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Mycenaeans Up To Date: The Archaeology of the North-Eastern Peloponnese. Current Concepts and New Directions

April 2019 (123.2)

Book Review

Mycenaeans Up To Date: The Archaeology of the North-Eastern Peloponnese. Current Concepts and New Directions

Edited by Ann-Louise Schallin and Iphiyenia Tournavitou (4˚ 56). Pp. 630, figs. 399, tables 12. Swedish Institute at Athens, Stockholm 2015. $74. ISBN 978-91-7916-063-0 (cloth).

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This sizable volume, which presents the proceedings of a 2010 conference of the same name, has already taken its place as a benchmark volume for Aegean prehistorians. Like Problems in Greek Prehistory (E.B. French and K.A. Wardle, eds. [Bristol, U.K., 1988]), invoked by the editors in their introduction, Mycenaeans Up To Date seeks to address enduring scholarly questions but within the narrower chronological and geographical scope of Mycenaean archaeology of the northeastern Peloponnese. Within those limits, the volume exhibits significant breadth and depth, including previously unpublished reports on fieldwork, reconsiderations of published material, and combinations of the two. The 38 papers are sorted into five sections, excluding the introduction and conclusions, based first on geography and then theme, an organizational scheme that echoes the conference program.

The initial section, “The Argolid,” contains nine subsections, beginning with Mycenae. Most of the papers report on fieldwork conducted beyond the acropolis of Mycenae. Particularly interesting for its focus on the 14th century B.C.E. is Shelton’s chapter, which argues that Petsas House, destroyed at the end of the 14th century, was likely a ceramic workshop. The author proposes that the massive quantities of pottery discovered in various storerooms reflect the preferences of a consumer base that included but was not limited to the palace at Mycenae. It is tempting to view Shelton’s results with regard to the development of Mycenae’s palatial economy, but, by suggesting that the workshop was semi-independent from the palace and occupied by people whose social position does not appear to have been wholly dependent on palatial access, Shelton is able to offer a valuable glimpse of social and economic networks beyond those of the palace.

Whereas the chapters on Mycenae look outside the palace, the six chapters on Tiryns focus on the citadel. The first two report on the ceramics and wall paintings, respectively, from a dump at the north end of the Western Staircase of the Upper Citadel, which was excavated in 1999 as part of a restoration project at the archaeological site. Kardamaki presents the analysis of ceramics from the deposit, concluding that the earlier of two layers dates to a destructive Late Helladic (LH) IIIB2 (late) conflagration and the later layer to rebuilding and repair in the area of the staircase in LH IIIC (early 1) prior to the construction of Building T in the ruins of the Great Megaron. Kardamaki’s chapter sets the stage for the following chapter by Maran, Papadimitriou, and Thaler on wall paintings from the same deposit. The authors convincingly propose that interconnections between this group of wall-painting fragments and those from deposits excavated on the western slope of the Upper Citadel in 1910, particularly numerous fragments of processional scenes featuring medium-sized figures, indicate that most of the wall paintings discovered at Tiryns come from the adornment of the final phase of the palace.

The connection between Upper and Lower Citadel is explored by Mühlenbruch, who argues that religious activities carried out in the Upper Citadel during the Palatial period were transferred to shrines in the Lower Citadel in the Postpalatial period when Building T served a political and symbolic role but was not a symbolic center and the Lower Citadel was primarily residential. He concludes that those who once oversaw cult activity in the Upper Citadel reestablished that activity in the Lower Citadel after the collapse of palatial society. This conclusion introduces the possibility of conflicts between the elites conserving practices of the Palatial period, once embodied in the Great Megaron, and a new, more socially accessible political regime, suggested by Building T.

The remainder of this section includes informative chapters reporting previously unpublished investigations or new reflections on known sites (Argos, Midea, Berbati, Nauplion, Mount Arachnaion) and regions (the Phlious valley and the western Korinthia piedmont). The chapter on Argos, by Papadimitriou, Philippa-Touchais, and Touchais, is a good accompaniment to the chapter by the same authors on the Deiras cemetery later in the volume. They conclude that, although the area is settled in the Middle Helladic (MH) I–II period, the transition to the Late Helladic period saw changes in settlement patterns, with a community concentrated on the Aspis and a shift toward mortuary practices that suggest an emphasis on the conspicuous display of wealth, family ties, and shared ancestry. Like several other sites where rich Early Mycenaean burials have been found, Argos did not develop into a palace center. Instead, the authors suggest, it grew into a prosperous secondary center whose population dispersed at the end of the Palatial period.

Also noteworthy are a pair of papers by Hachtmann and Kaza-Papageorgiou. Hachtmann builds on an earlier report of survey in the Phlious Basin with the analysis of material from additional sites. He argues, based on abundant material from the survey but few securely identifiable sherds, that the settlement of Aidonia and the three other sites were “suddenly abandoned” ca. 1300 B.C.E. (230). His narrative dovetails with the conclusions of Kaza-Papageorgiou, who writes on Agia Eirini Phliassias, a site several kilometers southeast of Aidonia. Because most of the ceramic material seems to date to LH IIIB, Papageorgiou-Kaza argues that Ayia Irini became the predominant center in the region after the abandonment of Aidonia, and she implies that it, and presumably not Aidonia, may have been associated with Homer’s “Araithyrea.” Even though the possibility of an abrupt change in settlement patterns in the Phliassian plain at the beginning of the 13th century is intriguing, that the cemetery at Aidonia was in use through LH IIIB2 makes this narrative problematic and perhaps to be considered with caution until more work is done in the region.

