3 Greek Epic and Mycenaean Archaeology

The Iliad and the Odyssey have been continually subjected to analyses of many diverse kinds. Recent comment is focussed on the formular nature of their structure and language and, especially in the New Companion to Homer (Morris and Powell 1996), on oral composition in Greek epic poetry. Emphasis has been placed on the degree of invention and improvisation in oral recitations. On the other hand, it is clear that the basic structure and language of the epics is often rigidly formulaic (cf. e.g. Page 1959, 218-296).

It is generally assumed that the setting of the epic recited would have been influenced by, and would reflect, the current world of the ‘singer’ of the tale. And indeed, although the tales themselves appear to be of earlier origin, much of the material and social environment in the Iliad and the Odyssey appears to reflect the conditions of Early Iron Age Greece. “But the political, social, and economic life of the heroes is neither Mycenaean nor Early Iron Age: it may represent an amalgam of elements from all the centuries during which the epic tradition flourished ….. essentially, in its non-material aspects, the heroic world is an imaginary world, only loosely tied to reality” (CSHI, 9; cf. Dickinson 2006, 239-240, “Even where apparently concerned with mundane matters, an epic cannot be a trustworthy guide to reality”). But some material objects in the Iliad, particular some arms and armour (discussed below) do seem to reflect the Mycenaean period. And, despite some unexplained anomalies and some so-called ‘omissions’, the Catalogue of the Ships in the Iliad gives a remarkably good overall portrayal of Mycenaean Greece. (The more recent archaeological evidence relevant to the identification of the place names in the Catalogue is summarized in Chapter 4 below).


Most commentators believe that the Iliad was composed in the 8th century B.C., and probably ca. 775-750 B.C. (e.g. Powell 1996). The ancient Greek traditions attributed the composition of both the Iliad and the Odyssey to a poet name Homer, said to have lived in Ionia. Apparently according to Pindar, Homer was a native of both Chios and Smyrna (Pindar fr. 279 a, b, and c). M.L. West, however, has asserted that the name Homer is a fictitious and constructed name. According to West, the belief that Homer was the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey can not be traced further back than about 520 B.C., when Hipparchos instituted recitations of these two epics at the Panathenaia in Athens (West 1999).

It is generally assumed that the alphabetic script was adopted by the Greeks in around 800 B.C. The oldest Greek inscriptions that we have are dated ca. 750 B.C. (Powell 1996, 22-25); and it is deduced that the Iliad was committed to writing at some time later in the 8th century B.C. Epic poems in hexameter verse were imitated (and parodied) in two famous inscriptions, one on the so-called ‘Cup of Nestor’ Kotyle, ca. 730 B.C., from Pithekoussai, and the other on the Dipylon oinochoe, late 8th century (Coldstream 1977, 295-302).

The process of converting the Iliad, an oral poem, into a written text must surely have been by dictation (Janko 1998), especially if, as the tradition maintains, Homer was blind. The amount of papyrus or leather (cf. Jeffery 1962, 555-559) which would have been needed alone implies that a wealthy patron (or patrons) undertook the expenses involved (Powell 1996, 31). The motivation for preserving the poem(s) in writing need not have been in any sense political. The Greeks were naturally excited by, and extremely proud of, their newly devised alphabetic script. They also obviously recognized and revered the sheer genius of Homer. Nevertheless other oral poems must have been put into writing at this time, or shortly after, as the surviving fragments indicate.


There is, of course, a temporal distance between Homer’s time and the (supposed) time of the events in the Iliad. But some scholars appear to believe that Homer also consciously contrived an artificial separation between these two eras. “Homer deliberately creates an ‘epic distance’ between his audience and the events of the poems” (Bennet 1996, 532). “It was a poetic creation, what some eighth century Greeks thought the heroic world ought to have been like” (I. Morris 1996, 558). This concept is taken to extremes by M. Dickie, who believes that “the Iliad and the Odyssey are a largely imaginative and in some degree self-conscious reconstruction of a non-existent heroic past” (Dickie 1995, 29). Dickie (who also maintains a 7th century date for Homer) attributes to Homer a “practice of suppressing and concealing features of the present that he feels would be anachronistic in his picture of the Heroic Age”. This is indeed partly true. Homer’s intention was to convey the atmosphere of a past age. And, although Homer was almost certainly an Ionian (West 1988, 165), he excludes mention of many important cities of his own time in Asia Minor. But it is not likely that Homer is suppressing a (supposed) knowledge of writing in his recounting of the Bellerophon Story (Il. 6. 167-211), in which Bellerophon delivered the folded tablet ‘with baleful signs’, whose message in essence was “please dispatch the bearer of this dispatch”. (See Powell 1996, 26-28 and S. Morris 1996, 619 with refs. for the eastern origins of the story and for the folded tablet from the Uluburun wreck). The tablet is only a ‘prop’ or a ruse in the Bellerophon story, which was obviously not invented by Homer (cf. Jeffery 1962, 555-556).

Another current theory is that the Iliad had a didactic purpose, to serve as an inspiration for the emerging Greek city-states, in line with an (inferred) new spirit of ‘Pan-Hellenism’. It is suggested that the Iliad was “designed to provide the Greeks with a national epic at a time when they were becoming increasingly conscious of themselves as Greeks” (Dickinson 2007, 237-238, citing S. Sherratt 2005). This interpretation was enunciated more fully by Raaflaub, “The conception underlying the Iliad clearly is tied to other panhellenic and supra-regional phenomena emerging in the eighth century when the Greek pantheon was homogenized and Greeks from many cities began to collaborate in religious federations and participate in large-scale joint ventures, such as festivals and games at great sanctuaries” (Raaflaub 1998, 401). Such speculations present an idealized and rosy picture of the eighth century. This was a time of Greek renaissance, but not always a time of peaceful cooperation between the Greek city-states. Commentators on Homer need to be reminded of two late eighth century wars, in both of which participants from many Greek cities were involved. The First Messenian War, ca. 730-710 B.C., ended with the storming of the Messenian stronghold of Ithome by the Spartans and their seizure of the adjoining rich Stenyklaros plain. In the war Sparta received aid from Corinth, and the Messenian allies included the entire force of the Arcadians and some troops from Argos and Sikyon. Subsequently Asine (in the Argolid) was destroyed by men of Argos on the grounds that Asine had assisted the Spartans in an invasion of the Argolid (Coldstream 1977, 163, cf. 154). Argos had previously controlled the east coast of the Peloponnese down to Cape Malea (Herodotus I, 82). Also near the end of the eighth century B.C. the war between Chalcis and Eretria (Thuc. I, 15), was fought for control of the rich Lelantine plain between these two cities (ending with victory for Chalcis). In this war Corinth, Samos, and Pharsalos in Thessaly supported Chalcis; and Eretria was assisted by Megara and Miletos. The war resulted in the virtual collapse of Euboean trade (formerly carried out mainly by Eretria and Chalcis) and the withdrawal of the Eretrians from their colony of Pithekoussai (Ischia island in Italy), which had initially been founded jointly by Chalcis and Eretria. (Coldstream 1977, 200-201, cf. 213, 226 and 242).

In view of the actual nature of Greek politics and the polis in the 8th century B.C., we must be on our guard against anachronism. We should not attribute to Homer, the ancient Greek poet, an entirely modern type of self-consciousness and sophistication, which is not shown in the texts themselves. In the Iliad he is simply trying to draw his audience into a story of a past era. His compositional devices are well contrived; but their sole objective is to enhance the tale and bring the past to life. The Homeric epics did indeed become the cornerstone of education for elite Greek youth by the 5th century B.C., but they were surely not designed with this purpose.


The evidence for Mycenaean poetry and for its probable subjects was discussed at length by Webster (Webster 1958, esp. 64-135). Although some of this discussion has become outdated, the existence of Mycenaean poetry is now even more securely attested. “The sack of Troy probably became the subject of epic song not later than the middle of the twelfth century, if the usual assumption is correct that the starting-point was the historical destruction of Troy VIIa ….. Evidence from other traditions tends to show that the commemoration of historical events in epic generally begins soon after they have happened” (West 1988, 161). Citations in the Iliad, in the Odyssey, and in the later Epic Cycle (listed in Coldstream 1977, 343) demonstrate that there were originally several other previous Greek epic sagas, almost all certainly composed in hexameter verse. This is also confirmed by linguistic analyses, particularly those presented by West, who argues the case for Mycenaean epic, partly on the basis of comparisons between Homeric language and that of the Mycenaean Linear B tablets (West 1988, 156-159, cf. West 1999, 226-237, Horrocks 1996, 196-203, and Latacz 2004, 163-164). West here collects “fragments of Mycenaean verse” from examples of early Greek epic poetry which demonstrate an early stage in the development of Greek language. He concludes that “Mycenaean heroic poetry was cast in hexameters from at least as early as the fourteenth century” and that “certain features of the epic language appear to belong to an earlier stage of Greek than the language of the Linear B tablets.” (West 1988, 158; cf. West 1996, 233-237, on the hexameter). From a combination of linguistic with archaeological evidence West concludes that Ajax (Aias), with his tower-like shield and silver-studded sword (Il. 7. 219; 11. 485; 17. 128; 14. 404-406), “has every appearance of belonging to the early Mycenaean Age”. And Idomeneus (the grandson of Minos) and his charioteer Meriones, with his boar’s tusk helmet (Il. 10. 260-265), who are often associated with Ajax in the Iliad, seem also to have been of similar early origin. (For the tower shield, the silver-studded sword, and the boar’s tusk helmet, see below under MATERIAL OBJECTS IN THE ILIAD). As West comments, “we seem to have here a pair of genuine Minoans from the heyday of Knossos”. The formulaic line (Il. 2. 651 = 7. 166) about Meriones is linguistically very old; and Meriones’ name may be identical with maryannu “the Hurrian word that spread all over the Near East in the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries as the designation of the elite chariot warrior” (West 1996, 234).

