Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


15 November 2010

Representations and interpretations of dance in the Aegean Bronze Age. Ritual dances in Cycladic and Minoan religions

Angeliki Liveri Athenische Mitteilungen 123 (2008) [2009]: 1-38.


During the Bronze Age the Aegean cultures (Cycladic, Minoan) developed music and dance which were connected with religious rituals and ceremonies. There is perhaps only one Cycladic representation depicting a dance scene: it is to be found on one marble plaque from Naxos (EC II-III, ca. 2700-2000 BC). In contrast to Cycladic artists, the later Minoans presented dance scenes with one, two or more persons in different art forms: e.g. seals, seal-impressions, wall paintings, idols or vessels. There are Minoan dance representations dated from the Middle Minoan until the post-Minoan period (2000-1100 BC), which show a variety of dances.

Dances used for invocation and divine appearance as well as dances as an offering were an important part of particular rites for an epiphany of the divinity. Initiation rites included also invocations, ecstatic dances or slow mimetic acts related to the epiphany of the deity. Single female high priestesses sometimes seem also to dance. In another case a female votary offers a dance to the seated divinity. In many examples, worshippers are depicted, without the presence of deities, participating in processions, festivals or public ceremonies, and, in some cases, perhaps dancing. Circular dances relating to the cycle of life and death existed in Crete too.

In Minoan representations most dancers are female, either dressed or with the upper torso left naked. It is difficult to reconstruct the dance performances. The dances would have been performed in different cult places in the country, near an altar, a tree, a holy grove, a pillar or a shrine and in buildings. On the basis of finds and architectural remains, some of the actual dancing places in buildings have already been identified, e.g. in Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, Gortys, Katsambas, Prinias and Archanes. Minoan circular-platforms have also been excavated in some places, e.g. Knossos and Messara.


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