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Ancient Life in Crete

bare-breasted high priestess (cretegal1b.jpg--263x209)
Bare-Breasted High Priestess
October 18, 2001

bare-breasted high priestess in Crete (cretegal1.jpg--266x484) bare-breasted high priestess in Crete (cretegal2.jpg--230x485)

Discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in the ruins of the Palace of Knossos, the so-called “Snake Goddess” is said to be a priestess of the goddess. Her typical Minoan open bolero and tiered skirt of the every day women are in stark contrast to her elaborate headdress with a representation of an animal.

These figurines represent the esteem in which women in general seem to have been held in Minoan Crete. The Snake Goddess might have been an evolution of the Earth Mother/Goddess who ruled over all creatures of the earth and sky; hence she possessed the ability to charm snakes and had animals rest on her head.

The Great Goddess was sometimes shown with snakes wrapped around her arms—a phenomenon not yet understood. Sometimes she is depicted with both men and women bearing gifts and some of the men, painted red, are shown playing a lyre and flute while wearing women’s dress.

Priestess and her attendants (priestess.jpg--173x238) The Priestess and Attendants fresco (a detail of a larger work; painted 1550 BC.) shows a ceremonial procession around the walls of an entrance room in the Palace of Knossos on Crete. The theme reflected the Minoan trade contacts with Egyptians, who frequently painted processions.

The two attendants wear loincloths of woven and embroidered material. Minoans adorned themselves with jewelry, as shown here in the ankle bands, arm bands and bracelets. Both men and women wore their hair long and curled, and were slender and elegant. The open bolero-style jacket worn by the woman is seen in other palace frecoes, and must have been a common style.

Men were always depicted with a brick red skin tone, while women were painted with fair skin. The wavy blue band through the center of the design runs the length of the original fresco, and helps to show the flowing, directional movement and continuity of the scene.

The artist might have borrowed the Egyptian profile technique, but the Minoan subjects and their composition look more graceful, natural and fluid than anything found in Egyptian wall painting.

Priestess-Queen

Study of the archaeological remains of the palaces revealed they served as religious and economic centers. You can see large amounts of cult equipment among the finds in the palaces. In addition, frescoes with religious representations abound in the palace of Knossos.

Underground storage magazine containing pithoi (pithoi.jpg--450x300)

An underground storage magazine containing pithoi (giant terracotta jars)

The economic aspect comes from the large storage magazines found at the palaces so they were obvious centers for regulating the flow of goods and storing them. Furthermore, religion and economy went hand in hand as the magazines and workshops took their places close to the palace shrines. The large concentrations of magazines in the west wings—the major cult area of the palaces—also supports this idea.

The connection between religion and economy suggests that the system appeared theocratic and that the priests or priestesses controlled economy and government. Such systems prevailed in Egypt with the Pharoahs as god-kings, and in Mesopotamia with its temple states.

You can also see some evidences telling that the Minoan culture might have been female-dominant:

  1. Their art showed ladies in situations of prominence.
  2. The throne was delicate and feminine
  3. Their religion was dominated by the feminine ideal and female deities.
  4. Their culture was based peacefully upon trade rather than on conquest.

Therefore, the bare-breasted High Priestess might have ruled as priestess-queen with a king as a figurehead, and a board of priests actually ran the Minoan society on her behalf.

 

L I N K S




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  Comments
 
King Minos was apparently male. If you insist that the Minoan society was dominated by females, how do you explain the existence of King Minos?
    - Sandra McKay

Good question! The female-dominant Minoan civilization got wiped out by the Thera eruption. The ancestors or Minos himself came from the Greek mainland, whose society appeared male-dominant.
    - Akira
 
 
Copyright Akira Kato
About this author:
  • Educated both in Canada and Japan
  • Traveled extensively in Europe, Far East, and North America
  • Worked as management consultant, computer systems analyst, college instructor and freelance writer.
Akira Kato


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