Especially prominent is a male figure carrying a staff with a hook at the end, a symbol of authority. He is shown wearing a cloak that seems to be covered in scales. Bernice Jones has studied the cloak in detail and found parallels from not just Crete, but also from Ebla in Syria (dated ca. 1750-1700 BC), who also carries a staff with curved end. In her book on Aegean Bronze Age clothing, she offers a very convincing reconstruction of the cloak (pp. 266-269).
This figure – perhaps to be interpreted as a priest or another authorative figure – is further distinguished from the other men in this scene by the fact that he sports long hair. He is depicted as either leading the entire group of men or, depending on one’s point of view, following them. Another figure, facing in the other direction compared to the rest of the men, appears to be a dancer, weaving through the crowd.
Interpretations of the vase differ, but most agree that the scene somehow relates to agriculture. As the modern name suggests, the ritual depicted may be a procession or some kind of dance associated with the harvest (if the agricultural implements are interpreted as winnowing fans) or, alternatively, with sowing and ploughing (if interpreted as hoes, used to loosen up the soil). Sowing of cereals was usually done in the autumn; harvesting took place in spring (Edwards 2004, pp. 150-156).
In their Aegean Art and Architecture, Donald Preziosi and Louise A. Hitchcock point out that the scene on the vase recalls “a propagandistic depiction of either corvée (forced labor) which is well attested in contemporary Near Eastern economies, especially at Mari, or as in the mainland Mycenaean economy where land was provided in exchange for obligatory service” (p. 118, with references).
While obviously not comparable to a photograph, depictions such as this scene on the Harvester Vase nevertheless offer valuable glimpses into what everyday life in Minoan Crete may have been like, nearly 3,500 years ago. The scene is executed with such vigour that one can almost hear the men singing and walking, their hoes (or fans) brushing against each other as they move along.
Suggestions for further reading are listed below:
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