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Mycenaean Civilization: Crafts, Industry & Technology

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has a bachelor's degree in literature and religious studies and a master's degree in religious studies and teaches Hebrew Bible at Western Kentucky University.

From pottery to huge stone walls, the Mycenaean industry relied on crafting and architecture. Find out more about the Mycenaeans' production of pottery, jewelry, armor, buildings, and more in this lesson.

Mycenaean Jewelry and Crafting

When you think about characteristics of ancient Greece, you probably think of incredible architecture, beautifully decorated pottery, and soldiers wearing shining plate armor. The Mycenaeans were the first Greek civilization and used some of the techniques and designs in their craft and technology that ancient Greece was later famous for.

Because the Mycenaeans' economy depended on trade and they imported a wide variety of materials from other nations, they were very active in crafting practical and luxury items. Artisans, the craftsmen making these items, usually did their crafting in palace workshops. Ivory was used exclusively in the palace as it was imported from Egypt and Syria. It was typically used in beauty products like combs and mirrors or luxury items like figurines and small vases. The leftover ivory was often formed into beads for necklaces.

While the lower classes could not afford to have jewelry, the upper class had many different types of jewelry made for them. Jewelry was similar to what you might find today: beaded necklaces, earrings, rings, and diadems. Since these items were used by the upper class, they were made from expensive imported materials like gold, silver, and even amber.

A Mycenaean earring
A Mycenaean earring

Sometimes the necklaces had a pendant or amulet containing a seal stone. The seal stone was made out of stones like amethyst, crystal, quartz, or ivory. The stones were then carefully carved, often with depictions of hunting scenes or animal sacrifices. The seal stones were sometimes melded into metal bands to be worn as rings.

Collection of various pieces of Mycenaean jewelry
Collection of various pieces of Mycenaean jewelry

Pottery Trends

Pottery was perhaps the most commonly crafted item of the ancient world. Pottery served practical purposes for storing goods or eating and drinking out of, but it was also an artistic item. The Mycenaeans made many stirrup jars which were used for holding oil and wine and had spouts to pour from. They made a variety of drinking vessels like teacups, goblets, and even tankards! While most Mycenaean pottery was made from clay, there was also another type of jar called an alabastron, made from alabaster, though over time the name just applied to the shape. Alabastrons, also called 'squat jars,' were short and wide and typically used to store ointments.

A Mycenaean stirrup jar. Notice the spout for pouring on the top right of the jar.
A Mycenaean stirrup jar

The Mycenaeans decorated their pottery in several different ways, using primarily black and dark red paints on the vessels. Much like their Minoan predecessors on the island of Crete, they painted illustrations of sea life. Some pottery had illustrations of animals and people, which carried over into ancient Greek art. They also started painting floral patterns on their pottery, much like you would find on modern day vases.

Mycenaean cup with squid design
Mycenaean cup with squid design

Mycenaean Armor and Weaponry

If you have ever watched a movie about ancient Greece where the soldiers were dressed in shining plate armor, you have some idea of what Mycenaean armor looked like. The Mycenaeans did not have much iron (which also means they did not have steel), so armor was typically made of bronze. Some of the armor was made of wood or leather, but was reinforced with bronze so it would hold up better in battle. Soldiers wore a cuirass over their chest which was basically an armor vest. They often also put shoulder guards over the cuirass. In addition, soldiers usually had helmets and shields to protect them during battle.

Weapons were often made of bronze and wood. The Mycenaeans used swords for hand to hand combat as well as bows and arrows for ranged combat. Javelins were used for the distances in between and would be thrown at the enemy. Mycenaeans also made small knives and daggers out of stone, particularly obsidian.

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