Mycenaean Civilization: Economy & Trade

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.

The Mycenaeans did not have a monetary system. Instead, their economy depended entirely on agriculture and trade. In this lesson, learn more about the Mycenaean economy as well as some of its distant trading partners.

Mycenaean Agriculture

When we think of economy and trade, we usually think of selling products for money that can be used for other products. For the Mycenaean civilization, this was not the case; they did not even have a monetary system! The Mycenaeans were the first Greek civilization, and their kingdom spanned most of Greece and Crete. The civilization was probably at its strongest from the 16th through 12th centuries BCE. The stories from the Iliad and Odyssey, such as the story of the Trojan War, were about these Mycenaeans rather than the infamous ancient Greeks who came later.

The Mycenaean economy and trade depended mostly on agriculture, raising and gathering produce from crops and livestock. Because agriculture was so important, farmers and shepherds made up a large part of the population. Farmers were probably given land to work on by a wealthy land owner in exchange for a percentage of the produce.

Shepherds of the Mycenaean civilization cared primarily for sheep which produced wool. The farmers grew grains like wheat and barley which were staples of the Mycenaean diet. Olives and grapes were also common produce and were transformed into even more marketable items like olive oil and wine. In addition to the consumable olive oil, some was scented with various herbs to create perfumes!

Palace: Economic Center

If you were to imagine that you were an ancient farmer who grew enormous amounts of wheat, you would probably think about selling the extra to make some money for yourself and your family. The Mycenaeans, however, did not have a monetary system at all. Instead, surplus items that were extras were saved. The surplus was stored in storage rooms inside the palace. Artisans or craftsmen had workshops inside the palace as well, and they would be given some of the raw surplus materials to work with.

The palace acted as the social center of the major Mycenaean cities. Not only did the palace have storerooms for surplus and workshops for artisans, it also served as the trade center of the city. Some trade took place within the city itself. A farmer who harvested wheat might come into the palace to trade some of his surplus for honey produced by a beekeeper, for example.

Mycenaean stirrup vase which was used to store olive oil and wine.
Mycenaean stirrup vase

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