Daily Life in the Mycenaean Civilization

Instructor: Tommi Waters

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.

While most people know about ancient Greece because of its architecture and mythology, did you know there was an even earlier Greek civilization called the Mycenaeans? Read on to learn more about everyday life in the Mycenaean civilization.

Mycenaean Occupations

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.

Illustration of a Mycenaean chariot
Illustration of a Mycenaean chariot

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.

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