Ancient Mediterranean

Digital Project

Funerary procession

Cat. No.



Early LM IIIA2 (ca. 1370-1360 B.C.)


Agia Triada, hilltop cemetery


Sarcophagus L: 1.375-1.385 m; H: 89.5 cm; W: 45 cm L: c. 25 cm


Limestone larnax with painted figural scenes. Ship on side A (front)

Accession Number

Herakleion Archaeological Museum 396


Burke 2005; Dimopoulou-Rethemiotaki 2005: 169-170, 172-181; Immerwahr 1990: 100-102, cat. A.T. no 2; Karo 1912: col. 1787; La Rosa 1999; Levi 1956; Long 1974; Löwe 1996: 23-41; Marinatos 1933: pl. XIII.18; Matz 1958; Militello 1998: 154-155; Paribeni 1903; 1904; 1908; Pötscher 1990: 171-94; Wachsmann 1998: 102, 104, fig. 6.32; 2019: 22, fig. 20a-b; Watrous 1991: 290-291, pl. 83:a, c; Wedde 2000: 319, no. 606

Crescentic section of a hull. The keel line and gunwale curve up and join to a pointed extremity. The left post is missing. The hull is decorated with near vertical strokes along the entire preserved length.

Ayia Triada is located in the western part of the Mesara, roughly 6 km from the Libyan Sea. The site’s monumental architecture indicates its importance during the second millennium, especially in the Neopalatial Period. It has been hypothesized that its regional prominence during the end of the Bronze Age may have contributed to the decline of the palace at Phaistos which is located a mere 3 km to the west (La Rosa 1985). Although Ayia Triada lacks canonical Minoan palace features, the presence of Minoan elites at the site is confirmed by elements such as the frequent use of decorative gypsum, numerous Minoan mason’s marks, and unique works of art. The complex has been interpreted as a Minoan villa, more specifically a specialized building type overseeing the administration of the surrounding countryside which was destroyed by fire during LM IB. During the Final Palatial Period, the site retained its importance under Mycenaean presence, with an extensive building project over the remains of the previous Minoan villa which nonetheless indicate a very significant change in the settlement’s design and organization. In a major departure from the Minoan period, the building program suggests the creation of carefully planned ceremonial center that accommodated public gatherings. This included the impressive megaron ABCD (15.15 x 24.35 m) which was consciously built over the walls of the previous Minoan villa, thus opting for continuity in the location’s importance while also exhibiting hybrid Minoan and Mycenaean architectural traditions. Its construction not long after the Minoan villa’s destruction along with the erection of shrine building H was followed shortly after by stoa FG. Together, the three structures seem to have enclosed an open courtyard area that likely accommodated participants of ceremonies that were performed at the Piazzale dei Sacelli. The Mycenaean period also included the reuse of the early Minoan tholos B, the construction of the Edificio delle Camere Decapitate, and the building of tomb B where the painted larnax was found (Burke 2005 with references).

Tomb: Tomb 4 is located very close to the LBA settlement, to the northeast, in an area of earlier Minoan tombs. The small stone-built rectangular structure (3.8 x 4.2 m) was used only for a short period of time, with no evidence of subsequent cult activity. The tomb was found looted, with the sarcophagus lying disturbed on its long side. The skulls of two individuals were found in the limestone larnax, with a third in a plain terracotta larnax found in a small cist cut into the bedrock of the tomb. Other finds include a serpentine bowl, a female terracotta figurine, and fragments of a triton shell. The burial area was clearly reserved for a limited social group, in line with Mycenaean practice which provides separate spaces for the elite.

