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Calendar & Kingship
Comparisons of the throne-chamber of Knossos with the royal audience-halls of Egypt, The Near East and Mycenaean mainland sometimes find the Labyrinth’s less than might be expected, for the prestige and functions of a king in familiar form (for example, Warren 1987: 332). The throne complex is scarcely a third of the west wing, and smaller than other possible “halls of the ruler” in the same building, especially the east wing “Hall of the Double Axes” (hereafter).
While the symbols of Great Year and calendar clearly associate with both and more significant locations, the search for “real” power in Crete continues to find it “difficult to conceive of a major civilization…without a male ruler or rulers” of somehow-more impressive type (Davis 1995: 18). Marinatos’ 2010 Minoan Kingship re-conceives a God-King of Sun and Storm who in visible terms remains, in proportion to most evidence of power in Crete, likewise less than might be expected. Marinatos demonstrates plenty of opportunity for Minoans to emulate their neighbors’ monarchies, on the established basis of their many foreign cultural roots and ties. But few have appreciated more than Crowley (quoted at length below) how much Minoans, like most peoples in defining themselves, must also have declined to emulate in the examples and the results they observed through foreign contacts.
While most if not all of Marinatos’ royal examples derive from Late times, Minoan limits on “kingship” must have been underwritten and policed by forces and institutions more demonstrable and enduringly effective than the weapons symbolized in those of a Storm God; which supposedly registered “an ideology of kingship that faced potential dangers” of being “disrupted or contested by relatives or outsiders” (2010: 172). Such an ideology seems difficult to prove given the long-standing general consensus that “there is no evidence to suggest a king in Crete" (Hamilakis 2002: 184).
It is clear that Crete’s own transitional periods were not all peaceful. Yet there are further, consistent and older clues to Minoan conceptions and constructions of power and decisive authority, clues that articulate what it meant to be a conservative Minoan in the coming “final” times. Through the lens of the Great Year cycle, their identification and their changes may illuminate the emergence of Western kingship. While it will likely remain difficult to distinguish the supreme offices of Minoan and Mycenaean males, there is no question of the long-term changes in that office that became visible, coincidentally perhaps, along with Mycenaean presence and influence in Crete.
Driessen (2003), for example, disparages conceptions of any Minoan “hereditary monarchy.” His reasons include a lack of “royal or princely” tombs; the fact that “circulation patterns” in Knossos Labyrinth emphasized the central court rather than the throne; and, the use of such courts as early as EM II (after 2900 BCE) for “integrative ritual”---ceremonies and festivals produced by “independent power groups,” whose identities were based in “affiliation, rather than class.”
Schoep (2006) has also explored the differences between these original public ceremonial structures and what came to be called palaces, divine and royal residences. Schoep (57) agrees that the forces that raised these central places of shared ceremony originated from the kinship groups “outside” them, rather than through the charismatic agency of some divine and/or royal elite.
Chapin sums up other clues to the nature and norms of power in the Minoan world, here in the nearby contemporary society of Thera (2007: 143):
Interestingly, none of the men is clearly depicted by relative scale, position, focus, or attribute as a dominant leader, the alpha male….Nobody watches over the unfolding events….no individual leader is identified…no one individual…is singled out from the others. On the whole, the iconographic program of the West House [Thera] miniature frescoes maintains its focus on the membership in powerful male coalitions rather than on leadership.
With Krattenmaker’s study (1995: 58) let us recover some findings about Labrys and “the mountain” in previous chapters. “It is hard to avoid the connection of mountains to Minoan religion,” she writes. “A major type of Minoan sanctuary is located on mountains, and the iconographic associations of mountains in Minoan art, few though they be, seem to be with peak sanctuaries.”
The peak was rooted in the mountain’s ancestral earth, and closest to their “other” abode in the sky. It was sacred as a threshold-place of contact with both; and in Late times, Labrys was super-imposed on the “mountain,” likely as a sign of a calendric cosmology centered at Knossos---itself a shared ceremonial “mountain.”
Again, Krattenmaker notes that “the mountain” has much to do with “the character of Minoan kingship” and “the sources of its power.” Yet, she writes of the above Late-period seal image (56), “Mountains are not naturally located atop buildings, and this cannot be anything more than a symbolic mountain, if it is even that: the symbolic character of the sealing is not easily understood.”
“A mountain atop a building” in Minoan Crete defines “horns of consecration,” a sign of “authority” visible across the Late island and beyond. Was it “authority” per se, or some universally important meaning? If “the horns mean mountain” (Marinatos 2010: 67), then a “mountain” like the above must also signify or claim to express the same message---authority derived less from “the sun” than from the participation, blessing and sanction of kinship groups, whose prime demand was connection and conformity with the ancestors. The throne itself with its backrest is a mountain inside a building. Cameron (1997: 513) sees the disc and crescent as an omphalos, the one bodily point where every individual physically connects with all their forebears and all their descendants.
Almost all the symbols explored in these chapters link back to the ancestors: who courts power courts their connections. Yet as Marinatos shows (2010) there was room and tradition for individual inspirations and for change. If a would-be priest chief possessed “recognized magical or religious functions, [and so] a degree of influence” as a result (Hood 1997: 115), the special status of Knossos with its high symbols in almost every Cretan settlement might be understood the same way: “magic and religious functions” based in the most advanced calendar, which had authority because of their results across Minoan endeavors.
