MASt Fall Seminar, 2022 (Friday, November 4): Summaries and Discussion

§1. Rachele Pierini opened the Fall 2022 session of the MASt seminar by welcoming the participants to the November meeting. In addition to the steady members of the MASt network and colleagues and students who have already attended previous sessions, new guests joined the November 4 meeting.

§2. As a result, the Fall 2022 MASt seminar was attended by Stephanie Aulsebrook, Natasha Bershadsky, Hariklia Brekoulaki, Anna Bonifazi, Eric H. Cline, Janice Crowley, Cassandra Donnelly, Elena Dzukeska, Nicolle Hirschfeld, Elizabeth Keyser, Lynne Kvapil, Hedvig Landenius Enegren, Olga Levaniouk, Joseph Maran, Rebekah McKay, Michele Mitrovich, Sarah Morris, Leonard Muellner, Giulia Muti, Gregory Nagy, Marie Louise Nosch, Tom Palaima, Vassilis Petrakis, Rachele Pierini, Vassiliki Pliatsika, Kim Shelton, Devin Stephens, Agata Ulanowska, Trevor Van Damme, Judith Weingarten, Malcolm Wiener, Roger Woodard, Assaf Yasur-Landau.

§3.1. Pierini introduced the new member of the MASt team, namely Giulia Muti. Muti is an archaeologist specialized in Bronze Age Cypriot textile production as well as island communities and connectivity and who will act as editorial assistant in the MASt reports. Welcome on board, Giulia!

§3.2. Muti joined the team after Emma Eckerlid, the previous assistant, was accepted as an MA student at the University of Stockholm. Although this prevents Emma from keeping on serving as assistant in the MASt project, on the bright side it confirms (once again) that the MASt network brings very good luck to its members. Congratulations on your achievement, Emma! Thank you for your excellent work within the MASt team and good luck for your next chapter!

§4. The talks of the Fall 2022 MASt seminar were “Cult at Mycenae: ritual practice from public to palatial” by Kim Shelton, and “Micromanaging the Bronze Age collapse” by Assaf Yasur-Landau.

§5.1. Shelton offered a presentation and discussion of the archaeological and iconographic evidence for cult at the Late Helladic citadel of Mycenae which informs our understanding of the development of ritual practice over several centuries, including the palatial period (ca. 1400–1200 BCE).

§5.2. Recent research has shown that both the location and forms of ritual practice developed and changed over time, which means that the “Cult Center” never existed at any one time in its totality of different buildings, approaches, and spaces as it is generally presented in scholarship. Rather, Shelton’s work shows that the cult complex began early, small, and publicly accessible before it transitioned into a sanctuary of multiple cults, performative spaces, and increasingly restricted access within the fortified citadel over the course of the palatial period and before it was quickly destroyed, abandoned, and re-zoned for residential use.

§6.1. Yasur-Landau’s paper explores the tentative evidence for strategies taken by state economies and non-state actors to try to mitigate the shortages at the end of the thirteenth century BCE and to bolster the resilience of the by then complex economic system. It also examines the hypothesis that last ditch efforts at planned economies by large bureaucratic states actually hastened regional collapse, while diversification efforts by small coastal polities proved more successful in surviving well into the twelfth century BCE.

§6.2. Specifically, Yasur-Landau examines (i) the intervention of the Egyptian new kingdom in the economy of Canaan in the late nineteenth dynasty and early twentieth dynasty, in particular on-site Egyptian administrative measures in connection with food production and the introduction of Zebu bulls to Canaan; (ii) intervention of the Hittite Empire in agricultural production in Ugarit and in the Amuq; (iii) the emphasis on Mega-feasts in the last year of the palace of Pylos in the contexts of staple economy, perhaps as an effort of the palatial elite to alleviate short periods of shortage, while demonstrating the palatial center’s control of food to the populace of the kingdom in times of crisis; (iv) small, coastal polities such as cities on the Phoenician coast seem to have fared much better probably since much of their economy was not directly connected to, or controlled by, the Egyptian or Hittite Empires.

§7. Substantial discussions followed each presentation. Specifically, contributions to the seminar were made by Stephanie Aulsebrook (see below at §38.1), Eric H. Cline (§§56.1; 57), Janice Crowley (§§39; 40), Cassandra Donnelly (§§59.1; 59.3), Nicolle Hirschfeld (§§54.1; 55.1), Hedvig Landenius Enegren (§61.3), Joseph Maran (§33.1), Giulia Muti (§51), Gregory Nagy (§§34.1; 34.2; 35.1; 35.2; 35.3; 35.4; 35.5), Tom Palaima (§§60; 61.1; 64), Rachele Pierini (§65), Vassiliki Pliatsika (§28.1), Kim Shelton (§§28.2; 29; 30; 32.2; 32.3; 33.2; 36; 37; 38.2; 41; 42),Trevor Van Damme (§§31; 32.1; 52; 53.1), Judith Weingarten (§§63.1; 66), Roger Woodard (§50.1), and Assaf Yasur-Landau (§§50.2; 53.2; 54.2; 55.2; 56.2; 58; 59.2; 61.2; 62; 63.2).

Topic 1: Cult at Mycenae: Ritual practice from public to palatial

Presenter: Kim Shelton
University of Berkley

§8. Mycenaean religion has been an area of interest from the start of Aegean prehistoric archaeology and there have been constant shifts and changes in evidence and scholarly interpretation. It has also been an interest of mine for a long time, especially as I researched the excavations of the ‘Tsountas House Area’ of Mycenae’s Cult Center for the publication of the Helleno-British excavations of the 1950s and 1960s. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the Cult Center, its complex history, and discuss the evidence for ritual in that context. All of the information presented here, including chronology, finds, and contexts, can be found in even greater detail in my recent publication of the ‘Tsountas House Area’ in fascicule 14 of the Well Built Mycenae series (2022).


§9.1. For this research, I define Religion as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (Merriam-Webster; Durrans 2000:59; Insoll 2004:7). Cult describes a system of religious beliefs and ritual as well as an object of devotion. Ritual is a ceremonial action; an act or series of acts done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol. Ritual can be a mechanism for the shaping of beliefs, ideologies, and identities, and important in this context, ritual can be a source of social power for those who participate in, control, or create them (Verhoeven 2011:118).

§9.2. So, what is Mycenaean religion exactly? Going back to Nilsson’s seminal work (1927/1950), he believed that many Minoan deities and religious concepts were fused into Mycenaean religion. He also saw this Minoan-Mycenaean religion as the ancestor of Greek historical religion. By the middle of the twentieth century, scholars pushed back against continuity from the prehistoric to historic periods, not only of religion but of the socio-political nature of the culture in general. Since then, scholarship has focused on the details of Minoan and Mycenaean cults with an emphasis on their relative relationship, differences, and of course, the contribution of the former to the latter (Hägg 1985; 1996; Lupack 2010; Whittaker 2015). As more evidence is found and published, a more nuanced understanding of ritual and cult is possible just as it becomes even more complex with archaeological and textual evidence and with chronological resolution (Maran 2016). Going forward it may be again time to look more broadly across the Aegean in a holistic cross-cultural context (Haysom 2015:97).

§9.3. It remains essential to consider the source of our evidence and remember that the majority of it, whether material or textual, comes from an elite population at a limited number of sites. There remains debate concerning the homogeneity or monolithic nature of Mycenaean religion, or whether there is a distinction between official and popular religions, alternatively private versus public cult (Hägg 1996:601). In support of a homogenous Mycenaean religion, is a core set of ritual practices derived from the Helladic religious tradition, which is enacted at all Mycenaean cult areas.

Minoanizing Mycenaean

§10. As Lupack (2010) and Whittaker (2015) among others point out, the archaeological evidence for ritual practice on the mainland in the Middle Helladic is scanty, making it difficult to trace the Helladic origins of the Mycenaean religion. The ephemeral nature of the evidence is an indication that the Helladic population did not utilize specialized ritual equipment or have an established iconographical tradition in relation to the supernatural (Whittaker 2015:617). Assemblages of pottery, especially open shapes, ash, and burnt animal bones in association with altar or hearth features (e.g. MH deposit on the Kynortion Hill) (Hägg 1985:207; Lupack 2010:263–269), indicate communal sacrifice and feasting as core rituals along with libation. These ritual practices remained central to Mycenaean religion in the Late Helladic period, as evidence for animal sacrifice, libations, and communal feasting is ubiquitous across Mycenaean sanctuary sites (Wright 1994; Lupack 2010).

