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The Mycenaean epoch

The Late Bronze age in the Cyclades is called Mycenaean (= Late Helladic) epoch (about 1700 to 1150 BC). The most important centres of the Mycenaean epoch were on the Peloponnese and the southern Greek mainland (Attica, Boeotia). The “Mycenaean Empire” consisted of a number of city states such as Mycenae, Tiryns, Thebes, Pylos and Athens which were reigned by kings. The Archaic heroes described by Homer in the Iliad and Odyssey were Mycenaeans, and the Trojan War took place in the Mycenaean period.

The Mycenaean culture is the first highly developed culture on the European continent. The population lived in well-organized cities and buried their dead in shaft and stone box graves; elaborate domend tombs were erected for the rulers. Striking are the often extremely rich grave treasures with jewellery (often made of gold), weapons and beautiful ceramics. The Mycenaeans used a syllable script (Linear B), which had developed from the Cretan script (Linear A). In contrast to the pre-Greek Minoans, the Mycenaeans used the Greek language: They were the first genuinely Greek people who immigrated into Greece coming from the north. From the 15th century BC onwards, the Mycenaeans invaded Crete (thus bringing a violent end to the Minoan culture) and the Aegean, including the coast of Asia Minor.

The Mycenaean Epoch on Naxos

On Naxos many finds from the Mycenaean period have been discovered, although our picture is far from complete. Quite early, in the 15th century BC, the first larger city of the island was built in the Chóra of Naxos over the Neolithic and Early Bronze age (and Minoan) settlement remains. Our knowledge about this Mycenaean city is quite limited, because its area lies mostly underneath the modern town. Towards the end of the Mycenaean era, the city was surrounded by a rampart built of stones, clay bricks and earth, which shows that an external threat existed. However, the city does not seem to have been destroyed during this period, as opposed to the Late Mycenaean settlement on the neighbouring island of Paros (which may mean that the settlement on Paros was conquered and destroyed by the Naxians).

Near the Mycenaean city in Grótta (Chóra), ancient cemeteries were discovered and excavated (at Aplómata and at the excavation site near the Metrópolis), which included some fully preserved 12th century tombs. The graves were rich in grave goods with high quality pottery, numerous pieces of jewellery, including gold, and some weapons. They testify to the high standard of living and the impressive wealth of the settlement. Particularly noteworthy are the very beautiful, expressive amphorae decorated with large octopuses, fish and birds in the “sea style” which is originally Minoan, but also typical of the late Mycenaean period on the Cyclades.

Mycenaean clay vessels, Naxos
Mycenaean clay vessels in the museum in the Chóra

Mycenaean marine style vases, Naxos
Mycenaean “marine style” vases

Mycenaean marine style vase, Naxos
here a typical painting with an octopus (1.200 to 1.100 B.C.)

Mycenaean amphorae bronze sword, Naxos
Mycenaean amphorae and a bronze sword from a grave in Kamíni near the Chóra

Mycenaean grave goods with gold jewellery, Naxos
rich grave goods with jewellery made of gold and semi-precious stones

rich gold jewellery from a Mycenaean tomb, Naxos
rich gold jewellery from a Mycenaean tomb in Aplómata near the Chóra

Mycenaean gold rosettes, Naxos
The gold rosettes were probably mounted on a wooden box or on a garment.

The remarkable flourishing of the Mycenaean settlement of the Chóra is probably not only due to a rich local economy and production, but also to the island’s location on the important sea route from the Peloponnese and Attica to the Eastern Aegean and Asia Minor, which were colonized by the Mycenaeans during this period. However, our understanding of these migrations is still small.

The most important Mycenaean monument on Naxos, apart from the excavations in the Grótta, are a dome tomb near Komiakí and a tomb near Apíranthos, which was subsequently used as a church (Panagía Chrysopigí).

Mycenaean domed tomb near Komiakí, Naxos
the Mycenaean domed tomb near Komiakí

Panagía Chrysopigí near Apíranthos, Naxos
The tiny church Panagía Chrysopigí near Apíranthos probably originally was a Mycenaean grave.

Panagía Chrysopigí near Apíranthos, Naxos
The stonework of this “church” is very unusual: It consists of very large, carefully joined stones, some of which stand upright.

The end of the Mycenaean epoch

Towards the end of the Mycenaean epoch, many Mycenaean cities were destroyed, but it is not clear by whom. Even after these destructions the Mycenaean culture lived on, albeit at a lower level; often the settlements were moved to remote and very sheltered places. As far as Naxos is concerned, no violent end of the Mycenaean settlement in the Grótta can (so far) be proven, and the transition to the following Geometric epoch (here presumably around 1,000 BC) took place without an obvious break: For example, the cemeteries and sanctuaries in many cases continued to be used (partly for a total of 1,000 years up to the beginning of the Roman period).

AIn addition to the pottery made in the Mycenaean style, some Cretan (Minoan) artifacts were found on Naxos in the excavations from the Late Bronze age. Relationships both in the form of imports and of exports existed above all to the Peloponnese, to Attica, to Euboea, to Crete and to the Dodecanese, but also to Cyprus and Egypt (the gold so abundantly used in the Mycenaean epoch probably originated from Egypt).

From of the Mycenaean epoch the following monuments are preserved on Naxos:

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used literature: Νάγια Πολυχρονάκου-Σγουρίτσα, Η ναξιακή παρουσία στο κατά Αιγαίο την την την Χαλκοκρατία Β, in: Η Νάξος Νάξος δια μέσου των Αιώνων Αιώνων, Πρακτικά του Β Πανελλήνιου Συνεδρίου, Ύστερη: Ιωάννης Κ Κ Προμπονάς, Στέφανος Ε. Ψαρράς, Αθήνα 2003