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A Greece: The Bronze Age Society in Minoan


Geographical environment
Geographical setting, natural features and resources of Minoan Crete

Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands

260 km from east to west width from north to south, is no greater than 60km
Sea: provided Cretans with food (fish, octopus, shellfish), safety (needed a navy to
attack, a natural wall against invaders)
Lack of fortifications suggest they saw the sea as something that would provide
them with a natural defence from invaders, this made Minoan settlements very
different from the cities of other people during the Bronze Age
Crete is very mountainous 3 mountain ranges: Ida range, Mt. Dikte + White
Mountains all of which exceed 1800m in height, some reaching as high as
Lower scopes of highlands covered with cypress rees
Caves, southern plains
Resources: timber (cypress trees), rocks (limestone used for buildings, pathways,
courtyards), caves (rituals, refuge, burials, shelter)
Coast: good farmland, rich, fertile soil olives, grapes, lemons, pears, almonds,
wide range of vegetables
Mesara plains in the south
Animal husbandry cattle, sheep, goats and pigs
Diet had a wide variety than most other societies drank beer, milk, wine + ate

Significant sites: Knossos, Phaestos, Malia, Zakros, AgiaTriada,

The First Palace Period
(c. 2000 1700 BC)

The Second Palace Period

(c. 1700 1450 BC)

Bronze Age saw the rise of palatial buildings in Crete

First palace seems to have been built at Knossos, then
Also first palace period built at Malia and Zakros
These palaces consisted of clusters of buildings little small
of apartments placed around a large, paved courtyard
2 storeys
Also had large circular pits placed in open courts
storage of grain
First Palaces were destroyed in an earthquake c. 1700 BC
Grander palaces in the Second Palace Period retained central
Buildings completely surrounded by the court
Central courts = rectangular and quite large
Masonry techniques were much more advanced than those in
earlier periods

The Third Palace Period

(c. 1425 1070 BC)

Large number of magazines or storage rooms

E.g. Linear A Minoans stored oil, grains, seeds and wine
used for
trade or to pay wages
Only palatial buildings at Arkhanes and Knossos appear to
have been
reoccupied other palaces were abandoned
People living in them were Mycenaeans not Minoans
Marked change in the pottery decoration
New writing appeared in Linear Blanguage in Ancient Greek
Nature of Mycenaean control over Crete is not completely clear
not know why they came or to what degree Minoans
in their government
Mixture of both Minoan and Mycenaean architecture
that the two groups became integrated
Suddenly, and for no known reason, the last palatial residence
abandoned in c. 1070 BC

Arthur Evans excavated Knossos in 1900 and 1932 he also instigated

reconstruction work (he was also responsible for creating a chronological timeline
for Minoan civilization that was based on changing pottery styles)
Has been criticised and commended for his work raised controversy about
archaeological methods
Evans also rebuilt parts of it accuracy is questionable
Many parts of the palace restored, concrete and timber frames used


Palace of Zakros located on the east coast of Crete south of Plaikestro

Original excavation begun by D.G. Howarth
Nikolas Platon resumed excavations in 1961 able to unearth a palace which had
not been looted
Lateness of its excavation allowed it to be excavated using modern scientific
Platon proposed a system of relative chronology used by archaeologists for Minoan
history based on the development of the architectural complexes



Harriet Boyd was the first American to excavate a Minoan site in Crete
In 1900 Boyd visited Knossos and met w/ Evans
Investigated the Minoan settlement at Gournia, located in the east-central Crete
she excavated from 1901 1905
First woman to supervise a large field crew of 100 workers, first American woman
to speak at the Archaeological Institution of America in 1902

Social structure and political organisation

Homer there were many different peoples living in Crete, no fewer than 90 cities
Herodotus states that the Cretans of the 5th century BC were a mixture of the
older Cretans and the settlers who arrived after the famine
Thucydides said that the Cretan king ruled over all the people in the Aegean and
maintained control by the use of his shops
^ Hearsay evidence

Issues relating to gender and identity of ruler/s

Lack of evidence in relation to a Minoan ruler no evidence of: statues, kings

names, royal tombs, recognisable iconography
Was there a ruler?
Was it female or male?
Was it a political ruler or a religious one?
Was there one or many rulers?


Evans believed: there was a King because Ancient sources (Homer, Herodotus and
Thucydides) spoke of King Minos EVIDENCE Prince of Lilies Fresco, Master
Impression seal, Throne at Knossos, Chieftan Cup (AgiaTriada)
However Homer was not a historian but a storyteller, Herodotus and Thucydides
were POST Minoan civilization, may have not had accurate sources
Believed in the stories of Homer, Herodotus and Thucydides assumed that there
had been a living King and his name was Minos we cannot know this for certain
Master Impression a clay impression on a medallion seal found at Khania
showing a large figure of a man above either an elaborate shrine or a palace
perhaps the King of Knossos
Also holds a staff, represents his role as protector of the site
Scholars now accept the idea that Minoans did not have a ruler at all their society
was so structured and organised, compared to other civilizations that this may
have been possible
^ if this is correct, then Minoans would be distinguished from other Ancient
civilizations no reliefs/frescoes/lack of representation of a ruler, but perhaps a
priest king?


