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Mycenaean Female Figurines

Mycenaean Female Figurines of 'Phi' and 'Psi' Type

Mycenaean Female Figurines

These Mycenaean figurines date back to about 1400 BC from Mycenaean Greece. Made of terracotta, they were found in tombs, children’s graves, shrines, and across settlement areas. These terracotta female figures of ‘Phi’ and ‘Psi’ type derive the names from their shape and a resemblance to the Greek letters of psi (ψ) and phi (Φ). The Psi (ψ) figures hold their arms up high in some form of supplication. The phi (Φ) figures hold their hands in front of their body as representative figures to be honored. These Mycenaean terracotta female figures are modeled with breasts, facial features, and they wear painted enveloping garments.

The functions of these figurines are not certain. It has been suggested that their purpose changed with the context in which they were found. Suggested uses include votive figurines, grave offerings, and figures of Goddess or Priestess for shrines. Mycenaean figurines like these have been discovered together with Mycenaean pottery, and they seem to have played a significant role in the history of Mycenaean culture and religion. Over five hundred figurines have been excavated from ancient sites such as cemeteries, settlements, and shrines.

Mycenaean Religion

Written Mycenaean records mention various priests and priestesses who were responsible for shrines and temples. Priestesses were prominent figures in society, and the role of Mycenaean women in religious festivities was also important. A universal Mycenaean religion is reflected in archaeological evidence with the Mycenaean Terracotta Female Figures that have been found all over Late Bronze Age Greece.

Mycenaean Greece

Mycenaean Greece was dominant in the last phase of the Bronze Age (1600 – 1100 BC.) in Greece and represents the first advanced civilization in mainland Greece, with its palatial states, urban organization, works of art and writing system. The most prominent site was Mycenae, after which the culture of this era is named. Mycenaean Greece was dominated by an elite warrior society and consisted of a network of palace states that developed rigid hierarchical, political, social, and economic systems.

Mycenaean Terracotta Female Figures

  • Title:             Mycenaean Female Figurines of ‘Phi’ and ‘Psi’ Type
  • Date:            ca. 1400–1200 B.C.
  • Culture:        Late Helladic
  • Geography:  Greece
  • Medium:      Terracotta
  • Dimensions: H: 4 1/4 – 4 1/8 in (10.8 – 10.5 cm)
  • Museum:      Benaki Museum, Athens

Reflections

  • Do the wavy lines on these figurines resemble folds of drapery on a priestess?
  • Figurines of goddess or priestess are widely distributed across Bronze Age Greece. What does this tell us about the role of women in Mycenaean Religion?
  • What do these figurines tell us about the fashion during Bronze Age Greece?
  • Do the differently shaped types of figurines represent different goddess types and priestess types?

A Tour of the Benaki Museum, Athens

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Greek Proverbs and Quotes

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“Day by day, what you choose, what you think, and what you do is who you become.”
– Heraclitus (535-475 BCE) pre-Socratic Greek philosopher.

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM

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