For the subjects of Greek epic before Homer, we must, of course, begin with those featured in the Iliad itself, usually in the form of recollections put into the mouths of some of the heroes. These recollections are shortened versions of the sagas; Homer assumes that, as in the case of the Trojan War saga, his audience will be familiar with the stories. The Theban Cycle is represented by a brief account of the tale of the Seven against Thebes and of the subsequent sack of Thebes by the Epigonoi (Il. 4. 370-410 and 5. 800-813, cf. Nilsson 1972, 106-119). The tale of the Kalydonian Boar Hunt and Meleager’s war with the Kouretes is recounted at more length (Il. 9. 527-599). This was part of a cycle based in Aetolia (West 1988, 161). Of the exploits of Herakles, some are clearly more mythical in nature (West 1988, 167), such as the Labours he performed for Eurystheus, king of Mycenae. Others, more closely tied to specific regions, may reflect local sagas based on actual events. The siege of a city was obviously a familiar theme (Webster 1958, 58-81, 115-117). The sacking of a city was attributed to Herakles in several cases where the actual agents were unknown. In addition to the story of his sack of Troy before the Trojan War (Il. 5. 638-642), there is a short reference to a sack of Pylos by Herakles in Nestor’s longer tale of the war between the Pylians and the Epeians (Il. 11. 670-762, cf. Il. 23. 629-642). This tale was evidently part of a saga of the wars of Neleus, Nestor’s father, against the neighbours of Pylos, the Eleians and the Arcadians (for the Arcadians, Il. 7. 133-156). West argues forcefully for a connection between this Pylian saga and the Thessalian epics (West 1988, 160-161), pointing out that Neleus, king of Pylos and Pelias, king of Iolkos were said to have been twin brothers (Od. 11. 235-257). According to West (ibid.) the Thessalian repertoire would have included the war of the Lapiths and Centaurs (whose designation ϕ­ρεϛ survives in Homer, Il. 1. 260-273; Il. 2. 743; Od. 21. 269-304), the story of Pelias, Jason and the Argonauts, the funeral games for Pelias, and the exploits of Peleus, king of Phthia, who was said (by later Greek writers, see West 1988, 160 n. 66) to have sacked Iolkos.

West traces the development of Aeolian epic in Thessaly, postulating the existence of an eleventh-century Thessalian version of the Trojan War epic, prior to the Ionian Iliad. This “successionist” conception, that an Aeolic phase preceded an Ionic, is challenged by the “diffusionists” who believe that “the Aeolic and Ionic traditions were not successive but concurrent and continuously interactive” (West 1988, 162). Horrocks has provided a detailed analysis of this controversy (Horrocks 1996, 200-217). He points out the linguistic difficulties inherent in the “successionist” theory, especially the question concerning the date of the introduction of the genitive endings – @ and – T<. Since these apparently could not have been introduced into Ionian before the end of the 9th century, Horrocks concludes: “The alternative is to accept that the Ionian tradition had been around for a very long time prior to the introduction of – @ and – T<, exactly as the diffusionists argue” (Horrocks 1996, 217). Both West and Horrocks, however, agree that, although the language of the Iliad is mainly Ionian, certain Aeolisms (and some Lesbian elements) still remain. It is not easy for a layman to understand all the linguistic problems involved; but it seems likely that an Ionian Iliad was preceded by a Trojan War saga composed by “the first Troy-poet” (West 1988, 161), and that this may have originated in Thessaly. West emphasizes the prominence of the Thessalians Protesilaos and Philoctetes as “critical agents” in the framework of the Iliad; Achilles, of course, was also Thessalian, and Ajax, son of Oileus was from the neighbouring Locris. This “Ur-Iliad” (i.e. a hypothetical ten-year Trojan War saga) would surely have attracted many and widespread audiences, not only in central Greece (e.g. at the court of the Protogeometric ‘big man’ of Lefkandi) but also in the rest of mainland Greece and in the Greek colonies of Asia Minor (for alleged Boeotian and Euboean connections see below under ‘The Catalogue of the Ships in the Iliad’). But the Iliad as we have it was a mainly Ionian creation.


The use of material objects, and the descriptions of them in the Iliad and the Odyssey are closely connected with the tales themselves. There is throughout “an attempt to create an impression of reality by giving the heroes real weapons and armour, having them live in real houses, use real furniture and so on – ”. But there is also a “contrast between the apparent reality of the material setting and the unreality of the lives the heroes live in this setting” (CSHI, 9). As would be expected, and as has been often observed, some of the material objects featured in the Iliad appear to reflect those of the Late Bronze Age and some those of the Early Iron Age. Others, such as Agamemnon’s ‘Gorgoneion’ shield (Il. 11. 32-40) and the shield of Achilles (Il. 18. 478-608) are mainly imaginary. The material objects concerned have been frequently discussed (almost all of them in Webster 1958, 27-135, cf. Wace and Stubbings eds. 1962, 489-554, CSHI, 1-13).

In the Iliad the military equipment of the heroes naturally provides the most examples of objects which appear to reflect the Mycenaean period; the summary review below is confined to arms and armour (cf. Webster 1958, esp. 101-105; Stubbings 1962, 504-533; CSHI, 1-13; Chadwick 1976, 159-179; Dickinson 1994, 197-207; Wiener 2007, 9-10 with refs.; for fuller discussion and further references, see Matz and Buchholz, Archaeologia Homerica: Kriegweisen 1-3 [1977-2010], and for the Linear B evidence Ventris and Chadwick, DMG). The Knossos tablets are of a time within the LM IIIA2 period, c. 1375 – 1300 B.C.; the Pylos tablets are more securely dated to the LH IIIB/LH IIIC Transitional period, c. 1200 B.C.; see Chapter 1). The boar’s tusk helmet of Meriones (Il. 10. 261-270) and the ‘tower’ shield of Ajax (Il. 7. 219-244, cf. 11. 485 and 17. 128) are almost certainly recollections of Mycenaean equipment. The Achaeans are called ‘bronze-shirted’ 24 times in the Iliad and ‘well-greaved’ 31 times; and we now have actual Mycenaean examples of bronze greaves and of Mycenaean bronze-plated cuirasses. The boar’s tusk helmet is attested by Mycenaean remains; and both this type of helmet and the ‘tower’ shield are featured in Mycenaean art. None of this defensive armour was in use in the Early Iron Age. Also (as discussed above, under GREEK EPIC BEFORE HOMER) the formulas in which these weapons appear in the Iliad are probably themselves relics of Mycenaean poetry.


The account of the Homeric helmet by Stubbings in the Companion to Homer (Stubbings 1962, 513-517) remains the best overall summary. Of the four words (used interchangeably, according to the demands of the metre) for helmet in the Iliad, the most common are korus (6`DLς) and kunee (6L<X0); korus is the only word for helmet in the Knossos and Pylos Linear B tablets. Kunee (originally ‘dog-skin’) is more literally the word for a cap of leather, e.g. of bull’s hide (Il. 10. 257) or weasel-skin (Il. 10. 293 and 458). The main epithets (listed by Stubbings, ibid.) for helmets show that those of the heroes were often conceived by the poet to have been of metal or metal-plated, and sometimes with bronze cheek-pieces. Helmets are pictured as ‘shining’ (Il. 12. 341) or clanging when falling to the ground (Il. 16. 793-797, the helmet of Achilles, worn by Patroklos).

