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Jan Driessen

22. Foreign affairs. Diplomacy, Trade, War and Migration in the Mycenaean Mediterranean (1400-1100 BC)1

Gert Jan van Wijngaarden

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  • 1 I am happy to dedicate this article to Robert Laffineur. At the Emporia conference in 2003, Robert (...)
  • 2 This paper combines a book and various articles, which I have published over the last twenty years. (...)

1Mycenaean long-distance contacts in the Mediterranean have had a prominent position in Aegean Bronze Age studies and have been the source of considerable scholarly debate. Two of the most controversial issues have been the degree to which commercial and private trade was part of these contacts (1) and whether or not the Mycenaeans themselves travelled in the Mediterranean and took part in the exchange of goods and services (2). In this paper, I will give an overview of the evidence for Mycenaean interactions in the Mediterranean in a strict chronological framework. The focus will be on the complexity of the Mycenaean involvement in the Mediterranean, which increased through time2.

Introduction: the role of the Mycenaeans in the Mediterranean

2Long-distance contacts have been a central issue in Mycenaean studies already since the Mycenaean culture was first identified in the 1870’s. In 1889, Heinrich Schliemann visited William Flinders Petrie in Egypt and they discussed pottery from Gurob and Kahun that they took to be Mycenaean (Petrie 1891: 273-274). Both scholars understood the importance of these finds for the chronology of the Mycenaean world and Petrie raised the suggestion of travelers from the Aegean to Egypt. Even earlier, Adolf Furtwängler and Georg Loeschke had included material from Cyprus, Egypt and Italy in their Mykenische Vasen. Vorhellenische Thongefässe aus dem Gebiete des Mittelmeeres (1886), the first corpus of Mycenaean pottery. Because of the early attention for Mycenaean long-distance contacts, the topic is closely linked to the very definition of what constitutes Mycenaean culture.

3The study of Mycenaean long-distance contacts is, of course, part of the wider field of Bronze Age intercultural communications and exchange in the Mediterranean. Epigraphical and archaeological research has shown that from at least the 15th century BC until the beginnings of the 12th century BC there existed a surprisingly stable system of maritime and land-based interconnections (Liverani 2008). These networks were seriously affected and fundamentally changed by violence and unrest from the late 13th century onwards (Artzy 1998; Cline 2014: 102- 13). With regards to the Mycenaean role in the Mediterranean-wide networks, there are two key topics, which have continued to occupy scholars. The first of these is the question to which extent Mycenaean involvement in the Mediterranean can be considered as commercial trade and exchange. From the 1970’s onwards, in the slipstream of Karl Polanyi’s substantivist’s ideas on the Near Eastern economy in the Bronze Age (Polanyi 1957), it has been asserted that most of the Bronze Age exchanges in the Mediterranean were primarily social in nature and had the character of ceremonial gift exchange (Liverani 1972: 298). In this view, the Mycenaean palaces were engaged in diplomatic relations with other powers in the Mediterranean and monopolised access to foreign goods within the Aegean. The opposite view has also been expressed, in which the necessity to obtain metals is considered to have been the engine for a flourishing trade economy, in which commercial interest prevailed over diplomacy and the role of independent merchantmen, notably those from Cyprus, became increasingly important (Sherratt 1998).

4A second issue that has been discussed extensively among scholars has been the actual presence of Mycenaeans in the eastern and central Mediterranean. People such as Claude Schaeffer, who excavated at Ugarit from 1929 onwards, formulated ideas about Mycenaean colonists in the town, while Sarah Immerwahr had no doubts about a ‘Mycenaean commercial empire’ (Schaeffer 1936: 78-99; Immerwahr 1960: 4). These ideas have long since been challenged and the role of the Mycenaeans is now often downplayed, whereas the Canaanites and Cypriots are considered as the more active partners maintaining the Bronze Age maritime networks (Sherratt 1999; Dabney 2007). Mycenaean craftsmen are assumed to have visited the central Mediterranean (Vagnetti 1999: 148; Jones et alii 2014: 403-405), and for the period around 1200 BC, it has been proposed that groups of Aegean people migrated to Cyprus and the Levant (Karageorghis 1982: 88. Yasur-Landau 2010). Personally, I feel that any group of people in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, such as the Mycenaeans, who had vested interests in long-distance exchange and communication, will have travelled to guard these. However, the number of Mycenaean ships and people travelling the Mediterranean, may have varied significantly according to place and time. Also, the character of these Mycenaean travelers, be they merchants, emissaries, warriors, craftsmen or migrants, is likely to have varied.

