Heinrich Schliemann's 1876 excavations on the
Mycenaean citadel brought to life before the astonished eyes of his
contemporaries, a legendary world, that formed the core of the Homeric epics.
Christos Tsountas (1857-l934), Allan J. B Wace (1879-1957), George
Mylonas (1898-1988) and, in recent years, professor Spiridon Iakovidis are among
those arhaeologists who have carried on Schliemann's great work.
The citadel, which covers a surface area of 30,000
sq. m, is surrounded by walls composed of huge boulders. According to Greek
myth, the walls, like those of Tiryns, were built by the Cyclops, hence their
name Cyclopean. The earliest (14th century BC) fortification wall at Mycenae
enclosed only the top of the hill. This wall was extended in the 13th century to the south to include Grave Circle
A, the burial grounds of the Mycenaean rulers who founded Mycenaean authority in
the 16tn century BC. This wall was further extended around 1200 BC to the
North-east to incorporate the citadel's underground fountain, which was accessed
by a vaulted stone stairway. The main entrance to the acropolis, the monumental
Lion Gate, is an impressive structure with its massive lintel and imposing
relief decoration: two erect lions on either side of a column. These heraldic
beasts are represented in profile facing each other with their front paws
resting on two small concave altars. A smaller secondary entrance was inserted
in the north wall.
As the administrative, financial and religious
centre for a wide region in the 14th and 13th centuries BC, the citadel included
a palace, with the ruler's formal megaron at the top, shrines decorated with
wall-paintings near the south wall, artists' workshops and store-rooms. Ivory
workshops were discovered outside the citadel's precinct, in the so-called House
of the Sphinxes and House of the Shields, named after the ivory plaques with
corresponding motifs that were discovered there. These houses, as well as those
conventionally dubbed the House of the Wine Merchant and House of the Oil
Merchant, also contained tablets inscribed in Linear B, the first Greek script.
The palace maintained trade relations with the equivalent ruling centres of Near
East and Egypt, while the local goldsmiths, coppersmiths, ivory carvers, stone
carvers and other craftsmen worked under the supervision of palace officials.
Agriculture and animal-husbandry, as well as the manufacture of woolen cloths,
wine, oil and perfumes were also controlled by the central palatial
Large stirrup jars, some with Linear B inscriptions, naming the
owner or the product and the production area, were used to transport liquids.
Fine Mycenaean pottery was exported and copied throughout the Mediterranean
region. Pictorial style pottery, with human and animal representations, was
especially popular in Cyprus where it was copied by local workshops. The
collapse of the centralized palatial administrative system towards the end of
the 13th century BC did not put an end to occupation on the acropolis.
Instead, life continued throughout the last phase of the Mycenaean civilization
in the 12th century BC.