The History of the Minoans

This page will take you through the history of the Minoans from the origins in c. 3000 BC to their disappearance in c. 1100 BC.

The Minoans were an ancient civilisation that flourished on the island of Crete from c. 3000 BC to c. 1100 BC. They were named after the legendary king Minos, who was said to have ruled Crete during the Bronze Age. The Minoans are known for their advanced culture, architecture and art, as well as their mysterious disappearance.

A Map of the Minoan World. (c) Historical Atlas of the Mediterranean

They emerged during the Early Bronze Age on the island of Crete. The earliest settlements on Crete date back to the Neolithic period, c. 7000 BC, but the Minoan civilisation itself began c. 3000 BC.

The Minoans were a maritime civilisation, with a strong economy based on trade and agriculture. They established trade routes with other cultures in the Aegean, as well as with Egypt and the Near East. They also developed a sophisticated system of writing known as Linear A, although its meaning remains a mystery to this day.

An Illustration of the Palace of Knossos. (c) Brown University

They were also known for their advanced architecture and engineering skills. They built large palaces with complex layouts, as well as sophisticated drainage and water supply systems. The most famous Minoan palace is the Palace of Knossos, which was the centre of the Minoan civilisation.

The Minoans were also skilled artists, known for their intricate pottery, frescoes and sculptures. They often depicted scenes from everyday life, as well as religious and mythological themes.

Bull-leaping Fresco from the Palace of Knossos, c. 1400 BC. Heraklion Archaeology Museum. (c) Jebulon

They had a pantheon of gods and goddesses that included the Great Mother Goddess, who was associated with fertility and the earth, as well as other deities. They believed in an afterlife and buried their dead with grave goods such as pottery, jewellery and weapons.

The Minoans also had a complex system of rituals and ceremonies, which were often held in their palaces and other sacred sites. They may have practiced bull-leaping, a dangerous sport in which athletes would jump over the backs of charging bulls.

‘Snake Goddess’ Figurine from Knossos, c. 1650-1550 BC. (c) Zde

The cause of the Minoans decline and disappearance remains a mystery. Some scholars believe that a volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Thera (modern-day Santorini) caused widespread destruction and disrupted the Minoan economy. Others believe that they were weakened by invasions from the Mycenaeans, a civilization that emerged on the Greek mainland c. 1600 BC.

Regardless of the cause, the Minoans began to decline c. 1450 BC. The Palace of Knossos was destroyed, and other Minoan settlements were abandoned. The Minoans were eventually absorbed into the Mycenaean civilization, which became the dominant power in the Aegean.

The Island of Santorini. (c) NASA

Despite their disappearance, the Minoans left a lasting legacy on Western civilization. Their advanced architecture, engineering and art influenced subsequent cultures in the Aegean and beyond. The story of the Minotaur, a monster with the body of a man and the head of a bull, remains a popular myth to this day.

The Minoan civilization also played an important role in the development of Western philosophy. The philosopher Plato wrote about the myth of Atlantis, a legendary island that was said to have been destroyed by the gods. Some scholars believe that Plato’s story was inspired by the Minoan civilization, which he may have heard about during his travels.

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