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STEPHANIE AULSEBROOK

RETHINKING STANDARDIZATION: THE SOCIAL MEANINGS OF


MYCENAEAN METAL CUPS

Summary. Standardization can be conceptualized as a scale, from unique


bespoke artefacts to uniform items produced on a factory line. It is usually
analyzed in terms of whole objects, but is also applicable to their individual traits,
such as shape, material, size, decoration or colour. Objects combining different
levels of standardization across these traits are able to transmit more complex
social meanings.
Through the analysis of the standardization of their form and material, three
metal cup types (shallow, stemmed and Vapheio) are singled out as having
particular significance within elite Mycenaean culture. The combination of
varying degrees of standardization in these vessels created gradients of value that
expressed nuances of social identity whilst retaining their core message of high
status. Differences in these combinations indicate that whilst shallow and Vapheio
cups shared similar roles, the stemmed cup may have been intended to convey
individuality within the elite community.

INTRODUCTION

Objects are acknowledged to play an important role in communicating meaning


(Sherratt and Sherratt 1991, 354; Kingery 1996, 1; J. Thomas 1998, 153; Edwards et al.
2006, 13), one that is particularly enhanced in societies without widespread literacy or the
use of currency. One of their strengths is their ability to concisely transmit multiple and
multi-layered meanings, that may be difficult to communicate in an accessible way through
speech or the written word. Through embodiment, objects can also present contradictory
meanings as natural and undeniable. Although some of these meanings were acquired by
artefacts through various events and associations during their life history, other meanings could
be incorporated into objects during the process of their manufacture; the latter have been
categorized by Marshall as ‘inscribed objects’, in contrast to the former, described as ‘lived
objects’ (Marshall 2008, 63). These inscribed meanings are not inherent, although some may
make use of the observed innate properties of the object and the materials from which it was
made (Hurcombe 2007, 536). Of course, the precise message to be conveyed was culturally
specific, as were the mechanisms through which objects came to embody those particular
meanings. However, it was often the case that such meanings only made sense when placed
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into context against other material culture. This enabled people to make judgements about a
particular object based upon their knowledge of the wider material world.
It is for this reason that the issue of standardization becomes an important consideration in
the analysis of material culture. Standardization has been defined as the relative degree of
homogeneity in the characteristics of artefacts (Kotsonas 2014a, 1). It can also be thought of as
the repetition of particular traits, such as shape, material, decoration, manufacturing techniques or
size. It is usual to judge standardization with regard to a whole object; in other words, when these
traits appear as a single recognizable package.
However, standardization can also be studied in terms of individual traits. Breaking down
the concept of standardization in this way enables us to explore it from a new angle. A single
artefact could therefore be understood to incorporate both standardized and individualized
characteristics. By isolating the level of standardization applied to different elements of an object,
it would then be possible to analyze how individuality and standardization could be combined in
a single artefact to relay more complex meanings. This ability would have been especially desirable
for objects that played a significant role in the political economy of past societies, otherwise known
as ‘prestige goods’.
A number of different categories of prestige goods have been recognized in Mycenaean
societies in Late Bronze Age Greece (Voutsaki 1999; Schon 2009, 214, 216), including a range
of various vessels manufactured in metal (Davis 1977; Matthäus 1980; Wright 1995). They were
used for many different purposes, including storage, pouring and the preparation of foodstuffs
(Davis 1977; Matthäus 1980; Mossman 1993). Cups can be singled out as particularly important
within the metalware corpus. One reason for this may have been that metal cups, particularly those
manufactured from precious metals, extended the sphere of elite material culture into some socially
charged Mycenaean ceremonies that involved the manipulation of liquids.

STUDYING STANDARDIZATION

In contemporary society standardization is often equated with mass production, because it


is one of the simplest ways to increase the efficiency of manufacturing processes. However, there
are many pressures influencing crafters to produce standardized objects. Other direct benefits to
producers include lowering the costs of storage and transportation (Costin 1991, 34), but these
pressures towards standardization are not solely driven by producers. Wider cultural norms can
regulate the production, appearance and usage of material culture (Budd and Taylor 1995, 137),
with standardization linked to the structuration of tastes and desires (Wright 2004, 99). Where social
ties between producers and consumers are less strong, the latter may favour standardized goods as
they provide a guarantee of quality.
Standardization can also be a side-effect of other procedures intended to increase the
efficiency of production, including the reuse of moulds or the use of previously manufactured
objects as moulds (Budd and Taylor 1995, 137), and was not always a deliberate goal (Berg
2004, 75). On the other hand, the ability to produce exact replicas using moulds can also be
exploited for ideological purposes by creating a sphere of material culture connected to a specific
institution (Bennet 2008, 161–3). It has been suggested that this type of practice may have been
linked to the increasing specialization of artisans (Costin 1991, 33), although certain techniques,
such as lost-wax casting, prevent the reuse of moulds (Joy 2009, 548). In certain cases only some
elements of multi-component objects, like metal vessel handles, may be amenable to production

