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Jan Driessen

23. Beyond the Versailles Effect: Mycenaean Greece and Minoan Crete

Malcolm H. Wiener

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  • 1 It is a pleasure to present these reflections as a tribute to Robert Laffineur, who as a scholar, c (...)

1In my first published paper over 30 years ago, I coined the term ‘The Versailles Effect’ to describe the impact of a dominant culture on nearby peoples in the absence of conquest, economic dominance, or substantial migration, taking as my example the France of Louis XV as exemplified by the Palace of Versailles (Wiener 1984; Kahane & Kahane 1979). Throughout Europe, architecture, arts, crafts, gardens, food, clothing, education, and language were all affected. Both Frederick at Potsdam and Gustav III in Sweden forbade the speaking of any language other than French in their courts, and French was in common use in St. Petersburg as well. I applied the analogy to the relation of Minoan Crete to Mycenaean Greece at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, while suggesting direct Minoan colonisation of much of the Cyclades and beyond. Perhaps as a consequence of the anti-imperial, anti-colonial ethos of our time, the concept has been (mis) applied to the Minoan impact on the Cyclades. Here I take the opportunity to consider in greater detail the nature of Minoan-Mycenaean interactions during the Middle and Late Bronze Age.

1. The Early and Middle Bronze Age Precursors

2Although a number of sites in Crete suffer fire destructions or are abandoned at the end of EM IIB, Crete in general is spared the wave of destructions and abandonments of sites in EH/EC Ill. Only a few sherds at most of the Kastri Goup pottery which marks EH/EC II in the mainland and the Cyclades, along with a wave of destructions and abandonments, appear on Crete (Broodbank 2000: 309-319). The EM III-MM IA period is marked by an explosion in number and complexity of sites, particularly with respect to the developing palatial sites of Knossos, Phaistos, and Malia. Whitelaw estimates an expansion of Knossos in this period from 6.5 to 37 ha, along with the beginning of monumental construction (Whitelaw 2012: 137, 144). By the beginning of the second millennium BC, a Minoan civilisation, literate, with monumental architecture, links to the Near East and Egypt, and sailing vessels such as we see depicted on sealings, is established – a culture far more complex than anything in Middle Helladic Greece (Wiener 2013), where only Kolonna on the island of Aegina displays substantial architecture (Rutter 2001: 126). The appearance of an ashlar block with an incised Minoan-type double axe mason’s mark, reused in a Roman wall, may indicate that Kolonna once contained a major Minoan-style building. A grand burial in the main gate of the city wall at Kolonna includes Minoan ceremonial weapons and vases, together with locally made vases of Minoan type indicative of contact, but not necessarily emulation, at the ruler level (Niemeier 1995). Minoan-type pottery in local clay, perhaps the product of itinerant Cretan potters, appears at coastal sites in Laconia and at Lerna.

3Beginning in MH III-LH I, high-level contact and emulation is widely present, with Messenia and the Argolid providing evidence of major contacts with Minoan Crete. Emerging mainland elites may consciously have employed an exclusionary network strategy of interaction with other elites, which required social and political contacts beyond a local zone of economic interaction (for Anatolia, see Bachhuber 2015: esp. 150- 169).

2. Architecture and Funerary Practice

4Mycenaean funerary architecture displays an early response to Minoan example. A tholos tomb at Peristeria, constructed in a mature phase of LH IIA just after the Shaft Grave period, bears two Minoan-style masons’ marks, wich suggest the participation of a Minoan-trained architect and/or masons (Korres 1976; Shaw 2009: 66). However, while the plan and construction of tholoi and chamber tombs, which spread rapidly throughout the Mycenaean world and include diminutive versions, may be inspired to some extent by Minoan example, the underlying burial tradition represented by the tholos tomb surely descends from Middle Bronze Age mainland tumuli. Indeed, at Voidokoilia a LH I-II tholos is inserted into a MH I tumulus (Galanakis 2011: 220). Oliver Dickinson describes the tholos as the ‘petrification’ of the tumulus (Dickinson 1983: 64). Side chambers adjacent to the tholos, standard in Middle Minoan Crete, are absent from the earliest mainland tholoi, but are present in the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae and the Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenos, so similar in design as to be the work of a single architect. Dromoi may have served in place of side chambers in this regard in the later tholoi. Grave stelae marking the locations of burials such as appear with the Shaft Graves of Mycenae and at Argos (Dickinson 1989: 132 n. 6, ArchDelt 29 B 1973-1974 [1979]: 206) are a Helladic feature with no Cretan antecedent.

  • 2 Amber from the Wessex culture, on the other hand, likely arrived via sites in the central Mediterra (...)

