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The Minoans: A Civilization of Bronze Age Crete

The Minoans: A Civilization of Bronze Age Crete

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The Minoans were a civilization who flourished during the Bronze Age in the Aegean, and originated from the island of Crete. The #Minoans were a strong maritime entity and traded throughout the Aegean, primarily with the early Mycenaeans on mainland Greece, and with Egypt. #Knossos is a well known site which was excavated by Arthur Evans. The frescoes which survived have become iconic, such as the bull leaping fresco and the dolphin fresco.

Crete is best known in Greek Mythology as the home of King Minos, his wife Pasiphae, their daughters Ariadne and Phaedra and Pasiphae's child, The Minotaur. Daedalus created the labyrinth to hold the Minotaur which was killed by the hero Theseus.


There is no evidence that humans arrived on Crete before 6500–6000 BC. By 3000 BC, however, the Minoan civilization - a Bronze Age culture named for the legendary ruler Minos - was emerging. In its first centuries this culture produced little more than circular vaulted tombs and some fine carved stone vases, but by about 2000 the Minoans had begun to build “palaces” on the sites of Knossós, Phaestus, and Mallia (Mália). The Minoan civilization was centred at Knossós and reached its peak in the 16th century BC, trading widely in the eastern Mediterranean. The Minoans produced striking sculpture, frescoes, pottery, and metalwork. By about 1500 BC, Greek mainlanders from Mycenae had assumed an influential role in Minoan affairs. After Crete suffered a major earthquake that destroyed Knossós and other centres about 1450 BC, power in the region passed decisively to the Mycenaeans, with whom Crete was closely associated until the commencement of the Iron Age in 1200 BC. About this time the Dorians, another Greek-speaking people, moved in and organized the island.

Crete played a supporting role in the revival of Greek civilization that began in the 9th century BC, and during Athens's heyday in the 5th century BC, Crete fascinated the Greeks as a source of myths, legends, and laws. By 67 BC the Romans appeared and completed their conquest of Crete by converting it into Cyrenaica, a province linked with North Africa. In AD 395 the island passed to Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire), and the Arabs gained control over parts of Crete after 824 but lost them back to the Byzantines in 961. In 1204, in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, crusaders sold the island to Venice, which fitted Crete into its growing commercial empire. The native Cretans, however, never abandoned their Orthodox religion, Greek language, and popular lore. The Ottoman Turks, who were already in control of parts of Crete, wrested the capital city of Candia (now Iráklion) from the Venetians in 1669 after one of the longest sieges in history. Crete stagnated under Turkish rule, and native uprisings were always foiled, including those in 1821 and 1866. The Turks were finally expelled by Greece in 1898, after which the island held autonomous status until its union with Greece in 1913.


Bronze Age civilization of Crete that flourished from about 3000 BC to about 1100 BC. Its name derives from Minos, either a dynastic title or the name of a particular ruler of Crete who has a place in Greek legend. A brief treatment of Minoan civilization follows.

Crete became the foremost site of Bronze Age culture in the Aegean Sea, and in fact it was the first centre of high civilization in that area, beginning at the end of the 3rd millennium BC. Reaching its peak about 1600 BC and the later 15th century, Minoan civilization was remarkable for its great cities and palaces, its extended trade throughout the Levant and beyond, and its use of writing. Its sophisticated art included elaborate seals, pottery (especially the famous Kamáres ware with its light-on-dark style of decoration), and, above all, delicate, vibrant frescoes found on palace walls. These frescoes display both secular and religious scenes, such as magical gardens, monkeys, and wild goats or fancifully dressed goddesses that testify to the Minoans' predominantly matriarchal religion. Among the most familiar motifs of Minoan art are the snake, symbol of the goddess, and the bull the ritual of bull-leaping, found, for example, on cult vases, seems to have had a religious or magical basis.

By about 1580 BC Minoan civilization began to spread across the Aegean to neighbouring islands and to the mainland of Greece. Minoan cultural influence was reflected in the Mycenean culture of the mainland, which began to spread throughout the Aegean about 1500 BC.

By the middle of the 15th century the palace culture on Crete was destroyed by conquerors from the mainland. They established a new order on Crete, with centres at Knossos and Phaistos. Following the conquest, the island experienced a wonderful fusion of Cretan and mainland skills. The Late Minoan period (c. 1400–c. 1100 BC), however, was a time of marked decline in both economic power and aesthetic achievement


The capital of the legendary king Minos, and the principal centre of the Minoan, the earliest of the Aegean civilizations. The site of Knossos stands on a knoll between the confluence of two streams and is located about 5 miles (8 km) inland from Crete's northern coast. Excavations were begun at Knossos under Sir Arthur Evans in 1900 and revealed a palace and surrounding buildings that were the centre of a sophisticated Bronze Age culture that dominated the Aegean between about 1600 and 1400 BC.

The first human inhabitants of Knossos probably came there from Anatolia in the 7th millennium BC and established an agricultural society based on wheat and livestock raising. At the beginning of the Early Minoan period (3000–2000 BC) they began using bronze and making glazed pottery, engraved seals, and gold jewelry. A hieroglyphic script was invented, and trade with the Egyptians was undertaken. The first palace at Knossos was built at the beginning of the Middle Minoan period (2000–1580 BC). It consisted of isolated structures built around a rectangular court. Knossos produced fine polychrome pottery on a black glazed ground during this period. About 1720 BC a destructive earthquake leveled most of Knossos. The palace was rebuilt, this time with extensive colonnades and flights of stairs connecting the different buildings on the hilly site. The remains of this palace occupy the excavated site in the present day. The administrative and ceremonial quarters of the palace were on the west side of the central court, and the throne room in this area still contains the gypsum chair in which sat the kings of Knossos. This area of the palace also had long narrow basement rooms that served as storage magazines for wheat, oil, and treasure. Workshops were located on the northeast side of the central court, while residences were situated in the southeastern section. An elaborate system of drains, conduits, and pipes provided water and sanitation for the palace, and the whole urban complex was connected to other Cretan towns and ports by paved roads. The art of Minoan fresco painting reached its zenith at this time, with scenes of dancing, sports, and dolphins done in a naturalistic style. The Minoans also replaced their hieroglyphic script with a linear script known as Linear A.

About 1580 BC Minoan culture and influence began to be extended to mainland Greece, where it was further developed and emerged as the culture known as Mycenaean. The Mycenaeans, in turn, achieved control over Knossos sometime in the 15th century BC the Linear A script was replaced by another script, Linear B, which is identical to that used at Mycenae and is most generally deemed the prototype of Greek. Detailed administrative records in Linear B found at Knossos indicate that at this time the city's Mycenaean rulers controlled much of central and western Crete.

