♦ The causes behind the rapid development of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations in the Aegean during the late third and second millennia B.C.E. have intrigued scholars for years. Until recently, most explanations attributed Aegean development to outside influence. Civilization had emerged in Mesopotamia by 3000 B.C.E, and, some archeologists argued, Mesopotamian trade introduced civilized ideas and technological innovations into nearby, less advanced areas. Others hypothesized that civilization was brought to the Aegean by invasion from some adjacent region, of which Anatolia in modern Turkey seemed the most plausible.
In a work published in 1972, Professor Colin Renfrew approached the problem from a different viewpoint. He argued that the scanty available evidence for invasion or immigration from Anatolia into Greece in the early Bronze Age (about 3300-2200 B.C.E.) showed that, at most, such incursion was limited, and that it could not be regarded as responsible for the transformation of society there. Trade, though clearly documented, was also an inadequate explanation in itself. To understand the major changes in social organization and complexity that took place, it was necessary, said Renfrew, to determine the impact that new variables emerging in the early Bronze Age may have had on every interrelated aspect of the local social system. The two new major developments he considered were changes in the subsistence economy and the introduction of bronze metallurgy.
The economy of Neolithic Greece was based on growing grains and raising sheep. Early in the third millennium B.C.E., cultivation of grape vines and olive trees also became important in southern Greece and the Aegean Islands. Both crops were eminently suitable for trade and storage in the form of olive oil and wine. They were grown on land that was not suitable for grain farming. Their cultivation required work at a different time of year from that needed by grain crops, and much of this work, such as harvesting, was relatively light. As a result, agricultural yields were substantially increased without disrupting established agricultural practice. That increase in turn allowed, or stimulated, population growth. For the first time there was enough demand for specialized crafts and services to justify the existence of full-time craftspeople, who could be supported from the extra agricultural output.
Some copper artifacts were made during the fourth millennium B.C.E, but there were not many of them and they had little economic or social significance. When, in the third millennium, copper began to be mixed with tin to produce the relatively hard alloy bronze, demand for metal goods grew. Bronze could be used to make a range of useful new tools and weapons and a variety of impressive ornaments. The demand for metalwork stimulated further specialization in crafts such as toolmaking and jewelry making. The new tools promoted the development of other crafts, like carpentry and shipbuilding. Competition for prestigious or useful craft products and for control of their producers helped to heighten both social differences within communities and conflicts between them, resulting in the emergence of local chieftains, who were also in many instances warriors. These chieftains regulated agricultural and craft production, operating a distribution system through which the farmers could obtain tools or ornaments they needed or wanted. The organizational demands of controlled distribution made it necessary to develop methods of measurement and recording, which led to the development of writing.
Renfrew argued that any single innovation would have had a limited or negligible effect on social organization because the inherently conservative nature of societies acts to minimize change. However, the interaction of several simultaneous developments created a multiplier effect. In the Aegean, increased agricultural productivity provided the means to support craft specialization, while bronze metallurgy provided the technology for producing highly valued new products. These factors set in motion a series of changes in other subsystems of society. Those changes in turn resulted in what, in a term borrowed from electronics, are called positive feedback loops—alterations in the workings of a social system that serve to reinforce themselves. Thus Aegean society was transformed from one consisting of basically self-sufficient and egalitarian farming villages to one of prosperous, hierarchical chiefdoms, with palace-dwelling rulers, actively competing with one another both at home and in international trade.