Thursday, April 26, 2012

A little Sojourn in Mycenaean Greece

After the weird warmth of March, April has turned out showery and cool so I have decided to retreat to sunnier climes and a time when a 'city' meant a collection of 10,000 people: a place called 'Classical Athens'.

Each time I read about Ancient Athens I find out a little more, which of course makes me realise how much more there is to know, and also why some people devote their lives to learning about the couple of hundred years of happenings in this tiny area of earth. In many ways it is the start of the modern world.

This time I started with the Historical Atlas of Ancient Civilisations, and reminded myself of what went before: the Mycenaean civilisation straddling a hill top

with its elaborate gate,

a cyclopean wall made of rough gigantic blocks (allegedly moved by the cyclops),

and startling network of two-storeyed houses,



and burial pits.

They were Indo-Europeans - and therefore had migrated from the east with two-wheeled chariots and horses.

It was 1400 BC. They made gold masks (this one found in the burial pit above)

and exquisite pieces of art,

and interred their dead in tombs

whose artfully engineered entrances

and ceilings have a beehive's simplicity and strength.

They traded with Asia Minor and Egypt, and even borrowed a writing system from the Minoan civilisation on Crete. Their system, 'Linear B', is deciphered, and yet the Minoan system 'Linear A' is not - a strange thing. They were Imperialists, aggressive and liked to make themselves felt: pieces of Mycenaean culture have been found as far away as Cornwall and they established a series of city states around the Black Sea.

But in 1100 BC it all disappeared. One book says it was the Dorians who were to blame, another the Sea People, another says it is a mystery. Whatever the reason, the trading stopped and with it the record-keeping, and the people devoted themselves to making geometric patterns on pots. It took another three hundred years before the city states began to wake again and classical Greece began to evolve. By this time Linear B had been forgotten, and a newer, more efficient and easier phonetic system had been adopted from the Phoenicians. All the was left of the Mycenae culture were their myths of gods and possibly equally mythical accounts of their history: Athena, Demeter and Persephone...and Troy.

(pictures taken from our trip to Mycenae and Athens October 2010)


Blogger Anne S said...

Wasn't that golden mask thought by its discoverer Schliemann to be that of Agamemnon, and that the Mycenaen people were involved in the Trojan War. Fascinating history anyway.

Fri Apr 27, 10:49:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes! Well I heard the bit about Schliemann finding it (and remember seeing pictures of his wife wearing the whole caboodle) but didn't know about the Trojan war connection.

The guide did say that the beehive tomb although called Agamemnon's tomb couldn't be because it was the wrong age...or something like that.

Fri Apr 27, 11:01:00 am  
Blogger Brian Clegg said...

Brilliant post, Clare (and dare I say it, nice to have a break from China). The only thing is, when are we going to have a snail-related post? I can't remember the last one...

Fri Apr 27, 11:51:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Thanks Brian! That's very kind.

Yes, I really ought to include snail references. It is their main voice on the internet, after all.

And as for China, I am afraid I have to tell you there is more to come...

Fri Apr 27, 02:20:00 pm  
Blogger Paul Halpern said...

What happened to the poor Cyclops? Did he or she need to leave because of the economic downturn? I hope the Cyclops found cyclopean walls to build elsewhere.

Fascinating post!

Fri Apr 27, 10:52:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Ha, could be Paul! I am intending to investigate the economic downturn next, strangely enough. I expect there's some one-eyed visionary involved there somewhere...

Sat Apr 28, 09:09:00 am  

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