In transcribing this article from the Google Books online version of one of the 1877 Illustrated News articles on Schliemann’s work, I have added paragraphing to make reading easier. This article follows an introduction to the archeologist’s work, “Dr. Schliemann’s Treasures found at Mycenæe.” .

[The Illustrated London News’s extensive coverage of Schliemann’s excavations of Mycenæ skips an issue and continues on 7 April with Simpson’s article entitled “The Ruins of Mycenae,” which begins with a brief mention of the Acropolis discussed above and then devotes three columns to the four treasuries found at the site.]

Our special artist, Mr. W. Simpson, whose Illustrations of the recent archaeological researches and discoveries in Greece excite so much interest, continues to supply an abundance of sketches of the ruins of Agamemnon's Royal city, and of the curious sculptures, gold and silver ornaments, and other relics of antiquity, which Dr. Schliemann has lately found there. Our principal Illustration in the present number, is a large View of the acropolis of Mycenæ, in addition to which are given particular Illustrations, with ground plans and sections, of the interior of the so-called treasury or Tomb of Atreus, and the series of chambers called the second, third, and fourth Treasuries. The following are Mr. Simpson's notes upon these subjects: Dash

The Acropolis of Mycenæ

The Acropolis at Mycenæ. “From a Sketch by Our Special Artist [William Simpson].” Illustrated London News (24 March 1877): 320-21.

This view of the acropolis of Mycenæ is taken from a point near to the treasury of Atreus. It shows the south-west wall which separated the Acropolis from the town; and the earth newly thrown out indicates the place where Dr. Schliemann’s explorations have been made. Behind is Mount Agios Elias, with its rocky summit, where Dr. Schliemann found old walls of Cyclopean masonry, seeming as if they had been constructed for defense. There is a sacred tree in a triangular enclosure on the top, and the villagers seem to look upon the mountain as holy, for they ascend to the top with the priest when drought afflicts them. This they did last year; and after a service of prayer, at the tree on the Summit, desired rain again to fall before they got back to the village. A shepherds hut and some pens, made of stone and bushes, for the flocks of sheep and goats, are now the only sign of human habitation among the ruined walls and stony ground where "wide-wayed" Mycenæ once stood.

The Treasury of Atreus

The Treasury of Atreus (Entrance)

it must be understood that this is only the so-called "Treasury of Atreus." It's connection with that king is but legendary, and its character of being a treasury is a conjecture from Pausanias; subsequent writers have only repeated his words referring to "subterraneous habitations of Atrius and his sons, in which they deposited their treasures." This reputation was no doubt founded on Homer’s expression that Mycenæ was “rich in gold,” and one of the many phrases used in the Iliad, with reference to Agamemnon, is that of his being king of “rich Mycenæ.” It will naturally occur to us, however, that the kings of Mycenæ would have constructed their treasury in the most secure part of their city, and that was within the acropolis. This very remarkable structure is, on the contrary, upon the lower range, and must have been among the buildings of the city. Space there are three other constructions of the same kind at my Sinai, and they are in different parts of what was formally the city. The probability then is that this was a tomb. Those who are familiar with the Maeshowe, in Orkney, or with New-Grange, in Ireland, will be struck with a remarkable resemblance between them and this tumulus in Argus; for it is undoubtably belongs to that class of monuments. The side of the hill has been dug into, and the rock excavated; but when finished, the earth was replaced over it, and its mound character is still perceptible, rising upon the slope of the ground. Whether the world approach, on the outside, was originally covered with earth, or not, seems to be doubtful. Lord Elgin need some excavations to get a more accurate knowledge of the place. The guides at my CNA state that, when the turks explored the inner rock cut chamber, they found some statues, as well as other articles, and some of these were gold. One of the guides remembers that his father had seen steps below the present approach; and his explanation was that they lead from the principal Street of the town up to this building. If the steps belong to it, we may almost be certain that there was an outward indication of the tumulus, and that the whole structure was not originally buried underground. At the present, the visitor comes upon what may be called a walled trench, which is now the approach to the entrance. It is about 20 ft. wide, and the stones are rectangular, and small in comparison to those at the Gate of the Lions. The doorway is very simple its style, not a trace of anything we call Greek architecture can be found in it. The sloping jams rather suggest to our mind that at Egyptian influence they have affected the designer. The triangular opening above the great lintel might also be appealed to in support of this idea; for that construction, so not exclusively confined to Egypt, has its most developed expression in the great Pyramid of Ghizeh.

Plans and Sections of the Royal Treasuries at Mycenæ, Drawn by Our Special Artist.

