Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.57

Michael L. Galaty, William A. Parkinson (ed.), Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces II. Revised and Expanded Second Edition. Cotsen Institute Monograph 60.   Los Angeles:  Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA, 2007.  Pp. x, 254;  figs. 54, tables 6.  ISBN 978-1-931745-42-0.  $40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto (
Word count: 2652 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

[Disclaimer: the reviewer is co-authoring an article with the editors and has been a colleague of several contributors.]

This volume consists of a reprint of the first edition of Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces (Chapters 2-12) with six new additions: a new introduction by the editors (Chapter 1) and five new papers (Chapters 13-17) that expand the scope of the original. Like its predecessor, it is an important addition to the study of the Mycenaean world and deserves a place on the shelf of scholars and advanced students interested in the Aegean Bronze Age or early states. Since the first edition was not reviewed by BMCR,1 I begin with a general discussion of it before reviewing the new contributions of the second edition.

The first edition of Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces (RMP 1) was the result of a symposium held at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in 1997 and was published in 1999. As the choice of venue suggests, one of the major goals of the symposium, and indeed the volume, was to stimulate dialogue between the fields of Mycenaean studies and archaeology, especially anthropological archaeology. To this end, the editors advocated the integration of textual and material evidence, and that studies of Mycenaean palaces be situated within general anthropological models in order to facilitate cross-cultural comparison. RMP 1 succeeded in the former goal, but only partially in the latter. There was not much cross-cultural comparison in RMP 1 (9), although it did raise awareness among Aegean prehistorians of concepts widely used in American archaeology, such as staple vs. wealth finance and corporate vs. networked systems of political economy.

The origin of RMP 1 in the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP) is also notable. Most of the contributors were participants in PRAP, and survey data was presented and interpreted in several papers. Consequently, many of the contributions in RMP 1 took the region (rather than the site) as the unit of analysis, and were particularly interested in interpreting the nature of palatial control by analyzing the spatial distribution of various economic activities. Just as PRAP was part of the "new wave" of Aegean survey, RMP 1 was progressive in its use of fine-grained survey data to understand how a political center interacted with its hinterland.

Finally, RMP 1 was a text engaged in an active dialogue. Many of the papers, including the introduction by the editors (Chapter 2), were vigorous polemics against prevailing models of Mycenaean palatial economy and the methods used to study it. The papers were followed by two critical responses, one by John Cherry and Jack Davis, the other by John Killen (Chapters 11 and 12 respectively). These critiques, along with a postscript by Emmett Bennett, Jr., preserve a sense of the dynamics of the original symposium. More importantly, they bring into sharp focus the different possibilities of interpretation and the consequences of these interpretations for our understanding of the Mycenaean world. The central theme of RMP 1 was the extent and nature of Pylos' economic control over its kingdom as a whole. Most contributors argued that palatial control was partial and based largely on a wealth finance system designed to increase the prestige of the rulers and to secure the allegiance of local elites.

In sum, RMP 1 was an important contribution to the study of Mycenaean states and continues to stimulate discussion and research. It shattered the traditional image of the palace as an institution which commanded all aspects of economy and society, and thereby encouraged analysis of the mechanisms and strategies by which the palace exerted control over some areas but not others. The second edition (RMP 2), published 10 years after the symposium in 1997, is a timely contribution to the field. The new chapters both build and expand upon the first edition. A new introduction by the editors (Chapter 1) evaluates RMP 1 and reviews research on Mycenaean states over the past decade, and Schon (Chapter 13) further develops the discussion of wealth finance in RMP 1 through an analysis of chariot production and consumption at Pylos. Expanding upon RMP 1 are chapters that consider state formation in the Corinthia by Pullen and Tartaron (Chapter 14), Mycenaean Thessaly and the newly excavated complex at Dimini by Adrimi-Sismani (Chapter 15), the politics of Late Bronze Age Knossos by Driessen and Langohr (Chapter 16), and the evidence for international trade by Cline (Chapter 17).

