Mycenae, rich in gold

Mycenae rich in gold

(edited end of October 2018)

If we have come to the conclusion that Ithaca was near Cadiz and that the Sparta “rich in gullies” was Cordoba, where then was Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon, the most important ruler, and leader of the Achaioi?

I have postulated on this website that Homeros was singing, not of Mycenaean culture, but of the Atlantic culture, on the coasts of western Europe, around the ninth and eighth century BC, a period of strong climatic changes and consequent upheaval among humans. See also my chapter/page on Ithaka. Names in itself are no proof, only for naive people names are convincing.

Visiting the fortress ruins in Greek Argos now called Mycenae, with its cyclopic walls and highly remarkable Lion-decorated gate, the first observation is that the site is fully deserted and out of use since long. It is no desirable place anymore to reign or even to live for a king of some substance. My own impression is that of a robber baron’s castle, with no loyal citizens living close around, as there never was a real city with many inhabitants. It has only one water source, accessible through some dark tunnel, and the water is to be taken from a sinister pool underground. Hardly any migrating king with some choice and a great number of loyal subjects would like this place to select it as a palace site. Nobody did so after its demise in Mycenean ruination period around 1200 BC. All left forever. What type of rulers lived in Mycenean culture?

Plenty of gold (most as foil) was indeed found there (by Schliemann and others, who simply assumed this was Agamemnon’s palace), and the downfall of the fortress must have been so sudden and thorough that nobody afterward was caring to dig for this gold, though it was mentioned by Homeros to be there. Compare this with Egypt (Masr) and its systematically plundered tombs. Homeros mentions no Lion’s gate, which is a striking omission, and says by mouth of Hector (Ilias VI 457) that there are two springs where his widow Andromache might be ordered by the Achaian master in Argos to fetch water from, the Messeis and the Hypereia. Probably this was situated not in the countryside but in the capital. Is that supposed to be Mycenae?

In my opinion, Mycenae must be sought not very far from Sparta, only a day’s travel distance, and the eye falls immediately on the millennia-old city Carmona in the plains of Andalucia. A very desirable place it was for a king’s seat. The very fertile Vega lying south of the city is one of the best agricultural sites existing in the whole of Europe, it is still highly productive after three millennia, with wheat and sunflower as actual main crops. This Vega might have been called “The agricultural field” (agros). Agros then might have changed easily into Argos, by the frequently occurring process of metathesis of the consonant r. The site was occupied before Tartessos’ times and was every time more fortified when times became more violent. It lies on a promontory of a chain of hills, has two springs, and has never been abandoned. Often it was chosen as a king’s or governor’s seat, by Tartessos kings as well as by the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Roman and Muslim conquerors.

Julius Caesar called it the best-defended city in the wide region. A better choice than Cordoba it often was, more near to the sea, and easier to defend. Both Cordoba (“low-lying” Sparta) and Carmona had no problem with drinking water supply, one of the first things to care for- as it seems- for Bronze Age barons, in those times when fortification options did not come in the first place. There were plenty of places for living to select from, for migrating usurpers with crushing military superiority, having bronze weapons and armor against the Neolithic local farmers. See Fig.1 and Fig. 2.

Fig. 1. The Sevilla Gate bulwark, with the Vega and a characteristic hill outcrop in the far distance.

A good choice this Carmona was for the offspring of Atreus, who loved extensive wheat fields and the strong grip on the numerous subject farmers such as this land use system provided. More so than being the king of a city of mainly (unruly and migration-prone) cattle, pig and goat shepherds and owners, as Odysseus was. The cowherd Philoetius at one occasion says that the abuse by the wooers nearly convinced him to bring his herd to another master. A quite radical step for a serf.

Fig 2. A view on the Vega with its extensive wheat fields. The whole arable area of the Vega is, and was, several tens of thousands of hectares of such excellent land.

Fig 3 Map of the Turdetan city. The southern tip lies with the Porta de Sevilla, where also is a spring (Fountain with the lions), outside the walls. The steep hillsides are discernible and do ease orientation on this picture. Exposition Carmona museum.