In the above Late seal, the lions’ manes mark them as
distinctly male. Because no Labrys, nor any other calendric or familiar central
sign is posted with or above the lions, they themselves seem to gain by
association with the mountain and its doubled pillars. This image may signify a
more ardent aspect of the “propaganda” explored in the last chapter: the body
of claims attempting to justify, smooth over and simultaneously promote Late
Crete’s new social divisions, and likely disturbing changes leading from priest
chief to king. The only object believed to have been a “royal sceptre” is the
lion-headed one from Mallia. While we will see evidence of widespread sharing
of Great Year-related signs, the claim in this image from Knossos is putative:
there is little but destruction to evidence the general Minoan response.
Perhaps the two central mysteries in Minoan studies were connected---their calendrics and their system for constituting and controlling sociopolitical power in executive individual form. As Chapter 9 attempts to show, these same unknowns appeared again some generations after Knossos, when “post-Minoan” clans, families, households and descendants brought their civilization to Cyprus and the Near East. There they too left traces of Great Year symbolism, and witnessed another beginning of kingship in their rivalry with Israelites.
Some general parameters. As noted, the origins of the title Minos might be Cretan or Mycenaean (Chapter 1), like the uncertain roots of its successor. From later Knossos and from mainland Pylos---and only from there, among all the Mycenaeans’ “great houses”---came the title Wanax, “divine lord, sovereign, host.” Although for Rehak (1995: 113), “evidence confirms that the vast majority of the representations of seated figures in Aegean art of the late Bronze Age are women,” no Mycenaean woman receives an equal sign of rank, beyond the title Klawiphoros or Key-Bearer, with its connections to religious offerings and holdings of some lands.
For Chadwick (World 74, 71), no recorded person or entity controlled more land, resources, war-assets, and labor than this male sovereign---his office defined by Wright (1995: 65) as “an inherited, superior, political authority vested in a single person who holds his position for life, and who maintains his power through a manipulation of economic, militaristic and ideological forces.” Such might be the terms of a Mycenaean occupation of Crete arriving through Knossos, a new and jarringly secular relationship between their World Mountain, its landscape and people.
In Pylos records the Wanax appears to receive offerings along with deities, and makes appointments and decisions. He is also surrounded with officials down to the Damokoros or local “people’s man,” so both Cretan and mainland “chief executives” appear to have had powers less than unqualified in the midst of various representational councils. Their differences in Crete resulted from changes in who controlled the construction of high office. A Wanax presents more links to military and economic matters than any description of a Minoan priest-chief’s roles (see Palaima and Wright 1995). Unless Mycenaeans in some political way adopted Minoan Great Year calendrics along with its symbols (below), a Wanax presents no visible connections to lunar/solar periods or cycles except the workings of an annual realm.
Let us double back once more to the beginning, and see these changes from the start in thorough context. R. F. Willets’ 2004 speculation sums up the calendric cultural work we have seen in detail:
Much evidence from literary, mythical and archaeological sources indicates connection between the octennium [8-year cycle] and Bronze Age kingship....There is also much evidence…that a lunar/solar calendar, based on an octennial [8-year] cycle, goes back into the Minoan period. Zeus is a relative latecomer on the religious scene, at least under that name, and the tradition of regular consultation by Minos in the cave of Zeus could indicate that a youthful Minos, whether consort, king or priest-king, held tenure of office subject to a periodically renewed sanction….The duties of the person who received periodic divine sanction would have included supervision and regulation of the calendar. The periodic tenure would thus be explained in terms of calendric ritual, essential for an advanced society. (126-127)
By multiple evidences, the old Minoan way appears to have been “periodic tenure” on the throne, controlled by larger kinship groups and constituted by a cosmic rhythm of 8½ (or, as noted, “8 or 9”) years.
We can judge it coincidental that Late Marine Style octopi had 8 arms (+1 more part, the head), and that only 8 peak sanctuaries (plus Knossos) were kept in use during this formative yet final Late period. Yet the coincidences continue to accrue, like cultural unities smashed and kept apart only by violence. The central sacred caves of Mounts Dikte and Ida were in use in that Late period, but after Crete’s widespread destructions, only Dikte maintained its Minoan importance (Troubled Island 56); and Kerenyi detailed traditions of a New Year ritual light that shone out of Dikte Cave (Dionysos 43). Blomberg and Henriksson’s studies of Mount Juktas also pointed to a likely “renewal of power” along the same lunar/solar lines (“Relationship” 87), when Juktas too was appropriated to legitimize new forms of Knossos control.
Can the original function of the Knossos throne room provide more clues to Minoan norms? Its first and main features were the throne and its opposing sunken or lower chamber (at times called a “lustral basin” for ritual purifications: more below). Those elements dated in Niemeier’s 1987 study from at least Middle Minoan II (Old Palace, circa 1700): periods from which we have seen Knossos evidences of Great Year calendrics, Labrys and the throne itself the most central.
Over time, what amounted to a New Palace “program” there involved two main ceremonial aspects. Epiphanies were “showings forth” of powerful persons and/or symbolic objects, clearly often arranged for the dramatic presentation of meaning by way of timely calendric alignments of light and shadow (Chapters 1 and 4: see Niemeier and Goodison). Ceremonies of initiation, according to the simplest definitions, had to involve the induction of the young into social and religious ways, and as well the continuing advancement in learning by elite citizens and elders---themselves, in turn, beholders and partakers in the ritual showings-forth of their high elite, and perhaps in time qualified and selected for office on the throne.