5Evidence of imposing burials in MH Ill to LH I tholoi and chamber tombs surrounding the Palace of Nestor at Pylos, together with hints of the possible presence of other architecture of dressed stone blocks of Minoan inspiration, is of particular interest. Tholos Tomb IV immediately to the north-east of the palace, constructed in MH III and hence one of the earliest, was used for grand and perhaps royal or princely burials throughout the 15th c. BC and continued in use for perhaps another century. Although looted, the tomb retained such items as a unique gold seal on which is depicted a winged griffin, a small gold ring with a peak sanctuary of Minoan type depicted on its bezel, and a remarkable 246 beads of amethyst (Taylour 1973; Nelson 2001; Davis & Stocker 2015). Amethyst comes from Egypt and the Near East; Minoan Crete, with its links to both, was the likely intermediary2. Finally, Mycenaean funerary architecture likely reflected structures observed at Knossos, and perhaps partially copied them after the Mycenaean conquest of Crete at the beginning of LM II, through the use of ashlar masonry, masons’ marks, and gypsum in the construction of the tholoi (Royal Tomb, Kephala Tholos, Isopata Tomb) north of the palace (See e.g. Preston 2005: 85).

6With regard to mainland funerary architecture, we should also consider the possibility of Cycladic influence in the form of carefully constructed shaft graves and rectangular built tombs, and perhaps even in the practice of family or clan multiple burials, as noted by Stefan Hiller (Hiller 1989). In addition, in Messenia there quickly appear unusual variations of the tholos and chamber tomb unknown elsewhere. Lastly, a further possible source of inspiration for aspects of Mycenaean elite burial practice appears in the form of the burial at the city gate of the massive fortification wall at Kolonna on the island of Aegina noted above (Rutter 2001: 126-128). Here a shaft grave, or built cist grave, perhaps, covered by a tumulus gives evidence of a Helladic ruler burial a century earlier than the burials at Mycenae, but with a similar set of grave goods including weapons, gold jewellery, and Minoan imports together with locally made versions of Minoan vases (Kilian-Dirlmeier 1997; on Aeginetan Minoanising pottery, see Hiller 1993; Gauss 2006; 2007).

  • 3 Our lack of LM IA tombs in Crete precludes direct comparison of early Late Bronze Age practice.

7If we turn from funerary architecture to the more fundamental area of funerary practice and belief, clear differences appear. Middle Helladic elites do not set themselves apart through the interment of lavish goods or metal objects (with the exception of the Aegina burial noted). Cretan Middle Bronze Age tholoi are generally used for long periods of time for many burials, while Mycenaean LH I-II tholoi are generally used for an elite few3. Preceding MH tombs do not display major differences in burial goods to signal major differences in the status of the deceased. In the non-palatial sector, on the mainland infants are sometimes buried under the floors of houses, a practice not seen in Crete (Paschalidis & McGeorge 2008). The Mochlos cemetery in Crete displays differences in burial practices, rituals and hence probably beliefs about the afterlife between the LM I Minoan Neopalatial and Mycenaean-influenced LM II-LM III Al burials (Soles 2008: 198-199). It is the manner of construction of funerary monuments and the grand items of display that follow Cretan precedents, and not, or at least not necessarily, matters of belief regarding the afterlife.

8Recent years have seen much theoretical discussion, based on anthropological analogies, of the role that control of foreign imports can play in the formation of elites and rulers, including the possible ideological aspect of such control in terms of access to technical or exotic knowledge (e.g. Wright 1995; Whittaker 2014). Funerary display provides an arena for such competition and destruction. The example of Crete, and in particular of Knossos, may have stimulated Mycenaean rulers and elites to define themselves more clearly. Those buried in the Shaft Graves of Mycenae from MH Ill into early LH IIA appear to form a self-defined group, which sought to distance itself from others through the lavish display and deposition of exotic objects and through special burial rites in family or clan tombs. Such objects may proclaim the cultural biography of the deceased by virtue of the objects’ prior ownership, age, or exotic origins (Bennet 2004: 93, with references). The gold necklaces and armlets on some of the male skeletons in the Shaft Graves of Mycenae recall depictions of Minoan high-status males, and one of the skeletons may have been buried with a seal attached to his wrist by a leather strap in Minoan fashion (Krzyszkowska 2005: 154). Of the mainland Greek sites, thus far only Mycenae offers evidence of this nature, but then the survival of the Shaft Graves undisturbed is also exceptional. The scepter from Shaft Grave IV at Mycenae is a symbol of rule probably based on Cretan example (Kilian 1988: 294; Graziadio 1991: 406). The fact that much of the wealth of the earliest Shaft Graves of Circle A, including the most luxurious Minoan objects, was concentrated in Graves IV and V suggests the possibility of a special relationship between major Mycenaean rulers and the Knossian palace. Indeed, the great increase in wealth over the course of two generations suggested by comparison of the burials in the earlier Grave Circle B and Graves IV and V in Grave Circle A can only be understood in terms of the evolving relationship of the rulers of Mycenae with Neopalatial Crete. Dynastic/elite intermarriage is one possible avenue.

