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Mycenaean civilization. Achaean Greece in the second millennium BC.

Greece in the Early Helladic period (before the end of the third millennium BC)

Population and culture of Greece before the arrival of the Achaeans

A vessel of the Trypillian culture. V-III thousand BC.

A vessel of the Trypillian culture. V-III thousand BC.

The creators of the Mycenaean culture were the Achaean Greeks, who invaded the Balkan Peninsula at the turn of the III-II millennium BC, apparently from the north, from the area of the Danube lowland, where they originally lived. Moving further south, the Achaeans partly destroyed and partly assimilated the indigenous pre-Greek population of these areas, which later Greek historians call Pelasgians. The Pelasgians were most likely a people related to the Minoans, and like them were part of the Aegean language family.

The Achaeans considered the Pelasgians and other ancient inhabitants of the country barbarians, although in reality their culture was not only not inferior to the culture of the Greeks themselves, but originally in many ways superior to it. This is evidenced by the archaeological sites of the so-called Early Helladic era (the second half of the third millennium BC), discovered in different places on the territory of the Peloponnese, Central and Northern Greece. Modern scholars usually associate them with the pre-Greek population of these areas.

Vessel of the Neolithic Dimini culture 5000-4400 BC.

Vessel of the Neolithic Dimini culture 5000-4400 BC.

At the beginning of the third millennium BC (the period of the Chalcolithic or the transition from stone to metal — copper and bronze), the culture of mainland Greece was still closely related to the early agricultural cultures that existed on the territory of modern Bulgaria and Romania, as well as in the Southern Dnieper region (the zone of the “Tripoli culture”). Common to all this vast region were some of the motifs used in the painting of pottery, for example, the motifs of the spiral and the so-called “meander”. From the coastal areas of Balkan Greece, these types of ornaments also spread to the islands of the Aegean Sea, were adopted by Cycladic and Cretan art. With the onset of the Early Bronze Age (about the middle of the third millennium BC), the culture of Greece begins to significantly outstrip other cultures of South-Eastern Europe in its development.

Early Helladic settlements

Among the settlements of the Early Helladic era, the citadel at Lerna (on the southern coast of Argolis) stands out. The citadel, located on a low hill near the sea, was surrounded by a massive defensive wall with semicircular towers. In its central part, a large (25×12 m2) rectangular building was discovered — the so-called house of tiles (fragments of tiles that once covered the roof of the building were found in large quantities during excavations). The house dates from the Early Helladic period II (2500-2300 BC)

Lerna settlement. "Central Courtyard".

Lerna settlement. “Central Courtyard”.

In one of the rooms, the archaeologists have collected a whole collection (more than 150) stamped on clay prints of seals. Once upon a time, these clay “labels” were used to seal vessels with wine, oil and other supplies. This interesting discovery suggests that Lerna was an administrative and economic center, partly already anticipating in its nature and purpose the later palaces of Mycenaean time. Similar centers existed in some other places.

Along with the citadels in which the representatives of the tribal nobility lived, in Greece of the Early Helladic era there were also settlements of another type: small, often very densely built-up settlements with narrow passages-streets between rows of houses. Some of these settlements, especially those located near the sea, were fortified, while others were built more openly, without any defensive structures.

Examples of such settlements are Rafina (east coast of Attica) and Zigouries (Northeastern Peloponnese, near Corinth). Judging by the nature of the archaeological finds, the bulk of the population in the settlements of this type were farmers. In many houses, special pits were opened for filling grain, smeared with clay from the inside, as well as large clay vessels for storing various supplies. At this time, a specialized craft was already emerging in Greece, represented mainly by such branches as pottery and metalworking. Thus, during the excavation of Rafina, the premises of a small blacksmith shop were discovered, the owner of which, apparently, supplied tools to local farmers.

Plan and reconstruction of the "house with tiles".

Plan and reconstruction of the “house with tiles”.

The available archaeological data suggest that in the Early Helladic period, at least from the second half of the third millennium BC, the process of formation of classes and the state had already begun in Greece. Especially important is the fact that there are two different types of settlements:

  • a citadel like Lerna and
  • a community settlement (village) such as Rafina or Ziguriesa.

However, the Early Helladic culture did not have time to become a real civilization. Its development was forcibly interrupted as a result of another movement of tribes on the territory of Balkan Greece.

The arrival of the Achaean Greeks and the formation of the first states

Invasion of the tribes from the north

A Minian monochrome amphora from Mycenae. 1700-1600 BC.

A Minian monochrome amphora from Mycenae. 1700-1600 BC.

With a large degree of approximation, this movement dates back to the last centuries of the third millennium BC or the end of the Early Bronze Age. Around 2200 BC, the citadel of Lerna and some other settlements of the Early Helladic period were destroyed by fire. After some time, a number of new settlements appear in places where they did not exist before. In the same period, there are certain changes in the material culture of central Greece and the Peloponnese. For the first time, ceramics made with the help of a potter’s wheel appear. Its examples are the so — called Mini vases-monochrome (usually gray or black) carefully polished vessels that resemble metal products with their shiny, matte surface.

In some places, the bones of a horse, previously apparently unknown within the southern part of the Balkan Peninsula, were found during excavations. Many historians and archaeologists attribute all these changes in the life of mainland Greece to the arrival of the first wave of Greek-speaking tribes, or Achaeans.

