Travels in Turkey: House of the Virgin Mary

ON THE MENTION OF EPHESUS the impressive Roman town leaps immediately to mind. But everyone knows about that. However, there is another most intriguing place to visit in the vicinity. It is the house of the Virgin Mary. I say intriguing really because I had never known of it. One might say that is not surprising being that I am not particularly religious, but as Mary is a well known celebrity I thought her house would be ‘up there’ on the famous tourist list.


Virgin Mary’s House at Ephesus

Its discovery is an interesting tale but not, perhaps, for the sceptical ‘doubting Thomases’. The starting point, not surprisingly, is the Bible and the last mention of Mary before she disappeared. But it gives us a clue. It comes from St John, 19: 25-27:

“Now there was standing by the cross of Jesus His mother and His mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home.”

Obviously the disciple was John (as he was writing the Gospel, remember!), and he would have looked after Mary in his ‘own home’ which became Ephesus. Needless to say he would not have made a song and dance of it as Mary would have been in danger and wanted to play a low profile. However, it took until the late 19th century for someone to strike out to find where she might have lived in Ephesus. This someone was a Parisian priest, Father Julian Gouyet. Some may say this is the dodgy bit. His information came from the vision of a bedridden German nun, Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, who had died some 60 years earlier in 1824. The visions were recorded by a German Romantic poet, Clemens von Brentano, who was at her bedside on and off from 1818 until her death.


Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich

Visions, romantic poets. I can hear alarm bells going off. But without some beliefs in the, let’s say, ambiguous, some ‘Tales of the Unknown’ would remain unknown. Look at Heinrich Schliemann’s belief in Homer’s ‘mythical’ Trojan War – it led him to discover Troy. Okay I can’t think of any more (although John Turtle Wood found Ephesus by following a description of a procession found on a stone fragment). But Emmerich was quite remarkable and there are reports that, whilst suffering from high fever, she began bleeding (stigmata) from her hands, feet and side. She had never been to Ephesus but described Mary’s house in some detail and it fits the house believed to be hers today.


Clemens von Brentano

Needless to say Brentano’s publication of Emmerich’s visions were treated with little interest. That is until 1880 when Gouyet came across them. Using Emmerich’s description, he went to Ephesus in search of the house. Indeed he found a ruin of a house and landscape at Panghia Capulu on ‘Nightingale Mountain’, just south of Ephesus, which bore a remarkable resemblance to Emmerich’s portrayal.

Gouyet returned to Paris and informed his superiors and the Vatican of his discovery. They were not so convinced and Gouyet was hushed up. Ten years later, Father Poulin, whilst visiting Smyrna in Turkey, read Emmerich’s visions and, although an anti-mystic, debated the phenomenon with his fellow priests. The sceptics remained in the majority but it was agreed to go and visit the house. This was not an easy task in those days as no road existed from Ephesus into the mountains where the house was situated. However, they were not to be disappointed and the scepticism faded. Old tombs were also in evidence, and one of the priests, Father Jung, asked his guide if he knew the whereabouts the tomb of the Virgin Mary. No, the guide replied, but he could take him to the tomb of Mary Magdalene. The priest was in his element.


Inside the House

Conservation was the next issue. Isn’t it always. How would they protect it? They had to buy it. The owner, the Bey of Avarai, was found relatively easily – somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew him. The money was found relatively easily – Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey, the mother Superior of the Sisters of Charity in Smyrna had always been a believer in the house and produced money (31,000 French Francs) from her own wealth. The Bey messed about a bit but eventually the deal was done in November 1892. The following month, Archbishop Timoni, on behalf of the Church, announced that the house was indeed that of the Virgin Mary.


Sister Marie de Mandat Grancey

A road was built up to the site and the building was restored in 1950. With the restoration it was discovered that the house had been restored several times before yet never been expanded on or improved. This led those concerned to believe that it had for many centuries been a unique place of Christian worship (well, maybe). In fact, it transpired that excavations in 1898-9 found many artefacts relating to religion and burials and Ottoman archives refer to the house as ‘The Three-Doored Monastery of the All Holy’.

