Tag Archives: Pylos

Linear B translated: PY Fn 7

Today’s tablet is PY Fn 7, joined from a set of previously unconnected fragments by Jose Melena (Minos 31, 1996-1997):

Fn 7 (Hand 3)

.1                                            ]2 OLIV T 2
.2                                            ] OLIV T 1
.3   to-]ko-do-mo HORD [   ]Z 3   VIR 20[
.4   pi-ri-e-te-re  HORD []Z 3      VIR 5
.5   pa-te-ko-to[  ]HORD[  ]V 2  [ ]
.6           vacat
.7   qa-ra2-te , o[-pi-me-]ne[                ]OLIV 6
.8   pa-ka , o-pi-me-ne , [
.9   pa-te-ko-to , o-pi-me-ne [  ]HORD 1[
.10 pi-ri-e-te-si , o-pi-me-ne[   ]HORD 1 T 4[
.11 to-ko-do-mo , o-pi-me-ne[  ]HORD 7[ ]5

.1                                   ]2, OLIVES: 19.2 liters
.2                                     ] OLIVES: 9.6 liters
.3   wall-builder(s): BARLEY: 1.2 liters, MEN: 20
.4   sawyer(s): BARLEY: 1.2 liters, MEN: 5
.5   all-builder: BARLEY: 3.2 liters
.6
.7   to Kwallans, monthly: [            ]OLIVES: 576 liters
.8   to pa-ka, monthly: [
.9   to the wall-builders, monthly: BARLEY: 96 liters
.10 to the sawyers, monthly: BARLEY 134.4+ liters
.11 to the all-builder: BARLEY: 720 liters

Notes:

  • We should probably imagine that line 1 recorded the daily allocation of olives (and probably barley) to the man named Kwallans (cf. Πάλλας), and line 2 the daily allocation of olives (and probably barley) to the man (or woman) named pa-ka (there are too many possibilities here, so I have left it transliterated). The math works out, since 19.2 * 30 = 576.
  • We should probably imagine equal quantities of barley and olives being allocated to the two named individuals; that is common practice in such texts, and the 2 in the break in line 1 is consistent with that hypothesis.
  • We then have listed the daily allocations to three professions and their number: 20 wall-builders, 5 sawyers (i.e., people who saw, from Greek πρίω), and a single all-builder. These are all listed in the dative singular or nominative plural (it’s impossible to tell which). to-ko-do-mo is a compound noun, /toikhodomos/ (cf. τοῖχος, δέμω), pi-ri-e-te-re (elsewhere spelled pi-ri-je-te-re) is in the nominative singular /pri(h)etēr/ (cf. πριστήρ, from πρίω), and pa-te-ko-to is /pantektōn/ (cf. πᾶν, τέκτων).
  • After a blank line, the scribe has calculated the monthly allocation to each group, using the word o-pi-me-ne, /opimenei/ (cf. ἐπὶ μηνί).
  • The tablet clearly deals with architectural laborers. I’ve suggested that we have five teams, each with a sawyer (carpenter) and four wall-builders (masons), all of which are supervised by the “all-builder,” who must be some kind of architect/foreman. The sawyers cut beams and other wooden elements, the wall-builders were masons who built the walls. Mike Nelson has shown how walls at the Palace of Nestor in LH IIIB were built: a mix of mortar was poured into a heavy timber framework.
  • I’ve further argued that the named individuals, allocated large quantities of barley and olives, are responsible for providing what is obviously missing from these architectural teams: unskilled labor. Masons in Ottoman and early modern Greece typically employed local unskilled laborers and animals, who hauled and prepared materials, supervised by a skilled specialists, and I suggested that something similar is happening here. (You can download my article here: https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:15171)
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Carl Blegen: Personal and archaeological narratives

A series of flights across North America (Denver to LaGuardia to Toronto) gave me the opportunity to finally read a volume I picked up in New Orleans edited by Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, Jack Davis, and Vasiliki Florou about the life and work of Carl Blegen, the excavator of the site for which this blog is named.

My friend Bill Caraher already wrote some thoughts about the volume, and, like Bill, rather than write a review of the book, I just wanted to add a couple of thoughts that the various papers elicited.

