Mycenaean Civilization: Culture, History & Quiz

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Mary Fogle

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Explore the world of the ancient Mycenaean civilization. Meet the society that formed the basis for the famous Greek works of Homer and discover how this rich society eventually crumpled.

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Mycenaean Civilization

The Mycenaean civilization flourished in ancient Greece from 1575 to 1000 B.C.E. The Mycenaean civilization was named by modern archaeologists after the city of Mycenae, where the first remains of the ancient civilization were discovered. The Mycenaean civilization and another ancient Greek civilization, the Minoan, provided the background and setting for the famous stories of the Greek poet Homer. The Minoan civilization was named my modern archaeologists for one of the characters in Homer's work, the mythological king Minos.

Geographic Boundaries of Mycenaean Civilization

The Mycenaean civilization spread throughout the Greek peninsula from Thessaly in the North to southern islands of the Peloponnesos. The Mycenaeans established the cities of Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns. In addition to controlling large sections of Ancient Greece, the Mycenaeans also occupied the island of Crete and as well as several other islands in the Aegean Sea.

Map of the Aegean Sea. The Mycenaean civilization is circled in orange.
Map of the Aegean Sea. The Mycenaean civilization is circled in orange.

Culture of the Mycenaean Civilization

The kingdom formed the basic unit of Mycenaean society. Each kingdom was controlled at the highest level by a king and his warriors who kept order and enforced laws. The middle level of Mycenaean society included merchants, artisans, and farmers who contributed food and goods for the society. Mycenaean merchants traveled across the Mediterranean and the Middle East trading goods with other kingdoms and societies. As the rulers of ancient Greece, the Mycenaeans enjoyed access to the Aegean Sea and through the sea to ports controlled by other ancient civilizations. Mycenaean artifacts have been found across the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and as far north as Ireland. At the lowest level of Mycenaean society were slaves, who were owned by the king and by high-level aristocrats. Aristocrats and the middle classes of merchants, artisans, and farmers appear to have enjoyed remarkable prosperity during this period.

Gold earring made by the Mycenae from the Louvre Museum
Gold earring made by the Mycenae from the Louvre Museum

Like many ancient peoples, the Mycenaeans had a complex religious structure. The Mycenaeans believed in a pantheon, or a group of gods that each were identified with a particular aspect of life. Some of these gods, like Poseidon and Ares, were adopted by later Greek cultures and became a familiar part of the more famous Olympian pantheon with gods like Zeus and heroes like Hercules. The Mycenaeans buried prominent members of society in large, circular tombs filled with art and riches to accompany them in the afterlife. Although they were primarily interested in conquest, the Mycenaean artisans also produced frescoes, pottery, and jewelry for the wealthy. Many of these works of art have been discovered in tombs and burial sites in ancient Greece.

Mycenaean pottery from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens
Mycenaean pottery from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

The Mycenaeans were a warlike people, and one of their primary activities was conquering neighboring kingdoms. Mycenaean bronze axes have been found as far north as Ireland and Cornwall. Although it is unlikely that they actually held territory in northern Europe, the Mycenaeans were able to control and influence large areas of the Mediterranean. According to the legends recorded by Homer, the Mycenaeans even conquered the legendary city of Troy. As they conquered other societies, the Mycenaeans recorded their triumphs in two different forms of writing script, Linear A and Linear B.

End of the Mycenaean Civilization

Between 1300 and 1000 B.C.E., the Mycenaean kingdoms battled for supremacy amongst themselves and with the Minoan civilization. These wars devastated both civilizations and led to their collapse. This period of time, from 1100 to 800 B.C.E., is known as the Dark Age of Greece. As the two prominent civilizations lost power, invaders moved into the Greek peninsula. Among these invaders were the Dorians, the ancestors of the Spartans, Argives, and Messenians, who would continue to live in the Greek peninsula and play a prominent role in Greek history.

With an increasing number of newcomers moving into the peninsula, the old inhabitants of the Mycenaean and Minoan civilizations moved into other portions of Asia and the Mediterranean. As each wave of immigrants moved to a new land, they brought their culture and social customs with them. By the end of Greek Dark Ages, the Greeks and their culture had spread throughout all the lands that bordered the Aegean Sea. The myths and societal norms practiced by the ancient Greeks influenced other societies in the Mediterranean and parts of the Middle East. Although their society was dispersed and disbanded, the Mycenaean civilization played an important role in the development and distribution of ancient Greek culture.

Ruins of Mycenaean city Tiryns
Ruins of Mycenaean city Tiryns

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