epics. It is not clear to what extent the myths were inspired by memories of historic events."

The Mycenaeans are named after the civilization’s wealthiest and best-known city. Mycenae is said to have been the home of Agamemnon and Nestor, the leaders of the forces that fought against the Trojans in the Trojan wars, and had links with Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer. . Many details about the Mycenaeans are found in the “Iliad”, some of which have been backed up with archaeological evidence.

Book: “The Mycenaeans” by Lord William Taylour

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea ; Greek History Course from Reed; Classics FAQ MIT; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

History of the Myceneans

Throne in the so-called Palace of Nestor in Pylos

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Around 2000 B.C. Greek-speaking immigrants moved into the Aegean. Skeletal remains confirm they were tall and well built. The newcomers looked first to the sea for food and later found that the dry and rocky soil was well suited for growing olives and grapes. It seems these people were a war-like lot, ruled by military leaders. In many ways they resembled the Vikings that would plague Europe some 25 centuries later- pirates, raiders and traders- who after a time settled down and became civilized. The term Mycenaean has been given to this civilization, derived from Mycenae, the site first excavated by Heinrich Schliemann after his discovery of fabled Troy. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“The Mycenaeans began to trade and have cultural contact with the Minoans. The latter influenced the development of their cities, the production of trade goods and improvements in agriculture. Unlike Minoan cities, which had no or minimal fortifications, the Mycenaean settlements were heavily fortified with colossal perimeter walls. Since they periodically raided and looted towns in Hittite and Egyptian territory the massive fortifications were likely seen as a cost of “doing business”. The art themes depicted on Mycenaean artifacts (scenes of warfare and hunting) make a sharp contrast with the pastoral content of Minoan artwork. Their militaristic approach worked well for the Mycenaeans bringing power and prosperity. Between 1600 and 1200 B.C. their culture flourished.” |

Mycenae collapsed in 1200 B.C., perhaps as result of social unrest brought about after a series of earthquakes or famine, war or trade collapse. When the Hittite empire collapsed many great cities in Asia Minor were sacked. This have disrupted Mycenaean trade routes. Some scholars believe Mycenae was highly centralized and became overextended and collapsed under its own weight. There is no evidence of a foreign invasion or raid by tribes from the north. From the ashes of Mycenaean civilization, classical Greek culture arose several centuries later.

Mycenaean Civilization

The Mycenaeans were ruled by a king. Under him was a “leader of the people,” perhaps a military leader. There were landowners, nobles, tenant farmers, servants, slaves and people that engaged in a large number of trades and professions.

Linear B writing

According to UNESCO: “Mycenaean civilization was renowned for its technical and artistic achievements but also its spiritual wealth, which spread around the Mediterranean world between 1600 and 1100 B.C. and played a vital role in the development of classical Greek culture. The palatial administrative system, the monumental architecture, the impressive artefacts and the first testimonies of Greek language, preserved on Linear B tablets, are unique elements of the Mycenaean culture.” [Source: UNESCO]

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Mycenaean is the term applied to the art and culture of Greece from ca. 1600 to 1100 B.C. The name derives from the site of Mycenae in the Peloponnese, where once stood a great Mycenaean fortified palace. Mycenae is celebrated by Homer as the seat of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. In modern archaeology, the site first gained renown through Heinrich Schliemann's excavations in the mid-1870s, which brought to light objects whose opulence and antiquity seemed to correspond to Homer's description of Agamemnon's palace. The extraordinary material wealth deposited in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae (ca. 1550 B.C.) attests to a powerful elite society that flourished in the subsequent four centuries. [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“Wide-ranging commerce circulated Mycenaean goods throughout the Mediterranean world from Spain and the Levant. The evidence consists primarily of vases, but their contents (oil, wine, and other commodities) were probably the chief objects of trade. Besides being bold traders, the Mycenaeans were fierce warriors and great engineers who designed and built remarkable bridges, fortification walls, and beehive-shaped tombs—all employing Cyclopean masonry—and elaborate drainage and irrigation systems. Their palatial centers, "Mycenae rich in gold" and "sandy Pylos," are immortalized in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Palace scribes employed a new script, Linear B, to record an early Greek language. In the Mycenaean palace at Pylos—the best preserved of its kind—Linear B tablets suggest that the king stood at the head of a highly organized feudal system. By the late thirteenth century B.C., however, mainland Greece witnessed a wave of destruction and the decline of the Mycenaean sites, and the withdrawal to more remote refuge settlements. \^/


The Mycenaeans were Indo-Europeans. Around a 3000 B.C., during the early Bronze Age, Indo-European people began migrating into Europe, Iran and India and mixed with local people who eventually adopted their language. In Greece, these people were divided into fledgling city states from which the Mycenaeans and later the Greeks evolved. These Indo European people are believed to have been relatives of the Aryans, who migrated or invaded India and Asia Minor. The Hittites, and later the Greeks, Romans, Celts and nearly all Europeans and North Americans descended from Indo-European people.

