How so? Money is not bullion. Money is a social artifact. We know that. We can define it as bullion,but an act of policy (specifically, the act of policy of saying that we don't understand these things and don't care to) is an act of policy. And we have a counter-example. For, whatever the causes of the end of the Roman Empire(it is, after all, far more common to read this as an episode of inflation than my counter-intuitive speculation abut deflation), there was evident currency disorder that didn't lead to the opening of the Saxon mines. If the end of the Roman Empire were a deflation, it was one in which increases in circulating money was not enough. There was a lack of demand that needed slating, but by, I suggested, by the restoration of credit. I don't know. Does that make sense?
Anyway, if we're going to talk about policy lessons from past catastrophic, state-system-ending deflations, perhaps one accompanied by the appearance of a major new technology is more relevant to modern times. (Also, plant lipids, if anyone's wondering.) That would be the Late Bronze Age Collapse, perhaps the clearest case of a state system collapse accompanied by the rise of a really fundamental new technology, ironworking. In 1300BC, iron was a precious guest-present for kings, a metal given value by rarity and a connection with the Stormgod of Heaven. In the c. 1050BC Lekandi "heroön" burial, iron tools and weapons have largely displaced bronze. That's our framework: state collapse and the appearance of a socially-disruptive but transformative technology. It only remains to find a deep causal link and really get this gloom-fest on the road.
Or not. All this modern talk is really just a framing device. What I really think is that the LBA collapse and following "Dark Age" is just too fascinating not to explore. The Middle Bronze Age collapse was "normal." These things happened all the time back then. The fall of the Roman Empire was earth-shattering. So the LBA collapse is a transitional moment --more reason to ask whether this particular technological change was somehow irreversible.
So just to refine our temporal parameters, I'm going to lay out what looks like a timeframe to me. Sometime after it occurred (obviously) Suppiluliuma II recorded a 1210 BC naval victory over Alasiya. Some people take that as foreshadowing, but I don't. Admirality is expensive, something for powerful rulers to indulge in, and the fact that it is commemorated in an impressive and expensive new monument at Hattusa tells us more. Yet our only account of Suppiluliuma's later years is a king list that closes his reign in 1187, done by a pretender to his throne at Carchemish. And, nice as Carchemish is, it is not Hattusa. On its face, while a Hittite successor state may survive, it has lost its capital and its heartland. .
Another way to look at the time frame of the collapse is through the Assyrian annals. These sources suggest the death of Tiglath-Pileser I in 1076 as a date for decline, and the accession of Adad-nirari II (911BC) for a restoration. Or we can take the decision by the priests of Amun at Thebes to consolidate all of the royal mummies from the tombs at the Valley of the Kings in a single cache as an admission of defeat. State power had lost the fight against social disorder.
The long span of dates is justified by a centre-periphery mode,according to which the decline begins at the edge of the larger Middle Eastern world and moves inwards. Thus, when,in the very same annals we use to reconstruct the rhythms of the Assyrian state, we find consistent mention royal campaigns against "the Hittites," we find a change in the expected geographical perspective. For us, the story of the end of the Hittites is the fall of one centre (Hattusa), because we understand it as the Hittite heartland. That the Assyrians take this heartland to lie elsewhere perhaps signifies a contraction of highly organised state action towards its heartland. not of a claim to political continuity and ethnic identity. At the same time, we may reasonably ask why it was Cappadocia, specifically, that was abandoned. Because it was further away from Assyria is not much of an answer!
As for the priests of Amun, they are certainly preserving the ideologically vital mummies of dead royalty, but you don't have to be a dialectical materialist to notice that they didn't they re-inter most of the precious treasures originally consigned to the royal graves. I can make up a story about deflation here, and others have, according to which all of this buried money must be recirculated, but the when of that recirculation matters.