Larnax: The sarcophagus is made of two large, slightly irregular limestone slabs and two shorter ones, with a row of five holes along the bottom to allow liquids to drain. The larnax was painted in tempera on ground fine smooth plaster typically used in wall painting, and was thus executed by a fresco painter. The colour palette consists of red, blue, white, black, pink, yellow, and green. In addition, the decorative rosette border of the sarcophagus was first sculpted in bas-relief, while the blue used was made of powdered lapis lazuli, the only attestation of this pigment in the Aegean. Each panel is framed horizontally by two rows of red and blue bead-and-reel designs, located above and below a rosette frieze. The long panels are further framed by vertical running spirals, while the short panels are surrounded by a scalloped design.

wide side A: The front panel shows two distinct procession scenes which are arranged back to back and proceed outward, which along with different colored backgrounds helps to separate the scenes. One the left side is a libation scene which shows three figures in a procession walking towards two double axes placed on stepped stands with birds on top. From left to right, a woman with an animal hide skirt carries a decorated vessel filled with a liquid which she pours into a blue cauldron positioned between the axes. Behind her follows a woman with a blue robe and an elaborate headdress, carrying two containers which she balances on her shoulders with a pole. The third figure behind them is a male musician in a yellow robe playing a seven-stringed lyre with duck-headed finials. The presentation scene meanwhile begins with a change in direction in the middle of the panel, further demarcated by a contrasting blue background. Three shirtless men wearing white hide skirts are carrying two calf figurines and a ship model towards a figure that represents the deceased standing in front of his tomb. This individual is of smaller statue, with his arms and feet invisible while wearing a white hide robe.

wide side B: The panel depicts a procession and a bull sacrifice on an altar, with the animal shown bound with its blood collected in a rhyton stuck into the ground, while two deer sit below the altar. Behind the bull is a man playing a double-aulos, leading a procession of five women from the left. To the right of the altar is a priestess wearing a white hide skirt with a crocus-petal pattern standing in front on a smaller altar. She holds a two-handled bowl, while a libation jug and a basket are shown suspended above her.

narrow side A: A chariot with two female drivers is pulled by Cretan wild goats (agrimia). Above this scene is a second panel showing a procession of at least two men wearing pointed blue kilts.

narrow side B: A chariot with two female drivers is pulled by winged griffins and a stylized bird above.

The sarcophagus is unique amongst larnakes in terms of its material, polychromy, narrative, and decorative elements as well as overall composition and style. In light of the unusual material used and the fact that the scenes are unparalleled in Aegean art, a comparison has been made to Egyptian funerary rites which typically include a procession of offering bearers and a display of the deceased (mummified) receiving his last rites in front of his tomb. The extent of such an Egyptian influence continues to be a matter of disagreement, while others have stressed elements of traditional Minoan funerary beliefs (Martino 2005; Long 1974).

By situating the larnax in the broader context of contemporary developments at Ayia Triada, Burke has argued that the object played a role as an expression of power by Mycenaean elites who used cultural hybridity as a means to assert political, ideological, and economic dominance during the earliest phase of their presence on Crete (Burke 2005). Through a detailed contextual analysis, he argues that the new building program at Ayia Triada, tomb 4, and the iconography of the larnax itself all combine contemporary Mycenaean elements with older Minoan symbols and themes in order to create a link between the two: “the megaron and other contemporary structures were a materialization of Mycenaean authority over the local population, an architecture of memory and power that linked them to the past” (Ibid: 410). One example of this strategy from the larnax is the depiction of vessels that are deliberately archaizing, using anachronistic vessels connected to the palatial elites of a Middle Bronze Age past to evoke sacred connotations that appealed to the local population. These are contrasted with the figures which wear contemporary Mycenaean dress. Burke also connects the performative aspect of the sarcophagus (funeral rites, sacrifice, libation) with the archaeological finds at Ayia Triada. These include stone double axes and a large number of votive figurines found in the open area in front of the megaron, notably bull and boat figurines. The Piazzale meanwhile may have provided a performance space for funerary rituals similar to those depicted on the sarcophagus, while its entrance was both enlarged and modified, possibly to facilitate chariot processions (Ibid: 413).

