This short paper has two main interlinked aims. The first is to examine the persistent intrusion of myths as 'evidence' into the archaeology of Late Bronze Age (LBA) Greece (sixteenth to eleventh centuries BCE).[1] The myths preserved in antiquity led to the discovery of the LBA cultures and have coloured perceptions of these cultures ever since.[2] Heinrich Schliemann, in the late nineteenth century, was guided by Homer to dig at the sites mentioned in the Iliad and the Odyssey, and was thus predisposed towards relating these sites to the culture represented in the poems.[3] A neat circularity ensured that when he found something at a Homeric site, it proved the veracity of ancient tradition. The Homeric poems have also been seen to encapsulate memories of LBA events, political geography and kingship. Other myths, such as those of the Dorian migration and the Return of the Herakleidae remain influential in modern explanations of the end of LBA 'palace societies' in the late thirteenth century BCE and subsequent events.[4] I will argue that these myths have been so influential that they have become embedded in scholarly thought concerning the period. Certainly it remains impossible to write about LBA Greece without mentioning Homer and the myths in one way or another. It is therefore entirely justifiable to revisit this already well-documented subject.
The second aim of this paper is to examine the use and effect of the term 'Mycenaean' in and on the archaeology of the Aegean LBA. It will be argued that it has 'skewed' thinking about the period - particularly in terms of the notion of a Mycenaean identity or ethnicity and consequently in interpretations of archaeological evidence. This problem, it will be argued, is linked to modern ideas of western cultural heritage and the relative values ascribed by modern mediators of past cultures to those cultures. Our evidence is the writings of archaeologists and historians - the mediators of the past. Neither archaeology nor history are static fields and we can observe changes in the interpretation and presentation of the past. Often works can be seen to reflect the concerns and prejudices of their own times as much as, if not more than, the time they study. Fortunately we also tend to have the data upon which these interpretations were based, and hindsight which allows us the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-interpret the conclusions of others in light of changes in theory, the appearance of new evidence and growing self awareness in a given field.
Identity and ethnicity in the archaeology of the Aegean LBA can be seen as problems which stem back to the very early days of the subject. They are bound up in its birth, its methodology and its history. The pervasive influence of myth in the subject has affected the understanding of, even the search for identity and ethnicity in, LBA Greece. The powerful personalities and far reaching influence of those individuals who founded Aegean prehistory, Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans, are also responsible in shaping the way these concepts have been approached.
A subsidiary aim of this work is that it be useful to those interested in the problems and uses of evidence not just in the field of the LBA Aegean, but more generally in archaeology and history. It is recommended that those not familiar with the geography of LBA Greece and the eastern Mediterranean refer to a basic map, such as can be found in the referenced works or online.[5]
The first section of this paper, 'The 'discovery' of the Aegean Late Bronze Age', briefly outlines the early days of LBA Greek archaeology. In the 'Homer Meme' we shall examine myth as evidence, first turning to an explicitly outlined methodology in an influential book and then to further examples of the use of myths. After this, in 'When is a Greek not a Greek?', the issue of identity in LBA Greece is raised in the context of a variety of publications. We shall draw some conclusions in 'The 'creation' of the Aegean Late Bronze Age', finally suggesting some ways in which we might proceed in terms of locating identity and ethnicity in the Aegean LBA.
The 'discovery' of the Aegean Late Bronze Age
Moses Finley stated an obvious truth that, 'Unless life itself is destroyed in a region, there must always be continuity of some kind'.[6] We are justified, then, in looking briefly and selectively at the beliefs of the archaic and classical Greeks about their own past.
Greek 'literature', and indeed 'western literature' begins with 'Homer' and the epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, which relate selected events during and after the Trojan War. Opinion has often conflicted on the author himself, his origins, chronology and method, as well as the poems - whether they can be used as evidence, and if so, what for. Whatever one believes about Homer and the poems ascribed to him, it must be admitted that he is problematic.[7]
The Homeric poems, lying at the end of an oral poetic tradition and at the beginning of the Greek tradition as we have it, do not explicitly tie themselves to a chronological period but rather represent 'the good old days', when heroes were bigger and better than contemporary men. Even within the poetic narrative the past was better than the present.[8] Scholarly opinion remains as divided on whether we may justifiably attempt to locate the world of the Homeric poems in the tenth and ninth centuries[9]or later in the eighth century,[10] as it has been on whether the events of the poems (eg. the Trojan War) can be regarded as based on real happenings. Usefully, Sherratt has suggested that it is possible to apply archaeological principles to a reading of Homer and to observe that elements from different periods have become 'fossilized' within the poems; thus as a whole they cannot belong to a single period.[11] One particular feature of the Iliad has been thought to be a likely remembrance of the LBA, due to its content and its almost bureaucratic style: the Catalogue of Ships.[12] Some have assumed that this list of Greek forces is in essence a political map of LBA Greece, though there is no real evidence for this.[13]
Hesiod, a poet active around the end of the eighth century BCE, in his Works & Days, seems to give a chronology of the races of man, descending through the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Heroes races, to the fifth race - Iron.[14] The race of Heroes Hesiod equated with the familiar figures of Greek mythology and those who took part in the Trojan War. Appealing as it may be to see in his description some kind of memory of ages past, this is to misunderstand it. In the poem, Hesiod is concerned to teach his audience (apparently his lazy brother, Perses) a moral tale about the necessity of hard work. The gloomily descending chronology puts his age into a context for Perses, showing how hard work is a necessary part of existence without which one will not survive.