5In this paper, I plan to re-address these two key issues concerning the Mycenaean role in the Mediterranean. I will try to do so by acknowledging that in the course of more than five hundred years, the Mycenaean role probably was not constant and, in any case, was different from area to area. Therefore, I will explore the differences and changes in the archaeological record pertaining to the Mycenaean role in the Mediterranean. These archaeological variations will be related to ideas about Mycenaean diplomacy, trade, war and migration. Probably, the Mycenaeans were engaged in all of these, but the question here is how the relative importance varied among areas and changed over time.

Fig. 22.1. The Mycenaean Mediterranean as indicated by the presence of Mycenaean type pottery, ca. 1600-1100 BC

1. Geography: the Mycenaean Mediterranean

6The extent of what can be considered the Mycenaean Mediterranean can most easily be assessed by archaeological artefacts, mostly pottery, of Mycenaean origin or derivation that have been found in an extremely wide area from Spain to Syria and from the Veneto in Italy to African Sudan (Fig. 22.1). Within this wide area, the distribution of Mycenaean-type objects is not geographically or chronologically homogeneous. Two Late Helladic pottery fragments from El LLanete de los Moros in the Guadalquivir Valley in Spain are, to date, the only finds from the Iberian peninsula (Martin de La Cruz 1990). Mycenaean pottery is lacking from the Balearic Islands, Corsica and north Africa west of Egypt. The Balkan countries east of the Adriatic have also yielded very little Mycenaean pottery finds, but there are some swords and finds of metal indicating contacts with the Aegean (Tomas 2009). Notably, inland Anatolia, the heartland of the Hittite empire, has hardly yielded any Mycenaean finds. The largest number of Mycenaean objects outside the Aegean itself are in Asia Minor, Cyprus, the Syro-Palestinian littoral, Egypt and in Italy, Sicily and Sardinia (Van Wijngaarden 2002; Vianello 2005; Mühlenbruch 2014). At some places in these areas, such as in Troy, Rocca Vecchia, Enkomi, Ugarit, Tell Abu Hawam and Tell el-Amarna hundreds or even thousands of Mycenaean pottery fragments and whole pots have been found.

7Other evidence to assess the extent and the nature of the Mycenaean Mediterranean are the objects from elsewhere, which have been found in the Late Bronze Age Greek Aegean (See catalogues by Lambrou-Phillipson 1990; Cline 1994; also Burns 2009). About 600 such objects have been identified and the geographic origin of these exotic items correlates only partially with the distribution of Mycenaean pottery in the Mediterranean. Imported objects come from Anatolia, Egypt, the Levant, Cyprus and Mesopotamia. Amber must have come from the north, probably via Italy or the Balkan (Maran 2013: 148-150). We are mostly dealing with portable exotic items, such as stone or faience scarabs, cylinder seals, often worn and used and ivory furniture plaques and containers. Some of these objects had an impact on the local Mycenaean craft industry, as can be seen in the production of cylinder seals and the eastern influences in Mycenaean ivory carving (Aruz 2008: 387-391). Objects of Italian and Balkan types occur from the late thirteenth century onwards and are limited to hand-made pottery, bronze jewelry and weapons (Jung 2009; Lis 2009). These too were imported, as well as locally made.

8It is difficult to use the iconographic and epigraphic record to assess the role of the Mycenaeans in the Mediterranean. The depiction of foreigners is not very common and essentially restricted to the walls of a few Egyptian tombs that depict Aegeans bringing tribute to the Pharaoh (Matić 2012). In Egyptian texts Mycenaean Greece is probably referred to as the land of Tnj (Tanaju), known from inscriptions dating to Thutmosis III and Amenhotep III (Kelder 2010: 36-38). However, Aegeans do not figure in the Amarna tablets dating to the time of Pharaoh Akhenaten and are only rarely mentioned in the cuneiform texts of the Near East. Likewise, the Linear B record of Mycenaean Greece yields very little evidence for areas beyond the palatial domains, even though a few names can perhaps be considered as foreign and there are adjectives denoting foreign products (Palaima 1991; Kelder 2010: 7-10).

9The most spectacular evidence of Mycenaean involvement in the Mediterranean has come from shipwrecks, which have been excavated since the late 1960’s. The Late Bronze Age wreck found near Ulu Burun in Turkey, which dates to the end of the 14th century BC shows the complexity of intercultural maritime exchange, with objects from at least thirteen different areas in one cargo (Pulak 2008). Of a later date, ca. 1200 BC, is the shipwreck excavated at Cape Gelidonya, which had a less elaborate cargo, but with much evidence for the transfer of artisan techniques (Bass 2010).