§11. By the Late Mycenaean period, newly introduced and mass-produced religious paraphernalia, such as handmade female and animal terracotta figurines and undecorated kylikes, become pervasive and recognizable Minoan religious iconography has been adopted, adapted, and employed in the Mycenaean religious sphere (Galaty 2010:237; Shelton 2009). The fact that this shift from an ephemeral, aniconic Middle Helladic religion to a paraphernalia-focused and iconography-laden Mycenaean religion occurred during the early stages of the Mycenaean state formation process suggests that these two occurrences are related. Moreover, the adoption of Minoan religious iconography in the early Mycenaean prepalatial period (LH I–II, ca. 1600–1400 BCE) indicates that not only did mainland religion see a shift in this period, but religion itself may have been a crucial tool utilized by the nascent Mycenaean elites to establish and maintain their power in this new state.

§12. In this new Mycenaean religion, distinctly Minoan iconography appears on the mainland, such as representations of Minoan altars, for example on the Lion Gate at Mycenae, and horns of consecration, depicted in the Room with the Fresco in the Cult Center. The most important Minoan cult objects that were adopted by the Mycenaeans already in the early Mycenaean period seem to have been the rhyton and the tripod offering table, which were both likely used for libation rituals (Hägg 1985:207–212). These two cult objects were selectively adopted, became popular quickly, and were easily incorporated into the preexisting Helladic ritual practice. Meanwhile, Mycenaean elites were using Minoan symbols as what we might term ‘prestige iconography’ to create and control religious ideology which served to establish power, legitimize their own status, and distinguish themselves from the rest of society (Wright 1994; 1995). By incorporating the prestige elements in this way, the ruling class was still able to participate in the same religious rituals as the rest of the Mycenaean society, therefore, maintaining a monolithic Mycenaean religion. It was through this process of differentiation and simultaneous religious continuity that the elites were able to establish a religious system based on degrees of inclusivity and exclusivity.

The Cult Center








Figure 1. Cult Center, Mycenae. Aerial view with buildings labelled (after Mylonas 1983).

§13. So far as we know, cult buildings only appear at the time of the first palaces. The Megaron too develops as a central locus of ritual action—with hearth and libation features—but with very restricted and selective access. Sanctuaries are built close to palace and urban centers, in smaller settlements, but also in the rural landscape, especially on peaks and in caves (locales often said to be exclusive to Minoan Crete) (Wright 1994; Lupack 2010). Many scholars have turned to the evidence from the Cult Center at Mycenae to answer questions about Mycenaean religion and its rituals, since it is currently the most impressive of the excavated Mycenaean sanctuaries.

§14.1. The Cult Center is located midway along the lower western slope of the fortified citadel. It consists of five independent structures, all of them probably religious in nature, with access to the area by gated ramp and stairway (French 2002). Descending the slope from east to west, the structures are: Shrine Gamma, the Megaron, the Temple and the Room of the Fresco complex. The remaining building is the so-called Tsountas House—the function of which is not easily defined, primarily due to its early excavation in 1886 by the excavator after whom it is named and the lack of recorded finds (Tsountas 1887). Also important to the make-up of the center are its points of access: the ‘causeway’ ramp from the north, the ‘processional’ ramp from the east, the Stairway ‘K’ on the south, and the exterior ‘courtyard’ with a circular altar at the lowest level on the west. The Cult Center buildings define a space by being oriented inward towards each other.

§14.2. The chronology of the center has not been very well understood, especially the various phases of its construction, use, and destruction. As a result of the recent in-depth study for the final publication of the ‘Tsountas House Area’ (Shelton 2022), a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the history of the cult center is possible. The ‘Tsountas House Area’ includes both the origin of the Cult Center, with the earliest identified religious installation at Mycenae, and its fullest development as an organized and controlled precinct within the citadel. When most people think of the Cult Center of Mycenae, they think of it in exactly that way—the ‘palatial’ religious Center within the citadel acropolis of Mycenae. With five independent structures, internal and external ritual areas, and the ‘processional’ ramped approach from the palace at the summit of the hill, it has become the type-site for Mycenaean palatial cult and a phenomenon of the LH IIIB, thirteenth century BCE palatial system. The problem with this reconstruction is that the Center never existed in the way that we picture it—especially as presented in state plans and views. There are five complex structures, there are monumental approaches, and there is a fortification wall enclosing it within a citadel—but they were never actually a total package: neither at the inception of the site’s use for religious practice, nor at the time of the final destruction by earthquake at the end of the LH IIIB 2 period, the start of the twelfth century BCE.

§15. The systematic construction of cult buildings begins with Shrine Γ in the early fourteenth century BCE in a sparsely populated area on a steep slope of unlevelled rock, a bit south of the Ramp House and even further along from the old dilapidated royal cemetery—Grave Circle A—but definitely outside the walls of the LH IIIA citadel. The approaches to the building were probably from below, downslope, and may have been linked to the roadways approaching the citadel from the southwest (French 2002). Early ramped surfaces ascend the slope towards the north entrance of the building. By the time the full group of structures had been built towards the middle of the thirteenth century BCE, the Shrine was joined by the Megaron and Tsountas House, two multi-storied structures with rectangular hearths and extensive basement storage, and at a lower level around a central open space are the Temple and Room with the Fresco, two independent building complexes, also with clear indication of cult use. The area could then be approached up the Stairs K to the south of the House, from the north by way of the early thirteenth century ‘causeway’ through the roofed and plastered corridor east of the South House Annex, and from the west through the open court with the circular altar. The additional structures were built in apparent succession from the later part of the fourteenth century to the middle of the thirteenth century, all it would seem before the construction of the fortification wall, probably in the third quarter of the thirteenth century BCE.








Figure 2. Plan of the Cult Center with color-coded buildings and access points (Shrine Γ (pink); Megaron (yellow); Tsountas House (blue); Temple (green); Room of the Fresco complex (purple); and access points (orange) (after French 2002).

§16. Shrine Γ was a Mycenaean cult building that, for part of its history at least, included the older, smaller room to the south perhaps as an adyton and for storage of ritual paraphernalia, including the cult icon, the famous painted plaster plaque with an apparently divine figure, wearing a large figure-of-eight shield, flanked by two women in flounced skirts, and votive offerings consisting of fragmentary objects of glass, bone, ivory, and amber, plus a scarab of Queen Tiy. Comparable finds (votive scraps and exotica) were found also in other Cult Center buildings (Megaron, Room 32, and Room 19). The north room of the Shrine has clear cult use, in two distinct stages of construction and use, each represented by a plaster floor, with a specialized and unique plaster libation altar built into the earlier floor, in the early fourteenth century, as a permanent focus of ritual action. The altar is built up of successive and alternating layers of green plesia clay and white lime plaster—most closely described as horseshoe shaped—with a slightly concave upper surface and two projecting elements on the west side: a semicircular ‘basin’ or ‘stand’ and a clay ‘bolster’ projecting horizontally. In between is a plastered groove that sloped towards the mouth of a large two-handled jar, set beneath the floor on bedrock, the rim flush with the floor surface. Nearby was a large three-handled flat-bottomed tray of burnished, but otherwise undecorated, fine ware, for offerings. The accommodations for catching liquid indicate libation offering as at least one of the primary uses of the altar, and by extension, of the Shrine in its early phase. The floor consists of only one layer of thin and carefully made plaster suggesting that the interior of the Shrine was not subject to substantial traffic and that entrance into the room was permitted to only very few, possibly only the religious functionaries.








Figure 3. Shrine Γ, altar (phase 1 – lower floor) (Mycenae Archive 50-W23).

§17. A major alteration of the Shrine took place during the middle of LH IIIB with the covering of the earlier ritual features with the laying of a new plaster floor. Related to this phase is the placement through the earlier floor, onto bedrock, of a large stone in front of the altar. Its purpose is unclear, although past suggestions include: a pillar base and a ‘slaughtering stone’. The complete lack of features and finds in the upper Shrine room signals an important change in the use of space, from the obvious emphasis on internal ritual and limited access and visibility by anyone other than the closest participants, to a focus on the exterior of the structure, to its porch or forecourt area, where a stone-based L-shaped altar and plaster platform were constructed at this time. From the plastered court to its north, participants could have easily viewed the proceedings while additional participants of various socio-political status levels may have been able to view the proceedings from various vistas on the Upper Ramp, Middle Ramp, and from the roofs and windows of the Megaron and House on the lower terrace to the west. The ashlar altar may also have been used for libation or as a ‘table of offerings’. There was likely a continuity of function from phase to phase, even if the location shifts—a persistence of ritual practice. There also continues a strong emphasis on the division between inner and outer space, albeit reversed in focus. It was at this spot that the ramped ‘processional way’ terminated, but not until the LH IIIB 2 period, late in the thirteenth century. The Shrine building was destroyed by fire, similar to the end of neighboring buildings and most likely connected to the same event, at the very end of the LH IIIB period on the cusp of LH IIIC in the early twelfth century BCE.








Figure 4. Shrine Γ, exterior altar and termination of middle ramp (phase 2) (Mycenae Archive 59-Q2).

