Mycenaean civilization dominated the Aegean world from about 1400 B.C. to 1200 B.C. Like the Minoans, the Mycenaeans were sea traders. They reached out beyond the Aegean to Sicily, Italy, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. The Mycenaeans learned many skills from the Minoans, including the art of writing. They, too, absorbed Egyptian and Mesopotamian customs, many of which they passed on to later Greeks.
The Mycenaeans lived in separate city-states on the mainland. In each, a warrior-king built a thick-walled fortress from which he ruled the surrounding villages. Wealthy rulers amassed treasure, including fine gold ornaments that archaeologists have unearthed from their tombs.
The Mycenaeans are best remembered for their part in the Trojan War, which took place around 1250 B.C. The conflict may have had its origins in economic rivalry between Mycenae and Troy, a rich trading city in present-day Turkey, that controlled the vital straits, or narrow water passages, connecting the Mediterranean and Black seas.
In Greek legend, however, the war had a more romantic cause. When the Trojan prince, Paris, kidnaps Helen, the beautiful wife of a Greek king, the Mycenaeans sail to Troy to rescue her. For the next 10 years, the two sides battle until the Greeks finally seize Troy and burn the city to the ground.
For centuries, most people regarded the Trojan War as pure legend. Then, in the 1870s, a wealthy German businessman, Heinrich Schliemann (HYN rik SCHLEE mahn), set out to prove that the legend was rooted in fact.
As Schliemann excavated the site of ancient Troy, he discovered that the city had been rebuilt many times and included at least nine layers. At the layer dating to about 1250 B.C., he found evidence of fire and war. Though any exact details remain lost in legend, most modern scholars now agree that the Trojan War was an actual event.
How did trade shape Mycenaean society?
Since the late 1800s, archaeologists have excavated cities buried beneath a hill in western Turkey thought to be the site of ancient Troy.
Not long after their victory over Troy the Mycenaeans themselves came under attack from sea raiders and also from another Greek-speaking people, the Dorians, invading from the north. As Mycenaean power faded, their people abandoned the cities and trade declined.