The ra-wa-ke-ta, ministerial authority and Mycenaean cultural identity

Nikoloudis, Stavroula
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The ra-wa-ke-ta is a key authority figure in Mycenaean society. The traditional interpretation of this official as the military commander of the state was based primarily on the etymology of his title (whose verbal element is often taken as ag ‘lead’) and on early readings of the Homeric l os as a military group. The ra-wa-ke-ta was therefore conveniently interpreted as the ‘military leader.’ However, the precise nature of the Mycenaean *ra-wo (*l wos) has always been problematic, and the contexts in which the ra-wa-ke-ta appears in the Linear B tablets suggest a wider role. This official is often mentioned in non-palatial contexts and with groups and individuals of relatively moderate to low status, who are occasionally designated by toponymics or other terms highlighting their ‘otherness.’ Such details offer insights into the cultural make-up of Mycenaean society and the construction of Mycenaean identity. Drawing on anthropological research related to the formation of group identities, it is proposed that the ra-wa-ke-ta served as the representative of a subordinate group, made up of locals and non-locals, identified as the *ra-wo. The textual, archaeological and ethnographic evidence examined in this study supports the view that the ra-wa-ke-ta could have served as a ‘liaison’ between the privileged (palatial élite and local landowners) and the less privileged ‘others’ in the community. The etymology of *ra-wo provides another clue: an Indo-European base root *leh2- is suggested by the Hittite lah (h )uwai-, lah (h )u- meaning both ‘to pour’ and ‘to flow.’ The numerous cross-cultural images, or metaphors, in which the notion of ‘flowing’ is used to describe outsiders or newcomers to a region (e.g., English ‘flood’ or ‘tide’ of immigrants) suggest that a similar original meaning, and not the specifically militaristic one, may lie at the heart of the Mycenaean *ra-wo. Still, the connection between military service and marginalized groups is well attested: warfare is commonly used by states to integrate their subject populations via a common struggle for defence which reinforces overall group unity (Brumfiel and Fox 1994). It is argued that military service was one of several mechanisms, agricultural labour being another, through which the ra-wa-ke-ta mediated the integration of ‘outsiders’ into Mycenaean society.