Role of the cypriots

The large quantities of Mycenaean pots in Cyprus, the size of which is small in comparison which such vast areas as Anatolia, the Levant, Egypt and the central Mediterranean, indicates that the island played a special role with regard to the distribution of Mycenaean pots in the Mediterranean. Such a special role is emphasised by the observation that in the Levant and Egypt, Cypriot and Mycenaean pots are often found together. Cyprus had a long tradition of pottery export to the Levant and Egypt and it seems logical to assume that the Mycenaean pots were supplemented to an already existing international circulation of Cypriot ceramics.

During the Late Bronze Age, a complex urbanised society developed in Cyprus which was related to the exploitation of copper resources for external exchange.3 The importance of copper production

The discussions surrounding the 'nationality' of the Cape Gelidonya and Ulu Burun shipwrecks, both of which had cargoes with goods from many geographical areas, are examples of the difficulty of applying ethnic labels in the study of the complex trade networks in the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean, see Bass 1967, 165; 1991, 74; Pulak 1988, 37; 1997, 252-254.

2 In other words, what is 'gift exchange' for one, can be a commercial transaction for the trade partner. See, for example, Humphrey & Hugh-Jones 1992, esp. p. 14. On the arbitrariness of distinguishing between these two types of exchange, see Parry & Bloch 1989, 7-8.

3 Knapp 1985, 249-250; 1986b, 70-72; 1996a, 20-22; Keswani 1993, 78.

and of international trade for the development of complex societies in Cyprus gave items relating to these activities a special significance. It is for this reason that Mycenaean pottery in Cyprus could become a symbol of a cosmopolitan lifestyle and could fulfil active roles in internal local and regional strategies.

The active role of Mycenaean pottery in Cyprus originated in an élite lifestyle and was related to specific cultural practices, such as ceremonial dining and activities to do with unguents and oils. The specialised production in the Aegean of Mycenaean pottery for a foreign market, as is testified by the existence of the Levanto-Helladic class of pottery,4 was aimed specifically at these cultural practices in Cyprus. For this reason, the pictorial scenes on Mycenaean kraters, seem to have been socially relevant for burial practices in Cyprus, whereas this was not the case in the Levant. For Cyprus, then, it cannot be stated that pictorial kraters where primarily aimed at sub- or substitute-élite groups, as has been argued by Susan Sherratt.5 Even if, through emulation and devaluation, these pots ended up among lower groups of the Cypriot population, their significance originated in élite practices.

The development of a complex urban society in Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age is rather late in comparison with neighbouring areas such as the Levant and Hittite Anatolia.6 In spite of references to the king of Alashiya in the diplomatic records of the Hittite area, the Levant and Egypt,7 it is unlikely that administrative centres comparable to Levantine or Mycenaean palaces ever developed in Cyprus. Even though the ashlar structures at Alassa, Maroni- Vournes and Kalavasos-Ayios Dhimitrios testify to the existence of hierarchical structured polities, these do not seem to have controlled the flow of goods in a manner requiring centralised administration.8 Instead, the movement of goods within Cyprus seems to have been based upon series of exchanges.9 The importance of trade in the island probably is reflected in the existence of increasingly powerful commercial groups in coastal centres such as Enkomi.10 The high concern of the king of Alashiya with the commercial aspects of the ceremonial exchange with the pharaoh of Egypt also points to the particular importance of commercial exchange in Cyprus.11

In the Levant, raw materials and manufactured goods found their way outside the sphere of ceremonial exchange and circulated among urban groups and lower strata of the population as exchange goods.12 Even though such transactions probably were not completely devoid of ceremonial aspects, commercial motives were the most important. The absence of pottery from the epigraphical record indicates that this class of material circulated precisely in such low-level exchanges.13 The concentration of the use of Mycenaean pots among urban groups in the Levant is in accordance with such a pattern. It indicates that commercial exchange was conducted between urban inhabitants in Cyprus and comparable groups among the average population in the Levant and that Mycenaean pottery became part of these exchanges. The observation made above that the Levant lagged somewhat behind Cyprus in the beginning of the import of Mycenaean pots, indicates that the Levant, at least initially, relied on Cypriot initiative to acquire these vessels.

4 Sherratt 1982, 183; 1999, 182-184; Jones 1986a, 599600.

5 Sherratt 1999, 185.

6 Knapp 1997, 47; Keswani 1996, 217-220.

7 Hellbing 1979, 67; Knapp 1996b, see, however, Merrillees 1987.

8 Keswani 1996, 235.

9 Keswani 1993, 78-80; Webb & Frankel 1994; Knapp 1997, 48-52.

10 Sherratt 1998, 297; 1999, 181-182 note 44.

11 Zaccagnini 1973, 119-120.

12 Zaccagnini 1984, 159.

13 Liverani 1986, 411; Sherratt 1999, 177-178.

One conclusion of this study is that competition on local and regional levels between various groups within Cyprus devaluated the significance of Mycenaean pottery on the island. Mycenaean pots were part of a more varied body of paraphernalia relating to an international world, as is evident from the ivory rhyton, cylinder seals and a scarab found in Athienou and the collection of Cypriot-made 'Mediterranean' items in Apliki. We may assume that devaluation similar to the one observed for Mycenaean dinner vessels also affected other prestige items in Cyprus. Continuous competition in systems of exchange may have resulted in an increasing demand for an ever-widening repertoire of prestige goods. The large amounts in Cyprus of a wide variety of luxury imports such as jewellery, glass, faience and ostrich eggs are possibly the result of the active social role of imports.14 The most likely sources for these materials were the urban populations of Levantine city-states, with whom the Cypriot traders were in close contact. As such, the Mycenaean pottery became important to Cypriot urban social groups not only for its suitability to serve in local and regional sumptuary strategies, but also to acquire other valuables. It is probably this regional and supra-regional importance of Mycenaean pots that caused Cypriots to be actively involved in the Aegean in the transport and even the production of Mycenaean pots.15

The range of Mycenaean pots in the Levant and Cyprus is relatively homogeneous. Considering the comparatively large amounts of this type of pottery in Cyprus, it has been suggested that the vessels arrived in the Levant on ships which had previously put in at Cypriot harbours.16 The Mycenaean vessels in the Levant would then be remainders from cargoes aimed at Cyprus. Such a scenario does not take into account the cultural choices made in large primary centres in both Cyprus and the Levant with regard to which Mycenaean vessels to import. At various places in this book, I have shown that considerable variations in the Mycenaean repertoires occur between regions and between individual sites. Rather than the direct result of sailing routes, the circulation of Mycenaean pots in the Mediterranean was influenced by local cultural practices of which these vessels became part. The exploitation of the differences between these local practices may have enhanced the active role of Cypriot middlemen in the circulation of Mycenaean pottery.17

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