As Dunn demonstrated (2009), porches, terraces and windows of “appearance” were already architectural and festival norms at Luxor in Egypt, where again the djew-shaped World Mountain was the stage for seeing and being seen by designated leaders. (Photo of the site from Dunn in Chapter 1.) Given Hagg’s reconstruction above (1987), a person “showing forth” either face or full-figure on such a terrace would occupy the same space as the disc on the throne or a Labrys rising from between the mountain’s horns. Out of such elements emerged what Marinatos called “a duality of male/female rulership” (“Kingship” 41, 47), with elite women and men and their deities seemingly “interchangeable”---showing forth the eternal Minoan, perhaps, at the virtual behest of generations surrounded by death as much as life. A practical, ceremonial, and constitutional calendar would seem essential to an orderly realm so reliant on cosmic theatre.
Marinatos suggested that “ultimate authority” depended on the “special relation” that elite individuals claimed to have with divinities (Religion 179). Yet, such a personal basis and model for group-decisive power seems at odds with the “anonymity” of Minoan leadership, and had to function within Crete’s long-traditional dispersals of power among kinship groups. Her Minoan Kingship (2010) reflects little ancestral meaning in “the mountain,” although as shown (Chapter 1), the dead were among the fundamental meanings of the djew and akhet “mountains.”
Historically, charisma and divine visions have produced more disasters than utopias. If the high average living standards and relative peacefulness of Minoan civilization are facts, such consistent results through many challenges over time suggest very tight control and oversight of even the most compelling individuals on the throne. As Vansteenhuyse observes, “there was a regional elite in [Neopalatial] Crete competing for political power within strict ritual limits”: “a participant could gain political power, but it always rested within the office, and not with the person” (2002: 245). Unless Crete can be shown to have been “normally” violent about the flow and transference of central power, the likely central mechanism must have been a calendar.
What kinds of powers might have attached to Minoan high office? Consider what Warren meant by “real” power as he pointed out that Minoan hierarchies and the “dependency” of other Cretan houses upon Knossos did not mean its control (“Structure” 205). “Real” power concerned possession of land (meaning, final word about its uses), the priorities of economic, commercial and political affairs, and executive command of resources when many needs seemed crucial all at once.
We noted the most certain evidence that the Knossos throne was the seat of a “priestess queen,” while MacGillivray’s Minotaur reflected consensus that there is no evidence for a King Minos other than much later myths and texts. What can we tell of a highly-empowered empowered Minoan man without (or at least before) that title for a “Solar Moon King,” a leader whom Koehl styled a priest chief (“Kingship” 27)?
In the “Hall of the Double Axes” Evans found dissolved remains of what most agree was a wooden throne; resting not on a stone dais, but on “four fluted wooden columns” (Koehl “Kingship,” Evans Palace 3: 333-38). Nearby was the especially large relief of a lion (noted in Chapter 4). In such a Hall, a priest chief---as the anointed “crown” and ranking man of Crete’s rich talent-pool, the head of its “age-grade” initiations, trials and contests---might have carried on the ways of andreion or “men’s house”: hosting guests, teaching, councils and obligatory feasts to help police Crete’s “old chiefdoms” and rival factions (Koehl 27). He may in these and larger matters have functioned as a judge.
His other likely seat of honor might concern public functions---evidenced by the throne chamber anteroom’s signs of another single seat there, between and facing the alabaster benches. Koehl noted that the hoof of another great bull, likely painted on an anteroom wall, was found among this chamber’s remains.
If this was the “highest ranking local prelate” in Crete’s theocratic heterarchy (35), according to all visible evidences, his thrones were organic, not immortal. The priestess queen took his hand in Hieros Gamos or sacred marriage, and as Koehl showed, in its images she stands “slightly higher,” with a “little tree” (or staff of grain) at her side. A Tree that might sum up traditions Eliade collected in “Woman and Vegetation: Renewal of the World” (History 40), manifested in cultural forms “low and high” (Chapter 9).
As for further possible roles and powers for the earliest leading Minoan males, Marinatos found lions on the hulls and griffins at the prows of their ships, and men in command of them, wielding military power by sanction of religion (“Divine” 46). Pirate-hunting expeditions might have been the maritime extension of Minoan law. As Marinatos and others uncover more Minoan sites around the Mediterranean, they discuss contexts for diplomatic roles and “foreign marriages.” In later myths, Minos had wives, lovers and a few “victims” from Athens, Troy and the mainland to Asia Minor and Egypt (collected in Graves Myths Vol. 1).
For all this male status over long Minoan ages, we have Crowley’s clear view (1989: 282, 278) that Crete had every opportunity to adopt more violently-compelling imagery and propaganda for male leaders, but did not choose to do so.
Where motifs are accepted, the very changes made in their iconography to Aegeanize them show a high level of cognizance about the original usage of the motif in its home tradition….The Aegean accepts fully only those motifs whose symbolism strikes a chord…and neither the striking nature of the design, nor the popularity of the motif in its own tradition, can force on the Aegean a motif which is symbolically incompatible.
The Smiting Figure is a bold eye-catching motif, extremely popular in both the Egyptian and the Syrian-Anatolian traditions, and powerful in meaning, since for each tradition it represents the most important personage. The visual impact and the popularity, however, are as nothing to the Aegeans, who never take up the motif. The rejection cannot be because they already have satisfactory symbolic representations of the overpowering might of a God-King or of the Weather God wielding thunderbolt or lightning flash. There are none….It must be that neither eastern symbolism of the Smiting Figure has any deep meaning in the Aegean sphere. The exalted position of the Egyptian Pharaoh has no parallel in the west….
