The Mycenaeans were the forebears of the ancient Greek civilization. Mycenaean civilization developed inexplicably rapidly in the middle of the 2nd millenium BC. Rich graves with masks, weapons, and gold appear suddenly in the archaeological record at about 1600 BC. While there is evidence that the Mycenaean civilization developed from earlier inhabitants of mainland Greece, the newfound opulence of the Mycenaeans is difficult to understand.
The Mycenaeans were aggressive settlers, traders, and warriors. They established trading routes to Italy, Malta, the Levantine coast, and Egypt. At first they traded olive oil, wine, wool, flax and hides for metals and luxury goods. Later they exported crafted metal and ivory goods. The Mycenaeans settled in Asia Minor and on many of the Cycladic islands. It is possible that the Mycenaeans were responsible for the collapse of Minoan civilization on Crete; their presence among the Minoan ruins is certain.
The Mycenaean written language, known as Linear B, was developed before 1400 BC. Linear B was found to be none other than an early form of Greek. Excavated Linear B tablets include the first mentions of many Greek deities such as Aphrodite, Athena, and Apollo. Thus there is no doubt that Greek civilization arose from Mycenaean civilization.
In the 13th century Mycenaean cities developed extensive fortifications, which some historians attribute to attacks by Mediterranean Sea Peoples. In the 12th century many Mycenaean cities were destroyed, and some Mycenaeans fled to locations such as Euboea and Chalcidice. It is not clear what caused the sudden downfall of the Mycenaeans. Possible explanations include civil wars, invasions by the Sea Peoples, or invasions by Dorians from the north. The collapse of Mycenaean civilization around 1100 BC led to a 300-year period known as the Greek Dark Age, in which the island of Euboea became dominant in the Greek world.