Another way to tell this story is the way that Ángelos Chaniótis does here,quoting Curtis Runnels' fascinating observation (presumably from here; Google Books doesn't seem to want to let me look at bibliographies) that metals, which embed investment, experience and exchange, make an excellent medium for the storage of (social) capital. On the face of it, bronze, although less expensive than bullion, makes a better store of value. For while both gold and silver could be mined with the Middle East, tin entered the region from outside. From a strictly practical analysis, it would make little sense for a Middle Eastern state to turn bronze into a currency standard without knowing the rate at which tin was entering the region, but it is likely that no prince of that era would have even realised that such a statistic could potentially be known, much less what a currency standard might be. An exogenous collapse in the "price" of bronze due to a steady acceleration in the inflow of tin is surely a part of this story, but only a part of it, or we would find an effort to sterilise this inflow, something on the order of the explosion of tripod dedications at Olympia in the 700s.
This is because, as I understand or recall some half-remembered articles encountered while browsing that lately deceased institution, the periodical stacks, the Late Bronze Age already had the rudiments of an international bullion standard, with standardised weights in lieu of coinage.* It clearly lacked a theoretical apparatus that would have allowed it to understand the workings of its own financial sector, but if bronze hoards weren't sustaining the state, silver and gold hoards would seem able to serve. But it didn't. The near-simultaneous collapse of Pylos and the other Mycenaean palace-principalities is still difficult to understand or conceptualise in this framework. The financial instrument upon which they relied to store labour and speculative gains and reputation was suddenly, inexplicably losing its value, and the world was unwinding. Sure. Sort of like this, I think. Deflation breeds a hunger for money, but we're still left to explain the collapse in demand. Can iron do that, ahead of its introduction as a tool metal? Yes, I think that it can. (Or, rather, it can if we get away from too much specificity about the actual material.)
Or, it's a theory, anyway. Pulled out of my nether regions, of course, but remember: the project is a world history. That's like a license for ass-pulling!
And, thanks to the Web, I can also circle back on things that I can at least claim to know, specifically, the Battle of Navarino. Poor old Richard Helmstadter** would probably shake his head at hearing me claim to understand the Nineteenth Century context of the Greek Wars of Liberation way back there in London, but I do have a PhD field to my credit, enough to see that the Wikipedia article on the Battle of Navarino is a pretty good summary, and well linked. Here's an aerial, apparently a 1943 RAF surveillance photo. of the Bay of Navarino. Pylos seems to be just north of the crop, but you can see the flat and fertile land below it on the way to the Bay.
|Linked via Wikipedia article***|
That's history for you: one event, multiple interpretations. We humans. Bubbly Dutch girls against bare-armed leather boys. Warriors of the Faith verus warriors of Progress.
Yeah. Enough of that. Here's a utilitarian point: the Bay of Navarino is an excellent anchorage, and big enough to stage a naval battle. Yet the lord of Pylos went to the trouble of excavating an artificial port in the dunes only 10 miles north. That, I modestly argue, tells us something concrete about the Late Bronze Age collapse. Sure, it's all a complex tapestry (if you're a real Simpsons fan, you'll remember the context of the quote from a little later in the episode), but here's a telling fact.
Now, given that the lagoon at the north end of Navarino bay must have received the Selas River prior to the river changing its course to run through the Mycenaean hydraulic intervention sometime after 1200BC, one may suspect that the hydrological character of the bay has changed a little, but the southern entrance to the bay is deep, and Sphacteria island is a solid chunk of bedrock. There is a real anomaly here. One explanation is that if we could just look under the medieval and early modern forts that guard Navarino, we would find Mycenaean-era rivals to Pylian hegemony. Archaeology is hard. Here's a picture taken at Xeropolis, just above the famous Lefkandi excavation, taken from this here invaluable website with the regrettable font choice.
It's taken forty years for the British School at Athens to find the money to excavate the town associated with their earth-shattering tomb excavation. And now the excavators look down from their works at the next place they'd like to dig. Too bad it's under childhood homes and beautiful fields. In the same way, we won't know if Pylos had local rivals under the forts of Navarion until they've been excavated,**** I'm going to take it that they were, but it would be nice to know whether or not they were active at the same time as Pylos. If they weren't, Pylos might well have been the capital of the whole of Messenia. If they were, it wasn't.
It's not unlikely. Here is the Menelaion, (probably) a Mycenaean palatial complex abandoned earlier in the century. I took the picture from here mainly because of the awesome view of the Taygetus mountains that lie between Laconia and Messenia, but it will still serve as a reminder that the history of LBA Greece is likely to have been politically complex, unstable and violent even before the final end of palace society.
