Minoan Civilization: Egalitarian or Matriarchal?

The Land of Kings and Goddesses

The patriarchy has been rooted in our reality for what seems to be eons, but the Minoan’s way of experiencing the world was not through such a lens. Their royalty may have consisted of kings, but the religious side of things consisted predominately of goddesses and priestesses. Men ran multiple facets of their society, but so did women. And when men were typically off at sea, women more or less took over in several arenas, including politics. Women and men alike also partook in various sports, including bull-leaping.

Minoan Priestess with Snakes, Archaeological Museum in Herakleion. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber.

Gender Equality with Matriarchal Leanings

For a long time, archaeologists and historians have suspected a full-fledged Minoan matriarchy, especially due to the the prevalence of women in leadership roles. However, it seems more accurate to call this civilization egalitarian with matriarchal tendencies. It’s also important to note that their iconography contains no distinct depictions of kings. In fact, King Minos’ reign could very well be solely mythical just like in Greek mythology….

Painting on limestone sarcophagus of religious rituals from Hagia Triada. Source: Wikimedia Commons User ArchaiOptix

Distinct Gender Roles with Some Gray Areas

Egalitarian but not perfectly so, Minoan society was still distinctly gendered as seen in illustrations, fashion, and certain societal duties. For instance, in family documentation written in Linear B, spouses and children weren’t listed altogether. In one section, it was solely fathers and their sons, whereas in another section, mothers were listed with only their daughters. That being said, there was an evident gender divide.

At the same time, on the Agia Triadha sarcophagus (shown above), there is a priest AND priestesses making offerings. Just like in Ancient Egypt, the Minoans color-coded their genders (lighter skin for women, darker skin for men). So, that person with darker skin playing the lyre (who has often been mistaken for a woman) is in fact a man. It is posited that priests wore womenโ€™s vestments during rituals to honor the goddess.


The verdict is there’s no set-in-stone answer and as with most things, it’s not so black and white. But one thing is for sure: Minoan society was not patriarchal. Also, while I did discuss usually clear gender roles and women in leadership, the matriarchal nature of the society doesn’t make it such via the domination by women alone; it has to do with its connection to nature and emphasis on creation (in a creative sense, not just a maternal one), among other things.
And I’ll wrap up this post with a quote by a Classics Professor at The University of Kansas:

“Basically, this culture on Crete around 1600-1500 BCE is the closest candidate for a matriarchy that we have.”

John Younger

National Library of Medicine: www.pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21121710/
New World Encyclopedia: www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/aegean_civilizations
University of Kansas: www.news.ku.edu/2017/06/09/art-religious-artifacts-support-idea-minoan-matriarchy-ancient-crete-researcher-says
Featured Photo Credit: Agia Triada sarcophagus (long side) from Wikimedia Commons User Zde