§18. Let us briefly look at the rest of the center. The Megaron was built very early in the thirteenth century and exhibits two construction phases before its destruction. The Tsountas House was built only shortly after the Megaron, also in two phases. Both structures were multi-storied with an upper suite of rooms, including one of megaron plan with a central square hearth, over (completely or in part) basement storage rooms. In the case of the Megaron, these contained pottery, scrap ivory, boar tusks, glass jewelry, stone sword pommels, etc. The Megaron was entered from the Middle Ramp of the ‘processional way’ over a well-cut threshold of polished stone and the Tsountas House was accessed by way of the narrow and exclusive Lower Ramp alongside of the Megaron. Both buildings were destroyed by fire during the general destruction of the Cult Center.

§19. Based on architectural design, these could simply be domestic structures built in proximately to a cluster of buildings that were used primarily, if not exclusively, for cult. The Megaron contained the same type of votive scrap and exotica found in the more clearly cult-use structures. The Tsountas House was suggested by Wace to be the residence of the ‘priest-in-charge’ due primarily to the physical proximity and structural relationship to the Shrine. More likely, the House and the Megaron were used by multiple functionaries, especially as a hall or megaron for the congregation of participants in the rituals or festivals in the Cult Center complex. The variation of structures, symbols, and rituals understood from the many buildings and features along the slope suggest a hodge-podge of cult needs and a scattered schedule of ritual alongside more regular events. Both buildings were constructed over an earlier fourteenth century BCE access ramp from the terrace of the Shrine descending to an open area at the bottom of the slope that included a round altar of clay and stone with evidence of burned animal bone and a shallow stoa roofed with schist slabs (Mylonas 1983).

§20. Next to be built, still early in the thirteenth century, was the Room of the Fresco complex. It consisted of a central room with an elaborate hearth and wood columns at either end, entered from the northwest corner, where a clay larnax was position for ritual cleansing. A small shrine was built on the east and the wall south of its entrance was frescoed in two registers with multiple divine and/or official human figures pictured in an architectural setting (Morgan 2005; Rehak 1992). The scenes are set above and alongside a tall platform altar that was painted with Minoan ‘horns of consecration’ on its end and equipped with a series of basin-shaped burnt-offering receptacles. Nearby on the floor was pottery, mostly cooking and storage vessels, a lead vessel, and an heirloom faience Egyptian plaque, a Cretan stone bowl, an ivory pommel, lion, and male head, possibly the cult image of a deity. The inner shrine room on the east was full of scrap ivory and glass objects, votive material presented to the Type A figure of a goddess with upraised arms, set on a low clay and plaster dais in the far inner southwest corner. Veneration of cult images and the presentation of votives—most of it fragmentary high-value scrap, heirlooms, and exotica—are clearly part of the ritual in the complex and is likely the subject commemorated on the fresco itself. The prominent central hearth, the cooking vessels, and the receptacles for burnt offerings indicate the preparation of a ritual meal.

§21. The main part of the complex went out of use following the first disaster in mid IIIB—the fresco was whitewashed over, the room filled with fine soil, and a series of stone slabs were set over the area of the altar. It was never used in LH IIIB 2 and the complete inaccessibility of the rooms following the construction of the fortification wall may have been a contributing factor to its abandonment. The same is true for the western court and its circular altar, which were not used after the earthquake destruction and were covered with a thick layer of plesia clay.

§22. The Temple, or Room of the Idols, was the last of the group to be built in the first half of the thirteenth century and followed a similar series of construction phases (Moore and Taylour 1999). It consists of two ground-floor rooms opening onto the court and an internal staircase to a small storeroom on a higher level. The main room had a low central platform for dry offerings (no burning), three columns flanking the stairs along the east side of the room, and a series of small benches or platforms of various heights along the north side and northwest corner. At the east end of these features was in situ a red painted Type B figure, one of twenty-seven unique to this building, and a small portable circular altar (French 1981). Like Shrine Γ, it went through major alterations following the earthquake in the middle of the period. This mainly involved the burying of the Type A, Type B, and coiled snake figures along with pottery and votive scraps in the small room at the top of the stairs, behind a brick and plaster seal, and in an alcove with an exposed-bedrock outcrop to its northwest. The Temple then remained in use until the final destruction of the Cult Center.

§22.1. Veneration of cult images, in this case moveable figures, is certainly indicated here. Their display directed the attention of celebrants to a segment of the room and acted as a focus for votive gifts of now familiar make-up. The different types of figures have been interpreted as goddesses and their worshipers and it has been suggested that they could have been used for display outside of the building as part of a procession. Significance was retained after their functional lifespan; following extensive breakage during the mid LH IIIB earthquake, the figures and the votives were disposed of ritually within the margins of the cult structure.

§23. Until the construction of the West Cyclopean Wall after the middle of LH IIIB, the Cult Center was potentially accessible from any point outside the citadel. Plaster-surfaced ramps seem to bring traffic to the entrance of Shrine Γ, isolated in this period, and then along the slope and perhaps up towards the entrance to the earlier citadel, the precursor to the Lion Gate, in the area later covered by the Great Ramp. Access from further up the hill and from the early citadel could have been by these same routes. During the long and prolific building phase in early LH IIIB, internal circulation between terraces and among buildings is the focal priority and the area becomes a ‘Center’ as the individual structures are interconnected in a planned way. Access and entrance to the Center seems open and fairly unrestricted until after the middle of LH IIIB, after the earthquake destruction of that phase, when the West Cyclopean Wall is built across this part of the slope, closing free and unrestricted access, and the Center becomes an internal part of the citadel.

§23.1. The ‘processional way’ was built from the Palace directly down the west slope of the citadel to the Cult Center just after the 1230 BCE destruction. It enters the lower west slope with a flight of steps and a landing, which makes a 180-degree turn to descend along a ramp that was roofed and frescoed with a procession scene—matching its function. Access to the area was then limited by the construction of a gateway with a large conglomerate threshold block with circular cuttings for double doors that opened towards the Cult Center, indicating from where the traffic was anticipated. Beyond, the ramp continues to descend and turn, leading to Shrine Γ and its external altar. While this configuration was established late in the construction history of the citadel, the reorientation of the approach offers a rare glimpse into the purposeful renegotiation of ritual space.

§23.2. So, when all the buildings were up and running, there was no wall, and when the wall was built at the end of IIIB 1/beginning of IIIB 2, there was no Room of the Fresco and no courtyard altar. There was also no ramped ‘processional way’. The two things that make this the Cult Center of the Mycenae acropolis are the fortification wall and the processional way, both of which are among the last features constructed.

§23.3. Access is never more important or controlled than when the Cult Center becomes a physical part of the palatial sphere. The emphasis becomes the Procession down into the Center through multiple physical and visual barriers and increasingly restricted access. Participants in the procession would have been culled and corralled as they progressed and then, spectator or participant would have been granted certain privileges, visual or physical access to some important moment, and the granting and deprivation of those privileges were built into the spectacle itself.

§24. The Cult Center of Mycenae is a sanctuary. Based on our current understanding of the iconography and cult images in several buildings of the Center, a number of goddesses were housed and venerated here. The nature of the female deities is sometimes redundant and could well be reflected in the female figures and images, some with a strong emphasis on fertility, while others are identified by weapons and armor.

§25. The early and complicated history of Shrine Γ leads us to a new assessment of the Cult Center and the implications for the nature and character of the cult practiced there. We can no longer speak absolutely of an exclusive private religious precinct designed and built for the use of the privileged few. Perhaps more importantly, we can now see a shift in the character of the religion through changes in ritual design, differential access, and with the incorporation of the Center into the sphere of palatial control.

§26. A review of the main iconography at the Cult Center clearly demonstrates that female figures predominate, and that several of these figures likely represent the deities who were worshiped in the sanctuary. The evidence from the Linear B tablets, however, paints a rather different picture where the names of both male and female deities occur (Hiller 2011; Lupack 2010:217; Palaima 2008). The discrepancies observed between the textual and archaeological evidence should be attributed to the mixed Helladic and Minoan influences on Mycenaean cult where the Minoan elements are more concentrated in the palatial centers.

§27.1. It is worth mentioning the inclusive-exclusive nature of religious spectacles in Mycenaean cult, including processions and communal feasting. Both group rituals allow for various levels of participation and observation. Both activities can also take place in palatial or rural settings. With the design and mass production of carinated kylikes and bowls, palatial centers saw to it that all levels of the society were able to participate in the same types of feasting events, and presumably processions, which would have created a sense of unity among all members. At the same time, however, the various levels of feasting and procession experiences, which ranged from fully inclusive to highly exclusive, allowed the elites to differentiate and separate themselves from the lower classes, emphasizing their wealth and power, as I already discussed in reference to the creation of a ramped ‘processional way’ at the Cult Center during the final monumentalized construction phase of the increasingly exclusive ritual landscape.