What if Pylos wasn't the capital of ancient Messenia? The thought has no direct implications. It doesn't change the Linear B documents found there, but I do see a chain of associative thinking that does lead problematic places. Here's how it goes. First, the ancient Thebans wanted to bolster their Messenian creation, because in fact only some "Messenians" had been exploited helots. Turning a nakedly anti-Laconian gesture into an act of national liberation made it hard for Sparta's allies within Messenia to go back to their alliance. Perhaps the bizarrely bizarrely implausible anti-historical Spartan ideal is even in some small measure a product of this effort.
Much later, we have an entirely unrelated act of reification.Western Liberal enthusiasm for national Greek liberation always existed uneasily with the actual ambitions of the Nineteenth Century Greek state. The latter not unreasonably wished to govern where actual Greek speakers lived. That would include Istanbul and Smyrna, implying the dismantling of the Ottoman state, a highly contraindicated outcome. Arguably, the same logic would have left the Peloponnese out of the Hellenic kingdom. (It's not controversial that the new Hellenic state wasn't much interested in the Peloponnese.) How did one go about satisfying domestic critics who hoped for Greek independence? By claiming that there was an essential Greece that had always existed and always would, which exactly mapped onto that portion of Christian majority territory that the Ottoman state could live without and in which western European liberal aristocrats could conveniently make war for Christianity and progress. That is, the Peloponnese, and above all its western coast. How remarkable, then, that Western classicists came so strongly to imply and propose that the essential ancient Greek state coincided with the borders that Athens had already won!
What makes this associational line important is that the fire that brought an end to the palatial society at Pylos led directly to the survival of a little over a thousand administrative documents, written in Greek, in the form of clay tablets written in a script called Linear B. The tablets, archived over perhaps no more than the six months preceding a disastrous fire, were never intended to be permanent records, and no older ones exist. This is a very limited window into this society's activities. I can't help but feel some kinship, although at least the administrators of Phaistos had the sense not to keep the records in paper form,and store six months worth of invoices in the transformer room. Not that any supermarkets with which I might be familiar do that.
Since Linear B is Greek, it seems to make sense that it maps onto the essential Greece, having been found at Boeotian Thebes and the Argolid. True, the "Linear" scripts were originally identified at Knossos. (Linear A; Linear B; Linear C) Inasmuch as it has been stridently argued that Minoan civilisation could not have been Greek speaking, this is a bit pf a puzzler. The original excavator of Knossos (of record) claimed to discover Linear B documents in deposits from about 1400BC. Since he didn't live to see Linear B deciphered as Greek, he didn't have to account for this intrusion into his non-Greek ideally progressive civilisation. Those that did noted his dating and, suspiciously, a connection to the chariot workshop. This allowed Evans to be fixed with Linear B as a replacement for Linear A introduced by Greek-speaking, barbaric, chariot-driving warrior colonists from the mainland who wanted their book-keeping done in Greek. However, the care and even honesty of Evans' work has come into question, and Carl Blegen, the excavator of Phaistos, has long since pointed out that the very close similarity of Linear B there to that at Knossos suggested that it was written at about the same time, i.e. in the late 1200s. It's all very controversial, but here's an argument for this case that I will tentatively take as decisive because it focusses on evidence from a town (Cydonia in western Crete), rather than a palace.
Why? Because we know something about who learned to read and write in the LBA, and how they did so. First, scribes had enormous power and prestige (something that I know intellectuals don't like to hear, preferring to see their like as sages on mountaintops, speaking truth to power). Second, their education was part of a package of elite education. Scribes trained in Iraq and its peripheries learned a huge, organic curriculum that required them to master a dead language so that they could sprinkle their writings with arcane references and obscure abbreviations. (Op cit., lest you think Homer nods) The teaching was done in the homes of scribal dynasties according to an apprenticeship model, and, as with other forms of elite education, there is, understandably, no evidence of a "dumbed down" curriculum taught to mere technicians, much in the way that medical schools don't train nurses, and law schools do not produce paralegals. As with other elite artisanal practices, the skill is thus linked to the densest and most affluent centres. Egyptian scribes admittedly learned a different curriculum, but the process,and geography, was the same.
