Society - History
By: - at May 18, 2013

Analysis of the Linear B tablets and Wall Paintings

Both visual and written types of evidence for Mycenaean religion are very difficult to accurately interpret and comprehend. The written sources, from Linear B, give archaeologists clear insight into Mycenaean religion but lack detail to reveal the practices and the aims of the religion. The visual sources, however, show goddesses, religious practices, events and sacred symbols from Mycenaean times that were mostly stolen and are heavily-based on Minoan civilization and language. Around 1450 BC, Minoan Culture experienced a horrible natural tragedy that many believe to of been an earthquake, and in the wake of mother nature's destruction the Dynasty of Knossos was overrun by Mycenaean Greeks.

"Prince of Lilies" or "Priest-king Relief" Inside the Palace of Minos, Knossos
"Prince of Lilies" or "Priest-king Relief" Inside the Palace of Minos, Knossos
By Photo prise par Harrieta171 (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Instead of destroying the culture that the Mycenaeans now found themselves integrating with, the Mycenaeans decided to adopt many of facets of Minoan culture and with a little variation made them their own. This included language, writings, and architectural as well as artistic disciplines. Linear A is one of the two currently undeciphered writing systems that were utilized in ancient Crete.

Linear A Inscriptions
Linear A Inscriptions

The other are Cretan hieroglyphics. Linear A was the most commonly used script and it was employed for palace and religious writings of the Minoan civilization. Linear A is where Linear B originated from, and the Linear B script would be later used by the Mycenaean civilization. 

Linear B tablet from Pylos
Linear B tablet from Pylos
By Sharon Mollerus via Wikimedia Commons

Through written evidence, like the Linear B tablet from Pylos, and visual evidence such as the Saffron gathering scene from Akrotiri, archaeologists can produce hypotheses about Mycenaean religion. This evidence, however, is often very difficult to interpret and understand, as it only gives small, fragmentary glimpses into their belief system that is mostly based off of scattered physical evidence as well as frequent subjective interpretations by translators. Again, the Mycenaean culture adopted many of the traditions and customs of their captives who were the Minoan people.

Minoan Clay Tablet found at Knossos Recording Quantities of Oil Offered to Deities
Minoan Clay Tablet found at Knossos Recording Quantities of Oil Offered to Deities
By vintagedept via Wikimedia Commons

For historians, deciding which things are without a doubt strongly Mycenaean in nature or instead a conglomerate of Minoan and Mycenaean attributes, can be extremely difficult even for the planet's experts on early Greek culture.

Linear B Tablets
Linear B Tablet - MycenaeanLinear B tablets do give some evidence concerning Mycenaean religion, however it is limited in the fact that it only tells us the names of deities, places of worship, offerings made. These tablets reveal to archaeologists the Mycenaean religion was in fact different to that of the Minoans and can be linked to the deities of 8th century Greece, such as Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Athena, Hermes and Hephaistos. The term ‘Potnia’, for example, meaning ‘mistress’ (of animals) was conventionally attributed to the goddess Demeter in Classical Greek mythology is recognizably used in Linear B tablets. However, although we archaeologists can decipher the names of the deities, we cannot be certain as to what their characteristics are, and if they do indeed maintain the same traits as their Classical Greek counterparts. Information from Linear B tablets is tantalizingly fragmentary (especially when compared to the Egyptian civilization) and without literature or written history from this period, very little can be known directly about the importance of these gods and goddesses.

Mycenaean tablet from Oil Merchant Registering the Amount of Wool to be Dyed
Mycenaean tablet from Oil Merchant Registering the Amount of Wool to be Dyed
By Sharon Marsyas via Wikimedia Commons

Linear B tablets also reveal to archaeologists information about offerings made during religious ceremonies, such as the tablet found Pylos which appears to list offerings such as pigs, cows, sheep and wild boar to Poseidon’s religious center and to other deities. It mentions offerings of a man, a woman and gold vessels which are suggestive of the primitive practice of human sacrifice, something which is also implicated by the evidence of bodies left in the doorways of some Mycenaean tombs.

Linear B tablets were also used during Mycenaean civilization that served as an agreement outlining the quantity of wool that is to be dyed at the House of the Oil Merchant.

Clay Mycenaean Tablets with Linear B Script
Clay Mycenaean Tablets with Linear B Script

While Linear B tablets are relatively easy to interpret, there are not many surviving tablets, due to the fragile nature of the clay and archaeologist only have a few surviving records of religious practices from these tablets.

Wall Paintings
It is true to say that wall paintings are difficult to accurately decipher. Archaeologists can only speculate about the significance of each image and what its meaning may be.

Unknown Minoan Symbols on the Phaistos Disc
Unknown Minoan Symbols on the Phaistos Disc

It is only through a “cumulative process of assembling a variety of evidence” that archaeologists can attempt to suggest the content or religious significance – if any – of a wall painting.

Minoan Fresco from a Knossos Palace
Minoan Fresco from a Knossos Palace
By cavorite via Wikimedia Commons

It is extremely difficult to distinguish between Minoan and Mycenaean wall paintings and to gauge whether these paintings held the same meaning to the Minoans as to the Mycenaeans – for example, the ‘horns of consecration’, which are depicted in the Room with the Fresco in the Cult Centre at Mycenae (c. 1250 B.C.), are found at both Mycenaean and Minoan sites as well as double-headed axes and open air shrines. The painting behind the altar depicts two extraordinarily tall women, one carrying a sword and the other, a spear, bow or staff. One of the main centers of the Minoan civilization is the Bronze Age Palace of Knossos, which is considered to be the oldest throne room in all of Europe.

Grffin Fresco in the Throne Room of the Palace of Knossos
Grffin Fresco in the Throne Room of the Palace of Knossos
By Paginazero via Wikimedia Commons

The Palace was beautifully adorned with colorful frescos and after the Mycenaean occupation of Minoan lands, the Palace remained mostly intact along with its extremely vivid frescos.

The "Horns of Consecration"
horns of consecration
By Deror_avi (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It is these elements of the fresco that have led archaeologists to believe that they are female deities, suggesting a large pantheon of gods and goddesses, that archaeologists still know nothing about. In the bottom, left corner of the fresco a woman is depicted holding wheat in both arms, with a lion or griffin beside her, which can be inferred by the yellow coloring of the animal.

Fresco of Saffron Gatherers from Bronze Age Excavations in Akrotiri
Fresco of Saffron Gathererse fomr the Bronze Age Excavations in Akrotiri

The Saffron gathering scene from Xeste 3 in Akrotiri in Crete (Room 3a, first floor, N wall, c. 1500 B.C.) is similar in that both possible goddesses have mythical animal companions (winged griffin, and lion/griffin) and are carrying plants (like wheat and saffron). There is a richly attired woman seated on a raised platform.

Clearly her status is exceptional, if not divine, and she has been named the Mistress of the Animals, which is perhaps a reference to ‘Potnia’, similar to the findings on the Linear B tablets.

Fresco Entitled "Potnia Theron", "Greek for Mistress of Animals"
Fresco Entitled "Potnia Theron", "Greek for Mistress of Animals"

"Master of Animals" or "Potnia Theron" in Greek
"Master of Animals" or "Potnia Theron" in Greek
By Bkwillwm (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

The blue monkey and the young girl depicted seem to be deferring to this ‘Mistress of the Animals’, suggesting some sort of offering or dedication. In this way, we can infer much from the study of wall paintings, but must remember that any conclusions drawn are not definite and are still subject to other interpretations.





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