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Bulls and Bull-leaping in the Minoan World

By Jeremy McInerney

In Cretan culture, the bull is everywhere. Horns of consecration adorned the top of Minoan shrines and may have decorated palaces at Knossos, Mallia, and Phaistos. Great ceremonial axes of bronze, perhaps suggesting the sacrificial slaughter of bulls, were recovered from palatial contexts. Objects such as the Hagia Triada sarcophagus, dated to the early 14th century BC, show cattle trussed in preparation for sacrifice.

In every medium imaginable, from gold rings to terracotta figurines, from stone seals to frescoes in relief, the image of the bull permeates the Minoan world. Furthermore, depictions of bulls and bull-leaping figure prominently in the pictorial decoration of Neopalatial Knossos. Major entrances leading to the center of the palace complex were adorned with wall paintings of bulls and bull-leaping. Bulls also figure on rhyta (plural of rhyton), or more properly, as rhyta. The Cretan rhyta—pouring vessels with two openings—were probably derived from Syrian antecedents, but the Cretan vessels evolved into objects of exceptional size and beauty. Vessels like the Bull’s Head rhyton from Knossos—carved out of serpentinite (sometimes referred to as steatite) and decorated with shell, rock crystal, jasper, and gold—were too heavy to be used in anything but ritual settings.

Read the full article [NOTE: Opens as a pdf.]

(H/T History of the Ancient World)

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