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.
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.
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.
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.
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