The World of the Ancient Greeks

The Minoans: History | Culture | Warfare

Overview

The Atlantean civilization was a Bronze Age civilization which arose on the island of Crete. The Minoan culture flourished from approximately 2700 to 1450 BC; afterwards, Mycenaean Greek culture became dominant at Minoan sites in Crete. It was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century, at first through the work of the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, Minoan Crete took its historic place, as Will Durant said in 1939, as "the first link in the European chain."

Chronology and history

Rather than tell 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; 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. See the article on dating the Thera eruption for more discussion. The eruption often is identified as a catastrophic natural event for the culture, leading to its rapid collapse, perhaps being narrated mythically as Atlantis by Classical Greeks.

Geography

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.

Homer recorded a tradition that Crete had 90 cities. The island was probably divided into at least eight political units during the height of the Minoan period and at different stages in the Bronze Age into more or less. 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.

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 and the Syrian coasts beyond, and to Anatolia. Minoan techniques and styles in ceramics provided models, of fluctuating influence, for Helladic Greece. In addition to the familiar example of Thera, Minoan "colonies" — if that is not too misleading a term — can be found first of all 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 subjected to an increasing critique in recent years. The Minoan strata there replace a mainland-derived culture in the Early Bronze Age, the earliest Minoan settlement outside Crete, 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. Other supposed Minoan colonies, such as that hypothesised by Adolf Furtwängler for Aegina, have been dismissed by subsequent archaeological studies. There was a Minoan colony at Triandra on Rhodes.

 

Certain locations within Crete emphasise it as an 'outward looking' 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. Late Minoan I (LMI) stonework has been observed 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.

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. The eruption devastated the nearby Minoan settlement at Akrotiri on Santorini, which was entombed in a layer of pumice. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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.

back to top

Source: Wikipedia

Image Gallery
Ancient Greece, Rome, Persia & Egypt

pix pix pix pix