The Minoan civilization is sometimes described in terms of a generalized Aegean civilization. It is named after King Minos of Greek legend. The assocaited Mycenae culture is that of mainland Greece at the same time. It is one of the earliest important civilizations not founded on a river valley. The Minonan civilization endured 1,500 years, from 3000/2600-1100 BC, and reached the height of its grandeur in the 18th-16th centuries BC. The civilization was centered on Crete but influenced the neighboring Greek islands of the Aegean Sea as well. It was the founding culture for the Achaean Greeks more familiar to the modern reader. The Minoans who virtually unknown to modern scholars until archeologists at the begnning of the 20th century found the palace at Knossos. Previously Greek legends about King
Minos were not known to have had actual historical basis. The Minonan civilization is notable as the foundation stone for Greek culture upon which so much of Western thought and culture is based. Of special importance to HBC is that it provides some of the earliest non-religious depictions of people, including children.
The Minoan civiization is sometimes described as a generalized Aegean civilization. It was named after King Minos of Greek legend by English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who excavated the palace at Knossos. There is no evidence that this was King Minos' palace, but given the importance of Minos in Greek legend, the magnificent palace may well have been his. The assocaited Mycenae culture is that of mainland Greece at the same time.
The Minoan civilization is one of the earliest important civilizations not founded on a river valley. It was the founding culture for the Achaean Greeks more familiar to the modern reader. The Minonan civilization is notable as the foundation stone for Greek culture upon which so much of Western thought and culture is based. The first great art treasures of ancient Europe were created here.
The origins of the Minonans are not well established. Some researchers believe that the early population of Crete appears to have originmated in Asia Minor. Anthropologists report a mixture of racial elements on Crete during the Minoan era. This is based on the varied skull types unearthed. Others researchers believe that the origins are further east in Persia--modern Iran. The primary evidence of this is Linear B--the first written European languge. Linear B is strongly related to early Persian scripts. Other scholsrs link the Minoans o the Phoenicians, a Semetic people.
The earliest human inhabitants on Crete date to the Neolithic period, about the 6th millennium BC. Simple, primitive figurines fpund during the Neolithic period suggest that the early Cretans worshipped a female fertility goddess. The actual Minonan civilization endured 1,500 years. There are no precise dates available and authors used a range of dates for the Minoans. It was a Bronze Age civilization which flourished from 3000/2600-1100 BC. This is an incredibly long period, comparable to the modern era since the Fall of Rome. The Minoan civilization reached the height of its grandeur in the 18th-16th centuries BC. The Minoan civilization on Crete decline after 1450 BC but the related Mycean civilization continued until about 1100 BC.
The Minoan civilization was centered on Crete but influenced the neighboring Greek islands of the Aegean Sea as well. There are indications that the Minoans were in contact with the Egyptians and traded extensively with them.
The Minoans who virtually unknown to modern scholars until archeologists at the beginning of the 20th century found the palace at Knossos and Phaestos. Previously Greek legends about King Minos were not known to have had actual historical basis. These and other finds have provided as treasure house of buildings, artifacts, and art.
There is no surviving history of the Minoan civilization. The script found by archeologists has so far defied efforts to dechiper it. Greek authors speak mostly about King Minos who had a capital at Knossos. He was in Greek legend a wise law maker and a fair judge. All we have to testify to his kingship are legendary references in Greek literature. He is described both in mortal terms as well as on a level approaching the devine, causing many before the 20th century archeological finds to doubt his existance. Many of the classical Greek authors mentioned King Minos. Homer refers to him as "... companion of mighty Zeus ..." The famed historian Thucydides aserts that he was the first man to control the Aegean with a poweful fleet. He seized and colonized the Cyclades, drove out the Carians, and put and end to piracy. Plato describes the sustantial tribute that the people of Attica were force to pay to Minos. This is yet another historical confirmation of an important legend--the myth of Theseus can easily be recognized. Aristotle attributes Minos' maritime power to Crete's geographical location. Not only was Crete which like Britain seems to have promoted a maritime outlook. Crete was also located near the junction of three continents, giving rise to trade and maritime commerce. It is one of many instances in world history that not the generation of wealth, but the exchange of ideas and technology helped generate cultural brilliance and an explosion of creativity and artistic expression.
The Minoan economy has been described as a palace economy, although this is only a theiory based on archeological evidence. We do not have the extensive written sources that we have from Mesoipotamia, Egypt, and China. The archeological evidence, however, strongly suggests that the palaces were also or even primarily commercial centers. Archgeologists have found extensive paved courts which wee probably used for public markets. And the palaces had just the features one would expect fir aublic market. This included large store rooms often called magazines. In the first palatial period many koullouras have been encounered. Archeologists havec also found large numbers of pithoi jars scatered everywhere in the various palaces.
The monarchy from therir palaces presumably controlled both overseas and domestic trade. All of this of course is conjecture, but seems to be the most likely economic set up. Knossos is widely believed to have been the Minoan commercial center. Here one finds areat deal of Linear A and often is little tidbits of administrative and commercial records. The Minoans like most other ancient people were primarily agriculturists, raising wheat, olives, grapes, and eventually barley. They also raised livestock. And as an island people with seafaring skills, fishing was also important. Industries included textile, pottery (which they were especially know for), and metal-working. Two profitable indusdtries were dyes (a much admired purple dye was produced at Zakros) and perfumes. Trading was also important to the Minonan economy and thge maritime skills they developed gave Minian trads an impotant advantage. There is evidence tht they traded throughout the Mediteranian and into Asian Minor. Trading parteners included Keos, Kythera, Melos, Miletos, Rhodes, and Thera. Trade ws also conducted with Anatolia and probably Egypt as well. There is evidence of trade links with Egypt which for milenia was the richest civilization in the Mediterranean.