Indo-Europeans is the general name for the people speaking Indo-European languages. They are the linguistic descendants of the people of the Yamnaya culture (c.3600-2300 B.C. in Ukraine and southern Russia who settled in the area from Western Europe to India in various migrations in the third, second, and early first millenniums B.C.. They are the ancestors of Persians, pre-Homeric Greeks, Teutons and Celts. [Source:]

Indo-European intrusions into Iran and Asia Minor (Anatolia, Turkey) began about 3000 B.C.. The Indo-European tribes originated in the great central Eurasian Plains and spread into the Danube River valley possibly as early as 4500 B.C., where they may have been the destroyers of the Vinca Culture. Iranian tribes entered the plateau which now bears their name in the middle around 2500 B.C. and reached the Zagros Mountains which border Mesopotamia to the east by about 2250 B.C...

Minoans, Mycenaeans and Trojans

Mycenaean chariot
The Minoans were a model for Mycenae and then a competitor and then were eclipsed by the Mycenaeans. The two cultures lived side by side until the 15th century B.C. when Minoa became a Mycenaean colony. First it was thought that maybe Minoans and Mycenaeans were the same people and that Mycenae was a colony of Knossos. Their art, written language and religion were that similar.

The Mycenaeans were rich and powerful. They controlled the sources of precious metals and used them to earn income and dominate trading routes. They controlled the gold and silver worked by craftsmen on Minoa. Through the Minoans the Mycenaeans gained access to Egypt, a key consumer, and Cyprus, a key supplier. In the process of gaining control of key resources the Mycenaeans came head to head with the powerful Hittites in Anatolia, where Troy was located.

There is still some debate on how much the Minoans influenced the Mycenaeans. The latter commonly used bulls as a symbol but people were never depicted leaping over them and some archaeologists say they looked more like cattle than sacred animals. The biggest difference is the Mycenaeans lived in fortress cities and the Minoans lived in walled cities. [Source: "History of Art" by H.W. Janson, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.]

The Mycenaeans fought against the Trojans in the Trojan War and Odysseus, a Mycenaean, got lost on his way home from Troy. Many examples of Mycenaean weapons and armor have been unearthed seem to confirm Homer's depiction of the Mycenaeans as a warlike people. Mycenae itself was a lose confederation of small city -states ruled by warrior kings. The Mycenaeans lacked central authority and often fought among themselves.

Mycenae was the home of Agamemnon and Nestor and had links with Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer. According to the Canadian Museum of History: “It was the Mycenaeans that Homer immortalized in his two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey . The question that is often asked is “How much, if any, of those tales are true?” and the answer is that it is unlikely that that question can be completely answered in our lifetimes, if ever. Myth, history and archaeology - all different - but there are examples where they coincide remarkably, and others where they cannot be made to meet, despite the most earnest coaxing. Homer and his forefathers nursed the Mycenaean legends through the tunnel of the Dark Ages into the light of the later Greek world. How much was dropped off and added on in that journey is the subject of speculation and the stuff of debate. What is evident is that some of the content is clearly true and some is the product of imagination. Sorting one from the other has become a task for the ages.” [Source: Canadian Museum of History]

Thucydides: “On The Early History of the Hellenees”

Thucydides wrote in “On The Early History of the Hellenes (c. 395 B.C.): “The country which is now called Hellas was not regularly settled in ancient times. The people were migratory, and readily left their homes whenever they were overpowered by numbers. There was no commerce, and they could not safely hold intercourse with one another either by land or sea. The several tribes cultivated their own soil just enough to obtain a maintenance from it. But they had no accumulation of wealth, and did not plant the ground; for, being without walls, they were never sure that an invaded might not come and despoil them. Living in this manner and knowing that they could anywhere obtain a bare subsistence, they were always ready to migrate; so that they had neither great cities nor any considerable resources. The richest districts were most constantly changing their inhabitants; for example, the countries which are now called Thessaly and Boeotia, the greater part of the Peloponnesus with the exception of Arcadia, and all the best parts of Hellas. For the productiveness of the land increased the power of individuals; this in turn was a source of quarrels by which communities were ruined, while at the same time they were more exposed to attacks from without. Certainly Attica, of which the soil was poor and thin, enjoyed a long freedom from civil strife, and therefore retained its original inhabitants [the Pelasgians]. [Source: Thucydides, “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” translated by Benjamin Jowett, New York, Duttons, 1884, pp. 11-23, Sections 1.2-17, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