The house itself is dated to the 5th century AD (from coins found) but its foundations go back to the 1st century AD. In August 1898, excavators working inside the house unearthed soot blackened fragments of stone of the 1st century AD – exactly where Sister Emmerich had said there was a fireplace.

The Vatican (Holy See) has taken no official position on the authenticity of the location yet, but in 1896 Pope Leo XIII declared it a pilgrimage. The first papal visit was by Pope Paul VI in 1967.  The next papal visit was by Pope John Paul II in 1979 who celebrated mass outside the house. Pope Benedict XVI went there in 2006 and treated the house as a shrine.


Next week: The Great Escape: Hollywood fact of fiction?

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I have just given evidence at the local assize court, on behalf of a colleague of mine, Jeremiah Archer-Hatchett, who had been quite unjustly accused of removing a small collection of valuable artefacts from an excavation site. On remitting its verdict, the chairman of the jury rose and announced to the judge:

“Not guilty, your Honour, provided he returns the artefacts.”

The judge’s face reddened with anger and he went into an oratory reflecting the purpose and excellence of the justice system which should not be taken lightly. The jury were then instructed, in no uncertain terms, to return a proper verdict.

Having repaired to its room for 10 minutes, the jury reseated itself in the courthouse and the chairman arose again with the reconsidered verdict:

“Not guilty, your Honour – and he can keep the artefacts.”

Art Smth


Troy: Hollywood fact or fiction?

DID TROY really exiats? and if so was there a Trojan War as depicted in Troy? It would appear that Heinrich Schliemann (1822-90) found, at Hisarlik, in northwest Turkey, what is believed to be Troy (in fact, he had considerable help from one Frank Calvert – but that’s another story). From archaeological evidence, whether Homer’s Trojan War ever happened is not so clear.  To gain any idea it is useful to compare archaeological evidence from known areas and then see whether it links in with the literature of the Iliad – composed by Homer in the 8th century BC of a war that may have taken place in the 13th century BC at Troy.



Mycenaean comparisons

According to Homer, the Greek (aka Achaean) expedition against King Priam of Troy was led by Agamemnon, king of Mycenae (but you know all that if you have been reading my previous blogs). Homer tells us Agamemnon was a man of great wealth, the lord of deep-golden Mykenai and led a powerful navy of 100 ships – a larger force than all others.  Although there is no archaeological evidence of the existence of Agamemnon, we know the city of Mycenae existed around 1600 – 1100 BC and that it was a city of great wealth – this was realised from excavations of finds of gold in the burial chambers (a previous blog – I can’t keep saying this) and the evidence (pottery) of industry (oil merchants) in the foundations of surrounding buildings.


Map of the Aegean with Troy (Troia) and Mycenae

Some buildings in the city were substantially two-storied with interconnecting drainage.  The site itself indicates a ruling and military class – massive fortifications on a hill top overlooking a rich agricultural plain and the town of Argolis.  All these factors picture a city of the aristocracy and the prosperous. Excavations also showed that the city and its civilisation were destroyed (by fire) in around 1230 BC.  So, if Agamemnon of Mycenae was going to invade Troy it had to be before this date.  The city was later rebuilt to last until around 1100 BC and producing a different style of pottery, but not as the city it once was (so we are not very interested in it – well, I’m not).

When Schliemann excavated Mycenae, he found many treasures in the shaft graves adjacent to the great Lion Gate entrance (see prev …. no, I’m not going to say it).  He was overwhelmed with the finds, particularly the gold masks, one of which he believed to be of Agamemnon.  The problem was the dating.  The shaft graves, in which Schliemann found the treasures, were constructed in 1600 BC, some four hundred and fifty years before 1250 BC, the considered date of the fall of Troy – a detail Schliemann overlooked (but you know that from previous …. no, no, I’m not going to say it).  However, the artwork and design of the masks and jewellery made it clear that the Mycenaean civilisation was highly sophisticated (and ‘deep-golden’ or ‘rich in gold’ as another translation has it).

