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European Kingdoms

Eastern Mediterranean

 

Minoan Civilisation (Bronze Age) (Crete)

FeatureThe earliest cultures which emerge from Africa and the Near East are perhaps the easiest to catalogue, right up until human expansion reaches the Americas. Europe's early cultures culminated in the appearance of various Bronze Age societies, one of which involved the Minoans. The task of cataloguing the vast range of human cultures is covered in the related feature (see link, right).

The island of Crete lies in the eastern Mediterranean, to the south-east of Greece, west of early Cyprus, and about one-third of the way from Greece towards ancient Egypt. To the north-east and east lie modern Turkey and modern Cyprus, while Libya is directly to the south.

Excavations have shown that Crete was inhabited from the Neolithic period (by 6000 BC and perhaps even earlier). The Neolithic levels at the Minoan capital of Knossos (or Cnossos, an older English-language spelling) are amongst the deepest in Europe. There is no current evidence of human occupation in either the Palaeolithic or Mesolithic periods. Fossils of elephants, deer, wild goats, and other animals have been found to predate the earliest human presence. Early Neolithic finds are so far restricted to the settlement at Knossos.

An important construction already existed on this Neolithic site as early as 3000 BC. But, during this long early settlement period between 6000-3000 BC, the island seems to have been completely isolated from its neighbours. As can be seen from the pottery of the period, its culture was stagnant and monotonous. Only the arrival of the Bronze Age brought cultural refinement and enrichment.

These people were farmers, shepherds, and mainly sailors, who thrived through their notable merchant relations with the great early civilisations. Minoan civilisation gained its name from the legendary King Minos, given to it by the English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, during his excavations at the palace of Knossos. Its various phrases largely follow the chronological system which was compiled by the Greek archaeologist, N Platonas, based on the time-span of the big Minoan palaces and starting with the 'Early Minoan Period'.

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed), from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), from History of Humanity - Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC (Vol II), Ahmad Hasan Dani, Jean-Pierre Mohen, J L Lorenzo, & V M Masson (Unesco 1996), and from External Link: Explore Crete.)

3000 BC

The characteristic of this period at the start of the Bronze Age is the gathering of the people in villages and towns by the sea, mainly in the east, instead of the dispersed habitation in caves and shelters of the Neolithic years.

Map of Crete
The Bronze Age on Crete began around 3000 BC, quickly leading to the start of the 'Early Minoan Period' and eventual greatness in the second millennium BC

Early Minoan Period (Bronze Age) (Crete)
c.2600 - 2000 BC

Today part of Greece, the European island of Crete was inhabited from the Neolithic period, with no evidence of human occupation in either the Palaeolithic or Mesolithic periods. Early Neolithic finds are so far restricted to the settlement at Knossos which was already built up by 3000 BC. The arrival of the Bronze Age brought cultural refinement and enrichment.

These farmers, shepherds, and sailors thrived through their notable merchant relations with the great early civilisations. The island's Minoan civilisation gained its name from the legendary King Minos, given to it by the English archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, during his excavations at the palace of Knossos.

Its various phrases largely follow the chronological system which was compiled by the Greek archaeologist, N Platonas, based on the time-span of the big Minoan palaces and starting with the 'Early Minoan Period'. This period was characterised by a cultural change due, it seems, to the arrival on the island of new settlers who brought with them a knowledge of bronze-working.

This was seemingly part of the general wave of migration of Indo-European peoples which also saw them arrive in mainland Greece, later to dominate it. The Cretan arrivals seem to have migrated from Cilicia in Anatolia, and later legends maintained links between the two regions. Such a departure point makes it uncertain whether they were South-West Indo-Europeans like the Greeks, South Indo-European Luwian-speakers like the Arzawans and the Kizzuwatnans, or potentially even Neolithic farmer societies like the indigenous Hatti.

Having assimilated the island's previous inhabitants, a true society emerged around 2200 BC, and with it a possible monarchy. What is not clear is whether 'Minos' was a name for one or more kings or the Minoan word for the rank of king. Scholars have noted the interesting similarity between 'Minos' and the names of other ancient founder-kings, such as Menes of Egypt.

However, the Minoan king was more like an administrator who was in charge of the state's trading activities, while the real power in Minoan society lay in the hands of the priests. Thanks to this unique power structure the Minoans did not display the same militaristic or political ambitions as their mainland Mediterranean neighbours, such as the Egypt of the 'New Kingdom'.

There were no grand statues depicting powerful kings, and women in society seemed to be highly prominent and liberal, even taking the role of powerful priestesses who organised a faith which saw one or more mother goddesses in command of the island's elemental forces. Cities had no defensive walls and, although trade served as the chief economic engine, wealth tended to be evenly distributed.

