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The most famous ‘hunting’ legend from ancient Crete is of the Greek hero Theseus who successfully tracked down and defeated the ferocious Minotaur, a man-bull kept hidden in a labyrinth under the palace at Knossos. The civilisation that flourished on the island in the Bronze Age was named Minoan after Minos, its mythical king.

The Minoans celebrated their relationship with the sea in their art. Their Marine Style pottery is covered with stylised sea creatures – leaping dolphins, fish weaving in an out of waving seaweed, an octopus whose swirling tentacles cover a jar with coral, seaweed, and shells in every available space. Sea creatures appear in frescoes on the walls of surviving buildings, as do flotillas of boats. Metal fishing hooks, from Gournia, were found together with a lead sinker for a fishing line and stones, which could have been used for weighting nets. As well as fishing with line and net, they may well have used other methods. A peculiar bronze double-headed spear found near Phaistos may be a fish spear.  One of the best preserved frescoes, the Little Fisherman from Akrotiri, shows a male figure carrying seven common dolphin fish in one hand and five in the other. Was this a ritual offering or just showing off a good catch?

The Flotilla Fresco, from Akrotiri, gives us a panoramic picture of Minoan life. We see ships being rowed from one harbour to another, dolphins cavorting in the sea, people going about their business and, on the hills above, a lion pursues deer. Minoan Crete had few large native game animals and it is possible that red deer, fallow deer, ibex, even lions, may have imported for their hunting reservations.

A scene on the Armenoi larnax (coffin) portrays three men hunting wild cows. They have felled two with spears. One hunter throws two nets, another grips a noose attached to an animal. A third brandishes a double axe. As in other ancient cultures, hunting was regarded as a valuable arena for developing skills and qualities essential to warriors: bravery, endurance and skillful use of lethal weapons.

Game also provided raw materials for weapons. Wild boar tusks were used for war helmets. Wild goat horns, which are longer than those of domestic ones, meld perfectly with wood to create composite bows for home consumption or export, for instance to Egypt. A tomb painting at the time of Thutmose III (15th century BCE) shows two men in Minoan dress carrying goat-horns as tribute or diplomatic gifts to the court.

By Celine Castelino

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