My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Before Homer wrote about the fearless warriors and extraordinary heroes enshrined in the temples of the Olympians in Iliad and The Odysseys, there were a people of invincible spirits and adventurism on a par with those of the characters – The Mycenaean, the torch-bearers of a great Aegean civilization in the Pre-Classical Greece existing from 2000 to 1200 BC, whose bravery and enterprising minds inspired Homer to pay tribute to them as immortalized in the two great Classical epics in the history of western civilization. Accordingly, The Mycenaeans: The History and Culture of Ancient Greece’s First Civilization by Charles River Editors takes us to look back on the Mycenaean culture in the Pre-Classical era when these ancient ethnic Greeks ruled the Aegean Sea as the maritime power and left their indelible marks on the posterity of the Classical Greek culture.
The Mycenaeans, the first Greeks, were never unified under a central state and were a collection of several kingdoms. Influenced by the earlier Minoan civilization (2000-1450 BC) at Knossos, Crete, the Mycenaean adapted the Minoan art and religious practices and developed them to their highest expectation of militaristic and cultural ideology. For example, the Mycenaeans developed Linear B Script, which was the writing system comprising hieroglyphics, used between 1450 and 1100 BC especially in Knossos and Pylos, the corporate headquarters of the Late Bronze Mycenae. The letters were mostly written in clay tablets largely concerned with documenting economic transactions of the palace administration and various business transactions. In fact, the Linear B Script, preserved as the oldest Greek writing system, indicates that the Mycenaeans were the linguistic and ethnic ancestors of the Classical Greeks.
In addition to transcribing economic activities Linear B Script also lets us glimpse into the belief system of the Mycenaeans with the names of the deities they worshiped, such as the head of the Pantheon and Poseidon, the god o f the seas whom the Mycenaeans paid special due respect for their being sea-faring people. The Mycenaean reverence for Poseidon is worth noting because it betokens the importance of the Mycenaean as the maritime power of the Aegean Sea as well as the most of the Mediterranean Sea. They eclipsed the Minoans and their Aegean neighbors in terms of open sea trade by establishing trade routes with the islands of Sardinia and Sicily as well as the Libyan coastline and importing more goods than exporting, such as grain from Egypt and metal from Cyprus and Anatolia to make weapons.
With respect to artistic and cultural historiography of the Mycenaeans, the art of burial practices entailed the Minoan influence assimilated into the Mycenaean of their own accord, which was akin to the fashion of Hellenism, the spread of the Greek culture through enculturation by Alexander the Great centuries later. Likewise, after then conquest of Crete, the Mycenaeans continued to employ many of the Minoan artistic traditions one of which was burial practices and their beliefs in afterlife as expressed in the Hagia Triada Sarcophagus on the island of Crete. Made in a Minoan style under the rule of Mycenaeans, it depicts scenes of funereal game held in honor of a fallen warriors and dead kings, consisting of the following athletic events as part of the ritual:
- Chariot Race – Popularized by the Hittite and the Egyptian as a symbol of power and prestige; powered by 2 to 4 horses carrying a team of 2 to 3 men. The Hittite had 3 men – a driver, a shield bearer, and a warrior- while the Egyptian simply had 2 men – a driver and a shield bearer. The Mycenaeans would most likely to have either of the styles, though not manifested.
- Armed Combat – conflated with the Hittite sport
- Boxing – popularized by the Minoan and developed by the Mycenaean
In fact, the actuality of the aforesaid athletic sport events is alluded in Homer’s Iliad, suggesting a Bronze Age tradition of funerary games in Greece with vivid descriptions of the games to honor the slain Greek warrior named Patroclus, which were all coordinated by Achilles. However, contrary to the nude events of the Classical Greece Olympics, which were the offspring of the Mycenaean funereal games, the competitors in the funereal sport events wore loincloths called “zoma.”
The demise of the Mycenaean Kingdom resulted from several factors one by one in a period of times, including the invasion of the Sea Peoples and the emerging of the Dorian in the north, all of which represented the end of the Mycenaean Age, coinciding with the collapse of the Bronze Age in the ancient Near East, where the Mycenaeans played an important role as a formidable trade partner with the Egyptian. Notwithstanding the fall of the Mycenaeans as the major sea power in the ancient Bronze Age, the brilliant legacy of the Mycenaean culture still thrives in; (1) the form of Linear B Script, the oldest writing system of the Greek language before the adoption of the Phoenician alphabet system many centuries later; (2) the belief system in which Zeus and Poseidon were first recorded in the writing tablets and revered with due respect; and (3) the initiation of the sparks of the organized athletic events developed into the Olympic Games in posterity. It is this ingenuity imbued with the spirit of adventure and the policy of engagement in adopting cultural traditions of other people that exemplified themselves among other Pre-Classical peoples, which is something we in the modern time should adopt as well, so that our posterity can benefit from what their ancestors learned and experienced, for it also becomes our legacy of heritage and culture to pass it down from generation to generation.