There are some connections in Homer with Mycenaean artefacts, particularly with the Iliad and armour  For example Odysseus “put over his head a helmet fashioned of leather … and on the outer side the white teeth of a tusk-shining boar were close sewn one after the other …” (Iliad 10.261) – the very kind of helmet found at Dendra, near Mycenae (see pic below).  Also, “Now Aias came near, carrying like a wall shield of bronze and sevenfold ox-hide” (Iliad 7.219) – a Mycenaean shield (see the body shields engraved in the dagger at Grave Circle A – pic below). Unfortunately, not all the references in the Iliad follow archaeological patterns and there are discrepancies. There is reference to “locking spear by spear, shield by shield, so buckler leaned on buckler, helmet on helmet, man against man … so dense were they formed on each other …” (Iliad 13.131), which infers the operation of the phalanx, but it was not used by the Greeks until around the 9th century BC.  Homer refers to types of armour of various periods and iron of his own period, as if comparing the Mycenaean culture with his own.


Dendra armour (c 1400 BC)


Dagger from Grave Circle A (c 1600 BC) at Mycenae showing ‘wall shields’ covering whole body 

The finding of the Linear B tablets at Mycenae (and at Pylos and Knossos) by Sir Arthur Evans (and interpreted by Michael Ventris as Greek in 1952) was both encouraging and discouraging.  They indicate a developing culture with a written language within Mycenaean Greece during the period leading up to Homer’s siege of Troy.  However, they relate to administration of ‘royal’ palaces and make no mention of Homer’s royal heroes by name, which limits their value to prove the existence of Homer’s Trojan War but they do refer to Mycenaean forays into Aegean (Lesbos) which puts them in situ.


Following the discovering of Troy, nine main settlements (I-IX) have been excavated over the years. Troy VI and VIIA bear a certain resemblance to Mycenae – Troy VI is high and wealthy, Troy VIIa is heavily fortified.  How do we know the dates of these cities?  Styles of Late Helladic IIIA pottery (1400 -1300 BC) and Late Helladic IIIB pottery (1300 -1200 BC) have been found by Carl Blegen, in Troy VI.  So although this ‘Mycenaean’ style pottery was made in Troy, Troy VI has a definite link with Mycenae.  This style disappeared from Troy around 1250 BC, the believed date of its destruction.  In Troy VIIb, a completely new style of pottery, alien to Mycenae, was found.  This originated from across the Dardanelles in the 12th century BC and possibly suggests new people at Troy.  So, if Homer’s Troy existed, it was prior to this period.


 Plan of citadels of Troy (grey is Troy I; yellow is Troy II; red is Troy VI)

However, Blegen was convinced that Troy VI was destroyed by an earthquake, as the walls had shifted, and Troy VIIa by fire (although he accepted that there had been a fire at Troy VI at some stage) and, therefore Troy VIIa was Homer’s Troy.  But Donald Easton has suggested that, although there was an earthquake, it possibly destroyed Troy VIIa and Blegen simply misinterpreted the signs of the wall movements.  Unfortunately, he refused to confirm that Troy VI was the city destroyed by the Greeks, commenting, “it simply gives us a nice opportunity for belief” (I just love that!).


Troy VI tower and east entrance to right

 Looking at Troy VIIa, it is very similar to Troy VI in build – as a fortification – with houses illustrating continuation of sturdy masonry in period of rebuilding.  In fact, it has been suggested that Troy VIIa is just another rebuilding of Troy VI. It does have ear-marks of siege about it – closely packed houses (unlike Troy VI), incorporating storage pithoi (large containers) let into floor for, perhaps, a special need for storage – even to the extent of restricting space within the building.  Was it preparing for siege?  Blegen believed so and this was another reason for his conclusion that Troy VIIa was Homer’s city of the Trojan War.  However, this preparation for siege at Troy VIIa may have be in defence against some other intruder (perhaps the later Sea People, as referred to by the Egyptians).