Herodotus and Thucydides, the historians of the fifth century BCE, regarded the events of the Homeric poems and inherited traditions as historical, if adapted for poetry and somewhat overblown in their importance.[15] They did not separate the events of their more recent past from those of the mythical past but saw them as a continuum, one for which they constructed rational chronologies. Although they observed problems after the Trojan War, they were evidently unaware of the changes from the bureaucratic, so-called 'palace' societies of the LBA to the small scale, almost invisible societies of the Early Iron Age followed by increasing population and complexity towards their own times. The implication of this is that they assumed the past was fairly like the present but had already happened.
At least down to the fifth century BCE (and often later), then, the Greeks did not divide their past as we divide it for ourselves, into historic and prehistoric, or into bronze age, dark age and iron age. Nor did they (probably they were unable to) divide the mythic from the historical as we understand it - certainly Herodotus attempted to date offerings in the temple of Ismenian Apollo in Thebes to the time of Laius and Oedipus.[16] It is clear then that the discovery of the Aegean LBA is to be located in modern times.
Heinrich Schliemann, after a successful business career, sought fulfilment through a pursuit of the Greek past. In this he was guided by the epics of Homer, which led him around the Aegean to the reputed site of Troy (in north-western Turkey), to the Greek island of Ithaka - home of Odysseus - and to Mycenae and Tiryns in the Argolid of Central Greece.[17] Though the sites had long been known through tradition at Troy and Ithaka, and also through the still visible remains at Mycenae and Tiryns, systematic archaeological work had not been attempted. In 1870, Schliemann began a series of campaigns which began to prove that civilisation in Greece was far older than records suggested. At the time of Schliemann's discoveries, the prevailing view on the Homeric epics was not that they represented real events - Schliemann was unusual in his belief.[18] The orthodox view is summed up by the influential mid-nineteenth century historian George Grote, who wrote that all stories told of times up to the First Olympiad, in 776BCE, belonged in a 'past that was never present'.[19]
The term 'Mycenaean' quickly began to be applied to the prehistoric archaeological culture which was being recognised all over Greece in the form of pottery, metalwork and funerary architecture, by archaeologists such as Tsountas and Manatt[20] in the generation after Schliemann.[21] Other terms, such as 'Achaean' and 'Aegean' had been considered, but were dismissed.[22] Mycenae was seen to be the 'earliest known and (so far as yet ascertained)...chief seat' of this civilisation which 'left its landmarks...from one end of Greece to the other, as well as on the islands and coasts of the Aegean'.[23] Tsountas and Manatt thought this justification enough for giving its name to both this era and its inhabitants, who had left us no name of their own.
The Aegean Bronze Age has, in the past 125 years, become a vast field of study with an ever increasing bibliography. Work continues in researching the culture, economy and linguistics of the period, as well as in excavation and field survey by scholars of many nationalities both at the sites dug by Schliemann, and a myriad of sites discovered later. We can observe, though, how there are still difficulties with the subject in its relationship to philology and the more traditional text-based scholarship of 'classical' Greece, or classical archaeology, as well as the relationship between our Aegean LBA and the historical Greeks' perception of their own past. It is the task of the rest of this paper to illustrate some of these difficulties.
The Homer Meme
A 'meme' is defined as 'a practice, belief, or other cultural feature that is passed on other than by genetic means'.[24] Memes seek to be replicated using the human brain - tunes we whistle or stories or 'urban myths' that we pass on or mannerisms that we perform, are examples of succesful memes. They are replicated without regard to such things as truth, accuracy or usefulness. It seems that the 'Homer Meme', or more properly the 'Myth Memes', have been particularly successful at being replicated. However, old traditions, while indicating memetic success, do not indicate the veracity of the transmitted tradition. While we may use the idea of memes as a useful heuristic to think about the influence of myth in LBA archaeology, it is important to remember that practices, beliefs and cultural features have been replicated by people at each stage. This is especially so when considering the corpus of myths written down by later Greeks. The nature of the transmission of oral poetry and traditions in general can vary and in the context of epic poetry and simple storytelling we must consider performative nature - stories are tailored to suit the audience at each performance and subject to poetic 'inspiration', perhaps within set stylistic or structural boundaries. If we consider that all of what eventually became 'the Greek myths' as we have them must have been transmitted through many individuals in many circumstances, from the firesides of peasants to elite dwellings and public performance, we should not be surprised that myths display inconsistency and seem to borrow from one another.