Archaeological teamwork

Davis and Vogeikoff-Brogan emphasize that Blegen thought of archaeology as a “team enterprise” (11), and Blegen also came up with my new favorite quote about a successful excavation (192):

On a dig, you have to live as a family lives… and if you have to live as a family, it’s better to be a happy family.

But if the excavation team was a family, it seems that Blegen was very much the paterfamiliasJohn Camp is quoted in the volume as commenting that

Among those who didn’t know him, Mr. Blegen was thought to be gentle; and he was. But among those who worked with him, he had a fuller reputation as a man who was somewhat hard to work for. Once he had stated an opinion, it was to be regarded as fact; one did not argue with Mr. Blegen, his word was law. … In short, his gentle manner was real, but it hid a forceful stubborn personality.

That’s interesting, especially because that the model of excavation when Blegen began his research emphasized not the archaeological team, but the singular excavator, a model that Bill Caraher has described as “heroic archaeology.” Blegen’s way of thinking seems to have departed somewhat from the “heroic archaeology” model: it is the model of a family-like or patrimonial structure, with the director playing the role of the traditional strict father, whose opinion is fact and whose word is law. Nevertheless Blegen was, if I understand things correctly, progressive for his day. By contrast, the projects that I were trained on didn’t resemble this patrimonial model. Instead they rather resembled a modern graduate seminar, with “skeptical graduate students” (SGSs) — people like me — engaging in a lively debate with the project directors, the “real Mesoamerican Mediterranean archaeologists” (RMAs) and the “great synthesizers” (GSs). In fact, I felt so comfortable working in this environment that as an SGS I felt comfortable working with and publishing project data, without feeling the need to worry too much about whether the RMAs and GSs would disagree with my interpretations and get angry. Thinking about it a little bit, that’s actually quite remarkable. In any case, this model seems to have emerged in the post-war period, after Blegen’s training was already complete. But it was embraced by those students he trained. In this sense, Blegen’s model of a successful excavation straddles the true “heroic archaeology” of the early 20th century and the more team-oriented model that characterizes late 20th century and early 21st century American archaeology.

I should emphasize that this is not a hidden criticism of Blegen, who by all account was extremely generous and kind, but a comment on the changing nature of archaeological knowledge production. If anything, Blegen was far ahead of his time, both with respect to the way he treated his archaeological family and in the way that he worked together with his colleagues in the Greek archaeological service (the latter point is emphasized especially by Davis’s chapter in the Blegen volume).

16 Jul 1961, Pylos, Greece --- American archaeologist Carl Blegen discovered the palace of Nestor, King of Pylos, in Greece. --- Image by © Manuel Litran/Corbis

16 Jul 1961, Pylos, Greece — American archaeologist Carl Blegen discovered the palace of Nestor, King of Pylos, in Greece. — Image by © Manuel Litran/Corbis

Insiders and outsiders

Blegen was sometimes an insider, sometimes an outsider. He was director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, but only after he had first been (somewhat voluntarily) banished from it by Edward Capps, then the chair of the American School’s managing committee. In “the most dramatic episode” in the School’s history (5), Bert Hodge Hill was forced out of the directorship of the School by Capps, and with Blegen he retreated from the School to found a salon at 9 Ploutarchou.

I’m not particularly interested in assigning blame for this episode (I don’t know nearly enough about it, although I am inclined to favor Hill and Blegen over Capps), but it is astonishing to think that Blegen — probably the most important American archaeologist in Greece over the last 100 years — was ever on the outs at the American School, an institution at which he is now revered. It’s a vivid illustration not only of the vicissitudes of archaeological fortune (i.e., today’s outsider is tomorrow’s superstar and eventual legend) but also of the wastefulness (that’s not quite the right word) of the political wrangling of archaeological heavyweights. Capps seems to have blocked Blegen from working at Pylos using “political pressure, bribery, and blackmail” (214). One of the things that I like least about archaeology is the way in which established scholars can use their influence to block access to others, and the way that research material becomes territory to be defended at all costs. I was drawn to archaeology because I had the real sense that we archaeologists are all in this together, that our data and interpretations, when combined and recontextualized and reinterpreted, are moving us closer to a better understanding of the past. That’s naive, admittedly, but I still believe it. We all benefit the more transparent and open we are with our evidence and our interpretations, and we all suffer when those doors are closed. Here too, Blegen was ahead of his time, a scholar who seems to have encouraged and enabled others. He was, after all, a man who held an open hour at his home in his retirement for anyone who wanted to talk to him (133-134). Perhaps it was the experience of having the door shut to him by Capps that encouraged him to be so open and welcoming to others.