The Winged Sun Disk is another widely used, distinctive eastern motif. By the 14th and 13th centuries it was recognized not only as the ancient symbol of Pharaoh, but also as the sign of the great king of the Hittites. Again, one concludes from the total Aegean embargo on the motif that such a symbol of god-protected monolithic royal power is not required, in Minoan Crete or Mycenaean Greece. In summary, Aegean acceptance depends on compatible symbolism, because these two motifs would surely have migrated if the striking effect and its widespread use were the only criteria.
Symbols describe the people who deploy them. Their symbols of power express their conceptions of power. If Minoans made their usual selective use of foreign models, a throne based in supreme power with limits would combine the benefits of focused leadership with an impersonal mechanism for its containment. What specifics or “constitution” might have been operant between Great Year and throne? In the Bull Leap fresco’s border we found three main principles: alternation, doubled pairs, and guided jumps at an impasse.
Given the throne’s combination of lunar/solar signs, alternation might have functioned along lines of gender for specific periods, and/or for specific executive functions. We also noted significant periods in the calendar’s operation: 2 years (which issued in the X motif), 4 years (one circuit of the fresco border), 8½ years (the Great Year lunar/solar cycle), and the Saros cycle surrounding its doubled period as described.
With referents in the cycles of nature and Crete’s lunar/solar “deities,” these could have provided a basis---at once traditional and circumstantially flexible---for the appointments, removals, or reinstatements of a particular pair or “First Couple” by the larger clerical and kinship groups. A term of office shorter or longer than the full Great Year cycle ascribed to a Minos might suggest removal or renewal according to a collective and careful evaluation of results.
To have served in high office through a full Saros cycle would make those Great Year leaders a doubled pair. In shorter-term contrast, an abrupt occasional jump from one leader (or pair) to another, due to factions of peerage or contingency, might have been structured and normalized by Knossian calendric ones.
After all, more than one generation at a time could witness Knossos trying to cope with a fading string of Great Year signs, and trying to establish hold on a new-beginning one. While times of lunar/solar uncertainty might assist an opportunist, they may also have been used as a healthy allowance for individualism within a long-term system. The signs always returned in strength and, as shown (Chapter 5), Great Year strings of anniversaries were plentiful through Late Minoan times.
If there was increasing Late pressure to detach “kingship” from its calendric limitations, a series of different Bull-Leaping panels might even represent a commissioned experiment with political implications. On one hand, they might represent an attempt to prove or codify the Great Year as a constitutional anchor against the rise of life-long, hereditary and “kingly” power. On the other, they might have been answering a demand to track over time several overlapping strings of Great Year signs, and thus to challenge whether Crete’s system based in astronomy and religion was an order human or divine.
Marinatos (2012: 115-116) continues to hold hard and virtually alone to a full-blown Minoan kingship. While she establishes that the “lion’s mane and leg” from the east wing of Knossos were part of (yet again) a “Lion attacking Bull” representation, she seems convinced that because these scenes exist in both Egypt and (Late Minoan) Crete, they mean the same thing: “this link is royal ideology common to both sides” (116). “The rulers of the great empires shared a common ideology, and it may even be claimed that they had more in common with each other than with the lower classes at home.” These artifacts were symbols of political dominance, “commissioned by kings who imitated each other’s palaces and minor arts” (emphasis hers). “The lion is an image of royal power: this is the message.” So, apparently, are Minoan bulls, and the throne, and its griffins, and Labrys among still other things. Why, however, if Minoans were as fixed as Egyptians upon kingly power, did they not like their peers just declare it in forms as royally-personal and imposing? Instead, in the words of a 2012 study by Doumas (28), “In neither the iconography nor the existing written records from the Bronze Age Aegean is there direct reference to royal authority.” Considering the Minoans’ actual symbolic array (and, as Crowley shows, what was easily available for imitation), the core elements of their organization seem anything but pharaonic.
Calendric constitutional limits around kingship based in a Minoan Great Year cycle might suggest what it meant mythically that the Labyrinth was built “to contain the Minotaur”---the imperial man-eating monster later attributed to Crete who, like war itself, devoured youths and maidens before their time. These limits might have their signifiers in three of the throne room’s aspects.
First, the chamber (not to mention its anteroom) seats many people around “the one” (20-30 people, by Gesell’s estimate in “Public Cult”). Their benches are both close at the throne’s sides and face it directly. Here reigned a divine person not likely expected or allowed to command everything. In the human figures of the Bull-Leap fresco, Chadwick perceived “a civilized, controlled people, while not lacking in courage” (World 6).
Secondly, although the ceremonial use of a “lustral basin” or sunken chamber faded out across Crete in Late times (Troubled Island 59), it persisted at Knossos. Goodison described it as “a sunken stage” for ritual appearances and performances involving light and shadow (2004: 343). Perhaps an early-style male leader also played cosmic roles involving a ritual descent into the underworld, a confronting of death, and a possible view of the stars and Beyond before return. “Lustral” means “light,” and the World Mountain graven on the throne receives it, like a niche of the ancestors, on Winter Solstice New Year Day. In Bronze Age currency, the journey was structured by myths like those of Ishtar’s descent “to rescue Tammuz” (Green 1992: 26). By the last periods of the Knossos throne room, there was a third reminder of “royal” limitation on each side of the throne itself, in its paired griffins.