10The various classes of evidence for the Mycenaean involvement in the Mediterranean each have their own characteristics and problematic aspects. In order to address the diverse roles of the Mycenaeans in the late Bronze Age Mediterranean, I will consider this evidence in a strict chronological order: the pre-palatial period (LH I-II), the palatial period (LH IIIA2-LH IIIB1) and the post-palatial period (LH IIIB2-LH LUC).

1.1. Mycenaean pre-palatial period (LH I-LH II)

11The majority of Mycenaean objects outside the Aegean that can be assigned to the period of the Shaft Graves and immediately after, have been found not in the eastern, but in the central Mediterranean. Pottery datable to LH I-II has been found at 60 places on the Italian Mainland, Sicily and the Aeolian Islands (Fig. 22.2) (Jones et alii 2014: 407). Even though most of these sites have yielded only one or very few Aegean finds, there are some sites with more than hundred LH I-LH II finds, in particular the Aeolian islands of Lipari and Filicudi, Vivara off the Campanian coast and Monte Grande in Sicily. A similar distribution pattern can be seen in the northern Aegean, where small numbers of LH I-II fragments occur at Liman Tepe in Asia Minor and Torone in Chalkidiki, while large quantities have been found at Troy.

Fig. 22.2. Fragment of LH I-II alabastron, Lipari, Italy. Lipari, Archaeological Museum ‘L. Bernabo Brea’ inv. No. 9320 (after Stampolidis 2003: cat no. 202)

12The central Mediterranean and the northern Aegean also show similarities with regards to the variety in the repertoire of Mycenaean pots from this period. The pottery in fine lustrous ware, which is most likely imported from the Greek mainland, includes both open and closed shapes. In addition, both areas show the presence of imported coarse wares. Several Italian sites and Troy have yielded matt-painted pottery of Middle Helladic tradition. These different classes of Aegean pottery resemble the range of types that circulated in the mainland of southern Greece itself during this period (Rutter 1990: 453-455; Dietz 1991: 297-303). The occurrence of a wide range of LH I-II pottery types in the central Mediterranean and the northern Aegean suggests that regional systems of communications and exchange in these areas were connected on various social levels to those in the Aegean and the Greek mainland.

13The eastern Mediterranean shows an altogether different picture with regards to the presence of Mycenaean materials of this period. LH I pottery is absent from Cyprus and the Levant, where the earliest Mycenaean find is a LH IIA piriform jar from Amman, which, actually, may be an heirloom, a souvenir or may come from a robbed grave (Van Wijngaarden 2005; Sherratt 2012). Small numbers of ceramic finds in LM IB and LH II styles have been found widely scattered in Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt. All these pots are of the lustrous decorated variety that constitutes Mycenaean fine ware in the period. In other words, both in quantity and in quality, the distribution pattern of Aegean pottery in the eastern Mediterranean is much more restricted than in Italy. However, the distribution of the material is quite wide: such vessels have been found at the coasts as well as in inland areas and as far south as Kerma in Nubia. An interesting difference can be observed in the distribution pattern between Cyprus and the Levant on the one hand, where both open and closed Aegean shapes of this period occur, and Egypt, which has only closed Aegean pot shapes.

Fig. 22.3. Egyptian alabaster vase from the LH I-II tholos tomb at Vapheio, laconia. Athens Archaeological Museum inv. No. 1890 (after Stampolidis 2003: cat no. 642)

14Exotic objects from areas beyond the Aegean in pre-palatial Greece are very few and appear to be concentrated at a few wealthy tombs in different parts of Mainland Greece and Crete (Cline 1994: 132- 257; Lambrou-Phillipson 1990: 279-371). The Shaft Graves at Mycenae, for example, included a number of objects such as Mesopotamian beads, amber beads and Egyptian alabaster vases. The tholos tomb in Kakovatos in the western Peloponnese yielded a few Mesopotamian glass beads and a great number of amber beads, which were most probably part of necklaces (Maran 2013: 155). The tholos tomb at Vapheio in Laconia, which dates to the end of the Shaft Grave period, also yielded alabaster vases (Fig. 22.3), along with a score of valuable objects and artefacts imported from Crete (Kilian-Dirlmeier 1987). In addition, a fenestrated axe-head was found, which is of oriental tradition, even if it may have been manufactured on Minoan Crete (Maran 2015). Artefacts that are clearly products from the central Mediterranean or from the Balkan area are entirely absent in pre-palatial Mycenaean Greece, but the amber beads, almost exclusively from Baltic amber (Beck 1966; Beck & Beck 1995), found in several Mycenaean tombs of this period, must have travelled through these regions.

