Minoan Crete

Introduction to Minoan Crete Part 7

I hope you enjoyed the tour through the palace of Knossos over the last two weeks. The Minoan palace was a palace where the king's family lived and where the king conducted business. Where did the common people live?

Cities consisted of 70,000 people or more, a not inconsiderable population, even for our own time. Cities weren't planned but rather grew outward from the palace or a place of prestige. If one was able to fly over these ancient Minoan cities, they would find a cluster of homes, their flat roofs shining blindingly white in the afternoon sun. Back on the ground, we see that there were different types of house fronts, ranging from quite elaborate to extremely simple. Most homes had two stories, but some had more. Two stories seem to be the average for a middle class family.

In terms of rooms, the homes weren't hovels at all. There were usually about six to eight rooms, although archeologists found that more than twelve rooms wasn't that uncommon. The housewife didn't have the luxury of a cooking stove; instead she cooked on a portable clay hearth on days when it wasn't raining. This occurred on warm days when it wasn't raining in the spring and autumn.

There is good evidence Minoans liked to decorate their houses as gaily as they decorated their persons. Archeologists have found a very pale blue paint on the inside of walls of homes, much the same color as the paint in the queen's megaron was.

As for pastimes, the Minoans not only liked dancing but also enjoyed watching bull leaping. We've all seen or heard of the famous bullfighters, those famous Spanish and Mexican men who fight bulls. Although, technically speaking, Minoans didn't fight bulls, they did leap over bulls. Would you be surprised to find that Minoan girls also indulged in this sport?

Women as bull-leapers must have been a relic from days gone by when female supremacy held sway. Since Crete was a peaceful island, women could show their gentleness while, at the same time, showing their ability to do things men did. Women, like men, could leap bulls.

The typical dress for a bull-leaper was a bright loincloth that had been either richly embroidered or was of a bright material. He or she wore expensive bracelets and he wore, like the cowboy of yesteryear wearing spurs, anklet-gaiters. His or her face may have been made up for theatrical purposes.

It is not known whether the bull-leaper caught his/her own bull or whether someone else did this but archeologists surmise (based on a frieze dating from around 1500 B.C. found in the palace of Knossos), that what was essential for a bull-leaper was to literally fly over the bull's neck. This was accomplished by getting between the bull's horns, getting inadvertent assistance from the bull to land on its neck and then jump off into the arms of a waiting helper. Like riding a horse in the circus, some bull-leapers could vault onto a bull with their hands, while others landed on their feet. Everything was a matter of nerves and agility. Bull-leaping was a very dangerous affair indeed even if the Minoans were generally a peace-loving people.

I hope you've enjoyed these articles on Minoan Crete.