Crete and Egypt in the
Seventh Century BC:
An Examination of Temple A at Prinias
with an Emphasis on Egyptian and
The Archaic period in Greek history is marked as a transitional era caught
between the lingering presence of the Bronze Age, and the classical period that would
later define traditional notions of ancient Greece. Often considered a low point in the
cultural history of Greece, art and architecture were heavily influenced by a mixture of
foreign cultures and experimental Greek artists. The eclectic results in art and
architecture are especially pertinent in understanding the relations between Greece and
her surrounding neighbors. At the Seventh century site of Prinias, the influence of foreign
cultures in the sculptural architecture at Temple A is especially notable. Temple A boasts
perhaps the best example of this transitional era, adorned with indications of Cretan
contact with mainland Greece, the Near East, and Egypt. For this reason, Temple A at has
become invaluable to the study of foreign relations in Greece and also the history of
Greek architecture. Although Temple A has often been viewed through a Near Eastern
lens, Egyptian and Egyptianizing elements are considerably undermined, but surprisingly
prevalent and rich in content.
Prinias, in ancient times known as Rhizenia, was built in mainland Crete
approximately 20 kilometers Southwest of Knossos. Unlike most Cretan cities that
flourished as costal ports for trade, Prinias was constructed at the center of a long flat-
toped ridge, surrounded by a ravine. Known as Patella Hill, this particular location was
ideal for protection from the unstable political era. Threat of foreign invasion led to
uncertainty of communal safety, causing citizens to seek protection away from the
vulnerability of the cost.1 The ancient site at Prinias was discovered by Federico
J. D. S. Pendlebury. “The Archaeology of Crete: An Introduction.” Biblo and Tannen's
Archives of Civilization, v. 2. (New York: Biblo and Tannen, 1963), 16.
Halbherr in 1901, and first excavated from 1906 to 1908 by the Italian School under
Luigi Pernier. During the excavations at the Patella Hill, the remains of two religious
buildings were discovered, situated side by side. Later excavations by Dr. G. Rizza in
1969 revealed the surrounding settlement, which appeared to be in use into the first half
of the sixth century BC. While Temple B is thought to have been constructed earlier,
dating from the eighth or seventh century, Temple A’s slightly different orientation leads
experts to believe that it was constructed at a later date sometime in the second half of the
Excavator and Greek historian Luigi Pernier reports that the ruinous condition of
Temple A made it impossible to draw a complete plan, thus requiring careful speculation
of archaeological details to discover any factual information. Published in 1914, his
results described the plan with a cella rectangular in shape, twice as long as it was wide,
and expanding slightly to a trapezoidal form (Figure 1). Although only limited fragments
remain, the southern wall was prolonged towards the east of the entrance wall, suggesting
the existence of a pronaos. The porch located on the east end, contained a square pillar in
the center, flanked by antae. The doorway in the cross-wall dividing the porch was also
centrally placed with recessed jambs. Two stone bases in semicircular form were
discovered on inner side of doorway, indicating they may have received the pivots for the
door. With lack of any discovered roof tiles, Pernier found reliable evidence to
reconstruct the temple as a flat roof structure. (Figure 2) 3
Mieke Prent. “Cretan Sanctuaries and Cults: Continuity and Change from Late Minoan
IIIC to the Archaic Period.” Eds H.S. Vernsel, D, Frankfurtrt, and J. Hahn. Religions in
the Greco-Roman World, v. 154. (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2005), 254.
Luigi Pernier. “New Elements for the Study of the Archaic Temple of Prinias.”
American Journal of Archeology 38, (1934): 171.