Minoan palaces may not even have been palaces, but perhaps business structures for the leading figures of the day to use as 'office space', or venues which could be dedicated to the island's fertility, to be packed with offerings after a successful harvest. This period is sub-divided into three: Early Minoan I (2600-2300 BC), Early Minoan II (2300-2100 BC), and Early Minoan III (2100-2000 BC).

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed), from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), from History of Humanity - Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC (Vol II), Ahmad Hasan Dani, Jean-Pierre Mohen, J L Lorenzo, & V M Masson (Unesco 1996), from Hammond Historical Atlas (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1963), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), and from External Links: Explore Crete, and The Minoans, Bettany Hughes (Television documentary produced for Channel 4 television in the UK which delivered a detailed overview of Minoan civilisation and its fall, first screened on Saturday 23 October 2004, and available via Channel 4 and YouTube).)

c.2300 BC

By far the majority of Early Minoan sites across Crete exhibit unbroken habitation. At the crossover between Early Minoan I and Early Minoan II around 2300 BC, however, the site at Phaestus does show an unexplained break.

Map of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Greece 1900-1650 BC
The proto-Mycenaeans seem to have been amongst the last of the western Indo-European centum-speakers to take to the road, following a path which had been trodden by related tribes for the past thousand years (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.2100 BC

A pictographic script appears in Crete on seal stones. Most of the signs appear to be of local invention, although the significance of similarities between this script and those of Anatolia (including the Hatti) or even Sumer remains to be determined.

By now the transition from 'Early Minoan', essentially a culture of subsistence village communities, to the beginning of the temple-palace tradition of the 'Middle Minoan' period is almost complete.

Middle Minoan Period (Old Palace Period) (Bronze Age) (Crete)
c.2000 - 1600 BC

The European island of Crete (now part of Greece) was inhabited from the Neolithic period. The arrival of the Bronze Age brought cultural refinement and enrichment. The island's Minoan civilisation gained its name from the legendary King Minos, with its various phrases follow the chronological system which was compiled by the Greek archaeologist, N Platonas, which started with the 'Early Minoan Period'.

This period was characterised by a cultural change due, it seems, to the arrival on the island of new settlers who brought with them a knowledge of bronze-working. Potentially they were Indo-Europeans, but the possibility exists that they were also people from Neolithic farmer societies of the Near East, like the indigenous Hatti.

Having assimilated the island's previous inhabitants, a true society emerged around 2200 BC. However, it took until the period between about 2100-2000 BC for the island's sophisticated palace-building culture to emerge. The first true Minoan palace to be built was some time around 1930 BC (and this was destroyed three hundred years later, at the end of the 'Minoan Middle Period'). Several other urban centres also had palaces of their own by about 1700 BC.

The Minoans quickly became the luxury goods providers for the entire region, producing the desirable rather than the strictly necessary, everything from exquisite pottery to fine leather boots - not to mention the highly sought-after and very expensive purple die which was farmed on Crete from murex molluscs. Twelve thousand of these were needed to provide enough die for a single garment.

This period is sub-divided into three parts: Middle Minoan I and Middle Minoan II (2000-1700 BC), and Middle Minoan III (1700-1600 BC). However, two other divisions can be applied which cut across the standard ones: 'Old Palace Period', 1900-1750 BC, and 'New Palace Period', 1750-1400 BC.

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from the John De Cleene Archive, from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed), from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), from History of Humanity - Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC (Vol II), Ahmad Hasan Dani, Jean-Pierre Mohen, J L Lorenzo, & V M Masson (Unesco 1996), from Hammond Historical Atlas (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1963), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), and from External Links: Explore Crete, and The Minoans, Bettany Hughes (Television documentary produced for Channel 4 television in the UK which delivered a detailed overview of Minoan civilisation and its fall, first screened on Saturday 23 October 2004, and available via Channel 4 and YouTube).)

c.1900s BC

The 'Old Temple' at Knossos is built around 1930 BC, while the first temple at Mallia is raised by about 1900 BC. The rural landscape is apparently run by rich landowners, evidenced by some buildings which are apparently houses also having their own storage facilities and tablet archives (at Mallia).

Minoan culture has already spread its influence by this time to Kastri on Cythera which is a direct Minoan colony, to Tiryns on the Peloponnesian mainland (possibly only very shortly prior to the arrival in Greece of the Mycenaeans), and the city of Hissarlik (on the southern shore of the Hellespont, in the vicinity of Troy).