During the century that began Mycenaean power in Crete (Late Minoan I B and II, roughly 1500-1400 BCE), the original throne room was “destroyed” and then rebuilt, the new one including flanking griffins. “Around 1390” brings together datings by Evans, Hallager/Tzedakis, and Macgillivray’s Kouros. Add to these decades the opinion of Cameron that the mainland’s Achaians or Mycenaeans began to register influence on original, central Minoan forms between 1425 and 1390 (qtd. in Niemeier “Function” 168); and Immerwahr’s view (noted earlier) that this final throne room was, even so, mostly “a Minoan creation.” Every sign suggests the chamber as a central scene of social and cultural contest.
We saw indications that griffins, with all their meanings, were also signs and aspects of the power to unleash judicial violence and/or make war. Minoans at times shed kinsmen’s blood, burned out neighbors, built defenses: this is clear. In the contexts of Crete’s family groups, factions and chief houses---a heterarchic pool of elite talent for “the” throne’s impersonal office---when push came to shove in hard disagreement, Minoan agents must have fought small wars or ritualized duels with groups or champions (for examples see Hagg ed., Villa).
But why were the throne room’s griffins installed only in the last hundred years of Knossos’ central power? As previously shown, a long age of iconography placed a supreme Minoan Goddess between griffins, and so (according to Marinatos’ Religion, Niemeier and Goodison) she sat between them on the throne in human form, “shown forth” as well between the second pair flanking the central inner door. Since there are no such icons of a male enthroned thus, what did griffins signify perhaps in his regard, when “kings” arrived?
Having looked at early aspects of male power in Crete, let us seek answers about the throne room’s griffins in the coming of the Mycenaeans. What, visibly, were mainlanders learning there in the first ages of contact? What did Mycenaeans bring to this meeting of civilizations, and how might the Great Year’s cosmology illuminate the terms of their eventual kingly powers on the Knossos throne? If this Late period brought them to power at Knossos, they must have played a central part in that process.
According to Troubled Island (117), mainland civilization was “a mosaic of tiny kingdoms” until about 1600, all “with their own evidences of local rule (Wright 1995: 64): then its palaces (like Mycenae above) grew in originality and wealth as they took command of trade routes (Iakovidis 12-14). The sea-trade likely began out of Minoan contacts. If Rumpel’s translation of the Phaistos Disc is correct (2006), early affairs were not always peaceful, with Minoans and Mycenaeans fighting over copper and silver mines at Laurium (near Athens, in time another Minoan enemy).
Wright (72-74) adds that in these early stages, there were many “access points” by which Mycenaeans probably got to know Crete, acquired tastes for its “prestige goods,” and began to “emulate” its forms of organization and power. Although their presence seems generally “discreet” until their rise to full power in Crete (Island 120), they must have arrived as merchants and observers, students in trades, crafts and writing, and sent as well ambassadors and, perhaps, political and religious figures in their contacts.
The ring below from Mycenae dates between 1550-1440 (Crowley), making it contemporary with the Bull Leap fresco. It might reflect Minoan artists on the mainland, memorialize a ritual or scene, or speak of acquired secret knowledge. In Haysom’s judgment (2010: 41), the ring “combines symbols in a way that is totally alien to Cretan practice, even if many of those symbols were originally Cretan.” Yet, it centers a crescent moon and sun/star in the sky between a Labrys’ doubled horns, and a great tree reaches toward their realm.
Food and medicine from nature occupy the humans and/or deities. The scene may suggest a belief that the right kinds of ceremonies made nature more fruitful; and the time of its production may add a sense that harmoniously-timed ritual efforts had intentions and purposes that seemed important in a period of natural disaster.
Nilsson (Religion 419) sees little but ornament in the wheeled cross above at right. Yet it includes familiar elements, including 19 (Saros) spirals or tracks of the sun. Tilt the cross slightly and it connects with other Minoan forms. Apparently these were signs that Mycenaeans learned to associate with power and status, however well they understood them. The ring above dates alongside the Bull Leap fresco border, whose patterns were (as noted) imitated on the mainland by 1500: the golden miniature altar and shrine below, with its doubled pair of horns and opposed crescent-forms, Evans also dated to the age of the Mycenaean Shaft Graves.
Its form doubles the horns and/or ancestral mountain, and includes the opposed (Saros?) crescents from the Knossos throne’s dado. Knowledge, however imperfect, was part of the flow between Crete and the mainland, apparently including astronomy and calendrics along with religious elements, ceremonies and wealth.
The mainland’s few calendric fragments in Linear B might be one result of a Minoan system poorly understood before it was displaced. One essential difference between these peoples returns us to Soles’ study “Reverence.” Ancestor-worship was “widespread” in Crete, “but not among the people who [came to occupy] the island.” These “contrasting beliefs…also pointed to fundamental differences” between the ways Minoans organized Crete, and the way Mycenaeans desired to organize it (because they soon did): one an egalitarian, large middle class “of free land-owning people” (235), and the other a “feudal” society, a system “heavily reliant” on militarism, administration and bureaucracy to maintain its position (Driessen/Macdonald, Abstract).
As there is little doubt that this process was coincidental with a “decline,” it might be likely that Minoans noticed, early-on, deleterious effects on their culture from the mainland. It would, after all, be difficult to show any true benefits brought to Crete in these relations: the most visible gradual changes included mass production of pottery, more intensive record-keeping, and the “innovation” (noted in Island’s final sections) of turning produce of the land into “cash crops.”