One problem with this, is that the whole of Troy VIIa is divided up into small enclosures and there is no Royal Palace, as there was (probably) in Troy VI.  This sounds rather like the King (if that is what he was) and his family are no longer in residence at Troy VIIa.



What Troy VI and its lower city may have looked like in the 13th century BC (270,00 sq m)

The next problem is dating.  Late Helladic IIIC pottery has since been found at Troy VIIa, which means it must have been in existence after 1190 BC which is too late for Homer’s War (the date of Homer’s War at 1250 BC is based on the fall of Mycenae shortly afterward in 1230 BC).  In this respect, Troy VIIa is unlikely to be Homer’s Troy which makes Troy VI favourite for Priam’s city. We also rely (not necessarily reliably) on the 5th century BC historian, Herodotus, and his dating of Homer and his Trojan War – the former, 400 years before his own time, and the latter, 800 years before his own time (but where he gets these dates from is anyone’s guess).

In addition, there have been excavations at Besik Bay, an inlet to the south of Troy, by Professor Korfmann (who, until his death, was working on the lower town at Troy VI).  This produced Mycenaean pottery and cremated bodies of the period around the Trojan War.  The cremations support Homer’s references, otherwise considered inconsistent with the believed Mycenaean practice of burial.  The Greeks may well have cremated their warriors to prevent the bodies being exhumed and despoiled by the Trojans.  The site is near to where the beach would have been in the 13th century BC, and close enough to Troy for a Greek encampment.  It is, of course, mere speculation and Korfmann is cautious about linking Homer and archaeology.  However, it does allow the imagination to wander.  He said, “I am sure, in the 13th century [BC] there several wars around and about the city of Troy but which one was Homer’s War, we will never know”.


Besik Bay – harbour controlled by Troy but where Mycenaean/Achaean fleet may have beached for the siege of Troy

So, what d’yer reckon?

It is clear that a large fortified city existed at Hisarlik in or around 1250 BC, at the time of Homer’s Trojan War, but because of its location at the entrance of the Dardanelles, it had control of a trade route to and from the Black Sea, and so such a fortification would not be particularly unusual. It would also be a very profitable city having such control and open to ‘take-over’ by wealth-seeking powers (of which Mycenae would have been one – having already taken over Minoan Crete in 1450 BC). Schliemann discovered its wealth in Troy II of 2500-2300 BC (click here for the Treasures of Troy) – too early for Homer’s Troy). However, there was, certainly, in existence in the 13th century BC, the wealth that Homer refers but whether it belonged to Homer’s heroes is unknown and will never be known unless something of reference to them appears in future excavations.

Archaeology shows that, if there was a Trojan War, Mycenae and the other cities named in the Iliad were, in the 13th century BC, large and strong enough to invade Troy.  However, there is very little in either Trojan or Mycenaean archaeology – or writing (Hittite texts and Linear B respectively) – to support the existence of Homer’s heroes or Homer’s Trojan War (the Hittites texts do stretch the imagination a bit – but that’s another story). Nor any mention of Helen ‘of Troy’ (well, of Sparta actually, being the wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, until Paris, Prince of Troy, got his hands on her – if we are to believe Homer of course). All we can say is that Troy and a wealthy and powerful Mycenae existed and must have had its own warrior heroes.

So there you have it …. or not.