§27.2. The Cult Center and the ‘processional way’ were destroyed at the end of the LH IIIB 2 period by fire and collapse, possibly as the result of yet another earthquake. There is no evidence for repair or rebuilding following the destruction and, in fact, there is good evidence for exposure of the ruins and erosion of debris in large masses down the slope over a few generations before the area was rezoned for habitation during the later twelfth century BCE. The ritual landscape is usually very conservative and amazingly persistent, so the complete abandonment of a cult area is remarkable. The collapse of the palatial administration would naturally have affected the Cult Center and it is interesting that the practice of ritual does not revert to a more accessible, popular use. This could result because either the Cult Center had always been an official communal sanctuary, dependent primarily on the palace, or its cults and rituals were, by that point, too far removed from the collective memory, more than 200 years beyond its origins.

Discussion following Shelton’s presentation

§28.1. Vassiliki Pliatsika opened the discussion and highlighted the difficulties of interpreting the building stratigraphy at Mycenae as this requires a synthesis of data from excavations conducted in the past, especially the ones conducted by Christos Tsountas. She also remarked that, in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, a team of specialists have been working on a project to publish two indices concerning Tsountas’ excavations across Greece, including the one on the Acropolis of Mycenae. Having had access to his documentation, she stressed, we know that he worked on the hilltop and south slope. From his field notes, it also emerges that his approach was to clear out rubble and debris to bring to light in-place architecture and no detailed notes were taken by him during the process, with the inevitable loss of information—Pliatsika concluded.

§28.2. Kim Shelton pointed out that, despite the difficulties mentioned by Pliatsika, we are fortunate enough to have an account of Tsountas’ work in the area of the Cult Center, published by the author himself, where he included his archaeological understanding and ideas.

§29. Shelton added that the backfill from Tsountas’ excavations was not discharged far from the site. She specified that this massive mountain of backfill was one of the first problems encountered by the British at the beginning of their investigations. To some extent, they could sort it and save most of the finds even without their contexts, Shelton observed. She pointed out that the notes regarding some of what they observed while they were removing the backfill can be found in the British excavators’ notebooks in the Mycenae Archive (Cambridge). However, the British were not immune to the early bias towards the selection of decorated material over undecorated or more mundane artefacts that affected archaeology at that time (1950s), Shelton stressed. To conclude this point, Shelton highlighted that some of the sherd material was left behind by the British too.

§30. Shelton remarked that her study is based primarily on the architecture itself, since only a few observations were made by Tsountas about the ‘Tsountas House’ and that he did not reach the occupational levels of the shrine at all. This was entirely excavated by the British, she noted.

§31. Trevor Van Damme joined the discussion by appreciating the emphasis on the ‘tension’ that emerges from the architecture of the Cult Center. Specifically with respect to the LH IIIB2 phase of Shrine Gamma, he commented on the relation between the increasingly controlled access to the shrine and the simultaneous movement of cult activity from the interior of the shrine to the court out front where such activity presumably would have been more visible.

§32.1. Van Damme reflected also on the possible relation to the nature and type of sacrifice performed on the altars, observing that the interior one seems designed for libations. Then, he asked Shelton’s opinion on the use of the exterior one.
§32.2. Shelton highlighted that she sees the question not as much linked to the nature of the ritual. Instead, it should be related to the sense of opening up to spectacle, as also facilitated by the subsequent construction of the ramp—Shelton specified. On the other hand, she added, the access was constantly limited by barriers and space restrictions, resulting in controlled access granted to fewer and fewer people from the large initial crowd.

§32.3. Concerning the evidence of the nature of the ritual performed on the exterior altar, Shelton continued, it is difficult to draw a picture. In fact, the ashlar base is the only element of the altar that is preserved—Shelton observed. She stressed that most of the altar was made of perishable or easily deteriorating material, such as wood and mud bricks, that are archaeologically invisible. On this basis, she inferred that it was unlikely used for burning. The altar was destroyed by fire, even though this was not initially understood by the excavators, but there are no animal bone remains or ash traces—Shelton concluded.

§33.1. Joseph Maran remarked that he finds it still appropriate to use the term “Cult Center” because of the unusual concentration of cult buildings that has no further comparison in the Mycenaean sphere. He also noted that even during the phase when the Cult Center was situated outside of the fortification, it must have still been a considerable source of power for the Mycenaean political elite residing inside the citadel. Therefore, he wondered to what degree the cult buildings may have been really accessible for the general population by noting that the buildings were close to the heart of power inside the citadel, a position that facilitated political use and manipulation by the elite for their own purposes.

§33.2. Shelton agreed with Maran and pointed out that the ability to enter or get close to certain spaces by different groups conveyed a strong social message. She also observed that too little is yet known about the settlement around the Cult Center.

§34.1 Gregory Nagy commented on the Fresco Room and observed a difference in the levels on which the three female figures are portrayed and the female figure portrayed underground yields an ear of wheat. Then, he referred to a Linear B tablet held at the Mycenae Museum on which it is possible to read si-to po-ti-ni-ja (i.e. Lady of the Wheat) in a list of deities. He, thus, suggested possible connectivity between the fresco’s iconography and the deity mentioned on the tablet.

§34.2. Nagy also remarked that the human figure depicted as a figure-of-eight shield on the fresco should be interpreted as a female.

§35.1. In the case of the three Minoan pictures, Nagy added, more needs to be said about the two male figures, each one of whom is holding a staff in the right hand, with arm extended, and about the female figure, who is holding a staff in the left hand, with arm likewise extended. In the case of the picture called “The Goddess of the Mountain,” he proposes that the female figure is a goddess seen in the act of handing her staff of authority to a male ‘votary’—let us call him that for the moment—and this figure is standing at her left side.

§35.2. Nagy continued that in the case of the picture called “The Master Impression,” it is possible to see the same kind of ‘votary’: he holds in his right hand, with arm extended, the staff of authority that had been handed to him by the same goddess, he pointed out, whom we can admire in the picture called “The Goddess of the Mountain.” As for the picture carved into “The Epiphany Ring,” the male figure who is descending from the sky is no ‘votary’: rather, he is the staff of authority itself, personified as a god who is holding the staff. Then, as soon as the staff-as-god who falls from the sky lands on earth, he becomes ‘it,’ the staff.

§35.3. Then, Nagy moved on reflecting about what would have happen to the staff in terms of this picture. Here, he recalled the formulation of Boulotis (2008:52) in his analysis of this picture: awaiting the descending god, Boulotis says, is “a female votary of high rank in an open-air sacred place.” Such a female ‘votary,’ Nagy pointed out, can be viewed as a priestess, that is, as a representative of a goddess; and that goddess, Nagy further highlighted, can be viewed as “The Goddess of the Mountain.” Then he added that the goddess, as represented by the priestess, can pick up the staff that has fallen from the sky and, in the fullness of time, she can hand it over to the male ‘votary’ or ruler—which is what we see taking place in the picture called “The Goddess of the Mountain.”

§35.4. Nagy concluded by reminding the seminar’s participants that he will write more about the roles of priests and priestesses as representatives of gods and goddesses in rituals that re-enact myths in forthcoming posting. Preliminary thoughts by Nagy about priestesses as stand-ins for goddesses are available here.

§35.5. Finally, Nagy referred to the work of Gulizio et al. (2001) about a-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja.

§36. Shelton agreed that the figure behind the shield is a female as it was portrayed with white skin. Shelton conceptualized it as an epiphany of a goddess with attendants/priestesses and added that there are some other examples of little figures with figure-of-eight shields with arms and legs that are depicted as floating or descending. We can find this iconography, for example, on a gold seal-ring (Acropolis Treasure)—Shelton concluded.

§37. Concerning the figure holding the wheat sheaf, Shelton pointed out that this character is not depicted as underground but on the lower side of the main scene, next to the altar on the side, which the character seems to approach. Shelton also argued that it may be a human figure as part of the ritual enactment since the figure wears a seal stone, an ornament that would not need to be worn by goddesses. She reminded the participants that a lion was depicted as accompanying this figure, and this could point towards an interpretation of the figure as in control of agriculture and wild animals. However, the lion at Mycenae is the protector of the realm and may signify that she is part of the palatial elite—Shelton concluded.

§38.1. Stephanie Aulsebrook highlighted the emphasis given by Shelton on the differences between the buildings in terms of layout and material. She asked whether it would be possible to characterize the earlier buildings as vehiculating core values to Mycenaean religion and the subsequent elaboration of the Cult Center as a moment when additional elements, especially Minoan ones, were introduced.
§38.2. Shelton replied that some core rituals probably pre-existed, but they were not location-specific. The reasons tied to the development and expansion of cult practices that created the need for additional buildings that have different kinds of architectural and functional characteristics. Shelton then remarked on her conceptualization of the development of the Cult Center, from restricted, initial access to a more formalized complex, to adapt it to the ‘needs’ of the rituals that had to be performed in certain steps and locales. She stressed the idea that a sanctuary includes multiple cult figures and different rituals and is used in different times of the year and with various particular ritual needs, which are all elements of complexity in reading these kinds of areas.