The purpose of this section is to illustrate the insidiousness of the penetration of myth, as evidence, into the archaeology and history of LBA Greece. We will begin by examining the argument in Martin Nilsson's book The Mycenaean Origins of Greek Mythology,[25] which stemmed from a series of influential lectures he gave (the Sather Lectures) at the University of California in 1930-31. The reader may be forgiven for wondering at the choice of such an old text, but it is justified in that, unlike many, Nilsson explicitly set out what he was attempting to do, and how he was attempting to do it. Criticism of the position he took and the mode of thought it represents is thus made easier than with an author whose methodology, assumptions or reasoning remains implicit. Nilsson's work and attitude also remain influential to this day.[26] This is no hatchet-job, though. I wish to make clear that I suspect Nilsson is partly correct in seeing some of the origins of Greek mythology in the Aegean LBA. But myths undoubtedly have many origins and influences, the more so the longer they are living traditions. What we regard as Greek myths should be seen in a dynamic sense as being constructed over time from many points of inspiration, not simply descending in linear fashion from a single point of origin.
Nilsson sought to demonstrate properly (with an explicit methodology) the Mycenaean origins of later Greek myths. His proof constituted 'a thorough-going comparison of the cities to which mythological cycles are attached with the cities where finds from the Mycenaean age have been made. If the correlation is constant; i.e., if we find that the cities to which the mythological cycles are attached were the centers of the Mycenaean civilization also, this constant correlation cannot be considered as accidental; it will prove the connection between the mythological cycles and the Mycenaean civilization'.[27] As further proof he suggested that the importance in mythological terms should also correspond to its importance in Mycenaean civilisation.
Commencing his survey with the Argolid, in chapter two, Nilsson argued that the correlation here between importance in myth and in Mycenaean civilisation is the highest, before detailing Mycenae's status as 'the proudest and wealthiest town of Mycenaean Greece,' and listing some of the remains, such as the Lion Gate, 'the only monumental sculpture from prehistoric times'.[28] He then located 'two of the most famous cycles of Greek myths', those of Perseus and the Atreides, at Mycenae, which correspond, he concludes, 'to the paramount importance of Mycenae in the Mycenaean age'.[29]
Nilsson followed by arguing that Agamemnon's 'position as overlord of the Greek princes is another heritage from the Mycenaean age, due to the wealth and power of his city' and that the Homeric picture of kingship reflects early historical kingship in which the 'really kingly power' was a relic of the Mycenaean age.[30] In respect of this, he cited the passage in the Iliad which describes the handing down of the sceptre of Agamemnon - from its creation by the smith-god Hephaestos until it reaches Agamemnon 'to carry, to be lord of many isles and of all Argos.'[31] Further to this, in the final chapter of his book Nilsson argues that in Homer 'Agamemnon was a Great King who held sway over many vassals'; that he was an hereditary 'war-king' whose power 'waxed greatly in war' but waned somewhat in peace-time.[32] The 'Great King' was also supported by an 'assembly' and 'obstinate vassals'. Linking this with archaeological remains, Nilsson states that 'the Mycenaean monuments teach us in what age kings with such power existed'.[33]
Having briefly outlined the main points of Nilsson's argument, the problems arising from it will now be discussed.
