by Ioannis Georganas

Citation: Georganas, I. (2000): "The Palace of Nestor at Pylos" Mediterranean Archaeology Resources


It was in May 1952 that C.W. Blegen brought to light the remains of a Mycenaean palace at Ano Englianos, Pylos. Ano Englianos is a ridge-like acropolis running from northeast to southwest, with a maximum length of 170m and a width of 90m at its broadest. The hill rises from the surrounding ground in steep scraps and is some 9km to the nearest point of the Navarino Bay (Blegen and Rawson 1966:30-31).

The palace is dated to the LH IIIB period and is the only one of its size, administrative character, and date that yet has been discovered in western Peloponnese.

Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

The acropolis had been occupied before the palace was built, as the ceramic evidence indicates, since the Middle Helladic period. Near to the acropolis many Mycenaean tombs have been found both tholoi and chamber tombs.

The palace itself cannot be considered as a single structure but comprises four separate buildings, two of residential and ceremonial use, one workshop and a wine magazine (Blegen and Rawson 1966:34). The general design of the megaron is quite similar to the plans of the megara at Mycene and Tiryns though the architecture represented at these three palaces shows considerable variety in details (i.e. in the number of columns, in the wall construction and so forth).


Given the nature of the Linear B tablets, the political geography of the kingdom is essentially embedded in the geographical information contained in the texts, since place-names of high status usually occur more frequently than those of lesser status (Bennet 1995:588).

Linear B tablet
Source: Hellenic Ministry of Culture

When we examine the Pylian tablets one thing becomes apparent; for administrative purposes the kingdom was divided into two provinces, which we now call the “Hither” and “Further” Provinces. The former appears in the tablets as de-we-ro-a-ko-ra-i-ja (this side of the Aigaleon) and the latter as pe-ra-ko-ra-i-ja (beyond Aigaleon) (Chadwick 1994:42-43, Bennet 1995:588). The feature that these two words refer to is the mountain Aigaleon. There are several tablets showing the Hither/Further province distinction such as Ng 319, Wa 948, Wa 114, and Pa 398.

Each province was subdivided into districts. The Hither seems to contained nine districts and the Further seven, though some documents give a total of eight in the latter, one district (e-re-i) being divided into two (Chadwick 1977:37). The nine districts of the Hither province are enumerated in at least three lists in a constant order which must be of geographical nature (Jn 829, Cn 608 and Vn 20). They run as follows, adapting the actual case endings used in different lists: pi-*82(swa?), me-ta-pa, pe-to-no, pa-ki-ja-ne, a-pu, a-ke-re-wa, e-ra-to/ro-u-so, ka-ra-do-ro, ri-jo. In addition, Jn 829 provides us with the seven districts of the Further province: ti-mi-to-a-ke-e, [ra]-wa-ra-ta, [sa]-ma-ra, a-si-ja-ti-ja, e-ra-te-re-wa-pi, za-ma-e-wi-ja, e-re-i.

According to this Hither/Further distinction, the nine districts lie in the western coastal strip and the seven (or eight) over the mountains in the Messenian valley (Palmer 1963:67). Chadwick (1994:43) has argued that the coastal strip helps us to reduce the two-dimensional distribution of the districts to the single dimension of a list, a list that runs along the line of the coast. A series of tablets, the well-known “o-ka tablets”, has helped scholars to suggest that the order of the lists runs from north to south, from the area north of the modern Kyparissia valley, around the Akritas peninsula, to the shore of the Messenian Gulf proper.

Another useful bit of information provided by the tablets is that as Pylos was the capital of the Hither province (and of course of the kingdom), there was a place called re-u-ko-to-ro (Leuktron) that may have been the capital of the Further province. Unfortunately we have no means of locating this site, though some candidates are the sites of Nichoria and Ellinica (Bennet 1995:592, note 15).


As we have already mentioned earlier, the Pylian kingdom was divided into sixteen (or seventeen) administrative districts. Each of these districts was controlled by a local governor called ko-re-te and a deputy called po-ro-ko-re-te. From Jn 829 we learn the ko-re-te and the po-ro-ko-re-te of each district were responsible for quite large contributions of bronze in order to provide raw materials for the manufacture of weapons. At the same tablet we have also the appearance of some other officials such as the du-ma-te and the mo-ro-qa. In addition, Jo 438 refers to contributions of gold, again made by the governors and their deputies. From this we can imply that these officials were of significant importance, responsible for the distribution of raw materials. As a result we can accept that each district had its own storage areas and some junior officials (such as the “key-bearers”) responsible for their operations (Ruiperez and Melena 1996:133). Although all these are indicative of an extensive control of the palace over the districts, one entity mentioned in the tablets comes and slightly alters the picture. That entity, which Hooker (1995:18) characterises as ‘non-palatial’ is the da-mo. According to the tablets a da-mo seems to be a local organ of organisation, a formal representation of the local community. We see it as a contributor of offerings to Poseidon (Un 718) and we also see it as owner of land (Ep 704). From the latter we can infer that the da-mo is indeed a non-palatial institution, strong enough to struggle for its own rights, especially over land.


