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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Lion Gate

Lion Gate - Mycenae by Joy of Museums

Lion Gate

The Lion Gate was the main entrance of the Bronze Age citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece. It was erected around 1250 BC and is named after the relief sculpture of two lionesses or lions in a heraldic pose that stands above the entrance. The Lion Gate is the only surviving monumental piece of Mycenaean sculpture and has been described in the literature of classical antiquity.

The Lion Gate standing 3.10 m (10 ft) wide and 2.95 m (10 ft) high and it narrows as it rises, measuring 2.78 m (9 ft) below the lintel. The opening had a double door, and the gate consists of two great monoliths capped with a huge lintel. Above the lintel is a triangular limestone slab on which the two lions are carved stand on either side of a central pillar. The heads of the animals are missing, and the pillar is a Minoan-type column of an altar-like platform.

The Lion Gate had stood in full view of visitors to Mycenae for centuries. It was mentioned in the 2nd century AD, and the first identification of the Lion Gate in modern literature was in 1700. In 1840 the first clearing of the site from debris and soil that had accumulated to bury it took place.

Mycenae

In the second millennium BC, Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilisation, a military stronghold which dominated much of southern Greece. The period of Greek history from about 1600 BC to about 1100 BC is called Mycenaean in reference to Mycenae. By 1200 BC, the power of Mycenae was declining, and finally, Mycenaean dominance collapsed entirely. The eventual destruction of Mycenae formed part of the general Bronze Age collapse in the Greek mainland and beyond. Within a short time around 1200 BC, all the palace complexes of southern Greece were burned, including that at Mycenae.

Lions in Greek Culture

Lions feature extensively in ancient Greek mythology, art and writings. Homer mentioned lions 45 times in his poems. The depictions of lion hunting scenes have been found on a dagger in Mycenae, Greece, from 16th century BC.  Aristotle in the 4th century BC provided some insights into lion distribution, behaviour, breeding and also anatomy. According to him, lions were more numerous in North Africa than in Europe, and they only approached towns or attacked people if they were old and could not hunt in the wild.

Explore

Reflections

  • Where lions still in Greece at the time of this sculpture?
  • Was this citadel gate ever breached by an enemy?
  • Does this image echo the age of the Ancient Greek myths and legends?

Lion Gate

  • Artefact:       Lion Gate
  • Date:           1250 BC
  • Culture:        Bronze Age Mycenaen
  • Dimensions: 3.10 m (10 ft) wide and 2.95 m (10 ft) high
  • Site:              Ancient Mycenae

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“In war, the first casualty is the truth.”
– Agamemnon quote via Aeschylus

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Photo Credit: JOM

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