300px|thumbnail|left|Fresco of a Bull Leaping Scene from the Palace of Knossos]]
The Minoans are one of the more mysterious people of the ancient world, largely because they did not leave behind any sizable amount of written texts and what they did write is yet to be deciphered by modern scholars. What is known about the Minoans, though, is that they were the first true civilization of Europe. Besides writing, the Minoans developed long-distance trade with the Egyptians and other peoples of the Bronze Age Near East, built impressive palaces and monuments, and produced beautiful art. The Minoans also influenced the classical Greeks in some ways, one of which may have been through sports and games.
===Minoan Culture and History===
300px|thumbnail|left|Map of Ancient Crete Showing the Major Sites]]
In reality, the ancient Minoan culture is a culture with no known name. The name “Minoan” was given to the Bronze Age culture of Crete by British archaeologist Arthur Evans, who discovered the palace of Knossos in 1900. He took the name from classical Greek mythology: King Minos was the mythical ruler of Crete and the man who put the hero Theseus in the Labyrinth with the minotaur. <ref> Hood, Sinclair. <i>The Minoans: Crete in the Bronze Age.</i> (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), p. 155</ref> What the Minoans called themselves remains a mystery because their language remains undeciphered. In fact, modern scholars do not know which linguistic family the Minoan language belonged.
===Boxing, Wrestling, Pankration, and Other Activities in Ancient Crete===
[[File: Hagia_Vase.jpg|300px|thumbnail|left|The “Boxer Vase” from Hagia Triadha]]A number of archaeological and architectural objects from Crete reveal that the Minoans enjoyed a wide range of athletic and leisure activities. Most of the objects are dated to the Late Minoan phase, with one of the most interesting being the so-called “Boxer Vase” from Hagia Triadha. Dated to around 1550 BC, the vase shows different athletic activities on four separate registers. The first register shows two men boxing with a column separating them from three other men who also appear engaged in a combat sport. The second register depicts a bull leaping event, while the fourth register shows four helmeted men with forearm guards and padded hands. Two of the men are upright and two are on the ground. The fourth register shows men with no helmets, but wrapped wrists, possibly holding daggers or “brass knuckles.” One of the men has clearly been thrown to the ground, which would suggest a wrestling or pankration match. Donald Kyle believes that there is a possibility that the vase should be read sequentially as different events at a festival. <ref> Kyle, Donald G. <i>Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World.</i> (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2007), p. 40</ref> Like the later Greek games, or even the Roman spectacles, there would have been breaks between the events where refreshments would have been served and spectators could have been able to take care of other things. There may also have been more events at Minoan festivals that are not depicted on the Boxer Vase.
Images of acrobats and dancers on gemstones and figurines points to the Minoans engaging in less violent physical activities and a damage fresco from about 1500 BC, known as the “Grandstand Fresco,” depicts spectators watching some type of activity in an open area of the Knossos palace. <ref> Kyle, p. 39</ref> It is possible that acrobatic and choral dancing took place between the combat events and before the festival’s main event.
===Minoan Bull Leaping===
300px|thumbnail|right|Statue of a Bull Leaping Event]]
There is little doubt that among Minoan sports and activities bull leaping was the most important and probably the most popular. Images of bull leaping are found on frescoes, such as the restored “Toreador Fresco” from Knossos, and several small statues and amulets. Modern scholars are in consensus that the events took place, but there is disagreement over the details: where they took place, who participated, who spectated, and what was their significance. An examination of the major Minoan palaces on Crete may help answer some of these questions.
An examination of the primary source evidence reveals that the ancient Minoans took part in a wide variety of athletic and sporting events, some of which may have been adopted by the Greeks. It appears that Minoan sports were highly organized and usually conducted in the central courts of their major palaces. The evidence also shows, at least in the case of bull leaping, that the events had a religious significance and therefore, along with the locations, the events were limited to certain spectators.
[[Category: Ancient History]] [[Category: Ancient Greek History]] [[Category: Bronze Age History]] [[Category: Sports History]]