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Mycenaean Civilization

Greek civilization of the second millennium B.C., known as Mycenaean after the famous archaeological site of Mycenae1 in the northeastern Peloponnese (the peninsula that constitutes southern Greece), lies outside the limits of the Overview, but perhaps some background information on it will be helpful. Mycenaean civilization was organized around large architectural complexes today referred to as “palaces.” These structures held many rooms, often elaborately decorated with wall paintings, and were outfitted with luxuries like bath tubs. The elite of Mycenaean society2 lived very well, in comfort and style.

Political power was held by monarchical rulers3 apparently controlling separate territories and never achieving unity among themselves. These potent and wealthy rulers controlled redistributive economies, in which agricultural products and other goods were brought into the palaces and then redistributed throughout the society on a predetermined scheme rather than through free markets. Writing, done in a syllabic script known today as Linear B, was used in Mycenaean society primarily to record the transactions of this process, and presumably only the scribes in charge of this record keeping knew how to write. Mycenaean society seems to have been hierarchical, with social differentiation among people marked by wealth, clothing, and titles. No written literature—prose or poetry—is attested for this period.

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