Our AIA talk on the digital imaging of Linear B

RTI with Jami Baxley

RTI with Jami Baxley

Kevin Pluta and I submitted an abstract to present a 20-minute paper at the upcoming annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Chicago (January 2-5, 2013) and we’ve just been notified that it’s been accepted. Here’s the abstract we submitted:

Digital imaging of the Linear B tablets from the “Palace of Nestor”

This paper presents a new project, whose goal is to create a print and digital edition of the administrative texts from the “Palace of Nestor” using advanced imaging techniques. Initiated in the summer of 2013, it is part of the official publication of the “Palace of Nestor” at Pylos excavated by the University of Cincinnati under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. We argue that digital editions such as ours have the potential to transform the study of the Aegean Bronze Age by allowing researchers to interact with artifacts at a level of detail and verisimilitude that approaches that of autopsy.

We employ two imaging techniques. The first of these is Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI), a method that involves taking multiple photographs of the same artifact under variable lighting conditions. These photographs are stitched together into an image file that stores the color of each pixel in addition to how it reacts to light, allowing the user to re-light the artifact in an interactive virtual environment. RTI therefore affords the opportunity to select the best lighting angle or angles for clearest presentation of the inscriptions. Our second imaging technique is structured light three-dimensional scanning, which has the ability to record accurate, low-interference surface data with minimal clean up. The technique is particularly useful as it collects color data that permit realistic renditions of the artifacts being recorded. In combination, these two techniques will provide the user with highly accurate renditions of the color, shape, topography, and texture of each and every administrative document from Pylos.

There are two closely-related advantages that we see to this digital imaging. First, we anticipate an improvement in the conservation and archiving of the physical artifacts, since the availability of high-resolution images in two and three dimensions will reduce the need for their study and handling. Second, a digital edition provides users with the ability to work interactively with the administrative documents in a digital environment. The resolution of the imaging is such that it even permits users to propose new readings and joins. This allocation of high-quality primary data to scholarly experts represents an exciting development. Far from being merely an enhancement of standard methods of illustration, these imaging techniques have the potential to transform the field by distributing control of the primary data to all qualified experts.

Also accepted was a submission for a poster, entitled “The use of structured light scanning for the study of the Linear B deposits from Pylos, Messenia, Greece,” and co-authored by the 2013 team: Ben Rennison, Jami Baxley, James Newhard, Kevin Pluta, and myself.

Political unity in the LBA?

The ever-useful academia.edu (which now keeps asking me if I am interested in Roman Archaeology) brought to my attention an article by Jorrit Kelder entitled “Ahhiyawa and the World of the Great Kings: A Re-evaluation of Mycenaean Political Structures” (Talanta XLIV [2012]). The author argues in this paper that the Mycenaean world was unified into a single state ruled by a single king (the wanax) at Mycenae, while the other Mycenaean palaces were subsidiary administrative centers, each ruled by a local king (the lawagetas).

aegean_smThe spur for this argument, which runs totally against the grain of all Mycenaean scholarship, is the fact that in Hittite diplomatic texts, the region called Ahhiyawa (now located by Hittite scholars in the Aegean) is ruled by a “great king.” It is indeed interesting that our usual understanding of the Mycenaean world, i.e. that it is a patchwork of independent peer polities, is so different from the picture we get from the Hittite texts, and Kelder is right to identify this as an important question that needs resolution. His solution, however, is to accept the historical reality of the Hittite texts and then see whether he can fit the Mycenaean evidence into this picture.

In some ways, of course, that’s what we all do. We work from the evidence we know best to solve problems that they impinge upon, or we temporarily ignore a complex reality so that we can focus our attention on a particular problem (what Giddens calls “methodological bracketing”). The difference is the way that we go about treating the material we don’t know well but which is important to our argument.

