Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.12.10 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.12.10

Ursula Damm-Meinhardt, Baubefunde und Stratigraphie der Unterburg (Kampagnen 1976 bis 1983): die mykenische Palastzeit (SH III B2) und beginnende Nachpalastzeit (Beginn SH III C). Tiryns, 17.1.   Wiesbaden:  Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 2015.  Pp. xvi, 303.  ISBN 9783954900916.  €58.00.  

Reviewed by Margaretha Kramer-Hajos, Dartmouth College (

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

The Lower Citadel (Unterburg) in Tiryns has emerged as the most important postpalatial fortified area in Greece. The volume under review deals with the important transition between palatial and postpalatial Tiryns, focusing on the LH IIIB2 and LH IIIC Early phases; volume 17.2, which appeared in 2013, deals with the LH IIIC Middle and later periods.1 The year 2013 also saw the publication of volume 17.3, which contains the plates for both text volumes. It should be consulted in conjunction with the volume under review here, which references these plates; illustrations in the volume itself are limited to nine clear but by themselves insufficient plans of different areas of the Lower Citadel for the periods of LH IIIB Developed and Final, and a plan of the northwest-west area in LH IIIC Early.2 The plans for LH IIIB Developed and Final are frequently placed next to each other, allowing the reader to appreciate at a glance the changes that took place within the latest palatial periods.

The volume focuses on the results of Klaus Kilian’s excavations between 1976 and 1983; important findings from earlier (1965-1971: Building II) and later (2000-2003: Buildings XI and XV, excavated under direction of Joseph Maran) are briefly summarized on pp. 25-32 and help complete the picture of the Lower Citadel. Due to Kilian’s premature death in 1992, the burden of publication of the LH IIIB2-IIIC material fell onto the shoulders of Damm-Meinhardt. Aided by Kilian’s plans, sections, and stratigraphic synopses, and frequently corroborating his original interpretations, she presents a meticulous study of the architecture of the Lower Citadel. The emphasis is, as the title of the book indicates, on architecture and stratigraphy; finds have been published in separate volumes (such as Tiryns 12 and 14 on Mycenaean pottery, 15 on Handmade Burnished Ware, and 16 on small finds) and are treated only summarily here. Exhaustive “Brunnen” (“sources”) sections refer the interested reader to these and other publications.

An introduction discusses the history of work on the site, the excavation and documentation system, and the stratigraphic system. Damm-Meinhardt inherited Kilian’s system of settlement horizons (Siedlungshorizonte) based on architecture (building, use, destruction, and leveling of structures) but labeled with ceramic terms that do not necessarily correspond to the terms currently used by archaeologists: for example, Horizons 17a0-a5 comprise LH IIIB Entwickelt (Developed) and Ende (Final), which correspond to LH IIIB2 Late.3 And Damm-Meinhardt points out (p. 249) that from an architectural viewpoint Horizon 19a represents a transitional phase from LH IIIB2, since buildings were the same as before, whereas this is the start of LH IIIC Early in ceramic terms (this architectural continuity is the reason that LH IIIC Early is included in this volume). A handy chronological table on p. 24 shows how the different systems correlate. The current volume covers Horizons 17 (LH IIIB2 Late) to 19a0-1 (LH IIIC Early 1). The Cyclopean walls are linked with Horizon 17a0; an earthquake destruction followed by renewed building in 17a4 marks the transition between LH IIIB Entwickelt and Ende; and Horizon 18 represents the destruction level at the end of LH IIIB Final, attributed to an earthquake.

Each building (“Bau”) is numbered with a Roman numeral and each individual room with an Arabic number following the designation R. The bulk of the book (ch. 3) deals with the LH IIIB2 phase, i.e. the period from the building of the Cyclopean walls to the destructions; the remainder is devoted to the early part of the LH IIIC Early phase. Within these two parts of the book, buildings are presented by area roughly from north to south. For each building (and open area) the discussion includes a listing of relevant bibliography, the exact location on the excavation grid, and exhaustive, meticulous sections on architecture and stratigraphy. Room-by-room descriptions include a selection of finds; since only published finds are included, the ceramic material listed is frequently limited to figurines. A summary interpreting the functioning of the living and working quarters of the Lower Citadel concludes each of the two chronological sections. Ten tables at the end give stratigraphic synopses by area.

The summary of the LH IIIB2 phases on pp. 235-245 paints a lively portrait of a bustling industrial and distributive center, closely connected to the palatial administration. The Lower Citadel was primarily a workers’ district and building was, although of high quality, utilitarian. Façades were unadorned (236) and buildings made maximum use of available space, incorporating the outer citadel wall despite its curvature. Since the terrain is terraced, buildings rarely shared a wall (only Buildings II and IV) and most buildings or building complexes were conceived as separate units, built around small open courtyards.

The various buildings seem to have functioned as living quarters; more specialized functions include slaughter and butchering houses (Building III, as suggested by the animal-accessible ramp and the stone tiled floor with a drainage channel, and the adjacent Building IV, with its large hearth and oven), metal workshops (Building IV and VI for lead; Building XI for bronze, lead, and gold as well as faience; and possibly Building I); storage places for long-distance imports (Building XV, where two transport stirrup jars from Crete or Cyprus were found), cult paraphernalia (Building VI), or tools (likewise Building VI); and as foci for cult activity (Building VI: a small plastered house altar with horns of consecration where four kylikes were found, speculated to have been used in libation at the time when the citadel was destroyed). The small Building II may have served as a guard room controlling access to the cisterns in LH IIIB (31; during LH IIIC Early it became a burial ground).

