History Files


European Kingdoms

Ancient Greece





The Mycenaeans were West Indo-Europeans, part of a much greater expansion and migration of Indo-Europeans (IEs) from the northern shores of the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. A general consensus of scholarly opinion was that they migrated into Eastern Europe from the Pontic-Caspian steppe in the period between 3300-2600 BC. After having left the main westwards migration of proto-IE around 2500 BC, they gradually blended into the indigenous population in the lower Balkans (the Pelasgians) between then and 2000 BC. However, in recent years that idea has undergone some refinement.

Clearly the Mycenaeans were part of an imported steppe culture. But the close relationship between Mycenaean and proto-Indo-Iranian languages shows that these two branches divided fairly late, sometime between 2500-2000 BC. Archaeologically, Mycenaean chariots, spearheads, daggers and other bronze objects show striking similarities to the Seima-Turbino culture (between about 1900-1600 BC) of the northern Russian forest-steppes, known for the great mobility of its nomadic warriors (Seima-Turbino sites have been found as far away as Mongolia). It is therefore likely that the Mycenaeans descended from the steppe into Greece between 1900-1650 BC, where they intermingled with the locals to create a new, unique Greek culture. Naturally, as the new dominant force in the region, their language would also have dominated. The locals had gained between 62% and 86% of their DNA from people who had introduced farming from Anatolia as part of 'Old Europe'. They would have adopted this language fairly quickly and, if not them, then their children or grandchildren would have, which is why modern Greek expresses its IE origins so clearly. However, the IE influence on DNA in Greece was more subtle than across much of Europe, showing that these Mycenaean IEs arriving in Greece were less in number than some of their IE cousins.

The new proto-Greek speakers covered a swathe of territory that reached as far north as Epirus. They emerged into the archaeological record rather suddenly, with the appearance of shaft grave royal burials around 1650 BC. but, whilst the first city states had emerged by 1600 BC (the same time at which Mycenaean culture also appears on Cyprus), the Mycenaeans did not form one nation state. Instead they banded their independent city states together under one leader in times of trouble. During their own time they were known primarily as Achaeans, after the Achaea region of Greece.

Records on the Mycenaeans are very sparse, usually being limited to myths and legends. Many of their leaders are semi or wholly legendary. The latter are backed in lilac, usually for events prior to the Trojan War. Mycenaeans also established trading outposts on the Anatolian coast, and were possibly the Ahhiyawa mentioned in Hittite texts from the mid-fifteenth century onwards. Their civilisation seems to have flourished immediately following the fall of Crete, which seems to have dominated the Greeks up to that point.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, and from External Links: Haplogroup R1a (Eupedia Genetics), and DNA clue to origins of early Greek civilization (BBC News).)

c.3000 - 2800 BC

The city of Pavlopetri is founded on the south-eastern coastal tip of the Peloponnese, in southern Laconia. Pavlopetri's inhabitants later copy Cretan and mainland styles, making exact ceramic copies of high status Cretan bronze jugs, in effect making cheap copies of expensive exotic goods in much the same way that desirable designer brands are copied today. But the early city is neither a Minoan colony or a Mycenaean settlement - it predates both peoples in the area, making it more likely to be a Pelasgian settlement that is later absorbed by the Mycenaeans and is subject to heavy Minoan influence or control in the second millennium BC. The city flourishes, reaching a peak around 2000 BC.

Modern computer graphics show a reconstructed Pavlopetri based on surviving ruins and remnants of the street plan, all of which still exist about three metres under the sea

c.2600 BC

This is a tentative dating for the earliest members of Greek mythology where it relates to kings of the Mycenaeans. Pandion II is the mythical ruler of Athens and father to Lycus of Lycia and Aegeus of Athens. Given the links between Aegeus and Medea, Pandion (if he exists at all) is more likely to be a thirteenth century BC king who is mistaken for an earlier king or whose dating is incorrect.

c.2000 BC

Now at its height, the city of Pavlopetri contains detached and semi-detached two-storey houses with gardens, clothes drying in the courtyards, walls, and well-made streets. There are larger, apparently public buildings and evidence of a complex water management system involving channels and guttering. The city is divided into pleasant courtyards and open areas where people cultivate gardens, ground grain, dry clothes and probably even chat with their neighbours. Dotted between the buildings and sometimes built into the walls themselves are stone-lined graves. These contrast with an organised cemetery just outside the city. This is not a village of farmers but a stratified society in which people have professions - city leaders, officials, scribes, merchants, traders, craftsmen (potters, bronze workers, artists), soldiers, sailors, farmers, shepherds and also probably slaves - all echoing the early hierarchical and organised aspects of Bronze Age Greece. Pavlopetri is now heavily influenced by the dominant regional Minoan culture.

c.1600 BC

Mycenaean culture appears on Cyprus, gradually displacing Minoan culture.

c.1470 BC

During this period, Greece is still under the domination of the Minoans, but the volcano at the heart of the island of Thera erupts around this time, ending Minoan dominance of the Mycenaeans. The various Mycenaean city states begin to dominate not only Greece but the islands of the Aegean and Crete itself. Iolkos and Mycenae both rise to prominence at this time, as do the semi-mythical early Thracians.

c.1450 BC

The Bronze Age kingdom of Ahhiyawa first becomes prominent on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, being mentioned in Hittite texts, but it remains of minor importance. Its main base or capital is Milawata (Millawanda, classical Miletus) and its people are usually believed to be Mycenaeans.

