The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Mask of Agamemnon

MaskOfAgamemnon

The “Mask of Agamemnon” is one of the most famous gold artifacts from the Greek Bronze Age. The Mask was discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann during excavations at Mycenae in Greece.

This famous historic object is a gold leaf funeral mask which was found over the face of a body in a burial shaft, designated Grave V, at the site “Grave Circle A” in the Mycenaean Citadel. Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann after he discovering the mask exclaimed:

” I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon”  

The mask was one of five masks discovered and due to its nobility and level of preservation, Schliemann claimed it to be that of the famous ancient king.

Modern archaeological research suggests that the mask is from 1550–1500 BCE, which is earlier than  tradition regards Agamemnon to have lived. Thus scholars no longer regard it as the actual mask of  Agamemnon, but of a prior King of Mycenae, however the name “Mask of Agamemnon” stuck because of its early publicity and notoriety.

Grave-Circle-A-Mycenae

The Grave Circle A, and the main entrance of the citadel (left), at Mycenae.

Agamemnon is one of the most famous characters in Classical Greek literature. According to the Greek legends, Agamemnon was the King from Mycenae, which was the most powerful Greek town at that time. He was the leader of the Greeks during the Trojan War and he was the brother of Menelaus who was married to “Helen of Troy”.

Agamemnon’s wife was Clytemnestra and they had three daughters and one son. One of his daughters, Iphigenia, was sacrificed to goddess Artemis so that the wind blows and the Greek ships could set sail to Troy. When Agamemnon returned to his kingdom after the end of the Trojan War, he was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra in revenge for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Agamemnon featured in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, was well as being a favorite character amongst Greek writers of tragedy.

The mask was created by hammering gold into a thin leaf over a wooden model. A sharp tool was used to chisel the finer details. The mask depicts the face of a man with a wide forehead, long fine nose and closed thin lips. It includes well defined ears, detailed facial hair and eyelids that can appear as both open and closed depending on your view. It is a masterpiece from the Bronze Age of ancient Greece, predating the “Trojan War“.

Mycenae x09

Lion Gate Entrance to Ancient Mycenae

Other Ancient Greek masterpieces featured in “Joy of Museums” include:

More insights on Heinrich Schliemann’s historical discoveries in “Joy of Museums” can be found at the following links:

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                    Mask of Agamemnon
  • Date:                    1550–1500 B.C.
  • Material:             Gold
  • Dimensions:       H: 12″
  • Museums:           National Archaeological Museum, Athens
  • City:                     Athens

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“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” Socrates

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Photo Credit: 1) By Xuan Che (Self-photographed (Flickr), 20 December 2010) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Ploync (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons