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by Archaeology Newsroom

Goddesses of the Aegean. The one and the many

Faith, religion and ritual cannot be interpreted only through the few preserved artefacts that come down to us. Therefore, we are obliged to use analogies with other regions or other periods for the interpretation of the representations of a certain culture or for the reconstruction of the nucleus of faith and personal devotion of the times. The Protohistory of the Aegean, from the Neolithic period down to the end of the Bronze Age, is not altogether rich in figurative representations, female images, however prevail among them. These rare representations have not been accidentally chosen from the everyday life of women. Thus, we must see in these figurines, reliefs, wall-paintings and seals a narrative thought and representation ,on one hand presupposing that magical explanations for the environment have been left behind; and on the other, that the humanization of the primeval power is realized in myths and in the representational arts. This reasoning is obvious in the Neolithic period, but already in the Early Bronze Age the civilizations of the Aegean follow diverse routes. Central Greece of the Early and Middle Bronze Age does not use a visual rendering of the goddess. The Cycladic civilization is rich in such representations, but after all it is Crete which leads the way. The powerful representation of the naked goddess of nature is now dressed in the town’s attire, and thus the figurine of the ritual appears, Myth comes to the fore, engraved on seals or painted in frescoes. Although the inhabitants of Mycenae have a different notion of deity, they adopt the new image of the goddess. Soon, however, a new approach is formed. During the last phase of the Bronze Age the figurines of the goddess reappear in the entire area of the Aegean -in Crete, central Greece and on the islands— as a reaction to the authoritative, centralized power of the palaces. This time, however, the image of the goddess is placed in a defined architectural sorrounding, that is, the small sacred edifices, in which the goddess of the Aegean Sea continues to live even beyond the Dark Ages.