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Mycenaean civilization and the invasion of the Dorians - Crete

After the end of the Minoan civilization, Crete went through a long period of occupation by other powers and nations. Among the first to occupy Crete were the Mycenaeans, also known as the Achaeans (c. 1400 to 1100 BC) and then the Dorian nation (after 1100 BC).

Mycenaean civilization

In the period around 1450 BC there was a gradual decline of the Minoan civilization in Crete, which was probably influenced by several factors. According to experts, the Minoan civilisation was still struggling with the effects of a massive volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Santorini, and its weakening was exploited by the Achaean people from mainland Greece, who brought the so-called Mycenaean culture to Crete. Around 1425 BC, the Minoan civilisation disappeared and the Mycenaean culture flourished on Crete.

The Mycenaean civilisation took its name from the city of Mycenae, which was one of the main centres of Greek civilisation and an important military fortress in its time. Mycenaean society consisted mainly of hunters and warriors. At the time of their greatest prosperity, the Mycenaeans controlled a significant part of southern Greece, including the Ionian Islands and Crete.

After the invasion from mainland Greece, many Cretan cities were abandoned and destroyed (especially in the eastern part of the island). While the original inhabitants of the island retreated to the west of Crete, the newly arrived Mycenaean people increasingly populated the island, building new dwellings in place of the old ones and establishing new settlements. Typical of Mycenaean architecture are the great royal palaces and the so-called shaft tombs, which reflect the great wealth of the ruling class. The palaces were the place where all power was concentrated, but unlike the Minoan royal palaces, the Mycenaean ones were surrounded by strong fortifications.

After the demise of the Minoan civilization, the Mycenaeans took over their maritime trade links and traded across the Mediterranean. They established trading settlements where these trades were most intense. The Mycenaeans knew the so-called Linear B script, which has now been deciphered and experts have a large number of records from this time. The creation myths and legends of the various Greek gods also probably date from the Mycenaean period.

The Doric Nation

Gradually, however, from about 1200 BC, the so-called sea peoples entered the Mediterranean and after the Dorian invasion of Crete the Mycenaean civilization disappeared. By that time, many of the old settlements and towns had been abandoned and the indigenous population had moved to the inaccessible mountainous areas. Again, this was probably a combination of several causes, as the area was exposed to several earthquakes during this period and may have been weakened.

After the arrival of the Dorians from the Peloponnese, the population of Crete, especially in the western part of the island, increased significantly. New towns such as Axos, Gortys, Falasarna and Polyrinnia were founded and the population grew, most notably in Kydonia (Chania) and Eleftherna. Between the 6th and 4th centuries BC, the Cretan city states functioned in relative peace and tranquillity, and the so-called Gortys Code, the codified civil law governing life in the society of the time, dates from this period (see Gortys site). There are also two very important epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, whose authorship is attributed to the blind poet Homer.

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