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Mycenaean Messenia and the Kingdom of Pylos

Mycenaean Messenia and the Kingdom of Pylos

By Richard Hope Simpson (Prehistory Monographs 45). Pp. xviii + 84, b&w pls. 7, tables 5, maps 6. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2014. $60. ISBN 978-1-931534-75-8 (cloth).

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Hope Simpson’s study aims “to outline the state of our present knowledge concerning the Mycenaean settlements in Messenia, and to examine the evidence for reconstructing the political geography of the ‘Kingdom’ of Pylos” (1). The volume is concisely organized into three chapters that are laid out in neat subheadings.

Chapter 1, “The History of Exploration,” provides a review of archaeological research in Messenia. The succinct review makes the history of research approaches and related bibliography easily accessible to nonspecialists. Included in the review is a brief mention of excavations and an overview of the regional surveys: the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition (UMME), the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP), the Minnesota Archaeological Researches in the Western Peloponnese (MARWP), and the Iklaina Archaeological Project (IKAP).

The main features of chapter 2, “Mycenaean Sites in Messenia,” are the “Register of Mycenaean Sites in Messenia” (table 2) and Hope Simpson’s commentary on the data presented in the table. The information provided for each site in the register includes the “Site Name,” modern and ancient; a concordance of site numbers assigned by UMME and in The Gazetteer of Aegean Civilization (R. Hope Simpson and O.T.P.K. Dickinson [Göteborg 1979]), Mycenaean Greece (R. Hope Simpson [Park Ridge, N.J. 1981]), and “Other Surveys and Citations”; “Dates,” indicating the periods when the site was in use; and “LH Site Type and Extent.” “Other Surveys and Citations” include site numbers from PRAP, IKAP, the Greek Archaeological Service, and a few individual studies. The site types that are distinguished are habitation (HAB) and burial sites (CEM for graves and cemeteries; ChT for chamber tombs). Hope Simpson provides size estimates of habitation sites based on the Late Helladic sherd spread in hectares. He classifies the types as “village” (>1.0 ha), “hamlet” (0.5–1.0 ha), or “farm” (<0.5 ha). Most sites are listed by topographic regions: “The Pylos District,” “Kyparissia to Gargaliani,” “The Northern End of the Pamisos Valley,” and “The Soulima Valley.” Sites in these regions are plotted on maps 2–5. “Mycenaean Sites in Messenia” is an artificial subdivision in the register; it includes disparate regions (e.g., Kyparissia to the Neda River, Methoni, Koroni, the central and southern Pamisos Valley, and the Mani) that are plotted only on the overview map 1 and do not receive inset maps. The register commentary highlights major sites within each regional subdivision and draws the reader’s attention to possible locations for district centers, discussed in chapter 3.

The order in which the regions are presented in the register and commentary is difficult to follow at times and requires constant flipping to maps 1–5 in the back of the volume. It would be easier to follow if the volume had pocket maps or a foldout map. Nonetheless, flipping back and forth is worth the effort to gain a more complete picture of the site distribution. Hope Simpson’s comprehensive concordance, adding data from PRAP, IKAP, and the Greek Archaeological Service to the earlier Gazetteer of Aegean Civilization and Mycenaean Greece will be especially useful for future studies.

Chapter 3, “The Political Geography of the Kingdom of Pylos,” begins with a review of Linear B evidence for the extent of the kingdom, divisions of the kingdom and management of the economy, and taxation within districts. Based on a combination of evidence from the Linear B tablets and “geographical facts” (55), Hope Simpson deduces that the kingdom extended from the Neda River in the north to the Nedon River in the south. Mount Taygetos formed the eastern border and, in the south, the border between the Hither and Further provinces lay between ka-ra-do-ro (with its center at Phoinikounta: Analipsis), and ti-mi-to-a-ke-e (with its center at Nichoria [55, 62, 64]).

The chapter culminates with Hope Simpson’s attempt to identify the locations of the taxation districts within the Hither and Further provinces using evidence from the Linear B documents and archaeological exploration. He acknowledges that recent and future discoveries, especially in the less-explored Further province, “may necessitate modification of the hypothetical reconstruction” (70). Nonetheless, the current work provides a workable hypothesis. The suggested locations of the districts, their centers, and associated sites are neatly summarized in table 5 and plotted on map 6.

Two issues that arise are where to define the northern border between the Hither and Further provinces and where to locate re-u-ko-to-ro, the possible regional capital of the Further province. Hope Simpson proposes that the border was located east of Mouriatatadha: Elliniko, which he identifies as the center of the me-ta-pa district in the Hither province (60–1), and that Aithaia: Ellinika should be equated with re-u-ko-to-ro (65). Hope Simpson concedes that “[o]n a literal interpretation, Mouriatatadha would be ‘beyond’ Mt. Aigaleon” (60). He contends, however, that the position of the site is easily accessible from the south by a road from Kyparissia via Vryses: Palaiophrygas around the northern end of the mountain. By Hope Simpson’s assessment, Mouriatatadha: Elliniko was an important site established in Late Helladic IIIB to protect “the back door” route to the palace and to gain a foothold for expansion of the kingdom to the north and northeast via the Kyparissia River into the Soulima Valley (60). Furthermore, Hope Simpson argues that the Further province capital should be larger than the approximately 3 ha Mouriatatadha: Elliniko and more centrally located between the Soulima Valley and Kalamata; he proposes Aithaia: Ellinika (contra J. Bennet, “Re-u-ko-te-ro za-we-te: Leuktron as a Secondary Capital in the Pylos Kingdom?” in J. Bennet and J. Driessen, eds., A-NA-QO-TA: Studies Presented to J.T. Killen. Minos 33–34 [Salamanca 2002] 11–12, 15–16, 20–30).

The majority of the volume, particularly the reviews of scholarship on fieldwork in Messenia and Linear B, is accessible to a wider audience at the advanced undergraduate level and above. The concluding sections on the Hither and Further provinces, however, delve into scholarly debates over the Linear B tablets and survey results that are geared more toward specialists. Essential references are provided for the tablets under discussion, which readers might wish to consult, and table 3 provides the districts of the Kingdom of Pylos as listed in Tablets Jn 829, Cn 608, On 300, and Vn 20. Readers might benefit from a transcription of Ma 225, which is important for the debate regarding Mouriatatadha: Elliniko, and a copy of Documents in Mycenaean Greek (M. Ventris and J. Chadwick. 2nd ed. [Cambridge 1973]) for reference. Undoubtedly, the identification of particular sites and the location of district boundaries will continue to be debated; however, Hope Simpson has contributed a significant working hypothesis and compiled a tremendous amount of data into an important new volume for Pylian studies.

Shannon LaFayette Hogue
Department of Classics and Modern Languages
Xavier University

Book Review of Mycenaean Messenia and the Kingdom of Pylos, by Richard Hope Simpson

Reviewed by Shannon LaFayette Hogue

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 4 (October 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1194.Hogue

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