Lions' Gate of Mycenae

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Lions' Gate or the Lion Gate of Mycenae, built during the thirteenth century BCE, was the main entrance to the acropolis or citadel of Mycenae. The term "Lion Gate" is a widely recognized name given to the primary entryway of the Bronze Age fortress of Mycenae situated in the southern part of Greece. This gate was built approximately in 1250 BCE on the northwestern side of the acropolis. The gate has been named after the relief sculpture of two lionesses that are positioned in a heraldic stance and placed above the entrance.


The gate is the only remaining significant carved relief from the Mycenaean civilization and is also the most prominent surviving sculpture in the prehistoric Aegean region. It is the only known monument from Bronze Age Greece that has an iconographic design which has endured without being buried underground. Moreover, this relief image was the only one that was mentioned in the classical antiquity literature, so it was widely known even before modern archaeological discoveries.

During the Late Helladic period (IIIB), circa thirteenth century BCE, most of the cyclopean wall in Mycenae, including the Lion Gate, was constructed as part of the second extension of the citadel. This expansion project also involved the construction of Grave Circle A, which was located inside the city wall and served as a burial site for royal families during the sixteenth century BCE. The Lion Gate or the Lions' Gate was situated on the east side of Grave Circle A and was connected to a peribolos wall. As a result of this expansion project, there were two entrances into Mycenae, including the main entrance and a smaller postern (norther gate). However, the most significant addition was the Lion Gate, which was built on the northwestern side of the citadel, around 1250 BCE.

The imposing gate of the citadel with the representation of the lionesses was an emblem of the Mycenaean kings and a symbol of their power to both subjects and foreigners. It also has been argued that the lionesses are a symbol of the goddess Hera.


circa 1250 BCE

Northern (Outer) Facade
The gate is a massive and imposing construction, standing 3.10 meters (10 feet) wide and 2.95 meters (10 feet) high at the threshold. It narrows as it rises, measuring 2.78 meters (9 feet) below the lintel. The opening was closed by a double door mortised to a vertical beam that acted as a pivot around which the door revolved.

The gate consists of two great monoliths capped with a huge lintel that measures 4.5×2.0×0.8 meters (15×7×3 feet). Above the lintel, the masonry courses form a corbelled arch, leaving an opening that lightens the weight carried by the lintel. This relieving triangle is a great limestone slab on which two confronted lionesses, carved in high relief, stand on either sides of a central pillar. The heads of the animals were fashioned separately and are missing, but their necks are present. The pillar, specifically, is a Minoan-type column that is located on top of an altar-like platform upon which the lionesses rest their front feet.

circa 1250 BCE

Inner Court
Immediately inside the gate and inside the citadel was a covered court with a small chamber, which probably functioned as a guard post. On the right, adjacent to the wall, was a building that has been identified as a granary because of the pithoi (large storage jars) found there containing carbonized wheat.


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