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The Mycenaean Cult of the Dead

Chrysanthi Gallou


This book examines the evidence for the performance of ancestor veneration in LH III Greece with emphasis placed mainly on the data from the typical Mycenaean tomb types, i.e. tholos and chamber tombs, excavated in the central areas of the Mycenaean dominion, viz. the Argolid, Korinthia, Attica, Boeotia and Euboea, during the acme of Mycenaean civilisation, i.e. the LH IIIA-B period (ca.1425/1390-1190/1180 BC). Through a thorough examination of the available archaeological material, namely the products of controlled archaeological excavation (architecture, pottery and ritual remains), the iconographical evidence and Linear B documents, this study aims to assess and challenge assumptions, which amount to prejudices relegating the cult of the dead as a disreputable and taboo subject. It is argued that for the Mycenaeans the ancestors were not simply motionless and decomposing livid bodies, but spiritual entities considered to dwell in a sphere between the human and the sacred, invoked to provide benefits and placated with sacred rituals and offerings to ensure the well-being of the living community. The primary objective of the study is not only to illuminate ‘obscure’ aspects of Mycenaean religious and eschatological beliefs, but also to document the diversity of repeated diagnostic indicators of symbolic value appropriate for the recognition and study of rites performed in honour of the venerated ancestors in LH III times.