Thus, the turn of the III-II millennium BC can be considered the beginning of a new stage in the history of Ancient Greece — the stage of the formation of the Greek nation. The basis of this long process was the interaction and gradual fusion of the two cultures:

  • the cultures of the alien Achaean tribes, who spoke various dialects of Greek or, rather, proto-Greek,
  • the culture of the local pre-Greek population.

A significant part of it was apparently assimilated by the newcomers, as evidenced by numerous words borrowed by the Greeks from their predecessors-Pelasgians or Lelegs, for example, the names of a number of plants: cypress, hyacinth, narcissus, etc.

The formation of a class society in mainland Greece was a complex and controversial process. In the first centuries of the second millennium BC, there was a clear slowdown in the pace of socio-economic and cultural development. Despite the appearance of such important technical and economic innovations as a potter’s wheel and a cart or a war chariot with horses harnessed to it, the culture of the so-called Middle Helladic period (XX-XVII centuries BC) as a whole is noticeably inferior to the culture of the Early Helladic era that preceded it.

In the settlements and burials of this time, metal products are relatively rare. On the other hand, tools made of stone and bone appear again, which indicates a certain decline in the productive forces of Greek society.

Settlements of the Achaean Greeks

The ruins of Malti Dorion in Messenia.

The ruins of Malti Dorion in Messenia.

Monumental architectural structures like the already mentioned “house of tiles” in Lerna are disappearing. Instead, nondescript adobe houses are built, sometimes rectangular, sometimes oval or apsidal (rounded at the end). Settlements of the Middle Helladic period, as a rule, are fortified and located on high ground with steep steep slopes. Apparently, this time was extremely restless and anxious, which forced individual communities to take measures to ensure their safety.

A typical example of a Middle Helladic settlement can be considered the settlement of Malti Dorion in Messenia. The entire settlement was located on the top of a high hill, surrounded by a circular defensive wall with five passageways. In the center of the settlement on a low terrace stood the so — called palace (probably the house of the tribal leader)-a complex of five rooms with a total area of 130 m2 with a stone hearth-altar in the largest of the rooms. Close to the “palace” adjoined the premises of several craft workshops. The rest of the settlement consisted of the houses of ordinary community members, usually very small, and warehouses built in one or two rows along the defensive wall.

Excavations of Malti-Dorion in 2015 by a Swedish expedition.

Excavations of Malti-Dorion in 2015 by a Swedish expedition.

The very layout of Malti, the monotony of its residential development, testify to the still undifferentiated internal unity of the tribal community that lived here. The absence of clearly expressed social and property differences in the Achaean society of the Middle Helladic period is also indicated by the burials of this period, which are overwhelmingly standard, with very modest accompanying inventory.

The beginning of the stratification of ancient Greek society

It was only at the end of the Middle Helladic period that the situation in Balkan Greece began to gradually change. A period of prolonged stagnation and decline was replaced by a period of new economic and cultural upsurge. The class-building process, which was interrupted at the very beginning, resumed. Within the Achaean tribal communities, aristocratic families are distinguished, having settled in impregnable citadels and thus sharply separated from the mass of ordinary tribesmen.

In the hands of the tribal nobility, great wealth is concentrated, partly created by the labor of local peasants and artisans, partly captured during military raids on the lands of neighbors. In various areas of the Peloponnese, Middle and Northern Greece, the first and still quite primitive state formations are emerging. Thus, there were prerequisites for the formation of another civilization of the Bronze Age, and starting from the XVI century BC. e. Greece entered a new or, as it is usually called, Mycenaean period of its history.

Formation of the Mycenaean civilization

The formation of civilization and the influence of cultures

In the early stages of its development, the Mycenaean culture was strongly influenced by the more advanced Minoan civilization. The Achaeans borrowed many important elements of their culture from Crete. The most important among them are —

  • some cults and religious rites,
  • murals in palaces, water
  • supply and sewerage,
  • styles of men’s and women’s clothing,
  • some types of weapons,
  • linear syllabic writing.

All this does not mean, however, that the Mycenaean culture was just a secondary peripheral version of the culture of Minoan Crete, and the Mycenaean settlements in the Peloponnese and elsewhere were simply Minoan colonies in a foreign “barbarian” country (this opinion was stubbornly held by A. Evans). Many characteristic features of the Mycenaean culture suggest that it originated on Greek soil and was successively associated with the oldest cultures of this area, dating back to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

Early monuments of Mycenaean culture of the XVI century BC.

The Lion Gate of Mycenae.

The Lion Gate of Mycenae.

Grave graves in Mycenae (XVI century BC) are considered to be the earliest monument of Mycenaean culture. The first six graves of this type were discovered in 1876 by G. Schliemann in the Mycenaean Citadel. For more than three millennia, the mine graves have held a truly fabulous wealth. Archaeologists have extracted from them many precious things made of gold, silver, ivory and other materials. Here were found massive gold rings, decorated with carvings, diadems, earrings, bracelets, gold and silver dishes, beautifully decorated weapons, including swords, daggers, armor made of gold leaf, and finally, completely unique gold masks that hid the faces of the buried.

