TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.
Can you imagine living in a civilization where your only job opportunities are to be a soldier or a laborer? This was basically the reality of life in the Mycenaean civilization. The Mycenaeans, the earliest Greek civilization, did not have a large and illustrious kingdom like the ancient Greeks did later. Instead, the civilization was largely hierarchical and most facets of life were based on this hierarchy, or ranking of social classes.
Let's take a look at what life would have been like for an everyday Mycenaean. Mycenaeans could not just get any job they wanted. Instead, their jobs depended on their class in the hierarchy. A wanax, or king-type ruler, was the head of the city states in the civilization and was a position that could only be taken by a select few. There were other positions high up in the hierarchy, such as the military leader called the lawagetas and religious positions like the telestai (though the telestai might have just been influential land owners). Some Mycenaean men were hequetai, warriors who were the soldiers and army of the civilizations. Besides these positions, most of society was composed of laborers like farmers, fishermen, and construction workers. The women could rarely have positions as laborers or soldiers, so they typically worked as weavers or textile makers.
Clothing, Leisure, and Food
The Mycenaeans inherited some of the clothing styles of the Minoan civilization, a civilization on the island of Crete whom they probably conquered. One of these styles was women's pairing of long skirts, typically with colorful geometric patterns, and bolero shirts (much like a jacket) with an open front. The Mycenaeans adopted most of this, but often changed the open-fronted shirt and closed it or covered it with another shirt. Men wore loin cloths which were pieces of cloth tied around the waist to cover the groin area. The most common clothing for men was a tunic. Tunics in the Mycenaean civilization were usually long dress-like shirts with long sleeves and were typically tied around the waist with a belt. Soldiers usually wore an armor of bronze.
Also like the Minoans, bull-leaping was a popular sport of the early Mycenaeans. It involved a bull running at a person, and then the person trying to somersault over the bull. Unlike the Minoan civilization where everyone participated in this sport, in the Mycenaean civilization, only upper-class men participated in the sport. They were also involved in wrestling, boxing, hunting, and - a favorite of the upper-class - chariot racing. Chariot racing was what you might expect - men would drive chariots to see who could drive fastest and come in first. Rather than the four-wheeled chariots you might picture, though, Mycenaean chariots had two wheels.
We do not know a lot about food in the Mycenaean civilization, except from trade. From trade records, we know that the Mycenaeans were major producers of olive oil, wine, and grains. We also know that they hunted, based on what we know about their sports. The average Mycenaean diet was probably composed of various grains and some kind of meat - probably deer or boar.
Housing and Architecture
Like many things in the Mycenaean society, housing for the Mycenaeans was largely dependent on class. Since the Mycenaeans had a strict social hierarchy, the king and other leaders lived in elaborate palaces. The workers, however, lived in smaller homes closer to the fields where they worked. We do not have as much archaeological evidence of the homes of laboring Mycenaeans, as we do with the palaces, so what their housing would have looked like is mostly conjecture. We do know that every Mycenaean home - houses of the workers as well as the palace - were rectangular, though it is unclear why. Similar to the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, the homes of the Mycenaeans might have been made of mudbrick, which was basically mud baked or dried into bricks. The upper-class homes might have been made similar to the palaces, which were made of ashlar, or cut stone, and held together with plaster.
Inside of the structures, there was probably a hearth which would have been used for cooking and, in the palace, was used for religious ceremonies as well. Beyond this, we know little about Mycenaean furniture because the acacia wood that was used has not held up throughout the centuries, like the mudbricks the houses were probably made of. Furniture was probably not much different from that of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures.
While there is a lot we do not know about the Mycenaeans, the earliest Greeks, we do know that their civilization was hierarchical and many facets of life were dependent on these classes. Most of the population were laborers; some of the upper-class held positions as a wanax, lawagetas, or telestai who were, respectively, the ruler, military leader, and religious authorities. Somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy were the hequetai, who were warriors who formed much of the Mycenaean military. The clothing of the Mycenaeans was similar to the Minoan civilization with women wearing bolero shirts and skirts and men wearing loin cloths or tunics. For leisure, Mycenaean upper-class men were involved in a variety of sports like wrestling, boxing, chariot racing, and bull-leaping. While we do not know much about Mycenaean food or furniture, their homes were probably built of mudbrick while upper-class homes, perhaps, were built of ashlar, or cut stone, like the palaces.
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