15The widely distributed scatter of Mycenaean objects in the eastern Mediterranean and of the imports in the Aegean during the Mycenaean pre-palatial period suggests that these objects circulated as exotica. They may have been souvenirs or gifts that changed hands frequently and served in systems of gift exchange, which could span large distances. This type of gift exchange probably occurred on different social levels, but in the end, thrived on the high-level gift exchange, that is also known from the epigraphic record in the Near East. That Minoans and perhaps Mycenaeans participated in such high-level gift exchange, may be suggested by the gift-bearing Aegeans in the Egyptian tombs of Senenmut, Rekhmire and a few others, all dating within a few decades (ca. 1450-1400) during the reigns of Hatshepsut, Thutmosis III and Amenhotep II (Rehak 1998). The messengers from Tnj (Tanaju), which are mentioned in the annals of Thutmosis 111, may also be evidence of such diplomacy (Kelder 2010: 36-37).

16The circulation of LH I and LH II pottery in the central Mediterranean and the northern Aegean, however, includes types of pottery that one would not easily consider as prestige goods. The imported pots in the central Mediterranean can better be explained by referring to the long tradition of shared practices of pottery making in western Greece, the Adriatic and southern Italy, which had been in existence since the Early Bronze Age (Hammond 1967: 299-302; Tartaron 2004: 71-84; Recchia 2010). Shared agricultural practices and building techniques across the Ionian Sea also have a long history (Cazzella & Recchia 2009: 27-29). These practices are most likely the result of social networks, which were maintained on various levels of society, with active participation by craftsmen and sailors.

2. Mycenaean palatial period (LH IIIA2-LH IIIB1)

17The majority of foreign imports in Mycenaean Greece during LH IIIA2 and LH IIIB has been found at palatial sites: Mycenae, Tiryns, Pylos and Thebes (Lambrou Phillipson 1990: 279-371; Cline 1994: 132- 257). Elsewhere, only isolated exotic objects have been found and mostly in tombs. Among these exotics are objects with apparent high-status signifiers, such as the blue frit vase from Mycenae with a cartouche of Amenhotep III, or the faience plaques with the cartouche of the same pharaoh, which were all found at Mycenae (Burns 2009: 20-23). However, there are also exotic objects, which are either low quality products from the east, or imitations of Egyptian or Levantine artifacts, such as faience scarabs with inscribed characters that are mere designs rather than Egyptian scripture (Cline 1994: 146: no. 118; Burns 2009: 179). Moreover, many of the exotic objects from Egypt, Cyprus and the Levant occur in tombs that cannot be associated with the upper elites, but, rather, with various social groups in the Mycenaean society (Heymans & Van Wijngaarden 2011: 127-129). Apparently, portable exotic items from the East served as a material means of expressions for a variety of social groups in Mycenaean society.

Fig. 22.4. Canaanite Amphora from the tholos tomb at Menidhi, Attica, Greece. National Archaeological Museum at Athens, inv. no. 2016 (after Stampolidis 2003: cat no. 202)

18The collection of Egyptian objects in Mycenaean palatial Greece comprises the same type of nonutilitarian, symbolical objects as occurred in the pre-palatial period: scarabs and figurines and plaques in faience, ivory or stone along with small alabaster containers. In contrast, the majority of the Cypriot and Levantine objects from Mycenaean palatial Greece do have a recognisable utilitarian function: faience and ceramic vessels, among which are Canaanite storage jars (Fig. 22.4). The fact that such storage jars have been found in tombs probably suggest that they were endowed with meanings beyond their utilitarian function. The Cypriot wall brackets should probably also be considered as part of this class of utilitarian objects. Such imported wall-brackets appeared to have played a special role at Tiryns, where they have been found in contexts associated with artisans and craft production (Brysbaert & Vetters 2013: 199).

19Close ties between Mycenaean Greece and Cyprus and the Levant are also attested in various craft products, such as glass and, notably, ivory (on glass, see Jackson & Wager 2011; ivory: Gates 1992; Kopcke 1997). As a raw material, ivory was an import to the Aegean, but it is clear that the artistic working of this material was a craft practiced by Aegean artisans. In style and type, it is often difficult to distinguish between Aegean, Cypriot or Levantine products, indicating the existence of a common style in ivory carving over a long distance. The sharing of techniques and artistic motifs in ivory carving and other crafts suggests close communication and collaboration between craftsmen in these three areas. Such collaboration may also be visible in the signs of Cypriot script, which have been attested on Mycenaean vessels that were produced in Mycenaean Greece (Hirschfeld 1993). Since these signs appear to have been applied before firing the pots, they suggest Cypriot involvement in the production of ceramics in Greece.

