Sunday, January 1, 2012

Explain what evidence reveals about religion and religious practices in Mycenaean society

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Much of what is known about the religion and religious practices of the Mycenaean society is through the various artifacts and funerary goods that were uncovered during excavations. The cult centre surrounding the Citadel House at Mycenae and other sacred places of worship have shed much valuable information concerning religious rituals. Through the various representations of gods and goddesses on religious objects and frescoes, it is evident that the Mycenaeans adopted parts of Minoan religious concepts. One of the most important deities included Mother Goddess, the goddess of trees and fertility. The roles that the deities played in protecting the society are documented in the Linear B tablets. Their burial customs reflect their afterlife beliefs with many evidence found in the Grave Circle A and B.

When Taylour and Wace uncovered the cult centre at Mycenae, they found that it was comprised of three shrines which were Temple T, House of the Idols and the House of the Frescoes. The cult centre was connected to the palace through a processional way, where religious procession were held, led by the priests and priestesses, followed by the king and queens and then the noblemen. Open air shrines with alters and trees inside an enclosure were also existent and this was shown on a gold ring. Other shrines were found on the Acropolis at Mycenae, at Berbati and Astine in the Argolid, at Malthi and the palace of Nestor in Messenia. According to Christopolis, the Mycenaeans built small cult buildings on top of mountains or hills, where they would worship the gods in admiration and offer gifts. Often they sacrificed animals such as bulls, cows, goats and deers. An agate seal stone found in Mycenae depicted a boar on a sacrificial table.

Another essential ritual that took place was the pouring of libations. The main equipment used was the rhyton, which had a mouth to pour in the liquid and a hole at the bottom for it to flow out. It was usually conical in shape, although sometimes it was in the shape of a sacred animal such as a bull or lion’s head found in Grave Circle A. The libations were poured into channels in the floor where the liquids flowed into special pits. Places that these were found was at the hearth in the megaron at Pylos in the Palace of Nestor, Tsounta’s House and in the floor of the vestibule of the palace at Mycenae. According to Linear B tablets, the libations were of honey, oil, wine and water.

One aspect of Mycenaean religion was the great importance of the Mother Goddess, which can be clearly seen through many of her portrayal in religious scenes. As she was the symbol for fertility and vegetation, she was the central figure for the Mycenaean. She is found depicted on the Gold Ring from the Mycenae Treasure, where according to Mylonas “the representation shows the inside of a sacred enclosure, where the Goddess of Trees accepts offereing form her worshippers”.

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Particularly of great importance in Pylos was Potnia, the divine protector of lifestocks. Chadwick said that “ one of the interesting features of Mycenaean Potnia is that an adjective derived from her name is used to describe flocks of sheep in Knossos and bronzesmiths in Pylos.” and further that “ the sheep were doubtless assigned to the goddess to provide income for her shrines and attendants”. A fresco of a female figure found in a room adjoining a metal workshop help support his ideas as he believed that it could be none other than Potnai herself.

As agriculture was an inevitable part of Mycenaean society, Christopolis claimed that “ the Mycenaens needed the help of such goddess and in Minoan archtypes, found the expression of their beliefs and yearnings fro divine protection for their herds.” She appears as the central character in the Linear B tablets which has recordings of tributes, ritual offerings, distribution of perfumed oils to shrines, slaves, land animals and offerings to gods and goddesses.

Poseidon was also a predominant god at Pylos, and according to the tablets he was the only one to receive grain as tributes and received ox, sheep, goats and oil regularly. Due to the warlike society, the Mycenaean pantheon included a war goddess represented by a palladion and a figure of eight shield, which is depicted on a gold ring from Mycenae. Later another portrayal was found on a plaster tablet from Tsounta’s House, where two women adore the palladion which is between them. The head is painted white which indicated that the deity was a goddess. Frescoes of the figure of eight shield was found at Knossos, Tiryns, Thebes and Mycenae. Other Gods that were mentioned were Zeus, Dionysus, Hera, Athene and Artemis.

From the finds in the graves Kontorlis concluded that “ the in habitants of Mycenaean Greece believed in some form of life after death.” He believes that the soul of the man will exist on earth as long the flesh has not disintegrated, and prepares for the journey to the next world. In order for the dead to reach his afterlife Kontorlis believes that the dead was equipped with objects that were most loved in life. This could account for the various vases, food, drink, jewelry and weapons that were found in the graves. After the flesh had disappeared, they believed that the dead had now reached the underworld, so disposed of their bones in pits or niches, and reused the same tomb for other bodies. To purify or disinfect the tomb fires were often lit inside the tomb and aromatic substances were burnt to rid the smell.

There were around four different types of burial sites which included the tumuli, tholos tomb, chamber tomb and the shaft graves. The tumuli were like a mound in a shallow pit. The shaft graves consists of Grave Circle A and B. Many gold death masks, weapons and jewelry were found at Grave Circle A, along with many stellae with inscriptions of warrior and hunting scenes. Wace claimed that these elaborately decorated shaft graves belonged to the royalties as they contained objects such as the lion hunt dagger and the silver siege rhyton. The Chamber tomb were for ordinary people and were built into hillsides. Kontorlis believes that there were some sort of burial libation and maybe a funerary banquet.

Through much of the evidence that were found, religion can be seen as an important aspect to the lives of the Mycenaeans. The different roles of each deities, in particular the earth goddess, reveal how society relied upon them for different needs, especially of fertility and vegetation since they depended on their agriculture. The central figure of the goddess also expose how women contained religious power. Sacred instruments such as the rhyton shows what religious practices the Mycenaean society performed which was also aided by many of the frescoes that depicted the scenes. Much information was yielded from the tablets about the roles of the god and goddesses and lists of offerings and tributes and their assets. Many of the objects found in the tombs and their burial customs reflect their afterlife beliefs, contributing to the knowledge of Mycenaean religion and their practices.

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