Minoan civilization

The Minoan or Cretan was the first urban civilization that developed in the current Greek territory . This flourished from 2600 BC. C. and had its epicenter on the island of Crete , in the Aegean Sea.

From Minos, the legendary king of the Cretan city of Knossos, derives the term Minoan, a name given by archaeologists and historians to the civilization of the island of Crete.

The decline of the Minoan civilization began around 1450 BC. C. , when the aqueos invaded the island. Some authors relate this decline to the eruption of the Santorini volcano, which would have caused ash clouds and large waves that affected the Cretan economy and facilitated foreign conquest.

Location of the Minoan civilization

The Minoan civilization had its epicenter on the island of Crete , strategically located between the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean . From there it spread to Kythera, Santorini, Karpathos, Rhodes and other islands of the Cycladic archipelagos, southern Sporades and Dodecanese.

Map of the location of the Minoan civilization. In brown, the island of Crete.

Characteristics of the Minoan civilization

The main characteristics of the Minoan civilization were the following:

  • It had a Mediterranean origin, since it arose from the integration of a local Neolithic population with immigrants who arrived from the Anatolian peninsula, in Asia Minor.
  • Its inhabitants spoke a non-Indo-European language, which was not related to that of the Achaean peoples who inhabited mainland Greece from 1800 BC. C.
  • The Minoan civilization did not constitute a unified state. Several cities were the center of small kingdomsthat divided the dominion of Crete and the surrounding islands.
  • Each kingdom was made up of a cityand the rural area that surrounded it, where agriculture and livestock were practiced. Each city had a palace that was the residence of the king and the center of political and economic administration.
  • To record the tributes that were stored in the royal deposits, they developed 2 writing systems:one ideographic, with a hieroglyphic base, and the other syllabic, Linear A, whose support was clay tablets.
  • The Minoan armies consisted of archers and spearmen protected with conical helmets and 8-shaped shields, which were armed with lances, double-edged axes, and bronze swords.
  • They were expert navigatorswho dominated the trade routes of the Eastern Mediterranean.
  • They were polytheists , as they believed in various gods that they associated with natural forces. The cults to the mother goddess and the bull’s horns were the most widespread.
  • The Minoan civilization interacted with the Mycenaean civilization. Both created original cultural elements, the combined influences of which were the basis on which the culture of Ancient Greece developed .

Political and social organization of the Minoan civilization

The Minoan territory was divided into small kingdoms , organized around the cities of Knossos, Phaestos, Maliá, Zakros and Hagia Triada. It is assumed that at some point he managed to impose his domination over the entire island.

In the center of each one of the cities there was a palace where the king , his court and a bureaucracy made up of various officials lived . These were in charge of planning economic activities and storing, in royal warehouses, the products delivered by the peasants of the surrounding villages.

Skilled artisans worked in the workshops of palaces and cities who made important technical innovations, such as welding, locks, keys, and the dyeing of fabrics with murix, a purple substance extracted from a mollusk.

In Cretan society, women had a prominent place. They participated in palatial activities and presided over religious ceremonies .

Ruins of the palace of Knossos, in the north of the island of Crete. It was discovered and unearthed by British archaeologists Arthur Evans and Duncan Mackenzie between 1900 and 1914 and between 1920 and 1932.

Economics of the Minoan civilization

In the rural areas around the cities wheat, vines and olive trees were grown, and goats and sheep were raised. The fishing was also important for the consumption of the population, whose diet was based on bread, goat cheese, fish, olives and wine diluted with water.

Despite the importance of primary activities, the Cretan economy was organized around the artisan production of textiles and ceramics, and maritime trade . Aboard ships with sails and oars, their merchants traded textiles, ceramic vessels, wines, olive oil, and cereals for copper, gold, ivory, tin, and silver. They came to dominate the trade routes of the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, rivaling the Egyptians and the Phoenicians .

This “Minoan thalassocracy” (dominion of the seas) could be one of the reasons why Minoan palaces had no walls: the Cretans hoped to defeat enemies who tried to invade them at sea.

Minoan religion

The Cretans believed in various gods that they associated with the forces of nature . They also worshiped stones and trees, which they considered sacred, and the horns of the bull .

The cult of the bull, as a symbol of strength and virility, was widespread. The figure of the minotaur, a monster from Greek mythology with the body of a human being and the head of a bull, has its origin in him.

Their main deity, however, was the Mother goddess , who symbolized fertility . She was represented with the figure of a woman with snakes that crawled up her arms and hair.

The Cretans did not build temples. The worship of their gods was presided over by priestesses and was carried out on altars built in courtyards, caves and on the tops of mountains.

They buried their dead in large jars in which they also placed food, weapons, and toiletries, suggesting that they believed in some kind of life after death.

The fresco Taurocatapsia, in the palace of Knossos, shows the scene of a ritual ceremony in which a young man jumps over a bull when it tries to ram him.

Minoan civilization art

The best expressions of Minoan art are found in palaces . These limestone buildings had 2 to 4 stories and had pipes and drainage systems and openings for air and clarity to enter. The largest and most splendid was that of Knossos , which had 1,400 rooms.

The walls of the palaces were covered by large frescoes depicting flowers, bulls, marine animals and party scenes in which stylized figures of women with bare breasts stand out.

Another of his productions was the Kamarés ceramics , polychrome and decorated with geometric figures of people or animals such as octopuses or dolphins.


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