sacrifice of Nestor from the Pylos museum

“The feebleness of antiquity is further proved to me by the circumstance that there appears to have been no common action in Hellas before the Trojan War. And I am inclined to think that the very name was not as yet given to the whole country, and in fact did not exist at all before the time of Hellen, the son of Deucalion; the different tribes, of which the Pelasgian was the most widely spread, gave their own names to different districts. But when Hellen and his sons became powerful in Phthiotis, their aid was invoked by other cities, and those who associated with them gradually began to be called Hellenes, though a long time elapsed before the name was prevalent over the whole country. Of this, Homer affords the best evidence; for he, although he lived long after the Trojan War, nowhere uses this name collectively, but confines it to the followers of Achilles from Phthiotis, who were the original Hellenes; when speaking of the entire host, he calls them Danäans, or Argives, or Achaeans.

“And the first person known to us by tradition as having established a navy is Minos. He made himself master of what is now called the Aegean sea, and ruled over the Cyclades, into most of which he sent the first colonies, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons governors; and thus did his best to put down piracy in those waters, a necessary step to secure the revenues for his own use. For in early times the Hellenes and the barbarians of the coast and islands, as communication by sea became more common, were tempted to turn pirates, under the conduct of their most powerful men; the motives being to serve their own cupidity and to support the needy. They would fall upon the unwalled and straggling towns, or rather villages, which they plundered, and maintained themselves by the plunder of them; for, as yet, such an occupation was held to be honoralbe and not disgraceful. . . .The land, too, was infested by robbers; and there are parts of Hellas in which the old practices continue, as for example among the Ozolian Locrians, Aetolians, Acarnanians, and the adjacent regions of the continent. The fashion of wearing arms among these continental tribes is a relic of their old predatory habits.

“For in ancient times all Hellenes carried weapons because their homes were undefended and intercourse was unsafe; like the barbarians they went armed in their everyday life. . . The Athenians were the first who laid aside arms and adopted an easier and more luxurious way of life. Quite recently the old-fashioned refinement of dress still lingered among the elder men of their richer class, who wore undergarments of linen, and bound back their hair in a knot with golden clasps in the form of grasshoppers; and the same customs long survived among the elders of Ionia, having been derived from their Athenian ancestors. On the other hand, the simple dress which is now common was first worn at Sparta; and there, more than anywhere else, the life of the rich was assimilated to that of the people.

“With respect to their towns, later on, at an era of increased facilities of navigation and a greater supply of capital, we find the shores becoming the site of walled towns, and the isthmuses being occupied for the purposes of commerce and defense against a neighbor. But the old towns, on account of the great prevalence of piracy, were built away from the sea, whether on the islands or the continent, and still remain in their old sites. But as soon as Minos had formed his navy, communication by sea became easier, as he colonized most of the islands, and thus expelled the malefactors. The coast population now began to apply themselves more closely to the acquisition of wealth, and their life became more settled; some even began to build themselves walls on the strength of their newly acquired riches. And it was at a somewhat later stage of this development that they went on the expedition against Troy.”

Thucydides On Agamemnon

Funeral mask of Agamemnon
Thucydides wrote in “On The Early History of the Hellenes (c. 395 B.C.): “What enabled Agamemnon to raise the armament was more, in my opinion, his superiority in strength, than the oaths of Tyndareus, which bound the suitors to follow him. Indeed, the account given by those Peloponnesians who have been the recipients of the most credible tradition is this. First of all Pelops, arriving among a needy population from Asia with vast wealth, acquired such power that, stranger though he was, the country was called after him; and this power fortune saw fit materially to increase in the hands of his descendants. Eurystheus had been killed in Attica by the Heraclids. [Source: Thucydides, “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” translated by Benjamin Jowett, New York, Duttons, 1884, pp. 11-23, Sections 1.2-17, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“Atreus was his mother's brother; and to the hands of his relation, who had left his father on account of the death of Chrysippus, Eurystheus, when he set out on his expedition, had committed Mycenae and the government. As time went on and Eurystheus did not return, Atreus complied with the wishes of the Mycenaeans, who were influenced by fear of the Heraclids — besides, his power seemed considerable, and he had not neglected to court the favor of the populace — and assumed the scepter of Mycenae and the rest of the dominions of Eurystheus. And so the power of the descendants of Pelops came to be greater than that of the descendants of Perseus. “To all this Agamemnon succeeded. He had also a navy far stronger than his contemporaries, so that, in my opinion, fear was quite as strong an element as love in the formation of the confederate expedition. The strength of his navy is shown by the fact that his own was the largest contingent, and that of the Arcadians was furnished by him; this at least is what Homer says, if his testimony is deemed sufficient. Now Agamemnon's was a continental power; and he could not have been master of any except the adjacent islands (and these would not be many), but through the possession of a fleet. And from this expedition we may infer the character of earlier enterprises. Homer has represented it as consisting of twelve hundred vessels; the Boeotian complement of each ship being a hundred and twenty men, that of the ships of Philoctetes fifty. That they were all rowers as well as warriors we see from his account of the ships of Philoctetes, in which all the men at the oar are bowmen.”