20Mycenaean pottery from the palatial period is very abundant in Cyprus and the Syro-Palestine littoral. From LH IIIA1 onwards, we can see an increase in the number of sites on Cyprus with this type of pottery and the same phenomenon is visible in the Levant from LH IIIA2 onwards. Altogether, there are more than 150 sites in these areas, where such LH IIIA-LH IIIB pottery has been found. The majority of these sites have only very limited quantities of the material, but there are a number of sites, such as Enkomi and Kition on Cyprus, Ugarit in Syria and Tell Abu Hawam in Israel, with hundreds or even several thousands of Mycenaean finds. The sites with these large quantities are generally located near the coast and may have served as maritime emporia in the distribution of this type of pottery further inland.

Fig. 22.5. LH IIIB shallow bowl (FS 296) from tomb A5 at Klavdia on Cyprus. British Museum, no. 1899, 1299.125 (courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum)

21The repertoire of Aegean pots is limited to decorated fine wares. It is also of note that storage vessels and dinner vessels are included, in more or less similar quantities. The first category may have been appreciated for its content, but the dinner vessels show that there was a true appreciation for Aegean ceramics during this period. In fact, a number of Mycenaean vessel types in Cyprus and the Levant, such as shallow bowls (Fig. 22.5), chalices, amphoroid kraters and zoomorphic rhyta, occur more often in these areas than on the Greek Mainland (Karageorghis 1965; Sherratt 1999: 169-184). Scientific analysis of the clays shows that vessels of this so-called Levanto-Helladic class of pottery were produced on the Greek mainland, suggesting that Mycenaean potters produced vessels to suit the specific tastes and demands of consumers in Cyprus and the Levant. Considering the possible involvement of Cypriot potters in Aegean pottery manufacture that I discussed above, the image emerges of a network of specialised and targeted trade between the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.

22The distribution pattern of LH IIIA and LH IIIB pottery in Egypt is different from that in Cyprus and the Levant. At the pharaonic site of Tell el Amarna, large quantities of Mycenaean pots have been found: some 1500 sherds, representing at least 600 pots, many of them vertical flasks (Hankey 1973; 1981). The capital of Akhenaten is a special case in Egyptian archaeology in many respects. Elsewhere in Egypt there are much lower quantities of Mycenaean pottery. Most sites have yielded single finds or very small numbers. Only Deir el-Medina and Qantir-Piramesse have yielded more than 100 Mycenaean finds. In contrast to Cyprus and the Levant, the repertoire of Mycenaean pots in Egypt consists mostly of small closed vessels that served as containers for oils and unguents. These vessels are decorated with fairly simple abstract and floral patterns. It should be noted that the specialised vessels of the so-called Levanto-Helladic class of pottery are lacking in Egypt. The Mycenaean pots in Egypt suggest that they were part of similar kinds of gift exchanges as in the pre-palatial period. The large number of vertical flasks at Tell el-Amarna may also be the result of such gift exchange, but, considering the large numbers, the short chronological time-span and the small repertoire of shapes, of an unusual kind.

23From LH IIIA onwards, much of the Mycenaean pottery in the central Mediterranean is locally made, rather than imported from Greece (Jones et alii 2014). This suggests that the close ties between Aegean and Italic craftsmen, which were already apparent in the pre-palatial period, intensified. At the same time, there are a few places in Italy, notably Lipari in the Aeolian islands, Scoglio di Tonno in Apulia and Thapsos in Sicily, with large quantities of Mycenaean imports, mostly from the Peloponnese, but also from Crete and the eastern Mediterranean (Jones et alii 2014: 414-416). These sites may have functioned as nodes in a regional exchange network that connected the Aegean and the central Mediterranean. Interestingly, a limited number of the specialised Mycenaean ceramic products that also occur in Cyprus and the Levant are present, for example an amphoroid krater at Milena on Sicily and a squat alabastron at Nuraghe Arrubiu on Sardinia. Moreover, some Cypriot pots have been found on Sicily. All this suggests that Italy became part of the specialised and targeted trade between the Aegean and Cyprus and the Levant, albeit to a limited extent.

