No excuse for bullfights- And some historical truths


Socio- historical issues have always been a major concern of artists. A lot has been said through the ages about the controversial tradition of bullfights in hispanic cultures. The supporters of this brutal “game” claim it is deeply rooted in their tradition, going back to ancient times, during the Minoan times in Crete. So let’s break down the myth…

No excuse for bullfights,SpARTakos, 2017

No excuse for bullfights, 120 x 80 cm. With this new digital painting the artist wants to condemn the brutal practice of bull torturing in the name of tradition.

In their attempt to justify  bullfights, the Spaniards sometimes invoke, as a starting point for bullfights, the celebrations with  bulls that took place in Minoan Crete(2000 BC-1450 BC).This belief is both historically and culturally inaccurate.

In bullfights, when the bull comes out of the arena,  the cavalrymen injure him with arrows in order to weaken him and then send him to confront  the bullfighter, the “brave” ! The animal is slaughtered by  pains of non stop attack by the bullfighter’s helpers and eventually, the “brave” man  waves his red bunt and then kills the bull! The audience raves in favor of the lion hearted bullfighter who brought down a wounded bull. Bullfighters are among the most respected people in their culture, honored for their bravery.

So what exactly were the bull games of Minoan Crete which some Spaniards invoke and do bullfights really come from that ancient tradition?

Let’s find out…

First of all, the Minoan games were not called bullfights but “ταυροκαθάψια” ( pron. tavrokathapsia) which in Greek means “to touch the bull”. This ancient bull leaping was a ritual game where the athlete performed acrobatic leaps over the bull. Quite a few representations have been found in Crete, as well as  in other parts of Greece and in Asia Minor.

The unique  bull leaping fresco at the palace of Knossos in Crete

The unique bull leaping fresco at the palace of Knossos in Crete

This game, as opposed to bullfights, did not demand the murder of the bull. Its aim was to show the bravery and the flexibility of the athletes, who were both young men and young girls.

The bulls used  to come from the best breeds and were considered sacred. In these games the bull was the protagonist and  was never sacrificed or killed. It is also thought that the bull symbolized the Sun.

Bull head vessel at the palace of Knossos, Crete

Bull head vessel at the palace of Knossos, Crete

A ritual tone was  given during the games, making its celebration an initiation of young men and women into adulthood.

It was a sacred feast held in brilliance, in the presence of King Minoas and the Priesthood of the Goddess  Rea or Earth, the mother  of Jupiter. The people gathered in the sacred arena, and in the presence of the king and the jury, they played different games, accompanied by music and dancers.

Then everything was silent. The doors opened and the bull entered  the arena proudly. Nobody was trying to outrage the bull. On the contrary, the players of lyra played a tune and at the same time approached the bull to calm him down.  The bull raised its head, recognized the music, stroke his forefoot on the ground,  and waited calmly for the children. Then, girls and  boys entered the arena, the poets were cheering, while they were getting ready.

Representation of bull leaping acrobatics in Minoan Crete

Representation of bull leaping acrobatics in Minoan Crete

Four of them held wooden sticks and  circled the bull, while one of them was trying to get on the bull and then, holding the animal’s horns, would perform acrobatic moves on its back.Again, the bull started running, and the children  caught him by his horns, performed leaps in the air, stood on his back, leapt in the air and landed behind the bull. The children engaged in this amazing interaction with the bull repeatedly. When the music started again, it was time for the end. The bull stopped, as if  tired,  and the children, one after the other, jumped and sat on his back, and  the audience  sang happily and cheered both for the young men and women and the bull. The sacred animal would end his life peacefully in the fields of Minoan Crete.

As we understand, the above description has nothing to do with modern day bullfights, where the animal is brutally tortured in the name of ritual and “tradition”.

Recortadores en Madrid

The revival of bull leaping by Recortadores in the arena Las Ventas in Madrid

History, obviously has a great lot to teach us if we just take a minute to think, filter and reach our own conclusions. We, at SpARTakos, believe all life should be respected for its purpose in the universe. We are all connected and we should nurture, not break the bonds, because that’s when ugliness and brutality come in. We deserve more than that, don’t you think?

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Stay curious!

The SpARTakos web team


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