History of Greece/Minoan Civilization

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The Minoans were a Bronze Age civilization that flourished on the Greek Aegean island of Crete from around 3000 to 1450 BCE. From around 1450 BCE the Minoan palace culture began to collapse and the vacuum was filled by the Greek mainland Mycenaean culture whose ascendancy is mythologized in the story of King Agamemnon who led the Greek expedition to Troy. The name Minoan was coined by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who from 1900 to 1906 excavated the palace at Knossos, which he believed to be the capital of the empire of the mythical King Minos.

History[edit | edit source]

The controversial restoration by Sir Arthur Evans of the ruins of the palace of Knossos. Greek archeologist Nikolaos Platon devised a chronology of the civilization based on excavations of Minoan palaces. He divides the civilization into the following eras:

Prepalatial period (3000-1900)[edit | edit source]

Archaeological evidence shows that Crete may have been inhabited as early as the seventh millennium BCE. New settlers skilled in metallurgy arrived by the end of the fourth millennium BCE, and replaced the earlier Neolithic peoples.

Protopalatial period (1900-1700)[edit | edit source]

The first large palaces, most notably at Knossos and Phaistos, were built during the Proprietorial period, leading to more urbanized life and centralized political authority. Around 1700 BCE the major palaces were all destroyed perhaps due to natural causes, such as an earthquake, or perhaps an invasion from Anatolia.

Neopalatial period (1700-1450)[edit | edit source]

After their destruction, the palaces soon were rebuilt, giving rise to the Neo-palatial period. This period represents the apex of Minoan civilization. Population increased, new settlements were built, and impressive art, architecture, and technologies (such as plumbing) were developed. Despite these many advances, the Minoans suffered some sort of catastrophe around 1450.

Final Palace period (1450-1380 BCE)[edit | edit source]

The island of Santorini from space in contemporary times. The massive damage caused by the volcano to the island and surrounding areas is often attributed as a cause of Minoan decline.

Many theories have been put forth to the cause of this sudden and rapid decline. Theories include a massive volcanic eruption of Mt. Thera on the nearby island of Santorini, internal strife, or an invasion of the Mycenaean from mainland Greece. A combination of these factors may be reason for the Minoan collapse. Minoan power and influence in the region had effectively ended by 1420 BCE supplanted by the Mycenaeans. Excavations reveal that pottery and writings from Crete after 1450 resemble those of mainland Greece more so than those of pre-1450 Crete. Knossos then served as the administrative center of Mycenaean Crete, until it was destroyed by fire in 1380.

Post Palatial period (1380-1100 BCE)[edit | edit source]

After the destruction of Knossos, economic and political influence shifted to the town of Khaniá. Despite this, Cretan civilization began to further decline, and many Minoan sites were abandoned. Hondros is one of few new sites to be settled during this period. The last Minoan site to fall was the isolated mountain town of Karfi, which was able to resist assimilation into the Mycenaean culture until the early Iron Age. The widespread use of iron tools (brought by the Mycenaeans) rather than bronze ones (used by Minoans) is one of the main indications archaeologists used to determine the date of the final Minoan collapse.

Culture[edit | edit source]

Bull-leaping, featured in this famous fresco from Knossos, was a religious ritual. The Minoan culture featured a very distinctive religion, art style, and language. The Minoans were also pioneers in naval exploration, establishing several colonies on the Greek mainland and other Aegean islands, such as Akrotiri on Thera. The Minoan cultural influence spread throughout the region, including over the Mycenaean culture.

Religion[edit | edit source]

Goddess figurine

Many people conclude there to be evidence of animal and human sacrifice in Minoan Crete during the palatial period. Recent Minoan scholars have disputed the ideas and the focus’ of past Scholars. However, these sources are blurred and we should not come to any conclusions as yet, to whether sacrificial rituals did exist in Minoan Crete.

Although the Minoan religious system had come under much consideration and debate, it had never been fully explored or written about in much depth. That is until 1921 when Sir Arthur Evans wrote his works on Minoan religion. Evans portrayed Crete as having an interconnection and an oneness. This was sustained by the idea of them all worshiping one god and this “culture as a whole…shows an essential unity,” (Arthur Evans PM 1:13) portraying the culture as a whole was more important than sacrificial rituals. Evans is known as the advocate of this idea of unity and worship of a sole God. However, Minoan Crete was the perfect example for one to take and write about as it was secluded from other cultures as a lone island. However, though you could infer this there is evidence of them having a key trading port as in the ‘flotilla fresco,’ it clearly shows many boats leaving from Crete.

