Mycenaean period

The period is characterized by multiple innovations: palaces were established, the first written form of the Greek language was used (Linear B script), the arts were developed and relations were strengthened with the empires of the eastern Mediterranean.

Thebes and Orchomenos were significant centres in Boeotia, Mycenae and Tiryns in the Argolid, Pylos in Messenia, Agios Vasileios in Lakonia, Volos in Magnesia, Knossos and Kydonia (Chania) in Crete. These were the seats of states, possibly as part of a broader political entity in the Aegean region, perhaps that which is referred to as Ahhiyawa in Hittite texts.

In section 5, the visitor has an opportunity to admire the splendid finds that document different aspects of the brilliant Mycenaean civilization in Boeotia. In addition to the major centres of Thebes and Orchomenos, secondary centres such as Eutresis, Avlis, Tanagra and Eleon developed around their peripheries, as did a multitude of smaller settlements. It is also surmised that the influence of Boeotia extended to Euboea, Attica, eastern Phokis and Lokris.

Thebes in particular, with its advantageous geographical location at the crossroads of land and sea routes, evolved into the seat of one of the most powerful palatial states of Mycenaean Greece, ruler of central Greece. Kadmeia, the acropolis of Thebes, had a strong Cyclopean wall that surrounded the settlement and the palace complex. Other known Boeotian settlements also boasted Cyclopean fortifications, such as Eutresis, Aliartos and Eleonas (today Arma).

The enormous fortification wall around the acropolis of Gla – which is associated with the major technical works entailed in draining Lake Kopais – is regarded as unique. This technical achievement, unprecedented in antiquity, proves the high level of technical knowledge that Mycenaean engineers had acquired.

A significant differentiation between the Mycenaean world and that of previous periods was the use of Linear B script, the first written form of the Greek language. It was derived from the older Linear A script of Minoan Crete which the Mycenaeans adopted and adapted to record their own dialect, known today also as Mycenaean Greek. Linear B script was used exclusively by the palace administration to record on clay tablets the products and raw materials in circulation.Despite their bookkeeping content, they provide a great deal of indirect information about the Mycenaean society, its administration, agricultural production, workshops and staff, its external relations, topography and worship.

Inscriptions in Linear B script have also been preserved on the large stirrup jars that were used for transporting olive oil and wine. Using a bone or metal stylus, scribes marked symbols on the damp clay of the tablets and on sealings. Then the inscribed objects were kept in special archives and have been preserved because they were fired in the conflagration that destroyed the rooms in which they were kept.

Around 1200 BC, the Mycenaean palaces suffered serious damages the cause of which is still unknown. There may have been general unrest in the eastern Mediterranean that cut off vital trade routes and markets. The political and social hierarchy and the centralized economy of the Mycenaeans were disrupted. In this process, writing and the fine arts were also lost.

In the same period, and while migrations of Boeotians from the north may have begun, life in Boeotia continued in various coastal settlements or on the fringes of the former palatial centres of Thebes and Orchomenos, at Eutresis, Eleon (Arma) and the territory of Tanagra. During the 11th century BC, it would appear that the migrations and turbulence of the previous years continued unabated.

The visitor’s tour around Mycenaean Boeotia begins in showcase 47a with a sealing, a typical symbol of palace administration and power. Showcase 47 presents significant sites in Mycenaean Boeotia.

It is followed by a unit dedicated to Mycenaean architecture, with the reconstruction of part of a roof with ceramic tiles and a section of a wall. The lovely wall paintings with running spiral and row of rosettes from the palace building of Orchomenos stand out as do the dolphins from the palace complex on the acropolis of Gla.

The presentation is completed by a video, and on stand 9 stands a model of the acropolis of Gla.

The next section, in Showcases 48, 50-54 is dedicated to administration and writing and is supplemented with an interactive digital application on the subject of a Linear B scribe.

In showcase 55 visitors will be impressed by the many and varied luxurious objects that were imported to Thebes; on stand 7, is evidence for the trade relations with Crete.

A unique find in showcase 56 is the “treasure” of lazurite cylinder seals of Hittite, Mesopotamian, Kassitic, Mitanni and Cypriot origin, unearthed from the palace of Thebes.

Showcases 58-63 show the workshop activity in the palace of Thebes; showcase 64 demonstrates the evolution of pottery; and showcases 65-68 house the section on Mycenaean religion and worship, which concludes with the wall painting of the “procession of female worshippers” from the palace of Thebes.

The miniature wall paintings that decorated the palace building of Orchomenos depict the male pastimes of hunting and war.

Showcases 69-75 exhibit records and drawings of equipment and harnesses as well as sections of two Mycenaean suits of armour.

Showcases 76-83 present objects to serve daily needs, utensils, jewellery and toiletries. On the central islet the topic of burial customs is examined.

The visitor should not overlook the famous larnakes from the chamber tombs of Tanagra, unique grave objects on Greek territory clearly influenced by Minoan Crete (stands 10-13). There is an impressive larnax with a hunting scene, contests and bull-leaping, a custom encountered in Minoan Crete (stand 14). The section concludes with multiple funeral gifts from Mycenaean graves in Tanagra (showcases 87-88), Kallithea (showcase 89) and Thebes (showcase 84-86, 90 and stand 15).

The turbulent period that followed the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces is represented by the 12th c. BC pictorial crater on stand 16 and the grave gifts in showcases 91-93.