Late Minoan and Mycenaean helmets found show a wide variety (DMG 376-378, with fig. 26; Buchholz 2010). In the earlier Mycenaean periods the boar’s tusk helmet appears to have been favoured, perhaps due to a scarcity of bronze. Pieces of boar’s tusks, cut and pierced for attachment to leather or felt, have been found in several Mycenaean graves in mainland Greece, and in a LM IIIA grave on Crete. The earliest extant remains of a boar’s tusk helmet are from Mycenae Circle A Shaft Grave I; but the example most often illustrated is from Chamber Tomb 518 in the Kalkani cemetery at Mycenae (Wace 1932, 212, pl. 38, Wace 1949, 60, 112, p. 78b; Stubbings 1962, 516, pl. 32c). The arrangement of the tusks on the helmet, in parallel horizontal rows and in alternating directions (as described in Il. 10. 263-264), is confirmed by the representation on a LM IA fresco at Thera (Doumas 2000, 93, pl. 109; Doumas 2005, 69-70, pl. 70; Buchholz 2010, 158-162, figs, 76-78, cf. fig. 54). The boar’s tusk helmet is also portrayed in several miniature ivory reliefs of the LH II to the LH IIIA periods, which show the heads of the warriors with boar’s tusks in alternating rows on the helmets and cheek-pieces. There is a remarkable similarity between two of these, that from Mycenae Chamber Tomb 27 (1888), dated LH IIB (Buchholz 2010, 160 n. 524, figs. 74 and 78, ITEE, 269) and that from Archanes in Crete, dated LM IIIA1 (Buchholz 2010, 160 n. 525, figs. 75 and 78). Also similar is another ivory head from Mycenae (Stubbings 1962, 516, pl. 32b). A well known later example is the ivory relief from Delos, showing the whole warrior in profile, which also features the figure 8 shield (discussed below). This has now been attributed to the LH IIIB2 period by Buchholz (Athens Nat. Mus. Inv. No. B 7069, Stubbings 1962, pl. 27b, Buchholz 2010, 161-162, 172, figs. 78 and 96). The relief was part of a set of plaques which had been buried in the foundation deposit of the shrine of Artemis, when this was rebuilt in the 8th century B.C. It is suggested that the plaques may have originally been part of the decorations of a throne (Gallet de Santerre and Treheux 1946-1947, 148-149; Webster 1958, 27-28). The helmet of the Delos warrior lacks the cheek-pieces seen in the earlier representations. These are also absent in later Mycenaean frescoes of the LH IIIB period which show the boar’s tusk style of helmet. One of these was found in Mylonas’ 1971 excavations in the vicinity of the cult centre at Mycenae (Buchholz 2010, 160-162 with n. 529, figs. 78 and 79). Another comes from Spyropoulos’ excavations in front of the Skripou church at Orchomenos (GAC, 236-237, No. G1; Buchholz 2010, 160 n. 528, figs. 78 and 80). The latest (LH IIIB2 – LH IIIC Early) is from ‘Nestor’s Palace’ at Pylos, worn by a warrior carrying a spear and his companion riding a chariot (ITEE, 268, cf. Lang 1969). From these examples it is apparent that by LH IIIB the boar’s tusks had become merely decorative, as can be seen also on the helmet in the ivory relief from Spata in Attica, which is probably also LH IIIB (Bossert 1923, 30, fig. 226; GAC, 215-216, No. F42; Buchholz 2010, 161 n. 524, fig. 78). The cheek-piece of this helmet seems to have been misunderstood by the artist as facial hair. Cheek-pieces (pa-ra-wa-ja) are listed on Linear B tablets from Knossos and on one from Pylos (DMG, 376-379, 568 s.v. pa-ra-wa-jo, cf. Stubbings 1962, 514-515). On a bronze helmet, of unknown provenance, discussed by Buchholz, the alternating arrangement of the boar’s tusks is represented only by curved incisions; and part of the lowest band is occupied instead by the Mycenaean linked spiral decoration (Buchholz 2010, 135-209, figs. 47-53, 55-66, 81 and 86). If, as seems probable, this bronze helmet is of LH IIIA or LH IIIB date, this would further suggest that the boar’s tusk helmet may then no longer have been in use. Perhaps by this time the supply of copper and tin had become sufficient to enable an increase in the manufacture of bronze weapons (see below, under THE SHIELD, BODY ARMOUR, and THE SWORD). Indeed such an increase may have begun even earlier, since we have the outer bronze casing of a LM II bronze-plated helmet with bronze cheek-pieces from a tomb near Knossos (Hood and De Jong 1952, pl. 50; Stubbings 1962, 515, pl. 31a; ITEE, 274; Buchholz 2010, 156-158, fig. 87). This helmet casing was of relatively thin bronze, with holes for the thread which would have attached the inner padding (of felt or leather). Bronze cheek-pieces were also found in the Dendra tomb (LH IIIA) with the suit of armour (see BODY ARMOUR below). On a set of 12 Linear B tablets at Pylos, the juxtaposition of the q163 ideogram (denoting the corslet/cuirass and helmet together) with the names to-ra-ke (plural, for thorakes) and ko-ru-to (korythos) clearly identifies this combination of armour (DMG, 375-379). Some of these tablets include lists of helmet plates and cheek-pieces. A tablet from Knossos (DMG, 381) and another tablet from Pylos (DMG, 524) each list a single helmet (ko-ru). A fragment of a Linear B tablet (TI Si 5) was found in 1974 in an area to west of Tiryns acropolis, near the wall of a building in the Lower Town, but without any stratigraphic context (Naumann et al. 1977 with refs.). Parts of two lines are preserved, each listing a cuirass/corslet as to-ra-ka (singular) together with the q163 ideogram, which portrays the corslet and helmet combination. The ideogram is here delineated more clearly than in the Pylos set. Naumann et al. claim that there is an attempt to show the cheek-pieces of the helmet; and there is obviously an indication of short-sleeve shoulder-guards (for discussion of these and of the corslet/cuirass see under BODY ARMOUR below).


The shields depicted in the Iliad are mostly of two distinct kinds, the body-shield (protecting all of the torso) and the smaller rounded shield (Stubbings 1962, 510-513). No complete Mycenaean shields have survived; we have only the artistic representations. The earliest of these are from Shaft Grave IV in Circle A at Mycenae, and feature both the ‘Tower’ shield (named after the ‘shield like a tower’ carried by Ajax, Il. 7. 219-244) and the ‘Figure 8’ body-shield. Both these types are shown as protecting the whole body, reminiscent of the episode where Periphetes, in turning around in order to escape from Hector, trips against the rim of his shield, which reached to his feet (Il. 15. 645-646; cf. Il. 6. 117-178, for Hector’s shield beating on his neck and ankles). The Tower shield is seen on a fragment of the silver ‘Siege Rhyton’ of Shaft Grave IV (best shown on ITEE, 279) and on a gold signet ring from Grave IV (ITEE, 286). It is also carried by the warriors on the West House fresco at Akrotiri on Thera (Morgan 1988, 114-115; Doumas 1999, 45-49, 58). The Figure 8 shield appears on another gold signet ring from Grave IV, also showing warriors in combat (Warren 1975, 29; ITEE, 255); and both the Tower and the Figure 8 shields are displayed on the famous Grave IV Lion Hunt dagger with metal inlay in niello (e.g. Stubbings 1962, 512-513, fig. 15, ITEE, 266). The Tower shield as shown has straight sides and bottom, and on the Siege Rhyton seems to have an outward convex curvature. It is deduced that the Figure 8 shield was of oxhide stretched over a wooden frame. On the Lion Hunt dagger the hide is dappled; and both the dagger and the signet ring show the convex curvature of the shield, obviously designed to deflect missiles, especially javelins and arrows (Stubbings 1962, 510-511; and cf. Il. 15. 646 for Periphetes’ shield). The Figure 8 shield is the type most often depicted in later Mycenaean art. An ivory model found in 1998 in a LH IIIB2 level at Midea shows the curvature very clearly (AR for 1998-1999, 28 fig. 32). The shape is shown (rather crudely) behind the warrior on the Delos ivory plaque (see above on THE HELMET). A better example is that on the fresco fragment, dated LH IIIB, from Mylonas’ 1970 excavations near ‘Tsountas’ house’ at Mycenae (Warren 1975, 124; ITEE, 273). Here the shield, with its dappled hide, is painted on the wall, presumably to show how and where real shields would have been hung. The same wall decoration, with the same linked spiral design behind the shields, is seen also in the Hall of the Double Axes at Knossos and in a fresco fragment from the palace at Tiryns (Bossert 1928, 29, fig. 208). All the later Mycenaean versions on frescoes show the Figure 8 shield in a conventional and artificial manner, strongly suggesting that, like the boar’s tusk helmet, this type of shield was no longer in use. By this time the body-shield seems to have been replaced by the smaller round shield, with a central boss and a central hand-grip, and presumably made of bronze or bronze-plated. Webster cites Hector’s boast (Il. 7. 238-239) as an indication that this more mobile smaller shield may have enabled a change in battle tactics (Webster 1958, 94, 100). Well known examples of this type of shield are on the LH IIIC ‘Warrior Vase’ (Wace 1949, 65-66, figs. 82 a and b, ITEE 285 etc.) and on the painted limestone ‘Warrior Stele’ from Mycenae (Webster 1958, 38-39, 60, 94, 202, pl. 7; Stubbings 1962, 511-512, p. 29 a and b). But the shields on the Warrior Vase are so crudely drawn that even their shape is not clear, although the central hand-grip is shown on the reverse side of the vase (Bossert 1923, 31, fig. 265). The shields on the Warrior stele are certainly rounded, and extend from the neck to the knee. Fortunately, however, we have sherds from LH IIIC kraters at Tiryns which show chariots with occupants bearing round shields. One of the sherds shows the charioteer unarmed and the warrior with a round shield and spear (Crouwel 1981, pl. 60 = Littauer 1972, fig. 1, after Verdelis 1967, Beil 34q3). A sherd from another Tiryns Krater shows the warrior with a spear and both warrior and charioteer with round shields (Crouwel 1981, pl. 59 no. V48 = Littauer and Crouwel 1983 fig. 2). Two LH IIIC Krater sherds from Mycenae each show two occupants of a chariot, both with shields and one with a spear. The sherds were ‘united’ by Catling, who pointed out that “these two divorced fragments almost certainly belong to the same vase”. The larger sherd, from the rim of a Krater, comes from Schliemann’s dump (Wace 1949, pl. 71c no. 1) and the other from his excavations (Furtwängler and Loeschke 1886, p. XLI, 427, Lorimer 1950, pl. II: 3). For further discussion, see below under THE CHARIOT and THE SPEAR.


