Treasury of Atreus
The Treasury of Atreus or Tomb of Agamemnon is an impressive "tholos" tomb on the Panagitsa Hill at Mycenae, Greece, constructed during the Bronze Age around 1250 BC. The lintel stone above the doorway weighs 120 tons, with approximate dimensions 8.3 x 5.2 x 1.2m, the largest in the world. The tomb was used for an unknown period. Mentioned by Pausanias, it was still visible in 1879 when the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the shaft graves under the 'agora' in the Acropolis at Mycenae. The tomb has probably no relationship with either Atreus or Agamemnon, as archaeologists believe that the sovereign buried there ruled at an earlier date than the two; it was named thus by Heinrich Schliemann and the name has been used ever since.
The tomb perhaps held the remains of the sovereign who completed the reconstruction of the fortress or one of his successors. The grave is in the style of the other tholoi of the Mycenaean World, of which there are nine in total around the citadel of Mycenae and many more in the Argolid. However, in its monumental shape and grandeur it is one of the most impressive monuments surviving from Mycenaean Greece.
It is formed of a semi-subterranean room of circular plan, with a corbel arch covering that is ogival in section. With an interior height of 13.5m and a diameter of 14.5m, it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years until construction of the Temple of Hermes in Baiae and the Pantheon in Rome. Great care was taken in the positioning of the enormous stones, to guarantee the vault's stability over time in bearing the force of compression from its own weight. This obtained a perfectly smoothed internal surface, onto which could be placed gold, silver and bronze decoration.
The tholos was entered from an inclined uncovered hall or dromos, 36 meters long and with dry-stone walls. A short passage led from the tholos chamber to the actual burial chamber, which was dug out in a nearly cubical shape.
The entrance portal to the tumulus was richly decorated: half-columns in green limestone with zig-zag motifs on the shaft, a frieze with rosettes above the architrave of the door, and spiral decoration in bands of red marble that closed the triangular aperture above an architrave. Segments of the columns and architraves were removed by Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century and are now held by the British Museum. The capitals are influenced by ancient Egyptian examples, and one is in the Pergamon Museum as part of the Antikensammlung Berlin. Other decorative elements were inlaid with red porphyry and green alabaster, a surprising luxury for the Bronze Age.
Reconstruction of facade in the National Archeological Museum, Athens
- A.J.B. Wace, “Excavations at Mycenae: IX. The Tholos Tombs”, Annual of the British School at Athens 25, 1923, 283-402
- A Classical and Topographical Tour Through Greece: During the Years, Edward Dodwell
- Structurae.de: Treasury of Atreus
- British Museum Collection
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