§39. Janice Crowley returned to the Fresco Room and the fact that the covering of the early Minoan-inspired fresco could point to a shift away by the Mycenaean art from its dependence on Minoan iconography at the beginning of the Mycenaean Period.

§40. Crowley then remarked that gods and goddesses could be portrayed wearing seal stones. An example of this is the “Figure with a Griffin” on CMS I 223, Crowley pointed out.

§41. Shelton noted that the Minoan iconography continued to be important for the elite and was incorporated in the later frescoes and in Mycenaean iconography at a point that people would not be able to recognize it as anything other than Mycenaean. Minoan iconography had become part of the religious iconographic koine by that point, Shelton added.

§42. Shelton concluded the debate by referring to Diana Wardle’s (personal communication) observation that the fresco is very roughly executed and one of the least successful figural frescoes preserved. Nonetheless, it is placed in a privileged spot and imbues important information and ideology—Shelton stressed.

§43. Shelton Bibliography

Boulotis, C. 2008. “From mythical Minos to the search for Cretan kingship.” In From the Land of the Labyrinth. Minoan Crete, 3000–1100 B.C., ed. M. Andreadaki-Vlazaki, G., Rethemiotakis, and N. Dimopoulou-Rethemiotaki, 44–55. New York.

Durrans, B. 2000. “(Not) Religion in Museums.” In Godly Things. Museums. Objects and Religion, ed. C. Paine, 57–79. Leicester.

French, E. 1981. “Mycenaean Figures and Figurines, Their Typology and Function.” In Sanctuaries and Cults in the Aegean Bronze Age, ed. R. Hägg and N. Marinatos, 173–178. Stockholm.

French, E. 2002. Mycenae: Agamemnon’s capital: the site and its setting. Stroud.

Galaty, M. 2010. “Wedging clay: combining competing models of Mycenaean pottery industries.” In Political Economies of the Aegean Bronze Age: Papers from the Langford Conference, Florida State University, Tallahassee, 22–24 February 2007, ed. D. Pullen, 230–247. Oxford.

Gulizio J., Pluta K., and Palaima T. 2001. “Religion in the Room of the Chariot Tablets,” in Potnia. Deities and Religion in the Aegean Bronze Age, Proceedings of the 8th International Aegean Conference Göteborg, Göteborg University, 12-15 April 2000, eds. R. Hägg and R. Laffineur, 453–461. Liège and Austin.

Hägg, R. 1985. “Mycenaean Religion: The Helladic and the Minoan Components.” In Linear B: A 1984 Survey. Mycenaean Colloquium of the VIII Congress of the International Federation of the Societies of Classical Studies, ed. A. Morpurgo Davies and Y. Duhoux, 203–225. Leuven.

Hägg, R. 1996. “The Religion of the Mycenaeans Twenty-Four Years after the 1967 Mycenological Congress in Rome.” In Atti e memorie del secondo Congresso internazionale di micenologia, Roma-Napoli, 14-20 ottobre 1991. Volume 2: Storia, eds. E. De Miro, L. Godart, and A. Sacconi, 599–612. Rome.

Haysom, M. 2015. “Recent research into Minoan extra-urban sanctuaries.” Archaeological Reports 61:94–103.

Hiller, S. 2011. “Mycenaean religion and cult.” In A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World, Volume 2, ed. Y. Duhoux and A. Morpurgo Davies, 169–211. Leuven.

Insoll, T. 2004. Archaeology, Ritual, Religion. London.

Lupack, S. 2010. “Mycenaean Religion.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (ca. 3000-1000 BC), ed. E. Cline, 263–276. Oxford.

Maran, J. 2016. “Towards an Anthropology of Religion in Minoan and Mycenaean Greece.” In Metaphysis: Ritual, Myth and Symbolism in the Aegean Bronze Age. Proceedings of the 15th International Aegean Conference, Vienna, Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Aegean and Anatolia Department, Austrian Academy of Sciences and Institute of Classical Archaeology, University of Vienna, 22-25 April 2014, eds. E. Alram-Stern, F. Blakolmer, S. Deger-Jalkotzy, R. Laffineur, and J. Weilhartner, 581–591. Leuven and Liège.

Moore, A. and W. Taylour. 1999. Well Built Mycenae. The Helleno-British Excavations within the Citadel of Mycenae, 1959–1969. Fascicule 10: The Temple Complex. Oxford.

Morgan, L. 2005. “The Cult Center at Mycenae and the duality of life and death.” In Aegean Wall Painting: A Tribute to Mark Cameron, ed. L. Morgan, 159–171. London.

Mylonas, G. 1983. Mycenae Rich in Gold. Athens.

Nilsson, M. 1950. The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and its Survival in Greek Religion. 2nd edition. New York.

Palaima, T. 2008. “Mycenaean Religion.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age, ed. C. Shelmerdine, 342–361. Cambridge.

Rehak, P. 1992. “Tradition and Innovation in the Fresco from Room 31 in the ‘Cult Center’ at Mycenae,” In EIKON. Aegean Bronze Age Iconography, ed. R. Laffineur and J. Crowley, 39–62. Liège and Austin.

Shelton, K. 2009. “Drinking, Toasting, Consumption and Libation: Late Helladic IIIA Pottery and a Cup for Every Occasion.” In DAIS. The Aegean Feast. Proceedings of the 12th International Aegean Conference, University of Melbourne, Center for Classics and Archaeology, 25-29 March 2008, ed. L. Hitchcock, R. Laffineur, and J. Crowley, 221–228. Liège and Austin.

Shelton, K. 2022. Well Built Mycenae. The Helleno-British Excavations within the Citadel of Mycenae, 1959–1969. Fascicule 14: Tsountas House. Oxford.

Tsountas, C. 1887. “Ανασκαφαί Μυκηνών,” Αρχαιολογική Εφεμερίς:155–172.

Verhoeven, M. 2011. “The many dimensions of ritual”. In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Ritual and Religion, ed. T. Insoll, 115–132. Oxford.

Whittaker, H. 2015. “Mycenaean religion in the 21st century.” In Mycenaeans up to date: The archaeology of the north-eastern Peloponnese – current concepts and new directions, ed. A-L. Schallin and I. Tournavitou, 613–622. Stockholm.

Wright, J. 1994. “The Spatial Configuration of Belief: The Archaeology of Mycenaean Religion.” In Placing the Gods. Sanctuaries and Sacred Space in Ancient Greece, ed. S. Alcock and R. Osborne, 37–78. Oxford.

Wright, J. 1995. “From Chief to King in Mycenaean Society.” In The Role of the Ruler in the Prehistoric Aegean. Proceedings of a Panel Discussion Presented at the Annual Meeting of the AIA in New Orleans, La., 28 December 1992. With Additions, ed. P. Rehak, 63–80. Liège and Austin.

Topic 2: Micromanaging the Bronze Age Collapse

Presenter: Assaf Yasur-Landau
School of Archaeology and Maritime Cultures
University of Haifa

§44. By the end of the 13th century BCE the widespread hunger in Anatolia and Syria was a challenge well known to the rulership of both Egyptian and Hittite Empire, as indicated by records of shipping of grain and other foodstuffs to Hatti from Egypt, beginning in the days of Merneptah, 213—1203 BCE (Cohen 2021). It is likely that rulers elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, from Canaan to the Aegean, were also aware of the ongoing difficulties in securing basic food supplies, caused by the combination of a climate event and political turmoil. This MASt presentation, to be later developed into more detailed study, will explore the tentative evidence for strategies taken by state economies and non-state actors to mitigate these shortages and to raise the system resilience. Four case studies that will be examined to test the hypothesis that planned economies by large bureaucratic states actually hastened regional collapse, while diversification efforts by small coastal polities proved more successful in surviving well into the 12th century BCE.

§45. Intervention of the Egyptian new kingdom in the economy of Canaan in the late 19th dynasty and early 20th dynasty (13th to early 12th centuries BCE)

a. much more on-site Egyptian administrations in connection with food production, and even royal estates in Canaan (Hieratic inscriptions from Qubur el-Walaydah, Tel Sera, Tel es-Safi and elsewhere, Papyrus Harris I) (Wimmer and Lehmann 2014).
b. Introduction of Zebu bulls to Canaan. These animals, more resilient to dry conditions, were perhaps introduced to combat growing aridity (Meiri et al. 2017) or to cater to existing patterns of conspicuous consumption. It may not be coincidental that Zebu bulls were introduced to Cyprus at the same time (Spyrou 2021).
c. It is possible that Egyptian estates in Canaan, as well as taxation by the Egyptian overlords were involved in the large grain shipments from Canaan to Ugarit and to the Hittites attested to in RSO 23: 47-49 no. 1 from the house of Urtenu at Ugarit and in the Akkadian letter from the Governor Residence at Aphek, both from the late 13th century BCE and connected to the hunger in Hatti and Ugarit (Cohen 2021:53—54). If so, then the resilience of areas in Canaan under direct Egyptian control was diminished by the geopolitical needs of the Egyptian Empire to assist its neighbors to the north.