24The epigraphic record of the Near East suggests that ceremonial and diplomatic exchanges between rulers intensified during the 14th and 13th centuries BC (Cline 2014). Even though Mycenaean rulers are not specifically mentioned in these correspondences, it is possible that they participated in these networks, as may be suggested by the large number of Mycenaean flasks at Tell el-Amarna. In contrast, the scarce presence of Aegeans in the cuneiform record of the Levant suggests trade rather than diplomacy. At Ugarit in Syria, the trader Sinaranu is mentioned on cuneiform tablets while returning from Crete (Monroe 2009: 165-167) and at the house of Ourtenu, a wealthy trader, men from Hiyawa are mentioned twice (Zukerman 2010: 888). This specific name most likely is related to the Hittite Ahhijawa, usually assumed to represent specific groups of Mycenaeans (Kelder 2010: 21-34). Several graves in Cyprus, the Levant and perhaps also in the Aegean may be attributed to merchants (Burns 2011: 259-262; Van Wijngaarden 2012: 68), who may have operated partly independent of the ruling elites in their areas (Monroe 2009: 151-205).

25It is clear that during the LH IIIA2-LH IIIB1 periods, the Mycenaeans participated on different levels in the Mediterranean networks of communication and exchange, varying from travelling craftsmen to trade and high-level diplomacy. The complexity of this participation is nicely illustrated by the Uluburun shipwreck, which probably dates to the end of the 14th century BC. Of importance, in my opinion, is the fact that the ship contained objects that can be considered to belong to different spheres of exchange: prestige goods such as the ivory boxes, vessels of tin and the pendant of Nefertiti, as well as bulk materials such as bronze and glass ingots (Pulak 2008). This suggests that a distinction between commercial trade and diplomacy is perhaps not relevant, since, on the practical level at least, the different types of exchange appear to be heavily intertwined. It has been argued that there were two Mycenaean individuals on board (Pulak 2005). These persons may simultaneously have been merchants operating independently and emissaries for one or more Mycenaean rulers.

3. The Mycenaean post-palatial period (LH IIIB2-LH IIIC)

26Whether the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces in the second half of the thirteenth century and that of many centres in the eastern Mediterranean around the turn to the twelfth century BC are part of the same historical event, usually associated with the Sea Peoples, remains a matter for debate (Knapp & Manning 2016). But it is clear that after the Sea Peoples phenomenon (Sherratt 1998), the Mycenaean Mediterranean was based on a completely different system of long-distance exchanges than before. Instead of the ceremonial and commercial exchanges that had been dominant until the end of the thirteenth century, the networks of communication and exchange in the twelfth century appear to have been based on the communication between affiliated groups of people residing in different parts of the Mediterranean.

Fig. 22.6. Hand-Made Burnished jar with plastic cordon from Korakou (Dartmouth Classics department)

27The beginning of this phenomenon can best be seen in the pottery of the so-called Hand Made Burnished Ware (Fig. 22.6), which is found in the Aegean, Cyprus and the Levant from LH IIIB2 onwards and occurs all through LH IIIC (Bettelli 2002: 117-126; Lis 2009). These ceramics are locally made in all these areas, but with regards to pottery technique, vessel shapes and decoration the class of pottery shows parallels with pottery from Serbia, the Adriatic and southern Italy. Other classes of foreign pottery that appear in Greece during this period are the vessels of Sardinian origin at Kommos on Crete and the locally made Grey Ware vessels of Italian type at Tiryns, Chania and other places of LH IIIB2-LH IIIC Greece (Bettelli 2002: 126-133). The presence of these types of foreign-inspired ceramics is paralleled by exotic metal objects (Jung 2009). From LH IIIB2 onwards, the violin bow fibula, of which the earliest examples are known in central Europe, is being produced in the central Mediterranean, Greece and Cyprus. New types of swords (Fig. 22.7) and spear heads appear from this period onwards in Greece, Anatolia, Cyprus and the Levant, which have antecedents in continental Europe and Italy. Chemical analyses of the bronze of these Italian-type weapons in Greece indicate that they have been made from Italian copper (Jung & Mehofer 2013: 178-183). The emphasis on weaponry indicate that by this time warfare had become part of the Mycenaean activities in the Mediterranean.

