ICS/BSA Lecture: Sacrificial rituals in the Mycenaean palatial centre of Kydonia (Khania, Crete)

ICS/BSA Lecture: Sacrificial rituals in the Mycenaean palatial centre of Kydonia (Khania, Crete)
3 October 2019, 5.00pm - 6.30pm
Room 349, Third Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Dr Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, Hon. Secretary General, Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports


Kydonia, the most important ancient city in Western Crete, traditionally one of the three cities founded in Crete by Minos, occupied the Kastelli Hill in the centre of the Old Town of Khania. Its name appears on the Knossian Linear B tablets.

On the Kastelli hill, during the 14th c. B.C., a Mycenaean palace had been erected above the ruins of a Minoan palatial centre. On the SW courtyard of the palace, two major kinds of sacrifice were taking place: bloody and bloodless, following a particular ritual. The representations on the Ayia Triada sarcophagus can be considered as a guide to the rites that were conducted in this courtyard, in the same period: bloody animal sacrifices of bulls and wild goats on a table, as well as bloodless offerings on top of an altar.

In the beginning of the 13th c., a sacrifice took place after a catastrophic seismic shock -followed by fire and having the effect of raising the floor in pieces. A large number and a wide range of sacrificial creatures seem to have slaughtered in a public setting as part of an official state ritual of Mycenaean character for such a special occasion. This unique episode seems to be connected with a major phase in the history of the Kydonia palatial centre, as an aftermath to the seismic events of the LM IIIB: early period and had not only religious but social and political significance.

On an intentionally removed section of the destroyed fine floor of the LM IIIB courtyard, a mass of dismembered remains of various animals, with no traces of burning: 43 ovicaprids and wild goats, 4 pigs and 1 bovine, were mingled with scattered human remains of a young female.

Maiden sacrifices are known from ancient Greek mythology and literature, elicited for exceptional circumstances in an attempt by society to confront an extraordinary disaster and these probably go back to Mycenaean times. They were presented as acts of deep obedience and reverence to the divine, as acts of awe and purification, as a kind of negotiation with the supreme powers and not as ferocious and ruthless slaughters. Among them, Iphigeneia, the daughter of Agamemnon, is the most famous sacrificial victim. Now the Kydonia find shows that the core of such legends may refer to a real ritual as the ultimate resolution of a very difficult situation.


Valerie James
020 7862 8716