MINOANS (3000 B.C. to 1400 B.C.): THEIR HISTORY, CITIES AND THE THERA ERUPTION

MINOANS

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The Minoans were arguably Europe's first great civilization. They originated on the island of Crete around 3000 B.C. and flourished there from 2000 B.C. to 1,400 B.C. While most of Europe was still in the Stone Age the Minoans created cities with magnificent palaces and comfortable townhouses with terra cotta plumbing; traded throughout the Mediterranean and the Aegean with a huge fleet of ships; and developed a writing system. The Minoans are named by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans after the legendary King Minos, son of Zeus and Europa, who is said to have lived on Crete. According to myth, a King Minos, living in a palace with more than a thousand rooms, once ruled the island of Crete. In 1900 such a palace was discovered, excavated and partially restored Evans. [Source: Joseph Judge, National Geographic, February 1978]

A lack of depictions of war and the fact that few fortifications have been found around Minoan cities and has led archaeologists to believe that warfare was uncommon in Minoa and the Minoans were a peaceful people that devoted their attentions to the arts not the military. They made some of the world's first frescoes, jewelry with precious stones, and thin-shelled pottery. The also left behind a written language that was undeciphered until the 1990s.

Minoa was a Bronze Age culture and a contemporary of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and Babylon. The ancestors of the Greeks and Minoans are believed to have been the Luvians, an 8000-year-old people from the hills of Anatolia. The Minoan golden age was between 1600 and 1450 B.C., when large palaces were built in Knossos, Phaistos, Mallia and Zakros and Minoa had colonies on the islands of Kythera and Rhodes and trading posts as far away as Syria. At that time Egypt was at its height under Ramses III and the Trojan War and the Israelite's Exodus to the Promised Land was still 300 years in the future.

Jessica Cecil wrote for the BBC: “The lost world of the Minoans has intrigued people for thousands of years. Their palace at Knossos was vast and elaborate, with Europe's first paved roads and running water. The ancient Greeks wove its magnificence into their myths; it was the home of King Minos and his man-eating bull, the Minotaur, which roamed the palace labyrinth. In the 1900s, British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans excavated and restored the ruins at Knossos. Beautiful and delicate frescoes of bulls and dolphins revealed a highly artistic civilisation and a people who apparently lived in harmony with nature.” [Source: Jessica Cecil, BBC, February 17, 2011]

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “It is virtually impossible to talk about early Greek history without at some point introducing the Minoans. The Minoans were not Greeks nor do they appear to be closely related. What seems clear however is that they helped to shape the early Greek civilization...The Minoans have left a stunning visual legacy (paintings, sophisticated palaces and varied artwork) as well as large quantities of written records.” [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca]

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu

Crete and the Concept of Minoan Civilization

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Minoan ceramics
Crete (12 hours from Piraeus, 6 hours from Santorini) is the largest and southernmost island in Greece, and the home of the Minoans (2600 B.C. to 1450 B.C.) the first great civilization of Europe. They preceded classical Greece by 2000 years and where to believed to have been snuffed out in 1450 B.C. by the a volcanic eruption four times more powerful than Krakatoa. Ruins of Minoan Culture are found Knossos, Phaestos, Malia and Kato Zakros. In the south there are lovely beaches, in the interior are massive rocky mountains that are sometimes covered in snow and in the west there is the famous Samarian Gorge. Crete was at one time covered with oaks, chestnuts, pine trees and cypresses. The hills of the island are now largely denuded.

The concept of Minoan civilisation was first developed by Sir Arthur Evans, a British archaeologist who unearthed the Bronze Age palace of Knossos on Crete. He named the people who built Knossos and other cities after the legendary King Minos who, according to tradition, ordered the construction of a labyrinth on Crete to hold the mythical half-man, half-bull creature known as the minotaur. Evans believed that the real-life Bronze Age culture on Crete must have originated from somewhere else, suggesting the Minoans were perhaps refugees from Egypt's Nile delta who fled the region after it was conquered by a southern king some 5,000 years ago. Evidence to back up the theory included some similarities between Egyptian and Minoan art and resemblances between circular tombs built by the early inhabitants of southern Crete and those built by ancient Libyans. [Source: BBC, 15 May 2013]

Colette Hemingway and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist, characterized the Bronze Age culture of Crete as Minoan, after the legendary King Minos. From the material he excavated at Knossos, Evans devised a chronological scheme consisting of nine periods for Minoan civilization on Crete. His Early, Middle, and Late Minoan periods, each with three subdivisions, roughly followed the tripartite division of Egyptian history in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. Our knowledge of Early Minoan Crete comes primarily from burials and a number of excavated settlement sites. Artistic works of this period indicate that advances were made in gem engraving, stoneworking (especially vases), metalworking, and pottery. Terracotta bowls on high pedestals appeared and burnishing tools were used for decoration. [Source: Colette Hemingway and Seán Hemingway, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2002 metmuseum.org \^/]

Origins of the Minoans and Periods of Minoan History

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Based on the evidence currently available, it seems that the Minoans arrived on the large island of Crete more than 5000 years ago. The soil was fertile, the climate was favorable and the numbers of people increased. Eventually a point was reached when the resources of the land were insufficient to meet the needs of the expanding population. Many migrated to nearby islands, those that stayed turned increasingly to trade as a means of improving their economic situation. [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ]

Minoan civilization began evolving around 3000 B.C. around the start of the Bronze Age. At that time the early Minoans used bronze and copper along with bone and stone weapons. The first examples of artistic decorations on pottery and walls appeared around 2850 B.C. By 2500 B.C. they were producing decorative jewelry and stone vases. Archaeologists now mark the period between 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. as the Early Period of Minoan civilization.