§46. Planned economy at Ugarit and Intervention of the Hittite Empire in agricultural production in Ugarit and in the Amuq

a. at Ugarit, an emphasis is given on planned production and storage in palatial, local production and distribution units called gt. These agricultural estates were the main instrument of palatial economic activity, creating and managing large amounts of staples such as cereals and wine (McGeough 2007: 20, 54, 130, 165). This system of palatial organized production of staples could well be a solution to both climate uncertainties as well as a change in palatial production connected with Hittite demands as well as the Ugaritic will to conform to norms of centralized economies with royal estates prevalent among the Near Eastern Empires of the Late Bronze Age.
b. letters from the house of Urtenu (RSO 23: 29, 31, 32, 33, 35) mention a major agricultural project of planting and digging in the city of Alatḫa in the land of Mukiš in the Amuq, to which the king of Ugarit (among other vassals of the Hittites) is commanded to send workforces (Cohen and Torrecilla 2021:40—44). The Ugaritic king Niqmaddu III is reluctant to send people, and it is only after orders and encouragement from the viceroy in Karkemiš, the uriyanni administrator and Šatalli, the envoy of the Hittite king that the Ugaritic contingent was finally sent. The mention of king Niqmaddu is likely dating the event to ca. 1220 BCE, well within the climatic fluctuations of the 13th century. The most astonishing part about this project is that is not connected with the creation of staples to alleviate hunger but rather intended for the creation of elite goods: the planting of aromatics or plants used for dying (Cohen 2021:43—44). This complicated endeavor ended in a fiasco, as clearly stated in RSO 23 33 7-9: “At the town of Alatḫa, not even [a sing]le shoot was planted! Nothing of the plants [which (were planted) i]n the depression ri[pened]!.” The case of Alatḫa is thus showing the willingness and the ability of the Hittite empire to prioritize its own agricultural projects and to micromanage production and human resources in its vassal states for its own purposes, a practice that no doubt lowered the resilience of the vassal states to cope with climatic challenges.

§47. Pylian state response to climate fluctuations?

Climatic data from the Mavri Trypa cave shows considerable fluctuation in climate during LHIIIB and LHIIIC, a record most relevant to the area of the palace of Pylos (Finné et al. 2017). As conditions became unpredictably drier and wetter during the later part of the LHIIIB period, some mitigating measures may have been taken by the palace. The emphasis on banqueting in the last years of the palace of Pylos (e.g. PY Un 2, Un 138, Un718) may be understood beyond the contexts of sacrificial feasts (e.g. Palaima 2004) and “staple economy” of the palatial sector alone (Nakassis 2010), perhaps as an effort of the palatial elite to alleviate short periods of shortage, while demonstrating the control of food to the populace of the kingdom in times of crisis. At the same time Er 880 records palace-sponsored agricultural projects of the wanax close to the demise of Pylos in LH IIIC1. The two estates at sarapeda, one planted with 1100 vines, the other with 1000 figs (Palmer 1994:66—72; Nakassis 2012:8) must have been planted in the few years or decades before the tablet was written yet still within the range of the climatic fluctuations attested in the Mavri Trypa record. Still, these plants appear to be thriving enough at least to be recorded. It seems unlikely to me that these orchards, relying on rain, were planted during harsh draught conditions, or they would not have survived. The product of these two estates, in addition to the sizable royal temenos of the wanax (Er 312), were likely a political strategic resource in the hand of the wanax to be used in sacrificial feasts, as the one occurring is sarapeda (Un 718) (Nakassis 2012:14, 18).

§48. Resilience of Smaller coastal powers

At the same time, small, coastal polities such as cities on the Phoenician coast (e.g. Byblos, Tyre, Sidon and Dor) seems to have fared much better probably since much of their economy was not directly connected to, or controlled by the Egyptian or Hittite Empires. These polities continued to trade with Cyprus without break in the 12th and 11th centuries BCE. The maritime connectivity providing much needed layers of resilience to their economy (Yasur-Landau 2019). Furthermore, the very fast recovery of the settlement system in both the coast of Lebanon and the coast of the Carmel during the Iron Age I and the rise of the Dor polity was, not only the improving climate and the rise in precipitation, but also the absence of an extractive power, like the Late Bronze Age Egyptian empire, which would have stunted economic growth by crippling taxation (Arkin Shalev et al. 2021).

§49. The state economy as a major source for loss of resilience in the Late Bronze Age

Lane (2022) recently emphasized the fragility of the prestige goods economy in Pylos as well as other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. Disruption in the ability to produce and distribute elite goods could have caused the collapse of the legitimacy or the rulership, as well as unemployment and loss of nutritional security within the large palatial sector who are paid in rations. I would suggest that the anxiety of the Bronze Age rulership about the collapse of the prestige goods economy and the will to expand it existed already from the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. This fear led the major Bronze Age rulers to make ever increasing investments in activities related to the procurement of raw materials as well as the production of staples to fund the palatial sector. These efforts reduced the resilience of the system to climate fluctuation (Fig. 5), by diverting resources from non-palatial production of staples. It is almost a tragic realization to suggest that in a way there was nothing the rulers could do without fundamentally changing the economic basis behind their world system. Therefore, while the climate was changing, vital human resources were taken from Ugarit for an agricultural project intended for the production of elite goods, and large shipments of grain were diverted by the Egyptian pharaoh from Canaan to Hatti without paying much attention to the needs of the local population. Last ditch efforts such as inclusive sacrificial feasts at Pylos, or the possible introduction of the Zebu bull to Canaan, were too little and too late. It seems that only the smaller maritime polities, because they had less dependency on the prestige goods economy on one hand and were less susceptible to the demands of their Near Eastern overlords on the other, managed narrowly to escape the economic and political collapse of the early 12th century BCE and to make a remarkable recovery soon after.






Fig. 5. Road map

Discussion following Yasur-Landau’s presentation

§50.1. Roger Woodard started the discussion by asking whether the copper artefacts with Cypro-Minoan signs shown in the presentation are published or unpublished finds.

§50.2. Assaf Yasur-Landau replied that the majority of these objects have been published by Ehud Galili et al. (see, for example, Galili et al. 2011; Galili et al. 2013; Yahalom-Mack et al. 2022). He specified that the Cypriot finds from the Palmahim cave, an underwater site currently investigated by a project initiated two weeks before, are new finds. The team hopes for a fast publication of these extraordinary finds, Yasur-Landau remarked.

§51. Giulia Muti observed that zebu seems to appear for the first time on Cyprus during the Late Bronze Age, namely in the same period that witnessed the intensification of its exploitation in Egypt and other areas of the Levant. The presence of this species on the island has also been linked to aridification (Spyrou 2021: 163—164 with references), Muti added. In addition, she noted that zebu makes a fairly regular appearance in Late Cypriot iconography of terracotta figurines, and this can be related to the fast acquisition of economic and social importance of this species (Spyrou 2021).

§52. Trevor Van Damme reflected on the broad 12th-century BCE climate event and pointed out that an alternation between climatic extremes, such as intense rainfall and drought, is detectable in Greece. He highlighted similarities with the climate pattern emerging in the current climate crisis.

§53.1. Van Damme also suggested that the large construction projects at the very end of the Mycenaean Period (e.g. the Tiryns dam), a huge investment in time and labor, may have been a sort of preventitive measure because of extreme flooding being generated by climate events. Not only had these little payoff but actually contributed to undermining the state, Van Damme stressed.
§53.2. Yasur-Landau agreed and added that 12th-century BCE polities, except for Cyprus, were trying to emulate what they perceived as successful states to overcome difficulties. Cyprus, in fact, had a delayed reaction to this phenomenon. This is probably one of the reasons, he continued, why urbanization continues for another century on the island, including some form of administration, monumental architecture, temples, etc.

§54.1. Nicolle Hirschfeld drew attention to some metal tools and a spearhead shown in the presentation, from the Neve Yam shipwreck.
§54.2. Yasur-Landau replied that they hope to publish them by the end of the year.

§55.1. Hirschfeld observed that the assemblage of broken tools found in the Cape Gelidonya shipwreck, are, according to Nicholas Blackwell (Blackwell and Hirschfeld 2020), an unusually large quantity of agricultural tools, and he suggested that a prolonged drought in the eastern Mediterranean made the metal agricultural equipment on Cyprus by the late 13th century or very early 12th century more valuable on the scrap market than as functional tools.
§55.2. Yasur-Landau objected that disposing of agricultural tools for that reason would have been a waste of metal. Instead, it may have been connected with an intensification of the need, and, therefore, the circulation of these tools, especially in the light of the extensive agricultural projects being undertaken in the period—Yasur-Landau noted.

