Located on what is today the island of Crete, the Minoan Civilization is one of the most fascinating but forgotten Ancient Civilizations. It was a Civilization that thrived during the middle Bronze Age, roughly between the years 2000 to about 1500 BCE on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea.
British Historian Arthur Evans is credited with discovering the Minoan Civilization in the 1890s after he came across some mysterious Ancient Clay Seals in a market in Athens.
He traced the mysterious Clay Seals written in an unknown language to the island of Crete where Evans and his team began digging at a site called Gnosis where over the next 5 years they unearthed the ruins of a large Palace which confirmed Ancient Legends and Myths about an advanced Civilization that had once thrived on the Island Of Crete.
Evans’ discoveries also appeared to confirm scenes from Ancient Greek Mythology such as the labyrinth of King Minos.
Evans’ three main phases of Minoan civilizations
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 civilizations 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 Minoans is unknown, but most Historians believe that they 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 Minoans appear to have developed an alphabet called linear script whose origins and meaning remain undeciphered.
Nevertheless, the Minoans 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 it.
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.
In the feaured Documentary Bettany Hughes explores the enduring legacy of the Minoans.