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Mask of Agamemnon

MaskOfAgamemnon

Mask of Agamemnon

The “Mask of Agamemnon” is one of the most famous gold artefacts from the ancient Greek Bronze Age. The Mask was discovered in 1876 by Heinrich Schliemann during excavations at Mycenae in Greece. This remarkable historical object is a gold leaf funeral mask which was found over the face of a body in a burial shaft in the Mycenaean Citadel.

Archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann after he discovered the mask exclaimed:

” I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.”  

The mask was one of five masks found, 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 consider it as the real mask of Agamemnon, but of a former King of Mycenae, however, the name “Mask of Agamemnon” stuck because of its early publicity and notoriety.

Agamemnon is one of the most famous characters in Classical Greek literature. According to the Greek legends, Agamemnon was the King of Mycenae, which was the most potent 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 winds would starting blowing and aid the Greek ships to set sail for 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, as well as being the favourite character among 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 more delicate details. The mask depicts the face of a man with a broad 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 perspective. It is a masterpiece from the Bronze Age of ancient Greece, predating the “Trojan War”.

Explore Ancient Greek Artifacts

Explore Heinrich Schliemann’s Discoveries

Reflections

  • What role did a gold funeral mask play in Mycenae culture?
  • When did humanity start valuing gold?
  • How did this Mycenae treasure survive nearly 2,500 years without thieves discovering its existence?
  • How much of Schliemann’s notoriety contributed to this mask fame?
  • Is this the face of a mighty warrior of fearless deeds?

Mask of Agamemnon

  • 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)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Ploync (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons