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The realm of Minos

An artist's idea of how a Minoan priestess queen might have lived

Between 3500 and 1500 BC a very attractive and rather mysterious civilization developed and then vanished on the island of Crete in the southern Aegean Sea. In Greek myth the ruler of this realm was called Minos, and so we refer to Minoan Crete to describe what we know of this people.

1 A Semitic people

It is likely that the island was settled by Phoenicians, a great seafaring people of  Canaan, Syria and the Lebanon who also colonised Carthage (Phoenician for Newtown) in Tunisia in northern Africa, and Tartessos on the Atlantic coast of Spain, thus anticipating the achievement of the Muslims in the extent of their culture.  Crete may have been attractive as a trading depot with Egypt to these people. Phoenician innovations include the trireme, a ship which could weather the open sea, and the alphabet, which spread as far and wide as their settlements (and was further developed by the Greeks). Both Crete and Tartessos sucumbed to earthquakes, a volcanic eruption at Thera disrupting Minoan civilization and at Tartessos consequent subsidence and flooding led to abandonment of the site, and it is thought knowledge of these catastrophies might have influenced the formation of the legend of Atlantis, which Plato claimed to have heard in Egypt (a tyrannical kingdom which attacked Athens and was repulsed, much as Persia was). Although genetic studies have distinguished between Phoenician and Minoan stock, this predicates there was never any cross breeding between peoples in common areas, which is unlikely.

The Phoenician sphere of influence in the southern Mediterranean

Our idea of Minoan culture and society is very fragmentary. Not much of the past survives, and care has to be taken that false emphases are not placed on items or traces that have survived simply because they are all that has survived. An effort should be made to supplement what we know of Crete by what we know of other contemporary civilizations, and by analogy with our own, admitting that there is much we will never know.

Crete seems to have become prosperous through trade, and formed part of a trading network which extended to Egypt, Syria, the Aegean, Africa and Spain. The era was the Bronze Age, when bronze weaponry was the latest technology, and Crete traded in both tin and copper (the components of bronze). Another major trade item was saffron, valued as a food seasoning in the ancient world. Crete had a navy and was famous for its ships. Because the only weaponry surviving, in artifacts or artistic representations, is ceremonial,  it is thought by some that Crete was a peaceful trading empire with no need of an army. However there is little evidence to support the contention; arguing from negative evidence of course can prove anything, especially when a case that most evidence has vanished. Possibly Crete, with no borders of contention with other states, may have been peaceful.

From the large number of representations showing them in Minoan art it has been surmised that Crete was a society giving equal status to women, rare in any age, perhaps a matriarchy. Many of the portraits surviving show women in dresses that leave their breasts exposed, and this may be a sign of respect for their femininity. However court ladies of Louis XIV at Versailles also exposed their breasts, and this was a matter of sexual politics, not prestige.

A Minoan woman with male attendants

The prime deity worshipped in Crete seems to have been she known as the Great Goddess, an awareness of the fructifying power of the earth. Perhaps she was Astarte, worshipped by the Phoenicians. Other deities are represented by the snake and the bull. There is a ritual involving bull leaping. And reference to labrys, a kind of axe, and labyrinth, a kind of shamanic psychic path of worship. It is possible the story of the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis originally represented a Bronze Age Canaanite version of this kind of worship. Eve would then be the Great Mother goddess or her priestess, the wise snake her medium whereby man received knowledge from the gods, and the gifts given include the fruit which gave knowledge of good and evil, and the fruit of immortality. Lilith, Adam’s first wife in a Hebrew non-Biblical tradition, is thought to be a version of the Sumerian moon goddess, in the days when the Hebrews were polytheistic, so such a role for Eve is not impossible. The story in the Bible has been radically recast, not to explain the fruitfulness of the earth as a gift of the gods, but as the occasion of how evil entered the world.

Many of the material remains from Minoan civilization are those of buildings. It is likely that these are all ceremonial and administrative buildings. Most personal dwellings in all ancient cultures have vanished, but the Parthenon and the pyramids remain. The technology used in Crete is impressive, and includes paved roads, drainage and sewage for streets and buildings, a sophisticated water supply, bathrooms with baths and flushing toilets. The later Mycenean peoples in Crete preserved a story of a great engineer and inventor, Daedalus, who made a flying machine and created a prison for the evil Minotaur, a folk memory of this technological sophistication. The Minoans were literate, and used a script known to us as Linear A, which has not yet been deciphered.

