The individual and the Mycenaean state : agency and prosopography in the Linear B texts from Pylos




Nakassis, Dimitri, 1975-

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation examines the relationship between the individual and the state in the Mycenaean palatial period of Late Bronze Age Greece (ca. 1500-1200 BC). The standard view of the Mycenaean state is one of a static, impersonal bureaucracy with rigid structures of authority. The insights of agency theory, in contrast, suggest that the state is better described as a network of social and economic relationships created and maintained through the actions of individuals. A detailed prosopographical study of ca. 800 individuals named in the Linear B tablets from the “Palace of Nestor” at Pylos demonstrates that many named individuals in this Mycenaean state were active in multiple administrative and economic spheres, a situation not easily explained by bureaucratic models. A study of the use of the king’s personal name suggests that the distinction between his official and personal personae was exploited to present the king’s obligatory contributions to a feast as an expression of personal generosity. My systematic prosopographical analysis demonstrates that many of the ca. 250 bronzesmiths engaged in work for the state were also landowners, military officers and shepherds. While past scholarship interpreted the smiths as low-status dependent laborers, data from Linear B and archaeology suggest that a significant majority were elites. Similarly, I argue that individuals traditionally identified as lowly herders in the field are better interpreted as shepherding supervisors with considerable private holdings of animals. Thus, this study of named individuals and their activities provides insights into Mycenaean political economy, craft production, the constitution of the state, and how it interacted with society as a whole. These elites allowed the palace to manage extensive but decentralized economic activities in an administratively simple arrangement, by taking on specific responsibilities for the state. Conversely, engagement in the palatial economy gave elites access to enormous resources of value and provided them with opportunities for enrichment. These elite individuals, then, were heavily invested in, and constituted an important part of, the state apparatus. In sum, rather than being a monolithic entity, the Mycenaean state is better seen as both the medium and outcome of the actions of individuals.