Most historians today believe that the ruler was female; possibly a priestess
EVIDENCE most of the figures depicted in frescoes or seals are female
Griffons associated with females, found on the walls on either side of the throne
in the Throne Room at Knossos
Scholars suggests that the throne was intended for a priestess who dressed as a
goddess for religious appearance
CAMPSTOOL FRESCO + LA PARISIENNE woman in elegant dress, expensive
jewellery, hair and make-up, portrays their power and prestige in Minoan society
Goddess found Snake Goddess

Warren The ruler could have been as much a religious personage as a politician or
economist, and is at least as likely to have been female as male
Consider all the palaces in Crete surely there would be a king living in each?

3 Ancient Greek writers assured that there had been a King Minos
However we cannot be sure that Kings even existed in Crete during the Bronze Age
Evidence for Kings is uncertain and relies on fresco fragments that were altered by
Evans and thus unreliable (Prince of Lilies Fresco)
There are no graves of Minoan rulers community burials
Throne Room Mycenaean remodelling, but scholars believe its origins are Minoan
The throne said to be intended for a female due to its proportions of the butt
engraved on the seat
Depictions of griffins on either side of the throne fresco, support the idea that this
may have been a female ruler symbol for women
Scholars suggest that the throne was for a priestess dressed as a goddess
Master Impression clay seal found at Khania shows a large figure of a man
standing above an elaborate shrine or palace, his size and pose w/ a staff may also
represent him as a protector/king
Scholars now do not accept the idea that there was a king living in Crete
distinguishing Minoans from other civilizations
Theocracy: system of government administered by priests or priestesses

Palace elite: bureaucracy, priests and priestesses

Administrative, economic and religious activities of palaces would have required an
extensive bureaucracy great number of inscribed clays suggests that this
bureaucracy lasted over a long period of time
Pre-Palatial Period

Minoan administrative system was developed and used in various palaces/places

Pre-palatial period script used was hieroglyphic and approx. 270 items
containing this script had been discovered
Record seems to list goods received
System that was used extended for a time across all of Crete

First and Second palace periods

Bulk of these records came from palaces Linear A used

Relatively large quantity of tablets in this script written form of the Minoan
Linear A has not been deciphered
Shows formal contracts had been established throughout Crete in the 1 st Palace
Trade was also growing

Third Palatial Period

After 2nd Palatial period, Mycenaeans took over the Minoan system of
administration Mycenaean Greek language was used
From Knossos and Pylos archives, we learn that the purpose of Mycenaean
administration was to control the textile and bronze industries in particular record
taxation amounts
Taxes were paid in goods instead of money


Archaeologists and historians have noted a strong interrelationship between

religion and ceremony in Minoan palace complexes
Ritual areas and cult objects found close to magazines and workshops, as well as
clay tablets dedicated and distributed to deities and sanctuaries suggesting that
the Minoan government was ruled by a theocracy
Appearance: men with distinctive hairstyles wearing long robes and carrying
adytons (double axes) featured on seals may be priests
Leader of the procession on the Harvester Vase has a distinctive cloak and hairstyle
which may be interpreted as evidence of priestly status
Female figures identified as priestesses Sarcophagus at AgiaTriadha
Representations of women conducting religious ceremonies and performing rituals
far outnumber those of men suggesting that there were more priestesses than
Sarcophagus at AgiaTriada a priestess is shown carrying out a libation associated
with animal sacrifice

Most distinguished people appear in the frescoes, seals, rings both men and
women from wealthy/privileged classes
Well dressed and wear jewellery
Sacred Tree, Dance Fresco, AghiaTriadha Vase military class, depicts men as
Harvesters Vase elderly man leading a band of singing men engaged in an
agricultural festival
Representation of men wearing long gowns (priests)
Many of the upper class had religious duties


Worked in houses in town, stamped clay nodules with crescent-shaped seal stones
used for medallions, nodules and cones
Difficult to know where scribes ranked in Minoan society not referred to in tablets
Scholars identify individual scribes from handwriting
Scribes were the most knowledgeable concerned with various industries, scribes
would record all the information relating to any industry
Such responsibilities would have ensured that they occupied a fairly high position
in the social ladder

Roles and status of women

Difficult to say for certain what the role and status of women were in Minoan
Little written evidence, however a lot of visual representations
In all fresco remains females are the ones primarily seen as the larger, more
important figures although some men are presented wearing long gowns like a
toga (priests)
Women of wealthier class prominent in Minoan society they wear jewellery,
ornate hairstyles, layered skirts, diaphanous tops, extravagant make up
Seem to have performed a priestly or adorant role Gold Ring Priestess and the
AghiaTriadha fresco/sarcophagus, Dancing around the Tree Fresco
Linear B women working in textiles industry
Frescoes/seals/figurines show women participating in a range of social and religious
activities degree of freedom and prominence

AghiaTriada Sarcophagus woman (priestess) carrying out a ritual sacrifice of a

bull, suggesting women had a high religious status
Snake Goddess possible goddesses
Frequent depiction of women involved in ritual activities e.g. Tripartite Shrine fresco
Mistress of Animals seal stone goddess standing supreme over 2 lions, suggesting
women had strength, authority and power
Bull Leaping Fresco male and female athletes equality of women and men (or
perhaps superior?)