Some time after about 1400 BC, what Evans called the “Last Palace” of Knossos was destroyed by a fire of uncertain origin, and fires destroyed many other Cretan settlements at this time. Knossos was reduced henceforth to the status of a mere town, and the political focus of the Aegean world shifted to Mycenae on the Greek mainland. Knossos continued to be inhabited through the subsequent centuries, though on a much-reduced scale.

Tip: Don't forget to visit the archaeological museum in Heraklion, ideally before your visit to Knossos as most of the foundings are there. A great small museum if you are on the other side of the island to visit is the one in Eleftherna which can be combined with a nice cycling route.

The history of Crete: the rise and fall of the Minoan civilisation

Crete has a long and rich history, and one of the best things you can do on the island is visiting the numerous archaeological sites located in the four prefectures of the island. The best-known ancient sites are Phaistos and Knossos in Heraklion, but there are also many other monuments all over Crete, such as ancient Eleftherna, Zakros and Malia. If you rent a car in Crete, you can easily and flexibly discover the fascinating history of Crete, the Minoan island with one of the oldest civilisations in the Aegean Sea.

The Minoan civilisation flourished in the Bronze Age between 2,700 and 1,600 B.C. not only in Crete but also on other Aegean islands. The name Minoan derives from the mythical king of Crete, Minos, who according to the legend has built the labyrinth with the monster Minotaur inside it. This civilisation is famous all over the world for its magnificent palaces, decorated with frescoes. The most notable palaces are Knossos and Phaistos. The Minoan cities were also well-advanced with roads, water and sewage facilities through pipes. Buildings with flat, tile roofs and walls made of stone.

The influence of the Minoans reached the whole Mediterranean Sea including the Cyclades, Egypt, Cyprus, Canaan and Anatolia. They wrote in one of the oldest scriptures in Europe, the Linear A, which has not been deciphered yet. The Disc of Phaistos is a clay tablet with signs and words of the Linear A and is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in the town of Heraklion.

Agriculture was the main income for the Cretans. They cultivated vegetables and fruits and had advanced trade with other population around the island. They also practised polyculture, using multiple crops in the same place and providing diversity in the natural ecosystems. They followed a healthy way of life, which led to a population increase.

This economy made Minoans mercantile people for overseas trade. They had a network of trade with mainland Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Syria with the predominance of female figures in authoritative roles. Therefore, historians and archaeologists believe that the matriarchy was dominant in Minoan Crete. They also worshipped the Great Goddess, the goddess of fertility.

The Minoans: A Civilization of Bronze Age Crete - History

More than 100 years after it was first discovered, the town of Gournia is once again redefining the island's past

I know a place where there are a lot of old things,&rdquo a peasant named George Perakis told the schoolmaster of the small village of Vasiliki, on the island of Crete, in the spring of 1901. Aware of a visiting American archaeologist&rsquos anxious search to find a site of her own to excavate, the schoolmaster arranged for Perakis and his brother Nicholas to take Harriet Boyd and her colleague Blanche Wheeler to Gournia, four miles northwest of the village. Over several hours on May 19 Boyd collected a few potsherds and located the tops of several ancient walls, enough to convince her it was worth sending a team of workmen to the site the next morning. When she arrived at Gournia on the afternoon of the 20th, Boyd was astonished to see the men holding a bronze spear and sickle and numerous fragments of stone and pottery vessels, and clearing the threshold of a house and a well-paved road complete with a clay gutter. The following day Boyd returned with 51 workmen, and within three days, additional houses and roads had been uncovered, as well as more vases and bronze tools, making her certain that she had found what she was seeking&mdasha Bronze Age settlement of what she called &ldquothe best period of Cretan civilization.&rdquo During three seasons ending in 1904, Boyd and her team, which averaged more than a hundred workmen along with a number of local girls whose job was to wash the finds, excavated the remains of an ancient town that had lain buried and unknown for nearly 3,500 years.

Boyd couldn&rsquot have come to Crete at a better time. During the years that she worked there at the start of the twentieth century, a new, uniquely Cretan, Bronze Age civilization was starting to be uncovered. In 1900, British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans had begun digging at the site of Knossos on the northeast coast of Crete and, within months, had discovered what he named the &ldquoPalace of Minos,&rdquo after the legendary king of Crete whose labyrinth was once believed to contain the half-man, half-bull creature known as the Minotaur. Evans later used the name &ldquoMinoan&rdquo to describe the civilization, a term that had first been employed by the German scholar Karl Hoeck in 1823 in his history of Crete.

Although his interpretation of Knossos as the palace of Minos, and indeed some of his characterizations of Minoan civilization, have been disputed or even disproved over the last century, Evans&rsquo pioneering work in Crete and his recognition of Minoan culture as something distinct from the Neolithic culture that preceded it, or the various cultures, including the Mycenaeans, that followed, cannot be understated.

When Harriet Boyd went looking for that &ldquobest period,&rdquo then, she wanted to find Minoans. At Gournia, she discovered something of a completely different nature from Evans&rsquo palace. Now, more than a hundred years after she began her search, a new team of archaeologists is continuing what she began, re-excavating some of the spaces she first uncovered, and digging completely new areas in order to add to the picture of a very ancient civilization that developed at the same time as the Great Pyramid and Stonehenge were built, and about which many questions remain.

Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean, spanning some 160 miles from east to west. At the center it is 37 miles north to south, while on the east, near the town of Ierapetra, not far from Gournia, the island stretches just seven and a half miles from coast to coast. The landscape varies from snow-topped mountains, the highest of which, Mount Ida, reaches more than 8,000 feet, to deep gorges and caves, expansive valleys, fertile plateaus, and sandy beaches, all surrounded by the blue waters of the Aegean Sea. Located at the crossroads of three continents, Crete has attracted visitors, travelers, and traders for thousands, and even tens of thousands, of years. The island has had an important role in the Mediterranean at many times, both ancient and modern, and has been a prized possession of major powers from the third millennium B.C. through the cultures of the Mycenaeans, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, and Ottomans, and as an occupied territory of Hitler&rsquos Third Reich.

