Seal of the month
Three seal faces showing different phases of bull-leaping: 1. The animal climbs with its front legs on a quadrangular feature and the bull leaper reaches for its neck in the process of jumping over it. 2. The bull is running (flying gallop) as the leaper grasps its neck and executes a back flip over it. 3. The bull-leaper is in the air behind the running animal with feet directed towards the ground and thus shown in the moment he has completed the jump over the bull and is landing on the ground behind it. In this last image, the bull leaper is shown in frontal view.
CMS VI no. 181: Priene?; Stylistic Dating: MM III/LM I
CMS II,6 no. 44: Agia Triada; but the same impression also from Gournia, Sklavokambos. Stylistic Dating: LM I. Context: LM IB
CMS II,6 no. 43: Agia Triada; but the same impression also from Gournia, Sklavokambos, Kato Zakros; Stylistic Dating: LM I. Context: LM IB
The strength of the animal is expressed by its voluminous muscular body and the athletic feat of the bull-leaper with his, by contrast, ‘elastic’ sinuous frame. Bull-leapers on neopalatial seal faces are fine and agile figures while after LM II, bull-leapers become larger and heavier, in some cases shown even larger than the bull.
Evans was the first to try to reconstruct the phases of the Minoan sport. Following Evans and then Sakellariou’s work, John Younger suggested that Aegean bull-leaping images depict three different ways of executing the sport. In Evans’s Schema (mainly neopalatial, see also here) the leaper grabs the animal by the horns, does a back flip over its back, steps on its rump and jumps over it again towards the ground. In the Schema of the Diving Leaper (LB I-III) the bull leaper dives towards the shoulders of the bull from a higher point, and then carries out a handspring and back flip to land on the ground behind the bull. In The Schema of the Floating Leaper (LB III) the leaper is always shown above the bull with his front side facing the animal’s back and his legs bent. This latter schema is mainly found on seals of the last phases of the Late Bronze Age and is more favoured in the mainland than on Crete. Given the late dating of this schema, the stronger connection with the mainland and the fact that the leaper is always shown ‘frozen’ in the same position, Younger has suggested that this latter scheme could be a decorative one developed from images of bull-leaping when the sport was not executed anymore (and/or at places where it was never executed). Younger has also suggested that among the three schemas the only one that seems to realistically depict the sport is the second, the Schema of the Diving Leaper.
According to Younger, the first image presented here belongs to his second scheme, the second to his first and the third to both (Younger’s ‘alighting leapers’). However, as the images are placed here, they appear to belong to the same general type of execution of the sport, especially as the leaper in both the first and the second image grasps the animal’s neck (and not horns: Evan’s Schema). It is therefore possible that they both belong to the Schema of the Diving Leaper and represent scenes from the actual sport.
A. Evans. 1930. The Palace of Minos, III. London (MacMillan).
J. Mcinerney. 2011. Bulls and Bull-Leaping in the Minoan World. Expedition 53.3: 6-13.
A. Sakellariou. 1958. Les cachets minoens de la collection Giamalakis. EtCret 10. Paris (Geuthner).
J. G. Younger. 1976. Bronze Age Representations of Aegean Bull-Leaping. AJA 80.2: 125–37.