Homer reported that the ancient Crete were divided into tribes. Some of them were the Pelasgians, the Eteocretans, the Kydonians, the Achaeans and the Dorians. He aserts that each had a separate language. Homer also sresses a dense population with 90 cities, including Knossos, Phaestos, Gortys, Lyttos, Kydonia, and Rhytion. More excavation suggests that Homer was reaso "palace" centres. In addition to Knossos and Phaestos, are Malia and Zakros.
Little is known of the Minoan political organization. Most assume that they were goverened by kings, because of the legends of King Minos. But thiswas a legend. Legends can not be dismissed, but neither are they definitive evidence. Especially perplexing is that no where in Minoan art do we find depictions of kings who are usually at the center of ancient art. Some archeplogists speculate that priestests were important. And there has been mportant sculptures fond of priesteses. The principal Minoan deity is the Mother Goddess, who is portrayed by Minoan art in many different forms.
Little is known about the Minoan language. Those texts and incriptions have to date defied attempts to decipher them. Scholars suggest that the Minoan language needs to be placed in a separate category of the Mediterranean languages. The Achaeans Greeks reached Crete by about 1450 BC. They spoke archaic Greek, the language used in the Linear B texts deciphered by Vrntris. Linear B appears to be related to early Perioan script which probably indicates the origins of the Minoan people. The Minoan language was still used at this time and continued to be used for some time. Eteocretan (a Ceatan tribe) inscriptions found in eastern Crete have been dated to the 6th and 5th centuries BC.
The Minonans produced the first great art works of ancient Europe. Of special importance to HBC is that it provides some of the earliest non-religious depictions of people, including children. We do not know much about Minonan art, but the art of Fresco painting was highly developed. Here we see a vivid example (figure 1).
We have no information on childhood in the ancient Minoan civilization.
Very little information is available on the clothing worn by the Minoans in general and even less about how children dressed. Unlike the later Greek civilization, there is no literature that included some information on clothing and fashion. The few Minonan scripts found have not yet been dechiphered. What is known about Minonan clothing is thus limited to what can be deduced from the depictions found by archeologists. This includes frescos like the one shown here (figure 1) as well as sculpture (statuary and relief work) and painted pottery. It is evident from the available information that the warm Mediterranean climate was a major factor in Minoan clothing, especially with men. The climate meant that clothing was not needed for much of the year to keep warm, however, more was required than in Egypt. Women from available images wore more clothes than the men. The available images suggest that Minoan clothing was much more fitted than the clothing of classical Greece which relied more on drapery. The basic garment worn by men and women was the skirt.
Both father and son appear to have dressed similarly. Men wore shorter skirts than women. The most prevalent length was thigh-length skirts, but there were various lengths, including some down to the ankles. They looked to be wrap around garments with a tassel in the front or back. Around the edges of this skirt there may have been embroidered designs. It seems to be wrapped around the waist and held in place by some type of fastening. It does not look to be held in place by being tucked in. The women wore more interesting and more elaborate clothes than men. Men and boys do not appear to have worn footwear. This probably would have been especially rare with boys. shoes. Womens skirts were even more varied. Even less information is available on what Minoan boys wore. Minoan boys until puberty probably did not wear a lot of clothes as it was a warm climate. As was true in the later Greek civilization, they engaged in sports without clothes which can be seen here with the boxers (figure 1). Presumably boys wore scaled-down clothes similar to their fathers. At this time we know of no destinctive clothing wore by Minoan boys.
We are unsure about the material used for clothing. Certainly they had wool and leather. Linnen from flax was used in Egypt and latter by the Greeks, but we have no information confirming that it was used by the Minoans. There was no cotton which did not reach Greece until the time of Alexander.
Men and boys wore their hair long. The fashion seems to have been a shoulder length hair style. It is a little difficult to tell just how the boys have their hair done, but it looks like it may have been braided into long pigtails (figure 1).
Children of the wealthy would be taught to read and write. They would also be taught music and wrestling skills. As far as I know they did not attend schools but were taught at home. There was a lot of time spent on sport so these boys would be very athletic. Sons of craftsmenMinoan received vocational training. This is likely to have been taught to boys by their fathers. There were many craftsmen who lived on Crete at this time and they would pass their skills to their sons. A potter’s son would carry on that trade. A fisherman’s sons would pass these skills on to his son. It is unlikely that a child would be able to choose the vocation he wished to follow and his livelihood would be determined by the craft his father practiced.
Little informatioin is available on children’s leisure time activities. Here we see boys boxing. Other wall frescos depict wrestling. Crete is an islandcand thusc you would assume there was beach play and swimming. , fishing, and swimming. There kmay have also been fishing for enjoyment rather than out of necessity.
The Minonan and related Mycenaean civilization disappeared around 1100 BC. The reasons for this decline are not fully understood.
One theory is that the eruption of Santurini north of Crete devestated the island and Minonan civilization. Santurini was a massive erruption, some estimate that it was many times larger than Krakatowa. The destruction of the island may be the inspiration for the Atlantis legend. The stone and pumice ejected into the atmosphere covered a large area of the eastern Mediterranean. The sunami generated may have been even more destuctive to the Minoans. What ever the reason, there was a sudden collapse of civilization on Crete and the Minoanan world. The Minoans weakened by the devestation were conquered by the Greeks, primitive tribes moving south into modern Greece. It would be several centuries before any important culture would remerge in Greece. This era is known as the Greek dark ages, referring to the medieval Dark Ages and the decline of culture following the fall of the Roman Empire.
Note: Willian Fergusson assisted with the research on this page.
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