What you will learn from this exhibit is how rites of passage were depicted in the Minoan culture, with the help of different artifacts that are associated with these specific events. As in any culture, an adolescent must face a rite of passage to be able to move forward into adulthood. For the males, the most distinctive element in Minoan culture was the “bull game,” in which an acrobat would vault at a charging bull in a dramatic ritualized spectacle. However, for females, saffron was particularly associated with women and was sacred to the Minoans. The reason saffron is connected to coming-of-age rites for girls is that, although expensive, it is an herbal remedy to ease menstrual cramps. Let’s look through the different artifacts that help show us how coming-of-age rites were in the Minoan civilization.
Let’s begin with the Xeste 3, a building, located in Akrotiri, that contained a Minoan-style lustral basin on the ground floor, with a pier and door partition. On the wall that was held above the basin was a fresco that depicts a scene of three females in a landscape that was blooming with crocuses. This fresco stood 1.43 m (converted into feet is 4’8), from Late Cycladic IA. On the far left, a mature woman stood, dressed in a transparent gown and in her hand, she carried a necklace. In the center, a much younger girl dressed in a fancy costume held a hand over her forehead while nursing a bleeding toe. Then on the far right, a preadolescent girl covers herself with a saffron veil, looking away from the girl who is wounded and towards the direction of an altar with horns of consecration while blood drips from her. How do we know which is the preadolescent girl from the three? Just like the Egyptians and other cultures, the Minoans had their children’s heads shaved. For one reason, it was a lot easier to care for and the other was to be able to cut down on getting lice. The whole scene in this fresco is interpreted as a rite of passage to recognize the beginning of menstruation.
Another fresco is located in Xeste 3 as well, in-room 3a, and stands at 2.44 m (converted into feet is 8 feet). We continue to see the ongoing theme of crocuses here, just from the room right above the lustral basin. In this specific fresco, we have girls gathering the stamens of flowers to make saffron. Then and even today, saffron continues to be the world’s most expensive spice. On the right, there is a woman and girl who have climbed over rocks to pick more. They adorn elaborate attire over the bodies, including earrings, bracelets, and anklets. We can see that their heads are completely shaved with the exception of a ponytail at the back, eyeliner has been drawn on their eyes and they have saffron coloring over their lips. How there is important because to be allowed to grow out your hair was a signal you were moving toward adulthood. Sitting on a platform at the center, a figure sits on top of a pile of cloth that has been dyed with saffron. It is believed that she may have been a goddess based on the familiar flouncy skirts and bodice, plus the hoop earrings and her necklaces that had beads in the form of dragonflies and ducks. We have a blue monkey here, offering the goddess saffron on its hind legs. Behind her is a griffin, winged and on a leash.
Moving onto males, we have the Toreador fresco from Knossos, which is Late Minoan II-IIIA. This is one of the several panels that show bull games; heavily restored, we can figure that by the slightly paler hue which are the modern parts compared to the ancient. In this panel, what can be seen is a bull charging towards a “toreador,” the toreador would grasp the bull’s horns and hurl himself up into the air, flip, and would either land onto the back of the bull or right behind it. In contrast, sometimes other performers would grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it down to the ground instead. The toreadors all had masculine figures and wore the conventional garments of a Minoan man which were breechcloth, codpiece, and long hair. However, the leaper in the center has brown skin, which was the standard for a masculine figure, while the ones on either side have white skin, or “feminine” skin. Since the figures have different skin colors, it’s been questioned whether or not the bodies belong to males or females. Although the body type is constant throughout, they should belong to males. The point of this is that the traditional distinctions between masculine and feminine seemed to have been blurred during the rituals of bull leaping. This may have been a ritual for coming-of-age rites from adolescence into adulthood and the coloring of the skin could reflect the transitioning period of the performers.
It is evident that coming of age was an important rite of passage in Minoan culture. Bull leaping was best suited for males transitioning from adolescence into adulthood because of how physical it was. Saffron was an important element for females because of their connection to ease cramps due to menstruation. Also, the shaved heads of the figures that were shown helped determine which ones were adults and which were not. It’s interesting to see how ancient cultures had different rituals than from different eras of history.