9The Mycenaean elite appear to employ burial customs, as well as luxury products and depictions, to signal how they stand in relation to each other, to various distant realms (as exemplified as well by the Hittite silver stag rhyton from Shaft Grave IV), and especially to Minoan Crete. The use in the Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae in the early 14th c. BC of Minoan or Minoanising gypsum bull reliefs perhaps carved centuries earlier (Hiller 2009: 300-303), and the erection around 1250 BC of the Lion Gate, whose relief incorporates Minoan palatial and religious symbols in the form of the Minoan column and incurving altars (Blackwell 2014: 483), shows the continuing Mycenaean use of Minoan visual imagery to signify status and rule. The LH IIIB shrine complex within the citadel at Mycenae contains snakes, horns of consecration, and double axes, indicative of the long continuity of symbols which were central to cult practice in Neopalatial Crete. The LH II Vaphio Tholos, with its wealth of Minoan or Minoan-inspired masterpieces including the Vaphio gold cups and a great number of fine seals, within visual sight in the Bronze Age of the Mycenaean palace at Haghios Vassilios, provides another example of Minoan elite artifacts employed in conspicuous wealth consumption/deletion in a Mycenaean ruler burial (Kilian-Dirlmeier 1987; Tsountas 1889). The recently discovered LH II shaft grave at Pylos also provides an example of an elite, perhaps ruler, burial in the traditional mainland form, but with a single male occupant buried with an enormous number of Minoan gems, rings, and other objects of the highest quality, symbolic of power (S. Stocker & J. Davis, pers. comm.). Funerary wealth sacrifice, already present in EM at Mochlos, and then at the Phourni cemetery above Archanes and in the Mesara, reaches a peak in LH I-II in the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, the Vaphio and Dendra tholoi, and the recently discovered shaft grave at Pylos.

3. Elite Non-Funerary Architecture

10The elite domestic architecture of the early Mycenaean period has largely disappeared. Reused blocks of stone dressed in the Minoan manner appear both at Pylos and the Menelaion; a single mason’s mark appears at Mycenae and at Pylos and two as noted on the grand tholos at Peristeria (Nelson 2001: 186 n. 521; Rutter 2005: 24). It is interesting that masons’ marks drop out at the same time in Crete and on the mainland, in the period after the Mycenaean conquest of Crete at the end of LM IB (Wiener 2015), with a few at Knossos inscribed in LM IIIA1 (Warren 1984: 315-316; I am indebted to Peter Warren for calling these to my attention). Much has been written about a putative Minoan-style predecessor to the palace at Pylos, first suggested by Klaus Kilian and recently subject to careful analysis by Michael Nelson (Nelson 2001). Nelson’s work suggests strong Minoan architectural influence at the palatial level in the succeeding late LH IIB-early LH IIIA1 period. Joseph Shaw summarises the situation as follows:

  • 4 With regard to Kythera, Huxley notes the existence in LM I of a Minoan-type drainage system adjacen (...)

Away from the islands and on the Greek Mainland, if we begin in Messenia, approachable from Crete via a very Minoanised Kythera (still without relevant architectural evidence, however), our more suggestive examples are at Pylos. Some of these ashlar walls, originally found by Blegen, were later plausibly identified by Klaus Kilian as belonging to a Minoan or Minoan-influenced ‘Cretan’ structure which, as in Minoan palaces, had ‘wings’ around a large court. From the point of view of technique, the walls, dated by Nelson to late LH II/early LH IIIA1 are done in the orthostate fashion with a squared poros slab set on edge upon an ashlar socle, a style otherwise unknown on the Mycenaean Mainland. The tops of the slabs have square mortice cuttings which, as in Crete, indicate that horizontal wooden beams were set upon them, to strengthen the wall above them. Of particular interest is the double-axe “mason’s mark” engraved on the face of one block, similar in nature to the branch and double-axe signs engraved on the stomion blocks of the LH IIA tholos tomb at Peristeria and often cited as characteristically Minoan. In one orthostate wall there is a mortised corner or end base (anta). Also, the ends of the orthostate blocks at Pylos are cut at an angle so that only the tips of the blocks met, although from outside the viewer saw what appeared to be a solid stone wall, this being a thoroughly Minoan approach as we have already seen, and strengthening an argument for a Minoan-style inspired origin, if not Minoan masons (Shaw 2009: 66)4.

  • 5 Wiersma 2007 discusses the close connection between the Minoan palaces and religious symbols and pr (...)