The Middle Period of Minoan civilization lasted from around 2000 B.C. to 1700 B.C. Early flush toilets were developed around 2000 B.C. and early Minoan writing first appeared between 2000 to 1850 B.C. The Late Period lasted from around 1700 B.C. to 1450 B.C. Fires destroyed many palaces in 1450 B.C. The last palaces in Knossos was abandoned by 1300 B.C. . The destructive Thera eruption occurred in 1645 B.C.

The period between 1450 and 100 B.C. has been labeled the Sub-Minoan, a long period of decline that culimated with the end of Minoan culture in 1050 B.C.

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Minoan Crete

Knossos

Knossos (6 kilometers south of Iraklion) was the capital of the Minoan empire, Europe's first great civilization. It is also where you'll find a palace reportedly used by King Minos. There is no evidence however of the legendary Minotaur or the Labyrinth, despite the fact the ruins sometimes resemble a maze.

Knossos attracts more tourist than any other archeological site in Greece save the Acropolis and the Parthenon. It attracts about a million visitors a year. At first glance you'll be amazed be these "ruins." They aren't just pieces of marble piled on top of one another; they hold together like real buildings and what is more the columns are bright red an the cross beams are yellow.

Unlike most archeological sites Knossos was reconstructed and painted. Some of the ruins have polished columns and are supported by broad beam. Some scholars have frowned upon the practice. Many tourists think it is great. At the entrance there is a bust of Sir Arthur John Evans, the discovered of the site, who spent 25 years excavating and reconstructing it.

Evans and others involved in reconstructing Knossos took quite a few liberties. Buildings that are more than 1000 years older than the Parthenon look newer and in better shape. The colors definitely makes the ruins more dramatic but in the end also make them look artificial, the same way colonizing a classic film does. The garishly painted frescos which look more like the work of art-nouveau school, than the Minoans are down right insulting. Still, I guess, they are kind of fun and I guess people visit ruins for entertainment.

Knossos occupied a valley next to the coast and was home to perhaps 80,000 people. It survived for seventy years after the Thera eruption that is thought to have had a hand in the demise of Minoan culture. Knossos was probably located were it was because it near the coast and near the fertile plains of Messera which are on the other side of some mountains.

Knossos is a labyrinth of storerooms, workshops, and ceremonial halls. Minoan columns were tapered only at the top and looked the handles of gavels.The Minoans built there palaces from poros (a kind of soft sandstone, sandstone and gypsum). Geologists worry that if current erosion rates continue Knossos will weather away to nothing in a few hundred years.

Herodotus and Plutarch on Minos and Knossos

Jerome Arkenberg at Northern Illinois University wrote: Here are two texts on the Minoans. Of course, these have always been suspect. However, recent archaeological finds have begun to show the kernel of truth in both the tale of Theseos--and the child sacrifice that occurred in the Labyrinth--and Herodotus' accounts of the two depopulations of Crete do seem to have a basis in fact. Of course, Herodotus doesn't mention the Thera explosion, but famine and pestilence which would undoubtedly have accompanied that blast appears to have remained in Greek memory. [Source: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece, Hellenistic World, Fordham University]

Herodotos wrote in The History, VII.170-171: “Minos, according to tradition, went to Sicania, or Sicily, as it is now called, in search of Daidolos, and there perished by a violent death....Men of various nations now flocked to Crete, which was stripped of its inhabitants; but none came in such numbers as the Hellenes. Three generations after the death of Minos the Trojan war took place; and the Cretans were not the least distinguished among the helpers of Menelaos. But on this account, when they came back from Troy, famine and pestilence fell upon them, and destroyed both the men and the cattle. Crete was a second time stripped of its inhabitants, a remnant only being left; who form, together with fresh settlers, the third Cretan people by whom the island has been inhabited. [Source: Herodotus, “The History,” George Rawlinson, trans., (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862]

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Minoan Palace at Knossos

In “The Life of Theseus”, “Plutarch wrote: “Not long after arrived the third time from Crete the collectors of the tribute which the Athenians paid them upon the following occasion. Androgeos having been treacherously murdered in the confines of Attica, not only Minos, his father, put the Athenians to extreme distress by a perpetual war, but the gods also laid waste their country; both famine and pestilence lay heavy upon them, and even their rivers were dried up. Being told by the oracle that, if they appeased and reconciled Minos, the anger of the gods would cease and they should enjoy rest from the miseries they labored under, they sent heralds, and with much supplication were at last reconciled, entering into an agreement to send to Crete every nine years a tribute of seven young men and as many virgins, as most writers agree in stating; and the most poetical story adds, that the Minotaur destroyed them, or that, wandering in the labyrinth, and finding no possible means of getting out, they miserably ended their lives there. [Source: Plutarch, Plutarch's Lives, John Dryden, trans., (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1910]

“Theseos, who, thinking it but right to partake of the sufferings of his fellow-citizens, offered himself for one without any lot....When he arrived at Crete, as most of the ancient historians as well as poets tell us, having a clue of thread given him by Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him, and being instructed by her how to use it so as to conduct him through the windings of the labyrinth, he escaped out of it and slew the Minotaur, and sailed back, taking along with him the Athenian captives....

