Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Minoans: Their Polity

As each large city built a palace temple, hierarchical city politics came to dominate the island. While the palace at Knossos was the largest and most elaborate, similar palaces in other cities were similarly huge. Throughout the MM period Crete was dominated by these large cities, specifically by each city's political temple-based ruling class. The large scale politics of the island most likely expressed itself as a plurality of city states, and there is only one small period (between the Theran eruption and the final fire at Knossos) where one city (Knossos) may have had hegemonic dominance. During 90 year period Knossos held the only palace-temple on the island, being the only city to rebuild completely after the eruption. Besides this abnormality, the majority of Minoan politics was significantly more messy and complex. One aspect of politics seen throughout Crete are fresco scenes of powerful priestesses. They were closely linked to festivals and other palace-temple based ceremonies, presumably they may have utilized this power to their benefit at the expense of ordinary or noble Minoans. Priestesses as a group likely held the highest authority in the palace-temple proper, although it is entirely unknown how much power the king held over this group, or if there was a single figure (a high priestess) who held power over them.

There was also a counterbalance to this megalithic-centered theocracy, as the names of secular titles are found on both Crete and mainland Pylos in Linear B. The names and duties of titles are similar enough to posit a rudimentary shared system between (at least) Knossos on Crete and Pylos in the Peloponnese. At least, their political systems had originally been similar and had diverged with distance and time. Both the Knossian and Pylian systems were founded on the backs of the nobility, this upper class of aristocrats were comprised of feudal land owners, slave traders, or long distance trading contractors. Horse ownership was rife throughout the wealthy, as in classical societies. While horses of the period were too small and weak to carry a fully bronze-clad warrior, they could at least pull chariots. Each noble (or noble family) owned and operated their own chariot. The cost and upkeep of a full suit of bronze armor, weapons, a chariot, and multiple horses would have been extremely expensive. Owning and operating such items was the height of bronze age aristocratic opulence.

Aegean (Achaean, Mycenaean or Minoan) chariot riding slave holding nobility, called maryannu in Mesopotamian culture

The Knossian and Pylian Polities Compared

In the Minoan system, the absolute highest authority is the King: the Wanax. Directly responsible to the King was a household (also translated as office) of orderlies to assist in the actual execution of authority. This Kingly office most likely was made up of personal servants, royal messengers, and tax recorders (scribes). While the power of any individual in the King's household is not known, in Pylian E series tablets three landholders are mentioned in the office of the Wanax. One was a potter (kerameu), another an armorer (etedomo), and the third a fuller (kanapeu). It is unknown whether these artisans were strictly within the office/household, or were full time contractors. While the office of the Wanax may have included servants (maybe being slaves), at least some of those in their office were landed artisans.

Second in the power structure of Knossos was the Guasileus (Qasireu in Mycenaean Linear B), who is considered a lesser king. Castleden beautifully names them kinglets. The title of Guasileus is most likely related to the earlier tribal social structure of the Minoans, during the EM period. It is unknown what powers were shared among the Wanax and his subordinates, but the powerful Guasileus similarly had a Konosija Qasirewija (household/office of the Guasileus) which served directly under their command. The establishment of orderlies directly serving the interests of another title suggests a set allotment of duties to the Guasileus. The creation of such a title was most likely a concession by the Wanax, possibly being forced to represent the interests of local powerful clans through a permanent title. This title may have served as a counterbalance to the Wanax' absolutism.

At Knossos a third high office was also underneath the King, the Lawagetas (Rawakeja in Mycenaean Linear B). The title translates to “Leader of the People/Host”, and may have been either a representative of the gentry, populace, or a temporary-turned-permanent military title (like a classical Greek dictator). This figure as well had a Konosija Rawaketa underneath them and may have operated some specific amount of authority. The Lawagetas was also heavily involved in rituals, and many of these positions may have held both secular and religious duties. In Minoa the Guasileus and the Lawagetas were seemingly equal in power underneath the Wanax; as with Roman dual consulship, two equal rulers is not a safe balance of power. The two figures must have vied for influence with their Wanax, each using their delegated servants, land, and powers to their own benefit.

A Mycenaean Wanax killing an Egyptian soldier, a screenshot from the Total War: Age of Bronze mod

On mainland Greece a similar system had developed, utilizing the same titles but with a slight variation in interpersonal power. Specifically, this description of the mainland Mycenaean power structure only applies to one city, Pylos, in the southwest Peloponnese. Pylos also housed vast Linear B administrative records, thankfully destroyed in a fire around 1,000 BCE. This version of the Aegean palace system found within these tablets is temporally only from the LM period. Both MM period Pylos and Knossos would have had a much more similar system. Since the title-based Minoan palace system developed a few hundred years prior to its Peloponnese-Mycenaean counterpart, it is very likely that the Minoans were the originators of the system and subsequently exported it across their sphere of influence.

