The Entrance to the Citadel

Both literary accounts and archaeological discoveries indicate that the ancient city of Mycenae in the Peloponnese of Greece was the political and cultural center of the Late Bronze Age (or “Late Helladic [LH]”) Greece. For this reason one calls that period, its culture and its material remains “Mycenaean. ” Since Mycenae is the type-site for LH Greece, its history and its relics will be of chief concern in this essay.

According to tradition, the city’s founder was the legendary hero Perseus, and the later Greeks attributed its fortifications of tremendous stones to mythical giants, the one-eyed Cyclopes. It was for Eurystheus, a later king of Mycenae, that Heracles performed his twelve labors. One of the city’s last heroic kings was Agamemnon, commander of the pan-Hellenic expedition against Troy. Upon his return from that long war, his queen and her paramour murdered him in the palace, for which crime his children, Orestes and Electra, took their terrible revenge.(1)

First excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870’s, in one of the earliest systematic campaigns at a Late Helladic (LH) center, Mycenae is one of the most thoroughly excavated and studied places in the world. For over a century now, German, Greek and British prehistorians have revealed a wealth of archaeological information, as well as costly and beautiful artifacts. Work still continues there on a yearly basis.

Since the absolute dates for Mycenae and the entire East Mediterranean Late Bronze Age come directly from Egypt,(2) if Immanuel Velikovsky’s revised chronology is valid, one should expect, that numerous 500 to 700-year problems trouble those who deal with Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age—which is the topic of the present essay.

In the present volume, Velikovsky treated the Lion Gate of Mycenae (Fig. 1, A), and brought out how, and why, late nineteenth-century art historians and excavators, who studied the stone carving and the gateway it surmounts, originally ascribed them to the eighth century B.C.; he also showed how adherents to Egyptian chronology pushed the date back by half a millennium to ca. 1250 B.C. The debate over those 500 years, long ago resolved in favor of the Egyptian time scale, still presents problems for modern archaeologists. Thus, John Boardman, who does accept a thirteenth-century attribution for the gate, recently concluded that “more than five hundred years were to pass before Greek sculptors could [again] command an idiom which would satisfy these aspirations in sculpture and architecture.” (3)

The Lion Gate was the main entrance-way of Mycenae. Between the Gate and the building known as the Granary (Fig. 1, C), A. J. B. Wace dug a test trench in 1920. The location was ideal for two reasons. First, being near the gate and along the main street into the city, the spot collected all tangible evidence of those who passed along the route.(4) Second, the area was a perfect sedimentation trap, enclosed by three walls, with the fourth side open to the steeply sloping ground of the citadel, so that it also collected the material that constantly rolled or washed down from above. Since that trench provides the best stratigraphical section of the site, and “is the main basis for trying to date the fall of Mycenae,” (5) the findings are of particular interest to us. Wace differentiated thirteen layers, which had collected between the fortification wall, the gate, and the Granary, all constructed in the middle of the Late Helladic (LH) III B period (ca. 1250 B.C.).(6) The bottom ten layers belonged exclusively to the period of construction until late in the pottery phase known as LH III C (set at 1250 - 1100/1050 B.C.), at most 150-200 years.(7) On the average, then, each of those layers represented ca. 15-20 years.

The eleventh layer from the bottom, in addition to “eleventh-century” LH III C pottery, contained a significant number of fragments of Orientalizing ware (i.e., seventh to sixth century B.C.). That layer, which, by the accepted scheme, must represent the passage of ca. 500 years, was only about 1/6 the total thickness of the ten layers beneath it, which represent only 150 to 200 years. It was, in fact, thinner than one of the earlier layers representing ca. 15-20 years.

It is very important to note that the eleventh layer contained no pottery dated to 1050-700 B.C. If people continued to inhabit, enter, and leave Mycenae between the eleventh century and the seventh, one would expect some evidence of that fact to appear in that trench near the gate, yet none does. Even if the site was abandoned for centuries, one would still expect a layer of “wash,” consisting of ashes and dissolved mud brick from ruined structures on the citadel to lie above the eleventh-century pottery and below that of the seventh,(8) but there was none. Neither was there a seventh-century layer distinguishable from the eleventh-century one, as if centuries of debris and/or wash had been removed before the seventh-century pottery was deposited. One thin layer contained pottery of two styles customarily separated by hundreds of years, yet the trench showed no evidence that those centuries actually transpired.(9)

In the 1920’s, Wace considered the eleventh layer, its seventh-century pottery, to be “the last true Mycenaean stratum,” (i.e., it followed immediately after the tenth layer, and began to form in the twelfth century).(10) Some thirty years later, however, disturbed by the 400-year-later material, he changed his mind, and reduced the age of the entire layer, proposing that its LH III C contents were deposited centuries after they were made.(11) That solution, however, still runs into the same problem as before—unless removed (for no apparent reason), the evidence of centuries’ duration, either as pottery or as wash, should still appear somewhere in the section—if not within the eleventh layer, then beneath it and the tenth. Other scholars(12) do not accept Wace’s redating, but follow his original assessment, that, despite the seventh-century material, the eleventh layer belongs mainly to the twelfth century.

If Mycenaean pottery had not received its absolute dates from Egypt, then, on the basis of that and other stratigraphical sections from Prosymna, Tiryns, Pylos, Athens, Sparta (Therapne), Kythera, Crete (Vrokastro), Chios, Troy, Italy (Taranto), etc.,(13) and also, as we shall presently see, on the basis of style, one might say—as numerous scholars once did—that LH III B-C pottery (1350-1100/1050 B.C. by Egyptian reckoning) immediately preceded the seventh-sixth century Orientalizing ware.


