Bronze double axe inscribed with Linear A

Minoan, about 1700-1450 BC
Said to be from the Lasíthi Plateau, Crete

While the double axe was used as a tool in Minoan Crete, it was also a religious symbol. Very large bronze axes, too thin to be of practical use, were placed at certain significant locations in some Minoan palaces and houses, while miniature versions in various materials were left as offerings in sanctuaries or tombs. This axe is the right size and shape for practical use, but the presence of the two signs in Linear A perhaps indicates that it was probably a votive offering.

Linear A is one of the three Cretan scripts discovered by Sir Arthur Evans. It has not been deciphered, and probably represents the Minoan language, which is unknown. The word labrys occurs in later Greek to mean double axe, and the word itself may be of Minoan origin. The word 'labyrinth' (a complicated network of passages) may originally have meant 'house of the double axe', referring to the palace at Knossos, which contained many examples and representations of double axes (and was certainly of labyrinthine complexity). Greek mythology located the labyrinth at Knossos.

Find in the collection online

More information


R. Higgins, The Greek Bronze Age (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)


Length: 18.500 cm

Museum number

GR 1954.10-20.1



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore