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

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

4

THE SUBJECTS OF THE WANAX: ASPECTS
OF MYCENAEAN SOCIAL STRUCTURE

John T. Killen

The Linear B tablets reveal the workings, at each of the centres at which documents have been found, of a redistributive 'revenue' or 'command' economy in which the key role in the movement of goods and the employment of labour is played, not by a market or money, but by the central palace itself. The palaces exercise control – albeit a selective one – over a large territory surrounding them (in the case of Knossos, for example, the centre and far west of Crete), and from these catchment areas extract large quantities of foodstuffs and raw materials, partly at least via a taxation system. This revenue is then redistributed, in the form of rations and working materials, to a very substantial workforce, located both at the centres themselves and in outlying districts, which produces goods to palace specification: metalwork, textiles, furniture, perfumed unguent, etc.1

One of the marked characteristics of this palace-directed workforce is the extreme degree of division of labour, or specialisation of function, within it. We learn from the tablets dealing with textile production, for instance, not only of workers who specialise in the production of particular types of cloth (like the tepe-ja and ko-u-re-ja, women who make the te-pa and ko-u-ra varieties of fabric respectively), but also workers who specialise in one of the numerous processes that are involved in producing textiles: a-ra-ka-te-ja, /ālakateiai/, 'distaff women', presumably spinners; pe-ki-ti-ra2, /pektriai/, 'combers' of wool or fabric; a-ke-ti-ri-ja/aze-ti-ri-ja, /askētriai/, 'decorators' of cloth; etc. This degree of specialisation could not have come about except through the intervention of the palaces, which by supplying the workers with both rations and working materials enable them to pursue these specialisms in a world without markets or money without anxiety about their means of subsistence. Indeed, once the palaces are destroyed, this extreme specialisation clearly ceases, as witness the disappearance from the Greek language in the post-Mycenaean period of nearly all the terms we have just mentioned: all that tend to survive are terms indicating broad areas of craft activity, like 'smith' and 'potter', not those reflecting much narrower specialisms (Morpurgo Davies 1979). In all

1 On the typology of the Mycenaean economy, see further Killen 1985; De Fidio 1987; De Fidio
1992.

-87-

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