Until ecological studies, histories often assumed that Mycenaeans followed Minoan “glory.” Now it seems clear that, across decades of effects from the Thera earthquake and eruption, Crete’s “problems in the production and distribution of food” were a fundamental force behind change and “fragmentation.” If the mainland does present, however, pre-Theran examples of Great Year iconography, they date from times when adoption of an ecologically-precise calendar might have helped to create the plenitude of Late-period mainland harvests, through the coming crisis-years.
On the Minoan side, food-shortages and hunger must have brought deep and serious new stress to bear against social bonds whose ancient means of reinforcement and celebration was the feast. The Middle Minoans pictured in the Egyptian tomb below were possibly there already for grain in hard times from the Nile’s bread-basket. There was a reason they felt a need to bring Tawaret home to Knossos favor.
Massive mainland transfers of Minoan wealth and cultural adornments (including artists) betokened for Driessen and Macdonald the scale of Crete’s growing need and dependency. In a long-sovereign people clearly capable of overcoming difficulties on their own, this too might arouse resentments against Knossos leadership.
Like the noted new restrictions in access to Knossos Labyrinth, there were Late-period changes in customs of feasts themselves. Borgna’s 2004 study noted that among Minoan kinship groups, “feasts could be either exclusive elite celebrations, or unrestricted occasions in which social identity rather than power was most important.” In contrast, Borgna observes, “Mycenaean feasting on the mainland seems to have arisen from elite customs aimed at exclusion. A comparison of the evidence [in Late Crete] indicates new Mycenaean components to Cretan feasting, suggesting that the earlier pattern had shifted, and that Cretan feasts had similarly become elite instruments of competition and negotiation for authority.”
Competition for authority would not have been unfamiliar in Crete, evidenced for many in Bull-Leaping itself, and in ceremonial athletic contests and games. These kinds of effects on old customs, however, would be noticed. We might consider these changes in the terms, contexts, and consequences of competition as a turn from one system toward another---from kinship-rivalry “contained” within a cosmology toward open political war, or from a spirit of intense competition within laws to a constant and outright contest for power with few restrictions.
“Let us help you.” Such is often the new empire’s opening line. Rutter’s detailed review of the first Mycenaean evidences in Crete depends on recognizing their burials (including, as often noted, their weapons, metal vases, jewelry and a few signs of Egyptian contacts). But this is how Rutter describes them living their lives in Crete and Knossos: “a militarily dominant but numerically insubstantial warrior aristocracy of some kind.” Over 60 of their graves have recently been discovered near Chania.
We may never understand this long Mycenaean insinuation of themselves into the Minoans’ organizational elite. Evidently their core differences from Minoans and the needs of Crete combined into ways and events that unfolded at Minoan expense. Troubled Island draws upon “collapse theory” to clarify the crisis-culminating moments when “the problem-solving institutions”---in this case, an old and diverse kinship group with a kind of executive council at Knossos---“reached a point of declining marginal returns” from traditional answers, and “found it more advantageous to change the organization” (110).
The consequences of these choices and developments brought on their own elimination as elites, and Crete’s subjection. Here is the most visible sequence of facts:
Mycenaeans bearing traces of a military aristocracy were increasingly present in Crete after the Thera eruption in the mid-1500s. If they had not already charmed and married their way into the Knossos elite, or forcibly intruded themselves into its politics, their leveraging of their control of the supply-side of foodstuffs and grain was another available means for what they finally accomplished---cultural change and colonization.
At this point in the communities beyond Knossos, the need to live more closely together so as to manage and store food was undermining Minoan forms of symbolic authority and social bonds. Crete’s official and elite symbols pointing back toward Knossos---the public signs of the central decision-makers, which had been built into chief residences and which probably adorned elite persons---began to inspire resentments that issued later in the visible “crimes” committed against them.
Here in this 50-odd years between Mycenaean arrival and the 1480 outbreak of island-wide destructions, the great range and detail of evidence in Troubled Island testifies to an ominous, almost-shocking change among Minoans when it describes a new and increasing Late-period “insecurity” in their countryside (78-9).
Hence, some crucial “change of organization” must have occurred---perhaps not long before 1500, some decades after the Bull Leap fresco’s best dating---and fed into the unprecedented violence of the 1480s and beyond. This is about halfway through the period that brought a Mycenaean Wanax to the Knossos throne. As shown in Chapter 5’s astronomy observations, this is close to the time (1560s-1540s) when Knossos might have been most challenged in, and then, most successful at, tracking highly accurate Great Year strings of lunar/solar signs across a century.
To turn from fact to myth, halfway from a Minos to a Wanax is, perhaps, a Theseus: a mainland-style hero of divine-human birth and many virtues, who fails in the larger and longer-term contexts of a traditional Minoan priest chief. Would an already-outstanding mainland personage be more likely to conform to a Minoan throne or to demand one constituted to his cultural liking?
There was an Ariadne as “Mistress of the Labyrinth” inscribed among Knossos’ clay tablets. As a possibly historical ruler combining divine, royal, religious and cultural aspects, her range of needs and options might suggest that Minoans and Mycenaeans, at some point when they still ranked as equals, sealed all their relations with hieros gamos, as did Pharaohs and Hittites and other Mediterranean powers. (Marinatos 2010 concurs.) A parallel from between civilizations closer to our time would involve Native American Virginia’s Pocahontas, who bargained for marriage as an equal with English colonizers, and learned too late their real opinions and intentions. There also, food, trade, politics and power were at stake.