In this case, the problem is the way that Kelder treats the Mycenaean material. For instance, we read that

The point that various large-scale infrastructural works (most notably the drainage of the Kopais basin in Boeotia, and the evidence for a well-developed network of roads in, especially, the Argolid) are difficult to reconcile with the modest amounts of resources and manpower that, according to the Linear B texts, would have been available to the individual palaces is usually ignored…

This is all we are told (no citations are given). It is not an unimportant statement, for together with the cultural and administrative homogeneity of the Mycenaean world, it allows that author to conclude in the following paragraph that “The argument for a politically fragmented political landscape during the Late Bronze Age thus seems to be based on assumptions, rather than facts.” It thus shoulders a great deal of argumentative weight.

Passing aside the administrative homogeneity of the Mycenaean world, which seems to me to ignore the context in which writing took place in LBA Greece (on which, see Kevin Pluta’s dissertation), this argument doesn’t hold. The author assumes that what is written on Linear B texts is congruent with (“according to the Linear B texts”), or at least indicative of, the total resources commanded by individual palaces. This is to misunderstand the nature of the Linear B texts and the processes whereby we have received them. The amount of labor recorded on the Linear B texts is indeed not very large, but it would be a mistake to conclude from this that the palace could not command large quantities of labor. As many scholars have pointed out, the Linear B texts heavily bias regular transactions, probably because those texts were less often recycled and reused. Thus we are much more likely to have evidence of annual or monthly transactions than ad hoc transactions. A good example of this is the fact that we have much more evidence for dependent groups of women and children at Pylos who are allocated monthly supplies of foodstuffs for their support than evidence for other short-term allocations of foodstuffs. Second, there is some good evidence that the palaces used multiple systems to recruit labor, including the use of intermediaries who were allocated large quantities of staples to recruit various laborers for palatial projects. So what we have in the Linear B texts are fragments of information about the labor that was certainly available to the palace, but in no way can we use this information to determine that the palaces didn’t have enough labor to, say, drain the Kopais or build a road 100 miles long, especially when neither has been adequately quantified.

Kelder makes the important point, and it is a correct one, I think, that it is a mistake to equate administrative borders with political borders (p. 4, bottom). On the other hand, he misrepresents what we know about the two main officials of the Mycenaean state, the wanax and the lawagetas. Although the contexts in which they are appear are similar, it is not true to say that (p. 5, top):

The numerous (and as far as I can see, unconvincing) attempts to make a clear distinction between the two officials, other than the size of their respective temenoi [sic; the plural of temenos is not temenoi, but temene] (at Pylos, the wanax’s is thrice the size of that of the lawagetas), clearly illustrate that there is no real consensus on the exact position and status of either of them.

Actually, there is a clear distinction between the two, which is demonstrated by a number of the secondary sources cited in this article. The adjective formed from wanax is wanakteros, which makes use of a Greek suffix (-teros) that indicates binary opposition (like Greek ἕτερος, “the other [of two]”), while the adjective formed from lawagetas is lawagesios, a regular adjectival ending. Thus it seems possible that the wanax is an important structural concept in Mycenaean Greek (at least among the administrators). There are other differences. The wanax appoints the damokoros, a regional official who administers one of the two main provinces of Pylos. He is thus directly involved in regional administration.

This much is consistent with Kelder’s argument that the wanax is the real king, whereas the lawagetas is a sub-king. But where is the evidence that the lawagetas is a “ruler-like figure”? This is crucial because the presence of two “ruler-like figures” is what Kelder finds so problematic about traditional interpretations of the Mycenaean political order. The answer is that there is no such evidence. The lawagetas appears in a number of important contexts, as does the wanax, but there is no evidence that he is a ruler-like figure. Why couldn’t he be something like the grand vizier, for example? This possibility is never entertained.

pylos-dejongAlso strange is Kelder’s reference to “two throne-rooms.” Here he elides the important difference between a throne-room and a megaron. The former is an interpretation of the function of a space; the latter is a designation of a particular architectural configuration. It is true that the rooms that we consider throne-rooms are megara, but it hardly follows that all megara are throne-rooms. In fact at Pylos, the lawagetas is not thought to hold court in the smaller megaron (room 23), but in Halls 64-65. It’s not certain what the other megara at Mycenaean palaces are for, but nowhere are the possibilities (except the one favored by the author) entertained.

