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Welcome to History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings news stories about archaeology from around the world together on one site. From finds in ancient Egypt to new discoveries in anthropology, History Buff wants to know.

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author


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Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae

ImageThe Treasury of Atreus - also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon - is the largest and most impressive of the nine tholos tombs at Mycenae. The location of the Atreus Tomb has intrigued archaeologists for many years but by studying the landscape, the courses of the ancient roads and the various lines of sight at Mycenae, archaeologist David Mason believes he has found out why such an unusual and distinctive site was chosen for the tomb.

The Mycenaean tholos (the ancient Greek word for a round building) tomb consists of an entrance passage leading to a circular burial chamber roofed over with a corbel vault shaped like an old-fashioned beehive. The nine tholos tombs at Mycenae are divided into two groups by a long hill called the Panagi ridge. There are four tombs on the east side of the hill. Romantically named, they are, in order of construction, the Tomb of Aegisthus, the Lion Tomb, the Treasury of Atreus and the Tomb of Clytemnestra. (Incidentally, the travel writer Pausanias in the 2nd century AD called it the ‘Treasury of Atreus’, because at that time the structure was thought to have been the treasure house of Atreus, one of the legendary kings of Mycenae.) The other five tombs are located on the west side of the ridge. It has been observed that those on the east side are larger, more ornate and closer to the acropolis than those on the west side, and so are thought to have been built by rulers of Mycenae. The other five were most probably built by members of Mycenae's aristocracy.

Of the four 'royal' tholos tombs, three are set close together beside the acropolis hill. However, one - the Treasury of Atreus - stands by itself (No. 3 on the map, right). Approximately 500m away from the other three, this tomb is located halfway along the east slope of the Panagia ridge. This raises the question: why was the Atreus Tomb built on this particular spot and not next to the acropolis? We need to consider first the position of the tomb, as it would have been seen by travellers approaching Mycenae along certain roads; secondly, how the tomb would have been seen from the palace; and lastly, the view from the tomb itself.

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