But Crete&rsquos first great civilization was that of the Minoans. Evans suggested that the Minoans were refugees forced from northern Egypt by invaders more than 5,000 years ago. In the era in which he was working, it seemed impossible to imagine a sophisticated Bronze Age Aegean civilization that didn&rsquot have some ties to Egypt, whose considerable antiquity, religious and political complexity, and architectural and artistic achievements had been well known for some time. In fact, Evans based his chronology of Minoan civilization on the Egyptian model of Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, dividing its history into periods he called Early, Middle, and Late, and further subdividing it using Roman numerals and letters where more precise dates were required.

For many decades, however, most scholars have doubted Evans&rsquo concept of Minoan origins. As to the question of when the original settlers came, likely over the course of several migratory events, &ldquowe should probably focus on the Neolithic as the first period of sustained settlement and expansion on the island,&rdquo says archaeologist and Aegean prehistorian John Cherry of Brown University. &ldquoFor earlier periods, before the seventh millennium B.C., evidence of settlement tends to wink on and off, perhaps indications of seasonal occupation only, or even of local extinctions.&rdquo

A recent 10-year study led by George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington on 37 mitochondrial DNA samples extracted from bones excavated at a Late Neolithic and Minoan ossuary in the Agios Charalambos Cave in east-central Crete has suggested that the Minoans were the descendants of Neolithic farmers who had likely come from elsewhere in the Aegean. &ldquoPrevious DNA samples taken from other Minoan sites, such as the Early Bronze Age tholos [beehive-shaped] tombs at Odigitria in the south, were very badly degraded, but at Agios Charalambos we were very lucky because the cave had been sealed until 1975 and the bones were fantastic,&rdquo Stamatoyannopoulos says. &ldquoWe came away with good evidence that the Minoans had European [and not African or Middle Eastern] mitochondrial DNA.&rdquo Stamatoyannopoulos&rsquo team is now working to sequence the entire genome, which, says Cherry, should help scholars better understand how homogenous or heterogeneous Crete&rsquos ancient population was, and how it varied over time.

For the oldest era of Minoan civilization, Evans&rsquo Early Minoan period, the evidence comes from burials and small settlements dating to between 3100 and 1900 B.C. These finds demonstrate that, early on, the Minoans were excellent sailors who were actively trading with Egypt and the Near East, exchanging their cloth, timber, foodstuffs, and, likely, olive oil, for copper, tin, gold, silver, and ivory. It&rsquos also clear that the Minoans were developing great skill as potters, metalsmiths, engravers, and creators of the carved stone vases that would become distinctive and valuable exports for more than a millennium to come.

At the start of the second millennium B.C., a major change occurred in Minoan civilization. During the Protopalatial and Neopalatial periods, which correspond to Evans&rsquo Middle Minoan IB through Late Minoan I periods, the Minoans built &ldquopalaces&rdquo (Evans&rsquo name for these centers has persisted and is the basis for another system of chronology in which Minoan history is divided into Pre-, Proto-, Neo-, and Postpalatial eras) at locations mostly in the eastern part of the island including Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros. These palaces were large stone multistoried building complexes arranged around open, paved courtyards, and contained spaces for industrial activities, food processing and storage, religious celebrations, domestic use, sporting contests, and administrative functions&mdashmore of a city core than the single domestic entity that &ldquopalace&rdquo connotes. The palaces were equipped with elaborate staircases and sophisticated drainage and plumbing, and were also decorated with brightly colored frescoes, some of the most accomplished examples of painting in ancient Greece, depicting primarily scenes from nature and daily life.

While it had been thought that the palaces supported a centralized political entity with the power to collect and redistribute taxes in the form of food, scholars are now much less sure than Evans was that this was how they actually functioned. Rather than being the locus of any sort of government with absolute control, an interpretation based on the model of the powerful urban temples of the ancient Near East, it seems more likely that they were autonomous entities used for communal rituals and ceremonies. It&rsquos also possible that the palaces were storing large quantities of food for these events, as well as perhaps for the elite houses in the area, and paying rations to the artists and workers needed to build, decorate, and maintain each palace. Any or all of these uses would likely have led to the need to keep accurate records, which, in turn, led to the development of writing&mdashthe first in the ancient Aegean world&mdashin the form of the script known as Linear A, as well as the use of Cretan hieroglyphics that were likely based on the Egyptian writing system. Archaeologists, beginning with Evans, have found many artifacts bearing these scripts, though both remain largely undeciphered.

In about 1700 B.C., the Minoan palaces were destroyed, probably by a massive earthquake, but were soon rebuilt and redecorated, ushering in two and a half centuries that saw the height of Minoan civilization. With well-established trade networks exchanging raw materials and luxury objects, and a relatively stable political environment, the Minoans flourished, although not as the preternaturally peaceful society pictured by Evans and his contemporaries. Most larger Minoan towns were, in fact, fortified. A second widespread destruction of the palaces in about 1450 B.C., possibly at the hands of Mycenaeans from mainland Greece, resulted in a blending of Minoan and Mycenaean cultures that eventually led to the decline of the Minoan civilization.

Thanks to Evans&rsquo work at Knossos, as well that of the French at Malia, Italians at Phaistos, and Greeks at Zakros, a great deal was known from an early stage of research about the large palace sites of the Proto- and Neopalatial periods of Minoan history. And while Harriet Boyd may have hoped that her work would lead to similarly spectacular discoveries, at Gournia she uncovered something new and distinct&mdashthe well-preserved remains of a Minoan town. The site&rsquos ancient name is not known, and Gournia, the name given to it by locals, comes from the Greek word gourna, a stone trough used for watering animals that can be found in any traditional Greek village. Boyd uncovered dozens of houses, cobbled streets, a small palace, a cemetery, and countless bronze tools and weapons, stone and clay vessels, and personal and religious artifacts. But she had only three seasons at the site, and the turn of the twentieth century was still early days in the development of modern archaeological methods. After marrying archaeologist Charles Henry Hawes in 1906 and publishing her fieldwork in 1908, Boyd Hawes left Gournia, and thereafter it would be only sporadically, and rather lightly, reexamined.

