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Synthesis. The Reconstruction of a Great Kingdom

Synthesis. The Reconstruction of a Great Kingdom

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Published by: ArchaeoinAction on Nov 15, 2010
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01/16/2013

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P
ROLOGUE
 The study at hand presents a new evaluation of our data and our understanding of the political landscape in Greece during the Late Bronze Age, especially during the 14
th
and13
th
century BC. Over the last few years there has been a flood of new publications onthis topic, both in popular magazines and monographs and as more scholarly publications. It seemed time to bring the various different views together and evaluatethem, and –of course- to propose my own ideas on the topic. During my studies, Iincreasingly came to see the Mycenaean world as a unified state; a concept that –as aresult- has become the main argument of this thesis. Below, I will argue for the existenceof a large territorial entity covering most of the Greek mainland, the isles in the Aegeanand the centre which was later known as Miletus on the Anatolian west coast. This entitywas known as Ahhiyawa to the Hittites and Tanaju to the Egyptians, and Mycenae was itscapital –its focus of economic, political and ritual life.I am not the first to venture in this field, nor do I expect to be the last. In the pages below,I will deal with contemporary scholarship, but before that, I should perhaps provide anoverview of that long line of thought on this topic before me. As seems to be customaryin this field, I begin with that very man that is generally considered to have been thefather of the study of Aegean prehistory, Heinrich Schliemann.Schliemann’s excavations at Hissarl
ı
k brought him fame with the general public and,certainly at the end of his life, recognition by most of his fellow colleagues in the field of archaeology and philology. Notwithstanding the many objections against the man, hismethods and his interpretations, Schliemann had brought to life a society that was far older than the known Classical Greek world.
1
 Before Schliemann, the Mycenaean world could only be studied by reading the Classicaltexts (mainly Homer) which had, essentially since Antiquity, been considered to be amore or less real reflection of the Greek world in the Late Bronze Age. It was only duringthe late 18
th
century that a need was felt to check the reality of the Homeric epic, and that
1
See for a comprehensive overview of Schliemann’s exploits, Wood 1985.
1
 
questions were raised whether the Iliad was not largely, or even wholly, fictional. Fromthese questions sprang two “groups” of scholarship, which Joachim Latacz
2
calls the“Positivisten” (who believed that at least the essence –Grundtatbestände- of the Homericstories reflected Bronze Age reality) and the “Fiktionalisten” (who believed that even theessence of the stories were fictional). I use the word “believe” here with a reason, as bothopinions at that time were based on nothing but conviction. It is worthwhile to quote inthis place two protagonists of both convictions, first the fictionalist Rückert, who arguedthat the Homeric tales were composed as a justification for the seizure of the Troad byAeolic settlers in the 8
th
century BC:
 Die Sage, die sich später an den ungeheuren kyklopischen Trümmern Ilions und den hohen Grabhügeln am Gestade des Hellespontsemporrankte, schiebt ihn [the Aeolic seizure of the Troad] weit in diemythische Zeit zurück und lässt die Mythischen Ahnherren der Achäer,die Aeakiden und Pelopiden, ihren Nachkommen die Ansprüche auf  jenes schöne Land erkämpfen...
3
 Second the positivist Welcker, who argued that a story as grand as the Iliad could not possibly have been the product of imagination and the need to justify the seizure of newlands:
 Die Sänger der Aeolischen Kolonisten mussten Taten von diesen, etwadie Eroberung einer Stadt, im Zusammenhang der Zeitverhältnisse sowohl in Griechenland als in Troas, darstellen und konnten dabei[durchaus] eine frühere Besitznahme durch Achilleus und unter  Agamemnon erdichten, um durch diesen Vorgang das Recht der Enkel noch mehr hervorzugeben, der erworbenen Heimat ein höheres Alter zu geben. Aber etwas Gedichtetes und Früheres von solchem Umfang und  Zusammenhang an die Stelle von etwas Wirklichem und Späterem dasdoch selbst gross und denkwürdig war, zu setzen, alle Helden und deren
2
Latacz 2007, unpublished lecture at the University of Amsterdam. But see for a general discussion Latacz2001 with references.
3
Rückert 1846, VI-X.
2
 
Taten und Geschicke gänzlich fallen zu lassen und völlig verschiedene zuerfinden, [das] konnte Niemanden einfallen…
4
 The excavations of Schliemann changed this discussion. Schliemann’s uncovering of a powerful Bronze Age settlement at the site of what –at least in later Classical times- wasknown as Ilion (even if his initial identification of Troy II as the “Homeric Troy” wasutterly wrong), his findings at Mycenae, Tiryns and Orchomenos showed that the worlddescribed in the Homeric Epics was remarkably reminiscent to Bronze Age reality. Bymany, this was taken as proof that the Homeric songs were “real”; that Agamemnon andhis companions once lived and fought for Troy and that they had lived in splendid palaces such as they were now known at Mycenae and Tiryns.
5
This was most of all thecase with Schliemann himself who, of course, always had been a believer, a “positivist”.In general, it seems that after Schliemann’s excavations, the popular consensus was thatthe Homeric stories held at least some core of Bronze Age reality, a belief that grew withthe slightly later discoveries in Crete, where several large “palatial” structures wereexcavated. Most notable amongst these was the palace at Knossos, which was being dug by Sir Arthur Evans. Evans’ excavations at Knossos on the one hand put Schliemann’sfinds in a better perspective; not only showing that a much older culture had precededthe mainland civilization that had by now been coined “Mycenaean”, but also thatMycenaean society owed much to its Cretan predecessors in virtually every field of religion, “art”, social organisation.
6
On the other hand, Evans’ excavations also cast a shadow on scholarship that was to lastfor several decades. Although not explicitly stated in his early work, Evans increasinglyconsidered the Minoan civilization
7
not only as a major influence on the Mainlandsociety of the Mycenaean palaces, but even saw those palaces as Minoan dependencies,subject to the rule of Knossos. This view was to dominate scholarship for decades tocome. Indeed, such was his influence on contemporary scholarship that those that did not
4
Welcker 1849, 43.
5
See for example the preface to Schliemann’s “Mycenae” (1880) by W. E. Gladstone.
6
Cf. Dickinson1994; Schachermeyr1987, with references.
7
See for an extensive discussion of the term “Minoan” before Evans, Karadimas / Momigliano 2004.
3

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