Western Civilization I, Week 2 – Minoan Crete

Write a summary of Minoan Crete.

Minoan Crete is an island in the Mediterranean sea, near Greece. It was discovered and excavated by Arthur Evans. The Minoans are a mysterious people, as we do not have much documentation of theirs to go off of. All we have are some remnants of their art, writing, and fanciful palaces. However, there are some clues as to how the Minoans lived that need a little more detective work to piece together. For example, some parts of Minoan art have been found in countries near Crete, and in the Aegean sea, implying that Minoans had traveled and traded. In this essay I will summarize what I learned about Minoan Crete.

The Minoans did not leave behind much literature. Two major tablets of writing have been found on Crete. Linear A and Linear B. Linear A is in an early Cretan language that historians have been unable to translate. Whatever historians have been able to translate from Linear A, it is mostly inventory. As for Linear B, historians found it to be the earliest form of Greek.

Arthur Evans and the greek archaeologists had a disagreement while excavating Greece and Crete. Evans was of the opinion that Crete dominated and colonized Greece, and that is why they had such similar cultures. But the greek archaeologists did not like that idea, and set out to prove Evans wrong. They found the Linear B tablet on Crete, and were able to translate it. It was an early form of Greek, also the Greek language of the time. This means the Minoans were documenting in the language of the Greeks, rather than their own language, the one that Linear A was written in. If the Minoans were writing in Greek, that means they had adopted Greek language, and possibly Greek culture. Perhaps the Greeks had imposed their ways upon the Minoans, therefore dominating them.

Despite Crete housing numerous palaces, including a grand one in the city of Knossos, evidence of kings and royalty came later on, leading us to think the palaces may have been religious centers. As for the religious beliefs of the Minoans, we are yet to find out. Because of the fact that Linear A seemed to be a documentation of inventory, historians believe that Minoan Crete was a palace economy, meaning that the palace officials controlled everything. They told their people what to produce and how much, and then the palace officials divided all the goods and distributed them amongst the people. So the Cretans were not a free market economy. Production of goods was not decided by supply and demand.

Minoan art consisted of mostly frescoes and pottery called Kamares. These were eggshell thin jugs painted white and red, covered in abstract designs. This means that the Minoan people had accomplished craftsmen. Since Minoan Kamares and other art forms were found in nearby countries, we can assume that Minoans had trade relationships with these countries and made goods to trade. Aside from Kamares, the Minoan people also painted many frescoes, especially on the walls at Knossos. Many frescoes depicted flowers, animals, and daily activities. Some of them even depicted people jumping over bulls! This leads us to think that bull jumping must have been something the Minoans did, perhaps as a form of entertainment. Bull jumping depictions have been found in Egypt as well, implying that the Minoans might have been in Egypt. Being that they lived on an island, they were definitely a seafaring people, and Minoan art has been found in countries as far as the Near East. This means the Minoans traded widely throughout the Aegean sea and beyond.

Many other countries in the Aegean sea were heavily fortified to defend against neighboring countries. Crete, however, was not fortified at all. Did this mean they were a peaceful people as opposed to warlike and constantly in battle? Maybe. Despite the lack of fortifications, Cretan men were buried with weapons. Perhaps it was considered honorable to the Minoan people.

Whatever the reason, their lack of fortifications may have been a mistake on the part of the Minoans, as evidence shows that the palaces on Crete had been destroyed. There has been some speculation regarding how the palaces were destroyed. Some historians say the island was decimated by natural causes, such as a tsunami. Others believe it was a volcanic eruption on Thera island. Others yet think it may have even been the mainland Greeks, known as the Mycenaean Greeks. They may have invaded the country and taking over. Since the Mycenaeans were known to be Crete’s warlike counterparts, this idea is not so farfetched.

We know next to nothing about the Minoan’s religious beliefs. There have been some rather gruesome discoveries that lead historians to believe that the Minoans believed in at least one God, and definitely believed in sacrificing their own in order to appease said God or Gods. In one of the houses at Knossos, a pile of bones were found, seemingly children’s bones. Were these children a sacrifice? Maybe so. Archeologists also found a young man tied to an altar, a dagger by his side. Historians think this man was a sacrifice to prevent an earthquake from arriving on the island.

We may not know very much about Minoan Crete, but we do know that they were a complex civilization, with grand palaces, intricate art, and trade relationships with surrounding countries. Historians believe the Minoans may have been a peaceful palace economy, though some historians believe the lack of fortification may have been the end of the Minoans as an independent country.


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