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The Mycenaeans

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Upper left - pre-linear A script from Crete - hierogliphic
Upper right - Linear A (untranslated) - more on Linear A
Lower - Linear B Script, the Mycenaean language - more on Linear B

The Linear A Language is the language of the Minoans, a remarkable civilization which dominated the Aegean Sea. The Mycenaeans eventually dominated and then supplanted the Minoans on Crete. Linear A has still not been successfully deciphered. Linear B, was undecipherable until the code was cracked in 1952.

More information

 The Mycenaean World
by John Chadwick

cover

Between 2000 and 1600 BCE mainland Greece and the Peloponnese were invaded by a new people, the Greeks. They were warrior-herdsmen, looking for new pastures for their herds. These Achaeans were an Indo-European people whom the Hittites called the Ahiyawa. As they came into Greece they ceased their semi-nomadic lifestyle and settled in Thessaly, Boetia, Attica, Argolis and Messenia. Each city was ruled by a king from the warrior/landowning aristocracy, called the wanax. The cities began to trade in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. These people are known today as the Mycenaeans, and their culture thrived between 1400 and 1200 BCE.

Each city-state had a fortified palace surrounded by massive defense walls. Outside of the large estate of the wanax, farmland was collectively owned. Below the free lower classes, there were slaves. The economy was based on agriculture and livestock breeding. They produced oil, flax and wool which led to the industries of cosmetics and textiles. They also were skilled craftsmen. The images depicted on their pottery and weapons illustrate a warrior culture with a taste for luxury. They were influenced a great deal by the non-Greek Minoans artistically but their aggressive warrior culture was unlike that of the peace-loving Minoans.

The Mycenaeans spoke an early form of Greek. The written language is called Linear B by archeologists. When Arthur Evans excavated at Knossos in Crete he discovered three types of scripts. He called them hieroglyphic, linear A, and linear B. At the time none of these scrits could be deciphered. By 1952 enough tablets of linear B had been found (mostly at Pylos) that Michael Ventris, an English architect, was able to solve the puzzle. He discovered that there were 89 characters and that it was a syllabic script. Most of the phonetic values were represented by one consonant and one vowel. Though Linear B can now be translated, Linear A still remains a mystery. To find out how Ventris solved the puzzle, see John Chadwick's The Decipherment of Linear B.

The Decipherment of Linear B
by John Chadwick

cover

They were skilled metal workers who created beautiful creations in gold and bronze. The kings controlled the workshops.The Mycenaeans had to import copper from Cyprus and tin from central and western Europe. Because Greece was not naturally endowed with precious metals, much had to be imported.The Mycenaean trade network grew to encompass the Mediterranean basin, and new settlements sprang up along the western Mediterranean. At their peak the Mycenaeans controlled the Dardanelles, a critical strait which connected the Aegean and the Black Sea.

Trade was so important to the power and wealth of the Mycenaeans that they engaged in wars to crush their rivals. The most well-known was a war against the Phrygians of Troy. Homer called them the long-haired Achaeans.


Part of The Long-Haired Achaeans - The Mycenaeans, a HistoryWiz exhibit

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