ARCH 0420: Archaeologies of the Greek Past

The Mycenaean Collapse

February 11, 2014 · 5 Comments

Our in-class workshop on Friday, February 7th 2014 focused on the explanations of the Mycenaean collapse. After reading literature pertaining to theories of Mycenaean collapse, each group made concept maps to visualize the relationships among the factors that they deemed the most important.


Historically, when we say “Mycenaen collapse,” we refer to the destruction of several of the more populated palaces in the region  cerca 1200 BCE. The aftermath of this included severely reduced literacy (and the loss of Linear B, the written language of Mycenaean administration), interrupted trade routes, a much smaller population, and an end (or severe weakening of) the palatial system. “Mycenaean society” itself did not perish at this time, however. A much less populated Mycenae continued to subsist, if not thrive, until the (likely accidental) Granary fire of around 1100 BCE.


(click on the map to see a larger image)

My group’s concept map divided the factors we saw troubling for the Mycenaean civilization into three main categories: internal/societal struggles, external conflict, and the ancient Greek environment. In the “internal” category, we included an idea that kept recurring in the readings. This was the argument that the Mycenaean society had become overly complex and the political system was thus too large, inefficient and bureaucracy-heavy. Conant’s “Citadel to City-State, the Transformation of Greece” in particular stressed the argument that the palatial system had started as merely a means for farmers to store their surpluses. As the populations, territories, and bureaucracy of the government expanded, the palatial system did not adapt sufficiently. The already stressed administration was unable to deal with issues it may have otherwise been able to solve (or at least endure). This argument appealed to our group as a holistic approach to the collapse. Our general idea was that this burdensome bureaucracy was the root of the problem; the other struggles that arose (whatever they might have been) were each exacerbated or caused by the failing administrative system.


Another point that we found critical to the collapse was the idea of ecocide. This theory states that as civilizations grow and become more complex they cause environmental degradation, which in turn can bring an entire civilization to its end. The expansion and large populations of the Mycenaean states would have meant increasing demands from the agricultural industry (which was the base of the palatial system’s power, as they had no currency). The resulting erosion of top soil, salinization of groundwater, and soil fatigue could have easily caused famine and social unrest.


Finally, a key idea is that the Mycenaean collapse was not unique. Several surrounding civilizations exhibited signs of struggle at this time. This led some scholars to suggest that  a series of natural disasters (e.g..”Earthquake Storm”), felt throughout the area, could have contributed to the Mycenaean collapse. Earthquakes are common in this area so this seems likely. One could argue that since they are common, these civilizations ought to have been able to deal with them. However, if one follows the overtaxed political system theory, it seems likely that such a crisis could have been the end of an already struggling system.


All three groups read the same papers on the collapse, yet we had slightly different takes on what actually may have caused it. Group 1 seemed to focus on the “external factors” like wars and raids that would have weakened the Mycenaeans. Our perception of the Mycenaeans from surviving works of art and classical pieces is that they were often often at war, or at least had several types of daggers and ornamentations associated with fighting. Group 2 favored the concept of ecocide of growingly complex societies. One interesting aspect of the discussion is that we all seemed to agree on what could have possibly happened but there was some debate about the relevance of each issue. Different groups had different opinions on what may have been the root of the Mycenaean issue.


I personally had never used a website to make a concept map before this assignment. One aspect that I appreciated is that (with I was able to make my group members (Gabrielle, Guo, Abigail, and Logan) contributors to the map. This way they were able to view it throughout the process and make changes to it. I think this facilitated our collaborated effort, especially since we at no point met in person to work on this is the same room. Our discussion was fully online. I also liked that I was able to draw relationship arrows between points in different categories to show when we thought the ideas were closely related.

Our map: map (1)

Categories: Weekly posts

5 responses so far ↓

  • Ashley Urrutia // May 2, 2014 at 2:48 pm |

    This was a great summary of the major possibilities of the Mycenaean collapse. It it would be hard to pinpoint the demise to one sole factor, because if that were the case the cause would be more obvious. However, as you stated it was collective factors that where working against the Mycenaeans at that time. The reading I focused on when I was working on the project was how the environment can be detrimental to the success of a society if it is overused as could have been the case of the Mycenaeans. I liked how you tied all the ideas together and the end result led to the collapse. Most importantly was that the society did not disappear but just decreased dramatically.

  • Aubree Colleen Moore // April 20, 2014 at 12:27 am |

    I found the proposed reasons behind the Mycenaean collapse to be very convincing in this post. I agree with the idea that the main cause of collapse was likely a result of Mycenaean society becoming too complex, inefficient, and bureaucracy-heavy. I also think it is important to realize that the other proposed factors for the collapse (ecocide, wars, natural disasters, etc.) would have made a collapse possible because they would act as the “straw that broke the camel’s back” in Emile’s words. The problems of the already stressed administration could have been exacerbated by any one of these factors, and I think that this post makes that clear.

    With respect to the concept map, I like how this version allows you to reconnect ideas, showing how different aspects of the collapse are related to each other. My group used coggle for this activity, and while it was aesthetically pleasing, it lacked the ability to link different ideas back together.

  • Gabrielle Celine Spencer Hick // February 15, 2014 at 4:23 pm |

    First off, congratulations to Grace for being a great team leader! It was a pleasure to work with her. This post is also very detailed and explanatory, and touches on many possibilities for collapse, so well done.

    I mentioned this in class, but as the Middleton reading discussed, signs that we take to indicate collapse may in fact be indicative of survival strategy, which is an interesting concept to consider as a group of individuals who must look into the past and make what are essentially educated guesses.

    Perhaps social complexity, thus, carries an inherent possibility for social collapse, despite social complexity being an indication of an evolved civilization.

  • Emile // February 12, 2014 at 6:01 pm |

    I like the way you’ve touched upon most, if not all, the factors in play regarding the collapse. Personally, I’m a proponent of the idea that it was (mostly) a combination of an overstretched society/economy and natural disaster. The economic issues that arose from decreased trade and general lack of resources was really exacerbated by things like earthquakes. It seemed like a straw that broke the camel’s back scenario.

    Like Tom, I was quite the fan of coggle. I considered it to be the best looking, though I can see the merit in the one used by the other groups. It seemed simpler to connect ideas with those. Overall, a fun exercise!

  • Thomas Pettengill // February 12, 2014 at 12:37 pm |

    This is a very detailed post that really explains many different factors in the collapse. Personally, I agree with the idea that internal conflicts were probably the main proponent. Between societal upsets and the effects they have on the culture as a whole, cultural unrest can be extremely dangerous. Things like revolution, scandal, or sabotage could result in some major consequences.

    That being said, internal issues themselves could not cause a collapse alone. I think it’s important to remember the idea that Professor stressed in class: history is not linear, it is a network. No one issue or conflict caused this collapse, but a culmination of many different issues that happened to converge at just the right (or wrong) time.

    Congratulations to team three for bringing home the win – you should be proud! As for the concept maps, I really enjoyed using them. My team used coggle, which was really easy to use and aestheticaly pleasing. However it lacked the ability to reconnect ideas to represent convergence.


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