Homer in the Iliad called Mycenae “gold-rich”, and recognized the Mycenaean king Agamemnon as the most powerful of all the Achaean leaders who took part in the famous Trojan War. The findings of Schliemann gave visible evidence of the validity of the words of the great poet, which many had previously treated with distrust. The vast wealth discovered in the graves of this necropolis shows that even at that remote time Mycenae was the center of a large state.

Daggers with hunting scenes from the tombs of Mycenae.

Daggers with hunting scenes from the tombs of Mycenae.

Buried in these magnificent tombs, the Mycenaean kings were a warlike and ferocious people, greedy for other people’s wealth. For the sake of plunder, they took long trips by land and by sea and returned to their homeland, burdened with loot. It is unlikely that the gold and silver that accompanied the royal dead to the afterlife fell into their hands by peaceful exchange. It is much more likely that it was captured in the war. The warlike tendencies of the rulers of Mycenae are evidenced by —

  • first, the exceptional abundance of weapons in their tombs,
  • grave graves were decorated with images of bloody scenes of war and hunting, which were used to decorate some of the items found in the graves, and
  • stone steles that stood on the graves themselves.

Especially interesting is the lion-hunting scene depicted on one of the bronze inlaid daggers. All the signs: exceptional dynamism, expression, precision of drawing and extraordinary thoroughness of execution — indicate that we are looking at the work of the best Minoan masters of jewelry. This remarkable work of art was most likely made in Mycenae by a Cretan goldsmith, who was obviously trying to adapt to the tastes of his new owners (in Minoan art of Crete, subjects of this kind are almost not found).

The rise of Mycenaean civilization

3D reconstruction of Mycenae.

3D reconstruction of Mycenae.

The heyday of the Mycenaean civilization can be considered the XV-XIII centuries BC. e. At this time, the zone of its spread goes far beyond the Argolis, where, apparently, it originally arose and developed, covering the entire Peloponnese, Central Greece (Attica, Boeotia, Phocis), a significant part of the North (Thessaly), as well as many of the islands of the Aegean Sea. Throughout this large area, there was a uniform culture, represented by little varying from place to place types of dwellings and burials. Common to the whole area were also some types of ceramics, clay cult figurines, ivory products, etc. Judging by the materials of the excavations, Mycenaean Greece was a rich country with a large population scattered in many small towns and villages. Mycenaean Greece did not know cities in the proper sense of the word as economic and political centers opposing the countryside, any more than Minoan Crete did.

The main centers of Mycenaean culture were, as in Crete, palaces. The most significant of them are open

  • in Mycenae and Tiryns (Argolis),
  • In Pylos (Messenia, Southwestern Peloponnese),in Ath
  • ens (Attica),
  • in Thebes and Orchomenos (Boeotia),
  • in northern Greece in Iolca (Thessaly).

Features of the architecture of the Mycenaean civilization in the XV-XIII centuries BC.
The architecture of the Mycenaean palaces has a number of features that distinguish them from the palaces of Minoan Crete. The most important of these differences is that almost all the Mycenaean palaces were fortified and were real citadels. The powerful walls of the Mycenaean citadels, built of huge almost untreated blocks of stone, testify to the high engineering skill of the Achaean architects.

The ruins of the mighty Tiryns.

The ruins of the mighty Tiryns.

A great example of Mycenaean fortifications is the famous Tiryns Citadel. First of all, the monumental size of this structure is striking. Huge untreated blocks of limestone, reaching in some cases a weight of 12 tons, form the outer walls of the fortress, the thickness of which exceeded 4.5 m, while the height only in the preserved part reached 7.5 m. In some places, vaulted galleries with casemates were arranged inside the walls, in which weapons and food supplies were stored (the thickness of the walls here reaches 17 m). The entire system of defensive structures of the Tiryns citadel was carefully thought out and guaranteed the defenders of the fortress from any unforeseen accidents. The approach to the main gate of the citadel was arranged in such a way that the enemy approaching them was forced to turn to the wall on which the defenders of the fortress were located, with their right side not covered by a shield. In order to prevent the besieged inhabitants of the citadel from suffering from a lack of water, an underground passage was built in the northern part of the citadel (the so-called lower city), ending about 20 m from the walls of the fortress at a source carefully hidden from the enemy’s eyes.

Pylos Palace

The remains of the palace in Pylos, in the center is the megaron. Now a roof is installed over it. Ca. 1700-1200 BC.

The remains of the palace in Pylos, in the center is the megaron. Now a roof is installed over it. Ca. 1700-1200 BC.

Among the actual palace buildings of Mycenaean time, the most interesting is the well-preserved palace of Nestor in Pylos (Western Messenia, near the Bay of Navarino), discovered in 1939 by the American archaeologist C. Bledgen. With a certain similarity to the palaces of Minoan Crete (it is manifested mainly in the elements of the interior decoration – thickening columns of the Cretan type, in the painting of the walls, etc.), the Pylos Palace is sharply distinguished from them by its clear symmetrical layout, which is completely not characteristic of Minoan architecture.

