The first inhabitants of Crete probably came from
western Asia Minor well before 3000 B.C. In time, as the islanders mastered the
sea, Crete became a thriving maritime power. Trade with the older civilizations
of Egypt and Asia introduced new ideas and new skills. These, combined with the
creative energy of the Cretans, produced a distinctive civilization.
We owe our knowledge of Cretan civilization to the work of the English
archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. In 1900 Evans began to excavate Knossos, the
leading city of ancient Crete. There he uncovered a
magnificent structure that he called the Palace of Minos, so
naming it from the (perhaps) mythical king of Crete who appears
in several Greek legends (hence the civilization of Crete is
often called Minoan). Evans also established the usually
accepted chronology for the history of Crete: Early Minoan
I-III (2600-2000), Middle Minoan I-III
(2000-1600), and Late Minoan I-III (1600-1100). He based his chronology on the
residue of pottery found at Knossos, for different styles of pottery provide an
accurate record of the successive stages of civilization at a site.
In the rest of the Crete, the royal pottery of the Late
Minoan II period is missing, that was manufactured only at Knossos, so that the
Late Minoan Ι period continues there until the beginning of the Late Minoan III
period. The royal pottery of the Middle Minoan ΙΙ period was constructed only at
Knossos and Phaistos, having this as a result the duration of the Middle Minoan
I period in the rest of Crete, to extend until the beginning of the Middle
Minoan III period.
The existence of the early Minoan period III, which
occasionally questioned, finally proved. According to the dating of these
periods, it was extending in the 3rd millennium BC to 2100 BC, while the Middle
Minoan period from 2100 BC to 1600 BC.
The Early Minoan period I-III is usually characterized as Prepalatial
period, the Middle I-II period as the Protopalatial period, and the
Middle period III to Late Minoan II as the Neopalatial period. The
information about the Stone Age, which is the principle of the development of
the Cretan civilization, are very inadequate. Probably existed here in caves
sketches on rocks, but have not been found so far. There are proved
relationships with west Asia during the Neolithic era (in pottery forms) and
with the Aegean (decoration pottery, stone vessels). Since then,
however, Minoans seek in their architecture (with continuous main lines in the
diagrams) the subsequent cultural independence (so there are no palaces and
fortifications). Knossos must have been then, a public square.
1. The Prepalatial era
The Prepalatial sub-period of the early Minoan period I-III
presents the island in a closer relationship with the Asia Minor and with the
Prehellenic phase of the Greek mainland. Close are the relations with the
Aegean. But with the most narrow way, the island is joined with Cyclades (images
and meander decorated pottery as imported products). The settlement was thick,
there were centers among others in the east (mansions in Episkopi and royal
tombs in Mochlos).
Round tombs existed in the south (in Messara). Between the commercial products
distinguish the delicious stone vases and the gold jewelry from Mochlos. The
sculpture (stamps, buttons and the similar products) is gaining in importance.
The ceramic has the same patterns and similar surface treatment with the metal
vases. The spiral decoration appears for the first time in the early Minoan
period III along with the white painting over a dark background.
2. The Protopalatial Era
In the Early Middle period I began the construction of the
first palaces in Phaistos and Knossos. The Malia palace followed. The complex of
the palaces at Phaistos repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes, but always followed
it's rebuilding. There are also saved ruins of the city. All palaces grouped
around a large central courtyard. There were not used only as the base of the
kings, but also for administration, the exchange of products, trading and
elegant royal ceramics is now manufactured only in Knossos and Phaistos, and
it's products are characterized by the term "Kamarean" (from Kamares) type
(colorful decorative upon a dark background, motion patterns such as circles,
propellers, vortices, pots with thin surfaces. The sculpture of the signets
lived its first flowering with geometric forms of performances, but still there
wasn't frescoes with forms.
Important is a family tomb with many rooms located in Malia (characterized as "Chrysolakkos").
In Messara are still used the round graves, which most of the time were covered
by stone domes. Worship areas existed up in the mountains, and among other
places, in Petsofas and in caves (as in Kamares). The eastern Crete presents a
recession in trade and the production of Kamarean species is stopped. In the
palaces is already used the writing, both the pictographic and the linear
script. There are close trading relations with Egypt and Syria.
Products from Kaptaru of Crete came up to Mesopotamia. Ιn the Aegean dominates
the Minoan fleet. The helladic culture in the mainland is still very weak.
Around 1700, Knossos and Phaistos were destroyed by earthquakes.