  1. Pausanias I:16. 3-5.

  2. A. Furumark, The Chronology of Mycenaean Pottery (Stockholm, 1941), especially pp. 110-115. More recently, see V. Hankey and P. Warren, “The Absolute Chronology of the Aegean Late Bronze Age,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies (Univ. of London) (henceforth BICS), 21 (1974), pp. 142-152.

  3. J. Boardman, Greek Art (New York, 1964), p. 22.

  4. A. J. Evans (The Palace of Minos [London, 1935], IV, pp. 63-64 n. 1) was perhaps correct in viewing that narrow alley-way as a dumping ground, but it was better stratified than he believed.

  5. A. D. Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age (London, 1967), p. 221.

  6. A. J. B. Wace, “The Lion Gate and Grave Circle Area,” Annual of the British School at Athens (henceforth BSA), 25 (1921-23), p. 18; G. Mylonas, Mycenae and the Mycenaean Age (Princeton, 1966), pp. 21, 33.

  7. Lacy, (1967), pp. 221-2. Although Furumark (1941, p. 115) assigned the end of the LH III C to ca. 1100, A. M. Snodgrass (The Dark Age of Greece [Edinburgh, 1971], pp. 134-5) had it end at 1125 B.C. in W. Attika, 1050 B.C. in the Argolid, and still later in the hinter regions. Realizing that he chose his Argolid dating in order to have continuous occupation there until the next pottery style (Protogeometric) arrived, he ackowledged that the duration might be too long, and that there might be a break (ibid., pp. 57-124). V. Desborough (The Last Mycenaeans and Their Successors [Oxford, 1964], p. 75; The Greek Dark Ages [London, 1972], pp. 69, 79), did not grant Argolid LH III C the extra 50 years which Snodgrass postulated, though he later conceded that Wace’s eleventh layer possibly extended into the early eleventh century (“Late Burials from Mycenae,” BSA, 68 [1973], p. 100). For our purposes, current scholarly disagreements on chronology are of interest, but compared to the 500-700-year problems treated in this volume, 50-year differences seem rather inconsequential.

  8. Cf. the very thick layer of wash from higher up the citadel overlying the cult center (Fig. 1, K) (A. H. S. Megaw, “Archaeology in Greece, 1964-65,” Archaeological Reports 1964-65, p. 11; W. D. Taylour, “A Note on the Recent Excavations at Mycenae, etc.,” BSA 68 [1973], p. 260), where the slope was much more precipitous. More to the point, the first Grave Circle (Fig. 1, D), which lies much closer to the Granary, also had a layer of washed debris above it (Wace, 1921-23, p. 126).

  9. Wace, ibid., pp. 34-36, and fig. 4, p. 19.

  10. Ibid., p. 34.

  11. Wace, “The Last Days of Mycenae,” in The Aegean and Near East (ed. S. Weinberg) (Locust Valley, NY, 1956), pp. 129-130.

  12. E.g., Desborough, 1973, pp. 99-100.

  13. Prosymna: see n. below; Tiryns: for the debate over the twelfth- or seventh-century date of the “temple,” see below, section Tiryns. For more recent discoveries of late eighth-century pottery immediately above, or mixed with, Late Helladic IIIB/C wares on the citadel, in the lower town, on the plain, and in a wall chamber, see W. Rudolph, “Tiryns 1968” in Tiryns V (ed. U. Janzen) (Maintz, 1971), p. 93; U. Jantzen et al., “Tiryns-Synoro-Iria 1965-1968,” Archäologischer Anzeiger (henceforth Arch. Anz.), 83 (1968), p. 371; W. Rudolph, “Tiryns: Unterburg 1968 etc.” in Tiryns VIII (ed. U. Jantzen) (Mainz, 1975), pp. 97, 99, 114; H. Doehl, “Tiryns Stadt: Sondage 1968” also in Tiryns VIII, pp. 152, 154. Athens: for eighth-century pottery mixed with LH III C in a well, see O. Broneer, “A Mycenaean Fountain on the Athenian Acropolis,” Hesperia, 8 (1939), pp. 402-403, 427-428; Therapne: see n. below; Kythera: for the lack of material between LH III B2 and the eighth century, see J. N. Coldstream, in Kythera (ed. Coldstream and G. Huxley) (Park Ridge, N. J., 1973), pp. 305-306; Vrokastro: for late eighth-century ware immediately above, mixed with, and below Late Minoan III pottery, see E. H. Hall, Excavations in Eastern Crete, Vrokastro (Philadelphia, 1914), pp. 89-90, 108-109; Chios: for the abandonment of Emborio from LH III C till the late eighth century, see Snodgrass, (1971), p. 90; Troy: for an early eighth-century sherd beneath LH III C structures with no evidence of later disturbance, see C. Blegen et al., Troy IV.1 (Princeton, 1956), pp. 231-233. For late eighth- and early seventh-century ware immediately above, mixed with, and beneath apparently uncontaminated LH III C layers, see ibid., pp. 158, 181, 253, 265. For a fuller discussion, see below, section “Troy”; Scoglio del Tonno (near Taranto): for seventh-century ware mixed with LH III C, see T. J. Dunbabin, The Western Greeks (Oxford, 1948), p. 28, and idem, “Minos and Daidalos in Sicily,” Papers of the British School at Rome, 16 (N. S. 3) (1948), p. 10 and n. 77; other cases also exist.