Magazine of the Medallion Pithoi, Knossos
The Magazine of the Medallion Pithoi in the palace at Knossos takes its name from the storage jars found here which are characteristic of the 'New Palace Period' (1700-1450 BC) but which continue a tradition which dates back to the 'Old Palace Period' (2000-1700 BC)

c.1700 BC

A massive earthquake hits Crete, destroying much of the civilisation's infrastructure, including the royal palace. The start of the 'New Palace Period' is dated to 1750 BC but this event may have a heavy bearing on the eventual abandonment of old palaces and the creation of new ones during the 'Late Minoan Period'.

Late Minoan Period (New Palace Period) (Bronze Age) (Crete)
c.1600 - 1400 BC

The European island of Crete was inhabited from the Neolithic period, but only the Bronze Age brought cultural refinement and enrichment. The island's Minoan civilisation quickly developed the 'Early Minoan Period' which was characterised by cultural change.

It took until the period between about 2100-2000 BC for the island's sophisticated palace-building culture to emerge. The first true Minoan palace to be built was some time around 1930 BC (and this was destroyed three hundred years later, at the end of the 'Minoan Middle Period'). Several other urban centres also had palaces of their own by about 1700 BC.

The Minoans quickly became the luxury goods providers for the entire region, producing the desirable rather than the strictly necessary, everything from exquisite pottery to fine leather boots - not to mention the highly sought-after and very expensive purple die which was farmed on Crete from murex molluscs. Twelve thousand of these were needed to provide enough die for a single garment.

Their society was at its height in the seventeenth century BC. A new palace was built on the same site as that of about 2000 BC, a more elaborate version than the previous one, only to be severely damaged by an earthquake a hundred years later. Even so, it was rebuilt again, only bigger and better than before.

This was Minoan Crete's golden age. Country villas specialised in high-quality vineyards, most notably at Vathypetro, and there were no fortifications, unlike on the Mycenaean mainland (today's Greece). Crete's only weakness was the frequent earthquakes which often destroyed what had been so lovingly created.

This period saw the development in Knossos of a series of satellite buildings such as the 'Little Palace', the 'Royal Villa', and the 'South House'. The city had expanded into one with a population - judging by the adjacent cemeteries - which must have been not less than 100,000 inhabitants.

Minoan colonies were still in evidence, such as the mainland one at Amyclae a few miles to the south of the later Sparta. Minoan prosperity could now be found on the mainland, enriching the culture and evolvement of the early Mycenaeans.

Minoans also established themselves on the island of Thera (originally known as Calliste in Greek mythology). The disaster of circa 1470 BC wiped all of this advancement and prosperity. Eastern Crete was hit especially hard by the resulting tsunami and ash cloud, although large areas of the island were virtually untouched. A steep and swift cultural decline followed which terminated the 'Late Minoan Period'.

This period can be sub-divided into two: Late Minoan I (1600-1400 BC) and Late Minoan II (1450-1400 BC) with the latter being a further sub-division which applies specifically to Knossos. However, one alternative division can be applied which cuts across the standard ones: 'New Palace Period', 1750-1400 BC.

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from the John De Cleene Archive, from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed), from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), from History of Humanity - Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC (Vol II), Ahmad Hasan Dani, Jean-Pierre Mohen, J L Lorenzo, & V M Masson (Unesco 1996), from Hammond Historical Atlas (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1963), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), and from External Links: Explore Crete, and The Minoans, Bettany Hughes (Television documentary produced for Channel 4 television in the UK which delivered a detailed overview of Minoan civilisation and its fall, first screened on Saturday 23 October 2004, and available via Channel 4 and YouTube).)

c.1500s BC

The tin trade which involves Minoans and then Phoenicians may already have sprung up by this time. Traders are making their way out of the Straits of Gibraltar to hug the Iberian and French coastline until they reach southern Britain.

The Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete
A partial refurbishment of the surviving palace elements at Knossos by Arthur Evans, the great discoverer of Minoan civilisation between 1900-1905, shows just how magnificent this complex would have appeared

Tin resources are controlled by the ancestors of the Dumnonii tribe, who soon build up a long-running tradition of working and trading with more advanced cultures which stands them in good stead during later centuries.

c.1470 BC

FeatureAround this time the middleman trading island of Thera (modern Santorini) is destroyed by intense volcanic activity. Crete is devastated by the resulting tsunami and ash cloud (see feature link). The disaster serves to terminate Minoan dominance of the Mycenaeans.

FeatureIn fact, given the likelihood that the eruption and subsequent destruction is amongst the largest explosions and aftermaths ever witnessed by modern humans (see feature link), it is not surprising that Minoan society appears to collapse.