In their wide-ranging 2007 introduction, Galaty and Parkinson provide a valuable review of scholarship on Mycenaean states since 1997, focusing particularly on theoretical models. They furthermore provide a sketch of a comparative approach to Mycenaean state formation, in which they argue that Mycenaean states were "networked" in contrast to Minoan states, which were "corporate." They suggest that Mycenaean states can be usefully compared with Lowland Maya states.2 This paper not only shows how models developed in the New World can help Aegean archaeologists, but also illustrates how models developed for the Aegean (specifically Wright's analysis of settlement patterns in the northeastern Peloponnese) can be applied fruitfully to non-Aegean contexts. It should be read alongside Tartaron's recent review of Aegean prehistory, which likewise emphasizes the utility of increased communication between Greek prehistory and other archaeological discourses.3

In Chapter 13, Robert Schon begins by considering chariot manufacture at Pylos, combining archaeological and textual data to argue that the Northeastern Building at Pylos was a secondary workshop for the final assembly of chariots. Uses of chariots, which include warfare and status display, he maintains, ultimately served the ideological and material interests of the palatial elite. Finally, he argues that chariot production was part of an efficient system of palatially-controlled industries, whose products communicated the power of the palatial authority. His analysis of how elite products worked in combination with each other is an important advance in studies of Mycenaean political economy, and is a valuable supplement to the discussion of wealth finance in RMP 1. His treatment of ideology, however, I find problematic. For Schon, state ideology is an artificial creation of the palatial elite, materialized through goods produced by attached craft specialists, and wielded as a blunt instrument of propaganda to convince a passive populace of the palace's importance (142-144). To argue as Schon does that "once the palace materialized its ideology in the form of its manufactured elite craft goods, the task remained to communicate this ideology to a target audience" (143) ignores the fact that this state ideology was embedded within other cultural traditions, and would have been the result of a complex historical development involving negotiation, manipulation and contestation.

In Chapter 14, Daniel Pullen and Thomas Tartaron examine the power dynamics of the Late Bronze Age Corinthia. They argue that it was a "political periphery" (146) squeezed by the emerging powers of Kolonna and Mycenae, with the former controlling the Saronic Gulf and the latter exerting influence over land. Settlement patterns on the northern Corinthian plain are stable and characterized by a few major long-lasting sites (such as Korakou, Gonia and Perdikaria). These factors explain for Pullen and Tartaron the non-emergence of the Corinthia as a power center in Mycenaean Greece, despite its favorable location for agriculture and trade. The paper is an example of the rich narratives that can be produced by archaeologists working in the Aegean, who benefit from a long history of archaeological research and a critical mass of regional projects, especially in the northeastern Peloponnese. Such syntheses rebut the criticism that intensive Mediterranean survey is poorly suited to address issues of cross-cultural interest, such as the development of complex societies.4

The geographical expansion of RMP's coverage continues in Chapter 15 on Mycenaean Thessaly. Vassiliki Adrimi-Sismani provides us with valuable data on the new excavations at Dimini, which include houses, a formal road and an architectural complex with two large "megara." Her contribution reviews a wealth of survey and excavation data on a regional level in order to define the nature of settlement in Late Bronze Age Thessaly. Adrimi-Sismani forcefully argues that Thessaly was within the Mycenaean sphere because it undergoes "the same social history as the rest of the Mycenaean world" (177) and shares certain traits with the Mycenaean heartland, such as the Linear B script. Yet Thessaly does not seem to experience the competition in elite display that characterizes the early Mycenaean period in southern Greece, nor is there evidence in Thessaly for the use of Linear B to record administrative transactions (which is its only use in other Mycenaean centers). Perhaps we should not ask whether Thessaly is Mycenaean or not, but rather consider the social processes by which Mycenaean material culture is produced, reproduced and adopted over time and space.