1. Plan of the Treasury of Atreus. A. rock-cut chamber; B. doorway; C. approach.

2. Section of the above: B. Doorway; C. Approach filled up with Earth; D. slope of the ground; E. Wall on north side of approach; F. Lintel stone; G. Door to rock-cut chamber.

3. Sketch Plan of the Third Treasury.

4. Sketch Plan of the Fourth Treasury.

On descending the slope of accumulated rubbish and entering this splendid domed hall the effect is impressive, for its size is considerable. The diameter is stated to be 47 ft. 6 in., and the height 50 ft. The masonry is good and regular. The stones are not perfectly rectangular, but are very nearly so; here and there a stone is trimmed to fit its neighbor, showing that the influence of the old political style had not yet holy departed when this monument was raised, which is an important point as to its date of construction. One of the first thing to arrest the eye is the great slab, which forms the inner part of the lintel. There are only two stones covering the doorway, and the other one is at least 27 ft. long, about 18 ft. wide, and 3 ft. 6 in. deep — a gigantic mass to quarry and transport to its position. When the eye gets accustomed to the dimmer light within, small holes become visible all over the walls. These held the pins or nails by which it is supposed a metallic lining was attached to the inside. They this is no doubt a correct supposition, as it was common to cover the interiors of buildings with bronze down to a later time increase. There are two lines of these holes all around the interior of the doorway, and they are very plentiful around the entrance to the inner rock-cut chamber, indicating that the metallic covering was a richer at these places than in the rest of the building. Here are small cup–like hollows round holes, but these were most probably made by those who took away the metal. The entrance to the rocket chamber is on the north, and it is built with the same triangular form opening above the door, to relieve the lintel, as in the principal doorway. This chamber is perfectly dark, and it's size being about 23 ft.². I'm striking a light the first impression is that it has a Gothic groined roof, but this turns out to be only rough ledges of the rock. The whole made by the excavation of the turks is still visible in the center of the chamber, and forms a dangerous trap in the dark. As caves are coming in this part of Greece, it is not improbable that this may have been one; and supposedly it had been selected for a tomb, it was then no doubt extended for the purpose of constructing the dome as a sepulchral hall to it. In the Homeric age tombs are always described as “piled” or "heaped up." They are always mounds; and the fact of the earth covering this so-called “Treasury” is strong evidence of its support cruel character; but the rocket chamber and the magnificently built accessories would lead to the conclusion that it belongs to. Posterior to the Iliad and the Odyssey. Hector's tomb is described as the “hollow grave.” This was the primitive cell, which became developed into an under arched dome. This many examples are found in the tumuli near Kertch, some of them of a very large size, and the difference in construction, they afford a good illustrative parallel. In VER Gulich example we find a developed architecture which seems to have been rich with metallic decoration. Here all resemblances to the simple cell of the hollow grave has been lost, and now the foot or two of earth, heaped on the top, is nearly all to remind us of the original mound, from which this style of tune had its origin.

The probability is that the tombs found by Dr. Schliemann in the Acropolis of Mycenæ are of a far higher antiquity than this building. We may suppose that the Kings of Mycenæ would only be buried out of the Acropolis when there was no more ground left there. By comparing the building of the walls of the Acropolis with the so-called “Treasury,” it's more modern character becomes apparent. The squared stones at the Gate of the Lions indicate a later date that of the other part of the walls, which are polygonal. The triangular space over the gate of the lines, containing the sculpture from which the portal derives its name, shows that a regular principle of construction has been established. This principle was observed when the so-called “Treasury” was built, but the more carefully squared stones are evidence of a still later period. This only gives us so far the relative time, but no fixed date. My scene I was conquered early in the fifth century BC, and it is probable that the treasury belongs to a date approaching that period. There is another monument of the same kind but it's a smaller dimensions, at Mycenae, as well as two more, which would be unimportant if they did not serve to throw a light on the larger one. I intend sending illustrations of these. The Pausanias describes a similar treasury of Minyas at Orchomenos, and several others at Olympia. If we take this specimen at Mycenæ as a developed example, it presents to us an entirely separate growth of architecture from that which we usually call Greek, and the development of the one must have been going on, with certain within certain limits. The exceptional features of the style, which bears a resemblance to Egyptian architecture, would not justify the conclusion that it came from the banks of the Nile. For it bears no resemblance either to the Pyramids or the temples of that part of the world. Yet still less does it resemble the temples of Greece. Not a feature of the Greek temple could be traced back to the so-called Treasury of Atreus.

