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The Minoan civilization, a Bronze Age civilization, arose on the island of Crete and flourished from approximately 2700 to 1450 BC. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. Will Durant referred to it as "the first link in the European chain."[1]



What the Minoans called themselves is unknown. The term "Minoan" was coined by Arthur Evans after the mythic "king" Minos.[2] Minos was associated in Greek myth with the labyrinth, which Evans identified with the site at Knossos. It has sometimes been argued that the Egyptian place name "Keftiu" (*Káftiu kftiw) and the Semitic "Kaftor" or "Caphtor" and "Kaptara" in the Mari archives refer to the island of Crete; "On the other hand some acknowledged facts about Caphtor/Keftiu can only with difficulty be reconciled with Crete," observes John Strange.[3] In the Odyssey, composed centuries after the destruction of the Minoan civilization, Homer calls the natives of Crete Eteocretans ("true Cretans"); these may have been descendants of the Minoans.

Minoan palaces (anaktora) are the best known building types to have been excavated on the island. They are monumental buildings serving administrative purposes as evidenced by the large archives unearthed by archaeologists. Each of the palaces excavated to date has its own unique features, but they also share features which set them apart from other structures. The palaces were often multi-storied, with interior and exterior staircases, light wells, massive columns, storage magazines and courtyards.

Chronology and history

Rather than associate absolute calendar dates for the Minoan period, archaeologists use two systems of relative chronology. The first, created by Evans and modified by later archaeologists, is based on pottery styles. It divides the Minoan period into three main eras—Early Minoan (EM), Middle Minoan (MM), and Late Minoan (LM). These eras are further subdivided, e.g. Early Minoan I, II, III (EMI, EMII, EMIII). Another dating system, proposed by the Greek archaeologist Nicolas Platon, is based on the development of the architectural complexes known as "palaces" at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Kato Zakros, and divides the Minoan period into Prepalatial, Protopalatial, Neopalatial, and Post-palatial periods. The relationship among these systems is given in the accompanying table, with approximate calendar dates drawn from Warren and Hankey (1989).

The Thera eruption occurred during a mature phase of the LM IA period. The calendar date of the volcanic eruption is extremely controversial. Radiocarbon dating has indicated a date in the late 1600s BC;[4][5] those radiocarbon dates, however, conflict with the estimates of archaeologists who synchronize the eruption with the Conventional Egyptian chronology and obtain a date of around 1525-1500 BC.[6][7][8] See the article on dating the Thera eruption for more discussion. The eruption often is identified as a natural event catastrophic for the culture, leading to its rapid collapse, perhaps being narrated mythically as Atlantis by Classical Greeks.


  Minoan chronology
3650-3000 BC EMI Prepalatial
2900-2300 BC EMII
2300-2160 BC EMIII
2160-1900 BC MMIA
1900-1800 BC MMIB Protopalatial
(Old Palace Period)
1800-1700 BC MMII
1700-1640 BC MMIIIA Neopalatial
(New Palace Period)
1640-1600 BC MMIIIB
1600-1480 BC LMIA
1480-1425 BC LMIB
1425-1390 BC LMII Postpalatial
(At Knossos, Final Palace Period)
1390-1370 BC LMIIIA1
1370-1340 BC LMIIIA2
1340-1190 BC LMIIIB
1190-1170 BC LMIIIC
1100 BC Subminoan

The oldest evidence of inhabitants on Crete are preceramic Neolithic farming community remains that date to approximately 7000 B.C.E (Before the Common Era).[9] A comparative study of yDNA haplogroups of modern Cretan men showed that a male founder group from Anatolia or the Levant, is shared with the Greeks.[10] See History of Crete.

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Crete, around 2700 B.C. E. marked the beginning of Crete as an important center of Greek civilization.[11] This civilization became known as the Minoan civilization after the legendary King Minos who ruled from the town of Knossos. From the Early Bronze Age (3500 B.C.E. thru 2600 B.C.E.), the Minoan civilization on Crete showed a promise of greatness. The Minoans reached their peak of prosperity in the Middle Minoan Period.[12]

At the end of the MMII period (1700 BC) there was a large disturbance in Crete, probably an earthquake, or possibly an invasion from Anatolia.[13] The palaces at Knossos, Phaistos, Malia, and Kato Zakros were destroyed. But with the start of the Neopalatial period, population increased again,[14] the palaces were rebuilt on a larger scale and new settlements were built all over the island. This period (the 17th and 16th centuries BC, MM III / Neopalatial) represents the apex of the Minoan civilization. The Thera eruption occurred during LMIA (and LHI).

In about 1600 B.C.E. the "Greeks" from the mainland invaded and overcame Crete.[15] These Greeks are known to us as the "Mycenaeans", because the most splendid palace discovered on the mainland that belongs to this period is at Mycenae. The Mycenaeans tended to adapt, rather than destroy, Minoan culture religion and art.[16]

On the Greek mainland, the Helladic period of culture was contemporary; Late Helladic IIB (LHIIB) began during LMIB, showing independence from Minoan influence. LMIB ware has been found in Egypt under the reigns of Hatshepsut and Tuthmosis III. At the end of the LMIB period, the Minoan palace culture failed catastrophically. All palaces were destroyed, and only Knossos was immediately restored—although other palaces, such as Chania, sprang up later in LMIIIA. Either the LMIB/LMII catastrophe occurred after this time, or else it was so bad that the Egyptians then had to import LHIIB instead.

A short time after the LMIB/LMII catastrophe, around 1420 BC, the palace sites were occupied by the Mycenaeans, who adapted the Linear A Minoan script to the needs of their own Mycenaean language, a form of Greek, which was written in Linear B. The first such archive anywhere is in the LMII-era "Room of the Chariot Tablets". the latest Cretan archives date to LMIIIA (contemporary with LHIIIA).

During LMIIIA:1, Amenhotep III at Kom el-Hatan took note of k-f-t-w (Kaftor) as one of the "Secret Lands of the North of Asia". Also mentioned are Cretan cities such as Ἀμνισός (Amnisos), Φαιστός (Phaistos), Κυδωνία (Kydonia) and Kνωσσός (Knossos) and some toponyms reconstructed as belonging to the Cyclades or the Greek mainland. If the values of these Egyptian names are accurate, then this pharaoh did not privilege LMIII Knossos above the other states in the region.