Fig. 4. Maquette of the Roman city of Carmona, with the usual four gates. At the left side the Puerta de Sevilla, at the far right (East) the Puerta de Cordoba. The plateau on the right, yet little occupied, but in Roman castra style, was probably already in Turdetan times used as a safe place for cattle at times of raids. The city buildings associated with the western wall blocked the access to the plateau. Exposition of the Carmona museum.

Telemachos, on his trip from Nestor to Menelaos, has kept the track on the northern bank of the Guiadalquivir- the Alphaeus in my opinion,-  to travel in two days to Cordoba/Sparta by two-wheeled chariot. The northern bank is the easiest to follow and the track there must have existed since neolithic times. For Carmona/Mycenae he had no interest, as Agamemnon was dead already several years, and Orestes had no better information than Menelaus would have of course.

On his trip by ship back from Pylos ( Huelva) to Ithaka (see this website), Telemachos passes various cities/locations that Homeros gives names well known. Indeed Elis is mentioned after Chalkis, and it is sighted before he reaches the coast of Cephallenia where he goes ashore to evade the ambush at sea of Antinoos.

Fig. 5. A replica of an classic statuette from a Greek artist. One immediately sees it is a -proud- horse, but the proportions are not naturalistic. The thick belly, nearly always supposed for the Trojan horse by simplistic thinkers, is fully omitted here. It is a horse, but without any suggestion of it being a container for warriors.

In Elis lived the Homeric hero Epeios, who was an expert shipbuilder and who built the Horse of Troy, so attractive and artfully designed that most people seeing it could not believe it would contain warriors. The idea for the Horse came from Odysseus, but he must have discussed it well with Epeios, and he foresaw and planned that the public would and should be wrong-footed, all in the usual style of this master of deceit.

The location of Elis, so I think, was somewhat south of Sevilla, where many Tartessian/Turdetanian settlements have been found. See also Fig. 8. The coast is flat and well fit for ship wharfs, using lumber shipped in from elsewhere. The gold treasure of El Carambolo, nearly three kilogrammes of gold, including two cylinders, indicates this was a region rich in gold. Analysis of the treasure did show that the gold’s provenance was in near distance. This treasure was probably meant to adorn the cattle to be sacrificed, as on the site excavated an altar was found, well fitted to kill bovine victims on it, just in the way that Nestor had it done. The sanctuary was found to be Phoenician. The treasure must have been a set of holy implements, that should not leave the sanctuary, and thus were buried there when the priests left.

Fig. 6. A replica of the “bracelets”. Not nice to wear on your arms and seldom fitting warriors strong of arms. With permission from Wikipedia.

Homeros tells about the heifer (young cow) sacrificed by Nestor when he perceives that Athena has visited him during the stay of Telemachos. He orders the horns of the cow to be decorated with gold. The interpretation of the two quite heavy cylinders of gold, by archaeologists, has traditionally been that these are bracelets to adorn the upper arms of a man. But most of the items are quite rough, only the necklace in the treasure is finely worked, made for humans, like were the ornaments on display in the same exposition, and that were found elsewhere in the region. More plausible is that these not overly roomy and also heavy gold cylinders served to adorn the cows and bulls during slaughter, and could be used again and again. See Fig.6.

A somewhat ludicrous photograph was made by me to show the use of the cylinders demonstrated on a skull from a young cow (Fig. 7). On longer and thicker horns the gold cylinders will cling easily without the use of ribbons. I do not see how somebody with well-trained muscular arms for sword fighting could pass his forearms through this stuff, and also not why he would do so. This is not an ornament for humans. The animal jewels hypothesis is also advanced (partly) in a photograph in the same exposition (in the Archaeological Museum of Sevilla) and on the Spanish Wikipedia website. But no written testimonies were found as to the use of the adornments.

Fig. 7. Hobby work, showing the possible use of the cylinders of the El Carambolo treasure. Gold on the horns of sacrificial cattle is a common ritual in various cultures.

