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Social Mobility Across Three Generations Author(s): Timothy J. Biblarz, Vern L.

Bengtson, Alexander Bucur Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 188-200 Published by: National Council on Family Relations Stable URL: . Accessed: 01/11/2011 08:11
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Women, the Late

children Minoan

and Bronze

the and

family Age: of gender


Aegean in differences Mycenaean


Barbara A. Olsen

Abstract This paper discusseshow the relationshipbetween women and childrenis portrayedand understood in the societies of the Mycenaean(Greek) mainlandand Late MinoanCrete. Childrearing has been long assumedto be the primary socialrole of Aegean women.Yet the art of Late Minoan Crete reveals almost no interest in idealizingwomen as child-nurturers. The women of Minoan iconography are almostuniformlydepictedoutside of domesticcontexts.In contrast,Mycenaean and imageryprovidesa systematic,iconographic reinforcementof women'stask as child-rearers suggestsa muchgreaterlevel of investmenton the part of Mycenaeansociety to envisionwomen withinthe contextof the home. Therefore,while the writtenrecordsof both societiesplace women as child-caregivers in daily practice,their iconography suggeststhat the two culturesvalued this role differentlyand did not invest equallyin placingwomenprimarily withinthe familystructure.

Keywords children. Aegean BronzeAge; figurines; gender;kourotrophoi; Minoan;Mycenaean;

Introduction Motherhood and the tending of children has long been assumed as the primary social role of the women of the Late Bronze Age Aegean Minoan and Mycenaean societies. This assumption, however, has been more based on ethnographic analogies or contemporary ideologies than on examinations of relevant archaeological material. Evidence for Minoan and Mycenaean child-care practices derives from two sources: the administrative records written in the Linear B script and artistic depictions of women and children. The Mycenaean texts attest that women of Mycenaean Crete and the Mycenaean mainland were the primary tenders of children. Iconographic sources, however, reveal distinct differences among Minoan and Mycenaean depictions of child-care scenes. Child-bearing, World Archaeology Vol. 29(3): 380-392 Intimate Relations ?CRoutledge 1998 0043-8243

Women, children and the family in the late Aegean Bronze Age


or kourotrophos, scenes are only a trope in Mycenaean iconography; Minoan art evinces no interest in portraying women with children.

Background The Late Bronze Age in the Aegean Basin (1600-1100 BC) witnessed the rise of two interdependent civilizations, the Minoans on Crete and the Mycenaeans on the Greek mainland. While the Mycenaean Greeks spoke the same language and worshipped many of the same gods as their historical period descendants, the identity of the Minoans is less apparent. Their language, written in the Linear A script, is untranslated, and their relationship to known ethnic groups in the Mediterranean remains uncertain. The Cretan civilization, designated Minoan after the legendary Cretan king Minos, held primacy first. It culminated in the Second Palace period which lasted from Middle Minoan III to Late Minoan IB (c. 1700-1450 BC; for abbreviations and chronology see Table 1). This period witnessed the rebuilding of the Cretan palaces following earthquake damage, the emergence of Cretan syllabic writing in the Linear A script, a flourishing of Minoan art in such diverse media as fresco, glyptic, figurines, and ceramics, a highly-developed system of internal and external trade, and a dominant cultural role in the Aegean which in turn heavily influenced the Mycenaean mainland in art, architecture, and possibly in more direct political mechanisms. This cultural hegemony lasted until the Late Minoan IB period (c. 1450 BC). L(ate) M(inoan) IB marks the destruction by fire of nearly all the primary and secondary sites of the Minoan administration. This destruction has generally been attributed to the Mycenaean Greeks from the mainland and has been traditionally understood as a Mycenaean military conquest of Crete. (A minority of scholars have proposed less directly military explanations for the Mycenaean domination of Crete in the Third Palace Period (LM II-LM IIIB).) In any case, Mycenaean presence and Mycenaean administration are securely attested on Crete in this period. The most compelling evidence for the Mycenaean administration of Crete is that the language and script of the palatial administrative records changes from the Minoan
Table I Late Bronze Age Aegean chronology, following Dickinson 1994; all dates approximate.

