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Minoan civilization

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The Minoans were an ancient civilisation on what is now Crete (in the Mediterranean), during the Bronze Age, prior to classical Greek culture. The Minoans were primarily a mercantilist people engaged in overseas trade. Many historians and archaeologists believe that the Minoans were highly involved in the Bronze Age's important tin trade (tin being used for manufacture of bronze). The decline of Minoan civilization and the decline in use of bronze tools seem to be correlated.

See also: Crete3.jpg

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Archaeological History

The civilization is named after King Minos, who in Greek mythology was said to be the King of Crete. Some believe that Minos either figuratively represents the civilization or is a dynastic name. Major cities of Minoan culture were Knossos, Phaestos[?], and Mallia[?]. The Cretan myths and the discoveries of Heinrich Schliemann encouraged the excavations carried out in 1900, when Sir Arthur Evans started excavations on the palace in Knossos. His methods caused some controversy, because he not only excavated but attempted to reconstruct the buildings.

Much of our knowledge of Minoan culture comes from 3000 clay tablets dating from two different time periods. The older tablets (written in Linear A) from around 1750 BC have not yet been deciphered. The newer tablets span a period from 1400 BC to 1150 BC and were deciphered in 1952 by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick[?], who identified the language, Linear B, as an early Greek dialect. As these tablets provide our only written accounts, much of what we surmise about Minoan civilization is based on the elaborate wall paintings and floor mosaics that survived. These provide much of our assumptions about Minoan social relationships and religion.

Geography and Climate

Crete is an mountainous island in the Mediterranean with natural harbors. During the ancient period the island was wracked by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and winter storms[?].

According to Homer, Crete had 90 towns, of which Knossos was the most important one. Archeologists have found palaces in Phaistos[?] and Mallia[?] as well. The island was probably divided into four political units, the north being governed from Knossos, the south from Phaistos, the central eastern part from Malia and the eastern tip from Kato Zakros[?]. Smaller palaces have been found in other places. It is remarkable that none of the Minoan cities had city walls, and few weapons were found.

Periods of Minoan history:

 6000-6500 BC[?] Anatolian settlements established
 3100 BC-2100 BC early minoan period
 2100 BC-1700 BC middle minoan period= old palace age
 1700 BC-1420 BC late minoan period = young palace age
 1420 BC-1050 BC[?] Mycenaean period

Chronological History

The oldest signs of inhabitants on Crete are neolithic Anatolians, who arrived around 6000-6500 years BC.

The beginning of the Bronze Age around 3100 BC is a period of great unrest in Crete, but it also marks the beginning of Crete as an important center of civilization.

Around 1700 BC there is a large disturbance in Crete, probably by an earthquake, although an invasion from Turkey has also been suggested. After that the population rose again, and the palaces were rebuilt, even larger than before.

Around 1650 BC, the eruption of the volcanic island Thera caused tsunami which destroyed installations near the coasts. The sulphur dioxide emitted by the volcano also caused a decline in temperature, which resulted in poor harvests for several years. Some archeologists think that the Minoans lost their religious faith in the ability of the priests to control nature.

Around 1450, the palaces were again disturbed. Some time later, around 1420 BC, the island was conquered by the Mycenaeans. After this, most Cretan cities and palaces went into decline; Knossos remained until 1200 BC.

Theories of Failure

There is evidence that the trade networks collapsed, and that Minoan cities perished by famine. The Minoans' grain supply is believed to have come from farms on the shore of the Black sea.

Many scholars believe that ancient trading empires were in constant danger from uneconomic trade, that is, food and staples were improperly valued relative to luxuries, because accounting was undeveloped. The result could be famine and negative population growth.

One theory of Minoan collapse is that increasing use of iron tools impoverished the Minoan traders. When the trade networks ceased, regional famines could no longer be mitigated by trade.

Another theory is that Minoan naval capabilities were damaged in some fashion by the explosion of Thera. This may have lead to a conquest by the Myceneans. The Myceneans probably lacked the skills to manage a large trading empire.


The Minoans raised cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, wheat, barley, vetch, chickpeas, figs, olives, and grapes.

Farmers used wooden plows, bound by leather to wooden handles, and pulled by pairs of donkeys or oxen.


The most important Minoan art is in their ceramics, but they are also known for their frescos, landscapes, and stone carvings[?]. In the early minoan period Minoan ceramics were characterised by linear patterns of spirals, triangles, curved lines, crosses, fishbone motives and such. In the middle minoan period naturalistic designs such fish, squids, birds and lillies were common. In the late minoan period, flowers and animals were still the most characteristic, but the variability had increased. The 'palace style' of the region around Knossos is characterised by strong geometric simplification of naturalistic shapes and monochromatic painting.


Minoan men wore loincloths[?] and kilts. Women wore robes[?] that were slit to the navel and had short sleeves and flounced skirts[?]. The patterns on clothes emphasized symmetrical geometric designs.


Minoan temples were generally L-shaped and housed priestesses, families, storerooms[?], and craftsmen[?]. The Temple of Knossos was built of cedar and covered 24,000sq yards and was 4 stories tall. It had 60+ rooms, including the center court where men would jump over bulls.

Minoan sacred symbols[?] include the Bull, Bull's Horns of Consecration[?], Double Axe[?], Pillar, Snakes[?], Sun, and Tree.

Minoan art suggests that the Minoans may have worshipped a Mother Goddess who was the Goddess of Fertility, Animals, Cities, Households, Harvests, and the Underworld. She was often represented by snakes. The Goddess was linked to the Earthshaker, a male represented by the bull and the sun, who would die each fall and be reborn each spring. Other illustrations have led to some theories that the Minoans also believed in animal-headed demons.

Although long thought to be a peaceful people, recent evidence uncovered at a temple structure near one of the palaces shows that the Minoans engaged in human sacrifice. To date, however, only one such archaeological find has been made.

Minoans buried their dead in pottery jars.


The Minoan cities were connected with stone roads, formed from blocks cut with bronze saws. Streets were drained and water and sewage facilities were available to the upper-class, through clay pipes.

Minoan buildings often had flat tiled[?] roofs; plaster[?], wood, or flagstone[?] floors, and stood 2-3 stories high. They would contstruct the lower walls of stone and rubble[?] and use mudbrick for higher elevations. Ceiling timbers would hold up the roofs.


The Minoans traded with Greece, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Spain, and Mesopotamia. The most important Cretan exports were grain, oil, wine, ceramics, copper, tin, gold and silver.

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