Crete and Italy

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  • Crete and Italy in the Late Bronze Age III PeriodAuthor(s): Birgitta Plsson HallagerSource: American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 89, No. 2 (Apr., 1985), pp. 293-305Published by: Archaeological Institute of AmericaStable URL: 07/04/2009 10:01

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  • Crete and Italy in the Late Bronze Age III Period* BIRGITTA PALSSON HALLAGER

    (P1. 38)

    Abstract The connections between Crete and Italy in the Late

    Bronze Age III period have long been disregarded. This article attempts to correct the situation. Given the finds we have at present, Minoan metals appear to have played no major role in Italy, while Italian metal objects were desired by Cretans. Two major areas with "Myce- naean" pottery-Scoglio del Tonno and Sardinia-are given closer study, because they were probably once im- portant emporia and they have rich ceramic material. In both areas the presence of Minoan pottery can be demon- strated, and the products of the local Kydonian workshop of West Crete are identified on Sardinia. Taken with the Italian pottery found on Crete, it is clear that intercon- nections existed between the two areas. Crete offered luxury goods in exchange for needed raw materials, mainly European and Sardinian metals and some fin- ished products. The problem of connections between the Aegean

    and Italy in the Late Bronze Age has been part of the debate about European-Aegean interaction since its beginning, because Mycenaean sherds were found in southern Italy early in this century. This ceramic ma- terial was thought useful in establishing early Italian chronology and that of Europe in general, where My- cenaean pottery is not represented. The Aegean pres- ence in Italy has been assessed by Taylour, and more recently by Biancofiore and Vagnetti.1 Bronzes have also figured in the discussion, although they occur in smaller numbers and the types are limited in variety.

    Recent excavations in both Italy and Crete have brought to light much new, relevant material which needs to be assessed. The results of this work cast doubt on two basic assumptions: 1) Crete was in de- cline after the period of the palaces and so Myce- naeans controlled trade; 2) hence only Mycenaeans were involved with Italy.

    * This article was originally presented as a lecture at Bryn Mawr College and New York University in October 1984. I want to thank Dr. lannis Tzedakis for permission to use photographs and drawings of the unpublished LM III material from the Greek- Swedish Excavations at Khania in West Crete. The drawings are made by the author unless otherwise stated. The parallels for the Cretan ceramic material do not pretend to be exhaustive. 1 W. Taylour, Mycenaean Pottery in Italy and Adjacent Areas (Cambridge 1958; hereafter Taylour); F. Biancofiore, Civilta mice- nea nell'Italia meridionale2 (Rome 1967; hereafter Biancofiore); L. Vagnetti, "Mycenaean Imports in Central Italy," Appendix 2 in E. Peruzzi, Mycenaeans in Early Latium (Incunabula Graeca 75,


    Branigan was among the first to advocate contact between Crete and Italy in the Early Bronze Age. He argued that tin and silver were imported to Crete from the western Mediterranean, one of the clues to this connection being the silver daggers from Kouma- sa in the Mesara plain (no Cretan material occurs in Italy at this time).2 He recognized them as northern Italian knives of the Remedello type and, with several other artifacts found on Crete, designated them as evi- dence of early contacts. His conclusions have, how- ever, been disputed.3

    During the Old Palace Period of the Middle Bronze Age there was, as far as we know, no direct contact, and there apparently was little in the New Palace Period. Four sherds of LM I/II date have been found at Lipari.4 Even if some of the 110 sherds of this period called Mycenaean and found in Italy are in fact Cretan, the main support for interaction comes from myth: witness the story of the Minoan ex- pedition to Sicily, King Minos' painful death there and the Minoan ship that went to southern Italy.5

    In the LM III period (roughly 1400-1100 B.C.), the archaeological evidence for contact becomes more plentiful. Metal artifacts are not the best sources of information, as few of certifiably Aegean origin have been found in Italy. Harding explained this lack: "Tools and implements have not often been found as items of trade in the Bronze Age Aegean. They have intrinsic value as metals, it is true, but they are usu- ally heavy and bulky and most susceptible of adoption to local needs by local smiths."6 He does, however, see knives as an exception, and cites four Aegean exam- ples found at Scoglio del Tonno, Torre Santa Sabina,

    Rome 1980) 151-66. 2 K. Branigan "Prehistoric Relations between Italy and the Ae-

    gean," BPI 1966, 97-108, esp. 108. 3 For example, L. Barfield, "Two Italian Halberds and the Question of the Earliest European Halberds," Origini 3 (1969) 67-83; C. Renfrew and R. Whitehouse, "The Copper Age of Pen- insular Italy," BSA 69 (1974) 368-79. 4 Taylour 47-48.

