helens_daughter (helens_daughter) wrote,

The Harvester Vase?

Among the most famous of Minoan artifacts is a steatite vase, a ritual libation vessel known as a rhyton, called the Harvester Vase.  It was discovered in the royal villa at Hagia Triada, near Phaistos, in the south of Crete, and dates to 1500-1450 B.C.  Yet only two pieces of the original have been preserved: the neck and the upper body; the lower half has been replaced with black plaster to give observers a sense of the completed vase.

Most describe the scene depicted on the vase as a harvest sowing procession, with sowers, priests, and singers celebrating the earth's agricultural bounty.  However, there are some who interpret the scene as a military procession, with sailors, singers, and a commander in a scaled cuirass coming home from a successful raid; their "agricultural" hooks and winnowing rakes in this case were used to secure enemy ships during a maritime raid/boarding.  Hence, the question mark above.

The basis of the argument is that the hooks and rakes as shown are too flimsy for actual agricultural work, and that the men are really, really muscular, better suited to being soldiers than farmers.

I have to argue here that the adherents of this idea are very few, that the bottom of the vase which might have provided more information about the scene is missing, and that, hey, artistic license.  For example, if I with my less-than-stellar sketching skills draw someone shooting a bow, I may not get the archer's stance or the details of the bow and quiver quite right--but you would know at first glance that the figure was an archer.  The Minoans themselves would have understood the context of the scene, and probably wouldn't have quibbled about how sturdy the implements being portrayed actually were.  They could think symbolically, whereas we in the modern world with our camera phones and digital cameras and whatnot expect realistic images; our minds don't engage as much with the abstract as in earlier times.  I see the vase scene as depicting the exuberence of a successful harvest, with men coming back from the fields rejoicing.

But where are the women, you might ask.  Women helped with sowing and reaping right alongside the men, so why aren't they depicted on the vase?  Because the Harvester Vase is a libation vessel, it might be associated with men-only rituals.

Here, an artist has interpreted the scene on the vase as taking place in the courtyard of Knossos; that's the Tripartite Shrine in the background, and the farm tools have been replaced by sheaves of wheat.  If anything, this particular procession would have taken place at Hagia Triada or Phaistos--but that's me expecting absolute realism.

Minoan procession at the Temple at Knossos
Tags: archaeology, artwork, knossos, minoans, religion, warfare
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