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

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

7

THE MYCENAEAN HERITAGE OF EARLY
IRON AGE GREECE

Oliver Dickinson

The title of this chapter raises a series of questions. What, to begin at the beginning, does 'Mycenaean' signify? Certainly not, in my view, the material culture of the whole of the southern Aegean in the later part of the Late Bronze Age. I say this because I find the term 'Mycenaean Crete', often used these days to signify Crete from Late Minoan IIIA, if not II, onwards, unhelpful. The fact that Linear B was used in parts of Crete is significant, but it should not be taken to mean that Crete was Mycenaean in the same way as mainland territories. There are very many similarities in the range of artefacts that was current in Crete and the Mycenaean region in the later phases of the Late Bronze Age, but nobody could mistake a tableful of Late Minoan III pottery for one of Late Helladic III, and Crete retained many distinctive traditions in burial customs, types of ritual site, and ritual practices–in which particular area, it may be noted, Crete did not adopt the highly characteristic Mycenaean terracotta figurines. Even the settlements may have had a rather different aspect, but the evidence bearing on this is not copious outside Crete.

So even in the thirteenth century BC 'Mycenaean' means something less than 'Aegean'–but what, precisely? There is not a single feature that could be considered typical of Mycenaean material culture that is equally prevalent in every part of the Mycenaean region, except the decorated pottery, and even this has a much wider range in some regions than others. In arguing for a fundamental continuity of a 'Greek' substratum from Middle Bronze Age to Iron Age, Anthony Snodgrass cited among the more spectacular attributes of Mycenaean culture 'Cyclopean walls, palace bureaucracies, built family-tombs, large-scale painting and miniature glyptic' (Snodgrass, Dark Age: 385). But of these only the tombs and glyptic may be considered truly widespread, and even here there are local variations. Chamber tombs are hard to find in most parts of Messenia and Thessaly, and the production of any but the simplest sealstones had died out well before the end of the Third Palace Period. It is a commonplace that Linear B tablets, the symbol of the palace bureaucracies, are found in only a very few places; inscribed stirrup jars have a slightly wider range, but if not local they are mostly 'imports' from one region, western Crete, and other items inscribed with Linear B are vanishingly rare.

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