§56.1. Eric H. Cline returned to Cyprus and agreed on Yasur-Landau’s narrative on the island’s economic and political resilience. Cline stressed that Cyprus, the surviving Canaanites and those who would have become the Phoenicians were ‘anti-fragile’, flourishing in a time of chaos. Then, he noted that the Assyrians and the Babylonians also survived and carried on their politics and economy, including massive construction projects. Therefore, the Assyrians and Babylonians were not as affected by the crisis, even if they should have been, because they were too inland from its epicenter—Cline remarked. Tigris and Euphrates would have helped combat the drought, Cline concluded.
§56.2. Yasur-Landau agreed with Cline that the availability of running water in Mesopotamia facilitated the resilience of agriculture in difficult periods compared to dry farming agriculture. Nonetheless, he emphasized that the Assyrian state also collapsed and various Assyrian projects were eventually abandoned at the very end of the Late Bronze Age. Yasur-Landau stressed that there are more resilient places for which their fall is not as guaranteed as the other ones.

§57. Cline returned to the question by quoting Liverani (Liverani 1988:766, as cited by Fales 2011:14), who argues that the people in Assyria and Babylonia should have collapsed earlier than they did but they had good leaders in place at that time, and that may have delayed it.

§58. Yasur-Landau observed that good leadership always helps. For example, Ramses III was indeed the right Pharaoh at the right moment. However, good leaders do not always have the power or the choice to reverse huge changes, Yasur-Landau concluded.

§59.1. Cassandra Donnelly drew attention to the fact that not all the signs of the ingots that Yasur-Landau showed can be considered Cypro-Minoan. In particular, she stressed that the sign composed of two triangles facing each other does not appear in any Cypro-Minoan inscription. Instead, it was a widely circulating sign on the pots as it appears frequently on potmarks from Ashkelon, Kition, and several other sites—Donnelly concluded.
§59.2. Yasur-Landau replied he did not intend to say that all the signs appearing on the ingots from the shipwrecks along the Carmel coast are Cypro-Minoan. There are signs, though, that look Cypro-Minoan, he specified. Yasur-Landau added that the sign composed of two triangles facing each other, as well as the Cypro-Minoan sign 102, is prevalent both on ingots and anchors—therefore, they were used to mark both commodities and elements of boats—retrieved from the Carmel coasts, which led him to think that it was a very specific sign. The same sign has been also detected on tin ingots, Yasur-Landau remarked.
§59.3. Donnelly agreed that the Hishuley Carmel ingots bear inscriptions (n.b. Hishuley Carmel is the name of the shipwreck where they were found). She also added that, concerning Cypro-Minoan on ingots, there is a spectrum of options, ranging from using the signs to write inscriptions to using the signs to mark commodities without writing inscriptions.

§60.1. Tom Palaima returned to the topic of agricultural tools and suggested that, as shown by Pylos tablet Jn 829, the recycling of bronze was probably a normal measure, not an emergency one., the recycling of bronze was probably a normal measure, not an emergency one. Central palatial officials at Pylos (ko-re-te-re and po-ro-ko-re-te-re) were sent out to the nine and seven regional districts where they interacted with local sanctuary officials (du-ma-te and ka-ra-wi-po-ro) and overseers of crop production (o-pi-su-ko and o-pi-ka-pe-e-we). The Mycenaean palatial states were competing with other cultures in the Bronze Age and were relying largely on imported copper, tin and bronze. They most certainly would have used such metals wisely. It was most likely SOP (standard operating procedure) for palatial centers regularly to collect and recycle bronze scrap from finally worn out virtual heirloom bronze items in temples and from temple officials and from worn down agricultural tools used for hoeing, pruning, digging and cutting from the overseers of field productions, Palaima continued. He added that the overseers would have been able to reach the source of worn agricultural tools to be recycled, which would then be returned to the palace. The Mycenaeans would not have wasted any small scrap of the materials that were essential for high-scale agriculture , viticulture and arboriculture—Palaima concluded.
§60.2. Finally, the concern of the elites of Mycenaean palatial sites with keeping the skilled labor forces central to the prestige goods economy contented and willing and able to work is indicated by the very titles the elites invented for the palatial overseers and operators of the production economy, namely the ‘agents and vice-agents of bodily satisfaction’ (ko-re-te-re and po-ro-ko-re-te-re) and those who ‘satisfy the da-mo’ (da-mo-ko-ro). It is not only armies who travel on their stomachs, but specialized production economies that are sustained by the full bellies of specialist workers and their families and clans. Cf. Palaima 2008, 385.

§61.1. Palaima then reflected on how challenging it is for scholars to establish what ‘normal’ looked like in the Mycenaean period, given that the texts we have, especially those from Pylos, come mainly from the destruction periods. By way of example, he asked rhetorically whether the text Yasur-Landau cited about the incompetency of getting the soldiers in place to perform their duties would have been essentially standard operating procedure, given the inefficiencies inherent in large bureaucratic systems, or exceptional events. How do we define normal, he continued, when many of our texts come from abnormal circumstances?

§61.2. Yasur-Landau suggested that comparative studies can facilitate such a definition. By way of example, he mentioned that the geoarchaeological analyses comparing the depositional processes at Pylos between LH IIIB1 and LHIIIB2 and the following periods could shed some light on these processes and help to establish what is normal and what is not. Performing analyses on the stable isotopes in seeds and comparing the samples from different periods may help to observe if stress-related marks can be linked to drought or other factors, Yasur-Landau added.
§61.3. Here, Landenius Enegren drew attention to a project conducted at the Uppsala University, “Climate and Ancient Societies” with a focus on the Peloponnese, led by Erika Weiberg. She added that “Climate and Ancient Societies” follows a four year project entitled “Domesticated Landscapes of the Peloponnese”, which included aspects of climate, environment and landscape. As expressed on the University of Uppsala webpage: “The project also involved intra-disciplinary perspectives in the comparative and contrasting use of archaeology and historical records on the side of the humanities, and climatological and environmental data on the side of the natural sciences”.

§62. Yasur-Landau remarked that the goal of his talk was not to follow what triggered an immediate response to the crisis, but what was reducing the level of resilience. He added that the palatial system, for example, was flawed because efforts were made to adapt, and conform to palatial life rather than to climate change. In the attempt of making a great palace to emulate the one in a model state, polities diminished their capacity to withstand changes and calamities—Yasur-Landau concluded.

§63.1. Judith Weingarten pointed out that, either in the areas where we have texts or where we do not, people seem not to have been focused on agricultural strategies that every farming community would have taken when undergoing prolonged droughts. She observed that, for example, it would have been logical to shift production from thirsty crops to less thirsty species. Also, she added that olives and figs are extremely drought-resistant. Finally, Weingarten stressed that wheat needs more water than other forms of grains and that some changes take time (trees, obviously) but trading seeds for annual crops could have been much faster. In light of this, she remarked that we need to study diachronic records as well as botanical evidence to see if farmers did (attempt to) shift crops as a coping strategy.
§63.2. Yasur-Landau drew attention to contributions by Marco Nicoli (forthcoming) and Simone Riehl (forthcoming) about archaeobotany and stable isotopes at Tel Kabri which will appear in the forthcoming Kabri III volume. Yasur-Landau added that this study proves that grain and other crops were coming from different sources and it also points out that some species were watered while some were not, as well some were ripened while others were not. From this study, it seems that the palaces—at least some of them—took action to diversify their crop sources in order to be less susceptible to the unpredictable Mediterranean climate, Yasur-Landau concluded.

§64. Tom Palaima mentioned a paper by Michael Lane (Lane 2022) on how LBA economies (in ways similar to the intensive wealth disparity engendered by contemporary capitalist systems unfettered from central governmental restraints) are ‘hijacked’ to support the ideological needs of the elite classes and power figures who were vying to improve their positions in the international hierarchy of power and prestige. He also recommends the work of ancient and modern economics expert Michael Hudson and his series of conference volumes in cooperation with Baruch A. Levine, Piotr Steinkeller, Marc Van De Mieroop and Cornelia Wunsch.

§65. Rachele Pierini observed that Yasur-Landau’s research opens up the floor for a reevaluation of Poseidon’s role at Late Bronze Age Pylos. Poseidon was a minor deity at Knossos (Shelmerdine 2016) but the primary male divinity at Pylos (Palaima 1995) and this development as well as Poseidon’s connection to bulls, horses, and maritime elements is not a product of the Iron Age but, rather, a creation of the palatial elites (Shelmerdine 2016)—Pierini continued. Poseidon’s Mycenaean linkages to horses, chariots and bulls, and the sea is consistent with the palatial elites’ joint effort to overcome the crisis by promoting palace-sponsored agricultural projects, inclusive feast, and maritime polities—Pierini added. She thus hypothesized that Poseidon’s role at Late Bronze Age Pylos was so central because Mycenaeans were asking him for protection, especially on the fragile aspects of their economy.