We move next to Crete in Chapter 16, in which Jan Driessen and Charlotte Langohr explore the use of the past to legitimate the consolidation of Knossian control in LM IB-IIIA2. Rather than seeing the change in administration as a shift in ethnic terms, with invading Mycenaeans wresting control from local Minoans, Driessen and Langohr see changing cultural identities which could be manipulated by elite groups. Thus, the changes in material culture during the Late Bronze Age can be understood as the formation of a new identity that borrowed forms from Neopalatial Crete and the Greek mainland, and which ultimately served the needs of a new Knossian regime. The invention of the Linear B script, they argue, was a political move to introduce new administrative practices and to tighten control. Their focus on identity rather than ethnicity is a productive conceptual move, but it effectively means that it does not matter whether the ruling elite of LM II-III Knossos included Greek-speaking mainlanders or not, since both locals and newcomers could assume new Knossian identities. Driessen and Langohr seem to argue that these individuals were local Minoans, although Driessen himself has shown that more than half of the personal names from the Room of the Chariot Tablets can be interpreted as Greek (see too 14).5 While this could also be explained as part of this new identity (i.e. resident Minoans taking on transparently Greek names), it is simpler and more plausible to posit that Late Bronze Age Knossos was a locus of cultural and linguistic interaction between Cretans and mainlanders where hybrid identities could be formed.

In the last of the new contributions, Eric Cline reviews the evidence for Mycenaean international trade, which includes imports found on the Greek mainland and Mycenaean products found in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Cyprus and Egypt. Cline rightly emphasizes that this material is an important, if incomplete, data set for understanding the complex trading networks of the Late Bronze Age in the Mediterranean. The palatial centers of the Greek mainland, Cline argues, were tightly integrated into a "world system" of directional trade, particularly at the end of the Late Bronze Age (LH IIIB-C).

The editorial quality of this volume is high. There are some mistakes in the way that Greek and Linear B words are handled (φερο for φέρω, αγο for ἄγω, αρμοσις for ἅρμοσις, which incidentally means "tuning" in Classical Greek, not "the joining or fitting of items" [145]; Linear B words are sometimes misspelled). Some figures are not of publication quality (16.4, 17.2). It is unfortunate that citations of articles from RMP 1 by the new contributions are given in the pagination of that edition and not in the pagination of RMP 2 (e.g., "Cherry and Davis 1999:98" is cited on page 15 of RMP 2 rather than "Cherry and Davis, this volume, 126"). As a result, one must consult RMP 1 when a specific page is cited.

RMP 2 shares many of the characteristics of its predecessor. It continues to have the feel of a dialogue; a number of the articles are not the final word on a topic so much as hypotheses to be tested and refined over time. For example, Pullen and Tartaron's discussion of the Corinthia will no doubt be improved and modified after they have completed their detailed study of the important harbor site of Korfos on the Saronic Gulf. Cline's chapter closes with the proposition that the cessation of international trade probably played a major role in the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces, which rightly implies that more data and improved models are needed to address this issue adequately.

There is also a tension, as there was in RMP 1, between what is advocated by the editors and the approaches of individual chapters. For example, Galaty and Parkinson's call for, and use of, comparative approaches contrasts with the historical models of most contributors. The arguments of the new contributions are compelling precisely because they explain phenomena as the product of particular social and historical contexts. The editors seem to be saying, rightly so, that Aegean prehistory needs both comparative and particularizing approaches. The two can even be combined, as recent studies of feasting have shown.6 As a social practice with specific cultural forms, the feast is amenable to historical analysis or approaches based on practice theory, but since it is also a widespread practice cross-culturally, it (like gift exchange) can also be fruitfully subjected to comparative study.

The integration of material and text at different scales of analysis was one of the goals of both editions of RMP (23). This ideal was not always achieved, as John Killen's response in RMP 1 points out, and textual mistakes are also present in the new contributions.7 These errors do not invalidate any major arguments, but I note them because they demonstrate a lack of familiarity with the textual evidence and its scholarly literature. This fact unfortunately prevents the successful integration of Linear B and archaeology, and thereby frustrates advances in the study of Mycenaean states.

In conclusion, both editions of RMP make important contributions toward increased communication between two divides: one between anthropological and Aegean archaeology, the other between archaeologists and textual scholars. The bridging of these gaps is an important task and a prerequisite for progress in understanding the full complexity of Mycenaean states. As the editors note (17), much work remains to be done. This new edition is a significant and much-needed step in the right direction.


