Ancient inventories : a comparative study of temple inventories from Athens and Delos and the Linear B inventories from Pylos and Knossos

Carter, Alicia Louise
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In his recent study, Treasure Map: A Guide to the Delian inventories, Richard Hamilton attempted to contradict the long-held belief that ancient temple inventories served no practical purpose, and were simply a symbolic exercise performed by the temple staff and only intended to record the fact that the officials had fulfilled their duty. Using the Delian inventory inscriptions and some contemporary records from the Athenian Acropolis, he created an extensive collection of charts that trace the movement of specific items within the order of each individual inventory list over time, as well as the weights recorded for individual items year by year. All his conclusions were based on these charts. He examined each temple's inventories within the context of the three major chronological and political periods on Delos, the Amphictyonic period, the Independence period, and the Athenian period, and made observations about the apparent systems of organization and accounting within each before he compared the three. However, though it is clear that over time and on the aggregate level the Delian hieropoioi show an active attempt to manipulate their systems of recordkeeping and to experiment with more accurate systems of accounting, because there is a lack on consistency on the micro-level, that is, within each chronological period and individual sanctuary, Hamilton reluctantly concludes that not only are the inventories not systematic, they are in fact "useless and 'symbolic"'. Hamilton finds no fiscal function in the Delian material, and sees them as purely religious monuments aimed at no other obvious purpose except to publicly declare that an annual temple audit had been made. Concerning the nature of the audits, Hamilton concludes "that the lack of system must not have mattered; the auditors apparently were able to manage despite the chaos". Using Hamilton's data, sacred inventories of other sanctuaries from Classical and Hellenistic Athens, as well as Linear B inventories from Bronze Age Pylos and Knossos as comparative data, this paper will attempt a new interpretation of ancient inventories and their ultimate purpose or purposes. By using a broader corpus of texts, both chronologically and geographically, I intend to illustrate the great variety of ways that a temple official may approach the task of taking and publishing an inventory, as well as the number of different systems which were employed to achieve accountability or any other desired aim. Conclusions will be based both on close readings of individual texts, and on the comparison of the different sets of inventories on the aggregate level