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  • Individuals and Society in Mycenaean Pylos by Dimitri Nakassis
  • Natalie Abell
Individuals and Society in Mycenaean Pylos. By Dimitri Nakassis. Leiden: Brill, 2013. Pp. vii + 448. Hardback, $171.00. ISBN 9789004244511.

In Individuals and Society in Mycenaean Pylos, Nakassis undertakes a detailed study of personal names attested in the Linear B archives at the Late Bronze Age palace of Pylos. His major conclusions—that many named persons in the tablets were probably regional elites who fulfilled multiple roles for the palaces and that they operated both under and outside the direct oversight of the palace—upend heuristic models that have relied on separating the Mycenaean palace from Mycenaean society at large. In doing so, the author offers a new perspective on the structuring of economic and social relationships in Bronze Age Pylos.

The main discussion of this book is organized in five chapters, followed by a lengthy appendix (pp. 187–414). The text contains minimal specialized jargon, and that which exists is plainly defined. The book is clearly written, and, for the most part, should be accessible to readers who are not Linear B specialists.

Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the project. It includes an up-to-date overview of the institutional framework that has long been a main topic of interest in Linear B studies, along with a summary of recent critiques. Building on these analyses, the author advocates moving beyond studies that define bureaucratic offices in order to instead examine the significance of individuals and non-palatial (or para-palatial) agency in shaping Mycenaean economy and society (pp. 5–19). Nakassis points out that the nature of the Pylian records, as palatial inventory and accounting lists that incorporate names of many individual people who interacted with the palace over the course of a single year, “can … provide one of the most detailed synchronic discussions of the practices of political authority anywhere in the world” (p. 20).

Chapter 2 is a detailed discussion of the methodology by which Nakassis is able to convincingly demonstrate that, in many cases, when one name appears in multiple Linear B texts at Pylos, that name probably represents a single individual rather than different people who share the same name. His approach stands in contrast to previous, more conservative studies, which assumed that identical names typically referred to different homonymous individuals, especially in cases where names were associated with different toponyms. Nakassis argues (pp. 40–48) that a significant factor underlying this conservatism has been the assumption that most individuals named in association with, for example, herding or smithing practices have been assumed to be low-status and, thus, unlikely to appear frequently or in multiple locations in the corpus of texts.

In large part, Nakassis’ method rests in the particularities of the Pylian texts (pp. 30–36). There are over 1000 tablets from Pylos, yet they are written by relatively few (only 32) scribes. They contain more signs and are generally lengthier than texts from other Mycenaean locations, and most were found in a distinctively administrative setting, the Archives Complex of the palace. Finally, unlike the other palaces, the vast majority of texts from Pylos were probably composed within a circumscribed time period (at most, a year) before being accidentally preserved in the conflagration that destroyed Pylos around 1200 BC. Other features of Mycenaean texts are also noted: the same name does not often appear in situations where it is certain the name must refer to different [End Page 116] homonymous individuals, and patronymics are rare and do not seem to have been needed by scribes to distinguish named individuals from one another (pp. 36–39).

Nakassis’ prosopographical identifications are categorized on a spectrum, as certain, probable, possible, or tenuous (pp. 49–50). His discussion of the prosopographical identification for each personal name attested in the Pylian texts and additional information is detailed in the appendix. In chapter 2, he uses four examples to illustrate his methodology (pp. 50–67), which relies on close lexical and contextual analysis of names in association with other names, patronymics, toponyms, and additional identifying information at different scales within and between texts. The more clear points of contact between names in different documents, the...


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