WHAT ROLE FOR THE PAST: HELLENIC DEVOTEES OR ROMAN ROBBERS?
This preliminary review indicates the complexity of not only the dataset, with several different types of preservation and reported details, but also in the pattern of reuse of the tombs. Despite this diversity, a picture of the reuse of Bronze Age tombs has slowly arisen in the academic literature.
During the Iron Age and Hellenic period, tombs seem to have been used as powerful social arenas in which links to the past could be constructed to strengthen social and political positions. In the case of Knossos in the Iron Age this seems to be played at a local level, marking social differentiation in the community (Coldstream 1998). By the Hellenic period, competition seems to be played more in a regional scale in which competing city-states tried to demonstrate their regional power against each other (Alcock 2002, 107-9). This is normally thought to be built on strong ideological and religious grounds, and most of the Hellenic material found in the tombs tends to be interpreted as the evidence of cult activities, such as libations to the ancestors (Lefevre Novaro 2005).
This mix of cult and politics is argued to have declined in the Roman period. Alcock suggests that the new Roman order made it unnecessary to revisit the past to assert local identities (Alcock 2002, 117-19). Roman identity seems to put an end to regional competition and the manipulation of the past may have moved towards large-scale imperial policies. Roman materials found in tombs tend to be interpreted as signs of robbing and other secular use of the tombs. The Greek gentle and spiritual engagement with their past seems to be replaced for a more practical Roman approach to the exploitation of the landscape. For example, the excavators of Archanes have interpreted both the opening at the top of Tholos A and the small delimited space in the dromos as part of the Roman efforts to loot the site (Sakellarakis and Sapouna-Sakellaraki 1997, 158-61), even when a Venetian coin was found in the filling of the tomb. A little clearer seems the case of the tombs at Lebena, where Roman material seems associated with the disturbances of the tomb (Alexiou and Warren 2004, 181).
However, one cannot but feel slightly uneasy with such a dualistic view of Hellenic and Roman use of the tombs, and it sometimes feels that the interpretations of the evidence follow a rigid interpretative framework that does not necessarily match the variety of the data. The problems should be evident. Despite the name ‘Roman’, there was probably not a major change of population on the island from earlier periods. Most of the people living on Roman Crete would have felt links with the land surrounding them, running back through their descent line. Roman populations would probably have engaged at the same emotional level with their landscape as the population in Hellenic times. Perhaps the best example of this is the case of the Roman interments on top of the Koumasa tombs, which show an ideological link with the local past. It is possible that detailed analysis of material from other Bronze Age tombs could point to similar responses. As Susan Alcock points out, the general trends in Roman understanding of the past set by the imperial ideology do not exclude other local responses to their immediate landscape (Alcock 2002, 120). While Roman attitudes to the monuments may have been different, it also expresses spiritual interests, even if in a different manner to the way it took place in Hellenic times (Federico 2013).