Acknowledgments, vii
1. 2007 Introduction: Mycenaean Palaces Rethought, Michael L. Galaty and William A. Parkinson, 1-17
Part I. Mycenaean Palaces: The 1999 Text
2. 1999 Introduction: Putting Mycenaean Palaces in Their Place, Michael L. Galaty and William A. Parkinson, 21-28
3. Pylos: The Expansion of a Mycenaean Palatial Center, John Bennet, 29-39
4. Administration in the Mycenaean Palaces: Where's the Chief? Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, 40-46
5. Mycenaean Polities: States or Estates? David B. Small, 47-53
6. Palaces, Sanctuaries, and Workshops: The Role of the Religious Sector in Mycenaean Economics, Susan Lupack, 54-65
7. Toward a Model of Mycenaean Palatial Mobilization, Paul Halstead, 66-73
8. Wealth Ceramics, Staple Ceramics: Pots and the Mycenaean Palaces, Michael L. Galaty, 74-86
9. Chipping Away at a Mycenaean Economy: Obsidian Exchange, Linear B, and "Palatial Control" in Late Bronze Age Messenia, William A. Parkinson, 87-101
10. Flaked Stone and the Role of the Palaces in the Mycenaean World System, P. Nick Kardulias, 102-113
11. Critique: A View from the Tablets, John T. Killen, 114-117
12. An Archaeological Homily, John F. Cherry and Jack L. Davis, 118-127 Postscript to the 1999 Edition, Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., 128-129
Part II. Mycenaean Palaces: The 2007 Contributions
13. Chariots, Industry, and Elite Power at Pylos, Robert Schon, 133-145
14. Where's the Palace? The Absence of State Formation in the Late Bronze Age Corinthia, Daniel J. Pullen and Thomas F. Tartaron, 146-158
15. Mycenaean Northern Borders Revisited: New Evidence from Thessaly, Vassiliki Adrimi-Sismani, 159-177
16. Rallying 'round a "Minoan" Past: The Legitimation of Power at Knossos during the Late Bronze Age, Jan Driessen and Charlotte Langohr, 178-189
17. Rethinking Mycenaean International Trade with Egypt and the Near East, Eric H. Cline, 190-200
Bibliography, 201-244
Editor Biographies, 245
List of Contributors, 246
Index, 247-254


1.   The first edition was reviewed by Thomas G. Palaima, "Wannabe wanaks' power rise," The Times Higher Education Supplement June 9, 2000, 31, and by Jeremy B. Rutter, American Journal of Archaeology 105 (2001) 345.
2.   This analysis has been published in more detail in William A. Parkinson and Michael L. Galaty, "Secondary States in Perspective: An Integrated Approach to State Formation in the Prehistoric Aegean," American Anthropologist 109 (2007) 113-129.
3.   Thomas Tartaron, "Aegean Prehistory as World Archaeology: Recent Trends in the Archaeology of Bronze Age Greece," Journal of Archaeological Research 16 (2008) 83-161.
4.   Richard Blanton, "Mediterranean Myopia," Antiquity 75 (2001) 627-629.
5.   Jan Driessen, The Scribes of the Room of the Chariot Tablets at Knossos: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Study of a Linear B Deposit. Minos Supplement 15 (Salamanca 2000) 191. See too Lydia Baumbach, "An Examination of the Personal Names in the Knossos Tablets as Evidence for the Social Structure of Crete in the Late Minoan II Period" in Minoan Society, edited by O. Krzyszkowska and L. Nixon (Bristol 1983) 3-10.
6.   James C. Wright (ed.), The Mycenaean Feast. Hesperia 73.2 (Princeton 2004). Paul Halstead and John C. Barrett (edd.), Food, Cuisine and Society in Prehistoric Greece. Sheffield Studies in Aegean Archaeology 5 (Oxford 2004). For comparative analysis of feasting, see Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden (edd.), Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics and Power (Washington, DC 2001).
7.   Among the errors are the following: the reading ka-ra-wi-jo is incorrect, it should be ka-ra-wi-so (137). This individual almost certainly has a ta-ra-si-ja (137), since he receives bronze, and smiths described by the adjective a-ta-ra-si-jo (*atala(n)sioi, "without an allotment") are by definition not recipients of bronze. The word a-ta-la-si-ja does not exist (137). No last names are known in Linear B, much less permanent ones (143); indeed, even patronymics are rare. The word ku-pi-ri-jo is a personal name at Pylos, not an ethnic adjective (199). Terms such as mi-ra-ti-ja are ethnic adjectives and should be translated as such: "Milesian [women]," not "Miletus" (199).

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