The World of the Ancient Greeks - Culture

Mycenaean Greece: History | Culture | Warfare


Mycenaean society appears to have been divided into two groups of free men: the king's entourage, who conducted administrative duties at the palace, and the people, da-mo (demos), who lived at the commune level; these last were watched over by royal agents and were obliged to perform duties for and pay taxes to the palace.

Among those who evolved in the palace setting could be found well-to-do high officials who probably lived in the vast residences found in proximity to Mycenaean palaces, but also others, tied by their work to the palace and not necessarily better off than the members of the da-mo: craftsmen, farmers, and perhaps merchants, to name a few. On a lower rung of the social ladder were found the slaves, do-e-ro (masculine) and do-e-ra (feminine) (cf. δούλος / doúlos). These are recorded in the texts as working either for the palace or for specific deities.

Mycenaean contacts

By the close of the Bronze Age (up to Late Helladic IIIC) contacts between the Aegean and its neighbours were well established. The circulation of goods and produce between centres are attested in Linear B records, though evidence of direct exchange is not. Evidence of Mycenaean cultural contacts with other societies of the era are demonstrated by the recovery of fresco fragments and relief painting at Avaris in the Nile Delta, whilst, at the settlement of Milawatta (modern Miletus), high-quality Palace style and Mycenaean ceramics have been recovered.



The religious element is difficult to identify in Mycenaean civilization, especially as regards archaeological sites, where it remains problematic to pick out a place of worship with certainty. John Chadwick points out that at least six centuries lie between the earliest settling of proto-Greek speakers in Hellas and the earliest Linear B inscriptions, during which concepts and practices will have fused with indigenous beliefs, and— if cultural influences in material culture reflect influences in religious beliefs— with Minoan religion. As for these texts, the few lists of offerings that give names of gods as recipients of goods reveal nothing about religious practices, and there is no surviving literature. John Chadwick rejected a confusion of Minoan and Mycenaean religion derived from archaeological correlations and cautioned against "the attempt to uncover the prehistory of classical Greek religion by conjecturing its origins and guessing the meaning of its myths" above all through treacherous etymologies. Moses I. Finley detected very few authentic Mycenaean reflections in the eighth-century Homeric world, in spite of its "Mycenaean" setting.

The Mycenaean pantheon already included numerous divinities that can be found in Classical Greece. Poseidon seems to have occupied a place of privilege, notably in the texts of Knossos. He was probably at this period a chthonic deity, connected with earthquakes. Also to be found are a collection of "Ladies" like the Lady of the Labyrinth at Knossos in Crete, who calls to mind the myth of the Minoan labyrinth, in keeping with the presence of a figure named Daedalus. There is also a "Sea Goddess" named Diwia. Other divinities who can be found in later periods have been identified, such as the couple Zeus–Hera, Ares, Hermes, Athena, Artemis, Dionysus and Erinya. Notably absent are Apollo, Aphrodite, Demeter (divinities of Eastern origin), Hephaestus, and Herakles.

Art and craftwork

Mycenaeans made a great deal of pottery. Archaeologists have found a great quantity of pottery from the Mycenaean age, of widely diverse styles—stirrup jars, pitchers, kraters, chalices sometimes called "champagne coupes" after their shape, etc. The vessels vary in size. Their conformations remained quite consistent throughout the Mycenaean period, up through LHIIIB, when production increased considerably, notably in Argolis whence came great numbers exported outside Greece. The products destined for export were generally more luxurious and featured heavily worked painted decorations incorporating mythic, warrior, or animal motifs. Another type of vessel, in metal (normally bronze), has been found in sizeable quantities at Mycenaean sites. The forms of these were rather tripods, basins, or lamps. A few examples of vessels in faiance and ivory are also known.


The Mycenaean period has not yielded sculpture of any great size. The statuary of the period consists for the most part of delicate terra cotta statuettes, found mostly at the Phylokopi site, but also at Mycenae, Tiryns, and Asine. The majority of these statuettes are anthropomorphic figurines (but there are also some zoomorphic), male and female. The anthropomorphic figurines can be subdivided into three groupes: The Tau-type: these figurines look like the Greek letter tau: they wear a great hat and hold their arms close to their body. The Psi-type: they look like the letter psi: they have outstretched arms, raised to the sky. The Phi-type: these look like the letter phi: their body's are significantly shorter and their arms give the figurine a slightly round shape. They are painted, monochrome or polychrome. Their purpose is uncertain, but it seems quite probable that they were votive objects, having been found in the context of what appear to have been places of worship.

The painting of the Mycenaean age was much influenced by that of the Minoan age. Several frescoes have been found in Mycenaean palaces. Various themes are represented: the hunt (tauromachy), battle, processions, mythological narrative. Other frescoes are made up of geometric motifs. Some pottery was also painted (see above) with identical themes.

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Source: Wikipedia

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