A museum collection of Mycenaean bronze weapons. It includes swords (in Linear B: qi-si-po, ξίφος), some of them called ‘phasgana’ (pa-ka-na, φάσγανα), daggers, spearheads, arrowheads etc.
The archaeological evidence and the descriptions of the Homeric Epics (ignoring the symbolic divine interventions and some obvious Later Geometric elements) are the main sources regarding the Mycenaean warfare. In the Greco-Roman world, the Homeric epics were considered fundamental writings on the study of the art of war. Especially the Mycenaean/Achaean palatial tablets from Pylos, Knossos and Mycenae, provide valuable information about the military hierarchy, organization and equipment. These tablets contain public records compiled by the bureaucrats of each palace, and reveal that the military organization and the maintenance of the heavier military equipment were controlled by the state. The Mycenaean/Achaean nobles were obliged to provide military equipment and services. The tablets on military issues were titled as “orchha” (in Linear B script: o-ka, ορχα) – a word related to the ”orchos” (όρχος, military group) – which probably means the military unit and/or command.
Two modern representation of Mycenaean armored warriors.
The warrior above wears the renowned segmented suit of armour of Dendra, which was used by the warriors of the chariots. He bears the same tusk-boar helmet with an inverted crest, and the same lance ‘enchos’ (Linear II: e-ke- a, έγχεα) holding it in a ‘low handle’ way. His greaves are based on Mycenaean finds from the Peloponnesian Achaea.
The warrior below wears a relatively rare type of Mycenaean armor (Linear II: to-ra-ke, θώρακες, armor), the scale armor. He attacks with an ‘enchos’ (έγχος), the characteristic Mycenaean elongated and robust spear/lance, holding it in a ‘high handle’ way. Note his tusk-boar helmet (Linear B: ko-ru, κόρυς), which is restored with a rare item: the double crest which is based on relevant Mycenaean representations (reenactment by the Australian Historical Association Sydney Ancients). .
At the top of the hierarchy of each Mycenaean palace state, was the (W)anax, the king or ruler (Linear B: wa-na-ka, ά-να-κτας). Second in command was the laphagetas (laFagetas, la-wa-ge-ta), i.e. the leader of the army, the military commander. The laphagetas is often considered to be the “military mind” in time of war, the one that laid the war plans, because the king was busy with high politics and diplomacy. In peacetime, the laphagetas constituted a kind of chancellor. He came usually from the royal family and he was probably one of the princes, possibly the successor. In the Iliad, the two central heroes, Achilles and Hector, are two typical laphagetae. Another laphagetas in the Iliad is Antilochos of Pylos, Nestor’s son.
The king (anax) and the laphagetas held each one a personal fief, the ‘temenos’ (Linear B: te-me-no). The ‘basileis’ (qa-si-re-u, βασιλείς) were regional military commanders, established in the cities and towns of the kingdom. Much later the word ‘basileus’ conceptually replaced the term ‘anax’, meaning finally the king. The basileis maintained their own court, the ‘basileia’ (qa-si-rwi-ja, βασιλεία). The ‘coretae’ (ko-re-te) or choreteres, seem to have been regional archons of lower status, with mainly political duties, established in smaller towns. The ‘procoretae’ (pro-ko-re-te) or prochoreteres were the deputies of the coretae. In time of war, the coretae/choretires and the procoretae rather served as officers. The telestae (te-re-te) were noble landowners who provided military service and equipment in the state. The ‘moiroppae’ seem to have been minor landowners directly dependent on the king, with military obligations. Perhaps they were partly foreign settlers. As seen on the tablets of Pylos, the ‘elephter’ was a political officer with inspective duties, an emissary of the king with the assignment to record the production and the situation of the lands controlled by the basileis and the coretae.
The epetae (Linear B: e-qe-ta), namely the ‘followers of the king’ were a particular group of dignitaries who did not belong to the official hierarchy. They were high-ranking officers who had formerly been considered as commanders of large units, but modern research tends to view them as ‘military links’ between the ordinary warriors/soldiers and the king. This view is supported by the fact that in the tablets, notably at Pylos, each unit beyond its commander (called orchamos) includes one or more epetae, who were clearly not subordinates of the unit commander. Probably the epetae controlled subtly the actions of the other officers and of the laphagetas as well, safeguarding their loyalty to the king. Additionally they held a very important military role, serving as armored warriors (epibatae) in the chariots (wearing the famous Dendra panoply) and as commanders of large military units. In the Early Mycenaean period, the epetae probably constituted the elite charioteers, while in the Late Mycenaean period they used to dismount and fight as elite infantry, called champions (promachoi, πρόμαχοι).
Generally the epetae came from noble distinguished officers who had risen to eminence for their military and political skills, and for their loyalty to the king. The epetae were very similar to the Companions (dignitaries and cavalrymen) of the much subsequent Macedonian kings. The Greek term epetae has a common origin with the Latin ‘equites’ for the horsemen, coming from the Indoeuropean verbal type *eqwos/ekwos (horse). This element indicates the military status of the epetae as fighting charioteers (the “cavalry” of this period) and their high social status, similar to those of the noble ‘cavalrymen’ (hippeis, ιππείς) of the Classical Greek city-states, and to those of the Western European Knights of the Middle Ages. The kekides and kurewes of the Pylian palatial tablets have formely been considered as categories of warriors, but they rather constituted local tribal groups from specific regions of the Pylian hinterland (later Messenia), possibly the Kaukones and the Kuretes mentioned in Archaic and Classical Greek sources.
Generally speaking, the Mycenaean political and military palatial organization and hierarchy, had a wide range of categories of officials.
Regarding the organization of the army units, it was based on the decimal system. The numbers of forces which according to the Pylian tablets, were entrusted with the defense of the coasts of the kingdom of Pylos, were a multiple of 10, counting from 10 to 110 men. There are other indications that the unit of 10 men was the smallest of the royal armies.
Mycenaean swords from excavations, with clearly Minoan influence on their design (copyright ‘Alex III of Macedon’, Canada).
The Iliad indicates the following organization. The anax (king) was the supreme military leader, but the laphagetas had a more active military role. The army consisted of the ‘categories’ of the unit commanders, the charioteers, the champions (promachoi, elite infantry) and finally the common infantry (heavy and light). The champions (mostly consisted of epetae infantrymen) were the best warriors that protected their leaders in battle (the king, the laphagetas and the high-ranking officials). The high-ranking officials and the champions were protected with strong armour and they reached the battlefield in chariots. The armed forces were staffed by all the men able for warfare. Their recruitment was organized according to the regions of the kingdom. The tablets of Pylos indicate that the various military units bore the name of the respective region or tribal group (for example Pedieis, Krokylaioi and others).
Homer: THE ILIAD.
Homer: THE ODYSSEY.
Chadwick J.: THE DECIPHERMENT OF LINEAR B, Cambridge, 1990.
Chadwick J.: LINEAR B AND RELATED SCRIPTS, London, 1987. Taylour W.D.: THE MYCENAEANS, London, 1983.