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Wright, Offsets in Mycenaean Architecture

Wright, Offsets in Mycenaean Architecture

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05/28/2011

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O
FFSETS IN
M
YCENAEAN
A
RCHITECTURE
J.C.
 
W
RIGHT
*
 
A
BSTRACT
An ‘offset’ is a vertical joint that marks a change in the course of a wall, such that one section of the wall is notaligned with its neighbour. Offsets in Mycenaean masonry constructions are common but not uniformly similar. They are notexplained by reference to other ancient masonry traditions. This paper explores their technical purpose and argues that they area uniquely Mycenaean solution to large–scale masonry construction.
EYWORDS
Mycenaean, architecture, Cyclopean, fortifications.
The appearance of offsets in Aegean Bronze Agearchitecture has primarily received attention as afeature of Minoan palatial architecture, where they area fundamental element of the palace façades that facethe western court.
1
There offsets have been interpreted by J.W. Graham as being setbacks for the placementof windows (Graham 1960; 1962: 162–4).
2
InMycenaean architecture offsets are not as frequentlyfound as a part of palatial design and they do not easilyconform to the plans of megara and courts.Sometimes, when they do occur, as in the palace atPylos, they are also comprehensible as serving for windows in the upper storey, as for example in theeastern façade (Wright 1984: 26–7; Küpper 1996: 80– 2; Nelson 2001: 41,
 passim
)
[Fig. 1A]
. Here it may bemost likely that this feature is derived from Minoanarchitecture, since, as M. Nelson has recently
* Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, BrynMawr College, Bryn Mawr PA 19010, U.S.A. E–mail: jwright@brynmawr.edu.
1
When I finished my dissertation in 1978, Oliver’s
The Originsof Mycenaean Civilisation
(1977) had just been published andwas a ‘must read’ for anyone in the field. As I read it my zeal todelve into the many problems of Mycenaean archaeology wasfired up and much of my subsequent scholarship has beeninspired by it. My copy of 
The
 
Origins
is dog–eared fromconstant use for it remains a reliable and accurate source of  basic information and fundamental interpretation. As a smallcontribution to our understanding of the indigenous nature of much of what we call Mycenaean, I offer to Oliver this study of a characteristic detail of Mycenaean architecture.
2
For Anatolian examples, see Naumann 1971: 236–66.
demonstrated, the architecture of the palace at Pylos,and especially the use of ashlar masonry, is stronglyinfluenced from Crete (Nelson 2001: 17,
 passim
).Offsets also appear in the exterior façades of theresidential building at Glas
[Fig. 1B]
, but theexplanation given for Pylos will not work here. Theseoffsets are not related to the use of ashlar masonry andnot apparently to the placement of windows. I have previously argued that the offsets are related to principles of planning that reflect the placement andstabilisation of foundations and a process of construction by compartments (Wright 1980).
3
In thisstudy I wish to pursue the use of offsets as a peculiar Mycenaean architectural practice and investigate their appearance in fortification walls.There have been differences of opinion as to the purpose of offsets in fortification walls. W. Dörpfeld,noticing how frequently they appeared at Tiryns
[Fig.1D]
, particularly in the
Unterburg 
, thought that theywere defensive in nature, to provide an enfilade against
3
Subsequent research has not supported in every instance myinterpretation that the corners of offsets in terraces always mark the foundation for a wall of the superstructure. Notably, thisdoes not seem to be the case at Tiryns, where investigations of the predecessors of the last palace have disclosed walls thatwere built inside the line of these offsets (Kilian 1987: 209;Maran 2001). But, in other instances, it is clear that offsets aredirectly related to a method of construction of compartments, asIakovidis demonstrates in his analysis of the planning andconstruction of buildings B and K at Glas (Iakovidis 1998;2001: 46–7, 65–8).
 
J.C.
 
