The foundation of the palaces gradually produced a change in the social composition of the population. The different professional classes that had already emerged in the Pre-Palace period became even more specialised. There are now differences in the nature of the settlements: some continued to be simple farming settlements, others were mixed settlements of farmers and people practising craft industries, and yet others were commercial/harbour settlements. The basic criterion was now the concentration of wealth. The settlements of this period did not have large residences that were the seats of local governors. Life in the houses in the countryside was very simple and people’s requirements no more than rudimentary. Everyone seems to have depended closely on the palace. The basic link was provided by religion and the worship of the deity. Worship took place in palace sanctuaries, sacred cult caves, peak sanctuaries, and rural sanctuaries in the countryside.
Certain comforts became part of everyday life, especially for those who lived in the palaces. This is clear from the careful construction and meticulous internal appearance of the various quarters, which had paved floors, plastered or revetted surfaces, and colourful decoration. We may also note the comfortable thrones, recesses, and cupboards, the pillars and columns that supported the roofs, and the double doors between communicating rooms.
Ceremonies and gatherings were held in special large areas in or near the palaces. The crypts excavated north-west of the palace at Malia are an interesting discovery. According to the excavator, the spacious rectangular room with central pillars and benches around the walls was used for meetings of the senate. Popular gatherings may have been held in the courtyard nearby, the ‘agora’. The so-called theatral areas of the palaces may have been used for splendid rituals attended by the ruling class, the priesthood, and the people.
Other details of daily life may be derived from the pottery and utensils discovered. The variety of table ware (craters, oinochoai, skyphoi, drinking cups, and cups) attest to the wide range of food, fruit and drink consumed.
Evidence for the dress fashions and hairstyles of the period is furnished by painted figurines: men wore loin-cloths, codpieces, and a belt, and women were dressed in open bodices, colourful skirts, sashes and aprons. Hairstyles, too, were very elaborate.
Although some differences can be detected between the towns and the countryside, these do not appear to have been great. One factor of considerable importance was the construction of a road in the Cretan interior linking the two major centres at Knossos and Phaistos and their harbours on the Cretan sea (Poros) and Libyan sea (Kommos) respectively. Many parts of this road were investigated by A. Evans, and included a variety of technical works, such as road bridges, retaining walls, and control stations (guard-posts). Many settlements have also been identified along the road.
The iconographic differences between the male and female figurines found in the peak sanctuaries afford eloquent testimony to the nature of Old Palace society. The female figurines are rendered wearing a stereotypical, identical dress, presumably because they convey messages of collective identity associated with the cohesive role played by women in the traditional clan system. The dress and accessories worn by male figurines exhibit a remarkable typological variety, in an endeavour to emphasise individuality as an element of the male role within a society that had a strong hierarchy and class divisions. The restructuring of society in the Old Palace period did not lead to the severely patriarchal structures of the Near and Middle East, where the creation of the state and the rise of the patriarchal system went hand in hand.
Military action may possibly have contributed to a rise in the status of certain groups of men within Old Palace society. The tendency to aggression, however, was balanced by religious mechanisms and social cohesion was preserved. The symbolism of war, either in the form of precious armour and weapons, or of armed figurines, was incorporated within the structure of religion. This tendency presumably had its origins in matriarchal traditions, in which allusions to collectivity and codified religious behaviour were ever-present.
Dr Andonis Vasilakis