You could infer there to be evidence of them only worshiping one God, as there is what looks like a Neolithic figurine of a goddess. This source is provided to us by the Spartan Museum. It portrays a woman holding two snakes suggesting her diverseness, as it is believed to be a goddess. The significance of the snakes around the arms is widely unknown however, they have survived for decades and in great numbers which shows the significance of it. The importance of sacrificial rituals is colossally important to link with them only worshiping one god. This is due to polytheistic cultures utilizing sacrifice, for example, Rome in order to gain favor with the gods. However, there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions. This is due to her coming across as if she is in an altered state, holding in both hands snakes which highlights the unreliability of this theory. In the temple, there were also many objects and another woman in the surrounding picture. One object shows a bowl/vase suggesting libation either from or to one or the other woman. However, in this image, we see no evidence of any type of animal sacrifice.

In the Toreador Fresco currently placed in the Palace of Knossos, there is what looks like an image of three men and a bull. We should assume that “every depiction of a bull on a seal or fresco is to be associated with a supposed sacrificial ritual,” (Cromarty, 2008,). However, it could also be a depiction of a sequence in changing a young boy into a man. This is due to the end figure being more pronounced than the others suggesting adulthood.

Another example of sacrifice is labeled a sacrifice by the Agra Triada sarcophagus. This pictorial image shows a slaughtered bull in the middle with two terrified animals under it. We should take into account the double axe which is normally associated with bull sacrifice. Another interesting aspect is the appearance of a woman in this image as well. This has become a reoccurring theme throughout Minion Crete. We see her hovering her hands over what appears to be an animal of the bovine variety which suggests prayer and worship. It also presents her as a priestess rather than a goddess which proves controversy towards the Neolithic figurine of a goddess we believed we previously saw.

Of late it is to be believed that Archaeologists have found evidence of a sacrificial ritual, which included the sacrifice of animals, whose broken bones were found under a deposit of rubble. This was along with a woman’s bones being found which links back to the priestess’s conduction of the religious ceremonies and rituals. However, I quote from Maria Andreadaki Vlazaki “We have yet to reach a final conclusion since the bones need to be studied further, especially as the latest finds, which include the woman’s skull, were found only recently.” This causes problems due to the unknown fact of what time these people lived in and as to whether it was around the time period being studied.

Though sacrificial rituals were an important part of the religious system there were many other important parts to it as well. Many outdoor shrines have been discovered some in caves, others on hill tops. There are depictions of women dancing around the trees, shaking the branches suggesting a sort of religious ceremony, further highlighting the role woman played. Household shrines and shrines at tombs have also been discovered and this presents a real religious background to Minoan Crete. Artifacts indicate that religious practice involved dance, procession, sacrifice, and offerings, which were all key factors of the religious system. To further the theory of processions occurring or ceremonial events we gain and insight in the Saffron Gatherers fresco. This pictorial image shows two clear women dancing around a monkey (cannot be confirmed) type figure. This further amplifies their role as they have appeared numerous times in sources.

Art[edit | edit source]

Excavations have revealed frescoes, statues, and pottery. Pottery was the dominant art form of the Minoans from their arrival on Crete up until the Neopalatial period, when pottery-making technology allowed for a standardization of design. Fresco-painting soon rose in prominence, and focused heavily on religious and naturalistic themes. Bulls and snakes, both religious symbols, featured prominently in many works of art, as do other non-religious animals. Perhaps the most famous of the Minoan frescoes is one depicting the religious ritual of bull-leaping, which was found in the palace of Minos. Interestingly, no frescoes depict any of the many gods.

Architecture[edit | edit source]

Remains of a Minoan palace.

Minoans also pioneered many architectural methods. Cities featured roads paved with stone, sewers, and plumbing. The most-recognized type of Minoan architecture is the palace. The construction of the first palaces (the famous palace at Knossos was one of the first) ended the Prepalatial period. Palaces were centers of government, allowing the dozens of individual communities to come under centralized political authority. Palaces also were used to store crop surpluses, and were house shrines to goddesses.

Economy[edit | edit source]

Minoan copper ingot

The Minoan economy was very diverse. Several crops were cultivated, such as wheat, barley, grapes, olives, and figs. They raised several animals, including cattle, goats, and pigs. Bees were kept for honey production, as were donkeys and oxen for plowing purposes. The Minoans also had an established shipping industry, as evidenced by the many colonies they established throughout the eastern Mediterranean. They were involved in the tin trade. As bronze tools and weapons made from tin and copper were replaced by superior iron ones the Minoan economy in trading tin declined. Their trade network extended from Mesopotamia and Egypt all the way to Spain.

Language[edit | edit source]

Minoan civilization featured several written languages. During the Prepalatial period, a primitive hieroglyphic script was used, but fell out of use by 1700. A writing system called Linear A developed during the Protopalatial period, and continued to be used through the Neopalatial period. Linear A featured many symbols, each of which represented a syllable, word, or number. Linear A was used for record-keeping, and some religious functions. Linear B was the script used for government records. After the Mycenean conquest, Linear A was replaced by Linear B, which would eventually evolve into what is now the modern Greek language. Linear B was deciphered in the 1950s, but Linear A and the hieroglyphic texts have yet to have been completely translated.