Greece The Mycenaeans
Source: The Library of Congress Country Studies
The civilization that took root on the mainland is called Mycenaean after the first major archaeological site where this culture was identified. The Mycenaeans, an Indo-European group, were the first speakers of the Greek language. They may have entered Greece at the end of the early Bronze Age; in the middle Bronze Age, or in the Neolithic period. The excavation of exceptionally wealthy graves, and the size and spacing of palace foundations, indicates that the Mycenaeans formed an elite and a chieftan-level society (one organized around the judicial and executive authority of a single figure, with varying degrees of power) by the late Bronze Age (ca. 1600 B.C.). Mycenaean palatial society was at its zenith in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries B.C. At some point in the middle of the fourteenth century, Mycenaeans, whose society stressed military excellence, conquered Knossos and the rest of Crete (see fig. 3).
The Mycenaeans employed a form of syllabic writing known as Linear B, which, unlike the Linear A developed by the Minoans, used the Greek language. It appears that the Mycenaeans used writing not to keep historical records but strictly as a device to register the flow of goods and produce into the palaces from a complex, highly centralized economy featuring regional networks of collection and distribution. Besides being at the center of such networks, palaces also controlled craft production and were the seat of political power.
Each palace on the mainland seems to have been an autonomous political entity, but the lack of historical records precludes knowledge about the interaction of the palatial centers. These small-scale polities stand in marked contrast to the huge contemporaneous states of the Near East. Archeological findings in Egypt and the countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea show that the Mycenaeans reached those points. Nevertheless, the Mycenaeans seemingly were able to avoid entanglement in the conflicts of the superpowers of the eastern Mediterranean, such as the Hittites and the Egyptians. They were content to be lords of the Aegean for a time.
Between 1250 and 1150 B.C., a combination of peasant rebellions and internal warfare destroyed all the Mycenaean palace citadels. Some were reoccupied but on a much smaller scale, others disappeared forever. The precise circumstances of these events are unknown, but historians speculate that the top-heavy system, whose elite based their power solely on military might, contained the seeds of its own destruction.
Data as of December 1994
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