The role of mycenaean pottery in the material culture of thapsos

Mycenaean, Cypriot and Maltese imported pottery form only a small part of the ceramic record in the tombs at Thapsos. Maltese cups have been found in relative abundance in the settlement contemporary with the necropolis.41 The same cannot be said for Myceanean - or Cypriot - pottery, which appears to have been scarce among the settlement finds.42 This could indicate that Mycenaean pottery

35 Orsi 1895.

37 Tomb XXI/47 produced two Base Ring II ware vessels and one White Shaved ware jug. In tomb A1 another White Shaved ware jug was discovered, see Voza 1973b, 36, 40: nos. 85-87, 118.

38 Bernabo-Brea 1958, 133.

39 Taylour 1958, 51-52; Vagnetti 1989. Harding (1984,

87-103), however, considers them local or regional products.

40 Glass beads have been found in tombs 29, 51, 61 and 2147; of these, tomb 29 did not produce any Mycenaean pottery.

41 Voza 1973a, 147-149.

42 See the reply by G. Voza to a question in: Voza 1972, 205.

served predominantly for funerary purposes at Thapsos. However, the scarcity of Mycenaean finds at Thapsos could also have a chronological cause,43 and it seems best to be cautious in this respect until the publication of the settlement. For now it seems clear that Mycenaean pottery could serve in strategies of funerary display. As concluded above, the imported nature of Mycenaean vessels appears to have been important for their social significance.

Thapsos is the type site of Late Bronze Age culture of south-eastern Sicily, which is mainly known from tombs.44 A number of necropoleis have been discovered in the area of Syracuse. At Syracuse (site no. 330) itself, a group of tombs has been discovered of which one contained a LH IIIA2 straight-sided alabastron and a Cypriot Base Ring jug.45 At Molinello (site no. 326), a LH IIIA2 piriform jar was found in a tomb which was part of a group of six tombs in the southern part of the site.46 At Matrensa (site no. 329), some forty tombs were excavated, all dated by Orsi to the Bronze Age.47 Only one tomb, accidentally discovered in 1871, produced two Mycenaean piriform jars.48 At Cozzo del Pantano (site no. 331), likewise, a substantial necropolis of at least thirty-six tombs has been excavated.49 Only one Mycenaean vessel was discovered in tomb VII: a LH IIIA2 kylix.50 At Floridia (site no. 328), two tombs have been discovered close to one another, one of which yielded a LH IIIA2-LH IIIB straight-sided alabastron.51 The LH IIIB stirrup jar from Maiorana (site no. 332) was also found in a tomb, but nothing is known about its location.52

In the area of Syracuse, then, many necropoleis from this period have produced some Mycenaean vessels. The actual quantity of this type of pottery is very low, but, at the same, time, it must be acknowledged that the cemeteries are much smaller than the one at Thapsos. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that Thapsos yielded a relatively high proportion of ceramic vessels imported from the Aegean. In terms of Mycenaean vessel types, the repertoire of pots found in the cemeteries in the area is comparable to the corpus in Thapsos. The Mycenaean kylix found at Cozzo del Pantano, however, may be considered remarkable since such vessels have been shown to be very rare at the type site and restricted to the group of people associated with tomb XXI/47.

Thapsos, with its large proto-urban settlement, its extensive necropolis and its coastal location, probably constituted the centre in a regional system of exchange.53 The fact that Mycenaean pottery comparing well to that of Thapsos has been found in necropoleis in the interior shows that such ceramics were not restricted to the coastal centre, but circulated, to a limited extent, in regional exchange networks. Even though wealth appears to have been concentrated at Thapsos, the Mycenaean vessels in the hinterland suggest that there was a system that linked the coastal proto-urban inhabitants to groups in the interior through the limited distribution of wealth (wealth finance). The role of imported Mycenaean pottery in the relationships between the communities in the interior and on the coast is testimony of the symbolic value embodied by these objects deriving from maritime trade. It is likely that it was exactly this symbolism which made these vessels suitable to be employed in strategies of funerary display.


Vagnetti pers. comm.


Taylour 1958, 62.


On the Thapsos culture, see Tusa 1983, 399-425 (with


Orsi 1893, 1-36.



Taylour 1958, 61-62


Vagnetti & Lo Schiavo 1989, 237 note 1.


Orsi 1909, 374-378.


Orsi 1902, 413-421; Taylour 1958, 60-61; Tusa 1983,


Taylour 1958, 64.



Tusa 1983, 504-505.


Orsi 1899, 26-42; Tusa 1983, 490-491.

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