After about a century of partial recovery, most Cretan cities and palaces went into decline in the 13th century BC (LHIIIB/LMIIIB).

Knossos remained an administrative center until 1200 BC; the last of the Minoan sites[17] was the defensive mountain site of Karfi a refuge site which displays vestiges of Minoan civilization almost into the Iron Age.


Map of Minoan Crete

Crete is a mountainous island with natural harbors. There are signs of earthquake damage at many Minoan sites and clear signs of both uplifting of land and submersion of coastal sites due to tectonic processes all along the coasts.[18]

Homer recorded a tradition that Crete had 90 cities.[19] To judge from the palace sites the island was probably divided into at least eight political units during the height of the Minoan period. The north is thought to have been governed from Knossos, the south from Phaistos, the central eastern part from Malia, and the eastern tip from Kato Zakros and the west from Chania. Smaller palaces have been found in other places.

Some of the major Minoan archaeological sites are:

  • Palaces
    • Knossos - the largest[20] Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete; was purchased for excavations by Evans on March 16, 1900.
    • Phaistos - the second largest[20] palatial building on the island, excavated by the Italian school shortly after Knossos
    • Malia - the subject of French excavations, a palatial centre which affords a very interesting look into the development of the palaces in the protopalatial period
    • Kato Zakros - a palatial site excavated by Greek archaeologists in the far east of the island. This is also referred to as "Zakro" in archaeological literature.
    • Galatas - the most recently confirmed palatial site
  • Agia Triada - an administrative centre close to Phaistos
  • Gournia - a town site excavated in the first quarter of the 20th Century by the American School
  • Pyrgos - an early Minoan site on the south of the island
  • Vasiliki - an early Minoan site towards the east of the island which gives its name to a distinctive ceramic ware
  • Fournu Korfi - a site on the south of the island
  • Pseira - island town with ritual sites
  • Mount Juktas - the greatest[citation needed] of the Minoan peak sanctuaries because of its association with the palace of Knossos
  • Arkalochori - the find site of the famous Arkalochori Axe
  • Karfi - a refuge site from the late Minoan period, one of the last of the Minoan sites
  • Akrotiri - settlement on the island of Santorini (Thera), near the site of the Thera Eruption
  • Zominthos - a mountainous city in the northern foothills of Mount Ida

Minoans beyond Crete

Minoans were traders, and their cultural contacts reached far beyond the island of Crete — to Old Kingdom Egypt, to copper-bearing Cyprus, Caanan, and the Levantine coasts beyond, and to Anatolia. In late 2009, Minoan-style frescos and other Minoan-style artifacts were discovered during excavations of the Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri, Israel, leading archaeologists to conclude that the Minoan influence was the strongest foreign influence on that Caananite city state. These are the only Minoan remains ever found in Israel.[21]

Minoan techniques and styles in ceramics also provided models, of fluctuating influence, for Helladic Greece. Along with the familiar example of Thera, Minoan "colonies" can be found first at Kastri on Cythera, the birthplace for Greeks of Aphrodite, an island close to the Greek mainland that came under Minoan influence in the mid-third millennium (EMII) and remained Minoan in culture for a thousand years, until Mycenaean occupation in the thirteenth century. The use of the term "colony", however, like "thalassocracy", has been criticized in recent years.[22] The Minoan strata there replace a mainland-derived culture in the Early Bronze Age, the earliest Minoan settlement outside Crete.[23] The Cyclades were in the Minoan cultural orbit, and, closer to Crete, the islands of Karpathos, Saros and Kasos, also contained Minoan colonies, or settlements of Minoan traders, from the Middle Bronze Age (MMI-II); most of them were abandoned in LMI, but Minoan Karpathos recovered and continued with a Minoan culture until the end of the Bronze Age.[24] Other supposed Minoan colonies, such as that hypothesised by Adolf Furtwängler for Aegina, were later dismissed.[25] There was a Minoan colony at Triandra on Rhodes.[26]

Certain locations within Crete emphasise it as an "outward looking"[citation needed] society. The Neopalatial site of Kato Zakro, for instance, is located within 100 metres of the modern shore-line, situated within a bay. Its large number of workshops and the richness of its site materials indicate a potential 'entrepôt' for import and export. Such activities are elaborated in artistic representations of the sea, including the 'Flotilla' fresco from room 5, in the west house at Akrotiri.

Minoan cultural influence indicates an orbit that extended not only throughout the Cyclades (so-called Minoanisation), but in locations such as Egypt and Cyprus. There is late Minoan I (LMI) stonework at Amman. Furthermore, in fifteenth-century tomb paintings at Thebes a number of individuals have been distinguished as Minoan in appearance, bearing gifts. Inscriptions record these people as coming from Keftiu, or the "islands in the midst of the sea", and may refer to gift-bringing merchants or officials from Crete.[27]

Society and culture

Minoan copper ingot

The Minoans were primarily a mercantile people engaged in overseas trade. Their culture, from 1700 BC onward, shows a high degree of organization.

Many historians and archaeologists believe that the Minoans were involved in the Bronze Age's important tin trade: tin, alloyed with copper apparently from Cyprus, was used to make bronze. The decline of Minoan civilization and the decline in use of bronze tools in favor of iron ones seem to be correlated.

The Minoan trade in saffron, the stigma of a mutated crocus which originated in the Aegean basin as a natural chromosome mutation, has left fewer material remains: a fresco of saffron-gatherers at Santorini is well-known. This inherited trade pre-dated Minoan civilization: a sense of its rewards may be gained by comparing its value to frankincense, or later, to pepper. Archaeologists tend to emphasize the more durable items of trade: ceramics, copper, and tin, and dramatic luxury finds of gold and silver.

Objects of Minoan manufacture suggest there was a network of trade with mainland Greece (notably Mycenae), Cyprus, Syria, Anatolia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and westward as far as the coast of Spain.

