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CLAS 370 Lecture Notes - Cycladic Culture, Minos, Minoan Civilization

Course Code
CLAS 370
Sheila Ager

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The Aegean Bronze Age
1:14 PM
3000-1000 BCE. Have rough ideas for timelines of cultures
Cycladic culture of Cycladic islands, Minoans (based on Crete), Helladic culture (Mycenaean)
Cycladic Figurines
Come from late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Before rise of Minoan and Mycenaean civilisation
Many have been found over long stretches of time
Female figurines that seem to be produced over and over
Lots of differences and similarities
Abstract vision of the female body
Steatopygous type figurine: means she has a fat butt.
o Possibly pregnant
o Cycladic version of Venus figurine
Slim down over time
No individual characteristics
Breasts are not exaggerated, genital area is sketched out, arms are crossed under the breasts
Range in size remarkably
Don't really know what they are, so we assume religious
Possible that they are mother goddesses, or icons of fertility
Women in Minoan Society
1:22 PM
Mostly talking about Crete, though Minoans traded beyond the island and possibility of colonisation
of the Cycladic islands
3000-1450 BCE; establishment of culture in 3000, flourished around 2000BCE
Wealth and power measured by series of palace complexes around the island
o Most significant is Knossos
o Knossos always capital of Crete and most important place on Crete in Greek myth
Contemporaries of Bronze Age Greece. Rise to wealth and power predate rise of wealth and power
of mainland Greece
o Influenced mainland via trade on art, fashion etc.
o Makes it difficult to determine what is Minoan and what is Mycenaean
Mythic memories:
o Theseus battling the Minotaur who belongs to King Minos
o Called Minoan after King Minos; don't know what language they spoke, don't know what they
called themselves, they're not Greek. They had a writing system but we can't read it
Discovery of Minoan Civilization
Purely archaeological find
Discovered by Sir Arthur Evans
o Started excavations at Knossos around 1900

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o Influenced by Bachofen's and Engel's ideas
o Can see Bachofen's ideas in the interpretations of the finds at Minoan Crete
Common assumptions
o Minoan women in held in high regard.
o Minoans were a very peaceful people. Literature to back this up is largely made up
Mostly artefactual and material evidence.
Current Minoan evidence challenges past interpretations
o Architecture of palaces show little evidence of defensive walls. Big open structure that looks
like anyone could go in their
o However, legends of King Minos tell us they have a powerful navy. Know Minoans made their
way by sea, possible they would have a strong navy and no need of walls
o Walls have been found further out from central complex
o Art portrays peaceful scenes; jewellery, nature is depicted, animals, palace life. Scenes of
ritual, palace gatherings. Don't feature lots of artwork of war scenes
o Crete is in the middle of the Aegean, surrounded by warring regions
Primacy of women, especially in religion
o Frescoes
o Figurines
o Jewellery - gold seal rings appear to have images of rituals.
o Lots of art that features women or women engaging in some kind of ritual
o Possible that women had significant role in religion, doubtful outside that
Written Sources (Linear A) are little help.
o Basically an accounting system; number of slaves
o Generally we can't read them and palace accounts don't say a whole lot about the society
Interpretation of the artefacts has been ideas about primitive matriarchy
Priestesses and Goddesses
La Parisienne fresco:
o Woman considered decorative
o Part of the camp stool fresco
o Men typically red in Minoan art, women typically white
o (scarf thing she's wearing) Sacred knot: suggested symbol of some significance
o Seems to be a woman of some importance
The Procession Fresco
o Men and women walking in procession with gifts toward a woman of some importance (all we
have is her feet)
o Religious transvestism: male figures dressed in robes worn by women. Possible that they are
worshipping a female goddess, but it’s all interpretation
The Priest King or Lily Prince
o Don't really know if ancient Crete was a theocracy.
o Probably someone important if the hat belongs to him, not certain it does.
o Has fair skin - usually the colour of a woman's skin and men are typically red. Back to the
procession fresco, it's possible the white footed figure isn't a woman
o New reconstruction shows him more like a guard and not really someone special.
Sarcophagus from Hagia Triadha
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