Homer, in the Iliad, described the Mycenaean kingdom of Agamemnon as being 'Rich in Gold'. Mycenae is the most important and richest palatial centre of the Late Bronze Age in Greece. Its name was given to one of the greatest civilizations of Greek prehistory, the Mycenaean civilization, while the myths related to its history have inspired poets and writers over many centuries, from the Homeric epics and the great tragedies of the Classical period to contemporary literary and artistic creation.
The ancient city of Mycenae was once thought to exist only in ancient Greek legend and the epic poetry of Homer. It wasn't until 1870 that an amateur archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann found the fabled city. Many people doubted that he would find such a city, but using only landmarks from the text of Homer's Iliad, Schliemann uncovered the remains of a once thriving civilization.
The city of Mycenae was the centre of a large and powerful Mycenaean Greek civilization, which existed from circa 1900 BC to circa 1125 BC. The Mycenaean civilization was at its height between 1400 and 1200 BC. It is believed that the entire civilization consisted of a few loosely joined city-states. Possible members of the city-states were Tiryns, Pylos, Thebes, Orchomenos, and of course Mycenae, which was the strongest.
The Mycenaean people were known to be warriors who lived for heroic battles. A monarch, who was supported by strong military leaders, ruled the Mycenaeans. Other people who held a high rank in society were the priests and bureaucrats. They kept precise records of inventory, distribution of materials for production, commodities produced, acquirement of land, and deliveries made. There were also lower members of society who were not nearly as important. They consisted of soldiers, peasants, artisans, serfs, and even slaves.
Mycenaean traders had an extensive trade network with neighboring civilizations. There is very little written record of the distance over which these people traded, but a rough estimate can be given from the location of Mycenaean pottery throughout the Mediterranean. Mycenaean pottery has been found in southern Italy and as far away as Egypt. There is also evidence of foreign trade coming from imported goods found at Mycenae. Ivory carvings and an abundance of gold ornaments have been found. The ivory had to be imported, but some of the gold could have been mined locally. These mines were very small, with low yields, so researchers believe that much of the gold must have been imported.
There are many imported and domestic artifacts found in Mycenae. Most artifacts have been found in shaft graves, many of them excavated by Schliemann and his crew. One of the most famous and one of the first artifacts to be found is the so-called death mask of Agamemnon. It is a thin gold mask which was buried with the ancient king. Legend says that Agamemnon is the Mycenaean Greek king who led his troops into battle against Troy, which eventually was sacked. When Schliemann found the mask, he wrote to the king of Greece, "Today I have looked on the face of Agamemnon."Schliemann also found carved stones, an assortment of cups, jewellery, pottery, and numerous bronze weapons. Mycenae is also known for its ancient builders. The Lion Gate is a main entrance into the citadel at Mycenae. It is a solid stone carving of two lions which stand as sentries directly over the entrance. This gate is part of the outer wall of the citadel. These walls have an average thickness of 5m. Outside the gate, four roads lead away into the countryside. Traces of these massive roads can still be seen today. Another great structure found in Mycenae is the Treasury of Atreus. This treasury is actually a self-supporting domed tomb measuring 5.40m high and 5.20m in diameter. This kind of architecture is proof of the technological skills of the Mycenaeans at the height of their empire.
By 1200 BC, the Mycenaean era was in a state of hardship. No one knows what caused such a powerful civilization to decline, but many theories are in place. Maybe it was some sort of earthquake that caused chaos in society. It may have been a change in weather patterns that caused a food shortage. Or, as many believe, it was invaders from the north who sacked Mycenae. This theory is the most supported due to evidence of fire damage to nearly all the buildings being excavated. Maybe it was a combination of all these theories.In any case, by 1125 BC, Mycenae was abandoned and forgotten. It stayed this way for thousands of years, until an amateur archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann followed the story of an ancient epic and discovered the remains of Mycenae.