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through moulds. Highly skilled specialists may also have sought to incorporate individuality into
each object. Therefore the relationship between specialization and standardization can be complex.
A single level of standardization for all material culture across a society is unlikely.
Varying levels of individuality may be tolerated for different objects tailored for different markets,
dictated by consumer choice and enforced strictures imposed by elites (Costin 1991, 34). The
archaeological study of standardization is also complicated by the greater role of human labour
and higher variability of raw materials, tools and other equipment in past societies, which meant that
producing objects that fit modern interpretations of ‘standardized’ was extremely difficult. Studies
have suggested that variation in dimensions of up to 5% may be expected for handmade objects,
although this is reduced by the employment of measuring implements and greater familiarity with
the specific object being produced (Eerkens 2000, 667). It is therefore more useful to consider
standardization as a spectrum, with identical products from a mass-production factory line and
completely unique items representing its poles. This is in contrast to the modern institutional
definition of standardization, as used by bodies such as the International Organisation for
Standardisation, which regards standardization as a fixed state (Kotsonas 2014b, 9).
Both innovation and standardization are important to the formation of elite material culture.
Innovation is used to restrict access to higher social positions and compete with others of a similar
standing by changing the elite language of material culture (Hayden 1998, 33). To maintain status
others must keep up or lose their position to those who can. However, innovation is a two-edged
sword. New material culture and usages must engage with previously held beliefs about elite
identity, otherwise they fail to convey meaning successfully (Torrence and van der Leeuw 1989,
11; Borgatzky 1989, 17; Wright 2004, 96–7). Standardization underlies this common language of
high-status material culture. Standardization can therefore restrict entrance to particularly powerful
arenas of social interaction by forcing agents to conform to certain norms.

METAL VESSELS IN MYCENAEAN SOCIETIES

The political landscape of Late Bronze Age mainland Greece was complex and fluid. Over
five centuries (1700–1200 BC) small kinship-based village groups developed into a network of
larger independent palace-centred polities, with monumentalizing architecture, a strong militaristic
ideology, extensive trading links and text-using bureaucracy (Wright 2008). Throughout this period
material culture played an important role in identity formation, not just for elite individuals but also
more generally as Mycenaean culture emerged as a recognizably separate phenomenon from that of
Minoan Crete, which had been a strong source of influence (Voutsaki 1999, 114).
From the beginning metal vessels were integral to these two strands of identity formation.
A range of different types were in use, suited for many occasions, including drinking cups, cooking
cauldrons, food presentation dishes, jugs, lamps, large storage vessels, miniature storage boxes
(pyxides) and ritual vases (rhyta), scale pans and strainers. Vessels of ceramic, faience, ivory and
stone were also in use; pottery was ubiquitous but vessels manufactured from these other three
materials had a restricted circulation similar to those made of metal. Whether this restricted
circulation was enforced primarily through economic or social control is unknown. However, the
use of metalware, particularly when manufactured from precious metals, acted as a differentiator
of social status and contributed to the formation of a separate sphere of elite material culture.
Metal vessels also formed part of the process of defining Mycenaean culture. Few pieces of
metalwork have been found in pre-Mycenaean contexts in the Middle Helladic Period (Kayafa

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TABLE 1
The three broad chronological periods used for this study. To maximize the number of vessels included in the study, the
ceramic dates of the Transitional Period were expanded to include vessels dated to LH I–II and LH II–IIIA. The absolute
dating for the Aegean Late Bronze Age is very disputed due to discrepancies between the dates obtained using traditional
connections to the Egyptian archaeological record (Low Chronology) and those obtained using scientific methods (High
Chronology) (Manning 2010, 23; Warren 2010, 393). This debate has been active for several decades with little prospect for
its definitive resolution in the near future as neither side has successfully reconciled the apparently contradictory
implications of these different sources of evidence

Period Ceramic Dates High/Low Absolute Dates (BC)

Shaft Grave Period MH III/LH I transition–LH I 1700/1600–1635/1530


Transitional Period (LH I–) LH II (–LH IIIA) 1635/1530–1420/1390
Palatial Period LH IIIA–IIIB 1420/1390–1200/1185

