Using concept maps to discuss Mycenaean collapse

by Grace Cinderella

Our in-class workshop on Friday, February 7th 2014 focused on the explanations of the Mycenaean collapse. After reading literature pertaining to theories of Mycenaean collapse, each group made concept maps to visualize the relationships among the factors that they deemed the most important.

Historically, when we say “Mycenaen collapse,” we refer to the destruction of several of the more populated palaces in the region  circa 1200 BCE. The aftermath of this included severely reduced literacy (and the loss of Linear B, the written language of Mycenaean administration), interrupted trade routes, a much smaller population, and an end (or severe weakening of) the palatial system. “Mycenaean society” itself did not perish at this time, however. A much less populated Mycenae continued to subsist, if not thrive, until the (likely accidental) Granary fire of around 1100 BCE.

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(click on the map to see a larger image)

My group’s concept map divided the factors we saw troubling for the Mycenaean civilization into three main categories: internal/societal struggles, external conflict, and the ancient Greek environment. In the “internal” category, we included an idea that kept recurring in the readings. This was the argument that the Mycenaean society had become overly complex and the political system was thus too large, inefficient and bureaucracy-heavy. Conant’s “Citadel to City-State, the Transformation of Greece” in particular stressed the argument that the palatial system had started as merely a means for farmers to store their surpluses. As the populations, territories, and bureaucracy of the government expanded, the palatial system did not adapt sufficiently. The already stressed administration was unable to deal with issues it may have otherwise been able to solve (or at least endure). This argument appealed to our group as a holistic approach to the collapse. Our general idea was that this burdensome bureaucracy was the root of the problem; the other struggles that arose (whatever they might have been) were each exacerbated or caused by the failing administrative system.

Another point that we found critical to the collapse was the idea of ecocide. This theory states that as civilizations grow and become more complex they cause environmental degradation, which in turn can bring an entire civilization to its end. The expansion and large populations of the Mycenaean states would have meant increasing demands from the agricultural industry (which was the base of the palatial system’s power, as they had no currency). The resulting erosion of top soil, salinization of groundwater, and soil fatigue could have easily caused famine and social unrest.

Finally, a key idea is that the Mycenaean collapse was not unique. Several surrounding civilizations exhibited signs of struggle at this time. This led some scholars to suggest that  a series of natural disasters (e.g..”Earthquake Storm”), felt throughout the area, could have contributed to the Mycenaean collapse. Earthquakes are common in this area so this seems likely. One could argue that since they are common, these civilizations ought to have been able to deal with them. However, if one follows the overtaxed political system theory, it seems likely that such a crisis could have been the end of an already struggling system.

All three groups read the same papers on the collapse, yet we had slightly different takes on what actually may have caused it. Group 1 seemed to focus on the “external factors” like wars and raids that would have weakened the Mycenaeans. Our perception of the Mycenaeans from surviving works of art and classical pieces is that they were often often at war, or at least had several types of daggers and ornamentations associated with fighting. Group 2 favored the concept of ecocide of growingly complex societies. One interesting aspect of the discussion is that we all seemed to agree on what could have possibly happened but there was some debate about the relevance of each issue. Different groups had different opinions on what may have been the root of the Mycenaean issue.

I personally had never used a website to make a concept map before this assignment. One aspect that I appreciated is that (with wisemapping.com) I was able to make my group members (Gabrielle, Guo, Abigail, and Logan) contributors to the map. This way they were able to view it throughout the process and make changes to it. I think this facilitated our collaborated effort, especially since we at no point met in person to work on this is the same room. Our discussion was fully online. I also liked that I was able to draw relationship arrows between points in different categories to show when we thought the ideas were closely related.