The Minoan World...

In the middle of the second millennium B.C. the island of Crete supported the most complex civilization in Europe. With elaborate palaces and well-developed towns, the Minoan civilization was the equal of many in the Near East and North Africa. With the collapse of this culture in the later part of the millennium, the world was left with faint glimpses of their achievements, limited to a few lines in certain Greek histories, such as that of Thucydi-des, and the references to Knossos and King Minos in such myths as that of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Modern knowledge of the Minoan people did not develop until the later part of the nineteenth century. Spurred on by the discoveries of Mycenae and Troy made by the German-American excavator Heinrich Schliemann, the British excavator Sir Arthur Evans began his remarkable excavation of the palace of Minos at Knossos. Archaeological work has continued on Crete until the present day, with excavations of palaces, villas, and towns and important archaeological surveys of much of the island. The portrait of this civilization that we can piece together is at the same time impressive and frustrating.

We now understand quite a bit about the architecture, diet, ceramic traditions, and so on of these people. It is not known, however, whether the Minoan world was a single culture with variations (similar to the ethnic distinctions that we observe today) or several cultures throughout the island of Crete, sharing in a common elite tradition. Our understanding of the process of cultural development and change is equally uncertain, mainly the product of conflicting arguments over chronology. Dated primarily through ceramic style, Minoan civilization presents problems when we note that some ceramic styles appear to be the result more of locational than of temporal differences. There is controversy concerning the correlation of the Minoan temporal stages to the eruption of the volcano on the ancient island of Thera (now Santorini) in the later seventeenth century B.C. Our dating could well be incorrect by at least a century. Rather than relying on the ceramic identification of Minoan time periods, it is better to refer to a chronology that focuses on large social developments:
Pre-palatial period: c. 3100/3000 to 1925/ 1900 B.C.
Proto-palatial period: c. 1925/1900 to 1750/ 1720 B.C.
Neo-palatial period: c. 1750/1720 to 1490/ 1470 B.C.
Post-palatial period: c. 1490/1470 to 1075/
1050 B.C.
The Neo-palatial period is most commonly considered the zenith of Minoan civilization. At this time there were four large palace centers—Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Kato Zakros—as well as large developed towns, such as Gournia, and numerous examples of small isolated farmsteads. Their economic base was a developed agricultural system that utilized wheat, barley, olives, grapes, sheep, goats, and cattle. But just how Minoan complexity fit into this agricultural background is only partially understood.

What we can determine of Minoan social structure derives basically from analysis of the palatial centers. Significant sections of the structure of all the palaces, with the exception of Kato Zakros, were devoted to the storage of large amounts of agricultural supplies. Knossos was by far the largest of the palaces and had the greatest storerooms. Within these rooms were stored massive amounts of olive oil, olives, wheat, and other agricultural items. The presence of these large storerooms gives a glimpse into the probable structure of the Minoan social hierarchy.
The storage and redistribution of agricultural goods are best paralleled in what anthropologists have identified as a social and economic construction in modern societies, the chiefdom. While a direct comparison between these modern social configurations and the ancient Minoans would be misleading, an analysis of just how cultures might use food storage in the development of their social and political structures gives insight into the possible basis for the Minoan political and social order.

Social storage of food often is a measure taken by cultures to moderate the risk of agricultural uncertainty. At times, this storage has been manipulated to afford the armature upon which social and political hierarchy first develops. Such was probably the case with the Minoans. The island is composed of a multitude of microenvironments, rather small isolated areas, that are locked in by topographical features, such as mountains. An important feature of these microenvironments in those times was that each had its own particular reaction to normal inter-annual fluctuations in rainfall. The result was that Crete often resembled a patchwork of distinct microenvironments with quite different agricultural yields every year throughout the island. Simply put, one microenvironment could have had a bumper crop of wheat while its near neighbors could have been experiencing a serious shortfall in that grain during the same summer.

Social and political hierarchy can develop when a person or a group begins to control agricultural storage within and between these different microenvironments. Often this is seen in the gathering of a certain percentage of the agricultural surplus and ensuring that some of it is redistributed to those people who live in areas with low productivity in a particular year. As one might surmise, therein lies the basis of social indebtedness and the platform for constructing social hierarchy.
The palace of Minos at Knossos best illustrates this economic system. The entire western basement was dedicated to food storage. The rulers of Knos-sos could either return some food to areas in need or, as can be seen from the plan of the palace, use much of it to support craft specialists, who occupied up to a fourth of the palace, in the production of luxury items for use by the ruling family. This system of centralized redistribution was probably in place throughout the island. Only the palace at Kato Zakros lacks such a distinctive storage capacity.


We know too little about the development of this economic and political system. Our knowledge of Cretan culture before the rise of the palaces is scant, with much of our understanding limited to a few small villages. The most elaborate is Myrtos (c. 2600-2170 B.C.) on the southern coast of Crete. A small village, with up to sixty preserved rooms, Myrtos appears to have been settled by five or six family units, with no identifiable hierarchical relationship. The site was agriculturally based and displayed a range of artifacts, from storage jars to serving dishes. Within each family unit, we have been able identify different types of workrooms, such as kitchens. One unit apparently held a small pottery workshop.

