Helladic Culture

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Mycenaean civilization

Mycenaean civilization (mīsēnēˈən), an ancient Aegean civilization known from the excavations at Mycenae and other sites. They were first undertaken by Heinrich Schliemann and others after 1876, and they helped to revise the early history of Greece. Divided into Early Helladic (c.2800–2000 B.C.), Middle Helladic (c.2000–1500 B.C.), and Late Helladic (c.1500–1100 B.C.) periods, the chronology roughly parallels that of the contemporary Minoan civilization. The Mycenaeans entered Greece from the north or northeast c.2000 B.C., displacing, seemingly without violence, the older Neolithic culture, which can be dated as early as 4000 B.C. These Indo-European Greek-speaking invaders brought with them advanced techniques in pottery, metallurgy, and architecture. Mercantile contact with Crete advanced and strongly influenced their culture, and by 1600 B.C., Mycenae had become a major center of the ancient world. The exact relationship of Mycenaean Greece to Crete between 1600 and 1400 B.C. is extremely complex, with both areas evidently competing for maritime control of the Mediterranean. After the violent destruction of Knossos c.1400 B.C., Mycenae achieved supremacy, and much of the Minoan cultural tradition was transferred to the mainland. The Mycenaean commercial empire and consequent cultural influence lasted from 1400 to 1200 B.C., when the invasion of the Dorians ushered in a period of decline for Greece. Events from 1100 to 900 B.C. are extremely obscure, but by the 9th cent. B.C. the centers of wealth and population showed a decisive shift. Although the Mycenaeans had certain innovations of their own, they drew much of their cultural inspiration from the Minoans. The great Mycenaean cities—Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos, Thebes, Orchomenos—were noted for their heavy, complex fortifications and the massive, cyclopean quality of their masonry, while Minoan cities were totally unfortified. Mycenaean palaces were built around great halls called megara rather than around an open space as in Crete. Unlike the Cretans, the Mycenaeans were bearded and wore armor in battle. Their written language, preserved on numerous clay tablets from Pylos, Mycenae, and Knossos, appears to be a form of archaic Greek linguistically related to ancient Cypriot. The presence of this script, known as Linear B, at Knossos c.1500 B.C. indicates that Mycenaean Greeks had invaded and dominated Crete during the Late Minoan period before the final collapse c.1400 B.C. The works of Homer have been radically reevaluated since the archaeological discoveries of Mycenaean Greece. He is now considered to give admirable glimpses of the culture of the late Mycenaean civilization of the 12th cent. B.C. (see Achaeans).


See W. Taylour, The Mycenaeans (1964); A. E. Samuel, The Mycenaeans in History (1966); G. E. Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (1966); W. A. McDonald, Progress into the Past (1967); J. Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B (2d ed. 1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Helladic Culture


a Bronze Age archaeological culture (third and second millennia B.C.) that flourished in central Greece and the Peloponnesus. Along with the Minoan and Cycladic cultures, it forms part of the Aegean civilization. The Helladic culture is subdivided into the early (3000 to 2000 B.C.), middle (2000 to 1580 B.C), and late (1580 to 1200 B.C.) periods, that is, into Early Helladic, Middle Helladic (Minyan period), and Late Helladic (Mycenaean period); each of the periods is further subdivided into three subperiods (I, II, and III).

The Early Helladic is characterized by primarily unfortified towns, with narrow streets and one- or two-story mud-brick dwellings on stone foundations. Only a few bronze objects have been found, namely, knives, axes, and daggers. Characteristic finds include stamps with geometric designs. The pottery, in red and black tones, is of high quality and characterized by different shapes (including amphorae and pithoi); later the pottery was burnished. At the end of Early Helladic II, some settlements were destroyed by fire, linked with the arrival of a new people, the Minyans.

The Middle Helladic is known chiefly by its fortified hilltop settlements, with a free-form layout. The rectangular dwellings consisted of two or three rooms, with burials beneath the floors and along the walls. Burial grounds have also been found, with barrows, cists, and burials in pits and pithoi. Some weapons and tools were made of bronze; stone was used to make perforated axes, maces, and arrowheads. Some of the pottery was wheel-made (cups, goblets); geometric designs appeared during Middle Helladic II. At the end of the Middle Helladic (c. 1600 B.C.), a new people appeared in Greece, with an army equipped with battle chariots. They created the first Mycenaean state, although on the whole the Mycenaean culture developed from the Middle Helladic culture.


Blavatskaia, T. V. Grecheskoe obshchestvo vtorogo tysiacheletiia do novoi ery i ego kul’tura. Moscow, 1976.
Mongait, A. L. Arkheologiia Zapadnoi Evropy: Bronzovyi i zheleznyi veka. Moscow, 1974.
Caskey, J. L. Greece, Crete, and the Aegean Islands in the Early Bronze Age. Cambridge, 1965.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.