Next week: Travels in Turkey – going south from Troy, down the west coast of Turkey, to Ephesus, is the House of the Virgin Mary – not alot o’ people know that ……

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I have made a sensational discovery that the Ancient Greeks played golf some two thousand years before us. The reference to the game comes from some further work of Homer (c750BC but writing of the time of the Trojan War, c1250BC) that I fortuitously came upon in Alexandria. My translation of a passage is as follows:

And aged Chryses, priest of Phoibos Apollo,
did forsake prayer to his lord of the silver bow
and in secrecy went forth to play golf.
His first shot he smote strongly,
for it was blameless and he holed in one.
Such a stroke was from the hand of Zeus, gatherer of clouds.
Far striking Apollo spoke in anger to mighty Zeus,
‘Father Zeus, indeed I have done favour among mortals,
but why honour so this unworthy wretch
who steals away in secret to play golf
and avoids loyal duty of prayer to the gods?’
And in reply spoke Zeus, son of Kronos,
shaking his head with dark smile,
‘It is not with honour that I guided his ball,
but in frustration I have stricken him deep,
for in such secrecy of his play
to whom shall he dare boast of this great shot?’

Art Smth

Tombs of Mycenae: the Forgotten Five

VISITORS TO MYCENAE will always stop off at the Treasury of Atreus (aka the tomb of Agamemnon – see previous blog) to be awed by its size and magnificence. Nor will they be able to miss the intrigue of the tombs of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus and the Lion Tomb – still impressive even if remaining less robust in construction than Atreus. What they all have in common is their accessibility and visibility (and closeness with regard to the last three). Their names bear no relation to whom may have been buried there – they are just ‘labels’ conveniently coinciding with mythical characters from Homer’s 8th century BC poem’s the Iliad and the Odyssey (Atreus’ son, Agamemnon, led the forces against Troy; Clytemnestra was his unfaithful wife who murdered him on his return from Troy; Aegisthus was her lover). The Lion Tomb is so named simply because it’s near the Lion Gate (see previous blog).


What the marbled entrance to the Treasury of Atrues (aka Tomb of Agamemnon) may have looked like in the 13th century BC


Tomb of Clytemnestra (much the same size as Treasury of Atreus – see previous blog for its scale) – triangular hole above the entrance lintel is a relieving triangle to take the weight of the the roof  

What coach encumbered members of the public do not set their eyes upon are the sad cousins of Atreus and Co – the lonely tholos tombs slumbering over the hill of the Panagia ridge, namely the Cyclopean, Epano Phournos, Kato Phournos, Panagia and Genii (the Forgotten Five). In their own rights they bear silent witness to the development of funerary architecture of the Bronze Age of Greece and deserve more attention. Admittedly less impressive in statue to the other four but still no less important for archaeology.


Tomb of Aegisthus (smaller than Clytemnestra) – also with small relieving triangle above entrance lintel


Lion Tomb 

The size of these five tholoi are very similar with their tomb bases varying between 7-10 metres in diameter (the Cyclopean being the smallest, Epano Phournos the larger – comparing with Atreus’ base diameter of 14.50 m) and their scale can be seen from the figures in the pictures. They are also in varying states of disrepair – Cyclopean being the worse for wear whereas Genii is reasonably complete including its roof (it also has three pit graves – sadly empty, so no clues there).


Cylopean Tomb – definitely seen better days

Heinrich Schliemann and his wife, Sophie, excavated the Treasury of Atreus and Tomb of Clytemnestra in 1876 and Christos Tsountas excavated the others during the 1890s (he discovered Aegisthus at this time but it was not excavated until 1922). The British archaeologist, Alan Wace, divided all the nine tombs into three groups for dating and characterized them accordingly:

Group 1 (1510-1460 BC): Cyclopean, Epano Phournos, Aegisthus

Group 2 (1460-1400 BC): Panagia, Kato Phournos, Lion

Group 3 (1400-1300): Genii, Atreus, Clytemnestra

Epano Phournos

Epano Phournos Tomb

Kato Phournos

Kato Phournos Tomb

Looking at the sites today it might be considered that grouping into three is too limiting. Since Wace’s work, a relieving triangle has come to light on the Aegisthus tomb putting it into a category of its own. It is not entirely clear what may have been situated above the lintels of the other two earlier tombs as the roofs have not survived. Genii is hardly in the same category of grandeur as Atreus and Clytemnestra yet it appears in the same grouping (it is of similar but less complex construction). The Tomb of Clytemnestra may have been built after Atreus due to  the fact that it may be slightly more technically advanced with its row of curved stones continuing round the structure at the same level as the lintel (forming a more solid base for the roof structure). It may, of course, have been constructed for the queen of the occupant of the Atreus tomb.


