The ancient Minoans revered the sea, and that makes perfect sense. After all, they lived on an island just south of Greece. Granted, it's a fairly large one as islands go: about 260 km (160 miles) long and 60 km (37 miles) wide. Still, the weather on Crete has always been mediated by the sea. And the Minoans plied their trade, becoming the wealthiest merchants of their time, by sailing large ships around the Mediterranean and even out the Straits of Gibraltar, up the Atlantic coast of Europe.

We've come to call the Minoan sea goddess Posidaeja, the feminine name that's the probable precursor to the god-name Poseidon. The island of Crete rises up out of the water, born from the sea if you will. Its weather and all the life on the island are directly influenced by the Mediterranean that surrounds it. You can tell how important the sea was to the Minoans from its presence in their art and their sacred spaces; seashells abound on Minoan altars and shrine shelves.

UPDATE: Some of us have also begun addressing the Minoan sea goddess as Thalassa, a name the Greeks connected with the primal spirit of the sea. Considering that life on Earth began in the oceans, it makes sense for the sea to be at the base of it all.

The merchants made their living on the sea and throughout the many centuries of Minoan civilization, the people relied on the sea as a source of food. But I think the Minoans also appreciated the beauty of the marine world, with its varied and fascinating plant and animal inhabitants. For instance, as far as we know they didn't eat dolphins, but there are a lot of dolphins in Minoan art, and not just the famous fresco at the top of this page. Here's a lovely stirrup jar with a leaping dolphin on it (all images are from Wikimedia Commons):

 

Minoan pottery stirrup jar from Crete 1400-1200 BCE

 

And dolphins leaping around boats in the harbor of Akrotiri on the island of Thera (the island's modern-day name is Santorini):

 

Akrotiri fresco of boat and dolphins in harbor

 

Now, the Minoans did eat octopus, but they also appreciated the beauty of this fascinating creature, with its undulating legs and body.  Here's a big-eyed octopus on a larnax (a box-shaped sarcophagus) from ancient Crete:

 

Minoan larnax with octopus

 

And another one, this time on a vase (though personally, I think it looks more like a squid than an octopus, but it does have octopus eyes):

 

Minoan vase with octopus

 

The Minoans also created whole seascapes of marine life. The waters around Crete are fairly clear, so even someone in a boat would have been able to view some of what lived beneath the waves. And I'm sure people swam in the ocean as well, possibly to dive for shellfish and other tasty morsels, and they would have gotten an even better view. Here's a lively seascape on a pottery jug:

 

Minoan wine jug with marine life

 

Those funny-looking shapes at the top of the jug, the ones with the honeycomb-looking stuff inside them, tell us that this is an underwater scene, possibly at or near one of the sea caves that ring the island - that's how the Minoan artists depicted coral. Here's another lovely one:

 

Minoan pottery jug with marine life

 

Those interesting creatures with the tentacles flowing out from them are conchs, large molluscs that live in beautiful spiraling shells. The Minoans made a type of horn out of conch shells, as many island peoples have throughout time, and probably used them for their deeply reverberating sound in ritual. They prized conch shells so much that they even made fake ones out of pottery and stone. Here's a man-made one:

 

Minoan pottery conch shell

 

Throughout the centuries of their civilization, the Minoans revered the sea, but the number of representations of marine creatures in Minoan art drastically increased after the fall of the big temple complexes in the 15th century BCE. Before that time, except for the disastrous eruption of Thera in about 1625 BCE, Minoan society was pretty stable and secure. Stable enough, in fact, that the wealthy people could display their status by refusing to eat 'lowly' seafood and bringing only the meat from the island's extensive livestock herds to their tables - we know this based on the bones and other refuse found around Minoan living areas. But when the temple culture collapsed (or was destroyed, since all the major temple complexes were systematically looted and burned at about the same time), the Minoans probably had to turn back to the sea for survival. And Grandmother Ocean always provides: fish, flying fish (yes, they ate them), octopus, squid, and more.

In the name of the Bee -

And of the Butterfly -

And of the Breeze - Amen!