an ancient city in Argolis, the northeast coast of the Peloponnesian Peninsula of mainland Greece. Classical Greek legend credited the founding of Mycenae to Perseus, the descendant of Aegyptus and his brother Danaus; they had emigrated from Egypt to the Aegean several generations earlier. Thus Mycenae was from its very beginnings linked mythologically to Egypt. Archaeological evidence for contacts between Egypt and Mycenae indicates that they were in contact, indirectly at first, then directly, from the beginning of the second millennium BCE to about 1150 BCE. Recently revived, but unacceptable to most scholars, are the nineteenth-century hypotheses that the wealth in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae (c.1550 BCE) was the result of Mycenaeans helping the Egyptians rid their land of the hated Hyksos; or that the bodies in the graves of Grave Circle A at Mycenae are actually refugee Hyksos; and that the Hyksos conquered the Aegean.

Mycenae

Mycenae. The Lion Gate at Mycenae. (Courtesy Donald B. Redford)

In fact, most of the Egyptian or Egyptianized objects in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae most likely arrived via Minoan Crete, which seems to have been the major Aegean trading partner with Egypt at that time.

Mycenae

Mycenae. The so-called Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae. (Courtesy Donald B. Redford)

Mycenaean pottery from Peloponnesian Greece (the peninsula forming the southern part of the Greek mainland) began to appear with regularity in Egypt by the time of Hatshepsut of the eighteenth dynasty, and Thutmose III states in his Annals that the “Prince of Tanaja” (the Mycenaean Greek mainland) sent tribute to Egypt in the form of “a silver shawabti-vessel in Keftiuan [Minoan] workmanship together with four bowls of iron [or copper?] with handles of silver.” Mycenae is mentioned specifically by Amenhotpe III, on a statue-base list at Kom el-Hetan, along with Tanaja, Keftiu (Crete), Nauplion, Boeotian Thebes, Messenia, Kythera, Knossos, Phaistos, Kydonia, and perhaps Troy. Fragmentary faience foundation-deposit plaques with the cartouche of Amenhotpe III have been found at Mycenae in fourteenth- and thirteenth-century BCE religious contexts, along with scarabs of his wife. The plaque fragments were found scattered, mostly in secondary contexts; the religious nature of most of those contexts (e.g., in the Cult Center at Mycenae) indicates that the Mycenaeans were still aware of the potentially sacred significance of these particular Egyptian imports. Whether the fragments are the remnants of a royal gift brought by an official Egyptian embassy to the king of Mycenae, in the same manner as the gifts sent by Amenhotpe III to the kings of Babylon, Mitanni, and Cyprus and recorded in the Amarna Letters, is plausible but uncertain.

Strangely enough, the Aegean is not mentioned in any of the Amarna Letters of Amenhotpe III and Akhenaten. There is also little Mycenaean pottery in Egyptian contexts dated to the time of Amenhotpe III, although there is much in contexts dated to the time of Akhenaten; especially at his capital city, Akhetaten (Tell el-Amarna). In addition, few pictorial representations are known in Egypt of the Mycenaeans (as opposed to Minoans); those possibly depicted in the tomb of the vizier Rekhmire are the exception. Despite these observations, other archaeological evidence indicates that Mycenae and the Greek mainland replaced Minoan Crete as the major trading partner of Egypt and the Near East by the thirteenth century BCE; this situation continued until Mycenae was destroyed and New Kingdom Egypt lay in ruins—by the end of the Late Bronze Age, c.1100 BCE.

Bibliography

  • Cline, Eric H. “Amenhotep III and the Aegean: A Reassessment of Egypto-Aegean Relations in the 14th Century BC.” Orientalia 56.1 (1987), 1–36. Discussion of Amenhotpe III and Queen Tiye objects found at Mycenae and elsewhere in the Bronze Age Aegean, with Amenhotpe III's “Aegean List” at Kom el-Hetan in Egypt.
  • Cline, Eric H. “An Unpublished Amenhotep III Faience Plaque from Mycenae.” JAOS 110.2 (1990), 200–212. A detailed discussion of the fragments of faience foundation-deposit plaques with the cartouche of Amenhotpe III found at Mycenae.
  • Cline, Eric H. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: International Trade and the Late Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford, 1994. An overview of the international trade in the Mediterranean during the second millennium BCE; catalog of Egyptian objects at Mycenae and chapter on Egypt are particularly relevant.
  • Cline, Eric H. “Egyptian and Near Eastern Imports at Late Bronze Age Mycenae.” In Egypt, the Aegean and the Levant: Interconnections in the Second Millennium BC, edited by W. Vivian Davies and Louise Schofield, pp. 91–115. London, 1995. Catalog and discussion of Egyptian and Near Eastern imports found at Mycenae.
  • Pendlebury, John D. S. Aegyptiaca: A Catalogue of Egyptian Objects in the Aegean Area. Cambridge, 1930. Original catalog of Egyptian objects found at Mycenae and elsewhere in the Bronze Age Aegean; updated by Cline (1994).

Eric H. Cline