Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology


The importance of the symbolism of the bull in Late Bronze Age Crete is well known. It has been the subject of many valuable studies for more than a hundred years. Only a handful of these studies have treated the search for the meaning of the bull as congruent with the wider issue of the interpretation of Minoan religion in general, and almost all of them date in the first half of the twentieth century. The result is a paradoxical situation, namely, a plethora of works on the topic rarely appear to contribute fresh insights. This is also due to the fact that in archaeological studies, religion is usually either considered impossible to study and is avoided or is treated as a subject that is well known and easily explicable. At the same time, the intense presence of bull representations in the material culture of Crete continues to raise questions that have been only partially answered by the existent interpretative frameworks.

This study is an attempt to propose tentative answers to some of these issues. It submits that the religion of Bronze Age Crete is not easily explicable but is also not impossible to study. It proposes that such an enterprise is possible only when the object of study has been defined. And the real object of study in any archaeological study of religious meaning is first the notion of religion. This work suggests the definition of religion as socio-cultural practice as the most suitable for the explorations of religion in Bronze Age Crete and proposes a methodology for its archaeological study.

A portion of the archaeological information on the bull in Neopalatial Crete is studied within the above theoretical framework. The study of vessels and figurines and wall paintings with bull representations brings together evidence, which is usually treated separately, and attempts to promote a holistic interpretation on the subject without sacrificing the multiplicity of meaning. It reveals aspects of the meaning of the bull previously hitherto gone unnoticed and, by highlighting those, it hopefully promotes further our understanding of the nature of Minoan religion.


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