Kelder’s put his finger on an important question, but although he concludes his article with the statement that “the growing body of circumstantial evidence for a unified Mycenaean state now seems overwhelming,” I am afraid that we are no closer to solving this thorny problem. That will require close, sustained engagement with the Hittite and the Mycenaean evidence.

Reblog: Advanced imaging of the Linear B tablets from Pylos

This summer I co-directed (with Kevin Pluta) a project in which we began advanced imaging (RTI and 3D scanning) of the Linear B tablets from the “Palace of Nestor” at Pylos (modern Ano Englianos). These tablets are now housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.  I’ve written a couple of blog posts elsewhere about the project: one for the website of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), through which we applied for our permit, and another for the Archaeological Computing Research Group (ACRG) at the University of Southampton, a member of whom, Hembo Pagi, trained us in RTI. The posts say the same thing, more or less, to slightly different audiences. You can read the stories here (ASCSA) and here (ACRG).

3D scanning with Jim Newhard and Ben Rennison

3D scanning with Jim Newhard and Ben Rennison

IMG_0657

RTI with Dimitri Nakassis

IMG_0696

RTI with Jami Baxley

IMG_0444

RTI with Kevin Pluta (left) and Hembo Pagi (right)

Geography and a Greek “culture of freedom”?

I recently had the opportunity to begin reading Christian Meier’s “A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece & the Origins of Europe” (Oxford University Press 2011), a translation of the first two parts of his seven-part history of Europe. Several reviews of the book have already come out in academic journals (CJ, CP) and in the popular press (THES, WSJ). The book seeks to answer “how the Greeks came about… how they developed into a culture that was so different from all the other magnificent high cultures that emerged before and beside them in world history.” (286) The answer, not surprising given the title, is freedom: “With the Greeks, the motor [of culture] was freedom, specifically, a broad circle of free men in many cities, who saw themselves challenged to secure and expand their free way of life against all encroachments.” (286)

I have to say that so far I find the book deeply problematic. For the moment, I’ll leave aside the politics, which I would characterize as triumphant Occidentalism. Meier is writing to a broad audience, and he is covering a massive topic, so a certain amount of oversimplification is probably inevitable. But when an author talks over and over again about “the Greeks,” it’s hard not to think about bad undergraduate essays in introductory classes. For instance (14):

The Greeks’ defining characteristics were that they were first and foremost human beings, and not emperors, consuls, or senators; that they refused to be constrained by the rules of a class-segmented society…

I really don’t understand this. Was Augustus an emperor first and a human being second, whereas Perikles was a human being first and a general second? How could we know? Similar problems occur when Meier tries to explain the big events in Greek history. Thus, when discussing the 8th century “renaissance” and the rise of the polis, he writes (65):

In fact, it was probably only their intense contact with the Orient that allowed Greeks to jump immediately, almost without any transition, up to the next rung of the ladder of civilization without drastically changing their original nature.

What can this possibly mean? The “rung of the ladder of civilization” seems to appeal to some notion of unlineal evolution, a theory jettisoned already by the beginning of the 20th century. And how can Meier know what the “original nature” of the Greeks was, given that all of our literary evidence begins precisely during this early period?

The result of this extremely broad and diffuse level of discourse is that Meier is forced to manipulate the evidence so that it fits his schema. I doubt that this is intentional; he is simply not a master of all the material he discusses. But when this material is the end of the Greek Late Bronze Age, I think it is legitimate to take him to task. Here I want to focus on Meier’s discussion of geography and politics.

In his chapter on the “new beginning” in Greece after the destruction of Mycenaean palatial culture, Meier points out that the early city-states of the 8th century were typically small, and he points out that “landscape and climate encouraged the formation of small communities” (53). He then goes on to say that (53-54)

But geography alone cannot explain why Boeotia contained ten independent, only loosely associated poleis, or Rhodes three. Already in the Mycenaean period, topography had not proved a serious obstacle to the formation of larger political units. In that era, however, neighbouring territorial powers — Minoan Crete as well as the Hittite Empire in Asia Minor — seem to have provided the impetus for the formation of larger centrally ruled kingdoms. This may be part of the solution to the puzzle: in this sort of landscape, external impulses were necessary to stimulate the development of larger political units. In the centuries after 1200 BC and the collapse of the Hittite Empire, however, no Oriental power took an interest in the Aegean region.

