Ancient Greece: From the Mycenaean Palaces to the Age of Homer

By Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy; Irene S. Lemos | Go to book overview

3

MYCENAEAN PALATIAL ADMINISTRATION

Cynthia W. Shelmerdine


1. INTRODUCTION

It is generally agreed that Mycenaean Greece consisted of a number of independent states, differing in size but quite similar in administrative structure. 'Palatial administration' is a vague phrase, which can encompass many kinds of social, political and economic characteristics. My focus here is administration in the strict sense of bureaucracy: the ways in which those in power organised the workings of a Mycenaean state, particularly its economic and industrial activities. Other participants in this conference report on the palace centres which were the home bases of these administrators, and about the people themselves, including the wanax who stood at their head. Here I consider more directly just how the state functioned bureaucratically.

That the administrative role of the palaces 'was not merely significant, but central and dominant' (Killen: forthcoming) is the first thing to say, and needs no special pleading. The very concentration of bureaucratic written texts almost exclusively at the centres themselves points in this direction, as does the exclusive focus of these records on matters of concern to the central elite. Another indicator is the hierarchical order which the ruler was able to impose on the towns/districts under his command. The latter is most visible at Pylos, where the state was divided into two provinces, within which district centres had intermediate levels of authority and responsibility in various types of transactions (Bennet 1998). Knossos also directed a hierarchy of second- and third-order settlements, though a provincial level is not explicitly named in the tablets (Bennet 1985, 1990). Certainly on Crete and probably also in Messenia (Bennet and Shelmerdine 2001; Shelmerdine 2001), the second-order centres had a history of autonomous power preceding the imposition of Mycenaean palatial rule. Their subsequent demotion is a reflection of the superior strength of the central authority.

The records kept in each state centre cover a variety of inventories and transactions, with essentially three variables: resources, processes and people. Resources involves the collection of some goods, both raw materials and finished products, and the disbursing of others. Processes refers to the manufacture, repair and other

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