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A Tale of Two Cities?: The Literary and Historical Relationship of Argos and Mycenae

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posted on 2021-11-14, 01:27 authored by Simpson, Sheryn

This thesis is a case study of the relationship between Mycenae and Argos. It has been a longstanding tendency in scholarship to assume that Argos developed primarily in comparison to and in competition with Sparta. This has been primarily due to Herodotus’ presentation of the history between the two poleis. It is suggested here that this view should be reconsidered, and the probability of other influences taken into account. This thesis presents the view that instead of Sparta, a consideration of the possibility that Mycenae was the rival Argos was consistently reacting against. Mycenae, in the weakened state of the Geometric and Archaic period, is admittedly not the first candidate that comes to mind when reviewing the options of poleis which challenged Argos’ identity, but there is strong evidence to suggest that this was a rivalry of Argos’ own making. The manufacturing of Argive ethnic identity was therefore both an appropriation of, and reaction against, Mycenaean history and mythology. The study begins with a consideration of how Argos expressed the insecurity felt towards Mycenae by claiming hegemony over Mycenaean religion and an important sanctuary, which became inextricably linked with Argos in historic times. The second chapter is an examination of the textual transmission of the Iliad. It is argued that Argos strongly influenced this transmission at different points in the development of the text. The period of development of the text is followed chronologically; beginning with the earliest identifiable evidence of the tradition. Following the evolutionary path of the text through to the Alexandrian period, important stages in each period and their relation to the text are considered. Chapter Three is a recounting and comparison of different genealogical histories which revolve around the Argolid. The primary focus is the myth of the Return of the Heracleidae. As with the rivalry between Sparta and Argos, the Heracleidae story was taken as a historical event by scholars in the past. Within this chapter, the event itself is proven to have been a myth. This point in and of itself is no longer news to academia; however, the evidence is then reviewed in order to pinpoint the likely reason for this myth’s creation. It is argued that it was created as a reaction against Mycenaean history and claims within the Argolid. Furthermore, there is a study which recounts the way in which Argive mythology appropriated and subsumed Mycenaean identity. All of these points work towards the overall conclusion that Argos deliberately appropriated Mycenaean legend in order to express its own identity and ownership of the Argolid. This was used as propaganda within the Argolid and the rest of Greece. The final chapter considers the historical relationship between the Argives and Mycenaeans. The continuous attempt to quell the Mycenaeans through a long deconstruction of their own identity did not entirely work. The conclusion of this thesis is that a significant part of the reason for the destruction of Mycenae is the Mycenaeans’ own reaction against and challenge to the Argive manufactured identity.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Classical Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Trundle, Matthew