Within the temple, aligned with the central axis of the cella stood a slender
column on a stone base beside a sacrificial pit or hearth, and another column is presumed
to have stood on the opposite side. This arrangement is similar to Mycenaean houses,
which included a smoke hole above the hearth.4 A bench was the only discovered
furniture within the temple, perhaps used as a base for a cult statue. Buried near the
central hearth was discovered ash and burnt animal bone, perhaps suggesting ritualistic
purposes for the building.5 In Ancient Architecture: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, Greece,
the authors compare the basis of Temple A’s plan to Minoan chapels stating: “The shape
of the pillars, the predominance of uneven rhythms, and the taste for painted or sculpted
borders around openings and at the eaves reveal the bond between these archaic
structures and the Minoan heritage.”6 Both Temple A and many Minoan sanctuaries
were created in squarish or oblong shapes and incorporated sacrificial alters, libation
tables, and benches for offerings and divine effigies. While other historians have noted
that the hearth flanked by two columns is reminiscent of the arrangement found within
Bronze Age Mycenaean halls. The inclusion of stone bases on the inner side of the door,
perhaps meant to support half columns, was also an arrangement that recalls Bronze Age
Recent scholarship has concentrated on the early function of Greek temples,
revealing interesting evidence for social secular practices. Early Greek architecture was
A.W. Lawrence and R. A. Tomlinson. Greek Architecture. The Pelican History of Art,
4 ed. (England; New York: Penguin Books, 1983), 122.
Prent 2005, 257.
Seton Lloyd, Ronald Martin and Hans Wolfgang Muller. Ancient Architecture:
Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, Greece. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1974), 225.
John Griffiths Pedly. Greek Art And Archaeology, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice
Hall Inc, 2002), 140.
originally created for purely utilitarian reasons, with no considerations for
monumentality. Our first examples of architecture begin at isolated locations, tending to
be separate and uniquely designed. However, as these independent communities began to
grow, so did their need to erect scared places to house images of the gods in permanent
locations.8 Historians have proposed that early Cretan temples were originally used as
places where men of the warrior class could gather for communal eating and drinking. The
archeological discoveries within Temple A have produced cups, kraters, and pithoi as well
as animal bones and ash in the hearth. These finds indicates that the temple was used for
dinning activities, however these remains could be used as evidence for both religious
ritualistic ceremonies as well as symposiastic activity. 9
A number of historians, such as Jane B. Carter, have proposed that between the
years c. 750 and 650 BC, as religious buildings were disappearing after the Bronze Age,
new functions were being added to these temple structures. It is thought that perhaps the
chief of the town was given residence in the local temples, thus the function for these
buildings became both secular and religious and were continued to be used as such even
after the chiefs were no longer a function of Cretan society. Carter thoroughly explores
Temple A as a location of Symposium activities; in her article Thiasos and Marzeah:
Ancestor Cult in the Age of Homer, drawing evidence from the sculptural decoration.10
Therefore, Temple A at Prinias displays both a plan and perhaps a function that
Llyod 1974, 225.
Pedly 2002, 140.
Jane B. Carter. “Thiasos and Marzeah: Ancestor Cult in the Age of Homer.” Susan
Helen Langdon. New Light on a Dark Age: Exploring the Culture of Geometric Greece.
(Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997).
coincides with the history and development of Greek architecture and society. However,
as we turn our attention to the exterior of Temple A, many foreign looking elements
become apparent, strengthening its relation to places outside of Greece.
Temple A at Prinias is considered the first known example of sculptural
architecture in Greece and as Lauren Adams states: “Temple A is a monument of
sufficient scope and preservation to give an idea of the relationship of Cretan art and
architecture to that of contemporary centers in Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean.”11
The walls of the temple were built in stone, and were adorned by sculpted limestone
figures, whose style date the building to 625-600 BC. The architectural sculpture consists
of two large seated women, who sit atop of the lintel block, facing one another. The lintel
block itself is carved with Orientalizing animals, such as grazing dear and lions. Beneath,
on the underside of the lintel block, two additional female figures are this time depicted
standing, looming down on the visitor (Figure 3).12 A relief was also discovered depicting
mounted warriors on horseback, brandishing spears and shields (Figure 4). These several
relief slabs including a corner block, show the procession of diminutive riders on long-
legged horses in flat relief, turning their heads outwards towards the viewer. The
discovered corner block may show that foot soldiers were also represented frontally in
some section of the frieze. Differing theories on the frieze’s architectural relationship to
Lauren Adams. Orientalizing Sculpture in Soft Limestone from Crete and Mainland
Greece. (Oxford: British Archeological Reports, 1978), 65.