The main rooms of the palace are located on the same axis and form a closed rectangular complex. The vast hall with its megaron formed an integral and most important part of any Mycenaean palace. In the center of the megaron was a large circular hearth, the smoke from which came out through a hole in the ceiling. Around the hearth stood four wooden pillars that supported the ceiling of the hall. The walls of the megaron were painted with frescoes. In one corner of the hall there is a large fragment of a painting depicting a man playing the lyre. The floor of the megaron was decorated with colorful geometric patterns, and in one place, approximately where the royal throne should have been, a large octopus was depicted.

The Megaron was the heart of the palace: here the king of Pylos feasted with his nobles and guests, here official receptions and audiences were held. Outside, two long corridors flanked the megaron. They opened the doors of numerous storerooms, in which several thousand vessels were found for storing and transporting oil and other products. Judging by these findings, the Palace of Pylos was a major exporter of olive oil, which was already very highly valued in the neighboring countries of Greece at that time. Like the Cretan palaces, Nestor’s Palace was built with the basic requirements of comfort and hygiene in mind.

The building had specially equipped bathrooms, running water and sewage drains. But the most interesting discovery was made in a small room near the main entrance. Here was kept the palace archive, which consisted of about a thousand clay tablets inscribed with signs of a linear syllabic script, very similar to that used in the documents already mentioned from the Palace of Knossos. The tablets are well preserved due to the fact that they were caught in the fire that burned down the palace. It was the first archive found in mainland Greece.


The entrance to the tomb of Atreus.

The entrance to the tomb of Atreus.

Among the most interesting architectural monuments of the Mycenaean era are the majestic royal tombs, called tolos or domed tombs. Tolos are usually located near palaces and citadels, being, apparently, the place of the last resting place of members of the reigning dynasty, as in earlier times, mine graves. The largest of the Mycenaean tolos-the so-called tomb of Atreus-is located in Mycenae.

The tomb itself is open inside an artificial mound. The inner chamber of the tomb of Atreus is a monumental circular room with a high (about 13.5 m) domed vault. The walls and vault of the tomb are made of beautifully hewn stone slabs and were originally decorated with bronze gilded rosettes. Connected to the main chamber is another side chamber of somewhat smaller dimensions, rectangular in plan and not so well finished. In all probability, it was here that the royal burial, looted in ancient times, was placed.

Socio-economic structure of Mycenaean societies

The construction of such grandiose structures as the tomb of Atreus or the citadel of Tiryns was impossible without extensive and systematic use of forced labor. In order to cope with such a task, it was necessary, first, to have a large mass of cheap labor, and secondly, a sufficiently developed state apparatus capable of organizing and directing this force to fulfill the set goal. Obviously, the lords of Mycenae and Tiryns had both equally at their disposal.

Until recently, the internal structure of the Achaean states of the Peloponnese remained a mystery to scientists, as they could only rely on archaeological material obtained through excavations to solve this problem. After M. Ventris and J. Chadwick was able to find the key to understanding the signs of linear syllabic writing on tablets from Knossos and Pylos, and historians have another important source of information.

Linear letter B. The tablet was found by Evans in the Palace of Knossos. Ca. 1450-1375 BC.

Linear letter B. The tablet was found by Evans in the Palace of Knossos. Ca. 1450-1375 BC.

As it turned out, almost all of these tablets are “accounting” accounting records, which from year to year were kept in the economy of the Pylos and Knossos palaces. These concise records contain the most valuable historical information, allowing you to judge the economy of the palace states of the Mycenaean era, their social and political structure. From the tablets we learn, for example, that at this time in Greece there was already slavery and slave labor was widely used in various sectors of the economy.

Formerly slavery

Among the documents of the Pylos archive, a lot of space is occupied by information (lists) about the slaves employed in the palace economy. Each such list specifies,

  • how many are employed in agriculture to women slaves,
  • what they do (mentioned modelsize of grain, spinners, sewers, and even room attendant assistance),
  • what if their children: girls and boys (obviously it was the children of slaves were born in captivity),
  • what rations they get

the place where they work (it could be the Pylos or one of the towns in the territory under his control).
The number of individual groups could be significant — up to more than a hundred people. The total number of female slaves and children, known from the inscriptions of the Pylos archive, was supposed to be about 1,500.

A mural depicting a female figure. Acropolis of Mycenae. XIII century BC.

A mural depicting a female figure. Acropolis of Mycenae. XIII century BC.

Along with detachments consisting only of women and children, the inscriptions also include detachments consisting only of male slaves, although they are relatively rare and are usually small in number — no more than ten people each. Obviously, there were more female slaves in general, which means that slavery at that time was still at a relatively low stage of development and the slave-owning mode of production had not yet had time to develop into a comprehensive economic system.

Along with ordinary slaves, the Pylos inscriptions mention the so-called “God’s slaves and female slaves”. They usually rent land in small plots from the community (damosa) or private individuals, from which it can be concluded that they did not have their own land and, therefore, they were not considered full members of the community, although they were not, apparently, slaves in the proper sense of the word. The very term “god’s slave” probably means that representatives of this social stratum were in service at the temples of the main gods of the Pylos kingdom and therefore enjoyed the patronage of the temple administration.

The layer of the free population — peasants and artisans

The bulk of the working population in the Mycenaean states, as in Crete, were free, or rather semi-free, peasants and artisans. Formally, they were not considered slaves, but their freedom was very relative, since they were all economically dependent on the palace and were subject to various duties in its favor, both labor and natural.