Date BC
1600 1500 1400 1300 1200 1100 1000

Mainland(LH = LateHelladic)
-----------LH1,IIA LH JIB, IJIA1 LH 111A2, IIIB1, 111B2 LH IIIC Submycenaean

Crete(LM = LateMinoan)

382 Barbara A. Olsen Linear A script to the Mycenaean Linear B script, which records an early version of Greek. The question of how deeply Mycenaean influence permeates Minoan culture remains open (see Driessen 1994).

Women and children in the Aegean Bronze Age The role of women and the nature of gender relations in the Late Bronze Age civilizations of the Aegean Basin have long attracted both scholarly and popular interest. Ever since the first modern excavations in the early 1900s at the Minoan administrative centre of Knossos recovered depictions of powerful and prominent female figures in frescoes, figurines, and glyptic, the gender relations of prehistoric Crete have enjoyed a great deal of attention. To date, the majority of the focus both in academic circles and the popular press has largely centred around attempts to posit a Mother Goddess-centred religion (Evans 1932; Gimbutas 1989) or to recover a matriarchal society among the Minoans (Thomas 1973). The Mycenaeans, usually dismissed as the bearers of Indo-European patriarchal baggage, received much less scholarly attention. Scholarly opinion, however, is by no means in consensus on these assertions. Recent scholarship has severely questioned readings which allege a goddess-centred prehistory, noting severe methodological flaws in these analyses as well as essentialist biases (Talalay 1994; Meskell 1995; Conkey and Tringham 1995). At very least, the notion of a pre-Indo-European Great Goddess, especially a Great Mother Goddess, has been strongly challenged. In the last decade, scholarship on women in prehistory has become increasingly sophisticated, beginning with Conkey and Spector's ground-breaking synthesis of feminist and archaeological theory (Conkey and Spector 1984). Much recent work in the Aegean has focused on the social status of women in the prehistoric societies, particularly through the analysis of gendered space (Tringham 1994). To date, discussions of the social positioning of women in Aegean pre- and proto-history have tended toward polarization: products of two vastly different theoretical and methodological approaches. In analyses that privilege evidence from Aegean art, where female figures often occupy prominent spatial positions, women are assigned power and status. They are commonly identified either as representations of the so-called Minoan Mother Goddess, or, in human contexts, as high-ranking public officials or priestesses, whose social status is suggested by their jewellery, costume or administrative regalia. In contrast, assessments privileging either ethnographic analogies inspired by modern Mediterranean societies or essentialist models inspired by hunter-gatherer ethnographies tend to conceptualize women as remaining close to home, occupied primarily with domestic affairs and the raising of children, whether in human contexts (N. Marinatos 1995; Dickinson 1994), or in the divine realm (Evans 1935). Only recently have feminist scholars begun challenging the androcentric biases of such interpretations, calling instead for a greater awareness of gender as a culture-specific phenomenon, and for the study of gendered social roles as products of specific societies. This paper examines more closely one of the primary social roles scholars have attributed to Bronze Age women, the conflation of woman and the social role of child-rearer or kourotrophos.