Pedly 2002, 140
the temple have been thoroughly debated placing it as either part if the entablature or as
an orthostate situated along the foot of the building. 13
Early in the investigation of the sculptural elements connected to Temple A, it
was noted that the seated figures and horsemen frieze showed stylistic differences,
indicating that they were from two separate time periods. Many historians have
acknowledged the tension between the primitive looking rider frieze and the post-dedalic
seated figures, which appear to have been produced in a later and more developed style.14
However, evidence from Pernier’s excavation showed similarities in the production style
and technique between the two elements, inferring that they were created at the same
time. A compromised theory has suggested that the seated figures were in fact created
during the same period as the horseman frieze in the middle of the seventh century, but
were restored at a later date, resulting in a difference in appearance.15 During his
excavation Pernier found a mass of rubble at the center of the thick foundation, which he
interpreted has the remains of a stone base and pier. Easily notable was the unusual
thickness of the center foundations, unseen in the remainder of the building. Therefore,
Pernier concluded that the thick foundation must have supported a component that was
unusual heavy, such as the horseman frieze. Pernier also restored two female-seated
figures above the lintel of sculpted lions and stags placed over the inner doorway. Thin
stone fragments of sphinxes and volutes were reconstructed as acroteria. Pernier’s
reconstruction envisioned a temple with elements that would become analogous with later
Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway. The Archaic Style in Greek Sculpture. (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1997), 257.
Adams 1978, 65-68.
Adams 1978, 66.
Greek architectural traditions. This reconstruction, although debated by historians such as
Weickert and Karo, held as the leading arrangement for almost forty years.
However, in 1976 Historian Immo Beyer contributed to the debate with his own
reconstruction of Temple A, contrasting with the traditional plan (Figure 5). Beyer
challenged Pernier’s original construction by suggesting a gabbled roof and instead of the
porch, a solid façade with a central door that was adorned with statutes of the seated
goddesses above it. Beyer rejects the idea of a central column, based on the belief that it
would have required a monolithic stone base, while Pernier only found stone slabs to
support it.16 Stone slabs of the horseman procession, that were initially thought to be part
of the entablature, are now reconsidered by Beyer as a decorated wall footing, known as
an othostat. The rearrangement of the horsemen relief requires a new consideration,
strengthening possible Near Eastern connections. This idea of an orthostat is derived
from temple construction in such places as the Apadana, and was initially used to re-
support the foundations made of mudbrick. Beyer argues that the frieze would have been
too heavy to be placed above and that the long-legged horsemen would have been
difficult to see as a frieze, and were instead meant to be shown at eye level.17
A third reconstruction made by L. Vance Watrous, carefully considers Pernier’s
and Beyer's contributions as well as many others who have made amends to Temple A’s
plan and sculptural decoration. In his plan, Watrous restores the central column and flat
roof, and places the horseman procession once again as a frieze in the entablature. The
L. Vance Watrous. “Crete and Egypt in the Seventh Century BC: Temple A at Prinias.”
In Post-Minoan Crete: Proceedings of the First Colloquium on Post-Minoan Crete Held
by the British School at Athens and the Institute of Archaeology, University College
London, 10-11 November 1995, edited by W.G. Cavanagh and M. Curtis, 75-79.
(London: The British School at Athens, 1998), 76.
Prent 2005, 258.
two sphinx reliefs are placed below on either side of the door, suggesting a Near Eastern
element, without fully extending around the exterior as a true orthostat.18 Therefore,
Watrous is able to utilize many of the observations made by Pernier that were supported
by factual archeological evidence found at the site. Although Watrous proves to be a
beneficial source on the history and restoration at Temple A, the basis of his work
focuses on the relationship between Crete and Egypt in the seventh century, a subject he
believes as been overlooked by many scholars. According to both Watrous and John
Boardman, previous scholarship has often dealt with architectural similarities found at
Prinias and other sites in Crete, mainland Greece, and the Near East. However, Watrous
argues that many similarities have yet to be explored concerning Temple A’s connection
to Egyptian art and architecture.