Two warriors on a chariot, wearing helmets made of boar's tusks. A fresco from Pylos. Ca. 1350 BC

Two warriors on a chariot, wearing helmets made of boar’s tusks. A fresco from Pylos. Ca. 1350 BC

Individual districts and towns of the kingdom of Pylos were obliged to provide a certain number of artisans and workers of various professions at the disposal of the palace. The inscriptions mention masons, tailors, potters, gunsmiths, goldsmiths, even perfumers and doctors. For their work, the artisans received payment in kind from the palace treasury, like officials in the civil service. Failure to show up for work was recorded in special documents.

Among the artisans who worked for the palace, a special position was occupied by blacksmiths. They usually received the so-called talasia from the palace, i.e. a task or lesson (the inscriptions specifically note how many blacksmiths in each individual area have already received talasia, and how many are left without it). A special official, who was obliged to observe the work of the blacksmith, handed him a bronze according to the exact weight, and at the end of the work took from him the products made of this bronze.

Very little is known about the social status of blacksmiths and the artisans of other professions who appear in the tablets. Probably, some of them were considered “people of the palace” and were in permanent service either in the palace itself or in one of the associated shrines. Thus, some of the Pylos tablets mention the “blacksmiths of the lady” (“lady” is a common epithet of the supreme goddess of the Pylos pantheon). Another category of artisans, apparently, were free communists, for whom working for the palace was only a temporary duty. Artisans who were involved in public service were not deprived of their personal freedom. They could own land and even slaves.

Land ownership system

Documents from the Pylos Palace archive also contain important information about the land ownership system. The analysis of the texts of the tablets allows us to conclude that the entire land in the Pylos kingdom was divided into two main categories:

  1. palace land, or state land, and
  2. land that belonged to individual territorial communities.
Terracotta figurines of women. They are also called psi-figurines, for the raised arms in the shape of a Greek letter. Ca 1400-1300 BC

Terracotta figurines of women. They are also called psi-figurines, for the raised arms in the shape of a Greek letter. Ca 1400-1300 BC

State land, with the exception of that part of it that was under the direct control of the palace administration, was distributed on the rights of conditional holding, i.e., subject to the performance of a particular service in favor of the palace, among the dignitaries from among the military and priestly nobility. In turn, these holders could lease the land received in small plots to some other persons, for example, the “servants of God”already mentioned.

The territorial (rural) community, or damos, as it is usually called in the tablets, also used the land that belonged to it in much the same way. The main part of the communal land was obviously divided into allotments with approximately the same yield. These allotments were distributed within the community itself among its constituent families. The land remaining after the partition was again leased. The palace scribes were equally assiduous in registering in their tablets the plots of both categories. It follows that the communal lands, as well as the lands that belonged directly to the palace, were under the control of the palace administration and were exploited by it in the interests of a centralized state economy.

The system of the economy of the Eastern type

In the documents of the Knossos and Pylos archives, the palace economy of the Mycenaean era appears before us as a powerful, widely branched economic system, covering almost all the main branches of production. Private economy, although it seems to have already existed in the Mycenaean states, was in fiscal (tax) dependence on the “public sector” and played only a subordinate, secondary role under it.

Mycenaean swords and goblets. Museum in Mycenae, Greece.

Mycenaean swords and goblets. Museum in Mycenae, Greece.

The state monopolized the most important branches of handicraft production, such as blacksmithing, and established strict control over the distribution and consumption of scarce raw materials, primarily metal. Not a single kilogram of bronze, not a single spearhead or arrow could escape the watchful eyes of the palace bureaucracy. All the metal that was at the disposal of both the state and private individuals was carefully weighed, taken into account and recorded by the scribes of the palace archive on clay tablets.

Centralized palace or temple economy is typical of the oldest class societies that existed in the Mediterranean and the Middle East during the Bronze Age. We encounter various variants of this economic system in the III-II millennium BC in the temple cities of Sumer and Syria, in dynastic Egypt, in the Hittite kingdom and the palaces of Minoan Crete. A number of data suggest that the states of Achaean Greece developed a type of economy, to some extent close to the economic system of the East.

Organization of public administration

Based on the principles of the strictest accounting and control, the palace economy needed a developed bureaucratic apparatus for its normal functioning. The documents of the Pylos and Knossos archives show this apparatus in action, although many details of its organization remain unclear due to the extreme laconism of the texts of the tablets.

Treasures from Tomb A, Mycenae. 1600-1100 BC.

Treasures from Tomb A, Mycenae. 1600-1100 BC.

In addition to the staff of scribes who served directly in the palace office and archive, the tablets mention numerous officials of the fiscal department who were responsible for collecting taxes and overseeing the performance of various duties. So, from the documents of the Pylos archive, we learn that the entire territory of the Pylos kingdom was divided into 16 tax districts, headed by governors-coreteri. Each of them was responsible for the regular receipt of taxes from the district entrusted to him to the palace treasury (the taxes included primarily metal: gold and bronze, as well as various types of agricultural products).

Coreter was subordinate to the lower-ranking officials who managed the individual settlements that were part of the district. In the tablets they are called basileia. The Basileis supervised production, such as the work of blacksmiths in the civil service. The Coreteri and Basilei themselves were under the vigilant control of the central government. The palace constantly reminded the local administration of itself, sending messengers and couriers, inspectors and auditors in all directions.