Mycenaean Economy and Trade

Mycenaen Bridge
Excavations have revealed workshops with fine metal work, jewelry and carving on hippopotamus ivory. There is also evidence of bronze and perfume making. Mycenaeans paid taxes in ox hides, hogs, wool, and linen.

The Mycenaeans dominated the Argoid, an important and wealthy region in the northeast Peloponnese, and controlled trade in the Aegean Sea.

The Mycenaean’s rich supply of gold is believed to have come from Egypt. Some have speculated they were hired as mercenaries by the pharaohs to get rid of unruly subject and were paid in gold.

Minoan sailors perhaps ferried the Mycenaeans back and forth and were cut in for a piece of the action. This may explain how the Minoans became so rich and their art flourished during a period of military activity around 1600 B.C.

Mycenaean-Egyptian Relations

Stefan Pfeiffer of Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg wrote: “After the collapse of the Minoan culture, the Mycenaeans—who, like the Minoans, were located in “islands in the midst of the Great Green,” as the Egyptians called the Aegean—filled the economic gap left by Minoan traders. The earliest Egyptian attestation of the Mycenaeans dates to the 42nd year of Thutmose III’s reign. The transition from the Minoan to the Mycenaean culture may be reflected in Theban Tomb 100 (of the high official Rekhmira, who served at the end of Thutmose III’s reign and into that of Amenhotep II), in which an Aegean tribute carrier is depicted. The wall painting is a palimpsest: Originally, the depicted person was dressed in a typical Minoan loin-cloth; later on, this garment was modified to a multicolored kilt, which is generally attributed to Mycenaean origins. However, it is noteworthy that the interpretation of both garments as Minoan or Mycenaean, respectively, is nowadays questioned. [Source: Stefan Pfeiffer, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 ]

Reconstruction of a Mycenaean ship

“Mycenaean cities are mentioned in the geographical lists of the House of Millions of years of Amenhotep III, proving knowledge of the Aegean world in Egypt. There were intense contacts in the time of Akhenaten, as is attested by Mycenaean pottery sherds dating to his reign. Mycenaean pottery is also found in post-Amarna times (for example, at Pi-Ramesse, the capital city built by Ramesses II): like their forefathers, Egyptian potters tried to copy the form and style of Minoan pottery, now aimed to imitate Mycenaean ware, even in faience or calcite (Egyptian alabaster).

“The view that post-Amarna contacts between the two worlds were mainly based on indirect trade relations via the Levant is nowadays being questioned; there are in fact hints to an exchange of individuals and ideas. What can be said is that the Mycenaeans, like the Minoans, were highly interested in Egyptian goods. Especially in Mycenae itself, many Egyptian objects bear witness to close trade relations. Moreover, Mycenae seems to have served as a “gateway community” for the import of Egyptian goods to the whole Aegean world.

“Summing up, it is not easy to determine the intensity of relations between the two cultures. It appears prudent to assume that in the Mycenaean Period (as well as in the Minoan) durations of close contacts alternated with those of merely sporadic contacts due to wars or natural catastrophes.”

Links Between Myceneans and Minoans

Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times: “The palaces found at Mycene, Pylos and elsewhere on the Greek mainland have a common inspiration: All borrowed heavily from the Minoan civilization that arose on the large island of Crete, southeast of Pylos. The Minoans were culturally dominant to the Mycenaeans but were later overrun by them...The Mycenaeans used the Minoan sacred symbol of bull’s horns on their buildings and frescoes, and their religious practices seem to have been a mix of Minoan concepts with those of mainland Greece.... The transfer was not entirely peaceful: At some point, the Mycenaeans invaded Crete, and in 1450 B.C., the palace of Knossos was burned, perhaps by Mycenaeans.[Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, October 26, 2015 ^^]

Minoan style bull found in a grave in Mycanae

“If the earliest European civilization is that of Crete, the first on the European mainland is the Mycenaean culture...It is not entirely clear why civilization began on Crete, but the island’s population size and favorable position for sea trade between Egypt and Greece may have been factors. “Crete is ideally situated between mainland Greece and the east, and it had enough of a population to resist raids,” said Malcolm H. Wiener, an investment manager and expert on Aegean prehistory. ^^