So what happened when someone wanted to introduce written book-keeping at the edge of the world? In one letter preserved in the diplomatic archives of Pharaoh Amenophis (c.1350BC), Tarhundaradu, king of Arzawa [Ephesus], asks that pharaoh write to him in his native language of Luwian, because he cannot obtain scribes proficient in Akkadian, the language of international diplomacy. There was a market for multilingual, competent scribes. Pharoah could get them. Ephesus, neither marginal nor core, could get ones of limited skill.
So what do you do if you need book-keepers, but fully trained ones will just be recruited away? You invent your local equivalent of nurse-practitioners or paralegals. In spite of cloudy fantasy generated by the crackpots and obsessives and their decipherment projects,, the reality is that both Linear A and Linear C probably wrote different languages at different places. Given what we know about scribal training, this was because new scribes were trained to write their family's language in their families home, in the same artisanal context as, say, a jeweller. Cydonia isn't just the only town where we know Linear B texts were produced. It is also the only place where Linear B texts were used for anything but administrative documents: specifically, they were inscribed on the shoulder of wine jars, indicating their owner and place of origin. Cydonian wine jars are found in many of the Mycenaean palace sites.
Stop for a second here. It's not a joke that people from 20 miles away can't make out what Wiganites speak. Okay. It's not entirely a joke. The point here is that if there were five or six distinct languages being spoken in Messenia at the time of the Greek Revolution, it's a little silly to think that there was only one being spoken in the entire province in 1200BC. Ditto Crete, and the Peloponnese writ more large. The argument here is that Linear B was used by a small number of technicians, trained probably at Cydonia in a spurt of activity in the late 1200s, and sent out from there to work at those Mycenaean palaces that happened to be top dogs at the end of the 1200s. The inferred cultural unity of ancient Greece is an artefact of the cultural unity of the scribes.
Now, onto the content of the administrative texts, and how I understand them. The first point to be made is that they express above all a concern with the use of state violence. Many of the Pylos (and Knossos) documents are concerned with chariot administration. Now, it has been argued that chariots weren't militarily significant in Greece because it's all rocky and stuff, and because people used chariots as "battle taxis," riding up to the fight and then dismounting.
This, it seems to me, reflects the disadvantage of listening to military historians. We tend to be idiots.
Oops. Did I say that out loud? I have, in fact, never seen evidence of an early modern general turning down cavalry prior to an operation in mountain country. Certainly classical Greek generals didn't. One might not want brigades of heavy cavalry, especially in a countryside subject to severe seasonal droughts in campaigning time that cut down on available forage, but divisional cavalry in modest quantity confers an operationally vital ability to screen, reconnoiter, and harry an enemy. Chariots are poor cavalry, but if old-time Greek farmers could use oxcarts, chariots could be used in lieu of mounted cavalry. As for the "battle taxi," soldiers like to loot. You can't loot if you can't get out of your chariot and fight for your loot.
Horses and chariots then imply the availability of good fodder on the one hand, and considerable labour. An oft-quoted estimate is that a complete chariot absorbed 500 man-hours in its production, although I wonder if that's going to be accurate for an experienced chariot maker. As for the actual evidence of the texts, wheels seem, not surprisingly, to have been the main preoccupation. Documents attest to tribute in the form of "saplings," presumably the product of pollarded trees, although whether for making felloes and spokes or for firewood for steaming and shaping pieces is not going to be clear. Pollarded mast forests further imply herd animals. Are we seeing indirect evidence for Messenia's later robust export trade in salt pork (a seventeenth century visitor, quoted here, describes the Messenians as making an industry out of stuffing pig's hides with bacon and fat, sewing them up tightly, and shipping the bladders to Venice to be made into sausage.)
Perhaps more importantly, other documents testify that the palace was mainly concerned with a discrete set of industries. The production of scented oils is the most famous, followed by evidence that the Palace redistributed scrap bronze for piecework by smiths, as this is presumed to be an armaments boom directed against the imminent threat soon to be realised. However, both wool and flax get as much, if not more play. And these are, I think, telling.