Craftsmen and agricultural workers

Large group of skilled workers ranged from masons (cutting stone blocks and
sheets for building), workers in faience making, smelting/working metal gold and
Artisans engraved stone seals, known also as gem cutters
Scholars believe that these people ranked higher than other groups their work is
difficult and requires skill
May have been employed by palace
Economy of Crete = based on agriculture and animal-husbandry (sheep, cows
other cattle)
From the Neolithic period Cretans have relied on farming and herding
Archaeological research by Branigan show that many of the Minoans lived in
clusters of houses in small farming communities scattered throughout the island
Products from these farms are listed on the tablets + dockets attached to storage
jars written in Linear A and B
Part of palace economy
Most likely that fishermen operated throughout all of the Neolithic and Bronze Age
Do not read about fish as commodity decorations on Minoan pottery confirm that
the Minoans were very familiar with the sea
Proximity of settlements sea would have ensured that fish was a primary source
of protein
One place specialised or fishing Zakro, had a purple dye industry that relied on
shellfish (murex mollusc)
Others involved in labouring jobs in quarries and forests
No info about these people, Harvesters Vase shows ordinary farm workers enjoying
a celebration of their work
Linear B tablets used a word for slave after Mycenaean occupation
Slave of the god might have meant servant
There were thus probably slaves working in Crete during the Mycenaean
occupation, unsure about Minoan period

No intensive study no representation of a family group in Minoan art
Family shared conditions within the home and tomb males, females and children
were buried together in a clan in tombs
Not a lot known about children in Minoan period not in Minoan art
Childrens bones also fragile may not last in tombs


The economy
Palace economy

Palaces were not only administrative and religious centres, they also had economic
Nearby farms and settlements provided palaces with agricultural produce and
manufactured goods, used for taxation or tribute
Thousands of clay tablets, recording lists of goods received, stored and distributed
goods have been found in the palaces
Magazines = storage, as well as pithoi suggesting grain or oil were stored within
the palace
Koulouras food storage facilities, large pits that held grains, could hold more than
76000 kg of grain
Portion of these goods dedicated to deities and distributed to sanctuaries, used as
offerings or payment
Produce may have also been distributed as payment to palace bureaucrats and
artisans, a portion would have been exported
Most palaces also had extensive workshop areas pottery, textiles were
^ evidence: loom weights found at Knossos and Phaistos, seal impressions
suggesting control over textile production
Petrographic analysis of clay used in pottery show that there was trade among the
palaces e.g. amphorae made in central Crete found in Eastern Crete
Six economic functions performed by palaces:
1. Producers craft productions
2. Consumers consumption of food products, skill and manufactured goods
3. Regulators of internal exchange within the region administering and
organizing exchange of goods and services
4. Regulators of external trade trade and exchange with other distant places and
other states
5. Accumulators of agricultural produce and other materials of value
6. Redistributors of agricultural produce and other materials of value

Importance of agriculture

Economy was largely based on agriculture

Evidence Harvesters Vase
Oil. Wine and grain were the major forms of produce, as well as natural resources
like timber for ship building and construction, wool from sheep and goats and
animal hides
Animal husbandry was important
Storage jars pithoi 246 000 litres
Suggested that palaces traded surplus goods outside of Crete
First palaces built in places that had a rich agricultural region, supporting a large
Extensive storage areas taxes/tythes
Storage capacity at Knossos huge pithoi jars w/ capacity of 246 thousand litres
Linear B tablets from Knossos also list quantities of agricultural products such as
wheat, barley, wine, oil, spices, honey, flax and wool

Cattles used to pull ploughs/carts + also raised for food archaeologists have
found bones of cattle, goats, pigs etc.
Bulls represented in frescoes, rhytons and other crafts, indicating importance
sacrifice of cattle e.g. Sarcophagus at AgiaTriadha
Wool was of considerable importance in the agricultural economy
Majority of the Minoan population sustenance farmers
Crops include: olives, grapes, cereals, lemons, pears, peas, lentils, cabbages,
honey, fish

Role of towns: Gournia and Zakros

Towns developed in Crete before palaces were built and continued to thrive during
palatial periods
Fulfilled various roles residential centres around them and some had specialised
functions e.g. ports as centres for trade or shrines

Location and how it affected the economy

Situated on the north coast in a commanding position overlooking the Bay of

Mirabello- covered an area of 2.43 hectares

Main features of the town

Had access in ancient times to a harbour nearby at Sphoungaras

Also situated near the end of the Ierapetra isthmus, overland communication with
the south coast was also possible
Location of Gournia suggests that it may have been involved in trade
Its location overlooked and had easy access to the harbour, positioned on the main
land route between north and south Crete
May have also been a centre for craft manufacture concentration of workshops in
the northern area of the town e.g. houses of a carpenter, potter and smith have
been identified and tools found within

Evidence for the local economy in the town

Palatial building looks south across a courtyard or town that has been
interpreted as a civic space
Has about 60-70 houses
Agricultural land nearby and evidence of some craft production
Fertile land nearby used for cultivation and grazing animals

Evidence for trade

The town was well placed for trade and communications along the north coast it
is known that it was in communication with Pseira, Mochlos and Zakros
Also evidence Gournia traded with Pseira, Midilos and Zakros

Location and how it affected the economy

On the south-eastern end of the island of Crete

Main features of the town

Well situated for trade and communication with Cyprus and the Levant
(modern day Syria and Lebanon)
Harbour is sheltered from north and west winds
Harbour town overlooks the palace of Zakros on the flat land below
Conformity to the difficult terrain area
Main road led from the harbour to the north-east gate of the palace