Who was it that set all this complex machinery in motion and directed its work? The tablets of the Mycenaean archives provide an answer to this question. At the head of the palace state was a man called “vanaka”, which corresponds to the Greek “(in)anakt”, i.e. “lord”, “lord”, “king”. Unfortunately, the inscriptions say nothing about the political functions and rights of the Vanakta. We cannot, therefore, judge with certainty of the nature of his power. It is clear, however, that among the ruling nobility, Vanakt occupied a special privileged position. The land allotment of temen belonging to the tsar (mentioned in one of the documents of the Pylos archive) was three times higher than the land allotments of other senior officials: its yield is determined by the figure of 1800 measures.

Marching soldiers. Ceramic crater. Found in Mycenae. Ca. 1300-1100 BC.

Marching soldiers. Ceramic crater. Found in Mycenae. Ca. 1300-1100 BC.

At the disposal of the king was a large household. The tablets mention “the royal potter”, “the royal cloth maker”, “the royal armorer”.

Among the officials of the highest rank subordinate to the king of Pylos, one of the most prominent places was occupied by lavaget, i.e., a voivode or military commander. As his title itself shows, his duties included commanding the armed forces of the Kingdom of Pylos.

In addition to vanakt and lavaget, other officials are mentioned in the inscriptions, designated by the terms “telest”, “eket”, “damat”, etc. The exact meaning of these terms remains unknown. However, it seems quite likely that this circle of high nobles, closely associated with the palace and forming the inner circle of the Pylos vanakt, included,

  1. first, the priests of the main temples of the state (the priesthood in general enjoyed a very large influence in Pylos, as in Crete), and
  2. secondly, the highest military ranks, first of all, the leaders of the war chariot detachments, which at that time were the main striking force on the battlefields.

Thus, the Pylos society was a kind of pyramid, built on a strictly hierarchical principle. The top step in this hierarchy of estates was occupied by the military-priestly nobility, headed by the king and the military commander, who concentrated in their hands the most important functions of both an economic and political nature. In direct subordination to the ruling elite of society were numerous officials who operated in the field and in the center and together formed a powerful apparatus of oppression and exploitation of the working population of the Pylos kingdom.

The peasants and artisans who formed the foundation of the whole pyramid did not take part in the government of the state. There is an opinion that the term “damos” (people) found in the tablets of the Pylos archive refers to a popular assembly representing the entire free population of the Pylos kingdom. More likely, however, is another interpretation of this term: damos is one of the territorial communities (districts) that make up the state (cf.the later Athenian demes).

Lower than them were the slaves employed in various jobs in the palace household.

Relations between the Achaean States and their rise

Relations of States within Greece

Bronze Mycenaean armor found in the Arboretum (Argolis). Ca. 1400 BC.

Bronze Mycenaean armor found in the Arboretum (Argolis). Ca. 1400 BC.

The deciphering of linear B could not solve all the problems of the socio-economic and political history of the Mycenaean era. Many important questions still remain unanswered. We do not know, for example, what relations existed between the individual palace states: they formed, as some scholars think, a single Achaean power under the auspices of the king of Mycenae — the most powerful of all the rulers of Greece at that time, or they led a completely separate and independent existence. The latter seems more likely.

It is probably no coincidence that almost every one of the Mycenaean palaces was surrounded by powerful defensive walls, which were supposed to reliably protect its inhabitants from the hostile outside world and, above all, from their nearest neighbors. The cyclopean walls of Mycenae and Tiryns bear witness to the almost continuous hostility between these two states, which shared the fertile Argos plain.

Greek myths tell of the bloody feuds of the Achaean lords, of the stubborn struggle for primacy waged between the rival dynasties of Central Greece and the Peloponnese. One of them tells, for example, that the seven kings of Argos marched on Thebes — the richest of the cities of Boeotia-and after a series of unsuccessful attempts and the death of some of them took and destroyed the city. Excavations have shown that the Mycenaean palace in Thebes was indeed burned and destroyed in the XIV century BC, long before the other palaces and citadels were destroyed.

The expansion of the Achaean states to the east

The strained relations that have existed between the Achaean states throughout most of their history, however, do not exclude the possibility that at certain moments they could unite for some joint military enterprises. An example of such an enterprise is the famous Trojan War, which is narrated by Homer. According to the Iliad, almost all the major regions of Achaean Greece took part in the campaign against Troy, from Thessaly in the north to Crete and Rhodes in the south. The leader of the entire army was chosen by the general consent of the participants of the campaign, the Mycenaean king Agamemnon.

It is possible that Homer exaggerated the true scale of the Achaean coalition and embellished the campaign itself. Nevertheless, the historical reality of this event is now almost no one doubts. The Trojan War was only one, though probably the most significant, manifestation of the Achaean military and colonization expansion in Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean. During the XIV-XIII centuries BC. Numerous Achaean settlements (they are indicated by large accumulations of typical Mycenaean pottery) appeared on the western and southern coasts of Asia Minor, the adjacent islands: Rhodes and Cyprus, and even on the Syro-Phoenician coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Everywhere in these places, the Mycenaean Greeks seize the trade initiative from the hands of their Minoan predecessors.