Fresco showing three women who were possibly Queens

Minoan men wore loincloths and kilts. Women wore robes that had short sleeves and layered flounced skirts. These were open to the navel allowing their breasts to be left exposed, perhaps during ceremonial occasions.[citation needed] Women also had the option of wearing a strapless fitted bodice, the first fitted garments known in history.[citation needed] The patterns on clothes emphasized symmetrical geometric designs. It must be remembered that other forms of dress may have been worn of which we have no record.

The Minoan religion focused on female deities, with females officiating.[28] The statues of priestesses in Minoan culture and frescoes showing men and women participating in the same sports such as bull-leaping, lead some archaeologists to believe that men and women held equal social status. Inheritance is thought to have been matrilineal. The frescos include many depictions of people, with the genders distinguished by colour: the men's skin is reddish-brown, the women's white.

Concentration of wealth played a large role in the structure of society. Multiroom constructions were discovered in even the ‘poor’ areas of town, revealing a social equality and even distribution of wealth.

Language and writing

Unknown signs on the Phaistos Disc

Knowledge of the spoken and written language of the Minoans is scant, due to the small number of records found. Sometimes the Minoan language is referred to as Eteocretan, but this presents confusion between the language written in Linear A scripts and the language written in a Euboean-derived alphabet after the Greek Dark Ages. While the Eteocretan language is suspected to be a descendant of Minoan[citation needed], there is not enough source material in either language to allow conclusions to be made. It also is unknown whether the language written in Cretan hieroglyphs is Minoan. As with Linear A, it is undeciphered and its phonetic values are unknown.

Approximately 3,000[citation needed] tablets bearing writing have been discovered so far in Minoan contexts. The overwhelming majority are in the Linear B script, apparently being inventories of goods or resources. Others are inscriptions on religious objects associated with cult. Because most of these inscriptions are concise economic records rather than dedicatory inscriptions, the translation of Minoan remains a challenge. The hieroglyphs came into use from MMI and were in parallel use with the emerging Linear A from the eighteenth century BC (MM II) and disappeared at some point during the seventeenth century BC (MM III).

In the Mycenean period, Linear A was replaced by Linear B, recording a very archaic version of the Greek language. Linear B was successfully deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952, but the earlier scripts remain a mystery. Unless Eteocretan truly is its descendant, it is perhaps during the Greek Dark Ages, a time of economic and socio-political collapse, that the Minoan language became extinct.[citation needed]


A fresco found at the Minoan site of Knossos, indicating a sport or ritual of "bull leaping", the red skinned figure is a man and the two light skinned figures are women

The collection of Minoan art is in the museum at Heraklion, near Knossos on the north shore of Crete. Minoan art, with other remains of material culture, especially the sequence of ceramic styles, has allowed archaeologists to define the three phases of Minoan culture (EM, MM, LM) discussed above.

Since wood and textiles have vanished through decomposition, the best preserved, and so most easily learned from, surviving examples of Minoan art are Minoan pottery, the palace architecture with its frescos that include landscapes, stone carvings, and intricately carved seal stones.


In the Early Minoan period ceramics were characterised by linear patterns of spirals, triangles, curved lines, crosses, fishbone motifs, and such. In the Middle Minoan period naturalistic designs such as fish, squid, birds, and lilies 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 a strong geometric simplification of naturalistic shapes and monochromatic paintings. Very noteworthy are the similarities between Late Minoan and Mycenaean art. Frescoes were the main form of art during these time of the Minoan culture. These frescoes are the only record we have of the Minoan civilization.


While the Egyptian painters of the time painted their wall paintings in the "dry-fresco" (fresco secco) technique, the Minoans used a "true" or "wet" painting method, allowing the pigments of metal and mineral oxides to bind well to the wall, which required quick execution.[citation needed] The nature of this technique encouraged improvisation, spontaneity, and the element of chance. Since they had to work within the time constrains of the drying plaster, the painters had to be very skillful, and their fluid brush strokes translated into the graceful outlines that characterize Minoan painting. For this reason, this method of painting was most appropriate for the fluid moments of life and nature scenes that the Minoans favored, which contrasted sharply with the strict stylization and stereotyping typical of frescoes from other Mediterranean cultures of the same time.

The figures of Minoan frescoes are depicted in natural poses of free movement that reflect the rigors of the activity they engage in, an attitude characteristic of a seafaring culture accustomed to freedom of movement, liquidity, and vigor.

At the Middle period III of the Neopalatial period (1700-1600 BC) the Minoans learned the painting with forms from the Aegeans, but Aegeans took from the Minoans the representations with the horse's gallop, individual patterns (fishes), and modalities of representation (representation of territorial levels). In Crete now is beginning to flourish, in a magnificent manner, a more naturalistic formal art in frescoes (scenes of gardens, such as the "Crocus gatherer" and representation of marine fauna). In ceramics (white painting on a dark background) appear forms (fishes) next to the ornament element (continuous whorls). Later (1550-1450 B.C.) at the last flourishing of the palaces, the social and courtier life information is given by the impressive performances with forms in frescoes (scenes from gardens, celebrations, dance scenes, jumping bulls, on cups from Vapheio (Lakonia), sacrifice scenes in temples which were located in hills, sporting events, also a military scene). Fine examples from this period are the Minoan Lady known as "La Parisienne" and the "Prince of lilies" from the palace of Knossos. Shortly after 1400 BC is originated the famous sarcophagus from Aghia Triadha, with combined Minoan and Mycenaean religious scenes.

Sculpture and figures

A bull rhyton from Knossos palace, gold gilded horns and painted rock-crystal eyes display a high degree of realism[29]

Very little sculpture from Minoan Crete has survived since most of it was not monumental, and instead consisted of small artifacts dedicated to gods or kings.[citation needed] One of the best known examples is the Snake Goddess fetish which exhibits many stylized conventions with the geometric division of the body and dress, while its frontal pose reminds us of Mesopotamian and Egyptian sculpture. The extended arms holding the snakes however add animation to the static pose. The statuette appears to be a goddess or high priestess[30], and the dress which covers the body all the way to the ground while leaving the breasts exposed was typical of Minoan female attire and is repeated in frescoes. Some of these models were conserved by re-shaping and re-painting, and underwent several modifications.