Fig. 22.7. A small sword of Naue type II from British tomb 47 at Enkomi. British Museum, no. 1897 0401.963 (courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum)

28The convergence of a variety of craft products of European and Italian tradition in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean suggests that craftsmen from the central Mediterranean travelled in the Mediterranean. In addition, the emphasis on imported weapons from Italian copper indicate that warriors also moved, perhaps as part of regular armies, or as pirates and mercenaries. On the basis of the archaeological finds, it is not possible to estimate the numbers of people involved in these migrations. It is tempting to link the archaeological evidence for the movements of groups of people to the Sea Peoples, who are known from their depiction on the Medinet Habu mortuary temple near the valley of the kings in Thebes, Egypt (Cline 2014: 2-11). Five peoples are mentioned on the relief: Peleset, Tjekker, Shekelesh, Danuna and Weshesh, while from another inscription the Shardana are known (Emanuel 2013). These six groups have all been tentatively related to specific areas in the central Mediterranean and the Aegean, but the degree to which they can be held responsible for all the changes in the eastern Mediterranean before and after 1200 BC, is still very much debated. For now, the Medinet Habu relief can only serve as additional evidence that groups of people indeed travelled in the Mediterranean.

29The result of groups of people travelling and settling in the Mediterranean during this period was that artisans in different parts of the Mediterranean began producing similar foreign-type artefacts. For example, at Rocca Vecchia, where a few ivory artifacts had been imported during the beginning of the Recent Bronze Age, ivory objects were being produced locally from raw ivory in the advanced Recent and in the Final Bronze Age (Guglielmino, Iacono & Rugge 2011). An increased local production of exotic items can be seen all through the twelfth century in different parts of the central Mediterranean, for example at Fratessina in the Veneto (Arenoso Callippo & Bellinanti 1994; Pearce 2000). The evidence from Tiryns in Greece, where exotic artefacts were found closely associated with the practices of artisans suggests that the local production of foreign-type items already began in Greece in the very last phases of the Mycenaean palaces. From the late 13th century onwards, we see the production of Mycenaean pottery not only in the Aegean, but also in the central Mediterranean and in Cyprus and the Levant (Van Wijngaarden 2008). Interestingly, in Egypt no LH IIIC-type pottery has been found at all. What is striking about this local production of Mycenaean pottery at various places in the Mediterranean is that it continued throughout the 12th century BC (Sherratt 2013). Even though there are very clear differences in techniques, pot shapes and decoration among the Aegean-type pottery between the Aegean, the central Mediterranean, Cyprus and Israel, there is also a convergence in pot shapes and several decorative motifs. This suggests a flow of information concerning craft production, which spanned an extremely wide area during several decades.

30One major change in the archaeological record of the Aegean of this period is a reduction of sites with exotic objects in comparison to the previous period. A notable exception is the cemetery of Peratiin Attica, where nineteen of the more than two hundred tombs contained exotic items, mostly scarabs, amulets and cylinder seals, but there was also some gold jewelry from Cyprus (Iakovidis 1969, 1980). Interestingly, the majority of the exotic artefacts at Perati are older than the tombs themselves and date to the thirteenth century or earlier. For example, there are two faience cartouches with the name of Ramses II, which must have been several decades old by the time of their deposition in the tomb. The appreciation of old exotic objects can also be seen in a treasure belonging to post-palatial Tiryns, which contained various older objects (Maran 2006).

31The significance of age for the distribution and consumption of exotica and the increased importance of the local production of such artefacts can also be inferred from the cargo of the Gelidonya wreck, which roughly dates to 1200 BC (Bass 1967; 2010). The ship carried tools for artefact production, notably of metals, which shows us how information about crafts was disseminated throughout the Mediterranean. In addition, the ship carried a small number of exotic artefacts: a faience plaque, several scarabs and one cylinder seal. With the exception of a few scarabs that date to the Egyptian 20th dynasty, all exotic items were much older. This suggests that antiques were purposefully distributed in the maritime networks of the twelfth century BC.


32Over the course of several centuries, the role of Mycenaeans in the Mediterranean was neither the same in different areas, nor constant through time. In the period before the Mycenaean palaces, we can see essentially two basic modalities by which the Mycenaean activities were carried out. In the central Mediterranean and northern Aegean, there were diversified regional contacts in which different products and information were exchanged and in which various groups of people participated, among whom were craftsmen and sailors and probably others. In the eastern Mediterranean, instead, we see the Mycenaeans engaging in gift exchange, probably carried out in the framework of diplomacy on different levels of society.

33During the period of the palaces, the Mycenaean involvement in the Mediterranean became more complex. It appears that contacts with Egypt continued much the same as before, with an emphasis on gift exchange, which in the cases of Tell el Amarna may have been carried out on the highest levels of Egyptian society. There may also have been such diplomatic contacts with people in Cyprus and the Levant. However, in these areas, we also see the coming into being of a more commercial type of exchange, which had its effect on the modes of craft production in Greece. Similarly, in the central Mediterranean, we see the continuation and intensification of the existing contacts by craftsmen who exchanged pots, as well as knowledge on pottery making. To a limited extent, Italy also participates in the commercial type of exchange identified above, with a key role for a few central places such as Scoglio del Tonno and Thapsos.