Several common pottery types, most notably, a long-necked, almost bird-shaped teapot, were shared among these Pre-palatial communities, indicating a commonality of design and perhaps function. Regional differences, however, can be seen in distinct variations in tomb types. In the north they were burying the dead in "house tombs," rectangular structures subdivided into different spaces for burial. In the south, specifically the Messara, the common form of burial was the tholos, or circular tomb, which presumably was roofed. In general, it appears that both of these tomb types were collective burials, with the family unit or even a larger corporate group using individual tombs. Certain tombs appear to have been used for a millennium, highlighting their importance in the social construction of early Minoan civilization. With the ever increasing complexity of the later early Minoan and middle Minoan periods came an elaboration of tombs, with an emphasis on ancestry in the struggle to obtain and maintain social hierarchy.
Toward the end of the early Minoan period we see noticeable changes in Minoan culture. In addition to the emphasis on the importance of ancestry, there was a dramatic change in pottery types. The introduction of "Kamares ware," a new light-on-dark style of pottery, as well as the barbotine pottery style took place at this point of transition, marking social change, with a possible emphasis on the new social contexts—both political and religious— where these new pottery types were being used.


The Proto-palatial and Neo-palatial periods combine to make the era of the construction of the major palaces of Minoan Crete. Knossos (the largest), Malia, and Phaistos were built shortly after the beginning of the second millennium, in the Proto-palatial period. These sites were to be rebuilt about three hundred years later, in the Neo-palatial period, along with the new construction of the easternmost major palace at Kato Zakros. These locales were the residences of Minoan elites or rulers, but other sites, such as the villa at Hagia Triadha, must equally have been homes to the leading families of Minoan Crete. During this period large towns, such as Gournia, developed around major elite residences. Sanctuaries on mountain peaks also make their appearance at this time.

The period was truly a high point in Minoan architecture. The palaces were often several stories high; that at Knossos, for example, probably was four stories in its domestic quarter. Minoan architects and craftsmen showed an attention to fine architectural detail in wall construction and a keen sense of overall design in layout and technical construction. Light wells were used with confidence to open up the interiors of several palaces. Monumen-tality was added by the use of grand staircases and imposing walls. Large courts were integrated into the rhythm of palatial construction. Minoans even had plumbing in the palaces and other elite residences.
Among the palaces there is a striking similarity in design and construction, which must have mirrored the similar lifestyles of most of the Minoan aristocracy. The likenesses are remarkable and, except for some differences at Kato Zakros, which was the latest of the palaces, are common features at all the sites. Perhaps the most impressive feature of all the palaces is the central court, a large, rectangular plaza, around which the other sections of the palaces were arranged. The east side of the central court appears to have had a religious character, as evidenced by cult rooms and pillar crypts (sacred rooms with recessed floors and a central post) at Knossos and Malia and the famous throne room— actually a religious installation—at Knossos. As mentioned, agricultural storage was important to the Minoan ruling power, and all the palaces, except Kato Zakros (which might have had storage structures in the form of outlying buildings), had large storage rooms. At Knossos, Malia, and Phaistos these storerooms lie on the ground floor in the wing just to the west of the central court. On the floor above these rooms were the public rooms, or piano nobile. These were large reception rooms, perhaps used for public ceremonies.

Each of the four palaces also had a large banquet hall, located on the upper floor, probably to take in a breeze. The hall was not necessarily attached to the public rooms and might have been meant for a more private gathering of elites for entertaining and meals. Residential quarters have been clearly identified at Knossos, Malia, and Phaistos. As we might expect in the layout of private quarters, there is a correspondence in the features of these rooms among similar groups in the same culture. The residential arrangement can be found in a large number of elaborate houses, not just the palaces. That at Knossos is the most elaborate, but it shows the overall regularity of design. Residential space there was composed of a long, triple-divided hall, consisting of a light well, an anteroom, and a back chamber. Running off this hall was access to a religious room, the lustral basin, and to toilet facilities. Within the triple-divided hall, folding doors and upper windows in the wall between the anteroom and the back chamber regulated the light and air coming from the light well.

The palaces themselves were decorated throughout with elaborate frescoes. Favorite themes in the wall paintings were scenes from nature, religious gatherings, palace or community events, and mythological landscapes. The most intricate pottery was used, and possibly manufactured, in the palaces. Several important examples show serving cups, amphorae (large standing containers for oils and water), stirrup jars for perfumed oil, and pithoi (storage vessels), decorated with detailed floral designs, geometric patterns, and marine creatures. In addition to this pottery, the palaces also used carved stone bowls, ritual drinking cups (rhyta) of carved stone and gold, and cut rock crystal ornaments.