Minoan Sculptures

A variety of ceramic, bone, clay and stone figures have been recovered from Minoan sites, many of which have been excavated from communal tombs and peak sanctuaries. Schematic depictions of human individuals and various animals in a range of attitudes have been recorded, though due to the friable nature of baked clay many survive in fragments rather than coherent shapes. Some of these figures have been treated with layers of paint, either in a binary black and white, or shades of red. It has been demonstrated[31] that the visual profiles of the clay figures, with their arms raised or crossed, could have represented a technique for individuals to reach an altered state of consciousness (ASC) in conjunction with sound and light stimulation.

Other common gestures observed in figures include the 'Minoan salute' (i.e., one fist raised to the forehead whilst the other remains at the side) and the 'hands-on-hips'. The latter attitude is often represented in a female figure who has been given multiple interpretations: the epiphany (appearance) of a deity, a religious official, and a worshiper. Whatever the meaning (if there is only one), gestures and posturing were clearly important aspects of Palatial culture and Minoan ritual.


Through their interaction with other civilizations of the middle east, the Minoans were aware and used the art of metalworking. Their skillful jewelry creations adorned the collections of noble palace inhabitants and were even exported around the Mediterranean.

The archaeological museums in Crete present a number of gold artifacts, along with an assortment of copper instruments that date back to 2300 BC. Copper was a much sought after commodity during this time, and it does not appear naturally in Crete. Most likely the Minoans imported copper from Cyprus.

The skill of the Minoan metal smiths was renowned in the ancient world, and many artisans worked abroad in mainland Greece and the Aegean islands.[citation needed] The Mycenaeans learned the art of inlaying bronze with gold from the Minoans.[citation needed]

Technology also played a major role in the effectiveness of Minoan agriculture. Wooden plows were constructed to cultivate the ground. The most common tool had a wooden handle with a metal head (an axe edge on one side and an adze edge on the other side). For harvesting grain, pieces of wood or bone with chips of flint were employed as sickles initially. Eventually, bronze sickles were made [33].


"Snake Goddess" or a priestess performing a ritual

The Minoans worshiped almost exclusively goddesses.[34] Although there is some evidence of male gods, depictions of Minoan goddesses vastly outnumber depictions of anything that could be considered a Minoan god. While some of these depictions of women are speculated to be images of worshipers and priestesses officiating at religious ceremonies, as opposed to the deity herself, there still seem to be several goddesses including a Mother Goddess of fertility, a Mistress of the Animals, a protectress of cities, the household, the harvest, and the underworld, and more. Some have argued that these are all aspects of a single Great Goddess. They are often represented by serpents, birds, poppies, and a somewhat vague shape of an animal upon the head. Some suggest the goddess was linked to the "Earthshaker", a male represented by the bull and the sun, who would die each autumn and be reborn each spring. Though the notorious bull-headed Minotaur is a purely Greek depiction, seals and seal-impressions reveal bird-headed or masked deities.

The bull leaper from Knossos (Heraklion Archaeological Museum)

A major festive celebration was exemplified in the famous athletic Minoan bull dance, represented at large in the frescoes of Knossos[35] and inscribed in miniature seals.[36] In this feat that appears extremely dangerous, both male and female dancers would confront the bull and, grasping it by its sacred horns,[37] permit themselves to be tossed, somersaulting over its back to alight behind it. Each of these sequential movements appears in Minoan representations, but the actual significance of the bull dance in Minoan cult and cultural life is lost beyond retrieval. What is clear, however, is that there is no inkling of an antagonistic confrontation and triumph of the human through the ritual death of the bull, which is the essence of the surviving bullfight of Hispanic culture; rather, there is a sense of harmonious cooperation.

Interpretation of Minoan icons can easily range too far: Walter Burkert warns:

"To what extent one can and must differentiate between Minoan and Mycenaean religion is a question which has not yet found a conclusive answer"[38]

and suggests that useful parallels will be found in the relations between Etruscan and Archaic Greek culture and religion, or between Roman and Hellenistic culture. Minoan religion has not been transmitted in its own language, and the uses literate Greeks later made of surviving Cretan mythemes, after centuries of purely oral transmission, have transformed the meager sources: consider the Athenian point-of-view of the Theseus legend. A few Cretan names are preserved in Greek mythology, but there is no way to connect a name with an existing Minoan icon, such as the familiar serpent-goddess. Retrieval of metal and clay votive figures— double axes, miniature vessels, models of artifacts, animals, human figures—has identified sites of cult: here were numerous small shrines in Minoan Crete, and mountain peaks and very numerous sacred caves—over 300 have been explored—were the centers for some cult, but temples as the Greeks developed them were unknown.[39] Within the palace complex, no central rooms devoted to cult have been recognized, other than the center court where youths of both sexes would practice the bull-leaping ritual. It is notable that there are no Minoan frescoes that depict any deities.

Minoan sacred symbols include the bull and its horns of consecration, the labrys (double-headed axe), the pillar, the serpent, the sun-disk, and the tree. However, recently a completely different interpretation of these symbols and an entirely new non-religious perspective has been suggested[40].

Warfare and "The Minoan Peace"

Children boxing in a fresco on the island of Santorini

Though the vision created by Sir Arthur Evans of a pax Minoica, a "Minoan peace", has been criticised in recent years,[41] it is generally assumed there was little internal armed conflict in Minoan Crete itself, until the following Mycenaean period.[42] As with much of Minoan Crete, however, it is hard to draw any obvious conclusions from the evidence. However, new excavations keep sustaining interests and documenting the impact around the Aegean.[43]

Despite having found ruined watchtowers and fortification walls[44], Evans argued that there was little evidence for ancient Minoan fortifications. But as S. Alexiou has pointed out (in Kretologia 8), a number of sites, especially Early and Middle Minoan sites such as Aghia Photia, are built on hilltops or are otherwise fortified. As Lucia Nixon said, "...we may have been over-influenced by the lack of what we might think of as solid fortifications to assess the archaeological evidence properly. As in so many other instances, we may not have been looking for evidence in the right places, and therefore we may not end with a correct assessment of the Minoans and their ability to avoid war.".[45]

Chester Starr points out in "Minoan Flower Lovers" (Hagg-Marinatos eds. Minoan Thalassocracy) that Shang China and the Maya both had unfortified centers and yet still engaged in frontier struggles, so that itself cannot be enough to definitively show the Minoans were a peaceful civilization unparalleled in history.