“Years later, after Minos' decease, Deucalion, his son, desiring a quarrel with the Athenians, sent to them, demanding that they should deliver up Daidalos to him, threatening upon their refusal, to put to death all the young Athenians whom his father had received as hostages from the city. To this angry message Theseos returned a very gentle answer excusing himself that he could not deliver up Daidalos, who was his cousin, his mother being Merope, the daughter of Erechtheos. In the meanwhile Theseos secretly prepared a navy. As soon as ever his fleet was in readiness, he set sail, having with him Daidalos and other exiles from Crete for his guides; and none of the Cretans having any knowledge of his coming, but imagining when they saw his fleet that they were friends and vessels of their own, he soon made himself master of the port, and immediately making a descent, reached Knossos before any notice of his coming, and, in a battle before the gates, put Deucalion and all his guards to the sword.

DNA Evidence Indicates the Minoans Came from Europe

In May 2013, scientists said that analysis of DNA from ancient remains on Crete suggested the Minoans were indigenous Europeans and didn’t come from Egypt, Africa, Anatolia or the Middle East as some scholars had suggested. The research appeared in Nature Communications journal and was co-authored by George Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington in Seattle, [Source: BBC, 15 May 2013 ++]

The BBC reported: “In this study, Prof Stamatoyannopoulos and colleagues analysed the DNA of 37 individuals buried in a cave on the Lassithi plateau in the island's east. The majority of the burials are thought to date to the middle of the Minoan period - around 3,700 years ago. The analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from the teeth of the skeletons, This type of DNA is stored in the cell's "batteries" and is passed down, more or less unchanged, from mother to child. They then compared the frequencies of distinct mtDNA lineages, known as "haplogroups", in this ancient Minoan set with similar data for 135 other populations, including ancient samples from Europe and Anatolia as well as modern peoples. ++

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Dolphin room at Knossos

“The comparison seemed to rule out an origin for the Minoans in North Africa: the ancient Cretans showed little genetic similarity to Libyans, Egyptians or the Sudanese. They were also genetically distant from populations in the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudis, and Yemenis. The ancient Minoan DNA was most similar to populations from western and northern Europe. The population showed particular genetic affinities with Bronze Age populations from Sardinia and Iberia and Neolithic samples from Scandinavia and France. They also resembled people who live on the Lassithi Plateau today, a population that has previously attracted attention from geneticists. ++

“The authors therefore conclude that the Minoan civilisation was a local development, originated by inhabitants who probably reached the island around 9,000 years ago, in Neolithic times. "There has been all this controversy over the years. We have shown how the analysis of DNA can help archaeologists and historians put things straight," Prof Stamatoyannopoulos told BBC News. "The Minoans are Europeans and are also related to present-day Cretans - on the maternal side. It's obvious that there was very important local development. But it is clear that, for example, in the art, there were influences from other peoples. So we need to see the Mediterranean as a pool, not as a group of isolated nations.There is evidence of cultural influence from Egypt to the Minoans and going the other way." ++

King Minos’s Palace

King Minos’s Palace is the largest structure at Knossos. A vast complex that encloses a courtyard and occupies a large part of Knossos, it covers over 21,000 square meters (about five acres) and embraces the remains of the throne room, the royal suites, Pillar Hall, the Central Court, Grand Staircase, Hall of Double Axes, a treasury, an arsenal and a theater.

The Palace of Minos is so vast and complex--- it is several times bigger than Malia, 20 miles to the east, the next largest Minoan palace---it is no surprise that it has been linked with King Minos and the legend of the Minotaur and the labyrinth even though there is no proof or even hints that are related to one another.

Visitors entering King Minos’s Palace from the west walk along a hallway called the Corridor of the Procession Fresco which is paved with gypsum flagstone and decorated with a frescoe showing visitors bearing gifts. This passages lead to 164-by-82-foot courtyard., where public gatherings and ceremonies took place. Around the courtyard are residents of the Knossos aristocracy, reception rooms, treasuries, storehouses, administrative archives and potter's and smith's workshops.

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Minoan Palace
In the throne room is a stone-lined tank called Ariadne's Bath. Archeologist believe that the tank was basin used in rituals. The stone chair on a platform, described as a throne, is thought to have been designed for a woman. Nearby are storerooms that held grain, olive oil and wine. Paintings along the wall of the palace at one time contained hundreds of figures---musician, butterflies, sphinxes, bull leapers and griffins.

The huge central court is where sacrifices, bull leaping contests, and religious ceremonies were held. Unexplained holes in the court may have been used to erect barricade to protect the audience from the bulls.

In the west wing there are three religious shrines, each made up of small room with columns topped by bull horns. Up a flight a stairs is sanctuary hall with religious paintings where communion feasts were possibly held. Beneath these halls are warehouses with 400 giant jars that could each hold 65 gallons olive oil or wine. In one of the 150 palace room is what is believed to be the oldest serving throne in the world, a gypsum chair with griffin's painted on it.