34After the palatial period, the Mycenaean presence in the Mediterranean was no longer primarily based on the exchange and acquisition of objects. Instead, the flow of information and people between groups of people living in different parts of the Mediterranean appears to have become a more important modality in long-distance contacts. However, prestige objects continued to circulate in limited numbers, but they were valued primarily because they were old, rather than for their associations of the exotic, as had previously been the case. The local production of exotica in different areas shows that the Mediterranean had become a much less exotic place than before.

35Whether their long-distance relations were based on diplomacy, trade or migrations, it is clear that in all cases, the Mycenaeans had vested interests for these relations to go well. We know that the Minoans and Mycenaeans had ships (Wedde 2000) and the evidence from the Ulu Burun wreck shows that people could travel on ships originating elsewhere in the Mediterranean. It is logical to assume that from the period before the palaces onwards, Mycenaeans travelled to the eastern Mediterranean, initially primarily as diplomats, but increasingly also as merchants and traders. Towards the central Mediterranean a similar increase in the scale of travelling can be seen. Whereas before the Mycenaean palaces, craftspeople from the Aegean exchanged information and objects with central Mediterranean counterparts, there is increasing evidence for the presence of Mycenaean craftsmen from LH IIIA onwards. Moreover, Mycenaean traders may have brought sites in Italy into the eastern Mediterranean trading networks. Because of the increasing complexity of their involvement in the Mediterranean, the number of Mycenaeans who actually travelled and participated in networks of exchange and communication must have increased through time. As a result, geographical and cultural knowledge about areas elsewhere in the Mediterranean was disseminated among the wider population of the Aegean. This knowledge probably lowered the threshold for people to move to these areas during and after the demise of the Mycenaean palaces, perhaps using military force when necessary.

36It is clear that the Mycenaean involvement in the Mediterranean is one of increasing complexity. The Mycenaean diplomacy and trade, which had developed and intensified for centuries, essentially enabled the movement of Aegeans to areas elsewhere after the demise of the Mycenaean places. Over time, the Mycenaean Mediterranean changed from an unknown, exotic realm to a widely known and well-travelled area.



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1 I am happy to dedicate this article to Robert Laffineur. At the Emporia conference in 2003, Robert stressed the fact that we too easily interpreted simple finds in modern economic terms, see Laffineur 2005. After my presentation in Louvain-la-Neuve in November 2015, we discussed intensely the apparent complexity emerging from the archaeological record of Mycenaean contacts. This paper is a tribute to these discussions.

2 This paper combines a book and various articles, which I have published over the last twenty years. I will refrain from quoting myself too much, but see Van Wijngaarden 1999; 2002; 2005; 2007; 2008; 2011 and in press [2016],

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 22.1. The Mycenaean Mediterranean as indicated by the presence of Mycenaean type pottery, ca. 1600-1100 BC
Fichier image/jpeg, 84k
Légende Fig. 22.2. Fragment of LH I-II alabastron, Lipari, Italy. Lipari, Archaeological Museum ‘L. Bernabo Brea’ inv. No. 9320 (after Stampolidis 2003: cat no. 202)
Fichier image/jpeg, 16k
Légende Fig. 22.3. Egyptian alabaster vase from the LH I-II tholos tomb at Vapheio, laconia. Athens Archaeological Museum inv. No. 1890 (after Stampolidis 2003: cat no. 642)
Fichier image/jpeg, 7,5k
Légende Fig. 22.4. Canaanite Amphora from the tholos tomb at Menidhi, Attica, Greece. National Archaeological Museum at Athens, inv. no. 2016 (after Stampolidis 2003: cat no. 202)
Fichier image/jpeg, 23k
Légende Fig. 22.5. LH IIIB shallow bowl (FS 296) from tomb A5 at Klavdia on Cyprus. British Museum, no. 1899, 1299.125 (courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum)
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Légende Fig. 22.6. Hand-Made Burnished jar with plastic cordon from Korakou (Dartmouth Classics department)
Fichier image/jpeg, 31k
Légende Fig. 22.7. A small sword of Naue type II from British tomb 47 at Enkomi. British Museum, no. 1897 0401.963 (courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum)
Fichier image/jpeg, 20k

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