W
RIGHT
 
Fig. 1. A) offset in the north–eastern façade of the Pylos palace; B) plan of the residential building atGlas showing offsets in the exterior façade (not–to–scale); C) the fortification at Glas and hypotheticalmethod of wall construction (not–to–scale); D) plan of the Tiryns citadel.
attackers or to be for towers, but also considered thatthey represented phases of construction (Dörpfeld1976 [1885]: 181, 315).
4
K. Müller recognised thatthey were both too ubiquitous and too shallow (0.10– 0.50 m) to be for defense. He saw them as decorativeelements or merely as quirks in the construction of thewalls. He also thought that they could be compared tothe enigmatic offsets in the walls of Troy VI (Müller 1930: 4, 39).
5
At Glas, both M. de Ridder and F.
4
W. Dörpfeld discusses the western terrace of the Upper Citadel and recognises the correspondence between offsets androom plans.
5
See R. Naumann’s useful discussion of the Troy VI offsetsand their relation to the Anatolian tradition of casemateconstruction (Naumann 1971: 247).
 Noack independently observed the frequentappearance of such offsets and surmised their true purpose (de Ridder 1894: 273, and n. 4; Noack 1894:426–7). According to them, the corners markedindependent units or boxes of masonry that wereadjoined to each other and enabled the builders toconstruct more easily the massive wall and to followthe changing contours of the bedrock (Noack 1894:427; cf. Iakovidis 1989: 11)
[Figs. 1C, 2A]
. In her study of the citadels, N. Scoufopoulos also remarkedon these examples at Glas, which she termed as being built in sections (Scoufopoulos 1971: 82, 98–9).
2
 
O
FFSETS IN
M
YCENAEAN
A
RCHITECTURE
 
Fig. 2. Views of wall segments: A) Glas; B) Tiryns (photographs by the author).
When discussing Glas in his study of Mycenaeanfortifications, Iakovidis briefly considers thisargument and, without entirely discounting it,concludes that the joints do not run all the way throughthe walls but instead stop at the core. He argues that“[…] they were apparently devised as a means of  breaking up the curving line of the wall into straightsections [...]”, which he attributes to the nature of thelimestone being used (Iakovidis 1983: 93). Heelaborates this view in his publication of Glas, bywhich time he had been able to inspect several of these joints systematically (Iakovidis 1989: 10–2; 2001: 11– 2). He states that “[w]here [the wall] has beenexamined so far, the joints on both the inner and outer faces, with a single exception, run no deeper than theface course of the wall, stopping when they come tothe core fill, which is uninterrupted for the entirelength of the circuit” (Iakovidis 2001: 12; cf. 1989:11). He reiterates that the nature of the local limestonemakes it difficult to maintain level coursing for longdistances and therefore the construction of unitssimplified the process of construction.At Tiryns, where offsets are also common, a slightlydifferent analysis is required. The offsets of the
Unterburg 
were studied by P. Grossmann as a part of the work of restoring and clearing the
ca.
350 m extentof this wall (Grossmann 1967; 1980; cf. Schnuchel1983). He established that the Cyclopean walls of the
Unterburg 
were constructed of a shell of massive blocks laid as headers into the core of the wall(Grossmann 1967: 99; 1980: 495), requiring thereforethat they be laid in courses
[Fig. 2B]
. This methodresulted in straight sections of masonry limited inlength by the difficulty of laying continuous levelcourses of massive stone over long distances and bythe need to construct ramps to bring the blocks up to position (Grossmann 1967: 99–101; 1980: 494–7).This method of construction would not result in eachsection being an enclosed box as postulated at Glasand as is familiar in the Near East in the constructionof casemate walls (Naumann 1971: 309–10).
6
AtTiryns, the section ends on the interior are not alwaysaligned with those of the exterior. Probably,differences in the slope and form of the bedrock required different placement of the interior andexterior section ends.
6
As, for instance, at Alishar (von der Osten 1937: 4–10; cf. Naumann 1971: 249–51). See also the fortifications of Bogazköy and other sites that record the development of thecasemate system (Naumann 1971: 252–7).
3

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