Women, children and the family in the late Aegean Bronze Age


Womenand childrenin the LinearB tablets For the Late Aegean BronzeAge, evidencerelevantto women'srole in the raisingof chilrecordswritten in the Linear B dren stems from two sources:from the administrative scriptfromboth Crete and mainlandGreece, and from the evidence of Late Bronze Age The LinearB records,writtenon clay tablets and intended for temporary iconography. use, were serendipitously preservedwhen the buildingsin which they were stored were burned,effectivelyfiringthe tablets.The two best textuallyattestedcentres, Pyloson the mainlandand Knossoson Crete, have between them producednearly5,000 tablets.The tablets record mattersrelevant to each palace's economy such as counts of personnel, recordsof rationsallottedto workers,quantitiesof materialsand goods being receivedor distributedby the administrative centre, dedicationsto divinities,and records of land grants,among others. The tablets depict a highly gendered society with clear task differentiationbetweenthe sexes, both in domesticandin palatialcontexts.Men andwomen Of the occupydifferentspheresand performtasksas membersof single-sexworkgroups. twenty-twooccupationsheld by women at Knossos, only two of these occupationsare sharedwithmen:those of religiousfunctionaries andslave.The situationis muchthe same at Pyloswhere,of thirty-five occupationsperformedby women, only four are sharedwith men: again, religious functionaryand slave with two additionalcategories of leatherworkingand weaving.The texts, however,are clear that, even for these last two shared professions,men andwomenstill do not workwithinthe sameworkgroups and theirwork environments remainsegregatedby sex. The texts also providea fair amountof materialon the complexitiesof domesticsocial at both Knossosand Pylos.By no meansall familiesgovernedby these poliorganization ties are recorded.The only familyunitsdiscerniblein the tabletsare ones that the palaces have some interest in regulating.This may imply that we may read palatial ideology structures of these families,for examplein termsof heads reflectedin the organizational of householdchoicesor, usefulto this study,child-care choices.At both centres,childcare 200 tabletsfrom these two centresrecord is a task performedby women. Approximately 90 tabletsat Knossoswith childrenin the so-calledpersonnelseriestablets;approximately in three contexts:as componentsof an additional110 at Pylos. Childrenappearprimarily of specializedlabourfamilyunits,as recipientsof rations,andaccompanying workgroups ers. About a dozen or so tabletsrecordwhat appearto be households,listingnumbersof men, women, girls,and boys, respectively;the remainderrecordchildrenaccompanying of women. At Pylos,in the personnelseries that recordthe workingstrength workgroups of women'sworkgroups, the census and rationstablets consistentlycount boys and girls with their mothers.At Knossos the process is furtherelaboratedsince the childrenare differentiated not only by sex, but also by age with two separateage gradesfor 'older'and children. We see, accompanying the women of workinggroups,childrendiffer'younger' entiatedby sex andby age grades:youngergirls,older girls,youngerboys, and older boys. It is interestingto note that the persons designatedolder boys continue to be grouped with their mothersratherthan their fathers.There is unfortunately no way of knowing justwhatis meantby 'older'and 'younger'.But it is clearthat once they pass the line from 'older boys' to men, they returnto a rigidlygendered society. In the few tablets where boys are recordedas accompanying men, the texts are explicit that these sons are older

384 Barbara A. Olsen boys and accompany their fathers for the purpose of instruction in their trade: these are not young children requiring care. Men are never listed with children unless those children are older boys specifically undergoing training in a trade, in contrast to women who tend children of both sexes until the age when boys leave for professional training. In short, child care in both the Mycenaean mainland and Mycenaean Crete is clearly a role assigned to women and receives fairly equal treatment in the tablets of each centre. It is the manner in which Minoan and Mycenaean societies display women with children and infants in their iconographic repertoires which is extremely different.