Evidence for the local economy in the town

Only the small palace of Zakros that yielded evidence of organized workshops
specializing in the carving of valuable vessels from imported stone
Bronze ingots and elephant tusks for ivory carving were found here
Evidence of a foundry close by the palace on the side of the road to the
Many houses had ground floor areas where grinding of wheat and barley took
place, and wine or oil presses were found

Evidence for trade

No evidence that the town of Zakros was a town of merchants and traders
Economic life of the town and its long-distance trading contacts was directed
by the ruler of the palace or the palace elite
The town itself has not provided evidence suggesting organized workshops that
produced goods for trade or rooms for the storage of precious materials
Trade of Zakros would probably have been highly controlled by the palace elite

Trade and economic exchange: Mediterranean and Aegean region

Command economy where long-distance trade was inter-regal trade and

conducted through royal emissaries who were the kings men trade directed by
rulers or by temple elites

This was the case in Egypt, the pharaoh would conduct foreign affairs and
obtained raw material through diplomatic means or warfare
Royal armies would go and gain access to raw materials for Egypt
Early Bronze Age trade was based on the principle of bartering swapping
an item for another, no coinage invented yet
The Minoans sailed around the Cycladic Islands, Cyprus, through the
Mediterranean and through to Egypt
Amphorae tall Greek/Roman jar with two handles and a narrow neck
Pithoi ancient Greek word for a large storage jar of a characteristic shape

The Cyclades and other Aegean Islands

Throughout the Bronze Age, the Cycladic Islands were chief trading partners
with Crete
Pumice = Thera
Obsidian = Melos
Silver and lead = Siphnos
Marble = Paros
Number of Cycladic pottery and even distinctive Cycladic figurines have
been found in Crete
Minoans also sent pottery probably containing oils for cooking/perfume to
many Cycladic islands

Frescoes at the palace of Avaris bull wrestling against a maze-like pattern

and the other showing bull-leaping this style of artwork is similar to the
paintings to Minoan Crete and may suggest interaction and trade between
the two cities
Minoans were to known to Egyptians as Keftiu
Appear carrying goods not depicted as traders or merchants but as giftbearers carrying tribute
Egyptian written records refer to gifts instead of imports
18th Dynasty frescoes of the Theban tombs depict the Cretans as Aegeans,
clean shaven, exotic with long wavy hair characteristic of the Minoan leafshaped kilt decorated with common Aegean motifs
Tomb of the vizier Rekhmire pictures of Minoans bringing tribute/gifts of
pottery and stone-carved vessels as well as copper ingots
Similarly, Egyptians also exchanged their own goods with the Minoans,
leaving numerous stone vessels, pieces of hippopotamus and elephant ivory
e.g. scarabs, statues
Much of the gold discovered in Crete is also likely to have been Egyptian in
Principle goods imported from Egypt = linen as papyrus
Egypt did not have much timber landscape is primarily desert
It is possible that the Minoans traded their plentiful supply of cypress trees
Lebanon also traded Cedar with Crete, two Syrian cedar axe-handles found
Crete possesses naturally occurring deposits of copper
However, recent copper-isotope analysis reveal larger supplies of copper
have been imported from Anatolia and Cyprus
In exchange for this, Crete smelted copper into bronze and trade bronze
Pottery was a prime object of trade for the Minoans Hood: Minoan
pottery was the finest in the civilised world in its day
Minoan potter found as far as Abydos in Egypt and Syria and Palestine in the
west, Troy in the north
Much of it found in the Cyclades islands Greek mainland and Cyprus,
significant quantities were also discovered in Egypt and Palestine
Aesthetic Trade
Intense trade in ideas took place throughout the Bronze Age

From Mesopotamia Minoans gained many ideas and images expressed in

their art e.g. image of the griffin and concept of god real and mythical
creatures were of Mesopotamian in origin
Egypt contributed the sistrum and idea of the Sphinx in Minoan religion,
linen chest in tombs, larnax used in Minoan burial customs
Also adopted some Egyptian style of art/crafts comb handles decorated
with crocodiles, sphinxes, bulls, eight-petal rosettes

The issue of thalassocracy (maritime empire)

Seamanship Thucydides says that the Minoans controlled the seas in the Bronze
Minoans needed to learn skills of navigation during the Bronze Age, sailors
navigated by the sun and stars
Recent research suggests that the Minoans were advanced in navigation skills
trading posts found on numerous other places like Thera, Rhodes, Miletos
suggesting that the Minoans needed to know how to navigate through the sea in
order to trade
Minoan pottery found on Bates island and in Lybia, along African border
Earlier historians suggested that Minaons were a peaceful society due to lack of
fortifications, however it was later suggested that lack of fortifications meant that
the Minoans actually just depended on the sea for natural defence

Which historians were the supporters of Minoan thalassocracy?

