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.

 

Categories: Weekly posts

10 responses so far ↓

  • Liam Babcock Casey // May 8, 2014 at 10:50 am |

    Todd,

    This is a really interesting post, particularly the part about the sacrifices being moved. We hear a lot about how sacrifices functioned religiously- about all the rules and regulations, but not so much about the practical aspect of them. The suggestion that there were established aspects to sacrifice that dealt with the real issues of removing those things which were given to the gods (but obviously not taken by them), can give interesting insight into how a religion and society functioned outside of rhetoric.

    Liam

  • Aubree Colleen Moore // May 2, 2014 at 1:38 am |

    Todd, this post was very interesting and I appreciate your humor at the beginning. I was intrigued by both the placement of the bones in the same room as the Linear B tablets, as well as the records of 22 chairs and 11 tables that corresponded with the amount of kylike cups found. The fact that such efforts were made to keep a lasting record of this feast highlights the importance of this event and the cultural practice of feasting in general at this time. I am astounded by the accuracy of these records and this post has once again increased my enthusiasm towards learning about ancient Greek culture.

  • Alexandra Evelyn DeFrancesco // May 2, 2014 at 12:05 am |

    Todd, this was an incredibly interesting and insightful post. I particularly liked the creative theories you mentioned on why the elite individuals dined so lavishly in this particular room. I find it amazing that we can learn so much about a culture from items as simple as animal bones; I have learned to analyze and question everything as an archaeologist and have grown to understand that everything found has significant value.

  • Michael Giannazzo // April 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm |

    I found your conclusions really fascinating, including your “conspiracy theory”. The idea that the sacrificial remains would be catalogued officially is very interesting and odd. It just goes to show how important feasting was to the administrative elements of palatial life, and not just as a cultural phenomenon. The entire idea of a “private” feast also reinforces the role of feasting in class relations.

  • Angela Cao // April 29, 2014 at 10:12 pm |

    I think you did a great job taking a look at the material remains at this site that, at first glance, may seem conflicting – especially the presence of the burned animal bones and Linear B tablets. What was particularly interesting to me is the mention that 11 cattle would have been far too much for 22 men to consume and that there must have been what you called ‘a hierarchy of feasting’ here – this idea of hierarchy and material representations thereof is something I’ve enjoyed exploring all semester. Great post!

  • Gabrielle Celine Spencer Hick // April 29, 2014 at 9:51 pm |

    Todd: this post was well-researched and interesting to read. I liked your concluding point about how finds like this inspire archaeologists, because I believe class has very much encouraged me as to the importance of past cultures, and thus justifies the importance of continued archaeological research. It is impossible to ignore the influence of the past on the present, and your post is a nod to our continued interest in ancient cultures. My one complaint is to your professed interest in “intentionally losing” all the class competitions – I would hope the Ancient Greeks would inspire a competitive spirit in you.

  • Ashley Urrutia // April 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm |

    Todd, great post! I enjoyed the scenarios you envisioned it was a nice way to incorporate the different ideas we have learned throughout the year. It definitely encouraged me to become more creative when thinking about what could have happened in the past, since we are missing huge gaps of history and events. It was a nice way to end the blog posts!

  • Guo Wang // April 28, 2014 at 2:18 am |

    The humor in this post was definitely much appreciated, Todd. I think you’re the first one I’ve noticed to use it so appropriately, so thanks for brightening up my night! About the post, I was impressed by how well you tied together the apparently-conflicting finds of burnt leg joints and Linear B tablets. I don’t think I would ever have made the connection between the two seemingly unrelated activities. Wonderfully enjoyable post!

  • Emile // April 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm |

    Todd, great post, friend! I must say that before reading your final paragraph, my mind was already racing with ideas of why these 22 elites were gathered. It doesn’t strike me as surprising that the dining here was most likely hierarchical, as it seems that a lot of things in society at this time were. Still, the idea of that much food ready to consume is astounding! A feast indeed! Great final post, Todd. I’m going to miss this class too!

  • Thomas Pettengill // April 24, 2014 at 8:16 pm |

    Todd,

    Wow, this post was really quite intriguing! I’ve never seen something so archeologically complex and unique. This really was fascinating to read.

    I am interested in the animal remains found, particularly. Some of the bones found belonged to a red deer. This reminds me of how while hunting, ancient Greeks would usually hunt for deer – and I wonder if there is any connection between that and the remains found here. Perhaps deer had a specific symbolic nature for Greeks? Or maybe venison was a food representative of something else? Or maybe it just tasted really good… regardless, this was a fantastic final blog post – I really enjoyed it!

    See you all soon!
    Thomas

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