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The Mycenaeans

Written for the KidsKnowIt Network by:
Debora Dyess

If you’ve ever heard of the Trojan Horse then you have, in a way, heard of the Mycenaeans. The Mycenaeans lived long ago, between 1900 and 1100 BC, in Greece.

Mycenaean communities were built around a fortress, or citadel. The fortress, carefully built on fertile plains, at ports or near the coastline, was the center of power and authority. The palace was placed at the top of the structure. The complex was not just a military one. It had many functions, including worship and storage, with areas for each purpose.

The city plan of Mycenae





Upper class Mycenaeans lived in the fortress. At the top was the King, or “Wamax." He was in charge of both political and religious issues. Below him was a chain of command that covered everything from the military to collecting taxes and organizing trade. The governmental structure was strong and effective.

Lions gate is a popular tourist site at Mycenae

A closeup of the lions

Not all Mycenaean people lived in the fortresses. Most of them (the lower class) lived nearby. Taking care of crops and animals, they were like farmers and ranchers of today, and were considered self-employed. Sheep and goats were raised for milk and wool. The most common crops were grains, olives for olive oil and grapes, which they used to make wine. Herbs, honey and spices were also commonly grown and produced. Mycenaean farmers traded among themselves to get what they needed and paid their taxes in crops and goods. These fed the royal household and staff, plus became trade goods for the kingdom.

But agriculture (growing crops) was not the only industry of the Mycenaeans. Using wool from sheep and goats and a well organized business that employed hundreds of the population, Mycenanea produced valuable and well-made textiles. Metal work was also a bustling industry in the Mycenaean culture. Swords, weapons and other metal goods were produced in mass quantity, employing hundreds of people in these areas, as well. The Mycenaeans had another, less likely industry. They made perfumes! By mixing oils and spices, they created scents that also became trade goods.

Myacaeans made fine textiles

A gold earring from Mycenae circa 1600 BC

A gold Mycenaean goblet

The Mycenaeans had a very prosperous society. Their trade kept them financially sound. Their military kept them safe.

They were considered a warrior people. Expansion (growing their country) was very important to them. They were the downfall of other, less powerful cultures, including the Minoans. The famous city of Troy also fell to their army and naval strength.

Not much is known about the religious practices of the Mycenaeans. They worshipped many gods, but only a few names of their many gods have appeared in tablets uncovered in archeological digs. Almost no temples or central places of worship have been discovered.

Mycenaean ruins

No one really knows how the Mycenaean civilization ended. Most historians and archeologists believe it was either an invasion or civil unrest. A people group known as ‘the Sea People’ invaded several countries during the time that heralded the end of the Mycenaean culture. They may have been responsible for their demise, as well. Others theorize it was a nation called the Dorians. Still another group of historians believe that the civilization collapsed in upon itself after the lower class became unhappy with the government and rebelled. Either way, by 1100 BC, the Mycenaeans civilization disappeared, leaving only ruins to leave clues to their existence.

       


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