In Pylos the King is still called the Wanax, and under such Kings were the familiar Guasileus and Lawagetas titles and their respective offices. There was one major difference between the Knossian and Pylian systems, the Guasileus no longer held the status of a kinglet, but was more similar to a high foreman or the king's supervisor. Specifically, the Pylian Guasileus had personal control over multiple bronze workshops. The title was most likely held in lesser esteem than its Cretan counterpart. Since Pylos was in a more precarious geographic situation than Knossos it is understandable that the Pylian King demanded more feudal control over their clan based nobility. Generally, the Pylian system incorporated their clan system subordinately as opposed to coordinately. Consequently, the Lawagetas became the second most powerful title in the city. In an interesting side note, the Mycenaean title of Guasileus survived into the CP as Basileus.

Beneath the High Triad of the Wanax, Guasileus, and Lawagetas

A Mycenaean Wanax and some of his Eqeta in a mainland palace temple

Surrounding the Wanax in LBA Aegean civilization was the Eqeta. This term survives in classical Greek as the root for the word Heqetai, translated as “The Followers”. They were a group of high level nobles who surrounded the Wanax, and operated as an inner circle and a security entourage. Knossos tablet B 1055 mentions 13 Eqeta and their orderlies. The Eqeta probably developed as a formalized version of the King's closest maryannu (chariot riding slaver aristocrats). They had special clothing which may have been reserved for their maryannu class. Close groups of maryannu surrounding and directly under the King is paralleled in LBA Hittite as well as CP Germanic cultures. The Eqeta are uniquely mentioned in tablets with not only their name but each individual's patronymic title. This illustrates their special status in Aegean society, as well as the connection between wealth and family in Minoan/Pylian societies.

In both systems the interconnection between the King and the maryannu nobility is fascinating. Many if not all of the names on Pylian tablets appear more than once, in multiple contexts. A noble would be mentioned as an Eqeta, but separately mentioned as a bronze smith, a landholder, a Telestai, or a work group supervisor. Most of the individuals mentioned as “shepherds” are also equally Eqeta, landholders, tax officials, and chariot wheel repairmen. These duties are often geographically distant from each other, the nobleman Plouteus is mentioned as a bronze smith in one province, a shepherd in another, and a goat collector in a third. Plouteus, as with other nobles, was not actually any of these things but was only the overseer responsible for those specific economies in the aforesaid districts. This system is very similar to 18th century BCE Ur, where the only people mentioned in tablets are herding supervisors themselves directly underneath the King. The actual shepherds were not mentioned, not because they are unimportant but because they had been delegated to supervisors. From the King's perspective, it was someone else's responsibility. It is interesting to note that Pylian nobility were the supervisors of bronze smiths, as such workers were integral to the LBA economy. Subsequently their Eqeta overseers may have had a large influence too. If the Pylian Guasileus was directly in charge of bronze workshops then their titular power may have only been redefined, but not weakened in the Pylian state.

It is also necessary to mention other radically upsetting interpretations of these Aegean terms. On linguistic grounds the Eqeta may have had religious duties, or translated as “spokesman”. The militaristic interpretation of Eqeta is because they are mentioned supervising Oka, which are given with lists of men. The term Oka has been translated as a military detachment, but that translation may not be accurate. The Oka series of tablets may only be listing a group set to perform a specific duty, which would not give a clear picture of a militaristic class as presumed. While this would muddy the image of an Eqeta, their military interpretation may have only been their primary duty and stripping them of that still leaves an Eqeta with a series of important palace-related obligations.

Mycenaean Eqeta, a screenshot from Total War: Age of Bronze mod

Other Public Functionaries

Both civilizations also involved a title/group/class called the Telestai who were powerful land owning males. These people may have had religious obligations as well, since by the CP the title had morphed into cult/ritual leaders. Both Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations also incorporated a high value religious figure, possibly considered a High Priestess. This figure was named the Klawiporos, or the “key bearer”, and by the CP the klawiporos was strictly a priestess. Even during the LBA this title was most likely reserved for women. The details of land ownership in Aegean palace societies is not fully known, but some detail is given. Pylian tablet Er 880 mentions Ekerhawo, the personal name of a noble who owned an estate, even larger than the Wanax' and the Lawagetas' combined. Perhaps the small fiefdoms recorded as owned by the Wanax and Lawagetas were only given with their title, and the record had not included their large personal holdings. Perhaps their offices were where true authority lied, allowing them to politically fight large landowners.

Below the Wanax and his Eqeta entourage, below the kinglet Guasileus and the Leader of the People, were smaller and local city level administrators. These people were called a Koreter, or mayor, and worked directly with district governors and the Prokoreters (deputies) under those district governors. The operation of the palace-temples' dictates at the smaller local level was paramount, its successful local operation would make or break a ruler's authority. These people were the wheels behind the bureaucratic machine: they were the officials who were handed rural grain taxes, and any corruption among them would have been severely detrimental to the palace-temple's power. Pylian tablets also mention the Telestai as lower level administrators (they may have had multiple duties such as the Eqeta) and the figure of a Worokijonejo. Sadly nothing much is known about the lower level operations of the Telestai or anything more about the Worokijonejo.

