"The Mycenaens in History",
A review by Carroll Quigley in Xxxxxxx, xxxx 1966,
of a book.
The Mycenaens in History,
by Alan E. Samuel. Prentice Hall,
Inc., Englewood Cliffs. N.J., 1966.
"The Mycenaens in History"
Alan E. Samuel.
The Mycenaeans in History,
Prentice Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs. N.J., 1966. 158 pp., indexed.
$4.95 ($2.95 paper).
This volume is about the same length and
seems to be aimed at the same readers as some of the New Yorker
magazine's long reports on scholarly issues (such as Edmund Wilson On
the Dead Sea scrolls). The audience for such a work seems to be the
curious layman who has heard echoes of Linear B and possibly of the
controversy over Leonard R. Palmer's challenge to Sir Arthur Evans'
In the present volume the complexities and controversy, second only
to the Dead Sea scrolls, are ignored. Samuel makes little effort to
explain what all the fuss is about, but, instead, tries to write a
history of the Mycenaeans using only the local archaeological evidence.
He tells us that he is a historian, not an archaeologist, and that he is
writing a historical account, an intention clearly indicated in his
title. But what he has produced is rather a tenuous account of our
knowledge of the archaeology of Greece in the Mycenaean period.
Archaeological evidence does not speak for itself; it is simply one of
several kinds of evidence from which historians try to infer what
happened. Samuel seems quite unaware of this truism. He ignores all
other kinds of evidence and ignores all evidence, including
archaeological, from all other areas. When he makes inferences from the
archaeological evidence, he seems unaware that he is making inferences
or the bases (often non-archaeological) on which they rest and seems to
believe that the archaeological evidence provides its own
interpretation. This is most clear in what he mistakenly calls "Early
Greek Religion" (Chapter 5; see especially the methological comment on
p. 87). In many places where he does not explicitly draw the inferences
himself, he implies interpretations which are mistaken.
The chief of these incorrect inferences is that the Mycenaean
achievement was a consequence of their own inventiveness and initiative
and that they were leaders and innovators in all kinds of activities in
which they were nothing of the kind. This he implies, or occasionally
states, and he can make this persuasive to innocent laymen simply
because he withholds the evidence of the cultural context in which the
Mycenaeans were living in the late Bronze Age. He has almost nothing to
say about the Levant, Egypt, the Hittites, Troy, or even Minoan Crete.
Naturally, if these are ignored the Mycenaeans can be made to appear as
people who came down into the Balkans about 2000 B.C. and became high
cultural achievers, from their own efforts, by 1300. In fact, the name "Mycenaeans"
is applied to the Greek-speaking intruders only in the period after they
were thoroughly "Cretanized."
Historically the Aegean area was one of the meeting grounds of at
least three distinct cultural currents in the Bronze Age: the Asianic
Anatolian cultures who provided the basic cultural foundation; the West
Asian urban civilized contribution which came largely through Semite
intermediaries; and the Indo-European contribution. The Minoan culture
was an unique combination, largely self-created, of the first two. The
Mycenaean culture was a combination of all three, with much of the first
two coming through Minoan intermediaries. Samuel ignores all of this,
and I have a feeling that he is not fully aware of it. Cyrus Gordon has
shown that the whole eastern Mediterranean in the middle Bronze Age was
a cultural continuum in which West Semite influences were very
significant. It is not necessary to go all the way with Gordon or to
accept his theory that the language behind Linear A is a West Semite
language, but the Semite element in Aegean history, both in the
Mycenaean and the Classical period, is major and undeniable. It appears
most strikingly in weights, measures, seafaring, and commercial
activities, and only less prominently in religion. The Mycenaean palace
nexus and the accounting system which made Linear B necessary are
clearly Mesopotamian, including the rationing system based on sixty. All
this is ignored by Samuel. He calls the Treasury of Atreus "a perfect
dome" and a ‘'masterpiece of precision" (p. 52), when it, like all
tholos tombs, is not a true dome at all, but a very precarious corbel
construction (which is why most of them collapsed). He
implies that the tholos tomb and related stone work was of Mycenaean
origin, when it is clearly a local version of a wide-spread and much
older megalithic technique (the tholos tomb was present in southeast
Spain almost a thousand years earlier). Samuel speaks of the Mycenaeans
opening "Greek trade . . . far to the west" and of the Minoans bringing
"the Aegean world into contact with older and more powerful
civilizations of the East" (pp. 42-43), when the Aegean and Crete, like
Cyprus and Malta, were way stations for cultural and commercial contact
between the Levant and Spain going back to the first half of the third
Mycenaen food and female dress were largely Minoan, not
Indo-European. Mycenaean religion was West Asian in its major elements,
the chief deity being the Great Mother Goddess, while the chief male god
was her consort. Poseidon, who was an Eastern fertility deity, a Balkan
Tammuz. None of this appears in Samuel's book, and is excluded by his
historical methodology; it can be inferred, or even recognized, only on
the basis of non-archaeological evidence and evidence from areas outside
of Greece itself. Only on the basis of such evidence, including
linguistic, place-names, evidence from earlier and later (including
Classical) sources and evidence from non-Balkan areas is it possible to
establish the context of the Mycenaean accultural achievement. And only
within such a total context is it possible to establish Mycenaean
history from Mycenaean evidence (in which the archaeological evidence is
only one part). Without such an effort, any book on the subject will be
as mistaken as this one.
Samuel supplies an excellent brief bibliography and singles out for
special praise, Vermeule's Greece in the Bronze Age, but I find little
evidence in this present volume that books such as Palmer's Mycenaeans
and Minoans, Denys Page's History and the Homeric Iliad, Gurney on the
Hittites and Hutchinson on Crete, or even Vermeule, have been read and
digested. No works on the Semites are listed at all, and Gordon's
theories are ignored completely. The result is a volume which is
misleading both in the picture it offers and in its failure to warn the
lay reader that all pictures of the Mycenaeans are, at the present time,
more controversial and more puzzling than they have ever been.
Professor of History
Washington, D. C.
Scans of original review