The correlation of mythic cycles with LBA centres is not a thorough enough proof to determine absolutely that the mythic cycle originated in that period, even when the prominence in myth or archaeology is adduced as further proof. The matter of prominence is itself problematic. How do we ascribe a level of importance within a culture to individual sites? No one would dispute that Mycenae was an important site in the LBA, but other sites such as Pylos, Thebes and Knossos could equally be called 'proud and wealthy towns'; but how can we avoid a subjective conclusion? Thucydides, in discussing the relative power and influence of Sparta and Athens towards the end of the fifth century, counsels his readers not to mix up the appearance of a city with how powerful it actually is, and we do well to bear his advice in mind.[34]
The Pylos Linear B tablets (records written in an early form of Greek, in a syllabic script, see below), for example, are concerned with the production and distribution of goods and materials within that polity alone. They do not show that Pylos was subject in any political or economic way to Mycenae or any other site, as most surely they would if that was the case. This textual evidence, it is fair to remember, was not available to Nilsson in the 1930s; but even with the archaeological evidence then available, to conclude that Mycenae was pre-eminent shows the interference of the Homeric 'evidence' as Nilsson understood it. That few names of the towns of the Pylos polity occur in the Homeric Catalogue of Ships has always been a difficulty for those linking the epics to the LBA.[35]
The correlation also does not always occur when required. Kalydon and Ithaka, although important in myth, were not, from the remaining evidence, important in the LBA.[36] Nilsson hoped that further work at Kalydon would prove its importance.[37] It has not.[38] In seeking to explain the lack of correlation between the major mythic figure Odysseus, and the archaeology on Ithaka, which does not show it to have been important, Nilsson resorts to pointing to the nature of the myth. 'Odysseus is not a heroic myth but a romance. A romance may choose and localize its heroes in an arbitrary manner; thus the localization of the plot is unreliable' (my emphasis).[39] This seems rather just a way of seeking to explain the unreliability of Homer after the fact. Finley, studying the reliability of epic oral tradition as historical fact, concluded that they are in all ways unreliable, as to the events, characters and locations. In conclusion he summed up his view, with which we agree, that 'the Trojan War had best be removed in toto from the realm of history and returned to the realm of myth and poetry'.[40]
We cannot dismiss the physical residuum of the LBA as visible to the later Greeks as a key factor in the ongoing creation of their mythology. Occasionally, in the classical period, 'heroic' graves of giant men were dug up;[41] in the Hellenistic period the spectacular LBA tholos[42] tomb at Orchomenos was reused;[43] and Pausanias, in the second century AD, noted the monuments of Mycenae and their traditional mythical origins.[44] It is not hard to imagine myths growing up around highly visual, spectacular, or unusual remains without having any necessary link to real events or personalities. Chance discoveries of skeletal remains seem to have influenced the pictorial representation of mythic beasts on later Greek pots,[45] and so presumably the myths they appear in. And we may only speculate at the visual impression the LBA Greeks had on the psyches of their successors through the possible transmission of heirlooms, textile designs, as well as monumental relics and stories. We can compare, though, the sense of awe and pathos felt by the early English poet who composed the Ruin, an evocation of a ruined Roman city in Britain (possibly Bath): 'Wondrously ornate is the stone of this wall, shattered by fate; the precincts of the city have crumbled and the work of giants is rotting away'.[46] There is a major difference in attitude between the description of the city in the Ruin and Pausanias' description of 'cyclops-built' Mycenae. For Pausanias, Mycenae's mythic past was part of a continuum of events, which allows him to describe its history from its foundation by Perseus to its sacking by rival city Argos, after the battle of Thermopylae in the fifth century BCE. The English poet, on the other hand, perceived a significant break between the earlier, finer culture of another people and his own time. It is we that divide the traditional events of the Greek past into mythical and historical, just as a precursor to using Homer as evidence is to banish the 'obviously' fictional elements such as the gods or the magical Phaiakians in the Odyssey.
The successful replication of the 'Homer meme', despite sizeable opposition and cogent reasoning, continued to crop up in scholarly work throughout the twentieth century.
Desborough, in 1964, after the translation of Linear B, also argued for 'one ruler over the whole Mycenaean territory, with his capital at Mycenae'.[47] He dismisses the Linear B evidence as 'of no assistance one way or the other', and cites the problematic evidence from the records of the Hittites in Anatolia, which mention a land known to them as Ahhiyawa, as representing 'the entire Mycenaean orbit'.[48] Desborough's stated attitude towards the Homeric evidence is that 'there is no reason to suppose that the general picture of the civilization was seriously inaccurate, nor to doubt the existence of the Trojan War'.[49] More recently, Homeric evidence has been cited to illustrate the possible domination by Mycenae of Tiryns and Argos, major sites in the Argolid.[50] The suggestion is that in the Iliad, Diomedes of Tiryns is subordinate to Agamemnon of Mycenae and that this Homeric view contains a remembrance of Greek political geography in the LBA. In the Iliad, however, the heroes may all be militarily subordinate to Agamemnon during the Trojan War, but this does not indicate a general and continuous state of political subordination.
It is a feature of these kinds of arguments that they regard the Homeric epics, in the character and position of Agamemnon, as recalling in some way the actual political supremacy of Mycenae and the 'vassal' status of the other leaders. Nilsson quoted the famous passage (see above) from the Iliad concerning the sceptre of Agamemnon as evidence of this. However, many of the other leaders of the Greek host are, in Homer's words, 'sceptred-kings',[51] and the leadership of Agamemnon seems more likely to rest on (if any reason need be sought) his having the largest contingent of men.[52] We must also consider that the Iliad could hardly represent a normal state of affairs, but rather a world under excessive strain - the mounting of a campaign so vast and lengthy as the Trojan War can hardly have been usual. This fact alone would make the Iliad questionable as evidence for the political geography of the LBA Aegean or its institutions.