3. Neopalatial period
Shortly after the disaster, the palace of Knossos and
Phaistos were reconstructed again and the Minoan thalassocracy was founded.
Minoan military bases are now placed in the islands of Kythira, Thera, Melos (Phylakopi),
Kea (Ayia Triada) and Aegina, also in Rhodes (Ialyssos) and Miletus. In the same
time is growing the importance of the Greek royal houses in Argolis (Mycenae)
and in western Peloponnese (Peristeria). Knossos held friendly relations with
the Hyksos at the Aegean, and were exchanging gifts and ideas. Crete learned the
painting with forms from the Aegeans, but Aegeans took from the Minoans the
representations with the horses gallop, individual patterns (fishes), and
modalities of representation (representation of territorial levels).
In Crete now is beginning to flourish, in a magnificent manner, a more
naturalistic formal art in sculpture and dance, but especially in frescoes
(scenes of gardens, such as the "Crocus gatherer", representation of marine
fauna). In ceramics (white painting on a dark background) appear forms (fishes)
next to the ornament element (continuous whorls).
Growing can be seen at the art of the faience (Goddesses with snakes at Knossos,
marine fauna, houses imitation.
In writing, the linear script begins to prevail against
pictographic. Around 1600 B.C. the palaces of Knossos and Phaestos were
destroyed again (probably by an earthquake). It appears that the ruins of
Knossos were looted after the disaster, perhaps even by Greek invaders. In the
Aegean, the Yxos were expelled around 1580 by the Pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty,
perhaps with the support of the Greeks of Mycenae.
Last flourishing of the palaces (1550-1450 B.C.)
Crete reconstructed again from the ruins and four palaces glittered now
(Knossos, Phaistos, Malia and Zakros) with full splendor. The relations with the
Greeks of Mycenae were peaceful. Most of these palaces were used for the
exchange of products with the mainland, where now the Mycenaean civilization
For the social and courtier life information is given by the
impressive performances with forms in frescoes (scenes from gardens,
celebrations, dance scenes, jumping bulls, on cups from Vapheio (Lakonia),
sacrifice scenes in temples which were located in hills, sporting events, also a
military scene) and in signets (worship scenes of sacrifices, griefs and dances,
divine appearances). The ceramics is now dark painting on a light background and
is simulating metal pots.
Characteristic for this season is the fact that the princes
of Phaistos built summer palaces in Ayia Triada and they mainly lived there. The
rulers of Knossos seemed to use as a residence Archanes, in a similar way. As a
burial place created at Knossos the so-called "Temple Tomb".
Around 1450 Zakros was destroyed by fire, as the palaces at
Malia, and Phaistos had now lost it's importance. Perhaps these facts have to do
with the volcanic disasters in Thera.
Second flowering of Knossos (1450-1400 BC)
In that period were preserved only the palaces and the city of Knossos, however,
it seems that they had been occupied by Greeks knights and princes. This
explains and the use of the Greek language in Linear B, as well as the Mycenaean
weapons which were found in the warrior tombs at Knossos and Phaistos. Also,
ceramics show Mycenaean influences (simulated technique of Greek mainland). From
that time, it certainly comes the monumental royal grave
at Isopata. Knossos now overruled all over Crete and organized strictly the
island. The courtier lifestyle of Knossos although, followed the Minoan
traditions and cults. Around 1400 B.C, Knossos was destroyed (perhaps by an
earthquake) and the palaces were not reconstructed anymore.
4. Postpalatial period (Late Minoan period II-III
In this period the settlements of the Greek Mycenaeans spread
everywhere. Mycenaean grave circles appear now and mansion buildings. Of course,
there were noblemans and palaces, the traditions, however, of the Minoan culture
continued in the religious section only. The ruins of the palace of Knossos
partially reconstructed, but for worship purposes only. In general small worship
temples are discovered in the ruins. The palaces of Phaistos, Malia and Zakros
had been abandoned, while there was a considerable Mycenaean activity in Agia
Triada, and Archanes retained their importance for the lords of Knossos, which
explains the presence of their tholos tombs there.
Shortly after 1400 BC is originated the famous sarcophagus
from Aghia Triada, with combined Minoan and Mycenaean religious scenes.
Also retained everywhere the worship of the Minoan
mother-goddess (idols from Gazi and Karphi). The Minoan population is now moving
more and more in the mountainous interior of the island (Karphi and Kephala).
Around 1200, Crete accepted migrations of marine peoples and followed their own
systems of government. For this reason, we can speak now for a subminoan season.
In the 11th century the Dorians settled and the Minoan identity limited within
the eastern Crete (Presos).