In Carol G. Thomas and Craig Conant’s Citadel to City-State we read the following:
“Though a basileus has a role that transcends immediate family concerns, his basis of strength is his own household or oikos. At least in the epic world, these households were the largest kinship groups. When Odysseus seeks to reassert his power in Ithaca, for instance, he has the aid of his son and two household slaves. By preserving and enriching his own oikos, a man draws other families – through their own leaders – to his following. He keeps the allegiance of other heads of families as long as he is successful in battle and counsel, demonstrating his skills by means of material acquisitions. When he fails, leadership passes to the person giving the best advice or best proving himself in combat.
The physical picture of Nichoria accords well with such a situation. The community is virtually an extended family, and the village leader, the head of the most important family. The community of Dark Age Nichoria, numbering some two hundred individuals during the tenth and ninth centuries, appears to be founded on a more stable foundation than its immediate predecessor. Too large to have supported itself by hunting and herding alone, the iron age settlement shows the first signs of renewed social differentiation and complexity. The large building occupied during this period and named by the excavators Unit IV-1 seems not to have been used solely as a center for cult activities or communal stores; its primary purpose may have been the residence of an exceptional person, known to modern anthropologists as the ‘Big Man’ of the community, along with his immediate family.”
Nichoria (37.002601 N, 21.916655 E) in Messenia in the Peloponnese was a thriving village under the control of Ano Englianos (Pylos) up through LHIIIC. It seems to have been used by the Mycenaean administration to produce linen if we are to judge by the amount of flax that they received from Pylos. At the beginning of the twelfth century BC the site was destroyed and the population was enslaved, put to the sword or fled. The site lay deserted until about 1075 BC when it was resettled by a small group of, perhaps, 100 people. We can say nothing about the origins of the new population except that they are almost certain to have been Greek speakers. They rebuilt a few homes on the foundations of the Mycenaean houses and, in addition to that, they built apsidal buildings which are large structures, open-ended on one side and closed in a rounded apse on the other. The structure known as IV-1 was built at least as early as the tenth century and, by the eighth century, it was joined by another which actually abutted it. Were these apsidal structures domestic, communal, or what? What was their purpose? Were they the residences of the ‘big man’ of Thomas and Conant’s imaginations?
It must be clearly understood that there’s nothing unusual or significant about Nichoria; it was just like hundreds of similar farming communities on the Greek mainland at that time. The reason that so much archaeological ink has been spilled on this community is that it is one of a very small number of sites that has a (nearly) continuous Iron Age stratigraphy and this allows us a glimpse, however incomplete, of the life of a community over several hundred years of that era. The population profile was almost certainly a shallow-sided pyramid which is characteristic in modern terms of a poverty-stricken and under-developed country. At any one time at least half of the population was under twenty years of age and there would have been very few or no inhabitants over the age of 60. There is no meaningful way to apply the label ‘Mycenaean’ to this tiny village. And yet Thomas and Conant insist on dragging this fly-specked little hamlet into the world of the Homeric epic based on the existence of that apsidal house which they see, by an ego-based analysis, as the dwelling place of some completely imaginary ‘big-man’.
In this confabulation, Thomas and Conant are begging the following questions.
Begged question 1. Is Nichoria Mycenaean?
Thomas and Conant clearly assume that this town is appropriately described in terms borrowed from the world of epic and that these people are ‘Mycenaean’. They seem to have some idea that Nichoria can be fruitfully compared to the (remember, fictional) estates of Odysseus and that similar considerations apply.
‘Mycenaean’ is neither race nor blood-type nor DNA profile. The term ‘Mycenaean’ can only be properly applied to a set of MH and LH behaviors – having little to do with farming praxis specifically – which resulted from the collision of the incoming Greek-speaking peoples of the MH with the Minoans who had started to colonize mainland Greece from the south and east. It is precisely these behaviors which are lost almost completely at the beginning of the 12th century BC in the Bronze Age Collapse as Thomas and Conant have been at pains to point out. In another place I have argued for the survival of Mycenaean civilization and behaviors at Athens at least through the end of the 11th century. But there is no meaningful sense in which a group of 100 or so semi-isolated people and cattle in the sticks of southern Messenia at the beginning of the 11th century BC can be Mycenaeans. The only thing we can plausibly say about their origins is that they were almost certainly Greek speakers.
