The ancient Greeks were great warriors but even the best apparently could use some extra help. A newly-discovered grave dating back to 1450 BCE in what was the ancient city of Pylos contains the remains of what must have been a great warrior because he was buried with four gold rings elaborately engraved with symbols that the discoverers say makes them unique “rings of power.” What power did they have?
The grave, its warrior, the rings and other artifacts was found in 2015 by Jack L. Davis and Sharon R. Stocker, husband-and-wife researchers from the University of Cincinnati, who revealed the contents and their significance at a conference this week in Athens. They refer to the warrior as the “Griffin Warrior” because of the ivory plaque found next to him depicting the mythical creature with the body and tail of a lion and the head, wings and talons of an eagle. That was probably the least ornate of the other treasures found on and around the warrior, including jewels, silver cups, weapons, precious stone beads, ivory combs and a mirror.
The range of types of artifacts is extraordinary as is their rich iconography, but what is of special importance is that they were all buried with one man at the same time.
Ms. Stocker was particularly enamored with the so-called “rings of power.” One shows a bull leaping, another has five beautiful women, the third shows what is believed to be a goddess and the fourth has a woman presenting a bull’s horn to a goddess. Stocker believes the warrior, who appears to be around 35, was a member of the elite ruling class of Pylos known as the Mycenaeans.
The rings symbolized his own warrior power and the power of the Mycenaeans over the Minoans from the isle of Crete, the people he probably died conquering. In fact, the “rings of power,” along with most of the richly ornate artifacts in the grave, were made by the conquered Minoans. They obviously weren’t “rings of power” for them.
They’re carving these before the microscope and electric tools. This is exquisite workmanship for something so tiny and old and really shows the skill of Minoan craftsmen.
So why was the Griffin Warrior of the Mycenaeans buried with Minoan rings of power? It took Stocker and Davis a year to figure out the answer.
We think that already in this period the people on the mainland (Mycenae) already understood much of the religious iconography on these rings, and they were already buying into religious concepts on the island of Crete (Minoa).
In other words, the Mycenaeans didn’t just loot the Minoans – they assimilated their religion and chose items with symbols of power (the bull, the griffin, the mirror and combs which represented the hair-combing rituals before battle) to honor their slain hero.
The rings of power didn’t help the Griffin Warrior in life but the Mycenaeans obviously believed they would aid him in his battles in the afterlife, no matter who made them.