This collapse does not necessarily take place overnight, but a rapid decline does set in. New gods appear, these most markedly being male in place of the previously dominant female gods.

Orchomenus archaeological site
The team work on the track which leads to the tomb of the unknown, but very wealthy and well-honoured Mycenaean near the city of Orchomenus in Boeotia in this discovery of one of the richest graves of its type

c.1450 BC

A find dated to this period of the remains of four children show that the bones have been scraped and cooked. Minoan civilisation may have collapsed to such a point that cannibalism is being practised. The island is weak and defenceless.

c.1440 BC

There is further evidence from around the same point in time that Crete suffers the ravages of war, with several cities being deliberately burned down. This may be due to an uprising by followers of the old female gods, outraged at the new dominance of male gods.

More likely is that it is due to an invasion by Mycenaeans, probably former vassals of the Minoans, who turn the tables and invade the island, reducing and conquering it. Either way, it is the Mycenaeans who take control of the island by the end of the century to form a very 'Achaean Crete'.

Achaean Crete (Mycenaeans)
c.1400 - 1100 BC

The European island of Crete was inhabited from the Neolithic period, while the Bronze Age saw the development of Minoan civilisation and the 'Early Minoan Period'. The first true Minoan palace to be built was some time around 1930 BC (and this was destroyed three hundred years later, at the end of the 'Minoan Middle Period'). Several other urban centres also had palaces of their own by about 1700 BC.

Minoan society was at its height in the seventeenth century BC. This was Minoan Crete's golden age. Country villas specialised in high-quality vineyards, most notably at Vathypetro, and there were no fortifications, unlike on the Mycenaean mainland (today's Greece). Crete's only weakness was the frequent earthquakes which often destroyed what had been so lovingly created.

FeatureMinoans also established themselves on the island of Thera (originally known as Calliste in Greek mythology). The disaster of circa 1470 BC wiped out all of this advancement and prosperity (see feature link). Eastern Crete was hit especially hard by the resulting tsunami and ash cloud, although large areas of the island were virtually untouched. A steep and swift cultural decline followed which terminated the 'Late Minoan Period'.

The Mycenaeans had formerly been vassals of the Minoans, at least in Athens and possibly the Peloponnese where several Minoan colonies existed. Now they were able to turn the tables and take control in Crete. Civilisation on the island had been almost destroyed by the aftermath of the Thera eruption and the steep decline in living conditions.

There was probably not much left to control, but the Mycenaeans restored the royal palace once more, allowing it to be used by the Achaean sovereign until at least 1380 BC, although other city states in Crete had already been destroyed by that time. Around the same time former Minoan colonies were taken: at Kastri on Cythera, Tiryns on the Peloponnesian mainland (actually around 1500 BC), and the city of Hissarlik (on the southern shore of the Hellespont, in the vicinity of Troy).

Almost the entirety of this period is covered by Late Minoan III (1400-1125 BC), while the Sub-Minoan covers the period between 1125-1000 BC, a dark age for the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East.

Ancient Greek frieze

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Iliad, Homer (Translated by E V Rieu, Penguin Books, 1963), from A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, William Smith (Ed), from An Historical Geography of Europe, Norman J G Pounds (Abridged Version), from History of Humanity - Scientific and Cultural Development: From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC (Vol II), Ahmad Hasan Dani, Jean-Pierre Mohen, J L Lorenzo, & V M Masson (Unesco 1996), from Hammond Historical Atlas (Maplewood, New Jersey, 1963), from Historical Atlas of the World, R R Palmer (Ed, Chicago, 1963), and from External Links: Explore Crete, and The Minoans, Bettany Hughes (Television documentary produced for Channel 4 television in the UK which delivered a detailed overview of Minoan civilisation and its fall, first screened on Saturday 23 October 2004, and available via Channel 4 and YouTube).)

c.1400? BC

Greek mythology has Archedius the Arcadian and two of his brothers, Gortys and Cydon, arriving on Crete. Whilst no dates are offered in this mythology, their arrival can very approximately be timed for the crossover between the 'Late Minoan Period' and the start of Achaean (Mycenaean) governance.

