The Tomb of Agamemnon is one of a number of ‘beehive’ tombs found in the vicinity of the ancient site of Mycenae. It is by far the best preserved of these tholos tombs, although the others are worth a visit as well.
The ‘Beehive’ tombs
Altogether nine of these tombs have been unearthed at Mycenae. Some of them are barely recognizable, others have just the entrance walls standing and the dome roofs have fallen in.
The tombs consist of a passageway, or dromos, which leads to the entrance, usually a massive doorway. Inside is the tholos, or round room with a domed roof. The tombs were constructed between 1510 BC and 1220 BC.
As you leave the Lion Gate and walk down the path, you’ll see the Tomb of Aigisthos. This is one of the earliest tombs, built about 1500 BC. It’s not in very good condition. The next tomb is the so-called Tomb of Clytemnestra, which is from a later period, believed to be around 1220 BC. This tomb was completely unknown until 1809. When it was discovered part of the tholos was demolished and the contents removed. The tholos was reconstructed by the Greek government in 1951.
Second Circle of Royal Tombs
Just to the west of the Tomb of Clytemnestra is another royal grave circle (the first one being in the citadel itself). It was discovered by accident while the Tomb of Clytemnestra was being repaired. These graves are actually older than those discovered in the citadel by Schliemann, but the stone surrounds are in much poorer condition.
Although not much to look at, the 24 graves discovered here contained many important finds. These are now in the National Museum in Athens. Among them is a vase formed in the shape of a duck, and made from rock crystal. The other finds include gold and silver beakers, swords made of bronze, rings and other small items.
The Treasury of Atreus, or Tomb of Agamemnon.
It was the Greek traveler of antiquity, Pausanias, who reported that the people of his day ( 2 C BC) believed the tholos graves were treasure stores. This is why it is known as a Treasury, and although it may originally have contained treasure, it was also a grave, had nothing to do with Atreus, and probably not with Agamemnon either!
This Tomb of Agamemnon is the best example of a tholos tomb in existence. It was built partly into a hill, and the dromos (path to the entrance) is impressive and in good condition.
The doorway is 5.4m (18 feet) high, and tapers towards the top, which makes it appear even more impressive as you approach it. The lintel is made of two massive blocks of stone. The one which faces the interior is curved to follow the shape of the tholos, and it is estimated to weigh about 120 tonnes.
The funerary chamber is over 13m (44 feet) high, and over 14m (48 feet) wide. When it was constructed the stonework was decorated with bronze rosettes and motifs attached with nails. When you go inside the tomb of Agamemnon you’ll also see another passage which leads into a smaller room which is rectangular. Experts are not in agreement as to what this room was used for. Some think it was the actual treasury, others suggest it was where the head of the family was buried.