It seems odd to characterize Mycenaean kingdoms are large political units. Were they really so anomalously large? Pyos, the kingdom whose political geography we know best, occupied about 2000 sq km, comparable to the territory of the polis of Athens. And in fact, the Classical polis that later occupied the same land was in fact larger than its Mycenaean predecessor — by over three times. As Meier himself points out, after the conquest of Messenia, Sparta controlled a territory of 7400 sq km.

We understand the political geography of other Mycenaean kingdoms less well, but they are not gargantuan in size. Knossos maximally controlled a territory of some 6400 sq km — which is still smaller than Classical Sparta. But Jan Driessen (2001) has argued that in fact the evidence from the Linear B texts suggests that Knossos “was not so much a territorial state as an economic enterprise” (99) that focused on particular types of activities in particular places. He suggests that the Knossian kingdom “monitored only one-third or one-fourth of the island” — that is, 2100-2800 sq km, about the same amount of territory at Pylos. The political geography of the Argolid is difficult to assess, but it is worth noting that there are a large number of Mycenaean centres in and around the Argive plain. The modern municipality of Argos covers only some 1000 sq km, although it does seem likely that the kingdom of Mycenae extended north and east into the Corinthia and the Epidauria. Thebes may have controlled a very large territory, although a note of caution has been sounded by Tom Palaima (2011) and Dakouri-Hild, who imagine a Theban polity in the 1000 sq km range, with influence extending to Amarynthos and Karystos. And I’d add, as a coda, that neither were the Neopalatial (“Minoan”) predecessors of the Mycenaean states very large: John Bennet (1990) has estimated that their territories were about 1000 sq km, with the largest being 1500 sq km.

In sum, then, Minoan and Mycenaean polities were not particularly large. They were probably larger on average that Classical poleis: for instance, according to Bennet, Classical and Hellenistic poleis on Crete had on average territories ca. 500 sq km, compared to the Minoan polities with territories twice as large on average. But it is also the case that there may have been many independent Mycenaean polities — say, for example, Aidonia — that skews our data towards the larger, better-known, and better-studied, Mycenaean polities.

So why does Meier insist on the large size of Mycenaean polities? Why doesn’t he cite Colin Renfrew’s (1975) Early State Module, which suggested that in many early civilizations, we find many small (ca 1500 sq km) polities? Perhaps its simple ignorance, but if so it is willful. Meier needs to differentiate Mycenaean culture from Greek culture (49):

As far as we can tell from the numerous and often grandiose remains, Mycenaean culture was monarchic in both organization and character. It was a palace culture, and Mycenaean kings seem to have ruled over large territories. These are two of the major differences between Mycenaean and post-Mycenaean Greek culture.

There is no road that leads from Mycenaean to polis-based culture. All the fundamentally new aspects of this latter culture, which turned world history on its head, could not have arisen easily, had the foundations, forms (and limitations) of the preceding epoch not been destroyed, and, notwithstanding a small and on the whole insignificant number of continuities, had the post-Mycenaean Greeks not had the chance to begin again from scratch.

So, Mycenaean polities are large because that makes them fundamentally different from Greek poleis, and it makes them fundamentally similar to other contemporary eastern kingdoms. Hence Meier mentions the large size of the Minoan palaces (which actually aren’t very large) and the Hittite Empire. But to compare the fairly small Aegean polities to the Hittites is absurd. For some reason, I can’t find any estimates of the size of the Hittite empire, but even if it was on quarter the size of modern Turkey, it covered 196,000 sq km. Meier seems to imagine that the Hittites influenced the Mycenaeans and stimulated the development of larger kingdoms, but how would this have actually worked? It’s entirely unclear.

I think it’s more likely that Meier sees the Mycenaeans are fundamentally non-Greek. After all, they did not create a culture “for freedom’s sake” (14), a phrase that recurs throughout the work. So the Mycenaeans weren’t really Greek, not in their politics (monarchy, not oligarchy or democracy), not in their political geography (big territorial states, not small independent poleis). So Meier needs to assert that Mycenaean polities were big territorial states, even when they’re not. By cutting the Mycenaeans out of Greek history, Meier can begin his history of Europe with the emergence of the polis. This is Europe’s elusive “zero hour.”

