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The "Palace" and Grave Circle A, Mycenae

Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano music) Male: We're on the top of a small mountain looking over a valley and the Aegean Sea. Female: At the Citadel at Mycenae. Now, Mycenae is the name of this place, but that name also refers to the culture that dominated the Greek mainland between about 1600 and 1100 B.C.E. We have three dominant cultures during the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean. We have Cycladic in the Cycladic Islands, Minoan on the island of Crete, and what we call Mycenaen culture here on the mainland. Male: This citadel was built at the height of Mycenaen power and was expanded several times. Female: You can see why they chose this spot. We're not only on a mountain, but we're overlooking a vast valley. They chose a site that would allow them to view any potential enemies from very far away and be very well prepared, and there are also enormous walls here. Male: This was also on a direct route between the Aegean and the Gulf of Corinth, which would have been a critical spot in trade between say Italy and the near east. Female: Mycenaen merchants traded goods all over the Mediterranean from the near east all the way to Spain. Male: We've walked up a steep hill and passed through a huge wall of enormous boulders and under the Lion Gate. To our right we passed grave circle A, which was enclosed when the city walls were expanded and then we walked up a steep series of pathways to the palace itself. Female: What we think was the palace, but here at the top we see a series of rooms and the final room is called the Megaron. We think this was an audience hall for the King. Male: You pass into a large courtyard. At the far end we can just make out the bases of what were two substantial columns that would have supported a porch covering and if you passed under that you would walk into a vestibule. Female: Then from there into the Megaron. In the center of the Megaron were four columns and a hearth. Male: This is an architectural arrangement that we find repeated in other Mycenaen citadels. Female: This was only rediscovered in the 19th century by a German businessman named Heinrich Schliemann. He was convinced that much of what Homer wrote had some basis in history. Male: And Homer associates Mycenae with gold. Female: So, you can imagine why Schliemann wanted to find this legendary city, and they did find Mycenae. Male: And they did find gold. Female: In fact, in grave circle A which we passed by Schliemann excavated the shaft graves there and Mycenaen elite were buried with fabulously rich objects. Male: It turns out that this was not coincident with Homer's epics and in fact dates to a slightly earlier period. So, when we see titles like, "The Gold Mask of Agamemnon," we really need to take that with a grain of salt. Female: Right. They did ascribe the names from Homer to what he found. Male: And this became a real sensation. Female: Should we go down and have another look at grave circle A and the nearby Lion Gate? Male: Let's do it. As we walk down the hill, to our left we pass a very large grave circle. Archaeologists refer to this as grave circle A. Female: And this is one of the grave circles that had shaft graves. Most of which were excavated by Schliemann's team. Male: And was originally outside of the city walls, but was enclosed by the city around 1250 B.C.E. The circle itself is comprised of a series of large limestone blocks that are relatively flat and that were covered with other slabs so that you had this enclosed space that circles the graves themselves. Female: And so this lovely circular shape gives us an idea of how important this space was. There were perhaps ideas of honoring the ancestors that were buried here. Male: But for all of its former grandeur, these are ruins. All we've got left are the foundations and some of the walls. Mycenaean culture as a whole fell into a dark age, and citadels like this were destroyed. (piano music)