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Minoan civilization - Crete

The first major civilization to settle the Greek island of Crete was the so-called Minoan civilization. Its existence dates back to the Bronze Age and represented a very important period in Cretan history, associated with King Minos and the construction of great palaces. The Minoan civilisation is described as the oldest of its kind in Europe.

Origin of Minoan civilization

The island of Crete was inhabited as early as the Neolithic period (roughly 6,000 BC), when hunter-gatherers lived here, living in caves and later in simple dwellings and keeping livestock. However, the first coherent and advanced civilisation to make a significant contribution to Cretan history was the so-called Minoan civilisation.

The first representatives of the Minoan culture appear in Crete around 3000 BC. However, it is not entirely clear where they came to Crete from, as the origins of the Minoan civilisation are still the subject of scholarly debate. Crete is situated in a very strategic location where three cultures - European, Asian and African - intersect. According to the latest research based on DNA analysis, there is a match with the population living in Europe at that time. The authors of this study are therefore inclined to believe that the Minoan civilisation was made up of the descendants of the first farmers to arrive on the island from the Middle East.

The name of this civilisation was given by the British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who uncovered the remains of the largest Minoan palace, Knossos, on Crete in the early 20th century. He then named the entire civilization after King Minos and the mythical Minotaur, who was supposed to be trapped in a labyrinth beneath the palace. Arthur Evans, however, probably did not invent the word "Minoan", but applied the nomenclature used in Karl Hoeck's "Das Minoische Kreta" (1825). Here the word "Minoan" is used as a synonym for "ancient Cretan".

The development of Minoan civilisation in Crete

The Minoan civilization is characterized by the construction of huge royal palaces, which served as centers of culture, power and religion of the time and from where the adjacent areas were centrally controlled. Primarily engaged in maritime trade, the Minoans soon dominated virtually the entire Mediterranean in terms of economy and power. They mastered the skills needed to produce bronze, and the use of this alloy allowed them to build even better ships.

Along with trade, Minoan culture and art spread along with it. Clear traces of Minoan culture can be found, for example, on the Cycladic islands, in Cyprus, in ancient Egypt and in Asia Minor. Egypt in particular had a prominent position in the Cretan trade network. The Minoans had mastered writing, which they used primarily for administrative and economic purposes (recording agricultural yields, redistributing production, etc.). The script is known as Linear A, but has not yet been reliably deciphered.

The first great palaces date from 2 000 BC onwards. Four major palaces stood on Crete - the largest and most notable being the palace of Knossos, followed by the palaces of Phaestos, Malia and Kato Zakros. Plus several other, smaller palaces were scattered around the island. Each of these palaces is unique in some way, yet we can define several common elements - large entrance gates, several floors, a number of individual buildings clustered around a central courtyard, countless rooms, sanctuaries, storerooms, etc. connected by corridors and staircases. Another characteristic feature of the Minoan palaces is the fact that they were not fortified. Probably because Crete was a naval power at the time and did not feel the need to protect itself from enemy attacks. During archaeological work, small pottery or jewellery has also been found.

Around 1700 BC, a series of earthquakes probably occurred in the area, resulting in serious damage to the first major palaces and their adjacent towns. The inhabitants of Crete were not discouraged, however, and built new, more elaborate palaces in place of the old ones. The new palaces had a more sophisticated drainage system, the staircases were much wider, the halls more spacious, the buildings also had their own courtyards, there were unique royal rooms, ceremonial rooms and sanctuaries. What distinguishes these new palaces from the first ones is the emphasis on the interior and the decoration of the rooms. For example, beautiful wall frescoes with scenes from religious ceremonies and people's everyday life, various statues and jewellery have been preserved.

Similarly, the surrounding towns quickly recovered and prospered, mainly due to the boom in port trade, as evidenced by the fact that the bustle and life of the towns took place mainly in their harbours. The period from about 1700 BC to about 1450 BC could be described as the golden age of Minoan civilisation.

The decline of the Minoan cities came around 1450 BC, when Crete was occupied by the Achaeans from mainland Greece. The eruption of a huge volcano on the nearby island of Santorini also dealt a significant blow to the lives of the Cretan people. Only small Minoan buildings were built, and with the arrival of the Achaeans, new buildings bearing elements of the so-called Mycenaean culture sprang up. Around 1425 BC, probably due to earthquakes or other natural disasters, the Minoan palaces are also destroyed and the Minoan civilisation ceases to exist.

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