Helene Whittaker has mainly focused her research on Greek Bronze Age, in particular Mycenaean and Minoan religion, concentrating on the social and ideological aspects of religious beliefs and practice. In her book Religion and Society in the Middle Bronze Age and Early Mycenaean Periods (Cambridge University Press 2014), she reviews and discusses the evidence for religion in the Middle Helladic and early Mycenaean periods. A major premise is that religion should not be discussed in isolation from its social, political, and cultural context. She has also published on the Aegean in the wider European context during the Bronze Age, with a particular focus on the ways in which Aegean material and research are used in interpretations of material found in Scandinavia and central Europe.
Can we identify Iconoclasm in the Greek Bronze Age ?
“It was our delight to dash those proud faces to the ground, to smite them with the sword and savage them with the if blood and agony could follow from every blow. Our transports of joy—so long deferred—were unrestrained; all sought a form of vengeance in beholding those bodies mutilated, limbs hacked in pieces, and finally that baleful, fearsome visage cast into fire, to be melted down, so that from such menacing terror something for man’s use and enjoyment should rise out of the flames.” (Panegyric 52,4, Loeb translation).
Pliny’s account of the destruction of the statues of the emperor Domitian is perhaps the most vivid description of iconoclasm in antiquity. Although it concerns a particular historical context, in its description of the emotions and actions involved it has a wider relevance.
Artefacts that had seemingly been deliberately broken are not uncommonly found in significant contexts from other periods of Antiquity, for which iconoclasm would seem a reasonable hypothesis. A chryselephantine statue, which was found in an open space near a sanctuary building in the town of Palaikastro in eastern Crete, is an illustrative example from the Greek Bronze Age. The statue, which dates to the first half of the fifteenth century BC and is known as the Palaikastro Kouros, had been deliberately broken by being violently thrown to the ground. It seems to have suffered a very similar fate to the statues of Domitian described by Pliny. That its destruction was an extraordinary act which arguably was a response to particular political and/or religious circumstances is plausible, also because this was a time of unrest
In this paper I present several examples of the deliberate destruction of artefacts and monuments from different periods of the Greek Bronze Age and discuss if and how we can understand them as examples of iconoclasm.
Key words: Greece, prehistory, statues, monuments, archaeology