The Minoan Civilization was the most important civilization around Copper Era in Greece and it owes its name to King Minos. The early centre of this grand civilization was the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea between Greece and Egypt with two important cities Knossos and Festus. There was a vast expansion of the power and influence of this civilization over the whole Northern East Mediterranean. It lived its pick period from 2100 B. C. till 1200 B. C. The end was believed to have been caused by the eruption of Thira’s Volcano in 1400 B. C. and the cruel plunders of its conquerors in the later final years. The Minoan civilization reached high levels of technical evolution. According to the myth the first robot was created in Crete, “Talos the monster”! Also the legendary Dedalus had already been living in Crete devoting his craftsmanship and creations to King Minos.
According to Homer, King Minos ruled for years and enjoyed Zeus friendship. Cretan tradition believes that Minos was Zeus’ son, born by Europe in a cave along with his two brothers Radamanthis and Sarpidon. Each brother was connected with one of the most important palaces in Crete. Minos with Knossos, Radamanthis with Festos and Sarpidon with Malia.
According to the myth Poseidon sent a big white bull to Minos to be sacrificed, but Minos kept it for himself. To avenge Minos, Poseidon sent Queen Pasiphae an unnatural passion for the bull and the fruit of that Passion was Minotaur! Then the Queen hid Minotaur in a wooden cow that Dedalus created for her. When Minos realized the deceit he imprisoned Dedalus and Minotaur in the labyrinth Dedalus himself had created.
When Minos son traveled to Athens to take part in athletic games he was murdered by the jealous Athenians because he had won many races. For their punishment Minos demanded seven boys and seven girls to be sent to Crete to be sacrificed in the labyrinth eaten by Minotaur every eight years. In the third mission, Theseus the Athenian Prince son of King Aegeus was one of the boys. Ariadne, Minos’ daughter fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of string so he could find his way out. Theseus managed to kill Minotaur and escape.
The first establishment of a strong Navy fleet is attributed to King Minos, along with the suppression of piracy. Thucydides claims that Minos colonized and ruled Cyclades by placing his sons as governors.
There were three important palaces. Festos in the South, Malia in North eastern Crete and Knossos in the northern centre of the island. Also a smaller palace in Zacros on the eastern end of the island has been found. Moreover there are findings of a bigger one on the North West of the island in Kolimbari area and a few smaller ones. Their basic design was similar.
The legendary King Minos’ palace was described as a labyrinth from the Greeks and was the biggest one of all. Like in all other areas the first palace was destroyed in 1700 B.C., probably from an earthquake or another natural disaster. A new palace, the remainings of which are visible today, was founded in the same area. The architects of Knossos started with the central governors’ premises and continued building around it, out side and over it. The royal apartments were placed in the North West side while the Queens’ parlor is situated in the East, next to “The Hall of the Double Axes”. In the west wing we find the “dark quarters” with signs of sacrifices. There are signs that the King could also have been a High Priest. In the west wing we also find a throne room which is thought to have been added in the Mycenae period.
The palace in Zacros covered almost 8000 sq. m, the one in Malia 9000, in Festus 10000 and finally Knossos palace covered 22000 sq. m. It had 3 gates on the west wing and 4 to 5 in the east. There were more than 1500 rooms or spaces including laboratories, storage spaces, living rooms and guest halls. Stairs surround most premises leading up or down and in all sorts of directions following a centrifugal pattern from the main governor’s room which is probably why the Greeks gave Knossos the name of the “LABYRINTH”.
Huge areas of storage show us that Knossos was used as a collection point for all the circulating products and as a commercial exchange centre, with other civilizations. Walls and floors were often coloured with red being the basic font of simple geometrical designs. Pictures of religious and social moments appeared in later years in the new buildings of the palace. Generally there was no defense wall. The palace was not build for defensive purposes with the exception of Malia palace were a wall appears, but there are still questions whether it was for defense or just simple protection. It appears that Knossos had a peaceful growth till the final destruction of the palace from other conquerors.
