Sunday, February 10, 2008

Greece history - The early and middle Minoic

The early and middle Minoic period.
Since the beginning of this century excavations on Crete have revealed the remains of an until then completely unknown civilisation. It was a discovery that shocked the whole archaeological world. After all, we knew a lot about the old empires in Egypt and Mesopotamia, but nobody would have thought that a total unknown civilisation would be discovered which could compare with these old empires.

This ancient culture is nowadays known as the Minoic culture, named after the legendary king Minos. It started around 2800 BC, but the roots of the founders of this astonishing civilisation are unknown. It is most likely that they came from the south-east of Asia Minor. On Crete itself they probably mixed with the Libyans who arrived from the south. It is however a fact that their language was not an Indo-European language, so their roots were clearly in a different tribe than those of the early Greeks. The Minoic culture flourished during the first millennium BC, for more than a thousand years.

They exploited the natural resources of Crete by cultivating corn, grapes and olives, and by raising sheep's, goats and ox's. Furthermore they became very handy at pottery and metal-working. This way they created a culture that showed of great civilisation, and which even became a worldpower thanks to the increasing number of inhabitants and wealth. Of major importance for this was the central position of Crete in the Mediterranean. As most people who live on an island they became masters in the construction of ships, and soon their ships reached the coasts of Egypt, Asia Minor, Hellas, Cyprus and Syria. Egyptian paintings of the fifteenth century BC already show Cretan tradesmen. It is not likely that we can speak of a Cretan colonisation of the Mediterranean, the Cretans were first of all tradesmen.

The age of the palaces.
The middle-Minoic era was the time of prosperity for Crete. Cities started to develop in the period between 2200 and 1450 BC, but they were more huge blocks of palaces like the Syrians built them, rather than conglomerations of private houses. Examples of these palaces are Cnossus, Phaistos and Hagia Triada. The palace of Cnossus was spread out over two hectares, and counted so many rooms that it formed the basis for the famous myth about the labyrinth of the Minotaur. It seems that Crete has been a collection of local kingdoms, mostly subsidiary to the dominating Cnossus where the profits of the ruler were collected, managed and distributed. Remarkable are the huge store-rooms with the big pots for products like corn, wine and olive-oil.

The wallpaintings in the palaces have given us an impression how the Cretans lived: the way they dressed, the jewellery they wore, their rituals with bulls, etcetera. Evidently their style of living, or at least in the higher classes, was elegant and sophisticated. The way they worked the metal and their way of pottery shows that they enjoyed life. However, later on demons with the heads of animals become a part of their religion, which was till then centered around a mother goddess and nature. This remarkable change shows a less optimistic view on life and can be explained by events that happened later on.

Of their literature, if they already had any, is nothing left. However, we do have prove that they knew how to write. At first they used symbols, but later on this was replaced by the so-called Linear-A writing. It is called linear as the lines were divided by horizontal lines. Very likely this Linear-A was only used for the accountancy of the stocks in the palaces, as the clay tablets found had enumeration's of goods on them. So the palaces were not only the residences of the kings, but also the political and economical centres of a highly bureaucratic culture. Another sign that everything in the Cretan society evolved around the palaces. Nobody has managed to decipher the Linear-A language, but it is sure that it was not a Greek language.

Life seemed to have been very peaceful most of the time, as the palaces did not have any defences, and the suits of armour that were found date from later periods. The Cretans did not really need any of them, as they controlled the seas. However, during the fifteenth century BC an important event took place. To understand this change we first have to know more about the history of Hellas in the same period.

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