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Tuesday, 15 January 2013 13:50

Geotechnical Engineering Practice in the Mycenaen Civilization (1600-1100 BC)


by Dimitrios Zekkos, John Manousakis, Adda G. Athanasopoulos


Zekkos, D., Manousakis, J., Athanasopoulos, A. (2005), “Geotechnical engineering practice in the Mycenaean Civilization (1600-1100 BC)”, 2nd International Conference “Ancient Greek Technology, 17-21 October 2005, Athens, Greece.

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This paper provides an overview of the Mycenaean civil engineering projects with emphasis in geotechnical engineering. Archaeological findings and literature resources are used in this study. While there are difficulties in this approach, it becomes evident that the Mycenaean engineers were competent builders with extensive experience in geotechnical construction that included fortifications, roads, bridges, embankments as well as underground construction and tunnels. The method of construction for most of these projects is largely unknown but detailed study of the remains could yield useful information on the construction practices of this civilization.

Two sources of information on Mycenaean Geotechnical Practice:

  • Archaeological findings/remains
  • Literature resources/ancient texts


Archaeological findings/remains

  • The proven use of a construction method in a project does not necessarily mean that other methods were not used.

  • Preserved remains most likely represent practices of monumental construction (higher construction quality).

  • Structures of monumental construction could have been destroyed in the course of time due to natural or human-
    induced causes.

  • High quality practices with non-durable materials (e.g. wood) disappear with time.

  • Different construction methods may result in the same project.

Literature resources/ancient texts

For the Mycenaean civilization specifically:

  • Only limited texts on preserved plates written in the Mycenaean times

  • Homeric poems provide surprisingly large information but are written about 300-500 years later.

  • Other texts with pertinent information are written about 1000 years later

  • Thus, for all the literature resources: Possibility that the provided information is inaccurate.


i) fortifications
ii) underground shafts (graves)
iii) retaining walls
iv) roads/pavements
v) bridges
vi) hydraulic works
vii) dams/embankments
viii) tunnels
ix) harbors
x) quarries/mines
xi) residential construction


Overall, similar construction techniques and materials (e.g. Cyclopean masonry, corbelled arch construction) are used in most projects.

The scale and the variability in projects is impressive and suggest significant experience in construction.  Observations suggest that the construction techniques improved with time and adjusted to the available resources.

A more efficient method of construction probably existed than is currently assumed. This statement is based on the geomorphologic characteristics of the areas where the projects are located, the construction dates, the geographic distribution, the scale of the projects, the size of the construction materials etc. For example, it is commonly assumed that the Mycenaean walls were constructed using ramps (similar to the Egyptian pyramids). However, the geomorphic characteristics (located on a hill instead of a level surface), the existence of important structures nearby that would impede access, the size of the stones and the height at which they are placed suggest that an alternative, more efficient, method could have been used.

There are still important questions that need to be answered regarding the Mycenaean construction practices. The method of construction (constructability) of the Mycenaean infrastructure needs to be studied further by archaeologists with the support of engineers.

The treasury of Atreus: An application of the cut and cover method.


Gravity retaining wall in Mycenae.


The entrance of the Mycenae tunnel.


The interior of the Mycenae tunnel.


Fortification walls of Mycenae.


Grave circle A within the Mycenae fortress.

Please refer to the site when you use this material.


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