Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


1 February 2010

The double-axe: A contextual approach to the understanding of a Cretan symbol in the Neopalatial period

Matthew Haysom Oxford Journal of Archaeology 29 (February 2010): 35-55.


The Double-Axe has always been considered as one of the most important religious symbols in Minoan Crete. This paper reassesses the significance of the Double-Axe and puts forward a new interpretation for it. It recognizes the great potential for change in symbolic meanings during the Bronze Age and seeks to understand the Double-Axe in as narrow a period as is realistically possible by filtering out evidence from other periods. Central to the argument is the principle that the meaning of symbols is contextually dependent. It builds, therefore, a new interpretation of the Double-Axe on the basis of as wide a range of contextual associations as possible, both within iconographic sources and in the wider material record. From these contextual associations, it suggests that in the Neopalatial period the Double-Axe was a symbol primarily associated with a social group which exercised power in the economic, military and religious realms and that it became a solely religious symbol only later.


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