4. Prestige-Goods Economies: The Prehistoric Aegean and Modern Northern Highland Albania Compared
Michael L. Galaty [+]
University of Michigan
This paper employs the prestige-goods network in modern highland northern Albania — focusing on interactions between local ‘tribal’ groups and the Ottoman empire — as a comparative analogy for investigating the trade in prestige goods between Minoan and Mycenaean Greece and Egypt. Various goods were acquired by Albanian mountaineers in Ottoman market towns and shared within and between households. Exchanges of such goods were governed by customary laws related to reciprocal hospitality and honor (nder). Thus there was an ideological component to the trade in and use of prestige goods, but the symbolic meanings they held in Ottoman culture were not necessarily those they held in Albanian tribal culture. Ottoman authorities allowed, even encouraged, mountain trade, but the independent Albanian state, in its effort to destroy the mountain tribes and their chieftains, closed borders, restricting access to market towns, and thereby disrupted the prestige-goods economy. Without access to prestige goods, systems of reciprocal hospitality (and therefore economy) faltered. The role of prestige-goods in the operation and then collapse of tribal social systems was not techno-functional; it was ideological, framed in emic terms by mountaineers as a failure of honor. This paper suggests, based on a contextual analysis of Egyptian items imported to Late Bronze Age Greece, that Mycenaean (but not Minoan) society may have relied on ideological systems that were similar to those of the modern Albanian tribes. This paper highlights the importance of analogy to the study of prehistoric states.