The Carmona region thus could rightly be called rich in gold. Not many more characteristics are given by Homeros about Mycenae, but it most likely was not an isolated fortress far away from rural human society. And Agamemnon was not seeking for colonies in Troy, he had already all he wanted, some of the best available agricultural land in Europe. Nowhere Homeros says that his Achaioi were desiring the land of the Troad. Suggestions that the Achaioi were starting the Trojan War to occupy more land seem to me to be the result of the Greek urge in classical times to start colonies, which they very successfully did indeed.

Homeros often speaks about feasts on which many cattle were sacrificed and eaten by a multitude of people, such as the feast that Nestor organizes for his compatriots, better said brothers-in-arms on the beach, where Telemachos meets him. This was, in the view of the general conditions at that time, in which a sudden attack by pirates or hostile tribes was to be expected every day, a very much needed way to promote social coherence between combatants. Homeros speaks of this in Iliad and Odyssey. The large numbers of people and cattle at this feast are stunning for people that place these scenes in Messenian Greece; some 4500 men on the beach, slaughtering 81 bulls. It has led to the epithet “fancy” for Homeros, given by people that were wont to the sober and frugal life that conditions in Greece were imposing on its inhabitants.

Remember that classical Sparta only could bring in some 5000 warriors during the height of its power, not reckoned its helots and other serfs that only occasionally fought at the effective level of the real Spartans. Also, the numbers of mariners/ soldiers the Homeric kings and barons brought with them to Troy in a thousand pentekonters (fifty oars-ships) has provoked the feelings that the poet was exaggerating, as well as he did about distances and sea conditions. It simply seemed not fitting, but the poet could still be marked as fancy without further belittling his poems. The ancient Greeks, however, did usually not belittle Homeros, they only felt he sang about better times in Greece. Thucydides even says that great king Agamemnon had not very many soldiers, as in Thucydides’ time the number of soldiers needed for war had grown to many times the Homeric numbers.

The region around Huelva, which I take for Homeric “sandy” Pylos, is very good for large-scale cattle farming, and also for horses. Nestor, the “Gerenic rider” as Homeros calls him, had very many cattle and could easily spare some 81 bulls for this occasion. Messenia, the traditional location for Nestor’s city, is relatively fertile, but is no good land for (bovine) cattle, with steep hills better fit for olive gardens.  The sand available there is also not really impressive, the actual beaches are, plain-spoken, just meager. No place for a picnic for 4500 men. This is, of course, an aspect of nearly all Mediterranean beaches, for lack of tidal movement and big rivers.

And what about that epithet “Gerenic rider” for Nestor? The classic Greeks did know a legend about a monstruous king Gerion, living beyond the Pillars of Heracles, who was famous for his cattle herds. Heracles did take these cattle, after killing Gerion, in spite of his special fighting tactics, which included a fighting unit of three men coupled together, probably on a chariot, which team was described as nearly invincible. Is this Gerenic rider epithet for Nestor a reference to the rich Andalucian meadows on the rolling hills at the shore of the Atlantic?

Nestor speaks, in the Iliad, about Heracles who destroyed his city and family. He also tells one of his long stories about the Epeians, his neighbors, who had profited from the disaster that Neleus had experienced by hands of Heracles. Later on the Epeians, however, did join the fleet that sailed against Troy on which trip Nestor played such a prominent role. This all fits quite well with the Homeric tales. Or does it fall outside of the Classic Sciences to even think about a presence of civilization outside the Mediterranean? The Roman propaganda (Caesar used it heavily) has been very successful in demonizing the barbarians, esp. the Celts. See also Fig. 8.

Homeros indeed speaks of realistic human characters, as well as of wonderful events, and his magic still works. It remembers me of the German song: “Schläft ein Lied in alle Dingen, die da träumen fort und fort; und die Welt hebt an zu singen, triffst du nur das Zauberwort”. Homeros still can give the magic word!

(a song sleeps in all things, that dream forth ever, and the world starts singing, only find the magic word)

Fig. 8. Overview of part of Tartessic settlements found so far in the Guadalquivir basin. Exposition in Carmona museum.