The exterior view shows the two walls of approach to the Treasury of Atreus. The doorway is half covered up with earth. The outside lintel – stone of the door is much smaller than the inner; still, it is a large block. There is a very curious small niche at each end of this lentil, which I send a separate sketch, as it might help to through light on the whole building if its purpose could be guessed at. The triangular opening, to relieve the lintel from pressure, is here carried out as a matter of principle, though the wall above it is of the great height. The mound form of the earth over this monument is conveyed in this illustration. The view of the interior of the treasury (this was engraved last week) Will give some idea notion of the size of the inner stone of the lintel, which is 27 ft. long. The position of the holes for the nails which held on the metal plates, or ornaments, can be seen in the doorway from two perpendicular lines of cups like depressions made by those who extracted the metal. A couple of these holes are also given in the fifth course from the base of the dome. The interior of the Splenda dome is in very good order. The triangular space over the inner lintel has given way a little, and then one or two of the stones near the Apex of the roof have fallen in. The drawing of the rocket chamber shows the doorway leading to the dome, and the whole made by the turks, well, as already stated, they found some statues and other articles. The rough sketch plan and section will help to explain the whole arrangement of the parts of this ancient monument.

The Second Treasury

The Second Treasury.

As the dawn of this monument has long been broken in, it was well enough noon; but thanks now to Mrs. Schliemann, the whole of it has been excavated and exposed to view. While her husband was busy within the walls of the acropolis, she under took the exploration of this relic of the past, and the approach to it, which was formally completely concealed, is now laid bare. Its position is close to the Gate of the Lions, and it is found to differ only in slight details from the other one known as the Treasury of Atreus. This has a heavier cornice over the door, and one fragment of it as a simple life ornament, which was no doubt repeated along the whole length. This is an important point, for there is not a scrap of sculptured tournament on the other. The triangle your opening over the lintel is, in this case, higher in its proportions than the former. The diameter of the dome within is only about a couple of feet less than that of the Treasury of Atreus; but from being demolished at the top and the light coming in, it seems much smaller proportions, and is far from being so impressive. There is no indication of any second chamber, which detracts from its importance. The dome is constructed on the same principle as the other — that is, with the courses placed horizontally, ignoring the principle of the arch.

In relation to the Treasury of Minyas, at Orchomenos, Pausanias thus expresses himself: “they say that the topmost stone holds together the whole building.” The evidence of these monuments at Mycenæ are pretty clear this was a mere supposition, and had no foundation. The probability is that the principal to the arch in building being more widely known at the time of Pausanias, it had been adopted as an explanation without any inspection of the dome. In the second treasury the inner stone of the lintel over the doorway is again the largest stone in the building, and a course of large stones the same deaths as the lintel is carried all around on the same level. A glimpse of one or two of these stones is seen through the doors in the illustrations. The size of the lintel end stone in this case is 20 ft. long, 7 ft. wide, and 18 in. deep. Some call this the tomb of Agamemnon, since Dr. Slemons discoveries have given some color to the idea that that hero was buried within the acropolis. There is now a tendency to call this the tune of Cassandra. Again Pausanias states that there was also a tomb of Clytemnestra and Ægisthus, and that they were “buried at a little distance from the walls, but they were not thought worthy of burial within the walls, or Agamemnon in those that fell with him were interred.” So the names of these two persons are now given by sun to it, and it short distance to the outside of the walls of the Acropolis is taken as the interpretation of what Pausanias meant. The absence of any inscription leaves the matter entirely unsettled. This also holds true in regard to all Dr. Schliemann’s discoveries at Mycenæ. Amongst them he has not found anything in the form of letters or writing – they clearly belong to a pre-School-Board period. They have been called “Treasuries” from the days of Pausanias, and I have only repeated the name in relation to them, but I doubt the accuracy of the signification. The Pyramids of Egypt have long been looked on as “Houses of Treasure” by the Arabs, and it was to get at the great wealth within, supposed to be stored up by the pharaohs, that one of the Caliphs was at much trouble in breaking a way into the great pyramid at Giza. The amount of gold objects, which was the custom and ancient power times to enter with the dead, a custom which Dr. Schliemann’s late discoveries so well illustrate, may have been one of the causes which led to this commonly-received notion. The people about the locality call these monuments “Furni”, or ovens, for they are exactly the shape of the ovens to be seen in every village at the present day.

