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The People of Knossos: Prosopographical Studies in the Knossos Linear B Archives

The People of Knossos: Prosopographical Studies in the Knossos Linear B Archives

By Hedvig Landenius Enegren (Boreas 30). Pp. 219, fig. 1, tables 10. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Uppsala 2008. €49; $77.50. ISBN 978-91-554-7108-8 (paper).

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It would be nice if Mycenologists could speak about the ancient writers and readers of Linear B texts, as well as the persons named therein, with the third-person definiteness with which Assyriologists do. Mašdà, a scribe of third-millennium Ĝirsu in Sumer, is mentioned 50 times in archives of nearly 1,700 tablets spanning four kingships, whereas there is no known word for “scribe” and no certain scribal name or self-reference, in a corpus of more than 4,000 Linear B texts. However, Mycenologists are proud of being able to do much with little, and Landenius Enegren’s The People of Knossos is the latest of several works in the last decade or so that make progress, employing textual data in an archaeological context, toward ascertaining the roles of the Linear B scribes and their social ties to persons they record (e.g., E. Kyriakidis, “Some Aspects of the Role of Scribes in Pylian Palace Administration,” Minos 31–32 [1998–1999] 201–29; D.J. Bennet, “Agency and Bureaucracy: Thoughts on the Nature and Extent of Administration in Bronze Age Pylos,” in S. Voutsaki and J. Killen, eds., Economy and Politics in the Mycenaean Palace States [Cambridge 2001] 25–37). These studies are relevant to archaeological interpretation of Mycenaean society because they clarify the nature and extent of interaction between the presumed “macro-level” political hierarchy and various decentralized “micro-level” social-economic formations (17) (see T.G. Palaima, “Mycenaean Seals and Sealings in their Economic and Administrative Contexts,” in P.H. Ilievski and L. Crepajac, eds., Tractata Mycenaea: Proceedings of the 8th International Colloquium on Mycenaean Studies, Held in Ohrid, 15–20 September 1985 [Skopje 1987] 249–66). Consequently, they offer grist to current debates over the nature of the Mycenaean palace economy and state in a broader anthropological context.

The People of Knossos is explicitly styled after, and meant to complement, Lindgren’s The People of Pylos (Uppsala 1973), which is in the same Boreas series. However, the scope and methods of these two prosopographies differ from each other. Lindgren’s remains a useful catalogue of all the certain or likely personal designations at Pylos and a resource for lexicographical interpretation of Mycenaean words in the first two decades after the decipherment of Linear B, but it offers no statistics more sophisticated than instances of terms enumerated in categories. In contrast, Landenius Enegren’s study seeks quantifiable correlations between paleographical hands (scribes) at Knossos and the persons about whom they wrote, and therefore its scope is more limited, though focused.

The preface introduces relevant theoretical discussions, including the developing consensus that the palace economy did not encompass all agricultural, industrial, or redistributive activities in the Mycenaean state’s territory. Tellingly, this introduction cites none of Halstead’s or Killen’s important works on the palace economy and few studies of scribal identity (Kyriakidis [1998–1999]; Bennet [2001]) after about 1997, when the author was writing the dissertation from which her monograph is derived. Chapter 1 is a review of the previously identified scribal hands at Knossos (Hands 101–225).

Chapter 2 summarizes the author’s statistical analysis of instances of personal names used by different scribal hands. It consists of a series of exact (vs. approximate) tests taken to the 5% probability level (P=0.05), where the null hypothesis is that names recur randomly (Poisson distribution) within or between hands. The interpretative core of The People of Knossos considers the implications of the results for the date of Linear B texts deposited in the Room of the Chariot Tablets, the identity and social roles of the “shepherds” and “collectors” of Knossos sheep and wool records, and the organization and management of the textile industry.

Chapter 3 treats the texts in Hand “124” (distinct from Hand 124), which is associated with the Room of the Chariot Tablets. Landenius Enegren’s results corroborate Driessen’s stratigraphical and paleographical redating of the Room of the Chariot Tablets deposit to early in the Late Minoan IIIA1 period (ca. 1430–1390 B.C.E.), insofar as Hand “124” shares fewer personal names than expected with the two most prolific scribes, Hands 103 and 117 (three names unique to the Room of the Chariot Tablets). Moreover, shared names are generally found in different textual contexts, making shared personal reference unlikely. The author is also partial to Driessen’s suggestion that the chariot tablets may refer to the Mycenaean manifestation of a Near Eastern warrior-charioteer caste.

The “shepherd” names, which are mainly in Hand 117, are the subject of chapter 4. Landenius Enegren argues that the persons named could be overseers of flocks who arranged for actual shepherds to tend animals, as was done in second-millennium Nuzi. This is plausible both because the scribes at Knossos and elsewhere seem to use personal names only when the palace is engaged in transactions with certain persons and specifically because of evidence that livestock husbandry texts concern individuals wealthy enough to contribute their own animals to palace flocks. It is unsurprising that the author finds correspondence of the flock records in Hand 117 to the shearing and wool records in Hands 119 and 120, but it may be surprising that she finds no statistically significant cross-reference to the records of personnel pertaining to textile manufacture recorded in Hands 101, 103, and 115.

Chapter 5 deals with Hand 117’s designation of flock “collectors,” indicated by the genitive case or derivative adjective of a personal name. The author notes that the persons named may be “owners” of the registered flocks, the term “collector” arising from the term a-ko-ra, plausibly “flock” or “collection,” found in parallel contexts at Pylos. She provides a useful, if short, review of recent discussions of “collectors” identified not just in sheep and wool records from Knossos but also in such similarly structured contexts at Knossos and other Linear B archives concerning textiles, oil, aromatics, and o-pa (finishing work), including possible mercantile functions.

The sixth chapter concerns names found mainly in Hand 103’s textile records. Landenius Enegren finds that a significant number recur in Hand 105’s personnel records. Although she concludes that cross-references to Hand 117’s work are inadequate for drawing conclusions, it nonetheless seems probable that textile industry supervisors, such as flock “collectors”—who appear in certain personnel lists, too—are closely associated with palace workshops at Knossos and second-order centers. The final chapter is a useful summary of the recurrences of names between pairs of scribal hands not treated in preceding chapters. An important observation here is that several of Hand 117’s “shepherds” seem to be engaged in various other activities, which is consistent with their being men of means who have livestock of their own and “farm out” shepherding.

The numbered chapters are followed by a catalogue of personal designations from Knossos (with citations), bibliography, plan of Knossos findspots, summary of text series, and index of Linear B words. The proofreading (except in the bibliography) and non-native English are very good. The references to “p. xx” where page 202 is meant (16), and to maryanni, where maryannu belongs (31), are noteworthy. The rather opaque Linear B e-ko (31) could helpfully have been translated as hekhons (having).

Landenius Enegren’s volume will remain an important handbook for years to come, particularly for scholars interested in Mycenaean livestock management and textile manufacture. Future quantitative studies in prosopography might also apply network statistics, which draw attention to the weak links between tightly knit groups. Further modeling of Mycenaean society from the ground up, for which this monograph lays a cornerstone, might thus become enviable even in Assyriology and other kindred disciplines where narrative texts exist.

Michael Franklin Lane
Department of Ancient Studies
University of Maryland, Baltimore
Baltimore, Maryland 21250

Book Review of The People of Knossos: Prosopographical Studies in the Knossos Linear B Archives, by Hedvig Landenius Enegren

Reviewed by Michael Franklin Lane

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 2 (April 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1142.Lane

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