Mycenae History

Mycenae’s history dates back as far as the late Bronze Era where the bustling city was an incredibly prosperous town and the seat of power for the legendary king Agamemnon, who, as you may know, was the fabled leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War. It’s prosperity and power made it one of the most powerful cities in the whole of Greece and it stayed this way for over a thousand years, roughly between 1,600 to 1,00 BC.

The ancient town was surrounded by huge walls and the main entrance to the city was guarded by two large female stone lions at the impressive and imposing Lion Gate. The walls, as myth would have it, were constructed by a large Cyclops, who was employed to build them because men could not lift such large bricks as high as they needed to go.

Under the ruling of Agamemnon, the city was a military powerhouse in the region and was feared by other cities which allowed the Mycenean civilization to dominate vast arrears of the Mediterranean through subjugation and fear.

Mycenae is home to a number of famous archeological sites, such as the aforementioned Lion Gate, the Cyclopean Walls, the Treasury of Atreus, The Palace of Mycenae, The Tomb of Clytemnestra, and the vaulted tomb of king Agamemnon.


3000 BCE - 2800 BCE

First inhabitation of Mycenae area. The city of Pavlopetri is founded on the south-eastern coastal tip of the Peloponnese, in southern Laconia. Pavlopetri's inhabitants later copy Cretan and mainland styles, making exact ceramic copies of high status Cretan bronze jugs, in effect making cheap copies of expensive exotic goods in much the same way that desirable designer brands are copied today. But the early city is neither a Minoan colony or a Mycenaean settlement - it predates both peoples in the area, making it more likely to be a Pelasgian settlement that is later absorbed by the Mycenaeans and is subject to heavy Minoan influence or control in the second millennium BC. The city flourishes, reaching a peak around 2000 BC.

c.2600 BC

This is a tentative dating for the earliest members of Greek mythology where it relates to kings of the Mycenaeans. Pandion II is the mythical ruler of Athens and father to Lycus of Lycia and Aegeus of Athens. Given the links between Aegeus and Medea, Pandion (if he exists at all) is more likely to be a thirteenth century BC king who is mistaken for an earlier king or whose dating is incorrect.

c. 2100 BCE

First evidence of building structures at Mycenae.

c. 1700 BCE - c. 1600 BCE

First shaft graves constructed at Mycenae.

c. 1600 BCE

First evidence of elite buildings at Mycenae. Mycenaean culture appears on Cyprus, gradually displacing Minoan culture. Mycenaean shaft graves dated to this early period clearly demonstrate their dominance on the Greek mainland. At the same time, the people of the central European Unetice culture establish commercial relations with the Mycenaeans. A transcontinental amber trade has already begun at about the same time as the Baltic Bronze Age, and amber has already been in some demand by the Uneticians themselves. Now, though, the amber trade reaches an amazing volume. The Uneticians import their amber from the Balts and from the Germanic peoples in Jutland, and it is estimated that at least eighty per cent of the graves of classical Unetice contain amber beads.

c. 1550 BCE

Gold death masks (including that of 'Agamemnon') made at Mycenae.

c. 1500 BCE - c. 1400 BCE

First palace structure and Treasury of Atreus tomb built at Mycenae.

c. 1500 BCE - 1200 BCE

Mycenae at its peak of influence.

c. 1500 BCE

First tholos tombs built at Mycenae.

c. 1450 BCE

Mycenaen influence extended to Knossos, Crete. Development of the Linear B script.

c.1470 BC

During this period, Greece is still under the domination of the Minoans, but the volcano at the heart of the island of Thera erupts around this time, ending Minoan dominance of the Mycenaeans. The various Mycenaean city states begin to dominate not only Greece but the islands of the Aegean and Crete itself. Iolkos and Mycenae both rise to prominence at this time, as do the semi-mythical early Thracians.

c. 1400 BCE

The Mycenaeans constructed aqueducts at Tiryns and Mycenae.

c.1350 BC

The citadel was rebuilt about 1350 BC, using limestone blocks so massive that later ages thought it to be the work of the cyclopes. These outer walls contained later rebuilds of the royal palace. The name of this city state was adopted to describe the whole of this Late Bronze Age Greek civilisation.

c. 1300 BCE

First palace destroyed at Mycenae and repaired, Lion Gate added and fortifications extended.Although Mycenaean city states reach the height of their power by the end of the fourteenth century BC, Greek legends and myths provide only enough names to list possible kings as far back as about the early thirteenth century BC. These are the immediate ancestors of the kings who become involved in the Trojan War, the one key event in Mycenaean history which solidifies their existence to later generations as anything more than a series of archaeological digs (despite the war being remembered only in oral tradition until Homer writes it down some four hundred years or more later). The city states that can confidently be claimed as existing with their own kingship include Achaean Crete, Athens, Iolkos, Laconia, Mycenae, and Phthia.

