tomb of agamemnon

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TREASURY OF ATREUS, Mycenae, Greece

Elite families buried their dead outside the citadel walls in beehive-shaped tombs covered by enormous earthen mounds. The best preserved of these tholos tombs in Mycenae’s so-called Treasury of Atreus, which already in antiquity people mistakenly believed was the repository of the treasure of Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. A long passageway (dromos) leads to a doorway surmounted by a relieving triangle similar to that in the roughly contemporaneous Lion Gate, but without figural ornamentation. Both the doorway and the relieving triangle, however, once had engaged columns on each side, preserved in fragments today. The burial chamber, or tholos, consists of a series of stone corbeled sources laid on a circular base to form a lofty dome. After the builders set the stones in place, the masons had to finish the surfaces with great precision to make them conform to both the horizontal and vertical curvature of the wall.  

King Nestor’s Cup, Mycenae, c. 1600-1500 BC

This golden goblet was found by Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae in Shaft IV at Grave Circle A. A similar goblet is described in the Iliad as belonging to Nestor, King of Pylos with, “four handles…around each…a pair of golden doves was feeding. Below were two supports.” While this cup is not four handled, it does include doves on the handles with supports beneath. Schliemann named it “Nestor’s Cup” due to its similarities to the one mentioned in the Iliad.

Schliemann believed that the shaft graves dated to the time of the Trojan War, and identified Shaft Grave V as the tomb of Agamemnon. However, Schliemann’s identification of the shaft graves with Homeric heroes was not accepted by many archaeologists even in his own day. The shaft graves are conventionally dated to c. 1600-1500 BC, some three centuries before the date of the Trojan War (if the war is to be considered as a historical event). Thus the so-called golden “Cup of Nestor” or “Nestor’s Cup” from Mycenae would have been buried hundreds of years before Nestor supposedly made use of it at Troy.

Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon (1869) - Frederic Leighton. Electra was the daughter of King Agamemnon & Queen Clytemnestra, & thus princess of Argos. She & her brother Orestes plotted revenge against their mother Clytemnestra & stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

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The Treasury of Atreus (or Tomb of Agamemnon) is an impressive tholos tomb located on the Panagitsa Hill at Mycenae, Greece. It was constructed around 1250 B.C. The tomb is constructed in the style of other tholoi of the Mycenaean world, nine in total around the citadel of Mycenae. With its monumental shape and grandeur, the Treasury of Atreus is one of the most impressive monuments surviving from Mycenaean Greece.

The lintel stone above the doorway weighs 120 tons and measures 8.3 x 5.2 x 1.2 meters, the largest in the world. The tomb was used for an unknown period. Mentioned by Pausanias, it was still visible in 1879 when the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the shaft graves under the agora in the Acropolis at Mycenae. Although the tomb has no relationship with Atreus or Agamemnon, it was named thus by Heinrich Schliemann and the name has been used ever since.

It is formed of a semi-subterranean room of circular plan, with a corbel arch covering that is ogival in section. With an interior height of 13.5 meters and diameter of 14.5 meters, it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years. Great care was taken in positioning the enormous stones to guarantee the vault’s stability over time in bearing the force of compression from its own weight. This resulted in a perfectly smoothed internal surface, onto which could be placed gold, silver and bronze decoration.

The tholos was entered from an inclined uncovered hall or dromos, 36 meters long with dry-stone walls. A short passage led from the tholos to the actual burial chamber, which was dug out in a cubical shape.

The entrance portal to the tumulus was richly decorated: half-columns in green limestone with zig-zag motifs on the shaft, a frieze with rosettes above the architrave of the door, and spiral decoration in bands of red marble that closed the triangular aperture above an architrave. The capitals are influenced by ancient Egyptian examples. Other decorative elements were inlaid with red porphyry and green alabaster.