The “Palace” and Grave Circle A

The “Palace” and Grave Circle A, Mycenae, c. 1600-1100 B.C.E.

Seeking the mythic cities of Homer, Heinrich Schliemann identified Mycenae in the 19th century.


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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] We’re on the top of a small mountain looking over a valley and the Aegean Sea…

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:10] At the citadel at Mycenae. Now, Mycenae is the name of this place, but that name also refers to the culture that dominated the Greek mainland between about 1600 and 1100 B.C.E.

[0:25] We have three dominant cultures during the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean. We have Cycladic on the Cycladic Islands, Minoan on the island of Crete, and what we call Mycenaean culture here on the mainland.

Dr. Zucker: [0:37] This citadel was built at the height of Mycenaean power and was expanded several times.

Dr. Harris: [0:42] You can see why they chose this spot. We’re not only on a mountain, but we’re overlooking a vast valley. They chose a site that would allow them to view any potential enemies from very far away and be very well prepared, and there are also enormous walls here.

Dr. Zucker: [0:57] This was also on a direct route between the Aegean and the Gulf of Corinth, which would have been a critical spot in trade between, say, Italy and the Near East.

Dr. Harris: [1:08] Mycenaean merchants traded goods all over the Mediterranean, from the Near East all the way to Spain.

Dr. Zucker: [1:14] We’ve walked up a steep hill and passed through a huge wall of enormous boulders and under the Lion Gate; to our right, we passed Grave Circle A, which was enclosed when the city walls were expanded, and then we walked up a steep series of pathways to the palace itself.

Dr. Harris: [1:33] What we think was the palace. Here at the top we see a series of rooms, and the final room is called the megaron. We think this was an audience hall for the king.

Dr. Zucker: [1:44] You pass into a large courtyard. At the far end, we can just make out the bases of what were two substantial columns that would have supported a porch covering. If you passed under that, you would walk into a vestibule.

Dr. Harris: [1:58] And then from there into the megaron. In the center of the megaron were four columns and a hearth.

Dr. Zucker: [2:04] This is an architectural arrangement that we find repeated in other Mycenaean citadels.

Dr. Harris: [2:10] This was only rediscovered in the 19th century by a German businessman named Heinrich Schliemann. He was convinced that much of what Homer wrote had some basis in history.

Dr. Zucker: [2:20] Homer associates Mycenae with gold.

Dr. Harris: [2:23] And so you can imagine why Schliemann wanted to find this legendary city. They did find Mycenae.

Dr. Zucker: [2:30] And they did find gold.

Dr. Harris: [2:31] In fact, in Grave Circle A, which we passed by, Schliemann excavated the shaft graves there and Mycenaean elites were buried with fabulously rich objects.

Dr. Zucker: [2:42] It turns out that this was not coincident with Homer’s epics and in fact dates to a slightly earlier period. When we see titles like the “Gold Mask of Agamemnon,” we really need to take that with a grain of salt.

Dr. Harris: [2:54] They did ascribe the names from Homer to what he found.

Dr. Zucker: [2:57] This became a real sensation.

Dr. Harris: [2:59] Should we go down and have another look at Grave Circle A and the nearby Lion Gate?

Dr. Zucker: [3:03] Let’s do it. As we walk down the hill, to our left we pass a very large grave circle. Archaeologists refer to this as Grave Circle A.

Dr. Harris: [3:12] This is one of the grave circles that had shaft graves, most of which were excavated by Schliemann’s team.

Dr. Zucker: [3:18] And was originally outside of the city walls but was enclosed by the city around 1250 B.C.E. The circle itself is comprised of a series of large limestone blocks that are relatively flat and that were covered with other slabs, so that you had this enclosed space that circles the graves themselves.

Dr. Harris: [3:39] This lovely circular shape gives us an idea of how important this space was. There was perhaps ideas of honoring the ancestors that were buried here.

Dr. Zucker: [3:49] For all of its former grandeur, these are ruins. All we’ve got left are the foundations and some of the walls. Mycenaean culture as a whole fell into a dark age, and citadels like this were destroyed.

[4:01] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, "The “Palace” and Grave Circle A," in Smarthistory, December 14, 2015, accessed April 23, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/the-palace-and-grave-circle-a-mycenae/.