Characteristic of Mycenaean Art

Mycenaean art like Minoan was based on Mediterranean culture traits, but Mycenaean art was much more naive and barbaric than the guy, sophisticated Minoan art. Flourishing for only a few centuries at the end of the period of Minoan cultural supremacy, it too was not apparently religious in character, and it too borrowed elements from the ancient Orient. Mycenaean artisans imitated Minoan technical skill in handling metals and clay, but were original in architectural construction. They developed a monumental vaulted type of building based on different situations, their need for protection and the availability of good materials.

The secular aspect of Mycenaean art reflected the freedom of the inhabitants of mainland Greece from the hampering restrictions of an art in the service of the gods. Aside from the restrictions of an art in the service of the gods. Aside from the refinement of stone building skills,  the Mycenaean technique in small art objects was much more crude in execution than the polished mastery of material and subject matter associated with Minoan art. The Mycenaeans imported rare and beautiful objects which they copied freely with a resultant caricature treatment of many vase paintings.


Despite the traditional legends that indicate a long and close connection between mainland Greece and the thalassocrazy or sea kingdom that dominated the Mediterranean at that time, the architecture in the Mycenaean area differed greatly from that in Crete. Tiryns and Mycenaea, the heart of the Aegean confederacy and the home of Agamemnon were not cities but rather hill fortresses. The need for protection and the use of stone led to their principle of construction, the corbeled vaulth which is not based on the keystone arch but instead on a cantilever principle with support only on one end of the horizontal member. Gigantic boulders were set in place and the interstices between the polygonal blocks were filled with a kind of clay mortar and small stones. The monumental scale of the buildings led the Greeks of later age to believe that the Mycenaean builders were a race of giants and to give the term cyclopean to this style of stone working for they reasoned only the Cyclopes could have raised such mammoth stones. Mycenaean architecture is like Minoan in the absence of temples but unique in the importance of tombs for its warrior kings.

Hill Fortresses

The citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns were royal residences and administrative headquartres. The vast fortifications of the thock walls, some of them with corbeled passages, were terminated and guarted at Mycenae by the great gate with the lionesses. The citadel at Tiryns is better prepreserved and more strongly fortified, with the walls penetrable at only one point. The whole plan was built on terraced levels, united by long sloping ramps. The fortress at Mycenae was more Minoan, having several entrances and a couple of open porches reminiscent of the palace at Kronnos. The living quarters were arranged on the traditional megaron (great hall) plan, the domestic architecture described in Homer. The enclosed domestic area was preceded by the courtyard (aithousa) with the sheds for the animals, and the portico (aule) with gable and pillars; beyond these stood first the antechamber, then the inner chamber with the hearth, the hearth of the establishment. Each section of the hill fortresses was capable of defense and could be divided off, the inner sections being protected to the last stand. In the warlike society of Mycenae the women seem to have been in a cloistered or segregated position, in contrast to the freedom and lack of restriction in the more open, luxurious palaces in Crete.

Beehive Tombs

There were two types of Mycenaean tombs. The simple perpendicular shaft sunk into the ground seems to have been the earlier form, but the later tombs were excavated from the sloping hillside and reinforced by stone vaults. This second form with the corbelled domed roof presents a beehive (tholos, plural tholoi) aspect when viewed in section despite the fact that the major portion of the plan was underground. The Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae is the most distinct example of the tholos tombs. The plan contained a long vaulted runway or approach, called the dromos, terminating in a rotunda where grave offerings were placed; next to the rotunda at one side was the rectangular tomb chamber. These tombs are not entirely unlike the rock-cut tombs of Egypt in function and idea – the preservation of the memory of the great warriors.

Related Arts

Like the Minoans, the Mycenaeans valued fine accessories to aid in comfortable living, such as gold tableware. To these refinements they added richly decorated weapons and memorial equipment for great warriors, suitable to a culture of warlike people.

Architetctural Sculpture

There was little architectural sculpture on the mainland because, as in Crete, there seems to have been little need for it either in the requirement of religious observances or in the style of the architecture. The only really monumental example of it is the Gate of the Lionesses at Mycenae, which is indistinguishable in style from some of the more miniature sculptures of the same theme in Minoan art. The relief is carved in stone over the pediment-like terminal of the corbelet vault; it shows a typically Minoan tapering column flanked by two rampant (though mild-mannered) lionesses in the heraldic manner of mesopotamia. This animal motif is a borrowed element, found also in some of the Minoan seals, for lions are not indigenous to the Mediterranean area.

Wall Painting

The true fresco technique for mural decoration was used in the Mycenaean painting at Tiryns of the woman bearing an offering casket, as well as at Mycenae. The same secular , colorful, decoretive style prevailed in Mycenaean art as in Minoan. Even the grave steles were not obviously religious in outward appearance; a characteristic form was that with the charioteer and the use of spiral motifs with no overts reference to death.

Pottery and Vase Painting

Although the shapes of the vases were similiar to fine Minoan ware, and the fabric of the pottery was well made, the pictoral decoration revealed a lack of mastery, as can be seen in the crude but lively drawing of the awkward squad proceeding around the Warrior Vase.


The barbaric refinement of a warlike court is revealed in the extensive discoveries by modern archaeologists of objects made of gold, silver, copper, and bronze. There is an abundance of ceremonial weapons, such as the bronze dagger inlaid with ivory, showing the dynamic lion hunt which gradually becomes smaller at the point; face masks for the dead heroes, of beaten gold with herringbone designs on the eyebrows; fine gold table service inspired by the fine Minoan Vaphio Cups ( found in Laconia, Greece, but of undoubted Minoan manufacture); and jewelry, usually decorated with geometric designs and scenes of the hunt or of war.

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