Minoan society

The social structure of the Minoans and evidence of, largely remained unexplored until later historians and archaeologists started to ask questions. Sir Arthur Evans didn’t delve into the functionality of Minoan society and left “gaps” in the historicity of the people. He did however provide enough fodder to satisfy the burgeoning interest at the time. His main attribution of information stemmed from the organisation of the Knossos Palace and those that were later discovered.

Sir Arthur Evans By Unknown - [1], CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33366535
Sir Arthur Evans
By Unknown – [1], CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33366535

The term “palace”, which Evans dubbed the Knossos site and other sites, immediately evokes the concept of royalty and serfs. The mythos of King Minos, his wife Pasiphae and children, as well as the minotaur and Theseus, do support the concept of a royal family inhabiting the palace, filled with visiting dignitaries, nobility and commoners. Evan’s excavation gradually unveiled sections of the large complex, where he was able to provide details on the wider community. For instance, the discovery of mansions in close proximity to the palace suggested an elite class. It was the identification of such areas which enabled Evans to label groups and provide a starting point for further investigation.

A clay minoan model (restored) of a house. ca.1600 BCE. Archaeological Museum of Heraklion  AuthorJebulon
A clay minoan model (restored) of a house. ca.1600 BCE.
Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
Author Jebulon

The role of women in Minoan society was unusual, given that other cultures at the time did not consider females as important. The prominence of Minoan women can be attributed to the worship of goddesses and the significance of the priestesses. The women were in positions of authority, performed rituals, led processions, roles inherited due to the close association to female deities.

The Minoans were a thalassocracy, a maritime super-power, which meant the men were often at sea and the women left to manage tasks in their absence. Artefacts of weapons such as swords, daggers, arrow-heads and armour and helmets indicate the Minoans had the ability to protect themselves and/or wage war. The notion that the sophisticated Minoans were peaceable does allude to the influence women had, and for the main, they did. However, it would be naïve to believe the Minoans, much like other cultures, did not engage in combat.

Wall frieze found at Akrotiri Courtesy of Wikipedia
Par of the wall frieze found at Akrotiri
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Did the Minoans have slaves? Hard to determine, there’s no evidence to support this, however as many other cultures did, one cannot discount the possibility. As to a social class, again difficult to ascertain as evidence such as jewellery, style of dress, hairstyles may represent the elite class. We don’t have images of what the “others” wore and whether they also possessed jewellery. Fortunately, Linear B tablets have identified a number of occupations: textile workers, shepherds, and artisans; warriors, priests and landowners, yet that does not mean whether there was a social status. Although, one could assume the first group belong to the lower class and the second group, upper class.

As you have probably guessed, and if you’ve read this far, the social structure of Minoan society isn’t clear. A lot is still to be discovered, which is exciting. We do have the fantastic artefacts and friezes to help guide us to understand who were the Minoans. Yet , they still remain a mystery.

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

Further resources:
For an archaeology of Minoan Society. Identifying the Principles of Social Structure by
Jan Driessen (You need to sign up to the Academia via Google to download PDF)
Minoan civilisation http://www.ancient.eu/Minoan_Civilization/
Minoan culture and its women http://www.rwaag.org/minoan#Wome

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

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Add Yours
  1. Christina James

    There’s something very satisfying about not knowing, ironically enough. Part of the magic is destroyed by knowledge, the quest for which is much more alluring. You’ve shown a bit of Minoan ankle, but the rest is covered up! A very enjoyable post and I’m delighted to come back to find it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      When Linear A is finally decoded, we may learn more about the Minoans. Though I would surmise they would be similar to the Linear B tablets, a collection of items bought and sold.
      The magic may then still live on 😀
      Thank you, Christina.


  2. timelessitaly

    I remember going through King Minos Palace on Crete. It made a big impact on me. I’ve done some reading on the Minoan culture, and have been impressed by their sophistication and artwork esp. the bullriders. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      The Minoans were amazing, (still are) the technology, how sophisticated they were and what they built. They have left so much and there’s still more to learn.
      Thank you for stopping by Susan 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • cav12

      Thank you, Cathleen 😀
      I’ll be doing more digging into the role of women in ancient societies, but that will be another series.


  3. Aquileana

    Even if there are still doubts concerning the social structure in minoan society…
    I am hinting that it should have been a very stratified, at least keeping in mind the hypothetical social division of labor you have mentioned above…

    It is interesting to learn about the etymology of the word palace as evoking the concept of royalty and serfs. I am thinking now of the vassalage during the Middle Age…
    And maybe that idea, typical of Feudalism, had its primordial basic roots among minoans.

    Finally, one could conclude that a certain commercial activity or commercial regime had its political and social collolaries…Hence, and, specifically speaking… that maritime activity led to a thalassocracy, as the latter also explain why women were so important by then…

    Excellent post, cara Luciana…. Happy weekend. All the best to you, Aquileana 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • cav12

      There are interesting parallels with the women of Sparta and the Minoan women in that both instances, farming and organisational elements of agriculture came under the women’s domain. It goes with the risk of the men not returning from war or shipping expeditions. When the men did return they took over, but in the case of the Minoans, it was more egalitarian.
      I think Sir Arthur Evans was drawing from historical context when he referred to Knossos as a palace. It does seem to lend to that type of society, to what extent however, is difficult to determine.
      Thank you for the awesome comment, cara Aquileana. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Christy Birmingham

    How interesting to learn a bit about Minoan society here, Luciana. In particular, how intriguing that women were given more of a role than in other parts of the world at the time… I have to say I like that as I am a feminist at heart 😉 I thank you for always teaching me such interesting details through your posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • cav12

      It is amazing the more I learn about the Minoans, the more I am fascinated. A pity the role of Minoan women did not permeate other cultures and through time. I feel the world would be a very different place, if women were able to continue as significant and respected members of society.

      Liked by 1 person

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