Mask of Agamemnon

Gold death-mask, known as Mask of Agamemnon, Mycenae, Grave Circle A, Grave V. 16th cent. BCE. Gold sheet. Athens: National Archaeological Museum.

As with numerous other archaeological artifacts “discovered” by 19th-century archaeologists, the Death Mask of Agamemnon seems just too good to be true. Uncovered by Heinrich Schliemann during his excavations of the Bronze Age civilization of Mycenae, the gold-sheet mask supposedly proved the existence of the mythological King Agamemnon, as described in Homer’s Odyssey. Contemporary scholars are now convinced the mask is a forgery. Not only does the mask suspiciously conform to 19th-century ideals of patriarchal figures, a few details, such as the separated eyebrows, are quite different from other death masks found near the site. Regardless of its highly contested authenticity, the mask still manages to draw in tourist crowds and find its way onto introductory art history course syllabi.

By Whitney White


Calder, William M., and David A. Traill ed. Myth, Scandal, and History: The Heinrich Schliemann Controversy and a First Edition of the Mycenaean Diary. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986.