religion and culture
Statue of Europa abducted by Zeus in the guise of a bull, at Agios Nikolaos, Crete
The high standard of living, the relative abundance of food and other good things, and the security of their island homes gave the Minoans an outlook on life substantially different from other contemporary cultures. Perhaps because life was good, worship and communication with deities was not stressed. They built no great temples. Female goddesses who protected the household, the crops, and the animals dominated their religion. The Minoans may have practiced human sacrifice at one time. There is a famous Greek myth of a minotaur, half man, half bull, who lived in a labyrinth beneath the palace. Young people were sacrificed to the minotaur each year. The high priest or king may have worn a bull mask for the sacrifice, creating the illusion of half man, half animal. They believed in an afterlife and buried the dead with food and possessions that would be of use.
Double-headed axe symbol carved into stone at Knossos, Crete
The Minoans developed a hieroglyphic writing system around 2000 BCE, perhaps following trading contact with the Egyptians. By 1900 BCE they had developed a new script now called Linear A. Linear B (a third script) came into use at Knossos around 1450 BCE.
Illustration of the bull-leaping fresco from Knossos
Surviving artwork shows the people of Crete engaging in the sport of bull jumping. The significance of this activity is not known. Young men and women are depicted approaching a charging bull, grabbing it by the horns, and somersaulting over its back to land behind it. The everyday life of the Minoans was pleasant and relatively free of war and unrest, as witnessed by the richness and exuberance of their frescos, wall paintings, and decorative objects.