16. Unmasking Mycenae’s High King
Heinrich Schliemann is one of the luckiest archaeologists to have ever lived. After he excavated and proved the existence of ancient Troy, he captured lightning in a bottle once more. This time in mainland Greece, where he found what came to be known as the Mask of Agamemnon – the king who led the Greeks against Troy. It happened in 1876, during Schliemann’s excavation of the royal cemetery near the Lion Gate, the entrance to the citadel of Mycenae in southern Greece. In one of the graves, he found a funeral mask covered in gold, which he attributed to the Iliad’s legendary Greek high king.
As Schliemann put it in a telegraph that announced the discovery: “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon“. However, as with his finds in Troy, Schliemann got the broad outlines right, but was iffy when it came to the details. Later research demonstrated that the mask did, indeed, belong to a Bronze Age Mycenaean king. However, this king had died circa 1580 BC to 1550 BC – two and a half to three centuries before the events of the Trojan War. The name stuck, however, and Schliemann’s discovery is still commonly referred to as the Mask of Agamemnon.