A Comparison of the Palaces of Three Ancient Greek Societies

Category: Archaeology
Last Updated: 17 May 2023
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A Comparison of Trojan, Minoan, and Mycenaean Palaces

In ancient Greece three societies were known for their unique architecture and culture: the Minoan, Mycenaean, and Trojan. Each one has a distinctive composition of architecture, decoration, and artifacts. Palaces structures in particular are an excellent reflection of the ruling class, economies, outside threats, and people within the culture. I would like to compare and contrast the characteristics of these palaces, and see which features might have grown out of local traditions and where outside influences also manifest in the archeological record. Finally, by comparing Mycenaean architectural remains with records from earlier sites like the House of Tiles at Lerna, I hope to make the case that the Mycenaean culture is the manifestation and link to an indigenous Greek mainland culture.

The Trojan city of Troy, located in northwestern Turkey, was the setting for the Trojan War as described in Homer's Iliad. It was first settled in 2500 BCE and inhabited until 301 BCE. Archeologists sequence Troy's history into ten periods corresponding to its periods of destruction and, and at its peak Korfmann has estimated a population size of 7,000-10,000 people (Rupp 2015). After each rebuilding, the Trojans made the city bigger and more defendable with larger walls which were built with a back angle to prevent siege drawbridges from being able reach the outer top edge.

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Archeologists have found the red dirt remains of mud- bricks bricks. As Troy progressed the structure of the walls improved and archeologists have found some of the earliest instances of stone blocks indicative of engineering influences from the Middle East (Rupp 2015). A defining feature of the Trojan culture is its emphasis on war, with artwork and burial practices glorifying soldiers. For example, upon cremation, the sword of the deceased would be reshaped to wrap around an urn which held the soldier's ashes. In some cases, a fallen soldier's horse would be killed and buried next to him.

Like in Mycenae, within the palace walls there was an upper citadel which housed either royalty or a ruling elite. Also like Mycenae, the surrounding buildings within the walls seemed to house other elite persons or commercial activity. Archeologists have found the remains of two ports at Troy, which used to be closer to the Mediterranean at the time. Trade was undoubtedly important but the emphasis on war is the clear defining characteristic of the Trojans.

This is all in contrast to the Bronze Age Minoan civilization, located on the island of Crete southeast of modern day Greece. Minoans greatly emphasized community, the feminine principle, and Man's connection to Nature (Rupp 2015). Scholars say this culture flourished between 2600-1400 BCE. Their palaces, as exemplified by Knossos on the southeast side of Crete, were up to six stories high, something which is not seen anywhere else in Mycenaean or Trojan culture.

Knossos was the ceremonial and political center of Minoan civilization. It was built on a hill with no defensive wall but placed defensively away from a direct and easily accessible attack by sea. It is also the location of the myth of the Minotaur. Interestingly, the layout of a labyrinth has been discovered corresponding to the Minotaur myth. Also, one the defining artistic motifs of this culture is the bull and there is much evidence of a sport (played up until current times) consisting of an acrobat leaping over a bull.

Archeologists have found an incredible number of figurines of females leading some to theorize that Minoan Crete may have even been a matriarchy. This castle did not seem like it was for a monarch, but perhaps for a rich family or that many people shared in the wealth there as the throne room itself was not elaborate, large, or particularly comfortable. In terms of its art, architecture, and social focus the Minoans were definitely distinct from the Trojans and Mycenaeans in their lack of glorification or preparation for outside threats or the desire to dominate Nature or other cultures.

Mycenaean culture, like Minoan Crete, and the Trojans had its own unique cultural characteristics as evidenced by the archeological remains of its palaces. This was a late Bronze Age culture dating from 1600-1100 BCE. It was located on the Peloponnesus, or the southern part of Greece. Its three main palaces are at Pylos, Tiryns, and Mycenae. All of them are built on well-defendable locations on hills. All of them have formidable cyclopean walls surrounding them and are situated on natural harbors. Like Troy, there was a main palace which housed the ruling elite or royalty, and surrounding rooms all within a fortified wall system. All three palaces include a central room surrounded by three more rooms (Pedley 2011). Like Trojan artwork, there is a great emphasis on war and domination and many depictions of soldiers in battle.

Along with war, trade was the most important part of Mycenaean life. The archeological records for Pylos, Tiryns, and Mycenae show evidence for treasuries and stockrooms for wine, olive oil, and grains. Clay recording tablets only show specific trading transactions for the most part ignoring historical or artistic events. This shows the importance of trade in Mycenaean life. The emphasis on trade, along with found artwork, like portrayals of tamed bulls and soldiers fighting lions, shows how domination over Nature and neighboring cultures was stressed and honored by Mycenaeans.

Even the palace, graves, and gates were laid out with this in mind. Archeologists call this "guided perspective". Visitors would first see the giant stones of the outer wall and an imposing palace on top of the hill. Next, a visitor would have to pass through the imposing Lion's Gate, which had two heraldic lions looking outward. Continuing on, the visitor would pass a grave circle which contained mythologized figures, suggesting the greatness of the current rulers. As one walks up the hill towards the palace one enters the main courtyard where trade could finally occur. All of this was created to demonstrate grandeur, impressiveness, and create intimidation.

The case can be made that Mycenaean culture is the result of indigenous Greek influences. The House of Tiles is an Early Bronze Age building located in Lerna, Greece very close to Mycenae and Tiryns. It is assumed that this was the house of an elite member of society or at least a wealthy one. At one time the roof held yellow tiles and decorative frescoes covered the walls. The House of Tiles has many similarities to later Mycenaean palaces. There was a central room surrounded by three additional rooms. It was built on a hill, a tell site in this case (Rupp 2015).

Also, it was built near a natural harbor and there was an outer wall suggesting that defense was important. Clay shards show the improvement of pottery skills which may have come through trade. Shards also show swirls which were a common motif in Aegean art. Beehive tombs and corbel vaulting is also found, a common feature of Mycenaean culture. Trade, wealth, architecture, and artistic motifs are all common to the House of Tiles and those of Mycenae, Pylos, and Tiryns. All of this suggests that there is a cultural continuity from pre- Mycenaean cultures into the later Mycenaean culture and its palaces.

Trojan, Minoan and Mycenaean culture all display unique characteristics as well as the adoption of technologies like stone building and pottery that were transmitted through trade, war, and contact with other cultures. For example, like the Trojans, Mycenaean culture emphasized domination over other peoples and built their palaces to be well defended from attackers. Finally, in terms of ancient Greek society, the archeological record suggests that it is the Mycenaeans who demonstrate a continuation of an indigenous mainland Greek culture.


  1. Pedley, John Griffiths. Greek Art and Archaeology. 5th ed. United States: Pearson Education (US), 2011. Rupp, Travis. "Lecture 3 Part 1 House of Tiles." 2013.
  2. Rupp, Travis. "Lecture 3 Part 2 Mycenaean Palaces." 2013.
  3. Rupp, Travis. "Minoan Culture." 24 Sept. 2015.
  4. Rupp, Travis. "Trojan Lecture." 1 Oct. 2015.

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A Comparison of the Palaces of Three Ancient Greek Societies. (2023, May 17). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-comparison-of-the-palaces-of-three-ancient-greek-societies/

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