Besides the Homeric corpus and the Trojan War, other myths have remained prominent in the scholarship of the Greek LBA, namely those of the Dorian migration and the Return of the Herakleidae (the sons of Herakles). As we have already seen, the heroic age of the Homeric heroes has often been assumed to relate in some way to the LBA. The two myths just mentioned have often seemed to fit neatly into the pattern suggested by the archaeology of the end of the Greek LBA: the seemingly widespread series of destructions and abandonments of major and minor sites around 1200BCE, and the geographic spread of Greek dialects and the claims of later Greeks to be Ionian, Aeolian or Dorian. Most recently it has been argued by Eder that a major discontinuity occurred at the end of (approximately) the mid-eleventh century BCE (LHIIIC = c. 1190-1050BCE)[53] and that subsequent changes in dialect and material remains at this time should be attributed to Doric speaking pastoralists.[54] These Dorians either invaded or infiltrated southern Greece after the palace-based polities had already broken down. Voutsaki points out in her review of Eder that 'the question is whether we should still be thinking of a monolithic Dorian invasion'.[55] The so-called Dorian invasion or migration occurs in myth primarily and has since been applied by modern archaeologists to the archaeology of LBA Greece on the assumption that it must retain some narrative historical value.
Seeking to use myths in this way is highly dubious, though. Accounts seeking to show that the archaeological record reflects a Dorian invasion really need to demonstrate in the first place that such myths do have a historical value which can be sensibly drawn out of them. We cannot simply assume a 'kernel of truth' exists and fit this to an interpretation of the archaeological record. The problem of the myth of the Dorian migration also highlights the subject of identity and ethnicity in archaeology. In applying the myths to the archaeology, or assuming the myths to be true in some sense, archaeologists have often sought to identify the migration - implicitly expecting a group such as the Dorians to be archaeologically visible. One reason why the Dorian migration hypotheses have been around so long in modern post-Schliemann scholarship (since Tsountas and Manatt),[56] and yet have remained unproved, is that the material evidence which has been sought to prove it conclusively may not exist in any sense. It has generally been assumed that such an event would be archaeologically visible, and the fact that it is not found (except tendentiously) has been taken to discredit the theory. Invasions of Greece such as those by Celtic tribes in the Hellenistic period are only known about through texts; though they remain archaeologically invisible, we do not doubt they occurred. However we cannot assume myths to be true if the explanation they offer seems to be a good one. In doing so we do not examine the myth in its own terms, as a tool in the construction of identity in which truth as we understand it is irrelevant. In the words of Forsdyke, 'use of legendary statements for historical interpretation of material records is a reversal of proper procedure'.[57]
When is a Greek not a Greek? When he's a Mycenaean.
Though the mythology of the Greeks led Schliemann to the discovery of the Aegean LBA, it has not always been thought that the inhabitants of prehistoric Greece were, in any sense, Greek. Tsountas and Manatt discussed 'the problem of the Mycenaean race',[58] Tsountas having suggested in 1893 that Greek had been the language of LBA Mycenae.[59] Arthur Evans, responsible for the discovery of the prehistoric 'Minoan' culture of Crete through his work at the site of Knossos, argued that due to the obvious debt owed by the mainland prehistoric culture to that of Crete, the Mycenaeans, or at least their elite, were Minoan and thus not Greek. Tsountas on the other hand propounded the 'Hellenic' nature of the culture.[60] Evans conclusion is, in a way, unsurprising. The script of the Linear B tablets found at Knossos, which had not yet been deciphered, seemed to derive from the older Linear A tablets. When Linear B tablets were discovered on the mainland it was assumed that the language used would be the same as that spoken at Knossos. The Minoans had obviously colonised or taken control of the mainland, as the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur suggests. Subsequent to the revelation that the language written in the Linear B script was in fact an early form of Greek, the conclusion that the inhabitants were non-Greek could no longer be maintained.
The non-Greekness of the Mycenaeans has not disappeared, however, despite their Greek language. Similar to the Minoan/Mycenaean opposition, a Mycenaean/Greek opposition can be found to run through the history of the subject, which we shall examine below.
This idea can be found represented in, to give two examples, the texts Greece in the making, 1200-479BCE, and The origins of Greek civilization: 1100-650 BCE[61] While I am not disputing the fact that these books contain much of value, it is implicit in both their titles that the 'Greek civilisation' or 'culture' they envisage does not include the period before the somewhat artificial and modern break of the Greek 'Dark Age'. Chester Starr gave his reasoning thus: 'The pattern of civilization...which we call "Greek" and which has directly influenced all subsequent Western history, was evolved only in the centuries between 1100 and 650 BCE' (after the LBA cultures). Osborne's 'unashamedly teleological' approach likens the Mycenaeans in 'kind' to 'their near-eastern neighbours'. [62]
We might start by asking 'why choose these dates for a history?' The answer will be that such a choice is initially dictated by the amount of evidence that exists, and also by the degree to which cultures and thresholds can be observed in that evidence, allowing some kind of narrative to be constructed within logical boundaries. We might also add an amount of cultural conditioning, which leads us to view history in a certain way.