Mycenaean kourotrophoi While kourotrophoi scenes, or images of women holding children, are well attested in Neolithic Greece as well as in the Greek historical period (Price 1978), this theme receives rather differential attention in the Bronze Age Aegean. While Cyprus, for example, has a continuous tradition of kourotrophoi scenes in all phases of the Bronze Age (Merrilees 1988), on the Greek mainland kourotrophos images appear only in the Late Bronze Age (termed Late Helladic in this region) and then only within specific genres. Images of women and children are absent from Mycenaean frescoes, glyptic, pictorial painted pottery, and metalwork; Mycenaean depictions of nurturing scenes are limited to figurines where female figures are depicted cradling infants. The corpus of kourotrophoi consists of approximately seventy terracottas, a small but significant subset of Mycenaean terracotta figurines, and one ivory group. They derive from at least eighteen sites: seventeen on the Mycenaean mainland (Fig. 1) and one on Cyprus. Two sites have produced large clusters of figurines: a votive deposit at Aphaia on Aegina produced twenty-seven groups, and at least twenty were excavated at the site of Mycenae. These figurines are not without methodological difficulties. French (1971), in her valuable and exhaustive study of the development of the Mycenaean terracotta figurines, points out that these figurines often survive in highly fragmentary condition, were often not recorded by earlier excavators unless they were found in tombs, and most have not been thoroughly published. I will use French's (1971) typology to outline the chronological development of these figurines. Mycenaean terracotta figurines begin to appear during the Late Helladic II period and are found in large numbers during all phases of Late Helladic III. As Mylonas (1956) observed, the figurines appear suddenly and their types are fully developed. Although the figurines employ a variety of compositional forms, there are three major types, designated the Phi, Tau, Psi figurine types after the letters of the Greek alphabet they resemble. They tend to be rather small, typically between 10 and 20 cm in height. They depict single female forms, often with articulated breasts; they are also typically cursorily painted, with curvo-linear lines on the body to suggest decorated clothing. The figurines' legs are covered by their garments. All have articulated arms. Phi figurines have their hands resting on the hips with the elbows bending outwards resembling the Greek letter (. (The Phi type is preceded by the Proto-Phi type, introduced in LH II, which is very similar to the standard type but has not quite reached the canonical proportions.) Tau figurines hold their elbows straight out, parallel to the ground reminiscent of the letter T. And Psi figurines hold both arms extended over the head at diagonal angles resembling

Women, children and the family in the late Aegean Bronze Age


) 4)





Figure1 Mainland sites where kourotrophos figurines were excavated.

386 Barbara A. Olsen the letter T. In terms of chronological development, the earliest type to appear is the Phi, followed by the Tau and Psi types, respectively. Both of the earlier forms continue to persist with the introduction of the later variants. A subset of Mycenaean terracotta figurines adds a child to the woman; these figurines are termed kourotrophoi figurines from the Greek for 'child-nurturer'. Kourotrophoi variants of each of the three standard types are to be found. The majority of these figurines follow a canonical form: a single female figurine of the Phi, Tau or Psi types nestles a single child against its mother's left breast, either clasped in the left arm (in the Phi and Tau figurines) or unclasped as in the Psi figurines. The child faces forward and may be rather stylized or may be rendered with greater detail. The earliest known Mycenaean kourotrophos dates to LH II and was discovered in the Aidonia cemetery excavations at Nemea in the Argolid (Demakopoulou 1996). Found in a chamber tomb which contained the secondary burial of a child, it is a highly naturalistic figurine of Proto-Phi type with a long, ellipsoidal torso and a short thick stem. The infant nurses at one breast and rests its hand on the other. Even in this figurine, the earliest, all the canonical features are present - the child is clasped in front over the left breast of a standing woman of the popular figurine type. In the following LHIIIA period, Mycenaean figurines become dramatically more numerous on the mainland. Kourotrophoi occur at many sites and are found in a variety of excavation contexts, including graves, settlements, and votive deposits. Kourotrophoi groups of LH IIIA include several typological forms, but the majority follow the development of single figure Proto-Phi and Phi types as identified by French (1971). Three ProtoPhi kourotrophoi figurines dating to LHIIIA1 have been found: one from the Mycenaean cemetery of Deiras near Argos (Deshayes 1966) and a second group from the Atreus Bothros at Mycenae. Another Proto-Phi group of uncertain provenance is on display in Geneva (Price 1978). LHIIIA2 contexts have produced six kourotrophos groups, all of the Phi type. Of these one was found at Berbati in a tomb containing six adults and a child (Saflund 1965), three were found at Mycenae - two from the Petsas house excavations and a third from a chamber tomb - and one came from Palaiopolis on Kythera (Waterhouse and Hope Simpson 1961; Coldstream and Huxley 1972). The Kythera group warrants further comment as it displays a number of unusual features: the female figure has pierced breasts and holds a remarkably large child who sits upright and wears a polos-cap. It has been suggested that this figure may be a local imitation of a better made example from the mainland. (It has been suggested that Kythera began as a Minoan colony or fell under heavy Minoan influence but, by the LHIII period, the material culture of Kythera reflects Mycenaean and not Minoan traits.) Contemporaneous with the above is a Phi group from chamber tomb 41 at Mycenae (Tsountas 1888; French 1971) of a more unusual composition. Instead of the more typical one-woman, one-child convention, this figure carries two children and a parasol-like object. One child is nestled against her left breast in the usual formula but, on her back, below the parasol projecting from the left shoulder, is a second child partially hidden beneath the parasol. Two other triplet groups have been excavated, one from the votive deposit at Aegina, and the other from chamber tomb 80 at Mycenae. The most frequently cited Mycenaean scene portraying the interaction of women and children - the Ivory Trio from the citadel of the site of Mycenae (Wace 1949; S. Marinatos