2010, 709) and metal vessels were exceedingly rare even in the mortuary sphere, where most
Middle Helladic metalwork has been recovered. Kayafa lists no known examples from the
Peloponnese (1999). A Middle Helladic-style copper or bronze handle was found in tomb
ΘΠ16 at Eleusis (Mylonas and Travlos 1952, 62; Syriopoulos 1968, 348 no. 8; Tripathi
1988, 108).1 A copper alloy vessel found off of the coast of Euboea, perhaps from a shipwreck,
has been claimed as Middle Bronze Age (Mitten and Doeringer 1967, 27 no. 1; 1968, 21;
Buchholz 1968; Hoffmann and Buchholz 1969; Schachermeyr et al. 1971, 393 fig. 80;
Branigan 1974, 50, 196 no. 3218 pl. 25; Matthäus 1980, 308–9), based upon varying degrees
of similarity to specimens of Middle Bronze Age pottery at several locations around the Aegean
(especially Buchholz 1968, 18 fig. 5; also Blegen 1954, 159–61, pl. 37 no. 2 and 3; Levi 1964,
22 fig. 16 upper right; for others see Buchholz 1968; Hoffmann and Buchholz 1969, 320).
Trace element analysis was also carried out to confirm that the metal used was not inconsistent
with other ancient finds (Hoffmann and Buchholz 1969, 319–20). However, the attribution of a
Middle Bronze Age date to this vessel has been disputed (Vermeule 1968, 164–5). Overall,
while the lack of metal vessels from Middle Helladic funerary contexts tells us little about their
circulation within the contemporary living community, it does demonstrate that their integration
into the funerary sphere was a later, Mycenaean characteristic.
In contrast, a strong tradition of manufacturing metalware was certainly in existence on
Crete during the Neopalatial Period (1750/1700–1470/1440 BC; see Table 1), if not earlier. Many
vessels found in mainland contexts were, in fact, imports or imitations (such as the cauldron from
Shaft Grave IV at Mycenae inscribed with a single Linear A sign (Karo 1930, 116 (576); Matthäus
1980, 89 (24) pl. 3; Palaima 2003, 190–1; Aulsebrook 2012 (MYC109); see also the much later
reference to vessels ‘of Cretan workmanship’ (ke-re-si-jo we-ke) in Linear B tablets from Pylos
(for example, Ta641 and Ta 709) (Ventris and Chadwick 1973, 237; Palaima 2003, 199)). Scholars

1 Tripathi (1988, 108) also lists the fragments of a metal vessel from Tomb 5 at Athens as another Middle Helladic
example. Only one ceramic vessel (1) could be assigned as Middle Helladic, but the rest of the pottery from the tomb
dates from at least LH I onwards, with the majority of LH IIA-type or later (Pantelidou 1975, 63–5). As it is not
unknown for Middle Helladic and LH I vessels to appear side-by-side in tombs (for example, Tombs 25, 26 and 52
at Prosymna (Shelton 1996, 273); for other examples see Dickinson 1974, 118), it cannot be assumed that the metal
vessel from Tomb 5 at Athens was pre-Mycenaean.

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have suggested that Cretan craftspeople were directly employed by Mycenaean elites on the
mainland (Strong 1966, 43; Davis 1977, 225, 234, 249, 320).
However, the manufacture of well-known Mainland ceramic forms in metal, such as the
kantharos, also took place (see below and also the three gold kantharoi found as part of the
Soterianika Treasure (Hope Simpson 1957, 239–40; Davis 1977, 305–7)). Moreover, metalware
was incorporated into Mycenaean practices such as their grand elite funerary assemblages,
exemplified by the shaft graves at Mycenae (Karo 1930), or as an aspect of warrior identity
(Treherne 1995; Whittaker 2008, 95). Current evidence suggests that these usages of metal vessels
were not an integral part of Neopalatial Minoan culture. Therefore, despite Cretan influence in
metalware, mainland elites were apparently able to reinterpret the role of these metal vessels to
coincide with the emergence of a distinctive Mycenaean culture.
This study considered 534 metal vessels (excluding tinned ceramics) found on the Greek
mainland and excavated prior to 2012, that could be assigned to one of the chronological categories
listed in Table 1; 354 of these could be categorized by form.2 The ability to date a metal vessel is
completely reliant on its context. Metalwork is extremely durable and potentially any metal artefact
could have been in circulation for centuries. Therefore any context in which metalware is found can
only be securely dated when it is discovered alongside pottery or another equally useful
chronological marker. Although this approach meant that some examples of metalware had to be
excluded because of the nature of their find context, it did enable this study to investigate
chronological trends that had been previously undetected.
The majority of Mycenaean metalware has been recovered from funerary contexts.
However, the frequent appearance of repair plates and strengthening elements incorporated into
weak points, such as handles and rims, during manufacture demonstrates that metal vessels were
not only intended as burial gifts but had an active usage life prior to their final deposition. As with
every study based upon archaeological material, it is always necessary to bear in mind that
deposition choices, as well as post-depositional factors of tomb disturbance and recovery methods,
can generate bias; this issue is more significant when dealing with smaller datasets and highly
valued objects associated with conspicuous monumental funerary architecture, both of which are
applicable to Mycenaean metal vessels. Nevertheless, meaningful patterns are still apparent in the
surviving material.