2 Myth and religion

Aside from scholarly squabbles as to whether the existing remains of buildings are temples or palaces (probably both), whether the Minoans were warlike or pacific (probably both, as required), and idyllic pictures of them as an artistic culture busy laying the foundations for the achievements of classical Greece (Arthur Evans’ view), which overlooks the fact the Minoans weren’t Greeks but a people with very different cultural values to classical Greece, largely unknown ones; the fact is that our sources of information about Crete are two disparate and fragmentary ones, both misleading, archaeology and myth. To draw conclusions about the culture based on the existence of flushing toilets is like assessing American culture based on the existence of screw top bottles or ring pull cans. Conclusions based on frescoes and statuettes unavoidably sees them in a misleading context of museums and art galleries which ignores their actual purpose and creates a picture of a kind of ‘art for art sake’ culture which is bound to be anachronistic. The other source of information is Greek myth, and here some discrimination too is needed.

The heroes of Homer were part of a jackal like culture which lived on despoiling and destroying weaker powers, as they did at Troy. Archaeologists have established that as the early waves of Dorian Greeks, led in myth by the hero Herakles, established themselves 1500-1200 BC at centres like Mycenae in northern Greece, they pushed on down the Aegean into the power vacuum left by the destruction and disorientation of the Minoan centres of influence. For a time Crete was a Mycenean fortress city state. Most of the myths about Crete are from this time, and reflect Mycenean culture, not Minoan.

The reign of Minos, the Minotaur, Ariadne and the thread, the Athenian hero Theseus freeing Athens from tribute, Daedalus and Icarus, these and many other stories date from or depict the period just prior to the Trojan war of the thirteenth century BC, the time also of Jason and Medea, Perseus, Oedipus and the adventures of Odysseus. By this stage Crete as a power and cultural identity had vanished. Yet some traces remain of this ‘Minoan’ culture, and can be investigated by starting from one striking image uncovered by Evans: the young men and women apparently vaulting over the back of a massive bull.

The sacred bull worship at Knossos

Minos was said to be the son of Europa, a Phoenician princess who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a white bull, which came from the ocean and carried her to Crete. Europa herself is thought to be a form of the fertility goddess known in Egypt as Hathor, and represented as a cow, and a descendent of another victim of Zeus, Io, who was transformed into an heifer. Hera herself had associations with a heifer. There is a strand of myth here relating to a bull and a heifer which is not Greek and which includes a reference to Phoenicia. The Greeks had a tolerant habit of renaming foreign gods to that of one they themselves worshipped, so ‘Zeus’ is probably not the original name. It could have been Phoenician Baal. The worship of gods in animal form is best known from Egyptian examples, but was common all over the ancient world. Students of the Bible will remember the story of the golden calf. The woman who is transformed into an heifer and mates with a bull seems to be a rite in celebration of fertility. On Crete the Minoan priest might have worn a bull head dress, just as the shaman in ancient Europe wore a stag head dress, and the priestess may have taken the name of Io or Europa. The Myceneans, who worshipped the sky god Zeus, and not the chthonic powers of the earth, turned this rite into a scandalous story of Pasiphae’s bestiality with the Minotaur. Europa has been linked with the fertility goddess Demeter, and it is no very great leap to the Phoenician Astarte. Was this myth a memory of a rite of Astarte and Baal, imported from Phoenician city states such as Tyre or Sidon? It makes a lot more sense than stories of bulls and maidens falling in love. Many myths were reworked by first century pastoral poets, and that is how they have survived to modern times, but the treatment is romantic, not religious as it was originally.

Neolithic bull worship at Lascaux

The bulls of Lascaux are among the greatest and most impressive survivals of ancient times. From Gilgamesh to Mithras, gods and heroes have sacrificed the sacred bull to ensure his life force is returned to nourish his people. There is a complex of meanings here: the life blood which is spilt so worshippers can partake of it and find eternal life; the potency that begets many children; the seed germinating in the earth, the child in the womb, that needs power to bring it to life; and the sun and the moon on their paths which must be implored to continue their life giving functions through worship of the gods responsible for these functions. The horns of the bull and heifer represent the crescent, and so the phases, of the moon.