In 2010, when Vance Watrous of the University of Buffalo and his team began new excavations at Gournia more than a century after Boyd ended hers, there was, he believed, still a great deal to be uncovered. Some of the answers haven&rsquot been far below the surface. &ldquoWe&rsquore really lucky here. The cultural remains start only five or six inches down,&rdquo says Watrous, adding, &ldquoNo one seems to have come back here after the Late Minoan destruction, and there is very little Mycenaean evidence, and no overburden, so as soon as we start digging we&rsquore in Minoan levels. That&rsquos really exciting.&rdquo From the beginning, the project&rsquos focus hasn&rsquot been the Neopalatial site that Boyd dug. &ldquoWe&rsquore looking instead at the site&rsquos earlier history, the Protopalatial period, and questions of what happened before the development of the palace, how Gournia came to be a regional center, and what kind of town it was during these early phases,&rdquo Watrous explains. The team is also doing a complete architectural survey led by Field Director D. Matthew Buell of Trent University and John McEnroe of Hamilton College, and creating an entirely new site map with each wall redrawn using technologies not available to Boyd a century ago. &ldquoThe first year we tried to sink our trenches according to Boyd&rsquos plan and it wasn&rsquot working,&rdquo Watrous says. &ldquoIn some cases we found rooms, and even whole buildings, that weren&rsquot on the original plan.&rdquo

As Watrous stands at the north entrance to the site, about 125 feet above sea level, looking out at the Aegean only a third of a mile away, with the walls and streets of this very ancient town behind him, he seems like a small-town resident with out-of-town visitors, eager to show off his hometown&rsquos best features. Not even the very loud, unrelenting cicadas&rsquo song or the intense summer heat dampens his enthusiasm. &ldquoI&rsquom most interested in learning how people live,&rdquo Watrous says, walking on the original Minoan street&rsquos tidy cobbles&mdashand you get the sense that if you follow him, you&rsquoll know how it would have been to live in Gournia, even more than 3,000 years after the last inhabitant has left. &ldquoAt places like Knossos, Phaistos, and Malia, we have huge palace urban settlements, cities really, but Gournia is something smaller, between 500 and 800 people, so it&rsquos closer to the land, and more vivid in some ways,&rdquo Watrous says.

Of all the sites in the prehistoric Aegean, Gournia gives the best idea of what a Minoan town looked like, which Harriet Boyd understood after just three years of working there. &ldquoThe chief archaeological value of Gournia,&rdquo she wrote in her site publication, &ldquois that it has given us a remarkably clear picture of the everyday circumstances, occupations, and ideals of the Aegean folk at the height of their true prosperity.&rdquo Buell agrees: &ldquoWhen most people think of Minoan archaeology they think in terms of the palaces as these monolithic elements devoid of settlements, but at Gournia we have the settlement and the palace, and that&rsquos so important.&rdquo

Between 2010 and 2014, Watrous and a yearly team of more than a hundred have added greatly to the picture of Gournia as a thriving urban center going back at least as far as the Protopalatial period (1900&ndash1700 B.C.). On the north edge of the site, the team has found evidence of intensive industrial activity alongside domestic spaces. &ldquoThere is no site comparable to Gournia anywhere nearby. These guys are not full-time farmers and this isn&rsquot a farming village. This is the only site like this in our region,&rdquo says Watrous, who also documented hundreds of other Minoan sites, most of which he believes are farmhouses, during an extensive regional survey he conducted between 1992 and 1994. According to Watrous, a normal Minoan family home would have had four to five pithoi (large storage jars) filled with food to survive a year, but at Gournia few of the houses had pithoi at all, suggesting that inhabitants were bartering for their food in exchange for the goods they manufactured there.

In the course of both Boyd&rsquos and Watrous&rsquo excavations, more than 50 houses or areas with evidence of industrial activity have been uncovered&mdash20 areas producing pottery, 15 producing stone vases, 18 producing bronze and bronze implements, and some with evidence for textile production. At one location on the north edge of the settlement, Buell points out an area of burned bedrock inside a space identified as a foundry. &ldquoHere we have all sorts of scraps of bronze crucibles, bronze drips, copper scraps, and iron used for flux. Elsewhere, we also found a tin ingot, the closest known source of which is Afghanistan, and copper ingots from Cyprus, so it&rsquos clear they are making and working metal into objects on the site,&rdquo he says.

One of the most important areas the team has excavated is on Gournia&rsquos northern edge, where archaeologist John Younger of the University of Kansas has uncovered a complete pottery workshop where the town&rsquos inhabitants were making both red clay coarse wares and buff clay fine wares. In one room of the workshop there is a heap of what Younger calls &ldquogray matter,&rdquo which, when his team sectioned it and sent it for analysis, was identified as possibly being clay from Vasiliki Ware, similar to that used to make the distinctive Gournia pottery, called Mirabello Ware, that is found at sites all over eastern and central Crete. In another room, in a phase dating to the Neopalatial period, Younger found 15 intact pots sitting upright on some benches, and in another room he found four large jars with numerous smaller pots inside. &ldquoThere were pots inside pots for storage, just like I have in my cupboard at home,&rdquo Younger says, &ldquoand each one was a unique shape, so I think this was a kind of shop.&rdquo In yet another room, he found 10 cups only slightly different from one another. &ldquoI think you came here, picked out the pots you wanted. You could say, &lsquoI want a set of these, or ten of those,&rsquo and then they were made and left to dry out in the yard,&rdquo Younger explains. And in the summer of 2014, in a small area east of the workshop, the team found no less than 11 kilns superimposed on each other, further evidence of the impressive duration and scale of Gournia&rsquos industrial production.

Perhaps the other most significant area the team has excavated (and in some places re-excavated) was the space that Boyd had identified as the Neopalatial palace. There they have confirmed that the palace&rsquos walls were intended to be quite impressive. On the north facade the walls were built using the masonry technique known as Cyclopean, in which the stones are unfinished, and, consist of white boulders that may have been visible at a distance to visitors to Gournia coming from the sea. On the western side, however, facing the courtyard, the sandstone blocks are of well-finished ashlar masonry, a more refined technique, and one likely intended to impress those coming to congregate in the palace itself, explains Buell. The palace&rsquos east wing features a large open space facing a valley, with views to a Minoan mountaintop sanctuary that, at 4,842 feet, is at the highest point in eastern Crete. &ldquoThere&rsquos a visual relationship between the palace and the peak sanctuary,&rdquo says Watrous, &ldquoand that&rsquos really neat.&rdquo

In one room the team found more than 700 conical cups in two different deposits. The first deposit dates to the Middle Minoan III period (ca. 1700 B.C.) and includes vessels containing burned earth, animal bones, and grape seeds. &ldquoThese are the remains of the celebration to mark the completion of the palace, like a foundation deposit,&rdquo says Buell, adding, &ldquoThey&rsquore like ancient Dixie cups.&rdquo The second deposit dates to the beginning of the Late Minoan IB period, in about 1600 B.C., where, in addition to the other botanical remains, the team found pomegranate seeds in the cups. The additional presence of pumice in some vessels suggests a ritual in response to the catastrophic eruption of the Thera volcano on the island of Santorini some 125 miles away. It&rsquos clear, says Buell, that Gournia&rsquos residents were also congregating in the central courtyard and eating and drinking, but they may have been amusing themselves in other ways too&mdashthe team also found a series of &ldquocounters,&rdquo perhaps used as gaming pieces. Within the palace, Watrous&rsquo team made what may be their most exciting discovery: a small object that looked at first like a piece of burned bark, but that Watrous immediately recognized as a fragmentary Linear A tablet. Both Boyd and Watrous excavated many seals&mdashclay nodules that were impressed by engraved gemstones to authenticate them&mdashand both the tablet and the seals suggest a palatial system of administration. Boyd had also found a clay disk called a roundel bearing a short inscription in the Linear A script.