Apply facts already observed to such a possibility: these were the times of hunger, stress and separation among social groups, times of “palace propaganda” while real power was flowing away from Knossos, and resentments turning towards it. Within one generation of some change of organization circa 1500---during which Knossos unfolded its symbolic insistence on its own “divine sanction” in the midst of making mistakes---the Minoan world began to burn. In most conceptions, “one or two generations” over sixty years then witnessed acts of “foreign invasion” (a process ongoing before the violence) and “politically motivated” acts of desecration (Island 109). While Island is mostly noncommittal about whether mainlanders, Minoans, or some combination of both were responsible for this violence, Soles (cited above) points to Mycenaean forces, because he does not consider Minoans likely (even under such stress) to have so thoroughly desecrated their own long-standing ceremonial centers.
Nowicki (2000: 35) shares this view and cites Sinclair Hood that "it is simpler and more in accordance with the facts to interpret them [the LM IB destructions] as reflecting a war of conquest by invaders from outside." As Nowicki writes, "The targets of these destructions seem to have been carefully chosen, namely the administrative and political centers. It looks as if an enemy wanted to destroy the [Minoan] state and its power, rather than just to invade the land." What we can say is that a high degree of irrational rage must have been in play. At Agia Triada, for example, fires collapsed a building before a king's ransom of 19 solid-bronze ingots could be removed from inside, and as Nowicki notes, nobody ever returned to dig them out ("the settlements were destroyed and we should not expect anything less for the inhabitants"). Likewise, when Knossos itself was damaged and finally destroyed, more Minoan treasures were buried in the charred debris of the west wing's "Temple Repositories," including the famous "Snake Goddesses." For Warren (2012: 268), what separated Crete’s Late “great prosperity” from its “island-wide devastating destruction” was most likely a rapid double blow: “repeated [earth]quakes on a short timescale” when “almost every site” was at its thriving peak, and then “Mycenaean mainlanders taking advantage of the disaster and following in its wake” (268).
Knossos did suffer “some” fire and damages, but Knossos alone, the locus of Mycenaean “warrior aristocrats,” was left standing. Driessen/Macdonald (1997: 109):
In some cases…the occupants seem to have left in great haste. In a few other cases, the plunderers seem to have been ruthless. Apart from the hoards and hidden objects, some valuables were found smashed and scattered throughout the buildings….All these objects are said by their discoverers to have been kicked around at the time of the destruction….Again the broken horns of consecration and smashed stone relief rhyta may be mentioned….One may assume that the aggression was especially directed towards symbols of authority, of a class or an elite.
The aftermath was “a relatively unstable period that seems to have been used to put things back together again” (111). As noted, that period after 1425 (LM II) was the beginning of the throne room’s final period, with traditions of “Zeus” beginning to emerge atop Mount Juktas (“not the Minoan mortal boy-god anymore,” Evans 2: 838). It seems agreed that by this time, a Mycenaean male alone reigned from the Labyrinth’s high seat, the spearhead of final changes including mainland deities. Chadwick’s analysis of Poseidon’s name reflects a crucial instability in its meaning: “Lord (or Husband) of the Earth” (87). Crete was beginning to find out which it had received.
Crete’s population was now largely without its old elite, though their original kinship groups remained visible in well-known ways of preserving local and dispersed power. However this final phase of Knossos came to be arranged as Crete’s “capital” (Island 74), the griffins treated just below may suggest that “ordinary” Minoans still managed to post their tradition-based presence around the Knossos throne. They are the most likely “suspects” for explaining the sudden end of Knossos altogether.
Things did not stay back together for very long. “The royal administration there sought to control the activities of thousands of people,” even as far as 150 km. away, and Chadwick found it “easy to believe” that “discontent among the towns” brought Knossos to its sudden final destruction (World 190). Within a generation, bull-leaping also came to an end (around 1340: Younger “Representations III” 508).
Apparently the throne room’s benches flanking and facing the central seat were not enough to contain the new kind of “kingship” there. Subterranean rites of mortality and performances structured by myths of rebirth were not likely to reconcile a Mycenaean to secular limitations of power or anything like secondary status. Let us see what Great Year cosmology might reveal, through its griffins, about a third kind of message from the contexts of the throne.
In Great Year cosmology, griffins were powers and so reminders of last things. In the same visual instant that griffins point to these powers in the one enthroned, their postures---at once honorific, and those of predators swallowing prey---possibly made them heralds that embodied a warning toward restraint, similar to that which mortified Roman conquerors in triumph. In the throne room, the doubled pair of them never shut their eyes on the people empowered to sit in these positions. They wear no leashes. As long-traditional Minoan creatures, they seem to “abide” beside a Mycenaean throne, like overseers rooted to the landscape. At both sides of the enthroned person’s head, they lift their murderous beaks up close to the ears of “human gods” and, possibly, whisper. King, are your lands in order?
Shank (2007: 163 and Fig. 19.5) has demonstrated some possibility that the griffins paired beside the throne had “either upraised crests or wings.” Until Shank’s work, these have been seen as uniquely wingless, matched only by examples from Pylos separate from its throne, in the house of the only other known Wanax.
