"The Mycenaeans in History".
E. Samuel. PrenticeHall, Inc.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J, 1966.
Mycenaeans in History"
The Mycenaeans in History.
Samuel. PrenticeHall, 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' archaeological methods.
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
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 millennium B.C.
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.
CARROLL QUIGLEY Professor of History Georgetown University
Washington, D. C.
Scans of originals