Vases from the Mycenaean cemetery in Argos, from Grave No.2. Ca. XV century BC.

Vases from the Mycenaean cemetery in Argos, from Grave No.2. Ca. XV century BC.

The reasons for the special interest of the Mycenaean states in trade with the population of Cyprus, Syria and Asia Minor can be understood by an interesting find made under water at Cape Helidonius (the southern coast of Turkey). Here were found the remains of an ancient ship with a large cargo of bronze ingots, apparently intended for one of the Achaean palaces of the Peloponnese or Middle Greece. An equally sensational discovery was made in 1964 in Greece itself during excavations at the site of the ancient Theban citadel of Cadmea. In one of the rooms of the palace that once stood here, archaeologists found 36 stone cylinders of Babylonian origin. On 14 of them, cuneiform seals were found with the name of one of the kings of the so — called “Kassite dynasty”, who ruled in Babylon in the XIV century BC.This find clearly shows that during this period, the rulers of Thebes — the largest Mycenaean center on the territory of Boeotia-maintained close relations not only trade, but, apparently, diplomatic with the kings of the distant Mesopotamian state.

Crete itself, as we have already said, was even earlier (in the XV century) colonized by the Achaeans and became the main springboard in their advance to the east and south. Successfully combining trade with piracy, the Achaeans soon became a highly visible political force in this area of the ancient world. In documents from the capital of the Hittite kingdom of Bogazkea, the state of Ahhiyava (probably one of the Achaean states in the western part of Asia Minor and on the adjacent islands) it is placed on a par with the strongest powers of that era: Egypt, Babylon, Assyria. These documents show that the rulers of Ahhiyawa maintained close diplomatic contacts with the Hittite kings.

As early as the turn of the XIII-XII centuries BC, groups of Achaean hunters, who came from Crete or the Peloponnese, took part in the raids of the coalition of the so-called “peoples of the sea” on Egypt. The Egyptian inscriptions relating these events mention, along with other tribes, the peoples of Achaivasha and Danauna, which may correspond to the Greek Achaivoi and Danaoi — the usual names of the Achaeans in Homer.

The colonial expansion of the Achaean states also covered part of the Western Mediterranean, mainly those areas that would be developed by the Greeks much later in the era of the Great Colonization. Excavations have shown that a Mycenaean settlement existed on the site of the later Greek city of Tarentum on the southern coast of Italy. Significant finds of Mycenaean pottery have been made on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples, on the east coast of Sicily, in the Lipari Islands, and even in Malta.

The fall of the Mycenaean civilization

At the time when Egypt was repelling the onslaught of the “peoples of the sea” from its borders, clouds were already gathering over Achaean Greece itself. The last decades of the XIII century BC were a time of extreme anxiety and unrest. In Mycenae, Tiryns, Athens and other places, old fortifications are being hastily restored and new ones are being built. A massive cyclopean wall is being erected on the Isthmus (the narrow isthmus that connects Central Greece with the Peloponnese), clearly designed to protect the Mycenaean states in the south of the Balkan Peninsula from some danger coming from the north.

The so-called "Tarzan mural", depicting the reflection of the barbarian attack. Pylos Palace. XIII centuries BC.

The so-called “Tarzan mural”, depicting the reflection of the barbarian attack. Pylos Palace. XIII centuries BC.

Among the frescoes of the Pylos Palace, one created shortly before the death of the palace attracts attention. The artist depicted on it a bloody battle, in which, on the one hand, Achaean warriors in armor and characteristic horned helmets participate, on the other-some barbarians dressed in animal skins, with long flowing hair. These savages must have been the very people so feared and hated by the inhabitants of the Mycenaean strongholds, against whom they built more and more fortifications.

Archaeology shows that in the immediate vicinity of the main centers of Mycenaean civilization in the north and north-west of the Balkan Peninsula (the areas called in ancient times Macedonia and Epirus), there was a very different life, very far from the luxury and splendor of the Achaean palaces. It was inhabited by tribes that were at a low level of development and, obviously, had not yet left the stage of the tribal system. Their culture can be judged by the crude stucco pottery and primitive clay idols that make up the accompanying inventory of the vast majority of burials in these areas. It should be noted, however, that for all their backwardness, the tribes of Macedonia and Epirus were already familiar with the use of metal, and their weapons in purely technical terms, apparently, were not inferior to Mycenaean.

Tribal movement and formation of the Union of the ” peoples of the sea»

At the end of the XIII century BC, the tribal world of the entire Northern Balkan region, for some unknown reason, began to move. One of the results of this movement was the migration to Asia Minor of a large group of Phrygian-Thracian tribes that had previously lived in the northern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The formation of the already mentioned union of the “peoples of the sea”, under the blows of which the great Hittite kingdom fell at the beginning of the XII century, may also be connected with these events in the Balkans.

Gold earrings from Mycenae. Ca. XVI century BC. Stored in the Louvre, Paris, France.

Gold earrings from Mycenae. Ca. XVI century BC. Stored in the Louvre, Paris, France.

