This 3,500-year-old figurine depicts a woman with bare breasts holding a snake in each of her raised hands. It was found at a Minoan archaeological site in Crete. At the Palace of Knossos by archaeologist Arthur Evans and dated to the Minoan civilization, c. 1700–1450 BCE. It was Evans who called the figurine a “Snake Goddess,” since then, it has been debated whether the statuette depicts a priestess or a deity. A number of these types of figurines have been found in house sanctuaries. They appear to be “the goddess of the household.”
The significance of the snakes is not known. However, we do know that the serpent has, in the past, been symbolically associated with the renewal of life. This idea was developed because it sheds its skin periodically. The figurine’s tiara seems to have an imitation of a panther, which is one of the symbols of an earth goddess. The figurines may also illustrate the fashion of the dress of the Minoan women. It consists of a tight bodice that left the breasts bare, with a long flounced skirt, and an apron made of a material with embroidered or woven decoration.
The Minoan civilization was the earliest advanced civilization in Europe. The figurine is made of faience, a technique for glazing ceramics by using a quartz paste. After firing, this process produces bright colors and a lustrous sheen. The faience technique was perfected by the Ancient Egyptians with whom the Minoans had trading contacts.
The Minoan civilization was an Aegean Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete, which flourished from c. 2700 to c. 1450 BCE, before declining and ending around 1100 BC. The culture was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. The name “Minoan” is derived from the mythical King Minos. It was coined by Evans, who identified the site at Knossos with the legends of the labyrinth and the Minotaur. The Minoan civilization has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe.
Sir Arthur John Evans (1851 – 1941) was an English archaeologist and pioneer in the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age. He is most famous for unearthing the Palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete.
The Minoan civilization was also in trading contact with Middle Eastern cultures, especially with Anatolia, where many statues have been found representing a Great Goddess. A mother goddess represents nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction, or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes called the Earth Mother.
In later Greek civilizations, Ancient Greek Goddesses have been linked with virtues such as beauty, love, motherhood, and fertility. They have also been associated with ideas such as war, creation, and death. We do not know what attributes were invested in the Snake Goddess by the Minoans. The most popular Greco-Roman Goddess, who we know a lot more about, came later than Minoan Civilization and included the following attributes:
- Artemis: Goddess of the wilderness, wild animals, virginity, childbirth, and the hunt.
- Aphrodite: Goddess of Love and Beauty.
- Athena: Goddess of crafts, strategy, wisdom, and war. Athena is also a virgin goddess.
- Demeter: Goddess of the grain, agriculture, harvest, growth, and nourishment.
- Dione: An ancient chthonic goddess of prophecy.
- Eris: Goddess of chaos.
- Gaia: Primordial Goddess of the Earth. Most gods descend from her.
- Hecate: Goddess of sorcery, crossroads, and magic. Often considered a lunar goddess.
- Hera: Goddess of family and marriage. She is the wife of Zeus and the queen of the Olympians.
- Hestia: Goddess of the hearth, home, domesticity, family, and the state. Hestia is also a virgin goddess.
- Iris: Goddess of rainbows.
- Nike: Goddess of Victory.
- Persephone: Goddess of the underworld, springtime, flowers, and vegetation.
- Selene: Goddess of the Moon.
- Artifact: Snake Goddess
- Date: 1650 – 1550 BC
- Material: Faience or glazed ceramic
- Fide site: Palace of Knossos
- Museum: Heraklion Archaeological Museum
A Tour of Greek Museums and Historic Sites
- Athens Museums
- Ancient Corinth Museums
- Delos Museums
- Delphi Museums
- Ancient Mycenae Museums
- Epidaurus Museums
- Heraklion, Crete Museums
- Meteora Museums
- Milos Museums
- Mykonos Museums
- Mystras Museums
- Nafplion Museums
- Olympia Museums
- Pella Museums
- Samos Museums
- Santorini Museums
- Thessaloniki Museums
- Vergina Museums
- Acropolis Museum
- National Archaeological Museum
- Benaki Museum
- Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art
- Byzantine and Christian Museum
- Hellenic Motor Museum
- National Historical Museum, Athens
- Museum of the Ancient Agora
- Syntagma Metro Station Archaeological Collection
- Numismatic Museum of Athens
- Athens War Museum
- Jewish Museum of Greece
- Athens University Museum
Athens Historical Sites
- Acropolis of Athens
- Ancient Agora of Athens
- Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens
- Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Athens
- Roman Agora
- Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
- Temple of Hephaestus
- Roman Baths, Athens
- Aristotle’s Lyceum
- Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
- Museum for the Macedonian Struggle (Thessaloniki)
- Atatürk Museum
- War Museum of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki Historical Sites
- Early Christian and Byzantine Monuments
- Trigonion Tower
Delphi Historical Sites
- Athena Pronaia Sanctuary
- Archaeological Site of Delphi
- Temple of Apollo (Delphi)
- Athenian Treasury
- Stoa of the Athenians
- Theater at Delphi
- Tholos of Delphi
- Manumission Inscriptions at Delphi
- Delphic Maxims
- Archaeological Museum of Delos
- Temple of the Delians
- House of the Lake
- Delos – Photo Gallery
- Museum of Prehistoric Thera
- Archaeological Museum of Thera
- Maritime Museum, Santorini
Thera Historical Site
- Archaeological Museum of Olympia
- Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity
- Olympia Archaeological Site
- Temple of Hera, Olympia
- Temple of Zeus, Olympia
- Philippeion, Olympia
- Stadium at Olympia
- Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth
- Archaeological Site of Ancient Corinth and the Temple of Apollo
- Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus
- Ancient Theater of Epidaurus
- Knossos Archaeological Site
- Archaeological Musem of Heraklion
- Milos Historical Sites
- Milos Museum
- Archaeological Museum of Pella
- Archaeological Site of Pella
“I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness:
a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little breeze and the sound of the sea.
– Nikos Kazantzakis
Photo Credit: JOM