Women, children and the family in the late Aegean Bronze Age


1973; etc.) - also dates to LH IIIA. This group differs from the rest of the Mycenaean kourotrophoi in that it is the one depiction of child-rearing rendered in a luxury material - imported ivory rather than native clay. This group depicts two female seated figures accompanied by a male child. It has often been read as having religious overtones, with the participants identified as goddesses with a young god (Wace 1949) or divine nurses caring for a human child after death (Mylonas 1956). Additionally, three kourotrophoi figurines are attested from the transition from LH IIIA to IIIB: one from tomb 35 at Prosymna, which was a cist with no extant bones, a second from tomb 1 at Dendra which contained five skeletons, and the third from the Petsas house excavations at Mycenae. LHI IIB introduces two new types of kourotrophos figurines to the corpus. Here, the original Phi type is supplemented by child-carrying Tau and Psi figurines. Canonical Psi kourotrophos groups are attested at Aegina, Mycenae, and by another group of uncertain origin, now on display at the Alte Museum in Berlin. None of the Tau kourotrophoi are well preserved; French (1971) publishes one highly fragmentary group from Mycenae and mentions the existence of an additional six unpublished groups. Two terracotta triple groups depicting two women with a single child also appear in LH IIIB. From chamber tomb 79 at Mycenae was excavated a group of two female Phi figurines, attached at the body, carrying a child between them on their shoulders (S. Marinatos 1933; Mylonas 1956). A similar figure was found at chamber tomb 6 at Voula by Papademetriou and Theochares. The interpretation of these groups has given rise to much speculation. French (1971) argues that they should be read as related to the triple ivory group from Mycenae, in which the child wears similar clothing and jewellery. A final compositional type, differing from the canonical type, is the seated kourotrophos type, attested by two figurines, one from the Louvre, reportedly from Mycenae (Mollard-Besques 1954), and the other from grave A at Voula. In both groups, the child rests on the lap of a seated Phi figurine, otherwise of canonical proportions. Furthermore, we have several kourotrophoi for which no date more specific than LH III can be assigned. These figurines remain undatable for several reasons: because of their extremely fragmentary condition, because they derive from excavations very early in this century, or because their excavation contexts are no longer known. Among the latter category is the group in Brussels which is the only published wheel-made kourotrophos (Price 1978). While this figurine is unique in its production technique, it otherwise closely follows traditional compositional conventions; the figure's small plastic arms curve over her chest, and the child is held in the left arm as usual. Other undatable groups include the Phi figurines from Priphtiani, Eleusis, Zygouries, Aegina, and Mycenae, as well as the group from Cyprus, the sole Mycenaean kourotrophos figurine found outside of mainland Greece. French (1971) reports additional kourotrophoi from the sites of Eutresis and Thebes in Boeotia, but there is some doubt as to whether the Eutresis figurine is actually carrying a child rather than a snake (Goldman 1931) and I have been unable to verify the existence of the latter group. Finally, Rutter reports a possible kourotrophos of Late Psi type from Korakou dating to the LH IIIC period, following the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system (Rutter 1974). A variety of explanations for the function of these groups has been proposed. Most of these explanations focus only on one type of findspot, namely tombs, to the exclusion of