Sir Arthur Evans experience was of a British Empire, focus on a loyal support of
King Edward VII accepted Thucydides picture of Minos ruling the waves from his
palace at Knossos Evans saw the Minoan Empire as bringing peace and
Gerald Cadogan, Sinclair Hood, Malcolm Weiner and Wolf-Dietrich Niemeier
accept traditional view
Which historians do not support the idea?
Chester G. Starr most important critic of the imperial model who argued that the
thalassocracy of King Minos was invented by Thucydides to justify the Athenian
takeover of the small Greek states of his time
Argues that Thucydides didnt know much about Minos, historians suggest that
Minoan objects may be the result of trade or exchange of Minoan-style artefacts
reflecting nothing more than Minoan economic and cultural influence
Minoan styles may dominate but that does not equal an empire or prove the
existence of a Minoan empire

Crafts and industry: pottery, stone, ivory, metal, jewellery, seal

stones, purple dye
Minoan pottery turns up throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and the widespread
distribution of these finds may be used as an indication of the extent of Minoan
exchange and cultural contact
Earliest pottery in Crete was probably made by women slow change of the form
and decoration of pottery (lack of outside influence for new ideas)
EM II period of significant change in Minoan civilisation changes in pottery

Discovery of potters turntables, invention of the potters wheel faster than

Volume of work increased and a greater variety of vessels could be produced
Pottery used for preparation of food and textiles, storage (pithoi) and also for
Today pottery vital for dating of historical periods
Exotic stones were obtained from all over the Eastern Mediterranean and
fashioned by craftsmen into objects of great utility and beauty
Alabaster and porphyry obtained from Egypt
Black obsidian from Melos
Veined limestone and marbles obtained from the Peloponnese
Minoans made bowls, containers, querns, pounders, rollers and pestles and
Ivory luxury item obtained from Egypt and the Near East
Ivory elephant tusks obtained for carving: combs, pins, seals, plaques, statuettes
and decorative pieces to embellish wooden furniture
Minoan bronze industries is evident from furnaces e.g. at Phaistos, Zakro and
AgiaTriadha, in addition traces of slag in north western area of Malia, shows
bronze-making operations flourished in many of the palaces
Linear A and B tablets found at Knossos suggesting bronze industry must have
produced a lot of material
Other objects made in the bronze industry = bronze mirrors, labrys, votive
figurines, knives, cleaves and small bronze tools huge bronze cauldrons also
found in some houses and tombs near the palace
Minoans may have imported copper and tin and made bronze ingots for trade
Purple Dye
Known establishments in Zakro palace feature small basin set into a bench in room
XX provide evidence for the purple dye industry
Large deposits of crushed murex mollusc shells show that the purple dye had been
extracted in Crete
Purple dye used for clothing/fabrics and household decorations production of
many luxury items
Myrtos evidence uncovered for not only wool, but also linen textile manufacturing
Large amounts of loom weights were found, along with spindles and spinning bowls
Historian Barber claims that the Minoans were engaged in trading their goods to
Egypt in 2000 BC
Linear B tablets John Millen discovered that the woollen industry of Crete was
based on the farming of sheep that provided raw wool for the textile industries in
Knossos total no. of sheep listed for Knossos was approximately 100 000 per
Most of the textile industry was run by women tablets use of word dooelai =
slave/servant, provide evidence that slaves may have been employed for this

Olive oil production was a major industry
Olive presses and pithoi containing olive oil have been discovered
Olive oil was an important part of the diet, burnt for lamps, perfumes, cooking,

Technology: building materials, techniques and construction (ashlar

masonry), drainage and water supply
Building materials
Thatch, needs roofs Drainage system
Timber cypress, beams Pillars
for support throughout Toilet pipes
Vertical posts and
Mud bricks
transverse tie-beams,
Limestone walls
elastic enough to take
Plaster (gypsum, lime,
seismic shocks in
volcanic ash)
Clay pipes
Building into hillside
Minoan foot 30.36 cm
Light wells
Roofs not heavy light
material and for 2nd
Pier and door


Slightly slope roofs
Storeys (between 2-5)
Horizontal and vertical
timber beams
Large staircases
Columns tapering
Magazines underground
Lustral basins
Pillar crypts
Central and west court
Second floor domestic
quarters, banquet halls,
textile rooms
Workrooms on ground

Minoan palaces reveal a range of construction technologies

Engineers and architects use the advantageous features of the landscape cutting
into terraces/hillsides
Palace complexes feature a combination of construction material stone used for
foundations and lower stories, upper stories made of sun dried bricks laid within a
framework of vertical and horizontal timber beams
^ providing flexibility to withstand earth tremors
Used ashlar masonry smooth rectangular cut stones to construct walls
Stone pillars and wooden columns supported upper story
Light wells = allowed light and air into inner and lower level rooms
Plumbing and drainage technology is evident in many sites
At Knossos spring water brought into palace by tapered interlocking terracotta
Rain water collected and channelled into a series of settling tanks where sediment
sank, clearing water and other pipes drained water from the palace

Religion, death and burial

Nature and identity of deities

Our knowledge of Minoan religion incomplete due to lack of written evidence

Nature of the sources: few Linear A tablets, much which has not yet been
deciphered + too many Minoan frescoes and depictions on artefacts are incomplete
Able to develop an understanding of some aspects of religion despite this

Evidence suggests Minoans = polytheistic (many gods) and that their religion
heavily involved the natural world
Seal stones and frescoes men and women in religious rituals
Images interpreted as deities most female, represented on frescoes/seal
Goddess Demeter Greek earth mother goddess may have been a prominent
Minoan goddess (Linear A tablets) shows Greek influences
Gold signet rings many portrayals of women one of whom is always larger than
the other might represent a goddess
Tiny male figure appears in the background
One gold signet ring 2 large males dancing on either side of a larger woman
female goddess central to Minoan worship?
Seal stone shows a female with 3 poppy seed pods in her headdress opium,
made from poppies, may have been used to create a euphoric state in rituals
Eileithyia Mycenaean goddess associated with childbirth also mentioned in
Mistress of the Animals (seal stone) woman depicted standing in between 2 wild
animals, assumed to be a goddess horns of consecration (religious symbol for the
bull) also features in the background
Snake Goddess - two faience figurines uncovered at Knossos shows a barebreasted woman adorning a flounced skirt, snakes entwined around her arms,
upper body and head
^ Snakes were a symbol of immortality as they could shed skin and rejuvenate
they could also protect homes and were associated with domestic worship and the