The Achaean warriors are frequently characterized in the Iliad as ‘well-greaved’; and the standard description of greaves in the arming scenes is ‘fitted with silver ankle-clasps’ (e.g. Il. 3. 331). The Achaeans are called ‘bronze-greaved’ only once in the Iliad (Il. 7. 41); the Greek word for greave (knemis) simply means ‘shin-guard’, and this could be made of leather or cloth. Few remains of actual bronze greaves of Mycenaean date have been found. The earliest (LH IIIA) on the Greek mainland are from the ‘Cuirass Tomb’ at Dendra (Åström 1977, and see under BODY ARMOUR below); the latest (LH IIIC) are from Kallithea near Patras (GAC, 87-88, No. B46), also discussed in Vermeule 1972, 135, pl. XXI C). Other examples are from Cyprus and Crete (Stubbings 1962, 505-506, cf. Catling 1955 and Webster 1958, 102). The pair from Enkomi in Cyprus would have been fitted to the legs by the wire lacing attached to their rims (Stubbings 1962, 506, fig. 55). Some kind of leggings (greaves) are shown on frescoes of the LH IIIB palaces at Mycenae and Pylos (for Mycenae, Rodenwaldt 1921, Immerwahr 1990, pl. 95; for Pylos, Lang 1969, Davis and Bennet 1999; and see below, under THE CHARIOT). Cruder versions are shown on some LH IIIC pottery from Mycenae and Lefkandi. These leggings are shown in white on several fragments of the frescoes of the megaron at Mycenae. They cover the shins and knees, and have bands in black at the ankles and below the knees. The best preserved example is on the (falling?) warrior shown above a palace roof (Rodenwaldt 1921, 32-33, 55-56, Beil. II and V; Vermeule 1972, pl. 31A; Bossert 1923, fig 220; Littauer 1972, 150-152 with fig. 7). The best preserved section of the “battle frieze” in Hall 64 of the palace at Pylos shows a warrior in combat with almost exactly the same type of leggings, and also in white, and with a white helmet, apparently of boar’s tusk type (fresco no. 22 H64, Lang 1969, esp. 9, 27-28, 31-32, 42-44, 214, 226-227; Davis and Bennet 1999, esp. 108-109, pls. XIII and XIV). The “battle frieze” depicts both combats on foot and stationary chariots (see below, under MYCENAEAN AND HOMERIC WARFARE). On the Mycenae megaron frieze (Rodenwaldt 1921, fig. 14) leggings are shown in black on a warrior standing behind a chariot horse. On the Mycenae warrior vase and warrior stele the leggings are also in black, but the black bands are shown above the knees (Stubbings 1962, pl. 29 a and b, ITEE 285). On a fragment of a similar krater (also LH IIIC) from Lefkandi on Euboea (Popham and Sackett 1968, 19, figs. 38 and 39) the bands above the black leggings are below the knee, as on another LH IIIC sherd from Lefkandi (ibid. fig. 40). None of these pictorial representations, however, can provide any reliable evidence of the real nature and appearance of these leg coverings. The colours used to depict them, white on the frescoes, black on the pottery, may be merely artistic conventions (Stubbings 1962, 506). The actual bronze greaves (from Kallithea etc., as listed above) are our only proof that some Mycenaeans had bronze greaves. But it is probable that most of their leggings were of leather or cloth.


The discovery of the LH IIIA Dendra cuirass/corslet has provided positive proof of Mycenaean bronze body-armour (Åström et al. 1977, Dickinson 1994, 203-206, with refs., pl. 5. 21; also well illustrated on ITEE, 275). This suit of armour would have protected the whole torso, from neck to groin, by means of overlapping bronze plates and shoulder and neck-pieces. There was also evidence for arm-guards (as at Thebes, Verdelis 1977, 37) and greaves; and a helmet with boar’s tusk plating and bronze cheek-pieces was found in the tomb. The uppermost body plate of the cuirass is the largest, composed of front and back pieces, fastened together on the sides. Below these are three smaller plates. Holes in the plates and in the shoulder-pieces indicate that the armour was attached to an under-garment or padding. This discovery incidentally also demonstrates that the ‘helmet’ (as previously construed) from another tomb at Dendra (Persson 1942, 119-120, pl. 1, cf. Stubbings 1962, pl. 31b) is in fact a shoulder-piece.

The Dendra Cuirass has been dubbed “clumsy armor”, which “can not have been designed for infantry ….. a cumbersome, tubular garment, composed of wide segments of bronze ….. a type of protective armor probably devised especially for chariotry” ((Littauer 1972, 152-153, cf. DMG 375-376). As Dickinson observes, this armour “would require heavy internal padding, could not be put on single-handed, and would effectively prevent the wearer standing up again if he had fallen” (Dickinson 1994, 205). This type of cuirass may only have been used by the occupants of chariots. It clearly resembles the q163 cuirass ideogram on the Knossos Linear B

tablets (DMG 379-381, with sketch, 522-524, Chadwick 1976, 160-163, cf. the fine colour illustration on ITEE, 296) and the q163 ideogram, also for the cuirass, on the Pylos and Tiryns tablets (DMG, 375-379, 522, 587 s.v. to-ra-ke, cf. Chadwick 1976, 73, 160-169). On the Sh- series from Pylos the q163 ideogram shows a combination of the corslet (the Greek thorax) with the helmet (Greek korus), accompanied by the words to-ra-ke (thorakes, plural) and ko-ru-to (genitive singular of korus), comprising a set of armour. On the tablet TI Si 5 from Tiryns the q163 ideogram is accompanied by the word to-ra-ka (thorax, singular) (Naumann et al. 1977). A newly classified label, wa 569, at Pylos has the word to-ra (thorax), also in the singular (Shelmerdine 1999, 403). At Knossos the q162 ideogram on the 140+ tablets of the Sc- series is associated with men, corslets/cuirasses, wheeled chariots and horses, usually in this order, obviously recording the issue of equipment to charioteers. “It is clear that two corslets, presumably one for the warrior and one for his driver, is the normal issue”. The number of chariots listed on each tablet is never more than one. (DMG 523, cf. 380). In at least 7 cases at Knossos an ingot (of bronze) has been inserted, “often in substitution for a corslet and never together with one” (DMG, 523). This could be understood as an alternative issue of bronze, sufficient to make a pair of corslets/cuirasses, each containing about 13 kg. of bronze (DMG 380, cf. 57 and 385 for the estimated weight of the ingots). On six Knossos armour tablets the items of equipment labelled qe-ro2, listed in pairs, seem to denote part of a suit of armour, possibly the arm-guards (DMG, 494-495, cf. 329-330, 375-376, 380-381, 523-524; Chadwick 1976, 160). On two of the Knossos tablets the word o-pa-wo-ta (plural) occurs in connection with helmets and items of body armour (DMG, 381, 523-524). The Pylos corslets have 20-22 large o-pa-wo-ta and 10-12 small (DMG, 376, 378-379; Chadwick 1976, 162-163). The word appears to indicate things ‘hung on’, such as plates or scales attached to corslets, like the Nuzi corslets (DMG, 376, 378), although the smaller number of the Pylos o-pa-wo-ta presents a problem (Chadwick 1976, loc. cit.). Both at Pylos and at Tiryns the q163 ideogram includes marks protruding outwards from the shoulders, which appear to be crude indications of shoulder-pieces, for which the name e-po-mi-jo in two Knossos tablets (SK 789 and SK 8100) is confirmed (DMG, 380-381, 523-524). Although it is the only complete example, the Dendra cuirass is not unique. In the Nichoria tholos tomb 117 fragments of thin bronze body armour were found, many with small holes pierced near their edges, presumably to attach the bronze to a leather or cloth padding (Wilkie in Nichoria II, 253-256, 276-278). The latest pottery from Dendra cuirass tomb is LH IIIA1, thus providing proof that Mycenaean bronze body armour was at least as old as the 14th century B.C.; and the evidence from the tablets as a whole supports the conclusion that the Dendra cuirass was that of a chariot driver or rider, and that this type of cuirass may have been confined to charioteers. As discussed below (under THE CHARIOT), the main use of Mycenaean chariots in warfare seems to have been as transport vehicles in support of the infantry (Littauer 1972, esp. 149, 152-153).