Pylian tablet Un 718 mentions public offerings to Poseidon in certain a part of the temple called the Sarapeda. This ceremony involved the attendance (and offerings) from many important individuals, such as from the named nobleman Ekerhawo, the Damo (classical demos or local community), and the Kama (another special class of landowners). Pylian Ma tablets show various unknown goods were gathered and cataloged (by scribes). These tablets mention the bronze smiths (oudidosi) make no contribution”, implying they contributed taxes through labor or other contracts. The Knossian Mc tablets also mention the collection of tithes, yet also mention names of (most likely) tax collectors. Land, when mentioned, is held privately or by the Damo. This split between private ownership (including the Telestai/Kama gentry) and community ownership must have been a point of strife at a local level. Outside of the temple-palaces, burials show that the clan and extended family system which had developed in the EM period continued throughout the MM period. This social structure may have clashed with the urban Wanax, and have become an impetus for the creation of the Guasileus title.

A Pyramid Society

The entire island of Crete shared in general a governing style, a top-down hierarchy. The chariot riding slave holding maryannu were on the top, counterbalanced by formalized titular positions all resting on top of the will of average residents and farmers. Since the wealth of the countryside (being mostly grain tithes) was delivered to the temple and redistributed by the temple, it is not known what power was left to the Wanax and their subordinates. The religious authorities represented by a class of priestesses and the Klawiporos may have also clashed with the secular Wanax, Guasileus, and Lawagetas. It is difficult to even understand a split between religious and secular authority at the time, since tablets mention public offerings by these figures. This system would have pitted titular aristocrats and templar theocrats against one another as each would have vied for power at the top of the pyramid.

It is not known whether tithes were given to the temple as tribute or by force, but eventually the palace-temples began to demand produce. While the original intention may not have been through force, once one of the subjugated tried to rebel force must have certainly been used. This new found power allowed its rulers (most likely the priestesses) the ability to not only accumulate wealth, but also to dictate how wealth was portioned to local shrines. The temple not only collected grain, but all sorts of rare and valuable materials such as: silver, tin, copper, ivory, gold, lapis lazuli, ostrich eggs and plumes, precious stones. The wealthy administrators of these temples then used scribes and in-temple laborers to record and process its incoming taxes, in turn creating new jobs and produce for themselves. Some amount of priestesses and priests may have lived at the temple. The temple was also required to provide olive oil for cults and festivals, as well as providing priestesses to conduct ceremonies. Some amount of the tithes stayed in the hands of the distributors at each temple, but the wide variety of taxed income indicates that not only the farming class were bound to contribute.

Schematic of the Minoan and Mycenaean political systems, by the author

“[The Minoans have] extremely complex society with a shadowy, possibly powerless king as a figurehead and the ambitious figure of the Lawagetas, the leader of the people at his side with a troupe of noble followers, there were also the telestai, possibly religious leaders, and the klawiphoroi, the priestesses, controlling the all-important temples where wealth was gathered and redistributed. In the countryside the land-holders counterbalanced the urban-based power of the followers, while the district governor and his deputy administered the land for the king or leader and the guasileus satisfied the village clansmen's need for a clan chief and a local identity...The great mass of ordinary people went about their work, some 'free' (whatever that may have meant to a Minoan), some in servitude, and some chattel slaves.” - Rodney Castleden

“The crucial differentiation is that between named and unnamed persons...There is clearly a different between...groups of unnamed workers...and the doero [slave]...doero are not true 'slaves' but rather 'representatives' of the named bronze smiths...Turning to the higher levels of society, we can perhaps distinguish three categories. In the first, a personal name is associated with an occupation term (smith, shepherd, cowherd, etc.) or a title (tereta, eqeta, priestess, etc.)...Another class comprises persons who are never named but are referred to by their title only: wanaka [Wanax], rawaketa [Lawagetas], korete [Koreter], etc...Conversely, akosota, apimede, and ekerhawo, important for their ownership of land...are referred to by name without the addition of a title...Like the damo and the qasireu [Qasirewija] they formed elements in the Pylian state which were not (so far as we can tell) integrated with the palatial authority...Not only the rawaketa [Lawagetas] but also the damo and the local notability ekerhawo were required to make offerings to Poseidon at sarapeda, we may assume that cultic obligations could bear as heavily upon private persons and the damo as upon officials in the central authority.” - J. T. Hooker

“This study of individuals suggests that instead of thinking of the Mycenaean state as a rigid hierarchy of offices, we should regard it as a network reproduced by the actions of individual agents. These individuals are largely elites whose substantial holdings allow them to manage multiple administrative tasks in a variety of locations in the Pylian polity. So far as we can tell, there were substantial benefits to the elites who managed these portions of the palatial economy (for example tax exemptions given to bronzesmiths and others, allocations of landholdings, and so on). In turn, they and their private holdings were a real human resource for the state, since it was administratively much simpler for the state to allocate economic tasks to individuals. For example, P. Halstead has shown that when sheep from palatial flocks died accidentally, individual shepherds had to replace them with animals from their own private flocks...If we assume...that every named individual in the tablets at Pylos is a member of the elite, we would have evidence for at least 800 elites...less than 2% of the estimated total population...” - Dimitri Nakassis


The Minoans, by Rodney Castleden
Named Individuals and the Pylian State

Ch. 1, Linear B as a Source for Social History

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