“The Minoan culture on Crete exerted a strong influence on the people of southern Greece. Copying and adapting Minoan technologies, they developed the palace cultures such as those of Pylos and Mycene. But as the Mycenaeans grew in strength and confidence, they were eventually able to invade the land of their tutors. Notably, they then adapted Linear A, the script in which the Cretans wrote their own language, into Linear B, a script for writing Greek.” ^^

Thucydides on the Hellenes After the Trojan War

Thucydides wrote in “On The Early History of the Hellenes (c. 395 B.C.): “Even after the Trojan War, Hellas was still engaged in removing and settling, and thus could not attain to the quiet which must precede growth. The late return of the Hellenes from Ilium caused many revolutions, and factions ensued almost everywhere; and it was the citizens thus driven into exile who founded the cities. Sixty years after the capture of Ilium, the modern Boeotians were driven out of Arne by the Thessalians, and settled in the present Boeotia, the former Cadmeis; though there was a division of them there before, some of whom joined the expedition to Ilium. Twenty years later, the Dorians and the Heraclids became masters of Peloponnese; so that much had to be done and many years had to elapse before Hellas could attain to a durable tranquillity undisturbed by removals, and could begin to send out colonies, as Athens did to Ionia and most of the islands, and the Peloponnesians to most of Italy and Sicily and some places in the rest of Hellas. All these places were founded subsequently to the war with Troy. [Source: Thucydides, “The History of the Peloponnesian War,” translated by Benjamin Jowett, New York, Duttons, 1884, pp. 11-23, Sections 1.2-17, Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Fordham University]

“But as the power of Hellas grew, and the acquisition of wealth became more an object, the revenues of the states increasing, tyrannies were by their means established almost everywhere — the old form of government being hereditary monarchy with definite prerogatives — and Hellas began to fit out fleets and apply herself more closely to the sea. It is said that the Corinthians were the first to approach the modern style of naval architecture, and that Corinth was the first place in Hellas where galleys were built....They were the means by which the islands were reached and reduced, those of the smallest area falling the easiest prey. Wars by land there were none, none at least by which power was acquired; we have the usual border contests, but of distant expeditions with conquest for object we hear nothing among the Hellenes.

“There was no union of subject cities round a great state, no spontaneous combination of equals for confederate expeditions; what fighting there was consisted merely of local warfare between rival neighbors....Various, too, were the obstacles which the national growth encountered in various localities. The power of the Ionians was advancing with rapid strides, when it came into collision with Persia, under King Cyrus, who, after having dethroned Croesus of Lydia and overrun everything between the Halys and the sea, stopped not till he had reduced the cities of the coast; the islands being only left to be subdued by Darius and the Phoenician navy.”

End of the Myceneans

Mycenae collapsed in 1200 B.C., perhaps as result of social unrest brought about after a series of earthquakes or famine, war or trade collapse. When the Hittite empire collapsed many great cities in Asia Minor were sacked. This have disrupted Mycenaean trade routes. Some scholars believe Mycenae was highly centralized and became overextended and collapsed under its own weight. There is no evidence of a foreign invasion or raid by tribes from the north. From the ashes of Mycenaean civilization, classical Greek culture arose several centuries later.

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “So what happened to the Mycenaeans? The answer is that sometime around 1200 B.C. when the Mycenaean civilization was at its peak, it suddenly appears to have collapsed. Some scholars feel we will never know with certainty what happened and why. There are lots of theories: their history of military violence finally caught up with them; natural disaster in an area plagued with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; the possibility of drought and famine followed by civil uprising. There is evidence of a lot of migration.” [Source: Canadian Museum of History]


Mycenaeans, New Kingdom Egypt, and the Hittites All Brought By the Luwians?

Colin Barras wrote in New Scientist: “The Trojan War was a grander event than even Homer would have us believe. The famous conflict may have been one of the final acts in what one archaeologist has controversially dubbed “World War Zero” – an event he claims brought the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age world crashing down 3200 years ago. And the catalyst for the war? A mysterious and arguably powerful civilisation almost entirely overlooked by archaeologists: the Luwians. [Source: Colin Barras, New Scientist, May 12, 2016 +++]

“By the second millennium B.C. civilisation had taken hold throughout the eastern Mediterranean. The Egyptian New Kingdom coexisted with the Hittites of central Anatolia and the Mycenaeans of mainland Greece, among others. In little more than a single generation, they had all collapsed. Was the culprit climate change? Some sort of earthquake storm? Social unrest? Archaeologists can’t seem to agree. +++

“Eberhard Zangger, head of international non-profit, Luwian Studies, based in Zurich, Switzerland, says that’s because one crucial piece of the puzzle is missing. Another powerful civilisation in western Anatolia played a crucial role in the downfall. His investigations of the published literature show that western Anatolia is extraordinarily rich in mineral and metal ore deposits, meaning it’s likely to have been an important region in antiquity. Through studies of satellite imagery, Zangger has also found that the area was densely populated during the Late Bronze Age. Only a handful of the 340 large city-like sites he has identified have been excavated. “Some of these sites are so large you can see them from space,” says Zangger. “There’s so much waiting to be found it’s really just mind-boggling.”

