The script Linear B. The Mycenaean culture had

The
‘Mycenaean’ term originally derives from the location of Mycenae, based in the
Peleponnese. They were known to be the first civilization to speak and write in
Greek scripture, for example, the syllabic script Linear B. The Mycenaean
culture had been one to take over and conquer other lands such as the Aegean
Islands, and had been influenced by the Helladic civilization that had
prospered throughout Greece ever since the time of 3000 BCE. It is evident that
their relation to the Helladic, and even Mediterranean cultures had inspired
the Greeks to evolve their own culture and identity by developing their
architecture and art, as collected tablets and archaeological sources from
excavations proves this.

   As such, their architectural developments
had made the Mycenaean kingdom home to its site of many profound fortified
palaces, and in modern archaeology, Heinrich Schliemann’s diggings made a
glorified breakthrough during the mid 1870’s; antiquities were discovered that
had been said to correspond and resemble Homer’s descriptions regarding King
Agamemnon’s palace. However, the materials and objects found during this
excavation, along with further research, showed that the Mycenaean civilization
had been an affluent and aristocratic society within the Late Bronze Age (LBA),
meaning that they also had a hierarchy of classes, and said to have had
palace-operating assemblies. The Mycenaean’s were also known to be
warrior-like, as it was said that King Agamemnon had led them into the Trojan
war. As such, within this essay, I will discuss the possibility of whether the political
communities of the Late Bronze Age mainland (Mycenaean) Greece can be
considered a ‘palace state.’ Although, before answering this question directly,
I would want to firstly consider both religious practices and political
aspects; examining both their roles and influence on the Mycenaean society, and
then Mycenae’s political bodies and its development, before concluding whether
the political communities of the Late Bronze Age mainland Greece should be
considered a ‘palace state.’

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   That being said, there is very limited knowledge
in regards to the religious practices within the Mycenaean kingdom, beyond the
fact that they would give their displayed sacrificial offerings to the gods, for
example; placing them on the altar before feasting during a Greek festival, and
then offering their consumptions of food and drink. They would have even
arranged to have had communal feasts in honour of their gods. There were also religious
practices during the time of burial as valuable objects were found buried with
the dead, for example; different types of weaponry; daggers, swords, and helms.

They would have had masks buried with them, accompanied by jewelry and gold. It would be likely to assume that
these items would have been blessed before placing them within the burial tomb.

Many historians believe that the Mycenaean civilization were either
polytheistic (believing in several deities), or syncretistic (combining several
beliefs into one). Some of their deities’ names occasionally appear in Linear A
and B scripture, and can also be recognized as part of Greek mythology, such as
Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, etc.

   Moreover, to pray and worship to
these gods, there had been certain building complexes found within citadels
that had a room known as the ‘Megaron’ that would have been situated near a
palace complex. Additionally, there have been many discoveries of shrines being
located, for example at Phylakopi, Melos, that had contained several statuettes
that were likely placed there as religious offerings for the gods.

   In ancient Greek literature, it was said
that the political positions during this period was that each of the Mycenaean
provinces were governed by the palaces, for example; in Tiryns, Pylos, and
Thebes. It is not well known as to how each of the structures were related,
only that they had shared cultural aspects such as archaeology, pottery making,
weaponry, and scripture. It is very possible that they were all governed under
the same political body. The structures located in Tiryns and Pylos were
constructed and assembled on top of hills or elevated areas that would have
made it look more compelling when built. Although the structures within Mycenae
and Menelaion are not as well preserved, the remains of Pylos and Tiryns
(recorded as one of the oldest) are. Other great palace foundations were found
at most of these structures, and they all shared a significant amount of detail
in terms of their construction and architectural bearings. They were also built
around a Megaron, which is known to be the predecessor for the well renowned
classical and archaic art styles.

   Furthermore, the state itself had been ruled
by a King known as the Wanax. Considering that the Mycenaean religion
played a big part within the government, the Wanax also had to be a part of the
religious community, and was most likely present at religious ceremonies. According
to Jorrit Kelder, a classical archaeologist, in his book ‘A Great King of Mycenae,’ the Wanax was also “known as a local
monarch, ruling from a palatial centre and controlling (to a large extent) the
surrounding region.”1 The Wanax was
said to oversee what was known as the ‘palatial lifestyle;’ governing those who
worked within the palaces, military operations, and religious practises such as
feasting, and distributing edible goods. In addition to this, Adriel Trott, a
Greek and contemporary European philosopher, states in her article ‘Mycenae: Sites, Stories and Political
Structure’ that the “Mycenaean
civilization is especially interesting to me, as an ancient political
philosopher, because the palace culture of the Mycenaean’s is the foil to
the polis.”2
Meaning that, to some extent, the “palace culture” had been structured to cater
those of an assembled and wealthy group that had been under the protection of
the Kings. As a result of this, I would consider that this
source of information, specifically that of Wanax’s political position, can
support the argument that the political aspects of mainland Greece during the
Late Bronze Age could be considered a ‘palace state.’