The western court features raised walkways, a small porch and gypsum wall still black from the fire that destroyed Knossos. Near the palace a stone causeway leads to a wide-stepped portico. Outside the palace are the foundations of homes of ordinary people and cemeteries. On the east side of the palace is an area believed to be a residential neighborhood inhabited by advisors to the rulers. There is restored staircase built around a well that leads to apartments decorated with frescoes of dolphins.

The Grand Staircase and the much of the Domestic Quarter are well preserved because they had been built into the side of a hill. Here Evans found "gypsums, paving slabs, door jambs, limestone bases, the steps of the stairs, and other remains." Other Minoan ruins near Iraklion include Arkanes and Anemomospilia.

Minoan Sites in Crete

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Minoan golden bee
Arkhanes (a few miles south of Knossos) lies at the end of a path with a pleasant view of a gorge. An early Minoan group graveyard has been found here. In the 1960s over 200 human skulls were excavated here along with a temple of the dead built in 1800 B.C. In one tomb a woman was buried with a horse and a bull head. The woman was buried in a clay bath, wearing 140 pieces of gold jewelry.

Phaistos (two hours south of Iraklion) was the second most important Minoan city after Knossos. The layout of the city city is similar to that of Knossos. Purists like these ruins better because they have been left more or less untouched, with the various layers showing the different periods of development. Phaistos lies on the southern side of Crete with views of snow-capped Mt, ida and the sea. About half of the palace, said to be the second largest in Minoa, has collapse down the hillside. What is left is entered through a wide stairway. Only walls and foundations are left. Near Phaestos is another Minoan site, Hagia Triada.

Mallia (20 miles east of Knossos) it is said contains the next largest Minoan palace after Knossos. Only walls and foundations are left. The site has a roof over it. There are large silos grain and the palace has pillar crypt and views of the sea. Gournia is a Minoan sight with earthen courtyards, walls, streets and steps that include 70 homes, metalworkers shops, a factory for pressing olive oil and wine and a palace and cover an area over 18,000 square yards. Unearthed here were ancient awls, nails, razors, tweezers, knives and carpentry tools.

Phaistos

Phaistos (also spelled Phaestos, Phaestus, Faistos, Festus and Festos) was one of the most important centers of Minoan civilization, and the most wealthy and powerful Minoan city in southern Crete. Inhabited from the Neolithic period through the Mycenaean and Geometric periods, until the 8th century B.C., it reached its peak when the Minoan palaces were built in the 15th century B.C. The magnificent Minoan palace of Phaistos is regarded as the finest and most typically Minoan of all the Minoan palaces. The city covered a considerable area around the palatial center. The palace was destroyed not long after it was built. [Source: Interkriti]


Phaistos

“The exact location of the Palace of Phaistos was first determined in the middle of the 19th century by the British admiral Thomas Spratt, with archaeological work beginning in 1884 under the Italians F. Halbherr and A. Taramelli. Although many inscriptions have been found by archaeologists, they are all in Linear A code which is still undeciphered, and all we know about the site, even its name is based to the ancient writers and findings from Knossos.

According to mythology, Phaistos was the seat of King Radamanthis, brother of King Minos. The city also is said to have been the home of the great wise man and soothsayer Epimenidis, one of the seven wise men of the ancient world. When Phaistos was at its peak, a very important city-state, its territory extended from Cape Lithinon to Cape Psychion (modern-day Cape Melissa at Agios Pavlos, South Rethymnon) and included the Paximadia islands. The city participated to the Trojan war and later became one of the most important cities-states of the Dorian period. It endured through Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic times and was destroyed by the Gortynians during the 3rd century B.C. but continued to exist during the Roman period. Phaistos had two ports, Matala and Kommos.

“The most important monuments of the site are: 1) The Old and New Palaces, built of ashlar blocks and spread on different terraces. The central, peristyle court is surrounded by the royal quarters, storerooms, a lustral basin, and workshops. The monumental propylaea, (monumental gateway) and and large staircases provide access to the many terraces. Minoan remains have been found at the sites of Chalara and Aghia Photeini, southeast and northeast NE of the palace, respectively. A road leads to the archaeological sites of Aghia Triada and Matala.

Minoan Trade


Egyptian-style pottery from 2600 BC found at a Minoan site in Crete

The Minoans were the first great maritime culture. They used sailing ships with oars and are believed to have invented the keel. They stored foodstuffs in massive jars called pithons . No Minoan shipwreck has ever been found. Archaeologists would love to get their hands on one.

The Minoans traded all over the Mediterranean. To make bronze the Minoans traded with Cyprus for copper and with Assyrian traders for tin from Anatolia and the Hindu Kush mountains. The Minoans grew rich from trade with Egypt and the East Mediterranean. Based on the fact that Minoan ports had elaborate harbors and Minoan goods have been found in Egypt and elsewhere it was believed they were primarily traders.