11Moreover, as Nelson (and Jeremy Rutter citing Nelson) have noted, the Minoan masonry styles in use at Pylos from LH I through LH IIIA1 follow the same chronological sequence as in Crete, with partial use of small ashlar blocks followed by orthostate construction, followed in turn by the use of coursed ashlar (Nelson 2001; Rutter 2005: 23-27). Pylos contained at least one pair of horns of consecration5. Fred Cooper concluded that the drainage system at Pylos, part of which was found in the vicinity of the horns of consecration, very closely resembled the drainage system of the Knossos palace (see infra) (Cooper forthcoming). The earliest monumental building at the Mycenaean palace at Haghios Vassilios near Sparta in Laconia, with its alternating square and round column bases, together with what may be a court serving as a focal point for cult, recalls Minoan prototypes (A. Vassilogamvrou, pers. comm.), as with the proposed plan of the earliest palace at Pylos discussed above. The Melathron at Gla and the Great Megaron at Tiryns appear to owe their architectural inspiration to Minoan polythyra, adapted to local purposes (J. Maran pers. comm.). Mycenaean elites employed Minoan architectural features to serve their purposes and preferences.

12Travelling or resident Minoan architects would likely have been readily available for mainland employment. In Crete palatial features in architecture become widespread throughout the island during the course of LM I. The many splendid villas or country houses scattered through Crete in LM I provide obvious examples. Elite architectural features even appear at small sites such as Sissi, only 4 km from the Malia palace (Driessen et alii 2011: 28-32), and at somewhat remote locations such as the site of Diaskari near Makrygialos. After the Mycenaean conquest of Crete at the end of LM IB/LH IIA, not only Minoan architects and stonemasons but many others including scribes and craftspeople of every description may have been brought to the mainland.

13The architectural influence of Knossos lingered beyond the Neopalatial period in certain limited respects. Shaw has noted that what Wace called the ‘Grand Staircase’ at Mycenae leading from the roadway to the palace was clearly inspired by the Grand Staircase of the East Wing of the palace at Knossos (Shaw 2009: 69-70), one of the great engineering feats of the Aegean Bronze Age and still visible at Knossos when the ‘Grand Staircase’ of Mycenae was built. All of the architectural features discussed are elite forms, many palatial in nature. When the Mycenaean palaces are rebuilt in their final canonical form beginning first in the Argolid in LH IIIA, impressive buildings are erected whose central hearths and ground plans do not exhibit Minoan inspiration, except to whatever extent their megara are seen as descending from Minoan prototypes (Maran & Stavrianopoulou 2007: 291 and n. 59). Indeed, these Mycenaean palaces may represent an explicit assertion of a Mycenaean identity (Wright 2006: esp. 37-42).

14The Mycenaean genius for architecture and engineering displayed in later centuries through the construction of the citadels, road systems and dams, and by the remarkable drainage of the Kopaic Basin and the Arkadian Basin around Orchomenos, is noteworthy (Knauss 1991). While complex dams such as the dams near Zakros existed in Crete, some going back to the Middle Minoan period (Chryssoulaki 2010; generally, Betancourt 2012), it is not possible at this point to trace any Minoan influence on the mainland in this regard.

4. Images and Belief

15Let us turn to the question of Cretan influence on Mycenaean cult and ritual. Classical Greeks knew of a tradition that many of their gods and cults, namely those of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and the Delphic cult of Apollo and Demeter together with her mysteries at Eleusis, originally came from Crete (cf Satterfield 2008). Moreover, the names Athena, Hera, Hermes, Apollo, and Aphrodite, are not readily recognisable as Greek. Many aspects of the symbolic representation of cult and rule based on Minoan prototypes appear early in the Mycenaean period and apparently continue to some degree over centuries. Mycenaean Linear B tablets speak of roughly equal numbers of male and female divinities, but it is the female divinities almost exclusively who are depicted, both in Crete and on the mainland. Moreover, in Mycenaean Greece as in Crete the rulers are not depicted or at least not in clearly recognisable forms. It would surely be significant if the Mycenaeans adopted a putative Minoan practice of ritual enactment, with the ruler appearing in person at his throne as part of the tableaux surrounded by mythical creatures, as has been suggested in connection with the shrine known as the Throne Room at Knossos and main megaron at Pylos (Bennet 2015: 27-28; 2007: 12-13). Similar frescoes of toreadors appear at Knossos and Mycenae, perhaps executed by a single school of painters; the motif may be a symbol of power. Neither in Crete nor at Mycenaean sites is there any clear depiction of an individual ruler. The impact of Minoan imagery continues into the LH IIIB period, and not only in the Argolid at Mycenae and Tiryns, but in Boeotia at Thebes and Gla (Aravantinos & Fappas 2015; Boulotis 2015). In the realm of images, Mycenaean Greece was particularly dependent on Minoan precedent and template.