Taking wool first, we have an industry that is, at one and the same time, unable to supply the needs of the administration and beyond its capacity to exploit. There are 8000 head of sheep listed; combed out rather than sheared prior to the invention of iron shears (Ah-hah!) this is work for rather more than the entire list of about 5000 palace dependents, and at the same time not enough wool for all of them. This implies sheep,and labour, not under the control of the palace. Less directly, I suggest, it implies a need for other industrial products, notably oil for soapmaking and mordants for dyemaking, which latter is directly testified to by a tablet listing quantities of imported alum. (Or, rather, partial sapnification when the oil is boiled in water in the presence of woodash and other natural sources of sodium hydroxide.)
This brings me to flax, if anything, an even larger concern for the palace. While a source of fabric as well as wool, linen was normally used as an undergarment in later Mediterranean modes of dress. It lacks insulating properties, and does not take colour well. Specified uses of flax in the Pylos documents include rope-, and netmaking,while wool is specifically mentioned as used for fabrics.
This isn't to say that flax doesn't make up the entire deficit of textile production suggested above by the low total number of sheep, only that this is not an ideal situation, which we would already know. For flax is a comparatively greedy plant. Fibre is produced from the stalk when mature by the comparatively labour and resource-intensive practice of laying the stalks in reasonably fresh water until they rot away, so that the fibre strands can be retted free by hand. This leaves the flaxseed, directly, as a waste product. Although cold-pressed flax oil is eaten in small quantities, it is fairly perishable, and nothing in this lukewarm praise is very persuasive. Tell me another one, dude.
So you're exhausting the soil and using perhaps scarce water resources in order to discard a high calorie oilseed? Or, at best, use it as animal fodder. (Ah-hah +2!) Perhaps not: Hot-pressed flax oil is changed in some botanically chemicaly way into a "drying oil" widely used for making wood varnishes and as a basis for paints. I assume it can be used for industrial soap-like treatments of greasy, just sheared/combed wool, too. I'd say more, but I don't really understand plant lipids, and, well, it's complicated.*****
Anyway, the thing is, it's not exactly obvious why Messenia, with, in historic times, those massive Taygestus mountains hanging over them to provide summer pasture for hoards of sheep, and limestone benches above the plains suitable for vast olive oil orchards, to be so heavily into flax. Only, are these resources actually in use? Marc van de Mierop, the same writer I'm stealing the insight about wool/labour deficits at Pylos from, observes that the model of long-range transhumant movements into and out of the Nile delta from the Levant that we assume were taking place during the LBA don't fully assimilate the possibility that the high altitude summer pastures that are nowadays integrated into this system might not have been available in the LBA. Ecologically-minded historians sometimes notice how deforestation has gotten rid of the old forests of cedars of Lebanon. Whether that's entirely true or not, the transition from closed pine forests only broken by windrows and fires to human-cleared mixes of timber stands and open pasture was a momentous one.
When did it happen? At the end of the LBA? Why not? That's when the metal tools became available!
Now, another thing; sure, I trash Victor Davis Hanson. Yes, the more I read of him, the more I take his central insight about how much work it is to cut down olive trees and grapevines with a grain of salt. But do for a second take it seriously. It's not just the cutting down that's an issue. It's the pruning and the grafting. It's not clear how much of that was actually done before metal tools. I notice titles while skipping about the research for this post that suggest that there is a faction of prehistorians who think that olives were much more widely used in the Neolithic than is the consensus. Certainly my own understanding is that arboriculture didn't start in the LBA.
But take the consensus at face value for a second. Whether or not the olive and the vine had become a major constituent of the Messenian diet long prior to the end of the LBA, we still have a case that's very familiar from the sheep-shearing issue. This is work that would have been a great deal easier, thus less labour intensive, with metal tools. And we can take it for granted that raising olives, grapes, figs and mountain-pastured sheep was a more economically efficient mode of life for a Messenian farmer than the economy directed from Pylos.