388 Barbara A. Olsen the others. Explanations based on groups found in tombs tend to identify the female figure as a goddess (Mylonas 1956; S. Marinatos 1933) or, similarly, as a divine nurse who protects the child after its death (Demakopoulou 1996). Mylonas (1956), following S. Marinatos (1933), argues that Psi figurines especially were divinities to be placed in graves, presumably graves of children. It should be emphasized, however, that many of the graves where kourotrophoi figurines were found show no evidence of containing child burials. Others propose that these figurines were deposited in graves to ensure health and fertility (Van Leuven 1994). Finally, figurines from intra-settlement findspots have been suggested to be children's playthings (Blegen 1937). It is again necessary to note that the largest cache of kourotrophoi figurines, namely the twenty-seven kourotrophos figurines from Aegina, was not found in either necropolis or a settlement, but came from a votive deposit. The most judicious reading might then be that the meaning of these figures varies according to context. They may be votives, grave offerings, and/or household objects. What is significant here is that all three of these contexts are loci where the placement of women with infants is emphasized.

Minoan and Mycenaean Crete In contrast to the numerous kourotrophoi from the Mycenaean mainland, images placing women with young children are virtually absent from Minoan art before the LMIB destructions which herald the Mycenaean presence on Crete. Excavations have recovered no Cretan Middle Minoan or LMI kourotrophos scenes in any medium; not in terracotta, metalwork, frescoes, stone work, glyptic, or faience. The closest associated image is the Minoan-inspired fresco from the West House at Akrotiri on the island of Thera where an older child stands near to a woman (LMIA) (Immerwahr 1983), but this depiction is not an image from a Cretan context. Minoan art from Cretan contexts does show an interest in the depiction of children. For example, there are two LMI ivory children from the town of Palaikastro and an LMI bronze infant from the cave of Psychro. Furthermore, Minoan art depicts in high numbers figurines of individual women, especially as votives at Minoan peak sanctuaries. We also see a few group compositions involving women. Yet nowhere in all of Minoan art do these elements combine to produce scenes where women nurture children. Nurturing scenes do occur in Minoan (pre-LMIB) iconography, but they are never anthropomorphic. Animal mothers and young are depicted in ivory, glyptic, and on the two Middle Minoan III faience plaques from the Temple Repositories at Knossos which depict a cow and her calf and a goat with her young. The nearest nurturing image in an anthropomorphic setting is substantially earlier - the Early Bronze Age Goddess of Myrtos (EM II), a terracotta figurine who reserves the space in her arms not for children but for a miniature terracotta juglet resembling those found in excavations at Myrtos (Plate 1). Kourotrophos imagery in Mycenaean Crete is equally sparse. Following the LM IB destructions, kourotrophoi remain extremely rare. The sole representation depicts an anthropomorphic mother and child - the so-called goddess from the Mavrospelio cemetery near Knossos (Forsdyke 1926-7). This figurine, of the LM III cylindrical-skirted

