The Nature of the Mycenaean Wanax: Non-Indo-European Origins and Priestly Functions

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Palaima, Thomas G.

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Université de Liège, Histoire de l' art et archéologie de la Grèce antique; University of Texas at Austin, Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory


The wanax is the central figure of authority in Mycenaean society. This much is clear from studies of the references to wanax in the Linear B tablets, interpretation of the history of the use of the term wanax in Homer and later Greek, and reconstruction of the development of the institution of kingship from the end of the Bronze Age through the Archaic to Hellenistic period. Scholars want to know the same things about the Mycenaean wanax that we do about power figures -- "big men", chieftains, shamans, kings -- in any society: how and when did the wanax originate? How were the institution and authority of the wanax legitimized and maintained? What cultural needs did the wanax satisfy and what powers and responsibilities did he have in different spheres of daily life: religious, political, economic, military, and social? What led to the disappearance of the institution of the wanax in post-palatial Greek culture? Each of these questions is major and multi-faceted. Here Palaima discusses them and problems connected with them in two parts. In the first part he rejects the Indo-European model of a warrior-king in favor of a priest-king more along the lines of Hittite models. In the second part he pursues several speculative arguments related to the paraphernalia of Mycenaean kingship.



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