The Megaron at Menelaion

If dated to around the 14th century, LH IIIA2, the hypothetical palace at Menelaion would coincide with the start of the Mycenaean palatial period, and thus presumably contain a Great Megaron (Lis 2017, 244). Farmer and Lane distinguish between a “Great Megaron” like those found at Mycenae or Pylos and earlier central halls, of which Mansion 1 at Menelaion itself is possibly a predecessor (Farmer and Lane 2016, 46). Catling, the head excavator at Menelaion, dates Mansion 1 to LH IIB and the later Mansion 2 to LH IIIA1 (Catling and Hughes-Brock 2009). Thus, the Megaron-containing palace would follow the possible disuse of Mansion 2 and have a local predecessor to follow. One of the issues Catling addresses is dating Mansions 2 and 3 at Menelaion. If Mansion 2 were abandoned shortly after its construction, Mansion 3 would be a later construction on its foundations, but otherwise, Mansion 2/3 could have been continuously occupied (Catling and Hughes-Brock 2009, 33). Working on the hypothesis of a shift in the center of the site, the palace I’m reconstructing could have been built to replace Mansion 2 and incorporate newer styles and features, such as a Great Megaron.

Dörpfeld’s plan of final Megaron (LH IIIB2) at Mycenae (north at top), showing subsequent LH IIIC walls in Megaron forecourt
(centre, bottom) and diagonal stereobate of Archaic-Hellenistic Period temple (from Farmer and Lane 2016 after Tsountas 1902)

This raises the question of why a new building with this architectural feature would have been needed. In their work on the Megaron, Farmer and Lane characterize it as a “field of practices,” essentially, a space for enacting elite rituals and routines rather than a symbol of power in its own right (Farmer and Lane 2016, 68). Thus, the specific location of the palace is not meaningful, and it could presumably be moved as necessary. There is limited inherent significance in the building itself. Rather, development of the practices Farmer and Lane describe would have required a new space suited for enacting them. Building a new palace, with a Megaron, thus makes sense as a prerequisite for this cultural shift.

Plan of the Menelaion Mansion 1 (dashed lines indicate
projected walls; gray area shows the west megaron unit)
(from Pantou 2014, after Catling 2009, fig. 10)

Such a reconfiguration of the site is also supported by Pantou’s argument on the effect of Early Mycenaean architecture on sociopolitical development. They suggest that LH II-IIIA1 corridor buildings actually altered the ways people interacted and thus made Mycenaean society more hierarchical (Pantou 2014, 394-5). Mansion 1 at Menelaion, as Pantou points out, would have been one of those early corridor buildings and therefore contributed to this process. The architectural tradition at the site thus predates the hierarchical society presupposed by a Megaron. This implies that, as palatial practices emerged, the Mansions would have become outdated (ironically, by the processes they encouraged). A drastic reconfiguration of the site would have eventually been necessary.

Drawing and details of manufacture of ET 8 (sample MEN_02, P0354). Photo: B. Lis, drawing after Catling 2009, fig. 87. (From Lis 2017). These decorated pots are contemporary with and linked by Lis to the development of Mycenaean palace culture.


Catling, H.W., Hughes-Brock, H. (Eds.), 2009. Sparta, Menelaion I: the Bronze Age, Supplementary volume / British School at Athens. British School at Athens, London.

Farmer, J.L., Lane, M.F., 2016. The Ins and Outs of the Great Megaron: Symbol, Performance, and Elite Identities around and between Mycenaean Palaces. Studi Micen. Ed Egeo-Anatolici, New Series 2, 41–79.

Lis, B., 2017. Variability of Ceramic Production and Consumption on the Greek Mainland During the Middle Stages of the Late Bronze Age: The Waterpots from the Menelaion, Sparta. Oxf. J. Archaeol. 36, 243–266.

Pantou, P.A., 2014. An Architectural Perspective on Social Change and Ideology in Early Mycenaean Greece. Am. J. Archaeol. 118, 369–400.