An interesting point in relation to the palaces is the obvious lack of fortifications. We know that the Minoans were not without a military force, as seen in the military themes of their works of art and the chieftain's cup. But we are at a loss to explain why there was no need to fortify the different settlements. It may well have been that Knossos, the largest of the palaces, exercised control of the military, but reference to societies with such political central-ity shows that even the subordinate settlements had fortifications. It may well have been that military campaigns on Crete were limited to raiding, which often took place without elaborate fortifications.
Little is known concerning how the common Minoan lived. Perhaps the best-preserved site is that of Gournia. There a relatively large community surrounded what was an elite residence, with its identifiable central court. The town itself was composed of two- or three-room houses, some with upper floors, laid out on compact, paved streets. Unfortunately, the excavation data from Gournia was lost before it could be published.

It was during these palatial periods that the first writing in Europe arose. There is some evidence for a pictographic script, but by far the strongest evidence is for a script dubbed "Linear A," which was discovered in the Proto-palatial period at Phaistos. Large collections of this script, written on clay tablets, have been found at Hagia Triadha and Chania, on the northwest coast. Although it is recognized as a syllabary, attempts to decipher this form of writing have so far proved futile.
We know somewhat more about Minoan religion of this period. A great deal of the religious focus was centered in the palaces, with examples such as the tripartite shrine, the throne room complex, which had a religious function at Knossos. At this time there was a flowering of rituals on hilltops and in caves. The hilltop shrines, known as "peak sanctuaries," number at least fifty and appear along with the development of the first palaces, indicating the strong political function of these sanctuaries as well. Gournia supplies an example of a small town shrine. Figurines, found throughout the palaces, depict women who could have been goddesses or priestesses. One example of the most important figurines, the snake goddesses from the palace at Knos-sos, depicts women with snakes twirled around their arms and sacred animals, such as owls, on their heads. Male worshippers also seem to be featured, and there are ubiquitous representations of bulls, which have a long history of sacred male identification in the Mediterranean. These figures also appear in stylized form in Minoan culture, as horns of consecration.

Other artifacts indicate that the Minoans regarded trees and the double axe as sacred. We are fortunate to have a sarcophagus from Hagia Triad-ha, which, on its four sides, depicts events that took place during a funeral. We see worshipers, possible priestesses, and an offering table with a trussed bull waiting to be sacrificed. On a darker note, there is evidence from Knossos and elsewhere that the Mi-noans also practiced human sacrifice.
During the palatial period, Minoan culture had its greatest contacts with other contemporaneous civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean. The evidence indicates that the most contact Crete had outside its shores was with the Cyclades and Pelo-ponnesian Greece. Finds of Minoan pottery, domestic architecture using the Minoan pier and door hall system, and traces of Linear A script indicate a strong Minoan presence in the Cyclades. Signs of Minoan influence in Greece are directed largely toward the Peloponnese, with a concentration in the Argolid area. The famous grave circles of the elites at Mycenae show numerous works of art, such as sword scabbards and the famous Vapheio cups, that can arguably be attributed to Minoan artists in the employ of foreign elites.

The evidence for Minoan contacts in the rest of the Mediterranean is not as rich. Some Minoan pottery has been found at contemporary sites in western Asia Minor. Small amounts of Minoan goods have turned up in Near Eastern contexts, and tomb paintings from contemporary Egypt depict what appear to be Minoans, the Keftiu, presenting gifts. But we lack a full understanding of the structure of these contacts. While it could have been that Minoans were colonizing parts of the Aegean islands, as well as the Peloponnese, the evidence could just as well indicate that we are witnessing a strong Minoan cultural ascendancy, which foreign elites were copying.


Exact dates may never be known, but sometime near the turn of the second millennium there was an abrupt collapse of a large section of Minoan culture. All the palaces, with the exception of Knossos, ceased to be occupied. Theories to explain this change vary from the devastating effect of the explosion of the volcano on the island of Thera around 1625 B.C. to the possibility of an invasion from overseas. Whatever the cause, most Minoan occupation on Crete was affected by some sort of catastrophe.
Alone of the palaces, Knossos remained occupied. But there is much to suggest that this survival was not Minoan in character. Evidence from burials around Knossos and from the palace itself points strongly to a foreign, Mycenaean presence on Crete. A rise in militarism, represented in artworks, is distinctly non-Minoan but closely parallels that of the Mycenaeans on the Greek mainland. Of great importance is the finding of Linear B writing tablets at Knossos. Linear B is a distinctively Greek script, which also has been found in the archives of Mycenaean palaces, such as Pylos and Mycenae.

While we are almost secure in seeing Mycenae-ans in control of parts of Crete at this point, the structure of this control is only vaguely understood. Decipherment of the Linear B tablets at Knossos shows that, economically at least, the palace at Knossos was operating within a structure very similar to that seen at the mainland Mycenaean palace of Pylos. Analysis of the Linear B tablets hints at a condition where Knossos controlled the major part of the island during this period, however.
In the early fourteenth century B.C., Knossos was subject to major destruction, and any Mycenaean presence at the palace disappeared. However, there is some evidence from other sites, such as the port of Kommos and Hagia Triadha, that occupation continued on Crete. Archaeological evidence indicates that at this period Crete was becoming more fragmented in terms of regional art styles as well as social and economic structures.


Learn Sexual Health said...

I listened a lot of histories about this place, the most of then was when I went to Greece, this some years ago, a old men told me a lot histories, all of then with gods and mortal involved it.

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