c. 1300 BCE - c. 1250 BCE

Cyclopean stone bridge built near Mycenae.

c. 1200 BCE

Second palace destroyed at Mycenae, city begins to decline.

c. 1200 BCE - 1100 BCE

Argos takes over from Mycenae as most important regional power in the Argolid.

c.1193 - 1183 BC

Agamemnon calls to arms the forces of his allied Achaean kingdoms, including Athens, Corinth, Crete, Laconia, Phthia, Pylos, Tiryns, and Thebes. Before he can leave for the Trojan War, the seer Calchas (later to be found in Pamphylia) prophesises that in order to gain a favourable wind, the king must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigeneia, to the gods. Afterwards, the force sails off to various adventures on its way to Troy, leaving Agamemnon's strong-willed wife, Clytemnestra, in charge. Clytemnestra begins an affair with Aegisthus, the only surviving son of Thyestes and the former usurper king of Mycenae itself. When Agamemnon returns (with his captive consort, Cassandra) the pair are murdered in the bath by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, partially in revenge for the death of Iphigeneia.

468 BCE

Argeians destroy citadel of Mycenae. Troops from nearby Argos capture the Mycenaean citadel. Its inhabitants are expelled and the remaining fortifications are rendered useless. The citadel is later reoccupied, but only briefly. A theatre is built during the Hellenistic period, but by the time Rome conquers Greece in 146 BC, Mycenae has been abandoned for the final time and is already in ruins.


What Is Fascinating About the Mycenaean Civilization?

Well, for one the Mycenaeans used a syllabic script that is the earliest known form of the Greek alphabet, highlighting the resilience and importance of Greek civilization from the early Bronze Age era to modern times. Many archaeological sites, within the region have allowed archeologists to unearth artifacts that show a civilization with a strong cultural presence, and a centralized political system that had a King at the top (Agamemnon). These artefacts also highlight a culture with ties to the rest of the Bronze Age Mediterranean and a strong military presence throughout the region.

It is this extensive contact with the mainland Mediterranean cultures that allowed Myceneans to develop a unique cultural identity that can be seen in their art, legends, and architecture. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Mycenaeans dominated the area around the Aegean sea and amalgamated the people into one powerful culture all the way from the Levant to Sicily and even as far as northern Africa.

The influence of Mycenae can be seen in the architecture of their now ruined majestic citadels and palaces, grand royal tombs, and in the burial items they placed with the dead that included things like luxurious jewelry and weapons. The vast majority of items that have been uncovered are made from precious metals, such as gold, silver, and bronze, and are laden with precious stones and crystals like lapis lazuli which originated in central Asia. From these items, historians can tell that Mycenean people manufactured and traded weapons and tools and imported raw materials, such as wood and metals. We can even tell that some Mycenena people were probably involved in mercenary wars or even piracy.

The Mycenaean civilization began to lose its power around 1200 BCE but managed to linger on until the middle of the 11th century BCE. It is not known exactly what caused this end and scholars have been debating vigorously how it might have come to pass. Several theories have emerged but there is no definitive answer. Among these theories the most credible suggests that mass emigration of Dorians and Heraclids caused a social upheaval from within that put the civilization into a decline it did not recover from. The many sea tribes and pirates that decimated the shores of the eastern Mediterranean during this period may also have had a direct or indirect involvement in the demise, with some scholars attributing the rise of land raids by the sea dwelling people as forcing Myceneans to flee their invaded homeland to safer areas.

No matter what the cause was, the effects of the rapid decline of Mycenae were devastating and resulted in what we call the Greek Dark Ages where the population of Greece declined dramatically and major cities ceased to exist. The impact on culture was also huge with literacy amongst Greeks disappearing for over three hundred years.

The Legends of Mycenae

Many legends of Ancient Greece originate from the late Bronze Age Era when the Mycenaean power was at its highest.

The very founding of Mycenae is a legend in itself with the fabled hero Perseus, the son of the god Zeus and daughter of Danae who herself was the daughter of the king of Argos, having founded the city. The walls around it were created by a Cyclops with giant stones that no human could move or lift as high, leading to the them being characterized as the “Cyclopean Walls”.

Eurystheus, the last of the line of the Perseid dynasty who ruled the area for at least three generations, was fabled to be the king who commissioned Herakles (known to the west as Hercules) to perform the twelve labors.  

The aforementioned legendary King Agamemnon was the ruler who led the expedition against Troy to take back Menelaus’ wife, Helen from the Trojans after she had been “kidnapped” by Paris. The story immortalized in Homer’s Iliad, is well known because of Agamemnon’s use of a wooden horse (the Trojan Horse) to plant soldiers inside Troy so the battle could be won.