Begged question 2: Did the Nichorians have structured or formal leadership?
It’s just as plausible that the oldest person in town made the decisions. Perhaps we should re-purpose the Russian word ‘starets’ for Nichoria.
Begged Question 3: Did the Nichorians have only one leader?
The usual pattern for Indo-European leadership is twinned – one leader is a war leader and the other fulfills a sacral office. This wide-spread practice survived in the Spartan twin-kingship (admittedly a different type of geminated leadership from the one I’ve just described).
Begged Question 4: Was the society of Nichoria large enough to support the
factionalization of a ‘big-man’ society?
The ‘big-man’ of Melanesia only exists in order to compete with other big men. ‘Big-man-ness’ is a zero-sum game. The prestige which big-man A derives from competitive gift-giving or feast-giving is taken from big-man B whose prestige is thereby reduced. I think that there is very little possibility that Nichoria ever had the resources to support that sort of ‘big-man’ competitive gift-giving. Based on that silly apsidal house Thomas and Conant are asking us to believe that the big-man is a ‘chief’, sui generis in that village, someone like Odysseus. And he isn’t. It is because the Melanesian big-man is not a chief and does not act like one, that the ‘big-man’ terminology arose in the first place.
In addition there are vital factors which they simply ignore. The idea of kinship, for example. In my next post we will see that the archaeology suggests that this small community was divided into two kinship groups one senior, one junior.
If the apsidal house at Nichoria is not the dwelling place of some ‘big man’ then what is it? I’ll deal with that also in my next post.
 Thomas and Conant , 51-2.
 Burke , 437.
 By 'ego-based analysis' I mean an analysis that focuses on the single individual and discards what we can reasonably surmise about the society in which that person lived. See my opening remarks from the last post here starting with 'When we characterize person Y...'. Thomas and Conant are not the only ones. Hall , 126. “…the monumental building in the Toumba cemetery could have served as a feasting-hall and as the residence of the community’s ‘big-man’.” The Toumba being referred to is at Lefkandi on Euboea.
 Thomas and Conant , 26. The early 11th century resettlement of Nichoria after several generations of abandonment is not inconsistent with an influx of Dorian Greeks. Cartledge  75 et passim argues for a Dorian influx. “…the political vacuum ensuing after the Mycenaean debâcle would certainly have provided a perfect opportunity for such an infiltration of pastoralists into the Peloponnese.”, ibid. 82. Also “The extent to which Messenia had been ‘Dorianized’ before the Spartan takeover is problematic, but the fact that the Messenians laid so much stress on their Dorian ancestry and retained Dorian institutions even after their liberation from Sparta in 370 … may indicate that it was not negligible.”, 102.
 In fact, given the virtual certainty of Minoan/Mycenaean dynastic inter-marriage and the general propensity of human beings to mate on sight I may have to back off on my DNA remarks.
 Mallory  139, ‘War of the Functions’ et passim. On the Spartan diarchy and the wide-spread existence in the Greek world of twinned kingships see Sahlins (2011).
 Lindstrom  900 ff. and Seeland , 6-7 both trace the dissatisfaction with previous ‘chief’ terminology among those writing about and living in Melanesia.
 Otherwise how would anyone know whom to marry?
Burke : Brendan Burke, “Textiles”, chapter 32 in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean, Oxford University Press, 2010.
Cartledge : Paul Cartledge, Sparta and Laconia; a Regional History. 1300-362 BC., 2nd edition. Routledge, Oxford, 1975, 2002.
Hall : Jonathan M. Hall, A History of the Archaic Greek World ca. 1200-479 BCE. Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Lindstrom : Lamont Lindstrom, “’Big Man: A Short Terminological History”,American Anthropologist, NS 83:4 (Dec., 1981), 900-905, Wiley. On-line here:http://www.jstor.org/stable/676254
Mallory : J.P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans; Language, Archaeology and Myth. Thames and Hudson, 1989.
Seeland : Dan Seeland. “Stressing Servant Leadership in a Land of Big Men and Great Men”. Melanesian Journal of Theology 23-1 (2007) 6.
Thomas and Conant : Carol G. Thomas and Craig Conant, Citadel to City-State: The Transformation of Greece, 1200-700 B.C.E., Indiana University Press, 1999.