Collapse of the Mycenaean Civilization (1250-1000 BCE)

What happened? 

  • The Mycenaean civilization appeared around 1700 BCE and collapsed around 1000 BCE. It spread throughout most of present-day mainland Greece and many islands. The Mycenaeans developed a sophisticated sociopolitical structure, and they were fierce warriors and great engineers. 
  • Because this civilization is so ancient, not much is known about the relations among various classes and palaces within Mycenae nor between Mycenae and surrounding civilizations. Palaces functioned as administrative and economic centers, and served as a residence for ruling groups (image below). 
  • Many important Mycenaean palaces were destroyed between 1250 and 1200 BCE. This started the so-called “post-palatial” period in Mycenaean history as the palaces no longer had control over the people and the civilization began to collapse without organization and rule. 
  • Several Mycenaean groups tried to repair and resettle the destroyed palaces, but they were never successful and by 1000 BCE these settlements were not more advanced than the surrounding villages. 

Lion’s Gate – the entrance to one of the largest palaces in Mycenae (from World History Encyclopedia, “Mycenaean Civilization” 2019).

How is this related to climate? 

  • Some researchers believe that the collapse of Mycenaean civilization was caused by large natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, evidenced by broken pottery and damaged walls. These disasters would have been devastating and volcanic eruptions could have impacted the climate. 
  • Others proposed that the collapse was more directly related to climate change. Anthropologist and climate scientist Martin Finné and collaborators note that the Mediterranean Sea cooled very quickly around 1250 BCE, causing reduced rainfall in surrounding regions. Finné and others propose that dry periods around this time, combined with external factors, climatic and otherwise, contributed to the collapse. Most likely there was not necessarily a long-lasting or particularly severe singular event (such as a drought, for example) that led to the demise of Mycenaean civilization.
  • From examining sediment cores on the Peloponesian peninsula, researchers noted that an arid period followed the destruction of palaces. This could explain why palaces were not rebuilt, as dry conditions would have made it hard for palaces to reassert their power. Likely, climate change was a contributing factor to the rise and fall of these civilizations.

References and additional resources