METALWARE CUPS IN MYCENAEAN SOCIETIES

There is ample evidence in the archaeological record for the importance of food and drink
in Mycenaean rituals, from small-scale drinking ceremonies conducted during the closure of a tomb
(Boyd 2015, 160; Cavanagh and Mee 2014, 51) to the well-organized and carefully controlled large-
scale feasting events held within a palace complex (Säflund 1980; Bendall 2004). On the southern
mainland, ceramic sets pairing drinking and pouring vessels together increasingly appear in burials
during the transition from the Middle to the Late Bronze Age (Wright 2004, 92), the period in which
a distinct Mycenaean culture was being formed.

2 Several metal vessels have been found recently in the Griffin Warrior tomb at Pylos (www.griffinwarrior.org); no
published information on these vessels is currently available.

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The ideological power of drinking and eating stems from their status as non-discursive
practices, which makes them difficult to resist (Hamilakis 1999, 49). As the essential tool for
drinking, cups are imbued with a symbolism through association with these practices. Cups could
have been utilized within ritual activities as well, such as the pouring of libations (Lupack 2008,
15); this may have been especially true of miniatures (Shelmerdine 2007, 42; a pantry in Room
18 within the palace at Pylos was reserved for miniature vessels (Bendall 2004, 117)). Some cup
forms may also have been used for eating, as the separation between eating and drinking vessels
in the Mycenaean pottery assemblage was not strong (Tournavitou 1992, 210). The size of several
metal cups indicates that they were probably intended for communal use.3 However, the majority
seem to have been suited for individual use, potentially allowing a particular cup to have been tied
to a specific person.
This dataset contained 93 metalware cups, split into 11 different forms.4 This was the
highest number of distinguishable types within one of the broad categories of shapes (cauldrons,
cups, dishes, jugs, pyxides, rhyta and upright jars). Of these 11 forms, four were represented by a
single vessel within this dataset. Despite its relative frequency in ceramic from LH IIIA1 onwards
(Furumark 1972, fig. 15 FS 225–6), there was only one metal mug. It was found in the tholos at
Dendra and was manufactured from copper or copper alloy (Persson 1931, 31 (no. 1); Matthäus
1980, 251 (no. 359) pl. 43; Aulsebrook 2012, DEN047). From tomb III at the Athens Agora came
an unusual single-handled cup with round base and prominent carination (Immerwahr 1971, 176
(no. B780); Matthäus 1980, 291 (no. 445) pl. 51; Aulsebrook 2012, ATH016). A cup with a unique
handle incorporating extended twin attachment plates was recovered from tholos B at Pharai
(Zapheiropoulos 1956, 194; Matthäus 1980, 236 (no. 354) pl. 42; Aulsebrook 2012, PHA003).
The final example was also from Grave Circle A at Mycenae, in grave V. It was a silver two-handled
cup similar to a goblet in shape but without a stem (Karo 1930, 149 (no. 864); Davis 1977, 161–2
(no. 48) fig. 126; Aulsebrook 2012, MYC086).
Another four cup types were found in limited numbers. The kantharos, of which two
examples were present in this dataset (one from grave IV in Circle A at Mycenae (Karo 1930,
103 (no. 440); Davis 1977, 175–6 (no. 60) fig. 143; Aulsebrook 2012, MYC062) and the other from
Peristeria (Korres 1976, 495–7 pl. 263a; Aulsebrook 2012, PER006)), was an early form that seems
to have faded in popularity. The simple conical cup form was another sporadic find; three silver
versions were found in the tholos at Kokla (Demakopoulou 1990, 119 fig. 12; Aulsebrook 2012,
KKL003–4, KKL007) and one of copper or copper alloy was recovered from the Tomb of the Genii
at Mycenae (Wace et al. 1921–23, 386 (f); Matthäus 1980, 287 (no. 439) pl. 50; Aulsebrook 2012,
MYC232). The other two forms were the omphalos cup and hemispherical cup, the latter apparently
a later development of the former with a much more rounded bowl. Both of these forms had a
distinct raised omphalos in the base. Two omphalos cups in this dataset were recovered from Pharai
(Zapheiropoulos 1956, 194; Matthäus 1980, 227 (no. 349) pl. 41 and 234 (no. 351) pl. 42;
Aulsebrook 2012, PHA001–2) and the other from Koukounara Kaminia-Kremmidia (Korres
1975, 501 pl. 324γ; Aulsebrook 2012, KAM001). The three hemispherical cups were from chamber
tombs 47 and 78 at Mycenae (Xenaki-Sakellariou 1985, 122–3 (Xλ2370) and 218 (A3122);

3 Accurate replicas of some Mycenaean vessels are capable of holding the contents of a full 75 cl wine bottle. Many
thanks to Ken and Diana Wardle for demonstrating this to me. Of course, these vessels were not necessarily filled
to the brim and the beverage consumed may have been of a lower alcoholic strength than typical modern wines.
4 Cups have been defined as an open shape with a rim diameter of 0.2 m or below (Aulsebrook 2012, 430).

