Mycenaean presence in the mediterranean

Another issue which is closely related to the subject of this book concerns the degree to which Aegeans actively participated in the international economy of the Late Bronze Age. Ideas about this topic have been formulated since the days of Heinrich Schliemann, who believed that the Shaft Graves at Mycenae could only be accounted for by a Phoenician invasion.53 The discovery of large amounts of Mycenaean pottery in tombs at Minet el-Beida and Ras Shamra (Ugarit) led C. Schaeffer to believe that these were the graves of Mycenaean colonists.54 Sir Arthur Evans endorsed this view by

41 Liverani 1972, 310-311. Especially when administrators were of unequal rank, the transactions often had a purely commercial character.

42 Liverani 1972, 308-309; 1990, 215.

43 For distribution maps of these ingots, including representations, see Gale 1991, 200-201.

44 See Bass 1967, 62-67, figs. 62, 64, 67, 68, 74, 75, 79, 82.

45 Pulak 1988, 6; Muhly, Maddin & Stech 1988, 281.

46 See Bass 1987; 1991; Pulak 1988; 1997; also Buchholz

1988, 225-227.

47 Muhly, Maddin & Stech 1988, 289; for contexts, see Bass 1967, 57-62; Buchholz 1988, 203-212.

48 Muhly, Maddin & Stech 1988, 289.

49 Buchholz 1988, 227.

50 Liverani 1972, 305; Zaccagnini 1976, 468.

51 Zaccagnini 1987, 58.

52 Liverani 1972, 316-317; EA 3, 13-14: "But now when I sent a messenger to you, you have detained him for six years..."

53 See Yannai 1983, 51.

54 Schaeffer 1936b, 78-99. He went so far to assume that comparing the architecture of the Ugaritic tombs with the Royal Tomb at Isopata near Knossos in Crete and by suggesting that the origin of the Syrian graves "...should be sought on Cretan soil".55 Several scenarios of Aegean pre-eminence have resulted from this view. Erik Sjoqvist imagined groups of Mycenaeans colonising Cyprus and the Near East in the 14th century BC,56 while Sarah Immerwahr had no doubts about a "Mycenaean commercial empire".57

In 1964, H.W Catling was among the first to challenge this view.58 After a review of the available evidence he concluded that Mycenaeans could not have been present in Cyprus during LH I-LH IIIB (LC I-LC II). The large amounts of LH IIIA2 and LH IIIB pottery on the island could, according to Catling, only be explained by trade between Cyprus and the Aegean, without a Mycenaean presence on the island. Arguments against Mycenaean domination of Mediterranean trade were given by G. Bass. After excavating the wreck of Cape Gelidonya on the south coast of Turkey, he believed the ship to have belonged to 'Phoenicians' trading with the Aegean. He suggested that trade in this region in general may have been handled by Levantines rather than Mycenaeans.59 A Canaanite thalassocracy was likewise proposed by J.M. Sasson and E. Linder;60 A. Yannai suggested a leading role for Cypriots in the trade between the Aegean, the Near East and Egypt.61

Ideas about Mycenaean colonisers and traders in the Eastern Mediterranean were also influenced by the decipherment of Linear B in the 1950s. According to Moses Finley, the absence of references to trade and traders in the Linear B archives tablets indicates that long-distance exchange was not important for the Mycenaean palatial economies.62 Such trade as occurred, in his view, was controlled by the palace and took the form of diplomatic gifts. J.L. Bintliff likewise regarded the Mycenaean economy as based upon the redistribution of local foodstuffs rather than upon commerce.63 Marine trade occurred, in his regard, only in association with fishing activities.

Since the 1980s, there appears to be a renewed interest in long-distance trade and foreign contacts of the Bronze Age Aegean. Finds of the LH I period in Italy, for example, have been used to explain the sudden rise in material wealth attested by the Shaft Graves.64 In addition, it has been proposed that control of contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean by the Aegean élites was a factor in the forming of palace societies on Crete and the Greek mainland.65 The hypothesis put forward by Susan Sherratt that Mycenaean pottery in the Aegean was specifically produced with the Near Eastern markets in mind, would mean that craft-production in the Aegean was influenced by wider economic developments.66 Such an influence may be visible in the evidence presented by Nicolle Hirschfeld that Cypriots somehow where involved in Mycenaean ceramic production.67 Foreign imports within the Aegean have also been used as evidence for the importance of long-distance exchange. According to Eric Cline, the orientalia found in the Aegean in LH IIIB contexts show that Mycenaean merchants the city of Ugarit was under Mycenaean political control.

