BMCR 2008.03.43

Midea. The Megaron Complex and Shrine Area. Excavations on the Lower Terraces 1994-1997. Prehistory Monographs 20

, Midea: the Megaron Complex and shrine area : excavations on the lower terraces 1994-1997. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press, 2007. 1 online resource (2 volumes) : illustrations (some color), maps, plans (some color).. ISBN 9781623030452. $130.00.

Table of Contents

The excavations at the Mycenaean citadel of Midea, under the auspices of the Swedish Institute in Athens, are divided into three areas: the East Gate area, the West Gate area, and the lower terraces, where deposits are deeper than on the eroded surface of the hill. On these lower terraces Walberg has excavated since 1985; the first volume (henceforth Midea I) with the results of the excavations between 1985 and 1991 was published in 1998.1 That volume presented the evidence for a megaron on the lower terraces, suggesting an administrative role based on a sealing with a Linear B inscription and an inscribed coarse stirrup jar (Midea I, p. 177). A religious role was suggested by the presence of fragments from two large wheelmade figures (Midea I, 177), a stirrup jar with depictions of birds, flowers, double axes, and horns of consecration, and lead vessels (Midea I, p. 82).

The second volume (henceforth Midea ιἰ, which is reviewed here, presents the results of further and more extensive excavations on the Lower Terraces between 1994-1997; the speed with which this publication has been completed is laudable. The aim of these renewed excavations was “to obtain information about the sanctuary area and the megaron and their relation to adjacent buildings” (preface). Excavations focused on the megaron complex (Terrace 10) and the adjacent shrine area (Terrace 9). They provided limited further evidence for cult — the area east of the megaron, adjacent to the fortification wall, is now dubbed the “Shrine Area” — as well as for administration; it has much more to offer, however. I will first provide a brief overview over the most important findings, and then give a chapter-by-chapter description and appraisal of Midea II.

As is to be expected on this citadel with Cyclopean fortification walls, evidence for the Mycenaean LH IIIB phase is most extensive. The megaron complex, however, has a continuous sequence of λη ιιιβ strata. Bits and pieces of stratified earlier and later material complete the picture of the use and function of this small part of the citadel of Midea through time.

The Shrine Area is located, as at Mycenae, next to the Cyclopean fortification wall; due to safety concerns it could only partly be excavated. Architectural remains are limited to two LH IIIB phases. New evidence for cult in the shrine area consists of a miniature tripod offering table, a naturalistic female terracotta figurine, and a large terracotta stand (p. 197).

The megaron complex has evidence for two successive phases within LH IIIB, but early Mycenaean remains west of the megaron, consisting of a cistern and ducts, provide evidence for the early water management system on the citadel and attest to a strong central organization well before the palatial period. The first phase of the LH IIIB megaron, for which artificial terraces were constructed, consisted of the standard plan with courtyard, porch, main room, and back room. The second phase saw much building activity. The main room now had a large hearth, slightly off-center, surrounded by four columns. The back room was divided into two and in the large open courtyard west (i.e. in front of) the megaron various new small rooms were built. Two of these yielded additional evidence suggestive of cult activity (a platform, a rhyton, spouted conical bowls, miniature vessels, and the head of a terracotta snake, probably from a ritual vessel, p. 197). The entrance to the cistern was rebuilt such that access was restricted and controlled. North of the megaron additional rooms were built as well; in one of them three nodules were found, suggesting that this may have been the locus of administration. The frantic building activity of the second LH IIIB phase suggests a need for more specialized and separate spaces, and a more centralized and dominant controlling power. The LH IIIB period was ended by a destruction caused by an earthquake and accompanying fires. After a brief gap (indicated by the lack of λη ιιιβ Transitional pottery) the complex was rebuilt in LH IIIC Early or early Middle. The central row of columns which now replaced the four columns around the central hearth indicates that the building had at this time a pitched roof, similar to other known LH IIIC megaron buildings.

