Minoan Crete

From Anarchy In Action

Minoan Crete was a large, peaceful, and probably stateless and non-patriarchal Bronze Age Mediterranean society that flourished from about 3000 BCE to 1100 BCE. Due to the predominance of female goddesses and the scarcity of male gods, a number of scholars have argued that Minoan Crete had a “matriarchal culture,” as Heide Goettner-Abendroth does in a book on Matriarchal Societies.[1] More mainstream scholars have been cautious about such characterizations.[2]


Looking at Minoan artifacts, the early twentieth-century archaeologist Arthur Evans found that there were few if any male gods and that a female divinity named Rhea had the highest status in the religious pantheon.[3] Crete's artwork most frequently portrayed women in positions of power.[4] The philosopher Heide Goettner-Abendroth considers Crete to be a matriarchal society, which she defines as having “true gender-egalitarian relations.”[5]

Peter Gelderloos writes in Worshiping Power, “[The Cretans] were, if not matriarchal, non-patriarchal, with almost exclusively female deities and female or trans priestesses.”[6]

Anthropologist David Graeber dismisses the mainstream scholarly reticence to accept the existence of gender egalitarianism or matriarchy in Crete. Responding to complaints about an absence of ethnographic data, Graeber notes that scholars have been able to understand the Athenian polis without ethnographic materials. Scholars say female-oriented religion and art do not, by themselves, imply gender equality or matriarchy in actual social relations. However, Graeber points out, “[N]o one has ever managed to produce an example of a patriarchal society in which artistic representations focus nearly exclusively on images of powerful women, mystical or otherwise, either.”[7]

Discussing the scholarship, Graeber concludes, “[I]t's hard to avoid the conclusion there's some kind of profound patriarchal bias here at play.”[8] Similarly, Goettner-Abendroth contends:

However, precisely because archaeological findings provide evidence, this dis- cipline is held under strict patriarchal control, as can be seen in the way archaeol- ogists who break with patriarchal ideology are treated...In spite of the first-rate cultural-historical understanding possessed by Evans—in contrast to later archaeologists—his interpretation of Minoan culture has been sidelined. At first, the search began for an omnipotent king in Minoan culture, the “Big Man,” around whom the society must have revolved—but who is not to be found there.[9]


Although Crete had large buildings sometimes referred to in the scholarly literature as “palaces,” these buildings actually served, according to Peter Gelderloos, “as warehouses, redistribution centers, collective housing for priestesses and administrators, archives, and religious sites.”[10] Gelderloos writes that the Cretans were “in all probability a stateless people.”[11]

Crete had a written language, but the decoded documents in that language do not mention laws, rulers, or other elements of statecraft. In almost all states, one of the primary functions of written language was to document laws and to chronicle the lives and careers of elites. By contrast, the writings from Crete seem to focus mostly on trade and a little on religion.[12]


Crete had a mercantile economy with a large network of people that traded overseas. They acquired food from “multicrop agriculture, apiculture, silvaculture, aquaculture, fishing and hunting.”[13]

Some archaeological evidence does suggest that craftsmen and priestesses may have had enjoyed more of the palace's luxury goods than farmers and herders did. Still, Gelderloos does not think that there was class stratification, since there was no police or other coercive mechanism to force people to work: “In the worst case, merchant-priests controlling the palaces might have been able to impose an unfavorable exchange rate making it difficult or impossible for the peasants to acquire luxury goods, but the peasants would still have been more or less self-sufficient, autonomous, and healthy.”[14]


There is no evidence that Crete had police.[15]

Neighboring Societies

Crete was “a peaceful society with a minimum of defensive infrastructure and no record of involvement in offensive warfare.”[16]

  1. Heide Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies: Studies on Indigenous Cultures Around the World (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2012), 27.
  2. Cynthia Eller, Chapter One of The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why an Invented Past Won't Give Women a Future in The New York Times, 2000, http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/eller-myth.html.
  3. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies, 27.
  4. David Graeber, “Preface” in Abdullah Öcalan, Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization, Volume 1: Civilization, The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings, trans. Havin Guneser (Porsgrunn, Norway: New Compass Press, 2015), 19.
  5. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies , xv. On the same page, Goettner-Abendroth insists, “Matriarchal societies should emphatically not be regarded as mirror images of patriarchal ones—with dominating women instead of patriarchy's dominating men—as they have never needed patriarchy's hierarchal structures.”
  6. Peter Gelderloos, Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Transformation (Oakland: AK Press, 2016), 149.
  7. David Graeber, “Preface” in Abdullah Öcalan, Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization, Volume 1: Civilization, The Age of Masked Gods and Disguised Kings, trans. Havin Guneser (Porsgrunn, Norway: New Compass Press, 2015), 19.
  8. Graeber, “Preface,” 18.
  9. Goettner-Abendroth, Matriarchal Societies, 27-28.
  10. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 149.
  11. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 149.
  12. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 150.
  13. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 150.
  14. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 150.
  15. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 150.
  16. Gelderloos, Worshiping Power, 149.