Dickinson observed that in the Aegean “the archaeological material indicates the prevalence of hand-to-hand weapons” (Dickinson 1999, esp. 24-25); and indeed most of the battle sequences in the Iliad are combats of foot-soldiers, often between heroes who have dismounted from their chariots. Body-armour for most infantry would certainly need to be much less heavy and much more flexible than the Dendra cuirass. The Achaeans are called ‘bronze-shirted’ (calkoc\twneς) 24 times in the Iliad. No conclusions as to the nature of their body-armour can be drawn from the fanciful descriptions of the supernatural armour made for Achilles by the god Hephaistos (Il. 18. 468-613) or of Agamemnon’s cuirass, given to him by King Kinyras of Cyprus (Il. 11. 19-28) or even of the bronze thorax edged with tin, given as a prize to Eumelos (Il. 23. 558-562). But the thorax is described in one episode as ‘brightly-shining’ (Il. 13. 265) and in another as ‘freshly polished’ (Il. 13. 342), epithets which appear to imply metal. Nevertheless, there are many instances in the Iliad where weapons pierced through the ‘guala’ of the thorax (gbalon qfρhkoς), as in the scene where an arrow pierces through the belt and into the thorax of Menelaos (Il. 4. 132-140). Weapons penetrating the thorax inflict wounds in the abdomen (Il. 13. 506-508; 17. 312-315), in the shoulder (Il. 5. 95-100; 5. 188-189), and in the chest (Il. 13. 586-587). The ‘guala’ may have been small scales or discs of bronze, like the one found at Mycenae (Catling 1970) attached to a thorax of cloth or of leather (Webster 1958, 102; Dickinson 1994, 205) or even of linen (as the linen thorax worn by Ajax, son of Oileus, Il. 2. 527-530 and by Amphios, an ally of the Trojans, Il. 2. 830, cf. Stubbings 1962, 505-510, esp. 507-508). A fragment of cloth, fourteen layers thick, found in a Mycenaean tomb, is thought to be a part of the padding of a thorax (Gray 1954, 6, cf. DMG 375-376). Chadwick also suggests that some of the Mycenaean armour may have been of thick linen rather than of metal (DMG, 522, cf. Chadwick 1976, 162-163). The o-pa-wo-ta appendages of the Pylos and Knossos armour tablets may be scales or plates attached to linen or cloth. From the Pylos Jn- series Chadwick deduces an acute shortage of bronze there “precisely at the time when there was an overwhelming need for weapons”. According to his interpretation, “temple bronze” was to be melted down, to provide “points for darts and spears” (DMG 512-513, cf. 357-358, 413, 509-510; cf. Catling, in Nichoria II, 618-624 for the recycling of metal). The warriors on the Mycenae and Pylos frescoes wear tunics covering the torso down to the thighs, with a belt at the waist. Like the greaves, the tunics are in white, which may indicate that they are of the same material, unless this is only an artistic convention. As maintained above for THE SHIELD and GREAVES, it is not possible to draw any conclusions concerning the thorax from the crude depictions on the Warrior Vase.


The composition and the uses of Mycenaean and other Bronze Age chariots have been discussed in detail by Littauer and Crouwel. Some of their publications, together with a bibliography of their works concerning chariots, have been collected by P. Raulwing (Littauer and Crouwel 2002). Crouwel has provided a comprehensive account of Greek Bronze Age chariots (Crouwel 1981). In their introduction to the Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos listing chariots, Ventris and Chadwick summarize their components (DMG, 361-365, with sketch of the Mycenaean chariot, fig. 25, cf. Stubbings 1962, 539-540 for the harnessing method and Priam’s cart, Il. 24. 265-274).

In his pioneer article Catling identified three main stages in the development of the Mycenaean chariot, on the basis of the representations in Mycenaean art (Catling 1968). The approximate dates for these stages were given as follows:

Stage I (LH I and LH II) 16th to 15th cent. B.C.

Stage II (LH IIIA and LH IIIB) 14th to 13th cent. B.C.

In Stage I the chariot is shown as a rectangular box, e.g. on the Mycenae Shaft Grave V stele (Stubbings 1962, pl. 33, and finely displayed on ITEE, 324) and on the gold ring from Shaft Grave IV with a hunting scene (Xenaki-Sakellariou 1964 No. 15; ITEE, 244), and on the lentoid sardonyx gem, bound with gold, from the Vaphio tomb, with driver and spearman (Tsountas 1887, pl. 10; Xenaki-Sakellariou 1964 no. 229; shown on ITEE, 253).

Catling lists only a few of the “innumerable” Stage II representations, mainly on kraters (Catling, op. cit. 44, pl. 12 with 3 samples). “In Stage II the body of the chariot continues to be roughly rectangular, but a curved projection extends backwards from each side well beyond the floor of the chariot ….. In no representation of a stage II chariot, however summarily drawn, is anything to be seen of the driver and the passengers below the level of the rail, which serves to confirm that a covered frame was standard” (Catling op. cit. 45, cf. Furumark 1941, 433-438, motif 39, Littauer 1972, 189, fig. 8). This covering of the frame is shown in some examples to have been of oxhide, sometimes dappled (Catling op. cit. pl. 22, no. 12), and wickerwork is also suggested (DMG, 362). The chariots on vases (usually kraters) of this period are portrayed as stationary or moving slowly (Littauer and Crouwel 1983), as on LH IIIA kraters found in Cyprus (e.g. the well known examples from Maroni and Enkomi). These kraters were probably made at Berbati in the Argolid, “specifically for the Cypriot and Near Eastern export market” (Mountjoy 1993, 73, cf. 170 and ills. 153, 396; Dickinson 1994, 124-125, pl. 5.7). As Catling points out (op. cit. 42), Stage II chariots are usually depicted as in a ceremonial setting. Although the battle scenes on the LH IIIB frescoes at Mycenae and Pylos show the warriors in motion, the chariots on these frescoes are also shown as stationary (for Mycenae, Rodenwaldt 1921, 24-29, 41-43, figs. 21-22, pls. 1 and 4, cf. Littauer 1972, 149-152; for Pylos, Lang 1969, 44, 73-74, 97, pls. 13: 26 H 64 and 123: 26 H 64, cf. Littauer 1972, 52). The use of the Mycenaean chariot in warfare is discussed below under MYCENAEAN AND HOMERIC WARFARE.

For the Stage III chariot we have only the evidence from vases or fragments of vases, mainly from the LH IIIC Middle period (Mountjoy 1993, 97-100). In these the frame of the chariot is no longer covered, and the whole bodies of the occupants of the chariots are visible. The impression given is of a “stripped down” form of chariot, dubbed as a “rail chariot”, since only the rail of the frame is shown (Catling 1968, 46-48; Crouwel 1981, 70-72; Dickinson 1994, 206). And the chariots are now shown in motion, carrying warriors with spears and round shields, as on two sherds from LH IIIC kraters at Tiryns. On one sherd only the warrior has a shield; the driver has only the reins (Crouwel 1981, pl. 60 = Littauer 1972, fig. 1, after Verdelis 1967, Beil. 34.3, cf. Littauer and Crouwel 1996, fig. 3 and Kilian 1982, pl. xxvi a. On the other sherd both the warrior and the driver have small round shields covering most of the body, and the warrior apparently has two spears (Crouwel 1981, pl. 59 no. v48 = Littauer and Crouwel 1983 fig. 2, and more clearly shown on Kilian 1982, pl. xxvii a and b). Two LH IIIC krater sherds from Mycenae each show two occupants of a chariot, both with round shields and one holding a spear. The larger sherd, from a krater rim, came from Schliemann’s dump (Wace 1949, pl. 71C, no. 1) and the other from his excavation (Furtwängler and Loeschke 1886, pl. XLI, 427, Lorimer 1950, pl. II: 3). The sherds were “joined” by Catling, who pointed out that “these two divorced fragments almost certainly belong to the same vase” (Catling 1968, 46-47 and pl. 23: 19, cf. Littauer 1972, 145 fig. 2 and 148-149). Catling here comments on “the extreme lightness of the new vehicle” (cf. Il. 10. 504-505, where a chariot can be carried by one man). This would imply the assumption that real chariots of this period now lacked the breastwork and side panels on the frame seen in the previous Stage II portrayals, and verified by the ideograms on Knossos Linear B tablets (discussed below). But it is quite likely that by LH IIIC Middle, the time of most of the Stage III depictions, the Mycenaean war-chariot may have been becoming obsolete. In this ‘Post-Palatial’ period it may have been difficult, even for the elite, to find the resources necessary to maintain such chariots and their horses (Littauer 1972, 156). It is quite possible that some painters of Stage III chariots had never seen a real war-chariot. Indeed they appear to be more concerned with showing the warriors and their weapons. In one example (Crouwel 1981, pl. 59 no. v48, cited above) the rail of the chariot is missing altogether. The impression is that these artists had now adopted a simple schematic convention for indicating an object that was no longer familiar.