The Pylos examples “entailed significant differences in meaning and style, [their] derivative character attested by the misunderstood shading [along their bellies] as ‘ingrowing hairs’” (Crowley Aegean 137). By the time of their “derivative” appearance at Pylos, griffins had “lost some of [their] meaning through repetition as a running frieze in [a] smaller megaron,” suggesting art for “a gathering place” rather than with “deeper” significance. This alone might imply Mycenaean disregard for traditions attached to a Minoan throne.
Could wingless griffins at Knossos denote the denial of certain powers to its final possessors? “The griffin had a long history in Crete,” introduced as far back as the Old Palace period (after 2160), and as such was an element of its oldest (kinship-based) religious and other beliefs (Crowley, Aegean). Symbolically speaking, griffins deprived of wings cannot symbolize or endorse the throne’s “high oversight” of the whole Minoan realm. Nor, given their wings’ associations with arrows (via the “notch and plume” motif treated earlier), are they visibly empowered to strike suddenly from on high, near or far, without them. On one level, the throne’s griffins may be couchant and wingless because they are pregnant in Great Year terms. On another, wingless griffins of this last period will not carry the soul of the seated person through the Star Door.
The Knossos elites who constructed the Great Year cycle and emphatically deployed it in Late Minoan times were carrying on and defending their civilization, however divided or complicated some of their loyalties became. By consensus of research, the throne had always belonged to a priestess-queen. Perhaps these limitations applied to her, preserved as a colonial figurehead through Mycenaean occupation. Perhaps the Labyrinth’s elite, inured to the Great Year calendar’s symbolism and logic, applied it too soon to exogamous politics by allowing a mainland-born “king” to share the throne. The Knossos elite must have found it crucial and impossible to win acceptance of a foreign-born male as a “son” of their Crete’s own Great Goddess.
The Great Year calendar’s traits of balance and alternation might have led them these ways, but in making their “jumps” toward changes, they had no guides. “Desperate solutions” found the Knossos elite in over their heads and losing control (Island 112). Perhaps their attempt at a dynastic marriage-level of relations was a late attempt to absorb and master the ascendant Mycenaeans, and it turned on them from both directions.
Insulated by their New Palace, surrounded by the interested Knossos families of their bureaucrats, and with their damaged society increasingly dependent on foreign revenues, foodstuffs, and arms, Knossians rather than “most Minoans” may have lost their confidence at the worst possible time with aggressive opportunists in the house. Had they gradually lost too much contact with the countryside to continue believing in Crete’s powers to survive and to keep prospering on its own?
Crowley (Aegean 167-168): Mycenaeans “admired” Minoan art, but “never fully understood” it. “Mycenaean painting…was the product of a different people…more concerned with human activities than with the all-pervasive divine presence in nature, to be celebrated and called forth by accompanying rituals.” Instead, when they “came into their own” in Crete, they “groped for a more expressive means to portray the anguish of death.”
Occupation turned the Minoan World Mountain into a colonial clearing-house for expropriated Cretan wealth, measured in the micro-management files of Mycenaean Linear B and in “cash crops.” When the Knossos system turned visibly “feudal,” it likely resembled the other realm of a Wanax at mainland Pylos. In Crete’s case, this meant that a foreign king allowed Minoans to live on their own land, a privilege called “protection”---now to be paid for in goods, taxes and “services” that enriched and empowered mainly the colonizers.
Such were the facts on a “wild spring day” when Knossos was burned in the midst of “a perfectly normal year” (Chadwick), and its burial began. Such were the grounds for the migrations of traditional Minoan households. But their elders had been the Cretan generations of the Great Year: a conception, like the “star of Phaestos,” whose ends and beginnings are inseparable.
The Great Year became a cosmology of kinship from family to Beyond. Not an idolatry of state laws and abstract ethics, but a religion of natural observation and a body of calendric practices, organized by anchoring rhythms in nature, to the end of maintaining human harmony with its powers. However much its advantages were appropriated by ambition, however little Mycenaeans understood Minoans, it was a world-view by which Cretans still eventually mixed with some of the kinsmen of their conquerors, and carried on their heritage.
This larnax from Palaikastro (dated 1400-1300) was decorated with what Marinatos (2010: 141) calls a “map” for the “journey to the Beyond”: its symbols still spoke in Great Year terms, and reveal Minoan astronomy as a “map” with the same purposes. At left, a vegetal Labrys rises from between mountains, emerging from and pointing beyond the “horizons of the world.” At right stands a winged griffin (with a snake rearing up in its tail, for they as shown are the “threshold twins” of below and above), ready to bear and guide the deceased toward resurrection---signaled by the moon, sun and star behind Griffin, and by the flower ahead.
In the middle section of the right panel, we note in the horns the doubled sign of the ancestors and of life’s “horizon” or “threshold.” Perhaps because the artist did not have vertical room to show the upright Labrys as at left, he or she turned the unshafted Labrys-blades on end to meet its underworld and sky-pointing-function in another way. We recall a living Minoan standing between ancestors and the sky at a peak sanctuary. In this coffin, she or he is now taking the journey imagined in a like way, passing through the gates of life from and to the ancestors.
In the upper lid of the larnax, the astral symbol or cosmic door doubled in the panels dominates its field as if of unique and central importance in the sky, which can be said of the moon, sun and pole star. The central row or pillar of flowers, doubled in the uppermost panel, signal a rise to resurrection with an X. Is there perhaps some “ultimate meaning” to that multivalent figure? Next chapter may tell.
On such grounds, perhaps, Great Year evidences among Minoan descendants in Cyprus and Palestine may not surprise us too much.
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