Looking at the archaeological evidence available to us, that is the actual remains of the palace and the Linear B tablets, one thing becomes clear; the economy of the Pylian kingdom was heavily centralised.

If we take a look at the palace itself we can see that they were specific areas used as storerooms such as the ‘Oil Magazine’ (rooms 23, 24, 32), the ‘North Oil Magazine’ (room 27), and the ‘Wine Magazines’ (rooms 104, 105). In room 23, among other things they were found 17 pithoi and 56 Linear B tablets and fragments of tablets, all dealing with various kinds of olive oil (Blegen and Rawson 1966:134-39). In room 24, 11 pithoi were recovered while room 32 contained at least a dozen of pithoi, certainly for oil storage, but as Blegen (supra:158) has argued must have been a special refined type, since the storage jars were distinctly smaller than those in the other oil magazines. Finally, another 16 pithoi were found in the ‘North Oil Magazine’ ranged around all four sides of the room. The two ‘Wine Magazines’ also contained large numbers of pithoi. Room 105 in particular, must have contained at least 35 of them. In addition, in the south corner of the room numerous clay sealings came to light which according to the excavator (supra:342-49) they were used in connection with wine, either the wine brought to the magazine or the wine already stored in the building.

All these storage areas clearly indicate that the palace was playing an active economic role, mainly that of a redistributor of agricultural products (Renfrew 1972:296). Many scholars have argued that the palaces were centres of massive redistributive operations for subsistence commodities (Renfrew 1972, Finley 1957). This view is strengthened by the tablets showing large amounts of agricultural products enter to and exit from the palaces.

But what were the main elements of the Pylian economy? Fist of all, agriculture was obviously the most important aspect of the economy. The tablets demonstrate that there were two principal food-grains; wheat and barley. These cereals were also used as the basis of the rations’ system as the Ab series of tablets indicates. Except these basic food grains the palace was also responsible for the more “industrial” products such as textiles, perfumed oil, and of course metals.

The textile industry of Pylos was very centralised, with the great majority of the workgroups concentrated at the two main centres Pylos and Leuktron (Killen 1984:55-58). Additionally, this concentration of labour in the two centres was accompanied by the concentration there of the more specialised activities within the industry such as decoration, headband making and so forth. All these clearly demonstrate that the palace at Pylos was in full control of the textile industry.

Another industry indicated by the tablets was that of the perfumed oil. The records refer to various stages of the industry such as the allocation of raw materials to perfumers (e.g. An 616, Un 249), stocktaking and distribution of the finished products (Fr series). According to Shelmerdine (1984:81) “this scribal attention shows that perfumery was an officially controlled activity, a palatial ‘business’ or ‘industry’”. Four perfumers are named in the tablets, with the three of them working for the palace. This is attested by the fact that they were paid by the palace and of course they get their raw materials from the palace (supra:83).

If we move to the metals industry, the tablets again demonstrate a very tight control of it by the palace. Most of the documents list the smiths at various places and the amounts of bronze allocated to them. Clearly the palace was anxious to maintain a tight control over the supplies of metals, and when bronze was issued to smiths a very careful record of the quantity was kept at the palace archives (Jn series). In each tablet of this series a place-name is given along with a list of the smiths and the amount of bronze allocated to each, and a total. Finally we have a list of smiths without an allocation. From these tablets we are able to estimate the number of the smiths in the Pylian kingdom, which was about 400 (Chadwick 1994:141). This notion of tight control is clearly demonstrated by Jn 829, where the palace requires (or probably demands) large amounts of bronze to be collected from each district.

All these aspects of the economy clearly demonstrate that the palace was a redistributive centre. But have we got any evidence indicating that it was also a manufacturer of any short of goods? The excavations of the sixth campaign in 1957 revealed a complex now known as the ‘Northeastern Workshop’. This complex is separated by the Main Building and comprises seven rooms and a roofed porch facing a court. The purpose of this building was almost immediately clear; it was a workshop (Blegen and Rawson 1966:35). Among the various objects there the most significant were 64 Linear B tablets and some 52 clay sealings, indicating that the building had a special status. From these tablets we learn that in this complex bronze was weighted, leather and metal objects were manufactured and/or repaired, harnesses were made and so forth (Tegyey 1984:65-79). For example, Room 100 has yielded 501 small barbed arrowheads and the other areas of the workshop yielded 13 more (Blegen and Rawson 1966). If we look at the other quarters of the palace we only find about 16 arrowheads. From this we can imply that the Northeastern Workshop was the main storeroom for arrowheads (Tegyey 1984:72) and probably also the main production area for them.


