I´m interested in Mycenae but have no background in archaeology, so my question is: Did ancient writers like Thucydides, Herodotus, etc. write about Minoan and/or Mycenaean times as well? If not, are there other ancient written pieces about that time? (besides the Linear-B pieces)

I also think that Homer did write about his past, but I´m not sure how much of it is considered to be a "historical core" and how much is literature. Any notes on that would be helpful too.

  • 1
    I think Mycenae for the most part predated e.g. Thucydides and Herodot, but there are references (also) in Egyptian sources.
    – Drux
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 15:43
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    Most of the information we have for Mycenea is from primary sources (Linear B tablets) and archaeology (several Mycenaean and Minoan palaces have been discovered).
    – yannis
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 17:10
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    Add to that the Hittites and their mention of the Ahhiyawa (Achaeans). See e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaeans_%28Homer%29#Hittite_documents
    – astabada
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 17:26
  • I've added an answer on the references to Mycenae by classical historians. Mycenae is recorded to have taken part in the Persian Wars on the side of the allied Greeks.
    – Demetrios
    Commented Mar 11, 2020 at 22:14

3 Answers 3


No surviving ancient histories describe Hellenic civilization preceding the Greek Dark Ages except for anecdotes relating to Homeric characters— and scholars are not even sure whether the Achæans can be identified as the Mycenaeans or not.

What we know of Mycenaean civilization is almost entirely from the archeological record, and if Homeric stories are accepted, from oral tradition.

  1. The only writing that has survived from the Mycenaean era itself are inscriptions which have mostly turned out to be inventories and receipts written in Linear B. No histories, biographies, poetry, or other literature are known to us from that era. We do not even know what name they took for themselves.
  2. Trade and possibly diplomatic and military ties linked the Myceneans with the Egyptians as well as the Hittites, as evidenced by the presence of pottery and depictions in artwork. But neither the Egyptians nor the Hittites say much about the Mycenaeans in any kind of detail.
  3. While the Greek Dark Ages, like any other "Dark Ages," were not comprehensively dark, and while the story of the Dorian invasion is disputed, it remains that Mycenaean culture was largely destroyed and displaced by what followed. It is possible that Hesiod and the others identified with the stories of the Achaeans but had no knowledge of the broader Mycenaean culture, or if they knew of it, did not identify with it.
  4. Hittite sources talk about the western nation of Ahhiyawa (=Achaea). The Tawagalawa Letter, written by an Hittite King ca. 1250 BC, addresses the king of Ahhiyawa as a peer, and mentions former hostilities around the city of Wilusa (=Ilion=Troy).

The best and most reliable Ancient Greek writer who identified and commented on Mycenae.......was Homer and "The Iliad".

Although Homer is not viewed as a Historian and "The Iliad" has often been viewed as the foundation of Western Literature and "Mythology", in reality, "The Iliad", was more of a historical commentary, a type of poetic retrospective sung by the blind Poet Homer, while playing his Lyre/(or Ancient Guitar) on the Aegean island of Chios.

Keep in mind that the content of the "The Iliad" was not necessarily invented by Homer, but rather, a culmination of centuries told tales passed from generation to generation regarding the actual Trojan War from the 1190's BC/BCE. When Homer arrived on the historical scene, it is approximately 400 years since The Trojan War. The generational story of The Trojan War, was rooted in a historical event and the city of Mycenae, was an actual city that Homer and the Greeks of his generation knew of.

Remember, one of the central characters of "The Iliad", Agamemnon, was the King of Mycenae and his brother, Menelaus, was the King of Sparta and married to Helen, "Queen of Sparta"-(before she became, "Helen, Queen of Troy"). In other words, the Ancient Greeks, long after the Trojan War, were well aware of the historical and geographical existence of Mycenae. It was not a city shrouded in myth and legend. Even with the archaeological excavations of Heinrich Schliemann, as well as the subsequent translations of the Linear B tablets by Michael Ventris, the Ancient Greeks were well aware of an actual Mycenae-(and perhaps even beyond the Ancient Greeks).

So your best historical reference with regard to the historical origins of Mycenae, comes from a historically sentimental Greek Poet and Singer from 2800 years ago.


In late 5th century BC Mycenae looked small and insignificant in the words of Thucydides I.10, as did all other cities of that age. (Καὶ ὅτι μὲν Μυκῆναι μικρὸν ἦν, ἢ εἴ τι τῶν τότε πόλισμα νῦν μὴ ἀξιόχρεων δοκεῖ εἶναι)

The Mycenaeans are recorded to have taken part in the Persian Wars on the side of the Hellenic League. Herodotus 9.28.4 mentions that Mycenae along with Tirynth fielded 400 men at the battle of Plataea (τούτων δὲ Μυκηναίων καὶ Τιρυνθίων τετρακόσιοι), which is solidly corroborated by the fact that Mycenae (MVKANEΣ) is inscribed on the Serpentine Column that was dedicated after the Greek victory at Plataea to Apollo in Delphi (5th loop from the bottom, 1st name).

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The military contribution of the Myceneans in the Persian wars is attested also by the 2nd century AD traveler Pausanias, 2.16.5, who mentions that Mycenae was eventually destroyed by Argos out of jealousy, because the Argives had taken no action during the Persian invasion by Xerxes, whereas the Myceneans had sent 80 men to fight along with the Spartans at Thermopylae. (Μυκηναῖοι πέμπουσιν ἐς Θερμοπύλας ὀγδοήκοντα ἄνδρας, οἳ Λακεδαιμονίοις μετέσχον τοῦ ἔργου). The small size of the forces contributed by Mycenae at Thermopylae and in Plataea is in line with Thucydides’ description of classical Mycenae as insignificant at the time.

  • The question is about Bronze Age, pre-classical Mycenaean civilization, which was destroyed by the 12th century BC.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 14:23
  • @choster: Yes, you are right to point this out. My only excuse is that the question mentions specifically the works of Thucydides and Herodotus.
    – Demetrios
    Commented Jun 11, 2020 at 20:32

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