From the beginning of the Late Bronze Age the Greek mainland enters a rather different phase from the one of the Middle Helladic period. From the cultural isolation, economic destitution and the simple forms of social management which characterized the previous period, a high civilization which is considered equal to the Minoan, is developed. This civilization was named Mycenaean after its most significant centre, Mycenae.
Already from the transition phase in the Late Bronze Age, during the so-called "shaft grave period" new cultural elements that derive from the Minoan culture appear in Central Greece. The Cretan influence is observed mainly in the arts and is expressed by the mass introduction of works of art and by their regional imitations. During the same period a constantly increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth which contributed to the creation of a powerful privileged class is observed.
The effect of the Minoan culture was later expanded to the formation of the Mycenaean society providing particular models of political administration. As the Minoan, the Mycenaean kings built luxurious palaces which also functioned as political and economic centres. These buildings were usually built in naturally fortified citadels and were protected by massive stone fortification walls. Within the limits of the citadels, cult centres, workshops and homes of important persons were built.
From these powerful strongholds the Mycenaean kings ruled large regions which were under their control. The administration was organized on a strictly hierarchized base and employed functionaries to carry out the procedures of the state. Agricultural production, artisanship and trade were also controlled by the palaces which played an intermediary role between farmers, merchants and craftsmen. The state and its treasures were protected by military forces. The variety of equipment and the frequency of war themes in art reveal the widespread military spirit which shows that the Mycenaean kingships confronted constant dangers or that they followed an expansionist policy.
The conquest of Crete from the Mycenaeans around the middle of the 15th century BC marked the end of Minoan thalassocracy. The Mycenaean centres came out of their isolation and developed diplomatic and commercial relations with the other Mediterranean countries and North Europe. The raw materials ensured by the international trade gave an impetus to the development of the arts. In the five centuries of the Mycenaean history a spectacular development of artistic creation under the constant influence of Minoan Crete if not under the guidance of Cretan artists, took place. At the same time with the cultivation of the arts, the Mycenaeans created inspired technical works of public interest such as roads and significant land reclamation works.
Such a statal organization would not have been effective without a well organized bureaucratic system and mainly without systematic archive keeping. To cover these needs, the Mycenaeans invented a new type of syllabary, Linear B, developing an earlier system of Minoan writing so that the Greek language could be rendered more efficiently. The Mycenaean texts may have been simple in structure since they consisted of records on the personnel and goods traded in the palaces. Nonetheless, they provide important information on the unknown aspects of Mycenaean life, supporting the archaeological evidence with "historically" substantiated elements.
The combined interpretation of the written sources and archaeological evidence indicates the close relation of the Mycenaean culture with Antiquity and mainly with the world of the Homeric epics. Despite the large time span between the Late Bronze Age and the writing of the Homeric epics, it seems that the forms of the material culture, the social framework and the political map presented by Homer, are closer to the Mycenaean period since the Iliad reflects the period of prosperity of the Mycenaean culture while the Odyssey the period of its decline. Thus, today it is conjunctured that the facts, the personalities and the situations that were transmitted by oral speech in the Homeric epics and the mythological traditions of Antiquity are nothing more than memories of the Mycenaean past.
Mycenae, Grave Circle A, Grave IV.
The "Cup of Nestor".