Middle Eastern influences?

While researching for my series Servant of the Gods, I read articles and watched documentaries in reference to the origins of the Greek gods and goddesses. And while some originated in Ancient Greece, many of the divinities were “borrowed” from neighbouring countries such as Asia Minor, the Middle East and from the Minoans. But were the goddesses and gods of Minoan mythology a natural development or were they also taken from elsewhere?

The Council of Gods Raphael (1517-18) Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Council of Gods
Raphael (1517-18)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Minoans were traders and interacted with the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians. They were greatly influenced by the Egyptians as seen from their art and building palaces, though they are very unique. The closest association to the Egyptian gods the Minoans may have attributed was the Minotaur, yet the hybrid was never worshipped as a god.

There was a connection between the Mother Goddess and the Middle Eastern goddess, Astarte. Today, scholars have determined the Minoan religion was complex and did resemble the sophisticated cults of the Near East. Yet the Minoans developed into a flourishing culture and was influential in its own right. The Snake Goddess was also worshipped in Mesopotamia and in Egypt; while the attribution may differ in each, the symbolic importance of the snake was in its ability to shed skin and their habitat.

As a seafaring nation, the Minoans’ reach was extensive, and pottery, jewellery and small items of artefacts have been found within those they traded with, including mainland Greece. It was then the Minoans had a strong influence on the Mycenaean culture. A number of Minoan goddesses and their aspects were included in the Mycenaean religion. It was around this time when the gods appeared in the Minoan pantheon, and though their role was significant, they were not as prominent as the goddesses.

"Sacred Grove" miniature-style fresco from Knossos Courtesy of  https://www.unc.edu/

“Sacred Grove” miniature-style fresco from Knossos
Courtesy of https://www.unc.edu/

There is a great website that has a listing of the Minoan goddesses and their Greek counterparts. Do visit the site, it is interesting and informative. The following information comes from the website.

Personages of Minoan Culture

  • Goddesses:
    • Crocus as Cretan All-mother Kar
    • Potnia Theron — Mistress of the Animals. This suggests Artemis.
    • Snake Goddess — Snakes are very important to Athena but the snake goddess
      seems more related to Aphrodite because of the fertility role of snakes.
    • A-ta-no-dju-wa-ja. This name means Sun Goddess – the prefix atano is related to Luwian astanus = sun. The Mycenaeans may have translated this as
      A-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja (Mistress Athena)
    • Earth Mother, later known as Demeter (Ida Mater may mean earth mother. There are two mountains named Ida, one near Troy and the other on Crete, so the name may also mean mountain mother.
    • A-sa-sa-ra-me (or Ja-sa-sa-ra-me), my Lady
    • Inanna Queen of Heaven and Earth (Athena may mean Athe-anna)
    • Bee goddess
    • Britomartis (goddess of the mountains and hunting) Artemis?
    • Diktynne – Persephone?
    • Aphaea – Athena?
  • Mortal mythical women
    • Europa
    • Pasiphae
    • Ariadne

(Kluth, FJ, Minoan culture and its women, The role of women in the art of Ancient Greece http://www.rwaag.org/minoan#Pers)

Whether the Minoan goddesses started out from other nations may be a coincidence as figurines of goddesses have been found on Crete which date back to the Neolithic era. It may be the Minoans saw aspects of the worship of the goddesses from these places, adapted them and later transpired into their own particular form of religion.

The Mother Goddess has always been an integral part of civilisation dating back to the Palaeolithic period. Figurines of these well-rounded and amply endowed manifestations of the goddess have been found throughout Europe and Asia. The concept was not new and developed accordingly to the needs of the society at the time.

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice, one of the earliest known depictions of the human body, dates to approximately 29,000–25,000 BC (Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic era) "Vestonicka venuse edit" by che (Credits "Petr Novák, Wikipedia" Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vestonicka_venuse_edit.jpg#/media/File:Vestonicka_venuse_edit.jpg

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice, one of the earliest known depictions of the human body, dates to approximately 29,000–25,000 BC (Gravettian culture of the Upper Paleolithic era)
“Vestonicka venuse edit” by che
(Credits “Petr Novák, Wikipedia” Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vestonicka_venuse_edit.jpg#/media/File:Vestonicka_venuse_edit.jpg

What do you think? Were the Minoan goddesses an organic development or translation from other cultures?

