AIA-1F: The Mycenaean Koine in Context: Disentangling Material Uniformities in the Aegean Late Bronze Age (Colloquium)

  In-Person   AIA Session   Colloquium


Dimitri Nakassis, University of Colorado Boulder; and Salvatore Vitale, University of Pisa


Carl Knappett, University of Toronto; and Sarah Murray, University of Toronto

Overview Statement

The Palatial phase of Mycenaean civilization, circa 1400–1180 B.C.E., is generally considered a period of uniformity in material culture across the Aegean. This homogeneity, often referred to as the Mycenaean koine, has played a significant role in the scholarly debate about the cultural, economic, and sociopolitical trajectories of the Late Bronze Age (LBA) Aegean, yet it remains poorly defined theoretically and empirically. To fill this important gap, this colloquium critically assesses the evidence for the so-called Mycenaean koine and discusses the implications of Aegean LBA cultural uniformity.

This issue is especially pressing for two reasons. Whereas the koine was understood by Aegean prehistorians in the 1980s and 1990s as the product of competitive display and emulation among a network of peer polities, recently a small but outspoken group of scholars (Jorrit Kelder, and Birgitta Eder and Reinhard Jung) have argued that the Mycenaean koine is so striking that it demands the existence of political unity across the Aegean: a single large state or empire centered on Mycenae. Yet, as mentioned above, the koine itself has never been clearly defined in theoretical terms, nor have there been systematic attempts to define empirically how the koine manifests itself in various media. A coherent approach to rescue the epistemological significance of cultural koinai in archaeology has been proposed by Michael Dietler, according to whom the analysis of the objects reflecting such koinai must consider diachronic shifts in three aspects: spatial and quantitative distributions, formal and functional characterizations, and consumption patterns.

The papers in this colloquium examine to what an extent and how various media participate in a Mycenaean koine and explain the regularities that we observe in the archaeological record. The papers investigate writing (Linear B texts); seals and sealing practices (glyptic); cooking and tableware ceramics; monumental architecture; frescoes; and ritual practices, both religious and mortuary. These contributions demonstrate that, underneath the surface, significant regional and temporal differences existed across the Aegean. Two discussants, one expert on Minoan Crete and another on the Early Iron Age, reflect on the definition and articulation of archaeological koinai in Greek pre- and protohistory. This colloquium explores the varied contexts of the material manifestations of cultural uniformity and reveals that broad similarities in the material vocabularies served diverse and often contrasting agendas of independent Mycenaean communities.