Commencing a history of Greece, or of the period which led to Greece in some way 'becoming', entails making decisions. Osborne's decision to begin c.1200BCE is, he admits, less conventional than the tradition of beginning with the First Olympiad (776BCE);[63] but he claims it is justified 'because it is following the fall of the Mycenaean palaces that the greatest discontinuity in the archaeological record occurs'.[64] It is after this threshold, he argues, with the Greeks of the ninth and eighth centuries, that we can see 'from almost the very beginnings, the development of a political society and of a cultural identity'.[65] They are seen to owe 'little other than...language and...myths to the Greeks of the twelfth century'. These two things alone, though, in the context of later Greek art, literature, drama and philosophy, can be seen as foundations of the much admired classical Greek, or classical Athenian, culture of the fifth century BCE (and thus by extension of so-called Western civilisation). As we have seen in our examination of Nilsson and myth, the connection between the two is strong. Myth was a formative element of the construction of later Greek identity. Even if we deem it unlikely that myths necessarily capture true events or historical characters, there are undoubted links to the LBA. The eleventh and tenth centuries, here, seem to remain in limbo; neither properly one nor the other, they form a kind of 'iron-curtain' between Greeks and the 'not Greek enough' Mycenaeans.
Starr's history begins in 1100BCE. He saw the period between then and 650BCE as the formative time of Greek history separated from the bronze age by a 'gulf in cultural outlook',[66] citing the 'rough and barbarous' nature of the LBA where the 'masters' of that world sought to concentrate 'the energies of their subjects upon their own luxury.'[67] Such comments are reminiscent of the opposition between Occident and Orient, where for Orient we read 'despotism, splendor, cruelty and vice' as contrasted with 'democracy, restraint, decency and morality'.[68] As we have seen, Osborne seems also to have made this opposition; in likening the Mycenaean culture to near-eastern cultures he differentiates it from classical Greek culture. Mycenaeans had previously been likened to 'warlike' Greeks in opposition to peaceful and sensitive Minoans; rather a reversal of traditional prejudices, and odd if the upper class Mycenaeans were really 'Minoan' or Minoanising.
What, if any, are the justifications for viewing Greek history as a continuum from the LBA? Firstly, we can now admit that the LBA inhabitants of Greece spoke an early form of Greek. Secondly, there are definite continuations in religion, at least so far as divinities of the same name are worshipped in the LBA as in the archaic, classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. It must be stated, though, that considerable changes seem to have taken place in the form of actual cult practices. Thirdly, it has been argued that the art of the LBA is narrative and contains some of the topoi of later Greek epic and mythology.[69] Fourthly, it has been argued that Greek hexameter poetry extends back into the LBA and that it 'featured some of the heroes familiar to us from Homer, with their characteristic epithets and weaponry'.[70] We can also cite the continuation in habitation of some sites, as well as pottery and funeral customs in many areas.
So, while it is evident that there is a break in the archaeological culture of Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age Greece, there are also continuities which cannot be dismissed. The fact that they have so often been dismissed, or (consciously or otherwise) overlooked, can be seen to have come from this naming of the Mycenaeans, which has created a unity that exists only in terms of an archaeological culture. The break in material culture has also been artificially widened by the influence of myths, such as those of the Dorian invasion, which have directed thought to searching for sweeping population change. Cultures are most clearly seen in opposition and this is what has occurred with the Mycenaeans - they have been understood in contrast to both the Minoans and the later Greeks.
The question of whether the Mycenaeans were Greek, then, is really a question of modern emphasis. I do not seek to dispute that the material cultures and practices of the Greeks in the LBA differ from those after c.1100BCE, but to emphasise here that the problems of interpreting and describing the Aegean LBA have been multiplied due to the 'Mycenaeanisation' of early Greek history. If it is true to say that the Aegean LBA was 'discovered' by the modern world, it is as true to say that it is has also been 'created' in the modern world.
The 'creation' of the Aegean Late Bronze Age
So far we have seen how mythology and terminology have been influential in creating the Aegean LBA. We have noted the influence of the Homeric poems and the migratory myths as being of particular relevance.
Myths (as a modern cultural background to the discovery of the period) have been taken to reflect and to relate to, in decipherable ways, the material world that archaeology revealed. Despite criticism of these readings of mythology from the time of Schliemann onwards, it has nonetheless crept into archaeology and history, both explicitly in argument, but also in the cultural background of Greek scholars. Benefiting from a more self-conscious academic world, these problems are now more readily observed and pointed out, but it does not seem that they have yet disappeared completely.
