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The Ancient Greeks in a Nutshell





Minoan Crete
Minoan Crete
Click map to enlarge

The Minoans

The Minoans were islanders, ancient Cretans to be exact.

In fact, the Minoans were the first folks to develop a high civilization in the Aegean area. Historians believe that the Minoans originally came from Anatolia.

In a nutshell, the Minoans were Europe's first civilization.

And here is a map of ancient Crete.

Ancient Crete
Ancient Crete
Click map to enlarge


Why "Minoans?"

Because of archaeologist Sir Arthur John Evans, who came up with, and liked, the idea.

Evans lived 1851-1941 and was well acquainted with Greek mythology.


Minos, King of Knossos

The Minoans were named after Minos, not only the ancient ruler of Crete, but also a legend, and a son of Zeus himself.

And yes, Minotaur is part of the story.

It was Minos' wife Pasiphae, who had a run-in with a bull which resulted in her giving birth to a creature that had the body of a human and the head of a bull.

This nightmare offspring was Minotaur (Greek tauros means bull = Bull of Minos.) And bull it is. But, let's pretend we buy the story, it was not all Pasiphae's fault.

First off, the bull she fell in love with was snow-white. Adorable, right there.

Secondly, Phasiphae was the victim of a love spell. The bull was sent to Minos by Poseidon, with the idea that Minos would sacrifice it, which he didn't. (How could he, it was snow-white!)

So Minos didn't touch the bull, which outraged Poseidon, who made Pasiphae fall in love with the bull.

And on a semi-related note: No, Catherine the Great did not have sex with a stallion, nor did she die while having sex with one.


Minotaur had a healthy appetite and meat was his menu of choice, preferably human. So, annually, the Greeks sent over six men and six women, young and crispy, to appease the bull.

The story goes on and involves a labyrinth, built by Daedalus, and so on and so forth.

Back to the Minoan Civilization.


Ruins on Crete, Knossos. Center of Minoan civilization. Castle with flush toilets, sewage system, water piped in from 7 miles away
Ruins on Crete, Knossos. Center of Minoan civilization. Castle with flush toilets, sewage system, water piped in from 7 miles away
Library of Congress


Archaeology at Knossos

Evans started the dig at Knossos, Minos' capital, in 1900 and found a fabulous palace, which was built around 2000 BC and rebuilt after the earthquake of 1720 BC.


Sir Arthur John Evans
Portrait by Sir William Blake Richmond, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford


Knossos Palace Floor Plan
Knossos Palace Floor Plan
University of Texas at Austin


The Queen's Megaron (Vestibule)
The Queen's Megaron (Vestibule)
University of Texas at Austin


Minoan influence and dominance spread onto the Greek mainland, and set the tone for the Mycenaean civilization, folks who had shuffled down from the north and settled in Greece.

The Minoan influence eventually faded proportionally to the advance of the Mycenaean civilization, which eventually returned the favor and controlled Crete.

Here is the map

Ancient Crete and the Mycenaean civilization
Ancient Crete and the Mycenaean civilization
Click map to enlarge


The Minoans in the Stream of Time

Minoans seemed to have appeared around 2700 BC. The year 1600 BC roughly marked the pinnacle of the Minoan civilization.

Around 1400 BC to 1100 BC Knossos', and the Minoans', heyday was over. Someone or something had caused a serious fire.


The Language of the Minoans

The Minoans spoke in an ancient Greek dialect, Minoan. Their writings became known as Linear A and Linear B forms.

Linear A has similarities with Sanskrit, Hittite, and Armenian. Thus, it is categorized as one of the Indo-European languages.

Linear B grew out of Linear A, also called the Mycenaean dialect, and eventually became the forerunner of Ancient Greek.

There also exists the Cretan Hieroglyphic, still a head-scratcher for the pros at the language desk.

Today's Cretans speak Greek.


Map illustrating Mycenaean and Minoan Civilizations
Mycenaean and Minoan Civilizations
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



And here is more on the Ancient Greek Civilization.




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