Panagia Tomb

All nine tombs had been robbed in antiquity making dating and interpretation difficult. Only in the dromos of the Tomb of Clytemnestra was a woman’s grave found by Tsountas, along with accompanying artefacts (two mirrors, ornaments and beads) but it helped little in revealing the secrets of the inner domain. However, there is still doubt as to the actual dating of Atreus and Clytemnestra – if the later dating of the mid-to-late 13th century BC (LH IIIB) is correct, then neither may have ever been occupied, their intended occupants having fled following the destruction of the city.


Genii Tomb

Next time, or if/when, you plan a visit to Mycenae, take along some walking boots and ‘head west young man’ – well, westward one and all, over the Panagia ridge (see plan below) and follow the path from which the Cyclopean, Epano Phournos and Genii are visible. Genii needs a bit of tracking in from the path but perseverance will find it. Likewise with the Panagia tomb – the most difficult to find – drop down from the Panagia church, but be careful not to literally drop into the tholos itself (as I nearly did!) as it has no roof (forget health and safety….)


Plan of tomb as at Mycenae (from Wace, 1949): 1. Cyclopean, 2. Epano Phournos, 3. Aegisthus, 4. Panagia, 5. Kato Phournos, 6. Lion, 7. Genii, 8. Atreus, 9. Clytemnestra


Next week: Let’s go to Troy


A friend of mine has just been visiting a Mycenaean site presently under excavation on the mainland of Greece. He reported back to me of the finding of an exciting new tholos tomb. However, as much as he wanted to go and see it, he was unable as it was full of snakes! This was a similar problem encountered by excavators of a tholos tomb at Phourni in Crete in the 1960s.  Who said archaeology is not like Indiana Jones!

IJ snakes


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My three College chums, Ginger, Bunty and Rowley, and I were so confident of our knowledge that the weekend before finals, we decided to go up to the West Country and party with some other friends who lived up there. We had such a jolly time and didn’t make it back to College in time for the examination.

We all agreed on the same story for our Professor – we had gone to the country for the weekend with the plan to study, but, unfortunately, we had a flat tyre on the way back, didn’t have a spare, and couldn’t get help for just ages. As a result, we missed finals.

When we put it to him, our Professor thought it over and then agreed we could make up the finals the following day. We were elated and relieved. The next day at the time of the exam our Professor, rather oddly we thought, placed us in separate rooms and handed us each identical question booklets and told us to begin.

The first question on the first page, for 5 marks, was something remarkably simple regarding the identification of the style of Mycenaean walls. No problem I thought and I answered it with a flourish.

 On the next page was written the second question: ‘(For 95 marks)  Which tyre?’




SO WHAT EVER HAPPENED to Minoan Crete? Well, we don’t really know. All the palace sites, bar Knossos, we destroyed around 1450 BC but whether by man or nature is unclear. If by earthquake then why not rebuild as had been done before? It was once thought that the volcanic eruption at Thera (now Santorini, the island due north of Crete) may have caused the downfall of the Minoan civilization (either by volcanic ash or tsunami) but the dating doesn’t fit (the volcano was either between 1627-1600 BC according to radiocarbon dating or 1550 BC if you go along with Egyptian dating references).