“Hittite texts talk of several petty kingdoms in western Anatolia speaking versions of a common language – Luwian. According to Zangger, that means we can legitimately talk of them as forming a Luwian civilisation in their own right. We know from Hittite texts that the Luwian kingdoms sometimes formed coalitions powerful enough to attack the Hittite empire. Zangger thinks that 3200 years ago the Luwians did just that and destroyed the Hittite Empire. Shortly after the demise of the Hittites, Egyptian texts document an attack force they termed the “Sea People”. Zangger says it makes sense to view these Sea People as the Luwians, continuing their campaign for wealth and power and, in the process, weakening and destabilising the Egyptian New Kingdom. +++

“The Mycenaeans, perhaps anticipating an attack on their territory, formed a grand coalition of their own, says Zangger. They sailed across the Aegean and attacked the Luwians, bringing down their civilisation and destroying its key cities like Troy – events immortalised in Homer’s Iliad. On returning to Greece, however, and in the sudden absence of any other threat, Zangger believes the Mycenaeans squabbled and fell into civil war – events hinted at in Homer’s Odyssey. Their civilisation was the last in the area to collapse. +++

“Zangger says that only such a sequence of events fits with the evidence documented in ancient texts across the eastern Mediterranean, and also explains why the archaeological record shows that almost every large city in the region was destroyed in warfare at the end of the Bronze Age. He sets out his ideas in a new book, and on a website that launches in English today. +++

“So what do other archaeologists make of this idea of a lost Luwian civilisation? Many stopped trying to impose this sort of monolithic cultural identity on ancient peoples decades ago, says Christoph Bachhuber at the University of Oxford. “Archaeologists will need to discover similar examples of monumental art and architecture across western Anatolia and ideally texts from the same sites to support Zangger’s claim of a civilisation,” he says. The textual evidence available is mainly from post-Bronze age and it paints a slightly confusing picture, which could be seen as both supporting and undermining Zangger’s theory, says Ilya Yakubovich, a historical linguist at the Philipp University of Marburg, Germany. +++

Zangger’s broader “World War Zero” narrative is also debatable. “He’s bringing in this idea of ancient international warfare,” says Michael Galaty at Mississippi State University. “Most archaeologists would balk at using such terminology.” Bachhuber calls it “big bombastic storytelling” and points out that today, archaeologists are skeptical that ancient narratives like Homer’s approximate historical truth. +++ Zangger, however, says there are several other ancient accounts of the Trojan War that all tell a similar story to Homer. One, written in the first century AD, even refers to now-lost Egyptian monuments that documented the conflict. Despite these criticisms, though, there is near-universal praise for the fact that Zangger’s ideas will raise the profile of Late Bronze Age archaeological research in long-neglected western Anatolia, which can only benefit the scientific community. “He’s really getting the ball rolling to do larger holistic studies of the area,” says Bachhuber. “I’m actually quite excited that he’s bringing attention to this region.” +++

Did a 300-Year Drought Bring Down the Mycenaeans and Hittites

A 300-year drought may have caused the collapse of several Mediterranean cultures, including the Hittites and the Mycenaeans Tia Ghose wrote for Live Science: “A sharp drop in rainfall may have led to the collapse of several eastern Mediterranean civilizations, including ancient Greece, around 3,200 years ago. The resulting famine and conflict may help explain why the entire Hittite culture vanished from the planet, according to a study published in August 2013 in the journal PLOS ONE. [Source: Tia Ghose, Live Science, August 14, 2013]

“The ancient Hittite empire of Anatolia began a precipitous decline around 1,300 B.C. Around the same time, the Egyptian empire was invaded by marauding sea bandits, called the Sea People, and the ancient Mycenaean culture of Greece collapsed. Over the next 400 years, ancient cities were burned to the ground and were never rebuilt...But the cause of this Bronze Age collapse has been shrouded in mystery. Some archaeologists believed economic hardships caused the demise, while others proposed that massive tsunamis, earthquakes or a mega-drought was the cause.