There is, however, a remarkable resemblance between the pictorial ideograms used for chariots and their wheels in the Knossos and Pylos Linear B tablets (as shown in Stubbings 1962, fig. 64 and on DMG, 361, 370 and 373) and most of the illustrations of Phase II chariots in Mycenaean art. Within the limitations of their miniature size, the depictions of chariots on Mycenaean pottery and frescoes etc. of this time (the LH IIIA to LH IIIB ‘Third Palatial’ period) are seen to be fairly reliable portrayal of the real chariots, as shown and described on the tablets. Since the Linear B evidence for chariots has been detailed by Ventris and Chadwick (in DMG) and by several other experts, only a brief summary is given below.

At Knossos over 400 chariots are listed (DMG, 361-372, 379-380, 391, 515-518, 522-523), in several categories and in various conditions. Most of the tablets were found by Evans in the ‘Armoury’ (or ‘Arsenal’). Perhaps about 120 (the Sc- series, with the ideogram q240) are complete, and with wheels, and listed with corslets (Sc 230, the most often illustrated, is shown in colour on ITEE 296, cf. PM IV fig. 763a); about 41 are complete but without wheels (the Sd- and Se- series, with the ideogram q241); and at least 237 are only chariot frames (the Sf- series, with the ideogram q242). One large tablet, Sg 1811, gives a total of 246 chariot-frames and 208 pairs of wheels (Chadwick 1976, 167). Some 27 Knossos tablets list wheels only, to a total of perhaps up to 1000 wheels, listed in pairs (in the So- series they have the ideogram q242, showing 4 spokes, as in all of the representations of Stage II chariots in Mycenaean art). At Pylos most of the ‘chariot’ tablets (in the Sa- series with the ideograms q243 for wheel and q243 + TE) list wheels only (DMG, 373-375, 518-519; see below on the wheels for ‘Followers’). Ventris and Chadwick do not specify a total for the Pylos wheels, but about 140 pairs seem to be listed. Although records of the Pylos chariots themselves are missing, axles are listed on Va 1324, and other chariot parts on Vn 1339 and Vn 1341. Other tablets relating to chariot repair and perhaps chariot making were also found in the Northeast Workshop at Pylos (Shelmerdine 1999, 403-405). A tablet found in 1957 (Sb 1315) lists reins, and another (An 1282) lists men employed in making wheels and halters, evidently for chariots (DMG, 519-522).

The brief descriptions of the chariots and chariot parts written on the tablets were only those necessary for the identification (by the palace officials) of the individual items stored. Nevertheless, the details recorded provide enough evidence for a partial reconstruction of the structure and appearance of the chariots (DMG, 361-365, 369-371, 515-516; Stubbings 1962, 521-522, 539-541; Chadwick 1976, 164-171; Crouwel 1981, Chs. V and VI). There was obviously no need for the officials to describe the construction of the chariot frames, but their physical conditions and varying states of readiness are meticulously recorded. One wheel-less chariot (Se 879) is described as old and of elm-wood. Several other parts of the vehicles and their accessory equipment are often listed: bridles, harness, reins, blinkers (of leather, and one with ivory, Sd 0403, cf. DMG, 364-366), ivory inlays (cf. Il. 4. 141-142 and Il. 5. 581-583 for ivory decorations on chariots), and some other decorations (te-mi-*71-ta) and fittings (o-pi-i-ja-pi) of some kind, probably bits (mouthpieces for controlling the horses). Some chariots are labelled as painted crimson (po-ni-ki-ja, cf foinikopάD®oi, ‘crimson-cheeked’, an epithet for ships in the Odyssey, Od. 11. 124 and 23, 271), or red (mi-to-we-sa, cf. Il. 2. 637, miltopάD®oi, ‘red-cheeked’, describing Odysseus’ ships and, in Od. 9. 125, the ships that the Cyclopes do not have).

In the Iliad there is an indication that chariots not in use were placed on stands and covered with cloth (Il. 8. 441); and it may have been normal practice to remove the wheels of these chariots (cf. Il. 5. 722). Wheels at Knossos and Pylos are often listed separately, and their conditions are systematically recorded, in the same manner as for the Knossos chariots and chariot parts. Most of the Knossos wheels were of elm- or willow- wood, and most also with tyres (presumably of leather). One tablet (So 894) includes a pair of bronze wheels and three pairs of bronze- bound wheels. At Pylos most wheels are with tyres. Tablet Sa 01 lists one and a half pair of wheels of cypress wood, with tyres. One pair is bound with silver (Sa 03); and another (Sa 793) has ivory decoration (te-mi-*71-ta, for which TE, added to the WHEEL ideogram in several tablets, seems to be an abbreviation). Some wheels are serviceable (we-je-ke-a2), others unfit for service (no-pe-re-a2). A special type of wheel is specified on Sa 787 and Sa 790 as e-qe-si-ja, i.e. for the chariots of ‘Followers’, who were important officers in the Pylos kingdom. (DMG, 427-430, Chadwick 1976, 173-179; and see below, under MYCENAEAN AND HOMERIC WARFARE).

The few descriptions of chariots (žρματα) in the Iliad are not sufficient to establish their type(s) or composition, although many parts of the chariot are named (Autenrieth 1958 s.v. –ntuξ and žrmata). The chariot frame (d\fρoς) was of wood; and the use of leather, presumably for the sides and floor, is implied by the description of the frame as ‘well-plaited’, (¦bB8,6J@ς or ¦bB8,6Xhς), i.e. with interlaced strips (Il. 23. 375 and 436). The rails (—nJu(,ς) of one Trojan chariot are of the wood of the wild fig, a specimen of which grew beside the walls of Troy (Il. 21. 37-8, cf. Il. 6. 433-434). The chariot of Hera, with its gold and silver decoration is a fanciful creation; but its description includes the names of several chariot parts, wheel-rims, hubs and shaft etc., and confirms the interlacing in the framework. Chariots of several heroes are adorned with bronze (B@i6\8″ P”86è, Il. 4. 226; 10. 322 and 393); the chariot of Diomedes is decorated with gold and tin (Il. 23. 503) and that of Rhesos with gold and silver (Il. 10. 438).


The typology of Mycenaean swords has been outlined by Dickinson (1994, esp. 197-203 with fig. 5. 46, 205-207 with refs., cf. Dickinson 2006, esp. 49, 72, 243). In LH I and LH II (Dickinson’s ‘Second Palace Period’) the long sword, similar to the rapier, and the long spear appear to have been the principal offensive weapons. The Type A swords in the Mycenae Shaft Graves had blades c. 90 cm long. The Type B swords were slightly broader, and introduced tanging. Types C, D, and G were derived from Type B, with modifications; and the Type E dagger or short sword was developed at Knossos in LM II. By LH IIIB (late in Dickinson’s ‘Third Palace Period’), the European Type II (or ‘Naue’) sword appears (probably from Italy); the earliest examples are from Mycenae and Enkomi (Dickinson 2006, 49). This broader and shorter slashing sword became the most common type in the LH IIIC ‘Post-palatial’ period. See Mulloy 2010 for a fuller analysis of the development of the Mycenaean sword.

The three words used for the sword in the Iliad are –or (aor), x\N@ς (xiphos) and NVF(“n@n (phasganon). These are used interchangeably, according to the contexts and the meter, “In Homer one hero’s sword can be described by all three words; and such limited descriptions of sword-fighting as there are do not give any precise picture of either the shape of swords or the manner of sword-play.” (Stubbings 1962, 517). In several of the arming scenes the phrase x\N@ς •ρ(uρ`h8on occurs (‘sword with studs of silver’). Although sword-hilts throughout the Mycenaean period often had gold-capped rivets, silver-capped rivets are less common, and those which can be dated are LH I or LH II (cf. Wilkie in Nichoria II, 274 for traces of silver on 4 rivets of uncertain date from the tholos); and this has led to speculation that the xiphos was the earlier type of Mycenaean sword, and that x\N@ς •ρ(uρ`h8on may be a relic of Mycenaean poetry.

