"And they that held Mycenae, the well-built citadel,and wealthy Corinth, and well-built Cleonae, and dwelt in Orneiae and lovely Araethyrea and Sicyon, wherein at the first Adrastus was king; and they that held Hyperesia and steep Gonoessa and Pellene,and that dwelt about Aegium and throughout all Aegialus, and about broad Helice,—of these was the son of Atreus, lord Agamemnon, captain, with an hundred ships." Homer, The Iliad, book 2, line 565.

Mycenae is well situated. It commands approaches to the Dervenakia pass, which is the most obvious way to get north to Corinth from the ancient cities of Argos and Tiryns. In ancient times Mycenae was closer to the water than it is now. The particular site seems likely to have been chosen because it was on a defensible hill and that it had a spring nearby.

mycenae

In the picture above, Mycenae is left of center about mid way up - on top of the hill right under the big hill.

It was occupied as far back as 5,000 BCE. Starting some time after 1550BCE, it expanded and perhaps around 1300BCE the great walls and tombs were built. The lion gate dates from perhaps 1250BCE. During its heyday this was the lead city of a culture that extended throughout the Peloponnese. This was a time of organized civilization - kings and kingdoms, territory, organized trade and organized war. The culture seems to have been one that emphasized honor and the role of the heroic figure.

Starting around 1250BCE, signs of defensive building become apparent. Around 1100BCE the city was destroyed by fire twice in a century and (due to other factors) the Mycenaean civilization slid into decline and the Dark Ages of Greek history began. Nearby Argos was a prominent city during classical times, but Mycenae did send some troops to fight the Persians.

So hidden was this culture, that its very existence was doubted. People knew of this site, but not that extensive culture that went with it and the complex of cities around Mycenae. In the 1870's excavations began.

Last modified 6/15/11; posted 3/20/04. Original content © 2011, 2004 John P. Nordin