Colette Hemingway and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Much of the first half of the second millennium B.C. was a time of widespread prosperity for Minoan Crete and a period of active trade with other civilizations around the Mediterranean basin. Cretan exports consisted of timber, foodstuffs, cloth, and, most likely, olive oil, as well as finely crafted luxury goods. In exchange, the Minoans imported tin, copper, gold, silver, emery, fine stones, ivory, and some manufactured objects. For their basic needs, however, the Minoans on Crete were self-sufficient. [Source: Colette and Seán Hemingway, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2002 metmuseum.org \^/]

Minoan-Egyptian Relations

The Minoan civilization (c. 3000 – 1400 B.C.) of Crete existed at the same time as the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom of Egypt. Stefan Pfeiffer of Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg wrote: “Occupying the island of Crete, the Minoans were skilled sailors who had established hegemony in the Aegean; it was therefore natural that they made contact with neighboring civilizations. With Egypt they established mainly economic relations as far as can be judged by archaeological evidence. First contacts between Crete and Egypt are attested by a fragment of a 1st or 2nd Dynasty Egyptian obsidian vase found in Crete in an EM-II-A stratum, testifying to (indirect?) trading contacts since earliest historical times. [Source: Stefan Pfeiffer, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, 2013 escholarship.org <>]

“There were three possible routes by which the Minoans (or their trade goods) could have traveled to Egypt. First, there was the direct passage over 350 miles of open sea, which does not seem very likely. The second option was to sail within sight of the shore along the Levantine coast (and probably trade with the settlements there) to (later) Pelusium. The third, and most likely, passage was to cross the Mediterranean to (later) Cyrene and then sail along the coast to Egypt. The Minoans valued gold, alabaster, ivory, semiprecious stones, and ostrich eggs, but Egyptian stone vessels and scarabs were also found in Crete. Some scholars maintain that Egyptian craftsmen were present on the island, based upon a statuette (14 centimeters high) of an Egyptian goldsmith called User that was found at Knossos; this single example, however, should not be considered as evidence for the migration of Egyptian craftsmen. In addition to these items of Egyptian origin, a certain adaptation of Egyptian styles in Minoan art is apparent. The Minoan artisans used some Egyptian elements eclectically, adjusting or adapting their meaning to new contexts. <>

“Conversely, Egypt imported Minoan pottery, metal vessels, and jewelry, and probably also wine, olive oil, cosmetics, and timber, as the archaeological record proves. We know that the first Minoan artifacts found in Egypt do not date prior to the time of Amenemhat II (1928 – 1893 B.C.), because from his times Middle-Minoan pottery (so-called Kamares ware) is attested. All in all, Minoan culture had at least some influence in Egypt, as can be judged from Egyptian copies of Kamares ware. Even Minoan textiles seem to have been appreciated by the Egyptian elite, as Aegean textile patterns were copied on the walls of tombs from the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III. <>

“The pinnacle of Minoan-Egyptian relations can be dated to the beginning of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. Having already established good relations with the Hyksos, the Minoans stayed in close contact with a number of Egyptian pharaohs as well, as is proven by Minoan frescoes found in two palaces at Tell el- Dabaa/Avaris in the Nile delta. It was at first assumed that these royal houses were decorated during the rule of the Hyksos kings, but this view has been revised. It is now clear from the stratigraphical evidence that the palaces date to the Thutmosid era. Contemporary with this evidence from Lower Egypt are scenes in seven Theban tombs of 18th- Dynasty high court officials that show Minoan legates from “Keftiu “(as Crete is called in Egyptian texts) bearing tribute. According to some scholars, these scenes bear witness to reciprocity of political contacts rather than formal tribute to a dominant partner. Thus the Minoan frescoes in the Lower Egypt and the pictorial evidence in tombs of almost the same period in Upper Egypt underscore rich cultural, economic, and eventually even political, contacts between Egypt and the Minoan civilization during the 18th Dynasty, just before the time of Akhenaten. This is corroborated by the fact that some Egyptian scribes seem to have known the Minoan language .” <>


Reconstructed Minoan fresco found in Avaris, Egypt


Links Between Myceneans and Minoans

Nicholas Wade wrote in the New York Times: “The palaces found at Mycene, Pylos and elsewhere on the Greek mainland have a common inspiration: All borrowed heavily from the Minoan civilization that arose on the large island of Crete, southeast of Pylos. The Minoans were culturally dominant to the Mycenaeans but were later overrun by them...The Mycenaeans used the Minoan sacred symbol of bull’s horns on their buildings and frescoes, and their religious practices seem to have been a mix of Minoan concepts with those of mainland Greece.... The transfer was not entirely peaceful: At some point, the Mycenaeans invaded Crete, and in 1450 B.C., the palace of Knossos was burned, perhaps by Mycenaeans.[Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, October 26, 2015 ^^]

“If the earliest European civilization is that of Crete, the first on the European mainland is the Mycenaean culture...It is not entirely clear why civilization began on Crete, but the island’s population size and favorable position for sea trade between Egypt and Greece may have been factors. “Crete is ideally situated between mainland Greece and the east, and it had enough of a population to resist raids,” said Malcolm H. Wiener, an investment manager and expert on Aegean prehistory. ^^

“The Minoan culture on Crete exerted a strong influence on the people of southern Greece. Copying and adapting Minoan technologies, they developed the palace cultures such as those of Pylos and Mycene. But as the Mycenaeans grew in strength and confidence, they were eventually able to invade the land of their tutors. Notably, they then adapted Linear A, the script in which the Cretans wrote their own language, into Linear B, a script for writing Greek.” ^^

End of the Minoans

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Around 1450 B.C. the Minoan civilization, which appears to have been peaceful and prosperous, came to an abrupt and probably violent end. There is evidence of wholesale destruction by fire and there has long been speculation that a volcanic explosion at Thera (followed possibly by a tsunami) created s April 5, 2006 great civilization of the Aegean world. That hypothesis has now been called into question as recent studies of ice core samples push the Thera eruption further into the past. [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ]