Discovering the tablet &ldquomade my whole year,&rdquo says Watrous. &ldquoIt seems to follow a formulaic format that records them sending objects of some sort to various places and shows that they were fully literate. It&rsquos not great looking, I know, but it&rsquos really important.&rdquo

Several structures originally explored by Boyd (but about which she never published) are the Minoan buildings she located on the north coast of Mirabello Bay, about 400 yards north of the site. In 2008 and 2009, Watrous returned to this area to clean and map it, at which time he was able to identify several of them and place them in the context of the entire site. &ldquoWe found a large shed for storing ships, pithoi, anchors, and tackle for unloading cargo, as well as a cobbled street running from this harbor toward the town, all of which makes sense given the scale of the industrial production here,&rdquo Watrous says. By the Neopalatial period, nearly 4,000 years ago, Gournia had a fully functioning harbor with a monumental building linked to the palace and a wharf for seagoing ships that sent goods out from the town and brought them back from overseas as part of the eastern-Mediterranean-wide trade network in which the Minoans thrived.

Thousands of years before Evans discovered the first evidence of the Minoans, Crete had long been known as the subject of myth and legend. Fearing the wrath of her husband Kronos, who had devoured his other children, the goddess Rhea secretly gave birth to her son Zeus, the most powerful of the Greek gods, in the Dikteon Cave in the mountains of central Crete. It was back to Crete, too, that Zeus, in the form of a white bull, took the Phoenician woman Europa, where she became queen of the island and mother to King Minos. And for the Athenians of the Golden Age, their great hero and king, Theseus, also had a Cretan past, for it was on the island that he slew the Minotaur and escaped the prison of King Minos&rsquo labyrinth.

Evans’ three main phases of Minoan Civilization

The artifacts unearthed at the site suggested that some sort of ancient Bull Cult was practiced by the inhabitants of the civilization whom he called Minoans after the legendary King Minos.

Evans divided up Minoan Civilization history into three main phases:

i) the early Bronze Age or early Minoan period from 3000 to2100 BCE

ii) the middle Bronze Age or middle Minoan period from 2100 to 1600 BCE and

iii) the Late Bronze Age or late Minoan period from 1600 to about 1100 BCE.

The classification was based on distinctive pottery styles which have since served as a method for dating sites in the area.

The origin of the Minoan Civilization is unknown, but most Historians believe that the Minoans journeyed to Crete from Anatolia sometime around the year 7000 BCE and began a life as settled Farmers of crops, herders of sheep and domesticated cattle.

The Bull was an important icon in Minoan art and culture, and all indications are that the Minoans worshipped it.

By around 2400 BCE the Minoans started to live in larger settlements equal to towns or small cities, with the later Bronze Age sites indicating the existence of a complex highly developed society characterised by high Culture and impressive large palaces.

These sites were major Minoan administrative trade and religious centers with the Palaces also serving as storehouses for important commodities like grain, olive oil, wine and ceramics. An impressive system of roads was also developed by the Minoans connecting all the various Towns and large Administrative Centres.

The Minoan Civilization developed an alphabet called linear script whose origins and meaning remain undeciphered.

Nevertheless, the Minoan Civilization left a rich legacy of vibrant, colourful visual art that helped paint a portrait of Minoan life.

Some of the greatest and most beautiful visual displays of Minoan life can be found in their pottery and the many frescoes that adorn the walls, ceilings and floors of their buildings.

The causes of the decline of the Minoan Civilization also remain unanswered and some Historians believe that its decline could have been the result of war or a natural disaster like a massive volcanic eruption.

One of the more intriguing theories is that that Mycenaean Civilization from the Greek mainland found its way to Crete in the mid 2nd millennium BCE and gradually overtook the Minoan Civilization.

What is certain however is that by around 1200 BCE, the Minoan sites of Crete were abandoned with the Island only being populated by the Greeks around 500 years later.

The Minoan Civilization remains one of the most fascinating Ancient Civilizations and its influence spread as far as the Greek Islands, Anatolia, Egypt and across the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.



This study validated its results through the application of fifteen criteria. The DNA was extracted from tooth powders and DNA libraries were prepared in two independent laboratories in different locations at the University of Washington by different personnel. All DNA extractions and amplification preparations were carried out in physically isolated work areas in flow hoods exclusively dedicated to the study of ancient DNA. The extraction of DNA from teeth for next-generation genome sequencing was performed at the University of Washington in a separate building and by different personnel from the HVS-1 analysis. The samples were processed in a newly built laboratory facility that was restricted for use solely for the Minoan tooth materials. The DNA extracts were maintained in a dedicated, bleach-treated freezer in a separate wing of the building from the PCR or the Illumina machines. Multiple blank extractions were processed in parallel and negative controls were included in all reactions. Positive controls were excluded from extractions and amplifications to avoid the introduction of modern competitor DNA. The DNA samples were tested for appropriate molecular behaviour 27 . HVS-1 results were confirmed on a second tooth from the same individual. Small overlapping targets were amplified. PCR products were cloned to determine the ratio of endogenous-to-exogenous sequences. Amino-acid racemization 28 and concentration ratios 29 were determined in duplicate on a large subset of the samples. PCR copy number was estimated using real-time PCR methods. Protective surgical clothing and mask were worn during the handling and extraction of materials. Equipment, sand paper and tubes were illuminated with UV for 3 hours before each use. All commercial reagents (Taq Polymerase, primers, water and buffers) were screened for modern DNA before use.