“Tiryns and the Argolid in Mycenaean Times,” by Maran, examines cycles of disruption and reorganization. His focus on periods of disruption in order to consider political changes without reliance on misleading evolutionary frameworks is laudable. Conclusions about the Early Palatial and Palatial periods, however, hinge on the notion of Mycenaean dominance—on the one hand over Crete as the impetus for the emergence of the palatial megaron, and likewise over the Argolid plain as an explanation for growth at Tiryns rather than decline. Maran presents an interesting if not totally convincing argument in both instances; and, although the relegation of Tiryns during the Palatial period would provide answers to questions about the site (e.g., lack of monumental funerary landscape and powerful cult center), it also obfuscates Tiryns’ political role and eliminates the possibility of seeing its relationship with Mycenae and other Argolid centers as complex or complementary, even if Tiryns was subject to Mycenae for some or all of the Palatial period.

The next section, “Neighbors and Friends,” includes papers on regions beyond the Argolid, including Corinth, Achaea, and Aegina. Tzonou-Herbst assembles and reexamines data from several excavations in order to present a picture of a Mycenaean Corinth that lives up to its Homeric reputation. This is a useful overview of evidence that should alter Corinth’s status as peripheral in the Late Bronze Age, especially when read in combination with the paper by Kassimi later in the volume that assembles the regional mortuary data. Framing the discussion in terms of legitimating Homer’s description of Corinth’s wealth (Il. 2.569–72 and 13.663–72) and implying that pottery and signs of habitation equate to a palace risk distracting discussion from the picture presented by the evidence, which certainly indicates a “thriving community” with trade contacts outside the Corinthia (308).

The final five sections are organized by theme. The first, “Secular Architecture and Palatial Administration,” concludes with two papers on the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project, arguing that the harbor settlement of Kalamianos flourished in LH IIIB owing to Mycenae’s interest in using the harbor and exploiting agricultural land. Pullen describes settlement architecture that at times borrows palatial features, while Tartaron sees the Late Bronze Age landscape surrounding Kalamianos as unified in the way it was developed for agricultural exploitation and control by land and sea, as opposed to the Early Bronze Age “contested landscape” (394).

“Burial Customs and Rituals” consists of papers that reexamine cemeteries in light of new or previously unpublished material and explore specific topics relating to mortuary practices. The paper by Pappi and Isaakidou on equids is particularly fascinating not only because the authors redate equid burials in Mycenaean cemeteries mainly to the LH IIIA–B periods, as opposed to Early and Middle Helladic, but also because they conclude that the remains of both horses and donkeys were treated with respect usually thought to be reserved for human remains, suggesting that these animals served a more significant cultural role than being just status symbols.

Of the last three sections (“Mycenaean Pottery,” “Written Evidence,” and “Mycenaean Religion”), the final one, consisting of three chapters, is the most substantial. The first two papers return to Mycenae. Wardle offers a diachronic assessment of the architectural and ritual activity associated with the Cult Centre on the west slope of the acropolis from the MH–LH transition to LH IIIB2. The phase-by-phase description is accompanied by useful plans that would be improved only if they included some way of demarcating changes in elevation. Pliatsika publishes an intriguing assemblage of material from the House M Quarter within the citadel north of the Lion Gate that includes, among other votive objects, a large wheelmade female figurine, which she attributes to cultic practices usually considered to be confined to the Cult Centre. The section ends with a short but powerful paper by Whittaker that draws together several critical questions about Mycenaean religion and areas where further study is needed. She first identifies the need for a more nuanced understanding of the role of religion in Mycenaean warrior culture, then casts her gaze back to Minoan influence and forward to the problem of the continuity of cult into the historical period. Most importantly, Whittaker hones in on how little we actually know about religious belief and ideologies, partly because of a secular approach that downplays the importance of belief in studies of religion and artificially separates intimately related topics such as cult practices associated with death and burial.

Tournavitou and Schallin conclude the volume with a summary of six themes that were most prevalent in the lively final discussion of the conference, available online.[[web layout: link to]] Their synopsis effectively contextualizes the papers among the fundamental and enduring “problems” of Mycenaean archaeology cited in the introduction, including identifying and explaining periods of social and political change as well as the difficulties of using the word “palace” to define the centralized political institutions of Mycenaean society and the architectural loci of these institutions.

For Aegean prehistorians and specialists in Mycenaean archaeology, Mycenaeans Up To Date is an essential reference. Readers beyond that group may be hindered at times by field-specific terminology and references, especially when terminology is used inconsistently or varies between languages, such as with references to pottery sequences at Tiryns. This does not in any way detract from the value of the papers, however. Overall the editors should be commended for both the conference and the resulting volume.

Lynne A. Kvapil
Department of Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Butler University

Book Review of Mycenaeans Up To Date: The Archaeology of the North-Eastern Peloponnese. Current Concepts and New Directions, edited by Ann-Louise Schallin and Iphiyenia Tournavitou

Reviewed by Lynne A. Kvapil

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 2 (April 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1232.kvapil

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