The archaeological cultures themselves have been identified, named and juxtaposed; characteristics have been ascribed to them and assumptions have been made about the ethnicity and cultural value of groups. The 'Mycenaeans' have been viewed as a race, as Greek or not Greek, even as 'mainland Minoans'. The 'Greekness' of the Mycenaeans is, in truth, rather a non-question. In recognising its presence in modern scholarship, though, we can perceive a discourse on modern social values. When the Mycenaeans are Greek, the splendour of Greek history is expanded chronologically and the roots of western culture are sunk deeper into the past. When they are not, the birth of western culture out of a dark age that shook Greece from the influence of the east, allowing it to develop into the cultural icon of western tradition, is emphasised. It is salient that two so radically opposing views can be supported by the same material culture. This in turn supports the point that, to a certain extent, the past is always created in the present to suit present needs. In fact, we are engaged in the same process, albeit with different tools and rationales, as the mythmaking Greeks. We are actively creating our own past, reflecting and justifying our own present.
What of the ethnicity and identity of the Mycenaeans, then? We must first be wary of the equation suggested by Childe that an archaeological culture represents 'a people'.[71] Just as modern material culture does not identify ethnic groups (though it may have some part to play), neither does that of the past. Our picture of the Mycenaeans is immediately blurred when we realise that a material culture can be shared by ethnically distinct groups. Likewise, ethnically homogeneous groups can partake of a variety of material cultures. A distribution map of the Mycenaean culture will therefore not necessarily correspond with the distribution of a distinct ethnic group. A supposedly 'intrusive' pottery type, Handmade Burnished Ware, which appears in the LBA (late LHIIIB = c.1225-1190BCE),[72] has been seen to represent an intrusive people - even being named 'Barbarian Ware', though in most cases it seems this pottery is locally made. This has been seen to support the traditional scenario proposed in Greek mythology, which explained the ending of the mythical Heroic Age (equated with LBA 'palatial' societies) through invasion and migration. It is a prime example of how mythology and terminology have worked together to cloud our view of LBA cultures.
That Greek was used in several major centres we can be sure from the Linear B tablets, and it would seem unlikely for it not to have been the generally spoken language. As in later Greece, a variety of dialects may have existed. At Knossos it seems likely that, as Linear B represents Greek but the earlier Linear A does not, Greek is intrusive, and different languages (as opposed to dialects) are used simultaneously. Robert Drews, however, has argued that Greek was the language of the Mycenaean elite who departed southern Greece at the end of the LBA. This allowed the non-Greek mass (whom, according to Drews, the Mycenaeans had exploited) to be 'Doricised' by incoming Dorians.[73] In general terms this is not convincing: his old-fashioned views on the nature of Mycenaean society as oppressive are not borne out by the evidence.[74] Myceneaean culture, in terms of burial practice and artefacts, seems to have been spread from elite to more modest individuals, and it is therefore far from acceptable or convincing to suggest an almost Spartan cultural system, with alien helots.
There is a variety of evidence which may give ethnonyms of the Greeks in the LBA. Bennet divides these into 'external' and 'internal' evidence.[75] External evidence comes from a variety of sources including Hittite texts of the fifteenth to thirteenth centuries BCE,[76] and Egyptian textual and pictorial accounts of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BCE.[77] These types of evidence must be used with caution, and what we can conclude from them with any certainty is not always clear.
The few Hittite texts of concern to us here make mention of a person called Attarissiyas, a man of Ahhiya. Another name, Ahhiyawa, seems to be a later form (post fifteenth century) of Ahhiya. There is an obvious temptation to link these names with the Homeric Atreus, father of Agamemnon and Menelaos, and the Achaeans. While the linguistic difficulties that overshadow the apparent similarity seem often to be mentioned, they also seem generally to be ignored. The difficulty consists in reconciling Achaiwia, the postulated early form of 'land of the Achaeans', and Ahhiya/Ahhiyawa, as the Hittites were familiar with the sounds hh, iya, and terminal a, and over two centuries of contact it seems unlikely that the Hittites would have been unable to get this right. Of course we may compare this situation with our own English rendering of ethnonyms: Greek (or Greece), for example, is not much like Hellene (or Hellas), though we use our own inherited term rather than the Greeks own term for themselves in full awareness of its existence. A recent publication states, however, that it is 'now widely if not universally accepted as an Anatolian name for 'Achaeans.'[78] The name Attarissiyas, taken as Atreus, and other names suggestive of mythical heroes, have naturally led to suggestions of the veracity of the Trojan War, though this is just another example of the embeddedness of myth.