Colette Hemingway and Seán Hemingway of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “From 1500 B.C., there was increasing influence from the Mycenaean culture on the Greek mainland, and there is clear archaeological evidence for widespread destruction on the island around 1450 B.C. If the Mycenaeans were not responsible for this destruction, they certainly took advantage of the events—administrative records from this period are written in Linear B, the script of Mycenaean Greeks. Contemporary pottery shows a blend of Minoan and Mycenaean stylistic traits. Eventually, by the beginning of the eleventh century B.C., the Minoan culture on Crete was in decline.” [Source: Colette and Seán Hemingway, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2002 metmuseum.org \^/]

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Minoan auroch

Thera Volcanic Eruption

In 1645 B.C., a volcano on Santorini erupted with such force that some believe it caused the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, 70 miles away. Thirteen cubic miles of material exploded into the sky. Settlements on Santorini were buried under a thick layer of ash thicker than the one that covered Pompeii. The explosion, estimated to be about the equivalent of 40 atomic bombs or approximately 100 times more powerful than the eruption at Pompeii, blew out the interior of the island and forever altered its topography. Possibly as many as 20,000 people were killed as a result of the volcanic explosion. [Source: Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca , William Broad, New York Times, October 21, 2003]

The main eruption was preceded by a smaller one---a shower of light pumice that buried the town of Akrortiri, down slope, under many feet of ash. This may have sent most of the residents away. No skeletons or human remains have been found on Santorini. The main eruption began when sea water entered a vent of the volcano and mixed with magma and gases, producing an ultra-violent explosion. The center of Thera collapsed into a sea-filled caldera. Santorini was buried Pompeii-style under ash, up to 900 feet deep, that preserved frescoes and wall paintings that recorded everyday life from the period and contained Egyptian motifs.

The explosion produced a huge tsunami, possibly 300 feet high. This tsunami swamped and hit the coast of North Africa, sending water 200 miles up the Nile. On Crete, an 50-foot-high tsunami wiped out coastal settlements. Inland ash may have ruined crops and grass that fed livestock.

The Thera eruption may have been the largest eruption on Earth in the last 10,000 years. Some scientists have calculated was 90 times greater than the one at Mount St. Helens and four times greater than Krakatau, which killed 36,000 people . Some say it was much larger than that, perhaps even larger than Tambora, which erupted in 1816 and produced the year without summer and famines in the United States.

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Historians have been debating for years about exactly when the major eruption at Thera took place. Radio-carbon dating and dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) had narrowed the date down to a range of years but neither could confirm a specific year. Then improvements in the science of ice core dating made it possible to pinpoint a particular year-1646 B.C. - a century earlier than most historians had thought. (Ice cores drilled out of the Greenland ice cap show seasonal variation in the same manner as tree rings. The winter snow fall creates yearly bands and within that band the atmospheric activity is recorded. The volcanic eruption at Thera was confirmed as happening in 1646. At the present time, the core depth allows scholars to look back in time some 200,000 years and work will continue on making that timeline longer.)” *|*

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Ash from the Thera eruption

Thera Volcano and the End of Minoa

After the Thera eruption 50 foot tsunamis smashed against Crete’s shores, smashing ports and fleets and severely damaging in the maritime economy, which was vital for the Minoans as it was an island civilization. Ash levels of 10 feet were recorded 20 miles away on the island Anafi. That was incredible amount of ash that distance away.

In 1939 Greek archaeologist Spyridon Marinatos theorized that eruption of Thera caused the collapse of Minoan civilization with damaging earthquakes and tsunamis. Some doubts were raised about earthquake side of the story because earthquakes associated with volcanic eruptions are usually not that strong. In the mid 1960s scientists dredging up sediments found thick layers of ash linked to Thera’s eruption and found it covered thousands of square miles.

But the theory was given a blow in 1987 when the date of the eruption was set at 1645 B.C. based in the presence of frozen ash in Greenland ice cores, 150 year before the pervious dates, and 200 years before the steep decline of Minoan culture. The theory was given another blow in 1989 when a Minoan house was found built above the ash layer.

Now the reasoning goes the eruption took time to bring down Minoa. Some archaeologists say the eruption and tidal waves did not destroy Minoa rather it weakened, making it vulnerable to conquest. An the Mycenaeans were the ones who conquered it. They theorize the that ash from the eruption could have destroyed crops, brought about a famine, opening the way for a conquest from the Mycenaeans.

A century earlier a large earthquake destroyed the palace of Knossos. It was rebuilt. An earthquake that occurred around the time of the Thera explosion damaged the palace. In the decades that followed all the major palaces of Crete were damaged by fire, most likely by invaders.

By 1450 B.C. nearly all Minoan palace-cities, except Knossos were mysteriously destroyed. Around this time pottery styles and writing styles changed reflecting styles introduced from Mycenae, suggesting that the Mycenaeans took over Crete. By the 14th century B.C., Knossos appeared to be under the administration of the Mycenaeans.

Impact of Thera Eruption on the Eastern Mediterranean

The Thera eruption had a dramatic affect on the eastern Mediterranean that lasted for decades, even centuries. Dense clouds of volcanic ash and deadly tsunamis were generated over a huge area, crippling ancient cities and fleets, setting off climate changes, and sowing political unrest.