Historians have grouped the history of Cretan importation of foreign goods into
three main chronological categories. During the tenth and ninth centuries, a strong
relationship with the Near East was supported by the imports of many objects such as
Phoenician bowls, bronze stands, and pictorial kraters found throughout Crete. While in
the eighth and seventh centuries, a significant increase in Syrian goods can be seen in the
many bonze shields, ivory figurines, and gold jewelry uncovered. However, in addition,
the seventh century also witnessed a closer connection between Crete and North Africa.
For the first time, Egyptian imports of faience objects, scarabs, and figurines were
discovered in large quantities. Furthermore, the seventh century is also the first time
monumental architecture comes to play in Greece, beginning first in Crete.19
Watrous 1998, 77.
Watrous 1998, 75.
According to Watrous, two main reasons exist for explaining why Cretan
architecture and sculpture have been previously interpreted through a Near Eastern lens.
First, since Near Eastern influence can be seen heavily in the ninth and eighth centuries,
historians have continued to examine objects in this mode when approaching the seventh
century. However, Near Eastern imports, though influential, were comprised of small
objects and cannot be assumed to have a major role in the production of monumental
sculpture and architecture. Second, it was understood that Egyptianizing motifs were
products of the “artistically eclectic Syrian workshops,” and then were carried to Crete
via the Levantine coast. 20 Therefore, historians understood Egyptian motifs on Crete has
being second hand, not pure sources directly form Egypt. However, recent scholarship
has taken a closer look into the relationship of Crete and Egypt in the seventh century,
and has uncovered a possible direct route between the two civilizations, strengthening
In the following passage written in the fifth century B.C., Greek historian
Herodotus records a story of a Cretan fisherman, who in the seventh century led Theran
colonists to the north cost of Africa.
So, as there was no help for it, they sent messengers to Crete, to inquire whether
any of the Cretans, or of the strangers sojourning among them, had ever traveled
as far as Libya: and these messengers of theirs, in their wanderings about the
island, among other places, where they fell in with a man, whose name was
Corobius, a dealer in purple. In answer to their inquiries, he told them that
contrary winds had once carried him to Libya, where he had gone ashore on a
certain island which was named Platea…They themselves quitted the island; and,
anxious to reach Egypt, made sail in that direction, but were carried out of their
course by a gale of wind from the east.21
Watrous 1998, 75.
Alan B. Llyod. Herodotus Book II: Introduction. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975), 10-13.
This passage from Herodotus stands as the earliest recording of direct contact between
Crete and Egypt. Many historians have noted that Herodotus’ language indicates that
travel between Greek and Egypt was not unusual, and in this instance most likely took
place around 638 BC. Continuing his history of Greeks living in Egypt, Herodotus
records the founding of the first Greek settlement in North Africa. According to
Herodotus, Pharaoh Amasis gave the settlement of Naucratis as a gift to the Greeks who
offered their support in his battle against King Nebeacanassar. Herodotus records:
"Amasis was partial to the Greeks, and among other favors which he granted them, gave
to such as liked to settle in Egypt the city of Naucratis for their residence.22" The passage
indicates that Naurctris was a pre-existing city, most likely inhabited by Egyptians,
Greeks, and possibly Phoenicians before it was given to the Greeks during the reign of
Amasis.23 Thus as early as the fifth century, the Greeks came into contact with both
Egyptians and possibly Phoenicians, establishing a location for the growing relationship
between these civilizations.
Trade between the Aegean and Egypt in the seventh century is largely contributed
to the mercantile settlement at Naucratis, located on the east bank of the Canopic branch
of the Nile. Initially discovered and by Petrie, evidence found during excavations
suggested a Greek presence in Naucratis by the year 620 BC. The settlement is
considered the first and, for much of its early history, the only permanent Greek colony in
Egypt; providing a center for the exchange of Greek and Egyptian art and culture.
Archeological excavations supported Herodotus’ account with strong evidence for Greek
Llyod 1975, 24-36.
John Boardman. The Greeks Overseas: Their Early Colonies and Trade, 4th Ed.