DNA extracts were screened with primers L16055-H16379, using the parameters outlined above to assess appropriate molecular behaviour. None of the ancient DNA samples reported here amplified when screened with the L16055-H16379 primer pair, indicating the absence of intact modern competitor DNA 20,27 . Biochemical preservation of teeth was determined using amino-acid analysis by MicroAnalytica LLC on 15 of the original 52 samples from Ayios Charalambos that amplified through HVS-1 primers and 39 of 39 samples from Odigitria. Racemization results for aspartic acid ranged from 0.057 to 0.103 (average=0.08) and for alanine from 0.004 to 0.011 (average=0.0076) for individuals from Ayios Charalambos. Concentration ratios were proportional to published and modern reference standards. For Asp/Glu, they ranged from 0.65 to 0.79 (average=0.71), Ser/Glu 0.44–0.47 (average=0.45) and Ala/Glu 1.56–1.71 (average=1.63). Racemic results were consistent with specimens from which ancient DNA has been successfully recovered and indicate that the cave of Ayios Charalambos contains skeletal remains with excellent biomolecular preservation. In comparison, racemization results obtained from specimens from Odigitria suggested poor preservational history. Aspartic acid ratios for Odigitria ranged from 0.092 to 0.226 (average=0.135) and for alanine from 0.007 to 0.043 (average=0.015). Concentration ratios from Odigitria materials were proportional to published and modern reference standards, but showed a greater range compared with the samples from Ayios Charalambos. For Asp/Glu, they ranged from 0.66 to 1.12 (average=0.75), Ser/Glu 0.38–0.48 (average=0.42) and Ala/Glu 1.31–1.86 (average=1.59) Quantification of target molecules was performed on specimens from Ayios Charalambos using primers L16055-H16155 and SYBR Green (Qiagen) dye on a DNA Engine Opticon 2 Real-Time PCR Detection System (MJ Research). All DNA extracts were shown to contain high copy numbers, ranging from 6,250–13,125 copies (average=10,500) per PCR reaction 30 .

DNA extraction, PCR cloning and sequencing

Teeth were decontaminated by removing the outer layer with sand paper, soaking in 100% bleach for 15 s, rinsing 8 times with DNA-free water and UV treating on all sides for 3 h. They were then pulverized with a Spex CertiPrep 6750 Freezer/Mill for 2 min at a setting of 4. Four-hundred milligram of the resulting powder was decalcified and digested following Krings et al. 31 , using Ultra reagents (Fluka BioChemika). For the HVS-1 analysis, samples were centrifuged for 1 min at 4,000g and the supernatant removed and extracted with an equal volume of UltraPure phenol, chloroform, isoamyl alcohol (25:24:1) (Invitrogen). Supernatant was concentrated to 100 μl using Microcon MW-30 columns (Millipore). DNA from concentrate was isolated using the MinElute Qiagen PCR Purification Kit 32 and eluted with 70 μl of DNA-Free Elution Solution (QBIOgene). Six microlitres of the DNA extract was added to each 25 μl reaction containing HotStart Taq DNA Polymerase (Qiagen) following the manufacturers protocol. Four or five overlapping primer pairs were used to amplify 16055–16379 of the mitochondrial HVS-1 region. Primers followed previous publications 31,33 with these noted modifications L16022-H16155 (5′-ATGTGGATTGGGTTTTTATG-3′) or L16055-H16155, L16122-H16223 (5′-CAGTTGATGTGTGATAGTTGAG-3′), L16209 (5′-CCCCATGCTTACAAGCAAG-3′)-H16331, and L16271-H16379. Reactions were cycled in a PTC-150HB PCR MiniCycler (MJ Research) using the parameters: 95 °C for 15 min, 42 cycles of 94 °C for 30 s, 55 °C for 60 s, 72 °C for 60 s and 72 °C for 7 min. PCR products were cloned using the 2.1-TOPO TA Cloning Kit (Invitrogen). Eight to twelve clones per amplicon were sequenced, representing

80 clones per individual. For sequencing by next-generation Illumina GAII analyzer, DNA was extracted according to the protocol of Rohland and Hofreiter 34 , and processed for sequencing according to the specifications of the manufacturer. The DNA ends were repaired by a Taq polymerase-based protocol and TruSeq adaptors or bar-coded adaptors (single-end) ligated to synthesize the DNA-sequencing libraries. The Truseq adapter libraries were loaded in a single flowcell, while the bar-coded libraries were pooled in sets of six libraries and loaded in a single flowcell.

Sequence analysis and statistics

Consensus sequences were determined from manually aligned amplicons. Sequences were typed following Richards et al. 35 , where motifs containing 16304 were typed as haplogroup H rather than F. All analyses were performed treating cytosine deamination-induced artifacts as ambiguous characters (N). The Surfer 9.0 application (Golden Software Inc., Golden, Colorado) applying the Kriging method was used to graphically represent shared lineages on geographic maps.

Comparison data set of extant and ancient populations

For comparison to the Minoan haplotypes, we mined the GenBank sequence database, and compiled a data set of previously published HVS-1 haplotypes from 135 different population samples (total of 14,267 individuals) (Supplementary Table S4). For our analysis, samples were grouped into 71 population groups from modern populations and 11 ancient populations (Supplementary Table S4).

Population distance matrix based on allele frequencies

For each population, we computed the frequencies of the four different possible nucleotides (A,C,G,T) and missing entries for each of the 413 genotyped mtDNA loci of the HVS-1 region. Thus, each population was summarized by a vector of frequencies. To compute the distance between two populations, we ignored loci with >10% missing entries in either population. Then, for each locus, we computed the city-block (L1) distance between the frequency vectors at that locus. (Recall that the L1 distance between two probability distributions is simply the sum of the absolute values of the element-wise differences.) The distance between the two populations is equal to the average of all L1 distances in all retained loci. This distance definition is symmetric, and for populations that have similar allele frequencies in all genotyped loci, this distance will be small. The above computation was run for all pairs of available populations, thus forming a pairwise distance matrix for all populations.

Principal component analysis

PCA was performed on a pairwise population distance matrix, which was computed using the allele frequencies at each genotyped locus. PCA was evaluated on various subsets of the available populations. Towards that end, we applied the singular value decomposition on the aforementioned pairwise distance matrix, to compute its singular vectors and values. The singular values were used to measure the significance of the top two principal components, and nearest neighbours to the Minoan population were computed by projecting each population on the top two singular vectors and then scaling by the corresponding singular values.

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Minoan Civilization

Since the archeological pickax unearthed the first findings of the Minoan Palace in Knossos, almost 100 years ago, the cause of the destruction of the Minoan Civilization has been a subject of controversy and dispute among scientists.

