Minoan Society: Archaeological and written evidence The Minoans are one of the most interesting societies that one could ever study. Their archaeological remains are colourful and curious, their lives seemed to have been as sunny as their surrounding climate and as beautiful as their island—but was this really so? When we try to investigate Minoan society we encounter a number of problems regarding evidence. Because the climate is frequently wet, most of the perishable evidence has disappeared with the weather. This makes it hard to construct a picture of Minoan society.
We have some knowledge about Minoan people, of course, but this is very fragmentary: only small aspects of the Minoan social life are ever revealed at one time, mainly because the written materials are so few, and because scholars can read only a very little of this written evidence. Although there was writing, the Minoan language has not been deciphered. Because of this, we try to understand some of Minoan society from Linear B tablets (which were written in early Greek) found at Knossos, Khania, and other places.
One of the problems with the writing available both on Linear A (that is, the Minoan tablets) and Linear B (Greek tablets), is that most of the words are written on slabs of damp clay which were the tally cards for items that had been collected. These slabs or tablets were never meant to be kept; their contents are exactly the same as our own invoices. Thus, the contents of the tablets are only lists that deal with goods, rather than with the Minoan people and the way in which their society was structured. However, the tablets do give us clues that need to be taken into consideration.
So, what can we find out from the tablets? Surprisingly, some unusual pieces of information. Some of the Linear B texts contain names that are not Greek. They could be Minoan, but as we know that there were foreigners living in Crete when these Linear B tablets were written. We are therefore not sure which names are Minoan and which names are foreign, although some Hittite names are noticeable. Some of the other unusual names (which are likely to be Minoan) are Aranare, Duripi and Kikeru. All of these names were written in the Mycenaean Linear B script.
The Egyptians also recorded the names of Minoan people, writing them in their own language. One Egyptian tablet in the British Museum says: “To make the names of the Minoans: Yikashata, Yishharu, Nashuja, Bansabira, Yidini, Pinaruti, Rusa. ” The Egyptian scribe on this tablet was instructing other scribes about how to write the names of the foreigners into Egyptian hieroglyphs. Thus, we have a rough idea about some names of Minoan people, but no information about these people. When it comes to analysing the archaeological material, things are a little better, but not much.
John Pendlebury, whose knowledge of Minoan archaeology was enormous, said that: “It is impossible to say what kind of social order existed” in Minoan Crete. However, we do have the palaces and villas, townhouses and remains of separate farms and simple huts, so we know that some members of the society must have been better off than others, because they live in better houses. We can also guess that some people were more important than others because of the fresco and relief pictures we have of Minoan people.
These show some people as being bigger in size than other people (e. g. the Grandstand Fresco and Dancing in the Theatral Area). In most early paintings the important people were shown as being larger than the people who surrounded them Other evidence for Minoan society comes from figurines and frescoes. Frescoes are paintings that are put directly onto wet plaster (usually on the walls of important rooms, but sometimes on the ceilings and floors). Fresco art usually lasts a long time, for the paint soaks down into the fabric of the plaster and the colour does not wash off.
Unfortunately, however, the plaster on the walls will fall off if the walls are damaged by damp conditions or by shocks like earthquakes. Crete, of course, experiences both sorts of conditions, so very little fresco work has survived, but even small fragments can be very useful items for historians to find. The frescoes offer some glimpses of Minoan society, but we need to treat this material very carefully. The fresco remains are fragmentary, so scholars try to reconstruct the missing sections of the painting.
Sometimes they do this very well, and we can get a good idea of what was going on in large sections of the composition. In some cases, however, the reconstructions that have been done on some of the earlier material has been shown to be false, and such items as the “Prince of the Lilies” (which was a composite picture made up from four different frescoes), the “Saffron Gatherer” (which turned out to be a blue monkey, not a human being), and the “Captain of the Negroes” have been wrongly reconstructed.