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1999), 17.
establishments, seen in such temples to Grecian deities of Apollo, Hera, and Aphrodite.24
Historians believe Naucratis quickly became a profound source of inspiration to the
Greeks by re-exposing them to the wonders of Egyptian architecture and sculpture lost to
them since the Bronze Age. In concordance, historian John Griffiths Pedly declares:
“They could not fail to have been impressed by the scale and grandeur of the existing
Egyptian stone buildings. This encouraged architects elsewhere to use more stable
materials than mudbrick and wood, and was the starting point for Greek architecture in
stone.”25 After the founding of Naucratis, Egyptian artifacts soon began to flow along the
Greek trade routes, eventually finding their way into the homes and workshops of
Greece. Boardman explains that trade routes between Egypt and Greece involved stops in
costal towns of Palestine, Phoenicia and Asia Minor, and therefore, Egyptian objects
were most likely carried by eastern traders. However, as mentioned before, a closer
connection did exist between Crete and Egypt. According to Boardman, Crete was first
stop on direct route to Greece from Egypt; supporting evidence includes many Egyptian
objects found throughout Crete and especially in the Idean Cave.26
Crete’s relationship with Egypt is heavily catalogued in Nancy Skon-Jedele’s
Aigyptiaka: A Catalogue of Egyptian and Egyptianizing Objects Excavated from Greek
Archaeological Sites, ca. 1100-525 B.C. In Skon-Jedele’s catalogue, she notes the
presence of Egyptian costal and interior contact on Crete is best seen in large location
deposits of Egyptian goods.27 However, contrary to logical thought, many cases of
Boardman 1999, 118-121.
Pedly 2002, 137.
Boardman 1999, 111-115
Nancy Joan Skon-Jedele. Aigyptaka: A Catalogue of Egyptian and Egyptianizing
Objects Excavated from Greek Archaeological Sites, ca. 1100-525 B.C. 1994), 1666.
archaeological evidence exhibit location patterns that are unexpected. For example,
concentrations of Egyptian objects were found on the north cost and interior of Crete, as
opposed to the closer southern cost that is directly opposite Egypt. In addition, sites such
as Gortyn show that inland local Cretan architects were directly influenced by Egyptian
models and thus may have traveled to Egypt.28 Therefore, if evidence for Cretan contact
with Egypt is seen at Gortyn, a site located close to Prinias and constructed also in the
seventh century, historians assume Prinias was exposed to the same foreign influences.
Since the sculptural decoration on Temple A at Prinias is the earliest example of
sculptural architecture in Greece, it is assumed the adornment must have been learned
from somewhere outside of the Greek world. Historians such as Boardman and Watrous
argue for the possibility of seventh century Cretans traveling to Lower Egypt, and thus
becoming witness the impressive sculptural sites at Giza and elsewhere.29 Indeed,
monumental sculpture in Greece began in centers that are thought to have had direct
contact with Egypt, elevating the role that Egypt played in Crete. Historian Ann Gunter
also notes the unusual influence of Egyptian architecture and stone sculpture on Crete in
the seventh century. However, contrary to Boardman and Watrous, she believes that
Phoenician intermediaries may be responsible for the cultural exchange. Gunter suggests
that craftsman and/or goods may have been carried by Phoenician traders to Crete, which
were then circulated by Cretans throughout the island.30 In defense, Boardman admits
that while some objects discovered are identifiable Egyptian, others may be local
Skon-Jedele 1994, 1667.
Watrous 1998, 77.
Ann Clyburn Gunter. Greek Art and the Orient. (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2009), 30-31.
imitations of Egyptian types, adding to the confusion.31 Furthermore, Boardman agrees
that some Egyptian objects may have reached Greece via Levantine ports, but the direct
route was also used supported by both archaeological and literary documents, in addition
he firmly states: “Direct Egyptian influence in Greece in the eighth and seventh centuries
is generally, and I think wrongly, minimized. Certainly many Egyptianizing features are
derived at second-hand from Phoenician art, but there is much evidence too if the effect of
purely Egyptian work.”32
The most pronounced visual evidence of Egyptian influence can be seen in the
composition of the doorway at Temple A. According to Boardman: “The arrangement is
unique in Greece, and reminds one of nothing so much as the Egyptian method of relieving
a long lintel: a practice barrowed by the Mycenaean’s.”33 The tall and narrow door is
accompanied by outer square mouldings running across the tops and down the sides, and
also a shorter inner door with an open space over the lintel. This composition is known as
the Egyptian “False Door,” used in Old Kingdom tombs as a symbolic passage for the
soul located in the inner tomb chamber. This architectural device was still in use during
the time of the Greek colonies in Egypt, and was recorded by Greeks on two-limestone
stelai.34 Lauren Adams suggests that the false door imagery could have been known
through its adoption on Phoenician ivories. The Phoenician “Women in the Window”
motif, in which the women’s head is placed above an Egyptian designed window or door,
is thought to have direct connections from the Egyptian false door. Therefore, Cretans
Boardman 1961, 152.