The Minoan Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that arose in Crete and flourished almost 5000 years ago, until it was destroyed in 1450BC. The Minoans were enigmatic people educated, warriors and merchants, artists, and experienced sailors. Their maritime empire was vast.

They were the first in Europe to use a written language, referred to as Linear A, which was finally decoded just a few years ago. They were different than Greeks and dominated the Mediterranean Sea, especially since they were not menaced by external forces from the Greek mainland or elsewhere.

All of a sudden though, at the height of its power, the Minoan Civilization was destroyed and perished forever, leaving important samples and tokens of its grandeur. The inexplicable end of this civilization made many archaeologists, among which Professor Marinatos and Evans, to associate it with the eruption of the Santorini Volcano.

Is Crete or Santorini the lost Atlantis?

Many scientists and archeologists associate Minoan Crete with the lost Atlantis, partially counting on the words of Plato, whose descriptions fit the findings and evidence of the Minoan Civilization.

"Our records show how your city checked a great power which arrogantly advanced from its base in the Atlantic Ocean to attack the cities of Europe and Asia. For in those days the Atlantic was navigable. " - Platon

Since Platon described the story of Atlantis, numerous myths, legends, and scientific studies have appeared. Many people believe that Atlantis is located in Greece –maybe in Crete, or Santorini. Or even at the Gibraltar. Or maybe, Atlantis is just a myth. In any case, this story fascinates and intrigues numerous people all over the world.

The Eruption of the Santorini Volcano and the destruction of the Minoan Civilization

the eruption of the Santorini Volcano

Somewhere between history and myth lie two historical events of immense importance that shook up and overwhelmed the Hellenic grounds: the destruction of the Minoan Civilization and the eruption of the Santorini Volcano , almost 3,500 years ago. Since Evans discovered the lost Palace of King Minos in Crete, archaeologists and scientists have been trying to connect the two events.

The predominant theory regarding the destruction of the Minoan Civilization has been – for years – that it was provoked by something as violent and as sudden as the eruption of Santorini Volcano. Originally it was believed that the eruption took place in 1450 BC, when the Minoan Civilization perished, but newest findings and theories set it somewhere between 1627BC and 1600BC.

The cosmogonic event of the eruption has perplexed historians for years. Until today, the scientific world is trying to explain and reconstruct the sequence of events that lead to the destruction of the Island of Thira (Santorini) and probably devastated the Minoan Civilization. The Volcanic ash from the Santorini Volcano covered Akrotiri in Thira and reached the Cretan shores. Was it enough though to wipe off map the Minoans?

Minoan Civilization destroyed by tsunamis

The archaeologist Sandy McGillivray in Palaikastro, Crete

For many years, the views and theories of archaeologists have diverged. Relatively recently though, new discoveries in Palaikastro in Crete give us enough hints for a plausible explanation.

Archaeologist Stuart Dunn suggests that the volcanic ash from Santorini obviously shadowed Crete for a few days, but under no circumstances destroyed the Minoan Civilization.

The archaeologist Sandy McGillivray , who studies the Cretan Civilization and its destruction, called in Hendrik Bruins from the Ben Gurion University in Israel to examine the soil in Palaikastro and the coastal sites of Crete, close to the famous palm forest in Vai.

Hendrik Bruins took some soil samples which showed sea microorganisms and species, in places that no known phenomenon could explain their existence.

The experts found deposits of stone and pottery, in pieces or powered, and lots of lumps of volcanic ash. They also discovered foraminifera , tiny marine organisms, usually found only on the seabed, and coralline algae, elements that cannot be seen on the mainland.

The tsunami expert, Dr Kostas Sinolakis

Many kilometers away from Palaikastro, in Amnissos , the port of Knossos, the scientists examined findings that also contained ash, marine species, cattle bones, floor and wall plaster, pumice and seashells. They figured out immediately that this could be explained only by a massive and sudden inflow of water and they called in Kostas Sinolakis , a tsunami expert.

The only way they could have been deposited on the land of Crete was by a tsunami . The tidal wave caused by Santorini Volcano travelled and hit the shores of Crete, destroying the plantations, the crops, the ships and commerce, devitalizing and deviating the Minoan Civilization. The Minoan ports and infrastructures were destroyed by the 50 feet waves and were never rebuilt.

a Minoan city hit by the tsunami

Based on highly accurate and specialized software, Dr Sinolakis managed to reconstruct and enact the way that this tsunami travelled across the Aegean building a full picture of its scale and impact.

Using radio carbon techniques they compare the geological findings with the eruption era all pieces are finally falling into place.

The conclusion was horrifying: not only one, but several successive tsunamis, of more than 50 feet were hitting the Cretan shores, every thirty minutes. Minoans could not have known what fate had written for them.

We can just imagine the terror these people had run away, maybe some of them were coming back to help the wounded or find family members they were there watching more waves coming in.

This was something that happened over and over again, destroying completely the northern and eastern shores of Crete.

Crete is a large island though the palaces and settlements in the interior of the island were almost intact, as were the south and west coast.

Invasion by Mycenaeans - Complete destruction of the Minoan Civilization

Mycenean sword found in a tomb in Chania

Archaeologists have now enough evidence to believe that the reputed Minoan Civilization was severely damaged and affected by the eruption of Santorini Volcano, which destroyed their fleet.

Prosperity and safety of the Minoans relied on their ships since their main means of existence and defense were afflicted, Minoans became an easy prey for the Mycenaean invaders that came to island from the Greek Mainland.

Minoans did not disappear overnight they became ripe for attack by ferocious enemies. In Palaikastro, archeologists found depredated and ravaged statues and monuments, while in Western Crete, closer to Chania, tombs of the same era with bodies and weapons not belonging to the Minoans were unearthed.

Many years passed until the Minoan Civilization was completely destroyed. It is estimated that the palaces of the Minoan Civilization were destroyed almost 150 years after the volcanic eruption.

Even if we never discover if Plato’s words were allegoric or prophetic, or if Atlantis ever existed, the studies and combinations of evidences give us satisfactory and realistic answers on the downfall of one of the most important European Civilizations.

How did the Minoans influence the Greeks?

Cities and towns on the Greek mainland were influenced by the Minoan society in that Greek cities tended to be organized around a palace-like complex. The Minoan Crete was divided into six different political regions that were discovered based on palace ruins in each location.

Additionally, where did the Minoans originally come from? The Minoans and Mycenaeans descended mainly from early Neolithic farmers, likely migrating thousands of years prior to the Bronze Age from Anatolia, in what is today modern Turkey. "Minoans, Mycenaeans, and modern Greeks also had some ancestry related to the ancient people of the Caucasus, Armenia, and Iran.