16With respect to feasting ritual and practice, Wace reported finding many Minoanising conical cups in LH II-IIIA strata at Mycenae, of which 11 survived the desecration of the Nafplio Museum in World War II. Conical cups were also ‘very common’ in the drain below the room north of the West Portal (Wace & Lamb 1921-1923b: 218). From below the court of the palace came 13 fragments (Wace & Lamb 1921-1923a: 197) and a small test below the Ante-Chamber to the Domestic Quarters yielded 27 cups, listed as LH II (Wace & Lamb 1921-1923c: 259). About ten sherds were found in the dromos of the Tomb of Aegisthus, possibly coming from the fill (Wace 1921-1923: 311). Many conical cups also appeared in units of the fill levels of the Citadel House along with LH II-IIIA painted ware; here conical cups were much more frequent than goblets. The number of conical cups at Mycenae could not have approached anywhere near the numbers found at Minoan sites in the Cyclades, Dodecanese, and along the Anatolian coast, however. At the Apollon Maleatas sanctuary on the hill above Epidauros over 100 fragments of such cups were found, comprising 20 % of the pottery from the site. There the finds also included a bronze double axe, several rhyta, human and animal figurines including terracotta snakes, and stone bowls of Minoan type (V. Lambrinoudakis, pers. comm.; Lambrinoudakis 1974: 96; 1975: 167-171; 1976: 202-207; 1977: 187-191; 1981). Whether or not Apollon Maleatas would have seemed acceptable as a location for a peak sanctuary to a resident community of Minoans is less significant than the possibility that mainlanders were adopting selectively some implements and elements of Minoan cult practice. Mycenaeans depict Minoan cult implements such as rhyta and tripod offering tables, but no Minoan incurving altar has been found on the mainland despite its frequent depiction, including its appearance on the Lion Gate at Mycenae. Representations of Minoan horns of consecration, Minoan columns perhaps representing palaces, and Minoan sacral knots do appear in the Shaft Graves and continue in the mainland pictorial repertoire, although with much less frequency than in Crete (Hägg 1984: 120; Wright 2015 and references therein). However, certain basic features of Minoan ritual representation, such as the epiphany of the goddess, do not appear on the mainland, or are substantially changed when they do. The lustral basin is also missing, but it is already going out of use in Crete in LM IA. Neither pillar crypts nor snake tubes appear at Mycenaean sites, nor is there any mainland evidence for a healing cult of the kind indicated by the body part models found at MM peak sanctuaries.

17Mycenaean Greece may also have adopted the practice of mass feasting, with participants divided by rank, from the Minoan palaces. At Haghia Triadha in Crete, Linear A tablet HT 31 lists 3,710 conical cups, 3,000 in one category, 700 in another, and 10 in a third (Duhoux 2000-2001). It would not be surprising if the 3,000 referred to the typical badly made, undecorated variety which appear in such astonishing numbers at all Minoan Neopalatial sites; the 700 to the better-made, decorated terracotta variety; and the 10 to metal vessels (such as the silver conical cup found by Katie Demakopoulou in the Kokla tholos in the Argolid) (Demakopoulou 1990). Similarly, at Pylos kylikes of three classes were found at three separate locations in the palace, one class made of metal, one finely potted, and one mass produced. The finely potted variety may have been made by the wanakteros kerameu, or the potter of the wanax (ruler) (Bendall 2004: 123-124; Wiener 2007). References to potters occur in six of the palatial Linear B tablets, five from Pylos and one from Mycenae (Palaima 1997: 410 n. 23; Wiener 2007).

5. Crafts and Clothing

18The Minoan inspiration of various Mycenaean crafts is clear, particularly with regard to the profound Minoan impact on the decoration of Mycenaean pottery. Standard MH Gray Miny an, indistinguishable from the contemporary pottery of Troy, falls out of use in Mycenaean Greece, replaced by pottery of Minoan inspiration. Almost all of the 80 motifs listed in Arne Furumark’s classic work on Mycenaean pottery come from Minoan decoration and they persist, sometimes in attenuated or schematised form, for 400 years (Furumark 1972). Mycenaeans, however, retain their mainland-type kilns and firing methods. Pottery shape and decoration appear the exception to the general rule that the impact of Minoan Crete on Mycenaean Greece was heavily concentrated at the elite level. With respect to pottery, however, it is necessary to consider a putative ‘trademark’ aspect to pottery decoration. The floral motifs on the ubiquitous stirrup jars, however abstracted or degraded, may signal ‘perfumed olive oil from the Mycenaean world’ or a particular area or locality, and the trademark function may preclude rapid or complete change as along as the trade continues. It is worth noting that in LH IIA (LM IB), pottery made on the mainland in Minoan shape and motif seems to be better made, with the Mycenaean updraft kiln producing longer-adhering, more brilliantly coloured images than the Minoan cross-draft kiln. Philip Betancourt suggests that Minoan potters working at Mycenaean sites in LH IIA may have formed and painted vases under the direction of a Mycenaean kiln-master (pers. comm. of 18 January 2014; see also Mountjoy & Ponting 2000).

