Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


Thursday 21 February 2013

Mycenaean Ways of War: The Past, Politics, and Personhood

Katherine Harrell University of Sheffield 2010

Mycenaean Ways of War: The Past, Politics, and Personhood

Description: 1 volume, 282 p., 21 tables, 53 figures

Country: United Kingdom

Supervisor: Roger Doonan

Other supervisors: John Bennet

Examiners: Susan Sherratt, James Wright


The remit of this thesis is to contextualise violence and martial culture in the Mycenaean world in order to understand how it is a source of legitimacy for political power during MH III-LH IIIB. A theoretical understanding of the way violence shapes cultural conceptions of space and time supports this research, which is implemented methodologically by a deconstruction of the loci in which violence and martial culture are consumed in order to understand culturally specific meanings and codes of practice. In part, this approach was implemented by a decision to weight the efforts to which the Mycenaeans differentiate martial culture over relying on typological methods to amalgamate.

Based on a contextualisation of the martial data from the Shaft Graves, this thesis argues that violence is exploited at Mycenae in MH III-LH I in order to form a complex social hierarchy that relies on the act of witnessing and approving of violence and the tuition of bellicose practices for assimilation. The large numbers of swords deposited in the later graves in Grave Circle B and Grave Circle A are argued to reflect hegemonic integration rather than bilateral segregation of “elites” and “non-elites”. Through LH II there is general dispersion of the consumption of martial culture throughout the Mycenaean world. In this context, death, violence and time are all heterarchical forces that are empowered but also dominated as part of extended funerary rites. Personal honour, orality and bellicosity are understood as mutually reinforcing cultural expressions.

By LH IIIA, the threat of violence becomes more associated with liminal places in the embedded landscape rather than with liminal periods of transition, namely death. The metamorphosis is due in part to the presence of historical tombs as a critical element of the political geography but also to the social pressures that proceed to rewrite concepts of proximity during the Late Bronze Age. The Mycenaean response to this is to reaffirm the importance of autochthony and homecoming by building settlement areas and empowering them through confrontations with the threatening landscape. As these processes intensify in LH IIIB, the palaces seek to legitimise themselves as loci of production and consumption. In so doing, they co-opt and reinvent forms of violence, including sacrificial and numinous acts, such as the funeral feast, that had hitherto been primary components of the mortuary programme.


List of tables [3]
List of figures [5] 

Chapter One. Mycenaean ways of war: the past, politics and personhood [8] 

The theoretical and methodological approach [12]
Thesis chapter overview [18]

Chapter Two. Historical approaches for understanding Mycenaean martial culture and bellicosity [20]

A brief synopsis of the anthropological, sociological, and archaeological approaches to the practice of warfare [20]
Typological of arms, armour and bodily harm [24]
Typologies of transport and territories [31]
Pictorial and textual studies of martial culture and bellicosity [34]
The “Synthetic” Study [43]
Conclusion [44]

Chapter Three. The poetics of violence, towards a framework of archaeological inquiry [47] 

Praxis for understanding violence, legitimacy and power [48]
Praxis for understanding martial culture [53]
Martial culture in space: (re)creating and asserting legitimacy [63]
The spatial parameters: the Argolid and Korinthia; the western and southwestern Peloponnese; northwest Greece, Macedonia, central Greece; and the Ionian islands and Achaia [64]
Martial culture through time: reflexive action and change [66]
The temporal parameters: absolute and relative chronology [67]
Conclusion [67]

Chapter Four. The shaft graves: the efflorescence of a new world order [69] 

Social capital: formation, ideology and practice [77]
Leadership and membership in a faction [80]
The institutionalisation of violence [85]
The poetics of violence: violence as a formative process [90]
Conclusions [105]

Chapter Five. MH III to LH II: (De)constructing the power of violence in terms of death and the past [107] 

Northwest and central Greece (summarised in table 9) [109]
The Argolid (summarized in table 10) [110]
Western and south-western Peloponnese (summarised in table 11) [117]
The poetics of violence [124]
The tomb as a locus of conflict [132]
Conclusions [136]

Chapter Six. LH IIIA: The formation of the palatial landscape [137] 

Western and south-western Peloponnese (summarised in table 13) [140]
Northwest Greece, Macedonia and central Greece (summarised in table 14) [146]
The Argolid and the Korinthia (summarised in table 15) [149]
Creating Mycenaean hegemonies through the threatening landscape [157]
Conclusions: the process of palatialisation [165]

Chapter Seven. LH IIIB: Violence and the making of the Mycenaean palaces [170] 

The Ionian islands and Achaia (summarised in table 17) [171]
Northwest Greece, Macedonia and central Greece (summarised in table 18) [172]
The Argolid and the Korinthia (summarised in table 19) [178]
Southern and south-western Peloponnese (summarised in table 20) [187]
Structuring legitimacy: funeral and feast [190]
Structuring legitimacy: sepulchre and settlement [195]
Conclusions [201]

Chapter Eight. Conclusions [208]

Thesis synopsis [209]
Thesis weaknesses [217]
Suggestions for further research [218]
Closing statement [219]

References [221]


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