13th century BC

Although Mycenaean city states reach the height of their power by the end of the fourteenth century BC, Greek legends and myths provide only enough names to list possible kings as far back as about the early thirteenth century BC. These are the immediate ancestors of the kings who become involved in the Trojan War, the one key event in Mycenaean history which solidifies their existence to later generations as anything more than a series of archaeological digs (despite the war being remembered only in oral tradition until Homer writes it down some four hundred years or more later). The city states that can confidently be claimed as existing with their own kingship include Achaean Crete, Athens, Iolkos, Laconia, Mycenae, and Phthia.

Mycenae reconstruction
This artist's reconstruction of the citadel at Mycenae shows it at the height of its power, when Mycenaean Greeks ruled or terrorised much of the eastern Mediterranean Sea


The site of Mycenae was occupied from about 3500 BC by indigenous peoples, but archaeological evidence was mostly destroyed by a later construction. Indo-Europeans, probably the Mycenaeans themselves, settled the site about 2000 BC and existed by farming the area and keeping cattle. The early stages of settlement also show that there was interaction with Minoan Crete, which is believed to have dominated the early Mycenaeans, at least in the Peloponnese, until the fifteenth century BC.

The citadel of this Mycenaean city state was at Argos, in the Peloponnese, situated on the lower slopes of the Euboea Mountain, on the road leading from the Argolic Gulf to the north (leading towards Corinth and Athens). The citadel was rebuilt about 1350 BC, using limestone blocks so massive that later ages thought it to be the work of the cyclopes. These outer walls contained later rebuilds of the royal palace. The name of this city state was adopted to describe the whole of this Late Bronze Age Greek civilisation.

Perseus was, according to Greek mythology, a son of Zeus, and seems to have been the first semi-historical king of Mycenae. The city state was at the height of its power by 1300 BC, close to the time at which he would have ruled given the generations between him and Agamemnon.

(Additional information from History of Humanity - Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC (Vol II), Ahmad Hasan Dani, Jean-Pierre Mohen, J L Lorenzo, & V M Masson (Unesco 1996).)


Son of DanaŽ, dau of King Acrisius of Argos. City founder.

Perseus is considered by later Greeks to be an historical figure. He marries Andromeda, daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia of Ethiopia, after freeing her from the rock to which she is chained in order to appease a sea serpent named Cetus which is terrorising the people at the bidding of Poseidon. Then he fortifies Mycenae (according to Apollodorus, suggesting that the settlement exists before it becomes a fortress).


Son. Also king of Tiryns.

Amphitron / Amphitryon


Amphitron accidentally kills his father-in-law, Electryon, and appears briefly to hold power in Mycenae before he is driven out by one of Electryon's brothers, Sthenelos. He flees to Thebes, where he is cleansed of his guilt for the accident.


Brother of Electryon. Also king of Tiryns.

Eurystheas / Eurystheus

Son. Also king of Tiryns.

Atreus and Aegisthus are the sons of Pelops, king of Pisa, and grandsons of Tantalus of Sipylus (Maeonia). Eurystheas leaves them both in charge of Mycenae while he proceeds to attack Athens. He is defeated resoundingly and killed, along with his own sons. With no direct descendant to occupy the throne, Atreus and Thyestes fight between each other for the kingdom. Atreus wins and becomes king. Archaeologically, the citadel they occupy is known as Phase IIa, in the Late Helladic II phase of the Late Bronze Age.


Son. Founder of the House of Atreus. Murdered by Aegisthus.


Nephew. Usurper. Driven out but returns c.1183 BC.

Thyestes / Thyestis

Father, and brother of Pelops. Joint ruler.

The brothers Agamemnon and Menelaus, sons of Atreus (or grandsons via Pleisthenes, according to alternate traditions), shelter with Tyndareus of Laconia following the usurpation of the Mycenaean throne. Together the brothers return to drive out Aegisthus and Thyestes, and Agamemnon increases the kingdom's territory by conquest to become the most powerful Mycenaean ruler.

c.1200 - 1177 BC


Killed Tantalus of Maeonia and married his widow.

c.1200 BC


Inherited the throne of Sparta. Took part in the Trojan War.

c.1193 - 1183 BC

Agamemnon calls to arms the forces of his allied Achaean kingdoms, including Athens, Corinth, Crete, Laconia, Phthia, Pylos, Tiryns, and Thebes. Before he can leave for the Trojan War, the seer Calchas (later to be found in Pamphylia) prophesises that in order to gain a favourable wind, the king must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigeneia, to the gods. Afterwards, the force sails off to various adventures on its way to Troy, leaving Agamemnon's strong-willed wife, Clytemnestra, in charge.

