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Redistribution in Aegean Palatial Societies

Redistribution in Aegean Palatial Societies


This forum shows how much stimulating it can already be the discussion on the mechanisms of collecting and sharing sources in a pre-monetary complex structured society. The paper by Nakassis – Parkinson – Galaty offers a very useful synthesis of the theories on pre-monetary economies and that by Halstead sets up the subjects of the forum with strong and clear overall reflections. After all, however, the following basic ideas on Mycenaean administrated economy seem to be confirmed, do not they? 1) rations paid out supported activities that served the goals of elites; 2) labourers who received handouts were part-time workers who likely had access to other sources of support when not in the employ of the palace; 3) the economic relationship between local communities and the palace was based on control of labour, large agricultural estates and goods. New concepts or definitions more suitable or accurate than those of provisioning and distribution seem already difficult to find out for characterizing not only movements of goods and services in a system without equivalence of value, but also for specific forms of religious and, at the same time, economic organization, I mean the organisation of official feasts, as strategy used by the central elite to please humans and divinities and, consequently, to consolidate power and prestige.
A basilar aspect outlined by Nakassis et al. deserves attention: these mechanisms operated on the basis of membership (dependent labourers working for the palace received subsistence rations, high-status labourers receiving larger allotments of staples or lands, and so on) as well as participation in feasts was based on group membership. Nevertheless I do not feel confident with the simplified model of Mycenaean “redistribution” of staples and products proposed in fig. 4 by Nakassis et alii. It seems to be based exclusively on staple and products recorded in Linear B texts, but these, as outlined by Halstead, record only a minor part of resources flows to and from Mycenaean palaces. Second, because the wool delivered to textile workshops is recorded in the palace archives, the direct line symbolizing movements of wool traced from the flocks to the workshops may hide some intermediate passages. Third, for an analogous reason, the movement of animals between local communities and palatial flocks, pointed out by the model, is not totally clear for me. Finally, this forum has stimulated my curiosity about a topic that remains on the edge of these very interesting papers: the effect of the concentration of wealth products in the hands of ruling elites on the political and institutional stability/instability and consequently on the strategy carried out to save wealth and power (as much you have as much you are in danger and afraid to lose).

Mobilization and/or Redistribution in the North?
Some Comments on the Economic System of Troy