A vessel used in religious rites on Crete

Cults such as this are known from Anatolia to Egypt, and almost certainly the ritual was carried out in Crete. Whether the sacrifice was an actual one, or a symbolic one, is unknown. The priest who fights and slays the bull and receives his life giving power for human beings is probably depicted in the bull leaping fresco of Knossos, and may be the origin of the bull fight still enacted in Spain today. Strange to think of the bull fight, little more than a tourist attraction now, as the last survival of a Phoenician religious ritual once carried out in Carthage and Crete as well.

Sarcophagus from Haghia Triada

One of the most interesting of classical myths about Crete is that of the labyrinth which held the Minotaur captive. A labyrinth however is not the same as a maze, and is not designed to keep anyone captive. It is a ritual path, a mandala, that the priest walks, retracing the formation of the world, and by carrying out rites at certain points, he both maintains the world in its stability, and creates that stability within himself, which power he then imparts to the people during acts of worship. An interesting possibility about Crete is that function may have been carried out by priestesses and not priests, and the primary purpose been that of creating and maintaining life. Ritual may not have been through sacrifice, as was commonly the case with sky gods such as Yahweh or Zeus, involving the death of an animal or human victim. This gives an entirely new dimension to the story of Ariadne, as a priestess who carried out life giving rituals within the sacred labyrinth and so ‘saved’ the believer Theseus. A similar ritual may have survived into classical times at Eleusis, involving Demeter.

A labyrinth reminiscent of the tree of life

Just as the horns of the bull represented the moon’s phases in Cretan and other Middle Eastern religions, so are they represented on the labrys, the double headed axe carried by Minoan priestesses. The peculiar shape of this device is not functional, but symbolic, like the crook and flail carried by the pharaohs. The waxing and waning moon has been connected in many religions with the female reproductive cycle. It is possible that many rites in Minoan religion were concerned with fruitfulness, in nature and in human beings. It has been conjectured that as no Cretan temples similar to classical Greek ones have survived, temples there might have been either open spaces on hilltops, or subterranean spaces. There is no evidence that such matriarchal, female-centered rites existed, in Crete or any other place, but there are some tantalising clues that it might have.

A goddess/priestess makes a prophecy

In several representations found on Crete the priestess/goddess (during the rite the two become one) is holding a snake in either hand. Nobody has any idea what she is doing with the snakes though it is worth noting Crete has only a few types of snake, none of which are venomous. In many religions the snake represents infinity, and is shown as an omega, a circle formed by a coiled snake with its tail in its mouth. The snake also, because it sloughs its skin, represents new life, especially that of the believer who has observed the ritual and found favour with the god. Because it has thus had many lives, the serpent also represents wisdom, and especially hidden knowledge. The mandala of the labyrinth can be compared to a representation of a figure called the world tree found in religions all over the world, a representation of the life force as it extends through the cosmos. This tree is often shown guarded by a snake or serpent. In the Garden of Eden the serpent guards the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (and one wonders why Yahweh doesn’t want Adam to understand the meaning of good or evil). In Greek myth Hermes the gods’ messenger carries a snake entwined around a staff. At Delphi the oracle was Python, an immortal serpent whose priestess was the Pythoness who interpreted Python’s prophecy. The role was later usurped by Apollo. Images similar to the Cretan priestess holding snakes have been found on Hittite and Sumerian sites. In all these representations the goddess/priestess may be speaking the wisdom of the god, revealed through the snake, god’s mouthpiece.

