Friday 11 April 2008

Peter Warren
University of Bristol

'Red' marble in the Aegean Bronze Age
In BSA 56 (1961) Helen Waterhouse and Richard Hope Simpson proposed that several Minoan stone vessels exhibited in Herakleion Museum were made of the famous red marble from the Mani, rosso antico. In BSA 63 (1968) Ellis, Higgins and Hope Simpson identified the decorative frieze of the entablature of the Treasury of Atreus as of the same material. In Minoan Stone Vases in 1969 a substantial number of vessels were published as rosso antico or possibly rosso antico; this identification has remained accepted in the literature, though Greek colleagues have sometimes referred to the material as porphyrites (πορφυρίτης). Since 1969 several developments suggest a fresh examination of the attribution is merited, including an excellent series of publications by Moschou, Raftopoulou and Hatzitheodhorou and by Lazzarini and his Italian colleagues.
The Minoan Neopalatial vessels are mainly a magnificent series of lamps and rhyta from Knossos, Zakros and other Cretan sites, as well as other objects such as the well known 29kg octopus weight from Knossos. Three pieces come from LC I/LM I A Akrotiri and a few from other island and Mainland sites.
To discuss sources our material may first be set within the wider economic, social and political context of raw material acquisition in Neopalatial Crete. For the sources themselves three claimed locations are critically examined first. Then the two major locations are presented in some detail, ancient Iasos and the Iasian chora on the west coast of Turkey and the Mani peninsula. The former is the source of the marble known as marmor iassense or marmor carium, and also by modern Italian names, the latter is rosso antico. Evidence for the Late Bronze 1 use of at least one variety of Iasian marble is presented. Then the strength of the case for the Maniote sources as having been used for many of the Minoan artefacts is discussed, with modifications to previous assumptions, my own included, about specific Maniote locations. The Minoan peak sanctuary at Haghios Georgios sto vouno on Kythera also plays an important role in the argument.
We note that petrographic and geochemical analyses by Lazzarini and his colleagues have had difficulty distinguishing between the proposed sources, but good progress has been made. At the same time there remains good reason for macroscopic observation – we need to see the wood as well as the trees. We conclude by returning to the central question of agency, why the rulers or elites of Neopalatial Crete, Thera and later Mycenae pursued policies of such diverse raw material acquisition. In the case of Crete the answer may have little to do with political rivalry or social competition but lie much more in the abiding importance of religion and ritual. At Mycenae explanation may indeed be more political and secular.


Next Seminar

Friday 12 May 18.30

M. Marthari
Raos on Thera...