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Aulsebrook 2012, MYC218–9) and the tholos at Dendra (Persson 1931, 38 (no. 1); Davis 1977,
246–8 (no. 120) fig. 231).
However, 83% of the cups found in this dataset were of one of three forms: there were 34
Vapheio cups, 27 shallow cups and 16 stemmed cups (goblets/kylikes). All three of these forms
were also found in the ceramic assemblage. The earliest Vapheio cups date from MM II Crete; this
shape was present on the mainland in clay from MH to LH IIB (Mountjoy 2001, 34). The direct
ceramic equivalent of the metal shallow cup was the ring-handled cup, which was only found in
LH II, particularly LH IIB (Mountjoy 2001, 57). However, there were several similar forms in
use throughout the Mycenaean Period (Furumark 1972, figs. 13, 14). Stemmed cups remained a
popular form in ceramic throughout the Middle and Late Helladic, but continuously changed with
various types coming to the fore during particular periods, such as the Ephyrean goblet in LH IIB
(Mountjoy 2001, 52) and the kylix during LH III (Furumark 1972, figs. 16 and 17).
Metal shallow cups were found in well-dated mainland contexts from Berbati (Santillo
Frizell 1984, no. 21), Dendra (Persson 1942, nos. 19 and 39; Persson 1931, nos. 1, 3 and 6),
Kazarma (Davis 1977, no. 137), Kokla (Demakopoulou 1990, 119 fig. 13), Marathon (Sotiriadis
1934, 29–30), Medeon (Vatin 1969, 51, fig. 46 left), Mycenae (Mylonas 1972–73, Nu-389; Karo
1930, 156 and nos. 170, 212, 213, 480, 509, 519, 786–7, and 869–871, 876; Xenaki-Sakellariou
1985, nos. A2489, A3121 and A3147), Peristeria (Davis 1977, no. 101), Pylos (Blegen and Rawson
1966, 57–8) and Vapheio (Davis 1977, 262 and no. 107). Metal Vapheio cups were found in well-
dated mainland contexts from Dendra (Åström 1977, 16 (no. 22), 54–5 (no. 11); Persson 1931, no.
7), Mycenae (Mylonas 1972–73, Delta-326, Gamma-316, Gamma-357, Gamma-358 and Iota-327;
Karo 1930, nos. 73, 151a, 220, 313, 392–3, 441–2, 517–18, 627–30, 755–6, 866–7, 879 and 912),
Myrsinochorion-Routsi (Marinatos 1956, 203), Peristeria (Davis 1977, nos. 99 and 100), and
Vapheio (Davis 1977, nos. 103–6). Metal stemmed cups were found in well-dated mainland
contexts from Dendra (Persson 1942, nos. 35–7; Persson 1931, no. 5), Kokla (Demakopoulou
1990, 119 figs. 8–11), Mycenae (Karo 1930, nos. 122 and 151b, 351, 390, 412, 427, 520 and
656) and Pharai (Davis 1977, no. 135).
In terms of analyzing standardization in shape and material, the Vapheio cups, shallow
cups and stemmed cups are the only ones for which there is sufficient evidence. This is not only
because they are the most numerous but also due to the fact that they are the only types indisputably
present across the entire period under study.

STANDARDIZATION OF SHAPE

Standardization of shape is an essential component of recognizability. This is not just useful


for the creation of archaeological typologies. The shape would have provided clues to Mycenaean
individuals as to the function of the object and how it should have been used and handled.
The stemmed cups did not show much standardization beyond the common shared feature
of a stem (Fig. 1). This could be long or short, straight or curved. The profile of the bowl varied
greatly, as did the shape and number of handles. This variation was evident even amongst vessels
of the same period or deposited in the same context. Indeed, the most famous metal stemmed vessel,
the so-called ‘Nestor's Cup’ found in grave IV of Circle A at Mycenae (Karo 1930, 100 (no. 412);
Davis 1977, 183–6 (no. 63) fig. 148–50; Aulsebrook 2012, MYC044), was an amalgamation of
features from different cup types fused with unique elements such as openwork strips joining its
handles to its foot. However, this degree of variation between stemmed cups was not always desired.

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Figure 1
Sketches of various stemmed cups found in shaft grave IV of Circle A at Mycenae; left: Athens National Museum (ANM)
no. 390; middle: ANM no. 412; right: ANM no. 427. Drawings by author, not to scale.