3 Cretan women

Three women of Knossos enjoying life

There have been several attempts, such as Bettany Hughes’, to assert that women in Mycenean society had equal standing to men, at least in the upper classes (if there were upper classes, and it isn’t an anachronistic term). What about Minoan Crete? There have been many attempts to build a picture of a matriarchal society in Crete, where women ruled as priestesses, and male aggressiveness was kept at bay. Unfortunately there is no evidence to support this picture (and no evidence to disprove it). The worship of the Great Mother is likely, as it was prevalent in the Middle East at the time the Minoans flourished, 2500-2000 BC (as previously mentioned, ‘Minoan’ refers to a different civilisation to that ruled by king Minos, who was a later, Mycenean Greek, figure). Surviving statues of a snake bearing priestess/goddess bear this out. But as for the position of women, almost the only indication of this is that they appear to have exposed their breasts. What this means, any woman who removes her top at the beach will know, by contrast with her own experience. No stares, covert or offensive, no unwanted approaches, no being made to feel self-conscious, as though there was something wrong with them. As most women know (but men apparently don’t) sex is a situation, and the body parts are incidental to that situation. But the body part concerned does have great significance as a symbol, and a non-sexual one too, of nurturing and motherhood. If women bared their breasts, it could mean that function made them a respected and powerful part of society, and representatives, each and every one, of the Great Goddess herself. Presumably Cretan men were not made uncomfortable by the sight of a woman nursing her baby as we are. We are not sure if the costume that exposed the breasts was for priestesses only, for rich folk, for ceremonial occasions, or the norm, so speculations as the above have to remain just that. In Egyptian art the breasts are sometimes exposed, but not emphasised as in Cretan art, and the dresses are sometimes transparent. Slave girls are completely nude. Burdened as we are with 2000 years of ‘sex is evil’ Christian indoctrination, one thing we definitely cannot fathom is the sexual mores of ancient cultures. Conclusions about matriarchy are bound to be biased, whether for or against. Yet the speculation does add to the attractiveness of Minoan culture.

Exposed breasts in Minoan culture...

...and our own

4 The end of the world

This culture came to an end about 1700 BC. The active volcanic  island of Thera, about 70 miles north of Crete, erupted in one of the largest explosions of volcanic matter ever measured, four times the extent of that of Krakatoa in the 19th century. Minoan settlements on the island and nearby islands were wiped out. There is some confusion about how the eruption would have affected Crete. An immense tidal wave is likely to have swept the northern shores of Crete, as high as 500 foot, and volcanic dust and ash settled in the air and caused asphyxiation to survivors who remained in the area. However scientists believe the tidal wave and volcanic matter would not be sufficient to destroy an entire civilisation. That was probably the effect of more indirect causes. It is likely clouds of ash and dust would have obscured the sun, possibly for some months. This would have interfered with agriculture and the care of livestock. As a result, there would have been overcrowding and a drain on resources in centres not directly affected by the explosion. A simple agricultural society would not have been able to cope with this. And as many, perhaps all, industries would have depended on trade, and the eruption would have put a temporary end to trade, and may have destroyed many ships, starvation may have been widespread. With starvation would have come disease, on a scale which ancient medicine could not have dealt with. Perhaps most damaging of all would have been the religious reaction. The eruption would have been seen as a sign from the gods, a sign perhaps that the time of the Minoans was over. There are traces at this time of human sacrifice, a sign of how desperate and afraid the people were at this terrible blow from the gods. And it is also likely the most powerful people on the island, the priestesses, would have gone north to deal with the crisis, and perhaps allay the anger of the gods, and died of asphyxiation, leaving the people without wise guidance. This is the way civilisations are destroyed.

A little research on the Polynesians after Captain Cook’s exploration, or the native American nations after Western settlement and even prior to the US and Spanish Governments’ policy of genocide, reveals the same pattern: death from diseases against which no antibodies existed in the races affected; loss of livelihoods and food sources because of foreign intervention; breakdown of traditional social structures and the loss of leaders to death by disease or starvation; a belief the people had lost favour with god; a recourse to desperate and dangerous ventures leading to misguided tactics of concession or confrontation by unskilled leaders.

Factors of this nature are more intangible than the size of a tidal wave or the amount of volcanic ash produced, but they explain how a culture can fade away more surely than any exact measurement or calculation. The Minoan civilisation did not disappear after the eruption. The devastated areas were resettled, new buildings were erected, in some cases more elaborate than the old ones. There was more than one attempt to return to the condition prevailing before the eruption. But I think the heart had gone out of the effort. The vitality, the exuberance, that can be seen in every depiction of animal or landscape, had vanished. And in the north the wolves of Mycenae sniffed the wind and saw the opportunity of plunder. Down they came, attacking the unprotected and weakened Minoans. At first they were content to destroy, to rape, burn, loot. But, inevitably, some of the Myceneans stayed, settled in the area, absorbed Minoan ways. From about 1500 BC a new culture, that of Mycenean Greece, prevailed on the island.

