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Eastern Mediterranean

The Relationship between the Wanaka, Rawaketa, and Tatakeu

by Rita Roberts, 25 November 2023

The Mycenaeans were an Indo-European group which entered Greece around 1900 BC and, by 1600 BC, had formed a powerful, vibrant warrior culture.

Initially they were dominated by the powerful Minoans, until the fifteenth century BC when the tables were turned. Between then and the twelfth century BC they provided the earliest aspects of modern Greek culture and language.

Ruling structure

At the top of the hierarchy of each Mycenaean palace state was the wanaka (the king), whose role was religious, military, and judicial.

The wanaka took care of virtually all aspects of palatial life, from religious feastings and offerings to the distribution of goods, craftsmen, and troops. Under him was the rawaketa, or lawagetas (which translates roughly as 'leader of the host'), both of whom were also possible major land-owners.

Both the wanaka and the lawagetas stood at the head of a military aristocracy which was known as eqeta.

The lawagetas had tradesmen who were allocated to his service, perhaps a wheelwright and one other whose trade is a little obscure. [1]

The lliad indicates the following organisation: the wanaka (the king) was the supreme military leader but the lawagetas had a more active military role.

The army consisted of the 'catagories' of unit commanders, plus the charioteers, and also the champions - a form of light infantry, and finally the common infantry (heavy and light).

The champions mainly consisted of infantrymen, and were the best warriors, those who protected the leaders in battle (the king, the lawagetes, and the high ranking officials.

The high ranking officials and the champions were protected by wearing strong armour and reached the battlefields in chariots.

Minoan similarities

The Minoan social classes were basically the same, which is unsurprising after around three hundred years of Mycenaean control of the island of Crete, home to Minoan civilisation.

At the top of the social pyramid was the king, also known as the wanax. Under the king was the lawageta, the leader of the army.

The Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete
A partial refurbishment of the surviving palace elements at Knossos by Arthur Evans, the great discoverer of Minoan civilisation between 1900-1905, shows just how magnificent this complex would have appeared

The Mask of Agamemnon

The 'Mask of Agamemnon' was so named by Heinrich Schliemann, perhaps optimistically, but this is a prime example of Mycenaean work - descendants of South-West IEs

[1] (NA245) The Mycenaean World, John Chadwick (Cambridge University Press, 1976, p 72).

After the lawagetas were the telestas, who formed each city's religious officials.

Under the telestas were the equatas, or the military/cavalry class, followed by the quasireu, who were the workers. Under the workers were the slaves.

Name analysis

Only one of those Mycenaean class names looks familiar from the point of view of Indo-European name analysis.

That's the label for 'warriors', which survived in Latin as equetae and later Classical Greek as hequetoi (Greek). The other labels for various ranks do not seem to make sense in Indo-European languages, or at least as they were later developed.

Greek language origins, whilst being fully Indo-European, are less well understood, even though this language heavily informed the later development of Latin.

Greek language in its early days, under the Mycenaeans, may have taken on board some influences from the Pelasgian populations which they largely replaced in mainland Greece. This would explain some of the difficulties involved in breaking down the oldest Greek (Mycenaean) labels.



Images and text copyright © Rita Roberts, with additional information by Edward Dawson. Originally published as an academic paper, and reproduced here with the author's support and permission.