Thursday, September 9, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Françoise Rougemont, Contrôle économique et administration à l'époque des palais mycéniens (fin du IIe millénaire av. J.-C.). Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome 332. Athènes: Ecole française d'Athènes, 2009. Pp. 696. ISBN 9782869582156. €90.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto

[The table of contents appears at the end of the review.]

Although it has been over fifty years since the decipherment of Linear B and the consequent publication of the "bible" of Mycenaean studies, Documents in Mycenaean Greek,1 there has been no comprehensive treatment of the agents of the economic and administrative control exercised by Mycenaean palaces. Rougemont's book fills this important lacuna in the scholarly literature. She seeks nothing less than to understand who exercised practical control over economic affairs on behalf of the palace, by what means they did so, and what their relationship was to the central authority. Needless to say, this subject is absolutely crucial to the study of the political, economic and social systems of Mycenaean Greece; this volume therefore constitutes an important contribution to our understanding of the Aegean Bronze Age.

Rougemont's subject matter is extensive, and this volume runs to nearly 530 pages of text, with another 70 of tables. This short review can hardly do justice to the full range of topics examined, and will therefore focus on the most important issues. Readers will find the book easy to navigate thanks to its neat organization and three indices (verborum Mycenaean and Greek, and locorum). The volume is divided into thirteen chapters comprising two main parts, as well as an introduction and a conclusion. In the book's first part, Rougemont surveys various Mycenaean areas of activity attested in the Linear B tablets and where applicable, the agents involved in the palace's control over them. The first eight chapters cover scribal administration, political geography, taxation, labor, land, sanctuaries, exchange, and the titled officialdom of Mycenaean society. These provide a background for the more substantial and original contribution in the second part: a detailed examination of the economic role of the individuals known in Mycenaean studies as "collectors."

Although the collectors are an important and controversial subject of study among Linear B scholars, they are not usually discussed in the general literature, so some explanation is in order. Collectors are important agents of economic control in the textile industry and perhaps in other economic areas as well. The title is a modern one; in the extant documentation, these individuals are identified by personal name. They were first identified by Ventris and Chadwick on the basis of the animal husbandry texts at Pylos.2 These documents routinely record the location of a herd, the name of its herder, its composition and its size. About one third of the time, scribes add a second personal name (the collector's) in the genitive after the name of the herder, sometimes followed by the term a-ko-ra, generally interpreted as "collection" (ἀγορά, from ἀγείρω).3 Collectors can also be identified in all stages in the textile industry at Knossos, and in textile production at Thebes, using similar formulaic criteria. Recent work has sought to expand the criteria for defining these collectors, finding them in other economic areas, such as landholding, metallurgy, perfumed olive oil, and regional exchange.4 Yet despite their manifest importance, there is little consensus about how to identify collectors, nor what their precise economic role(s) and function(s) were. Some consider them to be owners of the flocks they are recorded with, others administrative intermediaries working for the palace. It has been suggested that they were closely associated with the ruling family, and conversely that they were regional elites.

Rougemont's contribution to the study of the collectors is to systematically and critically examine the criteria whereby they have been identified (Chapter 9), their relationship to the palace and their social position (Chapter 10), and their function in the textile industry (Chapter 11) and in other economic fields (Chapter 12). A systematic prosopography of all collectors (Chapter 13), certain and uncertain, is a useful reference for scholars who want to examine the primary evidence firsthand. She argues that collectors should only be identified according to strict criteria based on administrative formulae, which restricts them to animal husbandry and textile manufacture. The extent of their involvement in this area was variable, as was the nature and extent of their activities elsewhere in the extant documentation, suggesting that they did not form a homogeneous group.

The precise function of the collectors remains unclear, but the fact that they appear as supplemental agents in the palatial documents implies that they represent an extra layer of administrative control. Rougemont suggests that their frequent connection to flocks with large deficits of sheep in the Knossos tablets is an important clue to their administrative role, but it is uncertain how to interpret this correlation. Were flocks associated with collectors more prone to run deficits, or were collectors assigned to supervise shepherds who were not able or willing to fulfill their responsibilities to the palace (533)? The fact that flocks of collectors are associated with deficits may also cast doubt on the argument that the collectors were beneficiaries who were "assigned part of the productive capacity of the kingdoms for their own benefit (that share, however, still being managed on their behalf by the central authorities)," although this depends on how the deficits are interpreted in the first place (372).5

In large part, Rougemont's conclusions about the role of the collectors differ from those of other scholars because she insists on not only strict criteria in defining them, but also differentiating between instances where a given individual appears as a collector and where he does not. That is, she maintains that activities undertaken by persons identified as collectors need not all relate to their role as collector. This seems right, particularly given the heterogeneity of their activities at both Pylos and Knossos, and the fact that at least one "collector" at Pylos (a-pi-me-de, Ἀμφιμήδης) holds an office (e-qe-ta, cf. ἑπέτας) that almost certainly had distinct rights and responsibilities of its own. When we consider that no Mycenaean word for collector exists, the very validity of the term may be called into question, except as a modern shorthand for designating individuals that appear in specific administrative formulae (although Rougemont does not take this more radical position). Nevertheless, Rougemont maintains that if we are to use the term, it must have some analytical purchase, and she therefore rejects many collectors defined on the basis of looser criteria, on the grounds that the formulae used to define collectors in animal husbandry and textile production do not apply. In fact, these agents do not seem to play roles analogous to the collectors'. Instead, they perform a variety of functions, as producers and administrative intermediaries.

