Grave Circle A, Mycenae

Grave Circle A, Mycenae

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Grave Circle A in Mycenae
Mycenae
Mycenae is an archaeological site in Greece, located about 90 km south-west of Athens, in the north-eastern Peloponnese. Argos is 11 km to the south; Corinth, 48 km to the north...

 is a 16th century BC royal cemetery situated on the southeast of the Lion Gate
Lion Gate
The Lion Gate was the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, southern Greece. It was erected during the 13th century BC in the northwest side of the acropolis and is named after the relief sculpture of two lionesses in a heraldic pose that stands above the entrance...

, the main entrance of the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

 citadel of Mycenae, southern Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

. The site was initially constructed outside the fortification walls of Mycenae, but was ultimately enclosed in the acropolis
Acropolis
Acropolis means "high city" in Greek, literally city on the extremity and is usually translated into English as Citadel . For purposes of defense, early people naturally chose elevated ground to build a new settlement, frequently a hill with precipitous sides...

 when the fortifications were extended during the 13th century BC.
Grave Circle A, as well as Grave Circle B, the latter found outside the walls of Mycenae, represent one of the major characteristics of the early phase of the Mycenaean civilization
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

.

The site has a diameter of 27.5 m (90 ft) and contains six shaft graves, where a total of nineteen bodies were buried. Over each grave a mound was constructed and funeral stelae
Stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

 were erected. Among the objects found were a series of gold death mask
Death mask
In Western cultures a death mask is a wax or plaster cast made of a person’s face following death. Death masks may be mementos of the dead, or be used for creation of portraits...

s, additionally on the side of the deceased were full sets of weapons, ornate staffs as well as gold and silver cups. The site was excavated by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann was a German businessman and amateur archaeologist, and an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns...

 in 1876, following the descriptions of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

. One of the gold masks he unearthed became known as the "The Death Mask of Agamemnon
Mask of Agamemnon
The Mask of Agamemnon is an artifact discovered at Mycenae in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann. The artifact is a funeral mask hewn in gold, and was found over the face of a body located in a burial shaft...

", ruler of Mycenae according to Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

. However, it has been proved that the burials date circa three centuries earlier, before Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

 is supposed to have lived.

Background



The end of the 3rd millennium BC (circa 2200 BC) has been regarded as the most probable time for the arrival of Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

-speaking populations in modern southern Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

. These people were equipped with horses and were thought to surround themselves with luxury goods and to build elaborate shaft graves. The acropolis of Mycenae, one of the main centers of Mycenaean culture
Mycenaean Greece
Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

, located in Argolis
Argolis
Argolis is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula.-Geography:...

, northeast Peloponnese
Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

, was built on a defensive hill at an elevation of 128 m (420 ft) and covers an area of 30000 m² (322,917.3 sq ft). The shaft graves found in Mycenae signified the elevation of a new royal dynasty whose economic power depended on long-distance sea trade. Grave Circles A and B, the latter found outside the walls of Mycenae, represent one of the major characteristics of the early phase of the Mycenaean civilization.

History



Grave Circle A, formed circa 1600 BC as a new elite burial place, was probably first restricted to men and seems to be a continuation of the earlier Grave Circle B and correlates with the general social trend of higher burial investment taking place throughout entire Greece that time. The Grave Circle A site was part of a larger funeral place from the Middle Helladic period. At the time it was built, during the Late Helladic I (1600 BC), there was probably a small unfortified palace on Mycenae, while the graves of the Mycenean ruling family remained outside of the city walls. There is no evidence of a circular wall around the site during the period of the burials. The last interment took place circa 1500 BC.

Immediately after the last interment, the local rulers abandoned the shaft graves in favour of a new and more imposing form of tomb already developing in Messenia
Messenia
Messenia is a regional unit in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese region, one of 13 regions into which Greece has been divided by the Kallikratis plan, implemented 1 January 2011...

, south Peloponessus, the tholos
Beehive tomb
A beehive tomb, also known as a tholos tomb , is a burial structure characterized by its false dome created by the superposition of successively smaller rings of mudbricks or, more often, stones...

. Around 1250 BC, when the fortifications of Mycenae were extended, the Grave Circle was included inside the new wall. A double ring peribolos
Peribolos
In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, a peribolos was a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar...

 wall was also built around the area. It appears that the site became a temenos
Temenos
Temenos is a piece of land cut off and assigned as an official domain, especially to kings and chiefs, or a piece of land marked off from common uses and dedicated to a god, a sanctuary, holy grove or holy precinct: The Pythian race-course is called a temenos, the sacred valley of the Nile is the ...

 (sacred precinct), while a circular construction, possibly an altar was found above one grave. The burial site had been replanned as a monument, an attempt by the 13th century BC Mycenean rulers to appropriate the possible heroic past of the older ruling dynasty. Under this context, the land surface was built up to make a level precinct for ceremonies, with the stelae over the graves being re-erected. A new entrance, the Lion Gate
Lion Gate
The Lion Gate was the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, southern Greece. It was erected during the 13th century BC in the northwest side of the acropolis and is named after the relief sculpture of two lionesses in a heraldic pose that stands above the entrance...

, was constructed near the site.