In 1998, however, when Minoan archaeologists met in a conference in Belgium to discuss the possibility that the idea of Pax Minoica was outdated, the evidence for Minoan war proved to be scanty.

Archaeologist Jan Driessen, for example, said the Minoans frequently show 'weapons' in their art, but only in ritual contexts, and that "The construction of fortified sites is often assumed to reflect a threat of warfare, but such fortified centers were multifunctional; they were also often the embodiment or material expression of the central places of the territories at the same time as being monuments glorifying and merging leading power" (Driessen 1999, p. 16).

On the other hand, Stella Chryssoulaki's work on the small outposts or 'guard-houses' in the east of the island represent possible elements of a defensive system. Claims that they produced no weapons are erroneous; type A Minoan swords (as found in palaces of Mallia and Zarkos) were the finest in all of the Aegean (See Sanders, AJA 65, 67, Hoeckmann, JRGZM 27, or Rehak and Younger, AJA 102).

Keith Branigan claimed that 95% of so-called Minoan weapons possessed hafting (hilts, handles) that would have prevented their use as weapons (Branigan, 1999); more recent experimental testing of accurate replicas has shown this to be incorrect as these weapons were capable of cutting flesh down to the bone (and scoring the bone's surface) without any damage to the weapons themselves. Archaeologist Paul Rehak maintains that Minoan figure-eight shields could not have been used for fighting or even hunting, since they were too cumbersome (Rehak, 1999). And archaeologist Jan Driessen says the Minoans frequently show 'weapons' in their art, but only in ritual contexts (Driessen 1999). Finally, archaeologist Cheryl Floyd concludes that Minoan "weapons" were merely tools used for mundane tasks such as meat-processing (Floyd, 1999). Although this interpretation must remain highly questionable as there are no parallels of one-meter-long swords and large spearheads being used as culinary devices in the historic or ethnographic record.

About Minoan warfare, Branigan concludes that "The quantity of weaponry, the impressive fortifications, and the aggressive looking long-boats all suggested an era of intensified hostilities. But on closer inspection there are grounds for thinking that all three key elements are bound up as much with status statements, display, and fashion as with aggression.... Warfare such as there was in the southern Aegean EBA early Bronze Age was either personalized and perhaps ritualized (in Crete) or small-scale, intermittent and essentially an economic activity (in the Cyclades and the Argolid/Attica) " (1999, p. 92). Archaeologist Krzyszkowska concurs: "The stark fact is that for the prehistoric Aegean we have no direct evidence for war and warfare per se" (Krzyszkowska, 1999).

Furthermore, no evidence exists for a Minoan army, or for Minoan domination of peoples outside Crete. Few signs of warfare appear in Minoan art. "Although a few archaeologists see war scenes in a few pieces of Minoan art, others interpret even these scenes as festivals, sacred dance, or sports events" (Studebaker, 2004, p. 27). Although armed warriors are depicted being stabbed in the throat with swords, violence may occur in the context of ritual or blood sport.

Although on the Mainland of Greece at the time of the Shaft Graves at Mycenae, there is little evidence for major fortifications among the Mycenaeans there (the famous citadels post-date the destruction of almost all Neopalatial Cretan sites), the constant warmongering of other contemporaries of the ancient Minoans – the Egyptians and Hittites, for example – is well documented.

Possibility of human sacrifice

Evidence that suggest the Minoans may have performed human sacrifice has been found at three sites: (1) Anemospilia, in a MMII building near Mt. Juktas, interpreted as a temple, (2) an EMII sanctuary complex at Fournou Korifi in south central Crete, and (3) Knossos, in an LMIB building known as the "North House." (explanation of abbreviations)

The temple at Anemospilia was destroyed by earthquake in the MMII period. The building seems to be a tripartite shrine, and terracotta feet and some carbonized wood were interpreted by the excavators as the remains of a cult statue. Four human skeletons were found in its ruins; one, belonging to a young man, was found in an unusually contracted position on a raised platform, suggesting that he had been trussed up for sacrifice, much like the bull in the sacrifice scene on the Mycenaean-era Agia Triadha sarcophagus. A bronze dagger was among his bones, and the discoloration of the bones on one side of his body suggests he died of blood loss. The bronze blade was fifteen inches long and had images of a boar on each side. The bones were on a raised platform at the center of the middle room, next to a pillar with a trough at its base.

The positions of the other three skeletons suggest that an earthquake caught them by surprise—the skeleton of a twenty-eight year old woman was spread-eagled on the ground in the same room as the sacrificed male. Next to the sacrificial platform was the skeleton of a man in his late thirties, with broken legs. His arms were raised, as if to protect himself from falling debris, which suggests that his legs were broken by the collapse of the building in the earthquake. In the front hall of the building was the fourth skeleton, too poorly preserved to allow determination of age or gender. Nearby 105 fragments of a clay vase were discovered, scattered in a pattern that suggests it had been dropped by the person in the front hall when he was struck by debris from the collapsing building. The jar appears to have contained bull's blood.

Unfortunately, the excavators of this site have not published an official excavation report; the site is mainly known through a 1981 article in National Geographic (Sakellarakis and Sapouna-Sakellerakis 1981, see also Rutter[46]).

Not all agree that this was human sacrifice. Nanno Marinatos says the man supposedly sacrificed died in the earthquake that hit at the time he died. She notes that this earthquake destroyed the building, and killed the two Minoans who supposedly sacrificed him. She also argues that the building was not a temple and that the evidence for sacrifice "is far from ... conclusive."[47] Dennis Hughes concurs and argues that the platform where the man lay was not necessarily an altar, and the blade was probably a spearhead that may not have been placed on the young man, but could have fallen during the earthquake from shelves or an upper floor.[48]

At the sanctuary-complex of Fournou Korifi, fragments of a human skull were found in the same room as a small hearth, cooking-hole, and cooking-equipment. This skull has been interpreted as the remains of a sacrificed victim.[49]

In the "North House" at Knossos, the bones of at least four children (who had been in good health) were found which bore signs that "they were butchered in the same way the Minoans slaughtered their sheep and goats, suggesting that they had been sacrificed and eaten. The senior Cretan archaeologist Nicolas Platon was so horrified at this suggestion that he insisted the bones must be those of apes, not humans."[50]

The bones, found by Peter Warren, date to Late Minoan IB (1580-1490), before the Myceneans arrived (in LM IIIA, circa 1320-1200) according to Paul Rehak and John G. Younger.[51] Dennis Hughes and Rodney Castleden argue that these bones were deposited as a 'secondary burial'.[52] Secondary burial is the not-uncommon practice of burying the dead twice: immediately following death, and then again after the flesh is gone from the skeleton. The main weakness of this argument is that it does not explain the type of cuts and knife marks upon the bones.