§66. Judith Weingarten concluded the debate by observing that farmers would have reacted quickly after having undergone a series of bad harvests. She added that they would have tried to change crops in the Mediterranean, and they knew which of the good crops to go with and which not. However, if the demands from the tax authorities were for other things (for example, demanding payment in wheat over barley), they indeed ‘hijacked’ their economies—Weingarten concluded.

§67. Yasur-Landau Bibliography

Arkin Shalev, E., Galili, E. Waiman-Barak, P. and Yasur-Landau, A. 2021. “Rethinking the Iron Age Carmel Coast: A Coastal and Maritime Perspective.” Israel Exploration Journal 71/2:129–161.

Blackwell, N. and N. Hirschfeld. 2020. “Reassessing the Bronze Objects from the Cape Gelidonya Shipwreck in Light of Recent Discoveries”. 121st Annual Meeting Abstracts. AIA 43.

Cohen, Y. 2021. “The ‘Hunger Years’ and the ‘Sea People’: Preliminary Observations on the Recently Published Letters from the ‘House of Urtenu’ Archive at Ugarit.” In Ve-’Ed Ya‘aleh (Gen 2:6): Volume I: Essays in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies Presented to Edward L. Greenstein, eds. P. Machinist, R.A. Harris, J.A. Berman, N. Samet, and N. Ayali-Darshan, 47–61. Atlanta.

Cohen, Y. and Torrecilla, E. 2021. “The Campaign against the Suteans and the Project in The Land of Mukiš: A Consideration of Letters RSO 23 28–36, and 39 from the House of Urtenu in Ugarit.” Israel Oriental Studies Annual 21: 28–47.

Fales, F.M. 2011. “Transition: The Assyrians at the Euphrates between the 13th and the 12th century BC.” In Empires After the Empire: Anatolia, Syria and Assyria after Suppiluliuma II (ca. 1200-800/700 B.C.), ed. K. Strobel, 9–59. Rome.

Finné, M., Holmgren, K., Shen, C.-C., Hu, H.-M., Boyd, M., Stocker, S. 2017. “Late Bronze Age climate change and the destruction of the Mycenaean Palace of Nestor at Pylos.” PLoS ONE 12(12):e0189447.

Galili, E., Gale, N.H. and Rosen, B. 2011. “Bronze Age Metal Cargoes off the Israeli Coast”. Skyllis: Zeitschrift für Unterwasserarchäologie 11:64–73.

Galili, E., Gale, N.H. and Rosen, B. 2013. “A Late Bronze Age Shipwreck with a Metal Cargo from Hishuley Carmel, Israel.” International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 42:2–23.

Hudson, M. and Levine, B.A., eds. 1996. Privatization in the Ancient near East and Classical World. Leuven.

Hudson, M. and Levine, B.A., eds. 1999. Urbanization and Land Ownership in the Ancient Near East.

Hudson, M. and Steinkeller, P. eds., 2015. Labor in the Ancient World. A Colloquium Held at Hirschbach (Saxony), April 2005. Dresden.

Hudson, M. and Van de Mieroop, M. 2002. Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East. Baltimore.

Hudson, M. and Wunsch, C. 2004. Creating Economic Order: Record-Keeping, Standardization and the Development of Accounting in the Ancient Near East. Bethesda, MD.

Lane, M. 2022. “Accounts, Values, Futures, Options Production, Finance, and the End of the Late Bronze Age World Economy.” In Ta-u-ro-qo-ro: Studies in Mycenaean Texts, Language and Culture in Honor of José Luis Melena Jiménez, ed. Julián Méndez Dosuna, T.G. Palaima and C. Varias García, 85–106. Cambridge, MA.

Liverani, M. 1988. Antico Oriente. Storia, società, economia. Rome–Bari.

McGeough, K.M. 2007. Exchange Relationships at Ugarit, Ancient Near Eastern Studies. Leuven/Dudley.

Meiri, M., Stockhammer, P.W., Marom, N., Bar-Oz, G., Sapir-Hen, L., Morgenstern, P., Macheridis, S., Rosen, B., Huchon, D., Maran, J., and Finkelstein, I. 2017. “Eastern Mediterranean Mobility in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages: Inferences from Ancient DNA of Pigs and Cattle.” Sci Rep. Apr 6;7(1):701.

Nakassis, D. 2010. “Reevaluating Staple and Wealth Finance at Mycenaean Pylos” in Political Economies of the Aegean Bronze Age. Papers from the Langford Conference, Florida State University, Tallahassee, 22–24 February 2007, ed. D.J. Pullen, 127–148. Oxford.

Nakassis, D. 2012. “Prestige and Interest: Feasting and the King at Mycenaean Pylos.” Hesperia 81: 1–30.

Nicoli, M. forthcoming. “Archaeobotany.” In Excavations at Tel Kabri III: The 2013 to 2019 Seasons, ed. E.H. Cline, A. Ratzlaff and A. Yasur-Landau. Leiden.

Palaima, T.G. 1995. “The last days of the Pylos polity.” In Politeia: Society and State in the Aegean Bronze Age, Actes de la 5e Rencontre égéenne internationale, University of Heidelbeg, Archäologisches Institut, 10–13 April 1994, ed. R. Laffineur and W.-D. Niemeier, 623—634. Liège-Austin.

Palaima, T.G. 2004. “Sacrificial Feasting in the Linear B Documents,” Hesperia 73:217–246.

Palaima, T.G. 2008. “The Significance of Mycenaean Words Relating to Meals, Meal Rituals, and Food.” In DAIS. The Aegean Feast. Proceedings of the 12th International Aegean Conference University of Melbourne, Centre for Classics and Archaeology, 25–29 March 2008, eds. L.A. Hitchcock, R. Laffineur and J. Crowley, 383–389. Liège and Austin.

Palmer, R. 1994. Wine in the Mycenaean Economy. Liège.

Riehl, S. forthcoming. “Stable Isotope Measurements on Seed Remains.” In Excavations at Tel Kabri III: The 2013 to 2019 Seasons, ed. E.H. Cline, A. Ratzlaff and A. Yasur-Landau. Leiden.

Shelmerdine, C. 2016. “Poseidon, pa-ki-ja-na and horse-taming Nestor,” in Metaphysis: Ritual, Myth and Symbolism. Proceedings of the 15th International Aegean Conference, Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences and Institute of Classical Archaeology, University of Vienna, 22-25 April 2014, ed. E. Alram, F. Stern, S. Blakolmer, S. Deger-Jalkotzy, R. Laffineurand and J. Weilhartner, 275–283. Leuven.

Spyrou, A. 2021. “From South Asia to the Eastern Mediterranean: the Appearance of Zebu Cattle in the Iconography of Bronze Age Cyprus and Some Consideration for Future Research.” In Archaeology in the Smallest Realm: Micro Analyses and Methods for the Reconstruction of Early Societies in Cyprus, ed. M. Amadio, 154–166. Rome.

Wimmer, S.J. and Lehmann, G. 2014. “Two Hieratic Inscriptions from Qubur el-Walaydah.” Egypt and the Levant 24: 343–348.

Yahalom-Mack, N., Finn, D.M., Erel, Y., Galili, E. and Yasur-Landau, A. 2022. “Incised Late Bronze Age lead ingots from the southern anchorage of Caesarea.” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 41:103–321.

Yasur-Landau, A. 2019. “The Archaeology of Maritime Adaptation.” In The Social Archaeology of the Levant from Prehistory to the Present, ed. A. Yasur-Landau, E.H. Cline and Y.M. Rowan, 551–570. Cambridge–New York.

Final remarks

§68. Rachele Pierini thanked the speakers for their exceptional talks, which very much stimulated a truly fruitful debate, as well as the participants for their excellent feedback and comments.

§69. Pierini also anticipated that the next session of the MASt seminars will take place on January 13, 2023. The forthcoming seminar is designed with a different formula, intended to stimulate a reflection over more than three years of MASt seminars.

§70. The Fall 2022 MASt seminar concluded with a celebration of Gregory Nagy’s 80 birthday. Birthday wishes from the MASt group were expressed by Roger Woodard, who offered his own happy birthday translation of the first 52 lines of the Iliad in iambic meter; Tom Palaima, who celebrated Nagy with his translation of the animal portion of the famous “Ode to Man” chorus from Sophocles’ Antigone; and Rachele Pierini, who shared a video in which Maestro Zubin Metha directs birthday variations and concludes the performance with a birthday variation of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (a tribute to Greg’s homeland).

Zubin Mehta, happy birthday Variation,Symphony

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