The Egyptian evidence of importance here consists firstly of the Merneptah 'Victory stele' (Vs), commemorating a victory over the Libyans and their allies, who are described as 'northerners coming from all lands', or 'of the countries of the sea' (c.1220 or 1209BCE). Also important are the funerary commemorations of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu (MH), celebrating victory over peoples moving south by land and sea from Syria (c. 1176BCE).[79] The problem of the so-called Sea Peoples is outside the interest of this paper except for the occurrence of some names of groups in the above sources and their origin or location. The Vs gives the names of five groups (excluding the Libyans), including one group listed as the 3kws, possibly to be vocalised as Ekwesh/Akaiwasha. Again, it is possible that a reference is being made to the (or to some) Achaeans, or to (some people of) Ahhiya(wa) but the identification is not certain. The association of the 3kws with the Rwkw, possibly vocalised 'Lukka', may be important. Lukka is 'plausibly' equated with the Hittite 'Lukka lands' (possibly classical Lycia, in south-west Anatolia), and now it seems that Ahhiyawa, too, is most likely to be located in this area, with its core somewhere offshore (possibly the islands around and including Rhodes).[80]
The reliefs at Medinet Habu list, among others, a people called the Dnyn, possibly vocalised as Denyen/Danuna. Manifold origins have been ascribed to these people: they are variously Homeric Danaans[81] and the biblical tribe of Dan,[82] though it is perhaps most likely that they are a people from Cilicia, in south-eastern Anatolia.[83]
The 'internal' evidence which may denote an ethnonym for Bronze Age Greeks is a Linear B tablet from Knossos (KN78=C914), translated by Chadwick and Ventris as: 'To Achaea [a-ka-wi-ja-de]: from Pallantios, fifty rams, fifty he-goats.'[84] This is, however, only one possible transliteration of a-ki-wi-ja-de. Even if the transliteration is correct, the problem remains that Achaea may refer to either a mainland state, perhaps centred at Mycenae or Thebes, an island state such as Rhodes, or a local site on Crete itself.[85]
From the evidence assembled above, it seems unlikely that we can determine a certain ethnonym for the Greeks of the LBA, and in this we should not, perhaps, be too surprised. Bennet concluded that 'ethnic groups probably did not exist as they are understood in the modern world'.[86] We can also usefully compare the situation amongst the classical Greeks, whose world was divided into a multiplicity of city-states, much as the late bronze Greek world was divided into separate polities. A variety of identities existed for classical Greeks, who could define themselves in terms of family and genealogy, phratriai (brotherhood), phylai (tribe), deme (in Athens a political division), religious associations, polis (city-state), as Ionians or Dorians, and as Hellenes (Greeks). Loyalty to the polis came before loyalty to Hellas, as is borne out by the situation during the invasions by the Persians in the early fifth century BCE where most of the thousand-odd and constantly warring city-states looked to their own best interests and only a few banded together in common cause. There seems no great reason not to see the LBA Aegean states as being similar, in this way, to the later Greek city-states.
We can be sure that the Pylians of the LBA had their own spectrum of identities with which they defined themselves depending on their location[87] within that society; but how observable these are through the overlying 'Mycenaean' material culture is reliant, as Bennet says, 'on the systematic use of a range of materials: visual images, texts, and examination of complexes of material culture and the behaviours they reflect'.[88] We can be sure that the Pylians (if they named themselves after Pylos - the name was in use in the LBA) had their own spectrum of identities with which they defined themselves. How observable these are through the overlying 'Mycenaean' material culture 'depends on the systematic use of a range of materials: visual images, texts, and examination of complexes of material culture and the behaviours they reflect'.[89] Pylians presumably contrasted themselves ethnically with alien groups or people as some names show. Some groups of women, dependent textile workers from outside Pylos, are indicated in the Linear B texts as 'Asians', 'Knidians', 'Milesians', and 'Halikarnassians'.[90] Some personal names seemingly also had ethnic associations - 'Cypriot', and, from the Knossos tablets, 'Egyptian' and 'Memphite'. At Thebes, tablets refer to a 'son of Lakedaimon' and the ethnic 'Lakedaimonian'.[91]
Apart from geographical variance, we must also accept that material culture is often partisan in its representation of the full spectrum of any society. Thus the dependent textile workers do not leave a great archaeological residue. 'The seemingly uniform "Mycenaean" material culture was constructed by elites in the various palatial centres'.[92]
The LBA inhabitants of Greece shared, to some extent, a common language and culture. The situation on Crete, Cyprus and the coastal regions of Anatolia is more varied in these terms. That those united by a common material culture ever viewed themselves as a single ethnic group is unlikely and 'Greek' self-identity is only to be found developing much later on.
In conclusion, 'the Mycenaeans' exist only in one reality - that of modern scholarship. They have been constructed from a complex intellectual background that draws upon archaeology, mythology, and modern cultural assumptions and values, as well as upon the psychology of individuals.