Burial and mortuary practice

Like much of the archaeology of the Bronze Age, burial remains constitute much of the material and archaeological evidence for the period. By the end of the Second Palace Period Minoan burial practice is dominated by two broad forms: 'Circular Tombs', or Tholoi, (located in South Crete) and 'House Tombs', (located in the north and the east). Of course, there are many trends and patterns within Minoan mortuary practice that do not conform to this simple breakdown. Over all, inhumation was the most popular form of burial, cremation does not seem to have been a popular means of burial in Bronze Age Crete [53]. Throughout this period there is a trend towards individual burials, with some distinguished exceptions. These include the much-debated Chrysolakkos complex, Mallia, consisting of a number of buildings forming a complex. This is located in the centre of Mallia's burial area and may have been the focus for burial rituals, or the 'crypt' for a notable family.

These tombs often evidence group burial, where more than one body is deposited. These may represent the burial crypts for generations of a kin group, or of a particular settlement where the individuals are not closely related and shared in the construction of the tomb. The 'house tomb' at Gournia is a typical example, where the construction consisted of a clay and reed roof, topping a mud-brick and stone base. At Ayia Photia certain rock-cut chamber tombs may have been used solely for the burial of children, indicating complex burial patterns that differed from region to region. Mortuary furniture and grave goods varied widely, but could include storage jars, bronze articles such as tools and weapons, and beauty articles such as pendants. Little is known about mortuary rituals, or the stages through which the deceased passed before final burial, but it has been indicated that 'toasting rituals' may have formed a part of this, suggested by the prevalence of drinking vessels found at some tombs.[54]

In later periods (EM III) a trend towards singular burials, usually in clay Pithoi (large storage vessels), is observed throughout Crete, replacing the practice of built tombs. Equally, the introduction of Larnake or Larnax burials emerges, where the body was deposited in a clay or wooden sacrophagus. These coffins were often richly decorated with motifs and scenes similar to those of the earlier fresco and vase painting tradition.[55] However, rock-cut tombs and Tholoi remained in use even by the LM III period, including the site of Phylaki.

The distribution of burial sites varies in time and space. Some functional demands may have influenced the decision to locate a cemetery: the Late Minoan rock-cut tombs at Armeni utilise the geography of the area for structural support, where chambers are dug deep into the rock. Generally, cemeteries tend to cluster in regions close to settled areas. The Mochlos cemetery, for example, would have served the inhabitants of that island who settled in the south of the area. The cemetery itself has been interpreted to indicate a visible hierarchy, perhaps indicating social differentiation within the local population;[56] larger, monumental tombs for the 'èlite', and smaller tombs, including some early Pithoi burials, for the larger part of the population.

The German geologist Hans Georg Wunderlich argued that the Palace of Knossos itself was a mortuary temple.[57] This interpretation is strongly rejected by mainstream archaeology.[58]


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

Minoan buildings often had flat tiled roofs; plaster, wood, or flagstone floors, and stood two to three stories high. Typically the lower walls were constructed of stone and rubble, and the upper walls of mudbrick. Ceiling timbers held up the roofs.

The materials used in constructing the villas and palaces varied, and could include sandstone, gypsum, or limestone. Equally, building techniques could also vary between different constructions; some palaces used ashlar masonry whilst others used roughly hewn megalithic blocks.


Ruins of the palace at Knossos

The first palaces were constructed at the end of the Early Minoan period in the third millennium BC (Malia). While it was formerly believed that the foundation of the first palaces was synchronous and dated to the Middle Minoan at around 2000 BC (the date of the first palace at Knossos), scholars now think that palaces were built over a longer period in different locations, in response to local developments. The main older palaces are Knossos, Malia, and Phaistos. Some of the elements recorded in the Middle Minoan 'palaces' (Knossos, Phaistos and Mallia, for example) have precedents in earlier styles of construction in the Early Minoan period.[59] These include the indented western court, and the special treatment given to the western façade. An example of this is seen at the "House on the Hill" at Vasiliki, dated to the Early Minoan II period.

The palaces fulfilled a plethora of functions: they served as centres of government, administrative offices, shrines, workshops, and storage spaces (e.g., for grain). These distinctions might have seemed artificial to Minoans.

The use of the term 'palace' for the older palaces, meaning a dynastic residence and seat of power, has recently come under criticism (see Palace), and the term 'court building' has been proposed instead. However, the original term is probably too well entrenched to be replaced. Architectural features such as ashlar masonry, orthostats, columns, open courts, staircases (implying upper stories), and the presence of diverse basins have been used to define palatial architecture.

Often the conventions of better-known, younger palaces have been used to reconstruct older ones, but this practice may be obscuring fundamental functional differences. Most older palaces had only one story and no representative facades. They were U-shaped, with a big central court, and generally were smaller than later palaces. Late palaces are characterised by multi-story buildings. The west facades had sandstone ashlar masonry. Knossos is the best-known example. See Knossos. Further building conventions could include storage magazines, a north-south orientation, a pillar room, a Minoan Hall system, a western court, and pier-and-door entrance ways. Palatial architecture in the First Palace Period is identified by its 'square within a square' style, whilst later, Second Palace Period constructions incorporated more internal divisions and corridors.[60]

Fresco from the "Palace of Minos", Knossos, Crete
Storage jars in Knossos

It is a common architectural standard among the Middle Minoan 'palaces' that they are aligned with their surrounding topography. The MM palatial structure of Phaistos appears to align with Mount Ida, whilst Knossos is aligned with Juktas.[61] These are oriented along a north-south axis. One suggested reason for this is the ritual significance of the mountain, where a number of Peak Sanctuaries (spaces for public ritual) have been excavated (i.e., Petsophas). The material record for these sites show clusters of clay figurines and evidence of animal sacrifice.


