Minoan Civilization (Crete)

The Minoan civilization existed in the II millennium BC, centered on the island of Crete. It was the first great civilization on European soil, the forerunner of the culture of ancient Greece.

Crete is located in the Mediterranean Sea 100 km south of mainland Greece. It is a narrow, mountainous island stretched from west to east with a climate favorable for agriculture, fairly fertile soil and excellent shallow harbors along the deeply indented northern coast. Here, having originated about 4000 years ago, the civilization now known as the Minoan civilization developed, flourished and died out.

The Minoans were a seafaring people, with a highly developed and complex system of religious worship and stable trading traditions. In the era when the Minoans reached their maximum power, their fleets sailed from Sicily and Greece to Asia Minor, Syria, Phoenicia and Egypt. Minoan artisans produced not only household goods, but also ceramics with amazing paintings, and an extremely diverse variety of carved gems for religious purposes and decorations, they built magnificent palaces, and painted the walls with exquisite frescoes.

The archaeological discovery of the Minoan civilization took place only in 1900 AD, despite the fact that Greek myths and literature were filled from the very beginning with tales of the wealth and power of Crete. In Homer's The Iliad at the dawn of Greek literature mentions King Minos, who ruled in the city of Knossos for several generations before the Trojan War.

According to Greek myth, Minos was the son of the Phoenician princess of Europe and the god Zeus, who, turning into a white bull, kidnapped her and brought her to Crete. In that era, Minos was the most powerful sovereign. He forced Athens to pay tribute to him regularly, sending young men and girls who became the food of the bull-headed monster Minotaur. Athens was freed from this obligation after the hero Theseus killed the Minotaur with the help of Minos' daughter Ariadne. Minos was served by the cunning master Daedalus, who built a maze where the Minotaur got caught.

In the 19th century, few serious scientists believed that these legends had any historical basis. Homer was a poet, not a historian, and it was believed that big cities, wars and heroes were entirely a figment of his imagination. However, in 1873 Heinrich Schliemann discovered the ruins of Troy in Asia Minor just at the place where Homer placed Troy, and in 1876 he repeated the same thing in Mycenae, the city ruled by King Agamemnon, who led a united Greek army against Troy.

Schliemann's discoveries inspired the wealthy English antiquarian and journalist Arthur Evans, who decided that since Troy really existed, Knossos could also exist. In 1900 Evans began excavations on the island. As a result, a colossal palace and an abundance of paintings, ceramics, jewelry and texts were discovered. However, the discovered civilization was clearly not Greek, and Evans called it Minoan, after the legendary king Minos.

Very little is known about the religion of Crete of the III-II millennia BC. Presumably there was a worship of the mother goddess identified with nature - archaeologists found figurines of goddesses holding writhing snakes in their hands. Female cults reflected the special position of women in Cretan society. The mother goddess had companions - creatures with animal heads and human bodies. Such a semi-animal was the Minotaur, the legend of which originates in the cult of the bull. Image of a bull's head made of stone found in Knossos; this cult was associated with special religious ceremonies held in Crete, for which there were special sites. A bull and an acrobat came out to meet each other on them. The bull had to run with his head low, and the acrobat, having managed, grabbed his horns and threw himself on the animal's back, where he made various passes, and then jumped off. Sacred games with bulls required great technique from people, which was achieved by long training. This is not bullfighting or sports: acrobatic stunts were associated with religious ceremonies, possibly imitating human sacrifices. Subsequently, when they were borrowed by the inhabitants of Mycenaean Greece, the games acquired the character of ordinary sports and lost their internal content. In Crete, the bull was revered as a sacred animal, so no everyday objects were made from its horns. The snake was revered as the keeper of the house and embodied wisdom, there were cults of the dead, which can be traced to tombs, clay sarcophagi and vessels in which the dead were buried. No developed religious cult is known in Crete, no large temples or temple complexes have been found.