A particular group of three matching silver kylikes found in the tholos at Kokla (Demakopoulou
1990, 119 figs. 9–11) demonstrates very clearly that there were no cultural pressures preventing
the production of identical stemmed cups. Another example of this phenomenon was found in an
undated hoard from Mycenae that contained four identical gold goblets with dog-head handle
terminals (Schliemann 1878, 352; H. Thomas 1938–39).
In stark contrast, the Vapheio and shallow cups could be assigned to a limited number of
quite strictly observed variants (Fig. 2). There were three points of difference for Vapheio cups:
the wall profile was either straight or concave, the handle a ribbon-like strap, a ring or a spool,
and the body was sometimes given a raised midrib, particularly on earlier examples. The shallow

Figure 2
The variants of the Vapheio cup (left) and shallow cup (right). Upper left: straight or concave profile; middle left: addition of
midrib; bottom left: strap, spool or ring handle. Upper right: vertical, convex or straight profile; middle right: simple rather
than wide rim; lower right: ring or strap handle. Drawings by author, not to scale.

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cup only had two points of variance: the wall profile could be convex, straight or vertical and the rim
wide or simple. However, there were a few examples with unusual features: three did not have a ring
handle, four had spouts and one had a rim formed into eight convex lobes (Davis 1977, 267).
Therefore the degree of standardization in form varied between these three cup types. The
Vapheio cup was the most standardized, with differences organised into clear variants. The majority
of the shallow cups follow the same pattern, although 30% also had additional minor changes to
their form. The stemmed cups demonstrated the lowest level of form standardization, even though
particular groups of stemmed cups seem to have been singled out to create uniform sets.

STANDARDIZATION OF MATERIAL

Mycenaean metal vessels were manufactured in bronze, copper, electrum, gold, lead, silver
and silvered copper.5 Vessels of tin are not known from the Greek mainland, although such artefacts
have been found elsewhere in the East Mediterranean (for example, a tin pilgrim flask was found on
the Ulu Burun shipwreck (Bass et al. 1989, 12)). Some vessels used a combination of these metals.
This analysis considers the main material used for the crafting of these vessels.6 Bronze and copper
vessels have been treated here as a single category (copper alloy) because not every vessel has had
its material composition analyzed.
Of the 32 metal vessel forms across the dataset for which more than a single example has
been preserved, 20 were always manufactured from the same material. Standardization of material
by vessel shape therefore appears to have been the default intention, as illustrated clearly within the
category of metal cauldrons. Four different cauldron forms were in use on the Greek mainland
during this period, two of which were only produced in lead and the other two only produced in
copper alloy.
This leaves 12 forms that were produced using different metals as the main material
(Table 2).
It is striking that the cup forms were the most likely to be produced in a range of different
metals; of the seven cup forms for which more than a single example is known in this dataset, six
transcended the boundary of material. The conical cup, stemmed cup, ewer, scale pan and situla
were produced in higher-valued materials initially;7 only three of these forms – the stemmed cup,
ewer and scale pan – were definitely present in more than one main material at the same time.
The Vapheio and shallow cup forms are the only ones that continue transcending
boundaries of material for more than a single period. It is likely that the stemmed cups did this as
well based upon the evidence in tablet Tn 316 from Pylos, which lists gold and silver kylikes
amongst the vessels being given out to sanctuaries by the palace (Bennett 1955, 36, 188; Ventris
and Chadwick 1973, 171; Godart 2009, 112, 114).

5 The use of these metals has been verified through various analysis projects over a period of several decades. Silvered
copper consists of a thin covering of silver over a sheet of copper. Unlike gilding where only a mechanical fix is
achieved, sometimes through the use of glue, the silver and copper chemically fuse at the interface; this process is
now referred to as Sheffield Plate (Charles 1968, 278). Alternatively, a similar effect can be created using silver-
copper solder, which cannot be distinguished from Sheffield Plate even under a microscope (La Niece 1993, 205).
Whichever method was utilized, it allowed the metals to be worked together as a single material in a way not possible
with mechanical adhesion.
6 In other words, the type of metal which was used to form the basic body shape of the vessel.
7 Using the hierarchy of metal valuation apparent in the metal vessel assemblage at least (cf. Aulsebrook 2012, 103–39).

