Mt. Juktas, Vathypetro, and Knossos Palace


Today we completed our look at the Minoan Palaces on Crete and learned more about early Greek religion. Our first stop was to Mount Juktas where we learned about Mountain Sanctuaries and their importance to Greek religion. We then made our way to Vathypetro which is a country villa containing a tripartite shrine. The end of our day was spent at Knossos Palace which is noted to be the largest and most important of all the Minoan Palaces.


View from Mount Juktas


Mt. Juktas is a large mountain on the island of Crete that housed a mountain sanctuary. Mountain shrines are particularly note worthy since they are believed to be important to Minoan religion as a place where earth meets the sky. The earth meeting the sky would come to play an important part in Greek, and by extension Minoan, mythology relating to the story of the rise of Zeus and his seizing of power from his father, Knosos. The mountain sanctuary of Juktas has a hole in one area where it is believed that people would descend down into it and offer representations of injured parts of their bodies asking for healing from the gods. How this relates back to Zeus’ seizing of power is unclear; however, the evidence for this claim comes from the figure representations of body parts left within the hole. While the sanctuary itself could be representative of the earth meeting the sky, this hole, and by association lustral basins and pillar crypts, are as places where the surface meets the subsurface and could additionally be important to Minoan religion.


View of the sanctuary on Mt. Juktas
Another view of the sanctuary on Mt. Juktas with fellow students for scale

Our second site that we investigated was Vathypetro with its tripartite shrine. The shrine had three parts as the name implies. Dr. Morris mentioned that this is the only shrine that most, if not all, scholars agree is a tripartite shrine. This shrine was facing east and located in the south of the villa. It was attached to the rest of the villa complex and had three columns and a porch. Other features that we noted at the site included two storage areas. One of the storage areas was located in the east and looked like a pillar crypt at first glance. The reasoning for why it is a storage are and not a pillar crypt is due to the large broken pithoi that were found here and the lack of cult symbols in the room that would suggest a pillar crypt. Another storage area was located to the north of the villa and contained a wine press. The wine is identifiable as a piece of pottery that is about a foot and a half tall with a base that forms a ninety degree angle with the sides. One part of the container has a flute which would allow juices of the pressed grapes into a container or vat. Vathypetro was probably a working country villa that produced goods for itself and palaces. The villas was probably run by an important person, but was not as important as someone that was in the palace, at least not all of the people in the palace.


View from Vathypetro into the surrounding farm and hinterland
Tripartite shrine foundation at Vathypetro


Our final site of the day was the last palatial site for the Minoans — Knossos. This palace is the largest of all the Minoan palaces and as such is considered to be the capital of the Minoan culture. The first settlement of Knossos was in the Neolithic around 2,000 B.C.E. Sir Arther Evans, a British archaeologist, discovered and excavated the palace from 1900-1931 C.E. At the site he found 3,000 clay tablets some of which were written in what became known as Linear A, believed to be a Minoan language, and Linear B, a Mycenean language. Both of these later influenced the Greek language. Art is displayed at the Knossos palace with vivid frescoes some of which have been rebuilt/repainted by Sir Evans. Other frescoes have gone on display at the Heraklion and British museums. Knossos reached its peak between 1,650 and 1,450 B.C.E., but it’s occupation lasted 1,000 years. The palace, and probably the whole of Minoan society, was ruled by a Priest-King the most famous was King Nossos. The job of the Priest-King was to create stability.

Knossos contains 1,300 rooms which is double the amount found at Kato Zakro. The palace has entrances from the west, north, and east, but not the south. The west wing was primarily for cult activities due to it containing pillar crypts and magazines. The central court was where bull leaping is believed to take place with the bull entering from the north and the royal road leading important people and maybe even commoners into the courtyard.

The west wall at Knossos was very similar to the other western walls we have seen at other sites. It was fronted by a courtyard that was paved and had a raised walkway. The unique feature of the western courtyard was the repositories which looked like silos, but held trash that was usually in relation to cult objects, practices, and rites. The western wall itself had recessed areas which lend strength to the wall since it is in an earthquake prone region. Dr. Morris pointed out to use the construction and architectural style in which the west wall was constructed in called orthostate. This style is noted by the second course being taller than the first course of stones. The orthostate stones are made of gypsum. The wall itself is made of two layers of dressed stones filled with rubble. As in other walls there are ledges, but Knossos has the second and sixth courses recessed. Also, within the west court is a raised square believed to be an alter due to archaeological finds being found around it. Further up the west court in the north-west area is a pair of horns and representation of bull’s horns which were an important animals to Minoan culture. The palace itself was entered into on the western side though a propylon which is notable by its appearance as a grand entrance and large column in its front. The west wing contains magazines on the lower floor like we have seen at other palatial sites and were located in the north-west area of the palace. One feature unique to the Palace of Knossos was a double axe holder that was placed in a a doorway near the magazines. This double axe holder was about two to two and a half feet tall and in the a trapezoidal shape.

Carved bull horns


We also looked at the pillar crypt. The pillar crypt, as with other sites, was not a big room and had two large columns that seemed to be over sized for the room and had cult marks. The room was associated with magazines. This pillar crypt contained a kuros and was close to a treasury that contained a goddess figure holding two snakes. This goddess figure leads people to believe that Minoans worshiped agricultural and/or a mother goddess. Knossos had a large lustral basin on an even grader scale than any other we have seen. The polythera are located in the west.


Lustral basin at Knossos


The east wing is associated with royalty and power due to the king’s polytheron and queen’s polytheron being located there. Two polythera are associated with a king and queen due to their size. The queen’s polytheron was part of the queen’s quarters which also contained a toilet (the first toilet in Europe!). The east wing also contained workshops for bronze goods. The west also contained a shrine, but this was of Mycenean construction and contained a fresco of griffins in a heraldic manner. Knossos interestingly lacks a pillared hall in the north. Also, in the north, beyond the palace walls is the theatrical area that contained a raised walkway. There also appears to be a box area where people of prominence could stand.


Dolphin frescoes in the east wing of Knossos
Griffin fresco and throne


After looking at the rest of the palace, we looked at the frescoes of the palace. These frescoes provide us with important details into Minoan culture and society. Women are again portrayed as white figures in skirts and bear breasted. One fresco depicts a tripartite shrine which had horns on top of it and columns in the doorways. Some frescoes depict large numbers of people, but still retains the color scheme of depicting men and women as tan and white figures, respectively. A fresco that we have talked about before, the bull leaping fresco, was depicted at the palace. A major motif of the Minoan frescoes seems to be nature and shows their love of nature and animals opposed to humans. Birds, monkeys, and flora appear to even have an Egyptian influence just as the human figures have. Some larger and seemingly important frescoes depict processions one of which we saw was men carrying a kumares ware libation cup. Another major fresco is the three dimensional bull believed to be taken into the courtyard to be scarified.


Frescoes of men carrying kumares ware libation cups with people for scale.
Detail of men carrying kumares ware cups




Author: johnwallx

NC State University PhD Student in Earth Science with a masters in Geographic Information Systems.

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