Large numbers of swords are listed in the Knossos tablets, as pa-ka-na (phasgana) and with the sword ideogram q233, especially Ra 1540 with 50 swords and Ra 1028 with 18 + 99 (DMG, 360-361, 369, 515, 517; Chadwick 1976, 171-172 with fig. 71). Some swords, Ra 984 and Ra 1028 are apparently described as ‘bound with ivory’ (DMG, 272, 369, 455-456, 517). Chadwick had doubts concerning the assumption that pa-ka-na and the q233 ideogram indicate swords since there had been a suggestion that they may instead indicate daggers. But the dagger is a personal weapon (and tool, cf. Dickinson 1994, 197-198), and not likely to be stored in the palaces (as arms to be issued when needed). Swords, on the other hand, would be, like spears, necessary in an emergency. At Pylos Ta 716 lists two swords, as qi-si-pe-e (xiphos) and with a sword ideogram (DMG, 346, 502, Chadwick 1976, 172).


The spear was the main offensive weapon of the Mycenaean infantry. Since only spear-heads have survived, these provide the main evidence. Dickinson summarizes the stages in their development (Dickinson 1994, 201-207 with fig. 5. 47, citing in particular Höckmann 1980 and Avila 1983). The longer socketed spear-head was introduced early in the LH period, and became the standard form, as seen in several warrior graves. To judge from the LM IA Miniature Fresco in the West House at Akrotiri on Thera, the spears themselves were very long (Doumas 1999, 48, 58, cf. Dickinson 1994 fig. 5. 47a: 3), and obviously could only be used for thrusting. An even longer spear-head, the ‘one-piece’ type was developed (probably at Knossos) at about the same time (LM II or LM IIIA1) as the Dendra Cuirass. By LH IIIB (late in Dickinson’s ‘Third Palace Period’) spear-heads were shorter (Dickinson 1994 fig. 5. 47a: 6), probably to make the spear lighter and more suitable for throwing, like the pairs of spears carried by the hunters on two Tiryns frescoes (Bossert 1923 nos. 216 and 217, cf. Rodenwaldt 1921 Abb. 28). The warriors on the reverse side of the Mycenae Warrior Vase (Bossert 1923, no. 265) and on the Mycenae Warrior Stele (Stubbings 1962, pl. 296) have their spears raised in a manner which suggests that they could be thrown. But the shortened spear could obviously be used either for thrusting or for throwing.

The words for spear in the Iliad are §(Poς and *`ρu, used interchangeably. The heroes are normally portrayed as armed each with a single spear, which could be used either for thrusting or for throwing. “The choice before a hero is well brought out by a passage (Il. 13. 557-559) in which Antilochos is described as wondering whether to throw his spear or keep it for thrusting ….. In the Iliad, on a rough count, there are 81 cases of a hero throwing a spear, as against 69 cases of one thrusting …..” (CSHI 4 and 12 n. 36).

In a Knossos tablet (R 1815) 42 spears are listed (as e-ke-a, plural) with bronze points and the spear ideogram q230 (DMG, 361, 515); 30 spears are listed (as e-ke-i-ja, plural) at Pylos (Va 1324, DMG, 506), and others on VN 1339 (Shelmerdine 1999, 403). An important Pylos tablet (Jn 829) lists the districts in the Pylos kingdom whose officials are to contribute ‘temple bronze’ as points for pa-ta-ja  (javelins or arrows) and for spears (ka-ko na-wi-jo  pa-ta-jo-i-qe  e-ke-si-qe ai-ka-sa-na, DMG, 357-358, 512-515, Chadwick 1976, 141-142, 172).


The arrow-heads which have survived constitute our main evidence for archery in Late Bronze Age Greece. Dickinson comments on “the growing popularity of bronze arrowheads” (“most popular in LH II to LH IIIA2”, Catling, in Nichoria II, 622) and the records of large numbers of missile heads in the Knossos Linear B texts, compared to the rare early LH representations (mainly on objects from the Mycenae Shaft Graves) of archers in art (Dickinson 1994, 205-207 with fig. 5. 47b, and citing Buchholz 1962, Höckmann 1980 and Avila 1983). As he says, some of the missile heads “are big enough to have been heads for small javelins and darts (cf. fig. 5. 42 b: 5), which may also be listed in the texts (Chadwick 1976, 172)”. In the Nichoria excavations a few bronze projectile heads and “arrow plates” were found, in the tholos tomb (Wilkie, in Nichoria II, 272-273) and elsewhere in the settlement (Catling, in Nichoria II, 619-622, with an authoritative commentary). But at Nichoria finely made arrow points of obsidian and chert were more common (Blitzer, in Nichoria II, 733-735).

At Knossos one tablet (R 4482) lists 6010 and 2630 arrowheads, clearly marked by the version of the q231 arrow ideogram “with a feathered flight at the rear end” (DMG, 360-361, 513-514 and Chadwick 1976, 172 with fig. 73). In the Armoury at Knossos the charred remains of two wooden boxes contained carbonized arrow-shafts and thin bronze arrow plates of the common type with “stitch” holes (as in the sketch on DMG, 356, cf. Dickinson 1994 fig. 5. 47b: 3). Three sealings (Ws 1704, Ws 1702 and Ws 105) were attached to the two wooden boxes (DMG, 361). The word pa-ta-ja on Ws 1704 and on the sealings Ws 1705 and Ws 8495 was original construed as “arrows”, since it is accompanied on Ws 1704 by a q231 arrow ideogram. But the version of this ideogram here is a short pointed stick with no feathered flights on its tail end. Chadwick therefore suggested that pa-ta-ja might actually mean “light missiles hurled manually”, i.e. ‘javelins’ or ‘darts’ (DMG, 513-515, cf. Chadwick 1976, 172 with fig. 72). Pa-ta-ja are listed on Pylos tablet Jn 829 in the form pa-ta-jo-l-qe, in the context of the contributions of ‘temple bronze’ as points for pa-ta-ja and e-ke-a (spears: see above under THE SPEAR). There would therefore be the same alternatives for the meaning of pa-ta-ja in this context also, as either ‘arrows’ or ‘javelins’, according to Chadwick’s hypothesis. The more recent discoveries at Pylos reveal 200 javelins or javelin parts in line 7 of Vn 1341, and a newly discovered nodule, Wr 1480, records handfuls or handles of javelins (Shelmerdine 1999, 403).

In the Iliad arrows have heads of bronze, as described by the epithets P”86Zρhς (fitted with bronze) and P”86o$”DZς (heavy with bronze). In the Iliad, however, the bow “is more a foreign weapon than a Greek one”. (Stubbings 1962, 519), and is looked down upon as an inferior weapon. Diomedes taunts Paris for choosing it (Il. 11. 585), and few of the Greek heroes are bowmen. Teucer, the brother of Ajax, son of Telamon, is described as the best archer (Il. 13. 313-314), but the Cretan Meriones defeats him in archery at the funeral games for Patroklos (Il. 23. 850-884). Stubbings discusses most of the instances of the use of the bow in the Iliad, and suggests that the Mycenaeans may have been aware of the (foreign) composite bow (Stubbings 1962, 518-520). In Mycenaean art the bow is a simple one, apparently shorter than the medieval English longbow. But the bow of Pandaros, the leader of the Lycians (as described in Il. 4. 105-113) is obviously unusual, made with the horns of a wild goat. Stubbings suggests that Pandaros’ bow was of the composite type, combining wood with sinews and horn, as used by the Scythians in the classical period and portrayed in Greek art from c. 600 B.C. onwards. In the Knossos Mc- series from the Arsenal the commodity J was convincingly identified by Sir Arthur Evans as the horn of the wild goat (capra aegagrus creticus), the Cretan agrimi) mainly on the basis of its ideogram (Evans PM IV, 833; DMG, 301-303, with illustrations of the ideograms of the commodities, G to J, and 474-475; Chadwick 1976, 130-132 with further illustrations). From the presence of the records of chariots, spears and arrows in the Arsenal, Evans deduced that the horns would have been used in the manufacture of bows. But, as Chadwick points out, the Mc- tablets are fragmentary, and difficulties of their interpretation remain. Commodity H has the ideogram for the she-goat, as known from the livestock tablets; the ideogram G is apparently the ‘Buck-agrimi’ or ‘ra-goat’, since it is distinguished from the she-goat (Chadwick 1976, loc. cit.). “….. the ideograms most probably represent carcases sent in by the hunters” (DMG, 302). Among the craftsmen listed at Pylos are five bow-makers (to-ko-so-wo-ko), in An 207 (DMG 123, 183).