Now, if there's a port at Pylos that absorbs a great deal of attention and effort, the historic pattern from the era of Venetian rule is that it is mainly important as a waystation to and from Crete and the Ionian Sea beyond. Ships coming down the Adriatic or over from Sicily would shelter there while the wind changes. Anyone interested in the products of the Peloponnese would have made for Kalamata, Corinth, or the ports of Sparta instead. Coastal Messenia, although productive in its own right, had far too small a hinterland to be the first resort of a trading venture. So that's my picture of LBA Pylos. It's taking a share of the western trade, or perhaps from what is coming down from Germany. All other things being equal, I'm going to say that it is tapping into the metal trade.
So the court at Pylos works by putting out, and one of the things that it puts out is scrap bronze. I assume that it's got a lot of that, because it is a sight of an intensive wood-working industry, thanks to all of those chariots. So the bronze is going out. What's happening to it? One of the main supports of the "Dark Ages" model is the lack of identified burials after about 1200BC. A really naive take on that would be that the region was depopulated. Only slightly less naive is the notion that the lack of identifiable burials reflects a lack of grave goods, thus an impoverished society. Put together and you get the super-naive picture of an impoverished area supporting logistically massive human movements to other parts of the world.
Meanwhile, the more modern understanding of elaborate (hence detectable) burials is that they actually reflect intense social status struggle. The rise of the communal graveyard in late Archaic Greece (often cited as evidence of population increasing after an early post-LBA crash, for which see here to the contrary) is a political event in which the community reins in elite competition in burial practice. No identifiable burials means very little social stress: I'm going to say, an era of prosperity.
Put it together, and it might be as simple as those putting-out smiths not returning the scrap. The palace might need it for bronze spearheads and spokeshaves, but your neighbours need it for pruning hooks and axes. This, in fact, is not news. Expensive bronze was being used in large quantities for agricultural tools in precisely this era. We've got a lot of them. But the implications are not stressed enough, IMHO. They are making possible a new and much more productive economy. All the labour needed to comb the sheep at Pylos apparently comes from people imperfectly integrated into its economic system. What happens when that labour doesn't need Pylos at all? What happens when it has, in the short term, enough tin, and, in the long term, iron instead?
Maybe they all go down and burn down the palace of the hated tyrant. On the other hand, maybe they just don't rebuild it on the same scale after it gets burned down by local enemies or destroyed in an earthquake. Maybe people are just plain finding that they need the palace less, that the olives on the benches and the sheep on the heights are calling them away into a more private and inward-looking life, one that has less to do with princes, and more to do with a table in a simple, wooden hut, platter set with olives and cheese and crusty bread.
Nestor, I think, was wise enough to have approved.
Not that it matters. The Pylean state could have ruled all of Messenia and had rivals to the south, or, for that matter, anywhere else. We just need to assume that those rivals were thoroughly dominated at the exact moment that the Pylean archive was laid down, which appears to have been in a single year preceding a massive fire, after which the Palace of Nestor was never reconstructed in its earlier form. All I'm going to say is that this ought to focus our attention back on the port of Nestor. It's important.
*No real source? Try Wikipedia.
**Who apparently isn't much for this new-fangled Internet thing. Too bad. It would be a richer place for his presence. And, yes, I'm totally trolling for a self-search hit for Richard Helmstadter here.
***What I learned on the Internet today: "Anne" L. H. Jeffery was a scholar and wartime intelligence effort veteran. The picture above appears to be an RAF aerial surveillance shot, lifted from her wartime work and used as part of the research, or to illustrate, her magnum opus. Her published work seems to have been more interested in sources than synthesis, (although here she is on about the latter), and her friends launched a project to digitise her notes and photographs that doesn't seem to have gone very far. Fragments of notes about fragments of archaic inscriptions, tantalising us with a vision of a synthesis too arduous to be achieved in one human lifetime. It's all quite depressing, really.
****(The Wikipedia article links to this, but I got caught up reading an attempt to reconstruct the "human geography" of the area from archival sources, including Venetian records hidden in the War Archives of the Austrian State Archives. Before I recovered from being all nostalgic for doctoral research days, I'd reached my preview limit. Looks like another library day.)
*****I'm doing this right, aren't I? This is what the cool kids say when they want to change their "relationship status" on the social media, and they can't quite manage it? Never mind, private message on a public forum again.