Women, children and the family in the late Aegean BronzeAge


Plate1 'The Goddess of Myrtos.' (Reprinted by permission of Editions Hannibal.) goddess type, is rendered in terracotta and holds a small male child. This child is not cradled against her left breast as per the Phi, Tau, and Psi figurines of the Mycenaean mainland but rather is held face-forward, at arms' length as if in presentation. While the cylindrical-skirted goddess is a frequent Late Minoan type, attested at numerous Cretan sites, the Mavrospelio example is unique among the cylindrical-skirted 'goddesses', on two grounds. First, she alone holds something in her arms (all other cylindrical-skirted 'goddesses' raise their arms above their heads) and, second, she was placed in a burial whereas the others of this type most commonly come from shrine areas within settlements. I contend that she is problematic as a source for Minoan conceptualizations of child care for the following reasons. Her late date of LM IIIA, roughly contemporaneous with the Knossos Linear B tablets, places her well into the Mycenaean period. Her pose is repeated nowhere else in Minoan iconography. And her findspot in a burial is highly atypical since Cretan figurines are more commonly found in peak sanctuaries, sacred enclosures, or domestic shrines. Very infrequently are they found in graves. Additionally, several of the cemeteries near Knossos in this period, Mavrospelio included, have unusual features that have prompted suggestions that they were used by an intrusive Mycenaean population. Since burial of figurines is a more common Mycenaean practice, and given her marked


Barbara A. Olsen

differences from other Cretan figurines, it is plausible that this figurine may have been produced by a Minoan artist commissioned by a Mycenaean mourner. Regardless, nothing about her appearance or function implies her use by a 'Hellenized' Minoan rather than by a mainlander on Crete. It is also interesting to note that, while Mycenaean Phi and Psi figurines have been found on Crete, none has been a kourotrophos. Finally, it is not until the eighth century BC that child-rearing scenes are to be found as a regular motif on Crete when they begin to appear at the cave of Cave of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth.

Merrilees (1988) in discussing Cypriot terracotta kourotrophoi refers to mother and child scenes as variations on an eternal theme. While this 'eternal theme' is certainly resonant with Mycenaean cultural ideology, it is at best a flimsy one for the Minoans. In contrast to previous scholars who have asserted the centrality of mother-child imagery in Minoan religion and society (Evans 1935), I argue that nothing in Minoan iconographic depictions of divine or human life promotes or even associates women with children. Furthermore, I argue that this represents, if not a fundamental difference in gender construction between Minoan and Mycenaean societies, at very least a fundamentally different approach to a gendered social role. This study has several implications. First, Crete and the mainland cannot be read as sharing identical gender ideologies, either in the Minoan or Mycenaean period. Aegean societies share no standardized investment in depicting motherhood as women's primary social role. Motherhood occupies a much more central role in Mycenaean cultural ideology than it does in Minoan. This might be surprising in light of the allegations of a matriarchal or goddess-centered Minoan culture and the patriarchal nature of Mycenaean culture. I suggest, however, that the iconographic record be read as reinforcing culturalspecific conceptualizations of where women's time and energies should be invested. It may not be motherhood per se that is being celebrated in Mycenaean society but rather the locating of women in domestic contexts which is being iconographically reinforced. In contrast, Minoan society does not invest in idealizing women as mothers. It seems instead to place them in capacities other than those associated with the care of infants. We see in Minoan iconography images of women in more public contexts: occupying prominent spatial positions in outdoor assemblies and processions, interacting with each other either in conversation or in dance, and acting in religious contexts either as individual worshippers or as officials involved in sacrificial rituals. Above all, emphasis is on the social rather than the biological, the public rather than the domestic. The second implication of this study is that this difference between Minoan and Mycenaean iconographic interests persists into the Mycenaean period on Crete. While the tablets reveal that both Mycenaean women and the women of Mycenaean Crete share the same social role of child-care provider, their societies are not uniform in their representations of this role. The art of Mycenaean Crete continues to follow the Minoan traditions regarding child-rearing scenes rather than adopting the contemporary Mycenaean interest in them, implying the survival of at least some aspects of Minoan child-care ideology.

Women, children and the family in the late Aegean Bronze Age


The final point pertains to Minoan religion. It must be noted that, if one wishes to place a 'Minoan Mother Goddess' at the centre of the Minoan pantheon, one must take into account the complete iconographic silence on anthropomorphic motherhood in Minoan Crete and the near-complete silence even in the period of Mycenaean domination of Crete. There is simply no evidence for the celebration of motherhood, divine or human, among the Minoans. Duke University, USA and American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece

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