Coinage of Idrieus of Caria. Obv: Head of Apollo, wearing laurel wreath, drapery at neck. Rev: legend ΙΔΡΙΕΩΣ ("IDRIEOS"), Zeus Labraundos standing. Circa 351–50 to 344–43 BCE.
Plutarch relates that the word labrys was a Lydian word for "axe": Λυδοὶ γὰρ ‘λάβρυν’ τὸν πέλεκυν ὀνομάζουσι.[a] The word probably appears in Linear B inscriptions, and it may be Minoan. Many scholars including Evans assert that the word labyrinth is derived from labrys, and thus would imply "house of the double axe". A priestly corporation in Delphi was named "Labyades". The original name was probably "Labryades", servants of the double axe. In Roman times at Patrai and Messene, a goddess Laphria was worshipped, commonly identified with Artemis. Her name was said to be derived from the region around Delphi.
However, in Crete the "double axe" is not a weapon and always accompanies women and not a male god.Beekes regards the relation of labyrinth with labrys as speculative, and rather proposes a relation with laura (λαύρα), "narrow street", or to the Carian theonym Dabraundos (Δαβραυνδος). It is also possible that the word labyrinth is derived from the Egyptian loperohunt, meaning "palace or temple by the lake". The Egyptian labyrinth near Lake Morris is described by Herodotus and Strabo. The inscription in Linear B, on tablet ΚΝ Gg 702, reads da-pu2-ri-to-jo-po-ti-ni-ja. The conventional reading is λαβυρίνθοιο πότνια ("mistress of the labyrinth"). According to some modern scholars it could read *δαφυρίνθοιο, or something similar, and hence be without a certain link with either the λάβρυς or the labyrinth.[b]
In ancient Crete, the double axe was an important sacred symbol of the supposed Minoan religion. In Crete it never accompanies male gods, but always female goddesses. It seems that it was the symbol of the arche of the creation (Mater-arche).
Double axes in the Near East
In the Near East and other parts of the region, eventually, axes of this sort are often wielded by male divinities and appear to become symbols of the thunderbolt, a symbol often found associated with the axe symbol. In Labraunda of Caria the double-axe accompanies the storm-god Zeus Labraundos. Similar symbols have been found on plates of Linear pottery culture in Romania. The double-axe is associated with the Hurrian god of sky and storm Teshub. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun. Both are depicted holding a triple thunderbolt in one hand, and a double axe in the other hand. Similarly, Zeus throws his thunderbolt to bring storm. The labrys, or pelekys, is the double axe Zeus uses to invoke storm, and the relative modern Greek word for lightning is "star-axe" (ἀστροπελέκι astropeleki) The worship of it was kept up in the Greek island of Tenedos and in several cities in the south-west of Asia Minor, and it appears in later historical times in the cult of the thunder god of Asia Minor (Zeus Labrayndeus).
In the context of the mythical Attic king Theseus, the labyrinth of Greek mythology is frequently associated with the Minoan palace of Knossos. This is based on the unlikely reading of Linear B da-pu2-ri-to-jo-po-ti-ni-ja as λαβυρίνθοιο πότνια ("mistress of the labyrinth").[d] Even if that is the correct reading, there is no evidence to suggest that this referred to Knossos itself, as is often asserted. It could equally be a smaller sanctuary, or else an entirely separate location.[e] Ignoring all the difficulties in assuming that labyrinth can be interpreted as "place of the double axes" there is moreover no reason to think this should be Knossos; many more have been found, for example, at the Arkalachori Cave, where the famous Arkalochori Axe was found. Ultimately, only a fragile chain of conjecture can link Theseus to the word labrys.
On Greek coins of the classical period (e. g. Pixodauros) a type of Zeus venerated at Labraunda in Caria that numismatists call Zeus Labrandeus (Ζεὺς Λαβρανδεύς) stands with a sceptre upright in his left hand and the double-headed axe over his shoulder.
^"Herakles, having slain Hippolyte and taken her axe away from her with the rest of her arms, gave it to Omphale. The kings of Lydia who succeeded her carried this as one of their sacred insignia of office, and passed it down from father to son until it was passed to Candaules, who disdained it and gave it to one of his companions to carry. When Gyges rebelled and was making war upon Candaules, Arselis came with a force from Mylasa to assist Gyges; Arselis then slew Candaules and his companion and took the axe to Caria with the other spoils of war. And, having set up a statue of Zeus, Arselis put the axe in his hand and invoked the god, Labrandeus."
^See Melena's overview in the third volume of the Companion to Linear B, p. 73 (available here).
^"It seems natural to interpret names of Carian sanctuaries like Labranda in the most literal sense as the place of the sacred labrys, which was the Lydian (or Carian) name for the Greek πέλεκυς [pelekys], or double-edged axe." And, "On Carian coins, indeed of quite late date, the labrys, set up on its long pillar-like handle, with two dependent fillets, has much the appearance of a cult image."
^For the problems with this, see the "Etymology" section above.
^Cf. the parallel construction of a-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja, perhaps referring to the “Mistress of Athens”, i. e. Athena, on a different tablet (KN V 52) from Knossos.
^The forms taken by the labrys were classified by Caterina Mavriyannaki.
^Beekes, Robert (2010). Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Boston: Leiden Brill. p. 819.