A comparative study of Near Eastern and Aegean glyptic art, 2000 -- 1400 B.C.: Combat, hunt, chariot, boar, goat, bird, and bull scenes
Thompson, Gail D.
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The goal of this dissertation is to provide an in-depth comparative study of certain motifs and scenes found in both Aegean and Near Eastern glyptic art traditions (c.2000 -1400 B.C.), with the aim of gaining a better understanding of their differences and the contributing cultural causes for the disparities. Themes examined within this study include Hunt, Chariots, Combat, and a select number of animal motifs - wild boar, goat, bull and birds. The themes of Hunt, Chariots, and Combat were chosen based upon the fact that these particular motifs are conspicuously absent from the Aegean glyptic art repertoire prior to the MM III era, but present in Near Eastern glyptic art, at least in some form, from the late fourth millennium B.C. and onward. The Animal theme was selected as a focus of the study based upon the observation that scenes of animals in nature are preeminent in Aegean glyptic art but a rare occurrence in the glyptic art of the Near East, except in the form of secondary motifs. For the purpose of comparative analysis, the specific animal motifs chosen for this study are those which are most frequently represented in the glyptic art repertoire of both regions over a long span of time. Following the Introduction, which includes a survey of scholarship, the study is organized into a series of four chapters that cover specific themes, with each theme consisting of an Aegean and a Near Eastern section. Each section consists of a presentation of representative seals with an accompanying brief description, followed by a comprehensive examination of the particular theme or motif as found in each region. This examination explores such topics as the initial appearance of the motif in the region's glyptic art repertoire, its appearance in other art forms, the evolution of the motif and its associated cultural meanings over time as interpreted by various scholars, and the significance as well as the associated meanings of secondary motifs found within each scene. Utilizing this information I then interpret the glyptic scenes, discuss their possible role in the related culture, and offer an explanation as to what each can tell us about their host society. This information is also provided in comparative tables that are provided for each motif or scene examined within the study. Chapter 5, Conclusions and Summary, offers a synthesis of information gleaned from the study and a summary of its most important finds. In general, the study concludes that although the Near East and the Aegean shared certain motifs during this period, motifs from each region appear to have been derived from distinctly separate traditions. In the Near East, motifs and their associated meanings evolved over time, building on but always maintaining concepts established in Mesopotamia's early Uruk period - the era of the region's first city-states. In general these concepts reflect aspects of kingship, religion, mythology, and the gods. In contrast, motifs found on Aegean seals of the LBA, may owe their existence to the importance of the oral literate tradition found in a less centralized chiefly society - oral traditions that were later reflected in Homer. Further, the distinctive style and subject matter found on the Aegean seals may be due to the structure of Aegean society, that is, that in the Near East, artistic production was in the hands of a centrally controlled bureaucracy, while in the Aegean the artist produced directly for individuals, in a decentralized culture. Much like the region of Syria, however, Minoan and Mycenaean art of the Late Bronze Age seems to reflect ideologies that were linked to those in control of the palaces (rulers, wealthy elites, and/or religious leaders): ideologies that may be indicative of a forming power structure that was based upon male prowess in hunt and battle. As in Syria and Anatolia, Minoan and Mycenaean glyptic art of the LBA witnessed the appearance of an early version of the 'Mistress of Animals' - the bird and goat regularly featured as her sacred animals - and the introduction of combat, hunt, chariot, and bull-leaping scenes. These particular similarities seem to attest to the possible existence of a close cultural affinity between the Aegean and the regions of Syria and Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age.