Treasury of Atreus (Mycenae, 14th century BC)

Treasury of Atreus (Mycenae, 14th century BC)

A beehive tomb on the site of the ancient city of Mycenae, attributed to the legendary king.

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Mycenae, Atreus, burial chamber, tomb, beehive tomb, treasury, Schliemann, Bronze Age, Panagitsa Hill, Crete, antiquity, Greek

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Mycenae was one of the major centers of Ancient Greek civilization in the late Bronze Age, so this period of Greek History is often called the Mycenaean civilization. This grand city and its citadel were discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in the 19th century. He was the one who discovered the ruins of Troy. Schliemann is also renowned for having excavated the famous beehive tomb on the site of the ancient city of Mycenae, which he named the Treasury of Atreus after the legendary king of Mycenae, the father of Agamemnon and Menelaus. However, it has not yet been proven whether the structure, actually a tomb, was really built for Atreus.

A tholos, or beehive tomb is a burial structure characterized by a circular plan and often a false dome. Although the first tholoi were built on the island of Crete, they are more characteristic of the Aegean Region of the Bronze Age. There were 9 tholoi discovered in Mycenae. Their structure consists of three major parts: an entrance passage, a doorway and the actual burial chamber.

The entrance passage, or dromos, that leads to the Treasury of Atreus on the Panagitsa Hill is 36 meters (118.1 ft) long and has stone walls.

The doorway, or stomion, is about 5.5 m (18.04 ft) high and 2.5 m (8.202 ft) wide. The enormous stone lintel above the door weighs 120 tonnes. A relieving triangle was formed from stones above the lintels; it is seen as the predecessor to the arch.

The internal diameter of the dome is about 14.5 meters (47.57 ft) with a height of about 13 meters (42.65 ft). The dome was constructed from stone blocks placed in 33 ascending concentric circles. The hole in the middle is covered with a circular stone. The structure is supported by its own weight, due to the precise positioning of the stones.

The floor is made of rammed earth. To the right of the entrance, a small passage leads to the actual burial chamber, where the deceased and his treasures may have been placed.

The dome, probably built in the 14th or 13th century BC, was the largest dome in the world for over a thousand years. Except for the circular stone on the top of the dome, all the pieces visible today are original, that is, more than 3,000 years old. If the tomb ever contained treasures, they disappeared in Antiquity, as archeologists did not find anything important during excavations.

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