Findings


Grave Circle A, with a diameter of 27.5 m (90 ft), is situated on the acropolis of Mycenae southeast of the Lion Gate. The site is surrounded by two rows of slabs, while the space between the rows was filled with earth and roofed with slabs. The Grave Circle contains six shaft graves, the smallest of which is measured at 3.0 m by 3.5 m and the largest measured at 4.50 m by 6.40 m (the depth of each shaft grave ranges from 1.0 m to 4.0 m). Over each grave a mound was constructed and stelae
Stele
A stele , also stela , is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief , or painted onto the slab...

 were erected. These stelae had been probably erected in memory of the Mycenaean rulers buried there; three of them depict chariot
Chariot
The chariot is a type of horse carriage used in both peace and war as the chief vehicle of many ancient peoples. Ox carts, proto-chariots, were built by the Proto-Indo-Europeans and also built in Mesopotamia as early as 3000 BC. The original horse chariot was a fast, light, open, two wheeled...

 scenes.

A total of nineteen bodies – eight men, nine woman and two children – were found in the shafts, which contained two to five bodies each (with the exception of Grave II, which was a single burial). Among the findings, boars' tusks were found in Grave IV, as well as five golden masks in Graves IV and V. One of them, the supposed Mask of Agamemnon
Mask of Agamemnon
The Mask of Agamemnon is an artifact discovered at Mycenae in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann. The artifact is a funeral mask hewn in gold, and was found over the face of a body located in a burial shaft...

, was found in Grave V. Additionally, gold and silver cups, including Nestor's Cup
Nestor's Cup
The term Cup of Nestor or Nestor's Cup can refer to:#A golden mixing cup, described in Homer's Iliad, belonging to Nestor, the king of Pylos....

 and the Silver Siege Rhyton
Silver Siege Rhyton
The Silver Siege Rhyton is a silver vessel discovered in Shaft Grave IV of Grave Circle A at Mycenae and is dated to ca. 1600-1500 BCE, or during the Late Helladic I period. The rhyton was likely used for the transportation of libation for use in sacred ritual and is so named for its relief...

, were found by the side of the deceased. A number of gold rings, buttons and bracelets were also found. Most of the graves were equipped with full sets of weapons, especially swords, and the figural depictions of the objects show fighting and hunting scenes.

Many objects were designed to signify the social rank of the deceased, for instance, decorated daggers, which were objects d'art and cannot be considered real weapons. Ornate staffs as well as a scepter from Grave IV clearly indicate a very significant status of the deceased. Items such as bulls' heads with a double axe display clear Minoan
Minoan civilization
The Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately the 27th century BC to the 15th century BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Arthur Evans...

 influences. At the time that the Grave Circle was built the Mycenaeans had not yet conquered Minoan Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

. Although it seems that they recognized the Minoans as the providers of the finest in design and craftsmanship, most of the objects decorated in Minoan style and buried in Grave Circle A are not of Minoan but of indigenous craftsmanship. On the other hand, certain motifs such as fighting and hunting scenes are clearly of Mycenaean style.

Excavations


The site of Mycenae was the first in Greece to be subjected to modern archaeological excavation. It was excavated by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann
Heinrich Schliemann was a German businessman and amateur archaeologist, and an advocate of the historical reality of places mentioned in the works of Homer. Schliemann was an archaeological excavator of Troy, along with the Mycenaean sites Mycenae and Tiryns...

 in 1876. Schliemann, inspired by Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

’s descriptions in the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

, in which Mycenae is termed "abounding in gold", began digging there. He was also following the accounts of the ancient geographer Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

 who, during the 2nd century AD, described the once prosperous site and mentioned that according to a local tradition, the graves of Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

 and his followers, including his charioteer Eurymedon and the two children of Cassandra
Cassandra
In Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Her beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy...

, were buried within the citadel. What Schliemann discovered in his excavation satisfied both his opinion of Homer's historical accuracy and his craving for valuable treasures. Among the objects he unearthed in Grave Circle A was a series of gold death masks, including one he proclaimed "The Death Mask of Agamemnon". Schliemann cleared five shafts and recognized them as the graves mentioned by Pausanias. He stopped his exploration after the fifth grave was explored, believing that he had finished excavating the Grave Circle, however a year later Panagiotis Stamatakis found a sixth shaft grave.

It has since been proven that the burials in Grave Circle A date from 16th century BC, before the traditional time of the Trojan War (13th-12th century BC), in which Agamemnon is supposed to have participated.

Historical inferences


The valuable objects found in the graves suggest that powerful rulers were buried in this site. Although Agamemnon was supposed to have lived centuries later, these graves might have belonged to the former ruling dynasty of Mycenae – according to Greek mythology, the Perseides
Perseides
In Greek mythology the Perseides, "those born of Perseus" and Andromeda, are the members of the House of Perseus, descended, according to Valerius Flaccus through Perse and Perses...

.

In the 2006 History Channel documentary, The Exodus Decoded, it was suggested that some of the objects are related to the events of the Exodus
The Exodus
The Exodus is the story of the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt described in the Hebrew Bible.Narrowly defined, the term refers only to the departure from Egypt described in the Book of Exodus; more widely, it takes in the subsequent law-givings and wanderings in the wilderness...

, the departure of the Israelites from ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

. It was argued that the Tribe of Dan
Tribe of Dan
The Tribe of Dan, also sometimes spelled as "Dann", was one of the Tribes of Israel. Though known mostly from biblical sources, they were possibly descendants of the Denyen Sea Peoples who joined with Hebrews...

 is linked with the Danaans of the Greek mythology, though this view is not widely supported.

See also


  • Lion Gate
    Lion Gate
    The Lion Gate was the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae, southern Greece. It was erected during the 13th century BC in the northwest side of the acropolis and is named after the relief sculpture of two lionesses in a heraldic pose that stands above the entrance...

  • Mask of Agamemnon
    Mask of Agamemnon
    The Mask of Agamemnon is an artifact discovered at Mycenae in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann. The artifact is a funeral mask hewn in gold, and was found over the face of a body located in a burial shaft...

  • Mycenaean civilization