Ancient Greek History

History of the Minoan Civilization on Crete

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Minoan PalaceDramatic mountains. Sparkling blue sea. Constant sunshine. The island of Crete is an island in southern Greece that is a beautiful paradise. This is an island where the old meets the new. There are cities, traditional villages, and ancient ruins all coexisting.

The Minoans left behind most of these ruins. The most famous of these ruins, the Palace of the Knossos, is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Though the palace was largely destroyed, much of it remains. In fact, there are Minoan ruins scattered throughout the island.

Establishment of the Minoan Civilization

Though Crete had been inhabited since around 128,000 BC, it wasn’t until the Minoans appeared that the island really began to flourish. It is difficult to pin down exact dates when the civilization inhabited the island. However, it was a Bronze Age Civilization that reached its height somewhere between 2700 BC and 1450 BC.

The Minoans were an agricultural society, but they were also part of a lively oversees trade network. They traded their saffron, frankincense, pepper, gold, silver, pottery, and other items to nearby civilizations. They traded with Greece, Cypress, Anatolia, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and even Spain.

Minoan crops included olive trees and grapes and the remains of the palaces show large storage vats, which likely held olive oil and wine, two things that are still manufactured on Crete today.

Minoan Architecture

There were people living on Crete by the time the Minoans established their civilization. For example, around 7000 BC, early inhabitants established small fishing villages by the water. However, the Minoans had a more complex system of architecture.

One unique feature of their civilization was their palaces, called anaktora. The most famous of these have been found at Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros. They were all constructed in a similar manner.

These unique buildings served multiple purposes. These include storage for crops, wine, and olive oil, administrative uses, and for living. They were large structures that usually had several stories and a large courtyard.

Decline of the Minoan Civilization

Very little is known about how the Minoan Civilization declined; Evidence at dig sites suggests that the civilization fell due to a large scale catastrophe. However, what caused this event is the subject of much controversy. Common theories include a fire, an earthquake, a volcanic eruption, and even a tsunami.

A largely accepted theory is that the volcanic eruption that devastated a portion of Santorini where the center of the island collapsed, may have caused a large tsunami that impacted the Minoan Civilization on Crete. It could also be that the eruption and resulting tsunami left the Minoan Civilization vulnerable to attack from the Mycenaean’s who had militaristic culture.

When visiting Crete today, it is possible to tour the ancient Minoan ruins in places like Malia and Knossos. Here, you are able to visualize the grand palaces and gain an understanding of what the civilization was really like.

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