Treasury of Atreus – The Famous King of Mycenae in Ancient Greece

The remains of the ancient city of Mycenae, high on a rocky hill and surrounded by olive groves, is one of the most interesting historical sites to visit in Greece. From the citadel of Mycenae you have stunning views over sea, which is only fifteen kilometers away.

In Egypt, the pharaohs were given a pyramid as their final resting place. In Mycenae, one of the most powerful cities of the Mycenaean Empire, the kings were given a beehive-shaped tomb.

In the second century AD the Greek traveler Pausanias already mentioned the buildings and ruins of Mycenae in his “Description of Greece“.

According to Pausanias, the tombs of people who had committed crimes were built far beyond the city walls of the citadel of Mycenae. That is why he assumed that the Treasury of Atreus, the ancient Greek tomb of the famous king Atreus of Mycenae, is located outside the city walls of Mycenae. Only the more decent dead were buried within the city walls.

The stunning Tomb of Atreus, also called the Treasury of Atreus or the Tomb of Agamemnon, is indeed located about 300 meters away from the famous hill with the acropolis of Mycenae. But we can only speculate about the reason.

Mycenae Greece on UNESCO World Heritage List

The Mycenaean tombs  are examples of ingenious human creativity. Imagine that once a flourishing Greek civilization existed at this place. That is why the archaeological site of Mycenae is of such an historic importance.

The ancient city of Mycenae is also inextricably linked to the stories of the famous ancient Greek writer Homer.  Reasons enough why the citadel of Mycenae and its tombs are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

At Mycenae you will find nine tombs of which the most famous is the Treasury of Atreus. Only a few of the tombs are easily accessible.

Lions Gate Greece where the Mycenaeans entered the Citadel of Mycenae in Argolis Peloponnese Greece.
Lion Gate Mycenae and the Cyclopean Wall from the inside of the Mycenaean Citadel. Beautiful views over Argolis valley.

Atreus – King of Mycenae

King Atreus was the father of the legendary kings Agamemnon and Menelaus. Both Greek kings are famous for their participation in the Trojan War. Archaeologists doubt whether Atreus is indeed buried in this tomb. Nevertheless German amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who did the excavations in Mycenae, named it after Atreus because Pausanias had attributed the tomb to Atreus in his writings.

Mykenes. Archaeological Site of Mycenae. The tomb of a Mycenaean King.
Treasury of Atreus. It’s also called the Tomb of Agamemnon. Probably neither of the two were buried in this tholos tomb.

Mycenae House of Atreus

The complicated life of the Atreus family is told in the stories of Homer in the 8th century BC, the oldest written European literature.

In the book “The Odyssey” the hero Odysseus travels to the mythical realm of Hades (the place where the death “lived”). Here he meets the spirit of Agamemnon who tells him how, after his return from Troy, he was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra.

In The Iliad by Homer you can read more about the Mycenaeans and about the Troyan War.

Location of the Tomb of Agamemnon’s wife

The tomb of Clytemnestra was also built outside the city walls of Mycenae. She committed some criminal acts as well as you can read below. The inhabitants of the citadel of Mycenae believed that a woman with such a criminal character had to be buried far from civilization. At least, that is what Pausanias wants us to believe.

Agamemnon & Clytemnestra

Clytemnestra stabs her husband to death in his bathtub after he has put her nerves to the test for a long time. First Agamemnon sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to the gods in order to obtain a favorable wind so that he could sail off with his fleet to Troy, as we read in Homer’s stories.

Second, we learn from the trilogy “Oresteia, the tragedy written by the writer Aeschylus in the classical era, that after ten years of absence, Agamemnon returns from Troy and appears before his wife with the beautiful, young mistress Cassandra on his arm.

Once Myceneans walked where the tourists walk.
Tourists walking at the impressive Citadel of Mycenae

But less well known is that Clytemnestra was once happily married and had a baby. Until Agamemnon dropped his eye on her and wanted to make her his wife. He murdered the husband of Clytemnestra and even killed her newborn child. He raped her and made her his wife by force.

Tomb of Agamemnon yet to be found

The tomb of Agamemnon has not yet been located. Probably, because of his crimes they buried him so far outside the city walls that they can’t find him.

Barbarian Acts of King Atreus

According to the legends, Atreus was a real barbarian. 

In the battle with his brother Thyestes for the throne of Mycenae, things were going strong. Atreus manages to conquer his brother and banishes him from the palace at Mycenae.

Next, Atreus discovers that his brother had an affair with his wife and he is looking for revenge.

He invites Thyestes over for dinner in the Mycenaean palace, under the guise that he wants to reconcile with his brother.  But Atreus has killed the children of Thyestes and prepared them for a meal that he offers his unsuspecting brother. When dinner is over, Atreus shows his brother the severed limbs of his children.

Most famous of the ancient Greek Tombs – Location of Treasury of Atreus

The Treasury of Atreus, the best preserved tomb in Mycenae, is located at least 300 meters away from the city walls of the citadel at Mycenae.

The citizens of Mycenae wanted this psychopathic king, this child murderer, and cannibal, buried as far away as possible. Pausanias must have been right.

Mycenae Museum

The archaeological site of Mycenae lies on a hill 900 feet above sea level.  The Museum of Mycenae, a small, modern museum, is located at the entrance. Here you can admire Mycenaean artifacts found at the site like ancient tools, frescoes, armour, Greek pottery, coins, jewelry, weapons and figurines.

Some of the treasures are originals, but others are replicas of which the originals are exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

Information on ticket prices and opening hours of the Museum of Mycenae you can find here.

Mycenae Map

map athens to mycenae
How to get from Athens to Mycenae.

Mycenaean Civilization  – Video

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