55 Evans 1935, 776.

56 Sjoqvist 1940, 183-184.

57 Immerwahr 1960, 4; for Aegean thalassocracies, see also Knapp 1993, 333-334.

58 Catling 1964, 35-50.

59 Bass 1967, 164-165. He upheld this standpoint after excavating the wreck of Ulu Burun, which he likewise presumed to have been Canaanite (Bass 1991, 74), although his excavation co-director, C. Pulak, believed the crew of the ship to be Mycenaean (Pulak 1988, 37).

60 Sasson 1966; Linder 1981.

61 Yannai 1983, 83-87.

62 Finley 1982, 206; Snodgrass 1991.

63 Bintliff 1977, 115-116.

64 Rutter 1993, 796, with bibliography on the subject.

65 Sherratt & Sherratt 1991, 354, 358-360.

66 Sherratt 1982, 183; Jones 1986a, 599-600; Akerstrom 1987, 119.

67 Hirschfeld 1993, 313-315; 1996, 291-293; 1999, 275277.

and vessels were present in the Near East during this time, although C. Lambrou-Phillipson has suggested that they testify of the presence of Near Eastern traders and craftsmen in the Aegean.68 Exciting evidence for the presence of Mycenaeans in Egypt may be a papyrus from El Amarna which shows warriors with possible boar's tusk helmets who might be interpreted as Mycenaeans.69 The large-scale manufacture of Mycenaean pottery in the central Mediterranean from LH IIIB onwards is thought to indicate that Mycenaean craftsmen were present in this area.70

The pendulum swing that has occurred in thinking about a Mycenaean role in the trade networks of the Bronze Age Mediterranean underlines the fact that archaeological (and textual) data do not speak for themselves, but are subject to multiple interpretations. In this study, I accept the view of M. Liverani that there was a conditioned coexistence in the Mediterranean during the 15th-13th centuries BC.71 This means that there were no thalassocracies, but that trade was carried out by many, among whom were local producers and distributors, palace-based traders and independent merchantmen. The mechanisms at work in such a system were diverse and complex, with objects travelling through several modes of exchange run by different participants before being deposited at their place of archaeological recovery.72

The presence of foreign objects in the Late Bronze Age Aegean, as well as the Mycenaean pottery in the Mediterranean show that Mycenaeans took part in the multi-faceted trade networks that are indicated above. The degree of this involvement is difficult to ascertain, although it seems clear that there was not a process of colonisation that is comparable to the later Greek expansion.73 The existence of Mycenaean trading colonies of merchants living among indigenous populations is, however, possible. Colonies of this kind have been proposed for the central Mediterranean, and for Troy. 74 Such colonies are, however, very difficult to recognise archaeologically and their existence is by no means undisputed. That ships were employed in the Mycenaean world is without doubt and, since the Mycenaeans are here considered to be part of the international economy, it is likely that these ships were involved in long distance trade.75 However, it is not certain that they reached all the coastal places at which Mycenaean pottery is found.

The uncertainty about the presence of Mycenaeans in various areas of the Mediterranean is also due to the nature of the archaeological evidence. With a few exceptions, finds in Mediterranean areas which can be identified as Aegean with any degree of certainty, consist of ceramic vessels and figurines. The significance of these ceramic items in an international economy that was probably based on the circulation of metals is by no means clear. But this, of course, is a subject to which this book hopes to contribute.

68 Cline 1994, 92; Lambrou-Phillipson 1990b, 164.

69 Schofield & Parkinson 1994.

70 Peroni 1983, 258; Jones & Vagnetti 1991, 140-141; Vagnetti 1999, 148.

71 Liverani 1987, 67-68.

72 Knapp 1993, 340-341.

73 Kilian 1990, 465.

74 Smith 1987, 159-161; Kilian 1990, 458, 465.

75 On ships, see Casson 1973, 30-33; Morgan 1988, 212223 (with bibliography).

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