“Past studies looking for drought typically only found evidence showing it occurred for short periods of time, making it hard to make conclusions about the whole period...Toward that end, David Kaniewski, an archaeologist at the University of Paul Sabatier-Toulouse in France, and his colleagues collected ancient sediment cores from Larnaca Salt Lake, near Hala Sultan Tekke in Cyprus. The lake was once a harbor, but became landlocked thousands of years ago.

“A decline in marine plankton and pollen from marine sea grass revealed that the lake was once a harbor that opened to the sea until around 1450 B.C., when the harbor transformed over 100 years into a landlocked lagoon. Pollen also revealed that by 1200 B.C., agriculture in the area dwindled and didn't rebound until about 850 B.C. “This climate shift caused crop failures, dearth and famine, which precipitated or hastened socioeconomic crises and forced regional human migrations," the authors write in the paper.

“The results bolster the notion that a massive drought caused the Bronze Age collapse, said Brandon Lee Drake, an archaeologist at the University of New Mexico, who was not involved in the study. “It's getting hard to argue that there wasn't as significant change in climate at that time." Famine may have caused the huge migration of people en masse — which may be the reason that the mysterious Sea People who invaded Egypt brought their families along, Drake said. As ancient cultures battled for dwindling resources, they burned the great cities of the day to the ground. In the heart of these dark ages, the ancient Mycenaens lost their writing system, called Linear B, and correspondence between countries slowed to a trickle, Drake said. Ironically, those who suffered through those dark times may not have realized the cause of their misery. “It happened over 200 years. People may not have even recognized the climate was changing, because it was happening so slowly over their lifetime," Drake said.”

Archaeology and Mycenae

Mycenae, was discovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, in 1873 after his discovery of Troy in Asia Minor. Mycenae was described by Homer as being "rich in gold" and Schliemann discovered some 44 pounds of gold objects there in 1876.

Schliemann also worked in Greece tracking down sites associated with the Mycenaeans, the enemies of the Trojans. He discovered almost a dozen major Mycenaean cities and hundreds of settlements and tombs. The cities included Midea, Tiyrns "of the huge walls," "sacred"Pylos, "thirsty" Argos, and Orchemonos "rich in sheep."

Schliemann discovered some 44 pounds of gold objects at the Mycenaean sites. Most of the objects were found in a circle of six shaft graves with the remains of 19 elite Mycenaeans. Schliemann claimed he found the death mask of Agamemnon, the Mycenaean king from the “ Iliad” .

Discovery of the "Mask of Agamemnon"

Following accounts by Pausanias, a famous 2nd century traveler who described "heroes' the midst of the meeting place," Schliemann searched for the tombs of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra within the walls of the citadel in ancient Mycenae. In December 1876, Schliemann’s team hit pay dirt, discovering the first of five shaft grave that would eventually yield the richest treasure from the past ever found at that point in time. The graves contained bodies "literally covered with gold and jewels." Each face, distinguishable when unearthed but quickly disintegrated by the air, was covered by a gold mask.

Schliemann believed one the masks was the "mask of Agamemnon." He also found gold diadems, gold and silver statuettes, gold sword handles, precious necklaces and bracelets, stone and gold alabaster vases, goblets of gold and silver, and hundreds of other impressive jewels.

The mask, which is now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens, has been dated to 400 years before the Trojan War. No evidence has turned up that Agamemnon was a real person. As far as we know he was only a fictional character.

‘Griffin Warrior’ Grave in Pylos

funerary mask
In 2014, archaeologists digging at Pylos, announced they had discovered the rich grave of a soldier that they dubbed the “Griffin Warrior” after images of griffins found on artifacts found in the grave. The grave was discovered” in May 2015 “by Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker, a husband-and-wife team at the University of Cincinnati who have been excavating at Pylos for 25 years. The warrior was found in a very rare shaft grave, 5 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 8 long that was in remarkably good condition aside from a one-ton stone, probably once the lid of the grave, which had fallen in and crushed the wooden coffin beneath it. [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, October 26, 2015 ^^]

Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times: “He lies with a yard-long bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization. “Probably not since the 1950s have we found such a rich tomb,” said James C. Wright, the director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Seeing the tomb “was a real highlight of my archaeological career,” said Thomas M. Brogan, the director of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete, noting that “you can count on one hand the number of tombs as wealthy as this one.” ^^