Horizon 17a5 saw the building of the North Gate as an additional entrance (25). This required extensive remodeling of the Cyclopean wall (28), suggesting the importance of the project. At the same time, Buildings XI and XV were built on either side of the road leading to the gate, on what had thus far been bare ground. Building XV stands out by its size (its western wall is 0.80-0.85 m thick and more than 9.30 m long) and the presence of imports as mentioned above; two Canaanite amphorae and other vessels imported from the eastern Mediterranean found in the destruction above the road to the North Gate may come from this building as well (29). Building XI was the site of precious metal- and faience working; a unique find is a staff of hippopotamus ivory with Ugaritic inscription. Whether this and the presence of other exotica is enough to warrant the assumption that foreign artisans worked these exotic goods at Tiryns (31) is debatable, but there is no doubt that the location of the building next to the North Gate was logistically practical and allowed control over the influx and distribution of goods. The two writing styli found in Building VI (241) further suggest the close connection of the Lower Citadel with the palatial administration.

Architecturally Building VI, a corridor house, invites comparison with the larger House of the Oil Merchant or the West House outside the citadel walls of Mycenae (235). It is surpassed in size only by Building Complex A, the largest complex in the Lower Citadel and the only certain two-story structure, (it has a staircase with a central column). Large (0.4 m wide) terracotta roof tiles found associated with Building VI may, based on their small number, have belonged to a gutter rather than constituting evidence for a pitched tiled roof (238). Building V, dating to the end of LH IIIB, is the last known example of a corridor house.

The destruction at the end of LH IIIB2 inevitably looms large, and the changes that took place in response to the catastrophe are evoked by some almost literary descriptions.4 The destruction is attributed to an earthquake; fire damage in the Lower Citadel is patchy and limited to small areas (247 note 1523). The citadel walls were relatively unaffected, but structures inside the walls were destroyed (248-9). Inhabitants continued living in the ruins of the houses (e.g. Building VII in Complex A) for one building phase (Horizon 19a); it is impossible to say whether chronologically this phase represents years or decades (249 note 1536). Where the ruins were uninhabitable, some small structures were newly built with small stones in open areas (283). Tiryns is the only known citadel where such “Ruinenbewohnung” (living in the ruins) took place.5 Settlement appears to be scanty and largely limited to the western side of the citadel, where palatial-era habitation had been densest, suggesting that the number of inhabitants decreased from the palatial period. An organized building program took place only during Horizon 19b1, at the end of LH IIIC Early, ushering in the postpalatial period at Tiryns (for which see Volume 17.2).

This volume will certainly be a standard reference for anybody interested in Mycenaean palaces, their collapse, and the transition to postpalatial Mycenaean culture. It is beautifully produced and follows the high standards of publication we expect from the Tiryns volumes. The presentation of the architectural remains from the Lower Citadel is thorough and meticulous, and the Lower Citadel is shown as vital for the palatial administration before its destruction and its conversion into desperately needed living quarters for the survivors of the destruction.

Table of Contents (translated)

Preface (XI)
List of Abbreviations (XV)
List of Figures (XVI)
I Introduction (1)
II Settlement History (17)
III Architectural remains and Stratigraphy of the LH IIIB2 phases (25)
1. Northwest area (25)
1.1 Building XIV (32)
1.2. Open area in LXI.LXII 36 (44)
1.3. Building IV (49)
1.4. Building III (57)
1.5. Open area in LXI.LXII 36.37 (65)
2. West area (71)
2.1. Building Complex A (74)
2.2. Building V (130)
2.3. Building VI (139)
2.4. Alley (area between fortification wall and Building VI) (184)
2.5. Area south of Building VI (200)
3. Southwest area (204)
3.1. Northern open area (204)
3.2. Building XII (210)
4. Southeast area (214)
4.1. Building XIII (215)
5. East area (221)
5.1. Buiding X (224)
5.2. Building remains in front of Ko 10 (casemate 10) (233)
6. Summary (235)
IV. Living in ruins: Architectural remains and Stratigraphy in the early post-palace period (247)
1. Northwest area (252)
2. Northern part of the west area (256)
3. Southern part of the west area (273)
4. Southwest area (280)
5. Summary (283)
Stratigraphical Synopsis (285)
Bibliography (295)


1.   It was reviewed in the AJA: AJA Online October 2015 (119.4).
2.   Even when plans seem identical to those published in the Plates volume, the way they are cropped means that crucial information may be missing. For example, Figure 2 (p. 27) does not incorporate the label for Building XV (which is situated in the northeastern part of the plan and is discussed in the text that refers the reader to Figure 2). Plate 4 in the Plates volume does include the label for that building.
3.   See E.B. French and Ph. Stockhammer (2009. “Mycenae and Tiryns: The Pottery of the Second Half of the Thirteenth Century BC – Contexts and Definitions,” BSA 104, 175-232) for an overview of the difficulties of the Tiryns ceramic sequence, which include storing and processing pottery according to shape rather than find spot, making reconstruction of floor deposits a Herculean task.
4.   Part IV of the book, dealing with LH IIIC Early, opens with a quote defining catastrophes, then offers the observation that “a violent event” probably brought a sudden end to the “beautiful citadel of Tiryns” (p. 247: “Wahrscheinlich setzte ein gewaltsames Ereignis der prächtigen Burg von Tiryns ein jähes Ende.”).
5.   Damm-Meinhardt remarks that “Ruinenbewohnung” is a more accurate term than “squatting,” which has connotations of illegality that cannot be attested archaeologically (249 note 1535).

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