Likewise, people ask, how did the mycenaeans influence Greek culture?

The Mycenaeans were able to take land by force in the Aegean region, but they eventually expanded their influence directly to Anatolia and Egypt through trade, incorporating their culture into the Bronze Age system from about 1400 BC until its collapse around the year 1200 BC.

How did the Minoans build and create a Greek civilization?

They built their civilization off trade. Abundant resources helped them build a prosperous economy. Through trade, religious beliefs and cultural customs travel over bigger areas cauding them to be mixed with other cultures.

The Minoans: A Civilization of Bronze Age Crete - History

a Minoan fisherman with his catch of mackerel or tuna - this fresco was found at the city of Akrotiri on the Greek island of Santorini

Since we cannot yet translate the writings from Crete, Linear A, we must rely on their architecture and art to find out who the Minoans were. The beautiful frescoes that the Minoans left behind them reveal a sensitive culture, dependent on the sea, and alive to human beauty and the beauty of the world around them.

Much of what we know of the Minoans comes from their art and architecture. In sharp contrast to other Bronze Age societies, such as the Mycenaeans, Minoan art does not immortalize brutality or war. Their art celebrates everyday things that overflow with the joy of life. Entire walls were decorated with creatures and plants from the natural world around them, such as dolphins, swimming fish, monkeys, lilies, octopi, or birds and swallows. They glorified the everyday portraits of men and women going about ordinary tasks, whether fishing or gathering saffron.

The Minoans decorated their clothing and their bodies in keeping with this love of beauty and life. We see social groupings of slender women with long curly black hair in tight-waisted flounced skirts with tight bodices engaged in conversation. There are pictures of lithe young men, some naked, some in decorated kilts or loin cloths. They used cosmetics to further adorn themselves.

They didn't take life lightly however. A culture that depends on an unpredictable sea for its livelihood, and rejoices in the daring and extremely dangerous sport of bull leaping cannot take life for granted. And there must have mistakes and mishaps. And yet, in their art what we see is the grace and beauty of the acrobats. We do not see scenes of sadness or pain in Minoan art - even the dolphins seem happy and full of life.

We also see a society that is essentially egalitarian. The signs of exaggerated importance of some individuals (larger than life figures, elaborate burials for leaders) which we see in other Bronze Age culture are largely absent here. For example, in paintings where there is a princess as well as ordinary women, the saffron gatherers, there is no suggestion of awe or fear or undue importance. Although the Minoans clearly did not have a communist or socialist society, the wealth of the Minoan civilization was not concentrated in a wealthy few. All indications are that ordinary people lived very well and even modest homes were equipped with hypocaust heating systems, for example.

Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations

In the late 19th century, Heinrich Scliemann and Sir Arthur Evans unearthed the remains of previously unknown civilizations. Although the names of Troy, Mycenae and Knossos were familiar from the poems of Homer, the Bronze Age societies of the Aegean revealed by these excavations had much more in common with contemporary Near Eastern Societies than they had with later Greece.

Substantial settlements appeared in mainland Greece and Crete by the end of the 3rd millennium BC. These were subsistence farmers, with households providing goods for their own consumption. The subsequent appearance in Crete of large stone-built complexes marked the emergence of a new form of social organization. There are some parallels between these "First Palaces" and Near Eastern Buildings, and they are accompanied by other signs of such influence, including the appearance of a form of hieroglyphic writing in Crete. However, it is likely that local needs as much as outside influence determined the island's overall development.

There is no agreed explanation for the latter destruction of the "First Palaces", but in their place the large complexes of the "Second Palace Period" emerged. These were not fortified, but they were the focus of the economic and religious life of the Minoan communities.

By 1700 BC Knossos had achieved a dominant position within Crete, and the palace there reveals much information about Minoan society. Surviving frescoes depict scenes of communal activity including processions, bull-leaping, dining and dancing. It is clear from Knossos and other palaces that Cretan society depended upon intensive agriculture - the palaces incorporate large storage areas where crops could be gathered for later redistribution to the population. Outside the towns, especially in eastern Crete, laarge "villas" has a similar role, and acted as processing centres for grape and olive crops.

The two hundred years of the Second Palace Period witnessed considerable destruction and rebuilding at a number of sites. The eruption of Thera in 1628 BC left its mark on sites in eastern Crete but otherwise appears to have had little long-term impact. More significantly, a little over a century later many Cretan settlements were widely devastated, possibly as a result of invasion from the Greek mainland.

Mycenaean Greece

Mycenaean Greece, ca. 1400–1100 BC.

Mainland Greece did not share in the prosperity of Crete and the Aegean islands until after c. 1700 BC, when rich burials, especially in the "shaft graves" at Mycenae and in tholos tombs, point to the emergence of a powerful warlike elite. After 1500 BC mainlanders, called Mycenaeans, appear to have been in control of Knossos, where the palace functioned for another century. It was only after then that palaces started to appear on the mainland. While they owed something to Minoan models, and, like them, acted as centres for agricultural storage and redistribution, they were fortified and less luxurious. The Mycenaeans spoke a form of Greek, and wrote in a syllabic script, Linear B, adapted from the still undeciphered script in use in Crete, Linear A. Documents inscribed on clay tablets reveal a strongly hierarchical society, with the ruler at the top, lesser lords below and the mass of the population at the bottom.

Soon after 1200 BC, more or less simultaneously, the palaces on the mainland were destroyed. In the centuries following there is no trace of Linear B writing, nor of the figurative decoration that characterizes Mycenaean art. When written Greek appears again in the 8th century, it uses a version of the Phoenician alphabet.

The absence of firm evidence - mirrored by the lack of firm dates for this period - has led historians to examine the myths in the search for historical facts. On this basis it has been suggested that the Mycenaeans fell victim to Dorian invaders from the north, or that a long war against Troy aused revolution in the Greek homeland. Neither finds support from archaeology, and an agreed explanation for the complete social breakdown or Mycenaean society is yet to emerge. One contributing factor may have been major political upheavals further east, cutting off access to the tin needed to make the bronze on which the Mycenaean rulers based their power. Certainly the society which emerged from the "dark age" that followed the collapse was reliant on the more widely available iron.

The massive ruins of the Mycenaean palaces remained visible to the Greeks of later times, and these, together with a tradition of oral poetry that developed over the following centuries, led to the invention of a heroic world, most famously celebrated in the epic poems of Homer, that was very different from Bronze Age reality.

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