During of Knossos. Minoan culture remained a mystery until

During the Neolithic
period, there was a massive migration to Crete, the largest of the Aegean islands. Knossos is so far, the
earliest known settlement on Crete, and the palace was built by the ancient
Minoan civilization. The Minoans were named by the British archaeologist Sir
Arthur Evans who discovered the ruins of the Knossos palace. Sir Arthur named this
ancient civilization the Minoans after the mythological king Minos who was the
ruler of Knossos. Minoan culture remained a mystery until Sir Arthur Evans started
an excavation mission and successfully began uncovering the buried ruins of the
complex at Knossos, on Crete’s north coast. (Stokstad & Cothren, 2013, p.84). The artifacts discovered at
the Tomb of Agamemnon and the Palace of Minos at Knossos provided evidence
about the life and the physical activities of these ancient Greek
civilizations. There is still much more to know about the Minoans and their
culture, but with the art, they left behind it enables us to get a sense of the
Minoan culture.

Figure 1 A photo of the bull
relief fresco – original – in the archaeological museum of Heraklion. From
Knossos palace (West bastion of the North Entrance Passage where one can see a
copy nowadays, Neopalatial period (1600 – 1450 BCE. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABull_relief_fresco_archmus_Heraklion.jpg

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The palace of Knossos has
provided a sneak peek at the Minoan ancient culture from pottery to wall frescoes,
but the image of bulls pervades the Knossos complex. Depictions of bulls and
bull-leaping people are prominent in main entrances leading to the central
court of the palace complex. Some rooms in the palace were decorated with wall
paintings of bulls. The bull-leaping fresco at the palace at Knossos (FIG. 2) dates
to 1450 BCE and depicts the acrobatics maneuvers of two white female figures
and a red male figure. The bull-leaping scene, vividly depicting how the sport was
performed. There are three participants, two white-skinned women and a
brown-skinned man. One of the female athletes is restraining the bull by the
horns to reduce its speed so that the leaper, performing the dangerous
backwards somersault, will not be gored. The second female athlete, behind the
bull, is waiting with outstretched arms to catch the leaper as he lands. (Mcinerney,
J. 2011).

Figure 2 A photo of BULL LEAPING, Wall painting with areas of modern
reconstruction, from the palace complex, Knossos, Crete. Late Minoan period
1450–1375 BCE. Archaeological Museum, Iraklion, Crete Retrieved from Stokstad,
M., & Cothren, M. W. (2013). p 87 Art history (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson.


It is possible that these
figures represent performers providing entertainment for the royal family or
during a festival.  Another common explanation
is that the youths were engaged in a fertility ritual or rite of passage into
manhood because the bull was seen as a symbol of fertility in ancient times by
many cultures. Ritual bull leaping was likely an activity that incorporated
both physical contest and religious ceremony in a manner like later Greek
athletic games. (Kossuth, R.2011)


Another artifact found in
the Knossos place is the famous Bull’s Head rhyton. It was made from rocks it
has been reconstructed with inlays of shell, rock crystal, and jasper in the
muzzle and eyes. The gold covered wooden horns have been restored to show full
detail of the piece. This rhyton is dated back to 1450-1400 BCE.  Rythons are almost certainly of ritual
significance they are a series of containers used for pouring liquids. As we
have seen, bulls are a recurrent theme in Minoan art, and rhytons were also
made in the form of a bull’s head. This rhyton was filled with liquid through a
hole in the bull’s neck, and during ritual libations, fluid flowed out from its
mouth (Stokstad
& Cothren, 2013, p.89).            




Figure 3 A photo of a BULL’S-HEAD RHYTON from Knossos, Crete.
New Palace period, c. 1550–1450 BCE. Serpentine with shell, rock crystal, and
red jasper; the gilt-wood horns are restorations, Archaeological Museum,
Iraklion, Crete. Retrieved from from Stokstad, M., & Cothren, M. W. (2013).
p 89 Art history (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson.


As limited as our
understanding for physical activity in Minoan society is, even less is
understood about these practices in the lives of the Mycenaeans. What is known
is derived from archaeological evidence, particularly with bull imagery and
worship by the Minoans.

Bull leaping,
and the many other illustrations of the bull on wall frescoes, seals, and
pottery is one of many clues that the Minoans may have practiced a bull cult. (Kossuth, R. 2011) The Minoans, along with
other ancient cultures, held the bull in high regard and worshiped it as an
idol. The significance of the bull sheds light on the Minoan relationship with
nature and indicates how their great civilization was once the most advanced in
the region.