There is no documentary evidence for any particular war or battle in Greece during the Mycenaean age. Warfare is, however, to be inferred from archaeological data and other indications. The spectacular rise of Mycenae in LH I, as revealed by the treasures in the Shaft Graves, suggests a preceding conquest, or at least coercion by force, by an elite group with superior weapons. These early Mycenaean Greeks obviously admired and emulated the contemporary, but more advanced, civilization of their Cretan neighbours. It is deduced from the Knossos Linear B texts, together with the finds in the Knossos area Warrior Graves, that central Crete had become subject to these Mycenaean Greeks in LM II, presumably by conquest, although there are no signs of destruction at Knossos itself at the end of the LM IB period. The causes of the subsequent destruction of Knossos, at some time within the LM IIIA2 period, in a violent conflagration, are unknown; and the destruction was followed by an apparently peaceful reoccupation in LM IIIB. In mainland Greece the LH IIIA2 period was a time of prosperity and expansion (see Chapter 1), which appears to have been mainly peaceful, at least up to the time of the disruptions in the LH IIIB1 period (destructions in the citadel of Tiryns, in houses outside the walls of Mycenae, at Zygouries and in Thebes). Subsequently in LH IIIB2 the fortifications of Mycenae, Tiryns and Midea were strengthened, and protected access was provided (but denied to the enemy) to natural water sources outside their citadels; and storage and work rooms were concentrated inside the fortifications. All these precautions indicate that a human threat was perceived (Shelmerdine 1997, 580-581).

It has been suggested that the expansion of the kingdom of Pylos was achieved by conquest “….. it seems to us likely that warfare lay at the very heart of the processes that enabled the creation of the Mycenaean state of Pylos” (Davis and Bennet 1999, 106). But there are no signs of destruction either at Nichoria or at Peristeria at this time, although control of these important settlements would have been an essential step in the process of annexing eastern Messenia as the new ‘Further Province’ of the Pylos kingdom (Hope Simpson 2014, 53-54). The battle scenes on the fresco of Hall 64 at Pylos are enigmatic. The combatants on the left wear clothing of Mycenaean style and are equipped with Mycenaean helmets and greaves and short swords. In sharp contrast, their opponents on the right have the same type of short swords, but have no armour and apparently wear animal skins. Davis and Bennet (1999) interpret the scene as symbolizing the difference between Mycenaeans and ‘The Other’ (i.e. contemporary peoples who do not share the Mycenaean culture). But it is surely possible that an actual historical event, or an episode from a Mycenaean epic, is here depicted. Scenes on other Pylos frescoes, as in the Throne Room, do not appear to have been designed as propaganda.

There is much debate concerning the destructions and the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial systems at the end of the LH IIIB period. The main destructions were at Mycenae, Tiryns and Pylos (at Pylos in the LH IIIB2 / LH IIIC Early transitional period); and Midea, the Menelaion, Nichoria, Thebes and Eutresis were destroyed or abandoned, together with many smaller sites, especially in the Argolid and Messenia. The overall picture of this “systems collapse” has been well summarized by Shelmerdine (1997, 580-584) and Dickinson (2006, 41-57). Invasions from the north or raids by the ‘Sea Peoples’ have been suggested, but are not supported by any evidence. Natural causes may have been partly responsible. Midea suffered an earthquake at this time, but Mycenae apparently did not. Drought seems unlikely, since Tiryns, for instance, was reoccupied and remodelled almost immediately after the destruction there, and in Achaea and in many places in central Greece there was continuity from LH IIIB to LH IIIC (see Chapter 1). The disruptions in the Argolid and at Thebes may have been accompanied by warfare, raids or internal revolt, but there is no actual evidence for these. At Pylos, however, the evidence for hostile action is overwhelming. The destruction of the Palace by fire was complete. “The palace burned, the administration collapsed, and some people – no earthquake here – did such violent damage to Tomb III and Tholos IV that the excavators’ shock still reverberates from the page of the Pylos publications. ….. There had been systematic and thorough spoliation of Tholos IV, and no bone or object was every found in its original position.” (Shelmerdine 1999, 408). After this, most of the Mycenaean sites found in Messenia were also deserted (Hope Simpson 2014, 40 and passim).


The prominence of infantry weapons in Mycenaean Greece is amply documented by the considerable number of actual weapons found, mainly in Mycenaean tombs, and illustrated by scenes on pottery and other objects and on frescoes, especially at Thera, Mycenae and Pylos. The chariot, although frequently depicted, especially on Mycenaean kraters, seems to have had a subsidiary role in warfare, mainly as a means of conveying the warriors to battles fought on foot. There is no evidence to suggest that Mycenaean chariots were used in Greece as platforms for firing missiles, in the manner of the Hittite chariots from which javelins could be hurled or the Egyptian chariots with their archers (for Hittite chariots in the battle of Kadesh cf. Littauer 1972. For the stone relief of Ramesses III from Medinet Habu, showing chariot, shield and archer cf. Littauer and Crouwel 1979 fig. 44 and Littauer and Crouwel 1996). As Littauer observed, the bow or the cast spear or javelin are weapons “used perforce from a fast-moving chariot” (Littauer 1972, 148-149). But in all the known Mycenaean representations the chariots are depicted as either at a standstill or moving slowly; and the weapon(s) shown, either in the chariot or beside it, is the thrusting spear. This is shown upright in the chariot, and not in use. As Littauer and Crouwel have demonstrated, the thrusting spear could not be used effectively from a moving chariot (Littauer and Crouwel 1983). The thrusting spear was the main weapon of the Mycenaean infantry, as it was for the later Greek hoplite. The Mycenaean chariot was at the time probably the only means available for conveying warriors, especially heavily armed warriors, to and from the battlefield or trouble spot. The chariot in the Pylos battle scene has carried the warrior to the (infantry) battle, and is “standing by” (Littauer 1972, 152) to provide further assistance when needed. The ‘Followers’ (e-qe-te), ‘senior officers of the royal household’ at Pylos (Chadwick 1976, 177) were equipped with chariots, and a type of chariot wheels is described as e-qe-si-jo/-ja (‘for Followers’). Followers were attached to the o-ka ‘coastguard’ contingents, stationed along the coasts of the Pylos kingdom (DMG, esp. 369-375, 427-430, 519 and indexes s.v. ‘Followers’ and e-qe-ta/-te and e-qe-si-jo/-ja; Chadwick 1976, 72-73, 170, 176-179). Followers are occasionally mentioned also in the Knossos texts, especially Am 821 and Id 571, DMG, 168-169, 317-318, 420, 487).

Although the chariots at Knossos were listed and stored in association with weapons, this need not imply that all were exclusively for military use. Catling calls attention to the ceremonial nature of the Stage II chariot scenes on LH IIIA and LH IIIB kraters and frescoes, indicating a ‘peacetime role’ for chariots which had been manufactured for military purposes (Catling 1968b, 45-46). In mainland Greece the built highways, especially those of the Mycenae area and between Tiryns and Epidauros, were designed for use by chariots in particular (Hope Simpson and Hagel 2006, 144-175). But in Crete, despite the considerable and continuing exploration, so far no evidence has been found for any Minoan highway suitable for chariots, other than a few short paved roads in the vicinities of some of the palaces. Those at Knossos had central raised pavements only c. 1.40 m wide, whereas a width of c. 2.50 m to c. 3.0 m is considered to be the minimum required for wheeled traffic (Warren 1994, cf. Hope Simpson and Hagel 2014, 168-169). Despite the large numbers of chariots listed at Knossos, it appears that their use and usefulness may have been limited. The lack of suitable highways may indeed have been one reason why so many of the chariots were in such poor condition.

The role of the chariot in the Iliad is also mainly as a vehicle to carry the warrior to and from an infantry battle, in which the heroes fight with the spear (their main weapon) and sword. Some are wounded by arrows (e.g. Menelaos, Il. 4. 132-140) or other missiles; and the Locrians, who are specifically characterized as archers, with no helmets, shields or spears, manage to break the Trojan ranks by volleys (Il. 13. 712-722). The emphasis, however, is on the deeds of heroes and duels between heroes; little notice is taken of the common soldiers, whose numbers are, of course, exaggerated, as is appropriate in an epic. Naturally, the fighting in the Iliad can not be taken as evidence for the nature of actual Mycenaean warfare, but the weapons and armour in the Iliad often correspond to those found in Mycenaean contexts. Exceptions (as noted above) are some special items of equipment made (usually by a God or Goddess) for some special heroes.


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Mycenaean Greece and Homeric Tradition Copyright © by Richard Hope Simpson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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