A woman of Crete

Perhaps the most precious things to have survived from Minoan Crete are the little, throwaway things, more revealing than possible structures such as matriarchy, or practices such as the worship of the Great Mother, or stories about a great navy, or what survives of a sophisticated technology. These fragments reveal an attitude of such delight, such innocence and freshness, such an observation and savour of nature, as has seldom been expressed, before or since.

An artist showing a love for dolphins

...and birds and plants

©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.


23 comments on “The realm of Minos

  1. schminkef
    Tuesday, 2 October, 2012

    Reblogged this on schminkef and commented:
    Minoans really are my favourite Western civilization. Egalitarian, matriarchal, pacifistic. A land of farmers and traders whose women were priestesses who walked around bare-breasted.

  2. schminkef
    Tuesday, 2 October, 2012

    Beautiful images!
    The Minoans have got to be my favourite civilization! The birthplace of the West and possibly one of the most Egalitarian and peaceful societies in ancient history.

    I really do hope the bare-breasted style does return in fashion soon ! (which may be possible given the openness modern Western society has with regards to nudity and sexuality) It might help our society overcome the last stretch of Victorian social mores or patriarchal injustices which we have yet to overcome.

    • phillipkay
      Tuesday, 2 October, 2012

      I have to agree. Mysterious, beautiful, and there’s a nagging sense that they might have a lesson to teach us.

  3. phillipkay
    Tuesday, 3 July, 2012

    Democracy is a good analogue to what we are speaking of. It could be representative (the US system: if you don’t vote you’re not represented, nor are you democratic); direct (the Greek system: what you voted for today you rescind tomorrow; then you exile all your leaders and are defeated by your enemies); or people’s democracy (an unrealised ideal and possibly a rhetorical device). Same word, different meanings and contexts. You need to qualify the term in each discussion until you end up talking of just a particular democracy. In other words we can generalise only because we leave out significant differences.

    So with matriarchy. Probably ancient Bronze Age matriarchy was different to modern examples, just as modern hunter/gatherers operate in a different context to ancient ones. But we just don’t know, and won’t till they get that time machine working. I’m inclined to agree with you about the matriarchy on Crete.

    But should I make a case for the bull leapers as human sacrifices for the bull cult, the snake holding ladies as human sacrifices to the snake god, and the women baring their breasts as being imprisoned in a harem and under male control, how would you refute me?

  4. Khargosh Agha
    Sunday, 1 July, 2012

    You are darn right about the single-minded approach and bias that many Classicists have towards ancient Graeco-Persian relations – the whole East/West-divide is highly artificial. Athens doesn´t equal Greece, but many would have it so to stress the (Western) roots of democracy, which is fine, but they tend to forget (or gloss over) that it was a democratic political system that ordered the execution of Socrates, like the examples you mentioned about temple prostitution in Corinth and so on.

    I understand your objections about the existence of ancient matriarchies, but what about matrilineal societies: Do you believe (as some scholars have suggested) that ancient Crete could have been a matrilineal society? To further stress my point, I would like to give you a latter-day-example of a matrilineal society in West Sumatra (Indonesia), namely the Minangkabau:

    One interesting detail about Minangkabau´s social/cultural customs is the fact that all boys have to leave their maternal homes at the age of seven…something that (if I remember correctly) ancient Spartan boys also were required to do at the same age, albeit subjected to a much harsher ordeal than the Minang boys (I hope).
    I know that Sparta is on the mainland and not on Crete, but it´s still situated in Hellas/Greece, so (could be a connection; as likely as not)…

    Thanks for continuing the discussion so far! If it (the discussion) will be discontinued, then I depart gracefully, as of now (until next time/subject). If the discussion continues, then I am all attention for your output. So long!

  5. phillipkay
    Friday, 15 June, 2012

    Yes, I have heard that objection before, and it is valid if you only take into consideration physical remains, including DNA analysis, surviving scripts and archaeological remains. But a culture is built on more than these items, and I was supposing a Semitic people may have supplied some of the unique characteristics of Cretan culture. They were closest, they had trading settlements on Crete, they had elements of Cretan ritual such as bull worship, they may have revered animals such as snakes, and although their paintings have vanished there seems something similar in what art objects have survived from both regions. Characteristics that include a spontaneous one dimensionality and freshness. The spread of ideas in ancient times is a nebulous subject, and I at least haven’t seen much written on the stimulus Persian ideas had on origins of Greek culture for instance. Would it be valid to say Western cultures couldn’t have been connected in any way with ancient Greek ones because we have a different genetic makeup? I think you are right, and the indigenous people were what the Greeks called Pelasgians who were moving southwards displaced from the mainland. But when we look at the ancient buildings and frescoes of Crete we aren’t thinking of genetic makup, nor language, but potent cultural ideas.

