The final version of the Mycenaean Princess. I exchanged her wide cream sash for a narrower red one that highlights her red flounces and embroidered bodice, and posed her in front of a swallows-and-lilies fresco painting I did back in May.I am hoping to do the Minoan Snake Priestess soon, but have to find the right doll.
This charming pair of women with a young child is an ivory piece discovered on the palace mount at Mycenae. It’s been speculated that the women might be goddesses, perhaps Hera and Athena, the patron goddesses of Argolis, and the child squirming between them a divine child. The clothing detail is so exquisite that experts use the piece as part of their studies to determine what Mycenaean ladies wore, and how they wore it. The back of the carving has the women (goddesses?) sharing a patterned shawl (possibly Athena’s tasseled aegis referred to in the legends?)
This enigmatic female head was found in the Cult House at Mycenae. Is she a goddess, or a priestess? Was the head attached to a wooden cult statue that didn't survive?
The face gives a good three dimensional example, though, of what a Mycenaean priestess might have looked like when painted for a ritual. In Helen's Daughter, when Hermione refers to putting on the "moon-mask," this is what she's talking about.
Apparently young girls on Thera shaved their heads until they reached a certain age. This hairstyle is found only in this image from Akrotiri, and not at any other Minoan site, suggesting that the Therans had their own unique customs.
The saffron gatherer is part of a larger series of images in which women gather in the saffron harvest and make offerings to a seated goddess. It's been suggested that only women were allowed to participate in saffron collection, which may or may not have been true. Saffron does have certain uses in female reproductive health, and, like poppies, may have had some sacred significance. There has been much debate over the meaning of the images in the Akrotiri frescoes.
The labrys, or butterfly-shaped double axe, has come to be associated with Minoan Crete, but was actually used in bull worship throughout the Near East. In Minoan artwork, the labrys is painted or engraved as a sacred symbol, perhaps of fertility or protection, and more often than not, it is the priestesses who are depicted wielding the labrys during sacrifices. It appears those elegant painted women shown on fresco walls did engage in bloodletting rituals.
The Mycenaeans, who adopted Minoan fashions and iconography, also employed the labrys symbol in their artwork. Notice the labrys in the middle of this seal stone. What does it mean? Among the iconography are also a figure-of-eight shield, a sun, and a moon.
Nowadays, the labrys is a symbol of female empowerment, perhaps harkening back to those ancient days when goddesses were more prominent, and priestesses exercised great spiritual and, possibly, political power.
Women's fashion in the Aegean Bronze Age is a large topic, so this post will deal only with clothes, and leave hair and cosmetics for later. From fresco evidence, it appears Mycenaean women got their fashion sense from the Minoans.
The basic garment which women wore every day was the shift dress, as shown in the below plate of a woman offering wine to a mounted soldier. It's basically a long tunic banded across the shoulders and along the hem for added strength. This garment would have been cut from wool, and worn with a short or long sleeved linen under dress, depending on the weather.
The more familiar Aegean garment is the flounced skirt, which, if you look at the images very carefully, you can see is actually a wraparound garment. The skirt was made from a long rectangle to which rows of flounces were sewn; it was then tied around the waist and cinched in with a girdle. Women would have worn some type of under skirt or petticoat underneath, and for special occasions, would have sewn little bells or appliqués to the flounces to produce a tinkling sound. Some votive statues like the famous Snake Priestess depict women wearing aprons, but these garments seem to be restricted to religious rituals, perhaps for catching blood during a sacrifice.
The below painting of ladies in the Queen's Megaron at Knossos is charming but somewhat misleading. It's unlikely that Minoan or Mycenaean women walked around bare-breasted all the time. Naked breasts denoted fertility, especially given the ample bosoms on display in Bronze Age art, so this was a ritual affair; the women in the painting would be preparing for a ceremony, not spending an average Minoan afternoon in the royal apartment. The open bodice was worn like a bolero jacket, held in place with a corset that was probably made from leather. Above, a lady depicted on a Theran fresco offering a necklace to a goddess. Notice the seam of her wraparound skirt, and her exposed breasts. The Minoan Snake Priestess from the 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Athens. She is wearing the ritual apron. In case you're curious, the costume appears to be a mixture of cloth and synthetic material, maybe rubber, and her breasts possibly a silicone or latex, similar to those worn by drag queens. Other, more concealing types of bodices were worn. In the Blue Ladies fresco from Knossos, you can see how the bodice is open all the way down the front yet still covers the breasts; it would have been wore with a shift underneath, which was either opaque enough to conceal the chest, or diaphanous, depending the wearer's mood.
Above, a lady depicted on a Theran fresco offering a necklace to a goddess. Notice the seam of her wraparound skirt, and her exposed breasts.
The Minoan Snake Priestess from the 2004 Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Athens. She is wearing the ritual apron. In case you're curious, the costume appears to be a mixture of cloth and synthetic material, maybe rubber, and her breasts possibly a silicone or latex, similar to those worn by drag queens.
Other, more concealing types of bodices were worn. In the Blue Ladies fresco from Knossos, you can see how the bodice is open all the way down the front yet still covers the breasts; it would have been wore with a shift underneath, which was either opaque enough to conceal the chest, or diaphanous, depending the wearer's mood.