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TABLE 2
A comparison over time of the twelve metal vessel forms which were manufactured in more than one main material

Shaft Grave Period Transitional Period Palatial Period

Cup Conical Silver Copper alloy


Hemispherical Silver, copper alloy
Omphalos Silver, copper alloy
Shallow Gold, silver, copper alloy Gold, silver, silvered copper Gold, silver, copper alloy
Stemmed Gold, silver, electrum Silver Silver
Vapheio Gold, silver, copper alloy Gold, silver Silver
Dish Simple Bowl Silver, copper alloy
Jug Ewer Silver, copper alloy Copper alloy Copper alloy
High-Necked Gold, silver, silvered copper
Other Figural Rhyton Gold, silver
Scale Pan Gold, copper alloy Copper alloy Copper alloy
Situla Silver Copper alloy Copper alloy

DISCUSSION

The category of cups contained the highest number of different forms for any broad
category of shape in the metalware assemblage. It also contained the highest number of forms
represented by a single vessel. Set against this background of variation were three long-lived forms:
the Vapheio cup, shallow cup and stemmed cup. These provided an element of continuity in elite
material culture against a backdrop of change and innovation.
It has been argued that the Mycenaean desire for precious metalware was so dependent
upon an advanced industry based on Minoan Crete that after the collapse of the Neopalatial palatial
system, the supply dried up and the remaining vessels in circulation were effectively antiques
(Rehak 1997, 57). This would mean that the continued use of these three cup forms was not a
conscious choice but an inevitability based upon the available resources. The root of this argument
can be traced to the simplistic dichotomy made between the aesthetic and crafting achievements of
the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. Although this problem was recognized and contested several
decades ago (for example, Vermeule 1975, 10, 28), its effects continue to linger. The appearance of
new forms in metalware during the Mycenaean Palatial Period, such as the hemispherical cup, and
evidence for the continued evolution of crafting techniques throughout the Late Bronze Age
(Aulsebrook 2012, 253–8) provide strong evidence to the contrary.
Although the shallow, stemmed and Vapheio cups all remained in circulation over a period
of five centuries, there are distinctions in the standardization of their form that imply different social
roles. The shallow and Vapheio cups had fixed variants, which the latter in particular adhered to
quite strictly, with very limited change over time. They persisted in appearing in metal throughout
the period under study despite the fluctuating popularity of these shapes in ceramic. This indicates
sustained and deliberate conservatism for these two cup forms within the high-status material culture
sphere of metalware. Therefore they could have been linked to specific ritualized actions that were
of especial significance to Mycenaean elite identity. The residual weight of their prior usage may
have constrained reinterpretation but also conferred additional value to, and legitimized, the
contexts in which these two cup shapes played a role (Joyce 2000, 72).
It is possible that stemmed cups may have had a freer role and thus were not subjected to
the same constraints. Alternatively, the incorporation of the stem into their design may have been
regarded as such a distinctive feature that alterations to the shape of the bowl, type of handle or their

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proportions were considered as minor details in comparison. The fact that fewer stemmed cups were
present in this dataset cannot be used to differentiate them from shallow and Vapheio cups, because
this need not reflect the actual quantities in circulation during the Mycenaean Period. Yet it is clear
that, based upon the available data, the stemmed cups were treated differently to shallow and
Vapheio cups in terms of standardization of form, despite their similarities in other respects.
However, the existence of the stemmed cup sets in the tholos at Kokla and the Acropolis Hoard
at Mycenae demonstrates that both highly individualized and highly standardized stemmed cups
were desirable within Mycenaean elite material culture.
It is plausible that, during usage, the stemmed cup was considered a suitable vehicle for the
expression of individuality within the ranks of the elite, as an internal signifier of a specific person or
group, rather than as an outwardly-directed symbol of status to other sectors of the social hierarchy.
The stemmed cup may therefore have been used within the context of a different category of
drinking event, separated from the usage of shallow and Vapheio cups.
This variation in the level of standardization of form for metal stemmed cups contrasts
sharply with the uniformity in production technique seen in the unpainted ceramic kylikes of the
later Palatial Period (for example, those found in the pantries at the palace at Pylos (Hruby 2013,
424)). Furumark identified six LH IIIB kylix variants (1972, fig. 17). Yet prior to the dominance
of the kylix there was considerable development in the appearance of ceramic stemmed cups, as
discussed above. The large numbers of LH IIIA–B kylikes recovered from different types of context
(P. Thomas 2004, 116; contra Galaty 1999, 30–1) would suggest that the stemmed cup was familiar
to a wider audience during this period than the shallow and Vapheio cups. This may have increased
the need to maintain a high level of form standardization for the latter two shapes in the metal vessel
assemblage. It is possible that, through their usage, ceramic kylikes gained some kind of special
significance (Galaty 1999, 30–1; 2007, 75; although see Rutter 2001, 345). This was not necessarily
transferred to the metal version, as implied by their distinctive treatment in terms of form
standardization.8 Similarity in form across different materials does not necessarily indicate
similarity in meaning and symbolic value.
The consistency in the shape of shallow and Vapheio metal cups made them instantly
identifiable. The distinctive stem incorporated into stemmed cups performed a similar function for
this cup type. This high level of instant recognizability enabled these three types of cup to transcend
boundaries of material that were so closely adhered to for other kinds of metalware. The symbolic
value of these three metal cup shapes could still be quickly ascertained and understood; their
distinctiveness ensured their impact was not lessened by the use of varying materials.
However, we still need to question why these vessels were manufactured in more than a
single metal. One plausible answer is that it facilitated the expression of different gradients of value.
This method of ranking objects allowed them to be simultaneously linked and differentiated (Lesure
1999, 24). Evidence from the way they were utilized during the process of vessel manufacture
suggests that the metals were considered to possess different values in the Mycenaean Period. As
I have shown elsewhere, within the metal vessel assemblage gold was classified above silver, which
itself was ranked above copper and copper alloys; the positions of electrum and silvered copper in
this hierarchy were not possible to discern due to their rarity (Aulsebrook 2012, 105–11).
This possibility is strengthened by the pattern of decoration applied to metal cups.
Decoration also widens the gradient of values that can be expressed through an object. The