    • Khargosh Agha
      Wednesday, 20 June, 2012

      OK, I can see where you are coming from; that is: I get your point! If you are speaking about cultural influences and not “genetically transmitted” influences…It´s perfectly plausible that the Canaanites influenced the ancient Cretans in many spheres (religious as well as social a s o), but I don´t think that it was “wholesale”. I believe that the Cretans (being a mercantile power in the region) had a “multicultural” approach of “copy and paste” to the different cultures in the area…adopting and adapting according to their own best interests (maybe).

      You are very right in your approach vis-à-vis the Persian influences upon Classical Athens/Greece: The whole lot of the Parthenon-friezes were influenced by the processional friezes of the Persian royal palace at Persepolis/Takht-e-Jamshid!
      By the way: What is your opinion of the works of Jacquetta Hawkes and Rodney Castleden on the subject of ancient Crete?

      Anyhow; you have a great blog and I am looking forward to new posts and more debates on (preferrably) ancient topics and subjects!

      • phillipkay
        Wednesday, 20 June, 2012

        I don’t know Castleden, but he seems to have stirred up reviewers at Amazon! He apparently offers a ‘reinterpretation’, and as such, performs a useful service. We all tend to create a past we feel comfortable with and should be forced to re-consider that reconstruction from time to time. The sad fact is we don’t know much about the past, and almost always misinterpret what we do know. Al least Castleden doesn’t think the Minoan Cretans came from Alpha Centauri! Older books that reflect some of Castleden’s opinions are JV Luce The End of Atlantis (Granada 1969) on Atlantis: like all such books it tends to ignore Plato’s point in mentioning Atlantis. And Hans Wunderlich The Secret of Crete (Macmillan 1974) on temples vs palaces. Over the top and rather wonderful. People tend to forget how romantic people like Evans and Schliemann were. Our science can be just as delusional. Hawkes I haven’t read on Crete, but have come across similar views in Joseph Campbell. The matriarchy theory is attractive and fits well with worship of Great Goddess figures. But we’ll never know. Generally speaking, we have 5% of the possible evidence, and risk making extreme misrepresentations with every surmise we make. As usual, nothing wrong with making a guess, as long as it’s so labelled, and retracted if evidence comes along to refute the theory.

        As for cultural influences, they are hard, if not impossible, to measure, and tend to get left out. Your approach of the Minoans adopting a variety of customs from various other cultures is the most sensible. That’s what we can observe our own culture doing today. The trouble with the business of Greeks and Persians is that a generation of historians studying the Persian Wars has seen it as similar to the good vs evil conflict of WWII, and tended to ignore the extent that Greeks were an Asiatic people. This is, Indo Europeans, but living and forming a culture in Anatolia and the northern region of the Middle East, as well as in the Black Sea area (and Sicily of course). Many tend to write as though Greece = Athens. The existence of temple prostitution at both Corinth and Ephesos is rather glossed over.

  6. Khargosh Agha
    Friday, 15 June, 2012

    Interesting post, but I am somewhat sceptical of the West Semitic/Canaanean origin of ancient Crete! I am not denying that there could have been (in all probability) actual Canaanite settlings on the island, but I don´t think they were the indigenous population in actuality. According to research (both archaeological and DNA-based) the first settlers (if we discount the findings before the last Ice Age) on Crete came on “rafts” from Western Anatolia during the Stone Age (ca 7000-5000 BCE) and I am inclined to believe they were neither Indo-European nor Semitic, but something that Classical writers would label Eteocretans and/or Pelasgians. For further information about these peoples, check it out on Wikipedia! To sum it up: For a more plausible origin-label of the ancient Cretans, I suggest taking a closer look at the pre-Indoeuropean (pre-Hittite, that is) populations of Anatolia.

  7. syaza
    Friday, 1 June, 2012

    May I know the name of the designer of the minoan style dress?