19In early Mycenaean pottery, inspiration from the Cyclades is also present as seen in the pictorial pottery of the Shaft Graves (Dietz 1998: 14-15; 1991: 297-300). Moreover, the original Minoan inspiration of some pottery shapes and decoration, including Vaphio cups, teacups, and askoi, may be mediated via Minoanised Cycladic sites. Absent from the Mycenaean mainland, however, are the enormous masses of conical cups, the many tripod cooking pots, and the braziers found in profusion on every Minoan or Minoanised site in the Cyclades, Dodecanese, on the Anatolian coast, and on Kythera (Wiener 1984; 1990; 2011). Minoan-type loom weights common in these areas in LM I do not arrive on the mainland until about the time of the Mycenaean conquest of Minoan Crete (Wiener 2015), with attendant implications for the presence/absence of weavers trained in a demanding technique from a young age (Cutler 2016).

20Minoan inspiration is also obvious in the elite craft areas of gold rings and beads, ivory carving, the production of metal vessels, and seal engraving. Whereas on Crete seals were extremely common and widely owned, in mainland Greece there is a heavy concentration in elite burials (Krzyszkowska 2005: 274). For example, the Vaphio tholos burial contained 13 or 14 Minoan seals and the newly discovered Pylos shaft-grave single interment contained about 50 (Younger 1973; Banou & Hitchcock 2011; S. Stocker & J. Davis, pers. comm.). The great vessels of bronze and of precious metals found in the Shaft Graves resemble very closely Minoan vessels found at Knossos, Malia, Tylissos, and Zakros in Crete. Earlier mainland metal vessels, simple in conception and execution, were also based on Cretan prototypes. Hartmut Matthäus and others have suggested that by the time of the Shaft Graves a workshop directed by Minoan artisans may have been established to produce the grander vessels (Matthäus 1980: 341). In an article written for the BSA 35 years ago, Elizabeth and Hector Catling had already noted that

Much of the output of this Minoan industry has been found outside Crete, where its origin is not always fully appreciated. Weapons and vessels from both Grave Circles at Mycenae, from tholoi in Messenia, from the Dendra Royal Tomb and chamber tombs, and from Asine make so formidable a total that some scholars are reluctant to admit that they were either made in Crete, or, at least, were produced by Minoan smiths (Catling & Catling 1974: 252).

  • 6 Jones (2007: 154-156) notes that elements of the Minoan-style dress worn by women in Mycenaean repr (...)

21Brilliant Minoan fabrics and garments, such as we see depicted in frescoes from Crete and Thera and carried by emissaries on the walls of Egyptian tombs, were surely imported by Mycenaeans (Cutler 2011: 149, 271- 273). The designs of these garments in themselves brought models and messages, and may have been copied for centuries. Indeed, the impact of some features of Minoan iconography seems particularly long lasting, as shown, for example, by the processions of female figures on the walls of Pylos, Tiryns, and Thebes, and by the dress, covered breasts notwithstanding, of the female figure known as the Mykenaia on the walls of Mycenae, centuries later6. While architecture and much else becomes distinctly Mycenaean, Minoan visual imagery appears to persist, to the point where it is difficult to identify a significantly independent Mycenaean iconography or imagination, apart from clear preferences in vase size and shape and the tectonic organisation of motifs.

6. Warfare

  • 7 Nineteen Type A swords and two Type B swords were found carefully curated in what appears to be a r (...)

22The first depiction of a sailing vessel in the Aegean world appears on a Minoan seal/seal impression at the beginning of the Old Palace period early in the 2nd millennium BC (Broodbank 2010: 255), at or not long after the time Minoan pottery first appears along the coast of the Peloponnese. Whether Mycenaeans acquired significant knowledge about long-distance sailing and/or shipbuilding from Minoans is unknowable. We may observe that there is no evidence of Mycenaean voyages to or contacts with the Eastern Mediterranean until after the Mycenaean conquest of Crete at the end of LM I/beginning of LM II (LH IIB), whereas Mycenaean voyages to the central Mediterranean, carrying pottery from the Argolid, begin at least in LH I, if not earlier, when there is conversely no evidence of Minoan contact with the West (Bettelli 2015: 209). By MM II, bronze parade swords of magnificent quality appear at the palace at Malia in Crete, far superior to anything the armorers of Egypt and the Near East had yet produced. In LM IA a new type of Minoan bronze sword, the Type A sword, has appeared in Crete, necessitating a new style of fighting requiring specialised training and practice (Molloy 2010: 413-414). Type A swords were quickly imported by mainland elites, perhaps accompanied in some instances by Minoan instructors. All of the weaponry deposited in the Shaft Graves is either of Minoan manufacture or derived from Cretan prototypes, including as noted by Hiller “the solid long dagger, the short sword, the long sword, the shoe-socketed and the tube-socketed spear- and arrow-head” (Hiller 1984: 27)7. Soon, however, Mycenaeans improved upon the design with the mainland Type B sword, although Knossos may have remained the main centre of manufacture of these and the succeeding Type C and D swords after the Mycenaean conquest at the beginning of LM II/LH IIB c. 1440- 1430 BC (Sandars 1963). Mycenaean Greeks take over former Minoan colonies in the Cyclades, Dodecanese, and coast of Anatolia, and become a formidable fighting force – the Ahhiyawa of the Hittite texts (Bryce 2005: 57-60, 194-195; Wiener 2009; Beckman et alii 2011: 1-6, esp. 4).

