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May 24: Mycenae & Tiryns August 3, 2010

Posted by msmith78 in Uncategorized.

The Corinth Canal

The number of attempts to create this canal throughout history, starting in the 7th century BC to its completion in 1893, shows the difficulty of the engineering required. It also reflects the importance of such a canal to trade and travel on both sides of Attica because it always remained a goal. Finally, in a sense, turning Attica into an island seems only fitting for the region with its naval oriented history and the island like identities of its coastal ports.


In its current restoration level, exhibits the merging of the indigenous people and the Indo-Europeans.  Henrich Schliemann, a German archeologist, came to Mycenae seeking the tomb of Agamemnon based on the account of Pausanias. He found 5 tombs with riches including Circular Graves A and B which were full of riches and led to the continued excavation and restoration efforts for the next eighty years. The Mycenaean people were a successful people and there history and traditions were passed along to the Greeks who respected them to the point of mythical elevation and cultish remembrance.

Lions Gate

The triangular design of the sculpture that fits within the triangular, pseudo-arch is a step along the progression towards an arch and towards a way of transferring the forces. In this case, the space created by the pseudo-arch allows for a surface to place a sculpture that would not have to carry the weight of walls. This  triangle, lentil combination in this form suggests the later pediments of the Greek temples, but in a inverse sense looking at the weight reactions. Here the triangle marks tan absence of weight whereas the pediment is the weight that must be carried. The sculpture itself depicts two lions; a symbol of power, with their front paws resting on a central column is debatably a symbol or crest for the city. This symbol is repeated in some of the artifacts found around the sight including a sealing stamp.

Cyclopean Walls

The stonework within the walls themselves shows the development of the building techniques as well as the state of the people at the time. The stonework on the main wall near the front gate displays the first built, core walls or Cyclopean walls from the 1400s BC are very haphazardly sized and shaped with uncut larger stones filled in with smaller stones. These walls with their massive stones were called Cyclopean walls because the stones looked so larger only a Cyclopes could have built them. The walls added later to create the fortress, defensive entry way are more rectangular shaped; finally the last wall added with the collapse of the Hittites and Mycenae in the 12 century BC to protect the cistern is truly jagged and frantically defensive. The main defensive walls consisted of two stone walls filled with dirt or gravel. Another entry way is provided for the rulers which is called the Propylon.


Within the walls of the city, the winding labyrinth type roads starting with the Great Ramp (13th century BC) provide another defensive measure as it winds its way to the core structure, the megaron, the public space where the king welcomed guests for business.  The megaron is a physical representation of the merging of the Indo-European and indigenous people due to the incorporation of a courtyard into the formulaic structure of the megaron. The megaron is made up of a courtyard, which leads to the portico, which is followed by the vestibule, which opens up to the megaron proper which houses the central fire place and the throne of the king. Because Mycenae’s strong naval and trade identity, the courtyard was three sided with an open view to the sea. The stone walls would have been stuccoed and painted showing the importance of the space and the city.

Grave Circle A & B

Most graves in Mycenaean and later Greek tradition were placed outside of the walls of the city for religious and hygienic reasons. Circular Graves A and B  are inside the 13th century walls of the city along with the high quality and quantity of the artifacts found in the graves suggest that those interned there were important or royal and were probably eventually focuses of a cult. Therefore foundations of religion set the stage for hero worship and the great popularity and dedication that the later Greek heroes like Hercules and Achilles would enjoy.

Tomb of Agamemnon

All three of the tombs that we saw are of the a pseudo-dome construction where one stone is placed on top, slightly overlapping the next stone. The forces acting on the stones are only resolved by the equal pushing occurring on the opposite side.

The Tomb of Aegisthus with its unfinished stone piece and smaller triangle over the door lintel marks the earliest attempt of this tomb form dating from the 15th century BC.  By the construction of the Tomb of Agamemnon, the step stone effect of the larger stone blocks was then smoothed out by masons to give the dome effect with a curve to make the circular cross section horizontally speaking and the semi-circular effect vertically speaking. The triangle about the lintel was also enlarged and heavy decorated with marble columns; the interior of the dome also received metal decorations. Although this is called the Tomb of Agamemnon it was constructed about hundreds of years before the death of Agamemnon..


As the port of Mycenaean, it followed the same formula of construction with Cyclopean walls and a megaron. The walls of Tiryns had hollow centers where storage rather than rock or dirt filling was installed.  Tiryns also has three courtyards leading up to the megaron proper. Locations that develop into cities have strategic value that is translated through time whether for strategic location or the access to resources. Tiryns is no different and the Mycenaean city was constructed on top of the remains of a circular granary from about 2500 BC. Later during the decline of the Mycenaean, people flocked to Tiryns, as it was the major port and economic center for the Mycenae much like Athens was flocked to after World War II.


I never realized how mountainous the region was. In all of my history classes I was never shown a topographic map of the region. It makes perfect sense that Athens, Sparta, and the other city-states built up such separate governments and cultural identities because they had their own little “islands” within the mountain valleys. These provincial identities are still strongly supported by this country that only unified in the late 1800s into a modern nation state. Even the people who moved to Athens after WWII still retain their native island heritage in their construction over their new home’s styles.



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