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Redistribution in Aegean Palatial Societies. Redistributive Economies from a Theoretical and Cross-Cultural Perspective

A simplified model of Mycenaean "redistribution" of staples and wool products.
A simplified model of Mycenaean "redistribution" of staples and wool products.

Palatial authorities in Bronze Age Crete traditionally are thought to have functioned as centralized redistributive agents, reallocating wealth to the community as a whole and providing security in times of crisis. These institutions were gradually transformed, however, into mobilizers of wealth, rendering support exclusively to the elite and their associates. The present article explores this narrative; it reassesses the assumed impact of redistribution on the economy of Cretan states by studying the archaeological correlates of staple storage. It adopts a bottom-up perspective: besides data from palatial contexts, it incorporates evidence from ordinary domestic units. It argues that the impact of redistribution, as envisioned by neo-evolutionists, is highly questionable. Palatial institutions in Crete did not distribute goods to members of all social strata. Nor did they provide social security. Rather, they mobilized wealth meant to serve the exclusive needs of the elite.

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DOI: 10.3764/aja.115.2.0177