The Third and Fourth Treasuries

The Third Treasury

I sam drawings and sketch plans of these two smaller treasuries. They may have been drawn before, but if so they are not familiar to archaeologists; and they are very important is bearing on the two larger and more important monuments of the same kind, more particularly as they belong to a distinct style of architecture from that which we know as the classic school of ancient Greece. Anyone coming for the first time on one of these two smaller monuments would be quite justified in stating that it was a Cromlech, or what the French archaeologists call Dolmen, that he had found. As there are a small number of stones covering a passage, of which there are similar numerous remains in Brittany, and which are known by the descriptive title of an “Allée Couverte,” that would be a more exact phraseology to use in relation to those at Mycenæ. In fact, I sketch the one called the “Fourth Treasury“ under the idea that it belongs to what we call “Druidic” or “Rude Stone Monuments:” and I believe that I might have also sketched the third example without discovering their relation to the two larger treasuries, had I not made a sketch plan of the arrangement of the stones when it's real character became apparent; for I discovered the remains of the dome behind, the stones indicating this point being partly covered with earth, weeds, and stones. I'm finding this to be the case I return to the other, which are already made the sketch plan, and found there enough to show that it also had been a doorway to a circular construction beyond, but also rough that would be difficult to say whether or not to be classed among rude stone monuments or placed in a higher scale of construction.

The third treasury has a passage about 6 ft. or 7 ft. wide, and about 16 ft. long. Three courses of stone are visible on each side which slope very slightly inward to the top. Most probably other courses are concealed below with accumulated rubbish. Over these are three stones in the form of lentils, the outer one being 13 ft. x 9 ft., in the inner 11 ft. x 7 ft. 6 in. As in the two larger treasuries, the inner stone of the lintel is here the largest, it was when drawing the stone in the sketch plan I noticed that what I must call the inner contour was a segment of a circle. On removing the weeds, the stone at one side presented a continuation of the same circle; and, I'm looking below, the edges of the stones are found to be beveled to the angle of the dome. This angle is visible in the sketch, at the inner corner of the passage. The continuation of the circle is partly suggested by dotted lines on the sketch plan. The stones of all more or less [hewn?]. The walls of the doorway are rectangular but irregular. Their character will be better bait out from the illustration and sketch plan then from any description. The dome would be nearly 20 feet in diameter. The doorway in this case enters from the west. The acropolis of Mycenæ comes in on the right hand in the distance and mount Agios Elias on the left.

The Fourth Treasury

The stones in the fourth treasury how much router, and I've received but little work on them from a tool. There are two oblong sockets on the upper surface of the outer lintel; but, as they evidently do not belong to the original design, they are not included in this account. The doorway is so filled up with stones and rubbish that one has to crawl, in a very undignified way, to see the interior of the ruins. The passage now terminates below with a wall of small stones, under the inner lintel, as given by the dotted line on the sketch plan. This inner little stone, as an all the other three, is again the largest block in the monument; and it was only upon returning a second time that I noticed the regular cutting up on it, which showed that it had faded into the side of a circular construction. No other stones are now visible as belonging to the dome; perhaps an excavation might reveal something of the kind. The largest stone in this case is about 12 ft. x 8 ft. There are six stones and all covering the passage, and one is laid long resting on its edge, the whole passage being a little over 20 ft. Long. The entrance in the structure was from the south.

A natural question arises regarding these monuments as to whether they present a development from a primitive type to a higher, or the reverse. The first impression would be that the rudest of these remains have been the earliest, and that the treasury of Atrius gives us the most perfect condition which this matter a building reach. Most probably this is the correct opinions; but we must not be too confident. The Treasury of Minyas, if we had details of it, would be would no doubt throw light on the matter; and perhaps the explorations now going on at Olympia making us some knowledge of the place. The tombs at Kertoh are square or oblong in plan; in this they resemble the tomb of Regulini Galeassi, in Etruria. The excavation lightly made in the ancient via Sakura at Athens has exposed tunes of all kinds, some of them being simple stone kissed of the rudest stones. I have seen a Mohameddan funeral in Pera where the body was shoved without a coffin, into an old brick vaulted grave, where the remains of another body could be seen. On the slope of the Mount of Olives, at Jerusalem, I have watched a Jewish burial, where a shallow trench only was dug; but before covering the body with earth, as there was no coffin, a few stones were placed over the corpse. This was only a form, but it was meant as a pledge of the construction, if their poverty would allow it, of the vaulted chamber, the hollowed-out place of death. This was the typical idea of a sepulchre; and Homer’s words, when he calls it the “hollow grave,” prove that the type is so old as his time. These ancient tombs at Mycenæ are interesting as showing us one of the many architectural forms which this idea gave birth to in the past.

Related Material


“The Ruins of Mycenæ.” Illustrated London News. (7 April 1877): 330. Google Books. Web. 13 May 2021.

Created 13 May 2021