  8. Will
    Saturday, 18 February, 2012

    Hey, Phillip,

    I have to acknowledge overall I think your essay is very good. I apologize for some of my ruder posts, and I have enjoyed discussing Minoan civilization with you. We both certainly can agree that the Minoans were a fascinating culture. Your page also has some beautiful images and pictures that help bring Minoan Crete to life.

    All the best,


  9. Lujack Skylark
    Saturday, 18 February, 2012

    Minoans begin visiting Egypt in Amenemhet II 28th year when they present him with the Tod treasure. Minoans in Senusret II’s reign build him a temple at Luhun. Minoans in Senusret III’s reign settle at Avaris,Egypt during the global famine. (Genesis 41:57)Amenemhet III’s reign the Egyptians visit the Labyrinth at Crete and build a Labyrinth in Egypt. Amenemhet IV continues trade with the Minoans.
    Ahmose mother’s grave contained a Minoan ax. Amenhotep I reign the Minoans and the Hebrews live peacefully in Egypt’s delta. The Hyksos/Canaanites have already left in the first Exodus. Thutmose I reign he slays Hebrew male babies. Princess Hatshepsut (Thermuthis) saves Moses life. The Minoans and Hebrews work together. The Minoans later are called the mixed crowd. (Exodus 12:38)
    Thutmose II reign is controlled by Queen Hatshepsut. Minoans leap over bulls.
    Hatshepsut worships the cow goddess Hathor. The Hebrews later in the wilderness worship the golden calf. The island of Thera blows up in Thutmose III’s reign creating darkness over the Mediterranean Sea for 3 days. (Exodus 10:21-22) Darkness which maybe felt is ash. Minoan pottery is slowly being replaced by Mycenean pottery becoming more prevelent in Amenhotep III’s reign when Joshua invades Canaan. (Tel-Amarna Letters. Haribu = Hebrews) Thutmose III appears to be the pharaoh of the Exodus. Hope you like the research.

    • phillipkay
      Saturday, 18 February, 2012

      Impressive! So it appears there is some evidence of contact between the two cultures 1900 to 1700 BC at least. Trading contact I presume. Egyptian inscriptions routinely assign all contacts with foreign peoples as one of submission and paying tribute. I’m sure the two cultures influenced one another. Painting conventions seem similar, and the treatment of nature and wildlife bears some remarkable resemblances. As usual, impossible to know whether actual cultural contact, or merely traded goods which have been recovered in one culture’s site but originating in another. Not sure if the Bible can be safely taken as a source, as problems of chronology between Canaan/Israel and Egypt continue to be unresolved.

  10. Will
    Friday, 17 February, 2012

    …This is why I am frustrated by some of your arguments; I hold a perspective you might not be able to share. Now, one final point I would like to put forward to you: Genetics (and I do not know what your source is) do not confirm at all if a people is Semitic. As you may know, Semitic languages have a wide range, extending from Morocco to Ethiopia in Africa, and Israel to Iraq in the Middle East. I understand that genetic studies have shown Arabs in North Africa to have more in common with their Berber neighbors than with Arabs from Saudi Arabia. Ethiopians, of course, are Sub-Saharan peoples, and physically do not resemble other Semitic peoples (Amhiric, the principle language of Ethiopia, is Semitic). I present you with these examples just to illustrate the fact that genetics really do not decisively prove what language a people spoke. Likewise, while genetic markers found in Levantine peoples may also be present in Cretan populations (I would like to see your source), that still would not even remotely indicate that a Semitic language ever was spoken on the island. Well, I guess I would just have to learn Phoenician to prove decisively that you are wrong (though of course there is that chronological error I pointed out in my earlier comments).

    • phillipkay
      Friday, 17 February, 2012

      Will, I respect your knowledge of linguistics and genetics. I myself have no such knowledge. Let me point out I have made no claim that Linear A transcribed a Semitic language, and only in one phrase have I claimed the Minoan culture may have been Semitic: and in deference to your protest I’ll change it to something vaguer. Generally I have pointed out the mysterious nature of this culture, and the fact that we don’t know its origins. My essay has been a speculation about the nature of Minoan culture, and considerations of how we can appreciate it by looking at contemporary cultures elsewhere. I might have as well taken Egypt as an example, without claiming Linear A was an example of the Egyptian language nor the Minoans Egyptians.Though we can speculate about race and language types, these speculations I believe are a lot vaguer than their scientific methodology would indicate when applied to vanished peoples. It is as risky speculating, as I have tried to do, about the spread of ideas and beliefs, but personally this is what I find most interesting.

