Glimpses of History #13: First Civilizations in Minoan Crete

First Civilizations in Minoan Crete

The biggest Grecian island was home to the first important Aegean civilization—the Bronze Age Minoan culture (approximately 27th–15th centuries BCE). Evidence for the hunter-gatherer inhabitants of Greece has been flimsy, but intensive research in Epirus (northwestern Greece) and Argolid (Peloponnese, southern Greece) proposes that long-lived successful adjustments probably were prevalent on the mainland by the end of the last Ice Age and in the first few millennia of the current warm era (the Holocene, after 8500 BCE).

The island of Crete sustained the most composite civilization in Europe. Similar to the Phoenicians, with whom they traded, they were skilled seafarers trading with Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean; they had a written script known as Linear A, which is still untranslated at the moment (Linear B seems to have been the first form of Greek).

The pioneer was Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur archaeologist from Germany who, in 1870, uncovered the site of Troy that was made famous by the legend of the Trojan War. Four years later, he exposed the rich remains of an ancient kingdom at Mycenae.

Minoan culture, religion, bulls Archaeological work has endured on Crete until the present day, with archaeological diggings of palaces, villas, and towns and important archaeological surveys of much of the island. The portrayal of this civilization that we can piece together is at the same time impressive and frustrating. Many towns and palaces were built, the most famous of which, Knossos, inspired Greek myths of the labyrinth thanks to its sheer size, complexity and religious rites involving bulls.

Minoan culture degenerated for a number of reasons—earthquakes affected the island more than once, and a natural disaster in the 15th century BCE, possibly the flare-up of the close by Thera volcano, had a major impact. From 1500 BCE, there was growing influence from the Mycenaean culture on the Greek mainland, and there is clear archaeological proof for prevalent destruction on the island around 1450 B.C. If the Mycenaeans were blameless for this destruction, they definitely took advantage of the events—administrative records from this period are written in Linear B, the script of Mycenaean Greeks. The cultural interconnection now shifted towards the developing Mycenaean civilization of mainland Greece, but the tale of rapid destruction of a sophisticated civilization is occasionally credited with motivating Plato’s Atlantis.

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