Bronze Age ‘Greece’ 

What we do know is that the Mycenaeans from mainland Greece took over at Knossos. This is evidence by, amongst other ‘things’, Linear B (ancient Mycenaean Greek writing) which was found at Knossos. We need to be careful with the use of the word ‘Greek’ here. Greece didn’t exist as a country during this period (Bronze Age 3000-1100 BC); it was made of various kingdoms, one of which was Mycenae in the Argolid on the Peloponnese of mainland ‘Greece’ (or maybe Ahhiyawa – a name on Hittite texts which could possibly be the Mycenaeans -or Achaeans as Homer referred to them). Remember, this is prehistory so we can never be sure of anything. You can almost make it up as you go along and few could dispute you. Well, as long as you were vaguely sensible about it all……..

Now the citadel of Mycenae was impressive. It was a fortress and constructed by warmongers.

 mycn aerial

‘bird’s eye’ view of the citadel of Mycenae – very defensive (Grave Circle A is foreground centre – the circular bit, get it? – and the Lion Gate entrance is to the left of it in the shadows)

It’s not surprising that it took over Minoan Crete. It was a war-machine. And Crete was positioned central to three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa; so whoever controlled Crete, controlled a major trade link and have been very wealthy. Mycenae would have liked that idea.

lion gate 1

The Lion Gate entrance

lion gate2

and just to give you an idea of the size of the stones leading up to the actual Lion Gate, Sarah is a scale

Heinrich Schliemann excavated at Mycenae in 1876. But he didn’t discover it as its Lion Gate entrance had been open to the world to see from at least the beginning of the 19th century (the Brit. Edward Dodwell had drawn a picture of it in 1805). However, Schliemann opened up the entrance and the Grave circle A just inside the entrance. Here he found treasures buried with the dead, including the ‘Mask of Agamemnon’. Had he gazed on the face of Agamemnon as he claimed (allegedly). Well, no. If Agamemnon had existed it would have been around the destruction of Troy circa 1250 BC (more on that another day). The mask was dated to 1600 BC. Maybe Agamemnon’s great great great ….. grandfather. Maybe not.

gca sch

Grave Circle A as excavated (we’ll use that term loosely) by Schliemann in 1876

mask of aga

The ‘mask of Agamemnon’ – well, not really

Also at Mycenae we can find the impressive tholos tombs of Agamemnon (aka Treasury of Atreus – but it’s not a treasury) and Clytemnestra (circa 1250 BC). Clytemnestra was Agamemnon’s wife who did away with him on his return from the Trojan War (woman scorned and all that). This is according to Homer, an oral poet of around 750 BC (more on him later). They are, indeed, tombs but probably not of Agamemnon or Clytemnestra – it’s poetic licence (sorry, I’m being a spoilsport). On the other hand, check the dating out …………


The Tomb of Agamemnon, aka The Treasury of Atreus – well, neither actually

atreus insde

19th century drawing of the inside of the Tomb

So what happened to the Mycenaeans. Well we don’t really know (heard that before somewhere). They just came to an end and that’s that. If a Trojan War really did take place with the Mycenaeans and allies besieged Troy then it may well have weakened its position on the home front. Whilst the ‘cats are away’ in Troy, ‘the mice do play’ at home. The ‘mice’ may have been disgruntled peasant taking advantage of their masters’ absence. Who knows……


Next week: the forgotten tholos tombs at Mycenae

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

In December, I had been visiting the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford to deposit some finds I had recently discovered in Tiryns.  On departing, I observed a member of the constabulary writing a parking ticket. I approached him and said, “I say, Officer, it’s Christmas, give a chap a break.”

He ignored me and continued writing the ticket.

“What a cad”, I uttered.

He stared at me, then at a worn tyre on the vehicle and wrote another ticket.

“Bounder”, I exclaimed.

He noted a cracked light and wrote another ticket.

“Scoundrel” I yelled.

He wrote another ticket for a faulty bumper.

Well, this went on awhile – the more abuse I gave him, the more tickets he wrote.  By the time I had run out of expletives he had planted some dozen or so tickets on the windshield of the vehicle.

Of course, it was no concern to me as my vehicle was parked around the corner.