Religious symbols: double axe (labrys) horns of consecration, the bull,

snakes, trees, birds
Horns of Consecration

Double Axe (Labrys)

Horns of consecration appear to be replicas of bulls

with religious significance
Often a hole in between the horns suggested that this
where the handle of a double axe could be inserted
Found in religious buildings/areas in Crete appeared
initially in the 1st palace period
Found in many different sizes and used in architectural
features, mounted altars, painted on frescoes and
depicted on rings and gemstones
May be related to the story of King Minos religious
Double headed axe
Most significant holy symbol in Minoan religion
Used by priests/priestesses in cult ceremonies and
Various sizes of labrys, made from different materials
Stone blocks at Knossos and other sites
Labrys may have had a religious and ceremonial
perhaps in the sacrifice of bulls as suggested by the
depictions on the AgiaTriadha sarcophagus

The bull



Bulls in the Ancient world were one of the most

important sacrificial animal due to its known strength
and fertility
In Crete bulls may have been worshipped due to the
of Theseus and the Minotaur
Significance of bulls in Minoan society seen in
e.g. Bull Leaping Fresco
Seal stones and rhyta Bulls head rhyton
Sacrifice of bulls shown in the Agia Trida sarcophagus
figurines of bulls have been found as votive offerings in
Evidence points to religious significance horns of
Snakes played an important part of Minoan religion
They were believed to travel below the earthly zone into
supernatural realm, and thus may have been servants
chthonic gods
May have been worshipped due to their ability to shed
skin and rejuvenate becoming a symbol of
and rebirth
Snake tubes dating from LM II period have been
from religious sites
Veneration of snakes also seen in snake patterns
on Minoan items
Also featured figurines of women, e.g. faience statue

Snake Goddess snakes entwined around her body

Doves, partridges and other birds are shown in frescoes
their appearance purely decorative, however can also
be seen in religious contexts
Clay votive offerings/figurines found at peak
sanctuaries is a triparted shrine w/ doves
Goddess figurine from Knossos has a bird on her head
blackbirds are also shown perched on the horns of
consecration and double axes on the AgiaTriada

Religious places: peak sanctuaries, cave shrines, palace shrines, pillar

crypts, lustral basins

Approximately 25 peak shrines have been discovered located near the top of
steep hills/mountains
Most located a short distance away from a palace, in sight of one or more other
Most popular types of Minoan religious centres
Some open spaced, some had elaborate structures e.g. Peak Sanctuary Rhyton at
Some were elaborately furnished e.g. sacrificial tables, stone lamps and libation
Sanctuaries may also be associated with healing, fertility, rite of passage or simple
prayer and thanksgiving
Votive offerings were found at these sites e.g. jewellery, figurines of men and
women, cattle and sheep clay models as well as clay models of body parts
Most peak sanctuaries contained thick deposits of wood suggesting religious
burning/burning of offerings
Rural Minoan worship
Featured fantastically shaped stalagmites and streams or rock pools, associated
perhaps with purification or cleansing
Relates back to Minoans main focus on the natural world for their religious beliefs
Open spaces outside caves may have been used for cult activities e.g. sacrifice,
dancing, feasting
Skotino and Kamares large quantity of pottery vessels, people left these as
offerings, fragments have been found in caves
Diktaian cave at Psychro more than 500 bronze objects have been found,
including miniature human and animal figurines, votive double-axes and personal
possessions such as jewellery
Bones of domestic and wild animals were also found here e.g. pigs, sheep and wild
goats and deer were also sacrificed
Arkalokhori Cave gold votive double axes found bear the name of the mother
goddess Demeter
Amnisos goddess Eileithyia worshipped evidence from Homer and Strabo
Small rooms have been identified as palace shrines mainly due to the ritual
objects discovered within them
Size of rooms indicates that only a few people would have entered the shrine at
any one time
Remains of tripartite shrines have been found at Knossos, Gournia and Vathy Petro
also represented in frescoes and on rhytons such shrines feature columns and
horns of consecration
Pillars and columns had an important place in Minoan religion
Palaces and some of the larger villas had rooms set aside for pillar worship
Pillar crypt at Knossos
Libations were poured into a libation basin at the base of each pillar
A small square room, often set down into the floor, with staircases leading down
into them

Its stone lines show that the basin was often used for washing may have served
as a bathroom in private areas, but in public ones may have been used for
ceremonial purification
Adyton at Knossos the most elaborate, no paintings have been found, however
there are evidence of painting remains of adytons in AgiaTriada and Khania