One of the most notable contributions of Minoans to architecture is their unique column, which was wider at the top than the bottom. It is called an 'inverted' column because most Greek columns are wider at the bottom, creating an illusion of greater height. The columns were also made of wood as opposed to stone, and were generally painted red. They were mounted on a simple stone base and were topped with a pillow-like, round piece as a capital.[62][63]


A number of compounds interpreted as 'Villas' have been excavated in Crete. These structures share many features with the central Palaces (i.e., a conspicuous western facade, storage facilities, and a 'Minoan Hall') of the Neopalatial era, and may indicate either that they performed a similar rôle, or that they were artistic imitations, suggesting that their occupants were familiar with palatial culture. These villas are often richly decorated (see the frescos of Haghia Triadha Villa A).

Agriculture and subsistence

The Minoans raised cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats, and grew wheat, barley, vetch, and chickpeas, they also cultivated grapes, figs, and olives, and grew poppies, for poppyseed and, perhaps, opium. The Minoans domesticated bees, and adopted pomegranates and quinces from the Near East, although not lemons and oranges as is often imagined. They developed Mediterranean polyculture,[64] the practice of growing more than one crop at a time, and as a result of their more varied and healthy diet, the population increased. This method of farming would theoretically maintain the fertility of the soil, as well as offering protection against low yields in any single crop. Furthermore, Linear B tablets indicate the importance of orchard farming (i.e., figs, olives and grapes) in processing crops for "secondary products".[65] Olive oil in the Cretan diet (or more largely, the Mediterranean diet) is comparable to butter in the Northern diet [66]. The process of fermenting wine from grapes is likely to have been a concern of the "Palace" economies, whereby such prestige goods would have been both important trade commodities as well as culturally meaningful items of consumption.[67] Equally, it is likely that the consumption of exotic or expensive products would have played a role in the presentation and articulation of political and economic power.

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

The importance of marine resources in the Cretan diet [4] is equally important to consider: the prevalence of edible molluscs in site material,[68] and the artistic representations of marine fish and animals, including the distinctive "Octopus" stirrup jar (LM IIIC), indicate an appreciation and occasional use of fish within the economy. However, doubt remains over the functional significance of these resources in the wider Cretan diet, especially in relation to grain, olives and animal produce. Indeed, the intensification of agricultural activity is indicated by the construction of terraces and dams at Pseira in the Late Minoan period.

The Cretan diet consisted of wild animals roaming the island. Cretans ate wild deer and boar along with the meats made available to them by their livestock. Unfortunately, wild game can no longer be found on Crete [69].

Not all plants and flora would have a purely functional or economic utility. Artistic depictions often show scenes of Lily gathering and performances within 'green' spaces. The fresco known as the "Sacred Grove" at Knossos, for instance, depicts a number of female figures facing towards the left-hand-side of the scene, flanked by a copse of trees. Some scholars have suggested that these depictions represent the performance of 'harvest festivals' or ceremonies, as a means to honour the continued fertility of the soil. Further artistic depictions of farming scenes are observed on the Second Palace Period "Harvester Vase" (an egg-shaped rhyton, or pouring vessel), where 27 male figures, led by another, each carry hoes. This suggests the importance of farming as an artistic motif.

Much debate has been animated by the discovery of storage magazines within the palace compounds. At the second 'palace' at Phaistos, for instance, a range of rooms in the western side of the structure have been identified as a magazine block. Within these storage areas have been recovered numerous jars, jugs and vessels, indicating the role of the complex as a potential re-distribution centre of agricultural produce. Several possibilities may be suggested, including a model where all economic and agricultural produce was controlled by the Palace and re-distributed by it. At sites such as Knossos, where the town had developed to a considerable size (75 ha), there is evidence of craft specialisation, indicating workshops. The Palace of Kato Zakro, for instance, indicates workshops that were integrated into the structure of the palace. Such evidence contributes to the idea that the Minoan palatial system developed through economic intensification, where greater agricultural surplus could support a population of administrators, craftsmen and religious practitioners. The number of domestic, or sleeping, chambers at the Palaces indicate that they could have supported a large population of individuals who were removed from manual labour.

Minoan demise theories

The Minoan eruption on the island of Thera (present-day Santorini about 100 km distant from Crete) occurred during the LM IA period. This eruption was among the largest volcanic explosions in the history of civilization, ejecting approximately 60 km3 of material and rating a 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.[70][71][72] The eruption devastated the nearby Minoan settlement at Akrotiri on Santorini, which was entombed in a layer of pumice.[73] Also, it has been suggested that the eruption and its effect on the Minoan civilization was the origin of the Atlantis myth, via Egyptian historical accounts.

It is further believed that the eruption severely affected the Minoan culture on Crete, although the extent of the impact has been debated. Early theories proposed that ashfall from Thera on the eastern half of Crete choked off plant life, causing starvation of the local population.[74] However, after more thorough field examinations, this theory has lost credibility, as it has been determined that no more than 5 millimeters (0.2 in) of ash fell anywhere on Crete.[75] Recent studies indicate, based on archaeological evidence found on Crete, that a massive tsunami, generated by the Theran eruption, devastated the coastal areas of Crete and destroyed many Minoan coastal settlements.[76][77][78].[79][80] The LM IIIA (Late Minoan) period is marked by its affluence (i.e., wealthy tombs, burials and art) and the ubiquity of Knossian ceramic styles.[81] However, by LM IIIB the importance of Knossos as a regional centre, and its material 'wealth', seem to have declined.

