Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, Vol 24, No 2 (2011)

Disarming the Snake Goddess: A Reconsideration of the Faience Figurines from the Temple Repositories at Knossos

Emily Miller Bonney
Issued Date: 2 Dec 2011

Abstract


The two reconstituted faience figurines from the Temple Repositories at Knossos were restored by Sir Arthur Evans as epitomes of elite women of the Neopalatial period and objects of an indigenous palatial cult of the Snake Goddess. They have appeared as such in the literature for the past century. This article reassesses the accuracy of Evans’s characterization by examining only the original fragments—a head, two torsos and the remnants of a flounced skirt—to determine whether the coiffures, clothing, and gestures have parallels in Cretan art. This process reveals that the figures do not have close parallels, for the most part, within the Cretan tradition. Furthermore, there are no Cretan iconographic sources for the images of the women as participants in the cult of the Snake Goddess, whether as goddesses or as priestesses. Rather, the craftsmen who created them employed motifs from the Syrian artistic tradition most likely relying on the representations of the goddess opening her skirt and the renderings of Syrian goddesses with cylindrical crowns, straight hair, and robes with thick edges. The elites who ordered the production of the figurines did so within the context of the construction of the Middle Minoan III palace at Knossos. At a time of heightened interaction with the late Middle Bronze Age monarchies of the Levant, the elites at Knossos emulated Syrian iconography as an assertion of their access to exotic knowledge and control of trade. When the Middle Minoan III palace was destroyed, the figurines were deposited in the Temple Repositories, and their iconography was buried with them. There is no trace of them in subsequent Neopalatial art.

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DOI: 10.1558/jmea.v24i2.171

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