The emergence of individuality was the product of tensions within palace society, in which decentralising trends can be detected. Natural disasters also seem to have contributed to a shift of interests from collective to individual well-being. We have strong evidence of organised military activity in mainland Greece, in the form of the fortifications there, and in the Cyclades, with the Miniature Frieze from Akrotiri on Thera. On Crete, by contrast, there is little comparable evidence, though in recent years new discoveries have been made at Petras, Malia, and elsewhere, which suggest that fortifications were built here too. Scenes of warfare can be found in the iconography, and finds from tombs (weapons, panoplies) attest to the military spirit. The possibility cannot be rule out that the Minoan thalassocracy was based on the use of military action when required. Such action lent authority to particular groups of men. Men play a leading role in artistic scenes in which aggression and competition were to the fore, while women were spectators (armed scenes, capture of animals, hunting scenes, duels, wrestling, boxing).The ‘iconography of violence’ is to be found in palace areas and sanctuaries, and on precious artefacts. The male figure is prominent in a complex of symbols of authority, natural superiority, and control over nature. The female figure was central in religious art (wall-paintings, snake goddesses, naked goddess). The iconography here is of a symbolic and religious character, though it used to be interpreted as evidence for a matriarchal society. The religion of the period focused on the worship of a female deity with a fertility aspect (figurines with large breasts from Kea, snake goddess, etc.). Religion continued largely to be collective and public. The fact that women participated in bull-leaping was formerly regarded as a sign of social freedom, but this view has now been convincingly rejected. The stress placed on femininity through the naked breasts, elegant dress, coiffure, and jewellery, also used to be considered an expression of social ease liberty. However, the dress was probably of ritual character and related to the symbolism of fertility. On the other hand, the elegant dress conceivably points to some change in the social identity of women. The emphasis placed on makeup and lavish accessories, together with the decline in the maternal element in the iconography apparently expressed a new ideal of femininity: the woman was no longer depicted as a mother but as an attractive erotic companion. Female sexuality was no longer projected in its fertility aspect as in previous periods, but gave symbolic legitimacy to the woman’s dependence on the man. In the sphere of religion, the change can be detected in the establishment of the cult of the young god. In scenes that have been thought to depict the sacred marriage, the female figure usually wears official dress. The characteristic accessory of this dress was the sacral knot, which has been thought to symbolise male ownership. The woman depicted in the wall-painting in the Tripartite Shrine have been interpreted as hierodules. This possibly indicates the downgrading of the status of women under the pretext of service to the deity. On the other hand, the male presence was quite pronounced in the New Palace period. Scenes in art show male priests. A large number of male portraits has been identified in seals (e.g., king and prince from the Deposit of Hieroglyphic Tablets at Knossos.) The wearing of female dress by male priests facilitated the participation of men in the worship of the female deity (wall-painting of the Procession at Knossos). New repertoires in the religious iconography are ushered in by figures in a posture of authority (Lily Prince and Dancing-girls from Knossos, Cup of the Report from Ayia Triada, Mistress of the Animals, etc.).
New Palace religion had its violent side, too, with armed deities, both male and female, weapons deposited in sanctuaries as votive offerings, and weapons used as sacred symbols. Bloody cult practices, such as animal sacrifices and probably also human sacrifices at Archanes (temple at Anemospilia) and at Knossos (North House), represent a new dimension in Minoan religion. In what has been interpreted as a human sacrifice at Archanes, both the sacrifice-priest, and the victim were men. Violent tendencies in the sphere of religion are associated with the increasing participation of men. Bull-leaping, a hazardous event, is considered to have had an aspect of initiation for young men. Violence in Minoan and New Palace society signals a change in beliefs. The exponents of new ideological trends were mainly men, whose active participation in social developments was directed by the palace system. Tendencies towards centralisation and the clear demarcation of the palaces and their activities have been observed, and find expression in the monumental solid architectural structure of the new palaces, to which access by the people was made difficult, both practically and symbolically.
Dr Andonis Vasilakis