The Treasury of Atreus

Tomb of Agamemnon


Useful Information

the impressive entrance to the tomb.
the entrance, detail.
Location: Near Mykines village, north of Argos on road 7. At the road from Korinth to Argos, national road 86/7.
(37.726863, 22.753642)
Open: JAN to MAR daily 8-15:30.
APR to AUG daily 8-20.
SEP to 14-SEP daily 8-19:30.
15-SEP to SEP daily 8-19.
OCT to 14-OCT daily 8-18:30.
15-OCT to OCT daily 8-18.
NOV to DEC daily 8-17.
Closed 01-JAN, 25-MAR, 01-MAY, 25-DEC, 26-DEC, Easter Sunday.
[2021]
Fee: NOV to MAR:
Adults EUR 6, Children EUR 3, Seniors (65+) EUR 3, Students EUR 3.
Special ticket package: Adults EUR 12, Children EUR 6, Seniors (65+) EUR 6, Students EUR 6.
APR to OCT:
Adults EUR 12, Children EUR 6, Seniors (65+) EUR 6, Students EUR 6.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Tomb Tholos tomb of the Mycenaean period.
Light: bring torch for side chamber
Dimension: Tholos: Ø=14.5 m, H=13.5 m.
Dromos: L=36 m.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: A.J.B. Wace (1923): Excavations at Mycenae: IX. The Tholos Tombs, Annual of the British School at Athens 25, 1923, 283-402.
Maria Teresa Como (2006): Analysis of the Statics of the Mycenaean Tholoi, Second International Congress on Construction History, Queens' College, Cambridge University; 29/03-02/04/2006, pp. 777-790. pdf
Address: Mycenae, Τ.Κ. 21 200, Mykines, Argolida, Tel: +30-27510- 76585. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

~1300 BC grave built.
early 19th cty Lord Elgin removes parts which are now in the British Museum.
1879 visited by Schliemann.
1864 to 1902 excavations by Christos Tsountas, the father of Prehistoric Archaeology in Greece.
1920-1923 excavations by Alan Wace.

Description

the door of the tomb.
inside the cupola.
inside the cupola.
the ceiling.
the grave at the right side of the cupola.
Schatzhaus des Atreus, Querschnitt. Public Domain.

The so called Treasury of Atreus is a subterranean circular chamber with a corbelled dome. It is most likely a grave, not a treasury. Schliemann dubbed it the Treasury of Atreus, most likely without any scientific evidence but because of a romantic intuition. He was actually a sort of treasure hunter. However, much about this time is still unknown, including the details about those graves, and so one guess is as good as any other. The other common name, Tomb of Agamemnon, is actually the same kind of romantic wishful thinking. The tomb has most likely no relationship with either Atreus or Agamemnon, both legendary rulers of Mycenae. More likely it was the grave of an much earlier Mycenaean sovereign. Or it was more like a grave yard, where the ashes of many citizens were buried after they were cremated. We know similar tombs from other megalithic cultures all over Europe, e.g. Newgrange in Ireland or the Dolmens of Antequera in Spain.

So let us concentrate on the visible facts. The grave is one of the most impressive monuments surviving from the Mycenaean period. It was built from limestone rocks inside a hill, without the use of mortar. The whole building consists of three parts.


1. A level dromos is the entrance passage to the grave.
Dromos is the term for a narrow passageway or corridor which served as an entrance to a tholos tomb of the Mycenaean period. It cuts into the hillside and gives way to the entrance door.


2. A tholos, a huge circular chamber.
This chamber is 14.5 m in diameter, with a round cupola 13.5 m high. It is the most impressive part of the grave, and the most enigmatic.


3. A small adjacent rock-cut chamber.
This is often called the true grave. The idea is, that the corpse of the king was hidden in this small chamber and not in the cupola.


The tholos is definitely the most impressive part, it was the tallest and widest dome in the world for over a thousand years. Beneath its beauty and special atmosphere, there are several strange things going on inside. Because of the geometric form, people can whisper in front of the walls and will be heard by other people somewhere else along the wall, but not inside the hall. The rounded wall reflects sound waves producing this strange acoustic effect.

The tholos was most likely built in front of the rock cut chamber and later covered with rocks and earth. It is built of circular rows of rock, each successive horizontal course laid inward from that below, until the area is closed off. The inside of the rocks was then made even, creating a spherical shape inside. All courses look like they all have the same height, but this is obviously an optic trick. The distance increases, and the visible surface increases as the angle becomes more and more obtuse. So the height of the course decreases to the top to produce the illusion of constant height. The capstone is not a static element like the keystone in an arch. This construction technique is called corbelling.

The dromos is a long straight passage or uncovered hall. It is 36 m long and with dry-stone walls on both sides. It ends with an entrance with a stone lintel above the doorway. With a size of 8.3 m x 5.2 m x 1.2 m it is the largest in the world and weighs 120 tons. The entrance portal to the tumulus was richly decorated with half-columns in green limestone, a frieze with rosettes above the architrave, and red marble with spiral decorations. Today nothing remains on site, much was stolen especially in the 19th century. In the early 19th century Lord Elgin removed a lot which is now in the British Museum. Other parts are in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, retrieved by Schliemann.

This grave is located close to the ancient akropolis of Mykenae. All together nine of those tombs were found, but this one is the biggest and most beautiful. It is located conveniently at the road to Mycenae, only a few hundred meters away. This easy access and proximity make it a popular destination for the day trip buses from beach hotels around. Nevertheless, between the short times the grave is flooded by a busload of tourists and the next, this place is still an impressive place with a very special atmosphere. When we visited the place in 2001 it was still accessible without any restrictions, although it officially belonged to the Mykene site and a ticket for Mykene was necessary for the visit. Two other tombs of comparable size are located between the ticket office and the ancient city, one on the left side and one on the right side. Both are less well preserved, especially as the tholos is collapsed and open to the surface.