After a brief introduction, which provides a useful overview of the main findings, the book starts with an extensive chapter on stratigraphy (Chapter I, pp. 5-59). Per trench, each stratum is described briefly but meticulously in terms of soil, depth, period, and selected significant finds; where applicable, a description of context (room, floor level etc.) with information on architecture and find deposits is given as well. At the end the stratigraphic sequence for the trench is summarized. Cross references to plans, maps, and figures are accurate.

Chapter II (pp. 61-90) is devoted to the architecture. The chapter opens with a description of architectural phases per area. Given the organization of the volume, there is some unavoidable overlap between this section and the stratigraphy section, and again between this section and the last section of the present chapter which discusses the technical aspects of the walls. The two sections in the architecture chapter could perhaps have been combined to lessen the leafing back and forth to which the reader is subjected (though cross references are excellent). The discussion of the megaron is very detailed but at the same time contains many observations which are interesting to the beginning student as well (e.g. on p. 67 re: the four columns around the central hearth in LH IIIB versus the row of central columns in LH IIIC). An excursus on Mycenaean roofs provides a useful summary over the debate regarding pitched versus flat roofs; the evidence from the megaron at Midea, where only one rooftile was found, may suggest a flat roof for the megaron, although the hearth was placed off center, which might reflect a concern for the integrity of a central roof pole (p. 66).

After this description, there are sections on infrastructure: the road from the citadel (perhaps not quite fitting in the architecture chapter, but admittedly too brief a section to warrant its own chapter) and the water management system. A brief section on a drainage duct discovered in 1990 is confusing as to orientation of the duct, which is not shown on the plans; the following discussion of the more recently discovered ducts west of the megaron is however excellent. These six early Mycenaean ducts, similar to drainage ducts known from other sites, are connected with two cisterns and were evidently meant for the collection and storage of water. This was a crucial aspect for Midea, since the citadel does not have a spring within its walls (p. 74). A table with detailed information on the walls (lengths, size of building blocks, date, type, etc) follows. The chapter finishes with an extensive description of techniques and constructions of the walls (78-90) by a different author (possibly the reason for its separation from the main architectural descriptions); it follows the same rigorous standards as the previous sections. Dating to Early Mycenaean is a stretch of Cyclopean wall, cut by the southern megaron wall, which may have belonged to an early predecessor of the megaron; it is contemporary with the earliest Dendra tombs, and three Early Mycenaean sword pommels found in a LH IIIC niche in the later megaron may be associated with it. The importance of the Early Mycenaean evidence, scanty though it may be, is great since it forms proof of Early Mycenaean organization and prepares us for the ‘sudden’ appearance of Cyclopean fortification walls in LH IIIB.

Chapter III (pp. 91-168) deals with the prehistoric pottery.2 All phases from the Final Neolithic through the LH IIIC are represented except for Transitional λη ιιιβ. The Final Neolithic material lacks large storage vessels, which leads to inferences of a ‘special purpose’ for the site in that period; the evidence is too poor however to determine the nature of that purpose. MH pottery attests to contacts with the Cyclades and possibly Crete; pottery from the Early Mycenaean phase however indicates a greater orientation towards Central Greece and the Saronic Gulf. The imported plain and coarse pottery from western Anatolia, all found in stratified IIIB and IIIC contexts, though not in all cases undisputed as to origin or period (see p. 165 note 494 about Cat. No. 2098), attests to the wide ranging contacts during the LH IIIB (Troy VI) and, perhaps surprisingly, IIIC phases (Troy VIIa); Baumann draws attention to the fact that similar potters’ marks appear at Troy and Midea (p. 165).

This chapter suffers slightly from Walberg’s apparent willingness to accommodate specialists or students wishing to work on a type of pottery, which results in unnecessary fragmentation of the material, also observed in the previous chapter: there are separate sections on LH I-LH IIIA2 Mycenaean pottery, on LH IIIB decorated pottery, on LH IIIC pottery, on Mycenaean pictorial pottery, Mycenaean plain ware, and Mycenaean coarse ware. Although the divisions are certainly defendable, and this ‘cutting up’ of the material may in fact have contributed to the speed with which the volume went to press, the individual contributions could perhaps have been coordinated better. As is, since various authors are responsible for the various sections, organization of the different categories varies too (e.g. the order or manner of presentation, the sort of information put into tables if tables are used at all; especially the section on LH IIIB pottery follows a different organization). This lack of consistency also affects the catalogue in Chapter VII: pre-Mycenaean pottery and plainware have information about inclusions (type, size, and density) but all decorated Mycenaean pottery lacks that information, which seems odd given the emphasis on ‘wares’ throughout.

