Return to Minoa (place)

One of the first great cultural centers of the ancient world, the Minoan civilization was the originator of Greek civilization itself.

Settled on the island of Crete off of the mainland of Greece at approximately 3000 BCE, Minoa grew into a flourishing empire organized around several cities by 2000 BCE. It is likely that the island was settled by people from Asia Minor, and as the civilization developed, trade began to grow with various nations in the Mediterranean.

The spoken language of the Minoans is unknown, but they developed a written language very similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics. This writing would eventually turn into a linear script. The main centers of Minoan civilization that have been excavated are Knossos, Phaistos and Kato Zakros. There, huge palaces were built that were central to aristocratic life. The architecture of these palaces were very different from most of the ancient world. No defensive structures were built to protect them. Most of their efforts went to their trade and even their navy was not structured around defensive purposes, only those involved with commerce. This fact would later become central to their downfall.

Due to the archaeological findings at this sites, early Minoan civilization was probably orgnanized as a monarchy. Though religious influences were present at such levels of society, it was not a theocracy. The monarch acted instead as the principal regulator of trade, as commerce was central to the survival of the empire and the state of business among the population was an important priority. All trading was heavily controlled by the officials of the palace. Under the monarch, there was an intricate system of administrative bureaucrats who kept records of the progress of commerce and watched production and distribution carefully.

Because of the importance of trade and the necessity of maintaining markets abroad, the Minoans developed a navy in order to support the mercantilism that supported their empire. Trade routes were vast; Minoan presence has been recorded through recovered artifacts in Egypt and all over Asia Minor, as well as among the ancient tribes of Greece. Because of this network that was spread all over the Mediterranean, the Minoan civilization enjoyed wealth which allowed them to embark on architectural, artistic, and technological pursuits. Even the poorest of people in the society had houses comprised of several rooms and a plumbing system (single room houses were the norm in all other ancient society and would remain so almost up until modern times. Plumbing was also abandoned after the collapse of the Minoan civilization).

Other activities in the society centered mostly around sports and art. The Minoans were one of the first cultures to enjoy such sports and both women and men actively participated in boxing and bull-jumping, which is recorded in much of their art. Their art also was very distinct; most art of the ancient world was centered around religious themes and thus was of some utility. However, Minoan art was used simply for the aesthetic value of it. It was often used to record scenes from everyday Minoan life and is therefore useful in constructing a view of what life may have been like in the society.

The specific structure of the society from the evidence recovered at the dig sites at the cities suggests that it was quite advanced. Even in the urban centers, equality seems to have been enjoyed by all members of the civilization. Lavish palaces were central to each city, but even in the "poorest" sections each house contained at least four rooms.* Therefore even in large cities where economic distinctions could lead to a large poor class, there wasn't one. Trade was participated in by most people, and almost everyone enjoyed the benefits of it. Relationships among families and particular between the sexes seems to be relatively equal, though construction of an exact model is difficult due to lack of evidence.

Minoan civilization enjoyed 500 years of prosperity through their flourishing trading efforts, but a series of natural disasters would start their downfall. c. 1500 BCE, a huge earthquake destroyed the palaces of Minoa, and around 50 years later, the island of Strongphyle, a volcano, erupted, tearing apart the island into several small fragments. The exact nature of this catastrophe is unknown, but afterwards, the Minoan civilization was weakened due to the collapse of their cities. They were then conquered by the Myceneans who had developed on the Greek mainland. Mycenae dominated after 1500 BCE because Linear A did not appear after that, only Linear B did: a combination of early Greek writing and Linear A. Gradually Minoan economic and palace life was phased out as more Mycenaens began to take over the area, and by 1400 BCE, the civilization of Minoa had collapsed.


*Cletus the Foetus says The question of economic inequality as evinced in architecture really depends on how many families lived in each house. A four-room house with one family is quite comfortable. A four-room house with two families....

This is an excellent point. The city in question is Gournia, and it seems that my sources (my own flawed class notes) aren't giving any further information, so ctf's perspective is equally as plausible.

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