  11. phillipkay
    Monday, 13 February, 2012

    I don’t believe there is evidence enough to make a definite statement about these matters Will, and you may be correct is claiming the Minoans were not Semitic. I don’t think it accurate to describe them as “pre-Greek”, which links them to later cultures in the same area. They appear from conclusions drawn about Linear A NOT to have been an Indo-European group. Their civilisation is as different to the Mycenean as it is to Bantu. It appears to me not to be “a huge leap” to connect them to a culture that was dominant in the same area at about the same time. If you want to deny any connection between the Phoenician alphabet and Linear A, then presumably you would also deny any connection between that alphabet and pre-classical Greek script. Don’t forget that human institutions, including alphabets, evolve and change over time. The pottery I referred to was considered earlier tham Mycenean, and I thought showed a cultural link, not a migration. I also think these questions of origin, while interesting, are a minor matter in the appreciation of the nature of Minoan civilisation, which is what I strove to do in this essay.

  12. Will
    Monday, 13 February, 2012

    The accepted opinion is that the Minoans were Pre-Greek, but it’s a huge leap to then say they were Semitic.

    What similarities exist between the Phoenician abjad and Linear A? Linear A is a writing system with a couple hundred characters and has no resemblance to a Semitic abjad.

    Pottery that appears Mycenaean is found in the Levant, but this is attributed to the arrival of the Philistines, who possibly originated in Crete. That is the reverse of a Phoenician migration from the Levant to Crete.

  13. Will
    Monday, 13 February, 2012

    I do not understand how you can say with such certain conviction that the Minoans were a Semitic people. Until someone fully deciphers Linear A, no one really knows what type of language they spoke.

    Chadwick in his book “The Decipherment of Linear B” says that the attempts to link Linear A to the Semitic language family seem somewhat forced.

    • phillipkay
      Monday, 13 February, 2012

      Hi Will. True, we don’t really know what culture ancient Minoan Crete derived from, and I have made that clear in other parts of my essay. Yet that ignorance hasn’t prevented some historians from assuming and maintaining that Minoan Crete was a pre-Greek civilisation, a precursor to the glories of classical Athens. That’s what I’m getting at when I say Semitic. Crete was in an area populated at the time of its rise to dominance by Phoenecian trading outposts. What can be recovered or surmised of its religious practices bears some similarity to Phoenician religion, and there seems some parallel in myth. The Cretans, unlike most cultures of the time, used an alphabet similar to the Phoenician one. John Chadwick’s point is against making an absolute correlation. But a derivation is possible I think. Unless one were to postulate that a trading empire was totally uninfluenced by cultures around them, then it seems reasonable to suggest that the Cretans were in origin Semites from Phoenicia. Some, admitedly inconclusive, DNA results also suggest this, as do the finding in present day Israel of Cretan artifacts, evidence perhaps of cultural links. So litle evidence has survived from the past that we will probably never know. But we can surmise. All surmises should be challenged, and I thank you for your challenge of mine.

  14. simone
    Wednesday, 8 February, 2012

    i would love to know who the artist is who rendered the first picture “an artist’s idea of what life might be like for queen priestess” thank-you.

    • phillipkay
      Wednesday, 8 February, 2012

      Hi Simone, I couldn’t find the artist’s name. The picture comes from Tom Baker’s site, an artist who does paintings of scenes from ancient cultures. He has some remarks on it, so I give his site: All he says is, “from an old book on ancient civilisations”. I suppose it’s all guesswork, but it does bring the past to life don’t you think?

  15. Jules Cashford
    Saturday, 8 October, 2011

    Lovely site.

    I wrote a chapter on Minoan Crete in a book The Myth of the Goddess (Penguin, 1993,) by Baring and Cashford. (which also included one on Eve). Do you know Jane Harrison’s work? Themis and Prolegomena to Greek Religion?

    Just to say thanks!

    • phillipkay
      Saturday, 8 October, 2011

      Thanks to you for your commendation. I see you’ve written extensively on mythology, so it’s generous of you to praise my off-the-cuff rather disorganised effort. Your titles look really interesting and I’ll seek some of them out and read them. Regards.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, 29 January, 2011 by in mythology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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