The History of Mycenae

mycenae tourThe myth of Perseus says that his grandfather, king Acritius, did not want any heirs. An oracle had told him that if he ever had a grandson, he would be assassinated by him. The king had only a daughter, the very pretty Danae, who he closed in a golden jail with a chaperone lady. One day, Zeus saw her, fell in love with her, transformed himself into a golden rain and dropped in her jail through the window railings. Once all drops went through, Zeus took the shape of a handsome, young man. Danae fell in love with him and they spent a few hours together.

After that, Zeus disappeared in the same way had appeared. After a while, she gave birth to a boy. One day, her father heard the crying of the baby and without asking her how and when, put them both in a boat and left them sail in the stormy sea. The waves pushed the boat towards the East. They reached Asia Minor, where Perseus (that was the name of the boy) grew up. There, he also met the Cyclops, who were huge creatures. with only one eye on their forehead. They were usually hired for heave labour. Perseus traveled along with them a lot. Once he reached Ethiopia, he freed princess Andromeda to whom he got married. The Greeks named after them the constellations Perseus and Andromeda. Those two traveled a lot and one day they reached Argos. On that day, the game of of lithobolism was organized, where one had to throw a stone as far as possible. He asked to participate and the city accepted, as they feared his companions, the Cyclops. In the meantime, his grandfather had gone away in the fields, in order to hide away. Perseus threw the stone so far, that not only he won, but also hit his grandfather at the forehead and killed him. This is the way he earned the kingdom. One day, he went hunting to the surrounding mountains. On the top of one of them, he saw mushrooms growing. He unrooted a few and saw water leaking on the ground. He understood that there was a spring underneath. Because of that he chose that location for his new palace, which the Cyclops built for him. The spring was named after him "the Perseus Spring". In the Greek language, mushroom is (mykitas), so we call the fortress Mycenae.

Heinrich Schliemann was a German businessman. His life - dream was to discover Troy and Mycenae. During his childhood, he slept with a copy of Homer's Iliad under his pillow. At 45 years of age, he liquidates all his fortune, divorces his German wife,who shared no passion for Archeology at all, gets married to Sophia Eggastromenos of his Greek friend and together they go to Turkey looking for Troy. There the river Scamander had advanced the land with its tilt for 8 kms. One morning, Schliemann got up on the Hisarlic hill and felt the nice breeze blowing on his face. He remembered a description in the Iliad, where Homer mentions the nice breeze and he starts the excavation there, with the help of local workers at his own expense. One day, Sophia Schliemann finds a pithos (big jar) with 20 kg of golden jewelery. It's the treasury of Helen of Troy, which today is in Russia. The Russian army took it there during the 2nd World war from the city of Berlin, where Schliemann had donated it. At first, Schliemann brings the treasure to Greece, gives it to the Greek government, Sophia wears a beautiful tiara and necklace and takes some pictures wearing them. The photos are front page the following day at Greek press. The Turkish government intervenes immediately with their ambassador in Athens. The treasure is "casus belli" (cause for war). The Greek government denies the treasure and so it ends up in Russia via Berlin.

Four years after the discovery of Troy, Schliemann comes to Mycenae. The name of the place is the same and the walls evident. Although he had discovered the treasury of Troy, the International archaeological community, still doubts the authenticity of the collection. He needs more proof. The city of Mycenae does not offer him the proof he needs. The Lion's Gate stands proud but speechless. The lions, a male and a female, protect the central column of the "megaron" (palace) and place their feet on 2 altars. Their heads are missing but they were there until Roman times in the 2nd century AD, when the Greek author Pausanias saw them and said that they were looking towards him, without mentioning though, what material they were made of. This sculpture is the 1st royal insignia in the European World. Right after the Lions' Gate is the royal grave circle A. Six shaft graves are surrounded by a double line of rectangular standing stones, covered by a horizontal one, which this way creates a strong fence around those graves.

Schliemann decides to dig there first, looking for the royal burials. At first he finds nothing because they are in quite a depth, so he quits. He wants to concentrate on where else to dig. One worker though, continues to dig within that fence and hits the roof of one of the shaft graves. He calls Schliemann from the village and in the candlelight continues to dig, until they discover the treasure. Schliemann writes in diary: "Today, I looked right in the eyes of king Agamemnon", referring to the golden portray mask. He discovers overall 6 shaft royal graves with 19 dead: 11 men , 6 women and two babies. They belong to the 1st dynasty of Perseus around 1600BC and not to times of Agamemnon. The treasure, 17kg of gold, is exhibited in the National Archaeological museum in Athens and is the 3rd most precious collection world-wide, after king Tutankhamen's collection in the Museum of Cairo and Helen's of Troy collection in the Pushkin Museum in Russia.
This 2nd discovery convinced the world of archeology for the authenticity of the treasures and the Mycenaean world was resurrected from the fog of the myth. The Mycenaean kings were real and the Trojan War took place indeed. Until today though, Greek history does not start with this war, around 1211 BC. but with the Dorian invasion, circa 1100 BC since the Iliad is the oral epic transfer of the war and not a historic text. In the Linear B Mycenaean writings, there is no mentioning about the Trojan War, proving it as a historic event.

Archeological discoveries show that the fertile Argive plain was already inhabited in the Neolithic period (5000-3000 BC). However, the great prehistoric centers of Lerna, Argos, Prosymna, Midea and Tiryns grew up in the Early Bronze Age (2800-2000 BC). The First Greek Tribes arrived in the Argolid in about 2100 BC and established themselves in the already existing centers, initiating the Middle Helladic period (2000-1600 BC). This period marked the beginning of a cultural evolution that culminated in the brilliant Mycenaen civilization of the Late Helladic period (1600-1100 BC). This civilization, with its palace organization, monumental art and the first Greek writing (Linear B script) was the direct forerunner of the Classical and Hellenistic civilization of Historical times.

The great heyday of Mycenae coincides with the dynasty of the Atreids, which succeeded the Perseids. The brothers Atreus and Thyestes came to Mycenae from Pisa in the western Peloponnese, where their father had banished them for murdering their brother Chrysippos. But their unquenchable thirst for power led them to heinous crimes and civil strife. Atreus' wife Aerope committed adultery with Thyestes. Atreus killed Thyestes' children and served them up to him at a feast. Atreus' sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus, went to Sparta, where they married the daughters of king Tyndareus, Clytaemnestra and Helen, respectively. Agamemnon returned to Mycenae and became king in the meanwhile the Trojan war broke out, which is described in Homer's Iliad. Among the booty brought home by Agamemnon was the princes of Troy Cassandra, who had already borne him two children. Thyestes' son, Aegisthus, who had been Clytaemnestra's paramour during her husband's absence, murdered Agamemnon, Cassandra and their two children. Eight years later, Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, returned to Mycenae to avenge his father's death, killing his mother and Aegisthus. He then married Hermione, daughter of Menelaus, and fathered Tissamenos, the last scion of the Atreids.

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