I have decided to join the discussion in this Forum for three reasons. First, to share some thoughts on redistribution and mobilization; secondly, to draw attention to the importance of bioarchaeology for the study of ancient economies; and last, but not least, I just wanted to use the opportunity to call the attention of scholars studying the Late Bronze Age Aegean political economy to the fact that there is also some political economy in the northern Aegean as well (it does not stop at Dimini!), and that northern sites provide some evidence that can substantially contribute to the understanding of the problem.
Since Troy was never analyzed from this point of view and nobody working in the Northern Aegean participated in meetings and publications devoted to the Aegean political economy of the second millennium, I think it is reasonable to begin with the last point. Let us very briefly recapitulate what we know about the sociopolitical organization of Troy, its territorial and economic development between MM III to LH IIIC, i.e. Troy VI and VII.
The research on such topics in Troy is strongly disadvantaged in comparison with southern Aegean centers: no textual evidence, very few sealings, almost no elite burials that would contribute to understanding of the social structure, and no central buildings. As is well known, in the area, where the palaces were most likely standing in the Mycenaean period, there is a void which is most probably due to levelling in the Hellenistic period (I wonder if this is one of the reasons why Troy was never included in the discussion on „palatial economy“?). Consequently, if we want to understand the sociopolitical and economic organization of Troy, we must rely on studies on finds, architecture from peripheral areas of the citadel and outside the citadel, bioarchaeology and, of course, comparisons with other areas and times.
The development of Troy in the 2nd millennium BC follows a trajectory similar to that of many Mycenaean centers: After the time of decline in the MBA, the phase of Troy VI Early (roughly MM III to LH I), is characterized by the beginning of monumental architecture and the re-establishment of foreign contacts. But it is in the phase VI Middle (ca. LH II), or at the latest VI Late (ca. IIIA), that very considerable transformations took place in the settlement structure of the site and its neighborhood. The significance of Troy obviously grew and it reached undoubtedly the status of the most important center in the region. The dimension of the lower town, which was probably used partly as habitation and partly as an industrial area, as estimated by the base of pottery sherds collected from the surface in the course of intensive surveys and excavations, and by the position of a surrounding ditch, corresponds to the proposed size of the lower towns of Thebes and Mycenae; the citadel reached dimensions of the palace area in Pylos or the citadel in Midea. Interestingly, only a few settlements in direct vicinity of Troy would eventually last to the final phases of the Late Bronze Age . Most sites in the surrounding region were probably abandoned during period VI. The only one which was investigated in the course of regular excavations, the burial ground Beşik-Tepe, was abandoned at the beginning of period VIIa. Some settlements were, therefore, probably deserted due to the process of centralization in the area of the lower Scamander basin. Important structural changes took place in phase VIIa (ca. LH IIIB). The architecture of phase VIIa was usually considered as much more modest in comparison with the big detached buildings from phase VI Late. In fact, the buildings erected in the 13th century were created in the course of a completely new architectural project. One of the elements of this undertaking was the foundation of a massive terrace along the inner side of the fortification wall, which formed a new surface for very tightly built houses, magazines and paved streets. Big structures appeared outside the citadel as well. From the point of view of material culture, this is a period of at least the same prosperity as the phase VI late. There is also considerable evidence for the production of some luxury goods like, for example, purple. Interestingly, foreign contacts became stronger in VIIa, since the export of Anatolian Grey Ware to various sites in eastern Mediterranean began to be significant only in this period.
No doubt, Trojan rulers, not unlike other Aegean leaders, needed considerable human resources to conduct their ambitious enterprises, such as the erection of the big monumental buildings and fortifications, the production of different kinds of goods for their own consumption or for exchange, and support their followers, and so on. Although long lasting excavation revealed no textual documents and only very few seals, it is obvious that in Troy an extensive administrative apparatus must have existed. The number of officials controlling the flow of goods, peoples and resources without using script could be even higher than in the case of polities where writing was in use, since script was a valuable tool improving the functioning of administration.
Anyhow, officials, construction workers and other craftsmen were only partly or seasonally involved or even completely excluded from the primary production process. Therefore, a sector producing surpluses may be postulated in Troy. As Kostas Christakis emphasized in his paper in this forum, the analysis of the strategies of mobilization of surplus, such as staple products, is essential for understanding the ways early centralized economies functioned. Some evidence from Troy offers very important data on this topic.
Because Troy is a multilayered tell settlement (in contrast to many important Mycenaean sites, which are kinds of hilltops) we have the opportunity to study the development of the economic system for each stratum. And, indeed, an excellent study by Simone Riehl on archaeobotanical material revealed important indications for changing patterns of agricultural practices and landscape exploitation by the inhabitants of Troy during the entire Bronze Age. She analyzed the crop variety and associated weeds and could, as a result, reconstruct the spectrum of cultivated plants, agricultural conditions, and the localisation of the fields. For us, the most important result is the evidence from periods V to VIIa. Riehl reconstructs the economic development as follows: In the time of Troy V (ca. MH II), the crop spectrum is characterized by lower degree of specialisation in comparison with the Early and the Late Bronze Age. A high diversity among cultivated plants probably points to a rather simple, risk-buffering strategy. In the time of Troy VI (ca. MH III to LH IIIA) a tendency towards specialisation in agricultural production is visible, with a prevalence of barley, and, to a lesser degree, emmer. This tendency became stronger in phase VIIa (ca. LH IIIB), where emmer and einkorn evidently dominated the crop production. Not only the fertile valley, but, first of all, the higher and dryer areas of the Low Plateau were intensively cultivated in this period. These modifications can be, according to Riehl, interpreted as the result of an endeavor to enlarge agricultural surplus production. She also noticed that in the citadel and in the lower town, many magazines containing huge storage vessels appeared simultaneously, which most likely indicates considerable change in the strategy of storage and the control of resources. After the collapse at the beginning of the 12th century BC, small scale production dominated by barley and bitter vetch spread again and the fields were limited to the river valley.
To summarize, although we are still waiting for the most important part of archaeozoological evidence, the archaeobotanical data already strongly suggest certain patterns in the economic development of Troy. It seems that the multiplication of surplus, in this case, specifically grain, was reached in phase VIIa (ca. 13th century BC) due to the changing spectrum of cultivated plants and the enlargement of the cultivation fields (higher and drier areas were included). These modifications were most probably combined with new storage strategies. It seems that additional amounts of staple goods were gained in the first line through the mobilization of resources in the direct vicinity of Troy, rather than by expansion of the regional redistribution network – that is to say, instead of bringing these goods from fertile valleys lying further away.
In the recent decades the Aegean political economy has been in the center of archaeological research. Unfortunately, archaeobotanical evidence from the main Mycenaean centers is still rather limited, but significant changes in the storage strategies were observed at some sites. Interestingly, a great increase in storage installations for different kinds of goods was noticed in more or less the same period as in Troy in other Aegean centers, for example in Pylos. J. Wright writes about changes that took place at the site during the LH IIIB: „The palace had been transformed into a highly centralized storage and industrial facility, presumably the redistribution center for the kingdom”. R. Schon suggested, in his article in this forum, that the obvious concentration of areas of industrial activity inside the central palace buildings of Pylos points to a deliberate increase in control of resources and production, and is not a result of external dangers, as some scholars supposed before. The same is to be suspected in the case of the increasing dimensions of storage facilities, which are also not necessarily the result of redistribution „for the kingdom“, but instead prove the growing mobilization of capital directly under central supervision. Palatial redistribution was probably especially focused on (but surely not limited to) exactly these sectors under its direct control. Simultaneously, as we know, not only subsistence economy on the household level, but also, for example, some „less attractive“ industries could be independent from the palace. Since there are no doubts that grain was extremely important to the palatial economy (as known from Linear-B documents, it builds the most important ingredient of the food rations of dependent workers, and it could also be used as payment for craftsmen), this was surely the item of redistribution. Well, this kind of redistribution was exercised by the elites primarily for their own benefit, and the whole system is, indeed, to be described as mobilization.

Works Cited
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Causes and effects

Just a very short and simple clarification on the concluding remark of my previous comment, in the light of the paper by Schon. Since the collection of goods was made by the elites primarily for their own benefit, what is traditionally considered the effect, i.e. the “centralization of commodities and control of craft activities”, should be perhaps reversed with what is traditionally considered the cause, i.e. the “increasing dangers”. In other words, a certain social segment, a minority compared to the overall population, accumulates riches and inevitably exposes themselves, just like the agricultural commodities stored in a mass, to greater risks.

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