The Religious Culture of Mycenae

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Located on the island of Create, Mycenae was a major centre of culture, military power and trade from around 1600 to 1100 BC. The archaeological and cultural evidence surrounding Mycenaean society has been compiled from a range of sources, including architectural ruins, shaft graves, Greek prototype alphabets Linear A and B and a few fragments of writing. Several Mycenaean "cults" or sects of religion existed. Some of these, such as the Mithras, were adapted into the classical Greek religious pantheon.

1 Polytheistic and Syncretistic

While the extent to which Mycenaean religion influenced classical Greek religion is hard to ascertain -- some of ancient Greece's religious practices may have developed from other cultural strongholds on the island -- historians are reasonably sure that the Mycenaeans were both polytheistic and syncretistic. Apart from having their own pantheon of gods, they would also add gods from cultures that the traded with -- including the Egyptians and Phoenicians -- into their religion. At the top of the pantheon was the sky god called Dyeus, which roughly translates as "deity." The name Dyeus shows up in the early religions of many other European civilizations, suggesting that this god became Zeus in classical Greece mythology and "Dyaus Pitar" in Hinduism.

2 Minoan Influences

Mycenaean culture was closely associated with Minoa, a set of Bronze Age settlements on the Aegean coasts and in Crete. Roughly midway through their history as a developed civilization, the Mycenaeans adopted the Minoan goddesses into their pantheon. Many of the gods' names appear in Linear A and Linear B inscriptions and can be found later in classical Greece mythology, including Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes, Eileithyia and Dionysos.

3 Sacrifice, Heroes and Shaft Graves

Mycenaean religion also involved sacrifices and offerings to the gods. Evidence found in archaeological digs as well as the remains of fully-intact shaft graves found in Mycenae suggest that people were regularly sacrificed. However, a cult of heroes was also present in Mycenaean religion. These heroes were exalted upon their deaths in homage to their good deeds. What is undoubted is that the Mycenaeans felt compelled to offer food, precious resources and minerals to their gods. Two well-preserved bodies found in a shaft grave further reveal that the Mycenaeans embalmed their dead before burial. Archaeologists suggest that this was done to prepare the body for the afterlife.

4 Theological System

While the rituals and customs associated with Mycenaean religious practice were somewhat varied between the cults, a clear priest-king system was in place to order the overall religious culture. A theocrat ruled Mycenae and there was general consensus that human beings ought to think of themselves as servants both to the gods and to the priest-king. There is, moreover, a strand of thought within Mycenaean theology that envisions a force more powerful than that of the gods. The poets Hesiod and Aeschylus, who post-date Mycenae but wrote of its culture, spoke of a fate called Moira who predestines all that happens, even the actions of the pantheon. Moira evokes images of the Mycenaeans believing in an order to the universe, not merely a random happening of events. An ordered theology also dictates the need for a divine ruler to interpret fate's will and to control the lives of ordinary citizens.

Jeremy Bradley works in the fields of educational consultancy and business administration. He holds a Master of Business Administration degree.