Mycenae reconstruction
This artist's reconstruction of the citadel at Mycenae shows it at the height of its power, when Mycenaean Greeks ruled or terrorised much of the eastern Mediterranean Sea

fl c.1400? BC

Archedius

Son of King Tegeates of Tegea and Maera.

fl c.1390s? BC

Gortys

Brother. Founder figure for Gortyna.

fl c.1370s? BC

Cydon

Brother. Founder figure for Cydonia.

c.1320s? BC

The next apparent wave of arrivals in Crete are led by Tectamus and his horde of Aeolian and Pelasgian settlers (perhaps escaping increasing Mycenaean dominance in Greece). He becomes the island's king.

fl c.1320s? BC

Tektamos / Tectamus

Son of Doros (linked to Dorians).

fl c.1310s? BC

Asterios / Asterion

Son. Fostered Rhadamant, Minos, & Sarpedon.

fl c.1290s? BC

Rhadamant / Rhadamanthus

Son. Unified Crete, but possibly driven out by Minos.

fl c.1280s? BC

Minos 'the Great'

Brother.

c.1280s? BC

In Greek mythology this Minos, known as 'the Good' or 'the Great', is brother to Sarpedon of Lycia. Coincidentally (or perhaps being remembered through this mythology) this is the direction from which had emerged the first wave of Bronze Age settlers of Minoan Crete.

Aegeus and the Oracle
The brother of Lycus, son of Pandion II of Athens in Greek mythology, was King Aegeus of Athens who is shown here consulting the Oracle at Delphi for advice

fl c.1250s? BC

Lycastus

Son. Possible founder of the town of the same name.

fl c.1240s? BC

Minos (II) 'the Bad'

Son. Added later to resolve contradictions in the Minos story.

c.1240s? BC

It is this second Minos, 'Minos the Bad', who forces the Athenians to collect seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent into his labyrinth where they will be eaten by the minotaur.

fl c.1210s? BC

Catreus / Katreios

Son.

fl c.1200? BC

Althaemenes

Son. Left for Rhodes. Accidentally killed his father.

fl c.1200? BC

Deucalion

Brother. Gained throne.

fl c.1193 - 1183 BC

Idomeneus

Son. 'Grandson of Minos'. At Troy. Driven out.

c.1193 BC

As an ally of Mycenae, Crete supplies a contingent for the war against Troy. Ideomenus is one of the first rank of Greek generals and is among those to enter the Trojan horse, after having killed Asius of the Hyrtacidae.

Clay larnakes
Clay larnakes (coffins) in the shape of bathtubs were used frequently on Crete between the fourteenth to twelfth centuries BC

After Troy has been sacked and burned, Ideomenus returns to Crete. His ship runs into a storm on the way and he sacrifices his son to ensure safe passage for his crew. The gods are angered by this and his fellow Cretans drive him out of his kingdom, possibly led by Leucos, who is also credited with usurping the throne.

fl c.1170s BC

Leucos

Son? Usurper.

1200 - 1140 BC

Mycenaean power is gradually eroded by the Dorians who are migrating in from the Balkans, with domination coming by 1140 BC. The surviving Ionic-speaking Mycenaeans gather and flourish in Athens or perhaps in conquered Levantine territories which probably include Phillistia, or in new colonies which have been founded well away from the Dorians.

All Mycenaean palaces and fortified sites are destroyed and a major proportion of other sites are abandoned. The population of the Peloponnese appears to decline by about seventy-five percent. Mycenae itself remains occupied, but is burned twice in succession and survives in a much-reduced state and size, never again to hold the reins of power.

Map of Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Greece 1200 BC
Climate-induced drought in the thirteenth century BC created great instability in the entire eastern Mediterranean region, resulting in mass migration in the Balkans, as well as the fall of city states and kingdoms further east (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Once the Hittites had been destroyed around 1200 BC, and the Mycenaeans had themselves (probably) smashed Troy, the colonisation of the western coast of Anatolia could begin (the possibility that the earlier Ahhiyawa may also be a Mycenaean colony notwithstanding).

This would seem to be the most likely - and popular - avenue of Mycenaean escape from the mainland. Once there they form or take over states or regions such as Caria, Lycia, and Maeonia, and perhaps Pamphylia, between about 1100 to 900 BC. Those states themselves usually survive until they are conquered by the later great empires.

fl c.1100s BC

Altemenos

Leader of the Dorian invasion.

c.1100s - 310 BC

Dorian colonies are traditionally governed by nobles of the Aeschaeoi, Aethaleis, and Echanoreis, but much of Cretan civilisation exists in a poorly recorded form during the first millennium BC.

Hittite pottery of an Ahhiyawan?
Shown here is a representation on Hittite pottery of an Anatolian warrior of about 1350 BC, possibly representing an Ahhiyawan

Crete never again experiences its own home-grown civilisation in the style of the Minoans. In 310 BC the island is conquered by Ptolemaic Egypt, but relinquished in 277 BC, to be governed internally until the arrival of the Roman republic in 67 BC.

 
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