Consuming Power: Kamares Ware in Protopalatial Knossos

Article excerpt


Around 1900 BC, shortly after the beginning of Middle Minoan in ceramic terms, the first palaces on Crete were constructed at Knossos and Phaistos (for locations see [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]). This marked the advent of what is known as the Protopalatial period. Despite the poor preservation of the early form of these palaces and an even greater dearth of information regarding the settlements which immediately preceded them, the mobilization of labour implied by the appearance of such monumental architecture was taken to indicate a watershed in terms of societal complexity (Cherry 1986: 21, 27). The palaces and their contents have been seen as directly reflecting economic power and control in terms of the production and/or redistribution of agricultural goods and items of material culture (Renfrew 1972: 296-7).

The appearance of the palaces marks the introduction of large, central buildings which use repeated architectural elements and formulae to create ceremonial space. That these either housed or represented a powerful elite has formed a fulcrum for the interpretation of Middle and Late Bronze Age (LBA) society not only in Crete, but also in the broader Aegean world.

An evolutionary view-point sees the introduction of the palaces as the result of a progression from a relatively simple level of socio-economic organization, based on reciprocity, to a complex system of the redistribution of goods whose circulation was effected and controlled by a central authority. The application of the label 'palace' to a number of successive buildings spanning the Middle and the beginning of the Late Bronze Age has obscured basic organizational differences between them. It is undeniable that the Linear B administrative archive of LBA Knossos shows a central authority controlling the movement of goods from outlying areas, as shown by specialist craft workshops of that period. Yet the function of the final use of the LBA palace has formed the basis of the assumption that the earlier Protopalatial palace structures were used in a similar fashion as primarily storage and re-distribution centres for the produce of the hinterland and as craft production centres (Renfrew 1972: 296-7).

While the exact size and plan of the palace at Knossos in its original form during Middle Minoan may never be reconstructable (MacGillivray 1994), the rich ceramic deposits associated with successive phases of construction and rebuilding of this First Palace provide invaluable evidence for the meaning and function of the building and the surrounding settlement. Large deposits of drinking and pouring vessels were found both within the palace in successive destruction horizons or outside, mainly as fills, the largest of which were sealed beneath the later West Court of the new palace building. While none of this pottery appears to come from its primary context of use, its sizable quantities and function suggest some form of large-scale, possibly ceremonial consumption of drink.

In this article we consider Kamares Ware: the high-quality, polychrome decorated pottery which can be argued to be symbolic of hierarchy and power in the Protopalatial period. The economic role of the Minoan palace is much debated, although most argue for its role as a centre of both the redistribution of subsistence goods and the production of specialized craft objects [e.g. Branigan 1987). It must be emphasized, however, that there is little, if any, clear evidence for pottery manufacture in Middle Minoan Central Crete [although see Carinci 1997) and the find contexts of Kamares Ware tell us where it was being consumed, but not necessarily where it was produced.

Defining Kamares Ware

The use of the term 'Kamares Ware' can be problematic (MacGillivray 1986; in press), but most would agree on the general criteria we outline below for describing a characteristic technique of decorating pottery found in restricted contexts in Middle Minoan. …