Rituals: sacrifice, libations, processions, dance

Minoans practiced animal sacrifices, as shown by the bloodstained altars and
animal remains in the ashes at sanctuaries
Bull sacrifices grandest of animal sacrifices
AghiaTriada sarcophagus depicts a bull being sacrificed and his blood drained into
a container the priestess conducts the ritual
Remains of a sacrificed bull and horse were also found in a tomb in Phourni
Evidence of human sacrifice comes from a small temple at Anemospilia
earthquake preserved remains of the victim found on the stone platform, his
upper body drained of blood
Three others found appear to have been involved in the pouring of a libation of the
victims blood on a mound of sacred stone
Cut marks on the bones of two young children found beneath the floor of a house
near Little Palace of Knossos may also constitute as evidence for the practice of
human sacrifice
Libations are offerings of wine/beer/mead/oil or milk poured on the ground as
offering to the gods
Libations also made in pillar crypts suggested by the depressions on the ground
in the West palace of Knossos
Libation vessels such as conical rhytons were also used to hold the liquid and came
in the form of animal heads such as birds or the Bulls head rhyton
Small temple at Anesmospilia show blood being collected in rhytons
Ritual processions are depicted in Minoan art e.g. Procession Fresco two lines of
male worshippers taking offering to a female figure who may be a goddess
Harvesters Vase shows a group of farmers led by a figure, perhaps a priest,
wearing distinctive cloaks
Accompanied by musicians with a sistrum (Egyptian influence) and the farmers
carry winnowing forks used in the final stage of harvest this animated scene
suggests a ritual procession or celebration
Ritual dancing represented on frescoes and other objects
Sacred Grove and Dance Fresco from Knossos shows a number of female figures
engaged in a stately dance
A gold ring from Isopata depicts four female figures in what appears to be an
ecstatic dance of worship
Clay model shows four women dancing in a circle

Presents given by a worshipper in honour of his/her god and goddess, and were
frequently used by Minoans
Most popular were models of the labrys made from a variety of materials e.g.
gold, bronze, ivory or lead
Clay or lead models of bulls were also commonly offered + as well as models of
other farm and wild animals
A pottery sistrum was found in a childs grave in Phourni cemetery

Funerary customs and rituals: larnax, ossuary; tombs: rectangular,

tholos and chamber


Minoans practiced

Myths and legends relating to the Minoans: Theseus and the Minotaur,
Icarus and Daedalus
Cultural life
Art: frescoes, figurines, pottery, seals, metalwork
Bull Leaping (KNOSSOS)

The Priest King (KNOSSOS)

The most completely restored of several stucco panels

Originally sited on the upper-story of the east wall of
Religious ceremonies in Minoan society bull seen as a
sacred animal
Prominent appearance of bulls at Knossos reinforced
view of myths faithfulness to the bull
Leisure Activity/Everyday life
Believed the bull also represented a sport
Womens role
Women also participated in these religious rituals
they are equal to men
Located in the southern portion of the complex
by Evans as the depiction of King Minos
Believed however that Evans used a variety of different
frescoes in order to create this one constructed
of the figure
Evans interpreted this as the portrayal of King Minos
thus agreed with Ancient sources
Headdress signifies kingship

La Parisienne (part of the Camp Stool

Womens role/status
Women high status, evident from her
jewellery and dress

Cup Bearer Fresco (Knossos)

Everyday life clothing

Diaphanous top
Elaborate make up
Evans states that this woman looked like any other
walking streets of Paris today
Sacral knot worn at the back of the neck indicates that
may be a priestess/goddess
Depicts a figure/man holding a conical rhyton, a ritual
vessel used to pour libations part of a larger group of
processional figures

Dolphin Fresco

Shows that Minoans were familiar with the animals of
Suggests that they had a capable navy

Griffin fresco (Throne Room at


Two griffins depicted in the Throne Room at Knossos
Was a symbol for women
Supports the notion that the ruler was a woman + the
shape of the seat of the throne
Mycenaean influence

Campstool Fresco/Ladies in Blue

Womens role/status
Women dressed elaborately make up, elaborate hair
jewellery, diaphanous tops
May have had a better or equal status to men unique
Ancient civilizations
Everyday life clothing

AgiaTriada sarcophagus

Snake Goddess

Tree Dancing seal

Diaphanous tops, women dressed well

Gives understanding of funerary customs and religious
ceremonies during Minoan period
Divided into three panels: one depicts a female
another a bull sacrifice, third one a man making
to an altar in front of a shrine crowned with horns of
consecration and a sacred tree
Gives evidence of symbols used in religion
Second long side: one part a procession of men and
women between columns topped by double axes and
Procession of male figures in animal hides offering
and a boat to the deified deceased
Importance of the bull sacred animal
Womens role/status
Women are depicted processing priestess may have
been a role they had to play
Woman pouring libations
Everyday life/Culture
A man depicted playing a lyre earliest picture of a lyre
in classical Greece
Womens role and status
Women could be deities importance of women in
Minoan religion
They believed in snake rebirth, symbol of the
Arts and crafts
Depicts their skill and the resources they had access to

Depicts Minoans worship of the natural world
Womens role and status
Also depicted as a priestess in this seal, stating that
had an important part to play in Minoan religion

Grandstand Fresco

Womens role and status

Groups of wealthy Minoan women are depicted wearing

elegant dress, jewellery and having elaborate hairstyles

They are in the front of the fresco womens presence
Elegant appearances
Crowds of men and women watching some sort of
festival proves that there may have been religious/
entertainment events at the theatre area of the palaces
Everyday Life
Perhaps proof of Minoan entertainment
Depicts the idea that there was a singular ruler of Crete
Staff = power
Standing above the city