John Boardman. The Cretan Collection in Oxford: The Dictaean Cave and Iron Age
Crete. (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1961), 152.
Boardman 1961, 147.
Adams, 1978, 71.
may have come in contact with this architectural imagery either directly from Greeks
living in Egypt or through Phoenician intermediaries.35
For an Egyptian prototype Watrous looks specifically to the Sixth Dynasty
matstaba of Tjetu at Giza (Figure 7), a rectangular flat-roofed tomb commonly used for
the burials of prominent Egyptians. Tjetu’s matstaba illustrates many sculptural
similarities to the arrangement of Temple A at Prinias. In accordance to Temple A, the
façade of Tjetu’s mastaba consists of a porch with two pillars in antis, which support a
sculpted frieze. Both the sima frieze at Tjetu and the horsemen frieze at Prinias have
squared decorative moulding; Watrous states that this type of sculpted relief although rare
in the mudbrick buildings of the Near East, was very common throughout Egypt.
Boardman has suggested that the arrangement found in the Prinias lintel shares similar
schemes with architecture from Egypt, where it was most likely learned from.36 In
general, the architectural scheme at Prinias, including the sculpted frieze, the seated
goddesses on the lintel, the recessed and sculpted doors, all have counterparts found in
the history of the Egyptian mastaba.37
The use of stone friezes as architectural elements was first developed in Egypt as
a wall decoration, aimed at utilizing a pre-existing and self-sufficient wall. In contrast, at
location is the Near East, stone friezes were used to protect the perishable building
materials such as mudbrick or wood.38 Therefore, the idea of a stone frieze for a purely
decorative function is derived from Egyptian architecture. At Prinias, the frieze consists
of a procession of warriors on horseback with spear and shield in hand (Figure 8).
Adams 1978, 71.
Boardman 1961, 170.
Watrous 1998, 78.
Ridgway 1997, 226.
Historians have compared the registers of processing horsemen to both Corinthian pottery
and Near Eastern ivories, specifically plaques from Assur, Nimurd and Samaria.39
Although the horsemen frieze does not share many iconographical similarities with
Egyptian art, its use at Prinias was derived from early Egyptian examples. Pedly states:
“The frieze itself is the precursor of the great friezes that were to decorate buildings in
Delphi and Athens in the fifth and sixth centuries BC.”40 Prinias was only the starting
point for Greek stone friezes, which were later to become essential to the design of Greek
One of the most striking features in the architectural sculpture at Temple A are
the seated females above the lintel, adorned in a polos and a skirt and decorated with
sphinxes, felines, and horses. The lintel itself bears a relief of deer and felines, with a pair
of standing female figures on the underside. The female figures are created in what is
considered to be a late dedalic style, marked by their triangular flat-topped heads framed
by long strands of hair, forming complementary triangles to that of the face. Standardized
dedalic features also include a small belted waist and fondness for pattern.41 Dedalic
sculpture has long been associated with Egyptian models of figural representation, named
after the legendary artists Daedalus, who is said to have designed an Egyptian Temple at
Memphis. In Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, the author explains: “The story that
Daedalus worked in Egypt reflects the enormous impact of Egyptian art and architecture
Adams 1978, 72-75.
Pedly 2002, 140.
