Friday 28 January



Vassilis Petrakis,



Tracing the wanax: Inferring the role of the ruler in Late Minoan II-IIIB Crete from analysis of Linear B documents

The problems pertaining to the role of the ruler in Bronze Age Aegean societies emerge almost simultaneously with the rediscovery of these cultures in the late 19th century, sharply focused on the excavation of ‘palaces’ and ‘royal’ funerary assemblages. However, throughout the early period of Aegean prehistory when it was a new discipline, pertinent interpretative proposals were governed by schemes, usually pseudo-historical, inspired by epic, regional mythological traditions or the projection of parallels – not always adequately justified when too far removed in space and time – on Aegean data. Although these trends never ceased to be productive, the achievement of Ventris’s decipherment provided the entire discussion with a secure forum, since scholars were able to use primary sources for the first time, which were literarily eloquent, albeit elliptical, administrative documents in Linear B script. These confirmed the political use of the term Ϝάναξ /wanax/ as a ruling title by these societies.
As often happens in the history of research, such a profound increase in the available evidence caused a dramatic restructuring of our research objectives, as opposed to providing solutions to the initial questions. Among other reassessments it triggered, the recognition of Greek forms in the Linear B tablets from an ever growing number of sites had an unexpected effect on historical syntheses of the Late Bronze Age. The definition and the perceived relationship between the cultural complexes already known as ‘Minoan’ and ‘Mycenaean’, so hotly debated by Wace and Blegen on one hand and Evans on the other, entered a new phase of existence, a basic feature of which was their increasing polarisation, since only the latter was now indicative of ‘Greek’. In this new academic environment, the foremost site of the embryonic field of Mycenology is Anō Englianos, the Pylos of the tablets, if not the very site of the epic and the myths of the Neleids. A number of factors contributed to this, namely the very straightforward stratigraphy and history of the site, the very systematic documentation of its excavation, its particularly speedy publication, and, last but not least, the very great number of long and well-preserved epigraphic documents, which comprised a real temptation to scholars. Regardless of the importance of the site, this situation produced a particular Pylocentrism, especially apparent in the study of the political structure of the ‘palatial’ states.
This should be of great concern to us. Despite the remarkable similarities between Aegean literate administrations in the so-called ‘Third Palace Period’, which should receive their share of attention, it is nonetheless important to acknowledge that Cretan centres, such as Knossos and Khania (the Kydonia of the Knossian tablets), are characterised by the existence of a Neopalatial background which undoubtedly would have created a political environment quite different from that of the novel Helladic bureaucracies.
Therefore, an approach to the function of the institutionalised ruler, which would expose and respect the idiosyncrasies of the Late Minoan evidence, is still a research desideratum. This lecture will focus on information concerning the wanax in Late Minoan II-IIIB (the so-called ‘Mycenaean’) Crete, based on the available Linear B documentation. It will also address major theoretical, historiographical and methodological issues that frame the analysis and interpretation of documents produced on the island, both tablets and inscribed stirrup jars.


Next Seminar

Friday 12 May 18.30

M. Marthari
Raos on Thera...