7. Script, Administration, and Language

  • 8 Palaima (2002-2003: 380) notes, however, “that the handwriting styles of Class i at Pylos (Hand 1 a (...)

23Mycenaean Linear B script in all likelihood was first adapted from Minoan Linear A to serve an early form of the Indo-European Greek language at Knossos very soon after the Mycenaean conquest of Crete at the end of LM IB, particularly since all Minoan palatial and elite residences other than Knossos had been destroyed (Driessen & Langohr 2007: 179-180, 187-188). Given the general similarity of script and scribal practice at Mycenaean sites until the destruction of the palaces and the end of literacy ca. 1200 BC (Sherratt 2001: 215), descendants of the original scribal clans may have provided palatial record-keeping and correspondence throughout the Mycenaean era8.

24Differences between Minoan and Mycenaean administrative procedures are clear, however. To begin, epigraphic practices differ markedly between Linear A and B tablets. Linear B tablets are much larger and more crowded, with the text often continuing on the back of the tablet, whereas in Linear A, the subjects on the front and back of tablets are often different. Mycenaean Linear B tablets thus often contain far more information than Minoan Linear A tablets. Moreover, Linear B tablets are much more neatly composed, suggesting that they represent a more finished form of the information recorded. Minoan administration, however, made far greater use of seals, which sometimes show evidence of attachment to leather/parchment, a practice so far unattested on the mainland (Krzyszkowska 2005: 282 and n. 40). Furthermore, the proportion of the populace using seals in Neopalatial Crete seems far higher than in later Mycenaean Greece, if the imposing number of sealstones found at Minoan sites is any indication. Perhaps every Minoan palatial official, administrator, landholder, and artisan had one or more seals.

25Finally, let us consider the important question of linguistic borrowing. Thomas Palaima believes that a Minoan origin is likely for Linear B words in areas ranging from shipbuilding, to cloth manufacture and dyeing (including the word for cloth itself), the terms for certain spices and foodstuffs, and the word for ‘bath’ (Palaima 1995: 136) Spinning and weaving technology in general appears to combine words of both Indo-European and non-Indo-European origins (Barber 1991; Renfrew 1998: 247-249; 1999). The term wanax, the likely designation of a ruler on the Linear B tablets, has no evident Indo-European root or connection and hence may be of Minoan origin, in which case Mycenaean rulers have appropriated a title with great prestige at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (Palaima 1995). Palaima has also raised the question of whether the dactylic hexameter of the Homeric epics is native to any form or dialect of Greek at any point in its evolution, or whether it was adopted from the Minoan language along with the script and various words lacking evident Indo-European roots (Palaima 2004: 442; in accord is Ruijgh 2004: 530-531). The question may apply irrespective of whether the Linear A script reflects a non-Indo-European language or an Indo-European language which separated early from the main body of European languages, as proposed by Margalit Finkelberg (Finkelberg 2001; 2005: 52-53). As noted above, the names of many later Greek divinities do not appear Indo-European and are reputed in Greek myth to come from Crete. Of course, Linear B loan words may have come from Luwian, Semitic, and Egyptian as well as Minoan, including a pre-Indo-European substrate in mainland Greece itself, and the speech of much of the non-palatial populace may have included far fewer terms of Minoan derivation. Indeed, ‘Linear B Mycenaean’ may have been a scribal and possibly palatial court and administrative dialect, with the bulk of the populace speaking something closer to the Arcado-Cypriot dialect of later centuries. Richard Janko describes Linear B as a Minoanised artificial scribal language, unlike any later known dialect, a “language of power,” to quote Yves Duhoux (Duhoux 1983: 41; Janko 2011).