    5 The legends are summarized by T.J. Dunbabin, BSR 16 (1948)1-10.

    6 A. Harding, "Mycenaean Greece and Europe: The Evidence of Bronze Tools and Implements," PPS 41 (1975) 183.

    293 American Journal of Archaeology 89 (1985)


    Ill. 1. Sites in Italy and Sicily mentioned in text: 1. Fondo Paviani; 2. Frattesina; 3. Treazzano di Monsampolo; 4. Coppa Nevigata; 5. Toppo Daguzzo; 6. Torre S. Sabina; 7. S. Cosimo d'Ora; 8. Torre Castelluccia; 9. Satyrion; 10. Porto Perone; 11. Scoglio del Tonno; 12. Termitito; 13. Broglio di Trebisacce; 14. Vivara; 15. Thapsos; 16. Matrensa; 17. Cozzo del Pantano; 18. Pantalica; 19. Orosei; 20. Antigori; 21. Domu s'Orku

    Grotta Pertosa and Fucino.7 The first three are of Sandars' class la of Aegean knives, and that from Grotta Pertosa is paralleled in the Dictaean Cave. The fourth knife was later shown by Peroni to be an Italian type.8 Matthaus accepts only the knife from Scoglio del Tonno as an import, and labels the others products of cultural influence.9 Class la knives are not highly localized, although their origin appears to be in Crete with use as early as EM III/MM I (cf. a

    7 Harding (supra n. 6) 196. 8 V.B. Peroni, Die Messer in Italien (Prahistorische Bronze- funde 11.2, Munich 1976) 54-55. 9 H. Matthaus, "Italien und Griechenland in der ausgehenden Bronzezeit," JdI 95 (1980) 130.

    10 N.K. Sandars, "The Antiquity of the One-edged Bronze Knife in the Aegean," PPS 21 (1955) 176-77, 176, fig. 1.5. 1 Sandars (supra n. 10) 177.

    12 E. Macnamara, "A Group of Bronzes from Surbo: New Evi- dence for Aegean Contacts with Apulia during Mycenaean IIIB and C," PPS 36 (1970) 241-60.

    13 K. Branigan, "The Surbo Bronzes-Some Observations," PPS 38 (1972) 276-85.

    14 A. Evans, The Prehistoric Tombs of Knossos (London 1906) 84, fig. 94.

    knife from Porti in the Mesara,'? but by the Late Bronze Age they are distributed widely throughout the Aegean, Anatolia, Cyprus and the Levant."1 The Scoglio knife could have come from Crete as well as any other part of the eastern Mediterranean.

    Swords do not provide compelling evidence, either. The Surbo sword, from a hoard found near Lecce in Apulia, belongs to Sandars' type F of Aegean swords. Macnamara sees the closest parallel in a hoard found at Diakata and dates the Surbo hoard accordingly to LH IIIC.'2 Branigan finds a LH IIIB sword from Kos closer and places the Surbo hoard in IIIB.13 About 20 examples of the type F sword are known from the Aegean; most of them come from Crete, and the earliest datable one was found in Tomb 95 at Za- pher Papoura, Knossos, in LM IIIA:2 context.'4 The Surbo sword could bear witness to Cretan-Italian contact, not necessarily Mycenaean.

    Several miniature swords have been found in Sic- ily.15 They and the Modica daggers,'6 although the latter are from a Pantalica II hoard, are generally con- sidered to have their ultimate inspiration in type F swords, with their T-shaped hilt. Swords from Thap- sos, Cozzo del Pantano, Plemirion, Matrensa and Dessueri resemble Sandars' type A swords.'7 Sandars herself rejected these swords as imports-but that from Plemirion could be one. Two swords found at Caldare have been compared to a sword from Tomb 44 at Zapher Papoura (LM IIIA)'8; the latter is viewed by Sandars as a derivative survival of the type A sword,19 which probably had a Minoan origin. Al- though the Caldare swords are most likely indigenous, the