Maybe some people won’t mind that Meier stretches the truth a bit to capture a complex reality. To me, however, this is less history than European myth-making.

Bathing in the Bronze Age

One of the features I like best about Bill Caraher’s blog are his discussions of journal articles. This is, it seems to me, something that’s extraordinarily useful and easy to do in a blog, but doesn’t find easy expression in other media. Recently I read Joe Shaw’s “Bathing at the Mycenaean Palace of Tiryns” in the American Journal of Archaeology (2012). In the article, Shaw reconstructs the room with the “bathing slab” in the Mycenaean palace at Tiryns, shown here:

Shaw shows that the drilled sockets anchored a wooden bench with wooden panels underneath that slotted into wooden vertical supports. He reconstructs the bath complex (see below) and he then goes on to review evidence for bathing more broadly in the Aegean Bronze Age.

tiryns_bath_reconstruction

In some ways, this paper is pretty regular. By this I mean that it probably won’t show up in popular media (like, say, the BBC News), and it doesn’t represent an enormous methodological or theoretical breakthrough. But it’s remarkable nevertheless. First, it is a real model of how arguments should be made. Shaw weaves together past interpretations, architectural parallels from other sites on the Greek mainland and the island of Crete, and real common sense to make his argument in only 15 pages of text. Every sentence in his article is necessary, every sentence packs  punch. As a reader, I felt incredibly well taken care of, in the hands of someone who has thought hard and carefully. In fact, I’m sure that this is true. But this feeling is notable because this isn’t something I often encounter. More often, the text feels like an impediment to understanding rather than a guide. Second, it is a great example of an article that requires real mastery of Aegean architecture. It’s not the kind of article that just any Aegean prehistorian could have written. It requires a seasoned eye, one that’s been trained to look for details, and a mind that can rifle through a database of relevant parallels, and to bring them together to come up with a plausible and persuasive reconstruction.

This article has also forced me to reflect more broadly on bathing in the Greek Bronze Age. As Shaw points out, the more one thinks about bathing, the more important it does seem to be to Mycenaean elites. In this, Shaw shows, it is distinctive to the mainland: bathing is apparently not as important on the islands. There are large, well-appointed rooms for bathing at two (at least) mainland Mycenaean palaces: Pylos and Tiryns. Linear B tablets at Pylos record workers that concern themselves with bathing: there are 66 bath-workers (re-wo-to-ro-ko-wo, lewotrokhowoi, cf. Homeric λοετροχόος, on Aa 783, Ab 553; Ad 676 records their sons). The tablets also carefully record palatially-managed production of perfumed olive oil. Whether or not this oil was used in bathing ceremonies — as Shaw shows, it probably was — it is also concerned with care for the body. Shelmerdine (1985) has also suggested that perfumed oil was used to anoint textiles.

Much of the literature on bathing and the Aegean Bronze Age has focused on ritual aspects, such as ritual lustration. Shaw also draws attention to what we might call more practical concerns: care of guests and strangers who entered the palace, hot and dusty from the road, perhaps (Shaw, 555: “journey-worn guests”). But regardless of its ritual import, or its practical functions, it does seem possible that bathing and care for the body was a particular concern of the Mycenaean elite. It may have been strategy whereby some members of the elite distinguished themselves from others. (It’s impossible for me to write this without thinking of that scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”) Those resident in the palaces would have been particularly well-placed to bathe themselves more regularly and to anoint themselves with fragrant oils produced in palatial workshops. They probably wore special textiles, perhaps those produced by palatial workshops, like the texts at Knossos described as “of hekwetas type” (e-qe-si-jo), and other objects, like jewelry. Thus, Shaw’s article encourages us to see bathing as part of a larger suite of activities by which mainland elites in the Bronze Age arranged their bodily appearance, perhaps as a mode of distinction from those who could not afford to do so. Bathing, however, appears to be a particular concern of Mycenaean elites on the mainland, which suggests that such modes of bodily display were not homogeneous across the Aegean or throughout its history.