Mycenaean Civilization

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Mycenaean civilization refers to a late Bronze Age civilization existing from 1650 to 1100 B.C., and centered on mainland Greece and the islands of the Aegean Sea. This civilization is particularly characterized by its palace-fortresses, its different types of painted pottery found all around the Aegean Sea, as well as its writing, with the linear B script being the oldest known writing transcribing Greek. Since its decipherment by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick in 1952, the Mycenaean civilization is, of all the pre-Hellenic Aegean civilizations, the only one known at the same time by archaeological remains and epigraphic documents[1].

The term "Mycenaean" was chosen by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann to describe this civilization in the second half of the nineteenth century, before Charles Thomas Newton defined its characteristics by identifying its homogeneous material culture from finds made over several centuries. The name itself is taken from that of the city of Mycenae, due in part to it being the first archaeological site excavated to reveal the importance of this civilization as a whole, as well as its prominence within the memory of ancient Greek writers, with Homer making the king of Mycenae "the chief of the Achaeans" in his epic, the Illiad.

The name that this early Greek population used to describe themselves is unknown, although it is sometimes thought that it has been preserved in the Achaeans of Homer. On the place name list in the mortuary temple of the 14th century BC Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III, the Greek mainland – or at least the south of it – is called Tanaja / Danaja.[2] This may possibly be etymologically connected with the Danaoi (Δαναοί), one of three names for the Greeks in the Homeric epics.[3]


The Mycenaean period is divided into Early Mycenaean, Middle Mycenaean and Late Mycenaean, which in southern Greece corresponds to the late Upper Helladic phases (HH I, II and III). On the islands of the Cyclades within the Aegean Sea, the Mycenaean period corresponds to the Late Cycladic period.

The chronology of the Mycenaean civilization is based on the stylistic evolution of the pottery, documented by Arne Furumark from the stratigraphic levels of the excavated sites.[4] This relative chronology remains valid, but the dating of certain "floating" intervals gave rise to some controversies in the scientific world. This is particularly true for the beginning of the Mycenaean period (recent Helladic I) where the rarity of associations of Aegean objects and products of the Near East prevent the restitution of the real chronological extent of this phase. The progress achieved in radiocarbon dating, however, makes it possible to fix the beginning of the Mycenaean civilization in the second half of the 17th century BC.

The Mycenaean Period – a recent period in the Aegean Bronze Age – spans more than 500 years.[5] The Helladic began about 3000 BC, with the recent Helladic name (abbreviated as HR) is used for the time of the Mycenaean civilization, and has been divided by archaeologists into several successive periods:

  • 1650–1600 BC: HR I; beginning of the pit circle tombs (tombs B) of Mycenae; epoch marked by the Thera volcanic eruption ca. 1625 BC.
  • 1600–1470 BC: HR IIA; circle of grave tombs A of Mycenae.
  • 1470–1410 BC: HR IIB; construction of the first Mycenaean palaces towards the end of this phase.
  • 1410–1370 BC: HR IIIA1; final conquest of Crete by mainland Greeks.
  • 1370–1315 BC: HR IIIA2; ca. 1370 Palace of Knossos destroyed, then rebuilt, climax of the construction of the Mycenaean palaces;
  • 1315–1225 BC: HR IIIB1; final destruction of Knossos.
  • 1225–1190 BC: HR IIIB2; ca. 1200 destruction of most Mycenaean palaces.
  • 1190–1130 BC: HR IIIC1; destruction of Pylos by earthquake.
  • 1130–1070 BC: HR IIIC2; Phylakopi and Tiryns constricted
  • 1070–1030 BC: HR IIIC3; abandonment of Phylakopi and Tiryns.
Greece and the Aegean in the Mycenaean civilization
Bronze Age Troy Cycladic cultures Minoan Crete Mainland Greece
3300–2100 BC
Troy I
2920 - 2450 BC

Troy II
2600 - 2350 BC

Troy III
2350 - 2200 BC

3200 - 2700 BC

2700 - 2200 BC

Phylakopi I
2200 - 2000 BC

Early Minoan
2500 - 1850 BC
Early Helladic
2700 - 1850 BC
2100–1550 BC
Troy IV
2200 - 1900 BC

Troy V
1900 - 1700 BC

Troy VI
1700 - 1300 BC

Phylakopi II
2000 - 1800 BC

Middle Minoan I-IIIA
1850 - 1550 BC

Middle Helladic
1850 - 1580 BC
1550–1200 BC
Troy VII-A
1300 - 1200 BC

Troy VII-B-1
1200 - 1100 BC

Middle Minoan IIIB to
Late Minoan II
1550 - 1400 BC

Late Minoan III
1400 - 1100 BC

Recent Helladic
1580-1100 BC

Mycenaean I
1580 - 1500 BC

Mycenaean II
1500 - 1425 BC

Mycenaean III
1425 - 1100 BC


  4. A. Furumark, Mycenaean Pottery, vol. II Chronology, 1941
  • Chadwick, John, and Ventris, Michael. Documents in Mycenaean Greek; Cambridge University Press (1956)
  • Furumark, Arne. The Mycenaean Pottery, Analysis and Classification, vol. II (Chronology); Stockholm, Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien (1941)