Chapter IV (pp. 167-188) is devoted to the small finds. Organization, apart from the architectural elements with which the chapter opens and separate discussions of figurines and whorls, follows the traditional divisions by material, with the result that two early Mycenaean ivory sword pommels are discussed on p. 170 and appear in the catalogue on p. 295, while two stone pommels from the same period (and, in fact, the same deposit: a LH IIIC niche in the megaron, where these valuable heirlooms were evidently stored) appear in the catalogue on p. 319. As elsewhere, however, here too cross references are excellent. All finds receive equal attention: simple cobbles (pp. 180-181) are treated with the same respect as the aforementioned sword pommels. The presence of an unfinished seal and unfinished beads suggests a seal and bead cutter’s workshop (p. 182), an interesting addition to the evidence for a glass workshop presented in Midea I (pp. 157; 166).

All evidence for the Roman and Byzantine periods, including small finds and pottery, is appropriately enough discussed in a separate chapter: Chapter V (pp. 189-194). The Late Roman period appears to have been poor and may have ended violently.

Chapter VI (pp. 195-199) provides a useful summary of the evidence from the Lower Terraces; since almost 2 out of the 4.5 pages are in fact devoted to pre-LH IIIB remains it is oddly subtitled “the Lower Terraces from the 13th, 12th, and 11th centuries B.C. to the Roman and Byzantine period.”

The book concludes with a finds catalogue (Chapter VII, 201-338), pottery statistics tables (Chapter VIII, pp. 339-387), and four appendices, on faunal remains, human remains, fingerprints on pottery, and chipped stone. The catalogue entries in Chapter VII unfortunately lack a ‘preserved size’ indication. The pottery statistics tables in Chapter VIII are organized solely by ware, which severely limits their use for making chronological inferences: all Mycenaean decorated (or monochrome, or plain) wares, for example, are listed together without chronological distinction. In this case the non-specialist reader should also be aware that ‘Middle Helladic’ wares such as Polychrome Matt Painted and White-on-Burnished-Dark correspond chronologically to LH I. Walberg and her team are well aware of this.3 The fingerprint study suggests that during LH IIIB most potters were adult men, while in LH IIIC they were predominantly adult females or youngsters; this is tentatively connected with a professional nature of pottery production during the palatial period, which was supplanted by a domestic mode of production during LH IIIC.

The organization of the book is very thematic, which contributes to the clarity of discussions; the level of detail is very high. Handily, all figures and plates are printed in a separate volume. A pocket in the back contains two fold-out plans of the citadel, a state plan of the megaron area, and a beautiful color coded reconstruction plan of megaron and shrine area. Plans (by Markou) and drawings of finds (not clear by whom) are professional. The two volumes are beautifully produced, on high-quality paper.

There are some minor editing errors (e.g. p. 71 footnote 68: page number is missing from reference), and an unfortunate publishing error occurs on the cover (but not on the spine) of volume 1, which is labeled identical to volume 2 as “Figures and plates.” In another, minor publishing error, the font got scrambled in the caption of Figure 126, no. 1412.

All in all, this is a high quality professional publication, with a clear and detailed presentation of the evidence and sober and sensible interpretations.


1. G. Walberg. 1998. Excavations on the Acropolis of Midea. Results of the Greek-Swedish Excavations Vol. I: The Excavations on the Lower Terraces 1985-1991, Stockholm.

2. Late Roman and Byzantine pottery are discussed together with other evidence for these periods in Chapter V.

3. Walberg in Midea II, p. 97; Kramer in Midea II, p. 112; see also J.L. Kramer, “Analysis and Classification of the LH I Pottery in the Northeastern Peloponnese of Greece” (diss. Univ. of Cincinnati 2004).