Clytemnestra begins an affair with Aegisthus, the only surviving son of Thyestes and the former usurper king of Mycenae itself. When Agamemnon returns (with his captive consort, Cassandra) the pair are murdered in the bath by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, partially in revenge for the death of Iphigeneia.

c.1193 - ? BC


Wife. Daughter of Tyndareus of Laconia.

c.1183 - ? BC


Cousin of Agamemnon and third husband of Clytemnestra.


Killed his mother and fled the kingdom for a time.

Tisamenus / Tissamenus / Tisamenos


1200 - 1140 BC

Mycenaean power is gradually eroded by the invading Dorians from the north, with domination coming by 1140 BC. The surviving Ionic-speaking Mycenaeans gather and flourish in Athens, or in conquered Levantine territories which probably include Phillistia, or in new colonies founded well away from the Dorians, such as Epirus in north-western Greece or Pamphylia in Anatolia. All the Mycenaean palaces and fortified sites are destroyed and a major proportion of sites are abandoned. The Peloponnese appears to decline by about seventy-five per cent. Mycenae itself remains occupied, but is burned twice in succession and survives in a much-reduced state and size, never again to hold the reins of power.

Mycenae's citadel in ruins
Mycenae was already in ruins by the start of the first millennium AD, having been abandoned during the fall of Mycenaean Greece

Once the Hittites had been destroyed in c.1200 BC, and the Mycenaeans had themselves (probably) smashed Troy, the colonisation of the western coast of Anatolia could begin (the possibility that the earlier Ahhiyawa may also be a Mycenaean colony notwithstanding), allowing the Mycenaeans to form or take over states or regions such as Caria, Lycia and Maeonia, and perhaps Pamphylia, between about 1100 to 900 BC which themselves usually survive until they are conquered by the later great empires.

However, in common with much of the Middle East, general instability driven by a major regional drought causes a dark age to fall throughout the remainder of Greece, until about 750 BC, when early Classical Greece begins to emerge. Overseas trade ceases in the Mediterranean, people are no longer buried with lavish grave goods, and several fortresses are destroyed (by the Dorians) or substantially reduced in size - or abandoned altogether. The only state to buck the trend is that of Alashiya, which prospers, perhaps due to the removal of Mycenaean dominance in the region.

In Greece, Classical states such as Athens, Corinth, Epirus, Macedonia, Phthia, Sparta, and Thrace slowly emerge (or re-emerge) during the ninth to seventh centuries.


Last of the Atreidae.

c.1150 BC

Mycenae is attacked yet again (for at least the third time) and is razed. Subsequent habitation of the site is on a reduced basis.

c.1000 BC

The city of Pavlopetri in southern Laconia is submerged beneath about three metres (yards) of water, probably by an earthquake. The city's disappearance appears to occur in three stages, with sections of it being abandoned to the water but buildings on higher ground remaining occupied, so perhaps three successive earthquakes in one of the most geologically active regions of Europe seals the city's fate.

Even today, Pavlopetri appears as a series of large areas of stones indicating building complexes, among which a network of walls can be traced. Archaeologists recover the shards of everyday items such as cooking pots, crockery, jugs, storage vessels and grinding stones as well as finer drinking vessels probably kept to impress and brought out when higher status guests paid a visit or used to make offerings to the gods.

fl c.950s BC


King of Sparta.

c.940s BC

The sons of Aristodemus are Eurysthenes and Procles, who found the Agaid and Eurypontidae dynasties respectively of Sparta.

fl c.950s BC


Regent for Aristodemus in Mycenae and his brother-in-law.

480 BC

FeatureLeonidas of Sparta achieves everlasting fame as a result of the events in the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persians in 480 BC. The 300 Spartans of Leonidas' personal guard leads a force totalling no more than 7,000 Greeks which includes Athenians, Corinthians, Helots, Mycenaeans, Thebans, and Thespians. (These events are depicted somewhat colourfully - but no less impressively for that - in the 2007 film, 300.)

468 BC

Troops from nearby Argos capture the Mycenaean citadel. Its inhabitants are expelled and the remaining fortifications are rendered useless. The citadel is later reoccupied, but only briefly. A theatre is built during the Hellenistic period, but by the time Rome conquers Greece in 146 BC, Mycenae has been abandoned for the final time and is already in ruins.