Fred S. Kleiner, Christin J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansley, Eds. Gardner’s Art
Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. (Belmont: Thomson and Wadsworth, 2003),
on the Greeks.”42 Specifically at Prinias, the long vertical eyes with continuous circling
rim, separated with a swelling of material rather than by a hollow from the brows on the
females show specific connections with Egyptian portraiture created in the twenty-sixth
dynasty (Figure 8).43
Specific examples of Egyptian influence can be seen in many minor details if the
sculpture at Temple A. For instance, the throne placed under the female figures, perhaps
meant to be goddesses, shares many similarities with Egyptian prototypes. A second
discovery was made while Immo Beyer in 1976 while reexamining the sculptural
fragments in the Herakleion Museum in order to complete his reconstruction of Temple
A. During his research, Beyer discovered that the goddesses held their right hand in
clenched fists on their laps, a detail that is prevalent in Egyptian art throughout all
periods.44 The seated goddess motif can also be compared to standardized representation
of Egyptian women on architecture, seen multiple times on the Tjetu’s mastaba. At Tjetu,
the woman is seated on a lion footed chair, facing the right, holding a lotus bud to her
nostrils (Figure 9). Similar to the goddess at Prinias, her long wig falls over her
shoulders, and is depicted in an upright rigid pose. The inscription accompanying the
figure states: “The royal acquaintance, priestess of Hathor, mistress of the sycamore,45”
leading one to associate her if not as a god herself, with royal and priestly powers. In
contrast, due to iconography such as the polos and skirt worn my the seated females and
lintel bearing deer and felines, Pernier associates the temple with Rhea, mother of Zeus
Adams 1978, 67.
Watrous 1998, 76.
William Kelly Simpson. Mastaba’s of the Western Cemetery. (Boston: Museum of
Fine Arts, 1980), 11.
and as a Potniai Theron, a representation of the mistress of the animals. 46 It is important
to note however, that the statues did not serve as cult images but were part of the
architectural decoration of the building, as a whole, this decoration betrays strong
influence (perhaps transmitted via Cyprus) from North-Syrian and Egyptian architecture
and minor arts. 47
Although there are many similarities between temple A at Prinias and Tjetu’s
mastaba, and Egyptian art in general, the sculptural decoration was not intended to serve
as a copy of what was erected in Egypt. Instead, Cretan artists used Egyptian techniques
and iconography as inspiration, and blended it together with their own concepts and
techniques creating an eclectic result. This mode of meshing different cultural techniques
is not exclusive to Egypt, but instead is prevalent as Cretans incorporated elements from
other places that they had contact with. Watrous explains that the use on Egyptian,
Cretan, and Near Eastern imagery at Temple A, “…produce a truly eclectic shrine that
represents the changing times of the seventh century.”48 Therefore, Temple A at Prinias is
a prime example of early Greek architecture that relied on a variety of cultural sources
and local ideas, illustrated here in the many connections to Egyptian architecture.
Although Temple A expresses a fleeting and transitional period of Greek architectural
history, it is a period that is crucial to understanding the culturally diverse background
which Greece was born from.
Prent 2005, 258-259.
Prent 2005, 259.
Watrous 1998, 78.
Figure 1 Figure 2
Plan of Temple A, Prinias Reconstruction of Temple
After Luigi Pernier After Luigi Pernier
Figure 3 Figure 4
Lintel of seated Goddesses and Animals Horsemen Relief
Temple A, Prinias Temple A, Prinias
Figure 5 Figure 6
Reconstruction of Temple A, Prinias Reconstruction of Temple A, Prinias
After Immo Beyer After L. Vance Watrous
Figure 7 Figure 8
Mastaba of Tjetu, Giza Head of Schist, Berlin Museum
Sixth Dynasty Twenty-Sixth Dynasty
Portico of Tjetu, West Wall
Adams, Lauren. Orientalizing Sculpture in Soft Limestone from Crete and Mainland
Greece. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1978.
Boardman, John. The Cretan Collection in Oxford: The Dictaean Cave and Iron Age
Crete. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961.
Boardman, John. The Greeks Overseas: Their Early colonies and Trade, 4th ed. London:
Thames and Hudson, 1999.
Carter, Jane B. “Thiasos and Marzeah: Ancestor Cult in the Age of Homer.” Susan Helen
Langdon. New Light on a Dark Age: Exploring the Culture of Geometric Greece.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1997.
Gilmour, Lauren Adams. 1978. Orientalizing Sculpture in Soft Limestone from Crete and
Mainland Greece. BAR Supplementary Series; 42. Oxford: British Archaeological
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