Santorini Caldera produced by the Thera eruption


The Thera eruption produced two large ash clouds. One that was blown by lower atmosphere winds to the southeast towards Crete and Egypt and another that was blown by the jet stream in the stratosphere to the northeast over Anatolia (Turkey). Dr. Peter Kuniholm, a tree ring expert at Cornell, found that trees found in an Anatolian burial mound grew three times faster that normal for about half a decade around the time of eruption, presumably because the ash turned the region’s normally hot, dry summers into ones that were unusually cool and wet.

But although the ash seems to have helped trees it is thought it severely damaged wheat fields and reduced harvests. Many think it was the primary factor behind Mursilis, king of the Hittites, setting out from his Anatolian kingdom and attacking Syria and Babylon, which lay between the two plumes, and seizing their stored grains and cereals. This in turn prodded Babylon towards collapse and hurt one of its allies, the Hyksos, who ruled Egypt and traded with the Minoans.

The plagues described in the Bible are thought by some to be a result of the Thera volcano. The explosion and land submerged by the tsunami may be the source of Plato’s story of Atlantis. Some scholars speculate that ancient Minoa or Thera may were have been Atlantis, which Plato, supposedly heard about from Socrates who in turn heard about it from Egyptians. Some historians believe the Thera eruption changed the entire coarse of history. With Minoans out of the picture, they hypothesize, cultures on the Balkan peninsula were able to develop into classical Greece.

According to the BBC: The cataclysmic Thera eruption happened 100 kilometers from the island of Crete, the home of the Minoans. Fifty years after the eruption, that civilisation was gone. Did the volcano wipe out the Minoans and if it did what exactly took place? Jessica Cecil wrote for the BBC: “Early 20th-century archaeologists knew of the devastating volcano and some concluded it must have snuffed out the Minoan civilisation almost instantly. But was it really as simple as that? For a start, they discovered little ash had fallen on Crete - as luck would have it, the prevailing winds took the volcano's ash in the opposite direction. Then archaeologists found clay tablets that proved the Minoan civilisation survived for about 50 years after the eruption. So if the volcano killed the civilisation, what accounted for this long gap? [Source: Jessica Cecil, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Tsunami Destruction and the Massive Size of the Thera Eruption

Jessica Cecil wrote for the BBC: Vulcanologist Floyd McCoy from the University of Hawaii “was convinced that giant waves, or tsunamis, had been unleashed by the volcano. He believed these waves travelled across the open sea to batter the northern coast of Crete - but proof was hard to find. In 1997 a young British geologist, Dr Dale Dominey-Howes of Kingston University, found what he believes is firm evidence of tsunamis on Crete. He drilled deep into the mud at an inland marsh near Malia in Crete, and took the mud core he found back to England for analysis. |[Source: Jessica Cecil, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The mud had been deposited, layer upon layer, over thousands of years. At one place, deep in the core, Dr Dominey-Howes found a type of tiny fossilised shell that only lives in very deep sea water. He felt sure the shells were brought into the marsh by an ancient tsunami. A Minoan palace near the marsh was buried at the same level as the shells, suggesting the tsunami could have hit soon after the palace was built. |::|


Nile delta's elevation cross section shows how vulnerable it is to a tsunami


“If a tsunami had been unleashed by the eruption of Thera, Floyd McCoy wanted to know how big it might have been. He turned to Professor Costas Synolakis of the University of Southern California...one of the world's top predictors of tsunamis... He estimated that waves from Thera battering northern Crete could have been up to 12 meters high in places. Such waves would have destroyed boats and coastal villages, even travelling up rivers to flood farmland. |::|

“But however terrifying these waves, they can only have been part of the story. McCoy was convinced the volcano must have had wider effects. A remarkable discovery by a British geologist gave rise to a new theory - that the volcano already classed as one of the most devastating of the last 10,000 years could have been even bigger than scientists had previously thought. |::|

“Professor Steve Sparks of Bristol University found clues in the smallest fragments of evidence. He was surprised to find clumps of fossilised algae high on the cliffs of the volcano. These algae only live in shallow waters, and their presence suggested there was once a shallow sea inside the crater of the volcano. If there had been a shallow sea, Professor Sparks realised, the shape of the volcano could have been entirely different, and a differently shaped volcano could have produced far more ash. His hunch was that the volcano could have been twice as powerful as geologists had suspected.” |::|

Cycle of Disaster Following the Thera Eruption

Jessica Cecil wrote for the BBC: “What might a volcano of this size have meant for the Minoans on Crete? Volcanoes throw up sulphur dioxide, and huge amounts of this gas can alter the climate. Climate modeller Mike Rampino at New York University calculated that the eruption on Thera could have lowered annual average temperatures by one to two degrees across Europe, Asia and North America. Rampino believes the summer temperatures would have dropped even more, suggesting years of cold, wet summers and ruined harvests. [Source: Jessica Cecil, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“Rampino's calculations were supported by the work of Professor Mike Baillie of the Queen's University, Belfast. Ancient logs preserved for millennia in Irish bogs contain a record of the weather - and especially the cold, wet periods that stunt trees' growth. Trees that were growing at the time of the eruption - 3,500 years ago - show signs that the climate was especially wet and cold then. |::|

