Bronze Age Fortifications: A Dualistic Interpretation
By Jessica Paga
Montage: Journal of the University of Iowa Art History Society, Vol.1 (2007)
Introduction: The Cyclopean fortifications surrounding the Bronze Age sites of Mycenae, Tiryns, Athens, and Gla were constructed for two reasons: as a military defense system and as a tangible and persuasive articulation of wealth, power, and authority. The architecture of these walls, therefore, is significant both for the study of Bronze Age politics on mainland Greece and in order to understand one of the ways in which power was rendered visually during the fourteenth-twelfth centuries B.C.E.
These fortifications were the inspiration for the Homeric descriptions of walls, they received mythical designations throughout antiquity, and their present existence, nearly 3300 years following their initial construction, is a clear testament to their strength and solidity. While their initial purpose is quite clearly defensive, the construction of walls measuring up to five meters thick and encircling areas approaching fifty acres also served a more aesthetic function: the architectural members implicitly speak to the wealth of the citadel they enclose. This ability of the fortifications to articulate authority visually is further enhanced by the incorporation of the surrounding topography into the walls, endowing them with a greater sense of permanence and stability in the face of turmoil and hostility.
The fortified sites of Athens and Gla, often overshadowed by the well-known Bronze Age citadels of Mycenae and Tiryns, provide test cases for these two functions of defense and power. Through an examination of the remains at these two sites, I hope to demonstrate that the fortifications constructed during the Late Bronze Age are more than mere walls but also function as architectural extensions of the ruling authority.