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

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

10

THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF BASILEIS

Alexander Mazarakis Ainian

The general title of my chapter is undoubtedly a very broad one and I certainly do not intend to cover the whole topic within the following pages. Since my aim is to discuss the material evidence for the existence of basileis in Early Iron Age Greece, I choose to limit myself to a few case studies which in my opinion can contribute towards a better understanding of the position of the basileus from the tenth to the eighth centuries BC.

The material evidence for identifying an individual of high status, who could have been a basileus, can be divided into direct and indirect. The former consists of tombs with prestige goods and status symbols, especially bronze urn cremations which were associated both in Greece and Cyprus with top-ranking individuals, high status and social distinction (Morris 1999; Crielaard 1998b). In this group one could also include a series of 'Homeric' burials, especially of warriors (Whitley 2002; Mazarakis Ainian 2000b: 172–7). Other direct evidence concerns the identification of hero cults (Antonaccio, Ancestors; Deoudi 1999; Hagg 1999; Boehringer 2001), especially at tombs of the recently deceased, and of the actual dwellings which could have belonged to basileis or to members of the elite. The discovery of prestige goods, antiques, status symbols and ritual meals found usually in sanctuaries could also point indirectly to an elite visiting an important sanctuary which functioned as a wider arena for competitive display of valued objects (Morgan, Oracles; Fagerstrom 1993; de Polignac, Origins). Narrative art, through which the aristocrats of the Late Geometric period aimed in underlining their status or even their heroic descent, may be regarded as one additional type of such indirect evidence of displaying them (Snodgrass 1998; Hurwit 1985: 124).

Numerous scholars have dealt with the topic of the basileus in Early Iron Age Greece (notably Drews 1983; Carlier, Royauté; van Wees, Status Warriors; Lenz 1993; Weiler 2001). Here I will concentrate on a few case studies, that is to say sites which have yielded evidence for the existence of buildings which may have belonged or been used by members of the elite, perhaps basileis, dated between the eleventh and the early seventh centuries BC. The common feature of the cases discussed is that the occupants of these buildings appear to have been implicated in the supply, control or manufacture of metal items of prestige. I will argue that

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