Thank you for visiting and reading. As always, your comments are valued and welcomed.

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, likes to meander from contemporary life to the realms of mythology and history. Subscribe to her free short story at http://eepurl.com/bhESs1

Minoan culture and its women http://www.rwaag.org/minoan#Index
“The Mistress” PO-TI-NI-JA https://inanna.virtualave.net/snakegoddess.html#Cult
Symbols of the Minoan Goddess Religion http://potnia.theladyofthelabyrinth.com/symbols-of-the-minoan-goddess-religion/

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16 thoughts on “Middle Eastern influences?

  1. Interesting question. To be honest, though, I’m more familiar with Akkadian and Sumerian myths and their influence on primitive Hebrew religion. But I am very curious now, cos I know that Phoenicia was on the routes between Minoan Crete and Mesopotamia, and now I’m wondering what influences there may have been. Or were (for instance) Innana and Ereshkigal just as alien to the Myceneans as Sekhmet and Nut were to the Romans.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. (For example, Innana (or sometimes Ishtar) was the goddess of fertility, love, and war. And while there was, as far as I know, no corresponding Greek deity, Aphrodite was forever dallying with Ares. Why the association?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • While I was researching there were parallels to the goddess Innana/Ishtar as the Mother Goddess. I guess there were aspects of the goddesses the cultures could relate to and adapted them to suit their needs. No rhyme or reason as to the dalliance between Aphrodite and Ares, except it makes for a great story.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Bella,
    You bring up an interesting question to which we might not find a conclusive answer. However, given the neighboring countries and their interactions, I agree with your conjecture that it may be the Minoans saw aspects of the worship of the goddesses from these places, and adapted them. As always, your post was brilliant and I very much enjoyed reading it.
    🙂 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Luciana, this is such a interesting and well written post… It seems the influences are not random at all, judging per the information you provided above…
    I was particularly caught by the importance of the snakes, the minotaur and the Mother Goddesses in their different expressions and cultural shapes, so to speak… I wonder if this could be related to geographical reasons, at least as one of the main causes concerning cultural exchanges…
    Sending all my best wishes, cara amica. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ciao Aquileana,
      Thank you very much for the lovely compliment. I do believe geography plays a large component in most cultures. Like today, the more multi-cultural the world becomes, then there’s bound to be cross-overs and influences on each. Snakes, bulls and the Mother Goddess each were prevalent in many cultures. There had to be an exchange of sorts along the way.
      Mille grazie, cara amica
      Luciana 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I hesitate to offer a strong opinion. I think Earth mother goddesses were common, so it seems to be an archetype that develops independent of culture. Sort of like…Cinderella stories being common. Perhaps it’s just an inherently satisfying and useful character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There were common. I remember studying art history in high school and reading about the varied-shaped figurines of the Mother Goddess, they had similar features: well-endowed and broad-hipped, very much a fertility goddess.
      I like the comparison with Cinderalla, many cultures do have a Cinder story. Thank you for commenting, Cathleen 😀


  6. Hi Luciana,

    Thank you again for sharing your wealth of knowledge on the Minoans and reflections on how different ancient civilizations seemed to influence each other. The Mother Goddess is a universal concept that was accepted by different civilization including the Celts. With the active trading, it would not be surprised that a lot of the Minoan beliefs were influenced by other civilizations. It is fascinating that there is probably more in common with various religions that what we would like to admit.

    As always, I thoroughly enjoy reading your well-researched and insightful posts. I look forward to reading more about the Minoans. Take care.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Linnea,
      Thank you for the lovely compliment. The Mother Goddess appeared in most cultures in some form that is familiar across all civilisations. Your comment about there being a commonality between religions is more than a probability. It’s too coincidental.
      Thank you so much for your comment.
      Best wishes,
      Luciana 😀


  7. The further back in time we go, especially before the development of writing, the harder it is to understand how the flow of ideas worked. Artifacts can be a simpler matter to trace thanks to archaeological methods, but ideas are so much more elusive. Personally, I suspect some similarities may be due to cultural contact but others might reflect development from a shared belief system dating to an earlier period in human history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have to agree with you. Having watched documentaries on the emergence of humans, there had to be a common element on the emergence of a belief system. It’s too coincidental.
      Thanks JM. Always look forward to your expert opinion 😀


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