26While extensive linguistic admixture or borrowings often result from substantial intermingling of linguistically distinct populations over time, linguistic borrowing may also occur in other ways, particularly where one culture lacks terms for activities or objects common in a neighboring culture or cultures. Consider, for example, the case of the wholesale adoption of Western European terms into the Russian language during the reign of Peter the Great, notwithstanding the fact that the number of Western Europeans living in Russia was relatively small. At that time Russian absorbed 3,500 words from German, French, Dutch, English, Italian, and Swedish, of which roughly 25 percent dealt with naval matters, 25 percent military, 25 percent administrative, with the remaining 25 percent a miscellany of architectural, medical, mathematical, and commercial terms. Included were such essential Russian words as ‘restaurant’ from French and ‘Spion’ from German. Peter the Great was of course known as a great Westerniser. May there have been among the Mycenaean chiefs buried in the Shaft Graves a great Minoaniser? Peter spent a year in Western Europe as a youth. Might a Mycenaean Prince have spent time in LM I Crete? And should we call the influence of a single individual within a receiving society the ‘Peter the Great Effect’, a special case of the ‘Versailles Effect’? In the absence of texts, we cannot say whether a single Mycenaean ruler played a major role in the reception of aspects of Minoan culture, but we should not ignore the possible role of a single individual or a few, and those whom they retained. Recall the critical role played by Frederick the Great in Prussia and Gustav Ill in Sweden in the adoption of the language and culture of the court at Versailles in their realms. The concentration of Minoan luxury imports and of wealth in general in Shaft Graves IV and V suggests that this is the place to look for such an individual agent or agents. Conversely, however, the ‘special relationship’ between Knossos and Mycenae proposed by Dickinson (Dickinson 1996: 70) is challenged by the recently discovered undisturbed shaft grave at Pylos with its wealth of Minoan treasures including over 50 seals and four gold rings, together with the Minoanising aspects of the earliest palace at Pylos and the Linear A masons’ marks at the Peristeria tholos, and by the great wealth of Minoan precocities in the Vaphio tholos. Dynastic/elite intermarriage at several centres is one possible pathway for Mycenaean adoption of Minoan status symbols and aspects of Minoan high culture.

27In sum, however, whereas Minoan contact with the Cyclades, Dodecanese, and sites such as Miletus on the Anatolian coast appears to go far beyond a ‘Versailles Effect’ to demonstrate Minoan colonisation in some form, on the Mycenaean mainland we observe significantly less than a full ‘Versailles Effect’, even among the rulers. Certain elite features are adopted, but the Mycenaean citadels and ruler dwellings do not copy Minoan cities and palaces, nor is there evidence of a wholesale adoption of Minoan culture and customs by a significant segment of the Mycenaean upper strata. Accordingly, it is necessary to probe beyond the broad concept of a ‘Versailles Effect’ to apprehend the impact and modes of transmission of Minoan culture on Mycenaean civilisation and its role in the emergence of the first complex society in mainland Greece.



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1 It is a pleasure to present these reflections as a tribute to Robert Laffineur, who as a scholar, convener, coordinator, and colleague has contributed greatly to our understanding of Mycenaean Greece. My thanks are due to Jayne Warner, Erin Hayes, Jason Earle, Rebecca Hahn, and Catriona Hughes for editorial and research assistance, and to Jack Davis, Maurizio Del Freo, George Huxley, Joseph Maran, Vassilis Petrakis, Sharon Stocker, and Peter Warren for corrections and suggestions.

2 Amber from the Wessex culture, on the other hand, likely arrived via sites in the central Mediterranean, possibly accompanied by tin, but is rare in Mycenaean Greece, appearing primarily in two highly elite burials, Shaft Grave IV at Mycenae and Tholos Tomb A at Kakovatos in Messenia (Maran 2013). Amber traced to Sicily was found at Pylos-Routsi (Beck & Beck 1995: 123-124, 128 Table 1).

3 Our lack of LM IA tombs in Crete precludes direct comparison of early Late Bronze Age practice.

4 With regard to Kythera, Huxley notes the existence in LM I of a Minoan-type drainage system adjacent to the South House at Kastri. See Hope Simpson & Lazenby 1972: 58, 62.

5 Wiersma 2007 discusses the close connection between the Minoan palaces and religious symbols and practices.

6 Jones (2007: 154-156) notes that elements of the Minoan-style dress worn by women in Mycenaean representations may be reflected in the terminology of Linear B records, suggesting that Mycenaean women may have worn such garments in cult ceremonies.

7 Nineteen Type A swords and two Type B swords were found carefully curated in what appears to be a ritual deposit of four to five generations later in Building A [Room 3] at the Mycenaean palace at Haghios Vassilios in Laconia (Cavanagh 2011; Vassilogamvrou 2014; A. Vassilogamvrou, pers. comm, of 10 January 2015).

8 Palaima (2002-2003: 380) notes, however, “that the handwriting styles of Class i at Pylos (Hand 1 and related scribes) are developed styles, simplified from the more elaborate styles in use earlier on Crete”.

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