“The warrior was buried around 1500 B.C., next to the site on Pylos on which, many years later, arose the palace of Nestor, a large administrative center that was destroyed in 1180 B.C., about the same time as Homer’s Troy. The coffin has long since decayed, but still remaining are the bones of a man about 30 to 35 years old and lying on his back. Placed to his left were weapons, including a long bronze sword with an ivory hilt clad in gold and a gold-hilted dagger. On his right side were four gold rings with fine Minoan carvings and some 50 Minoan seal stones carved with imagery of goddesses and bull jumpers. “I was just stunned by the quality of the carving,” Dr. Wright said, noting that the objects “must have come out of the best workshops of the palaces of Crete.” An ivory plaque carved with a griffin, a mythical animal that protected goddesses and kings, lay between the warrior’s legs. The grave contained gold, silver and bronze cups. The warrior seems to have been something of a dandy. Among the objects accompanying him to the netherworld were a bronze mirror with an ivory handle and six ivory combs. ^^

Mycenaean ring

“Because of the griffins depicted in the grave, Dr. Davis and Dr. Stocker refer to the man informally as the “griffin warrior.” He was certainly a prominent leader in his community, they say, maybe the pre-eminent one. The palace at Pylos had a king or “wanax,” a title mentioned in the Linear B tablets, but it’s not known if this position existed in the griffin warrior’s society. Ancient Greek graves can be dated by their pottery, but the griffin warrior’s grave had none: His vessels are made of silver or gold, not humble clay. From shards found above and below the grave, however, Dr. Davis believes it was dug in the period known as Late Helladic II, a pottery-related chronology that corresponds to 1600 B.C. to 1400 B.C., in the view of some authorities, or 1550 B.C. to 1420 B.C., in the view of others.” ^^ “Archaeologists are looking forward to studying a major unlooted tomb with modern techniques like DNA analysis, which may shed light on the warrior’s origin. DNA, if extractable from the warrior’s teeth, may tell where in Greece he was born. Suitable plant material, if found in the tomb, could yield a radiocarbon date for the burial.” ^^

‘Griffin Warrior’ and Links Between the Mycenaeans and Minoans

The Griffin Warrior’s grave may offer some clues as to how Minoan culture was passed on to the Mycenaeans. Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times: He died before the palaces began to be built, and his grave is full of artifacts made in Crete. “This is a transformative moment in the Bronze Age,” Dr. Brogan said. [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, October 26, 2015 ^^]

“The griffin warrior, whose grave objects are culturally Minoan but whose place of burial is Mycenaean, lies at the center of this cultural transfer. The palace of Pylos had yet to arise, and he could have been part of the cultural transition that made it possible.... It is not yet clear whether the objects in the griffin warrior’s tomb were significant in his own culture or just plunder. “I think these objects were not just loot but had a meaning already for the guy buried in this grave,” Dr. Davis said. “This is the critical period when religious ideas were being transferred from Crete to the mainland.” ^^

“The grave, in Dr. Wright’s view, lies “at the date at the heart of the relationship of the mainland culture to the higher culture of Crete” and will help scholars understand how the state cultures that developed in Crete were adopted into what became the Mycenaean palace culture on the mainland. Warriors probably competed for status as stratified societies formed on the mainland. This developing warrior society liked to show off its power through high-quality goods, like Cretan seal stones and gold cups — “lots of bling,” as Dr. Wright put it. “Perhaps we can theorize that this site was that of a rising chiefdom,” he said.” ^^

Archaeologist Claims He's Found the Mythical, Homeric Mycenaean Throne

In 2016, Greek archaeologist Christofilis Maggidis claimed that a stone he found was part of the lost royal throne of the rulers of Mycenae, mentioned in both ancient myth and the story of the Trojan War. Maggidis, who heads excavations at the palace of Mycenae site in southern Greece, said that the chunk of worked limestone was found two years ago, in a streambed under the imposing citadel. [Source: Nicholas Paphitis, Associated Press, June 14, 2016]

Nicholas Paphitis of Associated Press reported: “He told a press conference in Athens that the royal throne was among sections of the hilltop palace that collapsed during an earthquake around 1200 B.C. Greek Culture Ministry officials have distanced themselves from the identification, citing a separate study that ruled the chunk to be part of a stone basin. But Maggidis said the find was unmistakably made for sitting on, and would have been no use for holding liquids as it is made of porous stone. “In our opinion, this is one of the most emblematic and significant finds from the Mycenaean era," he said.

Mycenaean palace

No other thrones have been found in mainland Greece's Mycenaean palaces. An older, smaller example was found in the Minoan palace of Knossos, on the island of Crete. Maggidis said other parts of the throne may lie be beneath Mycenae, and hopes to secure a permit to fully excavate the streambed. The precise type of stone used has not been found anywhere else in the palace of Mycenae, although a similar material was used extensively in the citadel's massive defensive walls and in the magnificent beehive tombs where its rulers were buried.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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