If you’ve ever had a Greek archaeology or Bronze Age Mediterranean archaeology course, then you’ve probably seen the bull leapers in ancient frescoes from Crete.
Photo courtesy of Dimitris Agelakis. Licensed under Creative Commons.
I’ve heard some comparisons to this Cretan bull leaping to Spanish bull fighting, but clearly flipping over a bull is not the same as waving a cape and stabbing it…or is it?
It turns out that there is a type of bull sport from the Gascony region of France called course landaise which includes sauteurs (literally “leapers”) who do, in fact, flip elegantly over a bull (or technically a horned female cow). It’s quite elegant and rarely injures the bovine (although leapers can get banged up). This kind of a bull sport I can get into.
In terms of the overall origin of Iberian/Southern French bullfighting, a connection is made to the Roman gladiatorial games, and it does make sense considering that some forms of bullfighting involve combat. Still the bull dancing is tantalizing, because the dancing version is also said to exist in Southern Spain. Prehistoric Iberia and Crete are two places which have lots of archaeology, few written records, but lots of cross-cultural contacts (esp Iberia).
Even if no direct connection exists, the course landaise shows what the Cretan version may have been like and why it was worth preserving in a fresco in ancient Knossos.