In the Pylian archives, no tablets referring to weapons were found, except from a tablet which belongs with the inventory of vessels and furniture (Ta 716); it records two swords and the word used is the classical xiphos though the spelling is quite odd (Chadwick 1994:172). However, we have indirect information about weapons coming from the well-known tablet Jn 829, which refers to spears and javelins. Another series of documents (Sh) is characterised by the ideogram *163, which appears to be a schematic representation of a corslet with a helmet. The world used for corslets is to-ra-ke, and each of them is listed as having twenty large and ten small ‘accessories’ (Palmer 1963:329, Chadwick 1994:162).

As far as chariots are concerned, again we have no tablets listing any of them but we have a large series of documents (Sa) which records wheels. The fact that these wheels are usually listed as one pair per tablet certainly suggests a two-wheeled vehicle, which can hardly be anything but a chariot.

If we move to the military organisation of the Pylian kingdom, there is the An series which throws some light on this aspect. Some of the most important documents are the following.

An 1 is a list of 30 men who are drawn from five places and are going “as rowers to Pleuron”. A much larger list (An 610), unfortunately having its heading badly damaged, also refers to rowers (e-re-ta). A total of 569 men can be counted on the preserved part, with the figures of five entries missing. Finally there is An 724 which also seems to link with the previous two tablets. Palmer (1963:130) has suggested that 30 rowers might be the crew of one ship, so that this force mentioned would be enough to man almost 20 ships.

A better view of the Pylian military organisation can be given from the so-called “o-ka tablets” (An 657, 654, 519, 656, 661). These tablets have generally been regarded as records of military dispositions, that is to say the details of detachments of men who have been assigned to guard the coast. According to them, the whole Pylian coast is divided into 10 sectors. In each sector the name of the official responsible is given, followed by a few other names (presumably of subordinates). Then, groups of men follow, who are described in various ways, mainly by the name of their native towns. The total number of men comes to 800. In addition, we find in some cases an e-qe-ta (Follower) that accompanied them. Some scholars have suggested that the Followers were some kind of liaison officers, responsible for communicating with the palace. However, Chadwick (1994:176-77) has argued that the Followers were in fact the commanders of the various regiments of the Pylian army, ready to defend the kingdom’s territory.


During the LH IIIB period, the establishment on the hill of Ano Englianos was clearly a centre of a very hierarchical and centralised government. Authority was exercised over a huge area, divided into two provinces and subdivided into 16 smaller districts. Each district had its own governor followed by various junior officials, all responsible for the administration of the everyday operations. The palace seems to had a quite tight control over the economic activities that took place in its domain, playing mainly the role of redistributor of agricultural products. It was also heavily concerned with the defence of the kingdom’s territory and this is reflected in the development of coast-guard units and possibly of a fleet.


* Bennet, J. (1995), Space Through Time: Diachronic Perspectives on the Spatial Organisation of the Pylian State. In R. Laffineur and W-D Neimeier [eds], Politeia: Society and State in the Aegean Bronze Age, Aegaeum 12 (2). Universite’ de Liege, University of Texas at Austin. p. 587-602.

* Blegen, C.W. and M., Rawson (1966), The Palace of Nestor at Pylos in Western Messenia. Vol.1, Part 1. Princeton.

* Chadwick, J. (1977), The Interpretation of Mycenaean Documents and Pylian Geography. In J. Bintliff [ed], Mycenaean Geography. Cambridge. p. 36-39.

* Chadwick, J. (1994), The Mycenaean World (8th ed.). Cambridge.

* Finley, M.I. (1957), The Mycenaean Tablets and Economic History. Economic History Review Vol.10.

* Hooker, J.T. (1995), Linear B as a Source for Social History. In A. Powell [ed], The Greek World. London. p. 7-26.

* Killen, J.T. (1984), The textile Industries at Pulos and Knossos. In C.W. Shelmerdine and T.G. Palaima [eds], Pylos Comes Alive. New York. p. 49-63.

* Palmer, L.R. (1963), The Interpretation of Mycenaean Greek Texts. Oxford.

* Renfrew, C. (1972), The Emergence of Civilisation. London.

* Ruiperez, M. and J. Melena (1996), Los Griegos micenicos. (Translated in Greek by M. Panagiotidou). Athens.

* Shelmerdine, C.W. (1984), The Perfumed Oil Industry at Pylos. In C.W. Shelmerdine and T.G. Palaima [eds], Pylos Comes Alive. New York. p. 81-95.

* Tegyey, I. (1984), The Northeast Workshop at Pylos. In C.W. Shelmerdine and T.G. Palaima [eds], Pylos Comes Alive. New York. 65-79.