Bronze Age Crete – High Civilization

Bronze Age Crete is frequently termed Minoan from King Minos. He may or may not be mythical. He is the King in the Theseus story with the Minotaur, the Labyrinth and the ball of string from Ariadne. Minos is reputed to be the King who demanded seven youths and seven maidens from Athens for the bull-leaping ceremonies.

This is Bronze Age Crete refracted through mainland Greek culture, a warlike patriarchal society quite different from the culture on Crete. There was bull-leaping – that’s true – and perhaps bull masks were used to suggest half-man, half-bulls. And the famed labyrinth is now thought to be based on the interlinked dwellings of Crete.

Unlike the mainland towns, the Cretan cities did not have protective walls surrounding them. (They did, however, have an excellent navy). They traded with Egypt as well as the civilizations on Anatolia and opened up trading routes almost to the Black Sea. The archaeological records suggests they were invaded though; Knossos and some of the other cities were sacked and burned more than once. One of the theories regarding the destruction of this wonderful civilization suggestions the explosion of Thera (Santorini) was responsible.

A cultured civilization renowned in the Ancient World for its metal working, art works and frescos, pottery and more, the Cretans also had indoor toilets and bathtubs.The remnants are visible on Akrotiri, a site on a neighboring island buried by ash and now excavated. I am writing about approximately 1450 B.C. but this civilization lasted several hundred years before and after. Such amenities were lost and had to be re-invented thousands of years later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Of Bulls and Horses

As I’ve been discussing in previous posts, The Bull is sacred to the Bronze Age Cretans. They have many symbols of the Goddess: pillars, doves, the double axe, but by far the most important is the Bull. (And it is always the bull, the masculine principle, never a cow.) The symbol for the Bull is the Horns of Consecration, which abounds through out. What are the horns of consecration? The carving looks like an oval cut in half with the points (the horns) rising to the sky. The Bull was the key to all magic and were sacrificed for a variety of ritual purposes.

At about the same time, in the Balkans and eastward, another animal was revered. The horse. Like the Bull, the horse had a direct pipeline to the Gods. And, like the Bull, the horse was ritually slain. Slit open to remove the internal organs, the meat was eaten in a feast. The hide and some of the bones were slung over a pole stuck in the ground or placed on a roof.

The horse did not reach Crete until approximately 1500 B.C. There is actually a carved picture of a man in the typical Cretan ship with a single sail ferrying a horse across the water. We don’t know if this actually happened – and it makes a good story – or is simply a myth associated with the horse.

Money, scissors and more

Much research was and is required for the Will Rees mysteries. After all, they dressed differently, ate differently and mostly lived different. Most people then lived on farms. And, of course, there were no telephones, landlines or otherwise, no computers, no cars – the list goes on and on.

But as I research Bronze Age Crete for my next series, I realize how many things there are. Money, for example. Every Western country as well as China, India and more had money. Well, there was some money in the Bronze Age. In what is now Iraq and Iran, shekels were used. They were tied to a certain amount of barley. Consistent weights for gold and silver were beginning to be set up. But can I casually say my characters in Minoan Crete went to the market with their money and purchased something? No. Something must have been used; after all, Crete was the center of trade. Did they use a barter system or a combination of both? Obviously, more research is required.

I talked about needles in my last post. Well, let’s move on to scissors. Rees uses scissors and we would recognize them. Scissors were invented during the Bronze Age but they were not the scissors we know. More like two blades attached with a copper band.

And the people of Rees’s time period ate similarly to us. More meat heavy and certain vegetables were newish such as potatoes and tomatoes but we would recognize most of their food.  The Minoans ate differently. Sure, they ate lamb, seafood and goat, lentils and other pulses, grains such as barley and wheat. But did they consume dairy products? Had they learned to make cheese? So far, although there are competing theories, no one seems to know.

And did they eat beef? The bull was sacred to them. The Classical Greeks sacrificed Cattle by burning the hides and bones so the aroma would go up to the Gods. Did the Minoans sacrifice their Bulls and do the same? Or did they treat their cattle as they still do in India today: cattle are sacred and not eaten?

But they did consume beer, wine and a fermented honey similar to mead.