8 The existence of tinned ceramic kylikes cannot be considered an indication of a close relationship between ceramic
and metal kylikes (Aulsebrook forthcoming).

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Figure 3
Bar chart showing the proportion of undecorated, simply decorated and complexly decorated metalware cups by form.

ornamentation of Mycenaean metalware can be divided into simple techniques (gilding/silvering


and/or geometric-based motifs), which require less investment of time and skill, and complex
techniques (inlay and/or non-geometric motifs). As shown in Figure 3, shallow, stemmed and
Vapheio cups were consistently more likely to have been decorated and to have received additional
value through the use of complex decoration than other cup forms. Ornamentation, especially types
that involved complex techniques, was particularly associated with stemmed cups (Fig. 3). Perhaps
this can be linked to the hypothesis that their role was to distinguish specific individuals and groups
within the elite community.
If the purpose of producing particular vessel forms in different materials was to indicate
value grades, this could have had an impact on how they were used. Cups of different grades could
have been owned by or allocated to individuals based upon their status. This would have enabled
participation whilst also observing the protocols of Mycenaean social hierarchies. A number of
variables beyond membership of the elite could then have been marked, including gender, age,
kin relations and individual biographical achievements. Cups would have been particularly suited
to such a role because their context of use can facilitate their association with a specific elite
personage, rather than a generalized notion of a high-status lifestyle.

CONCLUSION

This paper has set out to demonstrate why analyzing the level of standardization for
individual elements of an object, rather than only considering the object as a whole, can be
beneficial. It is clear that different levels of standardization or individualism can be applied during
the process of manufacturing a single artefact, which were intended to increase the complexity of its
meanings and usages.
In this case, the levels of standardization in form and material of Mycenaean metal vessels
were analyzed, with especial attention paid to the three most popular forms of cup. Metal vessels
have been recognized as an important facet of Mycenaean elite identity and cups were particularly

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STEPHANIE AULSEBROOK

significant because of their association with drinking rituals. This analysis has shown that the
shallow and Vapheio cups were used to underpin the elite material culture sphere, whilst other
short-lived cup variants were introduced and disappeared around them. Their persistently high
standardization in form indicates their usage within relatively conservative ceremonies, which were
probably very closely tied to Mycenaean elite identity. These two forms therefore acted as
gatekeepers to a high-status social arena; to acquire or be permitted to use these vessels was a
requirement for entry into this elite domain.
The third popular metal cup form, the stemmed cup, was also a mainstay of the elite
material culture sphere but its role differed. Its low level of form standardization points to a more
individualized context of usage, which was probably directed towards other knowledgeable
members of the elite community rather than the wider populace. However, its distinctiveness and
high level of recognizability was retained through the incorporation of a stem.
The pattern of material standardization for these cups showed considerable deviation from
that of their form standardization. In general, the metal vessel assemblage was governed by quite
strict boundaries of material, but these were routinely ignored during the manufacture of cups,
especially for shallow, stemmed and Vapheio cups. The combination of strong shape recognition
and the transcendence of material boundaries enabled these three cup types to articulate different
gradients of value whilst simultaneously retaining their identity as an important form of elite
Mycenaean material culture. Decoration helped to widen these gradients of value. Although shape
and material for these three vessels types followed different paths with regard to standardization,
these differences worked together to produce objects capable of communicating highly complex
meanings to a targeted audience.

Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank Dr Elizabeth French, Dr Yannis Galanakis and Dr Nicholas
Soderberg for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper and the useful bibliographic
references they supplied. Thanks are also due to an anonymous reviewer who recommended further
improvements. This paper was based upon work completed for a doctoral thesis at the University of
Cambridge through a grant from the AHRC and a Leslie Wilson Scholarship from Magdalene College,
Cambridge. The author also wishes to thank her PhD supervisors, Dr Simon Stoddart and Dr Laura Preston.
Any remaining mistakes or omissions belong to the author.

73 HOLLOWAY ROAD
HEYBRIDGE
MALDON
E-mail: s.aulsebrook@gmx.com

doi: 10.1111/ojoa.12134

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