Following on from Rodney Castleden's best-selling study Minoans, this major contribution to our understanding of the crucial Mycenaean period clearly and effectively brings together research and knowledge we have accumulated since the discovery of the remains of the civilization of Mycenae in the 1870s.

In lively prose, informed by the latest research and using a full bibliography and over 100 illustrations, this vivid study delivers the fundamentals of the Mycenaean civilization including its culture, hierarchy, economy and religion. Castleden introduces controversial views of the Mycenaean palaces as temples, and studies their impressive sea empire and their crucial interaction with the outside Bronze Age world before discussing the causes of the end of their civilization.

Providing clear, easy information and understanding, this is a perfect starting point for the study of the Greek Bronze Age.


Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Helen of Troy – their names resonate through history, legend and literature like the plucked strings of an ancient lyre. When he wrote their stories in the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer called them Achaeans, Danaans or Argives. When we write about the historical or archaeological reality that lies behind them we call them Mycenaeans – but that name is a modern invention. Some Mycenaeans, such as Agamemnon, came from the city of Mycenae and were therefore Mycenaeans in both ancient and modern senses of the word, but others came from other bronze age cities. Menelaus came from Lakedaimon in Laconia, Nestor from Pylos in Messenia and Odysseus from Polis in Ithaca.

Homer, writing in the eighth century BC, left us tantalizing epic poems that provide a vivid image of bronze age Greece, the Greece of five or eight hundred years before, in a mix of bronze age proto-history and fictional embellishment that is very hard to disentangle. The ancient Greeks of the classical period were themselves divided about Homer. Some accepted the Homeric epics as history. Others distrusted them as sources. Thucydides, who cast a critical eye on any account of past ages, accepted that there had been a pan-Achaean expedition against Troy, but thought Homer had exaggerated its scale and importance. The later Greeks connected the final destruction of the Mycenaean centres with the invasion of the Dorians, a wave of imagined migrants. In Greek legend, the Dorians are described as the descendants of Heracles, and the invasion itself as ‘the Return of the Heraclidae’. Hyllos, the son of Heracles, was defeated and killed in battle against Atreus, king of Mycenae; the Heraclidae were forbidden by the Delphic oracle to return to Greece for a hundred years. Modern scholars dispute this account, but the legend of the Dorian invasion played a major role in later, classical Greek consciousness. Athens represented itself as the only city to have held out against the Dorians and so to have become a stepping-stone for Ionian (preDorian) migration across to Anatolia. The traditional division between the ‘Dorians’ of the south, such as the Spartans, and the ‘Ionians’ of the north, such as the Athenians, reinforced and seemed to justify on ethnic grounds the frictions that resulted in the debilitating Peloponnesian War. Ancient . . .

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