Burke, B. 2005. “Materialization of Mycenaean Ideology and the Ayia Triada Sarcophagus,” AJA 109.3: 403-422.

Dimopoulou-Rethemiotaki, N. 2005. The Archaeological Museum of Herakleion. Athens: EFG Eurobank Ergasias S.A./John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation.

Immerwahr, S. 1990. Aegean Painting in the Bronze Age. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Karo, G. 1912. “Kreta,” in RE XI, cols 1718-1802.

La Rosa, V. 1985. “Preliminary Considerations on the Problem of the Relationship between Phaistos and Hagia Triadha,” Scripta Mediterranean 6: 45-54.

La Rosa, V. 1999. “Nuovi dati sulla tomba del sarcófago dipinto di H. Triada,” In: V. La Rosa, D. Palermo and L. Vagnetti (eds.) Epi Ponton Plazomenoi. Simposio Italiano de Studi Egei dedicato a Luigi Bernabò Brea e Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli. Rome: Scuola archeologica italiana di Atene, pp. 177-188.

Levi, D. 1956. "The Sarcophagus of Haghia Triada Restored," Archaeology 9: 192-9.

Long, C. 1974. The Ayia Triada Sarcophagus: A Study of Late Minoan and Mycenaean Funerary Practices and Beliefs. Göteborg: P. Åström.

Lowe, W. 1996. Spätbronzezeitliche Bestattungen auf Kreta. BAR-IS 642. Oxford: Tempus Reparatum.

Marinatos, S. 1933. “La marine créto-mycénienne,” BCH 57: 170-235.

Matz, F. 1958. “Göttererscheinung und Kultbild im minoischen Kreta,” Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz Geiste und Aozialwissenschaflichen Klasse 7. Wiesbaden.

Militello, P. 1998. Haghia Triada I: Gli Affresch minoici di Haghia Triada (Creta). Monografie della Scuola Archeologica di Atene e della Missioni Italiane in Oriente 9. Padua: Bottega D’Erasmo.

Paribeni, R. 1903. “Lavori eseguiti dalla Missione Archeologica Italiana nel palazzo en ella necropoli di Haghia Triada dal 23 febbraio al 15 lugio 1903,” RendLinc ser. 5, 12:340-51.

―――. 1904. “Ricerche nel sepolcreto di Haghia Triada da presso Phaestos,” MonAnt 14:713-9.

―――. 1908. “Il sarcofago dipinto di Hagia Triada,” Monumenti Antichi pubblicati per cura della Reale Accademia dei Lincei 19, cols 5-86.

Pötscher, W. 1990. Aspekte und Probleme der minoischen Religion: Ein Versuch. In Religionswissenschaftliche Texte und Studien. Band 4. Hildesheim, Zurich / New York: Georg Olms Verlag.

Wachsmann, S. 1998. Seagoing Ships & Seamanship in the Bronze Age Levant. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press.

―――. 2019. “On the interpretation of Watercraft in ancient Art,” Arts 8.165: 1-67.

Watrous, L.V. 1991. “The Origin and Iconography of the Late Minoan Painted Larnax,” Hesperia 60.3: 285-307.

Wedde, M. 2000. Towards a Hermeneutics of Aegean Bronze Age Ship Imagery. Peleus Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Griechenlands und Zyperns, vol. 6. Bibliopolis: Mannheim and Möhnsee.

  • copyright icon © drawing by T. Manolova Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © drawing by T. Manolova Click for fullscreen
  • wide side A

    copyright icon © Archaeological Museum of Heraklion Click for fullscreen
  • wide side B

    copyright icon © Archaeological Museum of Heraklion Click for fullscreen
  • narrow side A

    copyright icon © Archaeological Museum of Heraklion Click for fullscreen
  • narrow side B

    copyright icon © Archaeological Museum of Heraklion Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © Archaeological Museum of Heraklion Click for fullscreen
  • copyright icon © Archaeological Museum of Heraklion Click for fullscreen