added by archaeologs
One of the most intriguing archaeological finds in the remains of the Minoan palace at Knossos was the figure above which has been traditionally identified as the "Snake Goddess." Minoan culture flourished in the middle of the second millenium BCE. It was a palace culture that was focused on the Aegean islands, especially the island of Crete. The culture is named after the legendary King Minos who ruled Crete. The legend of King Minos and the Minotaur were very popular in the historical period of Greek history after the eighth century BCE. Like other legends there is a kernel of truth with its reference to the wealth of the Cretan king, but it is largely a fabrication of the later period. While the Minoans had writing, it was largely for book keeping and there is no literature that comes from this period. So when an object like this faience object was uncovered, we are left to speculate on its meaning. While traditionally called a Snake Goddess, we have no certainty that this is a god or a priestess. How do we understand this figure with its powerful hypnotic stare? While it is not certain that the feline creature on the head was original, the figure is shown brandishing snakes in her hands. Consider the significance of these symbols in later Western culture, especially the symbol of the snake.
Part of the attraction of the figurines is that they can be interpreted as embodying many of the perceived, and admired, characteristics of the Minoans: their elegant, fashionable costumes, their physical gracefulness, their sensitive yet forthright personalities, their sophisticated tastes and love of luxury, their refined manners and worldly ways, their seemingly high intelligence combined with an endearing forthright innocence, and their apparent love of beauty, nature, and peace.
Lacking written sources (or at least written sources which provide any real insight into the culture) there is little in the archaeological record to contradict these fondly-held impressions which are derived largely in response to what we see in the physical remains of the Minoans - in statuettes such as the "Snake Goddess", in the frescoes and painted pottery, and in the architecture - and also what we don't see.
Conspicuous in their absence are the usual signs of a male-dominated society common to the Eastern Mediterranean in the second millennium BCE: no walled citadels, no fortifications, no temples to the gods, no large public sculpture, no clear evidence of a hierarchically structured society ruled by kings and priests, no boastful inscriptions.
Possibly when the Minoan script Linear A is deciphered a different view on the Minoan civilization will emerge, but until then the visual evidence alone describes an attractive, easy-going society centered on large labyrinthine palace-like buildings which seem to have served primarily, judging from the huge storage areas, as collection and distribution centers for a well-organized system of local agricultural production, and as the residence of local leaders and, possibly, artists and craftspeople. Who the leaders were is unknown, but circumstantial evidence indicates that women played a dominant role in Minoan religion and perhaps also in Minoan society.
One of the prime pieces of evidence in support of the view that women dominated Minoan culture is the "Snake Goddess." The grounds for this view were laid by Arthur Evans himself. It is clear from the model of Minoan religion constructed by Evans that he was influenced by the theories put forward by James Frazer in The Golden Bough (first published in 1890) that prehistoric religion centred on a dominant goddess of fertility whose young male consort's annual death and rebirth symbolised the decay and regrowth of vegetation.
Evans certainly supported prevailing views about the existence in the prehistoric period [see Earth Mother — Mother Goddess] of a Mother Goddess (identifying as such several Neolithic clay figures found at Knossos) and so, when the "Snake Goddess" came to light in 1903, he not only identified her as a "goddess" but also claimed that she was worshipped by the Minoans as an aspect of the Mother Goddess. Evans thereby provided the basis for the argument that Minoans lived in a matrilineal, or even a matriarchal, society.