“Floyd McCoy believes the volcano undermined the Minoans for years. First, it destroyed an entire island that had been crucial to their trade. Then, giant waves battered the Minoan coasts, destroying coastal villages and boats at harbour. Next, the Minoans faced summers of ruined harvests. |::|

“Knossos archaeologist Colin MacDonald thinks the effects of these disasters were compounded by something more - the Minoans began to see their world in a different way. MacDonald believes the Minoan people, stripped of their certainties, stopped obeying the priest kings in palaces like Knossos. This marked the start of a 50-year decline for the entire Minoan civilisation. They were in no position to fight back when Greeks from the mainland took control of the island.” |::|


map of Akrotiri


Akrotiri: the Minoan Pompei

Outside of Fira on Santorini itself are the ruins of Akrotiri, a Minoan settlement, that was buried Pompeii- like by the Thera eruption. The leader of the excavation died in 1974 when he fell in one of the excavations and hit his head. Few artifacts have been found which means the people fled before the volcano erupted. Only a small area has been excavated from the hardened volcanic ash, revealing houses with that are now in the Athens Archeological Museum.

According to the Canadian Museum of History: “Just as happened at Pompeii centuries later, a settlement on Thera known as the town of Akrotiri was buried under a thick blanket of ash and pumice. For more than 3,500 years the ancient Bronze Age community lay hidden- one of Greece's many secrets of the past. Then, as is often the case with various heritage sites, the town of Akrotiri was accidentally discovered. Quarry workers, digging out the pumice for use in the manufacture of cement for the Suez Canal, chanced upon some stone walls in the middle of their quarry. These eventually proved to be remains of the long-forgotten town. Archaeologists from France and later from Germany did some preliminary excavation in the second half of the 19th Century but it was not until 1967 that systematic excavation began at the site in earnest. Spyridon Marinatos, supported by the Archaeological Society of Athens, soon began to uncover the remains of the ancient town. It was not easy. Not only were the buried buildings two or even three stories tall, the original building materials (clay and wood) had been damaged by earthquakes, fire and the hands of time. It was necessary to proceed slowly and carefully. Work on the project has now been on-going for almost four decades and it is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

“The site has yielded some surprising information. Most startling of all is the fact that no human remains have been found at Akrotiri, unlike Pompeii and Herculaneum where the dead were buried in the midst of their daily activities. At Akrotiri, it was obvious that people had begun to do some repair work to their dwellings, probably in response to minor earthquake or volcanic damage. However, before the major eruption at least some of them had the time to pack up their families and most valuable possessions and leave. Huge pottery containers and large household furnishings were abandoned in their haste to depart but it seems clear that most people got away safely, were buried elsewhere or were swept away by the tsunami waves that might have accompanied such a massive eruption." *|*

Jessica Cecil wrote in for the BBC: “Akrotiri's chief archaeologist, Christos Doumas, believes the people of Akrotiri didn't survive, and that the bodies are still to be uncovered, huddled at the harbour where they were trapped by the eruption as they waited to escape. He believes it's highly unlikely that scores of boats were waiting in the harbour to save them. [Source: Jessica Cecil, BBC, February 17, 2011]


Akatoriki excavation

“The Akrotiri site has not yielded huge amounts of gold, silver and bronze artifacts, nothing on the scale that might have been expected had the inhabitants been caught unawares. But a splendid visual legacy was left, most of it in pieces that are painstakingly being assembled by Christos Doumas and his colleagues. The frescoes at Akrotiri are spectacular, were exceptionally well-preserved by the protective blanket of ash that covered them and their locations can be correlated to various rooms within the town.

The paintings provide a lot of visual information that needs to be carefully analyzed- a fleet of ships manned by sailors allowing one to see how the vessels were rigged, how the crew was dressed, what they carried by way of tools and weapons; people in the community going about their daily activities, picking flowers, making religious offerings; two nude fishermen carrying strings of fish; young boys in a boxing match, etc.” *|*

Discovery of Minoa

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Akrotiri blue monkeys
The Palace of Knossos and Minoan culture were discovered in 1900 by Sir Arthur Evans, an Englishman who had come to Crete to search for information about the origins of Mycenaean culture.

Evans traveled to Crete several ties between 1894 and 1899. He began his search at the mound of Kephala, outside Heraklion, where seals with Mycenaean-like marking were found. Twenty-five years he finished excavating the 5½ acre Knossos Palace.

Evans used his own personal fortune, worth several million dollars in today's money, to finance the dig. Based on the presence of numerous images of bulls and the maze -like quality of the palace, he decided that Knossos was the source of the Minotaur myth and labyrinth story. He also found written scripts which he labeled Linear A and Linear B.

Evans work as an archeologist was shoddy to say the least. He replaced missing columns and support beams with reinforced concrete. Archaeologists that followed found concrete covering up the original gypsum and sandstone. In the original excavations and Evan did not indicate different time periods.

Other important Minoan sites include the Gorge of the Dead, an unplundered palace found in 1962 by Nicoloaos Platon in Zakros; a Bronze Age settlement on Santorini preserved like Pompeii found on Spyridon Marinatos; burial chambers of a queen or priestess found in Arkhanes; the grand stair case of Phaistos, the central court at Mallia, and the throne room of Knossos.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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