Cretan society is described as a naval supremacy. Its economy and government was based on the controlling of the seas. There is also the belief that the Minoans were excellent ship builders. Their vessels could be exposed for a long period in the sea and make long, open sea distant trips. The Minoans had the biggest ships in their era and they didn’t hesitate to turn them against their neighbors if necessary. From 1600 B.C. the Minoans had warships with battering rams. Although their own society appears to be peaceful and organized according to religious beliefs, it’s possible that the Minoans had to defend their lives against unfriendly neighbours.
In their religion, the “God Mother” rules. Generally women were well respected and had been honored much earlier than the rest of Greece. Women had an active and equal participation in Religious Ceremonies, Sports, and Hunting expeditions. In Celebrations they possessed the lead and they were transferred on litters by servants. Social hierarchy probably included the following levels:
Kings, Queens and probably a city council.
Slaves, (although they seem to have been used mostly for the palaces’ construction).
The Minoans are believed to have been of medium height almost 1,70 m. tall. They had dark hair and eyes and pale figures. In their home and during rituals they used to walk around without shoes. Otherwise they wore sandals and boots. Gold and silver jewellery were obvious. They had a rich diet from wheat, barley, maybe millet, oxen, sheep, goats, pigs, wild meet like deer and wild boars, grapes, pears, figs, fish, octopus and oysters. Their fishing methods included the hook, the line, nets, baskets and spears. Figs and olive trees were considered to be sacred and dogs were used for hunting. Generally, their houses had one entrance but sometimes two. Their windows were usually on top covered with oiled papyrus. Houses had vents for light and fresh air. Toilets were outside the exterior walls. Big houses had a dining room over the kitchen and food storage. Wheel vehicles were used in Crete from 2000 B.C.
Crete was generally self sufficient. It used to import copper and it had to import pewter. There was a vast trading network over and farther from the Aegean Sea and Egypt.
Crete was full of thousands of small villages sized between 150 and 200 people. These villages participated in the agricultural growth, crafting industry, and mining of argil and stone. Also in pottery, tool making, building material and small statues. Their main goddess was a Fertility Goddess who was connected with snakes. The sacred snakes appear as spirit protectors of the Cretan homes. Mail gods appeared as son and Husband and were very connected with the bull. Other animals and birds appear as smaller divinities but the Bull was mighty important as proved from their rituals and paintings appearing on their walls. The double axes were worshiped as sacred as well and they were found in various sizes and a big number of areas in the Minoan era. The Cretans used various places as worship points. They had open spaces in their buildings, caves and they used to make reliquaries. These worship activities were gradually transferred in to the palaces often described as temples.
The three part reliquary of Knossos is believed to represent the three spheres of the world: the underworld, the earth, and the skies.
Art & Writing
Minoan artifacts show us the immense practical and art skillfulness of the Minoans. A large number of materials were used. Small stone statues were made and various pottery techniques were used. The Minoans widely used metal and ivory as well. Large wooden sculptures might have been created and many carving stamps, almost 2500 which shows their amazing craftsmanship in delicate creations.
In Knossos and Festus we meet the most ancient theatrical places in Europe. The Minoans loved dancing, and justify their reputation in ancient times as excellent dancers. One of their favorite and mostly evolved contest was a short of bull fighting. The athlete had to catch the bull by the horns and make a high jump over him for his escape.
The first writing symbols appear in Crete in 2000 B.C. and look like Egyptian Hieroglyphics, without any dependence on them. The most important sign of hieroglyphic writing is the famous “Festus Disc” 1700 B.C. which still remains to be translated. At the same time another form of writing is used which includes 70 symbols and is called “Linear A”. In later years around the 15th Century B.C. they used another form of writing called “Linear B” which had signs of the Greek Language.
Knossos palace was brought to light by the archaeological spade first by Minos Kalokairinos 1878, Joseph Hatzidakis 1884, and A. Evans 1900. A large number of archaeological findings are being exhibited in the archeological museum of Heraklion.