Rougemont has succeeded in bringing much analytical clarity to the thorny topic of the collectors, and to the study of other administrative agents attested in the Linear B texts, but in my view she is much less successful in her attempt to provide a historical synthesis aimed at a non-specialist audience (534). First, although the book aims at comprehensive analysis of the documentary evidence, the data from Knossos are handled in more detail and with more confidence. Evidence from Pylos is sometimes passed over quickly, and important details and bibliography can be neglected as a result. For instance, the analysis of the office of da-mo-ko-ro (225-8) fails to mention, and indeed conflicts with, the persuasive argument made by Carlier that this officer was a provincial governor in the Pylian state.6 Second, her work seems less concerned with the general structure of economic and administrative control than with addressing numerous problems that specifically concern Linear B specialists. Individual chapters examine select aspects of palatial control, largely following (i.e., summarizing and reevaluating) and building upon past studies, but these discrete blocks do not form a coherent picture.

Symptomatic of the focus on the particularities of the textual data is the extremely limited use of archaeological evidence. More striking still is the lack of any discussion of, or even reference to, any discussions of Mycenaean economy from an archaeological perspective, most notably the seminal research of Paul Halstead.7 This distressing omission constitutes my final reservation about this volume as an historical synthesis; surely it is not possible to provide a balanced discussion of economic control in the Late Bronze Age without some discussion of economic models derived from the archaeological data. The archaeological evidence, moreover, provides the context that Mycenologists desperately need to draw conclusions about the complex social practices reflected in the patchy and lacunose textual evidence.

In sum, this volume represents an important contribution to the discussion about the collectors and palatial control, and will be a useful reference work for specialists and non-specialists alike. Certainly not everyone will agree with Rougemont's strict criteria for defining collectors or with all of her interpretations of particular texts and formulae, but the detail, thought and clarity of her discussion ensure an important place for this work in the study of the Aegean Bronze Age.

Table of Contents:

Part One: Administration et économie à l'époque des palais mycéniens
Chapter 1: Les scribes et la structure des archives
Chapter 2: Le géographie mycénienne et les cadres administratifs du contrôle économique
Chapter 3: L'organisation fiscal
Chapter 4: Le contrôle de la main-d'oeuvre
Chapter 5: Le contrôle des terres
Chapter 6: Le contrôle exercé sur les sanctuaries
Chapter 7: Le contrôle des échanges
Chapter 8: Les dignitaires mentionnés par leur titre
Part Two: Les "collecteurs"
Chapter 9: Critères d'identification et caractéristques des "collecteurs"
Chapter 10: Le rôle des "collecteurs" dans les texts en linéaire B: problems théoriques
Chapter 11: Les "collecteurs" dans l'élevage et l'industrie textile
Chapter 12: Des "collecteurs" dans d'autres secteurs d'activité économique
Chapter 13: Essai de classement et elements de prosopographie des "collecteurs"
Index of Mycenaean words
Index of Greek words
List of figures
List of tables
List of plates


1.   M. Ventris and J. Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek (Cambridge 1956), second edition 1973.
2.   Ventris and Chadwick, op. cit., pp. 200-203.
3.   Support for this interpretation is provided by the fact that one of the four collectors at Pylos appears as the subject of the verb a-ke-re, ἀγείρει on PY Cc 660.
4.   J. T. Killen, "Some Further Thoughts on 'Collectors'," in POLITEIA: Society and State in the Aegean Bronze Age. Aegaeum 12, ed. R. Laffineur and W.-D. Niemeier (Liège and Austin 1995), pp. 213-224.
5.   Killen, op. cit., p. 213. Rougemont rejects Halstead's attractive explanation that deficits are the result of the gradual return of animals to the palace, with shepherds returning yearlings from their private flocks late in the year for withheld palatial ewes and rams (369-71).
6.   P. Carlier, Le royauté en Grèce avant Alexandre (Strasbourg 1984), pp. 98-99.
7.   Halstead's work is cited only when it relates to technical aspects of animal husbandry. The most significant omissions are P. Halstead, "The Mycenaean Palatial Economy: Making the Most of the Gaps in the Evidence," PCPS 38 (1992), pp. 57-86; idem, "Agriculture in the Bronze Age. Towards a Model of Palatial Economy," in Agriculture in Ancient Greece, ed. B. Wells (Stockholm 1992), pp. 105-117. Also uncited are M. L. Galaty and W. A. Parkinson, eds., Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces: New Interpretations of an Old Idea (Los Angeles 1999); Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces II: Revised and Expanded Second Edition (Los Angeles 2007); B. L. Sjöberg, Asine and the Argolid in the Late Helladic III Period. A Socio-Economic Study. BAR International Series 1225 (Oxford 2004).

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