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Artifact: Toothbrush Volume 61 Number 2, March/April 2008
by K. Aslihan Yener, Director, Mustafa Kemal University Excavations at Alalakh
Fragments of a Mycenaean krater (vessel for mixing wine and water)


Tel Atchana, ancient Alalakh, southern Turkey (Anatolia), 2006-2007

Street deposit near the "Southern Fortress"

14th century B.C.

3 x 4.7 inches




A brightly spotted bull gallops to the right; a man's right leg and left arm fly off its back. Clearly, these images from pieces of a krater found in the ancient city of Alalakh in Turkey depict bull leaping, a popular ritual sport of the ancient Aegean. Bull leaping is best known from a Minoan wall painting at the palace of Knossos on Crete. It is also depicted on paintings, seals, and figurines discovered in other Minoan, eastern Mediterranean, and Egyptian sites. But until recently, no such image had been found in this part of Turkey. The spread of this imagery (and perhaps even the sport itself) allows us to reexamine the nature and extent of contact between the civilizations of the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean during the Late Bronze Age. Founded in the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1600 B.C.), Alalakh eventually came under the control of the Hittites in the Late Bronze Age (1600-1100 B.C.). The imported krater indicates an exchange of high-status luxury items between the Hittites and the Mycenaeans who ruled the Aegean. But it may tell us more. Recently restored bull-leaping frescoes from the palace of Alalakh and other scenes of bull leapers from seal impressions on clay lumps (bullae) found there confirm stylistic traditions shared between Hittite Anatolia, the Aegean, and the eastern Mediterranean during the Middle to Late Bronze Age. Taken together with these fragments, this may also indicate shared ritual practices across these regions. Although it is possible that by the Late Bronze Age Minoan-style bull leaping was no longer actually practiced by the Mycenaeans or their contemporaries, it was at the very least remembered as a significant ritual and adopted as an artistic idiom with religious importance that was picked up by the inhabitants of Alalakh. The krater's scene then becomes not just a dynamic image of a popular ritual sport, but a powerful link between ancient civilizations.

Photo courtesy Murat Akar; drawing courtesy Ozgecan Yarma

© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America