The vast mass of barbarian tribes, which included both peoples who spoke various dialects of Greek (this includes Dorian and the Western Greek dialects close to it), and, apparently, peoples of non-Greek, Thracian-Illyrian origin, left their homes and rushed south to the rich and prosperous regions of Central Greece and the Peloponnese. The route of the invasion is marked by traces of ruins and fires. On their way, the aliens captured and destroyed many Mycenaean settlements. The Pylos Palace was destroyed in a fire. The very place where he stood was forgotten. Some modern scholars believe that in the first invasion, which ended with the fall of Pylos, the Dorians did not participate at all. They came later (already in the XII or even XI century), when the resistance of the Mycenaean Greeks was finally broken.

The strongholds of Mycenae and Tiryns were seriously damaged, though apparently not captured. The economy of the Mycenaean states was irreparably damaged. This is evidenced by the rapid decline of handicrafts and trade in the areas most affected by the invasion, as well as a sharp decline in the population. Thus, at the turn of the XIII-XII centuries BC, the Mycenaean civilization suffered a terrible blow, after which it could not recover.

Causes of the decline of civilization

Naturally, the question arises as to why the rather advanced Mycenaean civilization, which existed within the framework of an early class society for several centuries, fell. Why did the Achaean states, which had a well-organized military machine, significant economic resources, high culture and trained personnel of the administrative apparatus, fail to resist the scattered hordes of conquerors who did not leave the framework of the primitive tribal system. There are several reasons for the decline of the Mycenaean civilization.

First of all, we should note the internal weakness of early class relations in Greece in the second millennium BC as a whole. The early class relations, which presuppose the functioning of more complex than the primitive relations of domination and subordination, social differentiation and the separation of various social strata, did not penetrate deeply into the thickness of popular life, did not permeate the social structure from top to bottom.

Galleries-passageways in Tiryns.

Galleries-passageways in Tiryns.

If the inhabitants of the Mycenaean palace cities were divided into several social strata and class groups, ranging from disenfranchised slaves to court nobles living in conditions of palace luxury, then the bulk of the population was tribal communities and engaged in primitive agriculture. These tribal communities maintained their collectivist structure and were poorly affected by social and property differentiation, although they were exploited by the inhabitants of Mycenaean palaces.

This dualism of Mycenaean societies is evidence of the fragility of class relations in general, which could be relatively easily destroyed by external conquest. Moreover, the inhabitants of the ancestral settlements sought to destroy the Mycenaean palaces — isolated centers of high culture, acting mainly as centers of consumption and taking a weak part in the overall organization of production.

One of the important reasons for the fall of the Achaean states was the depletion of internal resources, the waste of huge material and human reserves as a result of the long-term Trojan War and bloody internecine strife between individual Achaean kingdoms and within the ruling dynasties. With a low level of production and a small amount of surplus product extracted from the ancestral communities, all funds were spent on the maintenance of the court aristocracy, a solid bureaucratic apparatus, and a military organization. Under these conditions, additional spending on ruinous wars (including the Trojan War) could not but lead to an overstrain of the internal potential and its depletion.

The Achaean civilization, with its glittering facade, was an inherently fragile society. It did not so much increase social production in its development, as it squandered the available resources, eroded the foundations of its well-being and power. During the large movements of tribes in the Balkans and Asia Minor (including the Dorian tribes) that began at the turn of the XIII-XII centuries BC, the Mycenaean states, weakened by a complex of internal deep contradictions, could not withstand the onslaught of warlike tribes. The rapid disintegration of the major Mycenaean states that followed the tribal movements is due not so much to the strength of the northern barbarians as to the fragility of their internal structure, which was based, as we have seen, on the systematic exploitation of the rural population by a small, self-contained palace elite and its bureaucracy. It was enough to destroy the ruling elite of the palace states, so that the whole complex structure fell apart like a house of cards.

The destruction of the Mycenaean civilization and the fate of the population

The further course of events is largely unclear: the archaeological material at our disposal is too scarce. The main part of the barbarian tribes that took part in the invasion, apparently, did not hold on to the territory they captured (the devastated country could not feed such a mass of people) and retreated to the north-to their original positions. Only small tribal groups of Dorians and related West Greek peoples settled in the coastal areas of the Peloponnese (Argolis, the area near Isthmus, Achaia, Elida, Laconia and Messenia). Separate islands of Mycenaean culture continued to exist mixed with newly founded alien settlements until the end of the XII century. Apparently, at this time, the last of the survivors of the catastrophe of the end of the XIII century. Achaean citadels fell into final decline and were forever abandoned by their inhabitants.

Two women in a chariot. A mural from Tiryns. Ca. 1200 BC

Two women in a chariot. A mural from Tiryns. Ca. 1200 BC

In the same period, there is a mass emigration from the territory of Balkan Greece to the East — to Asia Minor and to the nearby islands. On the one hand, the surviving remnants of the Achaean population of the Peloponnese, Middle and Northern Greece, who are now called Ionians and Aeolians, took part in the colonization movement, on the other — the Dorian new settlers. The result of this movement was the formation on the western coast of Asia Minor and on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, etc. many new settlements, among which the largest were

  • The Ionian cities of Miletus, Ephesus, and Colophon;
  • Aeolian Smyrna;
  • Dorian Halicarnassus.

Here, in the Ionian and Aeolian colonies, several centuries later, a new version of Greek culture developed, sharply different from the Mycenaean civilization that preceded it, although it incorporated some of its main elements.

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