Significant Minoan remains have been found above the Late Minoan I era Thera ash layer, implying that the Thera eruption did not cause the immediate downfall of the Minoans. As the Minoans were a sea power and depended on their naval and merchant ships for their livelihood, the Thera eruption caused significant economic hardship to the Minoans. Whether these effects were enough to trigger the downfall of the Minoan civilization is under intense debate. The Mycenaean conquest of the Minoans occurred in Late Minoan II period, not many years after the eruption, and many archaeologists speculate that the eruption induced a crisis in Minoan civilization, which allowed the Mycenaeans to conquer them easily.[78]

Sinclair Hood writes that the destruction of the Minoans was most likely due to an invading force. Although the demise of the flourishing civilization was aided by the erupting volcano on Thera, the ultimate end came from outside conquerors. Archaeological evidence leads to the fact the destruction of the island appears to be due to fire damage. Hood notes that the palace at Knossos appears to have experienced less damage than other sites along the island of Crete. Because natural disasters do not choose targets, it is most likely that the destruction was a product of invaders, for invaders would have seen the usefulness of a palace center like Knossos [82].

Several authors have noted evidence for exceedence of carrying capacity by the Minoan civilization. For example archaeological recovery at Knossos provides clear proof of deforestation of this part of Crete near late stages of Minoan development.[83][84]

See also


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  14. ^ All estimates have been revised downward by Todd Whitelaw, “Estimating the Population of Neopalatial Knossos,” in G. Cadogan, E. Hatzaki, and A. Vasilakis (eds.), Knossos: Palace, City, State (British School at Athens Studies 12) (London 2004); at Moschlos in eastern Crete, the population expansion was at the end of the Neoplalatial period (Jeffrey S. Soles and Davaras, Moschlos IA 2002: Preface p. xvii).
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  16. ^ Ibid. p. 107.
  17. ^ BBC "The Minoan Civilisation of Crete" :"The later Minoan towns are in more and more inaccessible places, the last one being at Karfi, high in the Dikti Mountains. From that time onward, there are no traces of the Minoans".
  18. ^ For instance, the uplift as much as 9 meters in western Crete linked with the earthquake of 365 is discussed in Stathis C. Stiros, "The 8.5+ magnitude, AD365 earthquake in Crete: Coastal uplift, topography changes, archaeological and historical signature" Quaternary International (23 May 2009).
  19. ^ Homer, Odyssey xix.
  20. ^ a b "Thera and the Aegean World III". Retrieved 2009-09-13. 
  21. ^ Remains of Minoan fresco found at Tel Kabri; Remains Of Minoan-Style Painting Discovered During Excavations of Canaanite Palace, ScienceDaily, 7 December 2009
  22. ^ Hägg and Marinatos 1984; Hardy (ed.) 1984; Broadbank 2004
  23. ^ J. N. Coldstream and G. L. Huxley, Kythera: Excavations and Studies Conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British School at Athens (London: Faber & Faber) 1972.
  24. ^ E. M. Melas, The Islands of Karpathos, Saros and Kasos in the Neolithic and Bronze Age (Studies in Mediterranean archaeology 68) (Göteburg) 1985.
  25. ^ James Penrose Harland, Prehistoric Aigina: A History of the Island in the Bronze Age, ch. V. (Paris) 1925.
  26. ^ Arne Furumark, "The settlement at Ialysos and Aegean history c. 1500-1400 B.B.", in Opuscula archaeologica 6 (Lund) 1950;T. Marketou, "New Evidence on the Topography and Site History of Prehistoric Ialysos." in Soren Dietz and Ioannis Papachristodoulou (eds.), Archaeology in the Dodecanese (1988:28-31).
  27. ^ Dickinson, O (1994) Pg. 248
  28. ^ Patricia Rosof Family History p.12
  29. ^ Higgins, (1981) p. 162
  30. ^ Higgins, (1981) p. 17
  31. ^ McGowan, Erin Ruth (2006). Experiencing and experimenting with embodied archaeology: Re-embodying the sacred gestures of Neopalatial Minoan Crete." Archeological review from Cambridge 21(6), 32-57.
  32. ^ See detailed analysis in Haralampos V. Harissis, Anastasios V. Harissis. Apiculture in the Prehistoric Aegean.Minoan and Mycenaean Symbols Revisited BAR S1958, 2009 ISBN 9781407304540.
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  34. ^ See Castleden 1994; Goodison and Morris 1998; N. Marinatos 1993; et al.
  35. ^ In the small courtyard of the east wing of the palace of Knossos.
  36. ^ An ivory figure reproduced by Spyridon Marinatos and Max Hirmer, Crete and Mycenae (New York) 1960, fig. 97, also shows the bull dance movement.
  37. ^ The Minoan horn-topped altars, since Evans' time conventionally called "Horns of Consecration" are represented in seal impressions, and survive in examples as far afield as Cyprus. Plutarch (The Intelligence of Animals 983) mentions the horn altar (keraton) associated with Theseus, which survived on Delos: "I saw the horn altar, celebrated as one of the seven wonders, for it needs no glue or other bond, but is fixed and fitted together only by horns taken from the right side of the head".
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  39. ^ Kerenyi 1976, p. 18; Burkert 1985, p. 24ff.
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  43. ^ | Pax Minoica in Aegean
  44. ^ Gere, "Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism"
  45. ^ Nixon, "Changing Views of Minoan Society," in Minoan Society ed L. Nixon.
  46. ^ Lesson 15 of The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean accessed March 17, 2006
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  49. ^ Gessell 1983.
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  57. ^ The Secret of Crete, 1974
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External links

Simple English

The Minoan civilisation was a civilisation on Crete, an island near Greece. It began in the Bronze Age between 3000 and 2700 BC, and lasted to about 1450 BC. The Minoan civilisation is famous for its sea trading and well planned cities. The Minoans had an agricultural system which relied mainly on olives and grapes. Their religion worshiped mostly goddesses. The Minoan civilisation was later replaced by the Mycenaean culture.

Minoan Architecture

Cretans built one thing during their architecture era. Palaces. In a non-royal palace there were many small rooms with cooler places to sit. (Crete got very hot in the summer) palaces served as many things. They served as government centers, storerooms, stores, and administrative offices. Most palaces were huge. Possibly the Cretans’ got all the money to create these palaces from working for the Egyptians. But the royal palace was very different. The king and queen had toilets, baths, and running water. The kings and queens palace was super fancy. The era was ended by a great fire. This era went from 2000 B.C. to 1450 B.C.

Further reading

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