Hagia Triada sarcophagus
The Hagia Triada sarcophagus is a late Bronze Age 137 cm-long limestone sarcophagus. It was originally dated to 1400 BC and was rediscovered in Hagia Triada on Crete in 1903. It provides probably the most comprehensive iconography of a pre-Homeric thysiastikis ceremony and one of the best pieces of information on noble burial customs when Crete was under Mycenaean rule, combining features of Minoan and Mycenaean style and subject matter. The sarcophagus is on display in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.
Coated in plaster and painted in fresco, it has posed an art historical conundrum ever since its rediscovery, since the Minoans (unlike the ancient Egyptians) otherwise only used frescoes for the enjoyment of the living and not in funerary practice. It is the only limestone sarcophagus of its era discovered to date and the only sarcophagus with a series of narrative scenes of Minoan funerary ritual (later sarcophagi found in the Aegean were decorated with abstract designs and patterns). It was originally used for the burial of a prince. The painted frieze around the sarcophagus shows all the stages of the sacred ceremony which was performed at the burial of important personages. In the centre of one of the long sides of the sarcophagus is a scene with bull sacrifice. On the left of the second long side a woman wearing a crown is carrying two vessels. By her side a man dressed in a long robe is playing a seven string lyre. This is the earliest picture of the lyre known in classical Greece. In front of them another woman is emptying the contents of a vessel-perhaps the blood of the sacrificed bull-into a second vessel, possibly as an invocation to the soul of the deceased. (This scene brings to mind a description in Homer, where the dead needed blood.) On the right three men holding animals and a boat are approaching a male figure without arms and legs and presumably he represents the dead man receiving gifts (the boat for his journey to the next world). It is possible that they believed that the dead were living in a different state and he could probably reappear.
Recent 20th century excavations on the same site have allowed the sarcophagus's dating to be tightened up to 1370-1320 BC, which coincides with the end of the 18th Dynasty in Egypt, a period of extensive contact between Crete and Egypt, thus allowing the sarcophagus's technical and artistic elements to be related to similar decorative techniques in Egyptian temples and tombs. Some miniature sculpture found in other places of Crete (Kamilari, Archanes) during this period are connected with the worship of the dead and there are traces of a true funereal Egyptian cult at the same period. Funereal cults were not common in Crete, but they were practised in certain instances: at the tombs of dead kings, or possibly of higher officials and kings.
The sacrifice scene may in part be interpreted by the following criteria from classical and archaic Greece used in worshiping two sets of deities, the ouranioi, deities of the heavens, and the chthonioi, earth deities: position of the hands of the worshipers, level of the altar and color of the deity. The position of the hands of the participants is hands down, palms down indicating the deity invoked is a chthonic deity who is the deity in epiphany as a black bird on the betyl behind the low altar, the altar for the chthonioi, who has black color, the color of the chthonioi. The position of the throat of sacrificial animal, the bull, is down indicating the sacrifice is for the chthonioi or chthonic deity. The high altar is reserved for the ouranioi, deities of the heavens. Above the low altar, chthonic altar, are two objects, a jug of water and a basket of fruits of the earth (standard Egyptian icon). The jug of water is for purification of the sacrifice participants who wash their hands before sacrificing the bull. In Classical Greece the offering of fruits of the earth was made to a chthonic deity just as on the Hagia Triada Sarcophagus. On the high altar, altar for the ouranioi, are the horns of consecration and a tree with seven branches. Most often, but not always, the horns of consecration are found in high places in Minoan religious art indicating they related to the ouranioi. The tree, with seven branches, may be a tree representing regeneration and the seven branches is an Egyptian number signifying completeness. There are seven participants in the sacrifice scene with hands down palms down possibly indicating a forceful prayer or invocation of the chthonic deity behind the low altar in epiphany. Also, the sacrifice scene has three other elements common in sacrifices in Classical Greece, the presence of a pipe player, incense in the hand of one of the four rear participants and the jug of water for purification. The time of day of the sacrifice is night because chthonic rituals took place during the night, ouranic rituals took place during the day. The action of both the sacrifice scene and the libation scene moves from left to right. In Egyptian religion, the left was the side of death and right was the side of life.
The libation scene has seven participants giving force to the offering. The two birds in gold color on betyls sit on double axes and are the highest objects in the scene indicating they are deities in epiphany. The blood in the sacrifice scene is transformed into water because it quenches lips of the "thirsty dead" as mentioned in the Pylos Linear B tablets. The dead man (lowest object)receives the "water" as nourishment because the dead did not feed on solid food, but rather on liquids. Therefore, the calves are symbolic food for dead. The stairs in front of the dead man's tomb, an Egyptian concept, allows the spirit of the dead man to ascend into the realm of the living. The tree on a sarcophagus in ancient Egypt represented resurrection or regeneration. 
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- See also A. Papagiannopoulou 1999, 118.
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- Martino, Paula 2005, 10-16
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- Stewart E Brekke "The Hagia Triada Sarcophagus: Egyptian Influence on Minoan Religion" The Ancient World, Spring 2010, p.155-167.
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