Ruler Seal

Phaistos Disc


From the palace of Phaistos
Not yet deciphered
Composed of a number of symbols

Architecture of palace complexes: Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, Zakros

and other palace sites
Writing: Linear A and Linear B, the Phaistos disc
Everyday life
Daily life and leisure activities
Food and clothing

Diet influenced by the fact that they were close to the sea, agriculture of grazing
land available and environmental factors e.g. rain and soil quality
Scientific study of pottery containing food reveal that Minoans ate and drank wine,
barley beer, honey mead as well as olive oil, leafy vegetables, fruits and meat
Other findings also consumed almonds, peas, figs, wheat, lentils and beans
Grazing of sheep, goats, cattle and pigs would have provided Minoans with milks
and different types of meat and poultry
Seafood would have been a big part of their diet due to their close proximity of
the sea
Coriander and other herbs are listed on clay tablets and may have given flavouring
to the food
A range of pots, pans, pans, braziers and hearths suggest that Minoans
fried/baked/barbequed their food

Frescoes, seal stones and figurines give us an idea of what Minoans looked like
though this may have been what they wanted to see of themselves, rather than
the accurate depiction
Figures familiar to us are most likely from the upper levels of society
Men shown with athletic physiques, broad shoulders and slender waists
Women shown with slender waists and full hips and breasts
Most men and women shown with long dark hair hanging in culrs/ringlets some
depictions of partially shaved heads, perhaps to indicate some sort of initiation
Men generally clean shaven, although some have a moustache or beard
Males minimum clothing, revealing most of the body = cod pieces, loin cloths
and kilts of various lengths are worn, but rarely any garments on the upper body
Women long skirts, often flounced or multilayered, drawn in at the waist, close
fitting short sleeve bodices diaphanous tops
Both men and women appear barefooted, although there are some examples of
men wearing calf length boots
Women LA PARISIENNE wear dark eyeliner, rouge and lip colouring eyebrows
also shaped and emphasized
Archaeologists have found a number of objects e.g. tweezers, bronze mirrors, wood
and ivory combs and cosmetic containers from alabaster and ivory suggests that
women wore makeup
Frescoes men and women wearing jewellery e.g. necklaces, rings, bracelets,
earrings, armlets, bead collars and anklets
Jewellery found in palaces and tombs made of gold/silver/bronze and semi-precious

Housing and furniture

Before Minoans built houses they lived in caves, caves often contained their own
water supply and were also good insulators from bad weather
Huts may have been built before their first houses due to Cretes wet climate, no
organic remains of such structures have survived
Knossos the earliest place in which housing remains have been preserved the
remains date from the Late Neolithic period and consist of one whole and two
partial houses each sharing communal walls
Typical building method: lower row of undressed limestone pieces and above this,
walls of mud strengthened with tree branches
Phaistos houses were of different construction outer face of walls comprised of
roughly shaped large stones and small stones mixed with mortar constituting the
inner part of the walls upper walls = likely to be made of mud but none survived


Earliest Bronze Age houses = single rooms opening onto a courtyard, later designs
featured but-and-bend principle large rectangular houses were divided into two
and second door was at right angles with the first
EMII houses became more complex, featuring a whole maze of add-on rooms
communal purposes? = AGGLUTINATIVE
Living standards improved as well as houses
Small ivory and faience models show local houses may have had 2/3 storeys and a
flat roof with a structure on top windows in the upper floors but very few on the
ground level
Harriet Boy Hawes excavation shows that in Gournia houses were built closely
together and shared common walls, opening directly onto the street
Some houses 2 storeys with rooms on the ground floor used for storage, cooking
and workshops
Some also featured an internal court near the entrance w/ doorways and staircases
leading to stone rooms, work rooms and living and sleeping rooms
VATHYPETRO = large villa was excavated, containing residential quarters, a hall
and open court, ceremonial areas and shrines as well as weaving and pottery
workshops, storage magazines and large rooms equipped with wine or olive
Sophisticated plumbing and drainage system evident in some towns, rain water
and spring water were stored in cisterns to ensure water supply during summer
Knossos = sewage was carried away by water in covered stone drains

Difficult to get an accurate picture of general health most of the human remains
had been mixed together in ossuaries, rather than left as complete skeletons
Remains do not give a complete picture = bones of the very young and those
bearing evidence of certain diseases have less chance of surviving than healthy
adults, not all illnesses and diseases are left in bone
British Archaeologist Tina McGeorge conducted studies of skeletal remains, and
has drawn the following conclusions about health of Minoans:
Average life expectancy = 30, higher for men than women a small number lived
until their 40s/50s
High incidence of osteoporosis
Greater number of female death around age of 20/25 associated with hazards of
pregnancy/childbirth and lactation
Evidence of diseases associated with animal husbandry and milk products e.g.
brucellosis and tuberculosis
Evidence of a number of diseases in children associated with mineral and vitamin
deficiencies e.g. anaemia, rickets and scurvy
Dental health deteriorated from MM to LM periods as a result of a change of diet?
McGeorge also suggests women were less healthy than men higher incidence of
tooth loss and a shorter life expectancy Linear B tablets also record that female
textile workers were provided with half rations of men working the same job
Also suggested that the general health of the Minoans deteriorated in the LM
period more people concentrated in and around towns, greater portion of the
diet was made up of foods that could be stored for long periods rather than fresh
Also Minoan health decreased after the Mycenaean occupation