  
However, along with the Wanax, there had also been other political communities
and religious chiefs, such as the Telestai, who were likely also accountable
for religious practises in Mycenae. These practises include sacrificial and
non-sacrificial offerings, ceremonies, and other rituals. There are also other
theories as to who the Telestai were; according to other researchers and
classical scholars such as John Chadwick, in his book ‘The Mycenaean World,’ he states that “three Telestai together have lands of the same size as the King,”3
suggesting that the Telestai were landowners. Personally, I would argue that
this in fact would have perhaps reduced the value of the King’s wealth and
land, thus the Wanax’s authority.

   Moreover, there had also been other
political communities who had power belonging to them; those who were known as
‘monarchical rulers’ were never united among themselves, and would have managed
their territories alone and separately. These monarchical rulers would have
been identified by their titles and family names, and these rulers were in
control of redistributing austerity that would have included agricultural crops
and other produce being transported into well-known palaces, and then
proportioned for public use – this would have been the preferred method of
redistributing goods, as the idea of a ‘free market’ economy was not practised
among society. As such, the palace centres cultivated the overall control of
the local areas of distribution of agricultural goods and produce through the
careful management of the palace industry. I would guarantee this evidence to
support the argument that the Mycenaean’s were governed by a palatial state.

  
Additionally, the process of
this scheme would have been recorded in Linear B script and, according to John
Chadwick, in his book ‘The Mycenaean
World,’ he suggested that “what we can infer from the palace buildings is
that these are administrative centres, and in the Mycenaean period,
administration demanded written documents.”4
Therefore, it is likely that a great number of these preserved Linear B scripts
can also suggest the idea that the administers within the palatial structures
were also very much involved in the distribution schemes and taxation system.

Moreover, it can be said that those who oversaw these records had the
opportunity of learning how to read and write, which was not a very common
practise to learn within this period.

   Furthermore, this would also support the
theory that the Mycenaean society had a very clear hierarchy by differentiating
those by titles (occupational or otherwise), and wealth; not only just by their
appearance. In general, however, there had been two separate and divided groups
within the Mycenaean society; the King’s associates who were assigned duties
within administration in the palace, and the people, also known as the “da-mo,”
who had limited privileges, and would have had to pay taxes whilst performing
their other duties as a farmer or craftsmen etc. Furthermore, those who had no
privileges at all would have lived as slaves; either working for the palaces,
or doing their duties by serving their gods.

   Moreover, the political communities and
prosperity of mainland Greece began its downfall within the estimated period of
1200 BC. The main cause of its demise is still uncertain, however, according
to Rhys Carpenter, a classical art historian, within the writings of ‘Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History
1300-362 BC,’ by Peter Cartledge, Carpenter theories that the downfall
might have been caused by a “drought,” however, he then furthers to explain that
“it may never be proven to be the cause of the Mycenaean downfall.”5 Therefore, as the
mystery of the Mycenaean downfall remains to be unsolved, it is also theorised
among other historians and archaeological researchers that the cause of its
decline could have been because of ongoing strife between the palace centres,
or escalated violence that might have destroyed the unity among the Mycenaean
people. Nevertheless, it is suggested that during this
period, the Mycenaean palace centres would have been abandoned, along with
local residential and agricultural areas vacated, and its civilians would have
been left to survive. In other words, toward the end of the Late Bronze Age,
the palace centres and their apparent political dominion of mainland Greece had
come to an end. Thereafter, the depopulation and the loss of culture of the
Mycenaean civilisation inevitably plummeted Greece into what is known as the
Dark Age for the following centuries.

   To conclude, I believe that there are many
aspects in which the political communities within mainland Greece could be
considered a ‘palace state,’ as there are several points that I have made regarding
the political bodies involved in many of the economic and agricultural
structures. In addition to this, the evidence and source material that I have
found from my own research can suggest that the political position of the Wanax
might have also been involved in the palatial schemes to govern the Mycenaean
kingdom. However, there are others who might oppose the theory that the
political communities of mainland Greece was a palace state. For example, John
Hooker’s writings of ‘Mycenaean Greece’ suggested
that we do not know enough to give a definite answer, and that we know “little
of the political structure”6
 in order to know what sort of political
state mainland Greece actually was. In addition to this, within this essay I
have also studied and researched the religious practises that had taken place
during this period, and I can conclude that I do not believe it had that much
of an influence on the political communities or palatial governing, and I
strongly agree that the political communities of Late Bronze Age mainland
Greece was a ‘palace state.’

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

  

 

  

1 Kelder, Jorrit (2008). “A Great King at Mycenae. An Argument for the Wanax as Greek King and
the Lawagetas as Vassal Ruler.” http://www.academia.edu/218698/A_Great_King_at_Mycenae._An_Argument_for_the_wanax_as_Great_King_and_the_lawagetas_as_vassal_ruler

(Last
assessed: 2018)

2 Trott, Adriel (2014). “Mycenae: Sites, Stories and Political Structure.”

Mycenae: Sites, Stories and Political Structures

(Last assessed: 2018)

3 Chadwick, John (1976). “The Mycenaean World,” p.76

4 Chadwick, John (1976). “The Mycenaean World,” p.70

5 Cartledge, Peter (1979). “Sparta and Lakonia: A Regional History 1300-362.” Rhys Carpenter,
p.9

6 Hooker, John T (1976). “Mycenaean Greece.” ‘The Mycenaean Civilisation,’ p.182