ARCH 0420: Archaeologies of the Greek Past

Feasting at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos by Todd Stewart

April 24, 2014 · 10 Comments

Discussing the  “Animal Sacrifice, Archives, and Feasting at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos”  Article by S.R. Stocker and J.L. Davis

Hey guys! Unfortunately, my plan of intentionally losing all the class competitions to get out of writing this blog have apparently been to no avail. However, this does mean that we all get ONE MORE BLOG to soak up before the semester ends! Gosh I’m going to miss this class.

I’ll be writing about an article by S.R. Stocker and J.L. Davis on animal sacrifices, archives, and feasting at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos. The past few classes we have been covering the diacritical role of feasting in the Mycenaean palatial society, and this article raises some very intriguing points on the subject and can help us better understand the institution of feasting.

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The article deals primarily with the contents of a single room in the palace of Nestor of the Archives complex (known as room 7) of the palace and the implications of these finds. Burned animal bones (primarily mandibles and leg joints of 5-11 cattle, and parts of a single red deer), one ceramic pithos, Linear B tablets, 20-22 miniature kylike cups, a sword and a spearhead make up the contents of the room. The burned animal bones are certainly the remnants of ritual sacrifice that took place in the LHIIIB period, shortly before the final destruction of the palace. The spearhead and sword were most likely used in the ritualistic slaughtering of the animals, and the miniature kylike cups, too small to hold very much liquid, were very likely used to hold a symbolic toast during the ceremony. Particularly interesting is the placement of these bones in this specific room, which served as the office of an archivist of sorts as indicated by the presence of many Linear B tablets. The question then, was what were these remains of ritual animal sacrifice doing in an administrative office?

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            More than 200 Linear B tablets were in the room at the time of the palace’s destruction. Some of these tablets tell us of offerings that will be made to Poseidon by the King of Pylos and its military commander, and others suggest that paired dining was a component of feasting at the palace at Nestor. It was suggested that these tablets represent an “audit of the palace’s equipment for banqueting” and in fact these tablets tallied a total of 22 chairs and 11 tables – a remarkable number in that 22 is the same amount of kylike cups found. Additionally, a frescoe depicting two people dining across from one another at a table was found in the Throne Room of Nestor’s palace. The number of kylike cups very likely corresponds directly to the number of seated guests present at the feasting ceremony. Perhaps these diners were comprised of high-ranking palace officials, or affluent representatives from provinces in the kingdom of Pylos; these diners were certainly representative of the elite of society. The 11 cattle slaughtered for this feast would have been an enormous amount of meat to be consumed, too much for only 22 diners. Therefore, it can be surmised that a hierarchy of feasting existed at Pylos, with seated individual elites dining privately in ceremony and a much larger mass group of lesser-privileged men. The material evidence of Room 7 leads us to believe that the remnants of sacrifice (the sword, spear, animal bones, kylikes cups) were moved to that room to be catalogued, perhaps as proof the sacrifice took place, rather than the actual ceremony having taken place in room 7.

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While reading this article I was enthralled by the idea of the private, seated dining the 22 elite individuals experienced. What were these men gathered here to discuss under such ceremony and pomp? Were these men foreign ambassadors, seeking to strike alliances with Pylos? More ominously, perhaps some of these 22 men had something to do with the destruction of the Palace of Nestor itself. Were subterfuge, treason and treachery afoot during this ceremonious feast? The imagination abounds with scenarios. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones. Regardless, the material evidence found at the palace at Nestor helps provide remarkable insight into the nature of feasting and sacrifice in the Mycenaean world. The fact that we can tie depictions of feasting, to archived primary records of the ceremony, to the very material culture that was used during the ceremony is momentous. It is this momentous find, and others like it, that fuels the passions of archaeologists the world over.

 

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