Bronze Age Tool

When we look back in time we often assume those civilizations that have gone before are primitive and the people barbarians. (A Greek word by the way. It meant that non-Greeks could only say bar-bar-bar. But I digress.) Nothing is further from the truth. Although some of the cultures look uncivilized to us and certainly the technology was not the same – or even present – some cultures enjoyed a very high level of – well – culture. The Minoans, for example, were affluent with beautiful art and a cohesive society that lasted at least a millennia. Because their Navy, the best in the World at that time, kept the island safe so the cities did not need to be surrounded by walls. I read one source that claimed that Knossos was the first real city. (I am sure other Mid-eastern scholars would disagree.) The Minoans also enjoyed indoor toilets. A visitor to Akrotiri can see the remains.

Akrotiri was a Minoan city outside of Crete. It was buried by the explosion on Santorini (Thera) and is under excavation.

So, what does this have to do with tools.

Well, I would guess that modern households have a particular tool now, the design of which has not changed since Neolithic times.The humble needle, once made of bone.

In Minoan times, the needles were made of bronze. If one thinks of the short tight jackets with short sleeves and the long skirts, it is not difficult to see that sewing would have been a required art. (The Minoans excelled in the fiber arts: weaving, dyeing and more and the items they made were important for trade.)

The iron needle did not come in until approximately 1195 B.C. – after the smiths had learned to harden iron.

Bouchercon17

Well, another Bouchercon is over. What a fun one this one was. Besides the usual interesting panels, it was held in Toronto. What a fabulous city.

Susanna Calkins was our wonderful moderator with really thought provoking questions. And the panel: Lois Gresh, Jonathan Putman, Andrea Penrose and Beverly Todd were all fascinating speakers. You can see from the photo how intently I’m listening.

On to St. Petersburg next year!

Ancient Crete

Although I am planning to continue the Will Rees mystery series, I also want to begin a new and very different series. These mysteries will be set in Ancient Bronze Age Crete.

Needless to say, the research has been intense!

I have learned so much. (There is still a lot more to learn, not just for me but for the archeologists too. All that we know now is from the archeological record, myths and various interpretations.)

But I digress.

These ancient Minoans were a civilized society with indoor toilets, beautiful art, and some very intriguing cultural differences. For one thing, they worshipped a Goddess and appear to be matrilineal as well as matrilocal. (That means inheritance went through the mother and when she married the man lived with her.) They worshipped snakes and apparently snake handling was part of the ceremonies.

Like most of the Goddesses then, she was the deity of fertility. Women enjoyed a high rank, something that many of the early archeologists found hard to believe.

The bull was revered. A symbol of the male principle, the bull was sacrificed at important ceremonies. Yes, this is the culture with bull-leaping. Probably most people know of this from the myth of Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur in the labyrinth. It turns out that the people who became the Classical Greeks interpreted the Minoan culture through the lens of their own beliefs.

More on this next week.

Talk at the Mavens of Mayhem

On Saturday I spoke to the SINC (Sister in Crime) chapter to which I belong: the Mavens of Mayhem. SINC was started by Sara Paretsky in the 1980’s to support women writers. At that time, women writers were hardly ever reviewed. (Many sources I see in the Library are still like this. Book page mystery section reviews about 85% – 90% men and the few women who appear are heavyweights like Louise Penney. So there is still a lot of work to do. But I digress.)

So Sisters in Crime was begun and now there are chapters all over the country.

Anyway, I put on my librarian hat and spoke about genres and the difficulty of placing a book in the proper slot. Of course there is a lot of discussion on this; many librarians don’t want to “pigeonhole” but I feel it is an aid to the patron who reads only mystery or only romance. Of course within the genres there are sub-genres (noir, historical, cozy for example) and especially now days there are a lot of books that are more than one genre. The Devil’s Bible by Carpenter is mystery, historical, fantasy and even a little romance. (It is a great book, BTW.) Then the question is, where do you locate such a book so readers will find it?

Since several of the writers and beginning writers in the group have books that cross genres, we had a great discussion. One of the members referenced her attempt to find a book Dinosaur barbecue. In the catalog it was listed: Cookery – Dinosaur.

I will leave the peculiarities of subject headings for another day.