Modern Greek History

The Beginning of Mycenaean Culture

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The Mycenaeans were one of the earliest civilizations in Ancient Greece. It is widely held that the Mycenaean Civilization partially overlapped, and then eventually overtook, the Minoans. It is also widely believed that many of the myths and legends that are part of Greek Mythology, such as the stories surrounding the Trojan War, originated with the Mycenaeans. Many Mycenaean ruins have been uncovered in Greece, which means that we are able to learn about them. Here’s a look at the origins of the Mycenaeans in Ancient Greece:

Early Days of the Mycenaean Civilization

The Mycenaean Civilization rose to prominence around 1600 BC and flourished in Greece until the collapse of the Bronze Age, in roughly 1100 BC. To this day, historians have struggled with the exact origins of the Mycenaean civilization. Many believe that Mycenaeans were originally from Crete. As the Minoans were very big into trade and travel, many historians speculate that members of the Minoan empire traveled to the mainland and settled in central Greece. Within a century they developed a new culture, which became Mycenaean.

Others argue that the Mycenaeans developed independently of the Minoans. They believe that the civilization stemmed from Indo-Europeans who slowly invaded what is now modern-day Europe. These early Indo-Europeans may have found their way to Greece and begun establishing their own identity on the mainland, to then take over and absorb the Minoan empire.

It is uncertain whether the relationship between the Mycenaean and Minoan empires began peacefully and developed into turmoil, or if the Mycenaeans exerted violence to take over the Minoans from the start. Eventually the Mycenaeans, through force, took over many of the Minoan sites, decimating the Minoan culture. We do know however, that the Mycenaeans borrowed generously from their Minoan ancestors while developing their ancient Greek kingdom.

Mycenaeans Lived on Mainland Greece

Unlike the Minoan civilization that thrived on Crete, the Mycenaeans were based in mainland Greece. Its main city centers were Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Athens, and Thebes. Also unlike the Minoans was the system of how the Mycenaeans built their empire. The Minoans grew thanks to trade, travel, and exchange among neighboring cultures. The Mycenaeans were a war-faring folk who built their empire through battle and conquest.

Again, as it is not officially known if the Mycenaeans were specifically responsible for the demise of the Minoans on Crete, the Mycenaeans did take advantage of the weakened state of the Minoan empire at the time and took over control of Crete. In addition to taking over the island of Crete, the Mycenaeans took over other Minoan settlements including Miletus and the island of Samos. Additionally the Mycenaeans established outposts and colonies on neighboring areas including Cyprus, Rhodes, and Cos and were big traders on ports in what is now modern-day Syria and Asia Minor (Turkey).

Organization of Mycenaean Cities

Part of the Mycenaean success with expansion was their system of organizing city centers, each with their own form of governmental rule. The cities were set up with a Monarchical System ruled by a king. Here is a breakdown of what the make-up of a city center looked like.

Each Mycenaean city center consisted of:

  • A King and His Court – A king rose to power due to the amount of land he owned. Each center’s king owned the biggest percentage of land, and was the most successful warrior in the area. His court consisted of individuals who served the king and were entitled to residences around the royal palace complex.
  • City Folk – Known as “demos” these people were the center’s middle class and consisted of those in trade, merchants, farmers, and artisans who had their own independent dwellings outside of the palace.
  • Slaves – Slaves were most likely individuals captured during war – which lived at the palace and served the king.

The Mycenaean Civilization is one of the earliest in Ancient Greece. Although the Minoans came before them, the Mycenaeans did build themselves up into a sophisticated an successful civilization. However, they did eventually collapse and when this occurred, it pushed Ancient Greece into their Dark Ages.

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